Category Archives: games I regret

GAMES I REGRET PARTING WITH: Samurai Shodown

Samurai_Shodown_-_1993_-_SNK_Corporation

In lieu of a copy of Street Fighter II or any of the Mortal Kombats, I had other fighting games in my collection to play on my first console, that lovable Super Nintendo currently sitting in my closet, dusty and yellow, but all the way functional, such as Killer Instinct, Shaq Fu, and Samurai Shodown. I probably have a few things to say about that first title and many, many words to write about how I got Shaq Fu–trust me, it’s more interesting than the game itself–but today, it’s all about twelve of the fiercest warriors of the late 18th century engaging in duels to the death as a dark power rises over Japan.

Yup, Samurai Shodown. It originally made its debut on the Neo Geo, but then got ported to a bunch of different consoles, which is how I ended up with a copy of it on the SNES. The SNES version is evidently a bit different than other ports, but I’m only learning this after the fact, years later, as I assumed everything I was seeing then as I jumped and slashed was how it all truly was; for example, the SNES version removed scaling, keeping the character sprites small and constant for an entire fight instead of zooming in and out of the action. Also, similar to Mortal Kombat, there’s no blood on Nintendo’s console when it comes to cutting people up with swords.

Samurai Shodown is known for being either the first or one of the first fighting games to focus on weapon-based combat–I’d later fall hard for this concept with Soul Blade on the PlayStation 1–and having a style based around late 18th century Japanese culture, such as calligraphy and musical instruments. A couple other standout elements from Samurai Shodown are camera zoom effects, randomly-dropped items like food for healing and bombs for damage, destructible environments, and the Rage Meter, which builds up over time upon receiving damage, allowing the fighter to become momentarily more powerful.

Here’s the thing. I haven’t played Samurai Shodown in a good, long while. The SNES cart left my hands probably at that time I gathered a bunch of them together to trade in at Toys “R” Us for some kind of lump discount off the forthcoming PlayStation 1. I do not remember every character and fighting stance and weapon type. That said, there’s Galford, the San Fransisco swordsman I couldn’t get enough of, and here’s why–side puppy. Named Poppy. She’s a beast, literally, and Galford can perform a special move to send her after opponents to maul them like a good puppy doggy. I mostly mained Galford, but I do remember using Hanzo and Jubei a bunch. Everybody else is a blur.

I never got to play any further releases in the Samurai Shodown franchise, nor did I really get into any later SNK fighting games. I think I tried The King of Fighters XIII once and found it bewildering. All in all, I’m a Tekken man, born and bred, as I can’t get enough of throws and countering and cool slow motion replays. It’s what I was raised on, and I’m only mentioning it now so that you’ll be prepared when you see another GAMES I REGRET PARTING WITH for the original Tekken. Don’t worry, I still have Tekken 2. I’m not completely without reservations.

GAMES I REGRET PARTING WITH is a regular feature here at Grinding Down where I reminisce about videogames I either sold or traded in when I was young and dumb. To read up on other games I parted with, follow the tag.

GAMES I REGRET PARTING WITH: Home Alone

games I regret Home Alone GB

Here’s a pretty good example of my lack of focus lately, or, rather, my more passionate and dedicated focus on other projects; I was hoping to both write and post this edition of Games I Regret Parting With before Christmas hit a few months back, especially when you consider that Home Alone is the classic family comedy about a young boy surviving a home invasion during the holiday season. Well, here we are at the end of March, the first day of spring, though it is supposed to snow today, so there’s at least a paper-thin connection to go on.

Home Alone is one of those rare game franchises where it is a different beast for the various systems it popped up on, to the point that you need a wiki to figure out where each one differs. Think like how Jurassic Park on the SNES and Jurassic Park on the Genesis were DNA-created reptiles from totally opposite prehistoric eras. Heck, one let you play as a velociraptor, and the other tried to use a Wolfenstein 3D look when inside buildings. Either way, I only ever played Home Alone on one system, the legendary Game Boy, and while I can remember that detail clearly, I still have no memory over what happened to my Game Boy and collection of tiny, gray game cartridges. All I know is that, unlike my SNES and small handful of classics (minus Mario Paint), they are all gone. Probably sold at a yard sale or traded in during my dumb trade in phase.

The Home Alone Game Boy version, while similar to the SNES and NES versions, required the player controlling pixelated Kevin McCallister to evade confrontation with the Wet Bandits. While hiding from the house robbing baddies, you have to gather up valuable items and then dump them into a laundry chute to deposit them into a protective safe. You could also resort to using these items against the Wet Bandits, by dropping them on their heads or setting up elaborate traps. Y’know, just like in the movie. In total, there are four levels, with each taking place in a different area of the larger-than-life McCallister abode. The first level pertains to gathering up jewelry/gold/silver items, the second level has toys, the third focuses on various electronics, and the fourth level has various exotic pets that are both rare and expensive. I feel like I never got past the second level, as I really don’t remember collecting electronics or exotic pets.

