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            Can you handle it?
by Ethos

Riddles’ Relapse Part 4 – Lost Odyssey

Saturday, January 23rd, 2010

Lost OdysseyAnd now we come to the current-gen iteration of my JRPG Relapse: Lost Odyssey. With names like Hironobu Sakaguchi and Nobuo Uematsu behind it, the game must be something amazing, right? Well, it is… and yet… it’s not. I’ll explain.

Let me preface this rant by saying that I really do love Lost Odyssey. It’s the best console Japanese RPG of this generation (which really isn’t saying much, I know) and it has a some truly stirring moments that I’ll never forget. The game is very, very good at what it does: emulate a traditional old-school JRPG experience on a modern console.

However, therein lies the problem. Lost Odyssey is the same experience you had back in 1991 with Final Fantasy IV, decked out in 3D graphics on the Unreal engine. Everything from random encounters to cumbersome, unattractive menu systems. Everything annoyance short of blowing dust out of the cartridge is back, in pristine form.

Lost Odyssey begins with a long, flashy FMV sequence showing an incredible battle between two massive armies. The camera eventually cuts to the protagonist Kaim, and we watch as Kaim lays waste to  literally hundreds of men. It looks like something straight out of, say, Dynasty Warriors.

But then the game transitions to an actual battle, and we’re  back in 1991. It’s quite comical, really; or it was to me. The first thought that struck me was: “this would instantly turn away anyone who doesn’t already love JRPGs.”

In other words, there is no market for a game like Lost Odyssey in todays world, with the exception of us – the ones who’ve been fighting with menus for years or decades now.

And honestly, I doubt we comprise a large percentage of today’s videogame market. Sad but true.

But again, I like Lost Odyssey. I like it a lot, and here’s why: it does what it sets out to do very well. It’s an extremely solid RPG, and anyone with a pre-existing love for the genre – such as myself – will probably enjoy it. The story is fairly predictable, but it’s told well and has a strong cast of characters. The “1000 Years of Dreams” stories are a great as well. The game tries pretty hard to tear-jerk, and to its credit, it can succeed at times.

And it’s worth saying yet again: Nobuo Uematsu is a literal god amongst men. Lost Odyssey sounds very different from any previous work, and because of that, I consider it one of his best efforts to date. The theme music that plays as Kaim rides the into the city of Uhra for the first time is absolutely beautiful, and makes the scene itself unforgettable.

It’s also worth noting that Kaim really does look girly. I had forgotten. Or… didn’t notice the first time. Not sure.

It’s an interesting thing that the two most similar RPGs I played this week were the first and the last – Final Fantasy VI and Lost Odyssey.

It almost makes like this… y’know, statement or somethin’, y’know?

But I’m not really sure what it is, so I’ll just let it speak for itself. I plan to write more about Japanese RPGs before the week is over though. So don’t get too comfortable.

Riddles’ Relapse Part 3 – Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3

Friday, January 22nd, 2010

persona3artwork05_2The first two games in my aptly-titled JRPG relapse were both what you’d call “traditional” JRPGs. Final Fantasy VI is about as meat-and-potatoes as the genre gets, (not an insult by any means) and even Final Fantasy VIII, with its unconventional magic and junction systems, doesn’t veer too far from the beaten path when compared to certain other games.

One of those “certain other games” is Persona 3. Standing out in a genre that’s not exactly known for breaking the mold, Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 is about as unconventional as JRPGs get. Is this a good thing? No… it’s an awesome thing.

You’ll immediately notice something extraordinary about Persona 3: there’s a shiny “M” rating on the box. Not exactly characteristic of the JRPG genre, which, by and large, tends to keep things PG.

As soon as the game’s trippy opening anime sequence begins, you’re treated to the site of a girl (apparently) attempting suicide. As well as… a lot of other trippy, weird Japanese shit.

The point is that the themes and atmosphere of Persona 3 (and all Shin Megami Tensei games) is a huge part of what differentiates it from the crowd. Tired JRPG themes and stereotypes have absolutely no place here; instead, Persona 3 treats us to a much more twisted fantasy based in a gritty realistic setting.

And that’s why after almost two years, the first two hours of Persona 3 instantly drew me back in. The characters, concept, and world are amazingly realized, and the scripting is unusually strong for a JRPG. (Heck, it’s unusually strong for videogames in general.)

That, and the fact that  Mitsuru, even on such dated hardware as the PS2, is unbelievably hot. It’s not just how she looks, it’s how she… keeps herself, I suppose? The self-confident air the she exudes just begs to be broken down and explored, and…

Er, sorry. My notes said “Mitsuru. Is. So. Hot.” So. I figured I should editorialize. But I suppose some things are better left… not editorialized.

