Malik (9/8/04)  

So, I've been out for a couple of days. It was my vacation time (I know, I just had a week off, but considering I only had a total of 4 days off last year, I'm more than over due for some serious relaxing), and I was enjoying it to the fullest...or something like that. On that same topic, I must say that the odds of a new issue of Malik's Bitchings coming up this week is less than likely. Considering that I spend the entire week usually working on the column and I don't have anything as of Wednesday see where this is heading. 

However, I will have something this week, which is quite overdue. I shall have a review of CoH running in the next day or two (the review is good to go, but I want to start doing things right...), after I get some nice screen shots prepared. Until then, I don't have too much in the serious posting department...yet. 

On the note of CoH, I was a little on the absent side of things this weekend (my weekend ended yesterday). I ended up with about a total of 2 hours of CoH between Friday night and Tuesday night. While I was planning on a task force mission, my friend who was going to pull the main tanking duties had a couple of minor problems with this (well, I didn't ask him, but I assumed); he was sick, but more importantly, he's on a short term stress-test of the World of Warcraft beta. So, instead of going through the obvious refusal of a CoH task force, I let him continue his WoW obsession, uninterrupted. This would probably be for the best, anyway...I'm at level 11 right now with my tanker, and I should at least get up to 12 or 13 before I do a TF with a level 14 tanker so we can afford an additional s/k in case we find only low-levels for the mission (better safe than blown to hell by some suicidal Embalmed Cadavers). 

However, I did get in some geek time in another realm...the battle lines have been drawn by the publishers, and we geeks have to chose which side of each set of lines we will fight on. So, yesterday I decided to define, a little more clearly, which battles I'll take part in. I decided, on top of my already pre-ordered Fable and GTA:SA to buy Star Ocean 3. I figure, until Fable comes out, that I need a little plot (which is something CoH cannot fulfill) to fill the void of MMORPG time. Plus, since Fable is supposed to be fairly short and quite addictive (which leads to only a week or so of gaming), SO3 can fill in the void before Fable is released and in that nifty time between my beating of Fable and my addiction to GTA:SA (which will only last until I get tired of buying hamburgers of Carl Johnson). 

So far, I'd have to say that SO3 is a fairly solid game that's seriously lacking in a few key areas...the main one being the combat engine. After playing both Tales of Symphonia and SO2 in the last half year, I'd have to say that this is about the lowest a action orientated RPG battle engine can be. True, I've only played about 4.5 hours, so the combat system may just have a long learning curve, but it seems cluttered to me. For example, you have two buttons for actions in combat; the X and the O buttons (X for normal attacks and O for slower but stronger attacks). However, your special moves are also tacked on to the same two buttons (for a total of two specials and one normal attack per button)...if you hold X at short range, you'll do one special, hold it at long range and you'll pull a second special, and then tap it at any range and you'll run up to the enemy and smack them. This is just confused and cluttered use for the buttons compared to the simplicity of games like SO2 and ToS. On top of that, your special moves all drain your HP to use (unless it's Symbology...the equivalent to magic in SO3, which uses MP). If you lose all of either your MP or HP you will die. So, you have to consider a little too much of the effect of too many spells or skills in comparison to the damage you expect to receive, which is asking a lot in a high speed combat engine. 

Anyway, I will be preparing a review shortly (after I get more geek time in) for SO3. However, in the mean time, I will keep you updated on the finer points of what I like and (so far most obvious as I play) what I dislike. It's not that this game is complete crap, but it definitely pulls a FFX...that is, like how FFX felt nothing like the predecessors in that series, SO3 feels nothing like SO2 (or the little bit I played of never came to the US, so I never got too much time with that classic...but, damn, that was a fun hour or so I played, even if I couldn't read the Japanese text). I'll also have that review of CoH up real soon. I'm doing a bit of a graphical overhaul of my PC, including some catch up work on getting some screen shots, and also getting my video capture device up and running (this time it's for real) so I can show off the nicest part of SO3 (the visuals...which is sad since an RPG should not be about visuals). 

On a final note as I take off to overhauling my PC, check out the review of Burnout 3 on I can't believe how sweet this game is sounding. I was planning on ignoring it until the price got closer to $30, but now...damn, there are way too many quality games coming out...which means practically everyone will lose this holiday season (except Rockstar and EA).


Malik (9/9/04)  

Before I start pissing off any fanboys, I'll start with a bit of good news for you all. The long awaited and promised City of Heroes review is up and running, complete with some nice screen shots. I'll mention it now, since I didn't bother in the review, but there are a good deal of features in CoH that I didn't even begin to touch in the review...with as many features as CoH has, I either would have to pick and chose the best (and worst) ones to discuss, or I'd be working on the review for the next 3 months (yes, there is a lot to the game). I also have the good news of another review coming in the next week or so. Also, since I have only been playing some really good games lately, and thus have only been giving good reviews lately, I promise some bad reviews are coming. Namely, reviews for Super Mario Ball (Japanese version) for the GBA and Star Ocean 3. Ok, now that I've broken the ice, let's piss off the fanboys. 

