From one X to another, we move from talking about the highs of Mega Man X and how much it brought to the somewhat stale format to diving into X Squad, a PlayStation 2 launch title that, if I’m being honest, wasn’t all that good, but still holds a special space in my heart because it was one of a handful of games I owned after acquiring my hard-earned console. Also, by we I of course mean me, because this is Grinding Down, a singular voice shouting into an echo chamber, praying anyone is out there listening. If you are all ears, please, don’t be afraid to say hello. Tell me your favorite Animal Crossing villager or type of sushi roll. Anything.
Well, in X Squad, you play as John G. Ash, leader of the titular group. It’s the year 2037. Graduating at the top of his class at West Point, he excels in both marksmanship and urban-combat simulation, which is probably what got him the commanding role after forming his personalized team of problem-solvers. Something bad is happening, and the X Squad is called in. I think it has to do with a bio-terrorist organization releasing a devastating plague upon a major metropolitan area, but that’s only known from reading a summary over here. There’s not much story to go on from the get-go, with much of the plot kept secret even as you progress through the early levels. The opening cinematic is extremely vague, immediately starting with Ash talking about investigating “the situation” and ensuring that recon is passed on to the right people, but it doesn’t get any more specific than that, which makes it come across as an empty action hero romp–which is most certainly wants to be.
If I recall correctly, X Squad plays a lot like 989 Studios’ Syphon Filter, minus the cool animation you get when you don’t stop tasering an enemy or Gabe Logan’s hypnotizing swaying hips. You can roll in a bunch of different directions, as well as duck or peek around corners to get the upper hand on unsuspecting enemies. That’s all fine and somewhat standard for this type of run-and-gun action title, but the aspect that ends up making X Squad stand apart from its competitors ultimately detracts from the entire experience, offering next to no value. With only a few simple button presses, Ash can bark orders to his teammates, tasking them with things like scouting out an area to backing you up with gunfire. SOCOM U.S. Navy SEALs this is not. These commands fall under terms like “follow,” “recon,” and “stay.” Your teammates are never really as helpful as they should be, running into rooms of armed men wildly without even bothering to take cover, but thankfully you don’t need to rely on them 100% to make it through a mission with skin still attached to your bones. Still, the point of a squad is to fight as one singular unit, and that’s not the case here. Ash is better on his own, using his teammates more as distractions than anything else.
Also, X Squad is not a looker. I mean, it was a launch title for the PlayStation 2, and it shows. Besides having a bland, flat look to the environments and character models (save for Ash’s spike-tastic hair), glitches are bountiful, with flickering being a common issue. Sound-wise, there’s a lot going on here. The voice acting is stiff and uninspired, and though I like the inclusion of voiced tutorial prompts, it’s not executed well. Still, the door opening sounds are pretty good. The biggest compliment I can give X Squad is that those are some sick and consistent drum beats playing in the opening level (warning: they don’t kick in for at least a minute, but it’s worth the buildup). Also: really great slap bass lines throughout. Honestly, the OST is the reason to play X Squad, but you could also not play it and simply let your ears enjoy everything over on YouTube. Your call, boss.
Still, all that said, and I continue to lack the words to explain this phenomenon, I regret trading in my copy of X Squad. Maybe it has less to do with the game’s quality and more to do with the fact that the PlayStation 2 was the first console I purchased myself as a working lad, busing tables, and so every early game in my collection was special, regardless if it ultimately was special or not. I’m seeing copies on Amazon for around $8.00, and I sadly think that’s too steep of a mountain to climb. I’d love to see this come to the PlayStation Network as a downloadable, but I think the ship for digital PS2 games on that system has sailed, with no map or fuel reserves or even captain, never to be seen again.
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.
Ugh, I’m not doing too well on those gaming resolutions for 2017 that I listed out at the beginning of the new year. Well, hold up, I did manage to cross the 80,000 Gamerscore mark, but other than that, my Steam backlog is either the same size as before or larger than ever, Earthbound is still untouched on my Wii U, and I don’t know what I was thinking when it came to musing about “creating something.” I mean, I’m already doing that with my art over at Death, Divorce, and Disney, slow as it may take, though perhaps one day I’ll do something with game design. I sure do have a bunch of ideas, but not the knowledge to put them into motion, and knowledge doesn’t come quick or easy.
