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Have you ever taken a hellhound out for a walk?

By Arclayn on July 2nd, 2009 under RPG, PC, Online,

I know of many people who are resistant to playing Massively Multiplayer Online (MMO) games, due mostly to monthly subscription fees. One pays 40 to 50 gil at the store for the game client, and then another 8 - 15 gil per month to be able to play. The gil can add up quick.

Unfortunately, the subscription fees are a necessary evil to support MMO games. Yes, they do make the game more profitable, but without some kind of recurring finance model, the game would go under. Guaranteed! MMO games are dynamic, and through their life they will undergo a metamorphic evolution that will keep an entire game development team busy for years after the game originally went gold. Those codemonkeys, pencil-slingers, and database overlords do want a gilcheck each week. Then there are the costs associated with running an MMO game's service, which far outweigh the costs of other types of online game services.

Taking a hellhound out for walkies
But how-about I tell you of a MMO game that is free to play? Take a look at Shin Megami Tensei: Imagine Online for the PC! < /End very bad shameless plug >

Shin Megami Tensei: Imagine Online (SMTIO from here on) is based on a long series of strategy games and RPGs made by Atlus. You may have heard of Persona or Digital Devil Saga. They are all related.

Yes, SMTIO is free... on the basic level. The game client is free to download, and there are NO subscription fees! The game is instead financed through an optional micropayment system. Basically, you spend your hard won gil to get "AP" (Aeria Points). Then you may spend your AP on additional content for the game. However, it is still optional as you are not forced into buying anything extra. I do have to say, though, that some of the extra content is pretty damn cool. Never-the-less, I haven't spent a single gil and don't intend to.

The cake is a lie
I expect that this micropayment system is less reliable to earn funds than recurring subscription fees, because the game is far from perfect. The user interface is clumsy and primitive, the camera control is aggravating, the graphics are bland (but not bad), the script is infected with a bad case of Engrish, and the service gets a bit laggy on the weekends. So, why would anyone want to play? Well, it's free, the music is good, it's free, there are some very interesting gameplay mechanics, it's free, I love my little "leader pixie" demon, it's free, I really, really want a fire-breathing tiger, and did I mention that it's free?

The game is played out through several "Acts" to tell the story about a dystopia future, taking place in Tokyo, in which supernatural demons have returned to wreak havoc. Don't read too deeply into this. The development crew is in Japan, and the word "demon" has a very different connotation in Japan than it does in America and Europe. These are not the soul sucking, flesh ripping, acid drooling demons inspired by "Hell" horror movies. Instead, these demons are inspired by myths and legends from Japan's history and also that of the celts and germanics, among others. These demons include fairies, mythic spirits, elementals, powerful beasts, etc.

Avatar Select
The player is a "Demon Buster", a specialist in negotiating with and eliminating the supernatural. The negotiating part owes to Pokemon in that the player can convince a demon to become an ally. However, unlike Pokemon, demon busters fight alongside their demons to work as a team! There are many kinds of demon busters that can be built through attributes, skills, and equipment, although there are three basic types recognized: melee combatant, gunfighter, and spellcaster. Creating hybrids is very possible, and really the only "wrong" way to build up a demon buster is to try to acquire every skill, as that is impossible.

As many ways as there are to build up a demon buster, there is an even larger variety of demons to negotiate into an ally. Some are strong, some are fast, some are magically powerful, and others are adept at multiple traits. There exist 129 in all. Demons can also be "fused" into other demon types at the "Cathedral of Shadows", so you can take two demons that have fallen behind in development or otherwise are underperforming in battle and create a whole new demon, usually of higher level. The dymanic of character building and the relationship with demon allies is what makes this game so intriguing. The world environment depicted is intriguing, as well.

Since it is free and doesn't totally suck, SMTIO is worth a look. All you have to lose is free time. Plus, if you find that you don't like the game, the publisher (Aeria Games) has several other "free" MMOs to try out. Just a word of caution: As "MMO" does stand for "Massively Multiplayer Online", you will find these kinds of games far more enjoyable if you make some friends or bring a friend or two along. Hey! It's "free" for them too!

