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Malik (5/2/05)  

So, I started off this weekend with two main goals. The first was to watch Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. That did not happen. I wanted it to, but things came up (read on...) that prevented me from doing too much. 

My second goal was to get some interior accent tubes added to The S. Well, that started pretty brightly. Velveeta and I hit Circuit City, knowing they had the tubes we were wanting. Well, after looking at the actual in store selection, we found exactly what we wanted. However, while I may be a major technology-geek who loves to do installations of whatever may come my way, I don't trust myself with a new car that I'm, for once, able to take pride in. So, I asked how much installation would run, and then I found the sad truth; Circuit City won't install lights. That was lame. So, we were about to hit Car Toys (the local major chain of over-priced car fun-parts), but we first wanted to check out the subs. 

Well, we found a nice deal on a MTX system (RTP212) with enclosure, two 12" subs, and a mono-channel amp. So, rather than go for some visual bling (the accent tubes), we went a little crazy and got the subs taken care of. Well, I should say that we bought them and scheduled an immediate install. We dropped off the car and decided to walk around South Center for the next two hours... 

That "two hours", which is what the installation people at CC told us, soon turned into more and more time. Well, after 5 and a half hours, we were finally ready to pick up the car. Those many hours were either a teenager's dream or a non-teenager's nightmare. You can walk around a mall area for a couple hours and be mildly entertained, but once you start to go beyond 2 hours, your sanity soon leaves you wondering if whatever has you stuck in that predicament is truly worth it. The only bright side of this walking is that I got Phantom Brave (PS2...which I said I'd get, probably after Jade Empire, back in the Fall of 04...that came out quite true). I suppose I can say that walking for 5.5 hours is a good thing, with the exercise and all that, but it's only a good thing until you feel bored and pissed off. 

At least, in the end, the subs kick ass. When we finally picked up the car, we immediately put in some good old rap and could feel the difference. I still need to do some additional work leveling the sounds (the subs were installed brilliantly, but they were not quite set up, settings and level-wise, correctly...too little "oomph"), since I was too tired after walking around South Center for 5.5 freakin' hours. Anyway, if you want to look at the subs, check this link...don't worry, this page will look better in time. Also, there's some nice shots of the new leather, which was installed early last week. 

So far, the car has not run too much out of budget. We're trying to do all of this bling with a budget in mind. I mean it could be easy to supe a car in style if we had mommy and daddy helping...Velveeta and I are many things, but rich brats we are not. So, with the add-ons, we've so far dropped almost $600 on the subs (counting install and kits to connect them to a factory head-unit), and we think the accent tubes will run us about $100 with install, when we hopefully get them next weekend. Pimping a car on a 9-5 paycheck is not easy, but it is fulfilling. 

As for Phantom Brave...well, I only was able to get in about 30 minutes yesterday. It was enough time to see the opening story, which is really vague, and fight the first tutorial battle. I like the game so far, but the opening bit of story used too many names without ever really assigning them to any of the people you see on screen (you'll see three people and then you'll be told three names, but you won't know for sure if those names and people are related or which name goes to which person). I'll have more info on this game tomorrow. 


Malik (5/3/05)  

Gamespot has some information on Blue's not much, but it's nice to know that Akira Toriyama (of DBZ and Chrono Trigger fame) is designing the characters. I've always had a good deal of respect for his visual designs (even if I thought DBZ was something with great possibilities that only turned out to be lingering crap). For those who don't know, Blue Dragon is one of two upcoming XBox 360 (or whatever you want to call it...XBox Next, NextBox, XBox 2, blah, blah) from Hironobu Sakaguchi (of FF and Square fame), and his new company, Mistwalker. 

The game sounds like it will definitely have that fun feel of classic RPGs that Sakaguchi promised when he announced that Mistwalker would be making games for the next generation XBox. The other game promises to be one that deals with greater levels and depth to the human emotional experience. I still don't know what the hell that is supposed to entail in an RPG, but that will be nice to hear some real info about, as well. 

