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Malik (11/28/05)  

First off, and after long last, I have a GTA:LCS review that is now up. It did take awhile longer than I'd like to get this thing finished, but that's how it goes when a game is just not fun enough to play through without much hesitation and frustration. Also, I was hoping to find a good way to obtain some screen shots (that did not come to fruition). Sadly, it looks like all PSP reviews, for now at least, will be sans images. However, the final review is there, and that's what really matters. 

Speaking of reviews, I bought a new game this long weekend. I got Dragon Quest VIII at long last. I kept skipping this game since many reviews seemed to imply a strong removal of this game from the classic DQ franchise. Well, I only got this game since I felt the familiar pangs of needing a RPG fix. Since there were few to chose from, and since most of them made up Christmas wish lists, I was left with DQ8 as a game of last resort. 

I'll just start by saying that those who implied that it's not a normal DQ game are full of shit. This game is true DQ in every way except for the visuals, which are pretty. The music and the visuals are a little more polished than any past DQ game had, but this is still, at the end of the day, the same old DQ franchise that I have come to love since the days of DW1. 

The only real exception to the current DQ style was the change of the job system. Instead of each character being able to pick up new jobs at the player's discretion, you have, in essence, 5 jobs per character from the start. These "jobs" basically come down to three weapon related skills, bare fisted fighting, and a character dependant ability/personality trait. For example, the unnamed hero (well, you name him...) has the skills of using swords, spears, boomerangs, fists, and courage. As you level, you get skill points that you assign in whatever skills you want, and once you hit certain skill point levels, you will unlock new abilities or increase your basic talent with a given weapon. In other words, it's like the jobs of the past DQ games, but you chose which of the five to level, and how dedicated to be. However, you also have to keep in mind that a sword skill will only work while using a sword, etc. So, it gives a bit more strategy to the old job system. 

Beyond that, the game play is classic DQ in every respect. This helps to show me that my other reason for hesitating on purchasing this game was unfounded; that it was a new RPG from Square Enix. I had started to feel sick of Square Enix games ever since FF became a joke, but DQ8 shows that they can make a good game when they want...they just seem to rarely have this desire. 

I'm also still playing my 360. This means I did not get one of the broken 360s. As for those who are trying to sound pissed off and bitter by saying Microsoft didn't make enough 360s or that Microsoft made a worthless piece of crap, I just have to say that this is a new system and all launches are buggy. However, this is still my favorite console (not console with games...just console) I've seen yet. Microsoft has made some nice steps with the 360, and I think there is enough out there to make this thing worth it's $400 price tag. Between Kameo and PDZ, I've had enough fun already to know that I'll be happy with this box through it's lifespan. True, I could use some more games about now...but then again it doesn't, at least, have the lack of a lineup that PS2 had at launch. Plus, now that some actual game demos are available on XBox Live, there is more to justify it's purchase. 

I played a good deal of Kameo this weekend, and I can see that this is probably going to be my favorite 360 game until Oblivion comes out. While it starts off by looking like a sick and twisted version of a platformer (and most commercial sites have reviewed it as one), it is actually a good impression of a Zelda-style game. The only real difference is that the weapons and items in this game are actually monster forms, and that each "item" has multiple uses. It's like having the bow in a Zelda game having three or more uses instead of just being used to shoot arrows. 

I haven't played enough to formulate any solid impressions, yet. However, the game is feeling a lot like I had always wished a Zelda-clone on another system (besides a Nintendo one) should feel. The visuals are HD paradise, the audio is sharp and full of that Zelda fantasy feeling, the monster forms are unique and fun to play around with, and there are all the classic Zelda elements (like the elixir that acts like a heart container, money to use to buy items, talking and moving plants and faeries, blah, blah). I'm really surprised that this game is not getting the adventure genre love it deserves and is instead being considered another platformer. 

As for PDZ...the other time killer this weekend. Well, it's not that I don't like this game, but it's just not up to par with DQ8 and Zelda...I mean Kameo. The levels feel a bit uninspired, and weapons are kinda unusual in their multiple uses (why does a shotgun have a radar? Why is the second use from an uzi the ability to use it as a proximity mine?). So far, I've gone through 4 missions, and I feel like, besides progressing and interesting plot, that I have no had anything worthwhile enough for me to be impressed. The game is not bad, but it has yet to wow me. True, I've kept to offline playing, but I still would like something to really amaze me with this feature before I go online. I figure, and this is where I'm usually in the minority, that the offline modes of a game should outweigh it's online. 

Anyway, I need to get in some more DQ8 time. I don't mean I should...I mean that my RPG deprivation says I must. 


