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Malik (3/20/06)  

I just want to say this, since it's not something I get to often say; The gov-o-mint owes me money this year. There is nothing like the feeling of not owing about 10% of a monthly paycheck to the government. Better than that, there's nothing like them owing you that same amount...for once. I'm just glad that April 15th is but once a year. 

On other random bits of news, tomorrow, or the next day depending on where you live, is going to supposedly be the day. After months of confusion and delays, Oblivion is set to come out tomorrow (or the next day, if shipping is slow). I know this game is one of the main reasons I wanted the 360...well, beyond all the Mistwalker games, Live Arcade, and the usual set of XBox sequels (Fable 2, potential KOTOR sequels, blah, blah). 

I just hope, with the massive delays this game had in store for the 360 launch that the bugs are mostly fixed and we will not have to wait for the first (in a series of patches) before the game is stable enough to play. I also hope that the constant need to save every five minutes that Morrowind gave us (due to constant crashes) is now a thing of the past. I also hope that saving and loading doesn't take the better part of a day. 

I may sound like I'm really being bitchy about a game that I should be more excited about. Well, I am excited. As one of the few who seems to realize that this is not a sequel to Morrowind, but rather the fourth installment in the Elder Scrolls anthology, I have been waiting for tomorrow since I first laid my hands on Arena. The day when I realized how much I'd love for this style of game to be playable in HD-style resolutions on a 52" screen. 

Now I just need to make sure I beat Shadow Hearts 3 tonight. I am at the final dungeon, which, as most SH fans know, means I only have a half dozen bonus dungeons to clear, and both a good and bad ending to plan for. I will probably not finish tonight, and I will put Oblivion on hold until I do finish SH3. However, despite some complaints about SH3 ("it's not dark enough", "there's no Yuri", "there's too few fusion monsters", "the game is too linear"), this is one hell of a great RPG. The only complaint I can agree with is the part about fusion monsters. 

In the days of SH and SH2, Yuri would come to the final dungeon packing a wide assortment of fusion monsters. Each one would tend to represent either an element, or a non-elemental blast of pure ass-kicking. In SH3, Shania (our current fusion master) has 3 required fusion monsters and a fourth bonus one (needed for the best ending). Each one is a dark alignment, and they all carry a wide range of elemental abilities. The only real difference in the required three is if you want to be a support character, a frontline fighter, or a heal-bitch. Plus, to make things more balanced with the lower number of fusions, the game gives you four fetishes (look up the's not just something you'd find only on the other side of a credit card verification) to power up on each fusion. One will boost your stats in that form, one will grant more special abilities, one will power up those abilities, and the last will lower the MP cost of each ability. However, despite having 12 different areas to level (not counting the four on the final hidden fusion), you still only have three or four fusion forms with the same never changing visuals. It's like going from an art museum to checking out someone's personal art gallery. While SH1 and SH2 were feasts of eye-candy, SH3 serves more as an appetizer. 

However, in the end, unless the game goes completely downhill from the final dungeon being open, the game is still a solid addition to the SH series. It just feels less like a main attraction and more like a really great opening act. It's still worth the price of admittance, but you still feel like, if the game was treated better (made into the headliner) that it could have delivered a better performance. 


Malik (3/21/06)  

Battlefield 2 and Burnout Revenge demos are coming to the 360 Marketplace sometime this week. While the Burnout demo seems, like usual, a little late, the Battlefield 2 demo should be a good use of download time. Seriously, the idea of releasing a game that's mostly the same as a version released 6 months ago (Burnout Revenge on the XBox or PS2) is not exactly amazing, but when they release a demo a couple weeks after they released the actual game, that's based on a 6 month old property, I think we're crossing the line from a good PR tool (which is what free demos are) and entering into the realm of flat out stupidity. 

However, the Battlefield 2 demo, while still focused on the same basic principal, should at least offer a better purpose since the game is not actually out for the 360 yet...even if it's already available in other formats. 

I guess the ultimate point of this bitching of mine is this; why not give us more cases like Fight Night 3. Give us demos of games that are not out, are not found on other platforms, and are not just starting to collect dust in someone's collection. Let's see the demos serve a of building hype and excitement over a not yet seen game. Maybe that just makes too much sense... 

There's a little more actual news on the PS3 front. I guess Sony has decided to stop being 100% cryptic and to also not try to milk gamers for a little something extra this time around. The system, according to Sony Europe (which, hopefully, will apply to the whole world and not just EU), will come with the hard drive included. 

