Review of Dragon Quest 4: Chapters of the Chosen

Time for me to get off my Final Fantasy high and review another game out of a favourite series of mine: Dragon Quest. Dragon Quest was originally known as Dragon Warrior on the American shores because of a copyright issue two decades ago. This game was actually one of the first RPGs to appear on the consoles, heavily borrowing off the famous Dungeons and Dragons tabletop RPG. Though not nearly as prevalent as Final Fantasy here in the Western World, in Japan this game is so popular that there’s a day dedicated to it.

Dragon Quest is pretty formulaic: you have a team of four misfits which travel with you to save the world in some fashion or another. Dragon Quest 4 takes after this dynamic but adds a twist to give the characters some limelight; they have separate chapters for the individual characters so you can level them up and understand their history. And it is a fun cast, from the irrepressible princess Alena to the honourable Ragnar. Eventually all stories come together so you can unite under the Hero(ine).

Chapters of the Chosen is not a game particularly unique in general, though it does have the fun task of being a shopkeeper for a while there. In addition to that there is a secret dungeon with an enjoyable boss battle where you can acquire the game’s most useful tools if you defeat them. Even better is if you figure out the game’s greatest secret you’ll end up with an obscenely overpowered ally and have a slightly modified ending.

The graphics, though dated, are so very very pretty, especially Zenitha. The character portraits are full of personality and seeing the various terrain is pleasing to the eye. But the in-battle graphics are just average, and the special effects don’t make much of an appearance. Obviously graphics isn’t this game’s forte but since it is a DS game, and a Dragon Quest game to boot, if that’s what you’re here for you, you are missing the point of the game.

What is the point of this game? The name of the game: Quests. You go on an endlessly litany of quests either for your characters or random NPCs. Acquiring the mini-medals, playing the game’s one-man form of monopoly and the aforementioned secret dungeon will have you coming back for least until you exhaust all this, which doesn’t take that long, to be honest.

What’s so remarkable about this game (and the Dragon Quest series in general) is its eternal devotion to child-like good and evil values and its bright and cheery atmosphere, no matter how dark the current quest is. Whether this is a flaw or not in the game is more of a personal taste thing, but I find that with so many realistic and depressing games out there, one bright spot is a welcome relief. This is not to say that the over-reliance on everything cute and happy-happy-joy-joy doesn’t get annoying; it does, but sometimes a RPG should just be a good romp through dungeons, which this definitely is.

Dragon Quest has always been known to have a beautiful score and Chapters of the Chosen adds a few twists on its set of delightful tracks. The music in Zenitha and the last boss battle are two notables. Considering how long the last boss battle is, having the music change during the different stages is to great affect. The overworld theme is also enjoyable, giving you that adventurous feeling.

For those of you (like me) who didn’t get a chance to really enjoy this remake, you’ll feel content giving this a go. And like me, you probably won’t pick this up once you finish that secret dungeon and blasting away enemies with your super-powered ally. However if you were planning on something more unique and mind-blowing Dragon Quest 4 isn’t your thing (and, by extension, probably not the Dragon Quest series at all). It satisfied me until the next Final Fantasy came along, which, while not making the game glorious, does do exactly what I wanted.

When Dragon Quest makes a foray into the real world gaming you can bet it’ll be a masterpiece. Not that I mind the simple fun we have today.

Review of Dissidia Final Fantasy

I’m going to start off by saying one of the few things that annoy me about this game: the name. No, not because it’s hard to pronounce or spell or that it’s not even a real word. It’s the fact that it’s Dissidia Final Fantasy not Final Fantasy Dissidia, like most all games (or movies, or books, etc.) do it. I’m neurotic so having to say it in that fashion is annoying.

Now that I got that off my chest…that really is one of the few things that pester me about the game. I’m going to say straight off that I love this game, and think that while it might not be the best game on the PSP it’s certainly among the best. And what makes that even more surprising is that I had totally written this game off and had only bought it out of a desire to satisfy that fanservice need.

To say that it doesn’t quench the fangirl in me would be inaccurate–having a bunch of my favorite characters in it, lots of gorgeous terrain and all the little nuances of the games built in every layer of this game really pleasured that tastebud. But Dissidia is really so much more than that. It is physically stunning, immensely engrossing and just plain fun.

Doubtless it is pleasing to the eye. The magical affects are beautiful and the characters are rendered excellently. They move so smoothly that you never feel like they are out of control. It’s the same for the battlefields. Having a fight while on the familiar landscape is entirely fun. There is actually only a few instances that I felt the camera angle hindered my experience and that was mostly in the chase sequences which I didn’t engage in frequently anyways.

