Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Secret of Mana (SNES) Review

1993 SquareSoft

I remember several years ago having first known about this game from looking it up on FlyingOmelette's website (on her outdated Top 100 Favorite Video Games page). From what I've read on her website's pages dedicated to it (including the Oddities page), it sounded like a very good game. In late 2008, either October or November, I've decided to try it after it hit the Nintendo Wii Virtual Console. And my first impression on it was that it was good; it was my second foray to the Mana series after Children of Mana on the DS a few months prior (I haven't finished the DS game yet). Have any of you ever experienced a time, when on the first playthrough of a video game you thought it was good, but on your second playthrough you ended up finding the game a whole lot better than you once thought it was? That's the experience I've had after playing through Secret of Mana for the second time, and I'm glad I did. "How did it happen?", you may ask. Read the review, and the answer shall be revealed to you.

The civilization of Mana was prospering thanks to the Mana Tree's magic. However, some decided to use it for evil purposes to create a dangerous weapon: the Mana Fortress. The legendary hero brought it down with the Mana Sword, and Mana was safe once again; even though much of the civilization was lost because of it. Fifteen years follow these events and history repeats itself. A young boy named Randie (or whatever you wish to name him), decides to follow a couple of children who are out to find "treasure", but he falls down the log bridge. Randie still lives, but it's at this point that he decides to head back to Potos Village, and on the way there he notices a sword in a stone. An apparition tells him to lift it out, and lo and behold, Randie lifts the sword with no problems at all [insert The Sword in the Stone/Arthurian Legend reference here]. After lifting it out, he notices creatures running amok on the way to Potos. It's then revealed that the sword that Randie lifted was the legendary Mana Sword, which caused the creatures to appear. As long as Randie stayed in Potos, they were no longer safe, so the chief regrettably decides to banish him (until the adventure is over), but not before Randie gets in a fight with a gigantic mantis ant. Throughout the game Randie will meet up with Jema, who becomes his mentor, and a couple of friends who decide to join his quest: the elf princess Purim and the pint-sized Sprite (or whatever you wish to name them both). Randie and friends learn that by defeating evil monsters in the world of Mana will restitute the Mana Sword's power little by little, and the only one that can restore the peace of Mana is you. There will be many events that will unfold throughout the game, even a few surprise twist moments, and it's all really captivating. Along the way they will constantly encounter one of two sets of villains: one who plans on taking over the world and wants to revive the Mana Fortress, and one who does evil deeds just for kicks. This game was translated in a month's time by famed former video game translator Ted Woolsey (the man behind the English translation of Breath of Fire: The Dragon Warrior, Final Fantasy III/VI [NA/JP], Chrono Trigger, and Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars). From what I've looked up, this game was a bit lost in translation due to the fixed-width font, space limitations, and zero amount of sequential text; meaning that much of the plot and scripting was never truly realized when it was released overseas. But, in the end, I felt that what's there is really good, as it truly captivated me from beginning to end. There is a large variety when it comes to the locations in the world of Mana; like snow-laden ice forests, a land literally formed up out of the four seasons, underground caverns, heating deserts, and big mountains.

Secret of Mana is an action-oriented RPG with adventure elements thrown in; certain people who dispute about the "true" terminology of RPGs might say otherwise. Anyway, the entire game has you battle creatures and monsters in real-time, meaning that you don't have to take turns while battling. You start out the adventure as just Randie, but then Purim and Sprite will join your party. This game, believe it or not, can be played up to three players. I'm certain that at the time it was quite a concept, as RPGs that could be played with more than one player was unheard of at the time. But, if you're playing by yourself, and want to play as one of the CPU-controlled characters, press Select, because there will be times when they'll be stuck running behind a wall or a rock. But, the CPU-controlled characters can fight monsters, too, sometimes; however, the character that is controlled will usually do the lion's share of the work. Any time you hit an enemy or vice versa, you'll see the damage point(s) taken pop out just like in SquareSoft's turn-based RPGs. When any of your three characters levels up, not only will their stats be increased a tad bit, but their health will completely be refilled as well. Another thing that made this game stand out at the time was the menu system. Basically, there are "pages" of menus, with options all together forming up the shape of a ring. This ring menu system is quite innovative and very fun to use. To access the menu with your playable character press the Y button, but to access either of the two CPU-controlled characters' menus, press the X button. There are items like Candy, Royal Jam, Chocolate, Wishing Cup, and Faerie Walnut; but you can only have up to four of each item. Throughout the game you will meet up with the elemental Mana spirits who end up joining you and helping you in your quest. Purim will cast the healing, defensive, and change the weapon(s)'s attributes to a certain elemental magic; while Sprite will cast the offensive magic on the enemies. Some monsters will be affected greatly by a certain type of magic; in fact, if you allow Purim to use Sylphid's Inspection magic on an enemy or boss, you will see in the end which Mana spirit the monster fears the most. If you use the Mana spirit's magic a lot, then said Mana spirit will level-gain, making their magic more potent and long-lasting. That's right! The Mana spirits can gain levels, too; but it doesn't end there. Along the way you will be using different weapons, too; when you see a gap with a pole on each side, you know that you'll have to use the whip, and when you see some rocks, you may want to use the axe weapon to destroy them. You will be finding weapon orbs (up to eight) for each weapon, either by finding them or after having defeated a boss; and once reforged by the dwarven blacksmith Watts, the weapon will be more powerful and useful than ever. If you use a certain weapon enough times, then, you guessed it: it'll level up. But there's more: I haven't talked about how you can hold the attack button to unleash a powerful attack. If you use a basic attack, then you'll notice that there's a percentage going up to 100 quickly; the attack will not be whole until the percentage is full. If you hold down the button long enough and then release it, the attack's impact will be huge. For example, if your weapon is at Level 5, and you wait until the bar fills up and flashes with "5/5" on the bottom, then you'll amass a big attack. It's very cool. You'll still have to equip your helmets, wristguards, and armor by choosing the Equip option in the ring menu. Some bosses will require that you level up a bit in order to defeat them (not just the characters), and buying the most powerful equipment is a must, especially near the end. Strategizing is also key when fighting certain bosses. When you use the Roll Drum, you'll summon Flammie, a white dragon who will fly around the world. You can change viewpoints from third-person to bird's eye view while airbourne, and flying around the world of Mana is really nice, especially since it's huge.

This game's soundtrack is highly acclaimed by many gamers, and for good reason. In my opinion, it's one of the best RPG soundtracks ever heard on the SNES, and one of the best video game soundtracks ever heard, period. Hiroki Kikuta did a fantastic job composing the music for this game. This game has music that can be atmospheric, lighthearted, emotional, and epic. The choice of instrumentation is absolutely perfect. The title theme is absolutely incredible and mindblowing. The various areas have very wonderful themes; to name some examples, the Upper Lands and the Ice Forest have a really relaxing sound to it, the town and dungeon themes are varied, Flammie's flying theme gives the sense that you're flying, and the Mana Fortress has a real big sense of urgency to it. I'll never forget the first time I heard the final boss music; it is one of the most epic final boss themes I've heard. The regular boss theme is decent, but the theme that plays when you fight the penultimate boss is one of the uniquely scary themes I've heard. The sound effects are quite good, though the "Whap" sound that your weapon makes when sometimes hitting an enemy sounds a bit inappropriate. The Mana spirits' various sound effects are really nice to listen to. The one gripe I have in the sound department is that sometimes a sound (from a weapon or any other sound effect) might either obstruct the music, or worse, temporarily mess with its sound channels, which does not sit well with me. I really don't like it when the music is obstructed, as the music is really good. Otherwise, I find the sound in this classic gem practically topnotch.

