Monday, March 31, 2008

Final Fantasy X Annoyances

I'm still really enjoying this game for all the reasons I listed previously. I have run into a few aggravating things about it though.

First off, unskippable cutscenes. As I said before, I like the cutscenes in this game, but I've now run into a few boss battles that are preceded by 5 minute long cinematics that I'm forced to rewatch when my party gets killed. Sometimes you can hit a button to cut short some of the dialog, but the animations still play out. I want to get back to the fight, not rewatch the same thing over and over.

Secondly, and I hear this is common to JRPGs, are the boss fights that are far more difficult than anything you've previously faced. At one particular boss fight, I was completely wiped out in one turn. It was so fast and brutal that I thought it was one of those boss fights that you're actually supposed to lose. That hope was dashed when the Game Over screen floated before my eyes. The same thing happened later. That particular boss had three different forms. I powered through the first two forms, but the very first turn of the last form destroyed me. Now I have to play through all three forms again.

Part of the problem I think is that the game is very forgiving during most of the regular exploration/dungeon crawling monster encounters. You don't have to worry too much about what characters to use. Sure, some are better than others in different situations, but for the most part you can brute force your way through the random encounters. The harder bosses, however, require a deeper understanding of the various status effects in the game and the various abilities of your characters. The game doesn't explain what Zombie means. I guess it expects you to either know from the previous games, or look at the manual, which is what I did. It's frustrating to spend 30 minutes on a boss then die because you weren't aware that the Zombie status, which is normally a bad thing, is actually required to survive one particular attack.

So those are my main gripes with the game so far. I've fairly close to the end now, and I'm ready to find out how this quest wraps up.


I bought a Nintendo Wii from a gentleman in New York State. Paid $300 plus $10 shipping. Went out and bought Twilight Princess and component video cables. Hooked it up. Basked in the comforting blue glow of the disc slot. Gloried in my ability to get news and weather from my gaming console. Didn't play any Wii games, but put in my Gamecube games.

Wait, what?

I guess I'm weird, but I was excited to be able to finally see Wind Waker and Metal Gear Solid in widescreen. Wind Waker in particular looked gorgeous. It really makes me want to play it again, which is good since I never finished it in the first place.

The Wii has the original Legend of Zelda, Zelda II, Link to the Past, and Ocarina of Time available for downloading. I'm seriously contemplating downloading them all and starting from the beginning. I think it'd be very interesting to chart the evolution of the series over time. If I did so, I'd have to make sure I didn't get burned out on Zelda. But it could be fun.

My current plan is to finish Final Fantasy X this week and start Condemned 2. Then we'll see where we go from there. I get the feeling that if I don't finish Metal Gear Solid now, I never will. How much does that prospect bother me? Hmm…

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Do I Have Any Idea What I’m Talking About?

In addition to the many I already have, I've recently developed a new insecurity.

You see, my first gaming console was the Sega Genesis. I didn't own another console until the Xbox 360. No Nintendo (of any flavor), no Playstation, no original Xbox. That's a massive gap in my gaming experience.

For a while I played exclusively on the PC. X-Wing, MechWarrior, Jedi Knight, Monkey Island, Half-Life, and Elder Scrolls were my entertainment of choice. At the same time I never played Starcraft. For Half-Life and Elder Scrolls, I didn't play these until the hype for the latest installments in the series was at full blast and I wanted to know what the big deal was.

This is mostly my fault of course. When my family had a Sega Genesis, I mostly played the Sonic the Hedgehog games. My parents didn't have the money or desire to buy me the latest releases, and eventually I grew bored with it. I read lots of books, and moved to computer gaming when we got our first IBM Aptiva desktop with Windows 95. I was still too young to be able to buy my own games, and even when my parents gave me an allowance I had to hoard it for weeks in order to buy something I wanted (which quite often was Star Trek action figures). Since I showed little interest in having another game console, my parents never bought me one.

Lately I've been trying to get caught up on older franchises on the console side of gaming, but it's a nearly impossible task. It's made slightly easier by services like the Wii's Virtual Console, so I don't have to track down and ancient game system and cartridges, but there's still the issue of time. New games are coming out all the time. There are thousands of older games I've missed out on. True, probably only a few dozen are worth playing, but that's still a lot of games.

Here's a handy list of some of the games and game franchises I've never played:

  • The Legend of Zelda (any except Wind Waker and the first hour of Ocarina of Time)
  • Just about every Super Mario game except Super Mario Bros.
  • Most Final Fantasy games
  • Every other famous JRPG out there
  • Most of the famous western RPGs (Baldur's Gate, Planescape: Torment, most of Fallout)
  • Metal Gear Solid
  • Anything from Blizzard except for the beginning of Diablo
  • Deus Ex

And many others I'm sure I'm forgetting.

So, many times I feel unqualified to comment on something game related. I've read a LOT about these games, so I can point to what other people have said. There's a great series of posts at The Brainy Gamer about how Zelda might be improved for the future, and I did leave a comment on one of the posts, but I really couldn't contribute much because I hadn't played most of them. Kind of frustrating.

So to the one person a week who reads this: do I have any hope? Will I ever be able to hold court with the gaming cognoscenti?

Monday, March 24, 2008

Metal Gear Solid, Final Fantasy X, and Cutscenes (and Misc. Bits)

I've gotten through the first disc of Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes, and to be honest, it's been a struggle to get through. The game has no tutorial to speak of and simply throws you into a room with several guards and expects you to figure out how to either evade or incapacitate them. I was stuck in this first room for about an hour before I cried uncle and cracked open the manual. Only then did I learn that you can sneak up behind guards, choke the life out of them, and drag them out of sight. I suppose this is my fault more than the game's but I've grown to expect console games to show me how to play it. Mass Effect had much the same problem.

