Friday, 26 August 2022

Shining Wisdom - Onward, to 2D!

Being a diehard Saturn fan is hard, we know this. After years of acknowledging that our favorite console has been looked down upon by the gaming public and focusing on the what if's and why's of the Sega Saturn's history, we need as many wins as we can get. This brings me to the Shining series, a flagship franchise for Sega that has some of the most constant quality throughout its duration. It's not the highest quality, but it is definitely quality none the less. The Shining series has been fantasy gameplay that one can trust and popping these games in can cause you to get absorbed into its world and love taking down monsters and villains.

Sadly, going into Shining Wisdom with these expectations will not bear the wanted results. With all of the cool perspective and dungeon crawling fun from Shining the Holy Ark, you would think a year prior, the game wouldn't be so brutally different. How naive I was to think so. This was a bit of a downer coming into it. This was all based on expectations and not in an objective view, I will admit. Going into it, you see a top-down view of a game and you expect this just to be an outer world view and noncombat perspective. Then you go into the wilderness and find out that this is what you have and there's not much else to it. 

Going through a hub world, talking to civilians and exploring forests is one thing, but when you find out that you are literally just swinging swords and casting spells in that world and nothing more, there is a sour sense of disappointment that goes along with it. Yes, there is good gameplay here and I'll get to that, but going into it like this, knowing my child side, at a young age, I probably would have stopped playing it outright. Just walking around swinging at random monsters in the forest seems about as shallow an option for gameplay as you can get and you would have at least thought they would go for a classic RPG turn base portion or at least some sort of close-up view of the combat, but no, you swing a sword, they get knocked away and explode. 

The graphics are about as underwhelming as it sounds. These characters look cartoonish, the shading is smooth and the monsters look about as generic as they come. Again, if there were some other gameplay with different graphics behind this, it would have been much more palletable, but as is, it's very difficult to take this seriously. 

Now, is it a terrible game? No, it's just not what you would consider a deep, engrossing experience. There is some fun to be had with taking down a whole ton of monsters with swords and magic as you traverse caves, wilderness, castles and fantasy settings. Once you get over the initial gameplay experience and start to play, you can start paying more attention to the story, which is where the game thrives to a degree. The plot and progression are actually quite good, as is the leveling system for your protagonist. The puzzles are fun, though, they do outstay their welcome somewhat with how frequent they are. It starts off pretty slow with having to use healing plants more and more as you fight monsters on a very large scale. The grind is not especially bad, considering each of them take one or two hits to kill and they drop some pretty helpful items along the way. 

The more comfortable you get with the game, the better it gets. If this is your cup of tea, then Christmas has come because this is not an especially short game, but it also isn't so long as to overstay its welcome. The graphics and character designs, along with the gameplay are all an acquired taste and if you're not already prone to liking this style, this could be a pretty hard game to grow into. Consider this a mixed review from someone who has grown accustomed to the Shining series' better titles. Overall, it's only recommended for a certain audience, everyone else may be pulled away from its presentation. Graphics don't make the game, but that's obviously not the only place this game falls short. For all its faults, it's not a terrible game, just know what you're getting before you spend a lot of money on it. Until then, keep crawling those dungeons and don't forget to bring some water.

Wednesday, 17 August 2022

Warcraft II - When Blizzard Didn't Suck!

Warcraft is known mostly for World of Warcraft now days, and even that is starting to whither away into a much more condensed audience (dispite Activision's underhanded efforts). There was a time, dear readers, when Warcraft was known for more than an MMORPG. There was a time when Blizzard was young and actually had to program entire games in order to stay afloat. Warcraft was created in the vain of Warhammer, and was a Real Time Strategy game where humans fight orcs in a fantasy map setting. The game was a gigantic hit, obviously, and brought about its own fanbase and its own lore that seemed to have no roof to how much people ate it up. 

Warcraft II was a natural progression of this idea. Not only did it up the graphics, but it also upped the ante when it came to gameplay and internet accessibility. Well, we're not going to go into the multiplayer because the Sega Saturn didn't cover that, but we will be going into a lot of the different changes between the first and second game. 

First and foremost, the number of different units has taken steroids with how many there are and how much they affect the gameplay. From the human knights to the orc's ogres, they ramp up the gameplay to a new level to make you strive to keep your buildings up. They upgraded all of the magic, making it a real component to the game's mechanics and they add in one of my favorites, the Death Knights. Paladins are good, Ogre Mages are great, Death Knights are AWESOME! 

Warcraft II was ported to both Sega Saturn and Playstation in its upgraded form, meaning it had the expansion pack built in. To say this was a gift would be an understatement because with both the orc and human campaigns, that means tons of extra gameplay! This was the only Warcraft game to be ported to consoles and somehow we were lucky enough to get a Saturn port. How fortunate. Now, was it a perfect port? No, it definitely didn't outshine the PC original. It was worth playing the Sega Saturn port, for sure, but it also came with its own little niggles. 

