A thoughtful and personal exploration of games

Posts tagged “Chrono Trigger

Discussion – The Urge to Replay

I’ve had this craving recently to dive back into a game that I’ve already beaten. I’m not entirely sure why though. Let me try to convey my thoughts on the matter.

First of all, I have plenty of games I haven’t beaten yet:

Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory

Splinter Cell: Conviction

Lord of the Rings Online

Champions Online

Hellgate: London

Dungeons & Dragons: Daggerdale

Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood

Spiral Knights

DeathSpank

SpaceChem

Police Quest Collection

Space Quest Collection

Roller Coaster Tycoon

X-COM Apocalypse

X-COM Terror From the Deep

These are just some of the games I have access to right now. I haven’t even touched the stacks of handheld games I haven’t beaten yet or even the console games I haven’t beaten. Seriously, I could focus on one or more of these and actually FINISH a few more games, but I have this craving to keep playing/replay certain games even after I’ve finished them. Here are the siren songs that keep calling me.

Chrono Trigger

Chrono Cross

Final Fantasy XII

Star Trek Online (I consider it beaten, but since they keep adding new stuff, I dunno)

Mass Effect 2

Republic Commando

I’ve successfully resisted replaying a few of those games lately by focusing on LOTRO, but Final Fantasy XII has been calling me exceptionally often lately. Whenever I look at my dormant PS2, I have this craving to play FFXII and I don’t really know why. I beat it rather soundly last time, but for some reason I just want to start a new game and pound the crap out of it again. It’s a massive investment of time though, so I’ve been able to resist it successfully. Resisting Chrono Cross is kind of easy though, however sad because well, I can resist it because it doesn’t have voice acting and I’m afraid the game might put me to sleep without enough stimulation. Strange, right? I know, but I once nodded off while playing Final Fantasy VI on the PSX and that’s my most favorite FF game of all time. I managed to whet my Chrono Trigger appetite recently when it came available on the Wii and I also own a handheld copy of the game (but it’s so much more fun to play on the TV).

Lately I’ve been having this strong desire to play a game where I can shoot things. Obviously, this rules out games like LOTRO and Chrono Trigger, so I’ve been giving sidelong glances at Splinter Cell: Conviction and Hellgate: London and a few other games with colons in their names.

I’m not sure about the details behind my desire to replay a game over finishing a game, but hey, that’s why this little site is here! To let me expand upon my random thoughts and help me discover what’s going on! I seriously think that I have a problem with finishing games because deep down I don’t want the experience to end. Further, I like replaying certain games that are quick and exciting or allow me to carry over information from a prior game. It’s possible (since FFXII doesn’t fit this mold) that I might have a strong desire to replay a game if I wasn’t entirely satisfied with the original playthrough. I did kind of give up on the extras in FFXII when I realized I just wanted to beat the game at level 70 or something as a result of losing to a stupid extra boss that was an hour or so away from a save point. I’ll never understand why they don’t put save points in front of every boss fight, however optional. FFXIII has save points galore, but I guess when you really need one it’s never there.

Anyways, I’m off to work some more on my Captain in LOTRO. I got him to level 50 last night and he’s currently working on upgrading his first legendary item to level 10 so I can go back and put a hurting on the Watcher in the Water. It’s a decent halberd I’m using, but I’d prefer different legacies. We’ll see what happens.

Until next time!

– Elorfin

P.S. “Congrats on finishing the game. Now get a life!!” – Eiji Nakamura in the “Programmers'” Ending of Chrono Trigger


Discussion – What’s in a name?

The hardest part of creating a new character for a game (new or old) is the name. Seriously. In the 10 or so years I’ve been playing Dungeons & Dragons, the name is the last thing I think of and it usually takes the longest to come up with. It’s really no different with MMOs and so forth.

Occasionally I get really lucky. I was walking through the store not too long ago with my friend and I was reading the labels off of things as I walked past (something I love to do). There was some packaged gouda cheese and it had a single word or phrase describing the flavor. So I saw “Gouda: Intense” and turned to my friend and went “Intense Gouda?” At this time, I was trying out Champions Online to see if I really liked it or not, so I was looking anywhere for a superhero name. We kept on going on about Intense Gouda until I finally said, “You know, that’s a great superhero name!” Thus, Intense Gouda was born on the Champions Online servers.

I have a pile of names I go to whenever I really need something in a game… I pull from books no one really reads any more (Enchanted Forest Chronicles anyone?) and I tap a couple of names I’ve been using for the last 10 years. When these fail me, I do my best to pull stuff together (Saxolfyr my Dwarf Guardian in LOTRO was one such name).

When a game chooses names for me… well, it’s almost a vacation. I don’t bother to change Shepard’s first name in Mass Effect, I keep the baseline names in Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy VI, and I kick back and enjoy the show.

On a side note (now that I’ve mentioned Mass Effect 2) I think I want to replay Mass Effect 2. Here’s why: I was shown the weapons from the Firepower Pack DLC and dear lord, I want to use them! Unfortunately, I beat the game very soundly (including the Arrival DLC) and I’ve got nothing left to do in the game! Maybe this play through I can finally grab those pesky side missions that require you to scan the planet.

Until next time!

– Elorfin

P.S. “For those lucky enough to be baptised with a middle name, they don’t ever have to wonder what it would be like to be without one.” – Franklin P. Jones.

P.P.S. “Bending is my middle name. My full name is Bender Bending Rodriguez.” – Bender


Discussion: When is a game completed?

A recent project of mine has been to list all of the games that I’ve played in my lifetime. No, not board games or card games, but computer and video games. When I started this project a few days ago, I began by listing the name of the game, the platform I played it on, and whether or not I finished the game or left it incomplete. Later I added the genre of the game in another column. Earlier today, I was asked if I had a count of how many of the games I had listed had actually been completed and also, what constituted a completed game? There are some games that just never have a solid ending (city-building games like SimCity or online games like World of Warcraft) and other games that have more fluid endings (like Civilization). When do I declare a game finished?