Evidently, after collecting the minimum amount of items and dumping them into the chute, you can go into the basement to fight a boss before locking up the safe. This is where things take a strange turn. A videogame-y turn, if you will. The first level’s boss is a giant spider, then a massive rat, and so on. Kevin eventually battles against Marv and Harry, but the true final fight is against the fearsome and deadly basement furnace. Again, I can’t recall any of these end-of-level encounters, but I was probably rubbish at Home Alone, content to simply run around the house and collect a few things.

For those too afraid to look into the matter, there are currently five films in the Home Alone franchise. Naturally, only the first two are worth watching. I feel like I might’ve dabbled in Home Alone 2: Lost in New York on the Game Boy as well, though it could have been a rental or borrowed copy from a friend. The games never controlled too way, especially when it came to Kevin’s jumping and later sliding mechanic, and could be pretty unforgiving, but the chiptune versions of some of the movie’s iconic songs were all I really needed. Plus, finding a slice of pizza inside a dresser drawer never got old.

GAMES I REGRET PARTING WITH is a regular feature here at Grinding Down where I reminisce about videogames I either sold or traded in when I was young and dumb. To read up on other games I parted with, follow the tag.

GAMES I REGRET PARTING WITH: Grandia II

games I regret grandia II ps2

At this point, I’ve covered twenty-five games I’ve regretted parting with. Of them, the ones that hurt the most are of the RPG ilk. I’m sure you’re super surprised by that. Looking through what I’ve already talked about, that means seven open, still bleeding, albeit slowly, bullet holes: Beyond the Beyond, Star Ocean: The Second Story, Brave Fencer Musashi, SaGa Frontier, Breath of Fire III, Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest, and The Granstream Saga. By their nature, RPGs are massive beasts, and I know that younger me did not see everything they had to offer, especially when you consider I barely started the Faerie Village mini-game in Breath of Fire III before trading it in for something else. Might as well pile on more hurt by adding another RPG to the list then.

Grandia II makes no attempt to stray from the traditional Japanese RPG story: Ryudo the Geohound, a mercenary of sorts, along with his bird, Skye, accepts a mission to accompany a songstress of Granas named Elena as she ventures towards Garmia Tower. Naturally, things go awry quickly, and an accident at the tower requires the two to work together to stop a greater evil. I’m a sucker for forced, unlikely team-ups, which is why I immediately think of Dark Cloud 2 and Wild Arms when I read that plot summary and remind myself. Though the naive nun with a demon inside of her does make this adventure a little different. Plus, there’s a lot more cursing than you’d ever expect; imagine if Final Fantasy VII‘s Barret Wallace was the star of his own game, able to freely speak his mind at every scenario. Yeah, like that.

Grandia II‘s battle system is both simple and sophisticated. At the bottom right corner of the screen is a bar with icons representing the characters in your party and the enemies you’re battling. It’s sort of like the Active Time Battle system, but not quite. The bar is divided into two parts: a long waiting period, followed by an arrow indicating when commands may be entered, and a then another waiting period, followed by a second arrow at the end indicating when the entered commands will happen. That second waiting period is where you hope to often get in an extra attack to kill a monster or interrupt whatever command the enemy punched in. Theoretically, if you wanted to, you could devote your characters to executing consecutive canceling moves to repeatedly knock a boss or generic enemy lower on the action bar, basically preventing them from making any moves in that fight. Other standard options include using items, casting magic, evading, which you do by moving to a new pre-picked location on the battlefield, running away, or letting the computer auto-determine your choices.

Something else that I really liked about Grandia II–and this was before my time with any of the Elder Scrolls games–is that characters learned new skills through…reading. They had to read books to learn magic and additional techniques. Clearly, I had found a game that spoke directly to me. The books and skills within even grow in level as your party battles and gains experience points.

From the sounds of it, Grandia II is not terribly long, somewhere are the 30 hours completion mark. I don’t think I ever hit double digits though, as I remember picking up the title for fairly cheap along with a few other big RPGs, like Dark Cloud 2 and Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter, meaning my attention was easily taken away from me, more for the former than the latter, of course. Looking over the rest of the series on good ol’ Wikipedia, I have this strange, flimsy feeling that I also either played or owned Grandia Xtreme at some time in my life, but it no longer sits in my collection today. That could be my mind just trying to come up with an excuse to write about the game’s hero, Evann, a young ranger, voiced by none other than Superman himself–Dean Cain. Lisa Loeb is also in it. Hmm, we’ll see.