Visually, this game is gorgeous. The pastel-toned graphics combined with vibrant colors and attention to detail is really a sight for the eyes. The areas are well-detailed, and the water effects are really neat. The variety of the areas are really cool; the Upper Lands is made up out of the four seasons, and to see the same foliage only with different colors is really fascinating and impressive. The desert setting is atmospheric, especially with the clouds hovering over you. The Ice Forest is absolutely beautiful with its trees glimmering constantly. Seeing the view from the Lofty Mountains is really amazing, and the Pure Land is really breathtaking. Many areas in this game have a lot of eye candy. When you fly in the sky with Flammie, the world of Mana is viewed with Mode 7 rotation and scaling effects; it's really fun to look at and admire. I would even go and say this game has slightly better visuals than Chrono Trigger does (yes, I said it), and that's saying something. The characters' animations are very smooth. Sometimes your characters' swinging and/or attacking animations will change randomly. The main protagonists even show facial expressions from time to time (I can't think of a game that came before Secret of Mana that did this). The regular citizens of each area look nice, and I could swear one of them closely resembles Crazy Stacy from The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening. Flammie animates wonderfully in the sky, and the Mana spirits look great. The enemies look nice, and some of them are palette-swapped later on in the game. The bosses are huge and detailed, though I would've liked to have seen more variety for the most part; they may look the same, but at least their magic attributes are different. I'm not saying 98% of the bosses look the same; what I mean is, you'll face a certain boss, then another boss, and after that another boss, and later you fight a palette-swap of a boss, new boss, new boss, palette-swap of past boss, rinse and repeat. I'm glad the palette-swapped bosses' attacks are varied compared to the boss they're based on. But, the unique-looking bosses more than make up for this; like the Dark Lich and the Mana Beast.

This is what changed my feelings for the game the second time around. This game has a decent challenge flow, though I didn't realize it in my first playthrough of the game. The game lets you get your feet wet in the beginning, but then it gradually gets a bit more challenging, but not challenging enough to make the game hard or impossible. The only time the game is ever hard is if you're either underleveled or not properly equipped, or both. In order to defeat certain bosses, you'll have to level up not only your characters but the Mana spirits and weapons, too, otherwise you will get pummeled. In my first playthrough I've gotten countless game overs, because I either didn't level up enough to fight a boss or I wasn't powerfully equipped for the situation. However, on my second playthrough, I've only gotten two or three game overs, and that was just shortly after the beginning of the game. That's quite scary if you ask me, because basically I've practically mastered this game since my first playthrough. Why was that? Because I did what I was supposed to do in my first playthrough, level up a lot and get the most powerful equipment for the current situation. I downloaded this game on the Virtual Console in late 2008 and finished it a year and a half later (mainly due to my sometimes taking a break from it); I beat this game in almost a month on my second playthrough break-free. That says a lot right there: I managed to almost always get money to get powerful equipment right when I got to that village or town, I managed to conserve some of my items while battling, and I level-grinded enough times to survive boss battles. Despite my first playthrough (which was not as good as my second one), I managed to defeat the Mana Beast on my first try ill-prepared; the second time around I still managed to defeat him, only this time I was very prepared and formed up a good strategy for the fight. While I no longer find this game difficult, I do still have a few issues with it. First of all, this game can be a tad glitchy at times (though they can be avoided so long as you don't accidentally enable them). Sometimes when either Purim or Sprite conjures up the Mana spirit's magic, said magic might not respond sometimes so you have to do it again. You have the advantage to attack enemies while they're stunned, so they take damage a second or two later, but unfortunately the same could be done to you, and it can be quite annoying unless you press Select to choose another character and attack said enemy (the only type of enemies you have to worry about that will do it to you are certain ninjas and wolfmen). When holding down the attack button long enough until the bar is flashing and let go you'll unleash your massive weapon attack, but if a boss does magic on you after you released the button the attack will not happen. And then there's flying around the world of Mana with Flammie. As much as I enjoy riding that gentle, kindhearted, and fun-loving four-winged white dragon, I tend to get lost in the sky. While some characters say which direction a certain place I may need to visit, and I'm glad they do, sometimes it can be difficult to reach your destination because the whole world of Mana is huge, and the places do not have names above them. When viewing Flammie from a third-person perspective, you can see the compass-like directions. Otherwise, despite these few grievances, I think this game has a nice challenge flow, and doesn't ever feel like it's spiking on you. Doing things properly in my second playthrough of this game and sticking with it until the end made me realize how better this game was. I know it sounds a bit crazy, but it's true.

Secret of Mana is a really fun action-oriented RPG. Its challenge flow is nice, even though it's really not that challenging. The visuals are beautiful and the animations are well-done, the soundtrack is fantastic and quite powerful (though I wish the sound effects would not obstruct it sometimes), and the gameplay is solid. Even if the plot wasn't 100% translated when released outside of Japan, I still found it quite engaging. The fight with the Mana Beast was one of the most heartpounding, epic, and dramatic final boss encounters I've ever experienced, and without spoiling anything, I thought the ending was a bit sad. Flying with Flammie can be very fun, despite the world being huge. Secret of Mana has a unique menu system that's great to use, and it's fun to level up your characters as well as the Mana spirits and the weapons. The areas are really nice to explore, and I like the variety of the areas. There are even cameo appearances from the Moogles (of Final Fantasy fame, and what's cool is that you can become one for a short amount of time if either an enemy turns you into one or if you use the Moogle Belt), and special guest appearances from Santa Claus and Rudolph (just in time to celebrate the holidays). I'm glad I gave this game another go, otherwise I would've thought it was just good; now I think this game is great, and it's neither too long nor too short, which is just right. Playing through this game twice makes me want to try Secret of Evermore and Seiken Densetsu 3, as I had a great time with it. In my second playthrough, this game quite grew on me. If you're one of those gamers who have long been interested in this game, then go ahead, give it a shot. Just remember that if you plan to play by yourself, make absolutely sure to press the Select button whenever you wish to switch between characters. Also make sure you level up and properly equip yourself, otherwise the game will become challenging, when it's not supposed to. Sometimes second experiences will differ greatly compared to first experiences, and this game has had that effect on me. It's not perfect by any means, but if you're willing to try it, you may find yourself having fun with it.


9.0/10

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Kirby Squeak Squad (DS) Review

AKA Kirby Mouse Attack [EU]
2006 Flagship/Natsume/HAL Laboratory/Nintendo
Started on December 2nd, but finished on the 17th


I remember the first time I played this game. I had played a bit of it on one of my cousins' Nintendo DS back in the summer of '06, and I thought it was fun from what I had played; it was the first Kirby title that I played for the DS (I didn't play Kirby Canvas Curse until Christmas of '08, but that's a story for another time). However, it wasn't until two years later that I would purchase the game and play it to completion (I did not have a Nintendo DSLite until April of '08). This game introduced an interesting set of new enemies to the series, and the familiarized Game Boy Advance feel was nice. However, while I think it's a fun game, it does have a few flaws. I'm not trying to make it sound like I'm finishing this review right away, as it will not happen until the concluding paragraph. I've still more to talk about with this game. So, how does the game fare after these few years?

It was a nice day in Dream Land, where all was well and peaceful. It was Kirby's favorite time of day: snack time. Kirby was hungry, and decided to eat a scrumptious strawberry shortcake; however, before he got to take a bite, his tasty meal disappeared in the blink of an eye. Kirby was left shocked and had wondered what happened to his delicious snack. Kirby came to the conclusion that it must've been that awfully greedy King Dedede that stole it, so he decided to confront him. However, it soon turns out that King Dedede is innocent, and it's revealed that the strawberry shortcake was stolen by a band of mousy critters called the Squeaks. Kirby would not rest until he would finally recuperate and eat that snack. I'll be honest, the fact that Kirby was doing all this just to eat pastry left me with a mixed feeling at first; but eventually I thought it was all right. In fact, it's a very cute plot. Kirby will be going through worlds that vary in style and environment.

