Monday, May 21, 2007

JRPGers Lament
Suikoden II & Thousand Arms

Mention has been made in the past of fond memories for JRPGs Thousand Arms & Suikoden II.1 Specifically, fonder memories than those involving 4 installments of Final Fantasy on the Playstation.2

Both games were purchased used at the GameCrazy out on 82nd & Powell back circa 2000 for about $15-18 each. I'd played the available FFs, but thirsted for more RPG action. Both games were selected from under the glass display case. I didn't have an internet connection at home so I couldn't research which titles were supposed to be good. Deliberations were limited to asking to see a game based on its front cover, staring at the back cover, maybe flipping through the manual. As any shopper knows, this is an extremely iffy methodology for buying, well, just about anything.

I'm reasonably certain I purchased Suikoden II 1st, &, having been absolutely spoiled by FFVII & VIII graphics,3 hated it. Also, being a JRPG of the more "classic" or "pure" variety, SuikodenII collates itself around the exploration/item management/combat delineation, but w/ a heavy emphasis on DOZENS of PLAYABLE characters. The cover is surprisingly literal in this respect: you can actually play most all of those characters on there!

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Obviously, I came around to SuikodenII. I think it was at least a year later, not because my tastes had changed, per se, but more like because I'd come to my senses. Suikoden's world turned out to be quite large. I'm pretty sure there are regions & towns I never actually visited in the course of the game, & still I completed the game(!). It also has a nifty strategy component, your characters taking breaks from the level-up grinding & sidequests (again, of which I believe there were more than a few left uncomplete) to play regimental officers in a larger storyline. Pretty sweet. I'm glad I gave it the 2nd chance.

Thousand Arms was purchased in a similar manner to Suikoden II, tho it was an easier buy insofar it comprised of multiple discs, & bragged of anime-cutscenes.

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Unlike SuikodenII, however, this JRPG had me at 'dating mini-game." What? Yeah!! Primary character Meis is a blacksmith, see. But to forge the mightiest of weapons, he has to go on dates w/ the girls in the party to accumulate a hidden number of, what to call them? Infatuation points? Crush points? Blush points?4 The more of these points you have when you forge or augment weapons, the stronger they will be.

I sold both of these games. A few days ago, on a lark, I checked Amazon for them.

Thousand Arms starting at $49.

Suikoden II starting at $99.



1 In this comment here, which I would alter slightly if written today. I'll still vouch for Thousand Arms & Suikoden II, but wouldn't completely write off FF stuff.
2 Those 4 installments being Final Fantasy VII, VIII, & IX, & Final Fantasy Tactics, which, like a lot of people, I got because I heard Cloud was in it. In the interest of full disclosure: I played FFVIII twice, & actually began playing it a 3rd time. I never finished Tactics, tho I think that mainly due to being at the end of a several year long gaming binge (i.e, burnout).
3 And, to a degree, Legend of the Dragoon. Yeah, I was a FMV cut-scene slut.
4 The dating mini-game consists of the girl asking Meis questions (lovingly voice acted). You are then given 2 options for answers. One is usually the easy answer, the other the funny yet rude answer, although after answering a few questions correctly the available answers become more difficult to chose between. The girls' responses range from a slap to indifference to a blush to a peck on the cheek.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

The World Falls Into Turmoil.
Phantasy Star II: The End of the Lost Age.

Soeth it was, a DreamCast & a Genesis resting upon a coffeetable before me. Yet, the shelves of this fledgling institution of dead console gaming's libraries were bare. I had but Space Channel 5 for the DC & Sonic 2, Vectorman & Streets of Rage 2 for the Genesis. Even these titles were acquired for testing the consoles, to, y'know, make sure they actually functioned.

Tirelessly I soldiered, checking my Goodwill & the local used-game haberdashery.1 Progress was slow. Crazy Taxi, the Genesis Ecco the Dolphin, Ready 2 Rumble, extra VMUs for the DC. Fuck, I even purchased Sonic Shuffle at my Goodwill since it was only 3yua & I was having such miserable luck finding anything.

Clearly government studies were needed. Thanks to Fat's experiences, I had a good feeling for DC titles, but the Genesis I was a bit in the dark about. I figured, "hey, what were the best titles in my fav genre on the Genesis?"

Keywords: RPG + Genesis + Best.

Results: Phantasy Star II & IV. Shining Force 2. Beyond Oasis.

Beyond Oasis, which does feature a middle eastern theme, yet, curiously, was released in Japan w/ the title "Story of Thor," is considered an excellent "Zelda-style" RPG (also categorized as 'action-RPGs').