Considering that Sony said the HDD would be mandatory for the PS3 games, it only made sense. But then again, the memory card was mandatory for any PS2 games (unless you like replaying the same first few hours of a game and never making progress), but Sony not only failed to include one with the PS2...they managed to make about half as many memory cards as they made consoles...and when you make about 1/4 the number of consoles as you should (at launch), then there's a couple things wrong in your plans for memory cards. 

Since the PS3 will include the HDD, it doesn't mean than additional HDDs can't be purchased. Sony is keeping that money supply as solid as possible by saying that larger HDDs will eventually be available as a "premium". Speaking of money, you can bet good money that this will be used as an example, by Sony, for why the final price (when it gets announced...probably around the end of summer) of the PS3 will be so large. In fact, this will raise the price of the system, and be used to explain the large price in a PR stunt. Pretty good thinking by Sony. 

I have to wrap things up about not. Too much to do, and not a damned second to do any of it in. 


Malik (3/22/06)  

Windows Vista is officially delayed until January...unless you fit into certain special requirements to get it sometime at the end of 2006. I'm not really sure what this actually means, since I still think XP is a great OS, and I doubt that the 3D desktop, along with the other known changes in Vista, will actually make me change my mind anytime soon. In fact, the only part of Vista I'm actually looking forward to is the ability to stream media from a PC to a 360 without having to find a hard to get OEM of MCE 2005. 

Speaking of which, why doesn't Microsoft, in light of the 360, make a media connect solution for those with a 360 and who are still running the highly versatile XP, or even those who are unlucky enough to have MCE 2004? It would only make sense as a grand step to pushing the 360 into more living rooms. It would only make sense to make this less used feature of the 360 into a massively used and adored bonus. Then again, it would make sense for Microsoft to allow a 360 user to have the same features as a DS...namely, the ability to set the OS to only boot to the menu and then to allow games to be ran from there. 

Speaking of the 360, I had a clear goal last night. I picked up Oblivion (360 version), but I had a firm resolve to finish Shadow Hearts 3 before starting Oblivion. I was at the last dungeon, and I only needed another 500 SP to unlock the final fusion form for Shania. A few quick battles and I would be free to finish the game with both the good and bad endings. Well, that plan went to shit. I managed to finish the next to last special side quest that I wanted to finish (the He-Man Sushi tower)...but it required me playing a little extra to power level Mao and Hilda (my two least used characters, who were about 8 levels behind the main party) in order for them to survive their one on one battles. 

After about 3 hours of SH3, I only managed to finish the He-Man Tower, which had the sad effect of giving only 1 SP per battle. So, I then proceeded to fight some mini-bosses in the final dungeon. Long story short, I'm still about 100 SP from unlocking the final fusion, and then I'll need a shit ton of SP to unlock the good ending (I won't spoil anymore by saying how you do that). So, I got a little tired of the game I had wanted for so long staring at me from the floor next to me... 

I popped in Oblivion. First, a word of advice, as found in a thousand game forums, about the load times on this game. If you use the HDD (which you honestly should have by now...I hope), you may find the load times to be intolerable. I don't mean a 30 second load to start the game, and I don't mean a simple few seconds every once in a while as you play. I mean a 10 minute load to start the game, and another minute or so every few seconds. If this happens to you, or to just never see it happen (in case you have started Oblivion yet), hold down the A button on your controller as the game boots up. Keep holding it until the Bethesda logo is loaded. Then let go. This will clear your cache files on the HDD, which, depending on how much you play 360 games, could be full of fragmented files, which will account for a long load issue. I did this the first time I loaded, and I never had a problem. Also, if you're wondering if this will corrupt something or crash your shouldn't. This is the fix straight from the official Oblivion forums, ala the Bethesda people. 

Anyway, I put in the game, and watched the opening. The game only took 30 seconds (the loading and boot up time) for my jaw to hit the f#@%ing floor. This is what the HD-era in gaming is supposed to be about. Screw how pretty Burnout Revenge looks. Screw any promises of lifelike visuals. Screw it all. Oblivion is, without a doubt, the most amazing visual experience I've had on my TV...or any TV. If you have a high quality surround sound system hooked to the 360 via digital optical, like I do, just turn off the lights and prepare for one hell of an awesome experience. 

