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Malik (4/25/05)  

For being "too short" of a game, Jade Empire has finally fallen to my apt geek hands.  I finished the last four chapters of the game (well, the last part of the third chapter and chapters 4-7) between a good dedicated chunk of time from Saturday through Sunday.  Despite how the first three chapters can take someone, who is not rushing to finish the game, a good 20+ hours to complete, the remaining chapters are far more to the point.  I'm not saying they are rushed or incomplete, they just don't offer the chances for side-quests that one can find in the second and third chapters.

In the end, unlike with the long KOTOR2, the shorter JE is actually a game that can give a good sense of completion and fulfillment in under 30 hours.  I'm not sure if I crossed the 30 hour barrier (I probably did, but I didn't check the game clock at the end), but I know what a complete game, in terms of plot, feels like and JE was a complete game.  I hold no reservations about the game being so much quicker than a game like Xenosaga 2 or KOTOR 2.  Both of those games took well above the about 30 hours of JE, but neither one felt complete or as if the game was actually meant to end at the point in which it did actually end.

Most importantly, however, is the fact that, like with KOTOR 2, I had a good deal of fun playing Jade Empire (plus with a complete plot...hell, that's a good game).  Between the combat system, which is overly simplified from the promises that Bioware told us of a couple years back but still fun, the enthralling plot, and the visuals and audio that both offer a great feeling of escapism, this is one hell of a worthwhile game to play.  However, I still wouldn't call it perfect, or even close to perfect.  I'll get to my final summary of this game later this week when I post a full on review (from the perspective of a geek who actually played as much as they could with the game and didn't just rush through to brag about how 1337 I am and how Bioware skimped on making a long enough game)...anyway, here's a preview of the review (I like what follows, so I'll save time on the review by keeping the following paragraphs in the final deal).

However, I do have one complaint I must share right now.  As I finished the game, I realized something quite important.  There is no variety to the combat system, at all.  As you start the game, you will pick an initial combat style, a magic style will soon follow, and you'll get your first weapon style in-between.  So, when you add all of those together, you have three important combat styles since each type (martial, weapon, and magic) has different weaknesses and strengths.  The problem arises with how you put points into these styles as you level.  As you place points to upgrade a style, you'll never get these points back, and you can only get more as you level up (which I only did 22 times before I finished the game).  So, if you switch what martial style you want to use half-way through the game, your new one may end up greatly under-powered since you have so developed your first one.  Then, you'll see that there is no best martial style, so you'll end up just holding on to your original style and ignoring the rest.  This applies also to magic (which different elements will help with certain foes, but in the end the average enemy will be hurt equally by each magic style).  It's not quite as simple with'll find you're selected initial weapon will do you find and will be far better than any swaps as you play due to the points you invest in it...however, you will eventually find the best weapon style in the third chapter and then you'll never change again.

To round out your combat styles, since you can only select from a pool of four at a time (all mapped to the directions of the d-pad) you'll probably go with Spirit Thief (since it's stupid to do otherwise).  Spirit Thief will give you the ability to drain chi (magic points) from your foes by either punching them or by shooting them.  The attacks deal no damage to your foes, but you can turn on chi mode (in which your attacks deal more damage at the cost of chi) to cause minor damage while gaining a smaller amount of MP.  In the end, you will use this skill like mad to regain chi as you burn through it either healing (which is more or less a one chi to one health point conversion that can be done on the fly with the white button), magic styles (which always use chi points) or fighting with chi mode on to deal extra damage.

So, in a nut-shell, my complaint is that you'll never use any styles beyond your first martial (and you won't find too many of these styles anyway, and the different ones make no real difference in combat), first magic (unless you feel like showing off with your later acquired ones), Spirit Thief, and your initial weapon (until you get the double sword in the third chapter).  The variety is so worthless.  You won't find these awesome hidden styles and be amazed by their destructive, you'll get a few mediocre abilities that suck compared to your highly powered initial ones.

The only exception to all of this will come down to your summon abilities.  You can use transformation magic to turn into certain demons that you've defeated.  However, these styles drain so much chi, and so quickly, that you'll never find a reason to use them.  They may make you look cool (and believe me, turning into a giant golem is a freakin' awesome sight to behold), but even with a chi orientated character (since you can select which stats to raise as you level and you can focus on chi exclusively if you hate having health and spirit), you'll run out and be forced back into your normal human look in only a fraction of a minute.  Plus, with so few chances to practice your combat styles, you'll lose time just trying to figure out what the transformation's abilities are and then you'll realize that it's a waste to use when every battle in the game (with a couple exceptions) is a story related fight that will, in theory, test your mettle.  So, once again, you'll go back to using just your original martial style, your initial magic style, your initial weapon style (until mid-chapter 3), and a lame support style until you get Spirit Thief at the start of chapter 2.  That's it.  Blah.

