Sunday, November 25, 2007

Video Game Review: Ghost of a Good Premise

Today's game review is of the Playstation 2 title Phantom Brave. Released nearly four years ago (let it never be said I'm not on the cutting edge of the hottest new games) Phantom Brave is one of those games that's a little hard to parse.

In Phantom Brave you play a chroma, a person with ties to the spirit world who uses them to fight. But your chroma isn't like the others who use their spirit energy to blow crap up and do cool stuff. Your girl's power is to summon the spirits of the dead to fight for her.

On paper, this is a good game. The spirits you summon can be merged with other spirits (typically you would merge items onto characters to give the characters new attacks) and upgraded, allowing a good deal of customization.

Phantoms, once created, are summoned into battle by confining them to pieces of the environment, which will alter their stats based on what you confine them to. For example, summoning onto a rock will give the character increased HP and attack, but decreased speed, wheras a flower might give increased speed and intelligence, but decreased attack. This, along with a limited summon time for all troops, means you'll end up needing to use a lot of strategy.

Better, a random dungeon feature allows for extended gameplay beyond the end of the game.

Unfortunately, without spending dozens of weeks building your party you will find most fights completely impossible. Phantoms, dungeons, and equipment are all created randomly, so you'll have to go in and out of the menu option dozens upon dozens of times to get a good one. And oh yeah, customization takes a LONG TIME. Even the simplest of customizations will cost hundreds of mana and bordreax (the game's currency) and, oh yes, you won't GET mana much faster than maybe 20 or 30 a battle and after healing you'll likely end up with no money left. So unless you have the willpower to keep playing this game for years and years you'll pretty much be stuck with a lame party for the game.

The random dungeon feature, while described as "the best way to get money and mana" actually COSTS more money than it earns, since you'll have to pay thousands upon thousands of bordreax JUST TO LEAVE WHEN YOU'RE DONE.

The storyline, of course, WILL piss you off. Your main character catches more crap than a port-a-potty from every single other character and the game through no fault of her own and JUST SITS THERE AND TAKES IT. And even when you finally get to beat up the people who hurt you, they just sort of ignore you and walk away. This is just because the game is apparently not allowed to let you feel any satisfaction with the story at all.

This game has a good premise and can be a good game, but when every single element of the game seems purposely designed to piss you the fuck off it's really hard to care.

KR Rating from The Future: [4] GOOD

Again, I gave the game crap, but when I look back now I think a lot of it might just be the fact that I didn't understand the system. As I said, it is a really cool idea and the spirit merging system provides an amazing amount of customization. For example, you could merge the spirit of a fire-elemental sword onto a character spirit in order to give him increased strength and fire-based attacks. You could even go so far as to merge a potted plant onto a character to give him plant-element moves.

Really, though, the storyline is extremely frustrating nonetheless, and is the one reason this game just can't receive a 5 no matter what.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Website Review: Better than a Dictionary

The words of the day are Free Rice dot com.

FreeRice.com is a website where you try to match vocabulary words to their synonyms. As you play, vocabulary words get harder and harder. The game itself is rather simplistic and sometimes their synonyms are incorrect. But that's not really the point of the website.

What is the point? Unless you checked out the link you're probably wondering why a vocabulary game is called Free Rice. Well, the reason is because for every word you match correctly the site will donate 10 grains of rice to the United Nations, to be sent to third world countries. And before you ask, a quick check on Snopes would seem to show they are indeed legitimate.

Now, normally I'm against these sorts of sites. They encourage complacency. Why donate real money, food, or time when you can just play word games for a minute and get the same cozy feeling, after all? But when it is this easy it's hard not to jump at the chance to play for a few hundred grains of rice. Just remember that even if they're real, they're not a substitute for actual aid. I'll never tell anyone to give until it hurts, but give what you can.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Video Game Review: Dracula X Chronicles

One of the things I like about Castlevania is the multitude of enemies with interesting attacks and tactics. In level 3 you'll find the Armor Knight, an enemy in armor that weilds a spear. In a normal game, a spear-weilding enemy would walk around and damage you if you touch it. In a good game, he might jab a little. In Dracula X Chronicles he will stab in four directions, slice for extra reach, and block your attacks. And that's a random mook.

Dracula X Chronicles for the PSP has a simple enough premise. It's a 2.5d remake of the previously Japan-only Castlevania game Chi no Rondo, or Rondo of Blood.

The good is obvious. Enemy AI is good. Presentation is beautiful. All the visuals have been rerendered and voices rerecorded.

The bad news is noticable only after you play a little while. While the presentation has gotten a revamp gameplay really hasn't. And that's not entirely a good thing. Don't get me wrong, I'm not a Castleroid-maniac or anything. But what the old school fanboys sometimes fail to realize is that old games were not hard because of smart enemies or anything. They were hard because they were poorly programmed with near-impossible jumps en masse, tiny hitboxes on attacks, and often players would die simply by random happenstance such as an enemy that just happens to turn right before you jump or an enemy respawning right where you're standing. Dracula X Chronicles doesn't really change that. Controls are VERY unforgiving and this game will require lots of luck and lots of tries to beat, assuming you can stand the annoying game over screen which, oh yeah, forces you to look at it for a good minute or two.

There's three unlockable games included as well: the original unaltered Rondo of Blood, Symphony of the Night (the first Castleroid and still widely regarded as the best game of the franchise), and a game called Peke that was originally an add-on for Chi no Rondo.

My advice: unlock Symphony of the Night as early as possible and play the shit out of it. You'll enjoy it a lot more than the game they wanted you to play. Hell, if any Castlevania game SHOULD have gotten this 2.5 update it's Symphony of the Night.

KR Rating from The Future: [4] GOOD

Monday, November 5, 2007

Television Review: Cops Gone Wild

You know, I've seen some fucked up shit on Cops before, but at least it's usually from the perps.

I don't think I've ever seen anything more fucked up then the time they tried to arrest a woman simply for...well, basically for not wanting to die. The police went to a grocery store parking lot and held a fake drug deal and when a random bystander didn't immediately jump in and try to stop it they jumped her and told her they were going to impound her car. When she told them she needed the car to take her kids to and from school they threatened to take her kids away and told her she was lucky she wasn't being arrested. For what? Being intelligent enough to know that an unarmed 30-year-old woman isn't a match for 4 heavily armed drug dealers?

Of course, I've lived in the United States long enough to know a good portion of our laws are only meant to keep people from having fun, so it's not that surprising to see the cops do stupid shit when pot or hookers are involved. Shit like pulling over a man and arresting him simply for being in a part of town known for hookers and drug deals. I'm not saying he wasn't after a prostitute, but when you haven't seen the guy do anything you can't arrest him for what he might do. You're not Dick Tracy. It doesn't work for you.

Of course police are also not paramedics so watching them stand around and question a guy who's just been shot in the back four times isn't that surprising, given the ambulance wasn't there yet.

It's all kind of expected. We know the police fuck up sometimes. But guys, when you show ALL THREE of these in one episode, it's going to take a lot more than saving a family of cute* racoons stuck in someone's chimney to save your reputation.

*Also, guys? Racoons are not cute. They're filthy vermin. They are highly aggressive and will attack people and pets, often spreading deadly diseases such as rabies. They break into homes and businesses, causing property damage in their search for food. In the end, you just released a bunch of horrible little monsters back into the world to cause further pain. Way to go.