Wednesday, November 23, 2011
Though I have not played the PS1 classic, I am relatively familiar with all the characters and major events therein. (Yes, I realize as someone who considers themselves a hardcore gamer, missing Final Fantasy VII presents a significant hole in my experience. It's on my to-do list, as I've only recently started on the Final Fantasy series.) The CGI anime film will appeal primarily to two audiences: fans of action movies, and fans of Final Fantasy VII.
Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children picks up two years after the conclusion of the original Playstation game. Cloud and Tifa have adopted two orphans, but the hero is still unsettled and has taken off to be with his thoughts. Out in the wastes, he encounters three silver-haired individuals who are intent on finding "mother". They prove themselves more-than-capable fighters, each specializing in a certain field, and Cloud has grown rusty since his days of fighting Sephiroth. Despite their action-packed premiere, the trio allows Cloud to leave unscathed. He then seeks out Rufus Shinra, former head of Shinra Company, who explains that Kadaj, leader of the three, wants to recreate Sephiroth. Shinra, however, insists that he wants Cloud's aid in stopping the trio's plot.
From there, the film provides a quick play-by-play of two backstories. The first is a brief synopsis of the major events in Final Fantasy VII relevant to the film. Jenova, the meteorite, and Sephiroth are all explained. Then the story shifts to the Geostigma disease that has emerged in the wake of the fallout, and how it has affected certain individuals, most of them being children.
All the major party member from Final Fantasy VII make a return in the film, but for most it seems like glorified cameos. Everybody gets to take a crack at the giant Bahamut in one team-centered fight sequence, but aside from that they do little more than observe from Cid's airship as Cloud does all the work. The three exceptions to this are Tifa, Aerith, and Vincent. For being an adoptive parent alongside Cloud, Tifa doesn't come across as particularly fleshed out. When she isn't doing kick-flips and punches, she's spending her time nagging at Cloud that he needs to return to being the guy she knew two years ago. Aerith acts as a voice of reason from beyond the grave, interacting with Cloud at key moments. Vincent fills a similar role, though his being alive allows him to aid Cloud in physical combat. He is also the source of a few clever jokes, despite his generally quiet nature.
Visually, the film is stunning, especially taking into consideration it was a 2005 release. Anyone who has ever had the privilege to witness Square Enix's cutscenes in their games should expect all that quality and more for an hour-and-a-half straight. The voice acting is quite solid, even with an occasional cheesy one-liner that comes as a result of translation and localization. The orchestrated soundtrack presents a nice accompaniment to all of this, with its variety of sounds and styles, and feels like a genuine successor to the game's soundtrack.
For the hour-and-a-half run time, the story feels a fairly creative and sufficient follow-up to the game. The last twenty minutes show a real shift, with the "physics be damned" action almost completely overshadowing the story. While there will be plenty who will find the refresher course of Final Fantasy VII welcome, the film hardly tries to connect the dots, leaving a sense of confusion for anyone who has never played FFVII or who hasn't revisited the game in a long time. Though it is sold as a major plot point early on, the impact that the Geostigma has on this emerging peacetime society is only briefly touched upon, and even a little more exploration could have added another layer of believability to this fantasy realm. While Cloud's internal struggle presents a genuinely engaging narrative, most of the supporting cast falls rather flat, and the story's delivery suffers because of this. Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children is an interesting chapter of Final Fantasy lore, just not one that will rank among the greatest.
My rating: 7.75 (out of 10)
Saturday, November 19, 2011
Sonic Generations opens with Sonic and his pals celebrating his birthday (certainly no coincidence to the franchise's 20th anniversary this year) when a purple cloud-like entity tears through time and whisks each character off to a different stage from previous Sonic titles. This tear also allows retro Sonic to travel forward and help his current-gen self. The two must restore these familiar worlds to normal, rescue their friends, and collect the Chaos Emeralds to stop the Time Eater from wreaking more havoc. It certainly doesn't hurt when Sonic includes a joke or two about how ridiculous the premises of some of his most recent adventures have been. This is a Sonic title that is more about gameplay than narrative, and in that respect it doesn't take itself more seriously than it needs to.
Players will tackle each stage twice - once in the shoes of side-scrolling Genesis-era Sonic, and a second time from the third-person perspective of the modern games.
