Daily Archives: July 8, 2011

30 Days of Gaming, #23 – Game with the best graphics or art style

Gameplay always trumps graphics for me, but there are the occasional videogames where the graphics or art style simply just can’t be ignored. It almost gets in the way of whatever you’re trying to get character X to do, and you have to give in, take a hit, sit back and gaze upon the sweat and tears of artists and designers and visionaries alike.

In this generation of gaming, high-res graphics are pushing the boundaries of real and unreal, bringing in unbelievable lighting, textures, and movement. Those cars in the latest Gran Turismo games might as well be plucked right off some heavily raced and televised track; those plants and jungle bushes in Uncharted are covered in bugs, and you know it; those faces in L.A. Noire are true faces, skinned off their respective actors by sick-minded men like Dr. Hannibal Lector and tossed into the game to give you a realism unlike any you’ve previously seen. There’s a new level of game graphics, as well as a new horde of gamers demanding they get better and better. That’s cool and all, but I’m a firm believer that we’ve reached the peak–or a few feet from it–and that this is as good as it gets, which is fine because realistic graphics are not the be-all, end-all, and you just have to look at the indie gaming scene to see what can be done with less…or more creativity.

Games like Limbo, PixelJunk Shooter, Bit.Trip Void, and The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom all stand tall with stellar gameplay and a look to match it. Would Limbo have been as haunting as it was if you could actually read the little boy’s expressions? Most likely no. Would those quirky pie puzzles feel as quirky if it wasn’t for that silent films-esque presentation? But enough about those titles. Let’s get wet.

I think Aquaria has a fantastic look to it, nailing a world we honestly don’t know too much about and only get to glimpse sparingly through documentaries or movies or fascinating photos. Like in Finding Nemo, the scenes set underwater in the wild ocean where life is all colors and bubbles were a sight to behold. It’s so foreign and strange under the water, and yet it can be equally calming and uplifting, just floating in the blue, weightless, full of wonder. There are two men behind Aquaria, Derek Yu and Alec Holowka, and Yu was the lead artist. His work gives Aquaria a hand-drawn, storybook style, complimenting the 2D exploration gameplay. It looks gorgeous in screenshots, and then doubly in action. Loneliness is an important theme and feeling in the game; one certainly feels all by their lonesome when swimming gently through open waters or the kelp forest. Items are more detailed in the foreground, but blurry shadows and outlines of other structures in the background give off a great sense of scale. And brain coral never looked so brainy.

I do vow to return to Aquaria and Naija’s troubles someday, maybe a day when my Mac isn’t on the verge of breaking. At least for one more look at beauty in motion.

Four heroes, one light, a final fantasy, and trying again

Tara got me Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light this past Christmas, and I played a bit of it, but quickly found myself stuck, my party of four split and unsure of where to go next. It was all so very unclear. And that’s a shame as the game itself is gorgeous to look at on the Nintendo DS, with a storybook feel to the graphics and classic fantasy soundtrack and adorably colorful towns to explore. I also loved the way the job system was implemented, focusing on wearing different crowns and enhancing them with dropped gems from defeated monsters. And just like in Dragon Quest IX, changing gear and hats reflects truly with your characters, meaning that sword of +2 fire looks like it means it. From what I played, it was a good game, but also brutally difficult.

The high difficulty–in my eyes–stems from two parts. The first has to do with the battle system; it’s traditional turn-based fighting with a seemingly minor change, but it’s one that can mean the difference between surviving a commonplace fight or failing and losing a good chunk of your gems. See, you don’t get to select who you are attacking or healing or using an item on. You just select Attack, Heal, or Item and hope that the AI behind all the menus can do the correct and smart thing. Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t, leading to a couple frustrating fights, especially when the bosses come stomping around. The other reason for FF: T4HoL‘s difficulty has to do with its love of gameplay design of yesteryear; there’s no map, no in-game message on what to do next, no quest log, no sense of true accomplishment when it comes to rescuing a prisoner or defeating a legendary monster, no hand-holding whatsoever. You are a hero of light, and you are on your own. The story is simple and without pepper, meaning it can be forgotten easily even as you play the dang game, but thank goodness for online walkthroughs.

That said, I’ve recently gotten back into the game thanks to this wee vacation of mine. I had to grind a bit to get my only two heroes in the party (Aire Samantha and Jusqua Goyle) high enough to beat a specific dungeon, but now I’m making much more progress and much easier at that. Currently, we’re inside a mysterious whirlpool in Liberte, fighting off a lot of water elemental enemies and slimes that like to merge with their brethren. I’m hoping to unlock more crowns sooner than later though as the measly three right now are not enough to call life exciting. Evidently, there are a few crowns you can get from playing wireless multiplayer games with other FF: T4HoL players, but alas, every time I log on, there’s no one to join up with. Guess I should start pretending like these Seamstress and Beastmaster crowns don’t exist anymore. Waaaaaaaaah.

And that’s the update for now on being a hero of light. I’ll be back to let you know if when evil is destroyed for all of time.