Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Dark Souls Preview

Dark Souls is out in Japan now so we have our first humorous early stories including these: one two. Having godly Black Phantoms punish those pre release violators is a fabulous PR move for From Software. First notions of the game being 60 hours long (with the first game being ~45 hours long on the first playthrough, albeit much shorter once you were good at the game) seem to have been cut off and it is now at least 100 hours long if not longer, which is fabulous for my month of death and destruction coming soon.

For some reason now that Dark Souls is an open world game people seek to compare it to Skyrim. Obviously Skyrim is going to outsell Dark Souls but it will undoubtedly be worse in every regard aside from storyline. IGN wrote a pretty fanboyish article about this which I think is comical and somewhat accurate. Still, I really don’t think these games are comparable, Skyrim is a very easy, probably slightly more expansive game in which you do random quests for strangers, Dark Souls is a directed hunt. Soul Addiction is your drive if you’ve played the first game a few times, and killing monstrous demons so you can become a prettier one yourself is undoubtedly the highest of interests. Trying to compare a game in which you die once or twice to a game where you die hundreds of times just doesn’t work out. Dark Souls is not Zelda nor is it Oblivion. It is a game and genre unto itself without being too much of a homage to ancient games in any regard but difficulty.

Dark Souls has a legitimate shot at being the hardest RPG ever made, and possibly the hardest non Battletoads game. Battletoads is a badly designed game with the old “Arcade Mode” murder the player as much as possible mentality, but it does take thousands of failures to clear it sans save states. Dark Souls is obviously much more contemplative so if you were to compare the two I think it’d require some multiplying factors for genre. A death in most RPGs is a major setback, however death in modern FPS’s and action games simply brings you a few minutes back to the last checkpoint. For instance, I recently beat Killzone 2 on the hardest difficulty (possibly the hardest FPS in the modern era without copious infinite spawns) and died 400 times so doing. However clearing Demon’s Souls only took about ~125 actual deaths (Not counting tendency suicides) but nary a fool would suggest Demon’s Souls is easier than Killzone 2 or any other FPS/3PS.

To overcome Vagrant Story all Dark Souls has to do is add in about 50-60 more deaths than DS, and based on early stories it could well be hundreds more than that. I’d imagine VS’s learning curve will still be harder but we’ll see. I don’t think I’ll have a fair perspective having played the initial game but if it takes most 360 owners more than 15 hours to figure out how to play then it will exceed VS even in that regard. The largest potential issue with Dark Souls is that death’s may feel unfair and cheap a la Maneater or random pitfalls in bad lighting, as opposed to feeling awesome and therapeutic a la Penetrator, Flamelurker, and the dragons. More Boletarian Palace, less Valley of Defilement, more dragons, less bad lighting. As predicted it seems there will be more of both so either the bosses in this game will have to completely blow me away or it will have most of the same problems the first game did.

If you do happen to be a 360 owner and a bit hesitant to purchase this I would of course reprimand you for your weakness, as dying 500 times is one of the most satisfying things imagineable. Realistically though this game will sell very well on PS3 being a sequel but as an initial IP and far and away the hardest game ever seen on any Microsoft console will undoubtedly cause it to sell only around 50,000 copies there. That being so you could probably get it for $30 in about 3 months. While this will be the first console game I’ve bought on release date in about 5 years and justifiably so I wouldn’t think less of you, dear friend, if you saved those 30 bucks and began the murder in January.

Edit: Length is shorter if you play online evidently, as certain bosses are murderously hard solo. Still, this is likely to motivate me and others to try it completely solo anyway. Blood will have blood.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Bayonetta Review

+++ Extremely fluid combat
+++ Outstanding Environmental Variety
++ Non Serious Cutscenes are great
++ Large variety of weapons
++ 50+ Hours of content
++ Visually enthralling from start to finish
++ Great last few boss fights
+ Random non combat levels are relatively fun
+ Decent Soundtrack
+ Custom Soundtrack option makes later playthroughs much more enjoyable
+ Extremely Difficult
-- Tons of bullshit QTEs guaranteed to kill you at least once
- Weapon balance is all over the place
- Alfheim portals are absurdly difficult relative to the rest of the game
- Some of the bosses are easier than normal levels
- Extraordinary lack of health pickups
- A little too much button mashing for QTEs
- Excessive Fanservice

