Organized Rambling: Catchup Edition  

WRITTEN BY: ESPIGA

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.


Such a large edition of Rambling may seem a little sudden, having recently posted an article where I played through a lot of Kiseki games, but I played those games way back in July. There are actually some games that I’ve played since then and simply haven’t talked about due to the massive girth of the Kiseki Marathon articles. However, now I’ve played even more games and in this CATCHUP EDITION of Organized Rambling, I’ll talk about them quickly!

Also, Korean girls! In Japan!


Phantasy Star Online 2 (PC)


If you haven’t already read Zig’s excellent review of the original Phantasy Star Online, I highly suggest you do so now. Unlike his own personal experience, I did play Phantasy Star Online with thousands of people across the world, and it was my first time playing an RPG online. And it was glorious.

Then Phantasy Star Universe came out, and it was fun, but not nearly as glorious.

But the glory has returned full-force with Phantasy Star Online 2. Mags, the cute little floaty robotic partners from the first game, have made a comeback after their absence in PSU. However, SEGA did borrow a few of the better ideas to come out of Universe‘s, uh… universe. The ability to strafe around a locked-on target has been brought over, making it easier than ever to play as a ranged class such as Force or Ranger.Likewise, the class-switching mechanic has arrived as well, so if you find out you suck ass at playing a certain class (or just want to try something fresh), you’re not stuck making an all-new character… Which is good, if you like how your character looks.

Other than that, the game still follows primarily PSO formula. You start out in a lobby, choose a quest to either start up or join, and be on your merry way! A nice addition is that of the multi-party quests, which allow you to join forces with several different parties to take down big baddies. Like in PSO, the music gradually shifts to a more upbeat tune when monsters appear, only to seamlessly fade into a softer melody after they’ve been dispatched. It was one of my favorite things about the original, and seeing hearing that “feature” make a comeback made me crack a slight smile on my curmudgeonly old face. Speaking of which, the music in general seems to pay homage to PSO–the melodies are all new, but you’ll occasionally hear a chord that brings you back to the golden days of playing the Dreamcast all night, flimsy phone cord sticking out of the modem.

Those days may be long gone now, but they’ll forever live on inside of me, and Phantasy Star Online 2 is the closest they’ve ever come to being brought back out.


Theatrhythm: Final Fantasy (3DS)


One of the first games I imported for my Nintendo DS was a little rhythm game called Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan. In it, characters would find themselves in everyday (or sometimes not-so-everyday) situations such as studying for an entrance exam, to no avail. After calling for help from the titular ouendan, they’d burst into the scene, screaming “Osu!” (Hey!) at the top of their lungs. The song would begin and it’d be a fairly typical rhythm game that utilized the DS touchscreen to tap, slide, and spin the on-screen cues in time with the music. Your performance would affect the fate of the characters playing in the scene on the top screen, as successful timing would see the characters achieving their goals, while bad playing would end up with them facing a bitter defeat along with you. A couple more games in the series were released, including a highly Americanized version called Elite Beat Agents and a sequel that introduced a group of rival ouendan to play as in addition to the original team from the first game. Afterwards, developer INIS, inc. made a game for Xbox 360 called Lips and have since been making a bunch of Experience games such as The Black Eyed Peas Experience.

So, since INIS is too busy making uninformed grandmother holiday purchase fodder, it’s up to another company to step up to the plate and deliver a product that would help continue Ouendan‘s legacy of being quirky, yet fun.

Enter indieszero. They’ve already had one cult classic on their hands with Electroplankton, an early Nintendo DS game that would have you interact with electronic little plankton that would play music… And there was even an Electroplankton themed stage in Super Smash Bros. Brawl: Hanenbow. Square-Enix, fresh off a string of disappointing Final Fantasy titles, decided that now would be a good time to prey on peoples’ nostalgia, and indieszero was brought on board. With that, Theatrhythm: Final Fantasy was born. It’s more than just an Ouendan ripoff though; it manages to have its own feel and style by ditching the story scenes that Ouendan was famous for, while bringing in many of the concepts that Final Fantasy fans crave, but modified a bit for its new genre as a rhythm title.

There’s three different modes of gameplay: battle, field, and event, and while each one plays a little bit similarly, they have their own little quirks that make them stand out. Battle songs require you to unleash various attacks with your 4-man party (composed of stars from the entire main series of games). As you might expect, in higher difficulties, the fast-paced nature of the battle music combined with the four lanes you need to watch (one for each party member) means you’ll be frantically tapping your 3DS screen. A screen protector would be a wise investment.

Another wise investment could be some of the scads of DLC available for the game. Normally, I’m a staunch hater of all things downloadable content-y. But with the astounding number of potentially amazing tracks available in the game, DLC could be a wise choice, if player pick and choose the songs they know they’ll like. If you know anything about me, then you probably already knew which ones I tackled first.

And of course, one of my favorite battle themes from the game ended up making it as DLC.


Akai Katana (Xbox 360)


In gaming, there’s a little concept I like to call “memorability.” Regardless of how good or bad a game is, it needs a distinct style to set it apart from the rest. Even legendary stinkers like Superman 64 had the visibility-crushing green fog that it’s hated for to this day. You may be wondering what that has to do with Akai Katana, a CAVE shmup that’s typical of CAVE shmups: fast, filled with bullets, weird scoring system, and fun as hell. The answer is pretty simple.

