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Breath of Fire IV (PlayStation)

A letdown

The Good
Breath of Fire IV is the fourth entry in the Breath of Fire series, and the second on the PlayStation coming after two SNES games and one Playstation game. I had played the three prequels before playing the game.

As in the previous games, the game is a typical JRPG where you conduct a party with Ryu a dragon in human form, Nina a winged person and a party of anthropomorphic animals around the world to save it from evil.

Even though the game is overall a letdown from its predecessors, there's still good things to tell about it. A good thing is that the game has more 3D content than it's immediate predecessor, and the world to explore is a bit larger. Another good thing is that they kept how the overworld function from Breath of Fire III, meaning it's quick and easy to backtrack to different locations.

Even though the story is not very interesting, there's at least a few plot twists. The game features at a certain point Pukapukas, amazing little creatures. I loved them, because they're very cute.

Graphics quality were significantly improved since Breath of Fire III and the FMV opening is stunning.

Another very cool thing is the alternation between the "main" quests where you control Ryu, Nina and their friends, and the "sub" quests where you control the emperor Fou-Lu who seems to take place in the asian middles ages. This was probably inspired by the alternation between Squall and Laguna in Final Fantasy VIII and this works particularly well. The parts with Fou-Lu tend to be more interesting than the parts with Ryu and his party, as Fou-Lu himself is a real badass character.

I liked it's possible to use the entire party in battle simultaneously. Even though only 3 party members are active, and the others are passive, each round active members can be switched easily without any penalty, which opens the opportunity of dynamic battles despite a very traditional round-based battle system. The party members will always do the action in the order you select them, so this allows for some strategy, such as doing healing spells first. Sometimes even passive members can help by doing counter-attacks or will automatically heal the party. It's possible for active members to heal passive members, but it's impossible for the enemy to hurt passive members in the back. As such when a party member is wounded it's simple to take him in the back and heal him later.

The dragon system, traditionally different in each game of the series, is pretty good in this one. You have to first meet with the "masters", so you can turn into various dragons. In dragon form you control the dragon as any party member, and can do very powerful attacks, but your Mana will slowly drop. It's efficient, fun to use and much needed against most later bosses. Another thing I liked is that the party is more balanced than in both Breath of Fire II and Breath of Fire III, despite some party members still being more useful than others.

The Bad
Even though this time, unlike in Breath of Fire III, the camera can actually be rotated and the playfield is actually in 3D, it is easy to get lost, especially in cities. It is also easy to miss treasure because it's in a blind spot, or, less conveniently, miss doors that leads to the next big event of the story, which is needed to continue the game.

They reintroduced the context/screen change between field and battle, which was abolished in Breath of Fire III. I find this is a significant step backwards.

They kept the hard-to-use system from Breath of Fire III, where party members should chose a "teacher" among the NPCs, and met him regularly to gain skills. This is so annoying to use you're almost better of ignoring it completely, which doesn't prevent beating the game.

The music is a very poor overall. Even though there's a few decent songs, like the overworld theme, and some ok-sounding asian-themed music, played mostly during Fou-Lu's moments. Other than that, the music is very annoying. The battle theme and most boss themes are just bad, and many areas and villages have bad music as well. Some people will say it's good it doesn't sound like typical JRPG music and is more original, however since most JRPGs usually have great soundtracks, departing from this tradition is a bad things in my point of view.

There's a ton, and I mean really a ton of absolutely horrendous and annoying minigames which are obligatory to progress in the story. I only remember an annoying ship minigame in Breath of Fire III, here it's the same but made 10x worse. Be prepared for frustration.

The fishing system is totally deficient. I couldn't ever catch any fish, and unfortunately there's places in the storyline where you're supposed to do it. Fortunately there's still a workaround, so I could finish the entire game without ever catching any fish at all.

There's an entire world made of a fairy minigame, that looks so bland and uninteresting I didn't even want to get into it. However if you're the kind of player who's into spending hours in minigames, there's the opportunity to.

The storyline is mostly bland and uninteresting. There's one or two interesting plot twists, other than that it's the very standard world exploration without any real goals other than "discover the true nature of Ryu". Basically it's a recycling of the story from Breath of Fire III minus the interesting parts and minus the time elapsing thing. Thanks god Fou-Lu saves the day on this one with his interesting parts.

The Bottom Line
Breath of Fire IV is a letdown from the previous 3 games. Even though it has it's moments, only fan of the series need to play it, other players can easily pass this one up and spend their time on better JRPGs instead. Let's hope it's sequel Breath of Fire V, which stand on my shelf for 20 years and I still haven't played, reserves me a better surprise.

By Bregalad on December 25th, 2020

Double Dragon II: The Revenge (NES)

By Bregalad on January 30th, 2020

Dragon Warrior III (Game Boy Color)

Classic, but still fun game to play

The Good
This is my review for the Game Boy Color version of Dragon Warrior III. I tried all Dragon Warrior games under NES emulators, and no one really interested me. The games were interesting, but had slow controller response and all, and playing them became quickly annoying. But for some reason the third was the one which was the closest to catch me, mainly for its good music. Then I got the chance to purchase the GBC version of the same game, so I did. It was surprisingly good.

Dragon Warrior III is a classic and basic game. This doesn't retain the game to be fun, however ! You take the control of Loto (or Erdrick), the legendary hero of Dragon Warrior/Quest 1. This comes chronologically before the first Dragon Quest, even trough it has been made later. The Demon Lord Baramos attempts to rule the world to evil and hatred, and your father got on a journey to defeat him while you were still a baby. He didn't return from battle for any reason, and you're 16 years old now, so you must follow him, but that time with 3 companions to help you to fight. Now go on, the adventure begins !!

The game is almost unlinear. After completing the first few quests, you can go pretty much anywhere you want. What determines where you'll be going to complete your quest is all item driven. To defeat Baramos, you need to go to his castle. To go to his castle, you need a legendary bird that will allow you to fly over the world. To get that legendary bird, you must have 6 colored orbs. To have the orbs..... continue a very very long list of items here in that manner and you're doing the whole game backwards. Anyway, you aren't under the impression of being forced to do something, you just are constantly growing stronger and collecting key items.

The backgrounds are very well done, it looks just like an average SNES game, even trough it's a GBC which has slightly lower power than the SNES. Now monsters are animated unlike the original NES version. The characters, while still being typical blocky 16x16 sprites, looks much closer to the original artwork than they did on the NES, and I really like them that way. You have typical Game Boy characters, but made the right way.

Musics are, overall, splendid ! You got variations of the same theme in village for day and night : It is more dancing the day and rather calm at night. Musics in dungeons are dark and mysterious. You really cannot go far in the game without found yourself humming all music from the game anywhere.

Eventually, the gameplay is solid. It has turn per turn battle system, and each ally can have various classes. Each class has its own function : Warriors are somewhat strong physically and can carry heavy equipment; Clerics can learn healing magic and are decent physically; Wizards can learn strong black magic, but are weaker physically; Fighters fight well with bare hands, and are strong but cheaper than Warriors (while they have lower defense); Dealers can appraise your items, which is quite useful, and win more money after battle; Thieves can stole items from battle, and have funny useful skills such as smell the number of treasure you haven't checked on a floor, and can drive the player to found nearby towns/dungeons when exploring the world map. There is also jesters, which are total useless and play instead of battling.

Over that, how stats of each character is incremented is dependent of their personalities. The hero's personality is made by passing the player a test when the game starts up. After that, the personalities will change with books the characters can read and/or items they will equip.

Eventually, there is a lot of minigames and secrets. You can collect tiny medals, and give them to a guy which repay you with equipment. You got the challenge : If you got all medals, you got interesting equipment in exchange. However, if you fail to found too much medals, you will be rewarded too late with items that are already weaker than what you have. The Pasichi's track minigame is fun : You can play a board game, gain money and items, battle some foes and won a price if you can go through the whole board. You'd also want to replay it a lot to found as many items as possible.

The difficulty level is high, but not ridiculous. You often have to do some training to your party before go into huge dungeons, but if you get killed you keep your turn back to the last save point with all EXP and half of your money is gone, which is useful to levelup without be especially forced to re-visit old places. The difficulty also comes when you have to figure out what to do next. The player is on his own and has to figure everything out from more or less obscure information from townspeople involving items and dungeons. Also there is a few side-quests unlocked after beating the game, for hardcore gamers. I didn't do any though.

The Bad
While the battle system works fine, you'll found yourself pressing the 'A' button all the way and therefore attack without thinking. Magic is in most cases less powerful than plain attack, unless the monster is especially weak against the spell in question, and it is somewhat hard to guess which monster is weak against which spell. The enormous variety of monster in the game doesn't help here. Additionally, monster will dodge the magic quite more often than physical attacks, and that is annoying.

Also you'll found monsters healing or reviving another monster you already hurt/killed, but that wasn't hurt/killed at the start of the round. How did the monster guess the player was going to hurt/kill its ally ?

While most music of the game is great, the battle music is plain awful, while it would most probably be the Dragon Quest game with the less bad battle music. Koichi Sugiama is outstanding when it comes to do a town music, but really his style isn't suited to battle themes. Fortunately, you will be able to ignore the battle music quickly by taking habit of it, as opposed to Final Fantasy games where the battle music is typically outstanding at the beginning of the game, and go on your nerves at the end.

Cursed items comes in too big quantify, and it is annoying to have an item and to be unable to equip it because the one equipping it will be cursed : He won't be able to remove the item, and will have negative effects like being stunned in battle or have its stat points decreased. Often, cursed items will have other characteristics like astronomical critical hit rate or ridiculously high defense. This make them even more frustrating.

The Bottom Line
In conclusion, the GBC version of Dragon Warrior III is a fun game. It has been extremely improved from the NES version, adding much better graphics, more varied music, collectible items and minigames. The interface is also way better, the response speed of the game is now good, as opposed to the NES version which was kind of terrible in therms of response speed. Also, the English is more accessible in the GBC version where they retranslated the whole text and removed all that pseudo-medieval English which is more an annoyance than anything else.

In case of you doubt it, Dragon Warrior III is a worthy game to play as long you like oldschool RPGs that haven't a so much developed scenario and that haven't so much cutscenes.

And if you want to buy a card for Dragon Warrior III, you'd want to prefer the GBC version over the NES version, while both cards are somewhat rare. I think the GBC version is a bit more common, and a lot more fun. If you prefer go trough the way of emulation... I'd say download both and see by yourself...

By Bregalad on December 16th, 2019

Ninja Gaiden (NES)

Damn cool, but the gameplay isn't very good

The Good
Ninja Gaiden is a very well known NES classic (also called Shadow Warriors in Europe). There is a lot of things to like about this game, despite how old it is today.

You control Ryu, a Ninja to save the world from an evil being. Well, the story is more complex than that, and have plot twists and even minor emotional factor, which is very rare for the time it was released. Even RPGs had almost no story back then ! And this game features story cutscenes ! They are really impressive ! The developers definitely wanted to show us all they had to show back then. I'd play the game just for the cutscenes !

Aside of that, the in game graphics are detailed enough, but not much above average (sprites doesn't look very good, even the hero's sprite I find).

The game has some good platforming action, and the hero is very quick at jumping and attacking, and this is cool (hey, it's a ninja).

The music doesn't seem exceptional at first but it gets much better when you progress though the game. It doesn't use full potential of the NES, but the melodies really goes well with the game and that's what count.

The Bad
If you play the game far enough you'll figure yourself the big problem with this game. It's hard. Well, it's not just about difficulty, but about how they made it hard. Enemies are loaded multiple times, even when you don't scroll at all, and this is very annoying. On every gap you have to jump over, they made one or multiple enemies just positioned to hit you down into the hole, and if you happen to be very quick and kill that enemy, a clone of it instantly relays the original. This tend to be very annoying and frustrating.

Also, it's a shame that all graphics quality was made into cutscenes and the main graphics were left over. There is very few different enemies and bosses. The non-playable characters that appears during story scenes does not appear on the main screen at all, and this looks weird indeed. Like if they don't exist at all outside of cutscenes. I'd almost prefer cutscenes using the main game's graphics, but with characters moving and doing the same thing. It would look less cool, but definitely would make the player feel like the story has something to do with the game. Here it looks like they picked a random story that has nothing to do with the game.

The Bottom Line
Ninja Gaiden is a cool game, and I suggest you give it a try if you want to play a classic platform game. But be warned about how annoying the ever-reviving enemies are, and save-states are highly recommended if you don't want to become mad. The cutscenes are unusual on the NES and worth a look.

By Bregalad on November 22nd, 2019

Atelier Iris 3: Grand Phantasm (PlayStation 2)

Nice addition to an amazing trilogy

The Good
Atelier Iris 3 - Grand Phantasm is the 3rd and last game of the Atelier Iris series on PlayStation 2. The series are Japanese-RPG games which an heavy focus on Alchemy, and outside of their philosophy and art-style the 3 games are unconnected. Their gameplay systems are entirely separate. I must add that I enjoyed both prequels very much so my expectations for this game were high.

This games function quite different than from both most JRPGs and the first two Atelier Iris games. The game revolves around a young boy and a young girl which are rangers and are basically working for other people to do mini-quests. The game takes place only a single city which is somewhat inspired Venice as waterways boat travel is common. However all the fighting and most of the quests will take place in so called "Alterworlds", which are places which are like small parallel worlds. Alterworlds are the equivalent to dungeons in more traditional JRPGs. Since each alterworld is quite large, there is a lot of things to explore there, treasure to be found, and people to talk to, so even if there is no mission in process there's still things to do.

The time spent in Alterworlds is limited. This adds to the challenge, because how much of them can be explored at a time is limited. When you are particularly good at defeating enemies quickly, the time will freeze. On the other hands, if you need to flee from battle, there is a major time penalty.

The battle system is quite original. Characters are represented by playing cards in the upper left corner, and when the card reaches the right end of the deck the playable character or the enemy takes a turn. As usual, physical attack, techs/magic and items can be used. When attacking, the number of hits depends on the equipment (not only the weapon), and can greatly change how powerful a character is. When using strong magic/techs, the card goes further left, so it takes more time to recover from it. Unlike in most other jRPGs, the concept of Mana limiting how much magic you can cast is nonexistent, which is nice. Instead, you have to first use physical attacks to fill up a gauge, and when the level of the gauge is high enough, you can unleash strong attacks. The gauge also refills when walking in alterwords, so it's possible to start a battle with strong techs/magic sometimes.

There is also a so-called "burst gauge" which fills up when landing successful attacks, and empties when taking hits. If the gauge becomes full, you can enter in "burst mode", in which the skill gauge starts full and allows you to deal more damage than usual. Most battles will revolves around the strategy of entering in burst mode as soon as possible for dealing maximum damage to defeat the enemy quickly. Only really weak enemies can be defeated without burst mode. Of of the three playable characters can also summon manas, which is always nice. The other two characters instead will use Mana's soul to have new weapons and abilities, or in other words "change their job".

The graphics are similar to the graphics of the first 2 games, and are of excellent top-notch quality. Entirely in isometric point of view outside of battle, and in side view in battle, just like the previous Atelier Iris games. Nothing much to say here.

Music is, unsurprisingly, of spectacular quality. It is just as good as it was in the first 2 games, which mean, incredible. It doesn't sound like video game music but something else much better. Just like in the precedent games it mixes pop music with traditional Japanese instruments, but now it also brings some new-age in the mix. The only bad thing is that since there's few different places to explore in the game there's also few different pieces of music to hear, fewer than in it's two predecessors.

Like the first two games, but unlike the vast majority of Japanese-RPGs, this game is heavily item based, and you'll be spending as much time looking for new items and combining them with alchemy to make new items, rather than fighting enemies. Many quests requires you to create new items, as well. It's a nice refreshment from games which only requires you to fight all the time.