The Good

Bayonetta is pretty handily the best game of the Devil May Cry mold ever produced. This game diverges just enough to make it feel both unique and improve the overall experience. Weapons can be attached to either your hands or feet and used as charge attacks alongside sometimes changing the overall attack pattern. Despite this fluidly changing between weapons mid combo retains the position that you were already at provided you’re using sensible weapon choices, this means that you can always transition smoothly from one combo to another. In fact you can chain mid air combos into ground combos and vice versa with relative ease, something always lacking in the DMC verse. Alongside all of this is the mechanic of Witch Time, every time you dodge an attack well the game slows down and turns purple. In Witch Time you do more damage and it’s obviously much easier to hit enemies. (certain enemies are incredibly hard to kill at first outside of it)

This game has a very impressive starting environment but instead of changing environments immediately you instead approach the same area from a different perspective. Each time the area gets more and more visually impressive. Adding Lava or Space and random gravity switches enhances the area every time you walk through it. In fact you generally don’t even notice until the second or third playthrough how much of the game is essentially a breaking up of the first few levels in as interesting a fashion as possible. Ultimately the game adds a new, fantastic environment in the last few levels (along with a mid game inexplicable motorcycle level) that tightens together the most insane environments I’ve ever seen. It’s not quite as pretty or as varied as Final Fantasy XIII but it’s also 1/6th the size in scope.

There are two primary types of bosses in this game. One of these is Jeanne who you fight 4 times, essentially these fights play out like the Dante/Vergil fights in the DMC series. They aren’t as good or tightly tuned as the DMC 3 fights but they’re still a lot of fun and decently challenging. The other type is against a Giant vaguely Angelic monster thing, every time you fight one of these it is always cinematically satisfying. While they tend not to be overly hard (aside from the first and last ones which provide a moderate challenge) they’re still fun and even the QTE button mashing isn’t too irritating. Particularly impressive is the boss you fight on top of water. While on a raft you are still able to perform standard combos and jumps and move around the enemy somewhat freely. The QTE isn’t so great in this fight but it eventually works out and the visual experience is unmatched in the rest of the game.

There are 5 difficulty levels in this game. Normal tends to be moderately difficult aside from the Alfheim Portals, while Hard is slightly harder (mostly harder enemies earlier in the game) and Nonstop Infinite Climax is much harder still. In the hardest setting you don’t have access to Witch Time, thus changing the dynamic of various enemies in the game. Eventually I figured out a few sets of attacks that worked well on even Grace and Glory and did reasonably well. But, to give you an idea a single 4-5 hit combo from them will take you from 2 full life bars to almost dead on harder modes (it is difficult to escape it once it begins, though the initial dodge isn’t that bad). The easier modes let you access an “Automatic” accessory. I don’t recommend using this as your first playthrough since it makes the game a bit too easy but if you have beaten the game on normal it’s fun to go back on easy and watch the game do most everything for you. Unlike DMC auto modes it also dodges mid attacks and enables Witch Time quite frequently. Eventually you get to a skill level that’s comparable to the automatic device, though you’ll never see everything coming.

Apart from the prospect of four or five different playthroughs the game offers a very difficult survival mode, a hidden mega boss of doom that will massacre you over and over (kind of like Old King Doran) and 2 absurdly hard to unlock characters (giving incentive to the typically meaningless DMC rating system!). Additionally there are 63 “Secret Missions,” though you’ll only get health/”mana” items from 21 of them. That leads me into the next section.

The Bad

Secret Missions in this game are called Alfheim Portals and are almost entirely combat based. This is all well and good and a huge improvement over the DMC system. Along with a particular condition such as Witch Time Disabled you are given a limited number of hits instead of a life bar for these fights (hence you can’t die in these missions, only fail). This makes the harder bunch of these missions insanely hard the first time you try them. Essentially the game wants you to perfect the combat system, but doing so right off the bat is absurdly difficult. I’m now immensely better at the game so I can do even the trickier missions on normal in a couple of tries. However the first time I tried a few of them it took hours to clear them (it’s only a few super hard missions on normal but that still took up a shitload of time). In fact my first run of the game took about 17 hours of gametime, I’d wager 8 or so of those hours were in Alfheim Portals.

Not content with murdering the player on normal Platinum also added different Alfheims on Hard and Nonstop. This mirrors the old DMC2 system and these later Alfheims are pretty handily the hardest part of the game aside from the aforementioned super boss. While there’s no reason to do them I’m oddly compelled to try and fail miserably hundreds of times. I’ve played this game for about 60 hours and have both extra characters unlocked the difficult way alongside a Platinum trophy. I’m confident that I, as a decent player of the game, could be substantially better than I already am and some of these Alfheims would still take a hundred tries to complete.