The mechanics of old-school Sonic are not much different than they were twenty years ago - run and spin-dash to make your way through the level, jump and bounce to defeat enemies along the way. Modern Sonic's controls are similar to those in Adventure, though there has been some trimming of the fat since he won't be tracking down a bunch of extra items to help him. The A button makes Sonic jump, and a double tap while he is in mid-air will hone in on enemies. The X button allows Sonic to boost, provided he has enough rings to fill his boost gauge. The B button lets him slide under small gaps, while the bumpers allow for fast shifts left and right as he speeds through some of the more hazardous terrain.
The Smorgasbord of stages in Generations presents nice variety overall. Green Hill, Chemical Plant, and Sky Sanctuary have never looked so gorgeous. The Adventure-era stages Speed Highway and City Escape seem a tad too similar in their aesthetic appeal, and SEGA could have included something slightly more distinctive like Radical Highway or Sky Rail in lieu of the latter. Still, the revamped GUN Truck fits the look and play style of both versions of the stage. The lava-filled Crisis City and Planet Wisp flesh the package out - the former for its degree of difficulty, the latter for it use of new gameplay elements.
The boss fights are divided into two categories. Traditional boss fights against the Death Egg Robot and Perfect Chaos require some strategy in utilizing environmental objects to aid in the fight. The rival fights against Metal Sonic, Shadow, and Silver include some stages that could not otherwise be worked into the game, and serve as beautiful backdrops for the race/fights. There are a couple of fights that initially do not provide players with much direction, but after a few trial-and-error runs it's not too difficult to get the hang of things. The rival battles against Metal Sonic and Silver not only present a perfect blend of simple mechanics with creative angles, but are some of the best boss fights the series has seen in years.
The main story will only last players around six hours. But there is something to be said about the replayability of Sonic Generations. Switching up the music on a stage is purely for nostalgic purposes, but the challenge modes present legitimate substance. These are unlocked after each individual stage is restored, and there are ten per stage - five for retro Sonic and five for modern Sonic. They include simple time trials, races against Sonic's pals, and the occasional tooth-grinding "complete a stage with only one ring" to name a few. Completing each challenge nets players concept art and music. Players can also unlock the original SEGA Genesis Sonic the Hedgehog after they've saved up enough rings.
Online play is also present. While players cannot race against friends simultaneously, they can post their best times on a leaderboard and take part in a challenge to see how far into each level they can get with thirty seconds on the clock. While Sonic Generations isn't as lengthy as either of its Adventure predecessors, it certainly outshines the likes of Heroes and Unleashed. It's a matter of quality vs. quantity, and SEGA presents a strong balance of the two in Generations.
My rating: 8.5 (out of 10)
Friday, November 11, 2011
So I guess I lied when I said that last Skyward Sword entry would conclude my speculations regarding the upcoming Wii release. Some people have expressed their belief that Fi becomes the Fairy Queen. Some others even think that sometime in the timeline, Skyloft is abandoned and becomes inhabited by the Oocca from Twilight Princess. But this will focus on neither. As of right now, I am primarily concerned with the boss-type enemy known as The Imprisoned.
There has already been talk of another unnamed boss character in Skyward Sword, this black and grey humanoid figure who wields a sword, possibly being the ‘human’ form of The Imprisoned. Even without much knowledge of how Skyward Sword’s story will ultimately play out, it isn’t difficult to see the similarities. And since The Imprisoned is reported to show up in Link’s dreams, and Girahim seems to be serving a grander scheme and some higher master, it is possible that The Imprisoned (assuming these are two stages/versions of the same being) could play a much larger role in the game than Nintendo originally led us to believe.
What I find most compelling about this ‘human form’ is the fact that his sword bears the Triforce symbol. This leads me to believe that The Imprisoned may be the essence of Ganon and Ganondorf in later games – most likely that the power of the Imprisoned is what Ganondorf acquires prior to Ocarina of Time taking place, sacrificing his status as solely king of the Gerudo and embracing The Imprisoned as his demon pig transformation. Again, this is merely speculation on my part, but I’d like to think there is enough substance to it to merit consideration. Either way, we’ll find out for certain in a little over a week!
