John Marques


April 16, 2008

Make no mistake, Ikaruga falls into that A

Final Fantasy VII has been overhyped and played-out. Included are Before Crisis, which never came to the Americas; Advent Children, which made little to no sense; Last Order, which told nothing anyone who had played the game didn’t already know; Dirge of Cerberus, which did little to contribute to the plot of the FFVII saga; and lastly, On the Way to a Smile and The Maiden Who Travels the Planet (Hoshi wo Meguru Otome). So why play Crisis Core? Because in a sea of re-hashed and uninteresting material, Crisis Core is a breath of fresh air, even if it’s a Final Fantasy VII story.

Crisis Core is one of the only games in the saga where the player takes on a different perspective that isn’t Cloud or Vincent. Granted, Before Crisis put the player in the shoes of the Turks, but most of the playable characters had little to no direct bearing on the plot. The character the player takes the role of in Crisis Core is none other than Zack Fair. While Zack played a very small role in the original game, it was integral to the plot.

Zack starts off as a SOLDIER 2nd class, and has high aspirations of making 1st class like his friend Angeal, as well as becoming a great hero like the famed Sephiroth. After quelling the uprising of the Wutai, all seems fine. However the meat of the story deals with a defected SOLDIER operative who is a friend of Angeal and Sephiroth named Genesis. When Genesis seemingly talks Angeal into joining his rebellion, it’s up to Zack and Sephiroth to stop their plans for rebellion against SOLDIER and Shinra. To be frank it’s a basic plot, but it helps establish the groundwork of the rest of the FFVII saga.

The gameplay flows quite cleanly. It usually begins with Zack strolling around the SOLDIER floor of the Shinra building or around Sector 8, gathering info about his next mission, buying items, and taking on side missions. From there, it’s out to the field and tackling the current assignment. This helps give the game a fast-paced feel and makes it fun to get into. The flow, as well as the gameplay mechanics, are simple and easy to get a grip on quite quickly.

One of the big things everyone was looking forward to is the game’s battle system. Battles are conducted in real time using a simple menu system that the player uses the L and R triggers to navigate and a simple push of the X button to attack, use spells/abilities, or items. A lot of what happens in battles is governed by the DMW, or Digital Mind Wave, system. It’s represented as a slot machine-like mechanism in the top left corner of the screen. It can change the parameters of battle, bestowing effects like invincibility, increased luck, or limit breaks on Zack. The game lays out in great detail how all the DMW effects work and after awhile, it becomes second nature.

There are only a handful of gripes about Crisis Core. The first is that the battle system might feel a little clunky at first but it’s nothing more than a modified Kingdom Hearts engine, complete with guarding and dodge-rolling. Another thing is the DMW. Level ups seem to occur on an extremely arbitrary basis; they come when the reels read 777 during a limit verge, and ONLY during a limit verge. Materia levels up in a similar fashion. When two of the reels read the same number during a limit verge, then the materia in that slot levels up. It can be frustrating for when that one extra level could really help out. Speaking of frustration, the game has several voiced system messages that play before, during, and after battles such as A

Metal Gear Solid is the quintessential spy game, so for anyone who missed out on the MGS phenomenon, this is a great chance to catch up on some great video game history. The Metal Gear Solid series has the subtitle of “Tactical Espionage Action,” and it’s an apt description.

For those not in the know, the Metal Gear Solid series involves the player taking on the role of a special operations agent named Solid Snake, in the cases of MGS1 and 2, and the CIA agent Naked Snake in the case of MGS3. The games revolve around stealth and infiltration. MGS1 finds Snake making his way into a nuclear weapons facility on a fictional island off the coast of Alaska; MGS2 involves nuclear weaponry again, but throws in the twist of Russian terrorists trying to get hold of said weapon. MGS3 takes a step back to the series origins and introduces Naked Snake, who would later go on to become the infamous Big Boss.