Anyways, here is me equipping a mighty ice-pick of endurance+3 and chipping away at the legendary glacier boss that is Suikoden III. I played it for a couple of hours several years ago, eventually running into an issue with the game soft-locking on a loading screen due to scratches on my PlayStation 2 disc. That sucks, but I quickly moved past it and found a bazillion other games to occupy my time, including the originaltwo games in the series. I then acquired a digital version for the PlayStation 3 about two years ago, easing my heart and mind somewhat with the knowledge that I could return to Konami’s third entry in the RPG series via a scratch-free experience. Still, it remained neglected once more…until now-ish. Dun dun dunnn.
This time around, I’ve decided to start Suikoden III from a new perspective, selecting someone different from my first go at the game. See, Suikoden III uses something called the Trinity Site System to tell its tale through three different POVs–namely, Hugo, the son of the Karaya Clan Chief Lucia, Chris Lightfellow, a Zexen Knight, and Geddoe, a mercenary from the Holy Kingdom of Harmonia. Phew, that was a mouthful. Last time, I went with Hugo, and this time I started the adventure off with Chris Lightfellow, who, by name alone, you might mistake as a man, but she’s actually the acting captain of the Zexen Knights, as well as the Tenbi Star, just like Kirkis was in the original game. Cool, cool. Basically, you get to play snippets from each of these characters’ storylines, with some overlapping others, and I suspect they will eventually meet up and form a single through-line to follow to the end. We’ll see.
It’s still a little early for me to say this, but I’m not a fan of the changes Konami made to combat in Suikoden III. Don’t worry, don’t worry, everything is still turn-based, but characters are now paired up during fights. This means you give a command to each pair rather than to them as individuals, which often makes the combat feel clunky and not highly strategic. For example, one person gets a specific action, such as casting a spell or using an item, while the other is forced into attacking by default. It’s not Miitopia random, but you are definitely not 100% in control of what everyone gets to do, and that’s a bummer. Also, I’ve put in about six to seven hours so far, seeing chapters from all three characters–Chris, Geddoe, and Hugo–and I’ve seen only one or two unite attack options during battle, which this JRPG series is famous for. Also, because we’re jumping around a lot, I’ve been reluctant to drop a lot of money on new armor and weapons or training because I don’t yet know who is going to be around for the bulk of Suikoden III, which is mildly frustrating.
So, clearly, it’s been slow going, but it has been refreshing to see some new characters and areas this second time starting Suikoden III. Also, evidently during my first time with Hugo I had missed an entire side quest involving bandits and Melville’s father, so that was great to see, content-wise, even if it did little to change what happened in his first chapter. I’m now playing as Geddoe and his Twelfth Unit from Harmonia as they embark from Vinay del Zexay…to do something. Not quite sure what their goal is yet. I’m eager to see a few more towns as Vinay del Zexay is not fun to explore and somewhat confusing and does not hold a candle to Gregminster, Greenhill City, or even Gordius. Then again, these games are all about building up a base. Speaking of that…
From the brief bit of research I’ve done, it sounds like once all three starting characters hit chapter three, I’ll have to make a major decision, one that will definitely affect how the story moves forward. It also sounds like, after Suikoden V, Suikoden III takes the longest for everyone to get inside a castle and start building up your army, which is one of the best parts of this series, and that’s a bummer because I want to go to there right now. Ugh. Here’s hoping I hit that milestone somewhere in 2018, the earlier the better. Because then I eventually need to try out Suikoden IV. And Suikoden Tactics. Oh, and I should probably re-play Suikoden V at some point because that is mostly a blur to me now.
I’m not out to collect every single PlayStation 2 game ever made, because they sure did make a whole lot of them, but I have a list of several titles that I missed during the console’s heydays and am genuinely interested in acquiring and, when the time is right, playing. Yes, playing, because I love games of varying ages, especially JRPGs from this specific era in the industry, for reasons I’m not totally clear on just yet. They don’t make them like they used to, and when they try, they don’t always succeed. Anyways, for a good while there, I was able to find some PlayStation 2 cases at my local GameStops, but they eventually needed more shelf-space for other things, like amiibos and virtual reality gear, and stopped stocking them.
Recently, at a comic convention last April, I was able to grab a working copy of Dark Cloud, which I once had and was actually the very first game I got for my system as a young boy with some steady income before being dumb and trading it in for something else. The game, not the system. I’m still rocking my original PlayStation 2 because I take good care of my stuff. Right, the last time I added a bunch of old-ish games in one solid lump was back in February 2016, with me stocking up on an astounding ten games for my collection; you’ll not be surprised to learn I’ve not tried a single one of them yet. Sigh. One day, when the world is full of free time and no consequences or guilt-laden clouds.
