Many longtime fans of the Final Fantasy series have lamented the direction Square has taken with their beloved franchise, forgoing the classic turn-based battle system (or rather the active-time battle system) in favor of a more action-oriented approach featuring real-time combat. While this rapid evolution of the series is no doubt an attempt by Square to garner new fans and compete with other AAA titles currently on the market, it has left some diehard fans feeling alienated and disinterested with the series. Enter World of Final Fantasy, a new title in the Final Fantasy series that harkens back to the games of old, featuring a slew of familiar characters and mechanics that should make any old-school fan of the series feel right at home.
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I will be the first to admit I was a stupid kid. Between 1990-92 I made a series of shameful visits to the Toys R Us "budget wall" section, where NES games could be had for a pittance. Or $20, which I guess wasn't a pittance. Some of you may remember an earlier article where I detailed the psychological damage caused by purchasing and playing Hydlide in 1991. Would you believe that I had been burned before that piece of horror, not only from a game on the same wall, but in the same way, while looking for an inexpensive version of another game. With Hydlide I was trolling for a RPG experience. This time - the first time - I was looking for something with some action and adventure in it (an action/adventure game, if you will). But I guess there is no point in delaying, as you have already read the title of the article as well as seen the picture above. Ladies and gentlemen, I bring you a tale of disappointment and discovery; Budget Wall Chronicles - King's Knight.
Continue reading Budget Wall Chronicles - King's Knight
What would happen if we put many of Disney's famous characters, some random evil guys, a couple of Final Fantasy's greatest heroes and some new spike-haired kids all in one game? That must've been the question Squaresoft and Disney were asking themselves when they were creating the concept of Kingdom Hearts. What made them came up with such a crazy question? I have no idea. Does it make for an enjoyable RPG? It sure does.
No matter which way you look at it, Kingdom Hearts (2002) is a pretty unique game. It shares some common points with the Final Fantasy series, but it's profoundly different otherwise.
At the start of the game we meet Sora, Riku and Kairi. These three friends are simply enjoying the little tropical world they live in and spend their days playing, talking or staring at the ocean. One day changes everything when the Heartless, a purple army of toy-like bad guys, attack the island. Both Kari and Riku disappear and Sora decides to go and look for his friends, with the help of his magical Keyblade.
Before the main story takes off, you're placed in a church-like darkness, with only glass windows displaying sleeping princesses to walk on. This area serves as a tutorial for basic combat action as well as facing you with a choice that'll decide your "destiny". Destiny may be a big word, but it comes down to you having to choose a strength and weakness with "attack", "defense" and "magic" as your options. This will later influence the way your character (Sora) levels up, what abilities he'll get first and even how fast he'll level.
Soon after embarking on his quest, Sora will meet up with Donald and Goofy, who will accompany you throughout the rest of the game. You stumbled upon the hilarious duo because they are on a quest of themselves: to find King Mickey, who has given them instructions to assist the Keyblade wearer, which just happens to be Sora.
Although the plot may seem quite heavy, it is treated pretty lightly during most of the game, mainly because you'll be working to get all the sub-plots in the different Disney worlds settled out. There's more to say about the main plot but revealing any more story feels like spoiling to me, so I won't. I'll just say that even though the story has its depth, it's clear to see that Square wanted to make this a lighter digestible plot than the average Final Fantasy; a decision that's also reflected in Kingdom Heart's gameplay - but more about that in a minute.
You'll meet many famous Disney characters on your quest to find Riku and Kairi, all living in their specific world based upon their movie counterparts. Funny is how these Disney characters (except Donald and Goofy) don't know anything about the major story, but are preoccupied with their own little problems. Along the way you'll find yourself playing alongside characters like Alladin and Jack Skellington in worlds such as Wonderland, Agrabah, the Hundred Acre Wood, Halloween Town, etc... Next to that there are some new worlds designed specifically for this game such as Traverse Town and Hollow Bastion.
Now for one of the most irritating aspects of the game: travelling between all these worlds. Rather than just having your party "teleport" to a world, you'll have to play a minigame each time you'll travel to a new world. Your ship, called a Gummi ship, travels along a determined path until you reach the next world. While flying around you'll have to shoot (often unidentifiable) enemies. This is clearly a Star Fox rip-off, and a bad one at that. By defeating enemies you'll receive "Gummi blocks" which you can use to upgrade your ship. Instead of making this easy, Square decided to put in an awkward ship editor in the game that allows you to make your ship stronger by adding parts or even create a new one. This sounds better than it actually is because there isn't any point in doing so. The Gummi levels are so easy, you'll just want to get them over with quickly to advance to the next world; so what's the point of upgrading the basic ship? The whole feature could have been left out of the game for me, but I guess Square found it necessary to let players "experience" how the party travels between worlds.
