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Malik (4/11/05)  

Some really good least for Phantasy Star fans, like myself. The next Phantasy Star game, with the name Universe attached to it, is, according to Gamespot, coming to the US. It will be released sometime in the first half of next year (officially, it's called a Spring release, but with how far away it is, I'd expect some delays just because that's the standard way of doing things now-a-days. 

The game will be the first PS game designed specifically for a Sony system (being a PS2 game). It seems a little unusual that Sega would make it for the PS2 and not the PS3 since the PS3, according to rumors and all that, is supposed to be out and about by that time. Since the game uses both a mix of offline (YES!) and online, it seems dumb to have something that uses such a fan-base as online with it being on what will be, by then, an old and dying system. 

Either way, the game, like I just said, will have a full offline adventure for single players. This will be a game that should clock around 40 hours...which is a great length, despite how we're being taught to only like RPGs if they can get us 80+ hours. It's not the length, rather the game itself, that should matter in an RPG...or any other genre, for that matter. 

The online game will let you make your own characters to populate the world shared by other players. Meanwhile, the offline will let you play a more standard game with you controlling a pre-made protagonist. This game, from the sounds of it, should give something to both those people who like the original four PS games and for those who like the PSO style of games...and if you liked both, you're in luck. 

To shift topics, I complained more with Comcast over my Internet outage (and outrage) from Thursday. I did it all via their online service, and they kept wanting information that I had no way of knowing. The main one is that they wanted to know my email account's login name. As someone who knows the joy of Gmail and having their own domain, I don't use something as faulty as Comcast email. So, I told them this, and told them to expect otherwise is nothing but foolishness. Well, I guess my complaining must have hit the right person's ears, and now I'm getting a much bigger credit than they owe me. My total Comcast bill per day, for TV and Internet, comes to about $3.90 a day (Internet would therefore be something around $2) and they decided to give me more than that. So, in the end, while I'm pissed off at this latest amount of crap I've gone through with Comcast, I am glad to at least they took care of me in the end. So, Comcast and myself are cool once again...for now. 

I didn't get much gaming in this weekend. I wanted to, but I had "important" things to do. Velveeta and I did some important shopping and browsing and all that fun crap that makes life less bearable. So, instead of playing some good games, I was put to sleep by clerks and lines. At least I did get a little Untold Legends in on the may be a cheap Diablo clone, but it's mighty fun. 

I also watched as my friend Bastich played some Splinter Cell 3. I can't get into those games, from a player perspective, since I have way too much of an attention span deficit. Usually, when I play a stealth action game, I blow everything by being just a few steps to far towards "trigger-happy". However, watching I can do. 

That game is awesome. The things you can do are amazing. Especially now that you have melee attacks, being caught at close range is no longer as much of a hassle. Just punch the dude and move on. Also, the ways you can interact with the environment are amazing. In one level, you're in Japan in a compound that has many walls made of paper (also, there's levels with canvas tents that work that same), that you can see through with heat vision, light from one side can cast shadows seen on the other side, and best of all you can slice the wall open with your knife and grab a dude on the other side. So hella sweet. 

Anyway, I'm exhausted, so I'm going to just log off here. I need some good old gaming to get my blood pumping. Also, I need to feel in the gamer mood for this week's long awaited release; Jade very soon. 


Malik (4/12/05)  

As I post, I haven't had time to do anything after work besides type this before pleasure (even if THIS business is pleasure at the same time) and all that. So, keep in mind that I haven't reached any conclusions on this...yet. 

In theory, Jade Empire is out. In theory I won't make stupid errors when I make alterations to this site (like remembering a nav bar for those who can't handle flash). In theory, everything works according to plan. So, some people have Jade Empire in their grubby hands, I imagine, and I bet my pre-order copy won't be in until tomorrow. I say this since the "date" for JE is today, and recently the "date" has actually been the ship date. It's a lame way of keeping stores from breaking the street date for hyped games. I mean, if the game is shipped out on the "date", then the games won't be sold before the game should be. It's all a backwards concept of controlling the date a game comes out, despite how many game won't cause any issues if they're played a day before the intended release date. 