Grandia II originally came out on the Sega Dreamcast, but my copy was a port for the PlayStation 2. I don’t recall it looking amazing, though it was certainly colorful, like a bigger, better Star Ocean: The Second Story, bursting with polygons, but it was more the battle system and kooky characters that had me hooked. I wish I can remember when and for what I traded this in for. Hopefully not for that copy of Godai: Elemental Force. Gah. The shame.

GAMES I REGRET PARTING WITH is a regular feature here at Grinding Down where I reminisce about videogames I either sold or traded in when I was young and dumb. To read up on other games I parted with, follow the tag.

GAMES I REGRET PARTING WITH: Impact Racing

games I regret Impact Racing 1996

For all my gaming history, I’ve never really given a lick about straightforward racing games. You know, the kind where you pick a realistic car, drive around on a realistic track, and make realistic turns, doing all of this for a set number of laps and aiming for first place. I think the closest I came to owning something of this ilk was Midnight Club: Street Racing. Though a fuzzy part of my brain also remembers a Need for Speed title in the stack next to my consoles, but don’t make me figure out which one. Other than that, I pretty much stuck to car combat-style racers, like Vigilante 8, or free-roaming hijinks in Smuggler’s Run. Before those though, there was Impact Racing.

I absolutely know why I bought Impact Racing, way back in the summer of 1996–its cover. I mean, just look at the thing. It has explosions and speed and frickin’ laser beams coming right at you. It certainly stood out against other car-laden covers at the time, and yes, yes, yes, I know. One should never judge anything by its cover alone, but I was a doe-eyed teenager with illusions of grandeur, and so this just screamed stellar at me from the shelf. Alas, I don’t remember it being extremely amazing, suffering from trying to be two very different styles of games compacted into one offering. Still, I should’ve never traded it in.

Developed by Funcom Dublin, who also worked on the colorfully cartoonish Speed Punks, Impact Racing gave players more objectives than simply coming in first place. Each race boiled down to doing the following two tasks: complete laps before the allotted time expires and destroy a specific number of enemy cars. This made each go nerve-wrecking, and if you ended up focusing more on one goal than the other, chances are you’d fail by either a few seconds or exploded vehicles.

Since there are no pit stops or excursions off the course, the best plan of action is to floor the gas, obliterate every and any car drifting into your path, and make it back to the finish line before time runs out. Power-ups can be picked up for bonuses, like extra time, energy, or new weapons, though there’s also a nasty, almost Mario Kart-like pick-up called “flipview,” which, to no one’s surprise, turns your entire screen upside-down, as well as reverses the controls for steering. Avoid at all cost if you’re out to win. Either way, with this power-ups and the two somewhat contradictory goals, driving in Impact Racing is high-tension, all the time.

There are a total of twelve racing variations in Impact Racing via three different main tracks (city, mountain, and frickin’ laser beam-inspired space), and then mixed up through various modes, like mirror, night, or the dreaded night-mirror. At the time of its release, I have to believe this looked amazing. I have to. Unfortunately, now that I spent some time looking up screenshots and gameplay videos for this post, it just looks like a muddy mess, with strange, garbled textures and a less-than-pleasing user interface. Plus, we’ve all seen better sky-boxes. I’m sure as a teenager I looked past that and only saw launching missiles at cars, but it can’t be ignored nowadays. That said, considering you were driving armored cars at upwards of 200 mph, the sense of speed was nicely delivered, and a robotic man-voice gives you updates as you go. If there was a soundtrack, I recall nothing.

Has there ever been a game like Impact Racing in the eighteen years since it came out of the auto shop? Sure, there’s been plenty of racing games and a couple car combat games not called Twisted Metal, but I can’t seem to find many examples where someone tried to fuse both elements together again. Maybe it’s for the best. I guess the best I can do for now is to load up some Crash Team Racing, create a custom battle round, and blow up as many karts with missiles and mines while timing myself on the side. So it goes.

GAMES I REGRET PARTING WITH is a regular feature here at Grinding Down where I reminisce about videogames I either sold or traded in when I was young and dumb. To read up on other games I parted with, follow the tag.

GAMES I REGRET PARTING WITH: Vigilante 8

games I regret vigilante 8

Internet, I’m disappointed in you. I spent at least a half hour scouring your image archives for one, just one, decent PlayStation 1 screenshot of Vigilante 8. Alas, none exist. At least none that suit my Grinding Down style, which is a large, clear picture with good spacing for my silly words on top of it. I’m not asking for much, really. Everything I saw was covered in ugly HUD elements or extremely grainy and whatever–I just grabbed a shot from Vigilante 8 Arcade and went forward, but do know that this post is all about the 1998 car combat release, not its 2008 remake, which I’ve never even touched.