Wednesday, November 9, 2011
I’ve beaten both Jasmine and Pryce. Even though I did level up my fire-types before facing Jasmine, she still put up a decent fight. It was a bit lopsided, however. Her Magnemites didn’t do much of anything, with her Steelix being the main contender. On the other hand, Pryce and everyone in his gym were pushovers. I don’t think that would have been the case if I had not chosen Cyndaquil as my starter, but my fire and electric types made short work of all the ice and water types in his gym.
Speaking of my team, the current lineup consists of a now-Typhlosion, the red Gyarados, Umbreon, Magmar, Magneton, and Raikou. I haven’t been relying on the thunder God dog much, since he is a level 40, and my Magneton has better pure electric type moves. Magmar is proving to be quite the offensive powerhouse, though his HP and defense are lacking a bit. I’m quite content with his move set now, so I may end up leaving him with the Day Care Couple for a while just to improve those stats. Should that end up being the case, I’ll probably bring Poliwag and Flaffy out of Bill’s PC in order to level them up to the point of evolving into Poliwhirl and Ampharos respectively.
I had forgotten how high of an HP Typhlosion gets past level 36. His defensive capabilities are far from impenetrable – frankly, Umbreon still has him beat in that regard. Still, he was a great starter Pokémon for my style of play. The red Gyarados came with a sweet move set when I caught him. I’ve mixed it up a bit to accommodate for Surf and Ice Fang, but he’s just as much a powerhouse as Magmar, except Gyarados has considerably better defense.
Perhaps I am mistaken, but it seems like there is more of a story in the DS remakes than was present in the original Gold and Silver Gameboy releases. I do recall the Team Rocket escapades, but I honestly can’t remember Lance showing up to help me in the Gameboy version. Either way, I did enjoy fighting alongside his Dragonite. I really enjoy Lance as a character. I also bent the rules in Team Rocket’s Mahogany Town hideout a bit – when Lance said he didn’t want to harm the Electrodes but informed me that we had to in order to stop the radio signal, I caught one of them in a Pokéball. I have no idea how much I will end up using it, but I’m one step closer to catching them all (and being the very best, like no one ever was).
Sunday, November 6, 2011
Perhaps I spoke a bit prematurely when I said I had reached an impasse with the gyms. I'm still going to have to set aside some time to level up my Magmar before I try taking On Jasmine's Steelix again, but I managed to beat Chuck. Honestly, Chuck was probably the easiest gym leader of the bunch so far. His Poliwrath might have thrown someone else off their game, but not me. Magneton made short work of it.
My Egg finally hatched, and another Eevee has officially joined my scheme to gather up all of the Eevee evolutions. I had forgotten that baby Pokémon start off at level one, though, so I left it with the Day Care couple for the time being. I'm going to wait a bit before I breed another one, so I sent Ditto back to Bill's PC, opting instead to leave Vulpix at the Day Care as Eevee's playmate. My Vulpix kind of stinks right now, and all the wild Pokémon I run into are either way too low for the Exp. to be worth the trouble, or they are so high they kick the crap out of it in two moves (I hate Raticates). In time, I hope to add a Ninetales to my cast of fire-types. I don't remember if the Day Care had a readily-accessible PC in the Gameboy version, but it's very convenient in the DS remake, as opposed to trekking all the way back to Goldenrod to switch up my party.
I've finally caught one of the Legendary Dogs. It wasn't all that difficult, to be completely honest. Or I'm just lucky. Either way, I whittled Raikou's health down to a relatively low point in the red and then paralyzed him before I caught him with an Ultra Ball. It only took about four ball tosses in total (with Raikou fleeing each time, of course). The odd thing about it is that when I encountered him this last time and caught him, I was surfing with my newly-caught red Lake of Rage Gyarados just south of Goldenrod City. That's right, I caught Raikou out on the water. I don't understand it either.
Saturday, November 5, 2011
Above is the map of the world in The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword (or at least as much as we currently know of it, prior to the game's release). As the map indicates, Skyloft is situated above the clouds, while Hyrule is divided into three distinct and sizeable regions on the land below. To my knowledge, the names of these regions are as follows: Lanayru - the desert province to the west; Eldin - the volcanic region to the north, and Faron - the forested area to the southeast. There are some pretty distinguishable locations on the map right now - the Eldin volcano, a giant tree in the Faron region (perhaps with some connection to the Great Deku Tree), and the giant Triforce symbol sitting in the desert. I'm assuming that these markers are not to accurate scale, but rather stand out as key locations for the story.