Shining Force 2
is the tactical-RPG antecedent to Final Fantasy Tactics, apparently.

Phantasy Star
, Vols. I-IV, was Sega's good-old-fashioned grind-it-out JRPG.

Some further inquiries, now forgotten, led me to the conclusion that episodes II & IV were the best of the bunch.2 And so it was, Phantasy Star II arrived in the mail.3 I booted the cart & after a solid 30 minutes knew I was in LOVE w/ this game.4 Then I found out the save function wasn't working.

Considerable 'nets research & 2 weeks later, I had the 'gamebit' necessary to open the cartridge up & replace the battery, if necessary.5 As suggested in the research, the battery turned out to be merely loose from its contacts. Some judicious duct tape later, I was finally, truly, able to dig my paws into Phantasy Star II.

image hosted by flickr. image hosted by flickr.
image hosted by flickr. image hosted by flickr.

Phantasy Star II is of an older vintage(released in '89 in the U.S.), making no bones about the grind of leveling up.6 For example, the lead character, Motavian7 agent Rolf Landale, & his comrades, will have crawled 2 whole dungeons & the extant of dialogue (& thus plot/character development) conversed has been limited to being assigned a mission by Rolf's superior, Nei convincing Rolf to take her w/ him, & the introduction of Rudo. This is in stark, STARK contrast to more 'modern' fare, the likes of, say, Final Fantasy VII, or Xenogears, where conversations between party members can take 5-10 minutes to read at a time. Not in Phantasy Star II!! No blah blah blah HERE.

However, as entertaining as all of this was, nothing really prepared me for the scene which unfolded at the North Bridge.

To set the stage: Rolf & companion's arrived in the town of Arima to find it thoroughly sacked - houses dynamited, people in a daze, etc. Rolf is told by some residents of a girl named Tiem who was kidnapped by the same scoundrels. A journey to the bandits' base at Shure reveals it overrun w/ biomonsters, the bandits slaughtered to a man. Amongst the wreckage Rolf discovered a ransom letter to Tiem's father, Darum, for 50,000 meseta.8 Not having 50,000 meseta, Darum turned to the life of the highwayman himself, tolling travellers who wish passage across the North Bridge.

A subsequent raid on the tower of Dezo rescues Tiem, who demands to be taken to her father. Naturally, Rolf agrees, & the following scene unfolds...
Rolf: What's Tiem doing?

Tiem: I'm going to meet my father; don't go anywhere.

Darum: Hey girl! Give me your money or I'll kill you!

Tiem: I have nothing to give the likes of you!

Darum: Why, you...!!!

[attacks Tiem w/ his sword!]

Tiem: Uhhhh! Father!...killing...

Darum: Tiem!! Oh, what have I done? You won't die alone!

[they burst into flame!!]

Narrator: This is just one of the many tragedies that have come to pass as the world
falls into turmoil. Someone must save us!
I must confess, not 6 hours into this game & already witness to a filicide/suicide rattled me a bit. I mean, that's pretty dire. However, consider my interest ensnared.9


1 Indeed, this is where most of the 1st meagre bushel of games originated.
2 Turns out it was Racketboy.
3 Or, if in Japan, Phantasy Star II: The End of the Last Age.
4 Or, maybe more specifically, knew that the 12-year-old in me was in LOVE w/ this game.
5 What you need is the 4.5mm gamebit, which is erroneously listed at GamingGraveyard as for use repairing Nintendo products only. The bit does actually barely grasp the annoying security screws on a Genesis cart.
6 Fat has postulated that, in JRPGs, leveling up is , quite simply, playing the game. That is, clashing w/ monsters, & gaining experience/cash, & thus learning better ways/buying better gear to kill said monsters, is the fundamental 'game' component of JRPGs. Plot, character, & world are secondary. Alongside things like sounds & graphics, they are even mere bells & whistles. The point, I believe, is that if you find something satisfying in the achievement system of leveling up, you should probably try a different genre.
7 Being of or from the planet Mota. The sciffy/fantasy mix & match (lasers & swords - at the same time!) is one of the strongest facets of the Phantasy Star franchise, setting it apart from the crowd.
8 Meseta being the form of currency on Mota.
9 Further smitten by the addition to the party of 2 new characters, who are (get this) a doctor & a biologist! Also, did I mention you must equip the type of SHOES your characters wear!? Well, you must equip the type of shoes your characters wear! (translation: this game is charming my pants off)

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

the pickup scene at the art museum is so immature

Old college buddy--the Mormon Rocket--pointed me towards this painter name of Brandon Bird. Relatively genius, he's sort of a Ray Pettibon sans the content. (I take this drawing of Henry Rollins to be an explicit Pettibon homage.) Lots of Transformers paintings, amid altogether too many invocations of ironicly-appreciated semistars.(1)

For Reviewieran porpoises, however, his master (system) work must necessarily be: No One Wants to Play Sega With Harrison Ford. And why would they?

