Reviews

Chrono Trigger: Still mostly a dream

Chrono Trigger: Still mostly a dream

Chrono Trigger is a game that frequently rates towards if not at the top of the best rpgs of all time if not best games of all time. This fact isn’t surprising when one realizes that Chrono Trigger was actually made to be an amazing game. This might seem obvious as in all games are made to be awesome. Squaresoft (now Square Enix) put together a team of very experienced talent they deemed the “dream team” and had them make a game. That game is Chrono Trigger. For those top lists, it’s not surprising that this game lists there especially when paired with nostalgia. For many people writing about games now, this fell into the time when they were growing up and deciding what the standard and best games were. But I’m different. I actually didn’t start playing JRPGs at all until the PlayStation (Final Fantasy VIII to be specific). So for me, this was playing a new game which not only needed to still hold up, but prove to me that it really is one of if not the best JRPG ever created. And in the end, it did. Well… mostly. We all make mistakes Chrono Trigger is not a perfect game. That’s not surprising when one considers that the best games will try new ideas and not all are great. Chrono Trigger is no exception for either new ideas or not that great. Chrono Trigger’s great foray into different territory is a series of action sequences. I hesitate to call this idea new as may much older point-and-click adventure games would have forced arcade sequences as well with a similar result. The sections don’t fit in the game and frequently aren’t fun. Worse is that they are required to progress the story. On the bright side, they tend to be short and not exceptionally difficult (though having to race around a series of catwalks and avoid cutting any corners was pretty bad). They are also rather infrequent. I’m pretty sure these can be seen as a precursor to many side tasks that did become more popular such as fishing, but the future had much better ideas especially not making them required. Another unique idea that even the game gives up on has to do with positional attacks. This may sound like it involves tactics, but it really doesn’t. If the monsters are in a line or close together or the like, some attacks might be able to hit multiple enemies. They spend a fair amount of a tutorial explaining all the different ways this might come up, but I generally only noticed anything positional on a couple attacks that I quickly grew out of. In theory it...

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MOGA Pro Power: Your phone is a real game console

MOGA Pro Power: Your phone is a real game console

I’m a latecomer to the idea that mobile gaming on phones (and conceptually tablets) is actually a way to play and enjoy good and interesting games. As a lover of interesting narratives and unique indie ideas, this market should be right up my alley (assuming I stay away from all of the microtransactions). Unfortunately, it has never caught my fancy before, and I do believe I’ve determined why (and the fewer games on the Windows Phone Store isn’t it). I despise touch controls for most games. For some games they can be great. But generally, the more of a traditional game for other avenues like consoles or PC the mobile game is, the less I feel the controls are acceptable. Virtual joysticks and buttons on the screen at best clutter the game itself and, more often, cause my own hands to get in my viewing area. And besides getting in my own way, it is very easy to miss one virtual button for another since there isn’t any tactile feedback. Enter the MOGA controllers. These are Bluetooth game controllers deigned to be used with phones. Additionally, contrary to what MOGA’s web site says, they work great with Windows Phone 8.0+ as well. I actually have a Samsung Ativ S Neo. And it has transformed my phone from a laughable gaming experience to a wonderful one. Hardware My beautiful wife was kind enough to give me a Moga Pro Power as a gift. Inside the box, I found 2 USB A (standard) to micro (cell phone adapter) cables, a folding plastic stand, a tiny getting started guide, and of course the controller. The cables in the box come in the 3 foot and 8 inch variety. The 8 inch is supposed to go from the controller to your phone to charge it (more on that later) and the 3 foot is just for charging the controller. It’s a shame that it doesn’t come with a wall adapter. As a really minor annoyance (as the box implies), these are strictly charging USB cables. That means they cannot transfer data if, for instance, you connected your phone to your computer using these cables. The guide talked about going to the Google Play store and downloading software and other things for Android but didn’t mention anything about Windows phone. Windows Phone setup is extremely easy overall. While the controller is charged (or charging), switch it to “A” mode. In Settings->Bluetooth, you should see an entry (mine first showed Accessory, but eventually showed MOGA Controller after a couple seconds). Click the controller and it’s paired. That’s all. Now you just need to start your game and all should just work. There’s a couple small...

