November 2004

[floatleft][/floatleft]The [i]Final Fantasy[/i] series has become larger than life over the past 15 years, and few things depict how far the series has come than the facelift given to the original two games in [i]Final Fantasy: Dawn of Souls[/i] for the Game Boy Advance. It was with great pride and joy that I popped this cart into my GBA: SP, eager to enjoy the remade games without the annoying load times that the PSX remakes suffered from. A portable [i]Final Fantasy[/i], with new graphics, sound, tweaked storyline, and additional content was too much for this reviewer to take at first glance.

Before diving into the game, I have to preface my review with a confession: [i]Final Fantasy[/i] on the NES was one of my first gaming experiences; thus, this review walks the fine line of a nostalgic bias. Luckily for you, both games contain a few glaring flaws that allowed me to put aside this warm, cozy feeling to speak the truth about this game. I’ll cut to the chase early, and explain myself later-this game is meant for diehard fans of the series and will appeal mostly to those who have played the original, functionally flawed games.

[i]Final Fantasy I[/i] has been given a complete graphical and audio overhaul-the game more closely resembles a polished version of [i]Final Fantasy V[/i], right down to character avatar as you move around the games many locales. From the minute the game opens, you can see that several large problems have been addressed: townspeople provide more intriguing dialogue, quests are explained in more detail, and evidence of efforts to fill in gaping plot holes have been made. This is pure gravy, folks. You’ll immediately feel the difference if you’ve played the original game.

[floatright][/floatright]The battle system has been given a massive facelift as well, with broad implications for how the game is played. Magic, for example, is now powered on the standard mana system; in the original game, you only had a few spells per spell level that you could cast without resting. Since you couldn’t rest in dungeons in the original, spellcasters were of little use, as they would spend most of their time conserving magic and weakly attacking non-boss characters as you waded through dungeons in search of the said boss. Now, you can easily replenish mana, however, with cheaply purchased ethers, making the concept of a four black mage party a potential reality instead of a whimsical pipe dream.

Hand-to-hand combat has also received attention. In the original game, you could “miss” an attack if the creature you had targeted was dead by the time it was your turn. This lead to all sorts of annoying issues in the past, but it’s been addressed, and in combination with the new magic system, battle in [i]FFI[/i] has been completely changed for the better. And thank the maker it has, because you’re going to be dealing with more random battles than you can shake a stick at. In one dungeon, there’s an empty room that has the same encounter on every tile. It serves no purpose outside of annoying you to the point of powering down, which is now much easier to do since you can save anywhere.

On the subject of annoyances, [i]FFI[/i] still has many facets that can drive you completely bonkers. For one, there’s next to no guidance in terms of quests, and the overworld map is both huge in size and sparse in useful locations. Massive forests with nothing in them, huge spans between the four to five towns in the game, dungeons more difficult to find than to complete-this game is sure to test the patience of even the most devoted gamer. You’ll wind up finding your next challenge more by accident than design, armed with cryptic clues from townspeople and extensive time spent scanning the world for new locations. Ironically, the map system has been completely streamlined and updated to give you a fantastic view of where you’ve been and places you could go, but none of these locations are marked or flagged in any way as to give you a hint of where you’re supposed to be. Some might call my objection to this petty, but these people obviously enjoying trekking over a landscape, fighting weak monsters every next step in the vain hope that you’re on the right track. These people have my respect, but I still think they’re crazy.

[floatleft][/floatleft]The plot is as threadbare as the original, though as previously mentioned, it’s been given a shot in the arm by extra dialogue. But above all, the challenge in this game is to figure out where you’re going to next, more so than completing said task when you get there. Since you have no idea where you’re going, you’ll fight a lot more random battles, level up to inappropriate heights, and steamroll through each objective with ease. Money, which was an issue throughout the original game, is now in complete abundance; so while items are still expensive to buy, you’ll have no problems with cash after you complete the Elven section of the game.

