Tag Archives: Retro

My retrospective reviews.

Game Room

It occurred to me recently how hard it is to legally obtain old games. Whereas almost any film from any year is probably readily available on DVD within a few clicks, and the same goes for music, the way that a previous generation of games is almost discarded every few years means that the only way to play, say, an old favourite from the Amiga is either to get lucky on eBay or a car boot, or to just go the illegal route and download the ROM. For all the bad that piracy does in this industry – and it does, no matter how overblown the claims may sometimes be – it’s doing an infinitely superior job of preserving gaming history than anyone with the publishers’ blessing.

Microsoft’s new Game Room is far from exhaustive, of course, but the plan is to grow it rapidly with games that are often otherwise unavailable elsewhere. To be honest, the vast majority simply serve to remind you of how far we’ve come and that it wasn’t any better back in the day, but they’re all available for a free play and there are some classics to be (re)discovered. Personally I’m a fan of Tempest and Crystal Castles, and I think that a quid or two is a reasonable price for them in this context.

It’s certainly a cool implementation of retro gaming with modern technology, and I think that if we can get some other big names like Capcom, Sega, Midway and Konami in there – somehow I don’t think even the biggest optimist expects to see Donkey Kong – and expand the selection up to the 16-bit era, it could be a big hit. I already enjoy visiting my friends’ arcades, but let me do it with games that I actually remember playing with them – the likes of Street Fighter II, Mortal Kombat, Golden Axe, etc – and the nostalgia factor is broadened beyond that 40-year-old creepy guy who hangs around in Gamestation. Although I can appreciate the historical value of Adventure and Asteroids, I would argue that I’m not the typical under-30 gamer.

But even so, I love how clearly Game Room is designed for fans. It’s so cool to wander into your friend’s arcade and see 80s gaming decor and a Bentley Bear sprite walking around in three dimensions, Paper Mario-style, and then to have a crack at their high scores. Everything from the way that rival high scores attack your pride with red neon to how the rewind function maintains the retro theme with a VHS rewinding effect is made to provoke a smile, and it usually does.

A good start, then, to a promising new system. I really hope that Microsoft can expand it and resist the urge to nickel and dime us too much on ultimately pointless tat like the decorations, but hey, I want to be an astronaut too. Let’s just hope that it can do the former.

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.

Ten Years of Shenmue

In amongst the endless [something] of the decade features doing the rounds at the moment, one snippet that almost slipped my mind is that just over ten years ago, on 29 December 1999, Shenmue was released in Japan. That means that somewhere around this time ten years ago I was in the Video Game Centre, failing to disguise my enthusiasm for the imminent arrival of my import copy.


It had already sent me on a wild adventure of learning HTML and using it to create the imaginatively named Shenmue Fan Site, and my first couple of trial-and-error playthroughs – I didn’t speak Japanese, and no one else had yet written a guide, which made simple tasks like ‘speak to Yamagishi-san’ very difficult – were followed by my first FAQ, which directly led to freelance work with the precursor to the company where I now work. I’ve wanted to write about games for a living for a long time, but no single game had as much direct influence on my future career path as Shenmue, and that’s a big part of why I still hold it in such high esteem.

To be honest, if I was trying to choose my game of the last ten years, this would probably be it. It was highly influential – not many games had real-time weather and day/night cycles in 1999, and it’s largely responsible, for better or worse, for the continuing popularity of the QTE – and far ahead of its time. Its cult following is formidable and still rapacious, devouring every snippet of ‘news’ that comes out of Sega regarding the future (or not) of the series. My bet is that the inclusion of Ryo will be directly responsible for at least half of the sales of Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing. Hell, that’s why I’m going to buy it.


Playing it now, parts of it are of its time, and it may have been pushing the Dreamcast hardware further than was wise, but it still has so much atmosphere, even when playing the impenetrable Japanese version, and that’s a big part of why I love it. Yokosuka feels real – I know it is real, but you know what I mean – and, way back when, I had a place where I’d like to live, a favourite Chinese restaurant, the works. How many games do that now? Bethesda’s stuff, maybe.

The lack of Shenmue III is an empty space in gaming to me and is, sadly, likely to remain so. But, until then, we’ll always have Sakuragaoka…

God of War Collection

I’ve spoken before on how shallow and brainless I think the God of War series to be, and I’d still much rather play something like Bayonetta, but I like them enough to justify £25 for both of them redone in high definition. Given that the first one managed to impress even after the 360 and PS3’s releases, I was keen to see how they held up with a spit and polish, and the answer is pretty damn well.

They’re not going to fool anyone into thinking that they’re new releases or anything, and some of the perspective tricks are shown up in HD like ropey special effects on a Blu-ray movie, but a few added pixels, some v-sync and a mostly locked 60fps – I’ve seen drops in areas with lots of particle effects, like the first game’s Desert of Lost Souls – do them a world of good. The spell is broken somewhat when you see Athenian soldiers who look like troop models from a 1998 RTS and the unchanged FMV looks horrific – rendered from the PS2 engine for standard definition and badly compressed to boot – but this is a retro compilation at the end of the day. I’m not going to dock a retro compilation point for not looking completely shiny and new.

