Hard to believe it’s already December. Seems like only yesterday I got to whine about it being too hot non stop, and now I’m pretty much freezing non stop. As always, the end of the year is a good time to reflect, regret, regurgitate, and uh… reupholster.
In sitting down to do the yearly Big Important Year In Review thing, I can’t help but notice that instead of feeling another notch whinier and convinced this year is the WORST EVAR and nothing will ever top it, honestly, I just feel kind of blah about this year. Shit happened. Some good, some bad. But aside from a pretty impressive celebrity death count this year, it kind of feels like the horrible horrible world has plateaued a little. Or I’ve truly stopped caring. Whatever works.
I’ve also noticed that my gaming tastes seem to be pointing to the fact that, much like I can’t seem to watch a movie without poking it full of holes, I can’t seem to take in a traditional RPG experience unless I’ve played the game before and have nostalgic value for it. Everything else has to have some kind of system tweak or gimmick in place to make the game engine fun enough for me to stand the level grinding and gear hunting and clothes shopping and arggghh just let me press “Jump” when the enemy slowly waddles over my way to attack.
As such, my attempt at a top ten list is probably pretty hilarious to any hardcore game site out there seeing as how the most current game playing device I own is the NDS’s little facelift model and I haven’t played much if any of the big titles of the year. Assassin’s Creed, huh? I’ve been pretty into Super Robot Wars The Alternate Universe With Tits Rather Than Super Robots And Quite Little War! So here’s a list of arbitrary awards, because last time I tried to go ‘Top X’ I omitted the World Ends With You, which is fucking tragic considering it pretty much owned my summer the year it came out.
BEST RPG THAT’S NOT A REMAKE- Half Minute Hero (PSP)
It’s really hard to get people interested in a full price PSN download/UMD game that claims to only last a half hour, and yeah, it’s pretty short by most modern standards (i.e.; probably 1999 or so when back covers started describing games in ‘hours’ instead of ‘this game has x number of stages’), but damned if it doesn’t do a lot with what it has- Retro style sprites enacting an epic 500 year saga of divine warfare in 30 second chunks. Hero30 is the star attraction, in which you have to (repeatedly) stop the Evil Lord(s) from casting the Spell of Destruction and ending the world. The only catch is, the Evil Lord is already casting the spell, so you have 30 seconds to level grind, buy gear, and save the world. You can beg the Time Goddess to reset the clock, but she hikes her fees to do so steadily, so the whole thing is pretty much about strategizing how to use your precious little time. There are three other game modes, but they’re not as much fun (Evil Lord is a real-time strategy game where you summon monsters and try to clear the board in 30 seconds before your pale prettyboy -gasp- TANS, Princess 30 is… honestly kind of a lame shooter, and Knight 30 is a game where you have to protect a sage for 30 seconds while he/she casts a spell to purge all monsters from an area.) But it all comes together beautifully in Hero 300, in which you get 300 seconds to reunite the whole cast and save the world one more time- no resets and no breaks. And during all this, they manage to hit about every RPG trope in the book from a forest loving bow-wielding elf girl to a sympathetic NPC girl who falls for the hero and dies (Yes- in 30 seconds.)
Then you unlock Hero 3, in which you have 3 seconds to win. Holy crap, man.
BEST MORE OR LESS UNDEFINABLE GENRELESS CLUSTERFUCK OF A GAME THAT’S STILL FUN- Knights in the Nightmare (NDS)
Sting is a strange little company that wants to make RPGs, but they don’t want to make normal RPGs, that is to say, they don’t want to make Final Fantasy with different characters and a gameplay gimmick that makes them sound different at a glance. No, they’ve set out with some epic Norse themed gobbledygook tale called ‘Dept. Heaven Series’, and are releasing the installments out of order while completely reinventing the game engine for every title.
Oddly enough, the graphic style stays the same. Always.