Beyond the visuals and audio...which are still blowing me away, nearly 12 hours since I last played...the game is truly an improvement over Morrowind. If you thought the battle system of Morrowind felt a little less than impressive, then Oblivion will fix that. If you felt under whelmed when you shot a fireball at an opponent in a past TES game, then just wait until you hit a rat with a flare spell and see it explode in flames. If you grew tired of the third person view making you feel like retching in Morrowind (and I personally still play Oblivion in 1st person), just check third person on Oblivion. Also, if you hated the XBox version of Morrowind since it didn't have downloadable content, like the PC version had, then check the download content option (nothing yet, of course, but there will be). If you didn't like reading so much text in Morrowind...hehehe...expect some high quality voice acting for everything! Everything that was promised is delivered! 

I was getting tired of the massive delays in this game, but if any of them led to the game being this amazing, then I am more than happy to have waited. While I have been lazy in reviewing games lately, and while I don't give official reviews of anything before I've played through the whole game, or at least a good 20 hours on longer RPGs, I will say that the first 2 hours of Oblivion are a solid 10 out of 10. I have long held Shadow Hearts as one of my favorite franchises, but I don't even want to finish SH3...I need more Oblivion. I have played TES games since Arena. I have liked them all. However, with Oblivion, I cannot use a word as weak as "like". I adore, am obsessed with, and crave more time with Oblivion. 


Malik (3/23/06)  

There is some news coming out of the GDC about the PS3 that actually has me feeling a bit excited about the system (and not just excited about ripping it apart). I'm talking about the one thing that matters most to a geek like me who feels that an imported title can mean the world during a lull in local game publishing. Yes, the PS3 will be region free! That is, it will still include local region lock out for movies (on DVD, Blu-ray, or whatever), but the game will be region free. Of course, we still need to see if this comes through to be a reality, since there's a nice long time frame between now and the launch, and we all know that a system can change more in it's final 6-10 months that we would like to see. However, if this holds true, I'll stop needing weird archaic toys (like flip-top cases, little plastic nubs, and boot disks) to get my Katamari fix months before the US sees the actual game. 

Also, the PS3 will have a bit of a music and movie download service. Sadly, no real information is out there, yet, but I have a feeling of what we will see. It will possibly be like the Sony MP3 download service, in which you pay per song you want. If it's this case, movies will probably fall into the same cluster. On the other hand, it could just be an exact clone of the Live Marketplace, but supposedly with music. If it's this way, it just means we'll have trailers and sneak preview movies, but not much else. Either way, I personally don't count on my game systems to be my media whores. That's the PC's job...I just like it when the game system can received streamed content so the sound comes out of the right surround sound receiver. 

Phil Harrison also had some interesting enigmatic statements at the GDC. Namely, he would not state if the HDD, that is supposedly required for all PS3 games would be included with the system. I still wouldn't be surprised if the past statement of it being included is all BS. After all, it's easier for Sony to make money off of peripherals than by giving it away. Plus, with a peripheral that's required, it will be a funny journey, along the same lines of the Sega CD. Harrison also seemed to imply that the controller for the PS3 may be changed from what was shown last May at E3...thank goodness. I'm sorry, but the masters of making great controllers should not mess this shit up now with something as ridiculous as the batarang. 

Well, I didn't get in any Oblivion last night. I'm still determined to finish Shadow Hearts 3...or at least I was determined to finish both the good and bad endings. I may just settle for bad, however, after the hell I realized I'll be going through. 

In past SH games, in order to get the good ending, you'd have to beat some extra side quest. It's usually that simple, and the quest is not only a fun diversion, but it also gives a greater insight into your harmonixer's (the person who fuses with monsters/demons/spirits/whatever) past. This time around, however, while you still do have a bonus dungeon with hidden plot elements, you are also forced to level up your fusions 100%...despite how little soul points (the "cash" used to level a fusion) the game has to offer. Well, I get about 6-9 soul points per battle (except bosses), depending on if I finish with a certain set of conditions met (perfect attacking in the battle, never letting the enemy attack, getting massive combos, etc). The thing is, after getting the final fusion, and using all of the soul points I obtained in the battle to get this fusion, I still need about 950 to power up the final spirit...that's about 150 battles I need to go through. 950 is a shit ton of fighting when you're on the final dungeon and your characters are already definitely powerful enough to beat the final boss due to the excessive levels you gain trying to fully level the first three fusions (a requirement to access the fourth and final spirit). 