Before I start in on all things alternative 1975, I had to make a decision here because, truthfully, I could’ve done a GAMES I REGRET PARTING WITH for the original Twisted Metal as well, but I felt a stronger connection–and honk in my heart–for Vigilante 8, which is a goofier, more cartoony car combat simulator than Dave Jaffe’s torment tournament featuring a murderous clown driving an ice cream truck. I don’t know. Both are over-the-top and a ton of fun, really, but they each occupy nearly the same space, and so I’d rather write about Activision’s take on vehicular violence. But I cannot deny regretting getting rid of both of these from my collection early on, as I do get that itch now and then to drive around in a non-racing environment and blow things up. At least I have Crash Team Racing?

Car combat games generally have paper-thin stories, and Vigilante 8 is no exception: A band of six desperadoes known as the Coyotes is wreaking havoc across the Southwest, and a band of vigilantes surprisingly called the Vigilantes is out to stop them. This leads to both groups mounting crazy government weaponry on their cars and driving into battle. That’s the quest mode, with levels designed around either blowing something up or protecting something from being exploded. Do that a few times, and then you’ll get a short cutscene specific to the character you picked. There’s also an arcade mode which is pick a car, pick a place, and go nuts.

Again, I dig Vigilante 8‘s aesthetic waaaaay more than Twisted Metal 2‘s, and it really shines in the characters, car selection, and special moves for each vehicle. The leader of the Vigilantes is Convoy, an old cowboy driving a semi-truck. There’s Chassey Blue, an FBI on an investigation who drives a 1967 Rattler armed with a missile rack. I’m also a big fan of Molo, who drove a massive 1966 school bus capable of emitting a dangerous smog cloud. The variety of time-appropriate cars really runs the gamut, and there’s even a special unlockable character that is simply out of this world; spoilers, it’s an alien spaceship. Naturally, each car handles differently and is outfitted with its own special weapon, generally themed with the personality of the car and its driver. For example, Beezwax, the Arizona beekeeper furious at the government for irradiating and mutating his bees with nuclear tests, uses his insect friends in a nasty bee swarm projectile.

To accompany the eclectic mix of cars and drivers, Vigilante 8‘s soundtrack is equally as diverse. Not Chrono Cross, but really–what is? It starts with a pumping disco track that features some very catchy whoop whoops. A couple other tracks sound a bit more rock-n-rollish, heavy on the distortion pedal. There’s one track that would make any of those 80s hair-band ballads proud, though I find it a little too cheesy for my ears. Regardless, the majority of the beats are steady enough to bob your head to while driving around, launching missiles at enemy cars.

While I had a good amount of two-player games as a young high school videogamer, I didn’t actually end up playing many with a second player. Friends were limited, see, and when people got together, we ended up playing more Magic: The Gathering than anything else. That said, just like with Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2, I remember putting in a lot of solo time with Vigilante 8, definitely seeing all the endings, but also just free-wheelin’ it in arcade mode, figuring out what buildings could be interacted with or practicing how to launch special projectiles. I never got to play its sequel Vigilante 8: 2nd Offense, though my best friend’s little brother had it on the Dreamcast and I watched him goof around in it now and then, but maybe, just maybe, I could see if the Xbox 360 remake Vigilante 8 Arcade is any good. Can you dig it?

GAMES I REGRET PARTING WITH is a regular feature here at Grinding Down where I reminisce about videogames I either sold or traded in when I was young and dumb. To read up on other games I parted with, follow the tag.

GAMES I REGRET PARTING WITH: Colony Wars

games I regret trading in colony wars

I still can’t believe we haven’t seen a new Colony Wars game in this day and age of impressive technology, big TV screens, and unstoppable imagination. Or, at the very least, a half-hearted remake of the first 1997 space adventure from Psygnosis. Alas, it seems like the Colony Wars series was deeply cornered in the late 1990s, possibly too unique for its time, and never managed to break free from its own genre, and that’s a shame, because this is the series that really taught me what it might be like to fly an aircraft not of this world. Also, not in this world. Yeah, sorry, Decent.