For the purposes of city-building games (SimCity, SimCity 2000, SimCity 3000, SimCity 4, Afterlife, Caesar, etc.) I declare the game to be “finished” when I have finally hit upon a self-sufficient city design and I’m happy with it. In the first three SimCity games I managed to achieve that. Self-sufficient is defined for my purposes as, well, I could technically walk away from the keyboard for a few minutes and not worry that the city will blow up in my absence. It’s got a positive revenue, I’ve built up my planned design, and there’s not much more improving I can do… yeah.

For the purposes of games like Civilization, Sins of a Solar Empire, Master of Orion, and similar strategy games with no tangible storyline, they are “finished” when I have completed a beginning to end playthrough once. That’s all it takes. When it comes to these games though, sometimes it takes several days. It could also be on the easiest difficulty, like in my case, I happen to enjoy playing Civilization IV on the easiest setting, but occasionally I crank up the difficulty a step or two. I never leave a game like this alone after beating it once.

For the purposes of online games (Dungeons & Dragons Online, Star Trek Online, Star Wars Galaxies, World of Warcraft, etc.) I say they are “finished” when I have taken at least one character to the maximum level available in the game. Therefore, Star Trek Online and Star Wars Galaxies are classified as finished whereas Dungeons & Dragons Online and World of Warcraft isn’t. Further, there’s nothing to say I can’t keep playing a game once I’ve classified it as “finished” on my list, it’s just a barometer for how far I’ve taken a particular game (especially MMOs). This is regardless of the storyline in the game.

Other games are definitely done if I feel I played the hell out of them like I did Super Smash Bros. Melee or Super Mario Kart. Or if I finished the storyline like in Final Fantasy VIII or IX (I remember finally finishing those in the same weekend after not playing them for 6-8 months or something like that… VIII on a Saturday and IX on a Sunday, bam, done). The Sims? Right, I labeled that one as finished because I got one Sim all the way up to the Chief of Police in my game once upon a time (way back in fall 2002) and since then that file has vanished into the ether between electrons. I do distinctly remember such a thing happening, which is why I classified it as “finished”.

Mind, this is my personal measurement of completion. I have a friend who believes that Diablo II: Lord of Destruction will not be truly beaten until he’s beaten it on the hardest difficulty setting. I called it a win when I got through Nightmare. Different strokes for different folks, I suppose.

Now, a fair portion of my list is classified as incomplete. This could refer to any number of reasons:

1) I didn’t like the game after trying it

2) I didn’t own the game and played it at a friends house

3) I no longer own the game

4) I can’t remember ever finishing it

5) Any permutation of the above

Oh, also, I’ve played some games on multiple platforms. Chrono Trigger hasn’t changed much (if at all) from its SNES roots to the Playstation port to the current DS version, so I marked that I’d finished the game (which I have, several times over) but that the platform is DS. Maybe later I’ll expand the platform box to allow for all the versions I’ve played of a single game, but I’ve only marked it once. For the record, I haven’t beaten Chrono Trigger on the DS yet, but I beat the Playstation version and I beat the SNES version on ZSNES (emulation) several times.

For Lunar, I played and beat it on SEGA CD at a friend’s house a long time ago, I got it for the Playstation and beat it (and subsequently lost my copy or loaned it to someone), and according to my GameSpot listing I have a copy of Lunar Legend somewhere (which I recall beating, but I can’t find it anywhere) and now I have the Lunar Harmony version for the PSP. The differences between Lunar: The Silver Star and Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete were incredible (harp to ocarina anyone?) so I counted them separately on my list. The differences between Lunar: SSSC and Lunar Legend were less so, but there was a drastic graphical change, so I marked that one too as a separate game. Lastly, there was also a huge change between the GBA Lunar Legend and the PSP Lunar: Silver Star Harmony, so that one was counted separately too. So… on my list of games played in my life, I’ve counted Chrono Trigger once (even though I’ve played it on four different platforms) and Lunar four times (because of the differences between the remakes). If any of that made any sense, I owe you a cookie or something.

I have this bad habit of playing a game almost all the way to the end, realizing that I missed something WAYYYYY back near the beginning, starting again and then getting a decent way in and stopping playing for about 6 months to a year. With Final Fantasy VIII, IX, XII, I eventually went back and beat them, but with games like Star Ocean: Till the End of Time, Legend of Dragoon, and Harbinger, I might never go back because they’re too old or something equally silly. I haven’t touched Legend of Dragoon in so long and I remember being so close to the ending, but because I don’t remember how to play, if I do pick it up again I’ll have to start a new game. Also, some games tempt me to pick them up again. I’ve been having this urge to play Chrono Cross again and, lately, Star Ocean: Till the End of Time.

I included some expansions as separate entries. In the case of Starcraft, Brood War was practically its own game. Likewise with the expansions to Wing Commander 2, and a few other games. Sometimes the contributions of an expansion weren’t ever significant enough to me, so I didn’t count it (Empire Earth, Age of Empires II, and a few others).

Oh, here’s my key for the genres of the games. This is mostly just for my own purposes, but I’d like to get the key put down somewhere.

AADV – Action Adventure (includes combination games that display elements of both Action and Adventure games) 22

ACT – Action (includes scrolling shooters, light gun games, third-person shooters and any sports games) (yes sports because I don’t really play any so they don’t get their own category) 49

ADV – Adventure (includes graphical adventures, text adventures, point-and-click games) 64

ARPG – Action Role-Playing Game (for hack-and-slash games) (any Diablo game or clone thereof and games similar to Marvel Ultimate Alliance) 28

EDU – Educational (mostly games I played as a kid) (Super Solvers Midnight Rescue! got a humorous response out of a friend last night) 6

FGT – Fighting (Mortal Kombat and similar games) 16

FPS – First-Person Shooter (Duh.) 19

FSIM – Flight Simulation (I played a lot of these growing up) 29

MMO – Massively Multiplayer Online (These too) 30

PLT – Platform (games where you jump from platform to platform) (I’m not especially good at these, but I haven’t quite learned my lessons yet) 20

PUZ – Puzzle (Yup.) 13

RACE – Racing (I’ve played a couple) 7

RPG – Role-Playing Game (My first real experience here can be summed up in one word: Starflight) 82