Anyway, living in Washington (the state, not the district) has caused more hassle to me in this regards since the ship locations are usually big warehouses in the Eastern half of the country. So, I don't know for sure, yet, if my local EB has JE, but I'm doubting it. The concept of making the "date" the ship date only does prevent the street date from being broken in a backwards way that penalizes parts of the country that are farther from the major shipping warehouses. Blah. 

It'd make more sense for games to be shipped early and just hope stores meet the street date, and if they don't, the publishers can look big and impressive as they pout about it...instead of forcing multiple release dates due to the fact that shipping something from one place to another can vary in length of time by length in distance. 

Anyway, while I'm talking about JE, I was looking at some message boards at how IGN is teh-1337 and Gamespot is teh gay over the reviews they gave this game. It's pretty funny. I mean on one hand, how many of these bitchy geeks have played JE yet? So, with that in mind, how can they say a review on one site is wrong, while the other site is right? They really can't. That's why Malik's Bitchings have been so infrequent lately; I like to bitch about shit, but only if there's a valid argument behind my complaints. 

Anyway, I will add one thing, before I jump this burning ship of IGN vs. Gamespot; I read the review and a few other recent RPG reviews and have to say something about Gamespot. First off, they do a good job at reviewing...well, they don't blow too many things out of proportion...usually. If they see a fault in a game, they will try to bring it to light (along with a flaw or two that don't exist). This is something a lot of sites overlook on hyped games. However, they seem to have a problem with keeping a single game as it's own game. 

What I mean is how JE is constantly compared to other Bioware games. That's a twisted and stupid world. In reality, JE is it's own unique game, with a unique world, a new game engine style for Bioware, and a fresh look at some conventional ideas. So, why the f%$# is JE being compared to KOTOR, which had a pre-made world, a pre-made engine, and was a (really well made) rehash of old ideas and concepts? Also, I don't know how it will look when I actually play it for myself, but why do RPG style games get 8's and lower for visuals on Gamespot? It's not just an occasional's been true with almost all RPGs since 2003. Xenosaga 2, which is a horrible game with amazing visuals, got an 8. JE got an 8. KOTOR2, which doesn't look bad by any measures, got a 6. Shadow Hearts: Covenant, which is damned pretty, got an 8. Strangely, however, Paper Mario for the GCN, which had nice visuals (not by any means as nice as any of the above games...hell, it looked like a slightly polished version of the N64 game) got a 9?! Meanwhile Suikoden 4, which is not perfect in looks, but far better than Paper Mario (GCN) only got a 7? Look it up. I'd put links, but the PC I'm on as I type this is not loving the Gamespot site (so, it's hard to collect the link info). It's all true. 

Visuals don't mean shit to me. I love a game that's fun despite the looks (just like how a short game should not be a reason to bash it, like JE was treated by Gamespot...for shame...), but if your publication uses visuals to count towards the overall score, let's keep things in perspective. It only skews the reviews if you bash something that good and it lowers the total score. 

Ok, that was my rant. I am just finding it funny that RPGs with better visuals than certain non-RPG games are getting worse visual scores. It's like with the eye-candy fad that Square made with FFX, now on the bar has to be higher for RPGs. You know what? All games are on the same consoles, and it's a combination between artistic inspiration and console abilities that determines the maximum and standard visual quality of a game. Hell, a game with simple visuals can be very pretty if the artistic purpose of simple graphics were well founded. Look at Alien Hominid...those visuals would be called crap on any other game, but on AH they are nothing short of artistically inspired. 

Anyway, I'll probably bitch some more tomorrow. However, for now, I need to hear from EB about how today was the "ship date" and not the "release date"...and maybe when the game arrives tomorrow, then I can talk about it some. 