Story stuff. In Colony Wars, the player assumes the role of a nameless colonist involved in the expanding League of Free Worlds resistance movement. As a skilled League fighter pilot, you take orders from the Father in an attempt to overcome the oppressive Earth Empire and its massive naval fleets, which are spread across multiple colonies. I don’t know if it is simply the American Revolution in space, but it’s close enough. What’s really neat is that failing a mission in Colony Wars did not mean “game over,” just a new branch to follow. You can “fail” every mission in the game and still see it end, albeit through dire consequences. This allowed for the story to really feel unique, like your own, and certainly softened that blow when things didn’t go as perfectly as you planned them. Evidently, there are two alternative “good” endings, though I couldn’t tell you if I saw any of them. I definitely witnessed my fair share of “failed” missions though…

Speaking of missions, I remember them being quite many, as well as varied, though they naturally all involve you flying in your spaceship to some capacity. I think there’s about 70 in total, and you have to remember that you’ll only experience maybe a third or so based on your success or failure rates, making multiple playthroughs worth the effort. Let me see what some mission types were: perimeter defense, guarding supply lines, protecting capital fleetships, taking down opposing capital fleetships, dogfighting, infiltrating Imperial territory, and surveillance-style objectives, like obtaining Naval technology.

At the time, the graphics in Colony Wars were capable of being described as light years ahead of other PlayStation titles (pun intended). It did that thing where when your spaceship goes faster, speed lines appear around you in a circular fashion, something I’d probably scene on Star Trek or some other space-themed TV show. And there I was, the one piloting the ship, zooming forward through the emptiness towards that massive hulk in the distance, my target to destroy. It’s also one of the rare games that I enjoyed using the cockpit view more than the third-person camera, as seeing the inside of your ship and HUD really helped immerse yourself in the action, especially when you’d be flipping this way and that, hot on some enemy ship’s trail. Also, a friendly warning that should be heeded by all: do not look directly into the sun.

The game’s soundtrack is not exactly memorable, but upon giving it another go via the YouTubes, I’m finding it thematically appropriate. Dark, brooding, and capable of building to something that feels almost entirely overwhelming–perfect for backing up a contested dogfight out in the middle of no spaceman’s land. A great use of orchestra and electronica, but maybe a bit too unnerving for listening to when writing a blog post. I feel the need now to take down an evil-as-evil-gets ginormous battleship hiding in an asteroid belt singlehandedly; that, or entirely rewatch Battlestar Galactica for like the umpteenth time.

I’ve had a disc copy of Colony Wars: Vengeance in my collection for some time now, untouched, the manual glanced at occasionally, and I guess if I ever do really get that itch to fly through space and shoot some massive vessels I can give it a go. I don’t know much about this sequel to the original, save that it retains the idea of fail-able missions, but also lets your spaceship entire planets’ atmosphere to shake things up. However, it won’t be the same Colony Wars that I remember so fondly from 1997, that opened before my blossoming eyes and stretched out endlessly, that put a dot in the distance and directly me towards it. Let’s leave with a fitting Carl Sagan quote: “Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known.”

GAMES I REGRET PARTING WITH is a regular feature here at Grinding Down where I reminisce about videogames I either sold or traded in when I was young and dumb. To read up on other games I parted with, follow the tag.

GAMES I REGRET PARTING WITH: Blazing Dragons

games I regret trading in blazing dragons

Videogame consoles have never been thought of as the go-to venue for adventure games. Gameplay in point-and-click adventure games often ask you to review a single stationary scene, point at many things with a cursor, and click on them to see what happens. Nine-point-nine times out of ten, you’re doing this with a mouse–thus, the clicking.

Unfortunately, console controllers are not designed for this type of molasses-tempo action, leading to developers fusing the point-and-click style with other more commonly accepted gaming elements, like exploration, puzzle solving, action scenes, QTEs, and so on. Some of the more recent and more successful console adventure games include L.A. Noire, Telltale’s The Walking Dead, Stacking, and Machinarium. It can work, but it has to be designed with a consoler gamer in mind.

However, back in 1996 or 1997, I played an adventure game on a console in my high school years’ bedroom that clearly would’ve worked better with a mouse and keyboard. Alas, it only came out for the PlayStation 1 and Sega Saturn. Yup, talking about everyone’s favorite medieval-themed, distinctly British Blazing Dragons.

Blazing Dragons is based on the animated television series of the same name that originally ran on Teletoon in Canada. Never heard of it? Join the club. Join it now, and join it some decades ago when I bought the game simply because it looked cartoonish and fun. Plus, y’know, talking dragons. Evidently, the Blazing Dragons episodes that did make it on U.S. screens were heavily bowdlerized. Anyways, the show, which came from Monty Python brainchild Terry Jones, was a parody of King Arthur and other moments during the Middle Ages, mixing it up enough by telling the stories from the perspective of anthropomorphic dragons beset by evil humans.

