A-Z Challenge – Klonoa 2: Lunatea’s Veil

My first experience with the Klonoa series didn’t go too well.  It was the GBA entry that came out in America, Dream Champ Tournament, and I simply did not enjoy it.  However, after reading up on the series and failing to remember why on earth I didn’t like that game, I decided to buy this PS2 game and give the series another shot…

…And I was far from disappointed.

Klonoa 2, like most of the games in the series, is a platformer.  I won’t go into the story too much because, while there isn’t too much to it, it’s far more fun to just experience.  Of course, because of that Klonoa 2 relies on its gameplay and presentation to impress, and it does so fantastically.  Instead of going in full 3D like many other games at this time, Klonoa 2 decides to stick with a 2D field, with 3D graphics (sometimes called 2.5D).  The graphics are colorful and still look great, even all these years later.  The levels are beautifully created and decorated, and it’s a joy to play through.  Platforming itself is fun, as well; it’s a bit on the easy side, but the light puzzles scattered about, as well as the boarding stages help to break up the typical level format, making it so that it doesn’t get old.  The game itself is quite short, but it doesn’t overstay its welcome, and it’s easy to simply boot it up and replay it, regardless of changing content.

I could go on, but I feel that I shouldn’t… mainly because Allistair Pinsof from Detructoid recently wrote an article about the game that describes everything I could say in so much of a better way.  Go read it!

A-Z Challenge – Harms Way

What?  No, I didn’t actually choose to do this game for the challenge–since the games picked were retroactive, this was just the first game that started with an ‘H’ that I beat.  Anyway, this’ll be a quick post.

So, last year Doritos held the Unlock Xbox contest, challenging developers to make a cool game and giving the best one a prize, and so on.  Harms Way was one of the two finalists, and you were able to download this and Doritos Crash Course for free to play and vote on.  Harms Way was not the winning game.

That’s not to say it’s bad; both of the games were decent enough.  Harms Way is a racing game… it’s best to compare it to Mario Kart: Double Dash!!, in which one person is actually racing and your teammate trying to wreck the competition.  The latter does this by moving between vantage points and shooting various weapons on the field… and if you’re not careful, you can hit your teammate, too!

The game had three tracks, and online multiplayer.  It’s fun enough for what it is, but I’m sure the online’s deserted by now, and the game isn’t very fun alone.  Anyway, a good free game… too bad it lost!

A-Z Challenge – Grotesque Tactics: Evil Heroes

Grotesque Tactics is an interesting game.  It’s not really grotesque, you can’t employ many real tactics, so to speak, and the heroes aren’t really evil.  Instead, this is a parody on RPGs and their tropes… but really, that’s not new anymore.  With more than a couple other games blatently making fun or video games and RPGs, this one might still be worth the time.

This game’s an SRPG, which is why the ‘Tactics’ was in the name.  It’s fairly standard gameplay at its core, but it suffers from one problem… after or in between the battles, you take control of the main character (an emo name Drake.. but I’ll get more into that in a bit), and the other characters fall in line behind you.  However, when you get to the next fight, your party will be strewn about behind him in whatever order they decided to follow, leaving you no ability to pick any placement and possibly (read: most likely) leaving the wrong characters to get attacked by monsters.  While it’s the only real problem with the gameplay, it’s a pretty bad one, and can lead to characters getting badly hurt or killed before you can even move them.  It’s frustrating.

As for the story, it’s a typical good vs. evil plot, but it’s the characters that matter far more in this case.  The main character is an emo that couldn’t even kill a mushroom to pass his knight’s exam; the Holy Avatar is an overall ‘cool cat’ with an entourage of women fawning over him (and they get MAD when he’s attacked too much); the ‘twins’ suspiciously look nothing alike and even have different skin colors; the list goes on.  It leads to some funny dialouge, though some of it might seem like the same old joke.  The presentation isn’t the best, but it isn’t ugly, either. Character portraits look alright, and the in game models are very basic, but passable enough.

Finally, the game’s pretty short:  At most it’s ten hours, so it doesn’t overstay it’s welcome.  It’s really kind of a hit-or-miss game… if you’re looking for what it offers (a parody), then great, but anything other and you’ll find nothing to enjoy here.