Also, if you're wondering why I'm going off so much about these reviews, I'll reiterate an old point.  This type of BS doesn't effect me in the short run.  I'll buy a game no matter what, after I do my research.  If Gamespot says it's crap, I'll still research the game, and then decide.  I've played plenty of games that reviewers have called bad that were really good (Suikoden 4 is a great example of a game that was underrated), and plenty of games that were called great and were actually self-indulgent crap (cough:FFX:cough).  However, many people don't do their own research and therefore will buy a bad game when it's reviewed otherwise, or vice versa.  This is what does effect me since it's the numbers (as in the financial numbers, like the number of games sold and profits) that determine, often times, if a game is turned into a franchise of sequels.  This is where I get effected.

If people skip on a good game because it was called crap by a bunch of reviewers who would rather play FFX and call that year the "glory days of FFX's perfection", then less people will buy a good game.  This leads to the game being ignored, just as much as poor advertising can do the same (hence, we'll never be graced with a Beyond Good and Evil 2...sigh...such an awesome prospect...sigh...).  Then, when I'm awaiting a game, like a BG&E2, I'll just have false hopes of greatness being bestowed upon us.

While a simple 8.4 versus a 9.9 is still comparing great and great, it is a minor hint at the real problem; bad reviewers.  I mean when no RPGs, even the ultra pretty ones, can get good visual scores...there's a problem.  When this problem is emphasized, like with a review saying KOTOR2 could've been good if it didn't have so much dialogue (RPGs are about plot...Dialogue is one of the oldest forms of plot a book or watch a f$#@ing play already).  Anyway, it's multiple cases of this type of thing that can cause the bigger issues to arrive in the final score of a game.

As for JE...well, it may be a 8.4 game, or it could be a 9.9 game...or anything between, or anything not in between (maybe it's perfection, or it could be crap).  I don't know.  I will know when I play the game (which, I just called EB about, will be tomorrow).  Just keep in mind that these reviews were out before the game was shipped, so don't bitch about them so quickly.  However, at the same time, JE is not a KOTOR style game, JE looks damned pretty, and bashing an RPG (of any sub-genre, like action-RPG) for being short is lame based on time spent to completion (only bash the time played if it felt like there should have been more game and you weren't left wanting more since the first was either too short to become interesting or too long to be how Xenosaga 2 was too short to be interesting AND too long to be entertaining with it's game play engine).

Ok, there's another post that reads like a Malik's Bitchings.  Maybe it'll be another one of those weeks.


Malik (4/13/05)  

So, today, I finally have Jade Empire in my hands. I, now and forever more, think that shipping dates replacing release dates is a lame tendency, but I'll spare you. I went off enough about that yesterday. I mean it's not like 24 hours changes things all that much...however, when you're trying to run an up-to-date site and you can't be ready for the most hyped games until the day after over half the country has it...well, you see where I'm going. It's just another bit of fun for those of us who live on the West Coast. I mean gas costs more here due to how all major refineries are east of the Rockies and therefore it costs more to ship it here, games take longer to be released since most warehouses are on the Eastern half of the US, TV times for minor cable stations are based off of the Eastern time zone and thus it can be annoying having 3 hours of infomercials in the middle of what should be prime viewing time...blah, blah. I'm bitchy today. 

At least there's some good news...hopefully. Namco has announced the next game in their long running Tales series; Tales of Legendia. According to the report I saw on Gamespot, ToL is due out on the PS2 in the Winter of 2006. There isn't much info on the game engine, yet, but I think it's safe to say that it should be quite familiar to those of us who have been long standing Tales fans (action for battles, RPG for everything else). There's no real mention of a US release date, but considering how Tales of Symphonia did so well, despite the initial Namco expectations, I think it's pretty safe to say we'll see this game sometime around 6-8 months after the Japanese release. Hopefully, we'll also see the ToE port for the PSP as well. 