Arclayn

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Communism is the very definition of failure!

By Joshie on June 30th, 2009 under RPG, X360, PS3,



Like a goldfish looking through the glass at the cat patiently waiting to eat it when the owner isn't looking, I couldn't help but feel slightly afraid of Madam Panada, the shop keeper in Fallout 3: Point Lookout. Maybe this video will explain the nightmares I have about this woman better than any written word could.

Without a doubt this is my favorite expansion to Fallout 3 yet and if you don't wish to splash the cash on them all, I highly recommend picking this up over the rest. Not only does Point Lookout have it's own (short) narrative set of quests, but there are many side missions to explore, all set in a new open landscape that includes a run down amusement park and board walk, a vast swamp, Victorian mansions, military base and a highly suspicious light house. Unlike the previous, more linear downloadable content, Point Lookout feels and plays much closer to the original game, providing a whole new location to explore should you grow tired of the capital wastes. With many memorable characters, religious cults and treasures awaiting, Point Lookout is without question a must buy.

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Well I can't say I'm totally shocked. You'll bonk anything.

By Joshie on June 17th, 2009 under RPG, Wii, WiiWare,

Me and Final Fantasy IV go way, way back. And by that I mean I hate the guys guts. It's not a personal thing, we just really don't get along. Final Fantasy IV has possibly one of the most depressing plot lines of the entire series, involving characters who commit suicide for comically poor reasons every five minutes only to be miraculously alive by the final showdown, crushing any deep emotional resonance these selfless acts were supposed to give you. Despite the games general craptacular tale I somehow finished it, an action that leads me to believe there must have been something inherently enjoyable about the game that I have long since forgotten.

Final Fantasy IV: The After YearsJump forward to the release of "The After Years", a direct sequel to the first SNES outing in the series, now available on WiiWare. For those worried about the horrific voice acting in the DS remake there is nothing to fear, as the game was ported directly from Japanese cellphones and has the 2D graphics to prove it. Unfortunately while the locations and sprites are directly ripped from the SNES game, blown up on a thirty-two inch display they look remarkably blurred and dated, lacking the definition or sharpness I would have preferred from a game released in 2009. It's also disappointing to see that Square stuck so stringently to the code they had written for cellphones. It would have been nice to see them use some of the power the Wii has behind it, much like Nintendo did with Zelda: Four Swords when they added Wind Waker 3D effects and shading on top of Link to the Past 2D graphics. I almost feel the game should have been released on DSiWare just so they could have an excuse for charging for what effectively could have been sold as a Virtual Console game for a third of the price.

One of the more interesting things about IV-2 is how it's distributed. The game is available initially on WiiWare for 800 points, and for your hard earned cash you get the prologue and first chapter. After that you can purchase future chapters for 300 points a pop, each centering around a different character in the story. The final chapter (another 800 points) then takes all the character progression and leveling you did in the previous segments and brings everything together to conclude the tale. The total cost of the game will be about £25, expensive for a WiiWare title but still worth it if you enjoy your retro RPGs. The first chapter took me just over five hours to complete and is a good way to try the game without committing to the full price if you decide it isn't doing anything for you.

Having completed the first chocolate orange slice I'm incredibly conflicted with how I feel about the game. The story of VI-2 is unquestionable a joke. It relies entirely on your memorialisation of the characters and locations (there are no recaps or reminders here folks) and is practically a rehash of the original in a different order. It even has some of the same boss battles in the same locations, making you wonder if the person who wrote the script was even trying. The game is also incredibly disjointed as it jumps around from character to character, making it very difficult to follow and understand what exactly is going on.

Final Fantasy IV: The After YearsThis thrown together experience also extends to the battles. While the developers have added some really nice touches to the original system, including moon phases that affect your fighting style by making physical attacks weak and magic strong when there is a full moon for example, it is completely broken by having the linear plot provide you with characters that work terribly together. The balancing in IV-2 is equally terrible, with characters leveling up every other battle and random encounters able to demolish your team before you've thrown a hit.