RTS – Real-Time Strategy (Remember when you didn’t know what this was? I do.) 30

SIM – Simulation (includes any city building simulation) 29

TBS – Turn-Based Strategy (this includes computer board games like Star Wars Monopoly) 47

TDS – Tower Defense Strategy (Addictive little games) 2

If there’s a combination of things, like in X-COM Apocalypse where you can pick real-time or turn-based, I’ve labeled it as TB/RTS or similarly for the other categories as needed to accurately define it for myself. For those, the breakdown goes like this: ACT/FPS 1, ACT/PLT 2, ACT/SIM 1, ADV/PLT 1, ADV/RPG 2, PLT/PUZ 2, PLT/SIM 1, PUZ/RPG 1, RTS/RPG 1, TB/RTS 3. 15

Mostly, this is to get things straight in my head. As of this writing, the list contains 508 separate entries detailing my experiences with PC (288), MAC (2), SEGA CD (2), Dreamcast (2), NES (8), SNES (7), ZSNES (22), GameCube (13), Wii (26), SEGA (4), SEGA Game Gear (2), Commodore 64 (1), Arcades (6), XBox (5), XBox 360 (22), Playstation (14), Playstation 2 (26), PSP (15), GameBoy Advance (17), DS (22), Atari 2600 (2) and the Nintendo 64 (2). This list includes 261 “finished” and 247 “incomplete” games. Mind, these aren’t hard and fast necessarily as I focus on my memories and remember which games were on one of the three desktops or three laptops I’ve owned in my life or if they were on the “not-long-for-our-home” Commodore 64. In fact, as I write this, I think I only ever played Might and Magic II on the C64. Guess I’ll change that later… PC -1, C64 +1.

I checked the math on each of my three metrics, they all add up to 508. Anyways, maybe sometime soon I’ll figure out a way to share this list. In the meantime, I need to get to bed.

Until next time, every game is an experience that you can count on!

– Elorfin

P.S. Experience is not a matter of having actually swum the Hellespont, or danced with the dervishes, or slept in a doss-house. It is a matter of sensibility and intuition, of seeing and hearing the significant things, of paying attention at the right moments, of understanding and coordinating. Experience is not what happens to a man; it is what a man does with what happens to him. – Aldous Huxley

P.P.S. Every experience is a paradox in that it means to be absolute, and yet is relative; in that it somehow always goes beyond itself and yet never escapes itself. – T.S. Eliot


Discussion: Video Game Remakes and Re-releases

I was listening to some video game music on YouTube this morning and I happened to glance down at the comments. There were a couple of people saying how awesome it would be if there was to be a remake of the game to which the music belonged. A few commented that any remake would not be as faithful as we would hope. Mind, that’s just my interpretation of YouTube comments… they’re typically not so verbose or well worded (not to mention improper spelling and grammar).

I’ve been around almost as long as the video game industry. I’ve been playing games for most of my life. Some of the games I grew up on have built up a rather impressive catalog (Civilization just hit its fifth iteration, X-COM is seeing a reboot as a first person shooter without the hyphen, Sim City spawned the incredibly successful Sims series, etc). For the purposes of this discussion, sequels aren’t remakes or reboots, they’re just the logical (sometimes illogical) evolution of a game.

There has been a clamor for remakes and re-releases these days by my generation. We want to see our old games brought back to the fore and given the attention they deserve now in this age of the internet where we can discuss them openly instead of getting a bunch of blank stares from gamers half our age. I’ll get into the age issue later, but for now, let’s take a look at some remakes and re-releases.

In my opinion (and since this is my little site, everything here is my opinion), one of the best remakes/ports has to be the continuing of Lunar: The Silver Star since 1992. I wrote about it earlier here, so I won’t go into too much detail. The original game came out in 1992 on Sega CD (well, the Japanese version; the North American version was 1993), the first remake was Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete for the Sega Saturn in 1996-7, and later released on the Playstation in 1998-9. Further, there was a Game Boy Advance remake in 2002 called Lunar Legend and lastly the Playstation Portable remake in 2009-10 named Lunar: Silver Star Harmony. Each of these remakes showed improvements in the graphics and/or voice acting (especially in the PSP release) and introduced new or different gameplay elements (or in one case, changing the main character’s hobby from playing a harp to playing an ocarina and rewriting the game to reflect that).

In the case of other games (this whole paragraph is now off the top of my head), I own a copy of Final Fantasy III for the Nintendo DS which is a graphical update from the original. I’m not sure about the gameplay or anything else (except to reflect the touch screen and dual screen nature of the console, which I consider an assumed update). Also, there was a release of Final Fantasy I and II for the PSP, Final Fantasy VI for the GBA, Final Fantasy IV, V, and VI on the Playstation, Chrono Trigger for the Playstation (that added animated cutscenes) and later the Nintendo DS (that has additional gameplay). Even more modern games like Disgaea has been rereleased on the PSP and the DS with appropriate gameplay adjustments and the whole Ace Attorney series originally came out on the GBA and was re-released on the DS. Final Fantasy Tactics got an amazing revisit when it was remade for the PSP 10 years after its original Playstation release and it added cell-shaded cutscenes, voice acting, a rewrite of the script to eliminate some of the mistranslated speech, and multiplayer gameplay.

Also, there has been a resurgence of re-releases courtesy of digital download services like Steam and Impulse. I’ve got full access to X-COM UFO Defense on Steam (which experienced a re-release or two) and Master of Orion II on Impulse. These are both mid-1990’s games that I spent a lot of time playing (and if you look at my Steam profile for X-COM, I still do). With access to old games, I’ve noticed something about myself… I’m BETTER at them now than I used to be. Not just through repetition of gameplay (because I stopped playing them when Windows decided to not let me run them ordinarily), but through the fact that I’m a much more experienced gamer today. I was playing Master of Orion II recently and discovered that the easy difficulty setting was too easy, which was odd because it used to be fine for me. I cranked up the difficulty to average and it was STILL too easy. I think I’m going to kick it up to hard next and see what happens.

