Kris VanHaaren

[i]Tales of Phantasia[/i] was originally released more than a dozen years ago on the SNES in Japan where it was a huge hit. Now sometime down the road the game is being brought to American shores as a port, not on a console, but on the Gameboy Advance. This being my first experience with an RPG on a handheld system I wasn’t so sure what to expect, not to mention how far the genre has come since [i]ToP[/i] was originally released. Will [i]ToP[/i] on the GBA live up to the accolades of the original title?

In [i]ToP[/i] you play the role of Cress, a young boy from a quant, innocent, little village with not a care in the world – until his village is burned to the ground and everyone including his parents are killed, that is. You then start out on a quest for vengeance, to find the responsible party and dispose of said party accordingly. You soon find out that the culprit, Dhaos, is only vulnerable to magic, something that doesn’t exist in the current time in the world.

The one thing that has the [i]Tales[/i] series apart from other RPG’s in my eyes has been the combat system. A linear, side to side blend of RPG item management and menus mixed with combat that is very much like that of a traditional fighting title i.e. [i]Tekken[/i] or [i]Soul Calibur[/i]. This system, however, doesn’t translate so well to the GBA world. The combat rather than being the addictive full on action of the other [i]Tales[/i] titles we have come to love feels crowded and is actually rather boring. This same feeling of crowdedness is even more apparent in the menus and windows within the game. At times you will need to press two or three buttons just to see the stats of an item and who can wear it. Other than this the controls of the game actually work pretty well, your usual RPG setup so they should be easy to pick up and play with.

Your combat party consists of up to four members so the AI is a matter of some importance. You have different strategies you can tell each of your CPU counterparts to use. You might think after hearing this that combat would be better than what it is but that isn’t exactly the case. The AI of your team is offset by a few different things. First off, the combat is rather hard. Even when taking ample time to level up you will struggle against many of the enemies you come up against, including bosses where it is almost guaranteed that you will die once or twice before besting the opposition. This is only magnified by the fact that your other party members, despite the good AI, are rather useless.

This being one of my first games on the GBA, first RPG on the system, I wasn’t sure quite what to think of the graphical side of the game. The game seems to be rather dull looking, while the characters are actually rather nice and detailed. The world map is by far the visual low point in the game, something that appears to have come straight from the days of the NES. The sound effects in [i]ToP[/i] are, as might be expected, very bland and dated. What was surprising to me, however, is the score which is rather complex for a handheld title and very well put together.

So in the end my first experience with an RPG on a handheld wasn’t exactly a positive one. I’m not sure if this is simply a poor job of porting the game itself or if RPG’s don’t work so well on a handheld level but I was expecting more in many ways. The story is there, but it’s dragged down by everything else. Tedious combat, lack of enemy variety and dated sound effects. If you’re a die-hard [i]Tales[/i] fan or desperately need your handheld RPG fix you may want to give [i]ToP[/i] a try – everyone else may want to keep their distance.

After much success with the first two installments EA Sports has finally brought us [i]Fight Night Round 3[/i]. As with any sports series it’s important to keep improving and innovating the title to keep the series fresh and new. [i]Fight Night Round 3[/i] comes with the same great graphics and addictive gameplay, but the big question is does this feel like [i]Fight Night Round 2 A

Throughout the history of gaming there are games or series of games that truly stay with you for a lifetime. The list is long; Mario, Pong, Zelda, Metroid, Halo, Half-Life. At the top of this illustrious list, for myself at least, is the Final Fantasy series. As a die-hard RPG fan, more so than any other genre in gaming, I have followed the series for the majority of my life. That being said, I have never been more excited for a FF title in my life.

For any of you who picked up Dragon’s Quest VIII you may have noticed a second shiny round thing packaged along with it. We call that a disc. On that disc is a demo of the upcoming release in the Final Fantasy series; Final Fantasy XII. After trying their hand at the MMORPG market with FFXI they are attempting to go back to their roots with this upcoming title. The opening sequence gives us some of the basic story for this one. The game takes place in a world called Ivalice during a time of war. The kingdom of Archadia is bringing war upon its neighboring nations and taking them over one by one (sound a little bit familiar anyone?) The kingdom of Dalmasca is next in line, but they don’t appear to be giving in quite so easily.

That’s about all that we get as far as story goes. I will say that Square has not lost its knack for creating stunning cutscenes. There are a few things I’ve noticed from watching the opening sequence, which I’ve seen about thirty times by now. First, Square has decided to make FFXII in a more realistic style rather than the cartoonish look many previous FF titles have taken on. It appears also that FFXII deals with many different races from humans to a Jar-Jar look-a-like to what appears to be a mix of a hobbit and a mouse. This is not to say that your character can be chosen in different races only that many of the characters you encounter are of various races.

The cast of characters seems to be your usual FF group; the simpleton hero, hippy free-spirited teen, a princess, a sky pirate, a soldier who has been branded as a traitor, and an oddball who apparently specializes in weaponry. All of this leads me to believe that the game is going to be the same old FF we’ve played several times over. Not to say this is a bad thing, as I have loved nearly every entry in the long running series, but I’m still holding on to the hope that this title will somehow advance or revolutionize the series.