Another enjoyable thing about the game: the voice-acting. I was especially pleased by hearing the voices of The Emperor, Warrior of Light and Firion. In this one scene where The Emperor says “Where do you think you’re going?” it feels very real, like the character exists. All the others were done either excellently or adequately. Cecil’s voice has always been a hit or miss with me, though I think the actor did alright in this particular game.

The story isn’t exactly ground-breaking or memorable, but it does keep the gamer interested long enough to get them to the next battle. There are parts in the game that the dialogue gets a bit one-dimensional, probably so that the characters own storylines or natural dispositions don’t bog down the gameplay. Certain character traits were either downplayed or over-emphasized to differentiate them from the rest of the cast. This was a necessary evil though so I didn’t mind it too much.

What really grabbed me in this game, and held me, was the sheer vastness of its scope. The weapons, armor, accessories, items and summons to get is enormous. So is all the extras like acquiring all the characters to battle with, the voices to hear,  movies to see, skills to master…it goes on and on. Two hundred and plus hours in and I’ve only maxed three characters out; there are seventeen more to go (not to mention the secret characters). I haven’t completed the super hard quest or the battle arena. Time-sink doesn’t even begin to describe it.

This was the ultimate in fanservice yet ended up being a wonderful game all on its own. Kind of like the original Kingdom Hearts, you will find yourself enjoying a good run through this game. It probably won’t end up as your personal Number One (it didn’t end up as mine, though it did score high) but in the end I dare say there is far few people who would ever say its not worth your time. Besides, what really is much more enjoyable than pissing around with your favorite character beating the shit out of your least favorite?

You come for the fanservice; you stay for the amazing game.

Review of FFIV: The DS Remake

In a move that most did not anticipate Square-enix decided to remake Final Fantasy IV. Unlike so many of its other so-called remakes, this game actually incorporated enormous changes to its graphics and sound, enhancing (or perhaps reducing, depending on your point of view) the game’s value. This is an distinct contrast to a lot of other ports (not remakes per say) which kept the game mechanics the same but added huge, optional dugenons. I’ll take this opportunity to say what I think of Square-enix’s venture into true remaking in Final Fantasy.

Review: Final Fantasy IV: The After Years

The After YearsThe Final Fantasy series has been going on for more than twenty years, the flagship gaming series of powerhouse Square-Enix. What started out as a desperation act from a failing company has expanded into an empire with dozens of spin-offs. Final Fantasy has made RPGs mainstream, introducing the genre into millions of homes and spawning many copycats. But no RPG series will be quite the same as Final Fantasy.

One of the best known games from the series is Final Fantasy IV. Released originally back in the eighties this game follows the story of Cecil and his friends in a journey that spans the globe and beyond. It is a journey of self-discovery, betrayal, love and ultimately forgiveness. Since it’s original incarnation the game has been re-released on three platforms, including the PSP. This is the remake I will discuss known as The After Years: The Complete Collection.

The Complete Collection includes the original game, the Interlude and The After Years. The original game is an upgraded verison of the original along with the Advance’s optional dungeons. The Interlude is a short jaunt between the original and the After Years, detailing what happens between the two. The After Years is where the real meat of this is, continuing the story of the main characters, adding some fresh faces and advancing the legacy of the crystals.

You’ll notice that not a lot has changed in the game in the basis of gameplay. The ATB (Active Time Battle) is still there, though they added an interesting dynamic of the “Bonds”. Borrowing off the Techs from Chrono Trigger, Bonds effectively allow two or more characters to combine their various skills to execute new powerful attacks. A more original addition is the moon phases. These phases either increase or decrease healing, attacking, etc. and have a surprisingly significant affect on battles. Not a lot has changed beyond that, though you know what they say about not being broke means not needing fixing?

For those who’d played the original will find this a familiar stroll with their favorite characters. If you couldn’t get enough of them before, this game is a great way of reconnecting, like spending a long weekend with the old friends from college. There is also a set of new characters to identify with, all with their own special quirks and skills and they split out into seperate groups for their own adventures.

Where The After Year takes a stumble is that the story, for the most part, too closely resembles its predecessor. Even for a gamer who was especially invested in the original story, the sense of repition can be tiresome. Fortunately after that the story takes an interesting turn, with a few twists that are not entirely unexpected but still welcome. It won’t stand out, but be intriguing enough to not spoil the game.

Music has always been a huge hit in the series and Final Fantasy IV has been no exception. The iconic Theme of Love is back and better than ever, and the new track, The Mysterious Girl, helps add to the aura of power around the game’s primary villian called…The Mysterious Girl. None of the other tracks really stand out, but with how gorgeous a track the original game had, and how it is integrated into the new story, keeps it fresh and enjoyable.