Other than that, the Law and Order works are nicely-observed, his appreciation of Ben Sisko matches my own--he just makes DS9 feel so protected, so very safe...cherished...--and Masters of the Force would be a perfect work if it had no title. As it is, it's at least a third less rad than it would've been if the viewer had to make the connections...

And that's the overarching tendency for Bird's work, I think. A little too much is said. Most everything's a third less good than it could've been. He passes the levels, no doubt, but doesn't often complete all the extra mission objectives.


Seriously. Mr. T? Bea Arthur? Chris Walken? James Woods? Ed Norton? The annoyingly-ressurected Chuck Norris? Blech. When did this society collectively lose the sense of what it means for something to be second-rate? Nothing as wonderful as Rom and Me. Then again, nothing ever has been as wonderful as Rom and Me.

we got brilliance, right here in River City OR on being the valedictorian of Crosstown High

Around a year ago, I picked up a title on clearance-plus-a-sale. I'd been looking for a straight brawler for a long time; among the greatest play experiences I've ever had is Final Fight, and I've been chasing that (double) dragon for a while.

I'd been swayed by the internet. Seanbaby, for example, had indicated that the game was about as good as games get, primarily by celebrating its manual. Now, at the time, I was enjoying GBA games primarily on my beloved pink handheld--a straight GBA, featuring zero backlighting, and, honestly, very little...ah...onscreen action. My initial tilts with the title, then, featured my GBA's flawfree button feel, but looked pretty thoroughly plain and in general failed to thrill. (One exception was grabbing a chain and beating somebody with it after I'd knocked them down. That--was--awesome!!)

A couple weeks ago, though, I gave the ol' girl another spin. This time on my delectable little micro. What I found was a straight brawler--move to the right, hit the attack button. But this one had a non-linear map. And a complicated inventory system. And a ton of unlockable special moves. And a robust levelling-up scheme. And a plot-and-character setup residing in the Triangle of Awesome established by the three points MYTHIC, ARCHETYPAL, and VIDEOGAME PREMISE.(1) Then there's an optional computer-controlled fighting partner whose A.I. I can adjust. And lovely graphics--several scrolling layers of parallax featuring neato hand-drawn backgrounds. And gravity I can tweak, if I want my foes to fly farther after I kick 'em a beatdown. And button feel matching that of the straight GBA. And those terrific chain-thrashings remain!

What I found, then, was a dead simple button-masher, a perfect pick-up-and-play game...that's nowhere near dead simple. It's the beat-em-up, the retardedest of genres, reimagined for the player who likes to overthink essentially everything. It's a game designed for those who like to treat the lowest of genres with the intellectual respect usually reserved for the highest of artifacts. It's a handheld game with a satisfaction payload--and a delight payload--as high as anything available. It's a button-masher whose special moves are legitimately difficult to pull off. River City Ransom EX offers complexity disguised as simplicity, with depth hidden under the shallowest of premises.

And it's this what makes it...the official game of Reviewiera!!


The game begins with a character's girlfriend kidnapped by a gang. The player character then starts the game in front of the perfectly generic "Crosstown High School". The universe given is ALL OUR universes--playing the game ends up remarkably like watching Streets of Fire.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

yet another valentine for my beloved pink handheld

D.D.T. pointed it out a little while back, but it bears re-repeating:
at heart, I'm a handheld gamer.

Sure, the absolute best games I've played tend to be home-console titles, but it's a rare month that the Dreamcast or Gamecube edges out my DS/GBA in terms of time invested. This perspective is not a mainstream one, but with the incredible sales of (Nintendo) handhelds, it's possible that the market is growing closer to my tastes...

Not too long ago, Tycho brought up an interesting couple points about the PS2. He noted first that the platform Simply--Will--Not--Die!! Por exemplo, God of War II is by all accounts a must-have, and it's not unlikely that there'll drop a couple-three more must-haves for the box.(1) And the damn' thing just keeps selling...more, in cases, than the actual current-generation consoles. A related claim he made was thatthe hobby--of games, dig--can't be seriously pursued without a PS2.(2) The platform is that ubiquitous, that important.

This fires me up to wonder a couple things about the PS2's handheld analog(3):

When does the last great game for the GBA come out?
Can you seriously pursue the hobby without one?