I'll start with Super Mario Ball (or Mario Pinball as some people call it). Just click the link. I originally started to just ramble about this pathetic attempt by Nintendo to run it's most popular license into the ground, but after a few minutes I realized another review for today had appeared (for those who say I post too few reviews, you can suck it!  Not only do I have two reviews, but one of them is for a game not even out yet...BOOYAH!). This one, quite nicely, serves as a balance for the review of CoH...I mean on the CoH end of things, we have a wonderful game, and on the SMB side of things, we have about the biggest pile of portable crap I've ever had the misfortune to play.

Ok, now to the Square fanboys. Since I haven't put in the time yet to meet my personal requirements for a review, this will only be a sneak preview of what will probably become my final review next, without further ado, some more of my early Star Ocean 3 impressions.

True, I have not had too much time in SO3. Definitely not enough to get a final and definitive conclusion on the game. However, there are some horrible problems that I cannot keep quiet about. 

Before I begin, I just want to clarify something. I'm going to say "Square" a lot instead of Square Enix, and there's a solid reason behind this. Originally SO was an Enix franchise. Also, originally, the SO series was solid and fun from the beginning. However, Square had a bad habit of taking something fun and fantasy built, and trying to give it an unhealthy dose of reality. That is what has befallen SO3. While the basic world setup is similar and the history of the universe you play in (which would be our universe in the future) is constant, the level of "realism" has gotten to be quite dysfunctional in a way which only Square could do with such crappy games like FF8 and FFX (and FFX-2). The original feel and style of SO, which felt quite Enix derived (which was a good thing), has been replaced with a more Square feel. So, when I call this a Square game, it's not to give the Square part of Square Enix extra credit or to ignore the mighty Enix legacy...rather, it's an insult. That was blunt enough, right? 

Beyond the problems I've mentioned yesterday (most importantly being the battle controls), there are more control issues to be found. First off, in a dungeon, on the map, or in a town, the walking controls are so damned unresponsive. It's not hard to give fluid control to the player when walking on the map, yet Square messed this up nicely. Now, if you're just trying to move your character a small 5 feet to open a treasure, you might have to spend a bit of time as Fayt (the protagonist of SO3) jumps around in all the wrong directions. For those who played the original Doom...think of Doom on a 386. 

Beyond that, there's another flaw in the controls...this time it's the battle controls (thankfully it's not that problem I just mentioned...other wise the high action battles would be a true headache). Basically, it comes down to the theory of playing Smash Melee on the GCN with a team of three Foxes vs. one Pikachu. For those who aren't aware of this event...well, basically Fox can juggle like a pro, and a team of Fox would juggle beyond tolerance and turn the game into a pile of shit to the poor Pikachu. That is how the battles work on SO3...and you're Pikachu. 

Once you hit an enemy, you may be lucky enough to get another successive attack in. However, if the enemy hits you, you can expect to take about 40 more hits in a row as the enemy/enemies juggle your pathetic ass without remorse. So, in the end, your only hope of escape is for one of your other players to break things up, or become the new victim of the juggle. A weak and pathetic enemy can become the god of war with one small hit if they go crazy with the combo action. In the end, this turns battles into less of a matter of gaining levels and becoming more powerful to overcome a strong enemy and more into a matter of gaining levels so you can deal damage but also learning that the limited number of 20 of any item is going to hurt (because you will go through your healing items like mad if you have one bad battle). This turns a long dungeon into a giant chore as you struggle to beat every enemy without letting down your guard for a minute. It's easier to take on a geek at random at a DDR machine than to keep your guard up for an entire dungeon in SO3 (the dungeons are freakin' huge). 

Speaking of which; my final complaint for today would be the size of the game. Well, not the game itself as much as the towns and the dungeons. A town in SO3 will make a megalopolis in Sim City look like a small village. Once you enter a town, not only will you have a giant maze of dead end cross streets to deal with, but you'll also have to deal with usually dark environments and a complete lack of distinguishing landmarks. Not only that, but most buildings in a town are not ones you can enter, so in the end, you will have a giant maze that serves no purpose beyond trying to make the world feel more realistic (I hate you Square), since a small town like you'd see in the old SO games would only seem fake...and more enjoyable... 

