Sunday, March 27, 2011

RMGB Radio Episode 1

In the first episode of RMGB Radio, I give my first impressions of the newly launched 3DS, along with four of the launch games: Super Street Fighter IV 3D, Pilotwings Resort, Ridge Racer 3D and Super Monkey Ball. There is also plenty of music courtesy of OverClocked ReMix (

For the full show notes, please click here.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Game Diary: A little bit of everything

Firstly, things have slowed down somewhat in Dragon Age II - after completing the first two acts in the space of the first weekend, I have only played 6 hours or so of Act 3 and there are still a ton of quests to do. I will continue to play through the rest of the game this week, but am happy to take my time over it. Aside from my main character (a warrior), I have also dabbled with the other two classes a bit. I have decided to make my rogue and evil son of a bitch who treats who absolutely hates mages, in contrast to my warrior who is out to help everyone and does everything in her power to help the cause of the mages (and her partner is Anders).

Next, I want to talk a little bit about handheld gaming and immersion. Over the years, I've heard from several friends that the reason they've never really got into handheld gaming is that they don't find it as immersive as playing a game on a large TV. Personally though, I found it to be quite the opposite. I've spent many hours at home, in my favourite armchair, with my handheld of choice and a pair of headphones - it's like a window to a pocket universe. Now that the difference in power and technology between handhelds is less than it has ever been, and the capacity of 3DS cartridges outstrips DVD by quite some margin, I am really excited to see what developers will be able to achieve on the new machine. I don't expect any of the launch games to truly exploit the power of the 3DS, as they have been made on a tight timescale, but games like Super Street Fighter IV 3D and Pilotwings should hopefully demonstrate the potential that it offers. I'll be picking my 3DS up at midnight on Thursday - exciting stuff!

The third topic of conversation I had on my list is my nephew, and the games that he likes to play. Because his dad and I have been playing both modern and retro games around him, he doesn't particularly distinguish one from the other - to him, they're all just games and he'll happily spend hours on the MAME cabinet playing something like Streets of Rage 2 just and much as he will playing LEGO Star Wars on the Wii or Blur on the Xbox 360. I find this incredibly refreshing. Maybe eventually he will start to become prejudiced against old games, but I hope not.

Finally, I am planning to make the blog slightly more Nintendo centric. They make the best games by far in my opinion and yet aside from the odd review here and there the content of this blog hasn't really reflected that fact. I am currently (re)playing Super Mario Galaxy, and I will put a review up once I've managed to collect all 120 stars. I'm up to 40 already which is a pretty good start, so in between Dragon Age II sessions I will continue to plug away at it. I also hope to start doing more videos - hopefully some video reviews to go alongside the text, as well as more in the Nintendo Night series, and Classic or Crap. I still don't have a decent camera unfortunately, but I will look into getting a used one on eBay maybe.

That's all for this week - next weeks article is sure to be full of my first impressions of the 3DS and the games, so be sure to check back in if you're interested!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Game Diary: Here be Dragons

Right, so I picked up my copy of Dragon Age II on Friday afternoon and I've pretty much been glued to it ever since. I've put approximately 25 hours into it all told and I'm thoroughly enjoying myself - in fact it's a shame I've had to tear myself away from it so I could go to work. The storyline seems to be much more focused on character this time around and not quite so much on huge world changing events, though things to start to ramp up during the second act and I expect by the end I will be saving the world as usual. I love the fast paced combat, it feels so much more visceral and direct compared to the first game, and much more suited to playing on a console.

While I'm on the subject of a Bioware RPG, I would like to go over a little bit of my gaming history and how these games have managed to replace another genre that until recent years has been on the wane -that of the graphic adventure. If we rewind time to around what is arguably the "golden age" of the point and click adventure game, around the early to mid 90's, most of my playing time was spent on games like The Secret of Monkey Island, Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis, and a bit later on the Discworld games. I used to enjoy these game so much that I would follow every single option on each of the dialogue trees to see what they said and what the outcome would be. Of course in these games there was seldom any chance of failing the game from choosing the "wrong" option, so experimenting was encouraged in this respect.

Towards the end of the 90's though, these games began to fall out of favour and I had to start looking somewhere else for my adventure fix. While I had previously dabbled with borderline RPGs such as The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past and Secret of Mana, I hadn't yet played a turn based RPG. Then in 1997, I first tried Wild Arms (stopping about a third of the way through) and a few months later, Final Fantasy VII. This was the start of my addiction to RPGs, and while many better games than FF VII have come along since, if it hadn't come along and I hadn't been caught up in the hype, I might not be playing these games today (although I expect something else would have been the trigger eventually).