The game version of Blazing Dragons, which was developed by The Illusions Gaming Company and published by Crystal Dynamics, walks the same line. In a twist on the legend of King Arthur, you play as Flicker, a young dragon living in Camelhot. Oh, and he’s madly in love with Princess Flame; alas, he’s not eligible to ask for her hand in marriage because he is not a knight. However, a dragon tournament has been announced King All-Fire, where the winner will not only win the prize of the princess, but also become the new king.

With that in mind, you play the game. Using a controller. This means cycling through different cursor options (foot, eye, hand, face) with R1. Flicker can collect a number of various objects and interact with the eccentric cast of both other dragons and human characters to solve puzzles. Thankfully, this isn’t one of those adventure games where you can easily die or find yourself permanently stuck for bypassing a single item earlier on. Yeah, I’m looking directly at you, Beneath a Steel Sky. Many of the puzzles end up relying on your knowledge of fairy-tales, such as planting a bean in fertile soil or using Rapunzel’s hair as a rope to reach something previously unreachable. The other side of solving involves Flicker’s inventions, which end up being crafted with less-than-desirable materials instead of what they really need. Evidently, there is one moment of pure action, but I don’t recall exactly what you had to do and when it happened; I suspect probably near the culmination of the dragon tournament. Otherwise, it’s a lot of chatting for clues, gathering junk, and using items to get one claw closer to becoming a true knight.

I liked Blazing Dragons for its colorful characters, goofy, uncaring plot, and devotion to punny names, such as Sir Loungealot, Sir Blaze, Sir Juicealot, Librarian Pureflame, and Rapunsel Yablanowitz. I was too young to really care or be impressed by the game’s much-touted voice acting cast, which starred the likes of Cheech Marin, Jim Cummings, and Terry Jones himself, though I do remember the audio not being that great to actually listen to. It’s not that many of the characters said lewd things, but rather they sounded poorly mixed, tinny. The game was not perfect, with long load times, some pixel hunting, and the occasionally forced action sequence, but it stood out at the time as something original, a strike of endearing imagination. If anything, I believe this game lead to me discovering Discworld II: Mortality Bytes and reigniting my love for Terry Pratchett’s series of same-name fantasy books.

GAMES I REGRET PARTING WITH is a regular feature here at Grinding Down where I reminisce about videogames I either sold or traded in when I was young and dumb. To read up on other games I parted with, follow the tag.

GAMES I REGRET PARTING WITH: Beyond the Beyond

btb-03

Let me say this right up front: Beyond the Beyond is a terrible game, and an even worse RPG. I know this, you know this, and the world knows this. And yet, I still wish I hadn’t traded in my copy all those years ago, as it was one of the first–and maybe the first–RPGs I got on my original PlayStation, and since there was not a lot out there at that time, beggars couldn’t be choosers, and so I played Beyond the Beyond because I rented it and and paid money for the end product, not because it was fun.

Here’s how bad the story in Beyond the Beyond is: I had to look it up. All of it. Had to look up every single detail about the story out there because I couldn’t remember a lick of it. And normally, I can at least unsurface a detail or two, a plot twist, a character’s name, etc.–but nope, not for this one. I mean, that makes sense when you have plot summaries like this: The forces of darkness have broken an ancient treaty, and those who uphold justice and goodness must stop them from bringing chaos and destruction. Oh wow. That sure tells me a lot. Not like I’ve ever played a good character fighting evil before in a videogame. Well, we can get more specific: Beyond the Beyond is about a young apprentice knight called Finn who gets caught up in an ancient war between the Beings of Light and the Warlocks of the Underworld. With the help of a number of other adventurers, he is tasked with protecting the fate of the kingdom of Marion. As generic as it gets, unfortunately.

Prior to Beyond the Beyond, I had dabbled in some RPGs on the SNES, like Mystic Quest and Breath of Fire, and NES, but not enough to really know what to expect from another anime-style RPG from Japan that had been translated for U.S. shores. Yes, I wouldn’t run across a copy of Lunar until much later in life. But upon first looking at Beyond the Beyond, it’s clear that the leap from earlier consoles to the quote unquote power of the PlayStation 1 was more like a tiny bunny hop. Featuring discolored and uninspiring 16-bit graphics, the game was not a piece of art to gaze at. Remember how in games like Suikoden and Suikoden II when the action would zoom in during combo attacks and get extremely pixelated to the point of impressionistic? That’s what all the battles look like from the get-go, as evident from this blog post’s header image.