Perhaps to address the now dumbed-down difficulty level, Square decided to implement four additional dungeons: one opened after each crystal is restored. I cannot stress how much these need to be avoided-the levels are stuffed with low-level random encounters, repetitive dungeon layouts (the first dungeon requires that you enter, defeat one of four bosses, and repeat this process until all four are dead, after which…nothing happens!), and measly rewards. Never before have I been so disappointed in a gaming experience. It almost made me stop playing the game altogether, but I trudged through the remainder (avoiding the last two optional dungeons) to bring the truth to light.

[i]FFII[/i], at least, provides you with a fresh skill progression system and a bona fide stab at a storyline. Instead of restoring the crystals and defeating Chaos, you’re embroiled in a political battle with an empire and resistance (sound familiar?) and a search for a lost companion. The leveling system in [i]FFII[/i] warrants specific mention, since there isn’t one. Instead, character skills and abilities progress as you use them-swing your sword, gain some strength while you intelligence festers. Cast magic and your intelligence and spirit will rise along with your spell level while your strength remains at the basest of levels. This system is incredibly innovative given the time the game was originally released, and is something that I wish its ancestors would have adopted. Nonetheless, [i]FFII[/i] is no barnburner of a title either, but fans of the original will enjoy it (including the optional hours of play available after the endgame) as long as they approach it with the same grain of salt needed for [i]FFI[/i]. The game suffers from the same lack of guidance issues as the first, except that this time you know the names of places you’re supposed to go, but finding them is just as obtuse a process. From the initial town, you’ll wander in a forest looking for a city. One moment you’ll be fighting creatures you can easily handle, the next you’ve wandered too far (in the same forest, mind you) and are completely wiped out by monsters 10 times your level. Game over. Sure, you wandered too far from the beaten path, but when there is no beaten path in the first place, you can begin to see where this becomes a problem.

[floatright][/floatright]But, I digress-there’s still more optional material to discuss. The cart also comes with a bestiary that you populate as you meet and defeat monsters. It’s a neat little tool that allows you to analyze your opponents, but given that the scope of each game is so small, it never really comes into play. It’s filler, but when compared to some of the other additional content, it’s a welcome addition (until you realize that in order to fill said bestiary, you’ll need to schlep through the optional dungeons!).

To a vintage console RPG fan, [i]Dawn of Souls[/i] is a tribute to the humble beginnings of a game series that has evolved into some of the most popular and controversial titles on the market. You can clearly see some of the innovative threads from which the [i]Final Fantasy[/i] series has been spun in these humble beginnings. The time and effort that was given to restoring these games is akin to that used to rebuild and preserve old colonial houses. Unfortunately for the end user, however, the results are much like taking a tour through such a restored house-you can appreciate the time devoted to rebuilding the archaic foundation, repainting the faded walls, and polishing the former owner’s ugly collection of medieval sculptures, but you’ll tire of its lack of air conditioning, high-speed Internet access, and major appliances quicker than you’ll appreciate the overall nostalgia and aesthetic. Only serious history buffs need apply here.

[floatleft][/floatleft]I only assume I understand the meaning of the word [i]sequel[/i]. I assume that it is a follow up to something popular-usually so it tries to outdo its predecessor. Whether movies or video games, sequels are supposed to be bigger and badder. Well, I assumed wrong; [i]Ghost Recon 2[/i] shares only a premise with its predecessor and then becomes a totally different game altogether-a rather good game, but completely different and almost warranting a different title.

[heading]Something new[/heading]

Go right ahead and throw out everything you knew and liked about [i]Ghost Recon[/i] before you play the sequel. The first change is a change in perspective; you now play from behind the Ghost you control. You have a preset squad, and much like the Xbox version of [i]Rainbox Six[/i], you control one character. Gone are the days of setting up a team and being able to hop in and out of each team member. In exchange, you now get a better view of the chaos that is war. While you have a much better peripheral vision, you and your team become engulfed in firefights and area-clearing mortar barrages. You will now be in the middle of one of the most immense war simulations brought to a video game.

