Tag Archives: DS

Radiant Historia

Back in the glory days when Atlus games could be imported and didn’t acquire major bugs in crossing the Atlantic, a little RPG called Radiant Historia came out, and sold out almost as quickly. Being from Atlus, it was woefully underproduced, quickly reached absurd prices on eBay, and never officially came out in Europe. I, naturally, paid over the odds for it only weeks before a third reprint pushed the price for a new copy down to around the £20 mark, but oh well. It’s a very good game, so I don’t mind.

It’s not the first time it’s happened, so I’ve since sworn to purchase every Atlus game on release, which is probably the idea. Well done, Atlus. Your evil plan has succeeded.

Radiant Historia

It’s hard to mind such a scheme when games are as good as this, though. Radiant Historia harks back to 16-bit RPGs, notably Chrono Trigger – time-travelling storyline, enemies on the world map – with only perfunctory 3D backgrounds to let you know that this game was made this side of 2000.

That’s precisely why I like it. The travails of the JRPG genre in the last generation have been documented, and recently I’ve been playing classics I missed from the PS1 and PS2 genre in a generally successful attempt to recapture the magic of that period when a type of game was at its absolute zenith. While the B-tier has been ripped out of console development, leaving us with nothing between indie darlings and expensive AAA adventures that need 5 million sales to break even, it’s alive and well on handhelds, creating games like this while console RPGs straddle some line between anime and game that pleases nobody.

I’m not meaning to imply that this is anything less than a sterling effort by referring to it as B-tier, however. It’s lengthy (38 hours for me), it breaks tradition by having a main character who’s intelligent and has useful things to say, and the grid-based battle system is empowering as you master it. Apparently developers do get it, but the ones that do are no longer working on console games.

The 3DS is looking like an RPG powerhouse as well – in 2013 alone, we’ve got or are getting Fire Emblem Awakening, Mario & Luigi: Dream Team, Shin Megami Tensei IV, Etrian Odyssey IV, Soul Hackers and Bravely Default, among others – and so it’s taking up an increasing amount of my gaming time. But that said, as I’ve also spent dozens of hours sat in front of my PS3 in recent weeks, playing games like Chrono Cross, Grandia, Xenogears and Dragon Quest VIII, I’m still hoping that affords to rein in development costs next generation with more friendly hardware will see the triumphant return of games like this to their rightful home.

All consoles need suspend/resume

One of the announcements at the PS4 unveiling that I’ve seen get little media coverage is that it will follow in the footsteps of the DS, PSP, 3DS and Vita by supporting suspend/resume across all games. I suspect the reason for the muted response is simply that people don’t realise what a useful feature it is, and I think it’ll be hard to go back once we’ve got used to it.

PS4 suspend/resume

Strangely, this is a feature that became dear to me immediately before Sony’s announcement, when the reveal of Mario & Luigi: Dream Team led me to dig out the first game on my beloved Game Boy Micro. Years of snapping shut whatever iteration of the DS I’m currently playing has made partaking of an RPG on a handheld without it feel less practical, more difficult to fit into snatched moments of gameplay. As excellent as they are, the ports of the 16-bit Final Fantasy games with their requirement of seeking out save points in towns and dungeons just aren’t designed with modern gaming habits in mind.

Even with my increased willingness to play a long-form game when sat down in front of the TV, finding a suitable place to stop playing feels like it takes annoying liberties with my time, making it impossible to drop out at a moment’s notice without losing progress. Other media don’t do it. Most DVD players remember the position you left off if you switch off during the movie, and TV habits are now built around pausing live TV and resuming recordings where you last stopped them. And now games won’t either.

