Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Persona Persona Call Out Your Persona!!!

The wait is finally over and Persona 4 is finally here. Alot of people wondered would it be worth it being on the PS2 this far into the current generation? I can safely that the PS2 doesn't hold Persona 4 back at all and in fact Persona 4 is in my opinion the best RPG of the year.

I have to say that it amazes me how much better Persona 4 looks over Persona 3 considering the game uses the same engine. The character models are in most cases alot larger and far more detailed then they were in Persona 3. The environments also look far better and are more varied then they were in Persona 3.

The story of Persona 4 centers around your character(he is unnamed and it is up to you to name him) moving to the rural town of Inaba to live with your Uncle and his little daughter Nanako for a year. Upon your arrival a string of grisly murders begins and it is up to you with your new found power of Persona to solve the case and get to the bottom of the mystery. The game is incredibly well written and has plenty of twists and turns along the way as well as 4 different endings.

Returning again for the soundtrack is Shoji Meguro and the soundtrack again is extremely catchy and the songs are a bit less repetitive then Persona 3's soundtrack was. The voice acting is great for the main characters although some of the voices seem a bit out of place at first. As well as some minor characters seem very very miscast. For example anyone who has played Persona 3 will no doubt be familiar with Chihiro the student counsel treasurer. She makes a small cameo in Persona 4 and is voiced by Wendee Lee. Now don't get me wrong Wendee Lee is one of the best voice actresses out there however her voice does not fit Chihiro and therefore she ends up feeling out of place as a result. But this is a very minor gripe because as I mentioned this issue only tends to be a problem with the minor characters you see only a few times throughout the entire game.

When it comes to gameplay it's pretty much the same as Persona 3 with a few tweaks. There are now more stats related to Social links where as Persona 3 only had 3 stats Persona 4 has 5 Courage, Knowledge, Diligence, Understand and Expression. More often then not these stats will need to be high enough to trigger certain Social Links. Social Links as well have changed a bit as well as you will now sometimes be able to level multiple Links at once. Let me set the stage for you. You agree to spend the day with a friend on Sunday and you head to the Bookstore where you happen to run into another friend. You will now spend the day with both friends and in effect be leveling both of the Links at the same time. Not only is this very convenient but it also makes for some entertaining combo's of friends. Another change to make note of is that the Social Links of party members will directly effect how the perform in battle. For example if the level of the Social Link is high enough a party member may take a fatal blow for you in battle that would have otherwise ended the game. This is just a small example of how raising Social Links effect performance in battle.

When it comes to battle again the game is very similar but has some welcomed tweaks. You can now take complete control over all the members in your party which is a very welcome addition especially considering that the Bosses are far more difficult then they were in Persona 3. For the most part you will be looking to exploit the weakness of the Shadows you encounter so that you can perform the infamous All Out Attack which in most cases kills every enemy instantly. Also welcome is that you can now choose which abilities you allies Persona will forget once they learn a new skill which is very welcome as you can tune them to perform better this way. Overall you have more control over every aspect of battle which as I said is needed because the bosses are a bit more difficult then they were in the past.

The bottom line is I could keep talking all day about the finer details of Persona 4 and it's improvements over the previous game however I don't have that much time. It would also be far easier to just play the game for yourself. It's quite interesting that the best RPG so far this gen is a PS2 game which I don't think anyone would have foreseen. As for all Atlus games I suggest you act quite because Atlus games tend to disappear quickly thanks to their very limited runs. Seeing how much a improvement Persona 4 was over the last game I can't help but be extremely excited to see what the future of the franchise brings us.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Best Sonic yet?

For awhile now Sonic has been suffering from really lack luster releases. Many say that Sonic has not seen a good 3d game since Sonic Adventure 2 on the Dreamcast. Sonic Unleashed aims to fix that. Does it succeed? Yes it does but that's not to say it's anywhere near perfect.

First off lets start with how the game looks. Upon booting up the game you are greeted with a stunning CG opening which honestly makes me wonder why Sega has not made a Sonic CG movie. I'm sure one would be a total success were it to be made. CG aside the game is still very nice to look at. The night stages in particular have very beautiful effects and even suffer from a bit of slowdown every now and then.

Now I mentioned night stages. The game is split between night stages and day stages. At night Sonic turns into a Werehog. The game basically functions as a beat em up at night. Surprisingly there are quite a few moves to learn as you level up and get more and more powerful. There are also a few bosses that are quite fun to fight as well. So while they may feel somewhat out of place in a Sonic game I do think that the night time stages are a welcome addition. One thing I would like to add is that I don't understand the reason for Sonic to undergo a transformation for these night levels. They could have easily used Knuckles as the character for the night time missions which would make perfect sense. It would have also given Knuckles a role in the game. Doing this would have changed little in terms of storyline but I digress.