So, that's my little preview of the review for Jade Empire.  Don't worry...the game is's really fun...but if the plot wasn't there, I doubt it would have been nearly as fun...and the plot is freakin' cliché as any Summer Blockbuster.

On a different note, before I head out for a day of errand running, has a new issue of Rumor Control.  As I've said many times in the past, I love this feature of theirs.  It's a good read for knowing what lame news is heading our way in the future.  However, the part I'd like to draw to your attention is the one about the XBox 360 coming in a deluxe edition.  Supposedly, the rumors say that the XBox 360 will come with two price tags.  The $300 model will be bare-bones, while the $400 will feature a hard drive and backwards compatibility with the original XB.  If this proves to be true, it would go back to the simple fact that I've always held in my mind...Microsoft is greedy as hell.  I mean if I'm paying $300 for a console, and it's not called the 3DO and it's not the 1990's, I should be getting a state of the art machine; not a stripped down piece of shit.  I mean the HDD is part of what made the original XB such a sweet machine.  The ability to never worry about space to save and the ability to listen to custom soundtracks is unbelievable in the few games that allow it.  To remove this freedom, or to charge $100 more for it, is nothing short of greed.  While backwards compatibility is not a requirement for a new console, that two should not come at a price-tag of $100...that should be free as a reward for those who were loyal enough to stick with the first XB and decided to remain loyal with the 360.  Plus, it's a great marketing tool to get new games since you can not only brag about your current game line-up, but also your prior line-up that is still as fun now as it was when the XB was king (future-tense).  We'll probably see around E3 if this is true or not, but I'm afraid of MS's usually knows few boundaries.


Malik (4/26/05)  

Well, there's some really good news today for Katamari fanatics. It deals with a nice word I like to call "localization". If that's not enough, click the link and see the hella good news. 

Since I finished Jade Empire, I have not had the will power to play through again. It's probably due to the fact that the supposedly unique combat system was actually really bland. While I'd like to play through and see the evil path (especially since it includes getting an extra party member, or two...which, to me, amounts to only an extra support ability or two), I don't know if I want to deal with two of the largest flaws in the game...ok, three flaws. 

The first, and most obvious, especially from my post yesterday (with a preview of my review), is that the combat engine is just pretty one-dimensional. A lot of people would like to flame me for saying so, but it is quite true. Combat involves mainly just punching a dude a few times (or swiping with a sword, staff, etc), dodging, dodging, dodging, punching, dodging, punching, and them going after the next dude. It's really, sadly, that simple. 

The second flaw is that this game can crash. It doesn't do it too often, but I had a few too many crashes for my enjoyment. The worst is when you enter a dialogue and you notice no words coming out of anyone's' mouths. Then the dialogue starts to advance really fast, and then after about 6-10 frames of speech, the game freezes. It may be rare, but it is really annoying to have to go through the dialogue repeatedly. Especially this is true when the dialogue follows a long and annoying battle, like at the end of the game when you see a dragon. It froze two times during this scene, and I kept having to re-fight the annoying battle before it. 

The final flaw is the load times. You WILL see the load screen more times than anything else in the whole game. In fact, you will see load screens more often than the time you will spend in combat. Considering this game is advertised as having such an innovative combat system (whatever...), you should not spend more time in load screens than fighting. 

Anyway, I decided, instead of picking up JE again, to resume the left off game of GTA:SA. I had stopped on a certain mission that involves gang wars with an idiot following you around. I had quit because I kept either killing this fool when he'd jump in front of my Uzi, or I'd die because I kept holding back my fire to not kill him. Well, after picking it up again, I finished this lame mission on my first attempt. Sadly, after finishing it, I still can't take over the last enemy territory (Battery Point). I can't find any Vaggos to shoot, so I am just giving up on my dream of finishing all of the territories. 

At least the game is fun once again. It's always a lot more enjoyable when you don't have to worry about one of those protection missions. These have always been the bane of video games since you could always, in any game with protection missions, take a hit far better than your follower. It's a rule of games, and it's annoying as hell. 

Anyway, I also got in some time with Freedom Force 2. This is a pretty solid RTS game. Plus, with how Frye's was selling it for $20, it was also a good bargain. 

