Organized Rambling is a monthly column that details all the games I’ve played in a given month, even if they’re old. Generally, I’ll talk about whatever comes to mind while dropping some fun factoids that you won’t normally find in reviews… because this isn’t a review, it’s Organized Rambling.
Star Wars: The Old Republic (PC): A friend of mine that I met on Final Fantasy XI purchased this game and demanded that I play it with him. Now, I’m not exactly much of a Star Wars fan, so I wasn’t too keen on dropping $60 on a game I wasn’t even interested in. So, in response, I demanded that he let me use his account long enough to play the game for a bit to see if I’d be interested in making a purchase. What I played was a game that looked and felt exactly like World of Warcraft except with a Star Wars coat of paint.
I don’t like World of Warcraft.
The Old Republic’s problems are multiple, but the most prominent is that it’s trying far too hard to emulate everything that other MMOs did successfully (only not as well). It took the slow and methodically clunky battle system from WoW and copy-pasted the exact same interface that every other MMORPG in the world is using these days, though thankfully they haven’t yet gone completely to the WoW camp and allowed a host of user-generated add-ons that clutter the screen and turn an MMORPG into little more than a name clicking simulator:
To make it even worse, fans of The Old Republic keep calling it the first narrative-driven MMORPG. To that, I have but one response:
A decade-old MMORPG did it already; the only “innovation” The Old Republic added was half-assed voice acting to each scene. Then again, that wasn’t an innovation, either:
Not to say that Final Fantasy XIV is a great game or anything, but I’m saying that The Old Republic isn’t any better. It’s got all the lag that FFXIV had at launch, and even moreso… when a cutscene started up in FFXIV, there was a noticeable level of lag, but the waiting time wasn’t insane (you can get a pretty good feel for this in the video I posted). In The Old Republic, a cutscene loaded and placed a giant yellow “…” over my head to tell me that I needed to wait. While waiting, I had time to go to the bathroom, wash my hands, and the cutscene still hadn’t started when I returned. It took about a minute and a half. That would be understandable if The Old Republic had graphics on the level of FFXIV, but it doesn’t. They barely look a step above WoW’s visuals, and WoW is definitely dated.
Even then, The Old Republic managed to lag the crap out of my PC that can run Final Fantasy XIV on pretty decent settings without breaking a sweat. And people complained about FFXIV’s lack of optimization! Part of me is beginning to think that any flaw a Bioware game has will just be overlooked simply because it’s a Bioware game. A game deserves both credit and criticism where it’s due, the hype train be damned.
Portal 2 (PC): The original Portal was something of a cultural phenomenon, and hopefully I don’t have to go into any deeper detail than that about it. It seems like, for all the hype Portal 1 got, Portal 2 was simply content on just being a really well-made game. It definitely got off to a bit of a slow start, but the fantastic writing and the superb voice acting made the slow first handful of stages fly by instantly. It’s a difficult game to talk about; it’s easy to mention the brilliant writing coupled with the excellent voice acting, but trying to type out the quotes just end up dry. So instead, check out some of the more humorous ones:
The acting makes lines such as “The test results indicate that you are a horrible person” actually
Bastion (PC): I picked this game up during Steam’s New Year’s sale for $5 after constantly hearing about how great it is. it’s definitely a uniquely-styled action RPG similar to old hack + slash styled games like Diablo, minus the mindless clicking to move around and such. It features Xbox controller support, so that’s definitely a boon, because there’s few games that I enjoy playing with a mouse and keyboard, particularly since I’m not a huge fan of first-person shooters. The graphical style is fairly unique; it has a sort-of hand-painted style that somewhat reminds me of Legend of Mana, a game that wasn’t particularly great, but sure was pretty. (And it had nice music, too.)
Unlike Legend of Mana, Bastion manages to remain a fun hack + slash through its entirety. It’s not a particularly difficult game, but at least it it retains a little bit more challenge than Mana did. Your health isn’t restored to 100% after every battle, for one.
One of Bastion’s most hailed features is the manner in which the story is narrated. It’s told as if an old man (one of the characters living in the titular Bastion) is sitting around a campfire, reminiscing about an ancient tale that he only somewhat took part in. You play the role of “the Kid,” whose actions are narrated as he traverses through the game’s world. When a group of monsters attacks the Kid, the old man’s disembodies voice says something along the lines of “Squirts decide to take a bite out of the Kid,” and upon defeat he’ll say something like “Kid takes ‘em down without a second thought.” Each encounter is narrated differently, and even destroying various parts of the environment results in occasional narration, with the old man saying things like “Kid breaks everything in sight.” It’s been a while since I played the game itself, so I’m paraphrasing all those quotes, but hopefully you get the general idea. It’s a pretty nice concept, but I’m definitely glad it’s something that not a lot of games do. If it happened more frequently, it would grow irritating… but one quick action-rpg that has a unique take on its narrative like this is definitely a nice change of pace.
Final Fantasy XIII-2 Demo (PS3): Final Fantasy XIII was a mess of a game that suffered from more than just simply being an on-rails RPG. One of the things that bothered me the most about Final Fantasy XIII is that you were able to win simply by smashing the auto-battle option. It’s kind of funny, in a way. For the longest time, gamers as a whole have complained about idiotic AI, whether it be enemies or allies. Yet, in its insistence to create a pristine, sterile, picture-perfect futuristic fantasy world, Square Enix created AI that’s TOO perfect. Your AI allies will, upon meeting a new enemy, throw out random attacks and debuffs to see which ones work the best and which ones are useless. It’s all stored in a datalog that can be viewed at any time with the push of a single button. Once a few spells and attacks have been used, the characters will remember what to use against that particular monster, forever. Your auto-attack option also memorizes what the best combination of abilities is, so there’s little point in picking and choosing abilities when auto-battle will always choose the best tools for the job.