For someone like me who grew up with these older games, a remake is a mixed bag. Part of the experience of these older games was dealing with the copy protection and the low resolution, DOS command lines and the early generations of sound cards that could only generate 8-bit music (eventually better). However, I would love to see my old games revisited and updated… better graphics, better music, glitches fixed, gameplay streamlined, but I don’t want any significant changes. Often when there’s a remake, the fear is that the developer will change the fundamental aspects of the game. This is partly unfounded as I’ve never seen a remake that drastically changed the way the game played, but I have seen sequels that are nothing like the original (Master of Orion 3 was a disaster).

This leads me to my perspective: I want to see faithful remakes of the games I grew up playing. I want to see graphical, musical, effects upgrades across the board, but I want the gameplay to essentially remain the same. Sure, some of the fan-made projects for X-COM has made playing the game more interesting and convenient (like a map randomizer to mix things up a bit or a mechanism for the game to remember what equipment was on which team members). I feel that these re-releases on Steam and Impulse could be the beginning of something incredible if companies would tackle such things. Admittedly, most companies are more interested in making new or derivative games instead of revisiting older ones for overhauls. Plus, in the case of some games like X-COM Interceptor, the source code has apparently vanished and any fixes or remakes are just not in the cards. Honestly, remakes/re-releases of games like Lunar, Final Fantasy, and Chrono Trigger are thrilling for me and I jump on them when I can. I love having a portable copy of Chrono Trigger and Lunar and Final Fantasy Tactics. I’d love to see a PSP version of X-COM UFO Defense one day, but seeing as they’ve already started pulling away from the UMD hardware (from what I’ve noticed), I doubt I’m going to get my wish.

Nostalgia is a powerful thing. There’s something in it that makes us look upon the things we treasured way back when through our rose colored lenses and value the old over the new. Remakes are a kind of compromise and even today, remakes are often derided as worse than the original. A prime example of this is a forum thread I was reading last night regarding Lunar: Silver Star Harmony on the PSP. In it, some posters commented that it was easier than the original, that it was somehow less than the original. This kind of thinking is dangerous for those of us who would love to see our old favorites revisited in the future. I wonder if these people ever considered that because they played the original, they were somehow better at later versions of the same game. I’ve played Lunar in nearly every iteration and to me, it’s the same game every time. Of course, I don’t have the luxury of being able to play the original Sega CD version next to the newer PSP version. This issue occurs with movies too (anyone notice the whole “I hate the new Star Wars trilogy” thing mostly coming from those people who grew up with the original?). The older we get and the more advanced we become with regards to education and technology, the more critical and demanding we become of our forms of entertainment. Why can’t it be like the good old days? Because those days are long gone, but if you open your mind just a bit, you might find that your favorite story has inspired a slew of others just like it… Master of Orion was the original game that inspired the coining of the term 4X (Explore, Expand, Exploit, and Exterminate) with regards to video game genres and has since inspired games like Sins of a Solar Empire, Galactic Civilizations and many more. Wolfenstein 3D inspired every first person shooter we have today, from Unreal Tournament to Medal of Honor. It’s good to go back to the beginning to see where it all started and awesome if you experienced it as it happened, but take a look outside every now and again and try something new. I promise, you won’t be disappointed (unless you want to be, in which case, that’s your problem).

I suppose my new point is this: don’t rely on the remakes and re-releases, but if they do come along, vote with your money and let the companies know that their effort in revisiting their older games is a welcome diversion. In the mean time, let developers pay tribute to older games by making new ones and vote with your money on those too. Feel free to compare the old and the new, but understand that if that old game were made today, it would be completely different due to the reduced limitations on technology. Apparently Silent Hill was much scarier back when there was a ton of fog (which was implemented since the hardware was limited in what it could show) and now today you can see all the way to the horizon and things aren’t so scary any more. Be understanding.

Until next time, keep on playing the classics you love and give the descendants a chance to become new classics!

– Elorfin

P.S. “Nostalgia, as always, had wiped away bad memories and magnified the good ones.” from Living to Tell the Tale, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

P.P.S. Yes, I want a remake/re-release of Terranigma. I think out of the three Quintet/Enix titles (Soul Blazer, Illusion of Gaia, Terranigma) the last one is the best and deserves a DS release at the very least.


What makes a great game? – Part 9: Friends

Mostly, this is an addendum to Part 8: Characters, but I felt it warranted its own discussion. I’m linking everyone’s theme songs to their names because their individual themes helped to define their character and the emotions when you encountered them and it’s how I remember them years later.

It’s an interesting thing, considering characters in games your friend. Growing up, I recall playing Chrono Trigger at a friend’s house as well as Final Fantasy VI and Final Fantasy Tactics. The time spent at my friend’s house was my real introduction to the Japanese RPG and the start of my development into the gamer I am today. The main characters, especially in Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy VI, became my friends. From moment one in Chrono Trigger, I was involved because of the people.

Has it ever happened to you? You’re enjoying the local festival and you bump into this girl with a ponytail. She then decides to tag along as you try out the festival games, praising your competitive nature at the soda drinking competition and your strength at the strongarm game. You stop to check out the supposed “teleportation device” and she, being the lovely lady she is, is asked to get up to try it out. Her pendant glows, and before you can do anything, she is whisked away into some swirling vortex. Being you, you can’t let this slide. You grab the pendant that was left behind and you jump onto the platform and vanish into a similar vortex… only to find yourself 400 years in the past.

That’s the intro to Chrono Trigger. A weird sense of responsibility to a girl you (Chrono) had just met thrusts you into this time-spanning adventure. You come to know the girl you bumped into and you collect an odd array of companions as you go, getting to know each one along the way. They become your friends and after spending hours on end playing the game, I was glad to have them by my side. Dungeons can be mighty lonely after a while and having two more people with me makes things so much better. To this day, I remember fondly my times in the world of Chrono Trigger and even now I still go back there to spend time with my old friends Marle, Lucca, Frog (aka Glenn), Robo, Ayla, and yes, even Magus. In fact, the music of Chrono Trigger has special meaning for me because I experienced every moment of that music in the context of the game and with my good friends. When I hear the music, I remember fondly my times with them and something tugs at me to go relive it.

