January 2006

How do you take a perfect game styled after the classic RPGs of the past and improve upon it? Well, I suppose tagging [i]The Lost Age[/i] onto the name is enough. I can’t really explain how this game lived up to the greatness of the original [i]Golden Sun[/i], but somehow it did, and I am quite impressed.

This game picks up right where the last one ended. While the lack of a complete ending in the last game could have been bad, the game had a good feeling of accomplishment when you did beat it, therefore leaving you feeling satisfied at the end. Satisfied or not, though, you still wanted more. When I finished [i]Golden Sun[/i], I went right out and bought [i]The Lost Age[/i]. I hoped that this game would deliver and it sure did.

Going into this, I didn’t care if all the skills and spells were the same. I simply wanted to continue on the story and triumph over evil and the like. I was pleasantly surprised to find out very early on that there are many different things. Of course the first thing you will notice is the new world layout. You can see the entire world this time from falls to falls (that’s right, waterfalls are at the ends of the earth). You can see on the map the land you once traveled through with Isaac, Garet, Ivan, and Mia, but now you can no longer get to that area. You start on an island continent that up until recently had no contact with other land. Due to the lighting of the Venus lighthouse however, the island has shifted and is now connected to the southern part of the Gondowan continent as well as another island continent. Your travels of course will take you through all these new lands, new towns, and new environments. Other new things include spells and skills, Djinni abilities, forgeable items, and so on.

The main difference in [i]Golden Sun: The Lost Age[/i] is the focus on the other half of the story. This time you play as Felix, accompanied by Jenna, Sheba, and eventually a newcomer to the game, Piers. Playing the role of Felix opens up a lot of the story and helps you to understand why he was against Isaac in the prior game and what his intentions are. Because you are playing as Felix, that is the excuse the game offers for why you can’t go back to the towns you visited in [i]Golden Sun[/i]. Those people remember you as an enemy and do not understand the intentions behind your actions, so it is safer to not visit them. I think Camelot did well with this detail to help you feel like there’s a reason for not going back beyond them not having all those areas programmed into the game.

Even though you see the story from a different perspective as Felix, the story still remains pretty much the same. Instead of trying to stop the lighthouses from being lit, however, your goal is to get to them and light them. Felix has his reasons, but so as not to spoil the story, I will leave that out. Most RPGs tend to have a problem with using the same enemies over and over, but this is not so in [i]The Lost Age[/i]. While some enemies you faced in [i]Golden Sun[/i] are back, most of the enemies are new and fresh. New skills of course help out, and the new Djinni seem even more powerful than once before. For instance, in [i]Golden Sun[/i], there was a Djinni that could revive a fallen comrade, but along with those, [i]The Lost Age[/i] had a Djinni that can revive all fallen comrades. Between the new enemies, levels, towns, skills, Djinni, and characters, this truly is a brand new game in its own right. While it plays the same as the original [i]Golden Sun[/i], it feels like you are playing an entirely different game, and this of course is a key element in what makes this game so enjoyable.

Speaking of similiarities and differences, this brings me to something I wanted to mention. A lot of people are hesitant to get this game because they haven’t played the original [i]Golden Sun[/i]. While that is certainly a good reason to try [i]Golden Sun[/i] first, [i]The Lost Age[/i] can be played without having played [i]Golden Sun[/i] prior to it. When you first start you get a briefing on what happened in the prior game, and since you are using new characters, you don’t actually need your characters from [i]Golden Sun[/i].

While you don’t need your characters from [i]Golden Sun[/i], for the best gaming experience, I recommend playing the first game and then carrying your characters over to the next one. Some parts of the story will mean more if you have played the first one, and I found that in the case of the final boss in [i]The Lost Age[/i], I needed all eight characters. While you can only play as four at a time like before, once your party (Felix) meets up with Isaac, you can mix and match characters, Djinni, etc. I finished the game with the lineup of Felix, Garet, Piers, and Sheba who are Earth, Fire, Water, and Wind adepts respectively. Jenna’s low HP made me drop her to my backup team. On the final boss though, I did as much damage as I could with my backup team, then when they died and Team Felix continued where they left off, it was easier. Since the final boss did more damage as the fight went on, it was easier this way.