Over the weekend, while Melanie was taking a buttercream flowers class, I had an hour or so to kill in Somerville, NJ, and so I stopped in Retro Classics to peruse their wares. I’ve been in the store before, picking up PS2 copies of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King and The Hobbit for my constantly growing assemblage of all things related to The Lord of the Rings, but the last time I went I forgot to bring a list and found myself second-guessing whether or not I had this or that copy of said title and was reluctant to make any purchases. It’s always good to be prepared, and this time I totally was.
Here’s what I got:
That might not seem all that exciting of a haul to you, but Xenosaga Episode II: Jenseits von Gut und Böse is something I’ve never seen out in the wild, and my love for strange JRPGs from this era was too strong to resist grabbing a copy for around $15.00. Perhaps I now have more of a reason than ever to finally play through the first game, eating up those lengthy anime-driven cutscenes and e-mails and card-based minigames, knowing there is actually more to follow. The store also has a retail copy of Xenosaga Episode III: Also Sprach Zarathustra, but it was a little too pricey for me at the moment. You can see that I also nabbed Wallace & Gromit in Project Zoo, which pairs nicely with my case-less copy of Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, and X-Men Legends so that I can go back to the beginning of when these comic book hero videogames became more RPG than mindless punching and optic blasting. I’m pretty pleased with the trio.
Anyways, that’s all for now. Alas, most of my list of desired PS2 games are really obscure beasts, like Summoner 2, Frank Herbert’s Dune, and Legaia 2: Duel Saga, and I just don’t think I’ll ever run into them at a store and I’m too timid to try and find them online for a “good” price and deal with trusting a stranger somewhere in the world to deliver on their promises. I’ll keep looking, but I won’t hold my breath. Because I’ll run out of air rather quickly. Until then, looks like I have some other things I can play. Y’know, when I find the time.
I’m pretty sure that I owned a James Bond game for the PlayStation 2 way back when, but I don’t think it was 007: Agent Under Fire. Might have been 007: Nightfire. This probably explains why there’s no entry for it in the Games I Regret Parting With tag. My memory on this is fuzzy, which I don’t think is surprising for a series that is constantly changing who portrays the main hero every few installments. In case you were wondering, I’m all about Idris Elba playing the next 007. Or Rosamund Pike. Either works great for me though I think Daniel Craig is more than perfunctory. All I really remember about this blurry action game from my past collection is crawling through ventilation shafts and using a technical watch-like gizmo to shoot laser beams at locked doors. So far, in 007: Agent Under Fire, Bond uses a cell phone to do this.
Anyways, I ended up getting a copy of 007: Agent Under Fire for real cheap back in February 2015. Now that I have taken out Final Fantasy IX‘s fourth and final disc from my PlayStation 1, I needed something to fill the void. By void I mean the empty space inside my console, not my heart. I wanted something ideally much shorter than another of my desperately lonely yet time-consuming JRPGs–sorry, Atelier Iris 2: The Azoth of Destiny, Radiata Stories, and Star Ocean: Till the End of Time, you’ll just have to wait a big longer–and figured this was a good fit, featuring a numbered set of levels, a multiplayer mode that I suspect I won’t be able to play at all due to a severe lack of IRL friends (unless bots are allowed), and nothing else. Let’s start bonding.
007: Agent Under Fire‘s plot is classic international espionage, to the point that, without writing any more words, you could probably guess it wholly. Need some help? Okay, I’ll budge. A major corporation has stolen data that will enable it to clone people, with grander plans of taking over the world by replacing those in important positions. Naturally, this can’t and shouldn’t happen, and in comes Bond–James Bond, that is–to nearly single-handedly destroy the threat of everyone looking the same. He does get some help from series staples Q and M, as well as CIA agent Zoe Nightshade. Don’t get her confused with one of Atlas’ daughters from Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson and the Olympians series like I initially did.
I immediately struggled with the controls. Remember, this came out in late 2001, a time when every game from the first-person shooter genre was not created from a recognizable and well-accepted blueprint. I imagine that if I went back to things like Killzone or Red Faction, I’d also have the same problem. Thankfully, you can pick from a bunch of different controller schemes, and I found one that was much more in sync with modern layouts. Still, I stumbled here and there when trying to switch between a weapon and a tool, which are separate from each other, kind of like in the Metal Gear Solid series. I tried looking online to find a scan of the PS2 manual (my purchase was just the disc), but only came upon the ones for the original Xbox and GameCube releases; please trust me when I say that the default setup is more evil than Auric Goldfinger, Francisco Scaramanga, and Sir Hugo Drax combined.