The Bad
Even though the game is very good and enjoyable, I still have my fair share of complains. The worst is that the game is overall quite unbalanced. One of the 3 playable characters is too powerful, and only one of them can heal a significant amount of HP at the end of the game when fusing with a particular mana, which means other fusions are nearly unusable, as it means the healing power of the party as a whole is insufficient. Burst mode is triggered only when you're winning, and is pretty much required to win. So basically the battle system is going to accentuate whether you're winning or loosing. By the way the challenge is quite moderate, at least in battle, and only rarely you'll be loosing. Even when doing so, most of the time progress is still kept, as the effect is the same as running out of time in an alterworld. Only loosing to major bosses leads to a Game Over.

While the ranger system is nice and provides hundreds of various quests to do, there is too little to explore. Only one town and half-a-dozen alterwords feels very small compared to what there was to explore in the previous two Atelier Iris games, even though alterworlds are bigger than traditional dungeons. The among of backtracking becomes boring towards the end of the game.

Having only 3 playable characters seems very limiting compared to the other games which had more like 7 or 8 each, and very lovable ones instead. The 3 main characters of this game are unfortunately quite boring and generic. Manas used to have their personality too in the first game of the series, and to a lesser extent the second. Here they are just sprites and have no personalities whatsoever, so you don't feel anything when fusing with them or summoning them.

The storyline is basically non-existant in this game. It couldn't be any more generic, you're saving the world from evil dude you don't know anything about. At least the random people in the towns of Meruze have some character, so at least there is interesting characters in the game, but ironically they're the non-playable ones.

I can't really point anything really, but this whole games has an unfinished touch to it, you can feel the developers wanted to make it better and bigger but couldn't.

The Bottom Line
I had very high expectations for Atelier Iris 3, and for the most part, they're met. The target audience is people who like Japanese RPGs with anime-style characters and 2D graphics, and people within this audience will almost certainly love playing this. But I have to admit that this game stays behind it's two predecessor, it's just smaller and less fun to play, with less things to discover. It is nevertheless a very enjoyable game of great quality. If you're a newcommer to the series I'd actually recommend to start with this game so that the other two will blow you away even more.

By Bregalad on June 15th, 2018

Legend of Mana (PlayStation)

Amazing art, awful gameplay/story

The Good
Legend of Mana is a game Square released during their most glorious days of the Playstation 1 area. It was released in Japan approximately at the same time as the more popular Final Fantasy VIII, even though it is more obscure. It is sort of a sequel to the previous entries in the Mana series, however it was still released under the western-like name "Legend of Mana" in Japan, instead of "Seiken Densetsu IV" it should have been, thus it's not really a sequel, but a spin-off, of a series which itself started as a spin-off of the Final Fantasy series... what a mess.

So, just like other games in the series, Legend of Mana is an Action-RPG... or not really. It's really hard or impossible to classify this game, so much it's weird. It is between a western RPG (though I admit I hardly ever played those), a beat-em-up and an action RPG. It definitely lacks the "Japanese-RPG" elements which include a developed character cast, a complex story involving emotions to the player, which is usually why I play RPGs, or at least those released past the mid-90s.

The graphics of this game are amazing. They are entirely in 2D, with some pre-rendered background which were developed directly by artists. They look gorgeous, and of pure fantasy. Creatures of many imaginative races populate this world, and they are funny to interact with. The cities and dungeons you visit in this game really looks impressive, and will be very memorable. The fact the game is in 2D is absolutely no problem, on the other hand they reached a level of detail probably not possible with Final Fantasy-style pre-rendered 3D, and that would have seriously hindered battle.

The music composer had changed since the last Mana games, and the soundtrack was made by Yoko Shimonura, the woman who also composed music for Live a Live and Super Mario RPG among other games. She is one of the best video game composers, and she did a marvelous work for this game. A Swedish language song in the intro is amazing (no, other than that the game has nothing to do with Sweden), the melodies are very pure, cute, innocent, reflecting the nature of this game. Dungeons have more energetic music going on. Hard-rock / electric guitars are used for the boss battle themes, which contrasts a little with the rest of the game, but fits the mood perfectly. Overall this game is almost worth playing for it's music (and possibly graphics) alone.

The Bad
There is unfortunately several huge problems from this game that make it relatively hard to enjoy in the long term. Don't get me wrong, when starting a new game you'll immediately love the music, the visuals, the atmosphere, and thinking you'd have to be crazy to not fall in love for this game. However, the truth is, after playing several hours, this games shows how empty and dull it is. There is no linearity in this games, it is basically a large collection of sub-quests you can do in almost any order. The quests are usually simple things such as fetch an item, rescue someone and/or kill a monster. Other than that, there is absolutely no story in this game. Character development is extremely limited character development. The hero or heroine (you can chose at game start) is a voiceless dwarf, without any development at all except that he lives completely alone in a very beautifully well maintained romantic farm, despite being basically an orphan. Which is very self-contradictory considering the hero is 13 years old at most.

The only memorable characters are Bud and Lisa, two kids even younger than you, that are actually training to be sorceress and you can take along you (but only one at the same time), probably because they come to live by your house. Some other 2nd characters can join as well, but they're not living in your house so they only join if you ask them at appropriate places and leaves when you enter your house (why do they have to leave here ? Does my house smell that bad ?).

You can capture animal enemies and breed them. This sound cool, however it's not terribly useful, and I personally do not care about breeding virtual animals - I leave gladly this feat to Pokémon fans. In addition to animal breeding you can, after completing some missions, do other new activities in your farm like growing vegetables and potatoes and reforge weapons, which is completely pointless since you don't need to improve your weapons anyway, and the system is so complex it's not even worth investigating.

The battles are quite bland, and almost impossible to loose. I never saw the Game Over screen, not even once. When one character in the party is knocked out, it is disabled for several seconds then revives. Because you can have 3 characters in the party (one 2nd character and one captured enemy), it is extremely unlikely for all 3 to fall simultaneously. It plays like a beat'em up, once a battle starts we can't escape or use the menu until the battle is won - and we can have several hits and combos at our disposal. In all cases, the enemies are constantly weak and does not pose a single threat to the party. Experience is earned by collecting gems from defeated monsters, the problem is that neither of the NPCs will collect them, or if they do it's only by pure chance, so the hero(ine) will always be overpowered as opposed to 2nd characters and captured enemies.

The challenge, however does not comes from battle, but from "what am I supposed to do next ?". Basically this game is entirely about being loss and have no clue how to complete started missions without a walkthrough, because the clues as to how complete missions are extremely limited, and might pop up only a single time on the screen in a dialogue box you'll never see again - or might not even be in the game at all.

To make things worse, most places are like labyrinths, with the same re-used screens all over the place. Not everywhere but sufficiently so that it is extremely annoying, to add insult to the injury there is no quick way to escape to the world map (that I know off) so you can be lost in the middle of nowhere and have no idea how to escape even if you return after having completed the main mission(s) in that place already. In those places there IS a way to quickly escape it is disguised as a totally unrelated non-playable character. For example a penguin asks you "Do you want to drink some tea ?" and if you answer "yes" you're kicked out of the dungeon. In some places you can't even answer "no" - just touching a huge egg might get you teleported - or even worse, you're teleported in another place in the dungeon and there's no way to know where since it looks the same everywhere with re-used screens. It's hard to describe exactly but pretty much the entire game works based on this "system", it really looks like the creators were on drugs when deciding what happened in this game.

To have access to new missions you need to have access to new places, and access to new places is gained by completing missions, and getting an artifact in return. Not all missions return an artifact (usually they don't), making this game extremely unlinear and unpredictable. But also it might be impossible to complete a mission because a character or item is gone, because of the complexion of another mission. This has the side effect of making it possible to be technically stuck in the game and there's no way to beat the game. This actually happened to me on my 1st playthrough. And seeing how boring and dull this game is, I'm certainly not making any second playthrough.

The Bottom Line
Legend of Mana feels like a lot of wasted potential. They could have made this game more like Seiken Densetsu 3, with a story, a world map to explore, interesting characters and keep the same graphics, soundtrack and atmosphere. Even the battle system isn't all that bad, if it weren't so easy. Basically it feels like an empty box, very beutiful box but still empty. It's really a shame Square didn't put the effort to actually fill that box with a real, solid game, like they usually do.

Don't get me wrong - after playing this game for several minutes you'll love it, it's only after a dozen of boring side quests that you'll figure out how bland this game actually is. I'd say play it if you are into weird games that are trying something new, but if you actually liked its prequel Final Fantasy Adventure, Secret of Mana and Seiken Densetsu 3 and are looking forward to a good follow-up of the series on par with how Final Fantasy 7 was a good followup to the previous FF games, prepare for a huge disappointment.

Overall, Legend of Mana is an example that great art does not yield to a great game.

By Bregalad on July 13th, 2017

Final Fantasy VII (NES)

By Bregalad on June 28th, 2017

Grandia (PlayStation)

A great, refreshing game full of adventures

The Good
My sister bought this game when I was still very young, I played it, liked it but didn't play more, I don't know why. Only 15 years laters I said I'll eventually do a serious playthrough of this game and WOW... I was immediately hooked.

Grandia is a Japanese RPG for the PlayStation 1, released late in the the console's life. Grandia is set in an universe which immediately remembers the late 19th century. Your hero dreams about crossing the sea and emigrating to the "New World" where there is supposedly more freedom and adventures. Which by the ways he is completely obsessed with "adventures" and would do anything to get some. This is goes not without remembering the real world. But be reassured, there is still plenty of place for fantasy in Grandia's world. I do not know how to explain the story without spoiling the experience, so I'll mostly refrain from that; I'd just reveal you're going to visit 3 very different continents (this is stated on the box - so I don't think it counts as a "spoiler"). The first two continents takes the first disc and the last continent the second disc. The storyline does actually not play a very major role in the game, it is very linear and you are basically just doing the next thing you need to do. There's some occasional backtracking, but despite this, the game manages to be extremely FUN !

The character cast is original, varied and interesting. The hero itself not so much, he starts as a young adolescent boy (probably in his 12-14s), so at first this games almost falls in the "you're a bunch of kids saving the world" category. However eventually towards the end of the game you can see him growing and become more adult. I am unsure how many time the game spans on, but I can easily see it last a couple of years, enough to have the hero mature somewhat. Your other members change through the game, but there's no more than 4 at a time. When they leave your party through story events, you do NOT loose their abilities (as you would in most RPG games), instead you get sphere orbs which can be re-used to upgrade people who stays (or joins) in your party. Some of those who are only here temporary comes which a level much higher than yours, and this makes sense with the story, as they are here to give you a hand - I liked how this was realistic even though it also meant some battles were really too easy.

Those not liking random encounters in Japanese RPGs will rejoice : There's none in Grandia. Indeed the enemies are visible on the field and touching them triggers a battle. If you are caught from behind you have a disadvantage, however if you caught an enemy from behind your team have an advantage and can attack immediately. When you win a battle without being hit and in a single round, a special victory music is playing. Getting it to play as often as possible is in itself a nice challenge and makes the game a lot more interesting that it would be without this gimmick.

The battle system itself is basically a rip-off of the SNES game Star Ocean. Read my Star Ocean review for the details. Basically you enter command through menus like in a regular J-RPG, but character will move and attack on the field like in an Action-RPG, making it possible for an enemy or even a party member to block the path to an enemy when attacking. How the spells and technique targeting multiple enemies groups them also depends on how they are placed on the field. However the improvement is that you can control all characters instead of having them being AI controlled, so this game is much more fun to play than Star Ocean.

Something I really liked is that the game really "feels" alive. You can talk to NPCs several times and they'll say something different each time ! If you return to the city later, they could say yet something different. It shows a major effort to give the game's universe live and it pays off as it makes the game more enjoyable. This also increase the likelihood that, despite the linearity of the game, playing it a second time through would still be fun.

The Bad
There is few bad things to say about this game, but since I have to I'll find a few. The first thing that comes to mind is that the game is not extremely challenging. Most fights will not cause your party any problem. Whenever you're in trouble, you can return to the latest save point and refill your health and mana for free; if you do not turn off the console, the enemies that were already beaten will be gone so you can do this whenever you feel like doing it, which basically means free health and mana refill (only cost time). When saving, power cycling and loading a saved game, though, all enemies reappears, so this technique only works for long play sessions. Actually this "abuse" saved my butt quite a few times, and I'm pretty sure without it, the game would be a lot harder. Even with it, I still saw the Game Over screen a couple of times.

The only other "bad" thing is that the Music, while good, is somewhat lacking by J-RPG standards. Most of it is more like ambiance music rather than "real", melodic music. Some of it is still good enough, though. A thing I liked is how they put instruments hardly ever used in video game music so far, such as the didgeridoo, to good use.

People looking for less linear or more open-spaced adventures will not rejoice, the game is as linear as a JRPG gets, you just do the missions in order. Once you leave a continent, you can definitely never return (including both halves of the second continent - you can't return to the first half). This is not as much as a problem as it sounds because there's still some backtracking within continents, and some times the place you're visiting change shape majorly due to storyline events.

During the first part of the game, it feels quite childish, and this could annoy some people. Although this doesn't retain from the fun. But this progressively disappears towards the end of the game as the heroes are maturing. Yet even in the later parts of the game, humour is still present, and the game still enjoyable, despite being based on an increasingly serious storyline.

Another bad point for me was that the French localization was bad. It wasn't as horrible as most early-PS1 games and Sony improved in-between, and most of the translated text made sense, but it was still rushed. Parts of acting are in English, and some minor parts were in French, this inconsistency proves that this was extremely rushed. The acting in french is absolutely horrendous and you can hear some weird echo with the English voice at the same time, which is just awful. People playing this games in English language only will not be concerned by this issue.

The Bottom Line
Grandia is a pinnacle of PS1-era JRPGs and must be played by people liking the genre. Despite my more recent decrease of interest toward games due to my older age, I still was moved by this game. It is a nice break from Final Fantasy games as, while the basic concept is the exact same, the gameplay mechanics, graphical and musical style, are very different.

By Bregalad on June 28th, 2017

Esper Dream 2: Arata naru Tatakai (NES)

Nice little RPG for the famicom

The Good
Welcome to my Esper Dream 2 review. Esper Dream 2 is probably the 4th attempt by Konami to develop the RPG genre for the NES, and the 2nd one for the Esper Dream series.

The first Esper Dream game was released for the Famicom Disk System, and was both an extremely simple and an incredibly grindy games,so I must admit I didn't play it more than a dozen of minutes. It was one of those really early RPGs where you are thrown in the middle of nothing with no clue where to go or what to do. Konami also released another RPG called Madara.

Esper Dream 2 is basically a sequel to Esper Dream but made mostly with the Madara's game engine, providing much better gameplay and graphics than the original Esper Dream game.

You are a boy in a library in a room where the is five bookshelves. Suddenly the bookshelves become possessed and a fairy tells you you should teleport in each of the 5 world and that you will have an important mission in each of them. You are free to visit the world in any order you like and to complete them any time, however the bookshelves 1-5 goes by increasing order of difficulty. Bookshelf 3 is actually the first Esper Dream game, so there is nothing to do there because the work has already been done (yes, even if you didn't come close to ever complete the first game - just like me)

Each of the 4 worlds is different and has different people and enemies in them, and you have a major mission to do in each of them. After the last battle is complete, you can still return to the worlds to buy equipment, items or to stay at the inn, and even to battle some enemies, however there is nothing else to do anymore as the book world is basically "saved". After all the book worlds are saved, a last world opens up and you can beat the last boss.

The gameplay is simple. There is no random battles, instead you can see paws moving on the screen. When you encounter paws the context switches to battle : Here the battle plays a bit like in an action-RPG, you can use your gun against the enemies and avoid them directly. You can use Esper power, which grants you with additional abilities such as throw a tornado, have a barrier that protects you from damage or heal your HP. You gain more Esper powers as you progress through the game.