The Ugly

Aside from the gratuitous fanservice that I don’t really wish to discuss here this game has about 25 straight up bullshit QTEs in it. These will pop up and give you half a second or less to respond to the button prompt and you’ll die. You’ll die a lot. Combat deaths are fairly uncommon if you use items in the main game but those QTEs don’t give a shit about your lifebar and murder you instead. It’s kind of a shame that these are in the game in the first place, as they can easily ruin otherwise perfect level clears and will kill you a few dozen times on you first play through. Having seen them all plenty of times at this point I’ve mostly avoided death after about 5 playthroughs, but that doesn’t stop me from getting pissed every time I do die to them. One can only thank God that they don’t actually increase in difficulty on harder settings.

The other thing that will cause you to die is the utter lack of health drops in this game. Health drops are fairly uncommon in DMC and very reliable in Ninja Gaiden (though you basically have to run a gauntlet between health chests), in this game they are all but non existent. In the first real level of the game you are tossed a few solid healing drops and enemies seem to drop a bit more, but after that you’ll get 1-2 drops that restore a tenth or twentieth of your life bar. Once again the game wants you to be perfect throughout levels, but your first time through you’ll eventually either die horribly or realize you need to use items in lieu of continuing repeatedly. Afterward the game will shit on you and award you Bronze and Stone Awards (Oh…Oh… what a day!) when you clear the level. Naturally this makes getting Platinum medals for full levels pretty damn difficult.

On harder difficulties unless you are essentially perfect you will have to use items or continues no matter what, and while it’s not too hard to perfect some of the lesser enemies a single Grace and Glory pair can massacre you in a few seconds (even if you do approach them in an effective manner). Fortunately the last boss is actually fairly skill based so there is at least some potential to perfect there, albeit the combo point requirement is insanely high. As you go through the game you tend to realize that specific weapon combos are substantially better than others. Shuraba is pretty much always the hand weapon you want to use and the legs will vary between Kilgore and Durga (Pillow Talk and Bazillions are interesting but ultimately inferior). There’s a well known bug which causes Kilgore to launch a shitload of rockets instead of just 4 with these combinations, but even if you don’t abuse that (I didn’t for the most part) there’s no reason to not use Durga charge attacks (with trips and juggles) against the harder enemies in the game (Jeanne, Joys, and Grace and Glory) and spam certain wicked Weaves with Shuraba on moderately difficult foes. Even the non bugged Kilgore leg attack does an obscene amount of damage relative to every alternative.

Final Score: 9/10

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2

++ Smooth, intuitive control scheme
++ Rewards skilled gameplay
++ Excellent Weapon Variety
++ Team Missions are great
+ Enormous levels
+ Additional Character levels are solid
+ Extremely Difficult
-- Too many regular enemies
- Bosses don’t increase in difficulty as the game goes on
- Reusage of old X Box game textures for half the game
- Hardest Team Missions are impossible without exploits
- Excessive Fanservice

Ninja Gaiden 2 is a pretty solid game, though once you start getting better at it the bosses tend to fall over after you go through an enormous gauntlet of regular enemies. A single playthrough has well over 1500 enemies facing you to go with 20 or so boss fights in 17 levels. It is extremely combat heavy to say the least, but the amount of time you fighting regular enemies is a bit excessive and feels sort of like padding. This was already a long game prior to the additional 3 levels and team missions but now a campaign takes 15 hours on the standard difficulty setting, increasing substantially with each uptick thereafter. I intend to eventually beat the game on the two harder settings but fighting through 20 enemies perfectly only to die to some random cheap grab attack at the end is rather irritating so I’m taking it slow (checkpoints are a little sparse at times).

Once you get better weapons the game starts to pick up a bit as you can take off limbs in just a few hits and have “ranged” area of effect ultimate techniques instead of ones that only take out 1 or 2 enemies. However at this point you are also presumably starting to get better at the game as well and figure out how to block and dodge more effectively (though actually mastering the combat system takes much longer still) to defeat bosses. After I got to this point I pretty much decimated every boss on the first or second try (one of the earlier bosses in the game took me over 20 tries by comparison, granted it was a secondary character level and 2 bosses at once). Chugging through 30-45 minutes of normal enemies between bosses got quite irritating by the end; though the size of the environments is impressive I only wish they built some platforming or trap dodging into it instead of just a legion of enemies.