The After Years really shines in how the game is divided into chapters, giving each set of characters a decent time in the lime light. These are seamlessly woven together in order to mesh with the main storyline, which, of course, is intricately linked with the legend of the crystals. Just when the game might become a bit linear a chapter ends, leaving the gamer with the decision of selecting among several others. In what order they are done is irrelevant as all but three are accessible from the start.

In the end whether The After Years (and the Complete Collection, by extension) is a worthwhile venture really depends on the gamer’s tastes. If they are looking for something entirely new and revolutionary, The After Years really isn’t their style. There simply isn’t enough radical changes to make the game a good investment of time and they would likely find more to attract them to the DS remake.

But for a gamer who simply hadn’t the chance to delve into Final Fantasy IV’s universe or has already and is looking to please that nostaglic feeling, then The After Years is exactly the romp through old game mechanics and expansion in storyline they’ve been looking for.

Now if only Square-Enix could do this for other games in their series (namely Final Fantasy VI) I only imgaine how much cash they’d be rolling in. But knowing this company said game is already in the works as of the typing of this article.

Review – Deus Ex: Human Revolution

Deus Ex BannerDeus Ex – two words that I had no idea the meaning of back around the year 2001. I was in a CompuSmart store, and I saw the box art beckon me. It was a nice shiny blue box with a picture of a cool looking guy with sunglasses that resembled the movie The Matrix; of which I was a very big fan of at the time. I took the box home, found it had a soundtrack and some other goodies, but I put those aside and installed the game.

I was hooked. Wow, just wow. This must have been what it was like when an alcoholic takes their first drink, because I was relatively new to PC gaming at this point, and the game just simply scratched all the itches I had. It catered after my craving for violence, humor, style, reading, stealth, RPG elements and most importantly a fantastic storyline that just kept me going. I particularly enjoyed the divergent path approach to challenges, and the dynamic way that NPC’s and events would change based on the choices you would make; even seemingly insignificant ones like walking into the women’s washroom and getting berated by the boss for doing so. (I was looking for items I swear… That’s the story I’m sticking to, at least.)

Alright, this review is not about the first game; but rather the third in a trilogy of sorts – Deus Ex: Human Revolution. I wanted to give some background and perspective that I am quite a fan of the Deus Ex series, even the second game which wasn’t great, but was still enjoyable. I must admit that I was looking forward to this latest addition, but was still hesitant due to the fact that most sequels get botched and don’t live up to expectations. I headed into DX:HR with quite a lot of pessimism, but it wasn’t long before I was pleasantly surprised!

I am the first person to tell you if a game sucks in my view, and this one certainly does not suck; quite the contrary in fact! I was playing the game and there were times that the music and atmosphere just made me feel like I did 10 years ago playing the original. Not very many games have been able to accomplish this kind of nostalgia for me, so that is impressive. The graphics are beautiful, even running on my average machine. The music is very digital and expressive. Controls are a tad stiff for my tastes, but well within reason. The inventory menu is a pleasure to use, as is looking up door passcodes and notes that you pick up. And much to my surprise; the story gave me about 33 hours of gameplay! That is bloody amazing compared to most games that get released these days which pad out 6-8 hours of content if you’re lucky.

I pretty much expected the story to have twists and turns, which I suppose spoiled some of the surprise for me, but it was still thoroughly engaging. As were the little tidbits of books, scientific excerpts, emails and dialogue in the game. Altogether, the game was a pleasure on the eyes, ears and mind.

It wasn’t perfect though, as nothing ever is. There were some cinema scenes where the helicopter flew into the distance and through buildings, I found the pattern of all NPC’s having 2 lines of unique dialogue a bit formulaic, and I really was hoping for some more weapon variety – specifically hand-to-hand weapons like a good ol’ crowbar. I had the crowbar in the first game along for the entire length of the story. I named her Betsy. Granted weapons are a moot point since Adam Jenson, (your character) is a walking mechanical death forge, but I still love hitting an unsuspecting enemy over the back of the head with ol’ Betsy. Very personal experience!

I wasn’t a huge fan of the pre-rendered cutscenes as well. I know they are smooth and look good, but I find they interrupt the gameplay because there is always a noticeable jump before they kick in, and I can see the compression artifacts. Also, as a side-note to Square Enix who made all those beautiful cutscenes – can we please TRY and have the lips match the dialogue? I know it’s much easier to dub the game into many languages when everyone mumbles, but Jesus… I feel like everyone has had their jaw stitched shut. I can’t blame Square Enix completely on that department, as the characters in the game suffer from the same problem; so perhaps they were just keeping consistent.