Once I managed to get out of the first room I was able to get a little more comfortable with the controls. But they strike me as incredibly clunky. You use the analog stick to move, but you either creep or run, and there's no smooth transition between those states. It's hard to know where the threshold between the two is. Many times I've been sneaking up to a guard, only to accidentally lunge forward, alerting him and everyone within a half mile radius to my location. It's frustrating.

The Metal Gear Solid series is known for its convoluted storyline told through extensive cutscenes. I don't mind cutscenes, but the ones in MGS are pervasive to the point of annoyance. When I finish one ten minute cutscene, get two minutes of gameplay, and then have to sit through another ten minute cutscene, I start getting frustrated. I just want to PLAY.

Don't get me wrong. One of my primary motivations for completing a game is to find out what happens in the plot of the game. Unless I'm replaying a portion of a game several times, I don't skip cutscenes. They're rewards for getting through a portion of a game and serve to further motivate me to continue. The problem is when the game forgets that it's a GAME and not a movie. This is Metal Gear Solid's problem. It wouldn't be so bad except for the fact that when I actually get to play, it's an exercise in frustration for me. The irony is that the story is pretty good. Espionage, double-crossings, and sudden twists are the name of the game, and it makes me interested to know what happens next. I'm just losing interest in playing to find out.

The other annoying thing is that there are sequences that require you to backtrack through areas you've already been. I basically had to replay the entire game at that point in order to find a weapon for a boss fight. Later, while looking online, I found that doing so wasn't strictly necessary, but that was what the game told me to do. Backtracking through levels of a game is a sure way to make me not want to continue playing.

On the other side of the coin, Final Fantasy X has been a wonderful experience. I think I'm about ¾ of the way through, and as my first extended experience with a Final Fantasy game, it's been great. The characters are interesting, the story has drawn me in, and the gameplay itself is great fun. My experience with JRPG's is limited, but I find FFX's sphere grid to be more interesting than Enchanted Arms' or Eternal Sonata's boring method of leveling up. You're constantly leveling up as you play, therefore making each play session feel rewarding. The puzzle sections are a nice diversion, though it would have been nice to have them more integrated in the rest of the game rather than keeping them in certain sections only.

Cutscenes in FFX are spread out pretty evenly. They can be long, and they've occasionally devolved into melodrama, but the excellent gameplay between them makes me far more tolerant of them. It uses a mixture of in-game engine and pre-rendered cutscenes. The pre-rendered ones are gorgeous, and are truly a nice reward at the end of an extended series of dungeon crawls. Every time I see one, I want more, but the game wisely keeps them special by not overusing them. I don't know if this applies to every Final Fantasy game, but it's certainly effective in this one.

In other gaming news, I finally finished Gears of War's campaign. I started from the beginning and beat it on Hardcore difficulty with help of a few people online, then played through Insane mode with the help of yet another. The game is much easier, and consequently much more fun, when you have someone playing with you. I even went a few rounds online, but as expected it didn't really suck me in.

I also picked up Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter 2 again. The developers released a new set of co-op missions for download, so decided to try them out. I forgot just how difficult those co-op missions are. Once I found a group of good people to play with, it was a great time. Those missions really require coordinated teamwork. Strategy is essential. The only problem is that strategy can only be formed by playing a mission several times in a trial and error fashion to figure out what needs to be done. It's still immensely satisfying to beat those missions.

Finally, I received Condemned 2: Bloodshot in the mail. The first game was a terrifying experience, and I'm looking forward to the sequel. I'm going to try to hold off on it until I finish FFX though. As for Metal Gear Solid… I want to finish it. I want to know what happens next. But I won't be surprised if it enters my pile of unfinished games. And will I even give Metal Gear Solid 2 and 3 a try? Stay tuned.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Shadow of the Colossus - Final Thoughts

A month since my last entry! Well, I can assure you that I did finish Shadow and have a few thoughts on it. Some spoilers lie ahead.

The ending was as tragic and bittersweet as I expected, though there was a small glimmer of hope at the end. One interesting thing it did was give me control of the character during moments that most games would leave exclusively to cutscenes. While the outcome is set in stone as far as I know, there's a moment where you're being pulled down into a vortex. The game gives you control, and lets you desperately fight to stay alive as you're inexorably pulled toward your fate. It was a powerful moment, because I thought I could actually win and be reunited with my love. Sadly, this was not the case.

The battle with the final colossus was a truly epic experience. It was far larger than any of the others, and just getting to it was a harrowing, heart-racing experience. It probably took me around two hours to figure out how to beat it. Now that I know how it's done, it probably wouldn't take very long at all, but it required lots of trial and error at multiple steps to figure it out.

I suppose I have to mention Agro, the horse. It had previously been spoiled for me that he died a rather unexpected death, so while I was sad when that moment occurred, it didn't have as much impact as I'm sure it did for many other people. What I didn't know, however, was that he wasn't actually dead! When he limped back into the temple, I was truly elated.

One thing I was a bit disappointed in was that, even though there were a couple moments of interactivity, the ending was told mostly through cutscenes. I think I'm starting to get tired of the traditional cutscene in games, and hopefully I'll put my thoughts down in writing sometime soon.

Next post will be about my experiences with Metal Gear Solid, and that'll tie in with the cutscene thing.
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