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Review: Demon’s Souls

June 24, 2010 Leave a comment

This is a re-print of an article originally posted on another site, included here so that the blog is a complete repository of my written work. The article is reproduced without pagination, formatting, images or editorial changes made on the original site prior to original publication.

This review is based on the US import version of the game. The European release comes with a strategy guide in addition to the game.

While reviewing Demon’s Souls, quite a few people have asked the question, “Is it really as hard as everyone says?”. The answer is no: it’s harder – but before you go back to Virtua Tennis 2009’s career mode, allow me to explain further.

Demon's Souls

Demon’s Souls (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There are different kinds of hard in a video game. There is the Mirror’s Edge hard, where you know exactly what to do but you always mess up one tiny little move and the whole game becomes a trial of nerves and shouting. Then there is the Resident Evil 5 boss hard, where you need pinpoint accuracy and tons of luck and ammo to take down a tricky enemy, you repeat it over and over and eventually get frustrated to the point of throwing your controller.

Demon’s Souls is different: it’s all about the planning. On the face of it, the basic combat system in this hack’n’slash-style adventure RPG is fairly simple to operate, and as long as you retreat and heal when you need to, you can progress. The difficulty comes from a few things: first, the world is full of traps, ambushes and areas that are tricky to navigate. What this basically means is you will repeat the same areas over and over, slowly memorising the correct path and where the traps are, getting a little bit further each time. Each attempt is like a training run allowing you to improve your strategy bit by bit. Having said that, it is annoyingly easy to fall to your death while fighting an enemy on a narrow platform, and sometimes you’ll be randomly overwhelmed by enemies you’ve successfully tackled many times before; so expect to repeat each area many, many times.

The second prong of difficulty is grounded in the absolutely punishing conditions which befall you upon death. Die once and you turn from living form to Soul form and your health is cut to half (or some other percentage depending on your stats) until you complete the area or satisfy certain other conditions like taking down one of the epic bosses or completing a co-op or competitive multi-player task (more on that later). You’ll also lose all your currency, although your weapons and inventory stay intact. To recover your money – which is denoted as Souls in the game – you need to get back to where you died and touch your bloodstain. Woe betide you if you die on the way though, as only your most recent bloodstain is retained, and there is no bank – the Souls you have on you are all you have – so the chances of you losing the majority of your Souls altogether is excruciatingly high. Expect to play the vast majority of the game in Soul form with half your health points. The other difficulty is that the distance between checkpoints is bordering on the insane; be prepared to lose 30-45 minutes of play time on a regular basis.

As a final word on difficulty before we get to the meat of the game, it took me over 6 hours and probably 40+ attempts to complete the first dungeon. I’m not great at video games, but I’m not terrible either. There are no difficulty settings to make it easier. However, the game exudes a certain elusive addictiveness. You will get fed up of re-spawning at the same point over and over and turn the game off, but a couple of hours later you’ll be ready to try again with the “this time I’m going to get further” attitude. Because each individual fight isn’t usually intrinsically too hard, Demon’s Souls has a knack of keeping you coming back to try just one more time, and see what comes next.

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Review: White Knight Chronicles

March 8, 2010 Leave a comment

This is a re-print of an article originally posted on another site, included here so that the blog is a complete repository of my written work. The article is reproduced without pagination, formatting, images or editorial changes made on the original site prior to original publication.

Princesses are so annoying.You could bind and gag one, cast invisibility on her and drop her in the middle of the arctic with a raft of killer robotic polar bears as bodyguards, and she’d still find a way to get kidnapped by an evil knight or eaten by a hungry gorilla.

White Knight Chronicles

White Knight Chronicles (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This time it’s Sisna – the daughter of the King of Balandor – who’s not been paying attention to who she’s been adding on Facebook, let her personal details slip and it’s off for incarceration by the evil Magi cult for her. Check Balandor in your atlas if you don’t know where it is; it hasn’t been on the news much lately.

