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Sunday, December 7, 2014

Chronicles of a Dark Lord: Episode II: War of the Abyss: First Impressions

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The good folks at Kisareth were kind enough to provide me with the pre-order package that got sent out to the people who pre-ordered Episode II on their website.
Since this package was the first thing that was sent out to the people that pre-ordered the game, I'll be reviewing that first.
The contents of the pre-order package are a sketch gallery, containing twenty-seven pieces of art. A mixture of what appear to be watercolor character portraits accented by pastels, what I think are HD redrawings of backgrounds from the first game, and the box-art for Episode II.
Next up is the soundtrack for War of the Abyss. It's sixty-five parts, clocks in at about two and a half hours long, and takes up 341MBs. I haven't listened to it at time of writing, because I want to experience it as it's presented in the game.
Last up is a special thank-you video from the developers, announcing the title of a new game, known as "Shenandor'ah: Zero Chronicle.
Which I would guess is the prequel I speculated about in my Tides of Fate review.
The video also contains some alpha-level screenshots of the game, featuring graphics which will probably be updated and improved by the time the game is ready for release. There's no word on a release window for this game, which I assume to be a prequel to Tides of Fate, but if what I've heard out of the developers through their podcasts is correct, it will probably be sometime after Tides of Fate HD is released.

Now I should probably get around to talking about the game.
Chronicles of a Dark Lord: Episode II: War of the Abyss is the highly anticipated sequel to the game I reviewed last month, Tides of Fate.
I'm going to add this game to the growing list of what I call "Triple-A indie games", titles which have a ton of time and effort thrown into them by the developers, but are released independently of big-name publishers.
I might as well just jot down the thoughts I had when I fired up the game to rebind the keys.
Okay, that's the Kisareth Studios fanfare.
HOLY CRAP THIS SONG IS AWESOME AND THIS GAME IS GONNA ROCK.
War of the Abyss starts out... With the final battle from Tides of Fate.
As you can guess, I wasn't too thrilled about it. Xe'on was one of the hardest bosses I've ever faced, and I didn't want to have to fight him again.
But either they nerfed Xe'on or they just amped up the party, because it was a lot easier than it was in Tides of Fate.
Not that I'm complaining or anything. Since they changed engines and spent two years between releases, it's a nice refresher I guess.
And then... It skips a year.
And with that, most of the meat of the War of the Abyss. I know that Tides of Fate skipped a larger period of time, but I can see them doing that. Tides of Fate skipped a massive amount of time because the RMVX engine couldn't handle what they wanted to do with the story and gameplay for that period of time. And you know what? They skipped to the juicy part of the story.
In War of the Abyss however, they skipped thirteen months of story, thirteen months of grueling fighting and loss, and death, and character development.
What I'm trying to get across here is that they probably shouldn't have skipped all of that. The Kisareth team could have just abridged the whole year into the more interesting bits.
But my main gripe with it is the sheer amount of branches and storylines and sidequests that they just skipped over. Stuff that I would have loved to have been able to experience, and play, and possibly change the outcome of.
Between the timeskip, a lot of stuff happened. Among the notable things that happened during the year that they skipped, Xiria apparently had an affair with Maga'ra, and Magus divorced her for that.
This is somewhat baffling to me. Firstly because I know that Magus and Xiria were the digital avatars of a real life married couple, and secondly because Maga'ra and Xiria barely spoke to each other in the first game. So that doesn't make any sense in the context of what the player is informed of.
You see what I mean by it not being a good idea to skip a year.
The time skipping continues after the marriage of Magus and Gelina, skipping ahead a month.
And this is where we find out that everyone's skills and stats have been reset to what they were at the beginning of Tides of Fate. That is, except for Magus, whose skills have been reduced to Venom Slice.
No explanation given, no justification, and no clue as to why. Given how high the stakes were at the end of Tides of Fate, it's rather jarring that they'd take so much of a plunge. And that's highlighted by the fact that all of the characters are even more godlike in the flashback sequence at the beginning of the game than they were in my playthrough of Tides of Fate. If the stakes kept amping up at the same rate as they did in that game, they could have kept the pace going. As it is, the beginning of the game is somewhat of a letdown.
If the normal enemies were at least as powerful as say, the enemies from the Abyss in Tides of Fate were, and if the playable characters were at least as powerful as they were in that same game, then this might feel like more of a natural continuation as opposed to a jarring transition between two similar yet completely different games.
Considering how much Magus had achieved by the end of Tides of Fate, it seems like a major slap in the face to you, the player that he's lost all of the armor and other gear he and his friends looted from the Abyss and all of the skills they gained throughout thirty hours of brutal gameplay.
It's possible this could be sorted out by a future patch, or some DLC or possibly an interquel set between Tides of Fate and War of the Abyss. Or maybe the inevitable War of the Abyss novelization.
And yes, the engine transition meant that they couldn't use saves from Tides of Fate to continue in War of the Abyss. I get that, but after a while you can't keep making excuses for something. Metal Gear Solid 2 did this same thing where it just skipped a long period of interesting events. And yes, I did wind up liking MGS2 better than the original after a while, but from where I'm standing at the moment, I don't really like what they've done with the pacing.
So, let's talk plot.
Thirteen months ago, Anto Calias tricked the Army of Gods into setting loose Nihility, and started the War of the Abyss. Now the war seems to be dragging on into a defeat for the allied forces of Cora, but it shifts in their favor after a while.
Magus and his allies have been beaten back into a corner by the forces of the Abyss. With their supply-lines disrupted, their communications cut off and their backs to the wall, Magus and company band back together to avenge the fallen, drive the Abyss out of their world and kill Anto Calias.... Again.
But instead of being at the top of their game, and getting better with regularity like they were in ToF, everyone's been waging a losing battle for a year, and they're all strapped for resources.
Although maybe they'd be a little better off if they'd stop leaving their valuables and healing items in bookcases, down wells, and on sacks of flour.
Along the way, some major characters die.
And it's very sad, and heartbreaking, and everything.
So far, it seems like the story that we, the players are privy to does somewhat make up for the massive drop-off in pacing early on. It's all very touching, and it's also pretty interesting and cool, but I can't help but feel like it would all seem a little more meaningful if we'd actually experienced some of the back-story as opposed to having just been told it all happened off-screen, being given no chance to change it in the slightest.
On the other hand, you fight the four daughters of the Dark Mistresses from the first game in a very contrived way. They understand that the dude they're supposed to be cross with is the wizard, Zexor, but still want to fight Magus and his allies because they killed their mothers, even though they acknowledge that it wasn't Magus or any of his friends faults. The only one of the four fights that's actually justifiable from a sensible perspective is cut off part of the way through, because the character that she's fighting isn't one of Magus's allies.
The rest of the New Dark Mistresses fight Magus and his allies because they want them to "prove their worth" by defeating them, and that just seems like it's padding the runtime. Yes, the new Dark Mistresses theme is pretty sweet, and yes the game would be lesser without it, but the setup for three out of four of the new Dark Mistress fights is so bloody contrived that it really took me out of the whole experience.
Speaking of the fourth new Dark Mistress fight, I mentioned that the characters that fight her aren't Magus's allies. I might as well explain.
During one chapter of the game, you play as Eriadne, an Abyssal commander tasked with invading the Lee Manor and stealing the Inferni Diadem.
Most of this chapter is a mandatory stealth section. And it seems like it was inspired by a pair of similar stealth sequences in Ocarina of Time. When you get found out, you just get thrown out of the manor for some reason as opposed to being mobbed out and killed.
While you're invading the manor, you have ten minutes of invisibility, and it doesn't recharge when you get kicked out of the mansion.
You can get kicked out of the mansion by either walking through a pool of blood, opening a squeaky door, or opening a treasure-chest. Because apparently invisibility doesn't make you invisible if you make noise.
What I'm trying to get across here is the fact that this section was annoying. And since the controls haven't been fixed since the last game, it's a little difficult to not bump into the roaming guards every now and again.
If you're going to shove a stealth section into a non-stealth 2D game, either put some more thought into the stealth, just outright copy Metal Gear and Solid Snake for the MSX, or just don't put it in there. Honestly, this is the most repulsive and tedious stealth sequences I've ever had the misfortune of playing.
Now, later on that sequence drops back into traditional RPG combat, but it might as well continue being a stealth game (A much better one I might add) because you can just walk by all the enemies and traps without setting them off if you're careful. And unlike in Tides of Fate, you won't be underleveled for any of the following fights because you're already pretty powerful.
And the boss-fight right before you're dropped into the maze is about as hard as a mildly overpowered run-of-the-mill mook fight. It's a little perplexing how easy it is to get in and grab the Inferni Diadem......
So no, I didn't like the stealth in this game. It needed some tweaking.
So far, this game is pretty good. It could have done with a little less time being skipped and a little better pacing to link between this game and its prequel. After a while, you start to wonder how many prequels and interquels Kisareth is going to need to put out to patch up the storyline into something more coherent.
But right now, I do have high expectations for the rest of the game, as it seems to be looking up as time goes on.