Malik (11/29/05)  

If you're not too caught up in the insanity that is the 360, there is some news...well, there is news of news on the little-known Revolution. Basically, the system will be "revealed" at Nintendo's pre-E3 deal in May. This, in a nut shell, is as much news as saying that eventually Final Fantasy 13 will be revealed. In other words, it's inevitable, and it's going to happen. However, if that wasn't enough, you now know that around May 9th, the Revolution will be announced...or displayed...or...ummm. Anyway, it's now safe to say that Nintendo is probably aiming for a release around a year from now. 

I've still been giving most of my love to Dragon Quest 8. I know that I have the pretty 360 and it's goodness sitting above my TV, but I can't give up quality time for eye-candy. It's not that the 360 is a bad console, but I still have more love for RPGs than for a Zelda-style adventure game and a FPS. It's how I roll. 

I did try to give some time to the 360, and it had some lackluster returns. I downloaded the demo (on of the great features of XBox Live that will definitely give a leg up in the new generation for Microsoft) of NFS: Most Wanted. It took about 45 minutes to download this almost 1GB file. I'll just say that I want that 45 minutes back. True, I watched TV while it was downloading, but still...the game is crap. I can't believe it's getting so much love from the media. Basically, the game comes down to being a pretty looking racer with no control. It's like playing the NFS version of the GTA:LCS control scheme. If you try to drive straight, you will need a mile or two to get your car facing a single direction. The cars have no control (or at least the half dozen offered in the demo), the computer drivers control perfectly, and you are left with nothing you can do besides go into some lame driving-bullet-time as you're left in the dust. 

Which brings up a perfect point; bullet-time. I have had enough of this gimmick. Ever since The Matrix made bullet time look so cool and since Max Payne introduced it to the gaming market, this has become the single most abused game feature on the market. It does have some places (like Max Payne showed us so well). However, it doesn't belong in others. Especially, there is no reason for bullet-time in a racing game. Races are about speed (hence you win a race by being the fastest). When you introduce bullet-time in a racing game, all you do is slow down the game and offer a feature that just serves no purpose. If you really need to fine tune your driving so much in a race, then maybe you should consider a different genre. 

All of that aside, I'm still happy to say that DQ8 can leave me feeling a lot better after I play a really lame game (like the NFS:MW demo). This game is the ideal game for two major sets of RPG fans. For those who miss the old-school style of RPGs, that include not having a plague of "innovation", then DQ8 is perfect since it's as old-school as one could get, while still bringing out the new technology and visuals to give the game a nice polish. Also, for those who thought that the glory days of Enix were gone when they joined Square...well, this game shows you that Star Ocean 3 was just a fluke. Enix's old properties are still alive, and they are still able to hold their own. 

Sadly, this game is being horribly misrepresented by the inclusion of the FF12 demo with the game. This will just bring the wrong type of gamer to this game. It's pretty safe to say that FF12 fans are not going to be the same fans as a DQ game will have. To include the FF12 demo, all this will do is make some fanboys pissed off about the "free" game included when they buy the "$50" FF12 demo. Also, if you're wondering what my impressions of FF12 are...f#@$ off. I may try that demo when I'm really bored and in need for an RPG fix. Then, when I try it, I imagine that I'll have to throw Xenogears on to clean my palate of that crap. 


Malik (11/30/05)  

The 360 insanity (and greed) have stepped to new levels at JC Penny. Instead of charging a ridiculous amount for a bundle with a bunch of games, it looks like JC Penny is charging an even more ridiculous amount for what looks like the Premium 360, a charge and play kit, and maybe a remote. This takes the greed of the season to new levels. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised, unless this bundle turns into something more worth the price, for Microsoft to cut off future shipments to this retailer. It's one thing to force a bundle on a shopper, but it's another thing completely to charge a higher than normal price for a lower priced set of products. I just hope (and that hope is unfounded and will soon die) that people will not be this stupid. In other words, people, if you want a 360 and you need it now, just keep one thing in mind; you will pay hundreds extra on eBay or at JC Penny for a system now, but then again, you can find the system in a month for regular prices...patience is the key to this. Just ask yourself before you click to buy something this overpriced, "is the extra month of gaming worth $400 or more?" 

Anyway, with other news, Hironobu Sakaguchi, the mind behind the Mistwalker game studio (not to mention some classic FF games) had an interview with Famitsu. In it, there was some good news for people who want some Japanese-style RPGs on the 360. He plans to have both Blue Dragon and Lost Odyssey out sometime next year (or at least Blue Dragon, with a short time span before Lost Odyssey follows). I don't know if this means that the US will also get the games next year, but here's to hoping. Also, a playable demo of Lost Odyssey should be available sometime after E3. It always nice to see more competition between the consoles, and this ensures the 360 will be able to fight on the Japanese RPG front. 

This is the point in which I would normally go off about what I've been playing (DQ8), but I feel like doing something a little different today. It's time for a much needed history lesson... 