Treating these questions out of turn...probably not, no, was almost certainly Drill Dozer.(4) Or maybe that nifty, frustrating Scurge: Hive. Or those Summon Night games. And don't even get me started on the criminally under-appreciated bit generations games. Orbital and dotstream alone were two of the finest pure play experiences I had in 2006. I mean, a perfectly-honed racer with a strong Tron light-cycles feel? A highly conceptual platformer disguised as a puzzle game? Gorgeous techno-beepy soundtracks?(5) These were great games.

It's not clear to me that anything else great for the GBA is actually in the pipeline. --D.D.T. and I eagerly await this Metal Slug port-thingy, and who knows, maybe Sting's got another Riviera or Yggdra Union in 'em. But it certainly feels as though we're in retro(-spectational) mode with this platform.

Luckily, over the last month, the doughty Racketboy has started us off with a really kick-ass pair of retro-GBA posts.

First off he offers his standard sketch of a robust collection, built on the cheap. I end up with five of his thirteen core picks, and four of his thirteen picks from the more-expensive garden. (This indicates that he's got pretty excellent tastes.)(6) Hell, his post is worth a bunch of dollars for informing me that there's a Sega game called Pinball of the Dead. I LOVE handheld pinball games--anyway, I LOVE Metroid Prime Pinball--I love that era of Sega, and I fucking love zombies. Why did I not know about this goddamned game? Nets, bring unto me this item!!

Second, Racketboy has cranked out a hidden gems post for the ol' handheld that does. He odes and paeans on the intensely awesome Astro Boy, Drill Dozer, Iridion II, and Sigma Star Saga, and even on the problematic but attractive Yggdra Union. (All games I have significant time invested in.) And a bunch of others--Racing Gears, Car Battler Joe both sound compelling, maybe even a decent Sonic game. Just some terrific work by Racketboy these past couple months, on the GBA, and on the Dreamcast, is all I'm trying to point out. That, and that the GBA is the greatest console I've ever owned.


Anticipating another post, Atlus' Odin Sphere sounds delightful. Nichey, but delightful. And gorgeous.

Now, this crack counts as the first thing Tycho's ever written that I utterly disagreed with. I claim to understand what he's saying, and I comprehend that my Sony allergy indeed does lock me off from vast swathes of games. And yet I claim I pursue this hobby "seriously".

The GBA-plus-SP has sold about 120 million units since 21mar2001, whereas the PS2 has sold 115 mil since 4mar2k. So each has market penetration generally defined as "full-on", and each has been monumentally successful despite some technical shortcomings (etc.) in the marketplace. Apart from their sheer sales figures, they each dominated their generation.

I'm leaving out of consideration for the nonce the frequently wonderful ancient ports, particularly the 16-bit RPGs that so dominate my time on the platform: Tales of Phantasia, 5 of the first 6 Final Fantasy titles, the Final Fantasy Tactics revision.

Fuck. I have to pick up Boundish, the Pong-plus title, from that series...and at least one of the two puzzle games. Digidrive looks like it might feel like Chu Chu Rocket, and believe me when I tell you that nothing feels better than Chu Chu Rocket.

For the record:
I own:
Metroid Fusion (brilliant)
Tony Hawk's Underground (lame, gift, would sell it if it weren't worthless)
Gunstar Super Heroes (hard, waiting to get inspired to play it)
Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones (as D.D.T. pointed out, the game that really hooked me into games again)
Drill Dozer (wonderful, underappreciated, another one D.D.T. picked up after I wouldn't shut up about it)
Advance Wars (of course--a Goodwill find for eight bucks!)
Astro Boy (perfect action on a cart)
Final Fantasy IV (54 saved hours, and it got me to buy six other Final Fantasy games...though I can't tell you I enjoyed it)
Castlevania Twofer (will somebody tell me why these games are popular? pretty, but BO-RING!)
An' from his list, I'm gonna pick up:
Virtua Tennis (perfect Dreamcast game, can't suck on the GBA)
Chu Chu Rocket (see above)
Metroid Zero Mission (because I must own everything that says "Metroid" on it

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

That Buck Rogers Shit.

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The cause & effect is hard to explain.

I've wanted to write something about these 4 frames from 2 separate Buck Rogers' comic strips for almost 2 years now, all the while the scans collecting so much digital dust.

The logic tree goes something like this: I read the collection containing said strips when I was about 10 or so? This VTOL rocketship (total anachronism, calling it that) got under my skin, behind my eyeballs, & into my brain. Especially that cross-section in the 2nd frame. God that was fucking awesome! I vaguely recall wasting a lot of time drawing my own cross sections of spaceships afterwards: huge sprawling space-liners penciled out on sheets of butcherpaper.