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Transistor – Real Time Tactical Awesome

Transistor – Real Time Tactical Awesome

I don’t hide the fact that I really respect and enjoy Supergiant Games. Bastion was a game with fairly standard gameplay that I felt was well balanced and cleaned up to feel very tight and responsive. Then they mixed in beautiful art, wonderful narration, and a superb soundtrack around a decent story told very well. In the end, I loved that little gem the first couple times I played it and enjoy playing around in the world periodically since. That sets a pretty high bar for Transistor, and I have a tendency to be disappointed when the bar is set too high. In the end, though, I was quite happy with Transistor overall, though it is definitely not a flawless game. Playing an outsider As I like to focus in on what stuck with me last, that means we have to start with the negative. Transistor is a game where the characters definitely have lives that existed before you joined. The idea of a rounded backstory and people with actual emotions is a great feature to explore. What becomes a problem is that the game has no real interest in exploring the backstory so much as assuming you will catch on. This isn’t to say that there isn’t narration. To be completely frank, I felt that there could use to be more times where there wasn’t narration. Looking back, all of the narration did have a feel about it where one friend desperately wants to cling to a past that doesn’t exist while the other cannot respond. The problem is that these friends know things about the world that the player really doesn’t. It turns into not connecting with the story for a large part of it. Logan Cunningham again delivers the dialog in an amazingly emotionally dipped way (not all sad nor happy, but always very appropriate), but he’s bloody always talking. Some of this is likely a complication to pacing. Of course the intrigue gives you something to look forward to narratively even if I feel it also prevents you from connecting with the characters for quite a while. But the story is told in short segments between intense battles. This contrasts with Bastion where each encounter may not have been especially challenging and it was just the number of them that could wear you down. Here, each can easily set you significantly back by the end, so all the story needs to be expressed when the player isn’t fighting for their life. Eventually, I feel the story reveals enough to care for the characters in a “it gets better later” way, but that is no excuse for an entertainment medium. I only knew where to go...

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Magrunner – Dark Pulse: Portal through a Dirty Looking Glass

Magrunner – Dark Pulse: Portal through a Dirty Looking Glass

I managed to pick up Magrunner – Dark Pulse for free from Good Old Games. For free, it’s a great value, but even otherwise it has some good moments. It’s not Portal, but it had moments where it gave a similar feeling of satisfaction. Then there are other moments. Generally this is a game where the problems are just missteps that could probably have been smoothed out with more playtesting, but they can ruin your experience as they are. Fundamentals The game is all based around magical magnetism. So long as you don’t get hung up on the physics, it’s a good puzzle mechanic. Generally, you can make things attract toward each other or repel each other. And that’s the mechanic of the game. That simplicity of concept I think is a great basis for a puzzle game. Like Portal (you can connect to points in space), this allows for the puzzles to play with the mechanics rather than just introducing more set pieces all the time. It also has a story…for better or worse. Overall, it’s a feature to have something else going on, but the story does have a tendency to get in the way of playing the game. This is especially true when the game starts and makes you wait in a room while people talk at you (though they switch to talking to you while you can actually play the game later which is a large improvement). The story is a Cthulhu-horror affair complete with cultists and so on. As a person who respects horror but doesn’t like playing horror games, I generally feel the horror becomes interesting looking static elements in the levels and rarely anything trying to really be scary. The developers also, very appropriately, keep the levels mostly with open pacing allowing you to solve them at your own rate. This makes the story (which also does improve eventually) a nice dash of flavor mostly without getting in the way (usually). As far as puzzles and mechanics go, the levels are solvable with logic and not tricks. Some of the set pieces you need are a bit hard to notice at first glance, but overall, just looking around is all a player will need to be able to progress if they can identify what needs to happen next and works toward it. This gives a good sense of satisfaction as the levels mostly get harder in a reasonable way as time goes on. Generally mechanics are introduced simply and then expanded to be more interesting. Refinement needed The real problem with virtually every aspect of this game is a lack of polish. For many levels, this might be small things like the...