Control is like that of the Game Boy Advance Kirby games, though considering the fact that the Nintendo DS is practically a portable SNES (it's got the Y and X buttons), save for two screens and the fact that you could use the stylus sometimes, I kinda wish the controls were in SNES style. Otherwise, no complaints here. Kirby can walk, run, climb, duck, swim, and swallow enemies. Flagship seems to have tweaked the controls a tiny bit; for example, it might just be me, but Kirby seems to be jumping a bit higher than he did in his other games, plus his slides are fast and brief, too. Kirby can still inhale his enemies, and if he swallows an enemy with an ability, you'll receive a power up. If you get hit while you have the power up, the ability star will bounce off of Kirby, and you'll only have a few seconds to take back that ability before it disappears. Familiar abilities appear from the past games, and there are also new abilities; like Animal Kirby and Metal Kirby. Throughout the game, you'll be collecting treasure chests (if you can find them); and inside them are scrolls that give you a new trick for a certain ability, a map piece, a heart piece (if you get two, your health will increase a tiny bit), color spray, and more. Your health is represented by a bar, just like in Kirby Super Star (Ultra). There is also a new technique: the items and/or abilities encased inside bubbles. Any time that Kirby touches or inhales a bubble, it will go inside his rotund tummy. The bottom screen of the DS is represented by Kirby's tummy, and you can only have up to five items in there. If you tap the ability bubble with your stylus, then Kirby will transform into that ability right away; but, should you not desire the ability bubble, you can always slide the bubble to the topmost portion of the bottom screen, and you can decide whether to keep it inside you or spit it out (while the ability is still inside the bubble). What's cool is that there is even an ability which turns enemies with powers into ability bubbles. At the end of each world, you face a boss, and defeating a boss earns you a passage to the next world. Sometimes, you may collect a chest, and the moment you do a major Squeak will try to prevent you from escaping with it. If you get hit by a Squeak while you have the chest, it will get off of Kirby, but you can always get it back; but should a Squeak bring it back to its lair, you'll have to enter the lair to face him off and retrieve the chest. In the title screen, you could decide to play (one of) three mini-games, all requiring the usage of the stylus. Just like the majority of the games in the series, it saves automatically.

The soundtrack is very fun to listen to. The tracks are all familiar Kirby fare, with HAL's trademark sound, with a few diverse tracks as well; the songs are really good and they fit their chosen environs well. A few songs are remixed from the classic games, and there are new songs, too. One that comes to mind is an eerily relaxing banjo tune followed by airiness in one of the stages, which strikes me as ambient-sounding; another song that comes to mind is a very airy song with an ongoing ominous overtone. I feel that Natsume participated in the sound department, too; 'cause in the past games of the series there was barely (if any) any ambience. Not that it's a bad thing, as it's quite a nice change. The boss themes are good. The sound effects are decent, and some were lifted from past games. The Squeaks make an adorable squeak sound, and the ability sound effects match their abilities.

The visuals are like the ones you'd see in a Game Boy Advance game, and they're really good. The main sprites were largely lifted from the two Game Boy Advance Kirby games, and they are quite small considering how large the screen ratio is. In fact, try comparing the sprite size to that of Kirby Super Star Ultra's; the difference is quite jarring. But, then I'd be digressing, and I don't want to do that. The colors are vibrant, and the characters' and enemies' animations are still as good as ever. Flagship decided to give Kirby a few more idle animations whenever he stands still: for example, when Kirby stands still while holding the parasol he will sway around and tap his foot, or when Kirby holds still long enough as Animal Kirby he'll scratch his costume's ear with his foot. The major Squeaks are designed quite nicely; one is a ninja with cool shades, another is gigantic and robust, another is a small mustachioed one with swirly glasses, and the leader of the Squeaks is mischievous. The cutscenes are displayed through comic book-like cutscenes, and thankfully they're crisp and smooth and do not run in VHS quality. For some strange reason, whenever you swallow an enemy with an ability, it takes one complete loading second to turn into that ability. Why a whole second, I wonder? It's not a CD game. Maybe Flagship tried to get adjusted to the DS hardware? Maybe I'm thinking too much about that. You can collect up to six "wallpapers" for the bottom screen, which is actually Kirby's tummy with a different background. I love how the back of the box says "Change the world!", because Kirby's abilities may have a powerful effect on the environment; breathing fire or shooting yourself as a fireball will melt the snow, and blowing ice on the water will create icy land. It gives a feeling of realism.

Kirby Squeak Squad is an easy game, but there are a few moments of challenge. If you want to just beat the game it'll be easy, but if you want to collect everything you may have a bit of a hard time. The 120 treasure chests can be obtained in a number of ways; whether by just finding it, by swallowing a pale yellow-ish Waddle Dee, or by defeating a boss. Once you round up a big silver chest the Squeaks will appear and will attempt to prevent you from escaping with the chest. It's really fun to try to collect all the treasure chests, but you must have room for them in the bottom screen, otherwise Kirby will reject them. Once you manage to obtain all the treasure chests you'll unlock Extra Mode, which is the same game except you have to do it all in one sitting, plus it times how long you take to beat it. The game is also quite short, as it can be beaten in about three hours' time or less. But, it's fun while it lasts.

As I stated in the introductory paragraph (for which I probably should've waited until the end), this game is good. It's got a few flaws, and the one-second loading time I find quite questionable. But, this game has beautiful graphics and well-composed music, and the gameplay is good. I liked the diverse variety in the worlds, and some chests were quite challenging to obtain. It's a bit short, but that's okay, as there are things that make up for it. The plot was cute and the atmosphere great. I enjoyed playing as Animal Kirby a lot, as the costume he dons is absolutely adorable. The bubbled ability system was really nice, and there's more. HAL must've heard about gamers trying to guess what Kirby is, maybe a ghost (when we all really know that he's a puffball), that they've decided to do something that I find quite funny (should you collect a certain amount of items), but that's a surprise. It's easy, but it's okay, even though I would've wanted to see more. This game is quite enjoyable, and the second best Kirby game on the DS.

7.5/10

Friday, November 26, 2010

Review Requests

Lately, I've thought of something. I thought I would let some reviews be requested. While I'll still choose which games to review, I wouldn't mind if someone requested a game or two. If you have a Backloggery account, you could PM me about which game you would like for me to review; or if you have a Blog account, you could post in the comment box. However, I cannot review the game if I haven't beaten it, and I cannot review it if I haven't played it. I'll try to fulfill as many requests as possible. If a name has a slash "/" after it, that means that a user has more than one name, and (s)he's known by any of those names. [If you feel that this paragraph needs a bit of touching up, please tell me; I'm not certain about the way the paragraph has been typed down]


Requests:
  1. DoReMi Fantasy: Milon no DokiDoki Daibouken (SFC) - Kingbuilder Status: Reviewed
  2. Kirby Squeak Squad (DS) - ryanknight717/Dragoon/DragoonTrainer/Sir_Dragoon/Scrafty Status: Reviewed
  3. SoulBlazer (SNES) - __ender__ Status: Reviewed
  4. The Legendary Starfy (DS) - NintendoPurist[87/3DS]//blizZAP Status: Unreviewed
  5. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney (DS) - pikmaniac02 Status: Unplayed
  6. ActRaiser 2 (SNES) - Vaynard/Kainard Status: Reviewed
  7. Tales of Phantasia (SFC/GBA) - BLADE-9-SORA-9/mieu-fire Status: Unplayed
  8. Kid Icarus: Uprising (3DS) - Retro_on_theGo, and WingedFish Status: Unreviewed
  9. Robotrek (SNES) - BLADE-9-SORA-9/mieu-fire Status: Reviewed
  10. Wii Sports Resort (Wii) - NintendoFan_27/Blue-Ace Status: Unreviewed
  11. Contra 4 (DS) - Karakato Status: Unplayed
  12. DuckTales (NES) - Karakato Status: Reviewed
  13. Mega Man X (SNES) - Karakato Status: Unreviewed
  14. Retro Game Challenge (DS) - Karakato Status: Unreviewed
  15. Mario vs. Donkey Kong: Mini-Land Mayhem (DS) - NintendoPurist[87/3DS]//blizZAP Status: Unplayed
  16. Wipeout 2 (3DS) - Bobhobob Status: Unplayed
  17. Clock Tower (SFC) - AndrĂ©  Status: Unplayed
  18. Zombies Ate Our Neighbors (SNES) - Inomen  Status: Unplayed

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Arcana (SNES) Review

AKA Card Master: Seal of Rimsalia [JP]
1992 HAL Laboratory
 
10/23/14 NOTE: As of October 23rd, 2014, this initial review is outdated.  To read my current thoughts on Arcana, here's my newest review.