So, beyond wanting to play enough to write a fair review, why would I want to continue this game if it's so horrible to play through? Because it does have one thing going for it. Is it the lack of colors (most environments are dark, gray toned, and contain only a few different colors...usually brown and dark green)? The lack of textures (in towns or dungeons everything looks the same and the areas are so large, and if it wasn't for the built-in auto-map you would stand no chance of playing this game without a strategy guide and a bottle of Advil)? The annoyance of using the map (it is definitely not the best of in game maps I've ever fact, it's the worst one I've seen)? The repetitive and annoying music (two people have seen me play this game, and only for a couple of hours each, and both of them said how damned annoying the music is and how the choice of music is never appropriate for the situation being played at the time)? Actually, it would be the little bit of the plot that shows. 

The plot is usually thin and hard to detect...however, when it comes through, it definitely shines. I won't go into too many details (mainly because I have trouble telling what's going on since this story is as vague and cryptic as the plot of the FF movie...but more enjoyable) now, but it does fill in about 10% of the gapping void left by the poor game play and super-sized towns. 

Anyway, I am going to try my luck with a little more SO3. If I'm lucky, my PS2 will be alive at the end of an hour or so of playing...and if not...well, Mr. PS2, along with SO3, will see what it's like to go flying 12 floors to the concrete below as I chuck them out my window in a mix of rage and satisfaction. 


Malik (9/10/04)  

Too much damned randomness for one day...Well, it's Friday once again, but things are going a little differently this week. Instead of giving a new column of Malik's Bitchings this week, I've decided to just make my posts this week into an informal Bitchings. In other words, just read my previous columns for the week to see what would have been a full column if I wasn't so involved in my two days off and my two reviews I've posted this week. 

Before I jump into things too much, I just want to throw out there that too many people seem to not get the general idea of how things work around here. What I mean by this is that too many people have come here looking for specific info (usually on Tales of Symphonia) and have left without doing the simple act of going to the forums. This would be why that nifty game help link on the left goes to the forums. To put it more bluntly; if you're looking for help on a game, go to the forums, then click on geek talk, then click on the forum that may contain the info you want. If you can't find said info, then either post in a forum that's appropriate (there's one just for ToS) or make a new forum. It's that freakin' easy. Blah, no one listens anyway. It is amazing how many people will come to a web site from a search engine, look at the site for about 2 seconds before they give up and go to another site to only do the same damned thing...over and over. 

Anyway, to continue with my bitching yesterday and Wednesday, I will continue with my initial Star Ocean 3 impressions. For those who played and loved number 2 (which was one hell of an under appreciated RPG), the saddest part of SO3 is the lack of real skills. Instead of having access to magic, battle skills, and miscellaneous skills, you now only get the magic (symbology) and battle skills. You do gain skill points like in SO2, but you don't use those for some awesome greater purpose, like creating new items, making weapons, cooking, or anything of that fun nature. Instead, your skill points serve one purpose; you can boost your HP, MP, attack, or defense. In the end, this feels so anti-climatic after the skill system of SO2. 

When it comes down to creating new items, you have to use a invention center or workshop. In these places, instead of creating new items, you unlock new items that will be available through merchants. Meanwhile, as you do that, there are NPC inventors doing the same. So, basically, you could actually get away with little to no workshop use and still take care of business. In the end, this means that the wonderful skill and talent system of SO2 has been reduced to nothing beyond a minor afterthought. Plus, all the items used in creating new things basically come down to being lumped into rather unimaginative groups. Do you want to cook some meat? Well, in SO2 you would need to find said meat. In SO3, you simply need "Cooking Ingredients", which contains a large grouping of cooking ingredients. 

It's like all attempts to include creativity in SO3 were stripped away. In the end, the worlds are very realistic in look and feel, the idea of magic has been toned down to a more-or-less scientifically explainable "symbology", the skill system is nothing beyond a stat raising system, the towns are gigantic and filled with many buildings you cannot enter (which is more realistic...and makes all past RPGs look like paradise as you struggle to explore a maze of a town with a rather annoying map system and a rotating camera that makes you always feel disorientated) the end, it's all quite uninspired. All of this originality that's missing makes me think of other crap-tacular titles that suffered the same problem, like FF8. If there is one important lesson that's been taught over and over by RPG designers it's that creativity and fantasy are king. If you lack these two elements, you come down with a "realistic" RPG, and in the end, after a long day of work or school, chores, and other responsibilities, who in their right mind would want to be further reminded of reality? Well, besides Square fanboys; who can't get over mental unbalanced daddy's boys who cannot mack on the woman next to him properly as he would rather think of his uncaring father? No one, that's who. 

However, I did learn that SO3 has a few good points. While the plot is not completely unbearable, even though I would rather play something creative over realistic any day (if I want realism, there are plenty of Tom Clancy games on my shelf, waiting for me), there's even a fix to one of the worst issues of SO3. That being the visuals. The visuals look rather nice, but they suffer from being almost monochrome in design. Most towns or dungeons or maps all have one key color, in varying shades, and very little to actually stimulate the eye. This makes traveling through a town into a coma-inducing nightmare as you struggle through a maze of a town with the only landmarks being something along the lines of "the light gray house next to all the medium gray houses" or "the room with three rocks on the ground instead of two". 

