Tag Archives: Imports

On My God of War Ambivalence

Although in my previous impressions I said that I liked GOW2, I talked about how I didn’t really get it. Hardly surprising – it’s happened before, and I’ve taken it back before. I might be about to take this one back too.

My main problem that it’s a bit of a button masher stands, and the combat is undoubtedly more concerned with being flashy than mechanically strong, but I went back to the first God of War rather than throwing myself into the middle with the sequel. Even with the ending completely spoiled for me, I can feel myself getting onto the wavelength of the game and now intend to get back to GOW2 when I’ve finished this one.

So yeah, I’m enjoying it a lot and it’s not as flawed as I might have implied. It is flawed and not by any stretch of the imagination a ten, but still great fun. Buy it.

Kratos Smash!

God of War 2

I cannot believe what David Jaffe and SCE Santa Monica can make a PS2 do. That’s the overriding impression from watching and playing God of War 2. It’s incredible – you’ve probably seen the videos of the fight with the Colossus of Rhodes, and that pretty much makes up the whole first level. And then the next one puts you up against Typhon, who is even bigger. At this rate the final boss will be the planet Jupiter or something.

Everything else is understandably going to be a bit of a come down after that – especially when it gives you the Metroid-style contrivance to which you lose all your superpowered abilities gathered throughout the original and are forced to re-aquire them – and when the action has to exist at a sane level it plays much the same as God of War. I’m yet to come up against any of the really frustrating sticking points that the first game had (that crate pushing towards the archers on the first level nearly made me give up) and the combat is still more concerned with being visceral than the mechanics. And I mean ‘visceral’ in the most literal sense possible.

That’s the main problem I have with the game. Like its predecessor, GOW2 is beautiful to look at and seemingly reliant on that, as well as the always-interesting Greek mythology, to drive me to keep playing. Combat, while improving as you go through the game and get more attacks and therefore more options, is a bit of a button mash. Maybe it was deliberate in that it reflects Kratos as a character – lots of shouting and saying things like “RARGH!” a lot, hence the earlier Hulk allusion – or maybe it’s just a bit basic. It seems like a better game than the first one because it hasn’t, thus far, moved me to try to destroy a pad, which is probably a good thing considering that the reviews reckon it’ll take about twice as long to finish.

So if a PS2 can do this, who needs next-gen consoles with HD graphics? Me, for one. But this proves that the old ones shouldn’t be thrown in the cupboard just yet. A tentative thumbs up from me.

Pan’s Labyrinth

Pan's Labyrinth

I miss this type of fantasy film. While Lord of the Rings and its derivatives pull in untold amounts of cash, the more intimate ones where someone from our world finds themselves in a mystical land – think The NeverEnding Story or, conveniently, Labyrinth – never seem to have survived the 80s.

Maybe people like massive CG battles and vast, open plains better than a bit of Jim Henson’s Creature Shop. My theory is just that LOTR doesn’t have David Bowie’s scary 80s hair it it. Or David Bowie, for that matter.

Del Toro is one of my favourite directors at the moment, since he clearly has a wonderful imagination and the means to realise it. Here he shows that he’s just as adept at serious period drama – much of the film takes place in the early days of Franco’s fascist Spain, at a military outpost – but balances it superbly with the fantasy elements. I was frankly surprised at how far the film pushes its 15-rating (clue: there’s no sex or bad language), and yet he still maintains the innocence of Ofelia’s fantasy world, regardless of what’s happening in “reality” (or is it, etc?).

One thing that really blew me away here is the quality of the Oscar-winning makeup work. The all-CGI face of Davy Jones in Pirates 2 had raised the bar for fantasy characters (the best thing in that movie, it’s stunning) but Doug Jones as the faun and the Pale Man looks incredible, and all with minimal CGI on both characters. The Pale Man in particular is one of the most sinister movie monsters in years, and no doubt due a Movie Maniacs figure that’ll be decorating my shelf in the near future.

I ended up enjoying Pan’s Labyrinth so much that I’ve ordered the beautiful Korean limited edition to go with my UK DVD. We got this film on DVD a couple of months before it’s due in the States admittedly (minus DTS-ES 6.1 sound), but how come we don’t get special editions like that?

Burn! Hot Blooded Rhythm Soul!

Today is a good day. Elite Beat Agents may not have been quite as good, but with a touch of impenetrable Japanese weirdness and some more obscure J-rock I’m confident that iNiS will be able to capture lightning in a bottle again. If you still haven’t played Ouendan (or even EBA), shame on you. Atone!

