Thursday, May 31, 2007

Pokemon Diamond - Surfing around

So I've been back to Pokemon for most of this week. The gradual pace of the game makes it difficult to decide when to write about it. Beating the Hearthome gym leader seems like an obvious spot, but I didn't really get much further then. It is only now, once I have been using the Surf technique and exploring new areas that I feel I've really kind of gotten somewhere - even though I haven't.

Rereading the previous paragraph, it seems to make little sense. The point I want to get across is that there don't seem to be major milestones in Pokemon. Beating the gym leaders are one of the few times that happens. But you always get a new technique after beating them so you open up more areas to explore - it is almost like Super Metroid in that aspect. The game is actually fairly linear in that you are supposed to progress from one town to another. It doesn't feel linear because each town opens up more stuff to do: try the global trade station, raise and breed pokemon in the daycare, explore the underground, so that as you get to each new area it seems like the game is opening up exponentially.

The battle with the Hearthome gym leader was my toughest so far. I ended it with only one of my six Pokemon left alive. This is despite knowing that all her Pokemon were weak to Dark attacks. I think, for the first time in the game, I was actually a bit underleveled. I've been concentrating on raising a core of 6-8 pokemon and so I guess my Pokemon are a few levels under where they could be if I was only worrying about 4-6. Anyway, the battle was tense, I was forced to use many potions and finally Mercury, my Vespiqueen, stood as the sole survivor.

And the surf technique is totally awesome. It opens up just a ton more areas.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Odin Sphere - Gwendolyn, Chapter 4

This is definitely a game I probably would not have picked up if not for actively reading various game-related forums. I mean, I would have been aware of it, but would not have made an effort to pick it up the day it came out. While it is pretty readily available through online retailers right now, it definitely seems like this will be a game that is destined to become hard to find and command high eBay prices.

Even if not, this game is special because it is one of the very few games made for a home console that is done entirely in two-dimensions. I'm not even talking about a cel-shaded 2D look or 3D-rendered graphics on a 2D plane. This games features two-dimensional sprites that move on a two-dimensional plane, just like the way things were back before Bill Clinton was president.

And the two-dimensional graphics are gorgeous. It is obvious that a lot of time and effort was put into drawing them. They are large, colorful, and contain many moving parts. Apparently this game was something like ten years in development and I can believe it for all of the detail in the graphics. It actually took me awhile to get used to the way the graphics flow in the game. I am used to either modern 3D games that have many frames of movement animation for each character, or modern 2D games on portable sytems where the small size and lack of detail makes the fewer frames of animation less noticable. When I first started playing, it was a little jarring to see the character move, oftentimes without looking different every time. I've gotten used to it, and I can certainly understand that it wasn't worth the effort to draw fifteen separate sprites for every character's movement, but it is so different (and such a throwback) that it rattled me.

The gameplay is almost that of a 2D one plane, beat 'em up. You move left or right, enemies appear, and then you whack them in various combos with your sword. Everything happens on the same plane and there is no real platforming. There are enough varieties of attacks and responses to enemies that there is a good learning curve for each foe. Only the easiest ones can just be repeated whacked with your weapon. And even then, your character tires, so if you do nothing but pound on the square button without occasionally retreating, your character will stop to rest and you will get hit. I'm enjoying this, but I wonder how deep it really is. Will I be tired of the possible attacks by the end of the game?

The game has what most people would describe as "RPG elements" so I'll throw it in the action/RPG genre. Unlike most RPGs, you don't get experience and level up by defeating enemies. Your magic almost levels up in this way. When you defeat enemies, they release phozons. By absorbing these, you not only fill up any depleted magic points, but you also earn magic experience, and so when you have absorbed enough, your magic level rises. Your health is similar leveled up by eating food. So food both restores HP and earns food experience which will eventually increase your maximum. It is certainly novel.

My basic impression of the game is positive. I am enjoying it quite a bit right now. The graphics are outstanding. The music and sound is clever (and the English voice acting is above average as well). The gameplay is currently satisfying, but I have a nagging suspicion that it might get old before I've finished the game. We'll see.

Fire Emblem - Finished Lyn Hard Mode

Well, I threatened to start playing this game over again and I did. I really learned a lot about proper strategies, leveling up and promoting characters, hw support works and what weapons and items to use through playing the game, so I feel I can definitely get something out of playing through again. Plus, there's more story revealed in Hector mode, which I went on to after finishing up Lyn's story.