There are a few things that stand out to me as particularly interesting. In one of the most recent gameplay trailers, Link is in the desert fighting what appears to be some sort of clockwork skeleton pirate captain. The only other time I can think of where pirates played a significant role in a Zelda game (aside from the Wind Waker/Phantom Hourglass storyline) was in the Oracle titles. And those pirates were in fact Skeletons. Even more curious is the fact that there is a pirate ship sitting in the middle of the desert on this map, and the pirates in Oracle of Seasons managed to run themselves aground into a desert region (though that was in Holodrum). It may just be wishful thinking on my part, but perhaps there is a connection between the two. The skeleton pirates were some of my favorite characters in the Oracle games, and I'd love to see them make a comeback on a console release.
A number of major races have been confirmed for Skyward Sword. The Deku Scrubs will serve as enemies, popping out of the ground and spitting seeds at Link just as they did in Ocarina of Time. There will be at least one Goron present, and the footage thus far depicts him carrying supplies on his back. It's possible that he might act in a similar fashion to the merchant Gorons from Wind Waker. The Mogma and Kikwis are newcomers to the franchise. The former are dog-like beings that dig under the earth, while the latter are small raccoon-like fuzzballs that can use their tails as camouflage.
The Sheikah will see a return in the form of at least one character. This individual has been referred to as 'the servant of the Goddesses', and as Skyward Sword's Zelda is not a princess at the beginning of the game, this Sheikah could start the trend of serving Hyrule's royal family. This Sheikah is also very young and slender in appearance, and quite clearly female. Depending on the time frame between the end of Skyward Sword and the beginning of Ocarina of Time, this could potentially be a young Impa.
Ever since the release of Ocarina of Time, one of the most prominent races in The Legend of Zelda has been the Zora. The Zora I'm referring to are the more friendly sea Zoras, while the hostile river Zoras have been around since the original NES title. Of all the staples carried over from recent Zelda releases, there has not yet been any mention of the Zoras. However, there is a large portion of the Faron region covered in water, as indicated on the most southeastern point on the map. With such a sizeable area devoted to water, I find it unlikely that the Zora would not make any appearance in this game. Assuming they do, though, the map would indicate their residence to be somewhere beneath the water, since the only recognizable structure above the surface seems to be a dock. I think it would be both interesting to the story and visually pleasing if the Zora lived in a completely underwater community, not unlike the palace in Oracle of Ages.
Finally, Lord Girahim is stated as being a prominent member of the dark tribe. Little is known about who belongs to the tribe or how many members they have, though it is implied that they require Zelda due to some unusual qualities she possesses. I'm going out on a limb here, since we know perhaps the least about the specifics of Lord Girahim, but I would like to think that there is at least a possibility that after the conclusion of Skyward Sword, the dark tribe transitions into the Gerudo tribe. Maybe the fact that they only give birth to a male every one hundred years has something to do with repercussions of Girahim's actions. At any rate, that's all of my last-minute speculations. I'm really looking forward to playing Skyward Sword in two weeks!
Wednesday, November 2, 2011
One of my main goals in my playthrough of Soul Silver is to acquire every Eevee evolution (or at least, the five that were introduced in generations one and two). The Eevee that Bill gave me has already evolved into Umbreon, and I left it with the Day Care couple long enough for it to breed with Ditto. Which is the only reason I even caught a Ditto in the first place – he’s pretty much useless to me otherwise. But the Eevee evolutions are quite versatile, and I only ever had Espeon on the Gold Version Gameboy cartridge. It’s going to be a bit of a time-consuming process, from breeding to leveling each of them up. But it’s already progressing much faster in this DS remake than in the original. Frankly, I’ll probably go for Espeon next, due to the fact that it takes the longest, what with the happiness factor and all, and I do not yet have any of the evolution stones in my bag (though my brother evolved his into Vaporeon and cued me in as to where I can get a water stone).
