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.
March was a pretty busy month in gaming, particularly in the realm of Games I’ll Never Play. Everybody seems up in arms about Mass Effect 3′s shitty ending, as if Bioware hadn’t already been on a steady decline since being gobbled up by the faceless monstrosity known as Electronic Arts. Likewise, Capcom, a company that I used to love, has been screwing the pooch pretty hard in terms of their business decisions, giving gamers the giant, ribbed dildo (sans lube) of on-disc DLC in Street Fighter X Tekken. That being said, I’ve spent the past month playing a bunch of stuff that came out a while ago, with the exception of a new, yet old, RPG that is neither space-themed nor allows me to create homosexual relationships with characters who are known for nothing more than their, ahem… Assets.
Super Stardust Delta (PS Vita): Super Stardust Delta is one of those games that’s so dull to play that it’s hard to find anything to say about it. On the one hand, it’s a totally serviceable twinstick shooter — the same kind that’s all the rage these days. On the other hand, it’s got a weapon-switching gameplay mechanic that reminds me of Ikaruga from back in the Dreamcast era, only not nearly as refined, both artistically and mechanically speaking.
To understand what I mean, you need to understand how Ikaruga worked. While the shmup itself wasn’t perfect, it was certainly beautiful. Your ship could change between white and black, its rapid-fire shots matching the color of your ship. Likewise, some foes would be white, and some would be black, while launching colored shots that were either white or black. Getting hit with a shot that was the same color as your ship would add to your special shot gauge, while getting hit with the opposite color meant certain doom. That’s a solid mechanic, but Ikaruga truly shined in motion. Onscreen enemies were patterned in a way that I’ve not seen matched by any shooter to date; the experience of seeing Ikaruga was more exhilarating and memorable than actually playing it, even though it was a very good shooter.
Super Stardust Delta appears to be more randomly designed. You have to switch between fire (red) and ice (blue) shots. Enemies can only be defeated by the color that matches their body, but their shots are a purplish color. Switching your own “polarity” doesn’t feel as significant as it did in Ikaruga. Super Stardust Delta plays more like Geometry Wars, if Geometry Wars were completely forgettable with a bunch of additional gameplay modes that aren’t any fun. Instead of altering the core mechanics in such a way to enhance additional gameplay modes, like in Geometry Wars 2‘s Pacifism mode, Super Stardust Delta includes modes where you use a tractor beam to awkwardly spin in circles and smash into meteorites, or where you have to tilt the Vita to move because you have two guns instead of one. It makes the game feel like one of those awful default smartphone games — the ones where you have to tilt the phone to navigate a little ball into a hole — and just like those games, you’re often frustrated over losses that don’t really feel like your fault. To put it another way, imagine playing a game of soccer (or football, if you’re not in the combo-breaking United States), only instead of a soccer ball, you’re kicking a wolverine. And instead of kicking a wolverine, you’re kicking Wolverine.
Sonic Generations (PS3): Sonic’s fall from grace happened so long ago that when I recently ordered a Genesis/32X/SegaCD combo to replace my dead SegaCD from long ago, I played Sonic 3 + Knuckles on the Genesis and was pleasantly surprised at how well it’s held up over the years. It may not have been a perfect game, but dammit, I was having a lot of fun. Sonic Generations is perhaps the closest the Sonic series has come to matching its Genesis origins. The game features two distinct modes: Classic Sonic and Modern Sonic. Surprisingly, the Classic Sonic mode feels like the weaker of the two. Seeing the oldschool Sonic returning in all his glory, complete with the classic “bwoop!” jumping sound effect was nice and all, but the level design and sheer sense of speed in Modern Sonic levels, coupled with controls that finally feel tight and responsive (and a lack of the cheap death factor that plagued the other 3D Sonic games) made me looking forward to the Modern Sonic stages, even if it didn’t quite feel like oldschool Sonic.
Unfortunately, the game itself is particularly easy. That’s partly due to the lack of cheap deaths, but I breezed through over half the game, earning an S-rank on each stage, before I finally failed enough to get only an A-rank. I realize that Sonic games have never been particularly difficult, but holy shit, SEGA. I used to come to you for some of the best arcade-style gaming I could get my console-owning hands on. Now, they’re apparently content with just making a game in which it’s possible for you to run so fast that you enter areas before the game can even render them.
Oh, one other thing. Sonic Generations, like recent Sonic games before it, somehow feels the need to tell a story. There’s only been one time in which a SEGA game ever told a moving story.
If I’m playing a game about an anthropomorphic blue hedgehog that jumps on enemies to release the defenseless critters who were locked inside by an overweight bald guy that uses increasingly elaborate forms of technology to try to kill his nemesis, I’m pretty sure a riveting tale isn’t exactly what I’m after. Why SEGA goes to such lengths to try to make me care about the plot is a waste of resources that could be used toward not needing to cancel everything except their best-selling franchises.