Okay, okay, a part of me couldn’t let this issue rest, so I snapped some high quality photographs last night with my cell phone so everyone can see the difference I’m talking about. Here is the default setting, with, yup, “alt fire” on the select button and “crouch” using a trigger:
And here is what I went with instead to have it line up more with a modern first-person shooter, though it is a far cry from perfect:
Unlike many other videogames constructed around our titular leading man, 007: Agent Under Fire doesn’t correspond to a movie of the same name. It is its own thing, and that’s fine. It does try a little too hard to be mistaken for something of a similar quality, but I can ignore its attempts to throw a heavily polygonal woman at Bond to up the sexiness because the action is quite fun, as well as forgiving. Also, Bond is clearly modeled after Pierce Brosnan, but missing his voice. Aiming is tricky, but this isn’t Call of Duty multiplayer, so you can take your time to set the gun’s cursor just right before pulling the trigger, and it helps that enemies don’t mind standing still for all of this. Many might not enjoy the moderately mindless combat, wanting more strategy and challenge, but I’m mostly concerned with having fun and looking cool while doing it. Speaking of that…
Bond Moves. Besides being the title of 007’s eventual book of pick-up lines and dance regimes, these are specific moments in every level that has Bond doing something cool, followed by the classic bah-dah-ba-bum zinger we have all come to know and love and a 007 symbol in the corner of the screen. EA clearly paid a premium for this bit of music, to the point that your ears will be bleeding by the end of any session from a bombardment of Bond music. It’s good and bad, and some of the Bond Moves are laughable in executive. Imagine lowering a crane to hop across a gap and hearing that iconic tune. These things, as well as other stats, like damage taken or secrets found, go into a final rating score at the end of each level: bronze, silver, or gold. A gold rating will reward the player with a perk/weapon for the campaign or multiplayer mode, as well as place 007 tokens throughout. To get a platinum rating, you must now earn the gold rating again, as well as collect all the tokens. I acquired a couple gold ratings for the early levels, which earned me things like the Golden Gun and Golden Accuracy.
007: Agent Under Fire is not a great or even good game, sitting somewhere between mediocre and slightly better than mediocre, but it’s exactly what I want right now. A more determined player could plow through all the levels–some of which are driving sequences or on rails–in a single evening, but I’m nibbling away at this sub-par linear action game, making it last longer than necessary. I do believe a haiku is right around the corner as I only have four more campaign levels left to see unfold. For now, I’ll end this post with a Die Another Day quote–“I’m checking out. Thanks for the Kiss of Life.”
It’s bad enough that there are somewhere in the upward hundreds of games in my never not growing collection that I haven’t touched and probably won’t for a good while, but then there are more than a handful of videogames with smaller games inside them that I have only skimmed the surface of, unable to devote more time to them, with my core focus on seeing the bigger picture draw to a close. I just hit this very moment in Night in the Woods with the game’s small yet mighty pixelated dungeon crawler Demontower, which is clearly taking cues from Dark Souls and requires a lot of focus to be successful in.
These are commonly called minigames, and some of them certainly dance on the edge of mini and major. I’m not here to argue semantics, nor am I referencing those slivers of gameplay in the Mario Party series. I’m here to dream a little dream, one where I get to dive oh-so-deep into these things, as many of them are definitely large enough to lose a good chunk of life and time into.
So here’s a bunch of minigames that truly deserved more of my precious hours, and I don’t know if they’ll ultimately ever get that pleasure. Spoilers and no surprises from me on this reveal: two of them are card-based.
“XENOCard” from Xenosaga Episode 1: Der Wille zur Macht
Sometimes I think I want to write about Xenosaga Episode 1: Der Wille zur Macht simply so I can use its full title. It really is a beautiful thing. The sequels, which I alas do not own and probably never will due to their steep prices on Amazon, up the ante immensely. Really, look now: Xenosaga Episode II: Jenseits von Gut und Böse and Xenosaga Episode III: Also Sprach Zarathustra. My oh my oh my.
Anyways, in Xenosaga Episode I, besides getting hot e-mails and a robot lady to battle by your turn-based side, you can play a card game called, as far as I can tell, Xenocard. The goal is to achieve victory by forcing your opponent to run through his or her entire deck, leaving them with no remaining cards. You can attack your opponent’s deck in a number of ways, forcing him to lose cards. At the same time, you must take protective measures for guarding your own deck from quick depletion.