Something very similar happened to me when I played Final Fantasy VI (which, at the time I knew only as Final Fantasy III). The game starts out with this mystery girl using a suit of MagiTek Armor with a pair of guards similarly equipped (the eponymous Wedge and Biggs, but back then they were Wedge and Vicks). They storm the town of Narshe and encounter a frozen “esper” in a cave which causes the deaths of the guards and knocks the girl unconscious. She awakens in a house and is told to flee before the locals find  her. Well, they find her but she’s rescued by Locke, a “treasure hunter” with a heart of gold. Eventually you come to be introduced to Edgar, Sabin, Celes, Cyan, Shadow, Gau, Mog, Umaro, Relm, Setzer, Strago, and Gogo. Oh, the mystery girl’s name is Terra. Each character had their motivations, their stories, their issues, and their complexities. At one point your entire group gets separated from each other and with Celes as your only character, you set about searching for your friends. By this time, yes, they are my friends. Well, not so much Gogo or Umaro, but it’s hard to be good friends with the mimic and the Sasquatch.

To this day, I can go back and play those games because to me they’re more than just games, they’re ways for me to hang out with my friends again. To relive those adventures with those who stood by my side through every battle and obstacle.

In a way, you can extend this to the MMO genre of games as well. You’re adventuring side-by-side with your friends through the wilderness and dungeons that lay strewn upon your mutual path. Exciting, isn’t it?

Until next time, remember your friends fondly and go back as often as you can to that far off time!

– Elorfin

P.S. This reminds me of a passage from a book…

Old stories told by travelers,
Great songs that bards have sung,
Of Mossflower summers, faded, gone,
When Redwall’s stones were young.
Great Hall fires on winter nights,
The legends, who remembers,
Battles, banquets, comrades, quests,
Recalled midst glowing embers.
Draw close now, little woodlander,
Take this to sleep with you,
My tale of dusty far-off times,
When warrior hearts were true.
Then store it in your memory,
And be the sage who says
To young ones in the years to come:
“Ah yes, those were the days.”

– Brian Jacques, Mariel of Redwall


What makes a great game? – Part 8: Characters

Characters are around us every day. They’re in what we see, what we do, what we hear and watch and read. Have you ever seen the commercials for the USA Network? Yeah, those are characters alright. Characters are how we identify with the story or event. We look at certain characters and think, “Hey, that could be me,” or, sometimes, “I wish that was me.”

Games have developed to the point where you can barely see past the deep and highly developed characters sometimes. Take a look at the latest Splinter Cell game, Conviction. This game is about a man searching for his daughter and anyone who tries to interfere with that will not live to see the next day. The story is full of moments of frustration, of anger, and of a strong desire for revenge. Sitting and watching Sam Fisher go through all these things, the player can feel sympathy and their own desire for revenge on behalf of the main character. Sam isn’t a young character either, as this is the fifth game he’s been the main protagonist. In fact, if you go back to the first game in the Splinter Cell series, there’s very little character development aside from playing a super black ops guy. As the series went on though, you began to wonder about this man you controlled and this last game with its serious story and amazing developments was just inevitable. The game of Splinter Cell: Conviction IS the character of Sam Fisher.

Characters can have a lasting impression on players. From my own experiences, I know that I’ll never forget Captain William Eisen for coming to the rescue on the TCS Mount St. Helens supercarrier when my little Durango-class BWS Intrepid was getting kicked around by the TCS Vesuvius and Admiral Tolwyn. I’ll never forget Winston “Vagabond” Chang and his incredible card playing skills or even Todd “Maniac” Marshall for his insane style of flying. In fact, the TCS Victory (“Better known as Tin Can Sally”) was a character in and of herself. Take a look at the Wing Commander CIC and the Wing Commander series of games for more.

Sometimes the characters don’t have to say a lot for you to even identify with them. Take a look at Chrono Trigger. The main character Chrono only ever says one word and I believe it was “Huh”. In fact, the dialogue in Chrono Trigger wasn’t the best or even particularly revealing of the characters’ natures. For some reason, I know that I kind of clicked with these youths and somehow belonged among them. I suppose this sentiment was common as Chrono Trigger is one of the most popular Japanese RPGs of all time.

I recall reading a book once where there was a secondary character that I was particularly fond of. When he clashed with the main character (as it was inevitable) my favorite secondary character was slain. I was crushed. Similar things happen in games today, like in Mass Effect where you’re forced to choose between Kaidan or Ashley in the later portion of the game and in Mass Effect 2 where if you weren’t thorough enough, you could lose all your friends and could even die because of a lack of support.

Characters help you develop an interest in the game. They pull you in and ask for your help. They give you a reason to come back and keep playing and they give you a sense that they don’t know what they’d do if you hadn’t come along. They become friends, enemies, companions to the end of the adventure. They might not like each other (see Miranda and Jack in Mass Effect 2 for a great example of this) but they’ll push past that if you ask them to (just tread lightly).

Games without a population just feel empty. Games without characters aren’t necessarily bad (see Solitaire or any number of casual games) but if you want a story, you need characters. If you want a GOOD story, you need deep characters. If you want a great game? You’ve got to have great characters.

Until next time, be a great character possessing great character.

– Elorfin

P.S. “A good character is the best tombstone. Those who loved you, and were helped by you, will remember you when forget-me-nots are withered. Carve your name on hearts and not on marble.” – Charles Spurgeon


What makes a great game? – Part 7: Effect

We all want to feel like we make a difference in the world. Some of us more than others. A great game allows the player to feel like they’ve had an impact or effect on the game world. Decisions that change the world around you slightly and almost imperceptibly happen every day without realization. In games, these decisions are a bit more pronounced, but no less important to the game world.

Older games were static. You shot Badguy A in Room 1 and Badguy B in Room 2 had no idea. As games became more complex, the Badguys would assist each other if they were in close proximity. Just like in the Splinter Cell series or some of the more modern First Person Shooters.