Anyway, fast forward to the release of Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic on the Xbox - the first game by Bioware that I played. At last, here was a company that had combined the exploration, levelling up and customisation that I loved from RPGs, with the conversation trees from my beloved graphic adventure games. It was a marriage made in heaven, and I also really enjoyed the Light Side/Dark Side dichotomy that was quite new to games at the time (but nowadays is almost a standard feature, especially in a Bioware game). Graphic adventures have of course had something of a resurgence in the meantime thanks to the likes of Telltale, and I do enjoy these games, but RPGs are where the real action is at for me. I always look forward to the next Bioware RPG, safe in the knowledge that it will deliver a high quality experience that is rich in both action and character development, and from my time spent with Dragon Age II that is exactly what they've achieved yet again. In anticipation to the games release, I also started replaying Dragon Age: Origins, and I am going to see this through to the end, before transferring my character to the Awakenings expansion and then importing the data into Dragon Age II.

Importing your Dragon Age: Origins and Awakenings save data does have an impact on the game, mainly in the side quests - there are certain quests that will appear based on your decision of the previous game. For example, who you decided to put on the throne, and whether Nathaniel Howe survived the events of Awakenings. By putting these hooks into their games Bioware really enrich the experience for those who have played the previous games, without alienating new players - another genius touch. I can't wait to get home and continue my adventure within Kirkwall and the surrounding areas. I'll be back again with another game diary next Monday, and possibly a Dragon Age II review quite soon, depending on when I finish it.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Tales of Vesperia review

In its native Japan. the Tales series is something of an RPG powerhouse, with Namco Bandai typically announcing 2-3 new games in the series at the same time. For many years, western fans of the series would look on in despair as the games remained unlocalised. Things started to pick up a bit with the release of Tales of Symphonia for the Gamecube, but still many entries in the franchise were only released in Japan. It came as something of a surprise then when are few years ago they announced that Tales of Vesperia would be coming to the Xbox 360 - a machine that has struggled to find a foothold in Japan - but the upside of this would be that a US/European launch would a sure thing to make sure the game sold enough copies to be worthwhile. The game was actually responsible for a sales spike of Xbox 360 consoles in Japan, the series is that popular.

This particular entry in the series focuses on the character of Yuri Lowell, who resides in the lower quarter of the capitcal city Zaphias. After the only source of clean water within the quarter is vandalised, he gos in search of the culprit and ends up teaming up with a runaway princess, a snarky genius mage and a dog that acts like a human. Eventually the fate of the entire world rests on the shoulders of this eclectic group (funny how that alway happens in JRPGs).

Format: Xbox 360 (Enhanced PS3 version available in Japan)
Publisher: Namco BandaiDeveloper: Tales StudioExpect to pay: Around £25

Graphics: 10 out of 10
I personally believe that this is the best looking game available on the Xbox 360 so far. It looks absolutely stunning in HD, with vibrant colours and the level of detail that you would expect from the very best Japanese anime, except it's completely 3D. I'm well aware that not everyone likes animated films so the perfect rating given here applies to my personal tastes. Nevertheless it is a great technical achievement to make this visual style work within the context of a 3D game.

Sound and Music: 8 out of 10
I am not particulary fond of Motoi Sakuraba's musical compositions - they have a tendency to sound very similar to one another (and he has worked on a LOT of games). There are one or two nice tunes throughout the game (for example the music that plays in the town of Aspio), and I do like the fact that the overworld and battle themes change three times throughout the game as you progress in the story, but his work doesn't come close to the likes of Yasunori Mitsuda (Chrono Trigger/Cross), Hitoshi Sakimoto (Final Fantasy XII), Yoko Shimomura (Kingdom Hearts), Noriyuki Iwadare (Grandia), Michiko Naruke (Wild Arms) or Nobuo Uematsu (Final Fantasy I-X).

The voice work is of quite a high standard, which is not unusual for a game in the Tales series. I am particulary fond of the voice of Rita Mordio, the genius mage and researcher of Blastia (the technology that keeps most of the machinery in the world running including protective barriers that cover entire cities). She really does a good job of making the character likeable despite her acidic tongue, and having heard her in several other games recently, she sounds quite different here. The only thing that lets the voice work down slightly are some of the minor characters - for example old men and women always sound like young people doing a feeble old person impression for some reason.

Game Mechanics: 9 out of 10
Tales of Vesperia (and all the other games in the Tales series) is an action RPG through and through. Battles are triggered by bumping into roaming monsters on the overworld or within dungeons, and you can also gain an advantage by sneaking up on them from behind, or a minor disadvantage if they get the drop on you. You take control of one of the four members of your party (Yuri by default, though you can choose to control any of the others if you wish) and hack and slash your way through groups of foes.