I don't know what I've got scheduled for next week right now, but I'll try to get part two of my War of the Abyss review out then.
Hopefully I'll get my let's play of the game out sometime this week. I'm currently working on reconstructing the last part of my Episode I playthrough.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Elysium

I remember seeing promotional images for this movie, so I figured it would be a good idea to check it out. Matt Damon in a starring role is usually a pretty good sign.
Matt Damon is a factory worker named Max Da Costa in a futuristic crapsack society. He gets exposed to radiation while at work, which winds up shortening his lifespan to a few days. His only chance to live is to head off to the rich peoples place, known as Elysium, where they have regeneration pods.
He goes to an old friend who works for a mob boss and he gets a cybernetic exoskeleton implanted on him for a heist job.
Unfortunately, the person he's stealing the data from is protected by some insane freaking mercenaries, who shoot at them and wound Max.
Max goes to his old friend Frey, who asks him to take her daughter to Elysium with him to cure her Leukemia, but he refuses because he doesn't want to put Frey in danger.
Specifically, the danger that he's in from those Mercenaries.
But they get captured by them anyways.
Max saves them and delivers the data to a dude named Spider, who finds out the program can open up access to Elysium's regeneration pods to anyone on earth.
To be honest, this movie moves way too fast to be easily summarized, and I'm finding it hard to talk about. It's not what I would call a great movie by any means, but I would definitely say that it's a movie worth watching. Given how bad some of the other movies I've reviewed this year (And some I'm yet to review) it was certainly a better and more meaningful watch than say, Sharktopus.
Or for that matter, either of the Transformers sequels. At least this movie had some interesting characters in it besides the giant robots.....
No, I'm not quite done with the review.... I just ran out of things to say for a while.
So anyways, the movie ends on a rather melancholy note, with the poorer citizens of earth being given access to much better living conditions, and better medical care.
The director has said that this movie is not about the future, but rather about now. The message about the state of the world can easily be missed if you've not been paying attention recently, or to future generations who may not have the best idea of the state of the world in 2013. On the other hand, this movie could go down in history like To Kill A Mockingbird. Time will tell.
Among those approached to play the role of Max were Watkin Tudor Jones, a south-african rapper who I've never heard of, who turned down the role despite being a fan of this team's earlier work on District 9.
The role was then offered to a rapper I have heard of, Eminem. He wanted the movie to be shot in Detroit, which I could see, especially considering how bad-off Michigan has been over the last several decades, but that wasn't an option for the studios producing the film.
The effects in this movie were created by studying older science-fiction, and I like how they put them together. The sets, costumes, and props all have a very Aliens-like feel to them. I like the way the movie looks, personally. It never really had any moments where I said "That looks fake" or "That was chroma-keyed"
Now, there were a few things that didn't sit well with me. The movie is a little too fast-paced for my taste, and it's a pretty gritty movie, coming off of some slicker science-fiction like Star Wars and Star Trek.
Fortunately it's not the hardest of science-fiction, which would do a lot towards ticking me off.
I might get tired of that kind of gritty sci-fi after a while, like I did of The Walking Dead. Who knows.
So my summary was a little lame, but unlike a game it's a lot harder to talk about a movie without spoiling it, because you can't talk about gameplay as well.
So in the end, the movie was swift, punchy, and interesting.
I give it a 9.7* rating.
This review might not be the best I've ever done, but I hope to do better. I've been sitting on this movie for several months now, so I might decide to go back and write up a new review after I've seen it again.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Chronicles of a Dark Lord: Episode I: Tides of Fate.

Well, here's something I never expected to do. Finish a role-playing game.
Looking back, I've certainly started plenty of RPGs. Too many to count. But the most prominent of them all, has to be Final Fantasy III.
I bought the game to kill time for a road-trip, and I kept playing it for months afterwards, sinking in upwards of twenty hours into it. And I didn't finish it.
I've done that with a lot of games, mostly older ones. The first game I actually finished was Ocarina of Time.
And even the RPG I've spent the most time with, Fire Emblem: Awakening, I still haven't finished.
And this is kind of a landmark for me. It's the first RPG I've actually finished.
And it sure seems like this is the year for exhausting games, because I was completely wiped out by this game.
Chronicles of a Dark Lord: Episode I: Tides of Fate is a turn-based, Japanese style role-playing-game, developed using RPG Maker VX by the members of Kisareth Studios, and released on August 31st, 2012. The sequel, Episode II: War of the Abyss, has been in development for about two years now, seeing numerous setbacks throughout 2013. The Kisareth team lost a ton of work to a hard-drive crash, and as such, they had to push the game back an entire year. I'll get into the troubled development history of War of the Abyss next week, hopefully.
War of the Abyss came out two days ago, which was why I decided to just get down and plow through Tides of Fate.
For the last week of my life, this game dominated my time. I started playing Tides of Fate about two months ago, but it fell to the wayside thanks to a few other projects I had to complete. Then, on Monday I looked at the end of the trailer for War of the Abyss and saw the game was coming out in four days, so I figured I'd better hustle and get Tides of Fate done.
Episode I starts out by introducing you to the world, story, and characters over a panning shot of the world, similar to what Final Fantasy VI did. The story they summarized might make a pretty good prequel later on in the series, but it does what it needs to do, and set up the location, setting, and characters.
The planet is called Cora, the main character is named Magus Drakhen Lee, he's got some weird destiny, and it's set in a combination of high and low fantasy.
The gameplay opens to Magus, arguing with his father, Exodes, and his mother, Shara. Magus wants to go with his father and help him wipe out the Veranian military, but they want him to stay home and guard the family manor. He refuses, and takes his younger sister, Sabra to Verana, where they meet up with their father, and have what could easily be called a "heated conversation"
Magus gets possessed by the god Hazeezus, and wipes out both his fathers army, and the Veranian army. He then faces off with Exodes, and banishes him to a far-away land.
Over the course of the next twenty years, Magus wages a one-man world war. Until he started getting cocky and lost battle after battle, and his powers were taken away. And that spelled the end of The Magus Wars.
Magus spends the next decade negotiating peace treaties between Kisareth, and the countries he was at war with.
The unfortunate thing about this is, that this is told to us, rather than shown.
I mentioned this in my playthrough, but I feel like I should mention it again. That whole concept would make for a great game on its own, certainly. It's probable that the RMVX engine wasn't capable of doing what they wanted with it, so they skipped it until they could get ahold of a better engine. Maybe they'll cover it in the upcoming Tides of Fate novel. Personally, I'd like to play a game about Magus waging a war with the world, losing some battles, and then wind up spending the next few decades working on public relations and diplomacy. First, It'd be funny, and second it would be freaking awesome! It could have a hundred or so hours of gameplay to it, given how many years passed in-between the prologue and the main game.
But from what I've heard out of the developers in podcasts, Kisareth's next project will be remaking Tides of Fate with higher-definition graphics, more detailed art, voice-acting and a potential home-console release.
The rest of the game opens with Magus having a conversation with his twin-sister, Maga'ra about some trouble on the connecting bridge between Kisareth and the neighboring country of Ilian.
Magus and his sister rule the country of Kisareth, his sister handles the day-to-day operations, while Magus deals with the hands-on approach to everything.
Magus agrees to take his wife, Xiria with him to check out the situation.
There, they meet up with the Wizard, Zexor. He's working for the King of Valdrace, and single-handedly killed a squad of Kisareth's best.
From there, they uncover a plot to unseal an evil that's not been hear from in millennia.
The characters proceed to travel around the world, gathering allies, gaining power, and exploring a very eclectic world of fire-demons, Elvish-Angels, regular people, an island full of books, and a country filled with sexy warrior lesbians.
Throughout, you collect a party of awesome and overpowered characters.
Here's a quick rundown of the playable characters.
There's Xiria Lee, Magus's second and current wife. She's known as "The Lady of Chaos" and from what the developers say, she's the most powerful character in the game. And I have to agree, because her most powerful attack is both an AOE, affecting all enemies, and inflicting thousands of damage.
Then there's Gelina Grey, another pretty powerful character, who I admittedly don't know a lot about. I went back and rewatched some of my gameplay footage, and I can't really figure out who she's supposed to be.
Apparently, she's got some history with Xiria and Magus, to the extent that they apparently share a three-person relationship. I'll admit that I had a hard time understanding the game at first, because of how bogged-down I was with work, but I went back through my footage and I couldn't really figure out what her history with Magus and Xiria is. So I'm just gonna chock that up to me not paying attention in the right places.
And also I don't really have the time to sift through thirty hours of footage to figure this out, so I'll give them the benefit of the doubt.
The next one up is the best healer in the game, Isis. She and one of Magus's daughters, Anari, rule the aforementioned kingdom of women. Isis has probably the best range of healing, buffs, and powerful attacks of either of the healers in the game. She also has a passive skill that increases the amount of health and mana restored to herself and allies with healing items. She's also a lot faster than the other healer in the game.
Isis and Anari have a daughter named Xiara, whose origin the inhabitants of Cora have speculated as to the origin of.
Knowing what I know about the game now, I wouldn't be surprised if they just hopped over to our universe and borrowed some of our genetic engineering equipment.