Games like The Sims, Sim City, Civilization, and Black & White are all god games where you’re this overseer in the heavens and the world you play in lives or dies at your whim (in the case of The Sims series, they do rely on you very heavily for survival). That’s not what we’re talking about here. What we’re talking about is games like Wing Commander where if you win or lose a mission, it changes the story and the experience. I remember dreading getting chewed out by Captain Eisen for accidentally letting a couple of Kilrathi escape in Wing Commander III when my fighter got beat up. We’re also talking about games like Fallout where your decision to hire a water convoy from the Hub can cause the Mutants to discover where your Vault is earlier but can extend the amount of time before the water in the Vault runs out.

These decisions are small versions of the effect I’m getting at. I wish I could cite Dragon’s Age for effects on the game world, but I’ve never played it (my laptop would probably slap me silly if I tried). Games allow us to act out events that have a lasting effect on the world we’re in. If it’s just moving the story along or if it’s actually making a decision that has complex ramifications for the other people near by, it’s meaningful to the players and allows us to become attached to the world we play in. I know that in Chrono Trigger, I became attached to the world and the characters in my party because of the trials we all went through, the decisions we made, and the events we experienced. In so doing, we changed the world forever… at least until the New Game +.

It’s almost similar in a good book or movie. You sit there and become involved in the world put before you and you almost feel like you’re there participating. In the case of games, you’re the catalyst for change. Is it change for good or for evil? That’s up to you. Personally, I’d like to hope it’s for the better.

We all want to cause meaningful change to the world around us. In games, we can do that easily, quickly, and with drastic and dramatic results (which are frequently entertaining). As a small aside, I know that when I play games with a choice network (Knights of the Old Republic, Mass Effect, etc) I take note of the good decisions and wonder what makes them so good. Further, I attempt to comprehend the motives behind what I’m doing. Maybe I’m reading too much into the game, but it helps me identify with the main character more and so I become more immersed in the game and more interested in creating good effects. When passing someone getting a shake down from some thugs in the streets of upper Taris, I’m more likely to intervene and save a life than I am to just walk by. I try to take that lesson from the game into the real world and become a better person for it. Hey, no one said you can’t pick up a thing or two from the games you play, right?

Until next time, choose wisely.

– Elorfin

P.S. “You must be the change you want to see in the world.” – Mahatma Gandhi

P.P.S. “I have gained this by philosophy: that I do without being commanded what others do only from fear of the law.” – Aristotle


Septerra Core – Impression

Welcome to the world of Septerra Core. This planet is strangely built to allow for seven world layers that orbit a core. Every hundred years or so, these layers align properly to allow a beam of light to strike the core. When this happens, and if people are paying attention, someone can go to the core and receive the Gift of the Creator: the Kingdom of Heaven.

This game was whipped up by Valkyrie Studios and distributed by (the now defunct) Interplay Productions (responsible for Fallout, Baldur’s Gate, and a variety of other RPGs for the computer gaming market). I’d purchased Septerra Core a long time ago as part of a collection of games and I actually purchased the collection because I was interested specifically in this game. An interesting note is that you can still find the Septerra Core website.

Anyways, down to the mechanics of the game. I really enjoyed the turn-based combat (kind of like the Active Time Battle system in older Final Fantasy games) where each character had a different speed and took different amounts of time to charge up. You’re given a three part bar (per person) and each part of the bar represents a different level of power. The first segment represents some of the weaker attacks available to that character, the second segment represents more powerful attacks, and the third segment is where you’re charged up enough to perform the most powerful attacks that character has at their disposal.

Each character also contributes to the party’s available “core power” or effectively a mana pool that the whole party can tap into to perform special attacks. For example, Maya gets access to a piece of equipment early in the game called “Grenade” which allows her to perform an area attack upon enemies. Using such an attack consumes a small amount of the party’s available core energy. It’s the blue bar at the top of the screen during combat. Speaking of characters, there are nine people you can have in your group, of which you use three at a time and Maya (the blue haired girl) is always in your party (except in rare circumstances). The other characters are necessary to solve certain puzzles and everyone gains experience at the same time, they just level at a different rate. For example, Selena the Chosen swordmistress ended the game at level 62 or something whereas Led, the army mechanic daughter of a general, was level 28 or so. They had the same amount of experience points, just different levels. I thought that was interesting. The characters are: Maya (uses a gun), Grubb (mechanic who uses a staff), Runner (robot dog built by Grubb), Corgan (Wind City guardsman), Selena (Chosen swordmistress in love with the main bad guy), Led (uses a big wrench), Lobo (former cyborg soldier of Jinam), Araym (bounty hunter demolitions expert), and Badu (Underlost warrior who wields dual knives).

Further, the game has a magic system built around tarot cards. These tarot cards are specific to the world of Septerra Core in that they use the legendary figures of Marduk, Gemma, Kyra, and Dogos to perform special things. In fact, you can combine cards with your three characters and perform special spells and so forth. From giving your whole party protection from damage to casting massive fire strikes, the card combinations are versatile enough to provide a wide variety of combat options. You can even summon the famous Marduk to bring a beating to your enemies. Pretty cool.

The game is built like an adventure game (Monkey Island is a great example) with a very capable and intense combat engine. There are a great number of key items in the game that allow you to solve puzzles and bypass obstacles. Something that kind of annoyed me closer to the end of the game were the massive mazes that lead to only a key that would allow me to access the next maze that led to another key that led me to another maze… and so on.

I originally set out to beat it several years back and made considerable progress, however I hit one dungeon (the catacombs full of undead on World Shell 3) that just pissed me off so much with all the switches and I got lost and so I just put the game away and forgot about it for a while. This time, I was so into getting the story done (finally) that I cheated. Yup, I cheated to beat this game in a reasonable amount of time (still took over a week to beat). Lots of walking can’t be avoided, but the fights would last only a few seconds (if I felt like not fighting). Oh, yeah… lots of fighting in this game since everything respawns when you leave a screen. That can be rather annoying, but you can run around some fights like in Chrono Trigger.