My only fear is that they won’t come up with such a brilliant soundtrack – the original has been in my car CD player for months – but everyone who helped give this game such a massive cult following can pat themselves on the back. Whatever happens, they’ve outdone themselves with the title. Moero! Nekketsu Moero! Nekketsu Rhythm-Damashii Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan 2 roughly translates as Burn! Hot Blooded Rhythm Soul! Go! Fight! Cheer Squad 2. Superb, but Ouendan 2 would have sufficed, wouldn’t it?

Hotel Dusk: Room 215

Hotel Dusk: Room 215

Looks like we’ve got another sleeper hit for the DS on our hands, in the same vein as Phoenix Wright and Trauma Center. Hotel Dusk: Room 215 has been getting fantastic reviews (one guy gave it a ten in EGM) and some momentum behind it, but by all accounts has had a miniscule print run and is barely being stocked in some places. Buy it while you can.

Think of it like a detective novel, not least because you hold it vertically like Brain Training or, perhaps more traditionally, a book (remember those?). The touch screen is used to interact with people and objects, and to write in your notebook by actually writing, which is a smart little touch (no pun intended). The majority of the game involves conversing with characters that famously look like they’re out of the Take On Me video. It almost looks like a pulp graphic novel, and plays like something akin to Phoenix Wright.

It’s more sophisticated than everyone’s favourite defence attorney – this was built from the ground up for the DS rather than ported from the GBA, after all – but the fundamentals are similar. Only this time you’re in 1979 as a hard-boiled ex-cop (presumably alcoholic; isn’t everyone in noir?) on the trail of his dead (or is he, etc?) partner in a run-down hotel, rather than a lawyer who only seems to hang around with 16 year-old girls. But let’s not go there.

What it really shares with Wright is its reliance on strong writing to carry the story, here enhanced by characters that appear to constantly move and really emote (it uses sporadic colour to convey emotion) rather than cycle through their canned angry face, sad face, and so on as required. I’m hoping that the puzzles won’t be too reliant on dubious leaps of logic that almost seem to be an endemic problem with the genre. Unfortunately it also suffers from an annoyingly common problem in text-based games and a pet peeve of mine since I have a reading age of more than six years old: slow text scrolling speed. How hard is it to let me press a button to jump to the end of the line?

For now I’m going to crack on with it and enjoy it as a classic adventure done in a fashion that would be impossible on anything other than the DS. It’s some great eye candy and the latest in the line of unique and well-made DS games.

Thoughts on Final Fantasy XII

With Zelda finished (still my firm GOTY), I’ve flicked the component switch over to the PS2 in order to put some real time into the other big adventure of 2006, Final Fantasy XII. While I feel that I’ve only scratched the surface of it, I just wanted to put down some thoughts on the drastic new direction in which the game has taken the venerable series, beyond the first impressions that I wrote previously.

First of all, I really do have to emphasise how huge the changes between this and Final Fantasy X are. Most seem to think of Final Fantasy XI as the black sheep of the family, but XII almost validates it. MMORPGs are a huge deal nowadays, bigger even that conventional RPGs, and I think it’s entirely possible that XI was intended from the start as a big experiment to see what of that genre might work in a traditional offline RPG. XII comes out the other side looking a bit Frankensteinian at first, but with the praise being heaped on it I don’t doubt that XIII will play in a similar fashion. Dragon Quest IX is also supposed to be adopting more real-time combat mechanics, so we may find that that has experienced a similar mutation.

Overall, I like the new combat very much. I thought X did an excellent job of revising the battle system without breaking too much with the formula and would have been quite happy had they stuck with that as a framework. Random encounters are a system that I’m glad to see the back of, and while it would have been perfectly acceptable to use the Chrono series as a model (normal enemies visible on the map with turn-based combat when battle is initiated), the idea of making the map screen and battle screen one and the same is inspired. The game as a whole feels more coherent; less fractured than when you’re constantly switching between exploring and fighting, and even entering the menu to use an item or spell. It’s just all there.

When I started out on XII the combat was the element that I was most unsure about, what with the other changes that are immediately apparent – full 3D environments, mainly – being easily accepted. At first it seems rudimentary since you have only physical attacks and the game essentially does that for you. In fact it’s actually quite boring since there’s little more to it than chivalrously exchanging blows with the enemy. It’s not until a couple of hours in when you get a real party with spells and the Gambit system in full swing that things fall into place. Maybe that’s a serious criticism because I was only convinced to stick with it by the rapturous praise that the game has received, but once it lets you loose on the licence board and Gambits it works really well. Continue reading Thoughts on Final Fantasy XII