The games involve sneaking from location to location while the player tries to avoid being spotted by an enemy. When spotted, enemies send the game into “Alert” mode, where Snake has to evade enemies as long as possible and send them into “Caution” mode, where patrols a bit tighter and in greater numbers, and then until the patrols revert back to normal status where it’s easier to sneak around again. Between bouts of sneaking through bases and the wilds are boss fights. The most notable boss fights from each game, in a matter of opinion, are Revolver Ocelot in MGS1, the Harrier in MGS2, and The Boss in MGS3.

Now, it’s possible to just gush over how great Metal Gear Solid is, because, well, it is, but the Essential Collection has some fundamental flaws. It works best to address the shortcomings of each game on its own, so here goes.

The version of MGS1 included in the collection is the PS1 version, so it’s lacking a bit in the graphics department. It’s not that big of a deal that the game shows its age, but it would have been a lot nicer had it been a port of the GameCube version, The Twin Snakes, which is the original remade using the MGS2 engine. A number of years ago, the game was released in a special package called Metal Gear Solid Integral that never made it to the US, with an extra included disc with all kinds of VR missions, which were great fun. MGS VR Missions was released later on down the road in the US, and it’s sadly absent from this collection. It was easy to waste hours on end trying to best scores for sneaking times and enemy elimination training. Also, since the game is its original PS1 version, if you don’t own a PS1 memory cards or a PS3 with backwards compatibility, then it’s an impossibility to save the game. Strike one.

The version of MGS2 is the re-release Metal Gear Solid 2 Substance. It includes a slew of VR missions with a total of six playable characters, as well as the Snake Tales side story, which allows the plot between the Tanker Chapter and the Big Shell Chapter to be filled in. Also included is the popular skateboarding minigame where either Snake or Raiden shred their way across Big Shell racking up points from stunts and collecting different items. The drawbacks to this version of Substance are the inability to post high scores from the VR missions online, as Konami’s old Substance site has been down for quite a number of years now. The game also lacks the Document of Metal Gear Solid 2 which, while was not part of the original Substance, came out when MGS2‘s original installment Sons of Liberty was first available. It certainly would have added quite a bit to the collection. Strike two.

MGS3 consists of the first disc of its re-release Subsistence. The Subsistence disc includes a special mode with background information to better set up the plot of the game. It also includes a “Demo Theater” which allows access to any one of the game’s cutscenes at any time. The game entirely lacks the Persistence disc from the previous release of Subsistence, as well as the Existence disc from the Limited Edition. While the omission of the Existence disc can be overlooked due to the Subsistence disc’s Demo Theater, the lack of the Persistence disc is inexcusable. Persistence included the popular “Snake VS Monkey” minigame that crossed over with the Ape Escape franchise, the Duel mode which allowed the player to fight any of the bosses at any time, the ability to play the two original Metal Gear games, and other extras. The original Persistence disc granted access to Metal Gear Online. Last year in April, the MGO servers were taken down, rendering that game mode completely useless. Many fans believe the shutdown of MGO to be responsible for the Essential Collection‘s lack of the Persistence disc, which is no excuse at all. Strike three.

It’s hard to completely write off this collection because the games in it are so great, but it has so many shortcomings that just add up and make it difficult to say whether it’s worth owning. The Japanese version of the collection had some different extras such as the aforementioned lack of the original two Metal Gear games and the Document of Metal Gear Solid 2, as well as the very informative and interesting Metal Gear Saga DVD, and MGS Portable Ops for the PSP. With the exception of PSP games being an entirely different media, it’s hard to imagine that this collection would likely have worked better as a PS3 release on a single Blu-Ray disc.

So should you get this collection? A diehard fan would likely say no, as it exhibits a serious lack of time and effort on Konami’s part. For those who’ve not really experienced the Metal Gear franchise, this would be a great way to get into the series if you’re looking for a basic package.

When the name Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles comes to mind, people think of the original GameCube game. While the original had some merits, such as being a great multiplayer romp (provided you could get 3 other people with their own copies of the game), it felt like it was the bare minimum as far as gameplay and story were concerned.