There are a few more playable characters, Krysta, an Ivory Knight. She uses ally buffs, and her twin sister, Crysta, a Crimson Knight who relies on enemy debuffs.
Then there's Cadar, Magus's eldest son. He's essentially Diet Magus, with less impressive powers. He's a decent character, but not very powerful.
There's Dissan Lee, Magus and Xiria's daughter. Isis is the healer, and Dissan is the battlemage. I didn't wind up using her very much though.
Now we get to Cadar's mother, Sapphire. She's similar to Dissan and Gelina as far as gameplay goes, but she's a lot less powerful than Dissan.
Aubriel de' Crescent is a decent healer, but she's not as useful as Isis. She's one of those Elvish Angels I mentioned earlier, called "The Fae" She's got some decent holy spells, which are mainly useful in the areas that you absolutely have to use Aubriel in, but after you get Isis back, she's practically useless unless you need to resurrect Isis to save yourself some Phoenix Down.
Drea Nightshade is a pretty powerful vampiress, and I found her skill "Duchess' Wrath" and "Blood Drain" skills to be decently useful as backup damage. But I mostly kept her around to resurrect Isis when she ran out of health.
Well, that's all of the playable characters (Geez, there are a lot of women in this game), let's get back to talking about the plot.
Throughout the game, Magus and his group of awesome people uncover a conspiracy going back years to unseal the atrocity of the gods, Xe'on.
Xe'on hates life, and all living things. The gods had to band together and seal him away, similar to what, say, the Primes did to The Fallen One in Revenge of the Fallen. 
Do you want to know what I bet his reason for hating life is?
Remember Highlander?
Remember Doctor Who?
Remember Castlevania?
Well I'll bet you that either he outlived his wife, or his wife was killed by humans and he just lost it.
Magus and his allies manage to get ahold of the crystal orb that the Dark Gods used to seal away Xe'on in the past, known as "The Corinthai"
So Magus, the greatest Dark Lord to ever live, gathers together users of the light and darkness alike to march right into hell itself in a last-ditch attempt to prevent... Well essentially anti-matter from consuming the world of Cora.
And thus begins the titular War of the Abyss.
And along the way, Magus proves that "dark" does not necessarily mean "evil", because despite him being the titular Dark Lord of Chronicles of a Dark Lord. Yeah, I know your first thought when you hear "dark" is the Sith from Star Wars, or Sauron from The Lord of the Rings, or Satan even, but this is where I come back to Final Fantasy III.
A rather large point of the plot of Final Fantasy III was that users of light had once tried to take over the world, and the four chosen of darkness had to prevent them from completely destroying it. This game and that one made the point that power is not inherently evil, and that it all depends on who's using the power.
No matter how good a power may seem, it can always be used for evil.
So, since we're done talking about how insane the premise of this game got, I feel like I should talk about the origin of this game.
Thanks to some information I found on the Kisareth Studios website, I know the concept and universe spent about twenty years as a text-based role-playing game through the AOL role-playing community.
And that's about the time you realize that this series is going to last for a freaking long time. They've already announced the title of the third game, Rise of Nihility. When you have twenty years of lore and story to work from, I'll bet you that they haven't covered even a single year of the source material.
Now, let's get into some deductive reasoning.
Twenty years before now, this year, was November 16, 1994, and twenty years before the initial release of Tides of Fate was around the middle of 1991.
I don't know when this game started development, or when the CEO of Kisareth retired from the AOL roleplaying community, so I can't pinpoint the exact span of time that the initial concepts of the game and characters were created and developed over, but considering that AOL changed their name from CVC to QCS in the mid-to-late eighties, and then to AOL in '89, coupled with the fact that they didn't start offering chat rooms until about '91 (According to Wikipedia), I'd bet that the timespan was between '91 and '11, give or take a few months to a year depending on how long the concept was kicking around in the participants heads.
And with the sheer amount of thought that's been put into this game alone, I wouldn't be surprised if this series becomes one of the defining RPG franchises of the decade.
So, after that little tangent I'm going to start talking about the most important part of a game, the gameplay.
Please note that the version I was playing was the Enhanced Edition, distributed through Desura, with the Nightmare Vision DLC installed. Which means I will be reviewing the gameplay as it has been modified by Nightmare Vision.
The camera shows the world from a top-down perspective, similar to games such as The Legend of Zelda, and Final Fantasy. In the upper left-hand corner of the screen there's a meter that lets you know how likely you are to encounter a monster, with the meter increasing as you walk around, and decreasing when you stand still, which is a feature introduced by the Nightmare Vision DLC.
If you have a controller connected to your PC, you can configure the buttons to your liking. I use a PS3 controller for PC games, so I bound the menu button to the circle button, run to the square button, and enter to the X button. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to rebind the movement controls to the d-pad. Movement defaults to the joystick, and 2D games aren't meant to be controlled with a multi-directional analog joystick, most of the time. And this is one of those times. You can always use Joytokey and remap the movement to your controllers D-pad though.
The battle-system is a variation on the classic turn-based system, known as the ATB, or Active Time Battle system. As the RPG fans in the audience might remember, the ATB system, like many things that became standard in RPGs, was introduced in the Final Fantasy series. Specifically, Final Fantasy IV.
The way ATB works, in case anyone out there doesn't know, is that the participants in a combat sequence have an initiative bar, and when it fills up, they get to perform an action. They can use that action to attack, defend, attempt to escape, or use a skill.
As the battles become more difficult, you have to time each characters actions to compliment the actions of the rest of the party.
Let's take a little peak behind the scenes of the RMVX engine. I've looked into the RMVX engine in the past, so I know a little bit about it. Gleaned from Wikipedia, and not from hands-on experience, but I know something about the engine.
For instance, the default battle-system is a Dragon Quest-style first-person view, which has to be modified through scripting into the side-view ATB system with character sprites appearing on-screen that this game uses.
There are other parts of the engine that can be modified through the Ruby Game System Scripting System 2 language. I haven't worked with Ruby, but I've done some scripting and programming, and I can imagine how difficult some of these modifications might have been.
I like the ATB system, it adds some variety to the standard turn-based system. A problem I had with Final Fantasy III was that the combat didn't have a whole lot of variety. Your party goes, their party goes.
In this, one of your party-members goes, then if you're lucky another one of yours goes.
The initiative bar that each character has is filled up based on their agility score. That score can be temporarily buffed up by allies, or debuffed by enemies. You can also cast a debuff on the enemies to prevent them from going as often as your allies, and the enemies can buff their agility up to be strike faster.
All in all, the combat system gets a passing grade from me. It works, and it's not boring.
So, onto the soundtrack.
I might as well start with the song that everyone will probably hear the most, the battle-music.
This song is titled "Proud and Destructive" and it's performed by Sketchy Logic. It's a decent enough tune, with some pretty good blending of flute and electric-guitar, but after about thirty hours of gameplay it started getting on my nerves. It's not bad, but given the amount of random-battles an average player will probably get into, it would have been nice if there had been another piece of battle-music. No, I don't dislike it.
The regular boss theme is called "Taste my blade," and it plays during most boss-fights in Tides of Fate.
Like Proud and Destructive, it's one of the most-played songs in the game, but by the end of the game I wasn't as tired of it as I was of P&D. I don't hate this, either. I just got a little bit tired of it after a while. Although, credit where credit's due, it took me longer tire of these tunes than it took me to get sick of the music in Fire Emblem: Awakening.
The Dark Mistresses is a song that plays when you fight the titular Dark Mistresses of the elements, and it's gotta be one of my favorite songs in the game. I just wish it hadn't been so short.
There are all kinds of songs strewn throughout, as area-themes, stings, and whatnot. They're all pretty good. The overworld and town themes especially capture the majesty and peacefulness of the world and town, respectively.
But I figure it's best that I talk about the pieces that really stood out to me.
The Anathema of Life is a song plays during the next-to-last boss-fight. And it's possibly better than The Dark Mistresses. It's got a choir singing, some large, heavy drumbeats, and an electric guitar squealing in the background. This song is the word "epic" turned into a song.
And now we come the the final-boss theme, Genesis of Destruction: Act One.
And it's tense, it is effort as portrayed by music, it's facing incalculable odds and fighting through anyways personified.
It is by far, the most fitting piece of music in the entire game, and it's one of my favorite songs from the soundtrack.
And now, we get to the ending theme. Day to Fall, by Marielle Thomas.
After the exhausting final boss-fight, and the gut-punch cliffhanger ending, this sad and peaceful song is probably the best way for them to cap off the freaking insane depth and darkness of Tides of Fate.
And Day to Fall is a great way to end a game.
Now, the DLC added to the main-game something I mentioned earlier, the battle-bar. It allows you to control the frequency of random encounters. It can be heavily abused, meaning you can use to avoid battles, and wind up being heavily under-leveled, or use it to seek out battles and become very over-leveled. But it can also be used to legitimate ends when you're trying to get back to the healing crystal without having to reload your last save, because you got killed by the Ginar'i or other monsters which happened to be roaming about.