It’s surprisingly complex–I mean, just look at the interface layout above–and not too different from things like Magic: The Gathering though I never got too far into the game to play a whole bunch because, for those that don’t know, there’s a lot of long cutscenes to sit and watch and not interact with, and so I most likely put this aside for something a little more engaging. Maybe one day I’ll return to the world of…Lost Jerusalem (Earth). Maybe.
“Insectron” from Rogue Galaxy
Man, did I love Rogue Galaxy. That’s a statement, not a question. It’s a Level-5 JRPG from the PlayStation 2 days that does all the Level-5 things you now come to expect of the company, and it’s a fun, often silly, sometimes serious, take on all things Star Wars. However, I spent far more time feeding items and weapons to a magical frog-thing to make better gear and creating Rube Goldberg machines in the factory than I did with the game’s “Insectron” minigame. Insectors are small insects that you can catch at various places throughout the galaxy. Basically, this universe’s version of Pokemon, but buggier. The purpose for catching them is to make a team that can win battles against other opponents at the Insectron Stadium.
There are two parts to this massive sinkhole. First, you have to collect the insects. Unfortunately, the probability of catching an Insector is random. You have to find a good location, place traps or cages, fill them with bait, and then wait until you hear a specific sound indicating something’s happening. If you want even better Insectors, you’ll need to invest serious time into breeding. Next, you can begin to raise your collection, upping their ranks and feeding them special items to grow specific attributes. You can see the seeds of Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch‘s familiars here.
Once you are satisfied with your team of Insectors, you can start battling. The battles at the Insectron Championship are done tournament-style. Win five matches to advance through one rank, then rinse and repeat. Insectron matches are 5-on-5 battles, and one of your team’s five Insectors is labeled the King. If you defeat your opponent’s King, you win. However, the Insector designated as the King is limited to only moving one space at a time. I think I attempted a few battles, but, having only used a sliver of the untrained Insectors I did manage to catch, did not get very far in the tournament and left the whole thing behind to see Jasper Rogue’s story draw to conclusion.
“Triple Triad” from Final Fantasy VIII
2016 was the year that I finally saw Final Fantasy IXfrom beginning to end. To do this, I had to sacrifice the desire to go after every side quest, as well as the dream of being the legendary best Tetra Master player in the world. This meant I mostly just collected the cards and moved on with the adventure. I also ignored other minigames in Final Fantasy IX, such as Chocobo Hot and Cold and finding all those medallion coins. It’s fine; I’m fine. That all said, of the handful of Final Fantasy games I’ve played, I think I’d prefer to go back to Final Fantasy VIII and study up on all things Triple Triad, if given the time.
In Final Fantasy VIII, you could go up to a random NPC, press the square button, and maybe find yourself in a card game. As always, the goal is simple: capture as many of your opponent’s cards as possible by making sure you place higher-ranked cards adjacent to an enemy card. Easy enough, but the rules are what make this game deceptively tough and addicting, especially considering those rules can change depending where you are geographically in the game. More or less, it’s a modified version of Tic-Tac-Toe, played on a 3×3 grid. Players take turns placing a card down, and each card contains a “compass rose” of four different numbers (1-9, with “A” representing 10). Higher levels contain higher numbers, and these stats determine whether you’ll take the adjacent enemy card as your own or lose to its strength.
I remember wanting to simply collect all the character-specific cards, but then realizing I’d have to risk a lot of my collection to get them. Big ol’ boo to that. Also, the fact remains that disc 3 from my PlayStation 1 retail copy is still gone, given to a “friend” to borrow and then move away with, so I’ll never acquire that full digital collection of friendly faces like Selphie Tilmitt and…well, really, there’s only room for Selphie in my heart. Maybe Quistis Trepe. Evidently, you can play Triple Traid on some smartphones, but probably shouldn’t.
“Spheda” from Dark Cloud 2
I think about this fact from time to time: despite getting to the last chapter, I have not yet beaten Dark Cloud 2. This probably needs to be remedied at some point, but I don’t know what is more daunting–loading up my years-old save and having a forgetful go at it or starting over fresh. I mean, yeah, I did miss a few photo opportunities early on during some boss battles. Well, I’m not here to talk about that, though it is just one of a few minigames or side activities you can take on in Dark Cloud 2, brushing shoulders with fishing and rebuilding towns, as well as Spheda.