My time in the Safari Zone has yielded great results. While the capture process is a bit unusual, I’ve only had a few that I’ve found to be extra-tricky catches. There have been a number of first-gen members that I’m shifting from my party to Bill’s PC, including Magmar, Rhyhorn, and Sandshrew. I’ve also added Misdreavus and Haunter to my party (the latter was a Safari Zone catch, since the moves my Gastly knew were a huge limiting factor with regards to allowing him to level up). I’ve also grown quite attached to my new Poliwag, who is my primary water-type at present, and is nearing evolution to Poliwhirl (and from there he will be evolved into Poliwrath – I’ll have none of that Politoed nonsense).
My core party members are leveling up at a steady rate. Quilava, Umbreon, and Flaffy are all gaining experience slowly but surely, while Magnemite is racking it up from all the Tentacools and Tentacruels on the way to Cianwood Island. It won’t be long before I have a Magneton as one of my core party members. My Geodude is now a Graveler, the ugliest of its three evolutionary stages. Unfortunately, Furret hasn’t been receiving much attention lately – I may rely on him for this weekend’s bug catching tournament just to bring him up to speed with his travelling companions.
As for the gyms, I’m sort of at an impasse right now. Jasmine only has three steel-types at her disposal, but Steelix is kicks my butt. It doesn’t help that Quilava is really my only fire-type capable of dealing any real damage to it. I may have to set aside some time to level up both Magmar and Vulpix in order to take her down. I did spend a bit of time messing around in the Pokéathalon, though. It’s basically a bunch of touch screen-based minigames, and while they aren’t key to the gameplay or story, they are enjoyable enough. I can’t see myself spending a ton of time there, though.
Tuesday, November 1, 2011
Originally scheduled as one of the last releases for the Gamecube, The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess received the green light for a Wii version as well. While both games are essentially the same (save for a mirrored layout of the world), Twilight Princess on the Wii brings a new element to the franchise - motion controls. Instead of standing still and cutting grass in search of rupees and hearts, Link can move and swing his sword at the same time - this makes a noticeable difference, and makes gameplay feel more fluid. However, because of the development shift, Twilight Princess' release date was delayed almost two years. The final product doesn't feel dated, per se, but it does feel lackluster in certain areas.
Twilight Princess introduces Link as a ranch hand in Ordon Village. When he is supposed to deliver a gift to Hyrule castle, Link finds that monsters have entered the forest near his home, which leads up to the first temple. The Forest Temple serves as an introduction to the combat and puzzle mechanics of Twilight Princess. Across the board, these respond similar to how they did in Ocarina of Time and Wind Waker, though there are some differences that come with the territory of the Wii's motion controls. After that first step forward into the story, Link finds himself in the Twilight Realm, a world where a golden glow cradles landscapes of varying shades of grey. It is here that Link meets Midna, an impish Twilit and his travelling companion for the remainder of the game. Link learns that Zant, another Twilit, has cast the Twilight material all over Hyrule, including the castle, and has usurped Princess Zelda of her throne.
It's difficult to explain much more of the plot without giving away some of the game's best moments. The main story is rather long, and a few key plot developments will alter both the course of said story and the way in which players view certain individuals. All in all, the storytelling is superb – as captivating as any Zelda title before it. The mythos of the sages and the sacred realm are explored more directly than in many of the recent Zelda titles, and Twilight Princess does well to tie itself to some key events in the grand timeline of the entire series. However, Twilight Princess does seem to want to identify heavily with Ocarina of Time. Everything from character designs to the last portion of the main story arc - heck, even the opening title screen - screams out a throwback to the N64 classic.
Twilight Princess is not as reliant on motion controls as other Wii titles. The direction players swing the Wiimote will affect the direction Link swings his sword (horizontal, vertical, forward thrust, and spin attack), but there isn’t any real need to be overly precise with these actions. Players can just as easily remain seated, making swift flicks with their wrists, since movement and item/weapon management is handled through the joystick, D-pad, and buttons.
