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    Mar 6th, 2008 at 14:48:07     -    Sonic Rivals (PSP)

    GAMEPLAY
    They still have those little item boxes. They’re not hidden in trees this time, but it certainly tests your button reflexes when you come upon a jump and it suddenly starts flashing ‘O’! And then you get the power-ups that make the screen lag a little as it tries to keep up with your speed, and yay.

    Some challenge is good, of course; I lost a few times to Knuckles, but it was fun, and only took one or two retries. But when it you fail five times in a row by half a second to Silver in the same damn race, I start to wonder if maybe Silver shouldn’t have been placed later in the game, when the player would have built up some ninja-skillz. Again, challenge is good, but you don’t put all your hard enemies at the beginning.

    DESIGN
    It’s a two-dimensional environment with three-dimensional graphics. Places have depth and camera angles move, but you can only go forward or back—much easier than trying to navigate a 3D space when the screen is flashing by. PSP graphics are quite pretty anyway, but it’s still rather exciting to see the original levels from the old Sega Genesis Sonic games done in glowing lights and flowing water.

    Which brings me to another point; because Sonic Rivals is a redux of the Sonic line, it wouldn’t have been right if there hadn’t been some of the same details and levels carried over from the first games. I was happy to see the Falls Zone and Knuckles, even though I never really went for Shadow and this Silver character is just irritating me.

    Such is the danger of introducing new characters to an old canon. Shadow is a bit iffy, but at least had some history on the Dreamcast; I don’t know where Silver came from, and the already shallow storyline doesn’t make his faked mysteriousness very entertaining in the least. And maybe I just missed something over the years, but wasn’t this ‘Dr. Eggman’ originally ‘Dr. Robotnik’? Why the change, Sega?

    As much as I complain about some of the stylistic choices, Sonic Rivals still has that thing that makes racing games so much fun—the variability of outcomes and the speed with which you have to react. You’re actively involved and competing not just against the computer but also the clock, so it’s almost a personal insult to lose. It plays well to one’s sense of competition. (Now if I can just convince one of my sisters to get a PSP, we can take sibling rivalry to a whole new level above Duck Hunt.)

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    Mar 6th, 2008 at 14:37:55     -    Sonic Rivals (PSP)

    SUMMARY
    Dr. Eggman has turned Sonic’s friends into playing cards! Oh no! Sonic, Knuckles, Shadow, and Silver are now racing to be the first to defeat Dr. Eggman and save everyone!

    Pretty standard Sonic plot, actually, though since this is a racing game, perhaps that can be forgiven.

    GAMEPLAY
    I find it strange that there was no tutorial on things like in-place spinning (the move that lets you get a head-start, for lack of a better name or description), and I wouldn’t have known it if I hadn’t been such a Sonic junkie when I was little. About half of the explosions and traps I set off for my rival was entirely by accident, since the game essentially just throws you into the race and expects you to figure it out on your own. (Not that it’s particularly complicated or anything, but still, it’s frustrating to suddenly find myself running backwards or encased in ice with no idea how it happened.)

    I’m feeling ambivalent about the gameplay. It’s like other Sonic racing games, just with better graphics; a little like Mario-Kart but with spiffier moves. It’s satisfying as hell when you build up speed and zoom across platforms and loops with the ring-counter dinging away (oh, for the days of Game Genie, when codes like SCRA-BAXO would get you permanent running shoes or constant invincibility!) There’s a fair mix of different obstacles: having to push pillars over, jumping, random enemies, etc, so it isn’t like you just push the direction arrows and that’s it. Still, something feels missing, though I’m not sure yet what that could be.

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    Feb 21st, 2008 at 02:45:27     -    Final Fantasy (PSP)

    GAMEPLAY
    Frankly, I’m bored. I go the witch, who just keeps saying she wants her glass eye; I go to the pirates and they give me a ship after kicking their wussy asses; I go to Elfheim and get told that the witch can brew a potion to wake up their king. I feel like those characters in fairy tales that have to go on a treasure hunt that seems to infinitely regress because someone always wants something else in return. And it’s boring.