Combat. Alas, that’s the one area where Beyond the Beyond tries to stand out…and doesn’t. Things slip into 3D, with a “rotating camera,” and some light strategy involves maneuvering your characters around, trying to outflank the enemy or move somewhere safe. In truth, the combat is standard hack and slash, but turn-based. There was a system called Active Playing System (APS), which had characters performing secret moves at certain moments. Such as right before a character attacks or defends. Rapidly pressing a combination of buttons increases the chance of more attack/defense power though it was never a guarantee and did little to make the fights more exciting.

I don’t remember much about Beyond the Beyond‘s soundtrack…except that it didn’t sound astounding. Not for its arrangement, but rather the way it was recorded. Evidently, the game relied on MIDI format songs rather than pre-recorded red book audio, which made everything sound tinny and less than great. The soundtrack was composed by Motoi Sakuraba, with five tracks later being released by Antinos Records in May 1996, and it seems like those are much more appreciated than the original tracks.

All that said, and I’ve touched upon this in other iterations of GAMES I REGRET  PARTING WITH, I kind of want to play it again, today, in my current mindframe, with so much more knowledge about what games a good RPG and what makes a bad, bland one. I certainly hold no nostalgia for Beyond the Beyond, but I fear that I was perhaps too quick to judge it and write it off as unarguably terrible back then. I suspect it’s still absolute garbage now in 2014, but that’s only a suspicion, and I would like to actually confirm it for myself.

One aspect that I do appreciate about a sub-par videogame called Beyond the Beyond is that it opens up a thousand doors for clever wordplay, like “below the below standards of what a good RPG should be like.” If anything, we got that.

GAMES I REGRET PARTING WITH is a regular feature here at Grinding Down where I reminisce about videogames I either sold or traded in when I was young and dumb. To read up on other games I parted with, follow the tag.

GAMES I REGRET PARTING WITH: Treasures of the Deep

games I regret parting with treasures of the deep 01

My childhood best friend loved animals, especially reptiles and all kinds of fish. I don’t know if he still does, as our relationship fell apart during the college years, and one day he just vanished from my life. I’d like to imagine he works at a zoo or is a veterinarian, but thanks to the magic of Facebook stalking…I know that’s not true. For most of his birthdays, I’d get him a couple packs of whatever new set of Magic: The Gathering was out (the Invasion block era if you want to pinpoint it), but one year I got him a videogame, one that I thought played directly to his interests–Treasures of the Deep.

I don’t think he liked it or played it very much, as eventually I ended up borrowing it from him–y’know, like people do all the time with the gifts they give loved ones–and then later traded it in with a bunch of my other PlayStation 1 games when it was clear the birthday gift was not missed, not a winner. Hence, it being a game I regret parting with.

In Treasures of the Deep, which kind of sounds like an Indiana Jones subtitle that I’m sure Shia LaBeouf would love to steal without crediting, you play the part of Jack Runyan, an ex-Navy Seal who has become, naturally, a freelance underwater treasure hunter.  Your main objective is to complete 14 varied missions ranging from disasters, such as things going awry on oil rigs or a plane crash, to simple exploration type missions, like scouring the wreckage of a sunken ship for goodies. Along the way, you can pick up as much treasure as you can find; once a mission is complete, Runyan can use this golden booty to buy more weapons, equipment, and upgrades for SDVs (swimmer delivery vehicles) or submarines. By capturing rare sea creatures in nets, you can also earn extra money.

Similar to Colony Wars, another game I regret parting with (post still forthcoming), the game had a real sense of place. You’re underwater, and you felt that constantly. Plus, you’re not just in some ocean; there’s real-life locations to see, like the Bermuda Triangle, the Puerto Rico coast, and the Marina Trench. Dolphins sing, your radar beeps, bubbles escape, and the water swooshes to create a laid-back atmosphere, backed by a moody soundtrack-stirring ambience. I have both a fear and fascination with large bodies of water, able to find it extremely relaxing and also terrifying and full of unseen monsters. I don’t want to dive too deep, though I do want to know what’s down there. That probably explains why I can only remember the very early levels in Treasures of the Deep, as I played it extremely safe, keeping close to the surface. My recent time with Hero in the Ocean reminded me warmly of those early missions.

Unfortunately, the sad truth hidden in this post is that it’s currently a lot easier to get a copy of Treasures of the Deep back in my life, but it’s really the childhood best friend I want. Unfortunately, that priceless treasure sunk to the dark bottom of the ocean years ago, that fateful Thanksgiving break, and is now buried and irrevocable, with no radar map to help.

GAMES I REGRET PARTING WITH is a regular feature here at Grinding Down where I reminisce about videogames I either sold or traded in when I was young and dumb. To read up on other games I parted with, follow the tag.