Being able to move Djinni from character to character between teams was incredibly helpful, but even with the best Djinni setups, some enemies have a Djinni drain skill. Two enemies that I can remember had this. One was only able to drain one Djinni at a time, which wasn’t a big loss since I had a dozen others to work with, but the final boss had a habit of draining all the Djinni on one character. While I could live without the skills, the hit point, attack, and defense bonuses lost from this made dying all too easy.

Thankfully though, because of the game’s random enemy spawning like in most classic RPGs, you tend to level up at just about the pace you should be leveling up for your travels in the game. Just like in [i]Golden Sun[/i], when I got to the end I was the proper level to make it possible to beat the final boss, but it was still a fair challenge making the reward of winning that much sweeter.

Speaking of winning, the game’s ending is superb. While I don’t want to spoil anything, I will say that it ties up a lot of loose ends and brings plenty of closure to a game that was essentially left wide open at the end of the first one. As much closure as there was though, like most great games and movies, there is just enough left without a conclusion that makes it possible for yet another [i]Golden Sun[/i] game. Again, I won’t spoil anything, but if Camelot wanted to right now, they could make another [i]Golden Sun[/i] game and I would be ready and willing to plunk down the cash for it.

I really can’t say anything bad about this game. It is a perfect game styled after the RPGs of old, and just like the first one, it was a very solid gaming experience. With the longer gameplay(about 35 hours compared to the previous 25 in [i]Golden Sun[/i]), you really get the most bang for your buck. I can’t recommend this game more to anyone who owns a GBA. If you like RPGs in the least, you owe it to yourself to go out and buy [i]Golden Sun[/i], and then follow it up with [i]Golden Sun: The Lost Age[/i]. You will be glad you did.

Fifty hours. That’s right, fifty hours. It took me fifty hours to beat [i]Golden Sun[/i]. It’s not as bad as it sounds though. I got to the end of the game once and realized that not only did I suck, but I was weak as hell. I was missing just about everything one could miss and still make it to the end of the game. That’s what my stubborn ass gets for refusing to use any walkthroughs or guides. I could have gone back through the game and tried to get everything I missed, but I had a feeling it would be more fun to just start a new game. I did just that. This time I stopped being stubborn and consulted a guide. The only guide I used however was to collect the Djinni. Three other times I referenced a walkthrough since I was overlooking a couple minor details, but overall, I used just the Djinni guide.

What are Djinni? Well, they are little creatures aligned with certain elements. Mars Djinni are aligned with Fire. Venus Djinni are aligned with Earth. Mercury Djinni are aligned with Water, and Jupiter Djinni are aligned with Wind. While this may not seem very important, it really is. The four characters that you use in the game (you start with two) are also aligned with those elements. Isaac is an Earth Adept, Garet a Fire Adept, Ivan a Wind Adept, and Mia a Water Adept. Adepts are simply people who can use Psynergy, which in any other game would just be referred to as magic.

Anyhow, it’s best to keep Djinni with the person that shares the same elemental alignments as them. Every time you find a Djinni and set him to a person, it changes their stats. For instance, if I put a water Djinni on Garet, it may have a negative affect on some of his stats, if not all of them. As we know, fire and water do not mix, so it’s not always best to do this. Still, there are times when mixing the Djinni is a good idea. Djinni not only change your stats depending on who they are set to, but they can also affect the spells that you are able to cast. Mixing them up can give you spells that you wouldn’t have gotten otherwise, and other times, mixing them up will cancel out most if not all of your spells. The biggest challenge in [i]Golden Sun[/i] is not the game itself, but rather learning how to manage your Djinni properly to be as powerful as possible.

