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Malik (8/27/07)

My vacation is still in full swing.  However, unlike the last two Mondays, I'm posting today (I've been pretty bad about the last two Mondays) and my vacation is, sadly, in it's home stretch.  Right about now I'm really tempted to look at my vast abundance of sick days to continue this thing until there isn't another day off to milk.  I don't think I could get away with that, but it's so damned tempting.

This last weekend was PAX in my neighborhood (well, I'm in a suburb of it's almost the same as being in my neighborhood).  Once again I didn't attend.  Although, I think the only part I would have really been excited for would have been seeing the Keynote by Wil Wheaton.  I don't really care much about social gaming, since I think it's the current major problem facing games, but Wheaton is one interesting person to hear when it comes to his thoughts on geek culture and his thoughts on how conventions should be handled and perceived by all involved parties (the link goes to a less than work-friendly site, so click it at home if your work monitors what you surf on the job).  It's almost amazing how funny and insightful the guy can be, considering how I always took him to be the worst problem on The Next Generation when I was young.

I didn't go to PAX, for the fourth year running, for one reason; I really don't care for conventions.  True, at PAX, they had Rock Band playable.  They also had a bunch of other games up and running that won't be gracing my rec room for a few good months.  Despite this, I have attended too many conferences in my younger years and I'm always left with one main impression;

Standing in line to probably not end up playing the most hyped game is not my idea of a well spent admission price ($30 for PAX).  I have only so much money and I like to find a larger sense of satisfaction from using that limited resource.  For example, if I took the ~$50 I could've spent to get into PAX, I could have walked away with a new game (like for example, tomorrow, getting Blue Dragon...which I aim to get) instead.  So, I would not have to stand in line, not put up with the geek smell (sorry, but every convention, with anime being the worst offender, has too many geeks who sacrificed deodorant money to get in the front door...and you know if you're one of these people and if so, you should do us all a favor and drop the extra $2 on a stick of Old Spice), and be able to do things on my own time.

Yes, that might be me being antisocial or something, but I just like to have some instant gratification for my money.  I get so little of it to spare each month, and each saved dollar in my pocket is a good thing.  When I can save a good 30 to 50 of this dollars at once, then I'm extra happy.  It's money I could use on games, food, or other things that bring me much needed happiness.  Plus, anything that gets me out of standing in line is my idea of a good use of my time.

I did have some friends who attended, who are part of my Guitar Hero group.  So, I'm hoping, since PAX is more of their thing, that they had fun.  Especially if they had fun with Rock Band and can tell me some impressions.  I already know I'll be getting the game, but I really want more fuel for the hype fire.

So, how did I spend my weekend?  Besides a little of the usual house related stuff (gardening, cleaning, blah, blah), I mainly felt a need to take on the world of Civ 4.  I played through a game going for as many victories as I could tolerate.  I had cultural quickly enough (around 2035), and my next one was either domination (I had the population, but needed a few more cities to convert to my culture to get the land mass) or diplomatic.  I couldn't get quite enough diplomatic votes, so I prepared to focus all of my attention on dominance.  Being in charge of the UN, I would not allow votes on a nuclear non-proliferation treaty, since I was still considering taking some cities by force (Shaka was not being a nice neighbor and had some much desired cities that a few nukes could help me to earn).  Well, my joy for the game ended when I didn't consider the nuclear option as anything more than a safe bet for some easy wins.  I didn't think that the Vikings would go crazy with nukes (against Shaka, of all people) and hand the domination victory over to the barbarians (which is what happens with a nuclear Armageddon).  That's also when the climate went to ass (even playing through the domination failure) causing my population to plummet (along with everyone else's populations) and I just couldn't take anymore.  At least I gained the cultural victory before the world cracked like an egg.

I'm now thinking of getting in one more epic Civ4 game (Next War is a great mod for Beyond the Sword) before Blue Dragon comes along.  I tried to start one last night, but sadly had to deal with Genghis Kahn too quickly.  Hopefully, I'll get one more more or less random game in without Genghis screwing the world (nothing like his ability to anger everyone and put them all back in the stone age...just like real life, I guess...but I want a world with more...sanity to it).

Anyway, I have some Civ4 to play and I'm rambling.  Probably a mix of too much coffee, too little sleep, and too much excitement about playing some good games.  So here's where I'll wrap things up for final Monday of freedom (not counting next Monday, with the three day weekend...I just made myself more happy).


Malik (8/28/07)

It is now, sadly and officially, less than 48 hours before my vacation ends.  While I did not get in as much geeking as I wanted, it's been too good of a vacation to end so damned soon.  While seeing my vacation end is never anything good, the part that most frustrates me about this is how the games that could have made these last two and a half weeks the most enjoyable are coming along either at the end of my vacation or shortly after it's all done.