So, I'm thinking, unless the minibosses along the way are giving away buckets of soul points, I'm going to just finish the game with the "bad" ending, call it a day, and pick up Oblivion. Sometimes it's just not worth it. Maybe I'll come back to get the good ending after Oblivion...or not. 

Despite some potentially interesting PS3 news, and having Oblivion in front of me, I think the next thing I have to say blows all of that out of the water, and then some. The Revolution, which will give us downloads, of some method, to play games spanning all of the old Nintendo systems, just found a new trick that will blow away anything Microsoft's Arcade or the PS3 download service can offer; Downloads of games from the past from the competitors' systems!!!!!!  That includes 1000 Genesis games! An unknown number of Turbografix games! Holy shit!!! 

Microsoft may be able to pull off the first true HD gaming and they may offer some great addiction with Arcade games. Sony may be able to make some uber-technology toy. Who cares? I play and buy game systems for one thing (hint: "game" system). If it can do amazing things, it's nice, but if it can play games, then I feel like my purchase was rewarded. Not only will the Revolution play some innovative new will have a pre-built library of thousands upon thousands of the best of all gaming history. I don't want to sound like I'm spazing, or like some Nintendo fanboy...but...GEEK OVERLOAD!!!!11!111!! 


Malik (3/24/06)  

I didn't mention it yesterday, but Zelda is coming to the DS. From the looks of things, this game definitely is more along the lines of Wind Waker than, let's say, OoT, MM, TP, or even the good old LttP. As one of my friends said to me yesterday, not many people were fans of the Wind Waker approach, but I know this is on my must get list. The only thing present that I could do without is the boat. Sorry, but the boat travel on a vast empty ocean is nothing near as fun as running around a plain, a mountain, or whatever and seeing the minor details, like you could on OoT. 

Anyway, I finished the "bad" ending of Shadow Hearts 3 last night. I know it's the bad ending since the game opens a theater mode after you finish the game. This mode lets you watch all the video sequences of the game, and the title for my ending was "Bad Ending". It's also pretty obvious that it was bad since the last couple of seconds shows something unpleasant. Of course, SH2 also had two endings in which both could be viewed as bad since you never see everyone living happily ever after. Sadly, the "good" ending will have to wait since I'm just not in the mood to track down another 200 soul points to unlock the good ending. 

Also, I just have to add that if you enter the final boss battle of SH3 with any stock on your characters, and if you went without using any keys (items that let you make three, five, or seven rounds of attacks in one single turn), the final boss is definitely a push over. Nothing like making a massive combo on two people using seventh keys (seven rounds of attacks at once) in a row after you start things up with a couple of fifth keys and maybe a double combo in there to make the damage extra potent (since each hit in a combo raises the damage of future hits by a small amount). 

After finishing SH3, I had to jump right into Oblivion. Damn, this game is awesome. I started things by finally escaping the sewers (the first dungeon, which you start in) and finalizing my character build. If you are smart, here's some well meaning advice; make a save right before you exit the sewers for a quick new game start location. Right before you exit the sewers for the first time, the game will let you change anything on your character, from race to class to birth sign. 

My final build came out as a Dunmer male from the Thief Sign. Making a custom class based on stealth, with agility and intelligence as the price attributes, I went with alchemy (best money maker ever), blade, destruction (who needs marksman skill when you can lob fireballs?), light armor, mysticism (telekinesis and sense spells ever for a rogue-style character), security, and stealth. Basically, I'm going to a guy who can earn some money, kill some enemies (or townsfolk), and still loot the crap out of everything. Plus, when you use alchemy to make a poison, stealth to sneak up on someone, and then stealth with blade for a massive sneak attack from the poisoned weapon...damn! Does it get better than that? I think not. Plus, if I get bored, I can always practice and train my lesser skills to make up for anything that's lacking. 

I would like to say I did some cool stuff in the game, but since I was feeling a bit under the weather last night, I simply opted to take things slow by looting the prison you start the game locked up in. During which, two realizations hit me. One is that the next minigame to improve someone's disposition towards you beats the crap out of the method used in Morrowind. Second, the new lock picking minigame (which can be skipped by pressing X a few times...or more) definitely puts you more in control of things than the old system did. 

Anyway, Oblivion does a nice job of revamping almost everything I had issues with in Morrowind. Also, with the ability to quick travel (click on the map where you want to go and then you arrive a few hours or days, depending on distance traveled, later), you no longer have to worry about aimless journeys into the wilderness since you can't afford any of the quick travel vehicles/animals. Oblivion freakin' rocks! 


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