You also gain other weapons and better armours. Some example cool weapons includes mines that explodes after a delay, or a flame thrower that can freeze enemies as you hit them with it. I liked that they just didn't put many kind of guns, but cared to actually vary the weaponry.

In addition to that, you will often have a second character in your party, each book world has a different sidekick that will help you and fight for you. It is however completely AI controller and you cannot control him or her, also, that character has no HP or MP bar and cannot ever die or anything. It really helps you during battles, no more, no less.

You can escape battles if you can reach an edge of the screen, but in some cases obstacles will block you off, and will prevent you from fleeing the battle. In all case you can flee with the "teleport" Esper Power, which is also used to return from a book world to the library, the only save point of the game. It is thus possible to avoid battles by avoiding paws and to flee from battles if you are into one, however, some paws will be blocking your path, and cannot be avoided to be fighting. There is many of such "minibosses" all over the place, so it is not possible to run your way through the game.

Also, the earlier bosses are really though, so you'd better be well prepared (that is, levelled enough). Nevertheless the game is not grindy at all. You'll soon reach the cap of the maximum level at Level 33, and then there is no reason to fight optional battles anymore, as they won't make you any stronger !

When your HP reaches 0, you return to the library with half of the gold you had. In some cases, if you were saving in order to buy a better weapon or armour, it would be a good idea to reset the game instead and load your previous saves.

I'd say the game difficulty is perfect, even by modern standard it is not too easy, but still do not offer many difficulties. Sometimes there is still challenges, such as finding a strategy to beat a boss or finding where you should go, or surviving for a long time without saving.

The graphics are rather good, although I must admit that for a late game for the system, and considering that Konami is behind the game, some of the graphic's aspect are disappointing. During battles, as for most Konami made NES games, the sprites are extremely flickery, and the game is often subject to frame dropping. It is not as ridiculous as the NES version of Parodius though, so I guess it is all right.

The music is good, without being particularly rememberable. The most notable thing is that the VRC6 extension chip is used, however I feel like Konami didn't make it up to it's fullest. Music sounds better than regular NES/Famicom, but there is no extra harmonisations or anything that couldn't be achieved with the NES/Famicom alone. Some tunes are remixes from the original Esper Dream, which is always nice.

The controls are just fine, really. A problem is that it is easy to skip text with important information by accidentally pressing a button. This can be a serious flaw, thankfully, the fairy or your ally will tell you what to do next in the menu, in case you don't know where to go.

The Bad
The major flaw of this game is that while technically it is an unlinear game with a "stage select" pattern, the difficulty actually goes 1-2-4-5 in such a way that it is impossible to not respect that order. If you try to visit a world too early, you'll get pawned immediately in battle as you'll be under levelled and under equipped. It is obvious the unlinearity was thrown into the game just before its release as an additional unplanned feature, but they forgot to make all the 5 stages on par with eachother in term of enemies' levels and power. This could have been achieved for example by giving you a different EXP/Level meter in each book world, or by giving up EXP and Levels altogether.

The other bad thing is that while it is great to visit 4 differently themed book world, I feel like they could have been more themed, like it was done in Live a Live. Here you have one "ocean" world, one "train" world, one "mechanic" world and one "star" world, it's nice and all, but something like the 4 elements or something like that would have been much better (even if very unoriginal). Most of the stories within the book worlds are as flat, bland and generic as they could possibly get. An evil guy want to destroy the town and you prevent hat to happen.

The saving grace is the fairy which is nice and all, but honestly I really wished there would have been more interesting characters in that game.

The Bottom Line
Esper Dream 2 is a good game, but it's main flaw is that while this game do not particularly suck in any domain, it doesn't shine anywhere either. It is an enjoyable game, but very short, and easily forgettable. Play it if you are into NES/Famicom action RPGs, or into NES/Famicom enhancement sound chips, or a fan of Konami. Otherwise I'd say you're not missing much by passing this game. It is very childish too, not necessary a bad thing, but not to everyone's taste.

In all cases this game is a major improvement over its sequel, Esper Dream for the famicom, and as a Konami RPG it is a precursor to Suikoden even if it shares absolutely nothing with that series.

By Bregalad on October 11th, 2015

Final Fantasy IX (PlayStation)

The pinnacle of the series

The Good
Welcome to my review for the game Final Fantasy IX (from now on FF9) for the PlayStation.

FF9 is the third and last game of the three Final Fantasy games of the main series released for the PlayStation. With two excellent predecessors already on the platform, will this game live up the high expectations ? Let's see.

The game really follows the steps of its two predecessors. You incarnate a hero and his comrades, and go out to fight in order to save the world yet again. Like usual, the game is very linear and focus a lot on the story line, with developed lovable characters, many interesting places to visit and many interesting NPCs as well. Just like the two previous games on the system, the field take place on a pre-rendered screen with 3D characters pasted on it, and when a battle starts, the whole screen changes to a fully 3D rendering.

It is not easy to judge the graphics, first because I'm not someone particularly interest by game's graphics, and then because graphics from early 3D consoles overall didn't age well due to their low resolution and lack of proper shadowing, and so on. However, for a game of this age, the graphics of FF9 aged very well. The pre-rendering screen are absolutely gorgeous and very well architectured - actually I could bet that Square hired real architects to build this game !

3D character models are also very well done, although you can clearly see they suffer from the system's limit in terms of resolution. The characters are very well animated and lively. Just like the two previous games, now and then a FMV cutscene will trigger, showing the progression of the story like a film.

Which leads me to how the world of FF9 overall feels. It is hard to describe, however the world of FF9 feels complete, vast, and overall very interesting to explore, because it was so beautifully designed with master and grace.

The story of the game is not as overly complicated as the stories of the two predecessor games, which is in my opinion a good thing. There is no genome biologic manipulations and fake identities, and there is no time travel. Just simply a story that will always give you an excuse to go to the next dungeon or city in order to continue to make your progress. The fact that FF9 didn't try too hard to have an incredible story like FF7, FF8 and FF10 did is probably its good selling price, you are guaranteed to understand what is going on just by playing the game once, without the need to replay multiple times and/or too look things up on the internet.

The idea of FF9 was that the series should return to its roots. Many things that were long forgotten were re-introduced. Especially many elements from FF1 came back in this game. The four elemental crystals, the four fiends of elements, Garland, white mages, black mages, they all come back, which is very good news. Moogles which were almost abandoned since FF7 (they appeared only as cameos and not as important characters) are also back and play an important role as they act as save points.

FF9 abandoned the super serious dark tone that the series had taken to come back to a really magic and fantasy filled world. The main character is no longer a depressed teenager with identity crisis like in the two previous games, but is a humble happy-go-lucky thief, which is a total 180° turn, for the best. Even if his insistence on helping others can be a bit exaggerated, he deserves the medal of a strong leadership needed to make a party of very diverse people fight together.

The game is not a huge spoof either, it just doesn't try too hard to be serious like it's 2 direct predecessors. Although the game features a love story, this is a really discrete and subtle one that will not get in the way of the main story or gameplay, unlike what happened in FF8.

Now I guess the story and has been enough been covered. Let's talk about the battle system. Again, the battle system could be called a return to the series' root. The series has a long tradition of bringing up a new battle system which each new game, and FF9 is no exception. The materia system of FF7 as well as the junction system of FF8 turned out to be rather complicated to master, and those systems made characters into blank puppets that could be turned to powerful warriors or strong magic casters by using their systems. In FF9 however, the battle system is directly inspired by the FF4 system where people have jobs (like in other early FF games) but the jobs are hard-wired to the characters for story purpose and cannot ever be changed. This might sound like the system is too simple and might not make the game interesting enough to be played, and this is partially true.

However, they added a feature that was absent from FF4 in order to make the game more interesting. Instead of learning new abilities simply by levelling, the characters learns abilities with equipment (weapons, armour or accessories). There is two kind of abilities, the action abilities that can be directly used in battle (such as "Fire", "Cure" or "Steal"), and the support abilities that helps you implicitly in battle for example by increasing your stats or protecting against status aliments. The support abilities can be individually enabled up to a maximum number of points, which increases with levels. So as you level up and equip many different pieces of armours, you will not only be stronger but also be given more opportunities to protect against status aliments and other very useful things.

The really strong point of this system is that it encourages the player to cycle through available pieces of equipment for each character, even if they are not the strongest in his possession, in order to learn as many abilities as possible. This made the game overall much more interesting to play just with this simple system, and works masterfully.

A big flaw of FF8 was it's very long summon sequences, that were very time consuming to see again and again. Square would not want to reduce the length of the summon sequences, as their impressiveness is one of the selling points of their games. They gracefully solved the problem by making a new system which automatically alternate between a "heavy" variation, beautiful and impressive but long, and a "light" variant, less impressive but short, of the summon sequence. This makes summoning less time consuming and less annoying while still being very impressive.

The music in this game is absolutely amazing, it is Uematsu at his best. It is overall a very sentimental and varied soundtrack, much in the line of what was done for the previous FF, but with even more care for the detail and even more different songs. The music is almost never re-used from place to place, so each moment in the game no matter how short gets its own song : There is approximately 90 different pieces of music in the game, all of them being equally amazing. Actually my only complain about the music is that you might not hear enough of some of the songs, as they only play for 20 or 30 seconds in game when actually you'd like to listen to them for at the very least 5 minutes.

The battle theme, which you will obviously hear again and again, is without a doubt the best of the entire series. Just like other elements in the game, it was made to "return to the roots of the series" by using the very famous baseline at the start, and is overall a good piece of what sounds more like a 70s rock piece. It will be no problem to listen to the battle theme again and again while professing through the game.

For the reasons mentioned, I think I can say pretty confidently that FF9 has the best soundtrack I have ever met with any video game, because not only of it's high quality, but also high quantity of different pieces of music.

In addition to that, the game provides a lot of sound effects such as wind, footsteps, running machines, birds, etc... and does so masterfully. There is really nothing to say about it other that the sound is perfect.

The Bad
There is not much not to like about FF9 honestly. One thing that immediately comes to mind is the extreme linearity of the game, but then again it is how the whole Final Fantasy series were designed, and the fact that we never feel lost in them despite the universe being large is thanks to the game's linearity. I do not like when you feel lost and have no idea where to go, and this never happens in FF9 thanks to the game's linearity so this is a good thing.

A thing I didn't like is that you cannot backtrack to most places after you go to the CD4. Only a couple of towns are accessible any more, and this is a problem. I understand they had to save space on their CD, but here, they could just make you able to insert another CD if you want to backtrack. FF8 already suffered from a similar issue, so it's very sad they didn't fix that.

There is really few side quests that you can do in comparison to FF7 and FF8. Perhaps I didn't look hard enough I don't know. But it seems to me that there is very little to do outside of the main story.

My last complaint is that one particular spoof character in the game, while being very funny, is particularly ridiculous and tend to be extremely annoying in story scenes where the story is supposed to be serious. I'd have liked if they made that particular character optional and/or didn't make her play any major role in story scenes. The characters are quite unbalanced. Some of them are extremely strong (such as the hero, without a surprise) and some of them are very weak and cannot ever have a true utility in your party. At the begin of the game,

Garnet and Eiko the two summoners are extremely weak and are an annoyance to have in your party. However near the end of the game as they can summon the strongest monsters in addition to have unlimited healing abilities they are by far the two strongest characters, and overpowers the others who are just here to give them ethers to refill their mana.

The Bottom Line
FF9 combines the tradition of grace and master of the early FF games with the enhanced graphics and gameplay of the modern Playstation area FF games, and does so very gracefully. The story is interesting without being overcomplicated, the gameplay is simple but fascinating, and the music and graphics are amazing for what we'd expect from a game of this category.

Both FF7 and FF8 were also very great games, but those had some minor flaws, almost all of them having been fixed in FF9. The game is almost without any flaws, and as such can easily be considered as the pinnacle of the Final Fantasy series, and of JRPGs in general. Of course if you do not like JRPGs you will probably not like the game, but I'd say as a modern reincarnation of older games it defines the expectations for the genre for the modern consoles, and is a reference of quality.

The lack of side quests is probably the only flaw of FF9, which will affect its replayability. However, FF9 must be played at least once.

By Bregalad on September 25th, 2015

Secret of Evermore (SNES)

You've been gotten, it was the "... of Mana" series, not the "Secret of ...." series. Nevertheless, this game is good for what it is

The Good
Welcome to my Secret of Evermore review. Secret of Evermore is, sort of between a spin-off of the Seiken Densetsu series (itself started as a spin-off of the Final Fantasy series), and a false sequel to Secret of Mana.

This game was developed by the American Squaresoft team, about when Seiken Densetsu 3, the real sequel to Secret of Mana, was going to be released in Japan. For some obscure reason, Square America decided to develop this game instead of translating SD3, in order to provide fans with a sequel. Having been developed by the American team, the game has almost nothing in common with Japanese developed Square games. This is why I consider it a "fake sequel", although this game's mechanics gameplay try to mimic Secret of Mana as much as possible (in some regards, more than other games of the Seiken Densetsu series), it actually has not caught the soul or universe of the Seiken Densetsu series at all.

Nevertheless, for what this game is, I can only say it is very good, and that Square USA did their best to release a very enjoyable game.

First of all the gameplay : It is almost exactly like Secret of Mana, and unlike any other game in the Seiken Densetu series. This is an action-RPG game, and in battle, you can use your weapon with the 'B' button. An energy meter then fills itself to 100% at which point a small noise will play, indicating that you can attack again. You can attack before 100% is reached, but the attack will be very weak, punishing you for not being patient enough. You can also run, which also uses your energy meter. Once a weapon is levelled up, you can charge it by holding the B button, reaching 200% or 300%, and releasing a super attack. You can also cast spells (in this game an alchemy system runs the spells instead of a spirit system like Seiken Densetsu games), and the spells are not affected by the energy meter - you can cast them anytime and as quickly as you want.

The story resolves around a boy and his dog, which gets miraculously transported from the real world to a strange world. You start the story in the prehistoric area, and then an antiquity area, middle-ages area and futuristic area will come.

In this regard, the game plays and feels exactly like Secret of Mana, and the creators were very successful in cloning the gameplay as much as possible. The irony is that this makes this game extremely distant from other Seiken Densetsu sequels (Seiken Densetsu 3, Legend of Mana), which plays more like Beat'em Up games. However, the game added more gameplay features than Secret of Mana, which makes it more interesting to play.

The key to the additional features is your dog, which is able to search various treasure by sniffling. There is many ingredients, items required for alchemy such as water, ethanol or ashes, all over the place, and often at logical place, such as petals near flowers, or ashes near a fireplace. Ingredients are necessary for casting spells, including healing, so hunting for them is interesting and rewarding.

I cannot say how great of an idea it was to have a dog as a companion, rather than other heroes like it is the case in 90% of RPGs. It really sets the mood for the game and change the perspective a lot. In each of the historical areas, you have a different dog, which actually is the same dog which changes of physical appearance, so it is not too boring. In addition to those 4 different dogs, there is the normal dog from the real world but it is never playable.

The graphics in Secret of Evermore are absolutely gorgeous and top-notch for the system. The game was released late in the SNES lifetime, and they made sure to push the system to its limit. The prehistoric area really feels wild, and the middle-ages area feels very dark. The characters and the dog are very realistic. The backgrounds are full of well done shadow effects. The only downside is that the hero is an extremely generic and forgettable guy, but really this isn't much of an issue.

The game itself is not only fun to play, but also is packed up of jokes which is refreshing for Square games, which usually takes themselves very seriously. There is just too many funny things in this game for me to mention them all, but be sure that some humour will be there, and it is for the best. There is also many other references to Final Fantasy games, and to imagined movies that have stupid and funny names.

Although there is not many musical pieces in the game, especially for Squaresoft standards, I should mention that there is still a few very memorable songs in this game, especially the opening song, that will make you want to listen them again. The sound effects (which makes most of the game's sounds) are very well done and realistic.