There is nothing I would have liked more than to have this summer time vacation turn out like my old summer breaks of my high school (and earlier) days.  In other words, to find a great new RPG (there was always a good SNES or Playstation RPG when I needed one in those how Final Fantasy 1, Lufia 2, and a few others were in my grasp during the summer) and to play the hell out of it each and every day.  There would be no work, no responsibilities, and nothing keeping me from enjoying them for marathon sessions, except for the prospect of other fun things.

Now my vacation is more of a sad event.  Games rarely see summer releases anymore.  Those that do come along in the sunny months tend to be boring or geared towards a different audience than myself (Madden, brain training games, blah, blah).  The only game from the summer of 2007 that kept me happy during my vacation was Picross DS (and, in a way, Beyond the Sword for Civ4...although that was a partial game since it's an expansion).  Blue Dragon, the game I've wanted since it was first announced (around two years ago), is going to come in too late for my vacation to truly devour.  Picross DS did give me some good times (and frustrated and annoying times), but it's not what I needed.  Civ4 also gave some good times, and it is a true time addiction, but it also is not the same as a good old school RPG.

I could have gone with Persona 3, but I'm still a bit turned off from that franchise due to the obsessive level of challenge.  I need an RPG that has the classic feel.  While Blue Dragon is supposedly a bit too easy, it probably still offers enough of a challenge to keep my interest rolling.  Too much challenge is the ultimate killer for myself when it comes to RPGs.  I've felt this way ever since my ass was handed to me by the draconian system of good and evil in Ultima: Quest of the Avatar.  I'd rather take an RPG that's bordering on insultingly easy than one that borders on obsessively hard.

Anyway, I don't really know the point of all of this I'm posting.  Maybe I'm just venting, thinking, or something like that.  However, the one thing I feel for certain is that I hate how Blue Dragon (my current obsession in obtaining) could not have come out around the start of my vacation.  I'm also frustrated by the fact that it has a release date of today, but I will probably not find it in a store until tomorrow (the final day of my freedom) since release dates are now "shipping dates".  A game will ship quickly if it's a major player (Madden, Halo, and so forth), but any minor game (like Blue Dragon and most RPGs) will take an extra day in transit.  If I'm lucky, I may find a copy early today, when I search through the local game stores in a quest for a little something to do.  However, I'm willing to bet than none of the stores I check will have it in stock until around noon tomorrow.  I know that's how Fry's will be already (since their ads are rarely wrong), but I'll still check the other stores in my local cluster of commerce...and walk away disappointed.

That's when I'll come home, start another game of Civ4 and lay waste to the world, medieval style.


P.S.  Nothing like watching Roosevelt declair war on an underpowered Lincoln after the two of them handed me a diplomatic victory.

Malik (8/29/07)

Yesterday I tried to find Blue Dragon.  As I expected, there was no sign of the game anywhere.  I had time to kill, so I checked every logical prospective store; Toys R Us (the masters of the early release), Target, Best Buy, Circuit City, Gamestop, Fry's, and Fred Meyers (a long shot for any game on release day).  I really did try.  However, half way through my search, I came home for a bit and decided to read up on another new release that I found at various stores; Metroid Prime 3.

Well, what I read about MP3 was actually good.  The game received some good reviews and impressions for all of the things I actually hated about MP1&2.  The game allowed the player to combine weapons, scanning shit was less important this time around, and the battles with normal enemies were not nearly as epic as they fell quicker.  You also didn't start with the same "lose all the previous powers" bullshit.  Yes, you don't have the different weapons, like ice, light, dark, plasma, or whatever else you had in MP1&2.  However, you do get to start with the double jump ability, the charge beam, the morph ball, and bombs.  You even start, this time around, with several visors and the ability to be healed by pahzon radiation (well, you almost start with it and it happens before you ever reach phazon areas).  You don't have the "fresh start" that went so against the idea of a sequel.

So, I decided to buy the game.  I needed something to fill my time, and screwing over different civilizations in Civ4 was not doing it for me any longer.  So, at my final attempt to find Blue Dragon, I bought MP3.  Strangely, despite how much I was annoyed by MP1 and how much I completely hated MP2, I am loving MP3.

The largest change, versus the starting with some equipment thing, that I'm digging about MP3 is that Retro Studios tried to give the game a plot of a larger scale.  There are people to talk to, other bounty hunters, and a lot of things to really get interactive with to help bring the experience to the player.  If you find a switch, you will be able to pull your wiimote to move the switch or level.  If you want to jump as the ball form (which you can do from the start; no more relying only on bomb jumping!), you simply flick the wiimote up to bounce.  You can simply do so much more.  The controls are beyond intuitive and are beyond fun to play with.