The game resumes right where the original Freedom Force ended and uses many of the same controls and characters. It's an ideal game for either RTS fans or those who really enjoyed the first FF game. 

Anyway, I won't come to too much of a judgment on this title yet. I've only played about 4 or 5 stages, and thus I have a lot to learn. So far, however, it's looking like a good title. 


Malik (4/27/05)  

Last night I decided to pick up GTA:SA a little more. I needed to find a way to take the final territory and to finish the last few missions. Well, I did the last four missions and once again have beaten GTA:SA. The final mission, which so annoyed me the first time through, was, like with Learn to Fly, a lot easier the second time. However, it probably helped that I did all the fire-fighter missions this time to get the immunity to fire (as you can guess, if you haven't done the last mission already, it includes fire...and lots of it. In fact, I never felt like I had any real challenges and it even felt like it passed a lot quicker this time around. 

After I laid the final foe to rest, I went back to my dedication to conquer all of San Andreas. I had 55 out of 56 territories and just couldn't find any gang members to start the final turf war. So, I hit the Internet and found what the deal was. The final territory, along with one other I had collected, were not supposed to be there. 


Get ready to take notes if you have never done this one before or never heard of it... 

When I tried to boost my flying skill to max, I had inadvertently done the "territory glitch". For those who don't know, instead of the usual 54 areas to take control of, you can have up to 174. However, you have to force the game to recognize them. This is where my time learning to boost my flight skill caused problems. When I flew around in circles for so long, I had forced the map to get as small as possible as I flew away from the world. So, in the end, the game started this glitch and made a couple of new territories. In other words, to do this glitch, you need to head away from the world until the map no longer can zoom out, and then new territories will form. They won't show on your map until you return to land, but they will get mentioned in the "Gang Stats" page of your menu. For example, instead of seeing that you have 54 territories and 100% of the territories, the numbers in question will change so that the total number is greater than 54. 

So, after flying out to sea for an hour last night, I flew back to land (another hour of can always kill yourself to spawn at a hospital to make the return quicker...I don't care for losing my weapons and have another glitch which prevents Katie from appearing in my copy of GTA:SA, so death is not an option) and parachuted to victory. The big consideration in this glitch is that you will not only have more areas to conquer (and they will be weird areas, like all of Las Venturas is an area), but you may starve to death on your flight, unless you like the cheat codes (I don't). Well, I landed with almost no health left, all of my previously maxed muscles gone, and almost no health (which was 100% when I started)...but I now could get up to 118 territories...including my airfield, several areas of the Badlands, and a couple small towns between LV and LS. 

I'm not sure how much I'll worry about getting all of these territories taken over, but I'll probably try, just because I'm obsessed with this game. Also, it will be a good way to increase my money, in case I want to buy all of the safe houses. For those who forget, you gain money for each territory your gang controls, and if you can control up to 174 territories, then the money will start to pour in a lot quicker than with 54 territories. However, I need to fly out to sea again if I want to really unlock every possible territory. I just dread making that damned return flight. 

Also, if your wondering what the best vehicle for doing this's the jumbo jet. The AT-400 (or whatever it's called). Once you hit max altitude and have set your direction to what you'd like to go (aim off the map with your wings straight...any direction will do), just let go. The game will set you on auto-pilot. You'll remain at a fairly constant altitude, you not change direction (too much...wind and slightly less than level wings will alter your course with time). This is also a great way to boost your pilot skill in a hurry with putting in as little effort as possible. You can also take a boat, but your course will not be nearly as perfect and will require many corrections. Also, the Shammal (the little business jets) should work just fine. Also, if you're a fan of cheat codes, use of the flying and floating car tricks should work just fine. Also, I think you can do this trick at any point in the game...even at the very beginning (before Doberman...the missions that unlocks turf battles). 

Anyway, I have some GTA:SA to play...and possibly a Jade Empire review to work on. I aim for it to be ready on Friday, but who knows...too much GTA:SA to play around with. 


Malik (4/28/05)  

Not too much to talk about today.  I have been too caught up in the planning of upgrading my car stereo to really look at much more than a few dozen web sites.  Unfortunately, I'm great at all forms of stereo upgrades except for those involving a vehicle.  I could set up a home theater system like a mo-fo with my eyes closed.  I could set up a sound system for an auditorium.  I can handle a massive mixer board like it was nothing.  However, when it comes to car stuff, I'm as newb as newb can be.  Sadly, this is the one area that is the worst to be unknowledgeable in.  I mean, if you don't know many sound systems, you have the resources to find the info you need as long as you have the net.  However, there is no good source of info for car systems that don't go off of one of two inane principals.