That’s not all with the Djinni though. Every one of them in battle can offer an elemental ability to the user. It’s like casting a spell, but instead of using your Psynergy points, it just sets your Djinni to standby after you use them. Some of them can increase your attack, create a firewall to protect you from damage, heal you, poison your enemy, or what have you. The more you get and the more experience you have with them, the stronger you will be in battle.

I mentioned, after you use a Djinni in battle, he will be set to standby mode. You can actually manually set them to standby outside of battle, but when in standby mode, you lose the stat benefits they would give you otherwise. That is why personally, I recommend keeping your Djinni set to your characters so you have your stats as high as possible. Once your Djinni are set, they can be used together to form even more powerful elemental attacks. These could be best described as “Uber-spells” that use the Djinni rather than Psynergy Points. You can use one, two, three, or four of the Djinni with the same elemental alignment to form an attack. Naturally, the more Djinni, the more powerful the attack. These attacks are nice though in that they are not at a set strength. The more you use them, the stronger your attacks with them become, which is very useful over time. Even though every character can have 7 Djinni at a time, the max of 4 being used at once is initially disappointing until you realize that as you use your skills, they will be stronger. Once you have used your Djinni in a grouped attack, it will take several turns in battle for them to be set to you for use again. If it was just one Djinni, then it will take one turn. If it was two, then one of the Djinni will be set after one turn and the other will be set after two. Continue this process for up to 4 Djinni, and you get the picture.

Throughout the game, Djinni will be incredibly crucial to your gaming, and without them, you will not survive. I recommend using a Djinni guide to get through the game, because even though I was able to locate most of them on my own, several I found I was unable to reach without help from the guide.

Now that we are done with the Djinni, which happen to be the biggest chunk of the game, let’s get into the story. You start in Vale as a young teenager. Your name is Isaac, and your friend Garet also lives in town. Your enemies(which you don’t know about yet), Menardi(the female), and Saturos(the male) are Fire Adepts, and their goal is to collect the Elemental Stars. The four elemental stars are used to light up the lighthouses of their same elemental alignment. Lighting them could bring destruction upon the world, and since Saturos and Menardi wish to rule the world, they will need these elemental stars to light up the lighthouses. The elemental stars happen to be located(and protected by) a mountain just north of Vale called Sol Sanctum.This is how Isaac and Garet get tied into this story. Saturos and Menardi entering Sol Sanctun creates a storm unlike anything Vale has seen. The townspeople don’t have enough psynergy to prevent a large boulder from falling down the mountain and ravaging the town. The boulder kills Isaac’s father, and is thought to kill Felix, the brother of Jenna, but then it turns out that Felix is rescued by Saturos and Menardi who he then joins on their quest. Isaac and Garet meet up with Saturos and Menardi and get defeated in battle after overhearing their heinous plans.

Three years later, after feeling guilty about not being able to save those who died, or being able to defeat their enemies, they have spent their time studying Psynergy. Saturos and Menardi return yet again, this time to get the elemental stars. They were not prepared before, but they believe they are now. This is where the game itself really starts. Your first mission is to investigate what is going on at Sol Sanctum at which point you find the elemental stars and meet up with Saturos and Menardi yet again. Naturally, they escape(like the game should be that short), and you basically spend the rest of the game chasing them from lighthouse to lighthouse while helping the people of the land on the way. There are many towns, puzzles, and even a few sidequests that aren’t all that neccesary. As with any RPG, you spend your time leveling up as you go along, but thankfully, the design of this game doesn’t make you feel like you are just playing to level up and just level up. You tend to level at the proper rate for what you are getting done in the game, and this is great since the game is quite linear and you can just play straight through it.

Let’s move on to the technical aspects of the game. The sound in the game is well done for everything, and it doesn’t feel generic. On top of that, for a 2D RPG, the graphics are just spectacular. I was amazed that the GBA could push those graphics with no slowdown issues of any sort. The story of the game is very enveloping, and you will find that you don’t want to put it down because you want to see what will happen next. Speaking of that, you CAN put the game down anytime. You can save on the fly any time outside of battles, which is great for just spending 20 minutes leveling up in between meetings at work or while on the throne. Like most GBA games, it also has a sleep mode as well so you can close the game up real quick if you are interrupted and then pick it up later where you left off.