I’ve seen it written elsewhere that the PS4’s respect for its users’ limited gaming time is its best feature, and I’m inclined to agree. It’s an area where the PS3, with its 20-minute firmware updates, mandatory installations and 500MB patches that lock you out while they download, failed spectacularly, and it’s great to see Sony learning from its mistakes. It’s going one better, not even making downloading the whole game a requirement before you start playing. It never made sense to me that you couldn’t start playing the first level until you’d downloaded the final one, which you might not need for 20+ hours, and now a system’s been designed around fixing that oversight.

While the games were fairly uninspiring at this point – I can’t be the only one who laughed at how they followed Killzone 4, inFamous 3 and a racing game with a speech about “creative risks” – full credit to Sony for the design of the system. The PlayStation 4 looks friendly both to develop for and to play on, with genuinely innovative features that make me, not entirely liking the move away from dedicated gaming systems, want to jump in.

Your move, Microsoft. How many ads are you going to cram onto the dashboard this time?

Pokémon: In Need of Change

Pokémon TrainerLast week I picked up Pokémon White, my first purchase in the series since Sapphire on the GBA. Like anyone whose age was under about 15 circa 1998, I was obsessed with Red/Blue, and although I enjoyed both, Gold/Silver and Ruby/Sapphire represented diminishing returns to me. By the time the enhanced remakes and so on started coming out with some regularity I was happy to leave it alone, but Black and White seemed like a good chance to see what has changed in the better part of a decade.

Not an awful lot, it turns out.

Back in 1998, I can actually remember looking at Pokémon and, having salivated at how gloriously Zelda had recently transformed from top-down 2D adventure to epic 3D quest, my friends and I were giddy at how good it would be when Pokémon did the same thing. Now, several generations later, the series’ latest and greatest is… a top-down 2D adventure. Even the battles have the same largely static, pixellated characters in place of some nice high-res art. They have polygonal buildings these days, though, so that’s something.

I know, I know. The DS never was a powerhouse and couldn’t reasonably be expected to do too much more than this. But the lack of ambition in the design extends to the gameplay as well: all of these games are essentially identical. Your character comes of age and gets his first Pokémon from a choice of three, goes on a quest to defeat the Gym Leaders while fighting off attacks from terrorist groups, and becomes the greatest of all time. Then collect and train your critters until you lose the will to live. Flavour has been added over time through features like the day/night cycle and some impenetrable network connectivity, but the basics are unchanged.

Why haven’t we had a proper Pokémon RPG for one of Nintendo’s consoles? It must be a budget concern or something – lots of monsters to model and animate, most of which, in my opinion, can’t beat the original 151 for personality – because there can’t be concerns over whether or not it would sell.

I can only assume that the fact that these games are ultimately aimed at children is how gameplay that is so painfully repetitive, in an RPG without much of a story to hold the interest, can maintain such popularity. Given the huge amount of innovative, clever stuff on the DS, I just can’t see the appeal any more.

What a shame. I’ll play it into double figures to give it a fair shake and happily retract this if it turns into something brilliant in that time, but sadly, I don’t think it’s going to happen.

Why I’m Not Buying a 3DS

Excitement seems to be high for Nintendo’s new handheld, and that’s somewhat understandable. I watched the E3 conference too and came away suitably impressed, as the company seemed to be doing everything right: some nice technical innovation, an impressive list of new and remade games, a portable Virtual Console for Game Boy games – why that couldn’t have been added to the pointless DSi is beyond me, though – and a nail in the coffin for 3D with glasses. Brilliant. I’m in.

Only I’m not. Here’s why.