Anyway, as I learned last night, this is a game that can only be played in absolute darkness. After the sun went down, and for once I was able to play in the dark without hearing complaints from Velveeta, for once, about not being able to read in the dark, I was able to fully see the world of SO3. After all background lights are eliminated, it's a lot easier to tell that light gray house from the medium gray ones around it. It still sucks putting up with this horrible visual style, but it is more bearable without ambient lights. 

Sadly, while I learned this fact, I also learned another fact that usually can piss me off like few others. This feature being the FFX style of world map. Instead of having a nifty world map to walk around in for quick access to different towns and dungeons, you will walk least for the first part of the game. Usually, there will be only one path to follow, which includes to options of, like in FFX, going forward or backward. There are rarely any side paths you can take (and if there are any, expect them to be locked for a long time). This means you will have to, in effect, go through a dungeon-worth of outdoors to go from one town to another town instead of simply walking quickly over a nifty map screen. It also means you will not have a good idea of the lay of the land (I know there was a gorge on that over world "dungeon", but is it a big gorge, a canyon, a dried river bed? Does it play a key in defining the lay of the land for miles around?), which is annoying as hell when you're informed that a certain land is not fertile with it's many mountains and all you can see is a small stretch of land from one town to another. 

I have read that SO3 is supposedly really crappy until you hit the end of the first disc (2 DVDs make up SO3), so my thoughts on how crappy this game is may be equally founded and unfounded. However, if this is true, and the game picks up in a dozen more hours of playing, then for one thing I'll be quite happy...I'm determined to finish this game and not just chuck it onto the pile of crappy Square titles that I've given up on in the last couple of years...I mean it would be hard for the game to get worse with more playing (hard, but not fully impossible). However, on the other hand, this is not exactly making me happy since it means that Tri-Ace/Square/Square Enix messed up along the way and released a game that sucks for at least 1/3 of the overall game time. This is not too uncommon, but it is not, by any means, acceptable. I mean I paid for a full game, and if a good deal of it sucks, then it doesn't matter how long the game is and how long the fun parts are as long as I know that I wasted my time and money on the first chunk of the game...blah. 

On a totally different note; I got an invite from one of my friends to join in the test of Google's Gmail service. The first thing I need to say is that the rumors of those horrible pop-up ads in the middle of an email are way out of line. Are there ads? Yes. Are they as obtrusive as the damned "Get more out of Yahoo" crap that appears at the bottom of a Yahoo email? Not at all. The ads in gmail are simple little text ads that show up on the right side of the screen and are hardly distinguishable from the standard crap that appears on the side of of a typical email window. The ads are the standard Google ads (if you haven't seen them, these are usually about 4-5 lines of text written with a tiny font and contain no pictures, no java, no applets, no hassles; and they typically come in groups of 2-3 ads stacked on top of each other or lined up side by side), and best of all, they don't show up in the email you sent or received, only on your screen at the far right side when you are in your Gmail reading an email. 

After using this new service for about a day, I have to say a few other things. The first would be f*** Microsoft and they bullshit of claiming that they would upgrade all of our Hotmail accounts to 250MB "in the next two weeks". I got my promise of upgraded inbox space over 1.5 months mother got one at the beginning of June. So far, Microsoft has just slept on this empty promise (when I contacted Hotmail support about this, all I got in response was equivalent to "I have no idea if we'll get off our asses"). I think Yahoo (with 100MB) and Gmail with 1GB have shown that Microsoft has no excuse for their tardiness in joining the standard of the year 2000 and beyond. 

Also, on the same topic of Gmail, I just have to say that this service kicks some major ass. The ease of looking at all messages contained in a series of replies at once is hella convenient. The ability to search your emails for keywords (like an Internet search) is simple and so very effective. In short, Gmail adds a lot of new features to standard web-based email that should have been implemented long ago, and I guess it took someone on the outside, like how Google was, to see what needed to be done and to get it working. Bravo Google.

Anyway, I'm planning to get at least enough SO3 in this weekend to start working on a review as early as next week. Considering that the game is supposed to pick up after a considerably amount of game play, I may have to update this review as I go along, but I'll at least get a formal first impression up in the next week or two (depending on if the game actually picks up or remains at the same crappy pace). I'll also get a formal informal Malik's Bitchings up next Friday, but I think my posts did the job nicely this week with the stress of two reviews and only 3 work days. Anyway, that's about it for me for this week. Gracias, again, to my Gmail hook-up.