As stated before in my other reviews, a controller will never replace the mouse. A controller with a D-pad is harder to control and trying to catch some of these quick little sprites with your controller cursor can be rough. That's just unavoidable. There's also that strange interface where the square pops up beside the unit you click on. It takes some getting used to, to say the least. You need to do a few practice levels to get started, and with how easy the first few levels are, there's plenty of opportunity to do so. 

The graphics also take a downgrade, but it's not as bad as it could be. The framerates are still fine unless you go crazy with the units on the screen, because there can be a lot. In fact, there can be even more than before, but we'll get into that later. Sadly, there's also a loss of voice clips. One thing people love is the ability to click on units relentlessly to get some comedic voice prompts from them. Here, their comedic lines are cut down extensively. What a shame.

Then, we can get into a few shortcomings from the game itself. I know it may be a hot take, but there really shouldn't have been water combat/mechanics. The ship building and the transporting ground units shouldn't have been so prominent in the gameplay because it slows down the pace so terribly bad. It's adding a middle man where they shouldn't have added a middle man. It really should have been just ground units and MAYBE the air units. It's a good thing they learned their lesson about the water combat in Warcraft III, because it was a definite improvement on that front. The air units, though, they didn't go anywhere. 

Aside from the noncombatant air units, there are the dragons and the griffons. Watch out when these things come into the battle. Their damage is meant to take down buildings and multiple units at a time. With these guys on the screen, plus a full ground troop battle, it can make the screen frames chug at a tiresome rate. The good news is that these airtroops take out the middle man of creating water craft and it sinks them within seconds! Of course, results may vary depending on the circumstances, don't take my word for it. 

This is a great way to enjoy the arguably greatest RTS game ever made, on they greatest system ever made. Warcraft III was great in its own right (until Blizzard screwed it up, of course) but Warcraft II has the best balance of both strategy and unit mass creation. You can play this game in both campaign and custom campaign for hours upon hours of fun. It has its flaws but what game doesn't? Do not count this port out, do not forget when Blizzard didn't suck and Activision wasn't siphoning our cash into their micro transaction Scrooge McDuck vault. This is Warcraft in its purest form and it is definitely something you can grind your axe on.

Saturday, 13 August 2022

Panzer Dragoon Saga - The Legend and Myth

 Changing the entire genre in a series can be considered premeditated suicide. Beat'em ups have tried to turn into fighting games, fighting games have tried to turn into adventure games, survival horrors have tried to turn into action FPS's and on and on and on. How many times has it actually worked? I'll give you a hint: Not many! So often, turning one game into a new genre makes 10% of it work and 90% of it into a multi million dollar mistake.

Panzer Dragoon is not an example of this, not in the slightest. Somehow, they took one of the greatest railshooters of the Saturn and turned it into a legitamate roleplaying game with scope, stakes, characters and a sense of dread that you can feel throughout its run. Against all odds, they gave flying a dragoon across chasms and deserts a sense of adventure that you can truly feel because no one place out stays its welcome and almost every place you go has new dangers and new obstacles. 

You may not be surprised to find out, but this is widely considered the greatest game on the Sega Saturn. This is one of the greatest weapons in an argument against the Playstation along with Burning Rangers and Nights Into Dreams. It combines the high flying adventures of the first two games with a sense of progression we gleamed from Zwei, then it adds in roleplaying game mechanics which shouldn't have worked but they do for some strange reason.

Let me explain. The first two games worked because the controls and the aiming system, along with the smooth flight gave you a sense of impending danger and fast pace shoot'em up action. You wouldn't think that could translate to a roleplaying game, but you would be wrong, apparently. They made it a very loose turn based system in the vain of Final Fantasy 7. You can fire your dragon laser, gunfire or special move once one attack meter fills up. Some of your berserk moves require more than one to be full so you can perform your larger attacks. It gives you that same intensity because you are under constant attack while you wait for your attack meter to fill.

They also brought in some of the craziest creatures for you to battle. During the battle, you can shift your position from back to forward and either side in order to find the best method of attack. 

There are so many combinations and strategies, it is a tiny bit mind blowing. If one strategy does not work, there are so many more you can try and it is a struggle to keep up with some of these creatures. Your opponents run the gambit from laughably easy, to nail-biting frustration and so on. If you die, come back with a new angle of attack and you may surprise yourself at how well you do. 

Like the other titles, all of this is framed with some of the most beautiful graphics you will see in 32-bits. You will see areas that look so beautiful, decimated and/or barren in Sega Saturn graphics that many of us absolutely love.

Now, that's not to say it is without flaws. There are times when the level progression can be a little confusing as to what needs to be done. Some enemies can also run over the gambit of frustration because their powers and abilities can be seen as near gamebreaking. Does it truly break the game? No, but sometimes that frustration can get a bit overly hot. The load times can also get a bit overly long, as can a few of the cut scenes. At least the latter can be skipped.