Luckily, the game is a whole lot better when inside one of the worlds. Unlike the (until then) Final Fantasy series, Kingdom hearts is an Action RPG. This means all combat happens directly in the main environments, without "going" into a turn-based combat area. Your main weapon is Sora's Keyblade, with which you can use to hit the enemies one time or in combo's (depending on the abilities you have). You can also cast traditional FF-style magic such as fire, blizzard, thunder, slow, etc... These can be selected in the "Command menu" in the lower left corner of the screen with either the D-pad or the right analog stick. You can also assign up to three magics to the cross, triangle and square buttons that allow for easy-casting in combination with L1. Lastly, you can summon Disney characters that'll temporarily help Sora out, giving Donald and Goofy a break. The camera can be moved only to the left and right by holding down either L2 or R2, which feels quite restricted. In fact, it's the main thing that bothered me while playing Kingdom Hearts; I find the camera much too close to Sora's back to give a overall perspective of your environment. Oftentimes you won't even see the enemies you're fighting, with the camera struggling to get them into view. If it wasn't for the lock-on function (activated with R1), Kingdom Hearts would be almost unplayable.
Combat happens frequently, with enemies spawning almost everywhere on the map. Sadly enough the limited tactical options will make fighting the hordes of Heartless a rather boring venture, and feels like "something you have to do" instead of being a source of fun. It isn't so irritating that it'll make you stop playing, but it could've been done a lot better. As I said earlier, Donald and Goofy will accompany you on your quest, so they're also with you during combat; helping out by attacking enemies, using magic or throwing a potion your way when your health is low. You can also opt to temporarily exchange one of the two by an optional character, depending on the world you're in. On a positive note I can say that the boss fights are much more fun than the random battles and can be quite challenging, too. (if you haven't leveled up your characters too much, that is)
Besides the fighting, there's the traditional RPG action to be done such as talking to characters, buying items and weapons in stores and saving your game at save points. There's also a bit of platforming included, which is a nice distraction from the combat but suffers from the same camera problems as well as the not-so-fluid jumping animation. Kingdom Hearts clearly is an RPG with some platform elements rather than a platform game with RPG elements.
In the main menu there are the traditional "item", "equipment", "status" and "abilities" menus as well as a "customize" and "journal" menu. In the customize menu you can set the quick-access magics for Sora and determine Donald and Goofy's combat behavior by selecting if they have to do certain things "constantly", "frequently" or "occasionally". The journal menu serves as a log in which a summary of the story is kept, next to character and world descriptions.
Graphically, Kingdom Hearts is a feast for the eyes, especially if you're a Disney fan. Both the worlds and characters accurately resemble their traditional animation counterparts, something Square can be proud of. You can also enjoy the colorful scenery in first-person view when pressing the select button. Once again, the restricted camera is the only thing that keeps this game from being a sightseers' dream.
Vocally, Square has done their best with much of the dialog being voiced over by an excellent cast of voice actors. Most of the actual Disney voice actors have lent their voices to their respective characters and Haley Joel "I see dead people" Osment gave his voice to Sora. Sound effects are average but just like in most of Square's RPG's, music is excellent. Each world is accompanied by its own theme (often a variation or adaptation of the famous Disney themes) that either sets a happy tone (in the Disney worlds) or a more serious tone (in the non-Disney worlds).
Despite its flaws, Kingdom Hearts is a unique game that successfully merges the worlds of Disney and Square into a unique experience. Whether you're an RPG fan, Square fan, Disney fan or action fan; there's a little for everybody in Kingdom Hearts. 8.4/10
Dragon Quest: The Journey of the Cursed King (in the US: Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King) is Level-5's third RPG for the Playstation 2, and also the third game ever by the developer. After the good Dark Cloud (2000) and the great Dark Chronicle (2002), Level-5 decided to take on the massive task of making the next instalment of the long lasting Dragon Quest franchise. Not only that, Dragon Quest: The Journey of the Cursed King (from now on called Dragon Quest 8 ) would become the first game of the series for the Playstation 2, as well as being the first Dragon Quest game with 3D graphics. Not an easy task, but Level-5 fulfilled all expectations.
The game starts when the evil mage Dhoulmagus tries to steal a legendary sceptre, locked away in a local castle. To reach his goal, Dhoulmagus cursed the castle and petrified everyone inside into plant-like beings except for three individuals. The King, Throde, gets transformed into a Yoda-like toad, while his daughter, princess Medea, gets turned into a horse. The last survivor of the curse is you, the hero of this tale, and the only one not affected by the curse in any way.
