Tag Archives: Jen

Unfortunately, Primal is a realm of both good and bad


Evidently, I got my copy of Primal at the now officially defunct Blockbuster chain of video rent stores. It has two fugly stickers on the front cover, one beneath the plastic and the other on top. The first shouts directly at me that this is a “previously rented game,” and the other is a medium-size red circle highlighting how much I purchased this gem for back in June 2003 as a financially struggling college sophomore–a cool $14.99. I can’t believe it has taken me ten years to finish this game for the very first time. A part of me kind of wishes I hadn’t because, I’m sad to say, it was certainly better remembered than experienced.

Primal is the story of a cafe waitress named Jennifer Tate and her rock-n-roll boyfriend Lewis and a teeny, but totally keen gargoyle called Scree. See, Lewis ends up getting kidnapped after one of his band’s concerts by some demonic being from another realm, and Jen is badly wounded during this, leaving her comatose in a hospital bed. While unconscious, Jen is visited by Scree, who takes her on a soul journey of sorts to the Nexus, where they discover Chaos is engulfing everything. To save her boyfriend, Jen must discover who she really is and help fight off Abaddon, the embodiment of Chaos.

It’s standard third-person action adventure fanfare, and with Jen and Scree exploring four very different realms for answers, the Nexus acting as a hub for story beats between all the happenings. In all my years of starting Primal over and over, I only ever saw the opening snowy realm of Solum. Truthfully, I kind of assumed this is where the entire game took place and was bummed to not see that be the case, because Solum has personality, much more than any other realm, though Aetha comes close. You can control both Jen and Scree, switching between them freely with the push of a button–take that, Grand Theft Auto V–and you’ll explore rooms, find locked doors and ways around them, fight off enemies, collect items, and meet a bunch of colorful characters, like Arella, who is championing for Jen to win.

And that’s Primal‘s best part–the story. The people you meet, the ones that support your cause, the ones that hinder it. You really do feel like you’re playing an active role in some special episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Veronica Mars. Jen is spunky and compassionate yet always ready to crack a joke, and Scree refuses to let up his seriousness; together, the two make quite a pair. By the end of the game, their relationship has grown beyond just helping each other out. From a glance, a lot of the world-building could seem superfluous, but I think enough is said to make all the realms come across as real places, even if they are mostly devoid of life and signs of life, save for Solum, which I mention again as I think its frigid landscape littered with stone buildings and campfires came off quite well. The story told there of a fallen prince in a society where the king, at the height of his power, sacrifices himself worked better than some later plots, which were uninspired.

Okay, now the bad parts, and it’s more or less everything else in Primal: combat, swimming, getting lost, no mini-map, camera, the music, the lack of music. I’ll try to cover each topic briefly.

Combat is oddly mapped to the PS2 controller’s shoulder buttons, which makes for weird, clunky fighting, and I found countering–hitting the block button just as an enemy strikes–to be impossible to nail consistently. Some enemies can only be killed with a finishing move, which you do by pressing L2 and R2 at the same time, a technique that worked only one-third of the time. Jen can regain health by absorbing it from Scree, and Scree can store up more energy to give Jen from fallen enemies (and some other places), so it’s a constant cycle of fight, absorb, refill, move on.

The second realm of Aquis has Jen and Scree spending the majority of their time underwater; that’s fine for Scree as he controls just the same, since stone sinks. But Jen’s swimming controls are unintuitive, and the camera is constantly getting frazzled at trying to keep up with her POV, flipping high and low. I can’t imagine many people got to this section and continued playing. The original Tomb Raider had better swimming controls than this, and I think that’s saying a lot. Oh, and did I mention that you still get into combat situations while underwater? Yeah, I found the whole realm maddening, as well as a wee depressing. There’s very little music, so you are just swimming around listening to nothing but the swoosh of Jen’s feet, wondering why you’re still here playing this underwater step back.

There’s a map, but no mini-map. There really should’ve been a mini-map, because it’s extremely easy to get lost due to erratic camera movements and most of everything looking identical. Especially when swimming or using Scree as he climbs up walls and across ceilings. You can press start at any point to view the map, but only if Scree is near you. Occasionally, the map wouldn’t even load. Just a dark, black screen. So, it’s glitchy and hard to follow as you can only see the section you’re on currently, but if your destination marker is in another building further down you won’t see the marker until you are close enough to pop that part of the map. Make sense? Absolutely not. Since Primal is very much about exploring, this aspect could’ve been stronger. I ended up using a walkthrough from time to time to get me back on track, especially in Aquis.