The game system do not stop with weapons and alchemy formulas I have already mentioned. There is also the summons, which are barely useful but still they deserve a mention, unlike in Secret of Mana summons and spells (alchemy formulas) are separated. Most spells starts being not very useful but becomes powerful as you level them up, just like in other Seiken Densetsu games. There is also a trade system where you can buy some stuff to trade against other stuff to get items that enhance your stats, and there is different currencies for each historic areas.

The bosses in this game are extremely varied, for the most part extremely though and requires a lot of strategy to be defeated. Even the very first boss is extremely challenging and epic.

The artificial intelligence has been greatly improved, your dog do not "get stuck" like you comrades would do in Secret of Mana, which was a major flaw of the game.

The Bad
The alchemy formulas starts too weak at Level 0, and it takes a while to rise them to a level where they will do acceptable damage compared for the alchemy ingredients that you have to invest for them. I didn't like that you have to talk to specific people to activate or deactivate your alchemy formulas (the people who gave you the said formulas). This does not make much sense, why wouldn't the game let you cast all the alchemy formulas of the game at any given point ?

I didn't like that you can miss a hit on an enemy even when you actually hit it, like in non-action RPGs, based on accuracy and evade stats. There is thus two different ways to miss, you can actually miss the enemy, or you can land a hit which will miss because of your stats. This is particularly annoying at the start of the game when you have very bad stats and will miss very often.

The historical areas are not equal in size, and this makes it obvious that the game was rushed toward its release. The prehistoric area is huge, the antiquity area is fairly large, the middle-age area is rather small, and the futuristic area is very tiny. Each "world" is about half of the size of the previous one. The end of the game is so rushed it looks like it was programmed in a couple of days and rushed for the release of the game. You get news item at a rate that is so fast that you cannot use them before you get the next better weapon/armour, because the developers still inserted all the planned weapons and armours, but made the world extremely small. You get two different airships at like 10 minutes of interval, because the developers planned to have 2 airships but couldn't expand the scenario at this point. There is unused islands on the world map.

Also it was some sort of disappointment that what first appeared to be time travel was actually just space travel within a very unequally developed world. Overall, as a whole game, it is much much smaller than Secret of Mana (despite the very large prehistoric area), although the increase in diversity of environment compensate for that.

Another problem is the music. I already mentioned that yes, there is good music in this game, however it is mostly found in the antiquity area, and for boss battles. Most of the time only sound effects plays, or sound effects with an extremely minimal music of only a single instrument, which sounds terribly weird, and is in my opinion worse than sound effects only. I can only tell that even if it is not a complete failure, the soundtrack of the game leaves a lot to be desired. This is especially disappointing considering that some of the music is really great in the few places where they cared to actually use music, so it's a huge shame that you won't be hearing any music during 70% of this game, and when there is music it will plain suck 50% of the time. Overall it's a very inconsistent mixed bag, and is a huge disappointment compared to it's prequel Secret of Mana, whose absolutely amazing soundtrack was one of it's main selling points.

The scenario of this game is simply horrible. It couldn't be any less inspired. A hero suddenly find himself trapped in a magical world, seriously, haven't you already had this scenario hundred of times ? Time travel to prehistoric area to fight dinosaurs, oh this is just as equally common. The hero is as generic as it could be, thankfully his dog is the saving grace. Most of the dialogue in this game is stupid jokes, which is fun, however, at some point you'd want the game to at least take itself a little bit seriously now and then. Unfortunately it does not happen in Secret of Evermore, this game is almost a huge parody of an action RPG. If you are looking for an epic adventure and a great, tragic storyline, prepare to be extremely disappointed.

The learning curve in this game is very seriously messed up. Normally RPGs starts off being easy and getting progressively harder. Alternatively, some less well made RPGs have a constant level of difficulty, as the raising strengths of your enemies compensate your rising levels and wider set of abilities. Secret of Evermore is the first RPG I've ever played that gets progressively easier as the games goes forward. When you first land in the prehistoric area, the game starts of incredibly hard. You barely have any healing items, your only weapon is a bone that will miss all the time (both because of it's bad range and it's bad stats) and deal very little damage ! Prepare for game over and restarting. The first boss is insanely difficult, not only is he very far from the last save point, but also there is a huge maze between the last save point and the boss that you probably will have to do a couple of times before successfully defeating the first boss.

As the game moves on you get progressively stronger and get the ability to heal almost infinitely and to charge weapons to do stronger attacks. Near the end of the game, your dog is so overpowered that he is basically invincible. Fortunately the game is over if the hero is defeated, no matter the dog, so there is still challenge. However the hero basically turns into the dog's healer, and the dogs clears everything there is on his way. In the futuristic time period, your dog deals often 1500 damage when you deal 300 damage with your best charged attack. What is the point of even trying to kill enemies when you have no chances compared to your dog ?

There is many points in the game where you simply have no clue what to do without a walkthrough. Often it is a very simple issue, such as press a switch with your dog and continue with the boy, or throw a lance to activate a switch with the boy. However you don't have any clues within the game itself.

The Bottom Line
Secret Evermore is a great game for what it was supposed to be : A western made and flavoured pseudo-sequel to Secret of Mana, that set in an environment that has nothing to do with he Mana series and that does not take itself seriously.

The game is fun and interesting to play, so after all that is all that counts, and even if it is extremely distant to Secret of Mana in mood and setting, it is extremely close in gameplay.

The weak points of the game are a reversed learning curve (the game gets easier as you progress), the need of a walkthrough in order to be able to continue in many situations, the lack of a good soundtrack and the lack of a good story. Nevertheless those issues are easy to ignore and the game is still very enjoyable, thanks to its great gameplay, great humour and great graphics for SNES standards, and its wide range of weapons, alchemy formulas and spells.

I'd like to conclude by saying it is fun to see how two different games that were supposed to be sequels to Secret of Mana, Seiken Densetsu 3 and this game, Secret of Evermore, are incredibly different, yet nevertheless both good games in their own way.

By Bregalad on September 16th, 2015

Secret of Mana (SNES)

A real gem from Squaresoft, it's a shame it has so many technical glitchies

The Good
There is a lot of thing to say here. The game really has nice flavours in it, it is in it's whole a consistent real piece of art. It's graphics very repetitive, but very detailed too. However, the animation of the characters and monsters are really well done for a SNES game, and all the work of art they made about the monsters and so on is really good.

The soundtrack is really great, if not the greatest of the SNES platform. It's both so beautiful that it make me cry and so descriptive. I like myself hear the soundtrack of videogames (without playing to the game), and I can't hear this music without remembering all the landscapes and flavours of the game. It's really one of the most perfect soundtrack out there. There is not a single song that isn't great. Yeah, the boss music is a confusing a lot, but back in the action, it's really a great work of art. Oh, yes, the song you'll hear on the menu while loading a game/beginning a new game is stupid, but it's the only one and you won't hear it for a long time anyway.

The sound effect are, some of the best I ever heard on the SNES. Secret of Mana have digital sound effects, they're not recorded, but they're made with an extremely high precision. All samples in the game are recorded with a high quality, and all weapons, all attacks, have different sounds, and there is a LOT of them !! I liked a lot the fact that all enemies dies with a different animation and different sound effects, you can even hear the noise of the bones of your enemy fell on the ground! I learned that the guy that made those sound effects is the same guy that made most of the music into Chrono Trigger (Yasunori Mitsuda), and that IS something. Well, he did really excellent job twice.

I liked pretty much the game play system. You basically have 8 different weapon types, and 8 different magic types. You start with nothing, and get all of them during your adventure. That's really good. You have a "level", that start with 1 and grow up to 8 to each weapon and magic type, and each time you use it you'll become stronger at it. For the weapons, you also have to collect spheres in order to "reforge" them, to make yourself stronger.

In battle, you have the attack button that uses you weapon, and you can do different attack and combos a bit like in a beat 'em up. Once you did an attack, you'll have to wait some amount of time before to be able to do another efficient attack. You can still attack, but you'll do very little damage.

The Bad
The only thing I did not like was the glitches, but unfortunately there is a lot of them. The AI is terrible, your allies will get stuck and it will block the main character. In battle they often behave in a suicidal way.

You have 8 weapon types, which is great, but only 4 of them are really useful on the field.

The problem with magic, is that you have to open the famous "ring menu" to cast a spell, which is normally fine but causes problem for boss battles: When a boss have a particular elemental weakness, the battle is -> Open the "ring menu", select the boss' weakness, target if, watch the damage, open the menu, select the spell again, etc... Of course, you'll also have to cure and recover MP, but I'd like to have bosses with more action (like in a Megaman game).

The other BIG problem is the glitches. When you attack a monsters, there is a delay before it actually take its damage. If all your 3 characters attack the same monsters at the same time, it is supposed, to take 3 times damages, but not all of them at the same time, so when the first animation due to the first damage has ended, the second will begins and so on. Actually everything seems to be buffered in this game. This is good for when you heal yourself, so even if you select a healing item, you'll fist take all your "pending" damage before the actual healing, so it adds challenge. This works fairly bad in practice, when all monsters attack you at the same time, your character do only take damage and you can't open the "ring menu" to heal yourself when taking damage, so you'll sometimes get hurt, get hurt, get hurt, and die without be able to do anything. The game's buffering systems seems to get weird sometimes, so it'll happen that you use an healing item and you'll never be healed but the item will still be wasted, or you'll cast a magic, and the spell will never happen but your MP have still decreased. This also happen to enemies, so you will also be able to take advantage of this, but still, this is mid-decent for a such action-RPG, and such thing happen fairly often. Also, the SNES have it's 32 sprites per line limit, that is just similar to the much more know that the NES' 8 sprites per line limit, and Secret of Mana often have sprites that flickers, disappears, and such glitches.

Also, the font was hard to read, and the language was really poorly translated. I played the French version, and that's a good thing that it was one of the few great Square RPG that came out translated in Europe with various language (it's prequel, Final Fantasy Adventure was already released in Europe in French and German, and was even more poorly translated). I simply don't understand a word about the story. It sure is something with a giant tree, called Mana tree, but I really understood nothing else. I believe I saved the world, but I'm not sure. By the way, the ending was plain and boring, the music was good with cool effect on the bass guitar, but nothing else was interesting once the final boss is defeated. I'm sure that the game was greatly designed and had a great story, but I didn't get it exactly.

Also I didn't like the pink bandanna the "hero" of the game have on his head. Really. The game sometimes gets too much childish, but still, they exaggerated.

The Bottom Line
Secret of Mana is the second title in the "__ of Mana" series, know in japan under the title of "Seiken Densetsu". The first one was one of the best RPG for the original GameBoy, but scince only few was released for this platform as far I know, and it had a very small popularity, even if it was the first squaresoft game released in Europe apart of Rad Racer, that was a racing game made before that Square were making RPGs. So Secret of Mana was one of the first very popular work of Squaresoft and is a game that build all their success on the SNES platform, especially because they decided to export it, it was poorly translated but exported. This is a great game, for sure, but it's a shame there is so many glitches, it really turns down this particularly awesome game. It is still a great game overall and it has the best music and best sound effects of the SNES.

By Bregalad on July 27th, 2015

Breath of Fire III (PlayStation)

A turning point for the series, overall good game but not without issues

The Good
Breath of Fire III is the third entry in the Breath of Fire series, and the first for the PlayStation, following two SNES games. I had already played the SNES games multiple times so I was familiar with series as I started to play Breath of Fire III, the first "3D" game of the series.

The game took an interesting approach for its entry to the world of 3D consoles. Capcom decided to do the exact opposite of what Squaresoft did to their Final Fantasy series: The graphics are based on 3-dimensional environments, populated by 2-dimensional sprites. Most of the time, the camera is set is an isometric point of view, however it is possible to modify the angle a little by using one of the trigger buttons while using the D-pad, while standing. You cannot however move the camera while wandering around, and the angle of movement is very limited, the camera movement is mostly useful to discover hidden chests which are in a blind spot. Also during cut scenes does the camera move.

There is no longer a context switch between field and battle, which is a very welcome move. Because the camera viewpoint is isometric, battle scenes are very similar to what they looked like in the two previous Breath of Fire games, and this is a good thing as it marks the continuity of the series. We could say that the whole game happens in the viewpoint that was previously only used for the battles.

I find however the for a Playstation game the quality of the graphics are not exceptional. In some cases the 2D sprites clashes with the 3D environment creating absurd situations. I find that, since camera movement is used so sporadically anyway, they should have used 2D background for the game instead, allowing for potentially better graphics.

The battle system is relatively simple and in the continuity with the former entries of the series. You can choose between "auto-battle" where all your team members will attack physically, or select commands such as physical attack, items, and character specific skills and magic. Each caracter is really different here. Ryu can "watch" enemies and copy some of them skills if they use it, such as "blind attack" which attacks while inflicting blind status. There is also a master system where you can have select a "teacher" for a party member, and come back later for him to learn new skills to the party member as he gained levels. Unfortunately this system is very obscure, complicated (you cannot always back track to your "teacher" along the story)

As usual Ryu turns into a dragon, and they use a system different from both systems used in the previous games, so it seems the series has a tradition of having a completely different "dragon system" on every game. After turning into a dragon you can control it (using magic, skills, or physical attacks), but you loose mana on every round. Once your mana reaches 0 you turn back into Ryu. Unfortunately, even near the end of the game it would only last 3 turns before your mana runs out entierely, so it's an extremely quick transformation and leaves you weakened and unable to heal after it turns out, so it is only useful in a desperate situation after running out of mana for other party members and healing items (it really saved me a couple of times).

A good new feature is the ability to use your weapon on the field, to find treasures. You can also sometimes racket people and get one or two Zenny that way.

The music is a mixed bag. Is is really not bad, but is not very varied and a little bland. Most of it is for some reason more remembering of the Mega Man Battle Network series rather than the previous Breath of Fire games in it's style. Paired with the isometric camera, this game really feels like a crossover between Breath of Fire and Mega Man Battle Network! I can't really say that's a bad thing. So yes, the music is not as good as the one found in the first Breath of Fire, but not as bad as the one found in the second Breath of Fire in my opinion. The regular battle music should be mentioned, it is really very good, and is one of the major factor that will not make you too bored of the game. I'll also add this is the first Breath of Fire game in the series which have only a single regular battle theme instead of two (that's not a very good thing).

The sound effects are okay, I have nothing special to say. There is some minimal voice acting during combat (such as "yaah"), a great touch which sets the mod during battle.

What is also a good point about this game is that there is some variety behind the story quests, one of them forces you to use minigames such as fishing who was first an annoyance, but actually once I figured out what I had to do I had a lot of fun. Another is the infamous desert minigame, which involves traversing a desert. At first you're lost but after you get the idea (thanks FAQs on the internet) it's a very fun mini-game. This really changes the mood from standard dungeon crawling.

The Bad
Most of your party member suck really hard in comparison of Ryu, (they can do 4 times less damage than him, even using their special skills). Nina's attacking magic is awfully powerless so I ended up not using Nina anymore for the last part of the game. Other side characters are near useless, such as Garr, which looks very strong but actually barely does 1/4 of the damage Ryu does physically when attacking for no particular reason.

The story is very simple, and although it works, it is much less developed than the story of Breath of Fire II which is a major disappointment. There is two part of the story, half of it where you're a little boy and half of it where Ryu is teenager, which is a great idea since change the flavour of the game a little. Ryu is a Dragoon, and the Dragoon have recently been victims of a genocide by the goddess Mira, and you are one of the only survivors. You awake in a coal (or iron?) mine and you escape. Then you have to do random quests such as stop a famine, fight against two rogue guys, gain a battle championship, turn of a factory of genetically modified corn. Finally the main story focuses on travelling to Ukraine (yeah) to meet with God (yeah) to ask him "the truth" about the genocide. The more the game progress, the less sense the story makes. The world is post-apocalyptic, and people re-use machines they found in junk graveyards. I don't want to add spoilers, but the story of the game ends up completely unresolved, and even more mysterious than the start. Also the script is so bad that much of the dialogues makes no sense at all. I unfortunately played the French language version of the game (my native language), however much of the random words that appears on screen within this game can hardly be called "French language" at all. Yes, the translation is that horrible, this game sets the standard for horrible translations, I'm not talking about a mistake or two, but about most of the script being completely unintelligible. There is also many glitches with the text going out of the window or even completely off screen, or dialogue window remaining blank sometimes. This is sincerely unacceptable from an official translation by Sony. They could have hired someone who actually spoke French, and that check up that the game was playable, but they did not, because they despite their European customers and think it's not worth investing $10 in the translation.