However, like with Phantasy Star Universe, I have to say I'm surprised with the choice of console. While PSU has some online, which makes it even more puzzling, why would Sega and Namco purposefully design their next big games for a console that will (in theory) have been succeeded by the release of these games? You can always make a little more money by going with what's hot and, with how few RPGs are usually available, initially, with a new console, this would be a major way to bank off of the new system. It's like how Summoner did so well in the US. There were no RPGs for the PS2 (except Orphan), so geeks wanted Summoner, despite it's flawed design. In fact, Summoner did so well that it had a sequel, and this only came about since there was absolutely no competition for the first Summoner. 

If only I was in business, I could do some smart things. However, people usually prefer to make hasty and irrational decisions in a business model, so f$#@ it. 

Also, while I'm being pretty random in my subject changes, here's something fun; Gamespot has a really interesting Q&A with Alex Ward, a creative director on Burnout 4. I have been a fan of this series since Burnout 2 somehow ended up in my impulse shopping one day. After that, I've been hooked, and to hear some of the details in this interview...damn! This game sounds insane. I'm enjoying how Burnout is becoming an annual game release that keeps topping itself each year. It's like Tony Hawk, before they started to get "creative". 

Anyway, I have some Jade Empire to play. I'll post my impressions of this game tomorrow. 


Malik (4/14/05)  

So, last night, as I was trying to do some work on the Internet, I realized I had a problem...I had no Internet. Actually, I should say, first I tried to connect to XBox Live, since I haven't for a while and probably need to install some updates (it's been a half year since I used the XBox while connected to the net) and couldn't get through. Anyway, my point in all of this is to say that after I spent a long time trying to figure out what was up (it looked like Internet was up thanks to a third computer that connected to a VPN on my network...somehow the VPN connection remained up after the net went down), I finally realized that Comcast was doing it again. They f%$#ed up my Internet for the second time in 6 days. I f$#%ing hate how they can have a monopoly on this shit. 

Sorry, I'll now get to what you (or at least what I...) have been waiting for; Jade Empire. When I first started to download the extra content for the Limited Edition (extra avatar and one weapon style), I got a lame message saying that I couldn't since I haven't played JE yet. So, basically, if you wanted to start your first game with the additional character, you would have to put in the JE game disk, load to the main menu, turn it off, put in the LE disk, and then download, and then turn off the console, put in the JE disk and then play. What a hassle...just for an extra avatar and a fighting style. 

So, hassles aside, I started to play. Like most Bioware games, it starts pretty damned slow. I mean the game looks beautiful (definitely some of the better RPG visuals I've seen) and this will keep you mildly entertained, but the massive amounts of dialogue and learning the feel of the game does take a little time. It's not a bad thing, by any means. I mean this type of game requires a little downtime at the start in order to make things better as you play. You can't start a deep game with such a unique world without a little education on what the game is all about. 

Anyway, the plot is pretty typical and refreshing, at the same time. It starts with some obvious events, and a typical cast of characters (like the snotty rich kid who becomes your rival, the mysterious teacher with a past shrouded in mysteries, the girl who was raised with you and is close like a sister but just may be a possible love interest, and you play the over-achieving student who has a destiny that will involve saving the world), but a rather unique world (assuming you don't read things like Journey to the West, Three Kingdoms, Outlaws of the Marsh...from which some names are taken..., etc) that has, in the very least, not been seen in a game of this caliber before. 

Also, to help enhance the interesting, if cliché, plot is the superb voice acting. This is the type of voice acting that most game designers dream of finding, and most geeks long for when they play something like Xenosaga 2. Since the world of JE is one of a battle between tranquility and chaos ("open palm" versus "closed fist"...that's their lingo for light side and dark side), it makes the voice acting a little easier to handle. Each character I've encountered fits neatly on one side of this struggle and this helps the voice actors to have an easier job of deciding to either play a cool and relaxed character or a gung-ho ass. 