The biggest addition that I could find was the post-game dungeon. Magus goes to sleep in a weird house in the Fae realn, and has a nightmare. The nightmare scenario is one of my favorite parts of the experience, because it delves into Magus' psyche. It's surreal, bizarre, and is a nice little bite-sized interquel to the CoaDL story. And the best part is? It's less than a dollar.
All in all, taking into account the soundtrack, the awesome story, the pretty sweet-looking SNES style graphics, the fact that you can sink almost thirty hours into the game and still have things left over to find in your next playthrough, and the fact that this game costs two dollars on Desura, I give Chronicles of a Dark Lord: Episode I: Tides of Fate a 10.1* rating. And to be honest, I would have given this game a perfect score based on the epic ending and music alone, much less the sheer depth of the story and insane amount of attention to detail that went into building the world.
Now, for a .99 expansion-pack with some invaluable additions to the main game, Nightmare Vision is a great little chunk that delves into the main characters head, exploring his actions and explaining some of his reactions throughout the game. It's also got some pretty sweet music added to the soundtrack, so there is that as well.
I give Nightmare Vision a 9.9* rating. It's got some good music, a great two-hour story, and some awesome moments in it. For less than a dollar,you get a load of awesome.
I'll see you next week with Chronicles of a Dark Lord: Episode II: War of the Abyss if I can get it finished by then. If not, I'll have a review of Elysium up that week, and War of the Abyss will be out the week after!

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Transformers

Transformers is a sci-fi action movie from 2007, which just so happened to be my first experience with the Transformers franchise. Outside of a toy I got for my birthday one year that is. A toy that, to this day I still do not know the name of.
Going into the series knowing absolutely nothing, I had no idea what to expect.
One night, when there was nothing else on TV we sat down to watch Transformers on ABC. I don't know exactly when this was, but it was some time before Transformers 2 came out.
I remember having liked it. Afterwards I picked up a graphic novel based on Transformers Animated, and then a few more of the toys as time went on.
Then, earlier this year I decided it was about time that I watch all of the movies I hadn't seen yet, but were extremely popular.
On that list was, of course, all three of Michael Bay's Transformers movies.
As a big fan of every Michael Bay movie I've ever seen (But back then I didn't even look at the credits beyond the cast) I figured I would like them.
Since Revenge of the Fallen and Dark of the Moon came in at the library a LONG time before the original Transformers movie came in, we watched RotF and DotM before we saw Transformers again.
Originally, I wasn't going to watch Transformers. Then I was just going to watch it on my own, because I didn't want to have to put my parents through it if they didn't want to, and then we just decided to suck it up and watch it.
Despite the fact that the other movies were irritating us more and more as they went on, I have to say that Transformers is a really good movie.
I'm serious, it's a really good movie.
I remember that pretty much all of the Bayformers movies got a bad rap with a vocal bunch of the Transformers fandom. And to be perfectly honest, as time went on in each of the other two movies in the series I kept getting the vibe that there was a really good story that was desperately struggling to get out of a movie that had a bunch of douchebag humans taking center-stage against all of the much more interesting robot characters. Or for that matter, the much more interesting human characters!
Transformers opens much like the other two movies in the series did, with Peter Cullen narrating over a scene that foreshadows certain events of the rest of the movie.
At this point in time I was thinking: "And this isn't going to be any different from the other two movies" But then I got a little further into it.
You see, the movie opens with who I considered to be the most interesting human characters in the other two Transformers movies I reviewed, Captain William Lennox and his men from the army.
I remember thinking that I wished that they would have just cut Sam from the last two Transformers movies and focused on the interactions between the Not G.I. Joes and the Autobots, and that thought continued with me through the beginning of this movie, but I hushed that voice up a ways into it.
Lennox is stationed in Qatar at a Soccent base. He opens a Skype call to his wife and infant daughter right before the base is attacked by a helicopter of unknown origin, masquerading as a United States Air Force helo that had been shot down three months prior to the events of the movie.
The chopper transforms into a massive robot, and destroys most of the base, kills almost all of the soldiers and attempting to hack into their computer database. The base commander cuts the hard-lines, and a team of soldiers lead by Lennox managed to get footage of both the chopper and the robot it transformed into and escape to search for help.
Here, I was trying to convince myself that this would have been a better movie had it just focused on the military and the Autobots, but as time went on I began to dislike that notion more and more.
So Sam Witwicky is a highschooler who is attempting to buy his first car. He tells a story about his Great-Great-Grandfather, Captain Archibald Witwicky, who stumbled upon a giant metal man on an expedition to the arctic circle, and about how he apparently went insane later on. He attempts to sell some of his grandfathers things to the class so he can fund the car, but when he leaves school that day, his father immediately takes him to a used car dealership.
I was trying  to find something bad to say about this, but the explanation is simple. Nobody wants to have less money lying around. Especially since normal cars run on gas, and not Energon.
Sam and his father go to car dealership run by Bobby Bolivia, played by the late Bernie Mac, where Sam buys a classic sports car. A modified Chevrolet Camaro with some temperament issues.
Back in the United States, Sam and a buddy of his head off to a public park to join in on a party. There they meet Sam's love interest, Mikaela Banes.
I was trying my hardest to find a reason not to like her, to find a way to say that she came off as flat, or fake, or unlikable, but nope. She's actually pretty normal in this film. She even comes off as believable when she starts acting like she knows cars, which surprised me no end since the character seemed a little sidelined and psychotic in Transformers 2.
Speaking of trying to hate a character, at this point I wasn't nearly as sick of Sam as I had been in Transformers 3, oddly enough. I was wanting to think of him as a douchebag, but he wasn't coming off as one.
Not to mention Sam's parents, who seem to have gone from decently tolerable to bizarre caricatures of themselves over the course of three films.
I kept trying to find a way to fault the dialogue, or the acting, or the writing but it all just seemed like normal people reacting to an abnormal situation, rather than fanboys attempting to write dialogue for characters that they have no frame of reference for.
In fact, that brings me to a gripe I had with how Sam's parents were portrayed in Transformers 2 and 3, as essentially cardboard cutouts of cliches.
And I think I know why. Transformers 2 added another writer to the screenplay, and for the third one, he was the only one working on it. His name is Ehren Kruger, and he's worked on such gems as Scream 3 and 4.
I don't wanna put all the blame on him, but he is the correlating factor. Nothing against the guy personally. Considering that I'm not an insider on the film-making process I don't know this for sure Kruger is the problem. For all I know everyone else who was making the film went nuts and he was the only sane person on the team.
However unlikely that is.
Anyways, I noticed that Sam's interactions with his parents were a lot less excruciating in this movie, because instead of him being a douchebag and them being cliches, they actually seem like real people with real personalities.
Hell, even Sam's "What would Jesus do" speech wasn't what I would call intolerable. It just sounds like a kid trying to convince his teacher to help him out. And you know why it sounds that way? Because at this point, Sam Witwicky hasn't met the President of the United States of America to get a medal for saving the world twice. Because he doesn't know a small army of large robots who stand three stories tall and wield deadly weapons.
And even when Sam's dad is taking him through the Porche dealership on the way to Bobby Bolivia's used car lot wasn't hard to watch. Unlike the scene in Transformers 2 where Sam's mom was tripping out on some kind of hyperactivity drugs disguised as weed.
So anyways, I like how they interlaced scenes of Lennox's team with ones of his wife watching the news of his base being destroyed and survivor status being unknown, it helps to show how an information disconnect can affect a person.
Lennox's team was in the middle of analyzing the footage they had captured of the attacking robot when they were attacked by Scorponok, a Decepticon drone.
The action scenes in this movie are all really good. As per standard for the series the special effects are really good. All of them. So I doubt there's much to say about that that I haven't already said. Or that anyone else hasn't already said.
Anyways, Sam's car gets stolen and he follows it on his moms bike. He follows it to a junkyard, where it transforms into a gigantic robot.
Meanwhile on Air Force One, a Decepticon by the name of Frenzy manages to get a foothold into the United States classified information database, and before being shut out he manages to find out who the person was that found Megatron, and find out who his descendants are. Of course, Sam Witwicky is on that list. They check out his eBay page and find out that he's got his grandfathers glasses, which have the code needed to find the Allspark etched into them.
Another Decepticon, Barricade picks up Frenzy and harasses Sam, demanding that he tell them where the glasses are. Bumblebee intervenes and they escape.
To be perfectly honest, I can't remember when Sam picked up Mikaela and when she learned about The Transformers, but that isn't the movies fault, it's mine for not writing the review three months ago when I saw the movie.
Bumblebee and Barricade face off again, while Sam and Mikaela are left to deal with Frenzy.
I was trying to use this scene as an excuse to reinforce my opinions of Mikaela as a psychopath and Sam as completely useless, but I can't say that I would have handled the situation any differently than they did. I even wanted to criticize the product placement for the dewalt Sawsall they used to cut up Frenzy, but to be perfectly honest, I'd rather they use a real brand than a generic one.
Now, let's talk about one of the most famous scenes in the movie. The Arrival to Earth.