This is hardly an impartial review, as it’s obvious all my nerdy juices are flowing for this game. Don’t let that change your mind from playing it though! If you enjoy first person perspective, excellent story, beautiful graphics, dynamic situations, dark futurist predictions and just a damn satisfying experience – do yourself a favor and buy this one. Probably could avoid the DLC for it though, as it doesn’t look like it adds too much for the experience. My only wish is that they could have reproduced the feeling I had in the first game when I spent 30 minutes debating human existence and moral ambiguity with a prototype AI in a frenchman’s secret base; then went and thawed out his illuminati freezer-pop. Ah… the memories!

Review – The Path

THE PATH – Developed by Tale of Tales

I purchased this game through Steam as part of a package offering multiple games at a low price. The whole packaged contained quite a few games, and a few of which showed promise as very independent and artsy; which admittedly peaked my interest quite a bit.

I was excited to try this game out, and let me start off by saying that I didn’t read up on the history of this game, other reviews, FAQ’s or anything of the sort. I went into this game blind, and what follows is my experience and opinions. If you’ve played this game and feel I missed some critical points, feel free to comment and let me know; but I feel that this review is worthy due to the fact that I am a fairly proficient gamer, and believe as such that a game should be able to be fun without predefined knowledge.

That being said, I started up the game, and was pleasantly surprised as to the art style and twisted view of a classic story. It became apparent that they were going for a gothy red riding hood theme, and they pulled that off marvelously. I was presented with a selection of various goth-styled little girls, and told to select one. So I picked the tall skinny one with a leg brace – she looked like she could use the walk for physio-therapy or something.

After the loading, my character was on a beautiful surreal path in the woods, with presumably insects, pollen and little birds flitting around in the air, tall shady trees, and was presented with a large message: “GO TO GRANDMA’S HOUSE” – “STAY ON THE PATH”. So being the obedient gamer that I am, I figured I would play along and started down the path to grandma’s house. As I walked, I noticed that there were colored icons and sound effects that would appear ever now and then. At some points I heard a dull growling or the sounds of animal footsteps, and saw some paw-prints walk their way across the screen. I stopped, looked all around, I didn’t see anything and continued. There were many other little icons and sounds, but nothing remarkable; just stuff I would attribute to good ambiance.

There I was; peacefully walking through the forest, wondering what was supposed to happen – for quite a while. I debated going off the path, wondering if that was how to get the conflict going. I decided to stick it out and just stay on the path because that’s what I was instructed to do. So as I carried on, I came across a quaint little cottage near some water with a picket fence. I walked up to the door, and then went inside. Once inside, the whole house looked old and withered – great creepy factor, and I was expecting something climactic to happen, but I found I could just move forward along a pre-set path in the house, and it was taking me upstairs towards a bedroom. Upon entering the bedroom, I saw that there was a decrepit old woman sleeping in the bed, so I’m assuming this was grandma. After approaching the bed, the game took over, and the little girl climbed into bed and snuggled with the woman. The woman’s eyes the flew open on her expressionless face – which gave me a chill. Then… THEN! Nothing.

That’s right folks, you heard right – it was the end of the game. That was about 7 minutes from the beginning of the path. I got brow-beaten by the game’s text for not discovering secrets or encountering wolves and a smattering of other stuff… I was then presented with a selection of little girls again, and expected to do it again. I uninstalled the game about 2 minutes later.

Now, let me explain my point of view; It’s not to say that it’s a bad game or poorly designed, I mean, obviously if there were so many things I “failed” to do, it had to have more dimension right? Short answer- I don’t care. When you make a game, there are no rules, but typically when you tell the player to do something, I should hope you don’t punish them for it. Was I expected to venture off the path because that is “human nature” to not listen when rules are imposed? That’s a load of garbage; because all video games are is a collection of rules and boundaries. Even sandbox games have walls and limitations, so you either figure stuff out yourself or the game tells you – you don’t get lied to by the game and then while taking it’s advice have the worlds most boring walk through some pharmaceutical-induced woods; only to find your dessicated grandma in a small cottage just waiting for a young girl to come along for necro-cuddle.

Now, I also thought that maybe the encounters were random, and I just “lucked out” to not have any. Seriously though; nice programming if that’s the case – don’t account for the possibility that all your encounters won’t happen when the dices are rolled.

Basically, good concept – poorly executed. Again, I apologize to the developer if I had a less-than-intended experience for whatever reason; but I will say that Minecraft has no manual, no tips and no written rules – and I’m still playing it and having loads of fun. Makes you wonder what “fun” really is, but it’s not a 7 minute stroll through a trippy forest with pedo-bear’s grandma waiting for you.