However for some reason this nonsensical series of quest is still memorable, and in certain places, gets close enough to "epic" to want you continue playing the game.

I was disappointed that Bleu, the sorceress who appeared in the first two games, didn't appear in this game.

The Bottom Line
Breath of Fire III is overall a sold good game, with can be highlighted on its original quests you have to do during your travels, the global feeling/mod of the game, a simple but solid battle system, the lack of annoyances resulted by a context switch between field and random battles, the ability to use your weapon while exploring, and the humour. The weak point is an absolutely horrendous translation (for the French version, I do not know about English), the inconsistency of the story, the uselessness of the majority of party members outside of Ryu, and the fact that the game do not use the technical possibilities the PlayStation offers (the environments are in "3d" but the camera is static, there is no FMVs at all).

As the tradition in the series, few of your party members is actually human and are instead members of funny original races, which is a good thing as it sets the game apart from mainstream RPGs.

Overall I'd say this game is a stepping stone between the traditional SNES Breath of Fire games and the Mega Man Battle Network games (mostly because of the overal "Steampunk" feel, the camera angle and the music).

By Bregalad on July 27th, 2015

Final Fantasy V Advance (Game Boy Advance)

Decent remake, but nothing more than that.

The Good
Welcome to my review for Final Fantasy V advance, which is a Game Boy Advance port of of Final Fantasy V, which was originally released on the Super NES. I will especially focus on the remake during this review, and assume you already know about the Final Fantasy series prior to reading this.

So yeah, the best thing in this port is the translation, which for the most part is better than the fan-translation of the Super NES version, with the exception of a few names of items, spells, equipment and names that I've preferred in the original translation. Characters are deeper developed and the plot is smoother to follow. The plot the same as before, I love the story of this game even if it's not the most complex story from any game, there is a lot of cutscenes and jokes (I guess they even added a few jokes in the GBA port) and provides lot of fun overall. The story is better presented than before on the SNES, and they added a great intro (it even plays the airship's music, which fits surprisingly well the intro).

The graphics have not much changed except for the menus, the battle backgrounds and a couple of effects in battle (at least the instant death and mute spells looks slightly different). They also added faces when important people (mostly the party and a couple of other characters) are talking, which is a nice touch. The rest of the graphics are untouched, and to be honest, they didn't need to be touched, as Final Fantasy V's graphics were and still are detailed, colorful and somehow magical at times. It looks like a SNES game still on the GBA and don't look as good as, say, Golden Sun, but this really isn't a problem for me. The overall game have no problem being ported to a smaller screen with the same graphics, as menus are scaled down, battle sprites are narrowed a little and the field is untouched, which doesn't affect much gameplay anyway. So everything is fine when it comes to the graphics of the port.

The gameplay is still very intense, just like it has always be. You can pick one job and one "ability" per character at any time, each piece of shattered crystal will give you a new job, and level up a job will give you abilities. Eventually the abilities will be automatically available (without selecting them) once you mastered the job, so in the end the best job is "free-lance" (the neutral job) which allow you to use all abilities from jobs you mastered. I found it beautiful that "free-lance" starts the worst job and end the best one. Additionally to this great job system, enemies are tough and most (especially bosses) needs some sense of strategy to be beaten. There is a lot of places to explore on the world map and new enemies to fight, so this hardly get boring. You also have to fight most summons before acquiring them, which add a lot of challenge especially for the later ones.

The Bad
While Final Fantasy V advance is a decent port and a nice way to play Final Fantasy V on a portable system, some flaws are still notable.

There is occasional serious lags in the game, especially in boss battles (the last battle was probably running about 1/3 of the normal speed so it was lagging), but also on the field during some cutscenes, which is completely ridiculous. This make me thing they went a bit lazy when porting the game engine to the GBA. Oh, and during battle the time stops for a long time with no apparent reason (monsters passing their turns ?) which can get annoying, but it's noting near as bad as FF4 advance anyways.

Also, I know the GBA sound capabilities does not match the SNES' and that the original Final Fantasy V have a really amazing soundtrack that takes full advantage of the SNES hardware, and I know the mighty Nobuo Uematsu isn't present anymore at Square Enix, but still the soundtrack really doesn't sound too good anymore on the GBA. They didn't remove too much harmonics (as it's sometimes seen), instead they replaced the warm instruments by cold aggressive instruments. The worst should be the bass, as a hard slapping bass is heard everywhere through the game. They probably did so to have it be listenable through the GBA's small speakers with very weak basses, but still it sounded bad (even with external speakers). The very worst was that harp intro on the cave's song. It originally sounded very soft and somehow magical, starting quietly with harp arpeggios that become louder and then the actual music starts. Now they replaced the harp by a very aggressive harp sound, which starts immediately loud, and all that magical effect is gone. In some songs, some instruments play their song one octave too high or too low, which don't always sounds good (the melody on the first world's map come to mind). The trumpets playing the melody for the battle theme sound very aggressive, almost fuzzy. Well the music port is a catastrophe, especially for fans of the original music like me, but you still get used to it after a while. At least all songs are still there, and the piano lessons sounds more like piano. I also liked how the music heard in Lix (Bartz' hometown) sounded on the GBA, the instruments were aggressive but it still sounded somehow more nostalgic than on the SNES. It is probably the only song that was actually improved to my opinion.

The sound effects sounds different, but for the most part they were ported better than the music. I still don't like some new sound effects, especially the Aqua Breath and Bio spell, and the sound for the Life spell (or Phoenix Down) sounds okay but is not synchronised with the graphical animation any longer, which suck.

Finally the difficulty is seriously lowered. The original game is very difficult, but I really like it that way. Every battle was a challenge, and the boss battles were totally insane no matter how much you leveled up. Now the random battles go easy, and the boss are still harder, but by far not as much as before. Maybe this is partially due to the fact I already know the game, making it easier for me, but there wouldn't be a such big difference. It obviously took me less time and much less effort to beat the game on the GBA than on the SNES (less than 40 hours as opposed to 50+ hours, and about 1000 battles instead of 1500 to reach a equivalent level of power). I also always enough gils to buy what I wanted, but I remember it wasn't just like that on the SNES.

Also, a little complain, but I miss the spells named with the old fashion (Ice, Ice2, Ice3 as opposed to Blizzard, Blizzara, Blizzaraga). Since I have the European multi-lingual version of the game I could test a lot of language, and it was interesting to see how things were translated differently for some language. In French, the sage Ghido for some reason says "Hum" at the start of each sentence, while he doesn't say anything special in any other language. Weird, huh ?

The added content is futile. You can quick-save, which is nice since the game is portable (instead to actually get a save-everywhere feature like real portable games, which would make the game way too easy). You can run without having a thief in your party, however, when you have one, you can run even faster, which is kind of ridiculous as the regular walking speed is fast enough for me, I almost never ran anyways. Eventually you have 3 new jobs, available only very late in the game, whose, trust me, just suck. You have a bonus dungeon where you meet very hard monsters every 3 steps, and that have a very annoying layout, that uses the tile set of Final Fantasy V but just feel wrong placed here in the game. To access it you have to press a button and the game writes "the room seems to have moved". It this really WAS Final Fantasy V, there would be another cutscene such as "Barts : Huh, what's happening ? Lenna : Oh, it look like we're moving. Faris : Is this a secret place with freakin' treasures ?" (all this with fun sprite animation). Come on, they are unable to do what they did 15 years ago, and this is really ridiculous. Trust me the new content is crap. Just don't buy the GBA version looking forward to an interesting new content.

The Bottom Line
Final Fantasy V advance is a nice way to play FF5 outside of your house nevertheless, and it is easier so if you just want to pass that masterpiece again, have a better understanding of the story and not have too much trouble doing so, you're coming to the right place. If you hope anything has improved or are looking for a enhanced content, prepare to be disappointed. If you just want to play Final Fantasy V because you love the series, I really recommend downloading it with a translated patch for the Super NES and ignore the GBA version. If you're already fan of the Super NES game and are ready to play it again on the GBA even with it's flaw just to play it a bit differently, this may be a good choose. If you'd want to buy only one of the "advanced" Final Fantasy games, I'd recommend FF5 over anything else, as FF4 and FF6 already exists in English for the SNES officially, so there is even fewer to gain from those (the translation is still not the same tough, for the satisfaction of people that hate Ted Whoselay for some reason). And yes, FF5 is a masterpiece and everyone should play it, but the GBA port is just not as good as it could have been, and the true Final Fantasy V is still a SNES game.

By Bregalad on August 5th, 2014

Suikoden II (PlayStation)

A great sequel, superior in every way, but lacks the epicness of the original

The Good
Suikoden II is a direct sequel to Suikoden I, taking place in the same universe and sharing for the most part the same gameplay mechanisms. However, if you missed the first Suikoden don't worry, you'll still be able to enjoy 99.9% of this game.

Just like Suikoden I, the complex and nation-war-oriented story line is the main selling point of this game (as opposed to strictly individual oriented storyline like seen in the Final Fantasy series). the game sets up in a war between the Kingdom of Highland and the City-States of Jowston, both countries are north of where the events of Suikoden I took place. You start off as a random soldier from Highland, a country lead by terror, violence and dictatorship by the extremely evil prince Luca, until you just escaped as you were going to be killed by your own country as a part of a strategy plan that is to find an excuse to invade the City-States of Jowston. Because you want to survive of course, you will escape and end up as a refugee in the City-States. Then a new adventure of rebellion will begin.

And also just like in Suikoden I, you'll have to build and then expand progressively your own castle as a resistance base, and that formula is still as epic as ever. Although I'd have to say in the end the castle was so big that it was hard to navigate in it, Suikoden I made this easier as you just got loads of mostly identical floors. Nevertheless, you'll spend a good portion of your playing time in your castle preparing your troops or just enjoying your time.

The graphics have vastly improved over the 1st game. They are still entirely 2-dimensional but this time they are detailed and shadowed properly which makes it easy to know where you're going. The battles are really similar in a fake 3D view, and there is still the extremely poor sprite scaling with very visible "big pixels", but however this time it works better as the graphics are themselves better. Also each town/city looks slightly different instead of using the same tiles, which is very nice.

Musically, this game is an absolute masterpiece. There is no words to represent how amazing the music of this game is, really. In addition to the more traditional video-game music, you have some songs which are played with vocals and a real orchestra, apparently nothing less than the Philharmonic of Warsaw ! Think of it like the music of Suikoden I, but 10x better. The sound effects are mostly the same as in Suikoden I, with some extra animal noises here and here in places where there is no background music.

Finally I must say the battle system slightly improved, as now you can very powerful combo attacks when multiple characters that know themselves comes in your party, and the rune system, while still obscure and a bit unbalanced, is slightly more useful than in the 1st game in the sense there's more healing and stat-boosting spells, so you'll be able to rely less on items for healing.

The challenge has greatly improved, the bosses are harder to pass, but they're still doable.

The Bad
The only bad thing I can think of is that if a random player plays this game without a walkthrough, there's honestly less than 1 chance of 1 million that he'll get the good ending. Cheating or looking at a walk through is the only way to hope to see the good ending (hint : being able to recruit - and keep alive - all 108 possible character is one of the many requirements for this). However, the normal ending while sad is still OK (I mean, it's not incomplete and humiliating the player or anything, like the bad ending I got in Tactics Ogre, which really annoyed me back then).

Just like in Suikoden I, there is two alternate battle systems that are used within the game. The first is the duel battle which just like before is a good idea but sucks as whenever you loose or win is based on pure luck. The second, the war battle, has greatly evolved since Suikoden I. Instead of being based on a rock-paper-scissors menu, it is now laid in a Tactical-RPG style chessboard. Unfortunately it's not very good, and most of the fun you'll have in a normal T-RPG will be absent here.

No only are those battles extremely hard (so you'll be just trying to not get wiped out too quickly), your units can only move 1 or 2 squares per turn which is very annoying. But this mode seems very rushed, you can tell immediately the programmers implemented it at last minute just before the game was released and didn't have the time to get what they wanted to be done. The graphics looks like cheaply-anti-aliased, and much less detailed than anywhere else in the game. Everything looks very "static". However, those war scenes, while not the best part of the game, don't ruin the overall enjoyment of the game.

Also I really find that while this game is in a technical point of view totally superior in every aspect, it is missing something the original had. Perhaps it's also subjective as I discovered the series with the first game, but I felt like the first game was more "epic" than this game, even despite it's flaws. Sure the graphics were absolutely terrible for PS1 standards and it had horrible minigames, but it was like that and I absolutely fell in love with the game as is with its flaws. Suikoden II is more of a "perfect shiny gem" and so has less charm. I feel like, especially near the end, the story line is more boring and less stressful than the one of it's predecessor.

The Bottom Line
Overall, I'd say if you enjoyed the original Suikoden you should definitely play this !

Otherwise, I think that despite its flaws, the original game is still slightly superior to this one, but this one is nevertheless very good too. The major difference between this and the mass of Japanese-RPGs is that Suikoden games are nation/war oriented instead of individual oriented storyline. With about 108 playable characters and 6 at a time, it sure feels different than what there is in most games in the genre. Also, the game has an overall more Asian feel to it.

By Bregalad on May 29th, 2014

Tactics Ogre (SNES)

A masterpiece of a T-RPG, if only the EXP system wasn't broken...

The Good
Tactics Ogre is the second game of the Ogre Battle series, developed by Quest (now bought by Square Enix, sadly). While it is the second game they made in the series, it was meant to be the 7th in the chronological events within the series, despite it's full title : Ogre Battle Episode VII : Tactics Ogre - Let's Cling Together.

While this game has a predecessor, it was a Real Time Strategy game whose gameplay has nothing to do with this game which is a T-RPG. This game was released quite late in the SNES lifetime, and quite a few great RPGs were released for the platform before this game so expectations are high. Will Tactics Ogre live up the high expectations ? Let's see.

The first thing you'll notice when starting a new Tactics Ogre is the high degree of professionalism, and high level of details. You can immediately see that whoever developed this game put all their souls to it, and did everything to exploit the SNES as much as possible. The introduction is breath taking.

The graphics are without a single doubt the very best ever made for the console. The game is entirely in isometric 3D perspective, in other words it is technically 2D but it really looks 3D (without the ugly polygonal character models). By this regard, it looks as great as many games released for the newer generation (on PlayStation 1, Nintendo 64 or Saturn). It was also ported to PS1 and Saturn for a reason : It could compete with games natively released on those systems.

Not only that, but the character's sprite actually look just as great, and the portraits are not bad either. The special effects and animations leave nothing to be desired, there is weather simulations of rain and snow which looks very realistic. In short, the graphics is top notch, and you can barely believe it fits the SNES.

The music is amazing. It feels orchestral, and there is really great music adapted to every situation you'll met in the game. Just like the graphics, it competes fine with games released on next generation systems, you can barely believe its sounds from the good old SNES. (By the way the game was also ported to Playstation 1, and for some reason, the music sounds worse in this version, god knows why. I have no idea how good/bad the Saturn version sounds.).

The sound effects are a bit worse than the music. They sound realistic and all, but there is not many of them, and they sound a bit too generic and muffled. Still they do their job, and there is nothing to complain about.