A-Z Challenge – Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon

The Western world had to wait a long time to enjoy the Fire Emblem series.  Nintendo finally decided to bring the series in English with the seventh game in the series, which was simply named Fire Emblem in the States, but has the name Fire Emblem: Blazing Sword in Japan.  Since then, the series garnered a niche audience, and Nintendo kept bringing out the games to the West… and eventually we get to Shadow Dragon.

Shadow Dragon is a remake of the very first Fire Emblem, released for the Famicom.  The series has evolved in many ways since the original, so it was due for a proper remake, and Western audiences get to enjoy the story in English for the first time… and it has Marth in it!  What’s not to love…?  Actually, a few things.

The story of most Fire Emblem games isn’t really something to be interested in… however, after the more intriguing plots of Path of Radiance and Radiant Dawn, Shadow Dragon is very lacking.  None of the characters are really given any characterization, and given that there’s no support conversations like later games, there’s no reason to really care.  I guess that’s a good thing, because in order to get to the bonus chapters, you have to actually kill characters off.  Anyone that’s played Fire Emblem before knows that’s something no one really wants to do.

In addition, while there are some very needed updates to the core gameplay, other features are surprising missing.  There’s no supports, like I stated earlier, and no ability to rescue, amongst other things.  While most of the things missing aren’t important, they are aspects that most fans enjoyed and come to expect, so seeing them missing is odd.

Despite this, it’s a solid enough game, and pretty good if you know what to expect.  This isn’t a complete remake; it’s an updated port.  As long as your hopes aren’t too high, and you don’t compare to other entries a lot, then Shadow Dragon is an alright game.

A-Z Challenge – Dragon Age: Origins

Think of Dragon Age as sort of like a fantasy Mass Effect.  Make your character and background, play through an Origin story (hence the subtitle), and embark on a grimdark adventure full of drama, sex, and the occasional drunken joke.

The first game of Bioware’s Dragon Age series is very in-depth, as you expect from the developers.  You have tons of options available to ask and answer questions, some depending on your background, others depending on how you feel like answering on a whim, and even more dependent on your stats and skills..  Also, unlike Mass Effect and earlier Bioware games, decisions don’t give you ‘points’ towards being good or evil; you don’t have to worry about such arbitrary things getting in the way of quests or endings.  Instead, you have to mind your responses when talking to everyone; tick off the general, and you might be out of an army when fighting the darkspawn.  It makes the game feel a lot more organic.  Add on the game’s little details and twists on typical fantasy society (dwarves and elves are both what you expect and refreshingly different), and it provides a nice, albeit very dark and somewhat depressing, atmosphere to discover.

The overarching story is good enough; I won’t go into detail, since it’s pretty self-explanatory.  Instead, I’ll go into some of the finer details, which elevate the plot from simply serviceable to very intriguing.  The party members you meet are pretty believable and unique; I found it fascinating to listen Leliana’s stories and to chuckle at Oghen’s obscene remarks.  Not only that, but party members will have chats with one another out on the field; most of it devolves into poking fun at Alistair, but some of it can provide some interesting insight on character personalities.  Also something that I found fascinating is that your party members can actually die, and they can also leave.  In fact, I went into the final area with over half of my party either dead or gone because they didn’t agree with me.  It can be pretty bad if your main party leaves, but overall it’s a nice concept you don’t see often.

For all that’s great about the story and setting, there’s just as much to be wanted from the game’s battle system.  The game does work best on computers; having a keyboard available for mapping actions is a great advantage.  However, if you’re playing on a console, it’s more more cumbersome.  Setting up attacks is a pain, and switching between characters in the midst of battle can be deadly. Some things are badly balanced… bows are useless, while most magic is extremely overpowered.  There isn’t a use for the tactics slots available… until the final battle, where it is incredible important to have the AI working properly.  The battle system is okay, it’s not enough to stop most players from enjoying everything else, but it can lead to points of frustration and leaves much to be desired.

Minus a few hiccups, Dragon Age: Origins is a great game.  It’s a long game, and there’s a few areas that seem to go on forever, but it’s worth slogging through the slower points to see everything the game has to offer.