Anyway. Because the first hour and a half of the game is essentially on rails, I wasn’t able to re-experience much of the combat in the game. A shame, too, because Persona 3 has quite simply one of the best turn-based battle systems ever created for a JRPG. The amount of skills at your disposal is mind-blowing, thanks to the amazingly in-depth Persona system. I could literally spend paragraph after paragraph writing about Persona fusion, use, advancement through social links, et cet – but, er, I won’t.

The game’s been out for years; I figure the lot of you either a) know what I’m talking about already, or b) don’t really give a fuck. Or… both.

I’ve been picking good games for myself this week; like Final Fantasy VI and VIII before it, I just wanted to keep playing Persona 3. But alas, I must move on. Next up? A certain Lost Odyssey, and the conclusion of my little relapse. ‘Till then!

Riddles’ Relapse Part 2 – Final Fantasy VIII

Thursday, January 21st, 2010

ffviii_logoMan, I love Final Fantasy VIII.

And no, I’m not afraid to say that on the internet.

Again, this was the first time I’d touched the game since I first beat it years ago. (Fuck off, okay? I don’t replay games).

As soon as the gorgeous opening video started playing, with its epic musical score, the memories all came rushing back. Final Fantasy VIII’s storyline is a bit of a mess at times, but regardless it’s always been one of my favorite stories in the series – it’s impressively character-driven, and features some absolutely unforgettable moments. (The Sorceress’ Assassination scene at the end of disc 1 comes to mind.)

But then, once the game actually started, I remembered how very, ah, slow paced the first disc of Final Fantasy VIII is. After playing for over an hour, I’ve yet to even start the Dollet mission.

And how about those ridiculously obtuse and annoyingly frequent tutorials? Every time I turned around, I was getting another useless tutorial shoved in my face. Seeing that I already know everything, an option to skip these would have been much appreciated.

But that’s enough complaining! I still had fun with the game. How? Well. Believe it or not, I absolutely love Final Fantasy VIII’s junction system. While I concede that the Magic Draw system is pretty stupid, (though I’ve never minded it) the actual junctioning process is absolutely fantastic in its depth and versatility. I love that I can micro-manage everything, from specific stats to elemental affinities. I love the system so much that I found myself spending needless amounts of time drawing magic and improving my stats.

That might be why I didn’t even make it to Dollet.

Could the junction system be better? Yeah, of course. It should be far easier to obtain magics for junctioning; spending battle after battle drawing magic really is a cumbersome system. But regardless, I love the amount of control the system affords; for me, the junction system is one of Final Fantasy VIII’s greatest triumphs.

I really want to play more, but I’m afraid I must move on to a different console generation, and a different series. Look for the third part of my relapse sometime tomorrow, folks.

Riddles’ Relapse Part 1 – Final Fantasy VI

Thursday, January 21st, 2010

Final Fantasy VIAs promised, here I am, live from my magical couch here in Murfreesboro, TN.

I know it’s fairly late in the day at this point, but I have all night – so let’s do this.

I just played about an hour of Final Fantasy VI. I’m almost ashamed to say, it’s the first time I’ve played the game since I beat it all those years ago.

How did it feel to go all the way back to 1994? Pretty damn good, actually.

Final Fantasy VI makes better use of its limited technology than any other 2D game I’ve ever played. The opening scene does a brilliant job of setting the mood, with its chilling musical score and surprisingly crisp and attractive 2D visuals. Nobuo Uematsu really is a god amongst men, and what he managed to do with the limitations of the SNES’s hardware is mind-blowing; after sixteen years, Final Fantasy VI remains one -if not his best – soundtracks.

JRPGs, and games of all genres, really, should take lessons from the opening of Final Fantasy VI. There’s no town-crawling, fetch-questing, or needless, wordy story exposition in the game’s first hour. Instead, the game offers the perfect amount of foreshadowing, character development, and intrigue – while remaining in constant motion.  For example, Terra’s fevered flashbacks ensure that you’re immediately interested in her as a character. In fact, every character is likable and interesting from the moment you meet them – be they hero or villain. Kefka’s introductory scene is classic. Final Fantasy VI really does feature one of the best character ensembles in the history of JRPGs.

After an hour of playing, I really didn’t feel like stopping. As I’ve said in the past, Final Fantasy VI is one of those revered 2D classics that actually lives up to all the nostalgia the surrounds it. It’s a game I’d really love to see remade on more modern hardware – such a classic, character-driven tale deserves to be retold for the ages, with some more competent technology behind it.

But now it’s time to skip ahead a console generation… though, I’ll be remaining within the confines of the same series.