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    jp's PoPoLoCrois (PSP)

    [May 8, 2008 07:54:51 PM]
    I think I meant to talk about the combat system a while back and then got here goes. I'll start with a list of the things I like/don't like before talking about a curious twist on combat which I found innovative even if not executed as well as it might have been.

    (a) Random battles - I just hate them. They're always so meaningless as they're only there for level grinding. However, and I feel REALLY stupid about only realizing this in the last 6th of the game: Pietro has a spell to negate random encounters! Once I found out about this, I never stopped using it and the end of the game was all the more interesting and engaging. I was a bit worried that I would get creamed during the "real" fights. (ie, scripted encounters). Fortunately this was not so.

    (b) Auto-fight - I LOVED this feature. Essentially you can set, for each character, an automatic mode. So, each character can either be controlled manually or set to: attack, defend, and assault. If set to attack, the character attacks using regular melee (ie, no special skills/magic), assault is all out (tries to max damage), while defend is more, well...defensive. If you feel you have to grind through random encounters- setting your characters on automatic is the way to go.

    The auto-fight option also allowed me to slowly, and gently, ease my way into the combat system. At first, I just let the characters fight it out, while I watched, then, as I learned what was what, I felt comfortable taking on some responsibilities. In fact, something pretty funny happened very early in the game...

    All the characters were set to "manual" and they were fighting some monster or other. The location was pretty cramped and there wasn't much room to maneuver. One of the characters (Narcia) got stuck on the "front row" and quickly got knocked out. However, the other two characters who were behind her, couldn't move up into the front, and there was no other way to get to the enemy! So, I sat there for more than a few minutes watching impotently as the rest of the party was taking damage. Very slowly. 1-2hp at a time... It was pretty painful and I was feeling rather annoyed that there was no way to "interrupt" the fight and change the settings. It was only until I got home later, and checked the manual, that I realized that there WAS indeed a way to do it, but you had to press the button "at the right time". (which obviously didn't happen while I was randomly pressing keys to try to pause the fight). Sigh. I guess the AI wasn't perfect, because as soon as I took control of the characters I was able to sort things out...

    (c) The innovation

    Maybe it's not an innovation...but I would love to hear of other games where it works like this! So, most turn-based RPGs seem to coordinate actions in the following way: (1) move then (2) select target to attack, then (3) resolve attack.

    There are 3 steps in the process and the player has agency over the first two. In some games there is no first step because there is no movement. (typically seen in games where the enemies line up in front of each other, so you just select a target). In this PoPoLoCrois, however, there is real movement (you have to move your characters around, and facing matters-so a rearguard attack can do more damage) but it's been merged into the target selection! So, as a player you perform only one actions, which consists of placing the target attack pattern wherever you want it, and the character moves around the area automatically. Pretty elegant in my opinion!

    Different attacks have different "patterns". For example, some might be a line of squares extending from the characters facing outwards, or it might be an area that is 3 squares in front of the character. Anything under the template, gets hit, you just need to decide where to place the template. So, you can think of it as only moving, where the attack target is determined automatically based on the type of attack and your end-position, or vice versa. Either way, the system elegantly eliminates one step, making fights more fluid....
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    [May 7, 2008 10:45:22 PM]
    Apparently, this game is actually an amalgamation of two other games in the PoPoLoCrois series with a new bit sandwiched between them. (I had no idea there was a series) In some sense, that explains why each part of the game was such a neat little package, well contained, well rounded off, and so on. It does not explain, however, how well each part segued into the next. (really well, I would not have expected that)

    I would harbor a guess that A LOT of work went into crafting this game (the PSP version). I would even go so far as to guess that part of the work of putting everything together had to do with trimming the fat off the two games that were adapted. The first part of the game (called Story One, I think) is pretty short, and I would be surprised if that was the original game. The game feels as if the designers went in and tried to tighten up the story, make the locations closer to each other, and generally shorten the length of the game by sticking to what was important. No mean feat, and highly commendable.

