Jun 272008

Most of the games I’ve played since finishing The World Ends With You simply haven’t done much for me, regrettably. One or two were inspiring, and I’ll talk about them at some point when I’ve had more of an opportunity to digest them, but the majority either disappointed me, or just didn’t leave me with much to say about themes or characters. Still, I had some thoughts about these games I wanted to put down. So if you’re interested in my opinion of Insecticide, Penny Arcade Adventures Part One, Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn, or Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Ring of Fates, read on. If you’re not, well, screw you; it’s my blog.

I didn’t finish Insecticide; I may have only barely started it. This was a game I wanted desperately to like, and in fact, except for one incident of what Yahtzee might call “moon logic”, I loved the hell out of the adventure portions of it. The ones I worked through weren’t anything special in terms of the gameplay, but they were cleverly written and funny, and they successfully evoked happy memories of point-and-click adventure games. However, I loathed the combat portions, to the degree that I ultimately tossed the game aside in frustration. I’m not sure whether the combat segments seemed like a good idea earlier on or what, but at some point someone should have realized that movement was awkward, the controls were sluggish, and they would have a much better game if they skipped all this crap and just put more detective work in. Were the developers really convinced the shooter segments were good? Did they start down a road they couldn’t back out of? I can’t say. I just wish it had turned out differently.

Continuing with the DS, I followed Insecticide by trying out Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Ring of Fates, a game I finished, but one I also felt fell short of the mark, at least as a single-player experience. The controls weren’t so bad, but there were two significant problems. The first was that casting spells was just slow and clumsy. The second was that the only way to get maximum use from the game would be to use your hands for both sets of buttons and the stylus simultaneously, which was awkward and uncomfortable. The AI governing your allies was awful; about all they were good for was wasting your magicite. The platforming was needlessly complicated by your inability to look around the rooms you were passing through. And then there was the story, which worked in a perfunctory way, but strained credulity to the breaking point and ended in an incoherent, unsatisfying mess. If Chelinka really had sacrificed herself, if it had been a bittersweet ending instead of a saccharine one, I would have thought better of it.

Moving from the DS to the Wii, I finally finished Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn. I loved the previous entry in this series, the Gamecube’s Path of Radiance, but I felt let down by the sequel. Part of this was due to the fragmented nature of the narrative. What I liked most about Path of Radiance was taking the Greil Mercenaries from marginal competence to mastery; here there’s no continuous arc. Rather, you get thrown back and forth between sides of a very large conflict, leaving some characters behind for several chapters. When you see them again, you’ve practically forgotten who they are, or why you care if they get killed. This will happen, because when you see them again they are often absurdly under-leveled. Perhaps to compensate for this, you are frequently given a vast army of high-level warriors, most of whom seem to have been lobotomized with a trebuchet. Due to their large numbers the ally turns take quite a while; their extraordinary stupidity makes these phases seem even longer.

A side effect of the construction is that the cast feels far too large, an impression only exacerbated by the replacement of the charming support conversations that took place in camp in Path of Radiance with boring, generic support conversations that take place in the field. This gives you much less of a handle on the characters’ personalities, and excises the side plots of the first game. The story of Soren’s lineage in that game was one of my favorite discoveries; there’s nothing quite like that here. That’s a pity, because the main plot of Radiant Dawn is an insipid mess. In Path of Radiance, Ashnard was crazy, but at least he had a goal and took concrete, sensible steps towards it. The villains of Radiant Dawn are apparently evil just to be evil, without any apparent aim or coherent strategy. This is a narrative sin in any game, but it’s especially absurd when the gameplay is built around strategic and tactical thinking. The battles where you don’t have too many allies are entertaining, but there’s no basis for an emotional connection to the characters or the story. You’re better off playing chess.

Well, enough being mean. Let’s talk about something I really enjoyed: Penny Arcade’s On the Rain Slick Precipice of Darkness. As writers of some of the excellent blogs in my sidebar and Blägroll have noted, OtRSPoD doesn’t really do anything vastly original in terms of story or gameplay. It’s a decent fusion of fairly standard RPG mechanics and point-and-click adventure that has two significant virtues. The first is that it does almost everything right, and the second is that it is great fun to play. The game world is populated by hilarious characters and enemies, and unlike many entries in the genre, OtRSPoD doesn’t punish you for trying to see all of it. The concepts are funny, the dialogue is entertaining, and the combat is fun, although I found using items to occasionally be something of a drag. The humor probably isn’t for everyone (does a creepy, libidinous juicer sound funny to you?), but if you can see the appeal in fighting a dread mime deity from beyond the edge of reality with a magic rake, it’s worth giving Episode One a whirl. I’m pretty sure I’ll be grabbing Episode Two.

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