Malik (12/20/04)  

Over the weekend, I got in my usual dosage of Xenosaga. I played, and yelled, and smiled, and all that fun stuff. I'm having doubts about finishing this game before Xenosaga loses out to the other new games in my line-up. Especially since I've started playing Anarchy Online and... 

Over the weekend, my friend Meat Shield got me an early Christmas gift of Future Tactics. Yeah, it's an old game...so what? I think this is another one of those rare games that I missed the first time around, and I probably would've continued to overlook if it wasn't placed right in my geeky hands. So, that's what had to happen and it's what did happen. 

I've seen an interesting mix of reactions to this game from the Internet reviews. It seems that people either think it's pretty good (8/10...a definitely good score) or it's a good concept with nothing to back it up (4/10). I have to say that the first group is more on target on this one. I'd even say that it might deserve a little more respect. From the little I've played (about 3 hours), I'm impressed for what the game IS, and not (as many people look at it) for what it ISN'T. It has a really lame story, and I have no issue with that. I mean it's a quality tactical RPG that actually doesn't need to rely on a heavy plot to support a very good engine. It's like Advanced Wars (not literally, but in the case of the plot); there's no real quality or depth to the plot, but you don't play for a cheesy feeling (I'd even say "tacked on") plot. You play this type of game to experience a really unique and deep engine. 

The game basically plays like a tactical RPG that has talked with Metal Gear Solid and a FPS. You control a small group of characters in real-time-turn-based combat. What this means is that you can move a character as the rest of the world doesn't move, but the rest of the characters (the enemies) can see you and take notice of your actions, so you need to keep stealth and trickery as a high priority. For example, if you move into the open, then you should try to, before you stop moving for the turn, find cover and then move, under cover of stealth, to an area far from where the enemies saw you initially hide. It sounds complex and confusing in words, but it really plays in a rather ingenious way. 

Plus, when you use a weapon (well, most weapons), you will aim in a first person aiming mechanism. This means you have to see the enemy, and they may see you. Plus, it means you can actually become rather skilled at making some trick shots. Best of all, these weapons will deal environmental damage. Yup. If that rock is blocking your characters' view of an enemy, then have one person shoot a hole in the rock, and then let the other people take the shots on the enemy. It also means that cover is only as good as how much the enemy wants it to remain (if an enemy is tired of your hiding, it will take down the cover). 

Anyway, long story short, I'm quite impressed with this game, so far. It may get old, or it may get even better...who knows? I'm just planning to play and enjoy until I get devoured by KOTOR2. 

I also gave AO a shot this weekend. I'm not too impressed. It's not that AO isn't a good game, but from what I know of the game, this Alien Invasion scenario is lame. Everyone is starting on the same damned island. Let's just say that when you're low level and you want to kill some easy mobs to get some levels, it will not happen if there's a ratio of, up to, 20 PCs per low level alien. It just can't work this way. Plus, with 3 servers, this is just ridiculous. I think Funcom would be better off, with this free play idea (the game is free to all people, until a year from now, if you sign up by the 15th of January), to just revert AO to the pre-Alien Invasion setting. Oh well. It's free, so who am I to complain? Oh, wait. I'm the most bitchy person I know, so that's who I am to complain. 


Malik (12/21/04)  

Well, my PS2 is no longer in stable condition. It's gone back to being terminally ill. Last night, as I played Xenosaga, I decided to take a break (dinner is a good thing), so I saved and shut down the PS2. After dinner, I fired the PS2 back up and it took me almost 30 minutes to get Xenosaga loaded. However, I think my PS2 is out of the DRE realm, and is not just messed up. Instead of not loading a game and saying "Disk Read Error", it will load the disk. It will load the Playstation 2 logo screen (along with the nifty sound effect), and then it will sit, on a black screen. For some reason, Xenosaga, which is my game of choice right now, is the only game that truly suffers. I can get most other games to load on the fourth or fifth attempt, but Xenosaga takes upwards of 15-20 tries before it loads. 

Sadly, I may have to get a new PS2 sooner than I first thought. I was originally thinking I had another 2-3 months. This meant I could plan it into my budget. However, with it dying soon quickly, I may be down to having to get a new one as soon as the Christmas PS2 debt is replenished. Blah. 

Anyway, as I said, last night was all about Xenosaga. Actually, it was about finishing the damned Cathedral Ship so I could get on to playing video poker. Yeah, as soon as I had access to it, I spent my Xenosaga time addicted to video poker (mainly because I was worn down by the Cathedral Ship, but also because it's the only way to earn quick money in Xenosaga). I know that if I want any of the nice equipment later on, I might as well start Shion's gambling addiction early. For those who played Xenosaga and never took the time to play the mini-games (the Passport games), the Casino Passport is the best money maker. You just need to find the passport (on the Durandal), and then play poker at level 4 (100 coins per hand). Then you play video poker with some easy rules (any pair pays out 1:1). Once you win a hand, you can play high-low (guess if the next card will be higher or lower than the current card for double or nothing payout) up to five times per winning hand. Then you trade your earnings (coins are not the same as money...and you can buy coins, but you can't directly buy money with coins) for the 100 coin costing "Recovery Set" (1 of each; health pack, ether pack, revive, and cure-all). Buy until you're maxed out to 99 on each item, and then sell them all. 9,900 coins (which takes little time to earn in poker) becomes about 11,000 dollars in a hurry. Plus, with poker, you can buy some nice bonuses (like booster cards for the Xenocards game and a couple of crisis items) in poker too. 