Anyway, I spent a little time going through the first chapter (or 20) of Phantom Brave last night. I am happy with the unique take on tactical RPG elements, but I do have one issue, so far. This is the first NIS game that I've played that doesn't even give a hint to what the plot is going to be after the first chapter. I mean in La Pucelle we could see where things were heading after the first couple of fights, and in Disgaea we could see the plot from the first bit of dialogue. Meanwhile, I have no idea why I'm even playing PB. I mean an RPG is not played for the engine (an MMO, maybe...a normal RPG, no)'s played for the plot. So, I'm left wondering if my first hour and a half that I've invested is going to count towards anything. I mean there is not even a hint of where the plot is going on this one...except for a brief glimpse of a spooky looking guy who wants to expand his "evil" powers...however, he used said powers to slay a demon/ghost thing, so that's not helping me in understanding what the hell is going on. 

At least the combat is pretty interesting. I mean it's the same long winded tactical experience you could get from Disgaea, but with a couple of twists. The first is that it's full 3D in combat (no grid), but you could get that from Arc the Lad 4. Also, since your main character is a girl who summons phantoms (ghosts) into a battle, you have to summon them into physical objects, such as swords, trees, shrubs, rocks, books, etc. Each object will allow the summoned phantom to gain and lose some stats accordingly. For example, a rock is strong and sturdy, so a summoned phantom that uses a rock as it's host will gain some defense and offensive abilities, but will also lose some intelligence and speed. Luckily, you can summon as many phantoms per turn as there are objects to serve as host bodies in the immediate area. 

Also, to further customize and strategize, you have these summoned phantoms for only a set number of turns before they have to leave combat...and then they cannot be summoned again and their host body is removed. Each type of character can last for a different amount of time, with magic uses tending to get the short end of the may keep most characters for about 5 rounds, but a mage will tend to be forced out after 3. This really makes you have to consider things. For example, if your witch (the mage character you can have at the beginning of the game) is summoned at the far end of the battle field, it will waste most of her turns just trying to move so that enemies are within range of her spells. Also, you need to consider if you want your witch to make a lasting impact...if so, then summon her into something that causes a loss of the speed attribute, and if not, pick a fast host body. 

I am happy with most elements of the game, beyond the lack of plot, so far. The only exception is the horrible voice acting by a few characters...especially the main character, who keeps talking. I'm sorry, buy a squeaky voice is never good for a main protagonist. At least you can turn on Japanese voiceovers...although I've yet to do so since I've had too little time to play so far. 

Anyway, I'm hoping to find out what the plot is tonight...I really hope so...I don't want to play a non-MMO with no plot. It's like getting a pie and finding out that the pie crust holds no delicious filling...or something like that. 


Malik (5/4/05)  

According to what Bill Gates is saying, the next XBox (whatever it'll be called...I personally hate to say "XBox 360" unless I have to since it just sounds lame and retarded) will be on shelves by the end of this year. I don't know how much credence to give this report, mainly because of how game things are done in recent years. I mean a game is "locked in" with a release date of a certain day, yet it comes about a year later. So, I guess, in theory, supposedly, with a good level of possibility, we may see the XBox successor by the end of the year. However, if this is true, it will mean one thing; Microsoft is ready to fight Sony for supremacy in the console world. This may be the first time, with the current line-up of console makers, that Sony could be beaten to retail. This might make things interesting... 

I did play some Phantom Brave last night. I played through only about 3 or 4 battles, since I needed to level a few characters (and thus I repeated these battles several times). However, while some plot type things did occur, I can still say that the plot completely eludes me. It's a lot like watching the Simpsons...each chapter or battle in the game seems to progress it's own internal plot, but there's no continuity to the overall story. There's still no main plot, except that Homer works for the power plant...I mean that the heroine is trying to work hard to make money and to make friends. That's it. I'm not all that drawn in to this game yet. Hopefully, I will be soon, but I'm almost beginning to doubt it. 