The most important change in the game is that things just feel smooth and controllable.  For example, battles, beyond boss fights, don't feel like the same life or death struggle as in MP1&2, but rather they feel like the endless hordes of the original 2D Metroid titles; annoying, but that you are the dominant species.  Even the plot is fun enough to keep the game rolling along nicely.

I don't have too much to say about the game, yet.  I'm only a bit into the game and have only fought a few bosses.  What I can say is that boss fights are amazing, the new hypermode (in which you use phazon energy, like during the last fight of MP1) is awesome, and the plot and interactions with the world make this a whole new game.  If only MP1&2 were more like this, then I wouldn't have hated the series so badly.  As long as the game continues this way (without having painful dark worlds or forced scanning of everything...which looks promising so far), I will really enjoy a 3D first person Metroid title for the first time ever.

I'm going to keep this post short-ish.  It's my final day of vacation, and I don't know if I'll ever get one again of this length.  So, it's time to...I'd love to say "live it up", but rather it's more time to get caffeinated so that I can plan for some more house remodeling before heading out to find Blue Dragon without a pre-order.


Malik (8/30/07)

I am now, officially and sadly, off of my wonderful time of vacation. I'm back to my daily grind of working in a lab and trying to remember why I am yet another biotech drone in a world of unobtainable vacations and no chance of using sick days. Yup. My life is back to normal, which is the saddest thing I can think of at this moment.

However, to get back on the upbeat side, I did another search for Blue Dragon yesterday. I started with Best Buy and Circuit City, since I left before noon (Fry's said they'd have the game by noon in their Monday ad). Also, Fry's, being the furthest store from my house and the worst commute in the region, was not looking like a fun option.

So, first I found nothing at Best Buy (despite their store pickup on their web site saying the game was in), then a lot of nothing at Circuit City. Then I hit Fry's, and took one hell of a bad commute already, but made it worse by it being lunch time (more traffic on the interstate). I got there around 12:30 PM and was told the game would show up by Thursday. I would've called, but with it being the last few days of my cell phone billing cycle, I cannot afford to talk any until 9PM, when unlimited minutes start.

Due to traffic, on my way home, I happened to needed to get off the interstate around the shopping district where I originally started. Driving through there, I decided to go for the Hail Mary play and check out Gamestop...for a much demanded game, without a pre-order, on what may or may not be the launch day. I luckily found two copies left for non-pre-ordered people.

So, how if Blue Dragon? Well, I hated the demo that popped up on XBox Live a few months ago. It was the worst demo I ever tried. Luckily, the real game is amazingly more enjoyable to play. This is the game for people who would pick up a new Dragon Quest game before buying the latest Final Fantasy. In other words, this is old school RPG fun in it's purest form.

The visuals may have an overhaul and the battles may not be completely random (you can see enemies on the map and strategize how to fight them to your advantage), but the game is still the same turn based fun that Sakaguchi first showed the world with FF1...but with a hybrid format of the job systems found in DQ7 and DQ8.

Best of all, despite making the game appear "kiddy" (I hate people who ignore games when a kiddy image makes them think enjoying the game could risk damaging their manhood...your penis will not disappear if you enjoy Blue Dragon, Earthbound, Lufia 2, Wind Waker, or any other "kiddy" game), the game uses plenty of Earthbound style humor in the monsters (poo is a common occurrence in fights), with a DQ8 feel to the plot and rest of the game world.

I'm especially enjoying the job system. You can, once you unlock your class menu, change jobs any time you want (as long as you're not in a fight). You start with just a few jobs (white and black mages and a user of magic sword attacks) but can unlock more as you gain character levels. As your class gains SP (like experience, but for jobs/classes/skills), you reach new ranks. Each rank may or may not grant a new ability. These abilities then can be equipped...but to a limit of how many skill slots you have.

One class, the generalist, is designed as a weak class that doesn't do much, but earns skills that increase your equipment and skill slots. Since you can equip skills from any class (as long as you gained said skills), you then can use the skill slot increase from the generalist to make a white mage who casts other types of spells (black, barrier, support), uses the counter attack abilities of a monk, and can steal like an assassin. In other words, it's a lot like FFV, but with more room to customize, and with (sadly) a lot fewer of classes to gain (but more skills per class).

Also, since I found it being mentioned a lot in message boards; you don't equip weapons and armors, but you do equip perfect equivalent items. You can use four accessories at a time (more special slots open with generalist skills). One type will usually only increase physical attack (making it the same as a standard RPG's weapon), on increases defense, one does magical defense, and one does magical offense. There are probably more special equipment, but I can only speak from about 3.5 hours into the game.