As noted above Sigma adds 3 extra characters, naturally with jiggle physics and 100 enemies alongside a boss to fight in one of the environments Hayabusa has already visited. This ultimately amounts to having 3 more weapon styles to add to the 10 already in the game (each having 25-30 vaguely similar moves) and a few ultimate Ninpo attacks. Ayame and Rachel both feel relatively unique, though Rachel is much more satisfying. Instead of a ubiquitous Izuna Drop (Swirly tornado bomb of doom from DOA) you can use her machinegun in mid air to do a surprising amount of damage. Rachel also has one of the best bugs in the game so in the insanely difficult Team Mission replays she is often present.

Team Missions are online co-op with some random person, and astonishingly there are still a good number of people playing this game (I suppose pointing to the depth of the combat system as well as the absurd difficulty on harder missions). However doing some of the “Ultimate Ninja” (a difficulty not present in the main campaign) missions requires you having a pretty solid partner and the capacity to retry hundreds of times. In virtually every strategy I’ve seen for the hardest missions one player simply dodges back in forth in such a way that they’re invincible to lure away 2 of 3 boss enemies that you have to fight in unison. Granted the dude who has to fight the last boss 1 on 1 still has to be virtually perfect to win but the tuning here is a tad absurd. Only 3000 scores are charted for the harder missions (for a game which came out 2 years ago) undoubtedly numerous of those being repeats from people retrying it. To get a platinum trophy in this game would take hundreds, if not thousands of hours (finally one to rival Star Ocean 4).

Final Score: 8/10

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Devil May Cry 3 Special Edition Review

+++ Awesome arsenal of melee weapons
+++ The 3 fights with Vergil remain some of the best in action games to date
++ Turbo Mode is wonderful
++ Most enemies are fun to fight/slaughter
+ Solid Bloody Palace Mode
+ Decent Soundtrack
+ Jester is pretty great
+ Extremely Difficult
+ Vergil is a decent character to play with
-- Secret Missions are AIDS
- Craptastic camera
- Non Vergil boss fights tend to be gimmicky
- Most normal enemies only slightly vary from one another
- Looks pretty bad for its time
- Really stupid storyline
- Poorly laid out levels

I haven’t played DMC3 quite as much as Bayonetta and DMC 4, though I do intend to. Unfortunately the main draw of the game is solely to fight Virgil and I have to go through 6 or 7 levels of meh gameplay to get there. That said this is definitely the best game of the series and had a few certain other games not come out around the same time would have been one of the best games of 2005. This game is built with the engine from DMC2 which is pretty damn ugly as far as mid era PS2 games go. If it weren’t a Capcom game I wouldn’t complain much but they certainly could have done much better.

The first 2 levels of this game are fantastic as all you do is beat the hell out of some monsters and a mini-boss. The third level is alright but you do have to fight Cerberus with very little life and he happens to be one of the hardest bosses in the game without being particularly intuitive. However, once you reach the bigass tower in the fourth level the navigation issues from the other games return and it takes quite a while to find your way around the asinine levels and figure out what random item goes where. Eventually you get to the roof and fight your good buddy Vergil; and it’s fucking awesome!

Vergil has a very tight attack pattern and only opens up for about a half second at the end of each combo (he also does a shitload of damage). As a result you have to master the dodge system to defeat him and figure out which weapons to use to quickly counter attack. The combat, which is at first not as fluid as you might like, shows its full potential in the three duels with Dante’s brother. Sometimes you might beat Vergil quickly due to getting several good dodge/counter attacks in a row, but sometimes he’ll just massacre you for your overconfidence. It’s fantastic that they built in the stagger for Vergil rather than make it a tedius battle of attrition, you have to be reasonably competent to beat him on almost any difficulty, but doing so always feels great.

Unfortunately following the first fight with Vergil you have to go through another 6 levels of okay but not great content, though the first set tends to be the worst of the bunch for navigation. After again defeating him (with a much different attack pattern) you proceed through the rest of the game. This is the first game in the series to introduce a boss gauntlet level, the only problem being that I don’t really want to fight a bunch of halfway decent to bad bosses, I just want to fight the man himself once more. I like the boss gauntlet in DMC 4 much better since you get to fight with Nero and the bosses in that game aren’t quite as gimmicky. Fortunately after quite a few levels you fight Vergil for the third time, which is murderously difficult yet still supremely awesome. It’s the one fight in the game that actually looks visually good and his pattern is much more difficult than in previous renditions. To top it all off you don’t have to fight anything else in the level, it’s just the final boss fight on top of a river/waterfall.