What is Spheda? Glad you asked. It’s basically playing golf to repair time distortions. Mmm-hmm. You read that correctly. In short, the only way to fix these time distortions is to get a colored sphere back into the distortion hole, and you do that by whacking it around a cleared-out dungeon like you are playing mini-golf at the boardwalk during the summer. Except you do want to go off the main path and bounce the ball around corners. Each time a distortion is successfully closed, you’ll get a treasure chest containing valuable items. In addition, the player receives a medal, which can be traded to Mayor Need for, you guessed it, other items. Yay for items.
I’d have to load up my save to confirm this, but I think I was successful on one–and only one–round of Spheda. It’s hard. You only have so many shots to get it into the time distortion, and the dungeons are long and windy, with many sharp turns. I remember hitting the ball to be no easy task either, considering this is a JRPG and not a golf simulator. I wonder if I’d have more patience now to learn the ins and outs of this or if the loot is even worth all the effort.
“Cops and Robbers” from Sly 3: Honor Among Thieves
I believe I played “Cops and Robbers” exactly once, with an ex, while waiting for my father to arrive for a visit. Because I used to document my life extensively, I can tell you it was around the time of this comic strip. The objective of this minigame in Sly 3: Honor Among Thieves is simple: get five points. One player controls Inspector Carmelita Fox, and the other steers that sneaky devil Sly Cooper. There’s only one map to play on, in Venice. Basically, Carmelita gets a single point every time she takes out Sly, and Sly gets one point every time he takes out Carmelita, as well as one point for every piece of loot he retrieves and takes to a designated drop-off area. Clearly, Sly has more options, but all Carmelita has to focus on is zapping him with her shock pistol.
To mix up the fleeing and pursuing, floating stars are sprinkled around the main section of the city. These provide either character with a power-up that can be used one to five times before a meter depletes. Each player has access to a compass that reveals where your opponent is. I remember it working well, though I have stronger memories tied to the mode where you are flying biplanes around. Oh well.
There’s also a whole treasure map aspect to eat up, which allows Sly to utilize clues, such as “stand before the statue’s gaze, to begin your walk along the treasure’s maze,” that eventually lead to the objective, which in most occasions is treasure. It’s fun and gives me confidence that I could probably star in a remake of The Goonies if asked. No one’s going to ask.
Well, that’s all I can come up with at the moment though I guarantee I’m missing other standout examples. Like “Feitas” from Suikoden V. And “Tombstones” and “Rage Frenzy” from Rage. Grrr. See, told you there’s plenty more.
Anyways, what minigames did you only barely touch and regret not fully experiencing? Well, maybe regret is too strong a word. Either way, tell me about them in the comments below. I want to know.
I’m not fooling when I say that it beyond insane that, in 2017, I am playing Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King…on my Nintendo 3DS. Like, we’ve always known that Nintendo’s portable game console could run games from the PlayStation 2 era, such as Tales of the Abyss and Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, but I never thought we’d get something as great and massive as Level-5’s magnificent showpiece. In my opinion, Dragon Quest VIII was a shining, blinding star in the JRPG night sky from 2004-2005, and the handheld version is mostly on par with that definitive claim, with some additions that I like and subtractions I dislike.
You’ll surely remember that I tried to go back to my Dragon Quest VIII PS2 save some years back. My return to the kingdom of Trodain didn’t last long. I had already put in over 80 hours because, at the time that I got the game, in my first studio apartment in Clifton, NJ, I declined getting Internet/TV services for a few months to save money. Thus, I was left with entertaining myself in the evenings, and that ended up being a lot of reading, some drawing, and, well, Dragon Questing. It was hard going back and remembering where I left off and what to do next. I certainly never beat the game, but couldn’t find the main path again to focus on, instead spending a few hours in the casino or chasing after monsters to capture for the fighting arena. I’m hoping to make a more direct run to the credits in the 3DS version and save some of the bonus side stuff for later, if possible.
A plot reminder, because these games have plots, even if they are somewhat convoluted: the game begins with Dhoulmagus, the court jester of the kingdom of Trodain, stealing an ancient scepter. He then casts a spell on Trodain castle, which turns King Trode into a tiny troll-like thing and Princess Medea into a horse. Unfortunately, everyone else in the castle becomes plants. That is, except you. Yup, the nameless, voiceless Trodain guard–lucky devil. Together, the three of you set out on a quest to find Dhoulmagus and reverse his spell. Along the way, you join up with some colorful characters: Yangus, a bandit who owes his life to the protagonist (I named him Pauly this time instead of Taurust_), Jessica, a scantily clad mage looking to avenge her murdered brother, and Angelo, a Templar Knight that likes to flirt and gamble.