Overall, I enjoyed the game, but I’m not a big fan of switch mazes (mazes that rely on switches to change the layout). I mean, they’re cool, but when they get really big (like they do later in the game), well, I’m stuck staring at a map for 10 minutes trying to figure out where I need to go and how to get there. Oh! There’s not much of a tutorial for this 11 year old game, so I didn’t realize that TAB pulled up the area map until about halfway through the game! *laughs*

The graphics have DEFINITELY held up and the game still works on a Vista laptop with a minimum of fuss. It even alt-tabs flawlessly. The cutscenes hold up pretty well too. I was rather dissatisfied with the ending because I felt it was too short for the length of the game. Oh well. I appreciated in the credits where they say that if they left anyone out, it was an accident and they’d buy them a pony to make it all better. Ah the good old days, back when game developers had a sense of humor and did it for the love of creation instead of a love of money.

Anyways, I finished this game today (after playing it off and on for a week with a walkthrough and cheat codes) and felt that it warranted a place here. It’s definitely a unique game and I challenge anyone to find a combat system or storyline like it.

Until next time, remember that the full body tattoos of Kyra are temporary and will go away in a few weeks. I’m looking at you Maya.

– Elorfin

P.S. All screen captures courtesy of the Valkyrie Studios Septerra Core website I linked above. More screens can be found there.


What makes a great game? – Part 1: Music

Hi everyone! This is part one of my 435 part series, Better Know a… wait… wrong! This is the first part of some kind of series that will be however many parts I feel it will be until I’ve nailed down my perspective a bit.

I want to tackle what makes games great for me (specifically) and to touch on what makes them great for everyone else (generally). Obviously, my perspective is limited to what I like and that’s what this little project is all about so, well, deal with it. For context, I’ve provided links to some of the references I make.

Anyways, I was watching some clips on YouTube that contained some orchestrated video game music and I was wondering why I want to see my game music presented in such a fashion and why I enjoy it when it hits the big music halls. I think I might have an answer to that: I want my favorite moments to be presented in a format that is obviously and without question HIGH CLASS. Orchestrated music is always high class to me. The performers take it very seriously and the audience treats whatever they perform as a serious thing. This probably stems from the classical pieces they typically play which are by definition today culturally serious and historically important. Orchestrated music is the highest form of presentation that any music can achieve to be (my opinion, so nyah). The pure music just washing over you, letting it fill the room and flow in and around you, yeah, the orchestra is the best medium for this.

When I experience an event and it has music associated, I find it easier to recall said event. Music is a very powerful device that conveys emotion and thought and when associated with events that are powerful and poignant on their own, well, it’s a complete presentation.

In my past, I’ve played a great number of games. The games that I feel have incredible soundtracks weren’t the games I started on: Sim City, Civilization, F-19 Stealth Fighter, Starflight, Star Fleet, Empire, or any of a dozen other games. The earliest memory of a game with a fantastic soundtrack that still impacts me today comes from (well, there’s two) Final Fantasy VI (it was III back then) and Chrono Trigger, both on the Super Nintendo. When playing those games, I immediately feel the joy inherent in living through something that I experienced positively back then. When listening to the soundtracks, I remember every event that happened. When I want to relive the games without playing them, I listen to the music.

Off the top of my head, if I listen to the Phantom Forest track from Final Fantasy VI, I remember finding my way to the Ghost Train that carries the deceased away from our world to the next and Cyan watching his wife and son leave. If I listen to the Bombing Mission track from Final Fantasy VII, I remember riding on the train at the beginning of the game, wondering who the hell this spiky haired guy was and further wondering what this mission had in store for me (and what in the world was I getting into?). When listening to Frog’s Theme from Chrono Trigger, I see in my mind the mountain opening before Frog as he wields the Masamune and vows to defeat Magus. Music in video games is a powerful device…

…but it’s not restricted to video games. In Star Wars, when I hear the Binary Sunset track, I can envision a young Luke Skywalker standing and watching the suns of Tatoo I and Tatoo II set, wondering where his future is going. In The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, the Concerning Hobbits piece makes me think of the Hobbits going about their business in preparation of Bilbo’s eleventy-first birthday. So, when I want to experience a movie without watching the movie, I listen to the soundtrack.

It’s also not just memories of scenes. It’s the emotional connections that those scenes have for me. When hearing the Battle with Magus Theme from Chrono Trigger, I remember fighting him and feeling like the fight could go either way at any time as I struggled to keep my trio alive through the onslaught of spells Magus frequently dropped. When hearing the piece from Final Fantasy XIII called Blinded by Light, I feel excitement regarding the battle that MUST be going on right now. Every time I hear Chrono Cross’ Scars of Time (aka Time Scar), I remember the investment I made in that game and all the incredible experiences that went along with it as well as the successful strategies and terrible defeats I suffered while playing. For the record, the final boss fight in Chronopolis was a real pain. *shakes fist* Curse you, Miguel!

Growing up, PC games typically didn’t have great soundtracks. X-COM had a decent one that kept me excited or scared depending on what was going on. Wing Commander III was one of my earliest quality PC soundtrack experiences that sticks in my head. I didn’t experience the awesomeness that was The Secret of Monkey Island until later on (but chronologically, that’s years before WCIII), but that soundtrack is awesome and the theme for the game is nearly iconic for adventure games. So, yeah, they were there, but decent PC soundtracks didn’t come along until later (with Warcraft II and such and yes, I acknowledge that my game timeline might be a little off).

I suppose part of my want to hear orchestrated soundtracks of my games stems from a desire to hear my passions and pastimes validated in a public forum where a large number of people voluntarily pay to experience what I once experienced on a much more emotionally invested level. I want people to look at this music and wonder where such notes came from and then to seek out the original source with the curiosity borne of a desire to experience the emotions that the music provokes. When I hear music, it takes me places that I’ve been before. When I hear the Imperial March, I was there with Vader as he condemned the Rebellion. When I hear Forth Eorlingas, I was there as the Rohirrim rode to the rescue. When I hear Clash on the Big Bridge, I was there to fight Gilgamesh! Um, for that last one, yes in Final Fantasy V and later again in Final Fantasy XII when Gilgamesh is an optional hunt (they remixed the original song for the latter one).