Several years back, Game Park, a Korean company, made a nifty little gadget called the GP32 This was a game system, like the Wonder Swan, that never saw much international attention. Basically, this handheld had almost nothing for the casual gamer. It was a handheld with only a handful of games. However, what got some of the hardcore geeks to pay attention was what else it could do. It could run emulators like no one's business. It could handle everything up to the Genesis with perfection, and it could handle SNES emulation at about 80% normal speed. Why do I mention this? Because it's a cool device, and because it didn't end there... 

In the last month, the follow-up to the GP32 came out; the GP2X. On top of that, when the first system was launched, some internal strife eventually caused the company to split. Along came an offshoot called Game Park Holdings (as opposed to Game Park). Well, the new company just released the GP2X, while the original Game Park is releasing the XGP. Basically, the XGP is elusive and mysterious (there's very little solid info out there), but the GP2X is out and available (if you know where to look) for a mere $180. 

I mention this for two main reasons; the first being for those who, like myself, feel that the PSP is a giant waste of $250 and the best fun the PSP can offer is from emulation and homebrew apps. I also mention it because this is one hell of a nice little system. It basically boils down to being able to handle SNES, MAME, Neo Geo CD, and just about anything older and more primitive than these systems with flair. On top of that, it's a Linux operated system with easily found development tools, it's easy to add games (none of Sony's policy of total lock-down of homebrew), it plays more types of video and audio files (it handles Sony's precious MP4 files as well as DIVX, WMV, and Xvid), it has an upgradeable firmware, it was a USB 2.0 port, and it has TV out. Plus, it handles the far more easily found, and far more affordable, SD memory cards. So, while it will cost almost the price of the system to find the largest (2GB) Memory Duo for your PSP, you can get twice the size of memory for the same (or lower) cost for the GP2X. 

In a nut shell, if you are looking for the openness of the cracked PSP 1.5 and for a lower price, this is the only way to go. Considering that the PSP has no good games (unless you want to count GTA...which you shouldn't) and it's best feature is constantly being eliminated (or delayed) by Sony and their firmware upgrades, this may be the ideal system for any hardcore geeks out there. Plus, when you have the ability to hook it up to a TV, you may enjoy the video player far more (since I know watching an extended video on the PSP can cause some serious discomfort). 

Anyway, I went off about this today for one important reason; I'm sick of the PSP. I have never regretted a big technology purchase as much as I regret the PSP. To be honest, I've played PSP games for about 30 hours since I got the system around launch, but I've played about 200 hours of homebrew on the PSP since launch. If you feel the same (and I know many of you do), then take a moment and look at the GP2X...and if you're aiming to buy a PSP (either as a Christmas gift, or just for yourself), ask yourself if this (or even a DS) might be better. I don't want to see Sony get more money for one hell of a half-assed system anymore. I've given then about $1000 for Playstations (as in PSX...Playstation 1...the white box), about $600 for PS2, $250 for the PSP, and I feel ripped-the-f#@$-off. While they may offer the best game libraries (normally...the PSP is an exception), they don't offer the best hardware and they offer too high of prices for faulty and poorly designed systems. 

So, if you're wondering, there is a good reason I'm so pissed off today towards Sony. It comes down to two facts; PSP Firmware version 2.6 and 100 million PS2s have been shipped. The 2.6 pisses me off since it's undoubtedly filled with more "protective measures" that will keep homebrew off of this system, but there are still not enough good games to justify limiting your game playing selections by installing new lock-outs. As for the 100 million PS2s...this number does NOT take into account how many systems were actually replacements for people who threw out old PS2s after they suffered one too many DREs. Hell, I know I was forced to supply one extra to that number when my original PS2 went to DRE hell. While the XBox and GCN are not flawless, they have suffered far fewer system deaths, so I would not take this number as an indication of success or failure.

Ahhhh...I feel a little better getting that off my chest. 


Malik (12/1/05)  

In several major cities around the US, there is some lame "artwork" (you can read that as "graffiti") that seems to be endorsing or advertising the PSP that is appearing. Sony is claiming to know nothing of the nature of this vandalism...of course. I just have to think a couple of things. For one, like I said quite clearly yesterday, the PSP is a half-assed handheld and needs some help, and maybe advertising in more unique of ways might be one way for it to be helped. Secondly, while Sony claims to know nothing of it, they were also the same people who introduced one of the largest PC threats of the year, and they didn't take any real responsibility until faced with both class action lawsuits and being called a virus maker by Microsoft, etc. 

