Monday, October 29, 2012

Review: Lunar: Silver Star Harmony

The original Lunar: Silver Star is one of the least popular well-remembered JRPG's of the 16-bit generation. There's no doubt that this era was one of the JRPG golden ages with original IPs breaking new grounds for the genre. When the Sega CD arrived, Lunar's main innovation wasn't anything that hadn't been done before. It gained recognition for taking a conventional JRPG storyline and making it a focused character piece, with particular attention paid to the setting.rather than any genre-defining plot. The other notable part of this game and its sequel is the numerous number of ports, with the latest version being for the PSP. The question is, how does it hold up?

The other notable part of the series is the game's translation. The SEGA-CD original and the subsequent PSX port were translated by Working Designs which can be credited as the first group that localised video games rather than translating them. On occasion they'd remove content (S.O.S) or change game mechanics which renders the game unplayable (Silhouette Mirage) but in Lunar they took the "timeless" humour from the original and replaced with with out-of-place pop culture references, censoring and very 90's humour.

The PSP version is translated by XSEED, who pride themselves on translating the Ys series, a series of action RPG's that are mostly unknown in the West. XSEED are masters at their craft as the translation for the game is excellent. The game's presentation as a whole is one of the game's biggest positives with beautiful hand-drawn animated cut-scenes that alone are worth progressing through the game for. The music is composed by Noriyuki Iwadare and the composer of the Phoenix Wright series continues to put out excellent music to this very day. The sprites and character portraits aren't that bad either with the game's animé style somehow being cliché and original at the same time. It's a shame the rest of the game is so terrible.

For a game that prides itself on character development, the characters themselves are incredibly shallow. The dialogue itself isn't the problem (XSEED does a good job with what they're given) but the clumsy exposition handling, the face palm inducing plot revelations and the inane decisions that half the characters make make the game almost unbearable to slog through. It doesn't help that even the game seems disinterested in itself. The half-minute load times are enough, the bare-bones game play that brings all of the worst parts of Dragon Quest and add the FFVII Limit Break to it to give the minimal amount of tactics to the game that fail to make the game any more fun.

Lunar is and will always be a relic of its time. Other JRPG's of that era (most famously Final Fantasy 6 and Chrono Trigger) are still played to this day because these games are at their fundamental core, fun to play. Lunar was a rare novelty at the time of its release, boasting a world that was unknown to video games and offered something we had never seen before. It's now 2012 and it has been seen before, many times, in many better games. Lunar should be judged on its own merits but it's lackluster even when it is and I don't recommended it to anyone who likes JRPG's.

Find Lunar: Silver Star Harmony on ebay | Amazon

Released: 2010-03-02
Publisher: XSEED
Developer: Game Arts

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Review: Drill Dozer

When the company Game Freak is mentioned, the Pokemon series is usually the first thing that springs to mind. This isn't surprising; Pokemon is the second biggest selling video game franchise sans Mario and is also the biggest selling franchise in general after Star Wars. Usually with companies with such a long running franchise you'd expect them to try something new to continue this streak of fortune. This isn't really true of Game Freak. In fact, the company have only made three games outside of the Pokemon series (one of then being an adaptation of a manga series). The first game they ever made was Pulseman, a platformer for the Sega Genesis that developed a cult reputation after its rediscovery when Pokemon kicked off. Their other, and in my opinion their best, is Drill Dozer, the crown jewel of the Game Boy Advance.

On starting the game the first thing that will grab your attention is the game's gorgeous animation. The attention to detail as each pixel feels lovingly rendered is in itself a huge compliment and ranks up there with the best in GBA sprite work along with Mother 3 and Astro Boy: Omega Factor. What's even more surprising is that the company famous for creating a brand that refused to innovate its sprites for almost a decade and has characters that take half a second to move from square A to square B can create such fluid animation. This level of detail is needed to convey the story of Jill, a young digger whose opening heist involves drilling into the side of a museum to retrieve a mysterious red emerald. Once her plans are thwarted by a rival gang of thieves, she goes on an expedition to steal the rest of the remaining emeralds before they can.

