Video Game Rants
Broken Sword 2: The Smoking Mirror - Here's an adventure game that I picked up for 5 pounds while I was visiting England. I'm always a sucker for a good adventure game, and this one is the sequel to one of my favorites (known as Circle of Blood in the States). The game follows the further adventures of George Stobbart and his French girlfriend Nicole Collard. This time they are attempting to unravel the mystery regarding a drug cartel and its relation to an ancient Mayan legend. Unfortunately, while an enjoyable game, it doesn't reach the quality of its predecessor. The original Broken Sword was not a shining example of character development, but it easily outshines the sequel by leaps and bounds. Our villain receives a minute amount of screen time and our two heroes receive no further past development. Fortunately, we do see Nico and George's relationship develop throughout the game. This severely hampers the otherwise enjoyable plot. The graphics are top-notch and this is easily my favorite style of visual presentation. The well drawn and animated characters absolutely come to life on screen. The music is also excellent, and it nearly always fits the mood of the scene. It also changes depending on what you are doing on screen. Unfortunately sometimes there are glaring gaps in the game which feature no music at all, which grated on my nerves. Gameplay is incredibly easy to learn. All you do is move the cursor around the screen and see if anything becomes hilighted. This simplicity can be a fault, however, in that some puzzles become simply an exercise in clicking random items in random spots. Also, sometimes items will be hard to distinguish on the screen and you may miss something important. One important gameplay item is a huge bug found at the end of the game. It is mentioned in the instruction manual, but a patch would be extremely nice. Lastly, the game is a tad too short. An adventure game doesn't lend itself to too many replays, so beating this one in a couple hours was mildly disappointing. Overall, however, the short time that I was playing the game, I had a blast. 6.5/10.
Added July 19, 2000.
Final Fantasy IX - I really didn't have
high expectations of this game after the debacle that is Final Fantasy
VIII, but I was extremely surprised to find that FFIX is not only easily
the best Final Fantasy available on the Playstation, but one of
the best RPGs money can buy. FFIX returns to the series roots in
a very nice mix of the new (FMVs) and the old (a class system!) and the
nostalgia evident throughout the game is wonderful for old fans of the
series. Also nice is the return of a four player party and shorter
summons (you also only view a full summon occasionally); this greatly lends
to faster battles which is refreshing after the tedium of the last game
in the series. The story is entertaing and the characters nicely
developed, but don't expect anything at the level of Final Fantasy Tactics
or Xenogears. This is a fun story and the characters
entertaining; no mental freaks here folks, just good old fashioned heroism.
Gameplay is a nice mix of learning abilities which started in FFVI and
the class system in FFIV. This lends to using the characters' "jobs"
in the story, while still keeping some freedom in learning skills.
The graphics are excellent for a Playstation game, but like the previous
two Final Fantasy games the characters are incredibly blurry and
the world map is barren. These faults however are completely overshadowed
by how much fun this game truly is. For both those who have been
playing the series since the beginning and those of you just starting,
I can't recommend this game enough. 8.5/10.
Front Mission 3 - Going into this game
from Squaresoft I was hoping for a new Final Fantasy Tactics. Like
FFT, Front Mission is a strategy RPG where you can move your characters
around during fights in a turn based manner. In Front Mission, however,
there is no world map for you to explore. You are taken through the game
in a completely linear manner; you are simply thrown from mission to mission.
I would normally enjoy this type of game, but the story just wasn't there
to keep it fresh. It dragged, and dragged, you are led on wild goose chases
throughout the majority of the game and it seems Square just wanted to
try to keep its promise of 150 hours of gameplay (helped by two story threads
to follow). When the game did finally end, I was more relieved than excited,
which a lackluster final battle and ending did not help. Character development
of the minor characters is much better in this game than in FFT, since
there are no nameless characters who you may buy at a store. This helps
immensely. However, no character in the game ever approaches the brilliance
of Wiegraf and Ramza in FFT; don't expect another masterpiece. The music
is a series of marches that fists the game surprisingly well; no complaints
here, but nothing exceptional. The last thing that needs mentioned is the
party size. During the game, you will only control 4 characters at any
one time during a battle. This severely hampers the possibilities while
fighting. Overall though, if you like strategy RPGs, you may want to consider
picking this one up; in the end it is just an above average game, not the
masterpiece I was hoping for. 6/10.