When it comes to the daylight stages in the game I have to say I am impressed. This is by far the best 3d game to capture Sonic's speed. The best part is that most of the time it is very fun to play. I say most of the time because there are a few sections in the game that are extremely annoying and that goes for night time stages as well. The daylight stages play somewhat like you are on a track most of the time however it never feels like that as you have many many different paths to take and rest assured you are in complete control most of the time. The speed at which you go through some of the stages is mind boggling. Like I said this game captures Sonic's speed very very well.

When it comes to storyline well. The game has one. It's nothing bad or good it's just kinda there. It revolves around Dr. Eggman waking up a evil being known as Dark Gaia which can control the way people feel at night and plots to destroy the world and it's up to Sonic to stop it. Like I said nothing special but Sonic fans will enjoy it nonetheless.

On the negative side the game like I said earlier does have a bit of slow down. Also there are a few horribly designed stages both night time and day time throughout the game that will be sure to annoy and frustrate you. However they are few and far between so it's not really a deal breaker. There are also still a few control issues in the game but they aren't nearly as bad as past games in the series. Also the final series of battles are incredibly annoying and seem to go on forever.

If you can get over the few problems I mentioned then you will surely enjoy yourself and fans of the Sonic franchise are in for a treat. By all means I would highly suggest giving the game a rental at least.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Gears of Meh.

I would like to consider myself a fan of the first Gears of War. I played it just as much as Halo 3 online and although the campaign had it's flaws I still thought it to be a decent diversion and co-op was certainly fun. But now that I have played Gears of War 2 I have walked away extremely disappointed. Now before I continue be aware that this article will contain MASSIVE spoilers so please do not continue unless you have completed the game.

Now what everyone expects from a sequel is bigger better and more bad ass which is something the team behind gears said was their mantra while making the game but that didn't seem very apparent to me. At no point did I feel the game was better or more epic then the first game. Sure the game looks a bit better but in my opinion it was blown way out of proportion how much better the game looked over the first game because it is only marginally better. Now that in itself isn't a bad thing as Gears 1 was one of the best looking games around when it came out. But lets move on.

Now one thing everyone complained about in Gears 1 was the story or lack thereof as the game had little in terms of plot. Sure there was a storyline but you weren't really given much to go by. Now this is where the spoilers come in so please avert your eyes if you wish not to have key points of the game spoiled for you. Now alot of people have been saying the Gears 2 storyline is much better however I don't see why. There are more cut scenes but that doesn't mean that the game has a better story. My beef is lack of emotion. Gears 2 introduces quite a few new characters however they are all killed off before the end of the game. This makes no sense to me as you are hardly given more then 2-3hrs to get to know these characters and when they die you don't really care. Similarly when Dom finally finds his wife and has to kill her because of the state she is in how would you care? You don't know his wife she appears in a brief 10-15 second flashback and that's all you get other then Dom complaining about wanting to find her. If it's Dom you are supposed to be feeling sad for again the question comes up. Why? You don't know much about him other then that he seems to be Marcus' friend and seems to only be around so the 2nd player has someone to control during Co-op.

When it comes to evolving the characters there isn't much going on save for Baird. For those who have taken their time going through you will most likely have found the various research papers written by Baird which in turn expands his character as you learn that he is quite a intelligent guy and he is not only fighting but trying to understand whats going on during the war. As for everyone else they don't really change at all. Marcus is still big and gruff, Cole is still unstoppable and funny and Dom still follows Marcus around complaining about his wife. So really nothing happens in terms of character evolution.

Now another thing that bothered me was Gears 2's tendency to use gimmicky game play sequences like driving a tank or riding a Reaver or Brumak. The Reaver portion in particular lasts far to long. Now I know alot of people will say these sequences add to the variety of the game which is fine. However none of them control very well and they really only seem to be there to speed up the pace of the game or in the case of the Brumak slow down the pace of the game. Which is a sad thing as the last portion of the game shines until the Brumak section kills all the momentum and slows it down.

Now I will admit the multi player does redeem the game to a certain extent. Horde mode is a incredibly fun experience and I will challenge anyone to say otherwise. Sure at this point in time the multi player is a bit unbalanced but I'm sure that will be fixed at a later date as Gears 1 was patched to fix alot of the complaints of the community not long after it's release. As new maps are released I'm sure Gears 2 will be the place to be on Xbox Live and for good reason. One thing I would like to say is thank you to Epic for the spectator modes in Gears 2. In Gears 1 when you died you would normally just sit there and do nothing as the fixed camera almost always prevented you from getting a good view of what was going on in the remainder of the match. Gears 2 however has a incredibly flexible system that allows you to always keep the action in view and also allows you to take pictures. It's like a Demented Pokemon snap and gives you something to do until the next round starts.

Now I don't want anyone to misunderstand. I didn't hate or dislike Gears 2 I was simply disappointed. I followed the game quite a bit until it's release and I have to admit I was drinking the Kool Aid. I think after following the game and hearing all Cliffy B had to say about the game and the Tech behind it I built myself up to be disappointed. Here's hoping that Gears 3(Oh yes don't kid yourself there will be a Gears 3) will take the series to the next step in more ways then one.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The reflection isn't always perfect.

