Nut Load. Mini reviews of games old and new. No fuss. No spoilers. Occasional shock face.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Final Fantasy VII (1997)


Genre: RPG | Players: 1 | Developer: Square Product Development Division 1

At last, we have come to this. This isn’t the greatest game ever made. This isn’t a 5. It isn’t even a 4. Come at me.

Surprisingly, there was a period of my life where I forsook this game. This was much at odds to how I felt about it upon its release. You can be critical about anything you please as ‘free-thinking’ human beings, but I don’t feel bringing the full-force of your logic to bear on a series called Final FANTASY is the best use of your time. Weird shit happens in these games. Shit that sometimes doesn’t make a lick of sense. That’s okay, because whether or not you enjoy something ultimately comes down to how it makes you feel. The allusions to Norse mythology and modern philosophy are peachy-fucking-keen, though, don’t get me wrong. For a title focusing on protecting ‘the planet,’ this doesn’t even feel particularly influenced by hippie propaganda.

This game gives me a huge nostalgia boner, I’m not going to lie. The gameplay is polished (if overly, OVERLY simple) even if the spelling is not. Expect a large handful of typos in the PSX release. VII is the stock-standard prototype for menu-based, multi-disc Japanese rpgs with big hair, big swords, and big optional bosses. In some ways it even outshines the other FF games of that console generation. Someone please tell me why IX looks like kitty litter--especially after VIII. I think it holds up well enough, but then again I've been playing it off and on since release. *shrug*

There are problems, however, no doubt. I, literally seconds ago, learned something from a FAQ about the plot that I have been oblivious to for 16 years. Why have I never learned this from the game itself? Still, the problems with it are not nearly as jarring as some would have you believe. If you enjoy jrpgs and somehow haven’t played this, fix it. You don’t have to become a blind, raving fanboy (calamity from the internets, mir?) and you don’t have to revile it in some holier-than-thou manner, either.

You can like it for what it is (or not), and ignore the drama and bullshit.

It’s not worth the hype, or inflated black-label prices, but it is worth the price PSN is charging.

Buyer’s Guide: It’s an original playstation game, but unless you want to pay out the nose get it from the PSN and enjoy it on your PS3 or PSP. Patching the PC version is increasingly a nightmare, or so I hear.

3 ‘I fucking know which way the cannon is, guys’ out of 5

Friday, February 15, 2013

Ni no Kuni (2013)

Genre: RPG | Players: 1 | Developer: Level-5

I was so hyped for Ni No Kuni that I pre-ordered seven months before it was even released on these shores. I began to think there was no way it could live up to my expectations. I was very wrong. It’s the kind of JRPG that hasn't been seen for a long time; the kind that comes along about twice every console generation.

You play as Oliver as he searches for something meaningful within two worlds and within himself. Along the way he’ll face physical and emotional trials.

The story could've tugged more fiercely on the heartstrings; there are scenes that feel forcibly reserved, which is odd considering it's by Studio Ghibli. They also provided cut scenes, character designs and beautiful in-game animation full of colour and vibrancy. Sadly the traditional 2D animation gets less frequent as the game progresses, but the consistency in quality remains.

Battles mix real-time movement and turn-based inputs. When you enter the menu the action halts. After you input a command the action resumes.

Oliver doesn't fight alone. He can recruit creatures to fight alongside him, Pokémon style. Mostly you’ll be instructing them to fight on your behalf, utilising their abilities and swapping them in and out when needed. You can’t rely on them completely because they get tired and must be rested. During boss battles you’re going to need millisecond timing.

The game has two flaws that keep it from a perfect score. The absence of your party members’ magic bar during combat is one. If you’re relying on them to heal you it’s vital to know if they have magic or not.

The second is that pre-rendered animations take precedence over any attempt you make to damage an enemy; e.g. if you release your most devastating attack just before the boss goes into his/her attack routine, they'll take the hit but it won’t do damage. You’re left with depleted magic and no time to defend.

Neither issue is game-breaking, but being aware of them in advance will help you plan your strategy better. It's a small criticism of an otherwise wonderful experience, which is the perfect antidote to bland sequels and rushed reboots.

Joe Hisaishi's soundtrack is superb; parts of which is the best he’s written in years.

I played with the Japanese v/o. I checked the English dub on YouTube and it was dreadful in comparison. If you're not averse to subtitles, I'd recommend them.

Buyer's Guide:
Available for PS3 only.