Now let's talk about the story. You are on an island called Valeria (technically you start in a small island near a bigger island). There is people from 3 ethnic groups existing on Valeria : The Braccum in the north-est, the Gargastan in the west, and the Walstanians in the south (where you start). Basically it's exactly like the Yugoslav wars of the 90s, there is many clans where everyone hates everyone, it's a huge mess, and it's hard to understand the exact reasons within the conflicts.

The game took place after a big war where the Walstanians lost against the Gargastans, being victims of war crimes and genocides, and are basically recovering while being miserable. The main hero is the son of a Walstanian priest which was captured, and you are seeking for revenge and looking for your father, teaming up with your sister Kachua and your childhood friend Vice.

What exactly you will do and fight for depends on you, depending on the choices you make during the game. You can end up being a Walstanian nationalist bastard (the "Law" route), just a wandering man (the "neutral" route), or to rebel against any kind of violence (the "chaos" route). The last one is probably the one most people will take, but I hear the other two aren't that different. The playable character that will join you, leave you or die also depends on your choices.

No matter which route you take, Tactics Ogre's story isn't for kids. It's all about war, massacres, betrayal, different political point of views, and of course bastard evil guys who likes torturing and killing people for their own pleasure you wonder why they are so evil (they actually are some of them in all 3 of the main races of Valeria). This is simply one or two levels above the "good vs. evil" kind of story that makes 99% of video games.

So at least this is a technically good story in the sense it was well developed and all. This is a realistic, complex and somewhat violent story. Now if you actually will like it or not is a matter of taste, but there is room for enjoyment even for veteran gamers who are tired with games stories being always the same clichés again and again.

The gameplay for the most part is good. Battles take place on an isometric tiled maps, where each tile has it's own height attribute in addition to terrain / other attribute. The topology of the map has a huge impact on the battle, for instance, if you shoot an arrow to something higher you have a very high probability of missing it and you can even hit a different target by error (including your own buddies !). If you shoot arrows at something lower, you will have very long range and very high accuracy. It doesn't affect short range weapon all that much, but you can for example push enemies down cliffs with a shield, and they will take damage, or even be instant die.

Your characters are defined by their class (warrior, amazon, archer, etc...). Nothing too specific to this game, the system is a bit generic, but it works fine for this game. Important characters can also change their class, but they will conserve the look of their original class which is weird, so you'd rather keep them their original class.

A nice feature is that you can recruit enemy characters if they're not too loyal and if they're wounded and hopeless. I think that was a great idea, even if I only used this possibility a few times. You can't recruit bosses, sadly, because they'd be more interesting to get !

The Bad
Well unfortunately all the gameplay is not as shining as the other areas of the game.

First of all I didn't like the inclusion of generic charters (as opposed to important characters). They are ok as enemies, but the game makes no distinctions. The vast majority of characters, both allies and enemies, in the game are generic, that is they have a randomly generated name, and their face is just a reflect of their class. They play no or few role in the story. By the end of the game you'll probably have enough important characters so that you wont' need the generic ones any longer, but still I didn't like that you were forced to deal with generics at first.

This is a minor problem though compared with the two major defaults of the game :

1) The EXP system is broken.

Each character has EXP and levels, as in almost every RPG I know of. When your EXP reaches 100, your level increases and you go to next level with 0 EXP.

You get EXP for any harming or healing action that had an effect. Just moving, waiting or missing your target means no EXP. Each action you do retrieves you between 1 and 100 EXP. The first problem appears here, if you had 99 EXP and get 100, it all goes to waste. So far it's not too bad, but the real problem is that if you harm any character with a level higher or equal than yours, you get only 1 EXP. (maybe 2-4 if this is the fatal hit and that he's exactly your level). In other words, you are supposed to be always below the level of your enemies if you want to progress at a decent speed. The problem is that the game is extremely hard to impossible if you are below the level of your enemies : All deaths are permanent (like many T-RPGs and unlike many RPGs), so you don't want your characters to die (except maybe generics which you won't care so much about, but you don't want to loose their weapons and spells...)

So ideally you'd be just one level below the enemy, but then comes the boss which is a couple of levels above other enemies and you're screwed because too weak. Even if you're skilled, a lost arrow will very quickly kill your favourite characters if you're under levelled. But if you're over levelled, then you are stuck, can't progress, and will be under levelled a few chapter later.

So the only solution I found around this is to use the train mode for hours using an emulator which is able to play the game CPU vs. CPU super fast. This means I let the computer train against itself and level up my characters, very slowly (because they're at the same level, so they'll get 1-4 EXP all the time), but because the emulator can run dozen of times faster than real hardware, this was feasible.

And then I got back to real game incredibly over levelled, and one-shoot the boss with an arrow from a distance, problem solved. Except that the new problem is that playing this game was less interesting, basically it was playing for story.

2) Magic system is complicated, broken, and useless

Usually if you'd have only weapons, RPGs would be pretty boring. Attacking is cool, but it gets old. Unfortunately magic in this game is quite limited and not powerful enough to be really worth it. Sure you'll be using healing, and some spells to do bad states to enemies such as stun or charm, but actual attacking magic is weak. Knowing who can equip is is completely random at last, I never understood the logic the game had to determine who can use which magic. Also, when you'll progress you'll get magic that is able to hit many panels at once. This is a great idea, unfortunately they didn't optimize it, so you have to watch the animation of a fire 15 times in a row, once per panel, even if there is nobody on it. This is extremely annoying.

Who can do the more can do the less, right ? Hell no, if you graduated and are able to use magic for multiple panels (I never understood what triggers this promotion by the way), you can't fall back to target fewer panels instead, so it'll be problematic in tight places packed with both enemies and allies.

The fact magic sucks so much makes bows an absolute must and they're totally overpowered (except when you are on the bottom of the map...)

Now that was for the main problems with the game. There is a third one : If you are not either looking at a guide or extremely lucky, you are very likely to end up with a bad ending which sucks so much that it's indecent of this game. Well I guess this game was all about shocks from the start, the developers just want to shock you, first with the quality of the graphics and music when you start the game, and then with the bad endings when you completed it.

The Bottom Line
Tactics Ogre is definitely a classic, and should not be missed by fans of the T-RPG genre. It exploits the SNES hardware like none else, have an amazing sound track, and a complex and innovative story which is one or two levels above the classic good vs. evil. However, it also have a completely broken EXP and Magic system, and the weapons system isn't very great either (I didn't mention it above because it's not worth it). So I'd say play this game but cheat, so you can enjoy it to its fullest. Unless you like to restart the same stage again and again (and again and again) hoping none of your important characters will get a lost arrow from a remote enemy in their hearth.

By Bregalad on December 24th, 2013

Live a Live (SNES)

A very original and unique RPG

The Good
First of all, this game is VERY original. You have 7 chapters with 7 heroes and 7 game-play styles. Every detail from the menu's cursor to the music is related to the capter's style. It's pretty amazing. Of course, items, equipment and enemies also are related to the capter's style. At the end, you have a 8th chapter that happens in a medieval world like the average of the RPG, and after that all heroes meets together to fight the evil (I won't spoil anymore). Then the battle system is unique, too. It's a mix. You move on a 7x7 gird and every attack/tech will have it's own range. So the battles have both action and strategy in them. Usually, battle aren't random but sometimes they are (this depends on the chapter). You can have up to 4 character in your party. The background graphics are nice, and also everything here is related to the chapter's style. The music is extremely good, and chapter related of course. Once complete a chapter, you can listen it's music in the menu (there is a average of 3 song per chapter). The game is pretty challenging because there is a lot of secret treasures and additional quests and bosses.

The prehistoric chapter is very fun (nobody speaks so everything is with animation/sound effects) and is the best one for my viewpoint. The Chinese chapter is kinda nice, you have to train kung-fu fighters, but a bit short trough. The near-future chapter is really cool, and surprising too. The ninja chapter very fun too, you have to choose who you want to kill, and you can walk on the roofs !

The Bad
Square could really do better sprite/animation graphics. There is still 16x16 sprites with the same engine as the first Final Fantasy game on the NES. On battles characters looks better, but fighting animation are really crap. Also, many chapters are surprisingly short. The thing I really dislike in this game is that many human bosses takes 3x3 battle squares, so you have to fight people 9 times larger than you. Additionally to bad fighting animation, many battle scenes will look really crap. Also the 7x7 gird is too smaller to have really interesting strategies in battles. If you have 4 characters fighting 2 monsters that are 3x3 squares large, 22 of the 47 gird's squares are already taken, so you can't move as your want.

I the old-west chapter is too small (you can beat it in 30 minutes) and you have only 3 battles including the final one. The science-fiction chapter is rather an horror chapter and the story is just... well... terrorizing. Also this chapter doesn't have any battle except in a computer called "Capitain's Square" and the final battle. So you just have to walk, to talk, to walk, to talk, etc.... For my viewpoint it's the worst one. The arcade chapter is just 6 battles then the final one and no story, so this isn't an actual chapter for me.

The Bottom Line
Live a live isn a very particular RPG, but it's still fun. It's not as good than Chrono Trigger or the final fantasy series, but it's quite good anyway. The game is absolutely unpopular, but square did everything to have it unpopular. They didn't release it out of japan, and they released it a few month before the great Final Fantasy 6, so everyone invest for FF6 rather for this game. If Square-Enix would be smart now days, they could remake this game for the Game Boy Advance and release it in the USA and in Europe, but they're not. Fortunately, an english version is available for emulation. I think everyone that likes RPG and Square shall have a try on this game.

By Bregalad on August 26th, 2013

Final Fantasy III (SNES)

Great game but didn't fully satisfy my appetite

The Good
This review is about the sixth game of the Final Fantasy series, the well known epic jRPGs. This is the last game of what I'll call the "SNES trilogy" which is made of games Final Fantasy IV, V and VI.

The story is about Empire Gestra which oppress people, and how some of the spared nations continue to resist against it. You will control a group of rebel and fight to save people and resist the empire. While the story sounds very unoriginal, it is the developed characters and the way it is told which makes it much more interesting than it sounds at first.

This game features one of the largest character case of the Final Fantasy series with at least a dozen of character available. Unlike Final Fantasy V but like Final Fantasy IV, "jobs" (such as warrior, mage, monk, treasure hunter, etc...) are hardwired to protagonists of the game, which makes every character unique in his fighting style. However, you can also customise your character as wish because the system in this game allows to equip Espers (which is the name this game uses for summons). (This system is similar to the system that will be used later in Final Fantasy VIII). Depending on which summon you equip, you'll learn different spells (surprisingly, everyone can use black, white and time magic regardless of their jobs), and get different stat increases at level-up (in addition to the stat increases related to the job) which makes this system particularly powerful and interesting.

A good thing is that (like most of it's predecessors except FF4) this game has no such thing as a "Main protagonist", you could just have whoever you like in your party after some point in the story. However, it's sadly the last game of the series which lacks this "Main protagonist". Not that I don't like them, but it's nice you can have whoever you want in the party, and not be forced to have some guy just because he's the main protagonist.

Just like other Final Fantasy games, the controls are extremely intuitive and responsive, and are nothing to worry about. The menus are laid out in a way which makes perfect sense, and it's easy to equip your characters with items, etc, etc... (I just thought I'd mention that because this can't be said of all RPGs.) Save points are overall frequent enough and placed at appropriate locations.

This game have a weird Game Over system, where you will respawn at the last save point automatically, instead of loading the last saved state. From what I understand, EXP is kept but everything else is lost (I might be wrong). Apparently Square wanted to try something experimental, before going back again for the rest of the series. It doesn't make much of a difference, since you'll get most of your Game Overs at boss battles, and a save point is placed just before them in general, which means you didn't gain much EXP anyways.

Like the other games in the series, this game features many enemies and bosses you'll have to fight. While enemies are very often reused among different games of the Final Fantasy series, Final Fantasy VI is notable for not reusing anything from the previous games, and making it's own enemies from start. This is mostly a good thing, however, this game kind of break the tradition that was build up with the 5 first games. By the way, for the first time, elemental crystals are gone, too, which is sad because I just happen to love stories which are tightly coupled with the 4 elements. I don't know why but it's just a good old formula that never gets old. Well apparently Square decided it was getting old and, while elemental spells remain intact, the 4 elements are whipped out of the storyline (and will be wiped out for all following games of the series as far I can tell, except Final Fantasy IX where they play a minor role again).

Graphics are very well made for the time, we can immediately tell the developers played with the limitations of the SNES. Character sprites are slightly bigger than in the previous games, and are definitely more detailed. There is parallax scrolling and/or transparency effects everywhere. As you'd expect, summons are graphically very impressive. There is nothing to complain about this department, unless you are one of those guys who think that 2D graphics = bad graphics, in which case I have nothing to say to you.

However I must say that the mode-7 world map (mode 7 is a way for the SNES to fake 3D graphics) is a bit annoying. When you are by foot, the 3D effect is already there but it doesn't work as well as it was supposed to. When you are by airship, it really looks amazing. When you are by chocobo, they made it look like the airship view, where the camera is behind the chocobo, and this is absolutely terrible. Because the chocobo, and therefore the camera, is close to the ground, it makes the ground blend way too much for you to see where you are, and because this is not actual 3D but fake 3D, everything including building and mountains are "drawn on the ground", which in this case looks terrible. Thank god they fixed this in Final Fantasy VII and allowed you to manually switch between the "upper" view and the "behind" view (in addition to having true 3D). So, overall, the world map is globally OK, but it's the weakest point for the graphics of this game, and the effect there is when you ride a chocobo hasn't aged well.

Musically, this game is great and up to line with it's predecessors. The battle theme and boss theme are notably great, and the world map music is amazing, even my parents happens love it, despite them loathing video games in general ! There is even a particular musical piece for a special world map location, which is a nice addition to the game. I'll have to add to say that, however, some songs are more forgettable than songs in Final Fantasy IV and V. Not a big deal though, as this game still have overall incredibly good music. The sound effects are fine and do their work. There is nothing particular to say about them.

The Bad
Yet, I can't refrain from saying this game is overrated. So many people keep shooting "FF6 IS THE BEST RPG EVEEEER", but let me just tell, I think they're wrong. Many of them are biased because they played this first, and before the Final Fantasy series was well known to the masses in the western world. I can perfectly understand why they prefer this game if this is the game that made them discover this amazing series.

However, I played Final Fantasy VI the very last, after beating all the others of the series from Final Fantasy I up to Final Fantasy X-2 (FF7 being the one who made me discover the series). I had of course started games of Final Fantasy VI multiple times, but never had the urge to continue until more recently. Of course, I had high expectations, and for the most part, they were met, however, I will of course have a totally different viewpoint that one of someone who discovered this game in their early teens.

I must say that of course, this is a good game, but the story is one of the weakest of the series, which is mainly well known for it's great stories. If we consider just the SNES trilogy, the quality of the storyline were in my opinion decreasing as the entries of the series were increasing. The story of FF4 is fabulous, especially for it's time. The story in FF5 was a bit of a let down, as the villain had no reason to be a villain, but it was still good with developed characters and multiple worlds to discover.

In FF6, all we have is the cliche of an empire against rebellion group, and the cliche of the evil emperor's right arm (Cefka/Kefka in this case) which is in fact even more evil than the emperor himself. Also, like in FF5 but unlike FF7 for instance, the main opponent of the game has ZERO reasons to be evil. He just wants to bring shame and destruction for his own personal fun, and that's it. This is not what I'd call a very developed character. Sure Cefka/Kefka has the particularity of being an "evil joker" type of villain, something original in the Final Fantasy series.

Although we have a large character set, most of the playable characters do not feel like they are actually in the party. There is about 6 fully developed and interesting characters and 6 jokes/dummy characters with no personality at all (some of them can't even be equipped) who joins your party by pure chance, and couple of characters between those two extremes. Many characters joins you extremely late in the game, some of them can't be obtained until right before the last dungeon.