Mirror's Edge was a game that impressed me with it's concept and I thought great now someone is finally trying to bring Breakdown to the next level. While I learned I was off the mark a bit I was still interested. Now that the game is finally here I have to say that I'm a bit disappointed.

First off I have to get this off my chest. Whoever decided that Mirror's Edge should have those Horribly animated cut scenes should be fired. No questions just gone. These cut scenes are the most horrible things I have seen in a game in a long time. They look cheap they aren't animated very well at all and they are just downright ugly. In fact they look so bad it's not a stretch to think that people may skip them and if they do this they will not get whats going on in the story. Not that that's a bad thing as the story is entirely forgettable. You play Faith who is a runner and your sister gets framed for a crime she didn't commit. Sounds like the plot of your average thriller no? Well therein lies the problem. The plot is so easy to read that you will see everything coming from a million miles away. There is one point in the game that I think was supposed to be a shocking twist however I already saw it coming about a hour before it happened so it was no shock to me. The whole game plays out like this so it's not really worth following the plot. The game is also tragically short about 5-6 hours depending on the difficultly.

When it comes to game play it's a bit of a mixed bag. When you are running the game is at it's best as running feels like it should and you feel like you can go anywhere and do anything. Until that is you find out that there is really only one path that works 90% of the time and it often comes down to trial and error. Will this path work? No? Ok how about this one? Yup. Ok that's the path you were supposed to take. Sure there are a few points in the game in which they will downright show you that there is more then one way to get to where you need to go but they are few and far between. If you can get used to this then the game is a joy to play. Until the last third of the game. You see throughout the whole game you are taught to always run from a fight and for good reason Faith isn't some superhero who can take down countless baddies with ease. She is just a runner and that's it. But then the game decides to throw tons of enemies at you and MAKE you have to beat them to continue. This is a chore because the combat isn't very good and is often times extremely frustrating.

What it comes down to is that most players will enjoy the first half of the game or so but when it comes time to be forced to take on the countless amounts of baddies the game throws at you players will either give up or get extremely angry. Either way it's a bad thing. Once you beat the game you don't have much to do either. Sure you can do the time trials and try to perfect your runs and there is the bags to collect throughout the story mode. However these offer little value to the overall package and clocking in at only 5 or so hours it just doesn't seem like a good value.
Mirror's Edge is definitely worth a rent if only to see how fun the running can be. But it's very hard to justify a purchase of a game this short and at the end of the day flawed. I would very much like to see a sequel to the game as DICE can easily fix the problems the game has.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Long live the Valkyria.

The first time I saw Valkyria Chronicles awhile back I was quickly impressed by the games unique look and feel. Now that I have finally gotten to play the game for my self I have nothing but praise for the game. I'll start this off real simple. Valkyria Chronicles is a masterpiece in every way. If you own a PS3 and you don't own this game you are very much missing out. I think it is more then enough of a reason to own a PS3 alone. Why is it that I feel this way? Well read on.

As any who have seen the game will attest Valkyria Chronicles is absolutely gorgeous. The game utilizes Sega's CANVAS engine in which they describe the game to look like a living watercolor painting. Personally I think it looks more like a living sketch but that's not the point here. The point is the game is beautiful. The style the game has is undeniable and certain portions of the game will downright shock you with how beautiful they are.

When it comes to sound again nothing but praise. The game has a top notch voice cast that was able to deliver on all of the emotional moments and the Japanese voices are also included. The soundtrack fits the mood of the game perfectly. If there is one gripe with the game it could be that the gun sounds could have been a bit more realistic but that is a very very minor thing amidst all this greatness.

The game play is another very unique aspect of the game. The game is a cross between a third person action game and Final Fantasy Tactics. You will be givin a map showing all your units however once you select a unit you will go into direct control and move that unit around the field and attack. It's unlike anything I have seen before and is very refreshing. The great thing about it is that it never feels repetitive which is a very good thing. The game breaks down units into a few different classes. You have Scout, Shocktrooper, Sniper, Engineer and Lancer. Now most of those explain themselves expect for Lancer. The Lancer wields a giant lance(hence the name) that has a tip packed with explosives that can be fired like a rocket. They are primarily used as Anti-Tank unit's but as the game unfolds you will find other uses as well.

When it comes to storyline and characters this is perhaps where the game shines the most. Every character feels extremely human and you will care about what happens to them. The war the characters fight and the losses they endure through out are heart rending. Believe me when I say you will cry during this game. At many points in fact. The game shows just how beautiful and how ugly human behavior can be. For those out there that don't know what the game is about I will give a very brief idea of what you can expect. Welkin Gunther returns home after being gone for awhile only to find that War has been declared on Gallia and his home town has been caught right in the middle. He is forced to follow in his Father's foot steps and join the Gallian Milita and help fend off the Empire to save those he loves and his home town. Now I'm not gonna go any deeper into the story then this as it is a pleasure to experience it for yourself.

As I said Valkyria Chronicles is a masterpiece and a game every PS3 owner should have. This is one of those games that comes along once in a generation and should not be missed.