I’m disappointed that the remastering on both of them couldn’t have extended to proper surround sound, though, with only PS2-era Dolby Pro Logic II present and some glitches in that to boot. Remixing the whole thing might have been a lot to ask, but Sony’s been excellent this generation in terms of pushing next-generation sound as hard as visuals and I think it would have made a world of difference.

Given the PS3’s current situation surrounding backwards compatibility, maybe this is testing the water for the approach to come. I’d have no problem rebuying some of my favourite PS2 titles given this kind of treatment.

The obvious one to ask for and one that’s probably likely is a Team Ico compilation in advance of The Last Guardian, but I could reel off a list of PS2 favourites that would be excellent candidates for this kind of treatment: Kingdom Hearts, Silent Hill, Devil May Cry, Final Fantasy… Stick them on a disc or release them individually as à la carte downloads from PSN. Hell, why limit this idea to the PlayStation? Splinter Cell and Hitman both have sequels in the works and I’d relish the opportunity to play through the earlier iterations again. If universal backwards compatibility isn’t possible, this is the next best thing and has plenty of benefits of its own.

The God of War games remain a bit of a guilty pleasure for me, and this is definitely the way to play them. They’re two of the best action games of the last decade and the low price for them looking and playing this smoothly is a steal.

The screenshot in this post was borrowed from Bitmob’s comparison feature here.

Monkey Island: Not-so Special Edition

Seriously, I feel like some kind of traitor by posting an opinion like this, as someone who owns every SCUMM game and would give the world for legitimate DS and/or iPhone versions, but The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition has left me quite disappointed. It’s not entirely the fault of the new version but rather the fact that the flaws of the original seem magnified with the shiny new presentation and without the full benefit of nostalgia.

The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition

It’s not bad, though. The voice acting is excellent, bringing great delivery to the old jokes and with some great touches, like the way selecting the wrong riposte during an insult swordfight will result in a different delivery to if it was correct; the new background art is superb, with some nice enhancements to familiar environments – I particularly liked the ships docked behind the previously uninhabited Scumm Bar, for example (see above); and it even controls acceptably with the analogue stick, only becoming mildly annoying during certain sequences that involve time-sensitive manipulation of certain corrosive materials between receptacles.

I also love how you can switch between the old and new versions completely seamlessly, which is a feature that should be in more retro remakes. In fairness, I suppose having to keep the versions in sync was limiting in what could be done to update things, and it is quite technically impressive – I assume that the Special Edition is some kind of new ‘skin’ running on top of the emulated classic version. It shows when you occasionally get overlapping dialogue, presumably when a line runs out of time to run without bringing the two versions out of sync. On a similar note, it’s also a shame that you can’t play the old game with voice acting, but it seems like that’s more of a technical limitation than anything else.

But as nice as it is to see the original Monkey Island looking fresh, I’m not the biggest fan of the new art style. I thought that just flicking between the two versions on the close-up character portraits – compare this and this – shows the new style as really soulless, particularly when there are existing sources of inspiration to use when taking the Monkey Island series in a more cartoony direction.

All this makes me wonder if it really justifies the ‘Special Edition’ tag. The voice acting is the only absolute improvement, there’s no new content whatsoever, and the flaws of the original – my main beef is the to-ing and fro-ing when you’re going from place to place, in particular the arduous walk from the town on Melee Island to the overworld map, which you’ll have to do several times – are still there. If this was a DVD special edition, it would be from the days when ‘interactive menus’ counted as a bonus feature.

Even so, it’s still Monkey Island and I’ve already finished it twice in the five days it’s been out. It’s still very funny, only helped by the voicework, and I’ll be first in line for Monkey Island 2: Special Edition, if only because it’ll be a nice experience to play one that I haven’t finished several times before with the new look.

And, while we’re on the subject, how about those DS and iPhone versions?

Revisiting Final Fantasy VII

Final Fantasy VII

Final Fantasy VII is a perennially popular game, but one that is almost as fashionable to hate. It’s true that it has its flaws and probably isn’t even the best Final Fantasy game, let alone the best RPG ever made, and it’s probably equally true that the reason for its popularity is because it was many players’ first RPG. But even so, there aren’t many games that have spawned a CGI feature film, an anime short film, several novellas and four spin-off games, and I think the only Final Fantasy that would be more anticipated than XIII would be the much-rumoured FFVII remake. It really is a franchise in its own right.

Anyway, it was the latest chapter in the Compilation of Final Fantasy VII, Crisis Core, that originally got me interested in revisiting this world. The PSP game is very impressive, but I got the feeling that some things were going over my head, given that I’d never finished Final Fantasy VII. I hadn’t finished a Final Fantasy game full stop, with a save at the end of Final Fantasy IV Advance being the closest I’ve got. Yes, I’m ashamed.

Back when it came out I didn’t have a PlayStation and so had little opportunity to play it – I don’t think I even got out of Midgar around release – and my most successful attempt so far was almost three years ago, when I bought a new NTSC copy and actually made it to disc 2 (OMG Aeris dies!!!1) before petering out somewhere on Gaea’s Cliff, about 19 hours in. With custom firmware PSPs supporting multi-disc PS1 games, I worked out how to get my original PS1 save ported to the PSP – it involves a chipped PS2 and some homebrew voodoo -and, after familiarising myself with the abilities that I’d left on the characters, I powered on through the previous sticking point. Continue reading Revisiting Final Fantasy VII