The first principal is that you're an idiot.  These sites will deal with telling you, with really big pictures and small words, what an amp does.  I think that part is not too hard to figure out, even if you're a sound newb.  I mean the basic abilities of each component is simple enough.

The second principal involves sites that tell you how to drop 5-10 thousand dollars in an uber system.  While I'd like the features that a $5000+ system can do, I'm more in the budget to not go into debt on this stuff.

So, I've been too caught up in finding the right level of information than to focus on other geek pursuits lately.  Although, I have been working some on the Jade Empire review.  I think it's pretty reasonable to say that the review will be good to go by the end of the day tomorrow.  However, since  have more work to do, and I have no other geek news to share, I think this is where I shall leave you all to focus on the review at hand...and then to check out more web sites that reinforce the fact that I don't know shit about car sound systems.


Update:  I had more free time than I thought.  Here's the long awaited Jade Empire honest review from a gamer/geek who actually played to his fullest before judging this game.


Malik (4/29/05)  

So, over at Gamespot, there's some data on the next Gradia game. This will be Grandia 3, since I'm betting Square Enix is a anxious to forget Gandia Extreme as the rest of us. However, given the track record of Square Enix with sequels, as of late, especially sequels that are numbered 3 (like Star Ocean 3), I can't say I'm excited. I used to be about the biggest Grandia fan that one could be without being a mindless fanboy. However, recent actions by Square Enix have changed my feelings. 

Ever since Square released FFX, and ever since Enix has become a part of that dreaded family, their games have gone to crap. They have thrown out good plots in favor of cliché dribble. Plus, with their game engines...sigh...they used to be a nicely used mixture of classical style with just enough innovation to remain fresh (not counting certain drawing and junctioning in FF8, and the lack of experience from beating a boss, like in FF8). Now, their game engines are consisting of enough crap to be called crap and enough classical stuff to make you realize that it didn't have to be crap if they just stuck to their roots. 

It is being promised that Grandia 3 will use many of the same combat engine styles as the prior Grandia games, but I just don't buy it. I really don't. Plus, while combat will probably be a sick and twisted variation of a true classic, the real issues, I'm thinking, will arrive in the form of the non-combat part of the game engine. In other words, we will have next to no equipment, a screwy way to earn new magics and techniques (not that the magic eggs were all that great to begin with), and a navigation system that will leave one exploring far too big of a world in far too bothersome of a method. In other words, I've been burned by Square Enix far too many times lately to give them another shot on faith alone. If they want to prove themselves to me as a real game maker again, and not just this sick and twisted company that likes to shit on the graves of all of their classics, then they will have this final game to do it with. They have ruined Final Fantasy (costume dress-up?!?!), Star Ocean (you f$#@-tards!), Dragon Warrior (from what I've heard of Dragon Quest 8), Front Mission, the Mana series (Sword of Mana...blah...yeah, you should have to navigate through endless menus every battle to keep changing your weapons because everyone is immune to everything that hurts anything in the same combat...except for the hero, who's raped by all), Final Fantasy (sorry, but the online deserves a second mention for the series), and then their new games have all been sad and pathetic attempts to clone some other games that have sunk into mediocrity (like Drakkengard...or should I say "Square's Dynasty Warriors"). The only good Square Enix games in a long time have been ports of the true classics, like Final Fantasy: Dawn of Souls. I've been burned too many times to call these mistakes just that...a mistake is a one or two time thing...Square Enix doesn't do mistakes, since they ARE the mistake. 

Anyway, to change subjects into a recently found geek realm for me; Pimping out cars. This weekend, I'll be pimping the new ride for the first unauthorized-by-the-dealer upgrade. Velveeta and I just got back the car a couple days ago with an all new leather interior. However, this upgrade will be the first bit of flashy flavor. We'll be looking into a couple of accent tubes, some custom pedals, and maybe some lights on the washer nozzles. I'm thinking of documenting some of this stuff online. The first reason to so I'll have a running record of how the car looks and how the process goes. The second reason is to help anyone out there who is on a budget (like Velveeta and I are) who still wants to add some flavor to their ride. I'm not sure how this will go, but it will be a fun ride (no pun intended). 

Anyway, I've got geek things to do, so I'm out. Don't forget to check the Jade Empire review that I posted yesterday. 

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