Matt Karam

Dark Cloud

January 16, 2006

You can call this one a case of having a game on the shelves for years. Unfortunately for me, during those years I missed out on a very incredible gaming experience. [i]Dark Cloud[/i] is undoubtedly the most fun game I have played recently. It follows the tale of a young Toan whose village was destroyed by an evil being known as the Dark Genie. The Fairy King comes to him and tells him that before the village was destroyed completely, everything was sealed away in mysterious orbs called Atla, and he gives Toan the power of the Atlamillia, a gem that can unlock the items in those Atla. Toan’s task then is to go around the world and unlock the Atla, which contain items, homes and people, and rebuild the world. Once that is accomplished, he must defeat the Dark Genie and restore the world to peace once and for all.

The game sounds tough, and at first I was a mite intimidated. But really, it’s the most fun game ever. It’s a mix of dungeon crawler, action RPG, and something like [i]Civilization[/i]. You grab Atla from the dungeons as you defeat enemies, and in the villages or towns you use those Atla to recreate the world the way you want. You’ll learn that some of the citizens have requests as to where or how their place is built, and if you satisfy all of the requests, you get hugely rewarded, so experimentation and talking to every person in the town is key to finishing the reconstruction. While in the dungeons, you run around hacking away at the monsters, going from floor to floor and unlocking Atla. Along the way, there are chests to open and loot to collect from slain monsters. You can also fish in the ponds around town to collect Fishing Points, which can be exchanged for precious items such as gems and status-healing objects. At the end of the road, on the final floor of the dungeon, you must fight a boss to then progress to the next town. In each town, you acquire a new party memberA

1. How come no matter how much you play a game, no matter how good you are at the game, or no matter how much you know about the game, there will always be someone better than you who obliterates you completely every time because they play it all day, everyday, for their entire life?

2. Why did Pickle ultimately decide, after months of not having an answer, for me to finally buy [i]Neverwinter Nights[/i] so that we can roleplay, only to have him play twice with me and then never play the game again?

3. Why is [i]Savage[/i], for lack of a better description, the absolute worst game I have ever played in my life?

4. How come MMOs that charge for online play are the worst games ever? Dear MMOs, [i]Guild Wars[/i] found a way to make theirs free. You should do the same. Love, Milkdud.

5. Speaking of MMOs, since we have had MMOs based on [i]Final Fantasy[/i], [i]Lord of the Rings[/i], [i]Star Wars[/i], [i]The Matrix[/i], and [i]King Arthur[/i], when will we see an MMO based on the Roman Empire era or the ancient Greek era? That I might actually buy. Especially if one of the NPCs is named Kratos and he gives you experience based on how good you are in bed.

6. How come someone forged fake pictures of the rumored [i]Chrono Break[/i], the sequel to the wonderful [i]Chrono Cross[/i], and those pictures included screenshots of [i]Final Fantasy XI[/i] characters and settings, with one of the pictures having the body of a tonberry and the head of Admiral Ackbar from [i]Star Wars[/i]?

7. How come online gaming is marred by people who hack and upload viruses into peoples’ computers? Dear people, is playing the game not good enough? Must you ruin other peoples’ computers to make your gaming more enjoyable? Love, a recent victim of such attacks.

8. How come, if given the resources and time, I could literally make one of the best video games ever made? And how come other people who have that exact thought only end up creating games like [i]Super Monkey Ball[/i] and [i]Lord of the Rings: The Third Age[/i]?

9. Why do elitists in games decide to either boss other players around; stop playing with people who are of a lesser skill; laugh and taunt those lesser players as they mercilessly beat upon them; or a combination of all three?

10. Finally, the [i]Halo 2[/i] question. How come, when playing matchmaking in [i]Halo 2[/i], does Xbox Live match four level 25+ players against three characters around level 18 and one character that is level 2? Why are those games the absolute best, because my team completely annihilates the lower levels and sends them back to [i]Halo[/i] school, thus making me and my team a bunch of elitists who satisfy questions 1 and 9?

Guild Wars

September 14, 2005

[floatleft][/floatleft]There is a lot to be said of ArenaNet’s [i]Guild Wars[/i]. What do you get when you combine MMORPGs (Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games), free online play, and [i]Diablo II[/i]’s former team? You get a game with all the benefits of an MMO without all of its weaknesses. Those benefits include free play (it costs you nothing except an e-mail account and the cost to purchase the game itself), interacting with tons of people across the world, a long and drawn-out game that never ceases to entertain, and a definite ending-which most MMOs lack. Once you create your character’s (you can have up to four) gender, appearance, and starting class (there are six: Elementalist, Monk, Ranger, Warrior, Mesmer, and Necromancer), you are thrown into the game, and from there the exhilarating ride to the top begins.

[i]Guild Wars[/i] is a game that starts out in a world (known as Pre-Searing Ascalon) where you are aspiring to become a powerful combatant by choosing both a main class and a second class to learn as you progress through the game. Your warrior joins several in a battle against the Charr that literally leaves the world scarred and ashen. However, as you progress, you learn that the world extends far beyond the seared Ascalon, and the world battles vastly exceed that of just the Charr.