[floatright][/floatright]Also new are the lone wolf missions. At times during the campaign, you go at it alone. In exchange for your teammates, you get state-of-the-art weaponry (which is a good trade if you ask me). You literally become a solider of one. You can utilize a new camera gun that allows you to stay behind cover and hold out your gun around and over obstacles. You also have a lot of help from the boys in the air. If a fight gets too hairy, you may call in an air strike with a simple button click. With the new lone wolf missions, you will wonder why the hell they bothered to give you squad mates to begin with.

[heading]Roger that, over *static*[/heading]

Ghost Recon set a standard of team coordination. [i]Ghost Recon 2[/i] continues on with the ability to control a team, or squad; doing so, however, has been simplified. No longer do you have to worry about more then one squad, you will be surrounded by a capable team of AI-controlled Ghosts, as you are their leader. They will obey whatever order you tell them. Giving orders is extremely simple. Much like Ubisoft’s RB6, you can point and command. Look to a direction and tell your team to move out. They will do so with complete disregard for their own safety. While this may seem like a continuation of an already proven method, it fails miserably. For instance, if I wanted my team to go to an area and defend, I cannot tell them to do so, in any way shape or form. The command is not a “move to there” but a general “advance.” What “advance” means is beyond me. From playing the game, it pretty much means “haul ass to somewhere and get shot.” You may also command the squad to flank an area and go quiet (no shooting). This method is so disappointing-and quite frankly so terribly implemented-that you wonder what the developers were thinking. Especially after a similar method has already been implemented in a game and works flawlessly.

[floatleft][/floatleft]Beyond that, your teammates work very well together. They hold their own in firefights and will obey more general orders that work better than “advance.” Should you confront an enemy vehicle, you may point at it and call out an order. The orders differ depending on the circumstance. If objectives call for a demo charge, you may look at the area and order your team to set up the explosives. The call-out commands encompass a variety of options such as rendering medical attention to a fallen teammate and having teammates mount a stationary gun. This is where the point and command shines, after its monumental failure of basic squad movement.

[heading]War, what is it good for?[/heading]

What fun would a game be if you cannot go on Xbox Live with it? [i]Ghost Recon 2[/i] utilizes Xbox Live to enhance the gaming experience. There are many modes to be played online, including a team death match, capture the points, escort missions, king of the hill, and the very cool siege games. Online gaming is really where [i]Ghost Recon 2[/i] seems to have gotten the most attention. I would recommend you utilize it. It’s fun to game together.

[heading]All in all…[/heading]

[i]Ghost Recon 2[/i] is a solid game. While those that expected one thing will get another, it will not bother you too long. The game itself has gotten one of the most impressive makeovers in game history. The graphics are absolutely beautiful-it’s war, it’s gritty, and it’s loud. All present in [i]Ghost Recon 2[/i]. You are better off not relying on your troops to be in a certain place when you need them, but if you can survive, you will find another good score for Ubisoft. Go pick it up; it’s one of the most impressive third-person action games on consoles. I only hope they bring back squad-controlled [i]Ghost Recon[/i] one day.

KOTOR 2 Gold!

November 29, 2004

KOTOR 2 has gone gold and should be hitting stores next week. Expect all new features and an awesome storyline for the sequel. I myself will be going darkside all the way. Also hitting stores next week will be LOTR Battle for Middle Earth for the PC. I have been awaiting this title for quite sometime now, and I have read nothing but great things about it. And for this weeks releases, the only title worth picking up is Prince of Persia 2. Cone should be all over that game since the first one ruled. Stay tuned for more features and reviews to be posted pretty soon.


November 29, 2004

So I took a short break over the Thanksgiving holiday to relax and and I am back and I feel very refreshed. With family in town and the ever wonderful pressure to see everyone all the time, things did get a little hectic. I hope that all of you had a wonderful holiday and that you all had something to be thankful for.

We are thankful

November 25, 2004

We are thankful for all our readers and community members. We are blessed to have an awesome group of friends, we truly mean that. Thank you everyone for helping make Snackbar something legit. Now put down the controllers for a while and have some time with the family. Go Cowboys!

Oh yeah, Snackbar year three is right around the corner!