Review: Magna Carta 2 (Xbox 360)

November 25, 2010 2 comments

Magna Carta 2 is pretty. Very pretty. If you doubt its inherent prettiness, then you should look at the back of the box, where one of the bullet points encouraging you to buy the game is devoted entirely to how pretty it is. The character designs range from the awe-inspiring to the utterly-ridiculous, and androgyny rules throughout. Main character Juno wears a form-fitting armour tanktop and a sword that folds away for easy storage in most overhead lockers. Zephie, the female lead, shows off a classy dress whose fabrics look far too expensive to withstand any kind of frontline combat, betraying the fact that she is (in fact) royalty. It’s really quite par for the course when it comes to eastern RPGs, which sums up Magna Carta 2 on a whole quite nicely.

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Review: Phantasy Star Portable 2 (PSP)

October 20, 2010 1 comment

It’s always interesting to chart the evolution of a series, watching how each sequel or spinoff builds on what was made before, hopefully improving the existing formula or taking the series in a whole new direction. Phantasy Star Universe was the latter of this, taking Phantasy Star Online’s modest success and creating a whole new world and game system for it. After two expansions and one portable version, Phantasy Star Portable 2 for the PSP feels like the final draft of the Universe formula.

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On RPGs and Technology

October 8, 2010 Leave a comment
I’m getting a little tired of the whole “technology is evil” cliché in RPGs. It seems like whenever there is some kind of convenience that raises the technology level above that of the Middle Ages (even if that convenience isn’t technological in nature: eg: the ability to cast magic), then it’s either inherently evil or has some kind of horrendous upkeep cost. According to RPGs, if we don’t earn everything we have with eighteen-hour days then we’re doing something wrong. And by golly, the heroes are going to drag us back into the Middle Ages whether we like it or not.

Imagine if one day, oil was suddenly rendered inert by a group of environmentalists who claimed, “It’s all right, since excessive drilling was slowly killing the planet.” How many people would die in the ensuing chaos and breakdown of society? Remember how much chaos there was during the oil strikes? And that was when they were still allowing oil through for things like the emergency services! What would happen to the world economy, now that a vast amount of highly-demanded material was now worthless? Now I’m not going to argue that our dependence on oil is all sunshine and roses, but why don’t heroes realise that simply removing the problem is not like tearing off a band-aid?
Categories: Video Games

Review: Dead Rising 2 (Xbox 360)

October 4, 2010 Leave a comment

Dead Rising 2 is set in the not-Las-Vegas setting of Fortune City, Nevada. The main character is Chuck Greene, an ex-motorcross star who is now taking part in the gruesome game show “Terror Is Reality” (think Gladiators, but with zombie killing and no sense of shame) so he can earn enough money to pay for “Zombrex”, the medicine keeping his infected daughter from turning undead. After he collects his winnings from one show, a bomb goes off and soon the streets of Fortune City are flooded with TIR’s zombie supply. What’s more, there’s a reporter claiming that Chuck was the one who set the bomb. There’s seventy-two hours before the military gets sent in to clean up the zombie horde, so Chuck has that long to get to the bottom of the conspiracy while rescuing survivors and finding enough Zombrex to keep his girl from turning.

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Recent Gaming Habits

September 13, 2010 Leave a comment

I picked up Valkyria Chronicles II for my PSP the other day and I’m quite enjoying it. Having never gotten the opportunity to play the original (I don’t own a Playstation 3), I was quite looking forward to it, even if I had heard mixed things towards it. I think my exposure to anime has dulled my senses to the point where it’s perfectly reasonable to suggest that the fate of the world could hinge on a school class of teenage misfit soldiers. The game places you in “Class G”, the absolute bottom of the barrel. And boy, does it let you know about it. Not only do most of the students moan and whine about how they never accomplish anything, their teacher calls them losers straight to their faces. It gets irritating after a while, and outright perplexing at times: some of these characters are either outright geniuses or hard-working overachievers, so what are they doing in the loser class? Despite this annoyance, the gameplay is solid and the character advancement system is interesting.