[floatright][/floatright]Typically in [i]Guild Wars[/i] you will find the game progress through missions, which can be accomplished by visiting a town where a mission starts, forming a party, and clicking the ‘Enter Mission’ button. If you fail, you simply return to the town and are able to then start over whenever you want to. If restarting a failed mission doesn’t suit you, you can take your party out to complete quests given to you by various NPCs across the world. If you don’t want to form a party but can’t manage to fight alone, the game provides computer-controlled henchmen to help you balance out the fighting so that you can still play alone but battle with help, or you can just go out hunting for spoils. As you level up, you can assign points to skill sets in which your skills belong-for example, as an Elementalist (the mage), you can either level up fire, earth, air, or water magic. Leveling is not very hard, as you gain experience from both battles and quests/missions. The max character level (for now) is 20, but there is still quite a challenge after level 20 is reached. The level does not affect your character’s classes at all except to allow you those points to assign to your skills and increase your health bar. Other benefits of questing include money, items, and skills (which can also be learned from skill teachers spread around the world).

In a battle system similar to [i]Diablo II[/i]’s mixed with a little MMO, you run around, click on what you want to attack, and your character enters auto-attack mode. It will continue to do that until you tell it to use one of the eight skills you’ve assigned to your skill bar. Once you defeat a monster, spoils such as gold, salvaging items, or weapons drop to the ground for you to pick up. You can then sell the spoils to merchants, salvage them into crafting materials, or simply use them if you wish. Your henchmen attack whichever enemy you are fighting, employing the strategy that everyone focused on one monster will kill a lot faster. The other cool thing about this game is that when you die, [b]nothing permanent happens to you[/b]. I repeat. [b]Nothing permanent happens to you[/b]. You suffer a temporary reduction in hit points and magic points, but that reduction is cleared when you either enter town or kill enough to boost your morale back up. Dear Blizzard, Square Enix, and every other MMO company. Take notes. That is the way to do it. The game is still very challenging without the tedium of having to re-level over and over if you keep dying and losing experience.

You can buy armor and weapons from crafters, or you can find items in the wild and take them to collectors who have pieces of your armor to offer in return. As you change armaments, your character changes appearance to reflect what it is wearing. Another cool (but rare and kind of annoying) thing is the use of dyes that drop very infrequently in battle. Dyes can be combined to make new colors or simply applied to your outfit as is to alter the colors of your wardrobe, thus further customizing your character.

[floatleft][/floatleft]If you don’t want to play the roleplaying part of the game, you can construct a level 20 character to jump right into Arena and Guild battles and completely bypass the long roleplaying campaign. The only drawback to that is you have to unlock all skills and items from the roleplaying section before they can be used in the multiplayer section, so if you are not at all interested in playing the game itself, your battle experience will be very limited. Regardless, the battles are fun, taking two teams of four and letting them slaughter each other. As you win Arena battles, you are given faction points that can be used to buy skills and cool items. As you win Guild battles, you are given rank, esteem, and glory. Winners of both battles find themselves the owners of cool items and rewards.

Let’s briefly talk about Guilds. Similar to [i]Final Fantasy XI[/i]’s Linkshell system, you can join a Guild in [i]Guild Wars[/i] where you can easily communicate with a segregated community to coordinate missions, quests, or Guild battles. A Guild leader can purchase a cape that all members of the Guild wear; so non-Guild members can be easily identified by those not wearing a cape. They can also purchase a Guild Hall, where Guild members can meet easily to exchange items or just hang back and converse. Other benefits include item, dye, and gold sharing, so that you don’t have to always go to a dye trader, weapon crafter, or rune trader to get something that your Guild may have for you.

Like any other MMO, you have the use of silly commands that make your character act, such as /dance or /guitar, after which your character will either dance or play an air guitar. These are humorous, but commands such as /bow and /sit help the roleplayers out a bit. This game differs from a traditional MMO so much that people refuse to call it one (but let’s face it, this game is MMO straight up). Instead of servers that contain thousands of people, there are town districts which act as different chat servers. There are several servers in the same town, and you can easily change servers with the click of a button. When you go out from town into the world, you (and anyone in your party) enter into your own private ‘copy’ of the game. This removes trying to find enemies to hunt due to server overpopulation or the strain of having too much lag due to too many people connected to the area. In town, there are only dozens of people at a time, not hundreds. The single greatest thing about [i]Guild Wars[/i] is that you can pull up your map, double-click on a town, and you are instantly there. This means, once you have taken the time to travel to a place once, you can now return there at any time, from anywhere, instantly from the map. That was the final indicator to me that this game is just wonderful.

[i]Guild Wars[/i] is the next big thing, like [i]Diablo II[/i] and its expansion. In fact, [i]Guild Wars[/i] has already had one expansion (that was a FREE download, I might add) called [i]Sorrow’s Furnace[/i] that just came out on September 7, 2005. This expansion has two new questing and hunting areas, new quests, and a few tweaks to make the game play a little smoother. I’m telling you, this game is doing everything right and nothing wrong. The tedium is gone from the game, replaced by hours and hours of missions, quests, and battling. No monthly fees. You can play for 15 minutes and actually accomplish something tiny-be it finish up a quest or just slay a few monsters for some loot. Do yourself a favor and buy this game, and when you do, look up Matain Amarai. My level 20 Elementalist/Monk might just be willing to help out some of you new people.