I want to go there. I want to be there. Music is my vehicle that takes me where I want to go and helps me feel the emotions tied to those places and doing those things. For the record, Lost Odyssey has an awesome soundtrack, but it’s very sad (especially A Sign of Hope and Parting Forever). The thing is… well, orchestrated music speaks to me WAYYYYY more than the regular stuff we hear on the radio. Songs with words touch me, but not like A Sign of Hope does. The Indiana Jones theme speaks more of adventure to me than any song with lyrics that was in [insert recent action movie here].

A moving and powerful soundtrack is a must for a good game. The longer I play games, the more I find that I love a good soundtrack. When Final Fantasy XIII was still on its way out here in the U.S., I pre-ordered the soundtrack for myself. It’s awesome and the more I play the game, the more the soundtrack gains relevance and power with me. If the music is good, I suppose I’m more tolerant of the shortcomings of the game.

A great piece sends a tingle up my spine. It makes me go “wow” and compels me to listen to it all the way through. It makes me feel like I’m in the presence of something important or powerful or incredible or whatever. When I hear Frog’s Theme (look above for the link) performed amazingly well, it literally sends chills down my spine. THAT is powerful music. I have a theory that it’s the trumpets and/or the entire brass section, but I’m also a fan of the strings… so yeah, I think I’ll just claim it’s the orchestral nature and leave it at that.

Oh, the clips that spawned this link-heavy presentation of mine were of a Chrono Trigger/Chrono Cross medley done this past September in Germany. Here’s part one and here’s part two.

Until next time, let the music move you!

– Elorfin

P.S. Because I played the PC version of FFVII, I must admit that I heard/saw the intro far more than the rest of the game while I tried different sound card settings. Eventually I got it right, after experiencing the same intro cutscene at least six times.

P.P.S. A quick timeline of the release dates of the discussed objects in this particular post (this doesn’t mean I saw Star Wars in 1977 since I wasn’t born until several years later):

  • Star Wars – 1977
  • Star Wars Imperial March – 1980
  • Indiana Jones – 1981
  • Star Fleet I: The War Begins – 1985 (DOS)
  • Starflight – 1986 (DOS)
  • Empire: Wargame of the Century – 1987 (DOS)
  • F-19 Stealth Fighter – 1988 (DOS)
  • Sim City – 1989 (DOS)
  • The Secret of Monkey Island – 1990 (DOS)
  • Civilization – 1991 (DOS)
  • Final Fantasy V – 1992 (Japan Only)
  • Final Fantasy VI – 1994 (SNES)
  • Wing Commander III – 1994 (PC)
  • Chrono Trigger – 1995 (SNES)
  • Warcraft II – 1995 (PC)
  • Final Fantasy VII – 1998 (PC)
  • Chrono Cross – 2000 (US Release)
  • The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers – 2002
  • Final Fantasy XII – 2006 (US Release)
  • Lost Odyssey – 2008 (US Release)
  • Final Fantasy XIII – 2010 (XBOX 360)

P.P.P.S. I forgot to mention Lunar! Gah! I fail!


Final Fantasy XIII – In Progress, Part 1

Pardon me while I gush about the latest installment in the Final Fantasy series…

Dear God, this is an incredible game! I’m really enjoying the experience overall and I have complained very little and in only the most appropriate points (typically when I die, I grumble, but that’s not uncommon).

I love the cutscenes, the character development, the graphics, the epic music, the character designs (stereotypically Japanese RPG style, but I’m cool with it), the battle system, and how much I’m actually connecting with the characters. I can sympathize with Snow, I understand what Hope’s going through, I feel terrible for the situation that Sazh is in and I’m rooting for him (he’s like Lando Calrissian and I love that… and yes, that’s an awesome and adorable chocobo chick in his ‘fro), I think Fang is a really cool character, Vanille is a much deeper character than I thought she was initially (and that was a very pleasant surprise) and Lightning is my favorite heroine in a video game (because she’s freaking cool!).

Combat flows smoothly with an “Auto” function that is far smarter than I originally expected. What happens is it collects information as the combat proceeds and if certain attacks are resisted or more damaging, it adjusts accordingly. The auto-hinder function for the Saboteur combat role doesn’t keep trying to poison something that’s immune to poison. The auto-heal function defaults to healing the most critical of targets. The friendly AI is actually clever in this game (it was in FFXII as well).

The game is linear thus far (I’m in chapter 10 after 23 hours and 20 minutes of game play and 108 saves) but it’s starting to open up now that I can finally pick my own party members out of the six available.

I’m LOVING my experience. For the record, I’m playing the XBox 360 version of the game on a high-def tv at a friend’s house with surround sound and a comfy chair. Many thanks to one of the best damn friends in the world for putting up with my gaming in his basement!

The strategy guide is very well written (which I appreciate after the FFVII PC strategy guide burned me oh so bad back then). Yes, I use a strategy guide, but only because I’m mildly obsessive about getting all the treasure as I go… and most FF games are devoid of a New Game + mode (which keeps me coming back to Chrono Trigger) so I’d like to be a near-completionist the first time through. The guide keeps the spoilers to a bare minimum with world class advice (like which Paradigms I should prepare so that I don’t get owned in fights) and when I should bother to grind CP (effectively experience points) so that I get the biggest bang for my time spent. I appreciate all the work that went into such a tome and I look forward to plumbing its depths as I approach the conclusion of the game.

Overall, I’m thrilled to be finally playing Final Fantasy XIII. 13’s my lucky number and this has definitely been an amazing ride for the last week. It plays like an interactive movie and the music combined with the story keeps me emotionally invested in the characters plight. I WANT to help them with their task and THAT is what a good role playing game is all about: a desire to BE invested.

To all my close friends who’ve been suffering this last week thanks to my obsession with this shiny new game: thanks for putting up with me, but according to the guide, I’m definitely not done yet! Hang in there folks!

I’ll resume the regularly scheduled programming this week sometime (I hope). Don’t forget to be awesome!

– Elorfin