    Compare this to the re-release of Final Fantasy I&II together in one new package. Instead of shortening each game and trimming it down to provide a real concentrated, intense, and engaging experience (as opposed to a drawn out treadmill where you feel that you occasionally make progress and "move things along"), they went in the OPPOSITE direction and added MORE content. Yes, the new stuff is optional...supposedly, though if you're clueless (like I was) you might actually confuse it with the "required" parts. What a mess. It felt like a treadmill, while this game feels totally different in that regard.
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    [May 6, 2008 07:21:03 PM]
    Imagine that you're reading the Lord of the Rings for the first time. Imagine that the book started out by laying the "main goals" that the protagonists must achieve. In other words: Sauron is a really bad dude that must be defeated. This ring is pretty dangerous, it must be destroyed. You would be correct in imagining that these driving motivators will persist throughout the whole book and will hopefully be resolved at the end.

    That's pretty much how most fantasy games go. You're introduced pretty early to the "main objective" and then spend the whole game getting there. This isn't necessarily a bad thing (which is why I referred to LoTR, a great set of books!), I can think of plenty of reasons why you'd want to do it.

    When I first started playing this game, the setup was similar. Pietro's mother has been missing (presumed dead) for his entire life. She died when an ice demon, with the help of 4 super evil sorcerers, attacked the kingdom..blablabla. A few hours into the game I was SCHOCKED to discover that I had defeated the four evil sorcerers and that my next opponent was the ice demon! I was nowhere near the 30 hours of gameplay that the box warned me about! Could it be that the whole epic setup and storyline I had pictured in my head was but a "teaser" for the rest of the game? Sort of.

    I guess I fell victim to my preconceived notions of how stories unfold and are presented in a fantasy rpg, and I guess that's one reason why I've enjoyed playing PoPoLoCrois. I never know where the story is going in the GRAND scheme of things (though plenty of elements are foreshadowed) even though I do know where things are going in the medium term. The experience of playing this game has felt incredibly refreshing as a result.

    In structural terms, this game takes place over 3 moments, or instances, of Pietro's life. The first section, all about Pietro's mother and the ice demon, takes place when Pietro is 10 years old. The second is a few years later, and the third a few more years after that. (I don't recall the exact amount of time). It's been fun to see how the characters change in the meantime, how Pietro changes, and the differences that a few years have on a relatively small world. Nice stuff.
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    [May 2, 2008 11:08:27 PM]
    I guess sometimes you can be too "clever" for your own good. Case in point, the other day I was gearing up for the next part of the "super quest" I'm on in this game. Pietro is the key to saving the world, but he can't do it by himself so he needs to gather his friends, most of whom have gone back "home". Trouble is, most of the locations are pretty far away or even unknown. Fortunately, he can make use of Gilbert the dragon, who when summoned can fly him to any location from a scrolling list. How do I summon Gilbert?

    Well, the White Knight, a member of my party at the time, explains that I just need to go outside and play my ocarina. (I was inside PoPoLoCrois Castle at that time). Ha! What a cute reference to another videogame. A nod, a tribute. I'm so clever to have noticed. Right? The thing is, I don't remember having an ocarina at all and I've never had to "use" an item. Everything always happens automatically. So, I figure I should leave the castle and the "play the ocarina" event will happen, trigger an in-game cut-scene or something like that, and the game will move on.

    That doesn't happen.

    So, I spend the better part of two hours wandering around the world trying to find the location where the cut-scene will trigger (ie, play the ocarina). I realize that a few of the locations where I think I should pick up my friends are I'm starting to worry. Maybe I did something wrong? Missed a clue or vital item somewhere?

    I head back to PoPoLoCrois Castle just in case and wander around a bit more. Nothing.

    On a whim...I open up my inventory and move over to the 4th tab of items (there are a few tabs, for different types of items, like healing items and weapons).

    Wow. There's an ocarina at the top of the list. I hadn't noticed that. At all.

    I select it, use it, and sure enough...Pietro plays a tune and Gilbert swoops in.

    Sigh. That's what happens when you're too clever for your own good!
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    [April 30, 2008 08:31:40 PM]
    I think I've just about made it to 20 hours of gameplay. This is making me feel quite guilty. I haven't really written much about this experience..sigh.

    Essentially, I feel like this game is full of little tidbits that make it enjoyable and interesting. When I consider the big picture, the gameplay isn't that interesting and the story is "ok", so it's nothing special really. However, it has been crafted with a fine attention to detail, which shows quite often, and with quite a pleasing effect. Here are a few of my "choice" moments...