4½ emotional transfusions out of 5

Monday, February 4, 2013

Mega Man 3 (1990)


Genre: Platformer | Players: 1 | Developer: Capcom

As much as everyone seems to love Mega Man 2, I find it still somewhat hampered by the stiffness of the first game. With the third entry in the storied series, I finally began to feel at home in the improved controls and competent enough to see the task through to completion. While standing as a pseudo-prototype for the immediately successive games, there are in fact several key things 3 accomplished that those almost immediately forewent:

***Virtually no stereotypical, elemental Robot Masters -- There's an electric boss, but the water stage doesn’t even belong to a water master. We’ve got magnets, tops, needles, snakes, sexual innuendos and fuggen ninjas. Ice and fire need not apply.

***No shield weapon -- Does ANYONE actually enjoy shield weapons? Yet, they’ve been in almost every game since.

***Rush Jet -- Not only was this the debut of Rush, period, it was the only time that Rush Jet has ever been fully functional. You can move backwards, forwards, up, down--all a-fucking-round. Ever since, it has been some form of auto-piloting death trap, ready to drop you to your doom at a moment’s notice. Fix ur shit, Capcom. If you haven’t already in 9 or 10.....

***Doc Robot stages -- They saw fit to bring back the masters of 2 for rematches in remixed versions of half of the stages. This was a legitimate way to lengthen the game and pay homage to those then already iconic masters.

Some have argued that the Wily stages are overly simple. Mayhaps, but to me they don’t feel insanely short or half-assed in the way others have *cough*X2*cough.* Sure, one is a brief romp to the new Yellow Devil fight, but the fight itself is satisfying and far more managable (w/o glitches) than the original, to compensate.

Others have complained that there is no story set up at the beginning of the game itself, with slight plot details suddenly being dropped out-of-the-blue after clearing all the masters. I do usually play games for story, but I don’t with Mega Man. This is a critical failing of the X series and I couldn’t care less, here. I have a set of masters unique in the scope of the series in front of me waiting to be massacred, and that’s more than enough.

Buyer’s Guide: Originally on the NES. Available most easily on the Virtual Console, PSN, and in the Mega Man Anniversary Collection on PS2, GameCube, and Xbox. It’s also on mobile devices, several Japanese compilations, and the 3DS VC in Japan.

4½ Motherfucking Snakes (Impaled) On Motherfucking Pins out of 5

Mega Man X2 (1994)


Genre: Platformer | Players: 1 | Developer: Capcom

While innovation is the keystone of almost all successful franchises, there are times when such evolution sends one completely off the rails. It’s just my opinion, but this is what I believe to be the case with the Mega Man X series. Each successive entry added more insipid story elements (eventually with horrendous voice acting), more complex requirements for hidden extras, and eventually a frustrating collection system masquerading as equippable perks. There are reasons for this, but it doesn’t change how I feel: Aside from X4, this complexity is inversely related to the quality of the games. Each is worse than the last.

That said, let’s focus on X2. As the first step away from the stellar original game, it stands as ‘acceptably worse.’ The bosses have decent enough patterns that are fun to learn to buster-only. The stages are a slight bit more lackluster but passable enough, even if there aren’t any cross-stage changes, as there were in the first game. The extras only require you to quickly take out three additional Mavericks, which can appear in any of the stages. The armor upgrades make sense and two are exquisite. The air-dash is indispensable and when combined with a charged-up boss weapon can be extended greatly. This mechanic is utilized often and even very cleverly in one spot, which appropriately leads to the greatest reward in the game.

The music didn’t stand out to me, to be honest. However, this is also true of X1, so I can hardly hold it against this particular sequel. The X series' music just pales in comparison to the classic series’ giant collection of unique and identifiable stage themes. In the end, literally, the Sigma stages are short and overly easy once you’ve been through them fully. The final area is even a direct copy/paste of a Maverick stage. Seriously? At least Mega Man 3 remixed the four stages used for Doc Robot battles. Ultimately, the Sigma fights are far less memorable this time around, but the duel with an old friend that proceeds them is genuinely a blast to buster.

I have a very love/hate relationship with the X series, but if you like the original, and find X2 (or the X collection) at a flea market, you might as well. There are far worse games you can play. Some are just much closer at hand to it than others.

Buyer's Guide: Originally available on the SNES. Your """best""" bets are the Mega Man X collection on PS2 and GameCube, or the Virtual Console, however. If for some reason you have an "i-mode" or "EZweb" compatible phone, and live in Japan, you can get it that way, as well.

Unaccounted Zero Parts out of 5