So, that's how I wasted my Xenosaga time last night. I was hoping for some more Future Tactics, but I felt more like something simple and that required far less strategy. My brain was shot from having my end of the year evaluation for my day job, so I didn't have the thought capacity to play anything with strategy involved. However, I'm feeling a little better today, brain-wise, so today may be another good time for FT. Slightly off subject, considering how the price on this game has gone down a good deal since it first came out, I have to say this is definitely a good purchase for anyone looking for a tactical game that has a bad plot but an amazing combat engine. Imagine the opposite of Shining Force or Arc the Lad...that's what I'm talking about.


Malik (12/22/04)  

I was determined to play some Future Tactics last night. I was in the zone for some serious thinking, and a tactical game seems perfect for this mind-set. However, I first wanted to get a bit of time with my Xeno gambling addiction. So, I tried to play Xenosaga. I loaded the PS2 and watched the black screen of doom appear after the Playstation 2 logo had passed. So, I loaded the game again...and again...and again...and I got pissed off. So, I tried to load another game...and what do you know? Every other game I own will work on my PS2 with the sole exception being Xenosaga; the game I actually want to play. This, naturally, didn't help my mood any. So, I tried some more. Then I reverted to silly and inane tactics, including loading Katamari Damacy and trying a disk swap right after the Playstation 2 logo appeared...I know it won't work, but I was at my limit. Then I managed to maneuver my PS2 into a perfectly vertical position (which is a hard thing to do since my PS2 is on a very short AV-leash and is kept in a shelf that is only about twice the height of the PS2 when it's horizontal). Then the game loaded. I'm not sure if this was the actual solution, since I got the game to work the previous night after the same sort of problems by just loading the PS2 over and over again. So, it might just be a coincidence. 

So, then I played some Xenosaga...a lot of Xenosaga. I gave up on playing FT last night. I mean if you have to put so much effort into playing a game (that you only want to play a mini-game on), you usually become so determined to enjoy your victory of Sony's shoddy merchandise that you will play as long as possible...at least that's how I think. So, I played Xenosaga for a couple hours before I reached a cut-scene that started to lag. Before long, the entire video stopped and the game sat there, frozen. I wasn't going to just throw away my prior victory so easily, so I started to play with the position of my PS2 just like a old TV antennae trying to pick-up a FOX affiliate. I twisted it, I turned it, and slowly the video would start to move a little...then it'd die again. In the end, for some weird reason, my system that may (depending on the coincidence factor) only load Xenosaga in the vertical position can only play Xenosaga in the horizontal position. 

The moral of this story? Well, there's two morals. If your system is falling apart, then no matter how hard you struggle, Sony's pile of shit is doomed. Moral number two is even more simple; Sony hates us all, but loves our money. I'm not so sure of my stance on the PSP anymore. I mean considering Sony's record with game consoles, I think I'll wait a year before I jump into another system that suffers massive technical failures. I'm about to get my second PS2 (which will probably be a slim case one, which means I'm going to need a new mod solution...my flip-top case is only for the original release of the original PS2), I've had 4 PSXs (not the multimedia crap-fest, but rather Playstation 1), and the thought of buying more than one PSP, or having to buy new batteries because Sony designs them to explode or whatever...well, it just doesn't sit well with me right now. Anyway, with a PSP I'll probably cut Velveeta's head off, or maybe my leg, with a flying UMD of doom (as seen on gamesarefun.com). I don't need that type of crap. 

So, in the end, I'm still lagging on FT play time. I haven't played anymore Anarchy Online since the weekend...and I'm not so sure I'll play anymore. This Alien Invasion stuff is annoying as hell (20 players in the newby area to each monster and lag-prone servers due to over-crowding). I think I'll focus mainly on Xenosaga until Christmas and get in some FT as I find the time...it all depends on if my loading experiences with my PS2 become better or worse (either way, FT is in my future...however, if it stays the same, I'll be too obsessed with defeating Sony to care about playing my user-friendly GCN). 

Also, if you're looking for more free gaming fun, here's something that came to my attention; Rockstar is giving away free (via download) GTA2. It's not the best of games, but it could give you some fun if you have a low class PC that can't handle any real games. Anyway, the link is here. The download page at Rockstar (that same page) also has GTA1 (which they gave away about a year ago) and Wild Metal (which I know nothing of, to tell the truth). Anyway, I always had a soft spot in my heart for the old school GTA games (until GTA3 came out, at least), so if you want to see what once were a couple of fun games, check it out. Supposedly GTA2 has been revamped to run on modern PCs, so it should be better than GTA1 (which I think was revamped a little...but it never worked right on my machine...too much horsepower running too small of a car, if you catch my meaning). Anyway, I haven't tested this out since I have GTA2 on CD collecting dust in my closet, where is will probably rest for all eternity. 