Despite the shallowness and classic feel of the story, there are some interesting plot twists that'll keep you entertained until the end. Along the way you'll meet three more characters that'll join you on your adventure: Yangus, Jessica and Angelo. Yangus is rough fellow that got his life saved by the hero and calls him "guv" out of respect. Another recurring line of Yangus is "Cor' Blimey!" whenever King Throde appears out of nowhere. Jessica is a hard headed aristocratic girl that wants to avenge the death of her brother, Alister, who got killed by Dhoulmagus some time before his attack on the castle. Angelo is a Templar Knight, devoted to Abbot Francisco, but lacking the will to follow the Templars' strict moral code.
This lively bunch sets out to find Dhoulmagus, and while doing so encounter countless other characters that need assitance of some sort to advance the main plot. The game offers alot of content and a whole world to discover. Rushing through the story without doing any sidequests will almost take up 50 hours. You can almost double that number when playing at a normal pace and getting involved in most of the sidequests.
Gameplay-wise, Dragon Quest 8 is an as classic RPG as it gets. Combat is turn-based and gets triggered by random encouters. Because there are only 4 playable characters, switching characters isn't an option, meaning all characters will level up at the same speed. When faced against a number of monsters, you'll have to assign tasks to all 4 of your characters first and then watch them get executed together with enemy attacks. Besides melee and ranged attacks, characters can cast offensive or healing spells, aswell as use weapon-specific abilities. Lastly, players can opt to raise the tension of a character to build up energy that can be released in a single, devastating blow; especially useful when doing a boss fight.
Characters differ concerning the spells they can cast, aswell as the attributes they can raise. When a characters levels up, you can assign points to any of 5 attributes of that character. 4 of those attributes are to increase damage done with specific weapons, 1 attribute is different for each character. Some tactics lie in the fact that not all characters can use all types of weapons. For example, Angelo is the only one that can wield bows. The maximum amount of points that can be assigned to an attribute is 100, which can be obtained at around level 40. This gives players some time to experiment with different weapon types first before having to stick to one type to get it as strong as possible. The different weapon types are swords, boomerangs, axes, clubs, knives, scythes, whips, staves, bows and fisticuffs (no weapon equiped).
Besides weapons, characters can also equip a piece of body armor, a helmet, a shield and an accessory. These aren't as many categories as in some other RPGs, but you'll still spend a great deal of time finding, buying or making better weapons and armour. That last option is available once aquiring an Alchemy Pot. You can throw in multiple items and see what new item pops out. This mini-game is similar to the "invention" system in Dark Chronicle or the weapon system in Rogue Galaxy. It's quite important to try out as much combinations as you can, because it's the best way to get a hold of some strong weapons/armour/items before being able to purchase them. That's needed, because the game can be pretty challenging, especially early on when it doesn't take much hits to get your party wiped out. After the game's ending you can load your saved game again to just before defeating the final boss and enter a complete new dungeon after which some of the hardest boss battles can be found. Sometimes you'll have to go through large stretches of land without really knowing what to look for. Although this might set off the less experienced RPGer, old-school gamers will love the classic approach to this RPG.
If I could say only one thing about Dragon Quest 8, it would be that it's a very polished, rich and complete games. Alot of thought went into the menu, which looks particulary nice. All your items can easily be sorted with an auto-sort option in the menu, where they are displayed with beautiful icons. Also nice is that, when pressing select, you get a "battle records" menu in which you can watch a full list of of monsters, collected items and Alchemy Pot recepies.
Coupled to the great gameplay are stunning visuals and sound. Graphics are some of the best on the PS2 and the best ever in the Dragon Quest series. The cel-shading suits the game perfectly, with characters and monsters looking like they've just escaped from an anime, yet staying faithful to the Dragon Quest franchise. Akira Toriyama did the character design of this game and is the man responsible for the Dragon Ball Z series.
Sound is just as nice with convincing voice acting (despite the sometimes over-the-top voice of King Throde), great sound effects and fantastic music. The songs are all classic orchestral tracks that really set the mood for the many areas that the game is rich. From the regal intro tune to the upbeat battle song or the creepy dungeon track; they all maintain the same high level and are never out of place.
I'll wrap it up by saying that Dragon Quest 8 is one of the best games in the series aswell as one of the best RPGs on the PS2. If you're looking for a good RPG, a game that will last a long time or just a good game in general, this is a must-buy. 9.3/10
|Yup. You read it correctly.|