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Wildstar: Idiot Savant

Wildstar: Idiot Savant

I am not as experienced with MMOs as many others are nor am I the type that needs all the best components. But I do enjoy the MMO experience quite a bit. To me, a MMO is the best type of sandbox game. There is tons to do and progress to be made on all fronts. Additionally you can play with others if you want or, largely, just play by yourself. And while end game content is something I frequently don’t see, that doesn’t mean that I feel my time was wasted. I establish all of this because my perspective on Wildstar is likely different than many others. I feel most people who talk about MMOs like this are more likely to have a standing group of friends to play with or join a guild quickly. They are focused on raids and end game. And I am not. This review is being written about 2 weeks after the game launched. I personally only played the game through a guest pass which allowed me to play for a week without investment, and I don’t have any real desire to go back into that world. But even I can appreciate that there was a lot of work and appreciations for MMOs that went into that world. An impressively complete offering I learned about Wildstar through a friend who loves MMOs. He is frequently one of the earliest people to hit max level (him taking a week in Wildstar was actually rather slow for him) and will play for months afterward. He had participated in the betas, read the forums, and planned with his standing group of MMO players how they were going to play. Part of his excitement came from the fact that Wildstar was launching with tons of features and content. And I can say from my limited time in the game that there did seem to be a lot there. Besides the normal quests, classes, crafting, and dungeons, there was a huge amount of effort that went into housing. You get your own personal house at level 15 and can customize it a ton for both visual and practical benefits. I was impressed by the sheer number of different items that could be put in and customized in the housing areas. It was a fun minigame to really express yourself while also adding things like a garden so you can farm the crops for your crafts. Of other features I’ve only heard about that were all ready for launch, PvP was fully functioning, the auction houses (one for gear and one for commodities) with a much more complicated, almost stock-market-esque purchase and sale order system was ready, the ability...

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Child of Light: Artistic Success, Gamers’ Duress

It was only a bit more than a month ago that I expressed why I was looking forward to Child of Light. Now I played through the game with my wonderful but not very video-game-experienced wife and can share our thoughts. In somewhat of a different perspective, I played as the partner rather than the person actually playing as the main character, but my wife and I talked a lot about her feelings as well. And even the artist that she is who studied fairytales and literature in college, she found Child of Light to be rather lacking. So how did it function? The game is set up to have some platformer aspects added on to a JRPG. In between your JRPG action/turn based hybrid fights, Aurora is navigated around the colorful map to usually find whatever her current quest is calling for or to find a path to the next area. Fights start whenever Aurora bumps into an enemy who is present on the map and goes into a combat I have heard described as nearly identical to the Grandia series. For those, like myself, who had never played a Grandia game, this involves all characters, allies and enemies, moving along a timeline at the bottom. At a certain marked point, the character chooses and action and then when the reach the end, they act. Different actions will alter the rate at which the character reaches the end. If they are attacked before then, they are interrupted and sent back to about midway through the timeline. The ally (who I played) is a firefly. This character can fly through walls to get to some treasure chests or switches in the game world. He can also stun enemies to allow them to be avoided or attacked from behind for a surprise attack. In battle, the firefly can either slow enemies or heal allies. He also can go collect more wishes (his unit of effort used to slow or heal) as well as some mana or health orbs to help the characters. At certain points in the game, there are also puzzles. They tend to boil down to casting the correct shadow from some object (which might have to be moved) onto the wall in the background. There can be subtleties to that, but the basic formula holds throughout. Progress in the game comes down to experience points to level up and some gem crafting. When a character levels up, their stats go up and they can purchase a skill along one of three skill paths for a separate permanent benefit (such as more stat improvements or skills). Gems come in many forms to give various physical and magical attack...

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