A large character case works for games like Suikoden which were designed with this in mind (and with the assumption you're going to use your favourite guys), but in the case of FF6 it didn't work as well. Most of the "dummy" characters are still somewhat useful in combat which makes them not as dummy as I am saying (for instance Umaro who is some sort of gorilla, can't be equipped, can't talk and can't be controlled in battle but he hurts enemies EXTREMELY hard, which always happens to be useful), but yet all those dummy character play zero role in the story, and the half-dummy characters play a very minor role once and that's all, which is disturbing to say the least.

One particular character has a command called "Blitz" which is used to make combat-game style gamepad combos. However, this command is very bugged and almost unusable, and therefore I made him out of my party as much as possible. Unfortunately, he's one of the "developed" character, so at multiple times you have to bring him in the party. Not that I don't like him, but I'd like being able to use his ability without getting mad frustrated...

None of this makes FF6 a bad game, not even a mediocre one, but I just see it as being overall a tad inferior to both it's predecessors and it's sequels.

The Bottom Line
Here is it. FF6 is a must play for anyone interested in jRPGs and the Final Fantasy series in general. Missing this great game would be an error. However, my opinion is that it's still definitely weaker than other games in the series, especially it's direct predecessor and sequel, FF5 and FF7, which are both extremely solid (and my personal favourites). FF6 is not the pinnacle of the series of the perfect game some people describe.

There is also not much reason to replay FF6 again when you're finished, but that's the case for RPGs in general.

By Bregalad on July 31st, 2013

Lufia: The Legend Returns (Game Boy Color)

Great game for a few hours, then becomes bland, dull and annoying

The Good
Lufia : The Legend Returns is the third game in the Lufia series, following 2 SNES games. However this was my first game of the series, so please forgive my ignorance about it's two predecessors.

At a fist glance, Lufia the Legend Returns looks like a perfect nice little RPG for your Game Boy Colour. Released late in the GBC's lifespan (at about the same time the Game Boy Advance came out), this game uses the system's capabilities at the fullest.

Graphics have never been Game Boy's strong point, but this game manages to set up lively and colourful environments which are attractive. Characters sprites are very gameboyish but they are cute and have their charm.

Battles are paced in the 1st person view (like in the Dragon Warrior series). Unfortunately there is no background of any sort during battle, which is where this game looses a point about the graphics. The battle system is simple and round based. There is a party of up to 9 members, but only 3 of them can act in a round. The presence of so many characters on the small screen at once is probably the reason no background can be seen, and this is very excusable. The graphical effects of the spells is satisfying. In short, there is nothing wrong with the graphics in this game.

I haven't finished the game, but the story is pretty average. Basically there is 4 big demons and you have to fight them, and along your way you're also going to do smaller tasks like chase thieves, fight against pirates and so on. What is different however is that this game is set up in some sort of parodied environment - the game does not take itself seriously. The scenes before the boss fights are especially funny. I really appreciated this touch of originality.

Sound wise, this game is nothing special. There is a few good songs here and there, but overall nothing to write home about.

The battle system is simple and straightforward, yet enjoyable. Each character has different abilities, and to make them progress you need to find items that learns them new abilities.

The Bad
I really wish I liked and finished this game, unfortunately it is completely ruined by one thing : Randomly generated dungeons.

Usually in RPGs, every dungeon, cave, tower, or whatever is designed by game designers, stored in the cartridge, and this way has been made to be interesting to explore (to a certain extent). Unfortunately, the programmers of Lufia : The Legend Returns apparently were in a rush to release this game before the Game Boy Advance came out or something in the like and didn't take the time to design dungeons and store them in the cartridge.

Instead, they wrote a program that design the dungeon automatically as you enter it, this way if you go out and in again, it will be completely different. Only the number of floors and is constant. Enemies, chests secret passages and stairs leading to the next and previous floor are randomly placed every time you change a floor.

The result is however disastrous. What happens is that the program that generates the floors is very predictable : There is always 9 "rooms" (sometimes less) arranged in a 3x3 square on the floor. Those rooms are interconnected by random passages, but enemies, treasures and stairs will only be present in one of the rooms. And then, randomly, a secret passage is there on the top-left, top-right, bottom-left or bottom-right corner. There is 2 kind of secret passages, those containing a single chest, and those containing 4 chests and 2 enemies.

All floors of ALL dungeons of the game will be exactly like this. After a while it becomes so boring and annoying you'll just stop to play the game because you'll be tired of exploring the same floor again, again, again and again.

This system can be taken advantage of. For example you can go down the stairs, and see if there is another staircases that leads to the next floor in the same room. If there is not, you go up and down again until you have a floor with both staircases right next to each other. This usually takes a dozen of tries. Repeat this 5, 10 or 15 times, and you pass the dungeon without having done much.

Unfortunately even while abusing the system, the game is not fun to play. Because yes, this is one of those games that supposes you to do massive level grinding, otherwise you're out. And I absolutely loathe having to do massive level grinding, which I consider only bad RPG designers introduces in their bad games. There is no way massive grinding can be considered a "challenge", it is just annoying and is only a challenge for your nerves instead of being a challenge to your brain, which is what RPGs should be about.

The Bottom Line
This game shows some promises because it does a great usage of the GBC hardware, and have a funny parodied tone to its story. The battle system is simple, original and easy to get used to. Unfortunately, the game is ruined by randomly generated dungeons and the required massive grinding. If you really want to play this game then just use a cheat code to be invincible and enjoy the story.

By Bregalad on February 11th, 2013

Suikoden (PlayStation)

Despite its repulsive appearance, this is a great classic

The Good
Suikoden is an RPG released by Konami on the Play Station, at the very beginning of the console's lifetime. It's true Konami's mainstream was not into developing RPGs, but unlike what most people seems to be thinking, Suikoden is not the first step of Konami into the genre. Konami already developed the Esper Dream series, Madara series and Lagrange Point long before Suikoden came out. However, Suikoden is the first Konami RPG to have been exported outside of Japan, and that has gained some popularity.

The story of this game is really amazing, and is without a doubt it's first selling point. You start the game as the son of a general of the empire, and you end up having to rebel against the empire for a very good reason. If you have ever seen Star Wars, you know what to expect here. However, the story is made so interesting because of the many different characters, multiple races and nations, and plot twists. Technically this game has almost a hundred of playable characters, although only about 20 of them are interesting and somewhat developed, it's still more than the majority of games. The story is more serious than what you'll find in other games, more than one good character dies along the story, in short, the story feels real.

This game is totally addictive. I had a hard time to stop playing, and I would come back to my console as soon as possible to continue to play Suikoden. This game and it's universe have an indescribable appeal.

Something I really appreciated very much is that, unlike too many RPGs around, this game does not require any level grinding - even if you want to bring a character you didn't use before that is - say - level 15, and that your main party is level 40, all you'll have to do is bring him along somewhere where you're supposed to be level 40, and he'll be level 38 after literally two fights, and level 40 after maybe five fights, which is amazing. This basically saves this game from the mediocrity it could have been if it tried to be like some other RPGs where they suppose you to waste hours just to levels your characters up or to farm money or rare items. I also liked the fact the battles are fast paced, if you're in an area with easy monsters you can close a fight in 15 seconds, no loading times, no crap.

Another nice feature is the weapon forging system. Each character (of the 100 playable ones) has a weapon level, and you don't improve it's attack power by buying a newer, more powerful weapon, but instead you just spend money at a blacksmith's shop to improve the level of the weapon. The game also prevents you to be overpowered, as only very competent blacksmiths (which are found in the towns discovered later in the story) can forge your weapons to higher levels. This system just works very well in the game. Armours and accessories are bought and equipped as regular items though.

The music of this game is really great. Sadly the battle theme and victory theme are mediocre, but all the other songs found in this game are varied, well suited to the situation they're heard in, well composed, and CD-quality. It's not as amazing as the music from, say, Final Fantasy games or Castlevania games, but it's still very nice.

The fact you can "build" your own castle and recruit people which will work in it is a very nice idea, and is a great source of fun. The music that plays in your castle is also the best you'll find in the game in my opinion, which is good as you'll spend a lot of time here.

The Bad
This game has quite a few flaws. Even if, luckily, all of them are quite easy to get used to after a while, so that they don't ruin the experience this game provides.

The worst flaw of this game is, without a doubt, the graphics. They are horrible, repulsive, and even after you get used to them they are still confusing. True, this game was released in 1995, but Chrono Trigger and Seiken Densetsu 3, which were both released the same year on an inferior system, looks WAY better than this game. The sprites for the characters are mostly non recognisable, the background is so terrible you can't tell apart walls, grounds and roofs of buildings. The graphics in battle are a pathetic attempt at simulating 3D with 2D sprites. The sprites are resized with a poor algorithm so that they constantly look all blocky and pixelated. The only thing graphic wise which stands out is the characters' mugshots, which are arguably the best graphics you'll get in this game. Still they look bad, you can't tell men and women apart (the only way is to take them to the bath in your castle, and it only work for playable characters), and half of the characters looks like total alcoholics.

The game feels very rushed overall. Not only the graphics are terrible, but also there is a total lack of any FMVs, the intro scene is just a clip showing off in-game videos, which is one of the cheapest idea they could have. On the playfield you can't walk diagonally, which feels retarded on a 32-bit system.

The battle system was extremely simple, and for the most part, uninteresting. You'll only use "attack" and healing items 99.9% of the time. The other option is called "Rune", which is magic in this game. Runes are items you can "link" to characters. Unfortunately you can only link a single rune at a time on a characters, and most attacks are not stronger than a physical attack while being very limited (you can only use them several time in the game). The hero's rune is hardwired to a death/dark elemental rune which has instant death attacks, completely useless against bosses which are of course protected against them.

The hero's weapon is a wooden stick. At first I though it was the worst weapon in the game and that he'd get something more interesting later on, but he doesn't. You'll have to spend the entire game with this wooden stick. Isn't that the most ridiculous weapon ever for an hero ?

I appreciate Konami's effort to introduce mini-games, but to be honest they're just lame. Most of them are based on pure gambling and there is this an annoying country music which makes you feel like the mini-game supposes you to have fun when it's not fun at all. The fact a few of those minigames are compulsory along the storyline (and that you're forced to win them - by pure luck) doesn't help.

I really hated how you had to get back to the overworld by foot after beating a dungeon. There is a talisman item which is supposed to get you instantaneously out of dungeons, but it simply never works ! Why make such an item if it never works ? The only place where you don't have to do get back by foot (the story scene teleports you out automatically) is where there is an inaccessible chest at the end of the dungeon. If you want to get the chest, be ready to do the entire dungeon 2 more times (forwards and backwards) again ! Oh yeah !

The Bottom Line
Suikoden has all the elements needed to make a bad game : Unoriginal story based on an evil empire you have to defeat, horrible graphics, mediocre battle system, bad battle music, lack of cool spells, no FMVs, corny design choices. In fact if someone were to say Suikoden is a bad game I would perfectly understand their point of view. However for some reason, Suikoden just happens to be fun to play. I loved to play it and I was addicted. I'm almost sad I finished the game, and I'll definitely have to play the sequels, as the story of this game ends with a hook. The Suikoden series is apparently a true series where the plot gets continued, not a concept series like Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest.

In short I recommend this game for fans of old-style, 2D RPGs, as it's quite unique and can be considered a gem. However this game is not for everyone, and definitely not for the general public who is asking for pretty graphics.

By Bregalad on October 27th, 2012

Star Ocean (SNES)

This could have been a great game but its bad battle system and complex labyrinths are annoying

The Good
Star Ocean (from now on SO) is a RPG released late during the lifetime of the SNES, exclusively in japan, but an excellent fan translation to English is available (and is the version I played). Despite having no official connexion with the other SNES game Tales of Phantasia, Star Ocean was developed by the same people and uses the same game engine as Tales of Phantasia (from now on TOP). They spawned a few sequel to both games on more advanced consoles, but I admit I haven't played any of them, I've only played the original TOP prior to playing SO, so I'd really consider SO to be the spiritual sequel to TOP.

At a first glance SO looks like your standard medieval-fantasy RPG for the first hour of gameplay. You control a guy named Ratix and his friend Milly, and you met with Iria and Roxinis, who came from a more advanced planet to help you to save your planet from doom by travelling through time and space .

The music in Star Ocean was made by the same guy who did Tales of Phantasia and Golden Sun games (for those who doesn't know, Golden Sun is a very famous RPG for the Game Boy Advance). For some reason however I think the style sounds closer to Golden Sun - In other words this means the soundtrack of this game is for the most part very good. The battle theme in particular is a total masterpiece and never gets old, while other songs are more forgettable, but still enjoyable while playing. There is also a very good boss theme but it's used only once in the game unfortunately, while the standard boss theme is not as good.

The sound effects does their work, and there is a lot of voice clips (just like in TOP), although they are in Japanese so chances are you don't understand them anyway. Some sound effects are weird, for example when someone level ups it sounds like a piano has been thrown out the window and crashes on the ground.

Graphics are very good too, no big surprise they follow the same anime style as TOP, but they improved colors (which were somehow washed out in TOP), so this is very pleasant to look at. It's hard to know what were the standard for 1996, as most games were already on 32-bit consoles with CD-ROM, but SO is definitely one of the best looking SNES games.

The Bad
Unfortunately, SO doesn't fix up the flaws of TOP. On the other side they made the same errors again but this time they appear more gross.

First of all, the re-used screens. SO re-uses screens ALL THE TIME, without even palette-swapping them. EVERY dungeons are like you are on screen A, you have 4 exits. You choose randomly, you end up in a long corridor, then you are on screen B which have 3 exits. You pick one randomly, you have another long corridor and you end up in a duplicate of screen A. Have you already been here or not ?

It's extremely hard to explore everything without missing treasures and figuring where you are and where you already went. Tales of Phantasia already had this problem in one place or two, but SO have worsened it. I mean they are both the biggest SNES games with 6MB of cartridge data, and they have to re-use screens this much like very older games did ? How comes that Chrono Trigger which is only 4MB is feels way larger and deeper than this game ?

Second problem : The battle system. Final Fantasy XIII, didn't invent anything and just ripped off SO's system. In other words, your comrades are controlled by the computer while you indirectly control the main character trough menus. Basically this means you press 'A', select an enemy to attack with the D-Pad and press 'A' again to attack him. You can also press 'B' for spells or items and 'L' or 'R' to do special techniques, but those are so slow to load that 90% of the time some enemy will attack you and cancel them before you get a chance for them to work.

The Bottom Line
Star Ocean is notable for it's great music and graphics, and is enjoyable at the start of your adventure but as you progress in the game it becomes gradually worse as you'll be lost in 10 floors labyrinths with random battles every 5 steps without a chance to control whether you win or loose and sometimes lacking resources to heal your party as this game lacks Tents or something equivalent so use your 3 save slots well.

I'd recommend it only for hardcore JRPG fans, and I'd rather recommend playing Tales of Phantasia which is very similar (same game engine), has the same flaws but less of them.

By Bregalad on September 27th, 2012

Seiken Densetsu 3 (SNES)

A timeless classic, but with several flaws

The Good
Seiken Densetsu 3 is an RPG made by Squaresoft for the Super Nintendo.

This game is the sequel to Secret of Mana and Final Fantasy Adventure. At a first glance, after playing a few minutes, one could say this game has few in common with Secret of Mana. Not only the graphical style has evolved, but also the gameplay feels quite different.

As opposed to Secret of Mana which resolves on a fixed 3-character party, you can chose one hero and 2 friends among 6 possible characters, for a total of 20 different possible parties, with 6 different possible storylines !

Even if the story line is not as deep as it could have been, it's definitely way deeper than in Secret of Mana. Each characters have his reasons and motivations to leave home and to go on a journey to save the world, which is why the "hero" you choose as the lead characters significantly alters the story.

The gameplay is very different from Secret of Mana. This game plays more like a beat-em-up, where you encounter enemies, you rush on them and you can go forward when all of them are beaten. This adds a degree of excitement during playing that was absent in Secret of Mana.