Let’s just get to it and talk about the differences in the 3DS version of Dragon Quest VIII, as there are several. All right, in we go.
Evidently, you get two new playable characters–Red the bandit queen and Morrie, the owner and operator of the monster battling arena–but I’ve read you don’t gain access to them until late in the game, both entering your party at level 35. Not sure how I feel about that, as there’s a comfort and familiarity to the initial team of four, especially after you figure out how each character works best and spec them in that way (Angelo = healing, Yangus = tank, etc.). Being able to see monsters on the world map and avoid them at your discretion is great and something I look for in nearly every new RPG. The alchemy pot–always a staple in Level-5 joints–is no longer on an unseen timer and simply creates what you want when you want it, as well as provides suggestions for items you can mix with one another. Lastly, at least for small changes, as you gain skill points and upgrade your party members, you can now see when each one will unlock a new ability or buff; before, it was all guesswork unless you had a walkthrough guide at your side.
Cameron Obscura’s photography challenge is one of the larger additions and is quite enjoyable. You encounter this man fairly early in the game, at Port Prospect. He requests that you take some specific photos, each one earning you a different number of stamps. As you complete stamp boards, you earn special items. Simple enough…yet extremely addicting. Some photo requests require you to capture an enemy in the wild doing something silly or find a hidden golden slime statue in town. They vary in difficulty. Taking a picture is as easy as pressing start to enter photo mode; from there, you can zoom in, add or take away party members, and switch the main hero’s pose. Looks like there are over 140 challenges to complete, but you are limited to only 100 photos in your album, which means deleting some later down the road–not a huge inconvenience, but seems unnecessary. However, I wish getting to Cameron’s Codex–this is where you find the list of potential challenges that updates as you progress in the story–wasn’t hidden away in the “Misc” option menu; I’d have liked it to be in the drop-down menu on the touchscreen, where you can quickly access other constantly used things like “Zoom” and “Alchemy”.
Okay, now on to the issues I’m not a fan of. None of these are deal-breakers as Dragon Quest VIII remains a strong classic JRPG that does stray from its successful mold of yore, but I’m still bummed.
First, there’s the soundtrack or lack thereof–the original orchestrated soundtrack was removed for the 3DS version. What’s there is fine, but no longer as sweeping. The game’s cel-shaded cartoon visuals still look pretty good, but there’s a lot of draw-in when wandering around, which can make it look like nothing is at the end of some monster-ridden hallway, but there’s actually a red treasure chest there and the only way you’d know that is to walk closer towards it. Speaking of visuals, the menus, once full of icons, tabs, and visual indicators, and looking like this, have been replaced with perfunctory text that, yes, still gets the job done, but loses a lot of personality. The in-game camera continues to be an issue, especially in tight spots, and I have to use the shoulder buttons to swing it around for a better view as I, like many, prefer seeing where I’m going.
Lastly, there’s Jessica, who uses her sexuality to charm monsters into not attacking. I remember being weirded out by this some twelve years back, and it hasn’t gotten better with age. Initially, she’s dressed quite conservatively, but the minute she joins your party her attire changes to be extremely less so, and there’s even some needless boob bouncing. Sorry, Akira Toriyama, but it’s gross. I’m currently trying to specialize her in the opposite direction so as to never see the puff-puff spell in action. Maybe Red will replace her, but who knows.
All right, that’s enough Dragon Quest VIII talk for now. Evidently I can really go on about this game, as well as Dragon Quest IX. I’m sure I’ll have more to say once I see both the later game content and stuff that pops up after credits roll. Until next slime, everyone.
This is always dangerous, making promises. I’ve done it in the past here on Grinding Down, only to burn myself and those written words when it, for instance, ultimately, took many more years for me to beat Final Fantasy IX. Still, it’s always good to have goals, something to reach for and hopefully achieve after putting in the hard work, and, at the very least, these empty checkmark boxes give me direction, a place to go when I’m not sure what to do next. I’m not saying I’ll be successful on every account below, but I am willing to try. For all we know, 2017 could be the year of our very unmaking, and I might as well go down fighting for a cause, trivial as some of these may be.
Right. Allow me to highlight some future gaming goals…
It’s always been my intention to play (and replay) the entire Suikoden series from start to finish to get to the games I’ve never touched yet, specifically Suikoden III, Suikoden IV, and Suikoden Tactics. Actually, now that I think about it, I don’t believe I ever saw credits roll on Suikoden V, but I do have a memory card save…somewhere. I got through replaying the firsttwo games rather quickly, but then moved on to other non-Konami adventures after that.