I really can’t say much more about this game without spoiling any of the story, which is one of the biggest reasons I kept playing it. I spent fifty hours on this game, and it cost me $20 when I bought it. That’s a cost of less than 50 cents an hour, and considering how much I enjoyed the game, it was a great price.

This brings up the only real flaw in the game. It isn’t finished. In order to get the rest of the game, you have to buy [i]Golden Sun: The Lost Age[/i]. I don’t mind, because even for the two games, I will have spent $50 on them. I would have gladly spent $50 to have the game entirely on one cartridge, but I can understand why it was done this way. No casual gamer will drop $50 on a Game Boy game. If they drop the $20 on [i]Golden Sun[/i] though and get to the end and love it, then they will have to drop the other $30 to get [i]The Lost Age[/i]. This was how I was. I haven’t been a big RPG guy since the 16 bit days, which was why I went into this not expecting much, but when I realized how much it reminded me of the classic 16 bit RPG’s, I fell in love. Still, the two cartridge thing can be a pain. You can transfer your characters over, but you have to use a 200+ alphanumeric/punctuation passcode to get your characters back in the next game. The good news is, if you have a link cable, you can visit a friend who has a GBA(or if you happen to have two of your own), link up and transfer your characters. I’ve been looking for a reason to buy a link cable, so I will get one when I buy [i]The Lost Age[/i].

So really, that whole two cartridge thing is the only real flaw with the game, but from a marketing point of view, I understand entirely. There is no way they could have made any money selling the game for $50 on one cartridge, because most people would not have bought it. That makes sense, but it is still a flaw.

Even so, this is one of the greatest games I have ever played, and I am really looking forward to buying [i]The Lost Age[/i]. The sole flaw was the dual cartridge game. Otherwise, it was perfect. The puzzles were the proper difficulty, the game flowed smoothly, and I never felt like I was spending time playing just to level up. I was always playing with a goal in mind, instead of just mindless leveling. I loved this game, and for $20, I recommend it to every Game Boy owner out there.

Custom Robo

January 29, 2006

Being a fan of Nintendo games (and gaming hardware) often requires a player to make suspensions of disbelief that other, more realistic (or more accurately, less imaginative), games/consoles don’t. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but the occasional stumbling block arises that just requires an outright “ok, whatever”. For example: the world of the PokA

The [i]Bloody Roar[/i] series has seen six games, most of them being on the Playstation consoles. The Gamecube and Xbox have both seen separate titles, although both were mostly ports of [i]Bloody Roar 3[/i] for the Playstation 2. [i]Bloody Roar 4[/i] brings the series back to the Playstation brand of consoles, bringing with it new characters and game play tweaks. It should be noted though that the [i]Bloody Roar[/i] series has never really done anything to stand out in the crowd of greater fighters like [i]Dead or Alive 3[/i] or [i]Virtua Fighter 4[/i], and [i]Bloody Roar 4[/i] does little to change that.

When you first look at [i]Bloody Roar 4[/i], you may think it looks just like all the other fighters. The graphics are certainly as nice as those seen in fighters like [i]Virtua Fighter 4[/i]. If anything, they may be better. It’s when you begin to play the game where things go sour, as you will soon find out that the game play is pretty simplistic. The triangle performs kicks while the square performs punches, and the X button guards. To add to the simplicity, it is very easy to button mash you way through matches. In fact, you can have it on the highest difficulty and still mash buttons while being successful.