Something I really liked is that they made up a day/night system, not only that, but also a calendar system with days-of-the-week corresponding to elemental spirits. There is 8 elemental spirits, but Lumina and Shade stands for day and night respectively, and 6 spirits remains for the week. However a 7th day is added in honour of the goddess of mana, which is the Seiken Densetsu 3 equivalent of Sunday. All inns are free on Mana days, which is nice.

Finally I must absolutely say the music in Seiken Densetsu 3 is mighty. For the most part of it, it is completely different from Secret of Mana's style, even though it has been composed by the same guy. A couple of songs from Secret of Mana were re-used though.

I must say that even though this is "only" a Super NES game, the graphics and animations are totally amazing, probably among the best ever seen on the console.

The Bad
I wish I could just stop here and say Seiken Densetsu 3 is so amazing that there is nothing to write here, and that all flaws that were here in Secret of Mana are gone. In fact this is probably what I would have done after a couple of hours of gameplay.

However as I played through the entire game, some problems arose, and I started to realise that many problems are still here, they are just more hidden.

The biggest issue is the inventory system. You can only carry up 10 kinds of items and up to 9 of each. If you want any more, you can store them in the inventory (which is an improvement over Secret of Mana which only allowed 4 items, and had no inventory). This is not a problem in itself, however the menus are VERY slow, buggy, unintuitive and user-unfriendly. You'll have to press the "Start" button, and wait for the menu to load, then scroll down the long inventory one item at a time, and it takes approximately 1s to scroll every single item, which is extremely long.

The weapon/armour system is not any better. The orb system from Secret of Mana is gone, and there is a system much like any traditional RPG where weapons and armours are specific to each character. This is not a problem - but when you buy them you have no idea to which of the 3 characters the equipment is associated, and swapping an item between a character and another, and equipping items, is even longer than browsing the inventory.

I think words can't really describe how the menu of Seiken Densetsu 3 is terrible.

Another problem is that, while the gameplay mechanics have been greatly improved (now the action pauses when you cast a spell or use an item which avoids major bugs from Secret of Mana), bugs from Secret of Mana (which were very numerous) are still present. When a character is severely injured you never know when it's dead or just low on HP, and the game engine allows you to waste healing items on a dead character without telling you he's already dead yet. When a boss have decided to attack you with a spell or a special skill, you cannot open the ring menu to heal until after the attack is finished.

There is major problems with sprites in this game. They are constantly half-disappearing when any animation is happening. Apparently they tried to use more sprites than the SNES could handle. They could really have fixed that somehow instead of leaving it as-it, because it really looks corny.

Even though I enjoyed a lot the beginning and the middle of the game, the last part of it seemed dull and uninteresting to me. Maybe this was because the last dungeon's music sucked even though all other pieces of music in the game are amazing. Maybe it was because a lot of level grinding was necessary if I wanted to avoid Game Over screens from occurring too frequently. Or maybe it was that dumb system where, to get the best weapons and the best classes, you have to collect seeds and plant then in an Inn, which will give you any random item. To get all the items for class promotions, and to get all ultimate weapons and armours, you'll have to spend quite some time to hunt seeds and you'll need some luck. Why the monsters doesn't directly drop the items you want so badly is beyond me.

The Bottom Line
Seiken Densetsu 3 is a great sequel, and a great classic on the SNES that any fan of the console should play.

Still, it can't be called a perfect game or anything, and even though there is multiple possible parties and stories, I'll probably not play it a second time because the gameplay tends to get boring and the game has so many annoying little bugs.

By Bregalad on August 11th, 2012

Atelier Iris 2: The Azoth of Destiny (PlayStation 2)

One of the few recent games that's worth playing

The Good
Atelier Iris 2 : Azoth of Destiny is the second game in the Atelier Iris series, a Japanese RPG trilogy for the Playstation 2. I was very impressed by the first game, Atelier Iris : Eternal Mana, as it provided me an amazing experience (see my review for more details). Because I was so pleased by the first game I started to look for it's sequel, but this game was hard to find. When I eventually found a copy I bought it right away and my expectations about this game were high, as I wanted it to be as great, if not even better, as the first game.

The game is about the story of a young guy, Felt, and a young girl, Viese, who lives in the world of Eden, which is pretty much a paradise where everyone is nice, and without any monsters. Both are students in alchemy, and while Viese is an exemplary student, Felt prefers to practice swordplay (which is purely a martial art - there is no battles in Eden). Suddenly when an earthquake happened and destroyed parts of Eden, Felt decided to travel to the world of Belkhide, to be able to restore his beloved homeland. However many battles awaits you in Belkhide, and be prepared for a long and epic journey.

While the story is overall simple and classic it also revolves over the relationship between Felt and Viese, which has stayed at Eden but fully supports Felt, and is achieved so well that the player will have a lot of pleasure discovering the world, characters and story of this game.

The graphics of this game are very similar to the first, but you can see slight improvements in a few areas. As in the first game, all graphics are in a lively and colorful anime style. The playfield is shown in isometric 3D, while characters are made of 2D sprites, and battles takes place entirely in 2D. A good improvement over the first game is the world map, which instead of being made of very cheap and poor looking 3D is now an actual map, where you just have to press a D-Pad button to move from a place to a neighbour place.

There is also a notable improvement over the first game in the animations of characters, they are more interesting to look at. On the bad side, a few things are plain copied from the first game, but it's rare enough to forget it.

The gameplay is both very similar and quite different from the first game. It's similar in that the game plays like a classical Japanese RPG, which alternates between the playfield and random battles, and that the battle system is straightforward and simple. However there is huge differences in the mana system, and synthesis systems which have been completely redone from new basis. This proves that Gust put a lot of attention into this game and that only the basic game's mechanics were brought from the first game.

The music is, as in the first game, absolutely amazing. It mixes different styles including J-Pop, traditional Asian music, rock, pop, classical, techno and other influences I can't remember. There is an even bigger variety than from the first game, which already had an amazing soundtrack. The random battle music changes no less than 3 times, to avoid you being bored by the same battle music again and again, and there is quite a few boss themes as well. Few towns and dungeons have re-used themes.

The game offers a decent level of challenge as not all battles are easy, especially some bosses. I think it was probably harder then the first game, although I played the original a few years ago so I can't remember accurately.

The Bad
The only bad thing I'd say about this game is that, once you finished it, there is few reasons to replay it, unless you want to go through the whole adventure a second time. However this is a common issues in RPGs, so it's not really something to complain about. While the first game had some actual additional quests, all this game has to offer is some challenging battles at Dragon's Den (some kind of arena), unless I've missed something.

Second and last problem, the English language voice acting pronounce "Maina" instead of "Mana", which tends to annoy me a little.

The Bottom Line
This game is probably not for everyone has it has a very strong anime feel, 2D graphics, and the story, while very well done, is classical and full of cliches. People which are at least a little into Japanese culture and RPGs which are looking for a fun and epic game to play should absolutely not miss this unique game, which is in my eyes, like it's predecessor, a masterpiece.

Gust is one of the very, very few companies who still knowns how to make good, simple and fun games since the 21st century, which is a good break from the realistic graphics and incredibly complex and uninteresting gameplay systems, or simple boring casual flash/portable games, which both aren't my style of gaming.

It's a shame this game will (probably) remain known only by a few dedicated fans, because it's probably the best RPGs released the last few years. Now I'll have to find a copy of the (rare) Atelier Iris 3 - Grand Phantasm, which I am now wanting to miss !

By Bregalad on June 11th, 2012

Final Fantasy II (SNES)

The adventure you experience in this game aged surprisingly well

The Good
Welcome to my Final Fantasy IV review (from now on FF4). I think I don't need to introduce the Final Fantasy series as it's so well known, but just for the little history, after 3 installments on the NES console, Square decided to move to the new Super NES console and to release a game that, back in the day, was a groundbreaking RPG with great innovations.

While FF1 and FF3 had nameless heroes with no personalities, FF2 had actual characters and a storyline where they take place, but overall they were still characters with no personality at all. FF4 was the first game of the series where the characters really were developed, for real this time. Nowadays it is totally standard for a RPG to have developed characters and it would be considered a huge flaw if they weren't (hem hem FF12 hem hem), but back in the early 90s it wasn't so standard. While FF4 definitely didn't invent the idea of having characters with names and personalities in a video game, it greatly improved the concept and defined new standard as to how to tell a story in a video game.

The story is about a young guy, named Cecil, who is high ranked in the army of Baron (the largest city in FF4) and is forced by his superiors to hurt innocent people in Mystidia to steal an elemental crystal. He feels guilty and decide to rebel against the king's orders, but the tyrannic king doesn't like this at all and ban him from his functions. Cecil doesn't understands this because until recently the king used to be a good guy. Now you're out on an adventure to understand who manipulates the king, and try to preserve the other elemental crystals form being stolen.

The adventure goes on, and there is enough plot twists so that you are always still interested to play the game. In fact the story even gets sentimental at times, which is always a nice thing, and after all, is what the Final Fantasy series is about !

For the first time you get "active time battles" for the first time in the series so you'll be right at home if you're used to modern RPGs, no round based battles like in the NES games ! Also, this is the only standard RPG (not including T-RPGs obviously) I've ever played that allows you to have 5 people in the party ! I don't know why all the other games always have 3 or 4, because 5 is nice as well, it makes you less likely to have all them dead. This deserve a toast.

Finally I must say that the music is really nice, even if the quality of the instruments can be quite primitive for the SNES standard (I have later Square games in mind), it's nothing near as bad as Super Mario World or other Nintendo-made early SNES games, and does the work.

The Bad
There is two things I should complain about a little in FF4.

The graphics didn't age too well. They definitely only use a small portion of what is possible on the SNES, and looks like NES graphics which have been cheaply updated to more colors at the last minute. Anyways the enemies still looks impressive, and the battle effects are satisfying even if not all characters looks all that great, but I feel like the graphics on the playfield really could have been better and that Square put little effort in them. Anyways I doubt anyone will play FF4 for it's graphics right now so I'll pass on this one.

Now the other flaw which is more significant. It's a well known fact all Final Fantasy games all have a different battle system. Well FF4 is no exception, but it definitely have the simpler and less interesting system of the entire series (including it's 3 predecessor). It may sound harsh, but it's true. I suspect that Square focused so much on active time battles and 5-characters at a time that they completely forgot about making any character customisation nor any interesting evolution system. Characters have jobs but those are hardwired to the characters and can't ever be changed. They gain abilities/spells relative to their job when they level up. And yeah that's all folks, the only "customisation" you can do is switch equipment. Boring as hell isn't it ?

Since you also don't get a way to choose who comes in your 5 characters party, the story decides for you, and you can see that at a few spots they came with a really dumb excuse to replace a character by another. It's like as soon as a 6th character comes, someone that was in your former party will systematically fell on the ground and break his arm, being unable to fight for a while, just to make room for the new characters. OK it's not THAT pathetic, but almost. This remembers me the worst moments of FF2.

The Bottom Line
While FF4 has it's flaws, and definitely doesn't use the SNES hardware to it's fullest, it's still a great game to have to your SNES collection and I'd recommend Final Fantasy fans to play it, and to play the SNES version, if you can't get a cartridge then emulate but the very best is to get a SNES cartridge.

Although this game has been remade at least 5 times I think the remakes are not worth playing as they don't preserve the spirit of the original game. If you are about to play a remake, then avoid the DS remake at all costs as it is the one which destroy the game the most : It has blocky polygonal 3D graphics (which is worse than old pixeled 2D in my opinion), wrong notes all the times in the music, and is incredibly harder than the SNES game.

As a final word, I'd say that Square really did a nice game with this one, and it's a great start to the SNES trilogy. The game aged surprisingly well, and if you can see past it's outdated graphics, you'll see an amazing adventure that you're not going to forget.

By Bregalad on April 15th, 2012

Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance (Game Boy Advance)

Excellent game, but a bit short and lack challenge.

The Good
Castlevania : Harmony of Dissonance is the 2nd game of the series to have been released on the Game Boy Advance. The 1st, Circle of the Moon, was successful, but the game had bad graphics and very little sprites, and the game felt overall inconsistent. Harmony of Dissonance fixes all that was wrong with Circle of the Moon and go back close to what Symphony of the Night was.

You take the role of Juste Belmont (yeah! is has been a while since a Castlevania actually had a Belmont as the main character), which is the grandson of Simon from the original Castlevania, and Castlevania II - Simon's Quest. Your goal is to rescue your childhood friend Lydie that has been captured in a Castle. As with all modern Castelvania titles, it has RPGs elements where you should upgrade your main character in order to be able to go to new areas and explore the Castle.

The really unique feature to Harmony of Dissonance is to be able to combine your subweapons with spellbooks to make spells. For example if you use ice book with holy water you will be able to use a spell, but if you combine it with axe you will cast another ice spell, and so on. This feature is absolutely amazing, and make it really fun to play the game, as there is a grand total of 6 subweapons x 5 elements = 30 spells to cast ! Note that you also can (should in case of mana shortage) use raw subweapon, without a spell on them. This game also have another unique feature I'm not going to say as it would be a spoiler.

Now people will say this is nothing compared to the 100 DSS possible combinations in Circle of the Moon, but this is not true, as a good half of them had absolutely no effect (the combination was not used), a good part of the combinations which were used were not useful during gameplay. In the end you'd end up using the same half-dozen of DSS all the time and never use the others. Here you can really use all your spells and access to most of them are easy, the only exception being the last element book which allows you to use summons, but is hard to find.

The game has very good graphics for GBA standards, the animation of the main character is very fluid (in contrast with Circle of the Moon). Many transparency effects, etc... Some people will complain about the blue outline around the main character but the game was designed to be played with an original GBA or a GBASP, which had washed out colors. If you play it on a DS, it will look a bit weird but it's not such an issue. Remember that there was huge complains about the dark graphics of Circle of the Moon which were made even darker with the washed out Game Boy screen and made the game playable only in optimal lighting conditions (thanks god it is now playable in all conditions with a DS).

The Bad
The only bad point about this game is the lack of challenge. The game is hard at the beginning of the as you start underleveled, but after some point it becomes way easier than other Castlevania games for some reason. Most bosses are a cakewalk, too. A reason for this is probably the spells which are so powerful.

Another not-so-good point is the music. Not that it's bad, but as the title says, it's dissonant (I guess intentionally). In addition to being dissonant, the music in this game is made exclusively of 8-bit style chip tunes. It ended good for a few songs, but most of them are average, and this particular style of music of music might not being to everyone's taste. But at least it uses mostly original compositions (as opposed to Circle of the Moon which used almost exclusively remixes of previous CV games), and it really have an unique style of music. But as the Castlevania series is really reputed for its music, they could have come up with something way better, even while limiting them to dissonant chip tunes.

Finally I have some complain that, while the controls are way better than in Circle of the Moon, there is still a problem when you whip while jumping, you can't control your jump anymore (like in the NES games), while when you jump without whipping you can. This has tricked me a few times to jump into enemies.

While the game features dialogues and minimal character development, the storyline is incredibly simple and will not give any emotions to the player, despite the fact Konami tried to develop personalities of their characters.

The final thing I have to say, is not a bad point of the game but just... This game features a "decoration" room where you can gather furniture. I mean WTF ? What is the point ? This is one of the most nonsense I have ever seen in a videogame.

The Bottom Line
Castlevania : Harmony of Dissonance is a good game, and fun to play. It fixes all that was wrong in Circle of the Moon, and has definitely aged better (considering it was released only one year later, it feels much smoother), but unfortunately it is also easier and shorter, so don't expect a huge challenge with this game. Eventually, Konami has released their third and final GBA Castlevania : Aria of Sorrow, which will be way better than both, but that's another story.

So I recommend this game if you like Castlevania games of course, but also if you're new to the series and want to play one game that is not too hard for a start. Also the magical spells makes a good reason to play this instead of some other random Castlevania game.

By Bregalad on August 30th, 2011

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