I also picked up the double pack of The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion and Bioshock at the same time. I had actually gone into the store to look for Elder Scrolls and found the bundle for £2 extra. Bonus! I currently have two characters in Oblivion: a wandering Bard and a ruthless Assassin. I usually don’t play evil characters but I forced myself for the latter because playing an Assassin was quite a thrilling prospect. Immediately I noticed why Fallout 3 had been called “Oblivion with guns” and Oblivion very much feels like a predecessor in both presentation and style. There’s a lot of smoke and mirrors involved in creating the world: for example, you can talk to nearly every NPC but 80% of the dialogue is shared. But there are a lot of interesting ideas here, like the ability to join various guilds and work your way through their ranks and storylines. I’m enjoying myself more than I did when I played Fallout 3: I think the narrative freedom offered at the start (you’re in jail, make up your own backstory) helps a lot.

Bioshock still holds up really well. I was amazed. I had watched playthroughs of the game on Youtube and played the second game, but this was my first time playing the original. The opening- where you crash into the middle of the ocean and have to desperately swim towards the entrance tower of Rapture- is one of the most thrilling and effective ways to start a game I’ve experienced. While the flaws of the gameplay are thrust into a sharp light by the improvements made in Bioshock 2 (stupid Pipe Dream hacking minigame…) the immersion and atmosphere are top-notch.

I was pretty excited when the newest Mass Effect 2 DLC, Lair of the Shadow Broker, came out, and I’m pleased to say that my faith was not displaced. This is a superb piece of content that is well worth your extra money. The writing is absolutely fantastic, displaying exactly the kind of razor-sharp wit that is quoted so often by the game’s fanbase. The gameplay is solid, and even includes the one action movie cliche (in the nicest possible way, since Mass Effect is a homage to sci-fi action films) that was missing from the original: a high-speed chase sequence. The reward at the end is worth more than any armour or stat-boosting equipment: a virtual treasure trove of character development for all the important players in the Mass Effect universe, ranging from the touching to the outright hilarious.

On Fallout 3

August 24, 2010 2 comments

I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with Fallout 3. It was one of the first games that I picked up when I first bought my Xbox 360, having only a laptop at the time that was unable to meet the required specifications for the PC version. It had come highly recommended, not only by professional reviewers but from friends as well. I also have a soft spot in my heart for post-apocolyptic settings and was eager to see where it would go.

And yet, the game failed to live up to expectations. On my first playthrough I strictly proceeded with the story missions, only to reach a point where the level of enemies greatly outweighed my skill. Friends told me that I should have explored and completed some of the optional missions first: it was the exploration of the wide-open world where the fun lay. My second playthrough featured a lot of wandering, to the point where I accidentally skipped a large portion of the story and found myself trapped in a boss battle without any of the NPC support I had the first time around. My third playthrough was an experiment to see how flexible the game was: having been told that “it’s a completely different game if you play evil”, I decided to blow up Megaton for the first time and made a character focused on combat (as opposed to the “smart” character I had played in the past). Yet despite the promises made of a completely different game experience, I found that not a lot had changed. The friends I had spoken to back-pedalled: “Well we didn’t say it would be that much of a completely different game experience”.

Was it all a case of the word of others raising my hopes too high?

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Review: Chaos Rings (iPhone)

August 1, 2010 Leave a comment

When Chaos Rings was released for the iPhone by Square Enix, the main question asked was, “Is it worth it?” At £7.49 (at time of this writing), this JRPG was priced far above what most iTunes customers were paying for other casual games. Would the storytelling pedigree and production values generally associated with Square Enix games be present, or was the inflated price simply brand-name exploitation at its most cynical?

Four male-female couples suddenly find themselves trapped in a mysterious, baroque mansion known as the Ark Arena. Their host, known only as The Agent, informs them that they have been entered into a competition where they must fight to the death. The victorious couple will be granted eternal life and youth, while the losers will be condemned to oblivion. With little alternative than to play by the Agent’s rules, each couple must struggle through the Ark Arena’s trials while trying to determine just why they have been paired together. For example, why has a lone, cocky mercenary been paired with a woman who has sworn to kill him? Why has a lowly stablehand been paired with the princess of his country, and why is he so adapt at swordplay despite never having held a sword before? And why is there a strange tension between a young prince and his royal bodyguard?

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