Tuesday, 28 July 2009
Thursday, 9 July 2009
While the Saturn hit the US in 1995, it wasn't until 1998 that I bought a system. A large part of why I held out was money, $399 is a fortune to an 11 year old. Also, I was having way too much fun with my Genesis at the time, a testament to the quality of the 16-bit system. The Genesis had everything I wanted: Sonic the Hedgehog and Disney Interactive games. The Saturn had a Sonic compilation of games I already owned and some goofy jester game. At the time I was oblivious to the fact that NiGHTS was a Sonic Team game (no Wikipedias or SegaNerds back in 1995, kids) and so I went on ignoring one of the greatest games and systems of the mid-90's.
During Christmas, 1996 I had my first chance to play NiGHTS on a Saturn store kiosk similar to the one Michael Jackson's estate had up for auction. Long story short, it blew me away and I had to have it. Fast forward to January 1998, I was still strapped for cash but could afford the occasional action figure and comic book. I was a hardcore Sonic the Hedgehog Archie Comics collector, with a subscription assuring every issue would come right to my door. Promos began to appear in the Sonic comics for a new SEGA mini-series titled NiGHTS into Dreams, and if that wasn't exciting enough I also learned it would be drawn by the greatest Sonic artist the US had to offer: SPAZ!
Patrick "SPAZ" Spaziante was the longtime cover artist for the Sonic comics. SPAZ's cover work was an experience in itself, sometimes outshining the story contained within an issue. Hell, the man has his own gallery at Sonic HQ. Suffice to say, if you bought a Sonic comic just for SPAZ's art, then imagine an entire mini-series done by the man!
February 1998 came and the first issue arrived. In hindsight, the NiGHTS mini-series greatly expanded on the plot of the game. The comic began by introducing a blacksmith, driven by his dreams to create a gleaming golden spire (the same spire seen on the game cover and menu screen!). Little did the smith know that he was being controlled by Wizeman the Wicked to create a spire identical to one found in Nightopia, the land of dreams. NiGHTS and Reala are introduced as lackeys of Wizeman (!) who have just captured the two dreamers of the real world who only appear once every century, these being two kids of the 1800's.
NiGHTS is quickly swayed by the young girl to go turncoat on Wizeman, as he flies off with the red dream power spheres. While fleeing, he runs into some Chao- er, I mean Nightopians, who prompt him to cram the spheres into the dream hole to reality (sounds nasty, I know). A shard of dream sphere comes loose and embeds itself into NiGHTS chest, I'm sure that plot point won't come into play during the final issue *wink-wink*. Meanwhile, the two spheres fly out of the blacksmith's spire and embed themselves into the ground outside. In a moment of inspiration, the smith describes what he saw and gives a name to the town which will someday develop from that plot of land: Twin Seeds! Thank goodness he didn't name it Two Balls.
Fast forward 100 years, Two Balls has developed into a thriving metropolis. The pinnacle of the city is a large skyscraper topped off with the blacksmith's spire. Two Nightopians emerge from the spire in search of the two dreamers. In a "small world" moment, both dreamers are found within seconds of eatchother: Elliot and Claris. Elliot is late for basketball practice, and what's worse he is quickly schooled by a Draco Malfoy-like tit named Roger.
Or give Elliot a concussion, that works too. Entering the land of dreams, the Nightmaren introduces Elliot to the Ideya Palaces (those little four pillar checkpoints that hold NiGHTS in the games). It is revealed that NiGHTS exists as even less than a dream, as he was imprisoned by Wizeman for rebelling. The only way to awake NiGHTS is for a real world dreamer to enter the Ideya Palace. Elliot is quick to enter and becomes NiGHTS, triggering the alarms to Wizeman that NiGHTS has escaped. Wizeman dispatches Gillwing (the first NiGHTS boss) and in a very Wizard of Oz moment invades Claris's dreams, turning her music teacher into the evil Puffy. Sensing that Claris is in danger, NiGHTS leaves Elliot and fuses with Claris, defeating Puffy.
Meanwhile, Elliot uses the floating alarm clock (usually something you'd avoid in the games) to his advantage as he wakes himself up before Gillwing can lay a finishing blow. As the issue comes to a close, all is well... for now! While Claris and Elliot have sweet dreams, Draco Malfoy is introduced to the nightmaren known as Reala. DUN-DUN-DUNN!
Monday, 6 July 2009
The sentence that serves as a title for this post is usually one of the first things that come to my mind when I think about it. You see, for there are a lot of rare and expensive Saturn games out there, some of them good, some of them bad, but all not worth the hefty prices they demand these days. But, alas, I've found one such a game! It can go from 50 to 200€/$/£, depending on region (Europe - semi-rare, USA - rare, Japan - cheap as fuck), but even the biggest price tag is thoroughly deserved.
I'm talking about Panzer Dragoon Saga!
Now, you all know I'm a big fan of the series, and this game was the only one missing from my collection (not counting the spin-off Panzer Dragoon Mini or whatever that gamegear game was called). It has been on my list for quite some time, but now I finally decided to take the plunge and just play it. And OMFG it's awesome!!!
Seriously, this game was so ahead of it's time! I'm only in the middle of disc 2 and it's already one of my favourite RPG's ever! For a start, the game is very cinematic. There are a lot of FMV's (real, lengthy videos, not just short clips) that illustrate the story thoroughly and put you in the right mood for this hallucinating trip, and not only they're technically irreprehensible, but also masterfully designed, with shots worthy of Hollywood. Then, it's freaking accessible for an RPG. For a start, everything is thoroughly explained in a series of interactive tutorials. That way you won't enter your first fight without knowing the combat system in detail.
And also, the combat system is one of the most engaging and fast-paced I've ever seen using a turn-based mechanic. It's kind of complex for me to explain here without a video to illustrate while I describe it, but just bear in mind that position matters, you have to be constantly moving around your enemies to dodge their attacks and find their weak-points, and your choice of attacks depends heavily on your action bar's charge.
Then there's the story, the surreal setting on which the action takes place and the gameplay outside the fights. You'll explore villages on foot and breathtaking scenarios mounted on your faithful dragon, reminiscing of some areas from the previous games, and the slower pace of the games let's you learn more about this strange world and admire the absolutely stunning graphics. This takes me to the graphics, which are simply amazing. It's almost impossible to get more out of the Saturn's limited 3D capabilities, but enough to make you realize how amazing the system is/was back in the day. Also, the game has a unique "Saturn look" to it. I can't really explain, but I think there are certain graphical effects that were most used on Saturn games, so that you can immediately tell this was not released on a Playstation, for example. But, more stunning than the technical aspect is the art direction, which is everything you can expect from a Panzer Dragoon game.
To sum it up, even though I'm not halfway through it yet, this is already one of my favourite game on the system, and given it's accessible nature, chances are a lot of you faithful readers will enjoy it too, even if you usually don't fancy RPG's. This game is pure magic. Go buy it and see for yourself, you'll thank me later :)
And Father K, I know you have this one. Go play it, go play it now!