The first time I heard of this game was on FlyingOmelette's website years ago. I've read her review of the game several times prior to having experienced it, and it really sounded like it was a good game, and a unique one as well. One of my favorite video game genres is RPGs, and eventually I decided to try this game. Back in July of '09, this was the fourth game I ordered on eBay, along with the manual. At the same time, it was the fourth SNES game I bought (the other SNES games I played were either my cousins' or on the Wii Virtual Console). The concept of RPGs wasn't new to me, but the thought of viewing them from a first-person perspective sounded really fascinating to me. This was the first (and only, so far) first-person RPG I've ever played, and my first foray was one I'll always remember.

Long ago, the land of Elemen was being run by an evil empress named Rimsala. Unfortunately, under her Reign of Evil the land turned to chaos, and it got to the point where Elemen wasn't safe anymore. Some Card Masters had fought and sealed her to prevent any more uprising. A long time passes after that, and peace had prospered the land. Sadly, there is a dark side in all of this: fights broke out between the six kingdoms, and what was once minor disputes turned to disastrous civil wars and battles. The court magician Galneon takes this chance to launch a coup against King Wagnall, who ends up slain; his two daughters disappeared shortly thereafter. A decade has passed since these events, and news of a group who plan on reviving the evil empress reaches young Rooks, the sole remaining Card Master of Elemen, at his hometown Galia. It is up to you to prevent her resuscitation and save the entire land from the dark days before it's too late. There are moments where Rooks experiences moments of betrayal, surprise twists, and secrets; and he meets characters that may help him in his quest. Plotwise, not bad for HAL's first attempt at RPG storytelling. It's a game that had me spellbound from beginning to end, even if it had some translation errors (particularly the ending); and the atmosphere is just as good. You will be going through expositions like ruins, passes, valleys, forests, dungeons, and castles.
This game is a traditional turn-based RPG, except for one detail: it's all viewed from the eyes of Rooks. Moving forward is done by pressing Up, while moving backward is done by pressing Back, and pressing Left and Right will make you turn 90 degress clockwise or counterclockwise. Accessing the menu is done by pressing the A button, which will give you some choices; including looking at the map and changing formation. Battles are completely random, and you won't be combatting until just then. You won't even see it coming, as this game has random battles aplenty. The boss battles, on the other hand, are placed, and until you step into their position, you won't know that. Battle menus are like those of regular RPGs, except that Rooks has the Cards option as well, and he can switch between the four different elemental Spirit Cards on the fly (should you decide to do so). Each of these Spirit Cards vary depending on how powerful their magic is against certain enemies. The more you fight enemies, the more the characters level up; and the more the characters level up, the more abilities and spells they learn, most of which are rather useful. Throughout these five chapters you will find treasure chests (whatever contents lie inside them may either help or hinder your quest). Battle actions happen very quickly, but there's a random order as to who will launch the next attack: you, or the enemy. Sometimes you (or the enemy) will have two consecutive turns. In the overworld, your character(s) automatically walk to their destination. Saving your progress can only be done in the town inns. I find it very fun to run into random encounters.
Arcana's soundtrack is one of the best RPG soundtracks I've ever heard. It was composed by Jun Ishikawa and Hirokazu Ando (of Kirby fame), and you can easily recognize HAL's trademark sound throughout the game. It ranks up there with Secret of Mana, Chrono Trigger, and SoulBlazer. The music in all the areas sound really fantastic; to name a few examples, the Forest of Doubt theme is very relaxing, the Ice Mine theme is ominously chilling, the dungeon theme is awesome, and Bintel Castle's theme is foreboding. The regular and boss battle themes really rock, and the final boss theme is truly epic and one that will make you feel like you're in the fight for all of salvation. The other music in the game is really fun to listen to as well, plus the ending theme is one of the most rewarding songs ever heard in a video game (and one of the best). The only grievance I have in this regard is that the music will start over after leaving a battle (either by winning or by retreating) instead of resuming from where it left off, meaning that unless you intentionally hold still, you won't be able to hear the song in its entirety. It's a shame, really, as the music is very splendid. The sound effects are really nice, too: the attacking sound is cool, and the sound for when the enemy is defeated is very interesting. The sound effects for the spells are really sweet, too, including the Attribute and Water spells. If you hold down the L and R shoulder buttons while pressing the B button in the title screen, you will have access to the game's hidden sound test.
The visuals are pretty decent, as they are all viewed inside a small frame. The areas are well-detailed, though in most cases it might look repetitive, save for different coloring. The unique-looking areas in the game are the silent Forest of Doubt, the rocky Draven Pass, and the elegant halls of Bintel Castle. It's amazing how in-depth the areas are; it's amazing how the areas might scale, depending on whether you move forward or backward. What's very unique about this game is that all the characters, enemies, and treasure chests are represented by Tarot cards. It really makes them stand out. I also like how the characters have an anime look, and when the characters talk you'll see their lips move. The Tarot cards are nicely detailed. This is also one of the first turn-based RPGs where the enemies showed a bit of animation. Even if it's only a few frames, it is nice to watch the animations. When battling, the characters will zoom out in their battle stance. When an enemy (or a character) has been defeated, the card will be torn apart, and it's satisfying to see an enemy go down like that. But, if one of the party characters literally get torn apart, that's not really a good sight; luckily, it's not something that you'll see often. In the overworld, you'll see a top-down view of your party characters heading to their destination. Whenever you view the map, it really feels like you're viewing the map, because of how vintaged the map looks.
I've seen this game often touted as being challenging, and personally I have to disagree a bit with that. This game is rather linear, and once you reach the end of a chapter you can never come back to that place again. Filling out the map is a must, especially when there are treasure chests scattered throughout the area. Speaking of which, the auto-mapping system is very useful, so you don't have to worry about ever getting lost. The game has a bit of an increase in challenge depending on which floor you're on; so, if you're in the first floor, then you'll be facing weak enemies, but should you go up (or down) further, you'll face a stronger set of enemies. Battles, as aforementioned, are random. The boss battles are easy, really, even if ill-prepared. The inventory isn't like the one you'd see in Chrono Trigger or Final Fantasy III/VI [NA/JP], where if you've collected more of the same item it's listed as "[insert item here]x[insert amount here]"; in here, every item, even if there's more than one of the same, is listed separately. So long as you don't overstock on items, you shouldn't have to worry about flooding the entire inventory. If you've equipped yourself with more powerful weapon and armor, then you'll be all set. Each chapter only has one village. If just one of your human characters, save for the Spirit Card, dies, it's immediately game over and you have to start over from your last saving point. No matter what, you must always keep your human characters alive. I've only gotten two game overs on my first playthrough, but in my second and third playthroughs I never once lost. I've beaten every single boss on my first try, including the final boss. My strategy is traversing the dungeons for a certain amount of time (i.e. hours), go back to the village (i.e. exiting, using a Return Ring, conjuring the Home spell) and get some supplies and better equipment to further my survival, rinse and repeat. Speaking of which, when attacking a horde of enemies, you might have to attack them in a certain order. When it comes to fighting Empress Rimsala, you'll need to stock up on Gold Flasks and Medicines, 'cause trust me, you're gonna need all the help you can get. I once talked with a friend (Vaynard) on NintendoLife (back when I used to go to the Chat portion of the site) about Arcana, and if I recall correctly he said he liked it, but thought it was short. Now, I don't think it's that short of a game, but I do see where he's coming from: five chapters doesn't exactly scream "Hey, I'm a very long game!!!" at you. Although, the way the dungeons are designed makes it feel a bit long, though that's not a bad thing. The Ice Mine dungeon is one of the most nightmarishly complex dungeons I've been in an RPG. Even with all of what I mentioned, I still don't find the game hard. It's got a couple of challenging parts in it, but overall, I find it a normal-based difficulty. I always enjoy the random battles, because they go by quick and because they'll surprise you.
This is a very enjoyable turn-based RPG, and after having beaten it three times, I still love it. Its powerful soundtrack is fantastic and the play control is good. The battle actions are quick, the random encounters are neverending, the first-person perspective is unique, and the plot is engaging (even if badly translated in certain places). The final boss battle is so epic, that it made me very nervous the first time around. The ending left something to be desired, in my opinion, but the ending music completely made up for it. For HAL's first attempt at making an RPG, it's quite good. The animation is nice, and the Tarot card theme is incredibly cool. I find Arcana quite underrated, and very obscure; more obscure than Kirby's Dream Land 3, which came out five years after this game, very late in the 16-bit console's lifespan. If you look carefully during the intro, you will see an appearance from Kirby (his first appearance ever in a video game). The manual was a very fun read, too. I find it neat how if an enemy botches up an attack towards your party member and if you double your attack, they will say "That the best you can do?" and "Take that!". Sadly, the fact that game overs are caused by one of your party members being killed turned some gamers off, which is why this game is not very popular. Don't let that scare you from trying the game, though, otherwise you may be missing out on what is a very unique RPG experience. It's got enough challenge to satiate RPG newcomers, and it's linear with only five chapters; however, those with enough experience may not have that much trouble. Plus, the more you move around, the more the map automatically fills up, so the feeling of getting lost is nonexistent. This game makes me want to try more first-person RPGs, though I cannot decide at the moment which one to tackle next. But I digress; if you can get past the fact that once one of your characters die, it's game over, you may very much enjoy this game. It's not perfect by any means, but what's there is really good. It might not appeal to everyone, but for those that do, it's definitely one I can recommend.