I decided to try out Lyn's story in hard this time. It didn't really seem any harder, but then that could just be because I know much more about the game mechanics. The biggest difference is that you aren't forced to do the tutorial things and they aren't scripted. You don't have to attack guys with different weapons or promote Wallace. It was interesting, but as I said still pretty easy so I breezed through it.

I've started a little bit into Hector's story (normal, not hard - considering how difficult some of Eliwood's chapters were on normal, I don't want to be a masochist) and I like how you start out with a unique story of escaping from Ostia while assassins pursue you. I'm curious if I'll have any more insights into the game in my second playthrough.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Fire Emblem - Finished the Game

After putting what was, according to the game timer, 45 hours into this game over the course of a year, I find myself quite satisfied. Yes, the later levels became frustrating because I insisted on getting through them without any characters dying, but eventually I came to accept that as part of the gameplay. The levels started feeling closer to puzzles where I had to figure out the right way to move my units across them so as to kill the enemy and not be too exposed. This game just really fulfilled my need for strategic gameplay with stats and item management. And I will admit that in the second part of the final stage, I just let Canas die so I wouldn't have to start part one over.

This game was made by the same people who did the Advance Wars and it shows. A lot of the mechanics and graphic styles are similar. It is more complex, involves more numbers, and has non-expendable units (when your characters die, they are dead for good). While I am generally all over fantasy role-playing stuff and strategy stuff, I think the game requires a bit too much for people like me who try to do 100% of what games have to offer. So, while I will not rave about this game the way I did Advance Wars 2, it is still an excellent game.

One sign of how much I have enjoyed this game is that I am tempted to play it again. Once beating the game, you open up additional modes of play, one of which adds new stages and slightly changes the story. I am all over that.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Pokemon Diamond - Obtained four gym badges

For the first time in Pokemon, I am stuck. It isn't that I don't have things to do. I could explore the underground some more and get more interesting items like evolution stones. I could work on leveling up and evolving my pokemon. I could try to breed pokemon with interesting attacks. All these I can I do. What I cannot seem to figure out how to do is advance the story.

I like that, in Hearthome city, you can't immediately battle the trainer there. It is a nice way to set up for later. Also, this then exposes two possible paths to take. I ended up taking the one that heads North and thus encountered Veilstone city first. This was great because it allowed me to defeat the gym leader and use the Fly HM. Fly is equivalent to the Return spell in the Dragon Quest (Dragon Warrior) games. You can return to any town you have been to before. This makes doing things like checking the global trade station, picking berries you planted, and retrieving Pokemon in the day care much easier. It really seems like the designers went out of their way to take any tedium out of this game and just let the player do what he or she wants. The only thing left that sometimes annoys me is random encounters, but I haven't tried using the item that decreases them.

So I then headed to Pastoria city. I played around in the Safari zone. It is a neat concept - a new way to capture Pokemon. It can also be a bit frustrating if you are trying to catch the pokemon that are unique to it. When battling pokemon in the wild, you can get near assurance that you will be able to capture it. Since, in the Safari zone, there is no way to weaken or affect their status. All you can do is throw things at them. That makes them more likely to be caught, but also more likely to run away. Nevertheless, I caught just about all of the pokemon unique to the Safari zone (I'll get you some day, Azurill!)

Anyway, after defeating the Pastoria gym leader, I am stuck. I am sure I have to make use of the new Defog technique. I am also pretty sure I have to get past the Psyducks. But I cannot figure out how. It looks like I may have to consult an FAQ.

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Pokemon Diamond - Reached Moo Moo Milk Cafe

I haven't been updated in a while, but it isn't that I haven't been playing. I haven't had a lot of time, but I've still put about an hour or two into Pokemon Diamond most days. I just haven't passed any major milestones. Each time I play, I capture some Pokemon I don't have or I explore through a side cave and get a TM. So it just doesn't seem right to update.

I like that, since acquiring the bike, there are a ton of new places I can go. I had assumed that the game would continue its relative linearity and I would just find and fight the third gym boss in Hearthome. To my surprise (and delight) after exploring the city, you don't fight the trainer there yet and get to explore quite a bit more and see many more towns. I've been to like three different places and haven't even found a gym yet.

Granted, I also haven't found anything incredibly interesting. Just some new Pokemon and a few new items. Oh, and the day care is pretty cool. Still, I feel like I'm exploring which I love. And since Pokemon requires no grinding, I just get to explore and fight and it all feels natural and fun. There's just a lot to recommend to this game. I can go out and capture Pokemon I don't have (and give them clever names). Or I can go and level up my Pokemon to find new abilities. Or I can tool around the underground looking for new items. And I just get more options as the game progresses. I'm very impressed by this game.