Right then I was trying to figure out if Transformers by Lion or The Touch by Stan Bush would have fit better, and they didn't. Arrival to Earth is an awesome piece of music, and it fits the scene pretty much perfectly. I have to disagree with the dude running with the camera, that while I do like this movie I don't necessarily thing that it's a better movie than Armageddon (Just like how I disagree with Rotten Tomatoes when I say that Transformers 2 was not worse than Transformers 3. And I also don't agree with them on The Island. The Island was not worse than Transformers.) I do have to say that it's a good movie so far.
I liked how the first human being Optimus met was a little girl. A small child, the picture of innocence, the exact thing that he would give his life to protect is the first being that he meets on planet earth.
Mikaela and Sam then meet up with Optimus Prime, Ratchet, Jazz, and Ironhide.
You know, in Transformers 2 there was barely any reason for Sam to be involved with the plot.
If Sam had only given the shard to NEST, Optimus wouldn't have died and Megatron probably wouldn't have been resurrected. But in this movie, the reason why the Decepticons want Sam is because he's got the code to find The Allspark. The reason the Autobots want to help Sam is the find the glasses so they can protect him and the earth from the Decepticons. The humans have to work with Sam because the Autobots are the ones that gave him the rundown on the situation. The Autobots gave him the rundown because they needed him to trust them. It's very simple, unlike how Sam got roped into Transformers 3's plot.
Now, despite the fact that the scene that follows is a little off-kilter, it's not out of place. It's not as though it's intended to elicit laughs.
So Sam is looking for his great-great-grandfathers glasses and he gets caught in his room with Mikaela. Despite the subject matter of the conversation between Sam and his parents, it doesn't come off as awkward to me. It actually seems like something that people might actually be talking about in that kind of situation.
Because Sam's parents reported him missing and because of the arrival to earth, a division of the US government known as Sector 7 shows up to investigate. The's probably a better summary of that, but unfortunately those details are a little fuzzy to me at the moment.
They detect Energon residue on Sam and Mikaela and haul them in. Optimus and the Autobots attempt to rescue them, but Sector 7 regains control of the situation and takes Sam, Mikaela and Bumblebee off to a classified location. If you haven't seen this scene be prepared for absolute painful brutality.
Thants to the glasses they got from Sam, the Autobots manage to rendezvous at the location they took Sam, Mikaela and Bumblebee to, the Hoover Dam. At the dam, they meet up with a hacker employed by one of the National Security Advisers to crack the Decepticon's encryption.
Frenzy, the Decepticon from earlier manages to sneak in and alert Starscream to the location of the Allspark. Thanks to Sam's Autobot knowledge the government decides to cooperate with Optimus and agrees to let Bumblebee take the Allspark.
The movie climaxes with a showdown between the Autobots and Decepticons. Bumblebee gets severely wounded, and hands the cube off to Sam to deliver to Optimus.
Right there, I was welling up with tears. Bumblebee was dying, and his only thoughts were of the safety of the human race, not of himself.
Now, this brings me to my gripes about Transformers 2 and 3. In this movie, despite communications being down the face-off between the Autobots and the Decepticons takes place in the middle of a major city, filled with tons of people. There's no way they could cover that up, especially not when so many people died in the crossfire.
And that was also something that annoyed me in the end of Transformers 2, the showdown in that movie took place in a major city as well. There's no way they could have covered that up, or any of the other Transformers related activity in the last two movies. As they went on, they kept stretching the willing suspension of disbelief, and the finally just gave up and said that everyone should know about the Transformers. It took them destroying most of Chicago to do it though, so I suppose that the version of the US government that can cover up large buildings in Nevada being destroyed and the destruction of the Pyramids of Giza
Sam takes the cube and runs to get it to Optimus. Along the way, The Allspark turns a Pepsi machine, an Xbox 360, and a Cadilac into Transformers.
I've heard people complain about this, asking why it only creates Decepticons and not Autobots. The explanation is simple. Despite Bumblebee being the last one to hold the cube, he didn't have time to reprogram it. The last Transformers with prolonged access were the Decepticons, and they probably programmed it to only create Decepticons.
The moment that saved Mikaela as a character for me was when she jacked a tow-truck and used it to haul Bumblebee out of the danger-zone. That's what turned her from a shallow psychopath into an actual human being for me, when she risked her life to save Bumblebee.
Sam manages to get the cube to Optimus, but Megatron has wounded him, and killed Jazz.
The moment where Megatron killed Jazz was even more infuriating this time around, which is something considering it barely phased me when I first watched the movie.
And just as all hope seems lost, as if the Autobots and the human race have failed despite their best efforts, Sam Witwicky made a choice.
A choice that changed my whole outlook on his character.
I suppose you could say that my opinion toward the whole franchise "transformed" a bit after watching the first movie again.
Despite all of my ire towards the other two Transformers movies I've reviewed, I still can't find it in my heart to dislike this one. It's not this movies fault that the other two weren't as good.
You know why?
Because this is the only movie where Sam Witwicky seemed like a hero.
That moment where he made that snap decision to kill Megatron was a moment where I was completely on-board with Sam. He risked life and limb to save a robot that he barely knew. In that moment, had they started playing The Touch, I would have been completely behind that being Sam's theme song. Because he fucking earned that theme song. The definition of true bravery is being afraid, but still daring to do what needs to be done. And Sam did what needed to be done.
I remember looking through the Transformers 2 soundtrack, and when I saw "The Touch (Sam's theme)" I was severely annoyed, because I didn't think he deserved that good a theme song. In Transformers 2 he acted too selfish and self-centered and completely uncaring to have that good of a theme song. To have that awesome, and uplifting a theme-song. Everything he did in that movie could have easily been done by Lennox, who was a much more selfless character. While Sam was on the road to redemption in Transformers 3, he screwed it up by not being very useful in the times when he could have redeemed himself the most.
My argument here is that by that point, Sam has already been through enough that he should have been pretty jaded and experienced by the time Dark of the Moon came out. Instead he just reset to the same basic template at the beginning of both of the sequels.
By the time of Transformers 2, Sam should have been working with NEST and the Autobots as part of their task-force. By the time of Transformers 3 he should have been head of the organization! Why is he looking for a job in the private sector? For that matter, why did it take so long for him to get one?
But at the end of Transformers, Sam Witwicky felt like a genuine hero. Like someone who I would actually consider a great character if they'd bothered to develop him properly as the movies went on.
If you're looking for a good movie about The Transformers, this may disappoint. The movie is more about the people than about the robots, and while I REALLY wanted to dislike it for that, I remember how much I liked the Batman movie from 1989. Despite that it was more about The Joker than about Batman, I still really, really like it. And despite Transformers being less about the actual Transformers than the humans, I still really liked it. And here's why:
Because it treated the civilians like actual people. And that made all the difference.
This movie is essentially perfect. There's nothing in it that I would change.
I was looking for things to change, to edit, to fine-tune and I didn't find any! I remember I had a whole catalog of things I would have changed in The Expendables, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen and Transformers: Dark of the moon. This is why I held off on reviewing this movie for so long, because of The Expendables. That movie was so badly made that it made me look back on the Transformers movies more fondly. That's why I reviewed so many movies in the order I did this summer, because of The Expendables!
So all in all, while the entire movie was really good, it was that last scene that clinched it for me. Because in that moment, I truly believed that Sam Witwicky had The Touch.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Resident Evil 2

I'm sorry I didn't get this out in time, but I had a lot of other reviews to write and videos to make.
Resident Evil 2 was originally released in January in Japan and North America, and in the PAL regions in May of 1998 for the Sony PlayStation, and was then re-released, and was re-released in August and November of the same year in Japan and North America respectively with Dual Shock support.
It was also released exclusively in North America for the Tiger Game.com.
Yes, Capcom canceled the Gameboy version of Resident Evil, but made a version of RE2 for Tiger's not-quite DS, not quite-Game Gear.
The game was then released for PC in February of 99 in North America and Japan, and April of the same year in the PAL regions.
Later on that same year, it was released for Nintendo 64 in North America. In January and February of 2000 that same version was released in Japan and the PAL regions respectively. That's the version I'll be reviewing today, as it's the one I played for YouTube. It included some extra background documents that helped link it to the then upcoming N64 version of Resident Evil Zero.
At the start, the game lets you set the violence levels, which I naturally set to maximum. It also had an option to change the blood color from red to either blue or green. Naturally, I chose red because this is neither the planet of the horseshoe crabs, nor Vulcan. It also had higher-definition backgrounds despite storage limitations, in addition to smoother character animations, sharper models, and better textures.
It also had higher-definition music and sound than the PlayStation version, thanks to utilizing a higher sample-rate for the audio.
Resident Evil 2 also saw a Dreamcast release in December of '99 in Japan, April of 2000 in the PAL regions, and December of the same year in North America. That version was based on the higher-definition PC port, that sadly none of the other console releases were based on.
Three years later, it saw a release on the Nintendo GameCube, based on the Dual Shock version. The backgrounds appear to be at about the same resolution as their PlayStation counterparts. It doesn't include any of the Ex Files from the Nintendo 64 version, for instance.