Tales of Graces f (PS3): Tales of Graces f is one of the most touching, beautiful games I’ve played in years, yet it’s a bit difficult to explain exactly why that is. On the outside, it’s just like any other Tales game. There’s a collection of anime stereotypes who start out in a small adventure that eventually involves saving the world. There’s a real-time battle system that’s somewhat reminiscent of a simpler fighting game like Super Smash Bros., only with RPG elements like HP and MP and experience. And yet, the characters exhibit a level of charm and — dare I say — humanity that I’ve not seen in any video game in recent memory. It goes beyond the “narrative progession” bullshit buzzword that people throw around like a used hooker and focuses instead on telling a story about a small group of young friends that find themselves tied up in much more they can handle. The game depicts the bonds they form as children, as well as the tragedy that tears them apart. The characters are incredibly likeable — the hero, Asbel Lhant, is an adventurous child that always defied the orders of his father… a kid that, despite his noble heritage as the heir apparent of the lordship of Lhant, just wanted to adventure and have fun. Unlike Luke von Fabre from Tales of the Abyss, Asbel never sounds like a whiny, spoiled kid. When tragedy hits and friendships are torn apart, Asbel believes it’s all his fault. A lot of it is his fault, but despite his young age, he’s already maturing into a fine young man who wishes to protect the people important to him.
Sophie (pictured above) is one of those people. Asbel met her when they were both just children, but she was always a strange one. Amnesiac and nearly emotionless, the only thing she ever really expressed is that she wanted to be around Asbel, and it’s true. No matter where you looked, Sophie and Asbel were together, much to childhood sweetheart Cheria’s disdain. However, she begins to open up and explore her emotions more and more as time goes by; her ignorance of the game’s setting mirrors our own, and her initial lack of emotional response to anything likewise mirrors our own feelings to the game. But, like Sophie, over time, it becomes easy to care about these characters, with genuinely hilarious writing, particularly in the optional skits that the Tales series is known for. They’re fully voiced this time around, unlike in some of the previous Tales games like Symphonia and of the Abyss. While the English voice acting isn’t particularly fantastic, it’s wholly competent, and better than some other games.
It’s one of those games that’s far from perfect, but I love it anyway. To an old writer from long ago, they were called magnificent eights. In some day, far in the future, when I’m looking back on the PS3 like I look back on my old Genesis and SNES, I’ve got no doubt in my mind that Tales of Graces f will be my magnificent eight. I love it that much.
한게임 사천성 (Hangame Sacheonseong) (Android/iPhone): One of those dreaded “casual” games that everyone loves to hate these days, Hangame Sacheonseong is to mahjong’s style of gameplay what Ys was to The Legend of Zelda’s. In other words. It’s faster, a little more complex, a little tougher, but ultimately a lot more enjoyable. The only thing keeping that from being a perfect comparison is that Sacheonseong doesn’t have a rockin’ soundtrack like Ys, but hey, we can’t all be winners, right?
I had never heard of this game until one of my Korean friends suggested that I play it, so I downloaded it and decided to see what all the fuss was about. One thing that struck me as a bit of an oddity is that the game’s name isn’t actually Hangame Sacheonseong… It’s just Sacheonseong but for some reason, the developer (Hangame) puts their name in the titles of pretty much all of their games. Upon finding that out, I decided to ask my friend if Sacheonseong actually means anything, or if it’s just a random name.
So, mystery solved, I guess? One of Sacheonseong‘s biggest annoyances is that it seems to delete all your progress each week. It’s a bit annoying to play through a single collection of levels, only to have it get erased after a few days… Especially when this is the type of game that’s perfect for playing it just long enough to finish doing your business on the porcelain throne.
Sumioni: Demon Arts (PS Vita): A lot of people around the internet have been hating on Sumioni because they find its gameplay shallow and mediocre. Those gamers may have somewhat of a point, but I love it anyway. What I don’t love is how there’s practically no variation to the boss fights at all. A little over half of the 30-some stages in Sumioni are capped with boss fights; there are three variations of boss. You can fight either a pagoda that spawns endless foes and unleashes both bladed instruments of death and cannon fire in its attempt to kill you, a sun-like creature with human features such as hands and eyes, and a gigas that takes up most of the screen and a lot of your health bar when you take a blow to the face (or anywhere else, really). The gameplay itself is rather fun in short bursts, though. You run from left-to-right in pitifully short stages, slashing, burning, and electrocuting pretty much anything that gets in your path. Also, you can summon a big bird and/or a big lion-like creature to fight by your side for a few moments. Unfortunately, there doesn’t really feel like there’s any growth of these abilities. You begin the game with all those abilities available, and by the end of the game, those are still 100% of your abilities. One of the nice things about that sort of setup is that you don’t really have any excuses for losing a stage other than your own lack of skill… There are no fallbacks, Of course, it comes at the price of feeling like your character has grown any whatsoever in any meaningful way. You get some powerups that increase your maximum HP and “Ink,” which used to power your special abilities, but other than that, your character stays the same boring, baboon-ass red demon he’s always been from the beginning of the game.