So, when something like graffiti, which is not something that's found to be identical in several corners of the US at the same time, starts to appear in identical ways and with high quality in several major US cities simultaneously, I just have to look at Sony and wonder...well, I don't really wonder, since I'm free to make my own opinions and my opinion (not fact) is that they probably know quite a bit about this vandalism. There's a chance they don't know anything, but then again there's a chance that the PSP was a giant joke and soon Sony will introduce a handheld with a working analogue nub and a bunch of good games and free access for homebrew titles...and this system will be given for free to anyone who was dumb enough to buy a PSP. There's a isn't a good chance, but... 

On a different note, I think the whole idea of Microsoft's micro-economy or whatever they want to call it is starting to become obvious. I'm talking about the "microtransactions" on XBox Live with the 360. So, now we have our first real downloadable content for a 360 game and it looks like the price may be quite steep. For $2.50, you can download a couple of costumes for Kameo. I just feel like I need to comment on this thing. 

For one thing, asking for money for something as minor as costumes seems like a new low in Live greed. It's lame enough that you have to buy the avatar images for your gamer card (assuming you care enough to not want the couple dozen free images), but now we have to pay for content that does nothing for the game. I can understand the fact that it costs time and money for a developer to make extra content, but costumes should not be this pricey (I know that $2.50 is not much...but then again it's 5% of the price of Kameo). If it was a bonus area, or maybe some new monster forms then I'd understand. 

The main incentive behind a developer making new downloadable content should be obvious; even as a game ages and is no longer as marketable, you can still boost sales by offering new free content. In other words, it's about timing. You wait for a game to feel dated, and then you offer the new content as a way to entice more people into purchasing your obsolete game. 

I do, however, give props to Microsoft for knowing a good way to make money. I have seen plenty of comments of how it's "only $2.50", and I think this is what makes Microsoft smart about this. They picked a price that's low enough that most people would view it as small, but it's big enough that when some gamers get caught up in these "microtransaction", then Microsoft can count on then for some cheap instant financial gratification. It's a lot like gambling; a lotto ticket "only" costs $1 to play...and if I play every week, I will pay $52 a year and statistically not win anything. Multiply this by the millions of people playing the same lotto game, and then the measly $1 becomes a nice chunk of change for the state. The same applies to these Live microtransactions. It probably cost very little to make these costumes, and yet since people are actually getting a return for these transactions (the cheap costumes), then these people are more likely to buy again...thus setting up a nice set of loyal customers who won't even realize that by this time next year, they could have bought an extra couple of 360 games or controllers for the money they spent on microtransactions. 

If I sound bitter...I'm sorry. In reality, I think Microsoft is showing us all that they are not only the masters of economics, but they will be able to have staying power in the game industry. At least that is true if the common assumption holds out; that people will buy this stuff and not even think of "only $2.50" as a real purchase. 


Malik (12/2/05)  

Only with Square Enix can you have a highly anticipated game, change the mechanics enough that a majority of non-fanboy voices are outraged, and then charge a ridiculous price for it. So, while FF12 will probably only cost about $50 in the US when it's launched, it will cost more than most Japanese games when it's launched in Japan. 

So, basically, while the game demo and preview content are being ripped on by a good number of people, Square is still obsessed with milking this series for all it's worth. It's not like the game looks like it will be one of the lower quality FF games (like FF8 and FFX-2 are...I won't even mention FFX since many a fanboy may get angry at me bashing their precious steaming pile of...I almost said it). It is looking to be the single worst FF game and a game with almost no tie in to the classic series. For example, when you used to have the common themes of a good semi-turn based combat, you now have an MMORPG style with the combat engine never stopping as long as there is a possibility of enemies appearing. When you used to have strong control of a party of 3-5 characters, you now have strong control of one person while the remaining characters fall more into a weird limbo situation (sounds a lot like the raping that you could watch your party take in Star Ocean 3...yeah, I still haven't played the FF12 demo, so I'm not 100% on this yet). When you used to have a fun set of standard races, you now have ridiculous looking bunny-women (who designed this race, and how much of what did he smoke while thinking of it?). 

In the end, I can easily still see why I gave up on the FF series. Actually, I should say that I can see why I gave up on most of Square Enix. It's just not worth it anymore. When a company is so obsessed with two elements (money and innovation), it just isn't worth it for the gamer anymore. Then again, it's definitely not worth it for the general audience when they make all of their games into fan-service. 

Anyway, I really have nothing much to say today. I've been playing a lot of DQ8. That's it. My 360, which is a nice piece of hardware (and Kameo is one fun game), just can't keep up with a truly amazing RPG. Maybe if Oblivion launched with the 360, like it should have before all the promises fell apart, then the 360 would get more of my love. However, until DQ8 is laid to rest (which will probably be awhile since I know DQ7 took me about 80 hours to finish, and DQ8 is supposed to boast a similar time to completion), I think the other games and systems will just sit on the shelf trying to look pretty. 


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