The [i]Bloody Roar[/i] series does have a trait that makes it stand out against other high caliber fighters. The twist in [i]Bloody Roar 4[/i] is that each character can turn into a humanoid animal at the press of the circle button. There’s everything from a werewolf to a were-rabbit. After the transformation, a special move button replaces the transformation button. One of the new features in the game is that your beast meter now doubles as an alternative life bar, whereas in previous installments, it slowly depleted until you were transformed back into a human. Your actual life bar can only be touched while in your human form, whereas the beast life runs out while in beast mode. You can transform at anytime as long as you have some juice left in your beast meter, which creates a problem.

A player can simply enter their beast form at the start of a match, since the meter is already charged up. The other player will then have to reduce his beast meter, then his human meter, then his beast meter before he can finish him off. It doesn’t help that every time an opponent strikes you in human form, your beast meter increases a couple notches. In short, a player could easily just keep transforming over and over again, adding to the other players frustration. While this may make for longer matches, it also doesn’t help that a lot of characters are much stronger than others. It is very easy for a player to transform and assault the other player, ripping a huge chunk of his life away even before five seconds have passed. Another problem is that while the beast forms are supposed to make [i]Bloody Roar 4[/i] stand out from your everyday fighter, while in their beast form the characters really don’t do anything that they couldn’t do in human form. The only thing that’s different is that your attacks are more powerful, but aside from that, all you really see is more punches and kicks.

The characters in [i]Bloody Roar 4[/i] look more suited to a midnight rave rather than fighting as animals in disguise. Veterans of the [i]Bloody Roar[/i] series will remember many faces. Alice the were-rabbit, Rakuryu the were-mole, and the rest of the old crew make their reappearance. The new characters, which are the most obvious of the updates, are nice, but they show the developers are running out of ideas. Reiji transforms into a crow, while Ryoho doesn’t even transform at all, but rather his child companion Mana transforms into a fox that does little damage. Nagi though doesn’t even transform into an animal, but rather some sort of succubus. It’s not really known why they chose a non-animal form for her, seeing as how there are dozens of animals left in the animal kingdom to turn into humanoid form. It could just be that they are trying to add sexuality to the series with her bizarre sword infatuation and revealing outfit, although Jenny seems to have completed that objective with her prostitute-ish appearance.

[i]Bloody Roar 4[/i] contains all the modes you would come to find in any other fighter of its kind. There’s arcade, where you play through ten stages with a few short cut scenes which have very horrid voice acting, survival mode which pits you against and endless mass of fighters with only one bar of life, and the other standard modes. The new mode, called “career mode,” is rather strange, and at the same time, a little convoluted. After choosing a character, you play through a series of grid-like maps. Each circle is a random fight with a character, which is really no different from the arcade mode, the only difference being that most of the fights are only one round. As you win fights, the game rewards you with DNA points, as well as new attacks, speed, power, beast, and other power-ups. This lets you add them onto your character, and creates a sort-of custom character, which you can use in any other mode. The problem with this is that you can easily over power your character, taking out enemies in a few punches. Not that it matters, since it is just as easy to assault them with the default characters anyway, so there is really no incentive to play through career mode, especially since it seems like an endless connection of circular grid-lines.

[i]Bloody Roar 4[/i] does have its good points though. Graphically, the game looks great. Animations are done very well and it looks like a pretty decent fighter graphics-wise. The concept of morphing into animals is rather intriguing; however, the feeling wears off fast once you figure out that you can easily button mash your way through the game. Strangely, the developers have added in a gushing blood effect, where when you hit an opponent (or vice-versa), blood will flood out by the gallon. This obviously gives the game its Mature rating, but in reality, [i]Bloody Roar 4[/i] doesn’t really do anything that Teen rated games don’t do already. If anything, [i]Bloody Roar 4[/i] is tamer than most Teen rated games on the market. If you look past the gushing blood, the game is actually pretty clean.

The sounds and music are fairly mediocre, like the title itself. The music is really nothing special. The main menu music sounds like heavy metal, while most of the levels have calmer sounding music. The voice acting, as mentioned above, is completely atrocious. Most of the characters sound like they have no life in them whatsoever, and usually when someone tries to be clever, it just sounds awkward. Sometimes you may not be able to understand what a person says, while other times their voices come off as a little creepy. To add to that, the English is dubbed over the Japanese lip sync, so not only does the character’s dialogue not fit their lips, but there will usually be long pauses after something is said in order for the Japanese lip sync to catch up.