Also, I feel like throwing out something right now; this is the first RPG I've played since (as far as I can remember right now) FF4 that has Asian characters that actually look Asian (as opposed to white...FF4 had Yang, in case you were trying to recall who I meant...although with the low quality of those visuals...). Usually a character that has obvious Asian heritage will look, in other RPGs, like a tanned white guy (like Fei in Xenogears, or Jin in Xenosaga). I think this is a great improvement in how characters are represented in a game. 

Anyway, the visuals are great so far. It's like a cross between standard high quality RPG visuals (think FFX...sorta...) and a Chinese watercolor painting. There's an obvious level of detail to the visuals, but they are still kept quite simple in their general feel. It's like, to be really freakin' cliché, yin and yang. Despite my cliché, the visuals are amazing to behold. It really is something you have to take a minute to appreciate or it will just go unnoticed too easily. 

I'd go into the combat system right now, but I've only had a chance for about 8 or so fights (as I said, the beginning is slow...very slow...). Most of these were training matches. Yeah...that's what I mean by the slow start that you must endure in JE. The worst part is that you cannot practice any combat styles (you can't fight) without an enemy present. So, last night, right as I quit playing, I obtained the magic of ice. Sadly, I couldn't figure out what it plays like (so sad since I'm playing a magically inclined character and this is his first magic) since none of the students at the school would spar with me, and I needed to quit, so I couldn't just continue until I fought a battle. However, once I see my ice in action, then I'll be ready to post on fighting in this game. Needless to say, from what I've done so far, the combat is great and it's interesting to combine some really cool looking block and dodge abilities with up to four combat styles at a time. 

Also, with all of the dialogue you find in this game, I'll mention that Bioware has kept dialogue modifiers. By this I mean that you have skills (despite having no skill points, to speak of) of intimidate, charm, and one that's name eludes me (I think it's persuade). From your three stats (basically, these lead to HP, MP, and Focus Points which allow you to use weapons and to slow time) that you boost as you level up, any two in conjunction contribute to a conversation skill. This way you can still let you words do their thing, like in KOTOR. Don't want to pay full price for something? Try to talk it down by turning on the charm...or you can do a little intimidating. 

Anyway, I need to play some more so I can try out my ice fist...and because I need to play more. 


Malik (4/15/05)  

For those who know me or want to know my!

Let's just get down to the nitty-gritty. Jade Empire. 

I played more and now have a few more battles under my belt. I also now have a few more combat styles under that same belt. Namely, I have at least one of each combat style genre; martial (kicking the shit out of someone...or punching...), magic (like freezing a dude with ice), support (like the required one at the start that slows people), transformation (turning into a giant toad demon for a few seconds before it drains your chi/MP all the way), and weapon (like wielding a sword). That's it. It's not a bad selection of general types of combat styles. I mean you get a little of everything from the good old kung-fu movies. 

The only problem is that you can only hot-key four styles at a time, and you get limited points to upgrade these styles as you level. So, in the end, you have to chose wisely which styles you'll stick with. Also, like with KOTOR, the enemies don't just keep respawning, so you're not going to have any chances to power level. This wouldn't be bad, but it leaves you with a feeling of, "should I waste a point now to power up my sword skill or should I save it for a better weapon style that I'll hopefully get later?". 

Well, actually, there's another problem. The combat itself. It's not a bad engine, in theory, but the controls seem a's hard to describe in normal terms, so it's like trying to control your own body after you've had a few drinks. You move mostly like you'd like, but there are some instances in which you just feel like you can't quite get the perfect level of control you'd like. This is even seen in non-combat situations when your avatar refuses to open a chest the first two times you click the "open" button while the chest is highlighted. It'd be better if you just had that final bit of control. For those who played KOTOR, think of it like trying to program one of your allies to use a force power and then when you un-pause they attack anyway. You will usually get them to do what you want, but occasionally... 