9.0/10

Sunday, November 7, 2010

DoReMi Fantasy: Milon no DokiDoki Daibouken (SFC) Review

AKA DoReMi Fantasy: Milon's DokiDoki Adventure [Localized Nomenclature]
1996 Hudson Soft

This review was requested by Kingbuilder. I remember the first time I ever heard of this game. Back in 2008, I downloaded less titles on the Wii Virtual Console than I had the previous year. In fact, during that summer, I only downloaded two games, and this game was one of them. Truth be told, I was a little hesitant in downloading this game at first. From what I saw in the screenshots, it looked good, but I noticed the Japanese language, which drove me off at first; another reason I was hesitant was because I found out that this was the follow-up to Milon's Secret Castle on the NES (at the time I didn't feel highly for the 8-bit original). I read Dazza's review of it on NintendoLife [VC-Reviews before the merger on April Fool's Day of '09] and Corbie Dillard's review on his [currently dormant] SUPER-NES site. Both reviews praised it so well, and it really gave me a good impression, but I still was a bit unsure. Then on Corbie's site I clicked on his YouTube page (sneswiz) and watched his Top 10 Super Famicom games you don't own...but should! video. At 3:27-3:51 in the video, I saw it; DoReMi Fantasy was at number 2, and those several seconds of gameplay footage were enough to convince me to give it a shot, 'cause it looked like it was so much fun to play. Downloading this game on the Virtual Console was one of the best gaming decisions I ever made, as I was left with a permanently good first impression since that day, and it was very well worth the 900 Wii Points (it was never released outside of Japan back then).

On the island of Fantasia, the land of Piccolo was filled with joy and laughter, as well as music. However, it doesn't last, for one day, while Milon was playing with his friends, the dark shapeshifting wizard Amon steals the fairy Aelis and has put a curse on the five instruments of Piccolo. The cure for the instruments lies in collecting five musical stars, and the instrument must be played in order for the curse to be lifted completely. Problem is: Amon had scattered them throughout the land, and recuperating the instruments won't be a piece of cake, as they've been stolen. So, it is up to Milon to save Piccolo and put an end to Amon's evil plan once and for all. You, as Milon, will have to traverse through a lush forest exposition, a world filled with treats, a church-like enviornment, and so much more. The atmosphere is one of the game's many strongest points, as it is really well-done and gives you a sense of being in the game world. I strongly feel that the Japanese language during the cutscenes gives you an out of this world feeling; had it been translated on the VC (personally, I'm rather glad it wasn't), then that feeling just wouldn't exist.

This game is a sidescrolling platformer, and it has some of the most (if not the most) responsive play control I've experienced in a 2D retro platformer. Milon is so versatile and responsive. How high or low you jump depends on how hard or light you press the button, and you attack enemies with your bubble blower. By collecting enough bubble icons, you will have the abilitiy to shoot up to three bubbles at a time and have a bigger range. You can jump on top of the enemies to turn them into temporary platforms, but to do away with them for good, you have to encase them in bubbles and push the bubbles away. If you hold down the Y button long enough and let go, then you'll amass a swirl of bubbles around you. Your health is consisted of differently colored clothing; green meaning high health, blue meaning middle health, and red meaning low health. If you get hit while you're wearing red, you lose a life. Throughout the game, there are items that will help you out. For example, if you fall offscreen and you have the bubble gum in your inventory, then you'll be saved from death by blowing your bubble gum; and if you hold down the jump button in the air while you have the Pegasus boots, then you'll slowly float down (if you lose a life, you lose the boots until you obtain them again). At the end of each world, you have to face a boss, and after defeating a boss you move on to the next world. From the second world on, you have to collect five musical stars, because they are a part of the key to lift the curse from the instrument. Missing just one musical star means you cannot pass the cottage portion of the world until you find it. After the cottage portion comes the fortress stage, in which you have to find a key in a maze-like area in order to enter the boss stage. Lifting the curse from the instruments not only renders Piccolo safer little by little, but it also leads to learning new abilities. That's right: Milon learns new techniques throughout the game that will help him throughout his adventure, and it's really cool, as they are all very useful. One of the tricks is blowing bubbles towards sparkling stars to create platforms, or creating a staircase out of musical notes, just to name a couple. Collecting a hundred musical notes earns you a life. The stages can be revisited at any time, save for the boss one; and if you wish to leave the stage you've already been in, just press Select while holding still. The game is rather linear, but if you feel like revisiting a past world, pressing the L shoulder button on the map screen should do the trick, and to go to the next world press the R shoulder button on the map screen. In order to prevent the majority of the stages from becoming straightforward, Hudson Soft decided to add a fake exit. The stage is truly beaten when you reach the post that has the word "Goal" on it, but should you reach a post that has Japanese lettering or symbols on it, then you know you took the wrong direction. If you take the fake exit, then you can't progress, meaning you have to play that stage until you find the true exit. There are also a couple of stages where you ride on a board.