Of course, despite the great fights with Vergil, this game does have it’s drawbacks. The always fixed camera is pretty terrible and controls don’t seem to work quite as well as they do in DMC 4 (though the camera is much better in that game). Secret Missions return to irritate the hell out of you once more. Enemy Variety is pretty lacking, as most enemies are either a chess piece or a weird looking reaper with a Scythe that vary slightly in attack patterns. Vergil himself is added as a bonus character in this game after you clear it with Dante, and he is a fairly unique addition to the series. He pretty much rips apart everything in a few hits and doing some of the Secret Missions with him is an even larger pain in the ass. If he had a few levels of his own instead of just one prologue chapter it might have greatly enhanced the game for me.

Final Score: 8.5/10

Monday, September 5, 2011

Diablo 3 Preview

Assorted Random Musings Follow

Upon reading IGN’s massive preview for D3 (which I’m sure is duplicated at 20 other sites including battlenet) I was a bit taken aback. All of the 5 classes stuff sounds pretty standard, obviously with eventual expansions with more characters and what have you, but the actual game is sounding more and more like a free to play MMO instead of an infinite farm action RPG. Blizzard/Activision are basically falling into line and reproducing the same games over and over again for both ease of reproduction and enhanced profits due to morons purchasing whatever is put out.

My D2 experience was largely pre-WoW for about 4-5 months making several high level characters. Only the summoner characters were always fun for me though I did eventually make an Uber sorc just to farm stuff for more Necromancing. I did basically everything single player which on Hell is pretty damn difficult and I got quite a few props for doing it that way, though I did eventually miraculously get an Annihilus and not as miraculously a Torch for the wrong class. I never used D2 Jsp except to put an approximate value on my character for fun, but I certainly appreciate the system.

There’s a couple of huge things that make D3 an MMO instead of the research/experimentation based system that D2 had going for a while (until everyone eventually decided to be a Paladin or a Sorc). The first one is that there is no skill tree management whatsoever, instead you just automatically pick up spells as you level. This is for one thing really fucking weird, just make respecs possible and you solve the initial problem of D2. It also just screams grindy MMO design. Level up for a while, read up on what skill set works best, implement it, repeat ad nauseum killing whichever big baddy faces you next (Hint: It’s eventually going to be an Archangel). You might have to swap skill sets for whomever and solo is probably going to be more difficult than otherwise, but without some flawless balancing I’m sure some builds will tremendously overpower others.

D3 is also going to be setup as a continuous 4 player co-op potentiality, i.e. matchmaking in CoD or Random Dungeon finding in WoW. Much as this idea sounds not new at all it sort of eliminates the old “find a game by obscure title” system that you used to have in D2 and is relatively good. Ultimately I still think this just makes D3 a non stop 5 man but without as much tanking (still present in some form) or healing (sporadic at best). Now I really like 5 mans in WoW, they might be failing at optimizing them and virtually all of the legacy 5 mans beat the shit out of modern ones for various reasons but having that 1 tank/3 dps/1 healer setup is part of what I love. I don’t really know if they’re going to fix the loot system so it’s not who gets to the item faster but regardless this system will probably turn out to be zerg everything with as cliché and OP an ability setup you can think of. To be fair D2 definitely involved a bunch of this too but there was at least some strategery to various parts of the storyline but if I’m matchmaked with completely random people I’d much rather just stay alive and hope for the best.

The above section isn’t really all that bad until you realize there’s an Auction House in this game. That’s all well and good and streamlines the weirdass trading of D2 yore but since you have a vastly expanded inventory space D3 might just be turning into a wide scale farmfest, hoping you find something valuable to trade for real fucking money. This is something they could have done with WoW a long time ago to eliminate the gold buying/selling economy but I had built up some respect for them not doing so. Firstly it guarantees World of Starcraft will have the same system in place so you can essentially buy yourself a better character through the system (possibly even literally). Secondly, since D3 is officially going to be nothing but farming for phat lewtz to sell and not theoretically barter into barter points for bartering there’s not much reason to play it other than it’s Free to Play, unless you really want that rare as hell shit with a sub .001% drop rate off the last boss on the hardest difficulty. Thirdly, Activision/Blizzard will encompass 25-50% of the game world with 3 hugeass MMOs and a giant FPS to feed to the masses in about 5 years. If they could only incorporate Twilight in the mix they could brainwash the entire young population of the United States who undoubtedly would not have been quite as retarded to begin with.

Note: Of course I’m going to play it; fuck you. I like the storyline, I like War of the Soulstones, I like killing monsters, I sort of don’t mind grinding if it’s done creatively, I am also an asshole and a motorized machine built only for the funding of our new Tigole and Furor overlords.