[floatleft][/floatleft]The anticipation for this game was immense. I had played [i]Conker’s Bad Fur Day[/i] on the N64 for hours upon hours, but my only real experience with it was the multiplayer (the Beach level was absolutely amazing). I had played the single-player campaign only for about an hour and decided the game was more fun on the multiplayer end, so I never really finished the campaign. Well, apparently, I missed out on some really fun stuff, and I had plans to eventually play the game and found out my chance would be renewed with [i]Conker: Live and Reloaded[/i] without even having to dust off the N64.

It’s no secret that this game is strictly a multiplayer game. Not only does [i]Conker: Live and Reloaded[/i] not try to hide that fact, but its default option when you turn on the game is Xbox Live. With that being said, let’s first dive into the single-player campaign and the world of Conker, a tiny, furry, loveable, hungover little squirrel. The campaign is again called [i]Conker’s Bad Fur Day[/i], and it is almost an exact port from the N64 version, with a ton of improvements. The first and most noticeable change is the graphics, which are sharper, clearer, and definitely cleaner than the N64 game. Also, because the game is an ‘exact port’ of its N64 counterpart, there are tons of jokes and references. For example, at the very beginning, you use the same exact strategy to defeat the Gargoyle, but it doesn’t work. Conker looks at the screen and says, ‘Hey, they promised me that this would be an exact port!’ Conker also wears different costumes depending on the level he’s in, which is something that the original game did, but to a much lesser extent (and I know this because I used my [i]Bad Fur Day 64[/i] guide to beat [i]Live and Reloaded[/i]). One thing that [i]Live[/i] did was censor all curse words, but since Potty Mouth is one of the unlockable features, I’m not complaining.

[floatright][/floatright][i]Bad Fur Day[/i] is one of the most unique games I’ve ever played. Story-wise, it’s utterly ridiculous (in a terribly great, ingenious, and hilarious way). The fabled Panther King is drinking milk from his chalice, and when he puts the chalice down on his throneside table, it topples due to a missing leg, and he gets very angry, threatening his servants with duct tape if they don’t fix the problem. The solution: a red squirrel can fill the gap between the floor and the broken leg. Conker (who is coincidentally a red squirrel), meanwhile, has had too much to drink and wanders home the wrong way, beginning a sequence of horribly odd eventsA

[floatleft][/floatleft]What can I possibly say that can do [i]God of War[/i] any justice? That is a tough question to answer, as I could say nothing and let the game speak for itself, or I could go on for hours and hours. Fortunately for you readers, I won’t do either. I will instead try to give you a brief picture of just how wonderful, exciting, and awe-inspiring this game really is.

Let’s start with the basic story. It’s nothing overly complicated, but it’s based on Greek mythology when the gods ruled the earth’s dominions. As the name implies, the story centers around Ares, the God of War, or rather an individual who has been touched by Ares’s destructive power. Kratos is a man whom, at the outset, we know nothing about, but as we learn more about him, we discover that he led an army into a battle that could not be won and sold his soul to Ares so that he and his men could conquer. This affected him so painfully that the game begins with him jumping off a cliff and plummeting to his death, while the actual gameplay takes place in a flashback. During this flashback, he only has one objective: destroy Ares and reclaim that lost part of his soul as well as his freedom.

[floatright][/floatright]I will hold none of my praise back. This game is simply fantastic and has replaced [i]Shadow of Rome[/i] as the biggest sleeper of the year. The action is your simple hack-and-slash type, but it tosses several mini-games into the fray to keep it interesting. For example, when Kratos damages a monster badly enough with his incredibly awesome swords attached to chains that are grafted into his arms, a button will appear over the beast’s head (usually the circle button). When you press this button, the game prompts you to perform an action, be it press a button rapidly or press a sequential order of buttons to match the screen’s prompts. As you successfully accomplish this, Kratos performs one or several devastating maneuvers to demolish his unfortunate foe. If you’re sick of hacking, you are given aid from different gods in the form of magic spells. My ultimate favorite: you are given the souls of the Army of Hades to command at your will, and at this point the game becomes totally unfair to your advantage.

To keep the game challenging, it tosses in several puzzles, none of which are too terribly challenging if you are good at remembering things you pass along the way. I was not good at this, but I still had loads of fun figuring out the solutions anyway, even if it took me much longer than it should have. Nonetheless, the graphics were flat-out amazing, and the music was very appropriate for the game. Seeing how fluid the game moves along made my jaw drop the very first time I saw it. The animations are near realistic, and the cutscenes almost look like you’re watching a live-action movie. I had more fun playing this game than I have anything in the last couple of months, [i]Knights of the Old Republic[/i] aside.

I’ll get this out of the way nowA