Akai Katana has no memorability. unlike previous CAVE outing Deathsmiles, which featured cute witches flying through Halloween-inspired areas, Akai Katana plays it safe with a traditional Japanese style, cherry blossoms and all. Also, you pilot a plane that, at one point in the game, flies underwater. Because fuck physics.

It’s a shame that Akai Katana is so forgettable, because mechanically, it’s a superior game to Deathsmiles. There’s multiple versions of the game available on the disc, each with their own scoring systems. Even the music was remixed, with both the remix and original versions available. The original, low-res arcade release is also playable, as well as two modes that were made specifically for the Xbox release. In many ways, Akai Katana is the stronger game. But I can’t remember anything about it. There’s no opening like in Deathsmiles where your character rushes in and blasts apart a couple cyclopses, only to wave at some friendly faces you just recued. You just fly into the stage in your military-styled plane, blowing up more military-styled vehicles, in stages that mostly consist of drab grays and greens and browns. But you don’t have to take my word for it; you can see for yourself which is more memorable.

Sometimes, a little memorability goes a long way.


Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA 2nd (PSP)


After reading Zigfried’s review of the second game in Hatsune Miku’s SEGA-developed outings, I wasn’t really convinced. Sure, the new upgrades sounded pretty nice, but would it really make that significant of a difference when the first title was already so solid?

Hell yes, it does. Even ignoring the added challenge that the new note types add, the entire reward structure of the game has also been changed. In the first Project DIVA, new costumes and items for your customizable room were simply given to you for meeting certain goals in the song, such as completing it at a specified difficulty. Now, you merely unlock the ability to purchase them by spending points… Points that are earned by doing well in the songs. If you do so well in songs that you earn a perfect rating, you’ll earn tons of points… And doing so on harder difficulties multiplies the amount even more, which makes it particularly harrowing if you miss getting a perfect by one note… Not that I’ve ever done that or anything.


Fuck.

It’s not all sunshine and kittens though. It’s particularly easy to be getting into the feel of the game, only to sing a song that completely doesn’t fit. This is because SEGA didn’t change the song to match the voice of whichever particular Vocaloid you’re using. I realize it’d have been a lot of work to change each song to fit each Vocaloid’s voice, and it’s usually not too big of a deal if you’re using a female character, but when a Hatsune Miku song is playing while you’re using the deeper, baritone KAITO, the difference is staggeringly distracting.

In a completely unrelated note, this was supposed to be the start of a second article, but I felt like the first one was too short.. But I had already made a pretty little picture to go on Zig’s rotating focus banner thing. I’m not one to let things like this go to waste, so I’ll just put it in here.


Retro Game Challenge (Nintendo DS)


If you’ve never seen the show Gamecenter CX, you’re missing out. It’s a Japanese show where the comedian Shinya Arino plays through a difficult retro game and tries to beat it, while offering jokes and commentary. It’s interspersed with interesting segments such as game developer interviews and trips to various arcades and game stores all around Japan, as well as some other ones that highlight special tricks or poignant moments in old games. When Gamecenter CX‘s popularity exploded in Japan, a video game adaptation was practically a given… But considering the show is about video games, it’d have been especially disheartening if it were rubbish.

Luckily, that’s not the case, even if it’s not exactly a perfect game. Gamecenter CX: Arino no Chousenjou was developed by indieszero (the Theatrythm guys) and released on Nintendo DS. It’s a minigame compilation where each game is based on retro-styled games. In the storyline, you’ve been warped back in time to the eighties by Arino, who has turned into an evil, disembodied head for some reason. Alongside Arino’s younger self (who is significantly less evil), you must play through the games available and complete the challenges that Evil Arino has set forth for you. Your first game is a Galaxian clone, and when you finally complete the challenges Arino laid out, the next game becomes available. But therein lies the game’s greatest fault: If there’s a genre of game that you hate or are just particularly bad at, completing the challenges becomes incredibly tedious, incredibly fast.

This is further marred by the fact that some of the games are simply slight alterations of each other, designed to parody the “special editions” of some games that became popular in Japan. The Rally King racing game was decent enough on its own, despite the fact I’m not a big fan of racing titles… but did we really need a whole new set of challenges for the Rally King Cup Ramen Edition, which was basically the same game but with advertisements for a fictional ramen brand?

But when it comes down to it, the games themselves offer a wide variety that benefit from two decades’ worth of hindsight. The fast-paced space shooter Star Prince offers a cool powerup system, while the Dragon Quest-esque RPG Guadia Quest allows you to save the game at any point, rather than only in town. These little additions might not seem like a whole lot, but when compared to many of the games they were styled after, those little improvements make the games far less aggravating.

Unfortunately, the English release suffers a bit in terms of its localization. The English title was changed to Retro Game Challenge, and young Arino’s voice clips (which were originally spoken by Arino himself), have been redubbed by Some Random White Guy. Popular Arino catchphrases such as “Kacho…ON!” have been changed to things like “Game on!” in a squeaky, cartoony voice. The game’s fictional magazine GameFan (no relation to the real one) originally had pixel art of various staff members of the TV show, which often appear to help Arino through his various challenges. They’ve been changed to pixelated pictures of…Someone. Though they do reference some of the more famous writers from old video game rags of yore, the original idea appeals much more to fans of the show. But worst of all, the game’s in-game manual threatens you with castration.