I can say that if I wanted a simple plot, with no bigger picture, I could have always gone with a more simplistic game. I mean, the strategy elements of a tactical RPG is interesting, to an extent, but it's not what I play a game for. I play this type of game for plot, and it's completely lacking. If things don't pick up soon, I can't guarantee how long I can tolerate this thing. I will keep playing for now, and maybe I'll find some sort of plot, but I'm getting doubtful. 

However, there are still plenty of other elements that are keeping me both interesting and annoyed with Phantom Brave. On one hand, the combat system that allows you to summon your teammates for only a limited number of rounds before they expire is becoming a major nuisance. It is fine for short battles, but I can see myself going slowly insane in the future from this "innovation". I mean if you start a battle surrounded by foes, you will probably want some heavy hitters to clear the enemies before they can slay your main character, who is the only one who can summon (and I think you lose if she dies...haven't "tried" this out yet, but I have a feeling...), and who is very weak. However, if this is also a boss battle and the boss is at the far end of the current playing field, then you have another issue to consider. If you use Ash (one of the few characters who has a name that is set in stone, and is also one of your major power hitters) to clear out these immediate threats, but he can't make it to the boss before 5 rounds have passed (one round, on average, to hit each enemy) then you're san Ash for the boss fight. This means you will be crippled, one way or another, in this type of situation. 

The other main annoyance I've encountered is the cost of things. To heal my current party after a battle, I typically have to spend about 115-140 dollars (I prefer the word dollars to their random money unit). However, I also only get about 125-150 dollars per battle. Plus, to make new party members, buy new equipment, etc, you have to spend large sums of money. If you don't see what's wrong with this, then an RPG is not the game of choice for you. Maybe it evens out as the game progresses, but for now...blah. 

At least the variety of equipment, skills, and the ways you can tweak your party is quite interesting. So, at this point, I'd have to say the lack of money, plot, and the inclusion of that damned timer (I hate any form of timers in games) are only balancing out the fun of customizing characters and the interesting mini-plot events. I hope things fix themselves as the game progresses, but for now I'm doubtful. 

Anyway, while I'm talking of nuisances, I should mention this link.  It's about a new political deal in Illinois that represents all that is wrong with how those who don't play games are trying to "protect" those who do know how to geek out.


Malik (5/5/05)  

So, I'm guessing that, with how the game's going, Phantom Brave never gets a full on plot. I guess this is a game that uses a more character-centric plot. This can normally be a good thing, when used properly, but I'm quite concerned since Maronna (the main heroine of PB) is such a whiney and annoying character. I mean all she ever does is get insulted by everyone around her and then she smiles as she says that the next person will be nicer. This is not the type of character to base a plot on...this is the type of character to cheer about when she gets smacked around. 

On the other hand, there's Ash. He's her relatively quiet voice of reason that travels with her as a phantom that only a few, with the power to see ghosts, can see. He's the one who tells her to stop being a victim. However, he's also major enough to the plot that you feel like he should be the hero, but he's minor enough that he never will be the hero. It's like offering you an image of something wonderful, and then taking it away and saying you have to make due with some sub-standard thing in it's place. In a food analogy, he would be a t-bone steak while Maronna would be a freakin' slab of chuck steak. You can do some nice things with chuck, but not as many things, and not as delicious of things, as you could do with that t-bone. As you could guess, by my analogy, I'm both figuratively "hungry" for a real protagonist, and am, in reality, hungry for steak. 

Anyway, on the note of people who see ghosts, I've recently have gotten into Bleach. For those who don't know about Bleach, it's an anime that's based on a manga, and neither are in the US. Well, neither are in the US officially, but they are via fan-subbers. This is such an awesome anime and well worth the space it takes up on my hard drive. 

Bleach basically follows Ichigo, a high school student who has the power to see ghosts. He initially uses this power to help spirits who have some lingering pain that prevents them from making it to heaven. However, he soon becomes involved with the "officials" (aka: death gods) who are actually responsible for handling wayward spirits. 