As well as basic attacks there are more powerful special moves which are unlocked as you level up and can be mapped to different buttons on the controller. On top of this there are also attacks that are triggered if you manage to stun your opponent or make them stumble, and these deal out very large amounts of pain (usually enough to kill minor monsters instantly). Finally you can also go into overdrive once your meter is filled to the top, which increases your attack power until the bar is drained. Battles are typically fast paced and you have to keep an eye on the health of your party and be ready to step in with a healing item or Life Bottle should the worst happen.

At the end of each battle you are awarded grade points based on how long the battle took, how much you were hit etc., and these points can be saved up and spent either on the secret Nam Cobanda Isle on various mini games, or on various extra features before starting a second playthrough. Another great thing about this game is that you can hand over control of your three other party members to real people if you have enough controllers and friends to be able to do so - this is one of the few RPG series that does this and is a great idea.

Aside from the battle mechanics, the game features many dungeons for you to explore, and they nearly always feature their own gimmick. There is often a light puzzling element (just enough to keep the old brain cells engaged between the battles), and the dungeons are just right in terms of length at around an hour earlier in the game to close to two hours when you start to get near to the end. All in all Tales of Vesperia doesn't differ all that much mechanically from other recent entries in the series, but it is just as good as ever.

Innovation and Cleverness: 4 out of 10
I'm afraid to say that Tales of Vesperia isn't particularly innovative, it being yet another entry in an RPG series that already has many titles to its name, but try not to hold that against it.

Value and Replayability: 8 out of 10
Tales of Vesperia is a pretty lengthy game, weighing in with at least 50 hours of gameplay, and quite possibly more. There are many optional scenes that you can stumble upon (which can be seemingly random, but look at a FAQ and you will see they are all triggered in some way), and hundreds of skits that can either be read or ignored depending on how you want to play the game. Upon completion you could go through the game again and make use of your accumulated Grade Points, but personally once was enough for me.

Overall: 8 out of 10
Tales of Vesperia is yet another fun, fast paced entry to an excellent RPG series. It is technically flawless, with beautiful visuals and not a single bug or glitch encountered during the many hours of play time I put into it. It is not my personal favourite game in the series - that honour goes to Tales of the Abyss (which is due to for a rerelease on the 3DS), but should you fancy something a little different from Dragon Age, Mass Effect, Fable, et al, then this is a very worthy alternative.

Monday, March 07, 2011

Game Diary: Handheld Heaven

This weekend I shut out the outside world and got down to some serious gaming, and it was glorious. The majority of my time was spent playing my trusty DSi - despite its successor only being a few weeks away, the old system still has a ton of quality software to offer (that will also still work on the new system thanks to backwards compatibility).

First off, my copy of Radiant Historia finally arrived after a bit of a delay. I have basically played through the introductory portion of the game, which covers the main mechanics of the game and a few battles. The main twist that it has going for it is the time manipulation - at certain points in the game, a "node" is created in history, and you can use the magical book known as the White Chronicle to go back and follow a different path. I'm not sure yet whether there is only one "correct" path through history, but I do know there are multiple endings and side quests that utilise this feature. Visually the game is reminiscent of 16-bit RPGs - nothing too flashy, but nicely drawn, and audibly the game benefits greatly from a fantastic soundtrack by Yoko Shimomura (probably best known for her work on the Kingdom Hearts series).

Another DS RPG has been getting the bulk of my attention, however - Dragon Quest VI. Despite not having completely finished Dragon Quest V or IX yet (the end of these games tend to be a bit grind heavy) I was keen to begin yet another entry in the series. When DQIX came out before this one, I did have my doubts whether Square-Enix would actually bother localising it into English at all, but I'm glad they did. This is the first time that the third and final part of the Zenithia trilogy has been officially translated (a fan made patch for the SNES ROM has existed for quite some time). I'm now around 8 hours into the game and only just getting to the point where I can change my character class, which is quite a long way in if you ask me. Presentation wise, the game is pretty much identical to DQIV and V, as you would expect as it uses the exact same engine and a lot of the art assets as those two games. There may have been an awful lot of Dragon Quest put out on the DS, but I still love these games.

Apart from these two, I was somewhat surprised to discover that I had a craving to play some more Dragoneer's Aria last week, despite it not being especially polished in any particular area. The thinness of the plot and quick loading times (for the PSP) actually make it the perfect game to while away the time during the daily commute, and now my PSP travels with me to and from work and fit roughly half an hour of play time in each way, which is usually enough to gain a few levels.

Finally, the award for the least appealing game of recent times has to go to Bulletstorm. Having heard and seen quite a bit about this game on the various podcasts that I listen to/watch, I most definitely have no desire to play a time that is so immature. I don't care if an interesting and innovative combo mechanic is buried underneath all of the swearing, I have no intention of going anywhere near it. Thankfully there are so many other excellent games coming out I don't have to give it any more thought - for example Dragon Age II is now less than a week away! You can bet I will be reviewing that one once I've had time to play through it. Farewell for now.