As with all things childish, you move on, you forget. About 6-7 years ago or somethin', I got a hair up my ass to seek out this collection of Buck Roger's strips. I founded it,1 at Powells, when you could still find stuff at Powells. I re-read it, or most of it. As w/ most things, the 1st few years of the strip carry the strongest charm. I even went to far as to read the original novel that Buck Rogers was based on (Armageddon 2549, or whatever, featuring 'Ace' Rogers).

Oh yeah, the original Buck Roger's story arc featuring the 'Mongols' as the villains, & they had AIRSHIPS, which I believe was my first exposure to the concept.

And airships, I've come to realize, are a pretty important part of my psyche. Hayao Miyazaki's awesome & all, but, for me, the everpresent airships help his cause greatly. Did you know an airship has figured prominently in EVERY installment of Final Fantasy? Did you know I played the 1st (American) Final Fantasy on a rented Nintendo in 1990 & was. fucking. stoked. Like many others, FFVII on the Playstation was my re-introduction to gaming. Give credit to the airships.

You know how other people joke about what people thought the future was going to be like, and are like "where's my jet pack?" and "where's my flying car?"

Well, all I want is my fucking private dirigible.2


1 Dille, Robert C. The Collected Works Of Buck Rogers In The 25th Century. 1980 reprint. I should add I 1st got this book from my public library. I also fondly recall oversized collections of the 1930s Popeye comic strip, and 1930s & 1940s Marvel comics - Captain America w/ the original shield & Bucky, the original Namor & Human Torch (& Toro, too!) stories. Fucking awesome, those were!
2 Maybe some sort of biplane add-on feature. And the matching aviator goggles & cap. And scarf.

Astroboy Mayhem.

The new job digs has me busing from the eastside up into the s.w. hills. Total commute time is about 30 minutes on 2 buses. The river-crossing bus is a short, 10-minute trip, but the bus is quite crowded. The 2nd bus, from downtown up into the hills takes about 15 minutes, but it never has more than 4 other passengers aboard. Compared to the x-river bus, this leaves me ample seating, perfect for... ASTROBOY MAYHEM!!!1

When I acquired my pinkpearl GameboyAdvanceSP last summer (in anticipation of some extended air travel), the devastatingly fun Astroboy: Omega Factor was its 1st cartridge. 2-3 weeks later, although deep into Astroboy, I purchased the equally fantastic Advance Wars 2 to have something else to play on the plane. The Mighty Atom was thereafter carried around, but never played, as I campaigned relentlessly in Adv.Wars2 until victory was achieved some months later. The robotic Tobio may have had his 10,000,000 HP engine gunned a few times after that, but I got stalled at that pyramid in ancient Mu. Y'know, where the big steel discs come tumblin' down? Enter Super Robo Taisen.

It wasn't until recently, when I became fatally bored w/ Pokemon, that I started playing around w/ games that were actually fun again, like Drill Dozer & Astroboy.2 Add the perfect setting of a bus for 20-30 minutes per workday, & I now find myself in the closing chapters of Omega Factor.3

The lesson learned? The GBA SP hath no warmer hearth than in transit, whether by bus, train or plane. Depending on how you look at it, this either a bright new day, or a dark step into pathetic geekdom. For now I can obsess about console-based games AND portable-based ones AT THE SAME TIME (sorta). For example, I play Astroboy during my commute, & Shenmue on the Dreamcast in the evening before bed.4

I suppose, if I wanted to notch it up, I could play Super Robo Taisen 2 in bed, before I went to sleep, but that would be excessive. Scary, even.


1 I would gladly spend my time on the 1st bus w/ Astro, but in addition to a scarcity of elbow room, I'm also nursing a full mug of coffee.
2 It suddenly occurs to me that my rather sudden & immediate boredom w/ Pokemon:FireRed, which I still think is an excellent game & an excellent series, stems directly from the acquisition of a Sega Genesis & having fun guys like Sonic & Vectorman around.
3 Much to Fat's consternation, I have absolutely no memory of getting past those steel discs in Mu. None. When I fired up the cartridge 3 weeks ago the save file was at the beginning of the boss fight which, it turns out, follows said steel-disc-on-the-pyramid stage. This disgruntles Fat because he advised me on how to get past the discs. I remember the advice, but have no memory of implementing it.
4 Or Jet Grind Radio. Or, Phantasy Star II on the Genesis.