Bleach plays out a lot like Evangelion, but with a good dose of humor. Ichigo can do something that few others can do, he must fight the evil spirits (called "hollows") that look a lot like angels from Eva, and he has plenty of family and social issues that come up as he tries to manage being someone who has such power. It basically follows the Eva pattern of some social/family stuff, a major fight, some business stuff, another big fight, and then the episode ends...however, it's done in a nicely humorous way that always keeps it fresh, and without the psycho-babble of Eva. 

While I'm talking anime...I think Naruto has officially become DBZ. The latest episode is yet another one that deals with the same damned fight. So far, in the current fight (won't say who it involves since it's major spoilers for those who aren't up to date in Naruto) has lasted around 4 episodes, and only a few minutes, in the show's world, have passed since it started. I mean Naruto started so interestingly, but I'm almost at the verge of quitting for a while just so I don't have to tolerate this never-ending fight that's nothing short of alternating DM-cheese and DM-candy. 

At least, for those who use fan-subbers, the movie is finally out. I've yet to see the movie, but I'll probably check it out later this week. It should be good fun...I hope. 


Malik (5/6/05)  

...and another one bites the dust. Yup, according to Gamespot, the Zodiac is going the way of the Virtual Boy. In fact, to many people, this isn't as much news as the fact that this hideous joke even exists. It was the equivalent of trying to cram an even higher priced fast food chain, with no offerings, into a mall food court. It was a supposed gaming device that had no support, no games, no name recognition, and no one even knew of it's existence. I mean it took less than a year for this almost unknown device to be put away. 

It's a good thing for many of these supposed game platform designers to consider. Do we really need your unrecognized platform with it's two or three games? No. I mean this is a great lesson for Nokia, Phantom, and all of the other pretenders; if you're planning to compete with the big boys (like Microsoft, Nintendo, and Sony), then you better come out swinging. Microsoft could see this. When the XBox arrived, Microsoft held back nothing. They came out with enough ads to choke a TV station, enough third party support to give games of nearly all genres, and enough recognition to make people actually stop and consider buying their platform. 

Meanwhile, Tapwave came out with no real marketing, a poorly designed concept (a handheld gaming device that has less in common with a gaming device than with a Palm Pilot), and absolutely no recognition from both the third party developers and the general geek world. It sounds a lot like pwNGage, but with a little less marketing and a little less third party support. I just wish I knew how much money has destroyed by Tapwave in trying their hand at something that they just weren't prepared for. 

I just hope this might serve as a lesson for Nokia and Phantom to forget their misguided attempts to follow suit. I mean the pwNGage is dying and Nokia won't let it go peacefully into the night, and the Phantom is a major joke in the game world, yet they won't quit before they regret it from a financial position. Speaking of which, the people really hurt by this are the few gamers who think they'll be on the cutting edge by buying one of these poorly conceived devices. These are the poor people who end up with losing a massive investment in buying these worthless machines. Makes me glad that, while I may be an impulse buyer of geek goods, I have enough restraint to not waste my money quite so foolishly. 

Anyway, I still haven't had much chance to play Phantom Brave. I am in the third chapter, but that's not saying much. It seems that time has really been against me lately. I find myself with enough time to enjoy maybe one or two battles before reality has to sink it's claws into my games. I would like to say I'll play a good deal this weekend, but I'm somewhat doubtful... 

Tomorrow morning, Velveeta and I are aiming to buy some more excessive additions to the car. We're thinking of getting the accent tubes under the dash that we were aiming to get last weekend (when the subs had to divert our attention). We're just hoping to find a place that'll do installation without making us pay through the ass. Sadly, our luck in installations have tended towards us getting seems that most people who sell car parts are just afraid of doing the installation work. Blah. Anyway, our goal will be to add some blue lights under the dash, maybe some pedals to replace the OEM parts, and maybe some custom windshield wipers. Plus the thought of adding some washer-nozzle lights seems fun, but that'll be the least likely thing we get. 

Then, to round out a hectic day of no Phantom Brave, my friend Bastich is throwing a LAN party. I figure this would probably be a better waste of my day than to play one-player PB. I mean the thought of social gaming is always a high priority for me. 

Anyway, I'm rambling, which means it's time for me to wish you all a good weekend and for me to shut the hell up. 

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