I could continue to go on about my laundry list of problems with IV-2, but I won't. About three hours into the experience I was ready to give up just after one of my characters had fallen of the side of the cliff and I was left with one party member to climb down and save him. During my climb I entered a random battle against two foes who should have been easily defeatable with just a couple of strikes. Unfortunately the game allowed the enemy to go first, making me watch as they took my character from full health to zero in a matter of seconds. This kind of experience where the game is relying on pure luck than an actual skill or ability had me wanting to throw the controller across the room, but instead I simply turned the game off and took a break.

The next day I played through to the completion of the first chapter and after watching the credit roll I realised I'd actually enjoyed it. FFIV-2 is still decent a retro RPG despite all its failings, and while the plot should be largely ignored, the game can still be remarkably fun, for reasons I'm still not quite sure.

I will almost certainly feel dirty paying for more, but I know I'm going to. I suppose my enjoyment could have something to do with the fact that my characters have yet to jump from the side of an airship to their deaths just because the local supermarket is doing a two for one deal.

...yet.

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Everybody's dead, Dave.

By Joshie on May 24th, 2009 under RPG, X360, PS3,

Should not have oversleptA little known fact about me is that I don’t complete many games. In fact, I can buy multiple copies of the same game and still not see those pearly white credits roll on by. It’s not that I couldn’t fathom how to open the boxes shrink-wrap and it’s certainly not for a lack of trying. The problem, as I see it, boils down to a fundamental issue of money vs. attention span. Back in the good old days I didn’t have a lot of this currency thing, so I replayed games. A lot. Hell, I’ve beaten Tombi for the PlayStation at least seven times and I don’t even consider that a particularly great game. Although now that I look back at it, its depiction of evil magic pigs trying to take over the world has an eerie sense of foreboding prophecy about it when you consider the current swine flu pandemic that will turn us all into pork scratchings before the year is over.

Getting back to the topic at hand, issues with my gaming habit started to arise back at college when people started giving me free money. Obviously this cash could, logically, only be spent on one thing, and it bloody well wasn’t going to be a haircut. It’s like giving a thousand pounds to a meth addict. Do you really think they are going to spend a “reasonable” amount of that cash on meth and save the rest for a rainy day? Fuck no. You clearly send word to the little old lady down the street who sells drugs out of her front garage that you’re coming down and you clean her place out. It’s the same with games, but without the questionable legality of buying products from an unlicensed retailer.

For this reason Fallout 3 may just be my game of the year for 2009. I’ve been playing Bethesda’s post-apocalyptic mega RPG on and off since Christmas day last year, which for those of you who failed first grade math class, is five months or one hundred and fifty days ago. During that time I’ve managed to clock a pretty reasonable forty five hours with the game and I’ve yet to be distracted enough by the next shiny thing to give up on it.

I’ve heard people remark that they couldn’t get into Fallout like they did Oblivion because of its dreary and depressing atmosphere, however this may just be why I keep going back to it. As wonderful as the mystical fantasy genre is, sometimes its good to take a step back from it and Fallout 3 is truly a rush of fresh air. From the very first time you step out of Vault 101 into the capital wasteland you are simply blown away by the sheer scale and detail of the world around you.

Sure it’s barren, it’s dead and you’re all alone, but that’s what makes it such a unique title. I’m not saying the games perfect by any means, but the sheer thrill of the adventure you have in this incredible world more than makes up for the little problems it has. Every corner of the wastes has its surprises and every quest has multiple ways to be approached. Just discussing the game with other players can completely take you by surprise, as everyone’s experience will be slightly unique to them, be it from the moral choices they made, to the order they did things or where they went first. I don’t claim to be a gaming connoisseur who has tried the best of everything, but I’m sure I can’t be wrong in saying there isn’t anything quite like this in any other modern generation game.

The game starts with quite a steep learning curve about an hour in where you must quickly get to grips with exactly what items you need to carry and what should be sold or left behind. If there is one thing this game has taught me, its when scavenging a nuclear wasteland, bring a bigger bag.

Also, a single shot in the face makes peoples heads explode. Did I mention this game is hilariously gory for no good reason?