This makes combat a frustrating endeavor at times. This only gets worse when you see your ally (you get one NPC in your group, to help you fight, at a time) constantly dying. I mean Dawn Star may be an interesting character, but in combat she has a habit of running into a group and just taking the beatings they dish out. Then you're left with a large group and only your self to stop them...that self would then, as luck would have it, not respond quite as quickly as you'd like, and then you're almost dead when the battle is over and you're forced to spam some loop-holes in the rules to heal yourself. 

For those who want to know; that loop-hole involves equipping stones to raise stats. Just raise your chi, then unequip those items, and then re-equip them to see some residual chi appearing in your pool. Then you heal, remove the items, equip those same items and find more chi to heal with. Keep repeating to get healed and make up for your side-kick lacking any intelligence. 

It's not that combat is really bad, but it feels like it needed a little more work to tweak the controls and actually make them work 100% of the time. 90% of the time they will work, but you're left with putting in a few dozen commands during a battle which means at least a few will not go as planned (and that's when you take some major damage). My "favorite" is involved with harmonic attacks. 

A harmonic attack is when you use a power attack from a harmonic starter style (usually a magic or support style) and this will cause both a status effect on the enemy, and a timer will appear. If you switch to a martial style (and there may be some other styles that can be harmonic closers) and power attack, the enemy will (unless it's a story enemy or certain types of monsters) explode, shatter, or do some other instant death. 

Enter my problem; I start the harmonic with my ice magic to freeze the foe. Then I hit up on the d-pad (assigned to my martial style) and hear my avatar shout that he has entered sword style...then I hit up again, and he does nothing since he's already in sword style. Then I get pissed and just slash the enemy to ribbons while losing focus from my focus meter (since weapon styles use focus when you attack). I've tried re-mapping my martial and sword styles, but my avatar really likes to pull out his sword for some unknown reason. It will usually work right, but "usually" is not a good word choice when the controls should have been tweaked to be "always". 

Also, combat seems to go a lot like a GTA fight. You will usually kill everything with little effort. However, occasionally a dude will jump you, and then your health will hit the floor. I mean the enemies are usually either push-overs or spamming whores. I love (sarcasm) facing a group of guys who use ice magic since they'll spam the freezing ability. Then, while you're frozen, they will beat the shit out of you. You can dodge the ice shot, but only if you're not in a current attack...and sadly if you hit the button repeatedly to start a combo, you will not stop attacking until you are hit or until an attack has come out of you from each button press you did. This means that, unlike a real martial artist, once you start something you will have no room to adjust your fighting as you go. 

Don't get me wrong; the game is fun. However, while many people (at least on the Gamefaqs message boards) say that Greg Kasavin from Gamespot should be fired or some shit for his "horrible" review that gave JE an 8.4/10, I actually see why this game shouldn't get perfect marks. For some reason, when Fable was released with slightly less than it should have had, geeks went ape-shit in hating the poor game. Meanwhile, the combat is a little less than it should have been in JE and people are worshipping the game. Blah. 

I should add, however, that that review on Gamespot had some things quite wrong. I'll go into full detail when I finally review this game, but I'll give some examples. The visuals are awe-inspiring. They truly are some of the best I've seen on the XBox, beyond Splinter Cell 3. However, the game play does have flaws in it and deserves to have it reflected in a review. Anyway, I'm not trying to go into this dreaded subject of the Gamespot review, since I've seen enough shit from the fanboys on various forums already. I am saying, however, that this game is not perfect. I am enjoying it, but I definitely could enjoy it more. 

The one part, however, that I feel I should mention is a lot of fun is the transportation in a flyer. When you do so, you are given a choice to enter a mini-game that's like an old top-down arcade space shooter. You move your flyer around and shoot at enemy ships. It's simple and so damned fun. 

Anyway, I need to work more on playing JE before I give too strong of an impression. I hope the controls, somehow, smooth out with time, or I can at least learn the quirks. I also need to find a way to get my side-kick to stop dying. Seriously, when Dawn Star dies in 5 combats in a row there is obviously something wrong. Blah. 

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