In many of the stages you may find certain doors. Some may lead to secret rooms, while others lead to bonus rooms. This game has three different bonus rooms. The first one involves you shooting at toy ducks in the style of Duck Hunt, except that you control the crosshairs with the Control Pad. In the second one you have to pay attention to how many toy ducks fly straight without changing directions once (saucers do not count), and you have to guess the correct amount, otherwise it's over. In the final one, three objects will fly behind the curtains, and you have to guess which three flew by correctly. The first one is the easiest, as you barely have any chance of missing a toy duck at all; however, how high or low the score you get for each duck depends on which side of the screen you shot it at. The second one starts out easy because there's only a few ducks in there, but the longer you survive it, the more cluttered and complicated the screen will get from being filled with ducks and/or saucers, which may possibly drive you off guard and make you guess wrong. In the third one, you have to pay close attention, because the longer you stay, the faster the objects will fly, and to make things more challenging, the curtain will close up little by little. You can take as long as you want to guess on the second and third bonuses, but don't take too long, otherwise you'll forget. All these bonuses are a good way of getting a life (or clothing if you don't last long), and they're quite fun if you wish to take a break from the platforming action. You cannot choose these bonus games, as they will automatically be chosen for you.
The game's background music is another one of its strongest points. What you'll hear most of the time is ambient music, and it is absolutely marvelous and high on atmosphere. The introductory scene doesn't have any words, but the way the music plays at that moment works so well that there's no need for words at all. The music that plays in the forest, the church, the snow, the volcano, and pretty much everywhere else is some of the most atmospheric music I've ever heard in a video game. The fortress music is appropriately creepy and ambient at the same time. The various boss themes in the game are also nice to hear. Again I'd like to reiterate how much atmosphere the ambient music brings when playing the game, but it doesn't work as much when heard out of context. The sound effects work well, too, as they are neither louder nor softer than the ambient music itself. The way the bubble sounds when it's being blown is really cool, and I love the sound of the musical star being collected. It's also really fun to collect several musical notes consecutively, because I like hearing the jingle alter just slightly. The sound effect that plays when you jump on top of the enemies is cute, and the game's various types of platforms have different sounds (the sound for when you jump on top of cookies and tambourines come to mind) sound awesome. When composers are zoomed in on, you'll see them play the instruments, which sound fairly accurate.
The visuals are exceptionally well-done. They comprise of pastel-toned colors, like you'd see in games with similar visual styles like Tiny Toon Adventures: Buster Busts Loose! and Secret of Mana, and it's the best example of this visual style. The foregrounds and backgrounds of each world are really colorful and show off a bit of detail. The colors were chosen perfectly, and they are very pleasing to the eyes. Each world shows a lot of variety, and there is a lot of visual eye candy. One example being the wine glass pyramid that slowly fills itself with wine from the top, and another being the Northern lights in the snow stages that slowly change colors. It's very amazing to see these things happening in a video game. The way the inside of the volcano glows constantly really gives off the impression that you are in a volcano, and the color layering effects are topnotch. It's games like these that prove that you don't need a lot of Mode 7 graphics to make impressive visuals (even though one of the bosses uses it). Milon has very intricately detailed animation, and he's got a lot of variety in that department. His jumping, walking, running, climbing, and swimming animations are all excellent; he's also got animations for when he's being blown, fighting the current, is in a trance, is in a bubble, is literally frozen, lands on spikes, falls down from high heights, and when he's on fire. His animations are really nice to watch, and he's also got different animations for when you view him in the map screen. There are also a variety of enemies in each world, and seeing them in their squished animation is cute. Some enemies comprise of snow yeti, anthropomorphic candles, ghosts adorning witch hats, G-clef notes, and even tanuki dogs; the thing they have in common is how absolutely lighthearted they are. The bosses are huge and detailed, and are really fun bosses to fight (and look at). This game's introductory scene is shown through anime, and when you see the composers zoomed in playing the instruments (individually, of course), man is that awesome. This game has a very anime feel to it, and it's really great to boot.

This game is easy, for the most part, but the gradual type of easy. The more you progress, the slightly harder it'll get, but not hard enough to be difficult. Sometimes the musical stars can easily be found, while other times they're hidden so well that you'll have to investigate thoroughly to find it. You'll also have to investigate the fortresses carefully in order to find the key to the boss. That's not to say that the game is entirely easy, as there are a few portions that can be a bit challenging. Some bosses are easy, while others can be hard until you memorize their pattern. The final boss Amon can be quite difficult unless you're prepared for his attacks. It's always best to wear the blue or green outfit, for if you wear red, then you'll have to try to survive until you find the extra set of clothing. You have an unlimited amount of continues, and passwords (one four-number set) are shown in the game over screen should you need them. The thing about using the passwords is that they bring you to the beginning of that world, so I advise against it. However, this game is about the length of James Cameron's Avatar or Titanic if you've experienced it enough, as it can be beaten in one sitting. The bonus games can be really exhilirating, especially when they become so hard the longer you play them. This game has a real easy-going nature to it that I absolutely enjoy. There are even a few self-scrolling stages.
I have beaten this game seven or eight times already, and I still think it's one of the best games ever made. Very easy visuals for the eyes, a very atmospheric and ambient soundtrack, and some of the most responsive play control ever result in a very enjoyable video game experience. It's also fun to learn new tricks throughout each world. It's got so much charm, and the lighthearted anime feel of it all is very sweet. It's easy, but I don't mind that so much, as the game has so much to offer. The bonus games are a nice diversion, and the variety of the whole game is really fantastic. I find it amusing how Milon's hair is shaped like the letter "m", and the enemies are cute. The bosses are really fun to fight; it took a few playthroughs before I could defeat Amon with no sweat. Cameo appearances from White Bomberman, Black Bomberman and the snowman from Star Parodier were really good surprises. It's a shame that this game wasn't released in the West the first time around, as it is so much fun. I have a few theories as to why it wasn't released, but I think I'll just save those for later. This game was brought to the Virtual Console untranslated, which displeased some while others (like myself) were okay with it. I don't really mind that the game has Japanese dialogue; you don't have to know that language to realize that Amon is up to no good and Milon has to defeat him in order to save Piccolo. Without the Japanese language, I feel that this game would lack some of its atmosphere. This game quickly became one of my favorites, and is one that I wholeheartedly recommend for those that are interested in DoReMi Fantasy.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Glitch Found on SNES Porky Pig

Today I've decided to play Porky Pig's Haunted Holiday for the SNES, as I haven't played it in months. I played it on Easy mode, and I've decided to record my gameplay of it through my video camera in front of my HDTV screen, mainly because I wanted to get some screenshots for the review I was planning to make for this game. I've lately thought of adding screenshots in my reviews from my video camera. I could've just set the setting of my video camera to "Camera" and got the screenshots while the game was paused. The only problem was that if I paused the game, then the score would be replaced by the blinking "Paused" message, so I've decided to record it instead. I'm sorry, Kingbuilder, I'll get to your request soon, I promise. =( However, very late in the third video of my recording (I decided to limit the videos to fifteen minutes), I've discovered a glitch and caught it on video. I can't show the video it's in, because I don't have a YouTube account; so instead, I've decided to show you through screenshots (I apologize if they're not of your preferable visual quality, but my video camera's the closest thing I got that will take screen captures).

Allow me to explain how I found the glitch: well, during the penultimate portion of "The Alps" stage, before facing the boss, there's a moving carrot that you have to stand on throughout the portion, like so:

However, while still standing on the carrot near the end of the portion, I played around with the game's "Camera" button [X]. Though it was a bad idea, and I'm about to share with you why that is:
As the carrot slowly descends to the bottommost portion of the screen, it'll gradually slide over to the right (and gradually bounce back to the left after it hits the wall). The third screenshot shows that Porky is still standing on top of the carrot, with his feet touching the bottom of the screen. That's not supposed to happen! Now, you may be asking: what happens now?
He falls off the carrot nonchalantly! Now, normally, Porky would just be on the right part of the ground, so he can go head straight towards the boss, but this time there's no chances of that happening at all. I've tried to get out the pit, but there's one problem: I can't get out! Every time I jumped, his head would bump on an invisible ceiling. I cannot get out of the snow white portion of the stage, nor can I exit through the lower right (in order to get past the portion, you must be on the ground and not below it). There are no enemies either, which means that I'm trapped there forever.

I was completely taken aback when this happened. This marks the very first time I played this game without beating it. With no plausible way of getting out from the pit, I had no other choice but to turn the game off. This all happened so unexpectedly. Finding glitches in video games is a very rare occasion for me; and this is one of those few times that it's happened to me. This is one glitch that I hope can never be reproduced. I'll just get off the carrot like I'm supposed to whenever I come to this part of the stage from now on. Again, I apologize if you don't like the visual quality (the game looks a lot better on TV).