There was an updated version released in '06 for Windows XP with higher-definition FMVs and higher-definition backgrounds. Unfortunately, this version was exclusively released in Japan and has never seen a release outside of the land of the rising sun.
The Dual Shock version saw a release on the PSN in December of '07 in Japan, November of '09 (What...) in North America, and February of '12 (Wow, seriously?) in the EU. It's based on the Dual Shock version, and also was included as a voucher with the PS3 Limited Edition of Resident Evil 6.
I'd love to see it in a Resident Evil collection as a physical release, but that's probably not going to happen. Least I have the N64 version.
There was also talk of a REmake of the second game for the Wii a few years ago (At least five and counting) but that doesn't seem to be happening. The original REmake was/is being re-released recently (Not physically except for PS4, and only in Japan) for everything except Wii U (Which makes no sense considering that's the system the game was made for) so maybe there's hope.
Anyways, the game started development as Resident Evil 1.5, and was apparently at about eighty-percent completion when it was scrapped after Shinji Mikami determined it was too dull and boring.
Resident Evil 1.5
The original protagonists of Resident Evil 2 were Elza Walker, a college-student and motorbike racer vacationing near Raccoon City, and Leon S. Kennedy. Leon was pretty much unchanged in the final build of the game, and Elza was turned into Claire Redfield, with very few changes applied to her back-story, except that her name was changed and she was given Chris-like features.
Sherry Birkin was in the original version of the game, I'm pretty sure she hasn't changed since the first version.
Apparently Resident Evil 2 was originally supposed to be the last game in the series, but for better or worse they scrapped that part of the story and made it more open-ended.
Personally, I like that they didn't close it off at RE2, otherwise we wouldn't have gotten Resident Evil 3, one of my favorite games in the series, or Resident Evil 4. Or for that matter, REvelations, which is turning out to be a great game.
Or any of the other games. Again, for better or worse.
Other characters also appeared in various capacities. There were originally two support characters for each of the mains. In addition to that, the main characters never had intersecting storylines. It was similar to the original Resident Evil in that way.
But they wisely revised the story to have the main characters actually meet each other and interact.
Leon is a rookie-cop, straight out of the academy on his way into Raccoon City to start his rotation in the RCPD.
While driving his Jeep into town, he notices a person lying on the road. He stops, and checks it out, being a cop and all. After that, some zombies come up on him and force him away from his Jeep, and towards a diner/truck-stop.
Meanwhile, Claire Redfield has come into town looking for her brother. She's had no word from him for quite a while and decided to come check out the situation and make sure everything was alright.
Claire gets ambushed by a zombie in the truck-stop and flees from it, opening an outside door to find a man pointing a gun at her.
That man is Leon, and he kills the zombie that was following her.
They get away from the truck-stop, and manage to find an RCPD Crown Victoria Police Cruiser with the keys still inside. Claire finds a handgun inside the cruiser, and they manage to get away from the undead.
They take that and make their way to the police-station, only to find that there was a zombie in the back-seat of the cruiser, and that forces Leon to take evasive action to keep it from killing them. Unfortunately, that causes them to crash into a pole and become stuck.
And a zombie driving a sixteen-wheeler (A trucker who was infected earlier in the opening) then comes barreling down the rod behind them, forcing them to leap out of the police-car to safety. The fuel-tank catches fire in addition to the semi-trailer exploding, causing them to become separated.
Claire and Leon wind up taking different paths to the police-station, but wind up in the STARS Alpha room anyways. They find out that Chris and the other STARS members went off to Europe to take out the Umbrella HQ over there.
Leon and Claire determine that it's best they find a way out of Raccoon City ASAP.
On the way, Leon runs into Ada Wong, a mercenary looking for her boyfriend, John.
There was a character named John in Resident Evil 1.5, who turned into the gunshop owner that either Claire or Leon run into earlier in the game.
Which was just damn confusing. I know John is a common name, but there was a character named John in the original Resident Evil, and I'm glad they changed those details to tie in better to the original game.
Leon also runs into Marvin Branagh, who was supposed to be one of Leon's supporting characters in the original version of the game. He dies after telling Leon to look for survivors.
Claire runs into a little girl names Sherry Birkin and the chief of police, Brian Irons.
Fun fact, Leon Scott Kennedy was modeled after Isao Ohishi's bloodhound.
Yes, bloodhound the dog, not something else.
Anette Birkin was modeled on Jodie Foster apparently. Interesting, considering Ellen Page once sued for unauthorized use of her likeness in a game.
Which begs the question, did she license her likeness to Capcom for this game?
That aside, here we go.
The graphics are pretty sweet for fifth generation limitations, both the pre-rendered backgrounds and the real-time renders. There are jiggle-physics applied to both Claire's hair and her breasts, which is something I was startled to discover. And pretty good jiggle-physics I might add. Better than some I've seen in some games that followed it.
They limited the number of zombies in a single area to five, allowing them to go for a much higher polygon count on all of the real-time 3D models.
In Resident Evil 1.5, the characters originally had modifications applied in real-time to their models when they became injured. This, however was scaled back to decreasing their walking and running speed when they received damage, as well as making them clutch their stomachs, which wound up being more practical for the hardware limitations of the existing consoles.
I have to say, some of the ideas that went into Resident Evil 1.5 were far ahead of their time. That thing about the models changing in real-time as a reaction to damage and their environments, that's pretty cool. I don't know if Capcom used that idea in any later games, but I'd feel safe saying that I doubt it.
They also had ideas to make real-time changes to the pre-rendered backgrounds, an idea that would be put into use later on in Resident Evil Zero and the GameCube remake of the original game, to great effect.
So, the plot seems to be pretty cool, but DEAR GOD is the final boss a tough nut to crack.
And the final boss is VERY story related.
So all in all, the game seems to be a very good port. Granted, the FMVs look atrocious. And the audio in said FMVs seem to have been encoded with a lemon.
But the other voice-clips are encoded very well. As are the pre-rendered backgrounds.
And in addition to the backgrounds holding up, so do the 3D models. They're much better than say, a typical early PS2 game.
Something else I feel I should mention is that this is one of the only games in the series with analog movement control. Yes, it exists. Which begs the question, why wasn't it included in later games?
Well, this might just be due to the fact that the joystick on my controller is shot to hell, but I don't think that it was very good. It doesn't really work, and I wound up using the d-pad almost exclusively throughout my entire playing time.
It's a little awkward, to say something about it. Again, it might just be muscle-memory, or my crappy joystick to blame, but I didn't like the analog control very much.
Now, while we're on the subject of the Nintendo 64, and how impressive this port was...
Well it raises some...
Let's say... Troubling questions.
Considering how they managed to cram two 700MB CD's worth of data onto a 512MB N64 cartridge. That's compressing about a gigabyte's worth of game into a space less than half of that.
Which begs the question, what ever happened to Resident Evil and Resident Evil 3? They both came on a single 700MB CD, and that's not a whole lot more than 512. Especially considering they managed to fit the original game onto a single 128MB Nintendo DS card.
And the last time I checked, I think that the PSN version of Resident Evil 3 was around 300MBs.
Yeah, the size is exactly 365MBs.
And the PSN version of Resident Evil is 299MBs. Yeah, it's that small!
And on top of that!
Resident Evil 2 on PSN is 757MBs.
So yeah, that's a major little thing right there. For everyone who says that they couldn't fit the game onto an N64 cart, they obviously could.Yeah, they could!
What even happened there? It was just a single, random, one-off port of Resident Evil 2 for a console that didn't get either of the games sequels, much less the original game!
I don't have any single clue what held them back from that. Nintendo had already repealed its North American content filtering policies in the late SNES era, (Which begs the question, where did the color options for the blood and violence come from?) so that option flies right out the window. Especially when it's got an option for red-blood and ultraviolence.
Size? That option goes out with the trash. From what I can tell it's entirely possible for Capcom to have fit the first and third games onto a single N64 cartridge each. Maybe even both of them onto one if they compressed them a little bit. Hell, what could have been eh?
Was it too difficult to port? Okay, I could believe this had Resident Evil 2 not been ported by a team of about twenty people on a budget of a million dollars over the course of a year. And had Resident Evil 2 not had much better graphics and sound on the N64 than on the PlayStation. Could they have made the money back?
Who knows. I would hope so. It would at least be very interesting. Hell, they were planning to make a version of the original Resident Evil for the GameBoy Color, and they actually went through with making a handheld version for the Game.Com! So stranger things have happened, certainly. The fact that the GameBoy version was practically finished by the time it was canceled just tells you how bloody determined Capcom was to push the limits of the technology they had access to back in the 90s. And I have to say that I support that.
So all in all I would have to say that Resident Evil 2 is well worth your time. I mean, I had a decent amount of fun with it, and it was well worth the price I paid for it.
In the end I give it an 8.6* rating. Sorry again for not getting it out four days ago, I had a lot of things I needed to get done, and this review has been kicking around in my head since I finished the game in January.
I'll see you next week with Transformers!

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Alien: Isolation first impressions

I didn't expect to be reviewing more than one new game this year, but at this rate I might actually be able to fill up my top five games of 2014!