By that same token, the satisfaction of completing this quest is beyond powerful. You get that gamer high you crave and it is glorious! This game rivals the greatness of FFVII. You can argue that point until you are blue in the face and stamp the ground with contradictions but the truth of the matter is that they succeeded with what they set out to do.

The development of this game was probably one of the worst tales of hell that has ever graced the platform and that is no exaggeration. There's no need to go into gory details, but there were some very harsh happenings along the way and it was quite the sad story overall because it happened at the end of the Saturn's life cycle. This game never truly reached its full potential in the game market because the Sega Saturn was already on its way to becoming discontinued in the US. It was the story of Burning Rangers all over again. If the Saturn had lasted longer, they could have come out with true greatness such as this and other titles, but sadly, as with many cases in the Saturn's library, it was constantly overlooked.

The silver lining is that the Panzer Dragoon franchise trilogy is seen as some of the greatest games on this one particular system and only on this system. Why they have not come out with a master collection is beyond me but at least they've started with the Panzer Dragoon 1 remake. It was nothing groundbreaking and it lacked the charm of the original but at least it was an acknowledgement. These games are timeless and deserve to be given life once again and we can only hope that Zwei and Saga are given the same if not better treatment. If you have not played these games, there cannot be a stronger recommendation. Try what you can to get a copy and do not forget to lead your dragoon to water.

Wednesday, 3 August 2022

Castlevania: Symphony of the Night - A Miserable Pile of AWESOME!!!

Castlevania, for us oldschool gamers, was a serious victory for gamers and horror fans alike! Who wouldn't love to go through Dracula's castle, defeat horrific creatures and take on demons of a terrifying nature? It had a successful run on the original Nintendo system and has gone into the 16-bit era nearly unscathed. It did not have a successful 3D run, but that's further into the future than we're going to be going. No, instead, we're talking about the game that brought together both 2D and 3D elements into one of the pinnacle games of the genre and the franchise. This is the game that many call the greatest platformer right alongside Super Metroid, hence the mixing title "Metroidvania". Fans will never let this title go, and after playing it for about ten or eleven hours, it is clear to see why. 

The problem is that many perceive the Sega Saturn version of Symphony of the Night (Or Dracula X: Nocturn in the Moonlight in Japan) to be the lesser version of this game, add in the fact that it never released in America an you can see why this title never really hit as hard as the PSX version, which became a landmark title and remains a legend in its own right. As someone who has played both versions of this game, I am here to tell you, loosen up! Yeah, there are some noticeable differences but there is also so much to love about the Sega Saturn title, namely that they put in a ton of extra features, including characters that were unlockable for the Playstation port that are given to you from the beginning. 

Now, there is a catch when it comes to these two new characters. I never played as Richter, but I did play a full run with Maria and, wow, the differences are quite stark. First off, there is no story for her. There is only story for Alucard, the main protagonist. Maria also makes the game ridiculously easier. Her range attack added with the items you can use for weapons makes her an absolute powerhouse of a character and gives her some abilities that almost break the game, almost. It's still got its sections that make it very challenging, even with a runthrough with Maria. 

I am not going to go into the differences between the two systems. Sure, the graphics aren't as good and the level design is a bit more wonky but oh well! It's still a fantastic time! The gameplay, the controls, the graphics and the adventurous journey elements are all addicting to the gamer brain. This will make you want to play the game for hours upon hours on end. 

The real strength in this game lies in its boss battles. They are seriously some of the most fun and frequent moments of joy in this entire game. There are large monsters that you would struggle to identify, even when you know monster lore, some of them are just bizarre. That's a good thing! These look so outlandish and otherworldly that you find nothing but joy in bringing them down because you'd be terrified of them in real life. The character designs are outlandish and the satisfation in bringing them down still gives you that wonderful blast of brain endorphines you crave when you play a title such as this!

But let's be fair here, it's still a better game when you play with Alucard, rather than the other two extra characters. Without the story and without the added challenge of leveling up your abilities, it does take away from the experience as a whole. Yes, if you don't speak/read Japanese, you can't really get that story's full effect, but there are plenty of ways around that. 

Now, there are some noticeable differences in the Saturn port that are not so great. The Cursed Prison portion with all of the ghosts and the floating blue flames got more than a little frustrating. Then there are the framerate drops which, yes, are a bit of a nuisance. I've also heard that the loadtimes are more frequent, but that never bothered me to begin with. When you die, you don't have to wait through the Game Over screen, thankfully, and you can load your save state in a quick fashion. 

Let's be honest, was this really a BAD port of Symphony of the Night? I really do not think so. It may not be quite as good as the Playstation port, because it's rumored the Konami rushed through its production, only to release it exclusively in Japan. It has its faults, but if that's what you're thinking about as you run and slice down skeletons, zombies and ghosts, then you're missing the point.