    Although, I was particularly entertained by the pirates telling me that I had cannon balls of steel.

    DESIGN
    I’ve seen the original graphics, and the PSP remake looks absolutely lovely in comparison. A nice touch are the cloud shadows that pass over the towns, as though there were read weather patterns; and if you wanted to get overly analytical about it, you could even claim it as a symbol of the growing darkness consuming the light of the land.

    I find it strange that the battle system seems to be in ‘rounds’ rather than individual turns. You choose the actions of all four party members at once, let them battle, let the enemies have their turn, and then your set up their next round of actions. It makes it difficult when you’re not sure what to expect from an enemy, and in deciding who needs or doesn’t need to be healed. Also, having to pay for spells rather than earning them in battle…I can’t help but see that as a cynical commentary on current economies. And yes, I’m being entirely serious about that, silly as it sounds.

    A pitfall for player frustration here is the constant random battles. IT’S ANNOYING, especially when the majority of the battles are against cannon fodder monsters that give you maybe 4 experience points and a couple gil. Because I have no sense of direction—I still don’t know my right from left—I get lost very easily on the World Map, and it’s a pain in the ass having to backtrack and go through all. Those. Useless. Monsters. ARGH.

    The lack of characterization is bothering me. I loved FFVII so much because the emo-ness of Cloud and Vincent made me want to hug them, but I still have no idea who I’m moving around the maps in FFI. The only indication of any humanity was a cutscene saying something along the lines of their feeling “overwhelmed at the great task that destiny has set before them.” Which really doesn’t tell me much.

    I know Final Fantasy is considered one of the most influential games in the RPG genre, and maybe it is; and perhaps it’s just my living in a time of video games constantly pushing the edge that I’m entirely unimpressed with this one. I imagine that if I ever do finish playing it, it’ll just be for the novelty of its reputation rather than sincere enjoyment.

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    Feb 21st, 2008 at 01:16:02     -    Final Fantasy (PSP)

    SUMMARY
    The four prophesized Warriors of Light appear, each with one of the world’s elemental crystals; they must restore the light to the crystals and banish the darkness consuming the world forever. Dun dun dun. Classic action/adventure RPG storyline (which makes sense, considering just how influential this game has been in the genre.)

    GAMEPLAY
    First, I need to clarify that this is the version remade for PSP; according to Wikipedia, it remains largely unchanged save for higher-resolution 2D graphics and a few extra dungeons and whatnot. Plus an improved soundtrack. (And yes, I did get professorial permission to use this version for the Classics list.)

    So, I had an issue right in the beginning; due to my own impatience, I clicked through the conversation with the king too quickly and didn’t catch where I was supposed to go. I wandered around for a good while leveling up killing monsters, since the Menu didn’t have any sort of ‘journal’ saying ‘Rescue Princess Sara at the Temple!’ or anything else vaguely useful. I finally sucked it up and tracked down an online guide. It would have sucked to play this right when it came out nearly twenty years ago and not have had the Handy Dandy Internet to help out.

    Far too many random battles. Also, my black mage’s HP is about a third of that of my other party members; why isn’t it leveling up as fast? My white mage is doing pretty damn well, thank you very much.

    And the dialogue—like bad fantasy novels. I know, I know, I’ve been spoiled with the more recent games that have had the luxury of building off the mistakes of their predecessors, but seriously.

    So far, none of the characters have been addressed as individuals, not even among themselves. I find this weird and a little creepy, especially when RPGs are reputed to be more advanced than other game types in the characterization department. I kind of feel like I'm moving mannikins around the World Map.

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    1Death Jr. (PSP)Playing
    2Final Fantasy (PSP)Playing
    3Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions (PSP)Playing
    4Final Fantasy XII (PS2)Playing
    5Kingdom Hearts II (PS2)Playing
    6Sonic Rivals (PSP)Playing

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