The sequel, Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Ring of Fates, has finally come to the DS, and it’s got a totally revamped feel over the original. Ring of Fates introduces us to a young boy named Yuri and his sister Chelinka. They set out on an adventure shortly after their father Latov gives them his prized hatchet. All seems fine and dandy until after coming home from a day out with their mentor Alhanalem when their home is paid a visit and nothing is quite the same. While the story is simplistic in nature, it’s certainly much more of a breath of fresh air compared to its predecessor boring, never-ending predecessor.

The action in Ring of Fates is a fairly standard dungeon crawl. The player enters a dungeon, kills a lot of monsters, levels a lot of levels, and grabs as much loot as possible. Normal controls are handled using the d-pad and face buttons with the basic fare of actions like jumping, using a melee weapon, using items for healing and casting spells, and using unique A

Collectible card games are a tried and true genre that have become essential in the world of table top and video games alike. Konami’s latest entry into the Yu-Gi-Oh franchise is no exception, as evidenced by Yu-Gi-Oh! GX The Beginning of Destiny.

This review will spare all the dirty details of the gameplay, being that the core mechanics of all recent Yu-Gi-Oh games have been the standard tabletop simulation of the game. Essentially, if you’ve played a previous game in the series or played the actual card game, you’ll be able to jump right into it without any trouble. For those who are new to the game, there is a nice tutorial mode that outlines the game’s rules in great detail.

The premise of the game is that the player takes on the role of a new student in Seto Kaiba’s Duel Academy. The flow of gameplay entails going to school each day, taking tests, and meeting the other students. Before you write it off, the length of time spent in “class” is brief, and the first week is basically used to give instructions on how to play the card game. This passage of time is similar to that of Yu-Gi-Oh! GX Duel Academy on the GBA, with monthly exams in which you prove your knowledge and skill of the card game to try and increase your academic standing.

The player’s character enters the school under the rank Slifer Red. From there, the aforementioned exams give you the chance to advance to Ra Yellow or Obelisk Blue, bettering your “rep” with the other characters. Outside of the card game, there’s a sort of RPG dynamic where you walk around on a map, talking with the different characters in the Academy. You can chat with them about their interests and try and make friends with them, so they’ll be more willing to duel. It doesn’t really seem to serve much purpose aside from giving the player others to interact with, but it’s a nice enough touch.

As the player progresses, the plot emerges, which is the premise of the show’s first season: the evil Shadow Riders emerge to try and take over the Duel Academy and resurrect their master Kagemaru and the three beasts of legend, Raviel the Lord of Phantasms, Hamon the Lord of Striking Thunder, and Uria the Lord of Searing Flame.

Even though it’s more of the same of the tabletop simulator, the card games themselves are spiced up with dialog and animations of the duelists showing their stuff, and some of the monsters even get some nice CG FMVs when they attack/draw/activate cards/etc. Outside of gameplay, one of the nice touches is that if a player connects a PSP running Yu-Gi-Oh! GX Tag Force 2, the game gives them a nice little starting bonus of 10000 DP on both games, which can be used in the in-game card shop to buy new cards, as well as giving three bonus cards.

There are a number of fundamental flaws with this game. The first is multiplayer. Where is it? The game case claims to be “1-2 Players,” but none of the in-game menus any kind of multiplayer options, nor is there any detail on it in the game’s very sparse manual. Some clarification on how to enable that would be nice.

The connectivity bonuses with Tag Force 2 are about all the game has to offer. Everything else aside, this game is nothing more than a port of Yu-Gi-Oh! GX Tag Force, the first game for the PSP. What’s more, the original Japanese version of the games had voice acting during the duels when the characters appear onscreen to make their moves. The absence of the original Japanese voices from the game isn’t so much a bother as is the fact that there were no English voices put in their place; so while the animations are fun to watch, they feel rather lackluster.

In summation, the dueling element of the game is pretty solid and emulates the tabletop game, as well as the show, quite nicely; but the game still feels far from complete. If you’re a hardcore fan of the series, it’s at least worth checking out if you skipped over Tag Force on the PSP. For everyone else, it’ll likely fall flat. For those who choose to check it out, get ready to “get your game on!”