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Akumajou Dracula X Chi no Rondo (PCE) Review

AKA Castlevania: Rondo of Blood [Localized Nomenclature]
1993 Konami

I remember years ago how I've heard so many great things about this game. It gave me the impression that it was the pinnacle of the traditional Castlevania series of games. I even saw a few gameplay videos from YouTube prior to having played it, and it left me quite impressed. I also remember how I was excited about the game being brought to the PSP in the form of Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles, because it was antecedently a Japan-only game. The PSP remake included not only the original PC-Engine title, but also Castlevania: Symphony of the Night (the sequel to this game), which was a surprise to me, but at the same time exciting because I heard many great things about the latter as well (both had to be unlocked in the PSP remake, though, but I managed to unlock both quickly). Having liked Super Castlevania IV, I could not wait to play this game; and in the end I thought it was an absolutely fantastic experience.

It is is 1792, and Transylvania is coping well with the peace of the land, which Simon Belmont has given after having defeated Dracula one hundred years prior. Unbeknownst to the crowd, there is a cult, led by the dark priest called Shaft, that plans on reviving the Prince of Darkness, by going through unorthodox rituals. Once revived, Dracula plots his revenge on the descendant of the person who's last defeated him, 19-year old Richter Belmont, by kidnapping his beloved Annette Renard and awaits a rescue attempt. Burdened by his destiny, Richter sets off on an adventure to rid the land of Dracula once and for all. You will go through many dangerous places in order to reach the castle's stronghold and save the four maidens who've been captured and imprisoned.

Gameplay is like that of the NES Castlevania games, except with so much more. You can do a normal jump and you do a backflip, if you can press the jumping button again at the right time in the air. Not only can you jump up to the stairs, but you can also jump up from the stairs, which is good. For the first time in the series, you don't have to upgrade your ancestral Belmont whip, it's fine the way it is, and that is a good thing. You can only shoot the whip ahead of where you're facing; while you're standing, crouching, on the stairs, or while you're in midair. Holding down the attack button while moving backward will make Richter look like he's moonwalking. Besides just the whip, you can also use subweapons, which are comprised of: axes, cross boomerangs, knives, holy water, stopwatches, and the pages of the Holy Bible (yes, you read right). Subweapons can be thrown by holding Up while pressing the attack button. Also for the first time in a Castlevania game, you have the chance to switch back to your previous weapon before it disappears within seconds; whilst in the previous games, once you get the subweapon, that's it, and you may be stuck with a subweapon that you may not have wanted if you weren't careful. Hearts are required to use the subweapon, as always. Items can be found by destroying candles floating in the air; whether it be a heart, meat to replenish health, a subweapon; a Grimoire which eradicates all enemies onscreen; or a jar which makes you invincible for a few seconds (the latter two items being few and far between). If you press the special button, you shall execute an Item Crash, which is a powerful attack from the current subweapon you have which consumes a lot of hearts (i.e. if you press it while you have the cross boomerang, you shall unleash gigantic crucifixes which will do enemies in quicker; anf if you press it while you have the holy water, you shall unleash the holy rain). Seeing all these Item Crash attacks in fruition is very amazing. If the number of hearts is flashing, that means you have enough to do an Item Crash. The control is good, though I wish you could have more control over your normal jumps. Throughout the stages, you'll confront enemy familiars such as skeletons, Medusa heads, bats, knights, flea men, and more, as well as new enemies. At the end of each stage, you'll be fighting a boss, which is normally pattern-based. This game also has alternate pathways, which adds to the replay value. There are four maidens that have been imprisoned, and one of them is 12-year old Maria Renard, Annette's sister, who becomes a playbale character and is actually more stronger than Richter is. As surprising as this may sound, it's actually true. Maria attacks enemies with, not weapons, but with her animal friends. She can run, slide, cartwheel, and can do double jumps. She even has a secret technique which deals the enemies in fast, but that's a secret. She, too, can do Item Crashes, only with animals instead of subweapons. Two examples are if she uses an Item Crash with the dragon animal, the dragon will engulf the screen and breathe fire; and if she uses an Item Crash with the bird animal, a firebird will appear and rain down fire on the enemies. She's much more agile than Richter, but unfortunately takes bigger damage from enemies. Though it may seem rather unusual for an innocent little girl to be partaking in a rather gothic atmosphere, it strangely feels natural. The Ninja Gaiden Syndrome solely appears when you're character is in the air, and you don't immediately die on spikes, which is a big plus in my book; finally, no more unfair moments of being pushed back from enemy contact while you're on the ground. All progress is saved automatically, and you can decide which stage to start at in the title screen.

This Redbook Audio soundtrack is really good. It's got the traditional symphony that you'll find in a Castlevania game mixed with a little rock in it, and it works so well. Some songs are epic, some are well-known, some are relaxing, and there is even one song that sounds like a party number ("Opus 13"). The many tunes in this game are really well-orchestrated, like "Bloodlines," "Cross Fear," "Cemetary," and "Ghost Ship Painting," to name a few. There are even a few remixed songs from the NES games, like "Bloody Tears" from Castlevania II: Simon's Quest, and "Beginning" from Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse, and they are really good. The final boss theme is really awesome and menacing. The music that plays during the anime cutscenes are really nice, especially the introductory one. Richter's ending theme is one of the best songs in the game; and it is so good, that I cannot believe that it did not appear in this game's sound test. The sound effects are also good, especially the breaking glass which sounds very realistic. The enemies have their own distinct sounds. The characters' voice acting in the cutscenes are also well-done, and some enemies also have their own voices, like Shaft and Death.

The visuals are absolutely beautiful. The burning village of Aljiba has really good flame effects, and the castles and dungeons are so detailed. Many of the stages have really dazzling parallax scrolling effects, including the road outside the castle and the cemetary. The anime cutscenes are really cool, and it gives you the feeling that you're actually watching anime (those scenes where you save the maidens come to mind). Animation in the series has never been as fluid or detailed before this game. Richter, Maria, and the enemies are all very detailed and quite fluid. I like the way Maria's hair flows when she's running and when she's in the air. Richter's walking and whipping animations are incredibly well-detailed. The bosses are huge, and quite colorful. The wyvern and wolfman bosses are nicely drawn, and the Minotaur has a very interesting (if quite grotesque) death animation. Death and Dracula are also incredibly detailed, and to avoid sounding redundant, their second forms are unbelievable.

I've seen this game touted as very hard and impossible, though to be honest, I find the game's difficulty highly overrated. There are a couple moments of challenge (the bossanova and clock tower stages), but otherwise I think this game has a medium-based difficulty at best. Each stage has an enemy pattern, and so long as they're followed, you won't have a hard time with them. It's best to go at a steady pace. The first few stages are easy, but then they segue to medium-based stages. The difficulty may vary depending on which you path you choose to take. The bosses are pattern-based, and the patterns are easy to follow, even though with a few bosses it may be a bit hard. Dracula's two forms are very easy, even when you're not playing as Maria. Speaking of which: Maria makes the game incredibly easy. That's because she's more controllable and playable than Richter is. She can do double jumps and that secret technique that I mentioned before. Her normal attacks consist of shooting up to two white doves, (both of) which come(s) back to her like a boomerang. You can easily plow through the whole game as Maria, though I don't recommend abusing her as a playable character, otherwise you won't appreciate the game when you play as Richter. The game is plenty manageable as Richter, you just have to go at a steady pace and follow the enemy patterns. He may not have the double jump or sliding abilities like Maria does, but he can do a backflip, which helps him evade an inevitable danger (like a spear man lunging a spear at you) by rapidly flying backward. The thing about Richter is that you have less control over your midjumps, which is tragic, really. You may not be able to swing your whip in eight directions or fling it like you could in Super Castlevania IV, but I think it's okay (as it removes the chances of being easy). The game is medium-based as Richter, but as Maria it's completely easy. The difficulty is decent at best for both characters.