  • Region locking. It’s still only rumoured at this point, admittedly, but it’s what the buzz is suggesting and the fact that the DSi has done it doesn’t bode well. I can deal with it on a home console, although it’s definitely better without, but I find it on a handheld to be completely inexcusable. All previous Nintendo handhelds, as well as the PSP, haven’t done it specifically before people take these things on holiday with them and might want to pick up a game or two. And if I hadn’t done that, I’d have missed one of my favourite games ever. Goodbye to that, then. Now that even region coding on consoles is on the wane, it’s an unacceptable retrograde step.
  • Battery life. I own a DS Lite and a DSi, and I honestly regret buying the DSi and tend not to use it. Beyond the size and the region-locking, even in regular DS games without any DSi features, the biggest fault was the battery life. I took both of them on holiday and found myself predominantly using the DS Lite, simply because I could better rely on it to last me through a flight and the time spent sitting around in an airport. And, being out of the country, I could buy games for it without worrying about whether or not they’d work. Funny how that works, isn’t it, Nintendo?
  • I love Ocarina of Time, Star Fox 64 and Pilotwings 64. Metal Gear Solid 3 is by far my favourite in the series. Street Fighter IV is a modern classic. And all the usual suspects are here too. But I’m not paying £200 or more just for those. Let’s get some new stuff boasting the creativity that the DS was showing only a few years ago.
  • Game Boy bulky with a crappy screen? Game Boy Pocket. GBA screen impossible to make out? GBA SP or, better yet, a Micro. DS looks like an 80s Fisher-Price toy? Hello, DS Lite. 3DS got a horrible battery life? Do you see where this is going?

It’s amazing me, though maybe it shouldn’t, that many of the same people who crucified the PSP back in 2004 for shit battery life and a pile of console ports are now strangely silent, or maybe banging the ‘good enough’ drum. It was pathetic then and it’s still pathetic now. Nintendo is making a lot of the same mistakes that Sony did with the PSP, and it might get away with them because it’s a company on the up as much as Sony was starting to slide back then. I still think it’s sad, though.

I’m a gamer, so at some point I’m going to buy a 3DS. A 3DS Lite will certainly do it and, I admit, Professor Layton vs Ace Attorney could end up breaking me – I adore both of those series and the crossover is a wonderful idea – but I’m not too happy with Nintendo right now. Maybe it knows something we don’t and whatever comes out at the PSP2 announcement will make the 3DS’s battery life look like an age…

Revisiting Chrono Trigger

Being neither a new game nor a new port, Chrono Trigger for the DS may be an odd one to talk about, but when I found myself plumbing my backlog for a fix when my 360 popped its clogs a while back, this is one of the unplayed gems that I found myself returning to, even after the big black monster was back.

I adore Chrono Trigger, and have ever since I first played it when it remained the holy grail of what a UK gamer could find only on the import ‘grey market’. Indeed, the DS version, released 14 years after its original release, was the first time it was actually available in PAL territories without braving inflated eBay prices or less legal routes.

Chrono Trigger

I’ve owned and played all three versions, but I’ve never actually finished the game, which made it an even easier choice. Classic RPGs and portable systems just go together in my book – this complementary relationship was how I finally got the Final Fantasy VII monkey off my back – so if I was ever going to do it, this would be it. Throw in the fact that this is the best version of the game – the largely issue-free SNES version lacked the extras and animated scenes of the PSX, while that one suffered from unforgivable slowdown and crippling load times for a SNES port, and this one takes the best from both – and I was set to be a happy, mildly obsessed chap.

First, though, that new translation, because it’s probably the most contentious change. Cleaning up old translations generally gets the thumbs up from me because, let’s face it, most translation work from the 16-bit days could, at best, be described as ‘charming’, but it’s hard to ignore one particular tweak in this one. Some of the changes make sense, like ‘Antiquity’ is a better and more fitting name for the ancient magical realm than ‘Dark Ages’, and taking advantage of the fact that names no longer have to be limited by cartridge space is a no-brainer, but did they really have to drop Frog’s Shakespearean ‘ye olde’ dialect?

Cheesy it may have been, but it was cute and fit the character, and I think it’s a good reason – this is the other reason – why Frog is such a fondly remembered character. Even if it wasn’t in the original Japanese, there are other quirks that didn’t make it in, so staying true to the original wasn’t top of the agenda. It’s no big deal and Frog is still a great character, but he’s lost something.