Knights in the Nightmare is a strategy RPG in the sense it takes place on tile based isometric maps. Of course, having said that, is about the same as saying Super Mario can fight on the same tier as the guys from Contra. Enemies fire patterns of bullets directly at your cursor, which you drag around the screen touching your men to charge them up to attack. The units you’ve placed on the battlefield, actually, are rarely targeted by the enemies actively, which makes your ‘omnipotence’ as THE PLAYER! kind of suspect. It has a pretty steep learning curve, but once you get the hang of it, it’s actually really addictive. The biggest drawback to the game is Sting’s visual design philosophy, which consists of “if something isn’t happening in part of the screen, MAKE SOMETHING FUCKING HAPPEN. Performing a simple attack makes affected tiles glow red, a little vector arrow shape follows the cursor from the charging character, little ‘target lock’ icons pop up over any enemies within the area of attack (accompanied by a % number showing how effective that attack’s element is against that kind of enemy), at least two voice bites come up, and finally crystals and shit go flying out of the enemy for you to then zip about and catch. There’s also a near constant ‘fog of war’ effect, a bunch of gauges, and distracting bits of Engrish text that appear and disappear to little rhyme or reason. I assume all the flair is intended to distract you from the fact that the stages are in fact very tiny and most character classes can’t even move.
Also pretty much every step of the way, this game attempts to guilt trip or depress you with a storyline where you play the departed soul of a king who pretty much fucks around with or inadvertently kills everyone he meets. Character building involves sacrificing your own soldiers to power up soldiers while the sacked character cries and protests- ON FIRE.
Frankly I have no idea why I enjoy the game when I sit down and talk about it because it’s so full of distracting effects and downbeat plot developments. I guess I’m just spoiled for games where you’re at least afforded the chance to not murderate a young girl who was turned into a harpy for the kicks of an evil witch.
BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT I SHOULDN’T HAVE HAD MY HOPES UP FOR ANYWAY-Dissidia: Final Fantasy
Warning bells sort of started to go off when the game’s roster was revealed to be only the ‘main’ character of each Final Fantasy title, which means several slots go to characters who don’t even have proper names. I could stretch a little and claim Dissidia is something of a stylized take on the original Final Fantasy, in that it involves heroes searching for crystals to protect order and defeat chaos, but you know what? It’s not. It’s got less storyline than Super Smash Bros. Brawl’s story mode, but about three hundred more lines of dialogue. The plot is basically this- so spoilers ahoy.
- Final Fantasy’s heroes are pulled from another dimension to do battle against the villains, who were also captured from other dimensions.
- The heroes wander around trading pithy dialogue based around the one character trait each was alotted.
- The good goddess dies, but the heroes hold onto the crystals she put her power into and go beat up evil anyway.
- Everything pretty much resets.
The biggest plus the game has in its favor is fan service, even if the fighting system is kind of interesting in itself, but it even screws up the fan appeal angle with such a limited lineup. It would have been simple for them to even go the cheap route and make Zack a recolor of Cloud, or something like that. I understand there’s only so much you can expect out of a portable system, but Dissidia is like… System Limitations: The Game. You rarely see a background that’s not a combat stage. Hair is modeled to be flowing dynamically as the characters fly through the air- which looks strange when Cecil is standing around still monologuing with little wisps flowing off to the sides like that girl from School Rumble.
In short: Dissidia is probably best suited for people who actually bought and drank that Potion beverage that came out a while back. I got some fun out of it, but in the end there are both better fighters, and better Final Fantasies on the PSP.
Believe it… or not.
BEST GAME THE WII GOT THAT COULD HAVE PROBABLY BE DONE ON ANY OTHER SYSTEM JUST AS EASILY: Muramasa: The Demon Blade (Wii)
There really wasn’t a single time while I was nimbly leaping from tree to tree, slicing apart demon ninja, fighting massive, gorgeously rendered bosses, or trying to see if there was some way to make Momohime drop her towel in the hot springs that I really sat there and thought, “God damn, am I ever glad that I can play this in what amounts to a controller that got broken in half and reconnected with wires. This wouldn’t possibly work with a solid, one piece game pad.”
wait what classic pad and gamecube controller
As for the game itself, it’s both simple and satisfying. It isn’t agonizingly padded out with item crafting like its predecessor Odin Sphere, and it’s pretty awesome how much swordplay you can get out of mashing A endlessly (with occasional taps of B for special moves when you’re feeling randy.) At the same time, it’s kind of not awesome how most of the game is just about mashing A endlessly and following arrows to the next waypoint. At least in new game plus you can warp from shrine to shrine.