    (a) The party is inside a music club and there are four female dancers on stage. There moves are all choreographed. I noticed that there were some steps on the side of the stage, so I moved everyone (I control one character, Pietro, and the rest of the party follow along behind him) up on to the stage. I wonder if I can talk to the dancers. Yes! I can't remember what they said exactly, and it doesn't really matter...the neat part is that as soon as you talk to a dancer, she becomes "lost" in the choreography with respect to her peers. Essentially out of synch. If you talk to all four, the whole dance becomes a real mess. Yes, I was a bad person and distracted the dancers, and ruined the show. :-) There isn't any recognition of this from the audience or anyone's just something you notice.

    (b) In the opening scene of the game, Pietro climbs down from his bedroom tower using some vines. (this is an in-game cutscene) If you try to do this later one, you get a message that says something like "I don't think that's a good idea, I might get in trouble". Much later in the game (when Pietro is about 4 years older) you get a different message: "I'm too big and heavy to go down the vines now" (or something to that effect). It makes total sense...and is another tiny little example of attention to detail.
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    [April 14, 2008 02:24:09 PM]
    I've logged more than 4 hours and have finished the 1rst chapter and just started the 2nd. I've been surprised at how quickly my initial excitement turned into fear and panic, and then back into enjoyment.

    I realized when I first started playing that I began going through what I might start calling the initial stages of RPG panic. Essentially:

    (1) New combat system!
    I was freaking out about having to learn (and master?) a new combat system, with spells, abilities, and what not.

    Fortunately, you can set the game to "auto fight", so I've been able to ease my way into the game on this regard.

    (2) What do I do next?
    As soon as the first cut-scenes were over I began to fret over the typical "What do I have to do now? Where should I go? How will I know if I'm on the right track?"

    Unfortunately, Popolocrois has a lot of random (and unavoidable) encounters. This kind of discourages exploration and general wandering about. Also, the map interface is pretty poor in the sense that if you know where you want to go, it isn't really easy to figure out how to get there from where you are. Basically, the "overworld map" isn't really any good. Finally, there is not "quest log" or anything like that where you can tell what you're supposed to do or where you're expected to go.

    Fortunately, I got severely beaten down the first time I wandered into the wilderness and (correctly) assumed that this was the wrong way. So, I headed in the other direction and have been able to make progress ever since. Also, the world isn't as open and free as I had initially feared. (given the vagueness of the directions, I was worried of having to randomly wander around)

    (3) I really don't want to read a million lines of dialogue.

    Yes, the eternal cut-scenes. So far, the reading has been ok. Not too long, and interesting/entertaining enough.

    So yes, I have managed to get over my initial panic and I'm slowly starting to explore the combat system (which has some interesting things to it) as well as the game.... yay!
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    [April 10, 2008 11:40:05 AM]
    A few minutes before plunking this games' disc into my PSP I suddenly realized that I was really excited about playing this game. I've been wondering why, since I have a feeling that it didn't get very good reviews. I don't actually have any other information regarding this game other than the vague sensation that it's not a very good game. So why was I excited in anticipation of this game?

    I've been thinking about this more than I probably should have, mostly because I was so surprised by my eager anticipation to play a game I knew nothing about.


    I guess that one reason is that I haven't played a Japanese-style RPG in quite a while so maybe I was excited by the change of pace? Perhaps I was excited by the fact that it was a japanese-style rpg that doesn't come from any of the "big names" (ie, it's not final fantasy or dragon-quest related). Perhaps I was excited about playing a game with a "good" story and interesting gameplay?

    I'm not really sure about this, and my first few hours with this game have been rather surprising as a result. But more on that later...
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    jp's PoPoLoCrois (PSP)

    Current Status: Finished playing

    GameLog started on: Friday 4 April, 2008

    GameLog closed on: Thursday 5 June, 2008

    jp's opinion and rating for this game

    I enjoyed it quite a bit. A nice change of pace with simple gameplay, yet engaging enough. Not a brainbuster, for sure, but it has heart and style.

    Rating (out of 5):starstarstarstar

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