Now let’s move on to the gameplay. There really isn’t much to do here. The demo offers two small levels that are not part of the actual game itself; just little mini-missions to show off the graphics and combat system. One level uses wait mode and is set on a tropical beach while the other uses active mode and takes place in an old temple of some sort. Neither of them contains any dialogue or story and they only last about 10-15 minutes. The combat this time around is seamlessly integrated with moving around the map and exploring, which I really enjoy and I think will help keep the game flowing. The UI and menus work just as well as ever. All of the items and spells in the demo will be familiar to anyone who has played a FF title before.

You have the usual black and white magic along with what are called green magic and time magic. A

When I found my copy of [i]Super Mario Strikers[/i] in my mailbox I was genuinely excited. I looked forward to popping it into my Gamecube and getting sucked into its multiple game modes and surprisingly deep gameplay for hours and hours. I soon found out this isn’t what we have come to expect from a Mario game. SMS is the latest in the Mario series of sports games. This time around Mario is trying his hand at soccer. The only question is: Will this title compare to the likes of Mario Tennis or Mario Kart?

Both visually and audibly, [i]SMS[/i] is just what you would expect from a Mario game. The visuals are polished, bright, and very “kiddie”. Character models are pretty simple but look nice and the stadiums are unique and very nicely done. The audio is much the same with nothing to complain about or praise. You’ll hear plenty of the usual sound bites, along with solid sound effects in-game as well as when navigating menus.

The game is as average is it gets. Unlike most other Mario sports titles this game doesn’t have any fun mini-games or handfuls of different modes. You are relegated to play now, play against a friend, or play in Cup Mode. You can work your way from the Flower Cup all the way to the Bowser Cup unlocking new arenas as you go. Once you take the Bowser Cup you will unlock one more tournament where, if you win, you will unlock the ONLY unlockable character in the entire game.

Now while this may sound fun, the game’s simplistic controls and extremely easy gameplay make it fly by in all its mediocrity. The game is played basically with just the left analog, along with the A,B, and Y buttons. If the opposing team has the ball all you need to do is slide tackle or just plain hit them to get it back. Once you get the timing of the “super strike” down you will score at will.

Now as I’ve sat here and written this review it feels as if I’ve missed something or left something out. Well, that’s the same feeling I get as I play through this game. It’s not a bad game, it’s a solid title to pick up and play when you need to kill 30 minutes before work, but it’s as if Nintendo forgot to put the rest of the game on the disc. It won’t keep your attention for long, but if you’re looking for a game for the young ones or to just kill time with here and there, this wouldn’t be a bad choice.


March 5, 2006

[i]Black[/i] is the latest title to be released by the up and coming developer Criterion Games. Since its initial announcement [i]Black[/i] has been hyped to the fullest extent as what was to be an almost revolutionary FPS that focuses on 100% action 100% of the time. The compromise, however, is extremely destructible environments and intense firefights in a single player arena in exchange for good story and any sort of multiplayer options. That is exactly what you get with [i]Black[/i]; whether or not that is a good thing I’m still not sure.

[i]Black[/i] is visually stunning. Everything from the textures, to the lighting, to the dust and smoke effects are absolutely top notch. The environments in [i]Black[/i] are big and full with a good amount of attention to detail everywhere you look. That being said, they look even better when you blow them to pieces. Perhaps the most impressive graphical aspect is that every bullet leaves a mark. When you shoot a wall, you leave a mark in it and that mark actually stays there. When in a firefight your shots will kick up dust and spit debris into the air when they hit dirt or walls which really helps to make things even more hectic.

On par with the visuals of [i]Black[/i] is the audio. The music is very well done by an orchestra that definitely knows what they are doing. If you have a decent surround sound setup you’ll be able to wake up the neighborhood with the explosions throughout this title. The weapons also sound very real and powerful. When you are crouched behind a concrete wall, or what’s left of one, you will actually hear the enemy bullets chipping away at your sides. Of course the baddies will be yelling “grenada” every time you chuck a ‘nade at them and will be shouting out the same handful of phrases at you throughout the game, although I suppose that is to be expected by now.

The gameplay in [i]Black[/i] is precisely what Criterion has promised us all along. The game is all about big explosions, lots of ammo, and blasting wave after wave of enemies. The controls are easy to pick up and play and despite the absolute lack of story [i]Black[/i] has a Hollywood quality presentation. The weapons in [i]Black[/i] are, more than any game I’ve played, very fun to shoot. It’s a feeling somewhat similar to shooting an actual gun; the weapons in [i]Black[/i] feel that powerful. This is a great thing since you will be gunning your way through hundreds of brain dead baddies in every level. The game gets repetitive very quickly which actually makes [i]Black[/i] feel a little bit longer than it really is. A veteran FPS’er will polish this one off in 6-8 hours and probably no more than 10 hours for the less experienced.

While I understand that Criterion was very focused on delivering the single player experience they wanted I can’t help but to wonder why we can’t have the pretty sights and sounds of [i]Black[/i] and have a coherent story and a little more depth in gameplay. As I said the game is short and you won’t be coming back a second time due to the repetitive gameplay and the fact that there are no extras or unlockables save for the harder difficulty. This game is the epitome of a “rent but don’t buy” title. [i]Black[/i] comes out gunning but gets boring real quickly. Beauty is only skin deep and [i]Black[/i] is a busty blonde with no personality.