What's so incredible about my time with Fallout 3 is that as I slowly ponder through the ninety plus hour game they provided, they keep making it longer. In the past five months Bethesda has released three downloadable packs which each ads a significant amount of new game play, weapons and skills to the game, the most recent of which even went to the lengths of rewriting the ending. With two more packs due, I can see myself still playing Fallout 3 for a long time to come.

Of course, that won’t stop me buying a third copy of Peggle for no good reason. I gotta spend that drug money on something

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Retro? I'll give you retro!

By Tania on May 20th, 2009 under RPG, NES,

Ahh, Zelda. Its puzzle-filled dungeons, its multiple gadgets, its hapless princess and its green-clad hero. Everyone loves Zelda. I love Zelda.

Or, well…I usually do.

Blame it on my compulsive completionism, but when I enjoy a series, I need to play every single installment of it. Even the clunky, crappy first ones. So that's how the idea to give Zelda II: The Adventure of Link a shot popped up. Well, that and my purchase of the Gamecube disc that included Ocarina of Time, Majora's Mask and Zelda I and II. I should've known what to expect before even starting. Maybe I don't have the best reflexes in the world, and maybe I fail at oldschool games, but I still have nightmarish memories of the first opus in the series: unforgivably difficult, no story to speak of, and absolutely no indications as to the order in which to do things. Well, Zelda II is the same. Possibly even worse.

Picture a hybrid between Super Mario and an RPG. And no, you don't get Legend of the Seven Stars (if only!). Link evolves in a mostly sidescrolling environment, gets 3 lives and gains experience points in battle. Pretty bizarre for a Zelda game, but that's not a problem in itself. If you die, you lose a life and restart at the entrance to the current area. But god forbid you should actually get a Game Over. Because that takes you BACK TO THE BEGINNING OF THE GAME. Meaning that you'll have to trek all the way to where you were before dying. And 3 lives whisk by very quickly. There's also the slight problem that getting a Game Over is the only way to save. And that you can't permanently raise your life count.

PUT IT AWAY!!But now we come to the real issue: the enemies. Forget about steep learning curves. Or even 90° ones. In this game, the learning curve forms an acute angle. I actually had to give up trying to beat it on my Gamecube and resort to an emulator. So I could, y'know, save. Otherwise, I'd still be trying to finish the first dungeon *waits for all the booing, whistles and cries of ‘you suck!' to end* There are very limited ways of recovering your life and magic in the field, and the enemies are BRUTALLY unforgiving. Especially Iron Knuckles, who have mind-bogglingly amazing A.I. for a NES game. If you thought they were hard in any of the subsequent Zelda games, you've got another one coming. The blue ones are particularly bad. They continuously zap swords at you, of which they seemingly have an infinite supply. This is probably the closest thing to Sword-Chucks that you'll find outside of 8-Bit Theatre. It also looks disturbingly phallic when they switch to leg strikes. Overall, it's like an infernal game of Pong, where you can't reflect the attacks back.

To compensate for the hair-tearing difficulty, the game does offer a few laffs…at its expense. In a bizarre premonitory flash, Link—who is an adult in this game—allows himself some GTA-like escapades. Every town has a woman in a red dress walking around in front of a house. If you talk to her, she invites Link to come in. And then, all you see is his life bar filling up. Hey, even 8-bit studs need their action. However, this becomes a lot more disturbing when it comes to recovering magic. The method is exactly the same, but Link has to talk to a little granny instead…who then gives him her “special medicine”…

A prime example of bad parenting.Among other laff-worthy things, there's the translation, featuring such timeless classics as the “N°3 TRIFORCE”, or “I AM ERROR”, one of the unforgettable responses that you'll get in your baffling encounters with the denizens of the game. Or the Spell spell. I guess Link has orthography problems…There's also the aptly named Fairy spell, which is used to fly over obstacles. It transforms Link into one of those cute lil' fairies that are commonly used to replenish your health, complete with a red dress and a little crown. It's got to be one of the most impressive spells I've ever encountered: I mean, not only does it shrink you and allow you to fly, but you also get a sex change thrown in. I'm sure Tingle would've loved the concept…But gender-bending mana prowess put aside, another thing this game demonstrates is that Link would make a terrible father.