Speaking of items, there are a few new inclusions like as the Ball and Chain, and Dominion Rod that see prominent use in their respective dungeons, but only provide help in a few instances thereafter. The Spinner does prove useful in traversing terrain in Hyrule field, providing access to otherwise unreachable treasure chests. The rest are weapons that have been carried over from previous games, though some are given a new twist. The Hero’s Bow, Slingshot, and Lantern all work exactly as you would expect them to. The Iron Boots allow Link to sink to the bottom of a body of water, but also help him traverse the Goron Mines more quickly, as they are attracted to magnetic surfaces. The gale boomerang creates gusts of wind, allowing Link to solve puzzles similar to those in Wind Waker’s Forbidden Woods, acting as both the boomerang and Deku Leaf. Early in the game, the clawshot seems relatively unassuming, as the Twilight Princess equivalent to the hookshot. But once player acquire the double clawshot, they will find it an invaluable asset – one I doubt Nintendo will go without in future Zelda titles.
Link will spend a fair amount of time as a wolf early in the game. This transformation is something new to the series - more drastic a change than the transformation masks of Majora's Mask. In wolf form, Link can sense trails and hidden items, while moving at a much more rapid rate than when on his two human feet. Combat capabilities shift to Midna's orange arm as well as wolf Link's own charge and tackle abilities. Wolf Link can also learn a number of howl tunes throughout the course of the game, though players need not memorize these, as they see nowhere near as frequent of use as the songs in the N64 titles. Once players are allowed to ride Epona wherever their heart desires, use of Wolf Link will be almost completely nixed, as the horse proves a much faster method of travel. That, and swinging the Master Sword and firing the Hero's Bow from horseback are much more exciting.
The dungeons are beautifully detailed, much like the rest of Hyrule. For the most part, they follow a traditional pattern – Lakebed temple represents water, Goron Mines represents fire. There are a few new dungeons that break the mold in both their elements and layout, with The City in the Sky being more puzzle heavy, and the Palace of Twilight requiring Link to be more quick and agile than usual. Each presents different enemies, many of which need to be dispatched with the dungeon's respective major weapon. Across the board, though, these dungeons are too easy. Lakebed Temple has an uncanny linearity to its layout and puzzles, while the Palace of Twilight is over before it really solidifies its nontraditional identity. Anyone who has played any Zelda title before Twilight Princess will quickly pick up on the game’s rhythm. The bosses suffer the same downfall – they aren’t terribly inspired and lack much of a challenge, though there are few late in the game that act as saving graces.
The minigames are some of the best in a long while. From grappling your way around a cage and catching light orbs, to shooting jars for points as you canoe down Zora's river, to snowboarding against a yeti, players are sure to find plenty of amusement outside of the confines of the main quest. There's also the Cave of Ordeals that can be unlocked after players cross the Gerudo Desert. For those familiar with Wind Waker, it's a very similar challenge to the Savage Labyrinth - Link meets increasingly difficult enemies as he travels down through each of the cave's fifty levels.
The artistic direction of Twilight Princess is that of a very realistic and highly-detailed Hyrule coupled with somewhat exaggerated character designs. No single character bears a face as elongated as that of Salvatore from Wind Waker, but Jaggle and Doctor Borville have heads that are a bit oddly-proportioned. The enemy designs are exaggerated more so, with blue-skinned Bokoblins having a potbelly and braided white hair, and Poes appearing as miniature crystalline specters wielding scythes. Water and lighting elements are absolutely gorgeous, and the latter is worked in a myriad of ways by the game's end. The soundtrack is beautiful, even though it is not fully orchestrated. The theme of Hyrule Field at night utilizes a lot of environmental noises, Faron Woods is reliant on a few string and woodwind sounds, and Queen Rutela's theme is a haunting reimagining of the Serenade of Water.
Wind Waker carried over the musical elements established in Ocarina of Time, and is just one example of how certain elements ate retained from one Zelda game to the next. But no other Zelda has tried so hard to identify with another in the way that Twilight Princess does. It tries to echo the atmosphere of Ocarina of Time, both through its art direction and its gameplay. Thankfully, the Twilight Realm and its influence on the larger portion of the plot steer away from this, but it is an element that never completely leaves. For those who were too young to have experienced Ocarina of Time the first time around, Twilight Princess will likely have a strong resonance with them. Those who are veterans of defending Hyrule will find Twilight Princess lacking in the way of killer new features - there is little here to revolutionize either the series or the genre. I'm a huge fan of this series, and truly feel that gamers will be hard-pressed to find a better adventure game on any of this generation's consoles. As for finding a better Legend of Zelda, that's not as great of a challenge.
My rating: 9.0 (out of 10)