I might as well put up a disclaimer saying that part of this review was written prior to finishing the game, which is why the transitions are a little awkward. Also, minor spoilers inbound when I talk about a scripting error. Nothing major, but I figured I'd let you know.
Alien: Isolation the latest in a line of licensed games based on the Alien franchise. The last one, Colonial Marines was a followup to the movie, Aliens. As I was only informed about the backlash after the fact, I will not be comparing the two games, despite what other outlets and critics may be doing. Now, considering that, I'd like to talk about the history of Alien in videogames rather briefly.
Alien has had quite a few bad games based on it. For instance, the Super Nintendo platformer based on Alien Cubed was trying to be Metroid, but utterly failed due to some pretty bad mechanics and poor level design. The NES version was also trying to be Metroid pretty hard, but it failed a little more than the SNES one thanks to the LJN rainbow of doom, and the fact that the developers had obviously never played Metroid. I've heard that most of the other games made based on the Alien/Predator franchise aren't great. The ones I've heard good things about are Alien vs Predator: Requiem for Sony's PSP, which I haven't played but was apparently pretty good, and Aliens vs Predator for Xbox 360, PC and PS3, which spread itself a little too thin, but was apparently pretty decent.
And then there's the arcade beat-em-up based on the Alien vs Predator comic, which is apparently remembered alongside Turtles In Time as one of the greatest Beat 'Em Ups ever made, despite never seeing a home console release. One of the main characters is based on Dutch, Arnold's character from Predator, and someone who.... Most certainly isn't Ellen Ripley. As well as two Predators. And no Alien. Why no Xenomorph?
Anyways, the last two Alien games I wanted to talk about are Alien Trilogy and Alien: Resurrection, both for  the Sony PlayStation.
Alien Trilogy is apparently a DooM clone in every sense of the phrase. It's an FPS, you run around fighting Aliens and doing other stuff. It received generally positive reviews.
And finally, Alien: Resurrection. It started off as a survival-horror-y Resident Evil clone, but transitioned into an FPS.
Which is the exact opposite of the path Resident Evil took. It started development as an FPS, but mutated into the game that defined survival-horror.
And now we have Alien: Isolation. A followup to Alien where you play as Ellen Ripley's daughter, Amanda Ripley. Fifteen years after the events of Alien, Amanda finds out that the flight-recorder from her mothers ship has been found and joins the crew of a ship that's been sent out to retrieve it. She winds up going on a space-walk with two other members of the crew because the space-station had a damaged docking-bay.
As such, an explosion separates them and Amanda winds up having to search the station for her shipmates.
Now, as demonstrated in my ongoing let's play I was confused as to which of the characters was blown over to the airlock Ripley enters. Obviously it was Ripley, but I though it was the British girl, Taylor because of how it was... Filmed? Rendered? I don't know.
Anyways, that might have been a lapse of attention on my part.
So as the title suggests, there is an Alien in this game. There might be more than one for all I know, since this is a first impressions review. I call him "Mister drooly-face" because giving a deadly creature a cutesy nickname is hilarious. And I already beat this joke into the ground in the first few minutes after making it.
So anyways, let's start talking about the gameplay.
You guys remember my Metal Gear Solid and MGS2 playthroughs, right? And my (Currently incomplete) MGS3 playthrough? Well it's very similar to that. It's like Metal Gear in the first person. Except that you can move around in the first person.
That was something I didn't like about Metal Gear Solid 2 and MGS3, they (Unless I'm forgetting something) didn't let you move in the FPV, because they used the left stick for looking around and the right stick for the katana. Sometimes we need three analog sticks I suppose. Or maybe we should have a switch to go between the first and third person, and not a deadmans switch.
And maybe a third analog stick for the sword if we really need that.
Or maybe I'm thinking about this way too hard and I should probably get back to the real review.
Well anyways, as I said it's a lot like Metal Gear. Except crossed with Call of Duty, but with voluntary prone stance removed. Instead of letting you crawl around on the floor, you have to crouch and move like that. Your proning is completely reliant upon moving next to a low surface, and then staying under it, at least in the Xbox 360 version. It's incredibly inconvenient, as somebody who's played a lot of Metal Gear Solid and enjoyed the stealth-sections in Call of Duty 4 I expect to be able to lie down and crawl. It was invaluable in Call of Duty 4 and also in the Metal Gear Solid games. Just saying, it would have been nice to be able to crawl on my stomach. I might have not been seen or killed as many times. Having to crouch like that was what got me killed by a bunch of Androids once. If I'd been prone and crawling, the android wouldn't have seen me over the computer banks.
My point is that not being able to go prone in a stealth-horror game at-will is something that baffles me.
And also, the automatic-proning gets really irritating around certain low-hanging edges later in the game. Not letting you lay prone on your own means that you're sometimes lying down under a desk when all you want to do is not be seen over the computer monitor.
Now, I started the game on hard mode because the menu said that was how the game was meant to be played, and as of this writing I've sunken about nine hours into it give or take a few (I haven't had time to look at the footage I shot yesterday quite yet) and I'm only on chapter five. That's about the amount of time I spent on Metal Gear Solid, Resident Evil, Sonic Adventure, and Super Smash Bros. Brawl: Subspace Emissary each. I've poured enough time into this game to fill up almost two Call of Duty games and definitely two of the shorter Sonic The Hedgehog games.
And I have to say, it feels like it's worth the time. Might even be worth the money. I wouldn't know, having only ever bought one game at full-price in my entire lifetime (For those of you who don't know, it was Fire Emblem: Awakening) and that one was certainly worth the forty bucks I paid for it. Poured almost fifty hours into it so far (And I'm sorry about putting off my midpoint thoughts on it for so long, but my summer catchup reviews have shunted it down the list quite a bit.) and it's been worth every single penny. I'll have to reserve judgement of this game until I finish it (Which I did)
For the sake of knowing, I decided to look at the achievements and see how many missions there are.
And I was shocked to see that there were... At least fifteen if I remember correctly.
Fifteen missions. Fifteen. It's crazy. It's like they actually put some kind of effort into the game!
And that's something that you can tell throughout, that actual effort was put into it. There are all kinds of little things scattered around the space station chronicling what all the residents did and what happened to them before the game started. Nice little touches here and there, you know? Fluffy things that flesh out the world.
Anyways, I can't remember how long it took for the Alien to show up, but it was at least four hours. And I like it. (Not a spoiler because Penny Arcade already mentioned that fact) Until then you're pretty much just hiding and running from human survivors. And that's a nice way to add to the tension. Sort of like the original Alien, where there was a lot of stuff going on in it before the Alien appeared. You got to know the characters, you get used the the grungy sci-fi environments, explore a little, find some cool stuff to read. And that's pretty good. I liked Alien for doing that. It was pretty sweet. For the first horror-movie I'd ever seen I would say that it was a pretty good start.
So I might as well go into some things I noticed about the game here. First off, there are quite a few physics bugs even after the patch was installed. They're fairly rampant, but they're also not major and don't really cause many problems. Second is that there are a few scripting errors that persisted past the installation of the patch. First is that, in one mission you get seen by a female survivor who was trying to unlock an elevator. When you get shot at you automatically crouch down and can't get back up to sprint until she leaves. This wasn't something I noticed until after I'd been killed by her harem of preternatural psychic sharpshooters a couple of times.
After the first time I got found, I decided to try and sneak up on her to kill her before she could sound the alarm. I got found. So at some point in time I decided to run up to her and smash her with my mighty hammer of doom. And Mjolnir just clipped right through her, but her shots managed to smack right into me. That was the point when I found out that she couldn't be killed at that point. But before that (Or after, I can't remember because that entire thing started to blur together after a while), I decided to run after her and try to keep her from sounding the alarm. And she got away. And that was about the time I found out that you don't get chased by her and her buddies until after you pick up her access-tuner. Which means you can run around the whole area looting and setting up traps to your hearts content. Up until then, the pacing was picture perfect. And that wasn't fixed in the patch to my knowledge, since I installed the patch prior to my second play session. That little scripting error broke all of my immersion built up to that point. Fortunately, they managed to suck me back into the game some more later on.
Except for the time that one of the Androids I was running from at one point managed to teleport right through the elevator door. They did that like twice if I remember correctly. Just popped right through the elevator door after it had been shut. This was after the patch was installed, by the way
In addition to that, the human NPCs in that one sequence I mentioned seemed a little too smart. They wound up being able to shoot me from across the freaking room, with pinpoint accuracy, using handguns. That really shouldn't happen. In anything. While making the NPCs scary-smart does add to the tension, humans still shouldn't be able to tell friend from foe in the dark, on a different floor, across the freaking room, and with plenty of obscuring objects between us.
At one point in time I grabbed the tuner and booked it out of the room, and then stumbled upon what I presume to have been another group of survivors, who threatened me with their guns and told me to back off or be shot. I did just that, and they proceeded to fill me with hot lead.
That didn't really make much sense. I was doing what they asked and they STILL opened fire!
Anyways, after that I decided to grab the tuner and book it out of there, opting to hide in a locker on the way. After a while, someone who I presume to have been the woman who sounded the alarm passed right by me, and then a little while later passed by me again after having checked the room. I burst out of the locker and whacked her with the maintenance jack a few times, killing her.