Worth noting: the fox girls who save your game and assist you come in both T and A flavors. That’s just awesome.
THE BOUNCY BOUNCY AWARD- SUPER ROBOT TAISEN ORIGINAL GENERATION SAGA: (gasp) ENDLESS FRONTIER
When I played this game in Japanese, I assumed that it was just a stock RPG plot with jiggle added to the graphics, and a ton of SRW fanboy in jokes. What we got with this summer’s English release was a script that somehow manages to be 20% generic JRPG fodder, and 90% boobcentric dialogue. Euphemisms, synonyms, allusions to, and pictures of glorious animated TITS are pretty much the entirety of the game’s content, with a few notes about crashed starships and the evil interdimensional empire out to conquer the universe just kind of penciled onto the outside of the box to explain why these pairs of breasts have come together to rise up then supply fall back into place against evil.
It almost sounds like a weak excuse at this point, but the battle system is actually pretty fun and based around juggling enemies helplessly in the air while tagging other players in and out to continue the chain of damage. Of course, most of the cut-in animations when you call in your teammates are…
BEST POINTLESSLY VIOLENT ‘EDGY’ GAME THAT GOT LOST IN THE SHUFFLE OF SUPERFLUOUSLY VIOLENT GAMES- MADWORLD (Wii)
Based on a fictional deathsport, a plot device that’s been sadly underused since the spurt of fictional deathsports we were treated to in the 80’s, Madworld is not the story of a man wronged fighting for freedom against a twisted and decadent society that views human life as another dispoable commodity. Madworld is about an ugly, bald son of a bitch named Jack. And he has a chainsaw for an arm. Say what you will, but a game where you’re not just committing graphic slaughter of enemies but scored for creativity and drawing the act out is amazingly fun in a sociopathic kind of way.
THE ‘WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED HERE’ AWARD- Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (NDS)
For the first Transformers movie, we were treated to a series of video game adaptions that had better plots than the film they were based on, largely due to the human cast’s lack of appearances. The DS game stood out to me as a good example of what a Transformers game could be- taking the basic idea of a Grand Theft Auto clone and applying it to scanning vehicles and hiding in plain sight rather than jacking cars. I had high hopes when early screens of ROTF came out using similar graphics and GUI as the first game, while promising a more developed character to customize. Well, in the end, what we got was a game that combines lousy jumping controls with instant kill lava in the tutorial level. Mind you, instant kill lava appeared nowhere in the game afterward. Other highlights included:
- Your create-a-bot indeed had a lot more customization for his stats- but was permanently stuck as a car for the entire game, nullifying that.
- 3D flight stages with Starscream that simply re-used the driving engine, meaning your jet mode couldn’t climb in altitude and basically handled like a car with cut brakes
- A level where Starscream ordered Barricade and Sideways to race a lap around a heavily armed military base collecting Energon cubes. “And if you stray off the marked track, I will blast you!” (I guess this is why he shouldn’t lead.)
- An idea of ‘challenge’ based mostly around raping you up the ass with hordes upon hordes of human jeeps and choppers, all with deadly accurate, highly damaging gunfire and ESP.
Actually, maybe this was a bigger letdown than Dissidia. Oh well. Transformers: Animated also had a game come out, which amounted to a Lost Vikings rip that was fun while it lasted, and there was of course a console version of ROTF, but that would have exposed me to dangerous amounts of Shia LeBouf’s acting.
PROBABLY NICHEST GAME RECCOMENDATION OF 2009: Ultimate Shooting Collection (Wii)
Radirgy alone sells the game (at budget label price new), but Karous and Chaos Field are also decent enough shoot-em’-ups. The collection is easy to shrug off as yet another cheap budget release Wii game, but on closer examination-the planes on the cover are actually the planes from in the game, which is kind of impressive for this kind of thing, and the three games are ports of the last games to be officially released on Dreamcast. So if you like shooters, or just have some kind of fetish for Sega Dreamcast and/or it’s death throes, have at it!
Well, okay, Chaos Field is kind of blah. But Radirgy and Karous are worth their halves of the admission ticket.
To Be Continued Probably…