GAMES I REGRET PARTING WITH: Star Ocean: The Second Story

games I regret parting with star ocean 2 second story

Somewhere in one of the various W.B. Mason boxes I got stacked around the house are a bunch of Prima videogame strategy guides from the PlayStation 1 era that I just couldn’t bring myself to sell at a yard sale or toss. Also, I haven’t bought a gaming guide since my teenage days, mostly because…well, the Internet. Though I still occasionally glance at them in stores and could probably see myself picking up some of the ones for my favorite games, like Fallout 3, for collecting purposes only, but I’d rather buy the game itself, play until I can’t, and look up a walkthrough online to help me past that roadblock. I mention all of this because I know, without a doubt, that I still have my guide for Star Ocean: The Second Story, though I definitely no longer have the game itself.

And Star Ocean: The Second Story was a pretty cool RPG, one that sticks out in my mind mostly for making the extra effort to bring its towns to life by giving each and every shop a unique name. For example, there’s The Hopping Penguin, Red Dragon Manor, Munchies, Counterpunch, Budabing Budaboom, Salesman in the Snow, Pellen Nor, The Grasping Hand, and so on. One would later see the same attention to world-building in games like Radiata Stories (not a surprise, since it is another tri-Ace joint) and  Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. I vaguely remember the combat being chaotic and hard to follow, the pacing a bit off and super slow in the early hours, and the strangeness that was battle sound clips being saved to the Memory Card for later listening, but whatever. Every store felt real, blueprints, employee schedules, and all, because once you give something a name, it exists more than ever before, which is why children living on farms should never grow attached to pigs. No more generic nameless store selling the same wares as the generic nameless store three towns over; truly, it was refreshing.

The story, as far as I remember, goes like this: Claude C. Kenny and Rena Lanford, a young girl living on the planet Expel, are destined to meet. After being officially made an Ensign in the Earth Federation, Claude is given his first mission under his father’s supervision, which is to survey the planet Milocinia, where a mysterious energy field appears. Claude quickly discovers a mysterious device and, despite being told to stay away, examines it more closely. Unfortunately, something happens, and he’s teleported to Expel. Here, Claude meets Rena, who mistakes him for the legendary “Hero of Light.”  She takes him back to her village, Arlia, to confer with others about what to do next. That’s all I really remember story-wise, though the two eventually leave Arlia to go to some big, fancy city called Cross, and along the way add others to their party in the search for answers and a way to get Claude back home.

What’s pretty neat in Star Ocean: The Second Story is that players have the choice of controlling Rena or Claude, and the journey will evolve differently depending on certain choices each character makes.  Another mechanic I’m fond of was “Private Actions,” which allowed the player to influence relations between the cast of characters. Basically, during one of these moments, the party temporarily splits up when visiting a town, each character going their own way to shop, visit friends and family, or otherwise relax. Pretty similar to Final Fantasy IX‘s “Active Time Events,” really–which I loved. Claude or Rena can then interact with their friends, generally leading to actions that will either get these people to like them more or less. This can have a major effect in battle—if Claude’s new best friend falls, he can receive a major combat bonus for a short time—but also determines what ending the player will see. Evidently, there are over 80 possible endings–take that, Chrono Trigger and Chrono Cross.

Unfortunately, not all shimmered and shined, and I absolutely hated the game’s combat. Which, for an RPG, is a big slice of its pie. Chalk it up as one of my least favorite battle systems ever right next to Unlimited SaGa‘s wheel of chance, and you can mostly blame badly AI-controlled party members for all the heartache. Combat can be played on three settings–Standard, Semi-active, or Full-Active. You can customize your party members to fight in a specific manner, but can’t really do much else after that except pray they heal when they need to heal and they attack when the moment is right. This may or may not happen–it was always hard to see battles unfolding, as their chaotic nature took over, with a dozen actions happening at once, and you left running around like a headless chicken.

Also, apparently there was a whole item creation and skill system–you could become a baker!–brimming with options and customization that I simply can’t remember anything about. But knowing what I later experienced in games like Rogue Galaxy and Dragon Quest IX, I know I’d absolutely eat that stuff up these days. I mean, really–who doesn’t love taking one thing, adding it to another, and walking away with something greater than the sum of its parts? Nobody–that’s who.

Star Ocean: The Second Story is most definitely a “game I regret trading in,” so if you have an extra copy laying around collecting dust, please think of me. I will gladly take it off your hands, at least to visit some of those named shops that, in my mind, are still operating today, having sales and events and being real.

GAMES I REGRET PARTING WITH is a regular feature here at Grinding Down where I reminisce about videogames I either sold or traded in when I was young and dumb. To read up on other games I parted with, follow the tag.