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10/23/14 NOTE: As of October 23rd, 2014, this initial review is outdated.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.