In seriousness, what we have in White Knight Chronicles is a highly entertaining and very under-rated RPG which blends together aspects of JRPGs and MMORPGs in an interesting and somewhat unique way. This review has taken some time to prepare: White Knight Chronicles is a substantial game which demands a substantial review. One does have to wonder about the wisdom of releasing a new RPG just 2 weeks before Final Fantasy XIII; however, once you’re through with the latter, you may come back to White Knight Chronicles again and again.

In WKC you control your main character – which you can create and customize extensively – plus up to 6 others who come and go during the course of the storyline, with a maximum of 3 in your combatant party at any one time. There are no classes as such, instead each character has 8 EVE Online-style skill sets which can be trained up using skill points you acquire upon leveling, in any distribution of your choosing. Most of the skill sets are in the use of particular weapons (swords, longswords, bows, axes, spears and staves), with Divine Magic for healing, buffs and debuffs and Elemental Magic for those direct damage mage spells. Only your main can train up all eight sets – the story characters have a choice of 6 each, which limits what you can use them for.

At the start of the game you arrive in Balandor, your home town. All the other areas of the game start locked, but as you proceed through the story they will gradually open up on the world map (accessible at save points) and you can then move around freely as you wish. There are several towns and in the region of 15-20 dungeons to explore, although some are part of the story only and not available on the map afterwards. The story is quite boring and formulaic – it has a few moments, especially in the second half of the game – but I frequently ignored the cut scenes and used the time to make coffee while they played (they can be skipped if you wish). One saving grace to the story is that it does have a number of humorous moments, and the developer’s aren’t afraid to poke fun at the genre from time to time – a few giggles are sure to arise. The standard mix of dungeon crawling broken up by cut scenes applies here as expected.

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Review: Star Ocean: The Last Hope International

February 16, 2010 Leave a comment

Official North American cover art of Star Ocea...

Official North American cover art of Star Ocean: The Last Hope International. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This is a re-print of an article originally posted on another site, included here so that the blog is a complete repository of my written work. The article is reproduced without pagination, formatting, images or editorial changes made on the original site prior to original publication.

NOTE: This review is based on the first 20 hours of gameplay.

There are a dearth of good JRPGs on the PlayStation 3 at the moment, so for those of you familiar with the genre be prepared to read a lot of obvious stuff while I break it down for newcomers. For the rest of you, I hope this review serves as a good introduction to the genre and lets you know what to expect.

Reviewing an RPG on the basis of only the first part of the game is quite risky as the gameplay mechanics tend to change as the story unfolds, so this article may not be fully representative of what’s on offer. I have played to the point where all the important gameplay elements are unlocked.

So what’s it all about? Star Ocean: The Last Hope is the 4th game in the series from Square Enix – the makers of Final Fantasy, and one year after its release in Japan has now been localized and made available in English-speaking territories. Chronologically, it is the first, set shortly after World War III and covering man’s tentative first steps into space to look for other planets suitable for colonization. To be honest, the story isn’t important; Star Ocean plays like most JRPGs: excessive amounts of dungeon crawling blended with excessive amounts of cut scenes. And if you like that sort of thing, you’ll be right at home with this game.

A quick summary of JRPGs for the uninitiated. You control one or more characters who start off as humble plebs, and gradually build up their levels and experience – usually by killing things – which makes them more powerful. The basic process is, kill things, gain XP, loot and items, train new skills, learn new abilities and spells, watch the story evolve a little and repeat ad nauseum until you have finished the game.

Of course, it is a little more interesting than that. In Star Ocean you start off on your lonesome as the brilliantly named Edge Maverick – captain of the USF 003 Calnus starship – and gradually pick up new characters as the game goes along. There are 8 or 9 playable characters, up to 4 of which you can have in your party at any one time. There are no classes as such although each character learns some specific fixed skills as they level which makes them better for some tasks than others. Of course you can also loot and buy skill books, some of which can be learned by any character.

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