Music in Primal is all done by electronic rock band 16Volt. Not my thing, personally, but they fit the story and look and have a videogamey sound, I guess. Their music appears mostly during fight scenes and boss battles, but also in cutscenes and the opening of the game. That said, when you’re not fighting, all is silent, which can kind of unnerving, but mostly boring, as even just some light instrumental would’ve helped fill the void.

As they travel about, Jen and Scree can find Tarot Cards, which unlock concept art from the main menu. That’s nice and all, but nothing to go crazy over. I think I found maybe half of the Tarot Cards by the end. However, as you progress, the game itself unlocks behind-the-scene and making of movies, interviews, and special trailers, which are fantastic, mostly for being stuck in the past. They might come across as cheesy or overdramatic in how Primal was trying to be sold, but they’re interesting nonetheless. Especially the interviews with Hudson Leick and Andreas Katsulas.

I don’t know. Like I said, there’s a part of me that wishes I hadn’t gone through and seen the rest of what Primal had to offer, as I found a lot of it frustrating and disappointing from the gameplay side, but I guess I ultimately needed to know. Now I can speak more confidently about the game, about its good parts, while also warning those that are making their way to the Nexus for the very first time about things like an entire realm devoted to just swimming and janky camera control and the atrociously repetitive combat and and and…

2013 Game Review Haiku, #53 – Primal

2013 games completed primal

To demonic realms
Jen Tate must explore, with Scree
Worst swimming ever

These little haikus proved to be quite popular in 2012, so I’m gonna keep them going for another year. Or until I get bored with them. Whatever comes first. If you want to read more words about these games that I’m beating, just search around on Grinding Down. I’m sure I’ve talked about them here or there at some point. Anyways, enjoy my videogamey take on Japanese poetry.

Learning the nature of Primal’s demon realms all over again

primal-ps2_2_891745-550x309 copy

I made a grave error when beginning Primal, staying headstrong on this lofty goal of mine to beat five specific videogames in 2013. If I can see its credits roll, it’ll be the third title I can check off my digital list, which I’ll consider a fine achievement. However, that’s only if I don’t goof up again, like I did when choosing the lesser of my two PS2 memory cards to save the game’s data on. Could’ve really used some advice from Scree on that one.

If you’ll recall, I was able to snag a used PS2 memory card some years back, but there’s some corrupt data on it that I just can’t delete, no matter how many times I try; however, I’ve been able to save other game info on there just fine, like my vital progress in Harry Potter: Quidditch World Cup and Secret Agent Clank. So it definitely isn’t completely broken. Just randomly, I guess. Alas, after playing for two hours of Primal and getting to just before the game’s first boss battle, my save data became corrupted and wouldn’t load. Eek. My heart turned to stone each and every time the “load error” message came up. So I had to switch over to my mainstay memory card and delete some info, such as Tony Hawk Pro Skater 3 character save BS and whatever little progress I made in Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were Rabbit, and start all over again. At least this time around I knew puzzle solutions and could skip all the cutscenes immediately.

So yeah, I’ve played about four or so hours now of Primal–that’s the first two hours twice, and then a wee bit more once I got my saving stuff in order. It’s good. I mean, it’s always been good, but I think the game still holds up really well in 2013, mostly for its Buffy the Vampire Slayer-esque story, cheeky characters, and larger-than-realm scope. Seriously, the realm of Solum feels absolutely massive even if, technically, it’s not, and I have already found myself getting lost going from the forum to the hunting camp to the colosseum, though you could probably also blame that on the lack of an on-screen mini-map. Granted, I generally associate dark, snowy worlds with time standing still thanks to The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, and Solum comes across as a bitter, uninhabitable home full of strange people and customs.