The Dawn is Dark Indeed

When first released in 2001, the original Golden Sun with met with much success; critics and players praised the Game Boy Advance game alike. Camelot was prompt to release a sequel, Golden Sun: The Lost Age, which was the second half of the original’s story, and offered even a different perspective on all that happened. Despite is being the ‘end’ of the story, however, some questions were left unanswered, and the possibility of a third game was highly likely. Fans clamored for it, but Camelot did not give them what they wanted. Years passed… and in 2010, over seven years after The Lost Age was released, the fans got the game they asked for… Golden Sun: Dark Dawn on the DS.

Being a huge Golden Sun myself, I bought the game and my rose tinted nostalgia glasses allowed me to enjoy every minute of it. However, looking back on the experience… a lot seemed off. If anything, it is the classic case of ‘too little, too late’.

[NOTE: This post will have spoilers to the entire series in it, big or small. You’ve been warned!]

Dark Dawn takes place thirty years after the original and The Lost Age… and that might be the biggest problem with it. In thirty years, the original cast has grown older and had children… wait, that’s only half true. Due to some odd plot event or another, the main characters of the games haven’t really aged at all over the time elapsed, and even resident old-fogey Kraden still alive and kicking, most likely being over 100. However, while the old main characters are more than capable to traipse the world again, they instead allow their kids to go retrieve a magical feather. It makes sense in the scenario, but it’s still disappointing to not be able to continue the quest with the original cast. This could have been rectified with being able to meet the characters, but the only ones you even see are Issac and Garet at the beginning of the game. Barely everyone else got a passing mention! It’s unfortunate that fans don’t really get any fanservice with seeing what their favorite characters are doing.

Another problem sprouts up when exploring the world… and it’s how unfamiliar it is. Barely any of the towns will be recognizable to even those that played the first two games recently. It’s explained with the plot point of the Golden Sun (the in-game event, not the game itself) caused the land to shift and caused ancient ruins and machines to be revealed, but it’s really a poor excuse. Even so, why would all of the old towns change their names, or so many new ones be created? It’s only been thirty years, after all. Camelot even rubs salt in the wound by making many of these places have ‘ancient roots’, suggesting that the places have been around for quite a while; it’s easy to suggest that you simply couldn’t get to them in the original two games, but when a good majority of the towns visited were ‘inaccessible’ before, it leads to the game feeling isolated from the games it’s supposed to be a direct sequel of. It’s great to have new places to explore, but it’s not bad to have some familiarity, either!

Finally, there’s how linear everything is. Instead of being able to explore the world at least somewhat on your own terms, you’re completely railroaded the entire game… even when you get the ship. Where’s the fun in that? It also leads to an issue if you miss a Djinn… you can’t really go back to old places, so if you miss something, you’re out of luck. The original and The Lost Age both had problems with railroading as well, but you were able to return to old areas and complete sidequests as least. Dark Dawn offers none of the sort.

Of course, it’s not all bad. Dark Dawn’s battle system is upgraded a bit with new Djinn, Summons, and Psynergy, giving each character a unique feel; in the GBA iterations the same element Adept had the same skills and practically same roles, but in the third game each character has something different they can do. The graphics look great, and so does the out of game artwork. Puzzles are never really obtuse, and the handy guide and books you can find in the world offer a good summary of the first two games. The plot itself, points above aside, is transparent enough, but offers a few interesting points to carry you through the game and to the cliffhanger ending. Unfortunately, it doesn’t answer much of anything from The Lost Age, though.

Golden Sun: Dark Dawn was a greatly anticipated game… that can leave fans very disappointed. It feels like you’re exploring a brand new world wit ha fresh cast… until you realize that it’s only thirty years later and the original cast is well enough off to be doing this ‘world saving’ themselves. Instead of answering questions, it leaves the player with more (Shadow Psynergy? Where’d that come from?), and the sudden cliffhanger ending will leave a bitter taste behind, especially since there’s no whisperings for Golden Sun 4. Will we have to wait another seven years? If we do, hopefully Camelot will have learned its lesson from Dark Dawn.

So, you’ve heard my rant, let me ask… What do you think of Dark Dawn? Is it a great addition to the series, a terrible flop, or somewhere in between?