So anyway, I was hoping that XIII-2 would have removed the auto-battle feature, but that unfortunately didn’t happen. The areas featured in the hour-long demo were more open than the straight lines of XIII, but obviously since it’s just a demo, there’s no real way for me to know if that will be recurring or not. There’s only two human party members, as far as I’m aware. There’s Serah, the cute sister of Lightning from the first game, and the
Kingdom Hearts reject typical Square-Enix male protagonist, Noel. He’s about as interesting as all the other typical Square-Enix male protagonists.
That’s not even the worst part. The worst part is how he feels so self-important that he has to introduce himself twice.
One of the things that I actually enjoyed about Final Fantasy XIII was its soundtrack. Masashi Hamauzu has always had a track record of composing some awesome music for games that ended up being fairly garbage. Seriously, look at this man’s discography:
|1996||Front Mission: Gun Hazard||Composition/arrangement|
|Tobal No. 1||Composition|
|1997||Chocobo no Fushigina Dungeon|
|1999||SaGa Frontier 2||Composition/arrangement|
|2001||Final Fantasy X||Composition/arrangement|
|2005||Musashi: Samurai Legend||Composition/arrangement|
|2006||Dirge of Cerberus: Final Fantasy VII||Composition/arrangement|
|2008||Oolong Tea Story ~Searching for Delicious Tea~||Composition|
|2009||Final Fantasy XIII||Composition/arrangement|
|2011||Final Fantasy XIII-2||Composition/arrangement|
I stole that from his Wikipedia article. He’s got a few great games in there, like Front Mission: Gun Hazard, but he’s also got just as many stinkers, like Unlimited SaGa and Dirge of Cerberus. With Final Fantasy XIII-2, he’s joined by fellow Square-Enix composers Mitsuto Suzuki and Naoshi Mizuta, the latter of which composed the vast majority of the music in Final Fantasy XI. This is a good thing, because Final Fantasy XI has an incredible soundtrack, and in suit, Mizuta’s compositions in XIII-2 tend to be the best songs on the soundtrack. A funny story, as I was listening to the soundtrack in Winamp, I’d glance over at the playlist window to see the composer of each song, every time I heard one I liked rather than one that was awful (and don’t get me wrong, XIII-2 has a lot of awful music). Every time I heard a good one, it was a Mizuta composition. I’d better put my money where my mouth is, so to speak, so here’s some of my favorite songs from the OST. Every single one is a Naoshi Mizuta piece:
Either way, Final Fantasy XIII-2 looks like it’s going to be a more enjoyable game than the first one was, in much the same way that getting kicked in the nuts is more enjoyable than having them chopped completely off.
Yakuza 4 (PS3): I’d never played any of the Yakuza games before, but most people said things like “it’s Grand Theft Auto: Japan!” After seeing it for $10 for a new copy, I decided to pick it up on a whim and have only just begun playing it. My first impression is that the theoretical people that suggested it was like a GTA game are idiots. If they weren’t idiots, they’d have said “It’s like Shenmue only you don’t walk around asking people where to find a sailor for the first 3 hours of the game!” That being said, everything about Yakuza 4 feels like an extension on Shenmue‘s original concept of an open-world game. It’s a story driven by cutscenes about the seedy life of Japan’s underbelly, where you’ll get randomly attacked by thugs and yakuza members every couple of blocks, or so. It makes for a game that’s a lot more fun than Shenmue was. Let’s face it, for all its technical accomplishments that it deserves the utmost respect for, Shenmue itself just wasn’t a very fun game. Yakuza 4 seems to want to remedy that by giving you the storytelling and exploration that Shenmue did so well, while making fights more common, adding a slight RPG-esque system where you’ll gain levels to increase health and learn new combat abilities, and adding in exciting things like chase scenes, where either you’re chasing someone or someone is chasing you. Unlike a lot of chase scenes in a video game, these aren’t a QTE-riddled mess, either. While chasing someone, you can find objects strewn along the streets that you can pick up and hurl at your prey to slow them down. Likewise, when being chased, your excape route is clearly marked, meaning the one thing you need to worry about–getting away–isn’t marred by the fact you have no idea where you’re work, rather than just feeling like a dry sentence. It doesn’t hurt matters that the puzzles are fun to solve, with the later ones requiring careful thought and planning in order to succeed. It culminates to create a game that’s gut-burstingly funny while still maintaining a compelling hold on you. Perhaps the most surprising aspect of Portal 2 is that it managed to be a great game while still avoiding to become a victim of its own success. Nowhere in the sequel will you find “The cake is a lie,” nor will you get a rehashed remix of Johnathan Coulton’s “Still Alive” as the ending theme. Despite not being as timeless as “Still Alive,” the new ending theme is still just as pleasant to listen to, and it makes watching the credits roll into something enjoyable rather than something that you’re smashing all the controller’s face buttons in the futile attempt to skip them and see if there’s any after-credits bonus content. In fact, I think it’ll be a perfect way to close out this experimental new column.