Akumajou Dracula X Chi no Rondo is a game that I find very enjoyable. It's got a neat atmosphere, cool anime cutscenes, a rockin' soundtrack, visuals that are pleasing to the eyes, exceptionally good play control, and replay value. I just wish Dracula wasn't so darn easy to beat. Other than that it's got a tiny bit of challenge, but overall is medium-based. I like choosing between playing as Richter or Maria, and I enjoyed taking the alternate pathways so you could get to a different stage or fight a different boss; adds a lot of replay value. And if you manage to save all the maidens and traverse every stage in the game (one of them being accessible once Dracula has been defeated for the first time), you'll get a perfect 100% status. I've completed this game three times, and it's still a blast to play. I've seen disputes about which is better: Super Castlevania IV or this game, and I personally enjoyed the latter the most. Out of the four Castlevania games I have played, this game is my second favorite, and the best out of the three traditional sidescrolling games in the series that I have yet played. If you like dark atmospheres and slaying vampires, then you may enjoy this game. If you have a PSP, then I recommend checking out Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles; or if you have a Nintendo Wii console, then I recommend checking it out on the Virtual Console. I highly recommend it; just remember to go at a steady pace.

8.5/10

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Donald Duck: Quack Attack (PSX) Review

AKA Donald Duck: Goin' Quackers [NA]
2000 Disney Interactive/Ubisoft


I am a big fan of Disney's creations. Mickey Mouse, Pluto, Goofy, and so much more, including Donald Duck. I think he may have been one of my favorite cartoon characters when I was little. I love his crazy mannerisms and the way that he has temper tantrums. People say that video games based on licensed characters are not good, and for a long time I could not understand what they meant by that, considering that the majority of licensed titles I played were decent. Donald Duck: Quack Attack is a multiplatform title, meaning it's been released for multiple consoles. The only versions I played of this game were the original PlayStation and the Nintendo 64 versions, but the most fondness I have is for the original PlayStation version.

One day, while in Gyro Gearloose's house, a live news report from Daisy Duck was being watched on TV from her boyfriend Donald Duck, Gander Gladstone, Donald's longtime rival, and Gyro, the inventor. Daisy is inside the temple, and while reporting, she discovers the evil sorcerer Merlock; yes, as in the main antagonist as seen in DuckTales the Movie: Treasure of the Lost Lamp. While Daisy is telling her story, she gets kidnapped by the necromancer and blocks out the footage from the camera. Donald and Gander get upset over this, and want to save her, but their rivalry gets the best of them. Gyro tells them that he made a machine that may help in getting Daisy back, but Gander, who usually is a "lucky" character, foolishly gets in the machine in hoping to do so before Donald does, and all that causes is for him to be lost somewhere and not be seen again until the end of the game. So now, Daisy's fate rests on Donald Duck's shoulders. However, Donald Duck has to find a piece that is missing in Gyro's machine. He will go through four worlds: the woods, the streets of Duckburg, a haunted house, and the temple. At the end of each world will be bosses that await your arrival: including the Beagle Boys and Magica De Spell. Also along the way, Donald will have to reverse the spell Merlock has casted on his nephews' (Huey, Dewey, and Louie) toys. This game was released as an homage to Carl Banks (1901-2000), who died the same year this game was released. He created Duckburg and many of the characters that appear in this game, who've appeared in comic books and animated series. The dialogue is also amusing at times, and there are some funny scenes. Rest in peace, Carl.

This game plays well. You take control of Donald Duck, the main protagonist of the game, and you can jump, double jump, and attack enemies in this 3D platformer. That's it, really. The jumps are easy to control, but sometimes you'll have to time your double jump at the right time to get up to a ledge or to get far. By pressing the attack button multiple times you can send out multiple fists while on the ground, and while in the air you can kick. You can collect as many stars if possible, and if you get a hundred you'll earn a life. In each of the four worlds, there are four stages (the first two being vertical, the last two being sidescroller), one unlockable stage, and one boss stage. The stages are decently designed, and there are times when you'll have to jump over moving platforms. If you're about to fall down near a platform, there is a chance that you can save yourself if you lightly step on the ledge and do a jump. You can take up to two hits before you die, and if you do die, you'll have to restart from the last checkpoint. There is always a refreshment in case you're in your anger phase (1 HP); and if you get the refreshment while in you're in full health, you'll temporarily be invincible ramming through enemies. Online, I've seen this game's gameplay being compared to that of Crash Bandicoot's, and having played both games, I can see why that is. If you see a floating book, that means that there's a toy nearby, and once you make contact with the book, you only have a set amount of seconds to get the toy before it becomes translucent; but, should you fail, you can always try again. In each stage there are three toys, and they are easily collectible. If you get all the toys from all four stages in a world, then one of the nephews will step out of the warp and grant you access to the unlockable stage. In these unlockable stages, you have to escape from the monster that's chasing you from behind. The bosses are pattern-based, and their attacks are easy to predict; and after you defeat the boss, you'll find a piece of Gyro's machine. But, in order to access the boss, you must retrieve the orb from all four stages of the world. The camera angle is always fixed and cannot be changed.

The soundtrack is quite decent. This game has lovely sounds, and they all correspond to the world that they're playing in. The woods theme is appropriately atmospheric, and the haunted house theme is appropriately creepy. The boss theme is always the same, but they're fun numbers. The voice samples are good, and they're all the familiar voices you know and love from the cartoons. I've always liked Donald Duck's voice, even though some people may not easily understand what he's saying. His quacking sound for whenever he gets hit is funny. This game was built on an optimized Rayman 2: The Great Escape engine, which is why the sound effects seem like they were lifted straight from the aforementioned title, including the sound on the title screen. And they are really good sound effects. What I didn't like was the sound of Donald yelling whenever he falls on the lava in the temple world.

The graphics are really nice, even though they're slightly showing their age. They're quite beautiful, and the choice of colors is sweet. The foliage in the woods and the waterfalls are sweet, and the haunted house is quite dark. The Duckburg stages are nicely detailed and gave a sense of being in the streets. The temple stages are nice, and the flowing lava is a nice touch. Donald Duck is smoothly animated, and the enemies and boss rosters are cool. I like how, if you lose a few lives, he'll get flustered and throw his hat on the ground. Several of the enemies you will have to contend with are mooses, squirrels, stray dogs, construction workers, scarabs, and the most unthinkable of enemies: ghostly frail women on their rocking chairs trying to swing their sword at you. The bosses are nicely animated and detailed, especially Merlock. The introductory and ending scenes are nicely done 3D-rendered FMVs (full-motion videos).

This game's really low point is the challenge. It's very easy to complete. The stages are short and the enemies are easy to evade or attack, while the bosses have easily recognizable patterns. The toys can easily be findable; and if you beat the stages for the first time, you can try them again to see if you can beat the timer (which is part of the percentage). In most cases, it's easy to outtime the timer in one or two lives. If a life is lost during this moment, the timer will still move. Another thing about Donald Duck: Quack Attack is that it is incredibly short! It takes a few hours to finish this game in total, because the stages aren't very long. Your progress in this game has to be recorded by Memory Card.

Even if this game is game is very short and easy, I still found it fun. The gameplay is well-structured and the game's aesthetically nice. Visuals are very pleasing to the eyes, and the music is really nice. The stage designs are decent and the game has got fun boss fights. I just wish that this game had a tiny bit of challenge and a tiny bit more longevity; because four worlds is not enough, especially considering that the stages are awfully short. I liked trying to get everything on the stages, including recuperating the toys from Merlock's spell and beating the timer. Doing all this will net you an uncanny 112% total; completing each world gives you 28% status, completing a stage (with all three lights lighting up) gives you 6% status, and beating an unlockable and boss stage both give you 2%. The thing I found cool was that if you beat the unlockable stage, you would earn a different outfit. It may not seem like much, but I liked the fact that I could change outfits (which must be unlocked) during the game; examples being a sleeping outfit and an archaeologist outfit. The game is not a great example of the 3D platformer genre, but it's a good title nonetheless. If you're a fan of Donald Duck, or Disney, you might enjoy this game. Just don't expect it to be very challenging.

6.5/10