Some of Primal‘s gameplay mechanics are not as awesome as I remember them, and now that I actually play it, controller cradled in hands, I’d prefer to have no combat at all, but that’s just a pipe dream. Like in Silent Hill 2, combat is an essential part of the game, even if it is clunky and obtrusive and strangely designed around the left and right triggers. Restoring and harvesting health from fallen foes is tedious, and the climbing, now spoiled by the likes of one-button speedfreak Assassin’s Creed, feels pretty cumbersome. But all of that can be dismissed simply to hear Scree and Jen talk, as their banter feels genuine, and you can really watch Jen grow closer to the little gargoyle in a natural way, which might sound odd, given that she’s technically dying in a hospital and has been taken to a realm between realms to do something heroic and find her stolen band boyfriend.

I’m approaching the part in Primal where I always stop and…walk away, much like I had in the previous two entries checked off my list–Chrono Cross and Silent Hill 2. I just need to power on and not be afraid to use a walkthrough when I get stuck because, surprisingly, this game doesn’t highlight interactive objects in a bright yellow glow or put a giant arrow over them like many gamers are coddled today. You have to be observant and aware and willing to think outside the castle wall box. However, sometimes the answer is not easy to deduce without any clues, and I’d rather have someone else tell me what it is then to give up on Primal yet again. I have to see this spunky goth girl, also a coffee bar waitress, discover her destiny. I have to.

30 Days of Gaming, #3 – A game that is underrated

This was a tough one to narrow down, and I’ll let slip the tidbit that I almost went with Chrono Cross for today’s 30 Days of Gaming topic. Like, it was a coin toss, only I didn’t have a coin handy and decided to go with the game that had the most lovable gargoyle ever. In that regards, Primal won through and through.

But what is Primal, you might understandably ask?

Other than a game I consider very underrated and overlooked, it’s the story of love, demons, and alternate planes. Jennifer Tate is dating Lewis, a tribal tattooed lead singer for a lame metal band, and everything is going peachy until a tall, shadowy man shows up at the Nexus nightclub one evening when Lewis and his mates are jammin’ and jivin’. Suddenly, the shadowy man reveals itself to be a freaky-deaky demon, attacks, and leaves both of them unconscious in an alley. Jen is moved to a hospital room where she is in a coma and given a fifty/fifty shot of making it. As she sleeps, a gargoyle named Scree slips into her room and separates her spirit from her body, claiming that he was sent to find her and needs her assistance. Together, they will travel to an alternate plane known as Oblivion to restore balance.

Yeah…it’s a crazy whacky opening, but at least it gets everything in place to get truly videogamey. I can’t help but imagine Joss Whedon approving of it though.

Primal is divided into roughly three aspects: exploration, combat, and puzzles. Naturally, the weakest of these three is combat, and one can’t, unfortunately, simply get by with button-mashing. It can be very frustrating, especially since combat is solely Jen’s responsibility; Scree turns into a statue when danger shows up. Jen can take on different demonic forms–Ferai, Undine, Wraith, and Djinn–and each have their ups and downs, but none really make anything easier. Once all enemies on screen are killed, Scree softens and is able to heal Jen’s wounds. 

Both characters can be controlled, and using Scree to hold a torch and scout ahead always comforted me because I knew nothing could hurt him. Search away, little stone buddy!

Like I mentioned though, the joy to be found in Primal sits not in fighting werewolves, but exploring the otherworldly planes, solving puzzles, and talking. Yes, there’s some great chatter here. Scree is voiced by Andreas Katsulas and Jen by Hudson Leick, and together, the two make one enthralling team. Scree is 99% seriously serious, and Jen plays the role of a sarcastic goth perfectly, bouncing off each other. She’d fit fine in a snooty book club consisting of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Morrigan from Dragon Age: Origins.

I’ve read that some consider Primal to be the British Ico. I don’t really get that comparison. Instead, I like to think of it as Tomb Raider With a Twist. You play as a strong, intelligent, well-capable woman searching for mysterious artifacts and trying to keep evil at bay. Sure, Jen does it for love, and Lara Croft does it because, well, it’s her job, but the two titles seem very similar to me. However, Primal‘s world and its characters are must more imagined, and I’d rather climb walls as a gargoyle than climb walls as an archaeologist. Oooooh snap!

So, yeah. That’s my pick–2003’s underrated Primal. Eight years later, it’s still an excellent, engrossing adventure. If you can find a used copy, grab it.

And now I will just keep refreshing the Internet, praying that one day it will spoil me all about that forthcoming Primal HD remake…