Lastly, on Gamespot.com today, some more information was revealed about the next Katamari Damacy game (the name translates to "Everyone's Favorite Katamari Damacy", but I'll just make it easy with KD2). The title's unusual title was also explained. It seems that the plot of KD2 will involve the Prince of All Cosmos (the little green dude) gets a fan letter asking for a specific Katamari job. So, the Price does what he does best; rolls up a nice ball of crap. Then, as you progress, new fans appear with different requests. Basically the game will play much like the original, but with a different plot driving the action. Also, some new game modes have been devised that focus around specific stages/settings. These include such places as a house made entirely of food, a zoo, a race track, and the classroom that was seen in previous pictures found on the KD web site

The site is Japanese, so some guess work is needed to find the tasty bits, but it's not too hard to do...as long as a giant picture of the King of All Cosmos doesn't frighten you away. Needless to say, the pictures look great and the game should be good fun for anyone who has a weird sense of humor. The release date is still set for Spring of 2005...in Japan. I imagine, with how the US release had a nice cult following, that an American version won't be too far off from that date...I hope. 

By the way, for now I'm not even touching the recently released information on what Wild Arms 4 is going to be like (more action on the world map and tactical based combat)...I'll just ask one question; Why?


Malik (12/23/04)  

On the bright side of things, I figured out how to manipulate my ailing PS2. My idea before of turning it vertical to load Xenosaga and then turning it horizontal to play the game seems to work perfectly. That's not saying that I now want to keep my piece of shit PS2. I have to face the facts, and the facts are rather simple and to the point with this; I need a new PS2 if I plan to keep playing PS2 games a year from now. 

However, because of my victory, I spent the whole night celebrating last night with Xenosaga. I know, I know. I said I'd play Future Tactics a couple nights ago and I didn't because of my victory after a fight with the PS2. Then I said I'd play last night and didn't because I didn't have to fight the PS2. I'm just a Xeno addict (dare I say...fanboy? I hope not...) and I need my fix. 

Sadly, I see FT becoming another victim of this season. There are too many fun games on my shelf waiting to be played, and too little time to play them all. I do aim to get at least a little more time with my dust collecting games over the next 11 days...those 11 days that I'm on vacation and can treat geeking out like a full time profession. So, over the next week or so, I aim to play some Christmas gift-type games (I know I'm getting some), and some birthday gift-type games (yours truly has one of those events around the corner), and playing some neglected games from the September through November of geekish insanity (like Halo 2). So, it'll be a busy week, but in all the right ways. 

The reason I'm going off like this about the future is simple. I doubt I'll be posting for the next few days. In my family, Christmas Eve has some significance for being a family gathering day. So, I'll most likely be AWOL tomorrow. Then, Christmas day is another one of those family deals...plus, it's a Saturday. For those who were waiting for a new Malik's Bitchings this week; I decided against a Bitchings column this week. It's not that I don't have a lot to complain about. I mean I have Sony flanking me from two sides here (the PSP has some really funny defects that will have to be evaluated next week, like the flying UMDs of doom and the battery situation, and then I've had enough PS2 fun in the last week to put me in a strong anti-Sony place about now). Plus there are some other facts, like how Wild Arms 4 is going to completely change the game play mechanics, again, from what I once called my second favorite PSX RPG (Xenogears, obviously, being the first favorite). I could even go off right now about how Wild Arms is not a tactical RPG and how a series should not be so radically changed mid-series (maybe even "end-series" since this type of crap could be the downfall of such a once great legacy). 

However, I'm going to put the bad feelings, the negative thoughts and all of that behind me for the week. This is Christmas week. Tomorrow is Christmas Eve. On one hand, the spirit of the holiday (no matter if you believe in Christianity or not) is to be good to your fellow man, to be happy, and to celebrate the spirit of generosity. On the other hand, this is a time for us older geeks (I'm not THAT old...just old enough to be part of the American workforce) to feel like kids again and for the younger geeks to feel even more like kids. None of this fits in well with the spirit of bitching. However, since New Years is the following weekend, I have no issues with a little bitching then...I mean New Years is more about older geeks drinking, and drinking and bitching go hand in hand. 

So, I guess what I'm saying is this; next week I will be back to my bitchy mood. You can expect some of my special insight into the PSP and the flying UMDs, the PS2 and Sony's method to madness (that is, their method to invoke my madness), and on the corruption of good game franchises. I'm not 100% sure of what we'll see, since it's usually up to how much caffeine I devour as I write, but I think this will include at least one, if not more, of the following; "Wild Arms 4: the tactical RPG", "NFL exclusively with EA and the downfall of the other football developers", and/or "Xenosaga Episode 2 and the abolishment of money" (I love Xeno, but that is just a bad move we'll all be seeing in a couple months). So, fear not. I'll be back and bitchy (maybe bitchier than ever) in just a week. But for now... 

Happy holidays to all and safe journeys.