For 2017, I’d like to get back to collecting them 108 Stars of Destiny, especially after finally playing some Dragon Age: Inquisition last year and seeing a few strong connections between the two. The roadblock is that I want to finish up everything for Dragon Age: Inquisition first before moving on to another large, time-demanding RPG. I just became friends with Dorian and am looking to move things forward romantically with Blackwall before tackling many more side missions. It’s probably going to be awhile.
So, I did play a bit of Suikoden IIIa few years ago, but my PlayStation 2 copy seems scratched up and unreliable. Thankfully, during some past PSN flash sale, I purchased a digital copy for the PlayStation 3, which means I really have no excuse now. It’s installed, ready to go. The real question is, as always, what to name my castle once I acquire it.
I’m not sure what it’s going to take me to finally start playing EarthBound. I was hoping buying the game, for more or less zero dollars thanks to Nintendo Club’s closing back in May 2015, was a solid place to begin. Alas, nope. I haven’t loaded it up once. Honestly, having this game available on the Wii U gamepad and not actually a Super NES locked to a TV should make this process even easier, considering I can take the experience with me into bed (hey now) before the Sandman visits.
However, that would mean I’d have to put down my Nintendo 3DS for some time, and with Disney Magical World 2 taking up all my pre-sleep time and Pokemon Moon waiting in the wings–as well as the remake of Dragon Quest VIII waiting even further in the wings–this might not happen just yet. Maybe by Spring 2017. I mostly wrote that to both give myself some breathing room, but also a starting point to stick to. This one’s for you, Iwata.
At the time of writing, I have 362 games in my Steam library. Yeowza. Granted, many are not installed, and not all of them are huge, triple A titles that can’t even run well on my struggling-to-breathe ASUS laptop. Many have not been played at all, in fact. See, I have a bad habit of downloading just about every free thing released on the platform, as well as gobbling up indie bundles for real cheap to bloat this thing out even more. It’s gotten to the point that, when I do finally occasionally scroll through the list, I can barely remember where some of these titles came from, and then I freeze in fear, unable to decide what to try next, eventually settling on something safe, like AdVenture Capitalist or another unsuccessful run in Runestone Keeper. This is a problem.
I’m not here to make any kind of crazy schedule, like trying to play X number of games every week. That’s not going to gel with life. I am, however, here to make an effort, and make that effort known. I’m going to start small, using HowLongToBeat to help identify the not-so-big-timesinks and start whittling away from there. My problem, and I’m sure I’m not alone in this, is that I always want to experience as much of a game as possible, that I can’t remove it simply after beating it if there are, for instance, collectibles remaining to find or extra challenges that could be accomplished. I need to work on that. I need to accept that not every game needs to be squeezed dry, leaving nothing behind but a colorless husk. For 2017, I need to let go more often.
This seems more than doable, especially considering that I jumped 10,000 Achievement points in the matter of six months last year. This goal also feeds into the constant sub-goal of clearing up hard-drive space on my consoles and removing finished games, as I continue to download those freebies every month, but not do much else with them except wonder when I’ll find the time. I’m looking to polish off Earthlock: Festival of Magic real soon, as well as a number of those single introductory episodes from Telltale’s numerous adventure gaming series, which will probably help make a good step forward towards this next milestone.
Create something one might call a game or experience or waste of time
Now, I know nothing about programming and code and how to submit something for certification with the big console-makers. It takes me upwards of three minutes to remember how to hyperlink something using HTML when the button doesn’t work here on WordPress. That’s fine. I’m not looking to do all that and beyond. This can obviously be argued, but: I can draw, I can write, and I have ideas.
And so, I want to create something. An experience, with emotions and mood and meaning and jokes, maybe stuff to click on, a puzzle or two or twist you never saw coming. Something interactive. Which leads me to think that a piece of interactive fiction is a good starting area. I plan playing a few pieces of interactive fiction soon, which will hopefully help bring the inspiration juices to a boil (ew gross). The trickier part would be deciding what story to tell, y’know, from the hundreds bouncing around in my brain every day.
Well, there you have it. Five things make a post. Two named games to finally dive into, a whole bunch of things within my Steam library, a larger Gamerscore, and something creative. We’ll stop there, as any more goals will just tip the boat over.
That said, how about y’all? What are you looking forward to accomplishing in 2017? It need not be related to videogames. Perhaps you are finally ready to start cleaning up that garage full of clutter (hi, Dad!) or want to exercise more or get into knitting. Either way, let me know in the comments. I like knowing.