The most common complaint about the game is the tutorials. This isn't entirely unmerited as Drill Dozer isn't exactly a long game and while the first stage is a straight up tutorial, they drop hints toward things in later levels that the player has probably figured out at that point in the game. While this is true, Drill Dozer conveys its instructions in humour, a level of tongue in cheek that's not too overt (unlike most games with a similar kind of goofy charm) that comes off as endearing instead of annoying.

As you could guess from the title, you pilot the Drill Dozer and traverse the areas as required. In most games similar to this one  you get the feeling that there's so much more that could be done with that games central gimmick (this was the entire philosophy of Portal). Drill Dozer does the exact opposite of this and takes every possible idea you could have with such a machine and turns it into a reality. Have you ever wanted to try drilling into an undrilliable wall and climb up it using the ricochets of your machine? Well you can. Have you ever wanted to jump into the air and use the drill as the worlds deadliest pogo stick? Well you can. Have you ever wanted a sequel to this amazing game? Well, so do I.

There's so much more that Drill Dozer has to offer. Never mind that the drill is one of the most aesthetically pleasing weapons in video games. Never mind that this feeling is further authenticated by the games rumble pack as a genius anti-piracy measure to create an amazing sensory experience and I haven't even begun to scratch the surface of the games great level design that even involves turning the drill as a propulsion system for your own one-woman boat and how at the end of the game you can strap on a pair of propellers to gain the power of flight (Don't get me started on some of the most creative boss fights in a platformer since Yoshi's Island). In six levels Drill Dozer capitalises on nearly a decade of creativity that Game Freak have stripped from their Pokemon series and that a sequel has not been made shows Game Freak's admiration of their stand-alone creation or their huge love of money. I'm willing to say it's more of the latter.

Find Drill Dozer on ebay | Amazon

Released: 2006-02-06
Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Game Freak

Monday, October 1, 2012

Review: Pokemon Trading Card Game

As someone who has been playing Pokemon games for over a decade I can confidently say that I don't like Pokemon. I admit that it has an appeal to young children (I did say I played it for a decade) as it embraces the child's inner kleptomania and teaches children about capitalism the hard way. My problem is the games themselves are relatively insubstantial. Battles don't have any form of strategy to them, the decision making that other RPG's have that Pokemon lacks and many more. For anyone who wasn't under twelve at the time, the trading card game must have come off as a by-product of the game. And naturally a video game of the trading card game that was based of the video game was created! But was it any good?

To start I wish to debunk a few myths. Pokemon TCG, disregarding the branding of the product is a very strategic game. While I've been playing the video games for a long time, I've been playing the TCG even longer to where I've participated in the world championships three times. The fact that there have been twice as many Trading Card Championships as there have Video Game Championships shows the amount of skill required to play the game.

Being a Gameboy Colour game, this makes use of the first three sets in the series: Base Set, Jungle and Fossil, which comprise the original generation of Pokemon. It may not seem like a lot but this is over two hundred cards so it's not like there's no variety available. The game starts with a tutorial, as all games do, which teaches you the rules of the game, some hints and tips and even basic strategies on how to win. The game then has your typical eight gyms that can be accessed in any order with a heap of grunts to battle before taking on that resident gym leader. Winning against the grunts will give you a booster pack that contains more cards to organise your deck. In fact this is possibly one of the very first uses of cards as means of a weapon. This would later be used in such games as the Baten Kaitos series, Phantasy Star Online 3 and Phantom Dust.

It's easy to simply take the game mechanics of a trading card game and translate them to a video game. Do you ever wonder why so many Yu-Gi-Oh games get released? Because they are so easy to make. What makes this game unique is the amount of time taken on the presentation. For one thing this game is one of the few games to take advantage of the Game Boy Colour's colour palette as it makes each card portrait vibrant and reflective of the original card. There is just as much care gone into the sprites as each gym contains unique sprites for each gym leader and they are surprisingly memorable for how small a part they play in the game. and this is nothing to say of the games excellent music, which is up there with Shantae as the best music produced with the Game Boy's sound chip.

Pokemon has had a variety of spin offs the same way as all Nintendo's franchises have. Whether it's pinball, rogue-like, or whatever My Pokemon Ranch is supposed to be... Pokemon TCG feels like the only game out of all of these that actually usurps the main series into something that puts it beyond every single other Pokemon spin-off: a fun video game.

Find Pokemon Trading Card on ebay | Amazon

Released: 2000-04-10
Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Nintendo, Game Freak