So I only have 2 more dungeons left to endure before this semi-illiterate iteration of Sleeping Beauty à la sauce Zelda finally grinds to a close. Hopefully I'll manage to get through them without terminal finger cramps. And never look back. Thank god that Zelda has evolved since then. That's probably the one good thing I'll be getting out of this experience: a better appreciation of the more recent Zelda opuses. Nostalgia for oldschool games is all well and good…but you gotta be realistic sometimes: it wasn't ALL better back in Ye Olde Days.

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Oh, I wish I wish I hadn't killed that fish...

By Joshie on May 19th, 2009 under RPG, NDS, SNES,

A long time ago, in a world that still had such delights such as lolcats and the Cheeky Girls to come, a little game known as Chrono Trigger was conceived inside the little grey cells of Final Fantasy creator Hironobu Sakaguchi. This was a time before the drink abuse and five AM hallucinations convinced him to create a $137 million box office face palm, in which Sakaguchi even succeeded in securing Yuuji Horii and Akira Toriyama of rival Dragon Quest fame to create a world destroying dream team in desperate need of a rock guitar theme song. Being the JRPG nerd that I am then, it will probably surprise you then that I have never played the bastard love-child of the two most popular Japanese series' of all time.

It's rather curious that the classic Square-Enix formula of jazzing up the graphics for games past their sell by date was not used on the love-child, something I can presume was the result of a miscommunication between Square head office and the riverside sweatshop from which ports and remakes are sent out on a rolling conveyer belt. Despite how many lost sells Chrono Trigger DS may have received from not looking as "hip" and "with it" as Imagine Babies, I'm personally delighted that Square took the hit so that Europe could receive the game in its original 2D glory. Besides, they can always remake it again with Chrono voiced by an Australian surfer next year.

When Chrono sleeps he provides the same amount of input as we does awakeChrono is an interesting character by the virtue of being mind blowingly boring. Silent protagonists were all the rage back before Sega showed us how incredible FMV games could really be, but Chrono does an impressive job at not only being a mute, but by also being utterly removed from the world around him. So far in the couple hours of Chrono Trigger that I have played, our cast of merry men have traveled back in time, saved a princess from the claws of an evil foe, returned home only to be sentenced to death, successfully avoided that unscathed and made their houdini escape by traveling into the future. Through this entire experience Chrono has yet to bat an eyelid, and while the other cast members may occasionally address him, they are never really looking for his input, but instead are simply checking to see if he's still conscious out of common decency. All this made me wonder who the hell Chrono even is. This guy has the ladies hanging from his arms, wields a mean sword, has spiffing hair and the ability to travel in time and he still lives with his mother? Really Sakaguchi?

By this point the whole narrative of the game comes into discontent. While I have clearly only seen just a small part of the whole pie, I can already see where it is going. One of the things that really strikes me about Chrono Triggers story is how incredibly light hearted it really is. Our merry crew find themselves in an apocalypse future in which the surviving inhabitants are starving to death and their first reaction seems to be to giggle and laugh. Even when Chrono is sentenced to death by a malicious middle management type, the follow scene proceeds not to show us signs of lost hope or misery, but an escape plan MacGyver would be proud of in which the whole "execution" thing can just be shrugged off. Looking back at what Squaresoft would later produce; it's surprisingly what a difference a couple years can make.

Reading this you probably get the impression that I absolutely hate Chrono Trigger. Following such hype and fanfare the cynic in me actually wanted to dislike the game just to prove the world wrong, and yet I simply can't. Despite it's questionable hero, story and tone, the raw classic JRPG game play is so pristinely perfect that I've become hooked to it like a baby to breasts. The musical score composed by Yasunori Mitsuda and Nobuo Uematsu is just incredible despite the DS's craptastic speakers and the 2D presentation of a world that allows you to span history itself is just gorgeous.

While the tale Chrono Trigger has to tell has yet to truly hook me, the game play is more than I could have ever asked for. I will return to report how my feelings have changed when I have made more progress, but for now, why not let me know what you think?

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