Gemstone 3 - This is one of the very
first massively multiplayer RPGs ever made, and its starting to show. This
used to be what I considered to be the best game ever made, and while it's
still very close, its age is truly starting to show. This is a text based
game, which truly takes nothing away from the overall experience. Gameplay
is basic, everything is really self explanatory and easy to get into. The
strongest part of the game, though, is the community within. Some of the
nicest people I have ever met reside in Gemstone 3; there is no
worrying about an idiot PK coming up and killing you for everything you
have. Now the failing part of the game: there isn't anything new. I first
played the game around 3-4 years ago, and nothing dramatic has changed.
Also, while when I first entered the realms GMs were everywhere and events
were constantly happening, keeping things fresh, this just doesn't happen
anymore. I found myself just hunting and hunting rather than seeing new
things every day, like I used to. In all, if you've never tried this game,
I highly recommend it, but there isn't anything new for those of you who
used to play. 8/10. Available at http://www.gemstone.net.
Jet Grind Radio - There are very few
video games currently available that I consider art, especially ones that
do not feature strong plotlines. Here is an exception. From
the incredibly graphics to the brilliant level designs, Jet Grind Radio
is a game that oozes artistic qualities. The premise is simple:
spray paint graffiti and defeat rival gangs in a fake city. What
makes this so much fun is the dead on control. I'm usually not very
adept at games that revolve around skateboarding or rollerblading (like
this one), but the simple controls and the ease of pulling off great tricks
made the game surprisingly enjoyable. Also, the music must be mentioned.
Its rare to hear a soundtrack so great not only as background music, but
on its own. That was a true treat. The only fault of this game
is the repetive goals. Nearly every stage has the same goals, and
the lack of many different stages hamper the replay value. However,
since you can now buy this game for 10 dollars it doesn't make that much
of a difference. 8/10.
The Longest Journey - Really good adventure
games have been few and far between lately, so I had really high hopes
for The Longest Journey. And it almost lived up to
my expectations. The game follows April Ryan in a refreshingly original
and entertaining story revolving around two earths, a futurstic Stark and
a fantastic Arcadia. The story drags however, and never really picks
up to the pace of any of the Gabriel Knight games, the supreme example
of video game story telling. The characters are what make the story
so special. Every single one of them is believable and developed
enough to further April's adventure. You will hate the ones you're
supposed to and love the ones you aren't. The graphics are average
when compared to other new PC games. The backgrounds are pre-rendered
and look beautiful, but this lends to a lack of interaction between the
characters and backgrounds. The characters are fairly blocky and
really don't look very good, especially when compared to Gabriel Knight
3. The puzzles in The Longest Journey are a mixed bag.
Some are of Gabriel Knight calibre, but the many revolve around
moving levers and pushing buttons. The occasional pixel hunt also
becomes annoying. One last note: there is a lot of dialouge
in the game, similar, once again, to Gabriel Knight. If you
prefer King's Quest with its focus on exploration, you may want
to be wary. This adventure comes highly recomended. 7/10
Added July 21, 2000.
Skies of Arcadia - This Dreamcast RPG
really makes me upset that the system is about to stop production. Skies
of Arcadia is the type of game that oozes atmosphere. The entire
game takes place on floating islands in a sea of sky during a period of
exploration. This atmosphere, reminiscent of the 1500's in Europe,
is always fresh and you won't lose interest just finding new sites.
The game graphics only help. This is the most visually appealing
RPG I have ever played, with the close exception of the similar graphics
of Grandia II. The story and characters are both excellent.
With plenty of twists and turns, I was never bored with the game's plot.
The characters are slightly over-optimistic, but it never seems trite.
These characters have true hopes for the future and you can't help but
like them or hate them (be they villains). The problems in this game
lie slowly in the battle systems. There are two in SoA, one for hand
to hand battles and another for ship battles. Both run slower than
necessary, with the ship battles taking simply way too long. Sometimes
you watch for several minutes as your ships simply move around. Also,
the random encounter rate, while not extremely high, does sometimes hamper
the flow of the game. Nothing more than other games of the
genre, however. Overall the story more than makes up
for the gameplay shortcomings, making SoA the Dreamcast's premier single
player RPG. 7.5/10.