[i]Bloody Roar 4[/i] is a pretty simple fighter that, unsurprisingly, doesn’t do anything to break the mediocre streak the series is known for. The excessive button mashing really hurts the game to the point where even unskilled players can complete the entire game easily. The A.I. is pretty faulty, and even on higher difficulties it can be easy to beat, although it tends to block way too much. The idea of people transforming into killer animals with razor sharp claws, long horns, and swords for arms sounds like a good concept, but the makers of the [i]Bloody Roar[/i] series just can’t seem to blend it into a quality title.


When the only problem with a game is the fact that it isn’t long enough, you know you’ve got a great game on your hands. This isn’t quite the case with UbiSoft’s stealthy adventure Beyond Good and Evil, but it comes incredibly close.

Jade, a young woman on the planet Hillys (rhymes with “Phyllis”) who earns some spare credits as a freelance photographer and runs a local orphanage with her adoptive uncle pig-man, Pey’j (pronounced “page”). The orphans in question are the result of Hillys’s constant problems with the DomZ (not “domes”), an unpleasant alien race that wreaks havoc at seemingly regular intervals. Many Hillians end up kidnapped after these attacks, and thus orphans left behind. Luckily, the Hillian army has a special unit, the Alpha Sections, who do their best to fend off the DomZ and keep the people of Hillys safe.

This sounds fine, except that it makes for a lousy story to base a game around.

The truth of the matter is that the Alpha Sections aren’t quite what they seem to be, and before long Jade finds herself working with the underground rebellion group Iris to uncover the real story, armed with little more than her wits, her camera, and her dai-jo beatstick (plus a cool little laser disc shooter she picks up along the way). When not on foot, Jade and Pey’j cruise around in an old hovercraft that gets the job done on the mostly aqueous Hillys and comes equipped with boost jets and a laser cannon for emergencies. The Rastafarian rhino family at Mammago Garage can help you further outfit your vehicle if you bring them rare pearls.

The story itself isn’t anything groundbreaking or even that captivating as there aren’t a lot of unexpected twists and the conspiracy isn’t all that deep, but the characters, and especially the top-notch voice acting, make it seem important. There’s some genuine emotion in [i]BG&E[/i], both spoken and observed (witness the exuberant hug after Jade and Pey’j fend off some DomZ early on), and that’s what makes the admittedly trite story work.

It also doesn’t hurt that the game is, to put it simply, gorgeous. Jade, Pey’j, and all of the other inhabitants of Hillys (both friend and foe) are solid, believable characters, even though most of them are human-animal hybrids or outright alien. The environments that you explore, which range from an abandoned mine to the alien base on the moon, are detailed and diverse. Little details, like children’s crayon scribblings on the walls of the orphanage/lighthouse, also help to flesh out the reality a bit. The water looks great (and as I mentioned, there is a lot of water on Hillys), and real-time lighting moves shadows when necessary (like the “heavily-guarded elevator” stealth segment). Some of the smaller animals and non-essential hybrids that you have to photograph for the local science center are a bit uninspired and/or undetailed, but that and some strange shadows are the only graphical problems I experienced.

Sound and voice plays a big part in this game as well, from the voice acting to a wide variety of appropriate background music. Whether it be the up tempo beats in the Akuda Bar, the high-tension rhythm during combat, or melancholic melodies at one of the games many emotional downswings, the BGM always meshes with the gameplay ideally. You might learn to hate the creepy music that always seems to accompany a stealth segment, but it won’t be because it’s bad. Effects in the game are also precise, from the Darth Vader-like respiration of the Alphas to the irritating squeaking of rattus gigantus. And finally, enough good things can’t be said about the voice acting in this game, or at least the English versions (I didn’t try to play the game en espaA