That’s really my only complaint, though. In short, Chrono Trigger is still one of the best RPGs ever made. It has it all: timelessly beautiful art; a great, multilayered story; memorable characters; a classic – in many ways – soundtrack; no random battles; tons of totally optional side quests that add to the characters… Hell, it popularised if not invented the New Game+ concept and had 14 different endings when most games could barely manage one. They really don’t make them like this any more.

And that’s another unfinished classic RPG off my list. Next stop: Persona 4… maybe.

2009’s Honourable Mentions

For every one that made it, many more didn’t, but some came closer than others…

  • F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin – I deliberated whether this or Killzone was more deserving of the final spot for a while, but it was Killzone’s technical advances as well as its fantastic multiplayer that swayed it. Even so, F.E.A.R. 2 impressed me back at the beginning of the year with its intense action and clever storytelling – not so much on the story itself, mind – and it actually had a less intrusive version of that game’s weighty-feeling gameplay, so it deserves at least a little recognition.
  • Grand Theft Auto: Episodes From Liberty City – This was in there right until the end, and it was only the facts that (a) I don’t actually own a copy of this exact game – I downloaded both individual episodes – and (b) I decided that a full game was more worthy than a glorified expansion pack that swayed it. Nonetheless, this is as good as GTA IV – maybe better in the case of the phenomenal Lost and Damned – and gives us more of an adventure in Rockstar’s still-stunning Liberty City. It’s still unparalleled as a gaming environment and it’s going to take something special to top it for me.
  • Left 4 Dead 2 – I have no doubt that L4D2 justifies its status as a sequel rather than DLC; I just didn’t get enough chance to play it. Its proximity to Modern Warfare 2 and the perception that a worthy sequel couldn’t be produced in such a short period of time meant that very few of my usual gaming crowd bought it, and Left 4 Dead is something that you can’t completely enjoy with random people on Live. I think that Valve has the game where it wants it, though, and should it follow the game’s release with a steady stream of good content in 2010, I’ll be sure to give it the credit it deserves.
  • inFamous – This game suffered by not being Crackdown, which remains one of my favourites of this generation so far. Although it was technically far more impressive, this didn’t have the same sense of fun and took itself far too seriously for the ultimately silly subject matter. I enjoyed it – don’t get me wrong – but bolting more stuff onto an existing simple and perfectly good framework isn’t always a recipe for success. inFamous is still great, though, and I hope that Sucker Punch can build on this foundation, whether it’s in inFamous 2 or a returning Sly Racoon.
  • Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story – Believe it or not, this was actually the first Mario & Luigi game that I’ve been there at the beginning for, which is strange considering how much I’ve loved the previous ones. It kept me going for a good ten hours solid when I was in transit from the States and it’s everything you can expect from the series: the brilliant, self-aware humour and writing; some of the best animation around; and a way of gently ribbing those well-loved characters without taking away from them. It’s still very much new Nintendo, from the same box of games that would have never happened in the NES and SNES era as Smash Bros, and it’s even more insane than its precursors. Imagine all the gags that can come from being inside Bowser – the title is only the beginning, believe me – and they’ll pretty much all be there. Except that, you dirty bugger.
  • Trials HD – I deliberated for a long time whether this or Shadow Complex deserved a spot more, and the fact that Trials HD was left out shouldn’t take away from it. I knew it was going to be good when I first stumbled across it on PartnerNet and found that anyone who saw it was instantly enthralled, and so it proved because I still see people playing it today and the developer seems blown away by the reception and the boost in profile that its once-niche PC title has received. Proof that retro gameplay – and the insane difficulty that goes with it – isn’t dead. It just got pretty.

As happens every year, there were plenty of big hitters that I just didn’t get to play – Assassin’s Creed II and Dragon Age: Origins to name two – and that’s unfortunate, because I think that at least some of them would have had a good chance. Maybe if some of them had been delayed until early 2010… Oh…