The only bad part about Blue Dragon, so far, is that it's hard to handle the map system. I honestly never can tell where I'm heading when I enter a dungeon/swamp/desert/not-world-map. You get a radar of sorts that looks like a Dragonball Radar from DBZ, but it really doesn't let you know too well on where the hell you're heading to. I will probably get used to it with time, but for now this is my only frustration in an otherwise solid game.

Now the only bad thing for me (besides being off of my vacation) is that I have both Metroid Prime 3 and Blue Dragon fighting for my limited free time. I guess that's a good problem to have, versus the last month (which was a true gaming drought).


Malik (8/31/07)

I spent some more time last night with Blue Dragon...probably a little more time than I could have afforded to spend playing a game. Then again, who really cares since it was a good use of my time after rejoining the American workforce (from my vacation) and rejoining the world of being yet another drone in a place that doesn't understand proper wages and compensation.

Enough of that. BD is really impressing me so far.

For one thing, I've heard a lot of bad things about how BD has a lack of plot presence in the first part of the game. I've also heard that the plot really picks up near the very end of the game. Well, I have to disagree.

The start of BD finds your small group of adventurers being stranded far from home. Their quest, at first, is to simply find their way home. In reality, this is very similar to the plot of another game from the three geniuses who brought us BD; Toriyama, Sakaguchi, and Nobuo (forgive any misspelled names). It's a lot like Chrono Trigger. That game started with you being stranded a far time (rather than place) from home and with no sense of where you fit into the world anymore.

BD has this same general feeling. You start your quest home in a large wasteland like desert area and the only sign of sentient life is from a small tribe of sheep people. Then, as you progress, and as you defeat a boss or two, you start to find new areas that really remind me of Chrono Trigger. For one thing, you eventually come across some futuristic ruins deep under the ground. This place is inhabited with ghosts and a lot of equipment that didn't feel at home in your starting village. In other words, it's like traveling to the domed future of CT, or even the time displaced area of Chrono Cross.

Yes, the character development is slightly underwhelming at this point in the game. But then again, it was the same in Chrono Trigger. In fact, the plot is still more enticing in BD (partly because CT had a lack of real plot due to the era in which it was made). It's not a traditional plot you're being shown, but rather the different type that focuses on the world instead of the quest or the heroes. In other words, it's more of a brief history lesson to show you how you'll eventually fit into the world.

It's also a great time to learn the basics of this game's control system. A system that is both shallow enough to be comfortable and deep enough to allow some fun with customization. The battles are traditional turn based events, which apparently is a bad thing...I never understood this since it's been a part of my favorite genre for longer than I've been into RPGs. It's a staple and when it's handled correctly (like in BD) it can be a great joy to experience.

On that same note, this is obviously not a game for those who couldn't stand RPGs until Square made them popular with FFVII. This is a RPG for those who loved RPGs that came from the SNES era and those who love games like Dragon Quest (any of them, since they never broke away from tradition).

The engine, however, does grant some great fun in it's level of customization. Right now, I still have three characters (out of five total), and each one is being able to grow into whatever specialized class I choose. For example, I have the generalist class (which grants more skill slots...think of FFV and how you could only have one extra non-class skill at a time in most cases, and now think of adding new slots to it...and having three by default) being developed for each character. Beyond that, I have my main black mage (with a little assassin action to negotiate lower prices in stores and to steal items in combat), a white mage (with some monk to grant a little offense when healing is not needed), and my main powerhouse of sword master (offensive sword attacks charged with magic), monk (more power and charged up attacks), and enough white magic to give some healing in a pinch.

This system makes me think of what I really wanted to have in FFV. While FFV would allow me to have some characters who were incredibly awesome and able to form great strategies, I always felt limited in that I could only use two possible skill sets at once. That's a thing of the past with BD and being able to have somewhere around 10 skills (not counting your current class/basic skill; like magic for mages or charged offensive strikes for a monk) and a lot of possibilities. I just wish the game had more classes like DQ6 or 7 and you had to work to unlock them (like DQ7 or FF Tactics). I also wish the instructions did not tell you all of the skills for each class and when you get them. It may make it easier to strategize development, but it also takes out some of the magic of not knowing what awaits you. Afterall, your characters just started to gain these abilities for the first time after the game why should the player, by default, know more than those of the game's world?

Anyway, this is the Japanese inspired RPG I have been waiting for ever since the current generation of consoles started. It's fun, nostalgic, and offers some new things, but while showing that old genres and ideas don't need to be euthanized just because Square Enix has turned their back on them.

However, if you're a fan of Square Enix and their euthanizing of traditions, then you'd be best staying far away from this awesome game.


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