At that point, I decided to loot her body for her weapons and supplies. Which was when I found out that I couldn't take her revolver.
Another thing I feel like mentioning is that all of the handguns in this game look like Barry Burton's Colt Anaconda from Resident Evil. All of them. The revolver you find looks like it, and every character with a gun uses that same model. I'm not saying that they were lazy in designing guns, but it's a little bit perplexing that there wouldn't be at least one other model of pistol on board the station.
Anyways, I don't really appreciate the inability to loot weapons from others. That got to me in Metal Gear Solid as well, but at least they had a plausible explanation for that in the sequel. The weapons are bio-metrically locked to the owners of them, therefore they're about as useful as a knife in a gunfight. In this game however, why you can't pick up and use the weapons of others is neither addressed nor explained.
So anyways, from there on I noticed that the Alien seems to be programmed to mess with you.
In some seriously messed up ways.
I cannot count the number of times that drooling black monster just stared at me. Like it was thinking "Yeah, I'll be back for you" and then walked away to do something else.
Usually killing other people.
And then coming back to kill me. A lot. I unlocked an achievement called "100 times too many"
In case you want to know what you have to do to get that achievement, you have to be killed by the Alien a hundred times.
And that's not even counting how many times I was killed by androids, or humans, or my IED's inexplicably going off in my face.
Not that inexplicably, but sometimes I wonder how the flames from my molotovs kept arcing back towards me when I was too close to the target.
It wasn't major though. Just gotta learn to be a little further away from ground zero before tossing a pipe-bomb or molotov.
So Ripley travels around the station, gathering supplies and trying to get back into contact with her ship. And all the while, pretty much everything in the station is trying to kill her.
I won't give anything away, but suffice to say that there are some truly brutal moments in this game. The kind that must be seen to be believed.
Now, onto the level design.
Some doors require a certain button combination to open. Like holding down on the left trigger and pulling down on the left stick, or pressing A multiple times to start up a generator, or moving the left stick around to cut open a panel. Personally, I really like that the game makes you open up doors, panels and other things like that. It adds to the interactivity and immersion.
There are other, similar puzzles that require certain timing with button presses, or holding one stick in a certain position while selecting a certain panel with the other. It can get a little awkward, but it's supposed to be that way. I doubt I'd be able to do much better than Ripley in that same situation, and I like the button-combination things. They're not exactly what I would call quick-time-events, but they're similar.
I don't know why I like them, really. It might be because they add to the atmosphere, that they don't break immersion or the flow of the game, or maybe that they tend to be brief and easy to get used to.
Another thing I love about this game is that you never leave Ripley's POV once you're on the space-station. The camera never cuts to third-person for anything. And there's hardly any HUD, just an ammo-counter and a health-meter in the lower left-hand corner of the screen. And it works. You see this, Jurassic Park: Trespasser? This is what you were supposed to be. You see this, Colonial Marines? You were supposed to do this a year ago. Hell, you were supposed to be doing this thirteen years ago.
Hey, Slender? You see this? This is how you do survival horror. Not jumpscares, not inconsistent AI, but with a malicious and sadistic monster that actually poses a threat to you. Slender's game overs consist of a mannequin dressed up like The Nostalgia Critic staring at you. Alien Isolation's game overs consist of you being strangled by an android, stabbed through the stomach in graphic detail by the Alien, stomped to death, having your face bitten off, being just plain SHOT and PUMMELED TO DEATH.
And blown up by your own weapons. You see this, Slender? I'm talking to both The Arrival and The Eight Pages, as well as Slenderman's Shadow. This is how you make a good horror game. If you guys had done this instead of.... Whatever the Slender games were, I might have liked you. You might have been more than a passing fad. But guess what? You've been replaced by good survival-horror games now (As if you weren't a year ago). Games that actually have survival elements (As opposed to insta-kills and nothing to fight back with) and horror. We've got The Evil Within coming out as well, here's hoping Shinji Mikami can light the spark up again, am I right?
*AHEM*
And finally, the graphics. This game looks pretty good. The lip-sync is a little off at times, and my slow as molasses flash-drive I had to install the game on meant that textures and sometimes whole areas would take a few seconds to pop in, but I don't blame the game for that. The Xbox 360 said that it wasn't at par for data storage. As far as a game that's seeing a release on current as well as next-gen goes, it looks better than, say, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone for the PlayStation did at the time. Or Chamber of Secrets on the same system. Or Spider-Man 3, or Sonic Unleashed, or pick a sports game. It looks really nice. I played it at 1080i and I thought it looked pretty good. And I'm not usually one to care about how good something looks.
There are, as I've said before, a few minor physics bugs, and some things I presume were supposed to be round turn out looking kind of polygonal, but that's a minor detail compared to how awesome the game is.
So, moving on to Crew: Expendable.
Crew: Expendable is the first piece of DLC released for Alien: Isolation, included with the Nostromo Edition, which came as a free upgrade for all pre-orders.
It lasts about a half hour.
It includes a faithful recreation of the Nostromo from the original Alien, as well as most of their equipment. The DLC starts off right after the deaths of Kane and Brett.
In addition to informing you of that, the voucher falsely claims that Lambert and Ash have already been killed as well, despite both of them being alive and well at the beginning of the DLC, and playing rather large roles in the story. I presume this summary was attached to an older version and they didn't have time to print up new vouchers when the direction of the content changed.
Yaphet Kotto, Tom Skerrit, Harry Dean Stanton, Veronica Cartwright and Sigourney Weaver reprise their roles as Parker, Dallas, Brett, Lambert and Ellen Ripley respectively, with Ian Holm reprising his likeness as Ash, but unable to provide voice work. And it works pretty well. I like that they were able to get most of the original cast for this DLC, however brief it may be.
The expansion gives you a choice of playing as Dallas, Parker or Ripley. Considering Ripley's status as the only survivor of Alien, I naturally chose to play as her. You'd think that playing as either Dallas or Parker would open up a different ending, but from what I've read it seems to play out the same way no matter which character you choose.
I figured that it would be an abridged recreation of Alien, or maybe even a complete adaptation, which would last a couple of hours.
Unfortunately, it didn't get that far. I clocked hard mode in, give or take a half an hour. It's just an excerpt of a few scenes from Alien combined with a deleted scene and some narration.
Admittedly pretty cool and pretty tense scenes, but if you want the experience this DLC gives, you can easily just re-watch Alien.
It's pretty good for what it is I suppose. But it's nothing special. You could put the four dollars to something that lasts longer. DooM 3, for instance is ten dollars, as are, Half Life, Half Life 2, both HL2 episodes, Fallout 3, 2 and New Vegas, both KOTOR games, Portal, Duke Nukem 3D: Megaton Edition, all for ten dollars each on Steam. X-COM is seven dollars right now on Steam, Deus Ex is seven dollars, DooM II, Ultimate DooM and FinaL DooM are all five dollars, hell. Aliens vs Predator 2000 is five dollars!
My point is that if you didn't get the Nostromo Edition already, and you've seen Alien, you won't be missing anything, and you can easily spend your money in better ways on better and longer games.
Like Aliens vs Predator 2000.
Sorry to say it, but I was disappointed in Crew: Expendable. As an unlockable once you completed the main campaign, it might have redeemed itself, but as DLC I'd personally pass on it in favor of buying a full game, or waiting on larger expansions to this one. The file-size of just over a hundred megabytes should have tipped me off as to the length. It's kind of fun at first, but I was disappointed by how short it is. Personally, I think that a full-on adaptation of Alien would have been in order. Heck, just give it its own game! That would work!
All in all, aside from the DLC, I liked Alien: Isolation. I have a feeling that it's going to become one of the defining survival horror games of this decade. It's got stealth, it's got tension, it's got aliens, it's got androids, and it has immersion. If you were burned by Aliens: Colonial Marines (And if you were, I wouldn't blame you), this game is here to provide some soothing cream. And by cream, I mean tears of fear and sweat of terror.
In the end I give it a 10.1* rating. It's a great game, and it must be played to be believed. I'll be seeing you soon with Resident Evil 2!
Side note, the game includes a brochure, stating that all four Alien movies with extended cuts and "awesome extras" available on Xbox Video.
Notice that it's mentioning all four movies as opposed to just the first two.
Granted, my hypothesis about both of those movies being figments of Ripley's imagination, dreams she's having during her cryosleep journey back to earth does make both Alien 3 and Resurrection better films (And granted, Alien 4 was much better than Alien 3, but that's not hard to do) but I don't know why anyone would want to associate something as good as this game, much less as good as the first two Alien movies with Alien 3. It would be so easy just to pull a Superman Returns and say that the third and fourth movies never happened and be done with it, and yet they keep advertising all four movies.
Probably because they know they're only going to get the last two movies into peoples hands if they bundle them with the first two. But I can tell they're trying for a soft reboot and retcon to get peoples minds off of Alien 3, and have been for the last seventeen years.
So anyways, tangents and ranting aside, this game was good. End of story.