Sunday, February 22, 2015

The Legendary Zelda

With the rerelease of several classic N64 Zelda titles on the 3DS, I haven’t been able to help reminiscing about my past with that system. The N64 was a vital bridge of the gap between retro and modern gaming for a lot of people, including me, and the Zelda games available for that system were integral to that transition. I got my N64 simultaneously with the release of the Ocarina of Time, knowing that I could no longer put off the inevitable. Anyone who knows me knows that Zelda titles are must haves for me. Looking at the N64 after I unboxed it was vastly confusing to someone who was used to the Super Nintendo. The way you held the controller…so bizarre! But I soldiered on, my mother watching indulgently as I shoved my golden Ocarina of Time cartridge into my new N64 and got ready to hack and slash away. You can imagine how surprised I was when I stopped staring at the opening sequence in awe and got down to the nuts and bolts of the game. It was nothing like any game I had ever played before, even ones with Zelda in the title.

I spoke of this particular afternoon to my mother a while back, and she asked me to be more specific about it, as she has watched me play dozens of games. I reduced what was an amazing experience for me to a vague statement about climbing a huge tree to kill a giant spider. Given that we both suffer from arachnophobia, I figured that she would remember it. Her eyes brightened immediately and she smiled. That should have been my first warning. She said, “Oh, I remember that game. That was the one where I watched you fall on your face for an hour straight.”

It’s rather disconcerting to know that after all these years, one of the most poignant memories of my gaming youth could be condensed to that. Not my first moments riding a horse, not my hefting the Master Sword, not even beating the game. It’s also quite true. Despite the fact that I have tried to excise this memory from my brain over the years, my first moments in the 64 bit era were horrifying. Having a witness to my first tentative forays into such an open world was not, perhaps, my best idea ever. I remember being awed by the sheer scope of the land around me, which is almost laughable considering the size of the game worlds available today. My depth perception in this brand new world was nonexistent, and I fell more times than I can count. I can’t hear Link’s landing grunt without cringing. I walked through every room tentatively, like a kid trying to sneak out of the house when they know they’re grounded, afraid that a creaking floorboard will give them away. Attacking was nerve-wracking, and jumping was downright terrifying.

As someone who has beaten the Ocarina of Time at least half a dozen times since then, I find this kind of nervousness in the first dungeon humorous, but ultimately understandable. It was present when I first played Super Mario Brothers. It was present when I played my first game on the current generation of systems. The AI is smarter, the controls more precise, but I am the same old me, which means that I need to up my game. All modern handholding aside, the need to adapt is still the same, and in the beginning we are all fish out of water. Some of us are just more ridiculous looking than others, I guess, and feel the need to have an audience. Hopefully I’ve learned my lesson since then.

I haven’t given much love to the N64 on this blog, which is a shame, particularly due to the fact that it had such a profound impact on my life as a gamer. This transitional experience was important, if not more than a little embarrassing. Not only did this system help pave the path between retro and modern gaming for me, it also possessed one of my top five favorite games. Yes, I do mean the Ocarina of Time. I look back on it now as one of the very few games that I have ever played that may very well have attained perfection. I do not say that lightly. Hopefully the people who are reading this have gotten a chance to play the Ocarina of Time on the N64 back in the day. If not, why are you still reading this? You clearly have more important things that you need to be doing.

If you feel like hearing more of my gaming prattle, feel free to follow me on Twitter. You can find me at @bejiita_buruma

Monday, December 15, 2014

Breaking Bad

As a retrogamer, it should come as no surprise to anyone that reads this blog that I am not a spring chicken. Today another birthday rolled around, and while the usual childlike glee of a day that belongs solely to me was foremost on my mind, the ticking of my ever-present biological clock was echoing loudly in my ear. It sounded remarkably like: ‘Congratulations, Sara, you are OLD.’ Given my love of self-mockery, this quickly turned into a desire to write something about my ludicrous personal struggles for this blog. It’s amazing what aging can do for writer’s block.

The topic that came to mind was one that is near and dear to my heart: How the aging process changes a gamer’s innate ability to succeed at their chosen hobby. Most of us are familiar with this particular brand of suffering, I think. The rude awakening of picking up of a favorite cartridge that you used to be able to beat in one sitting as a child, only to find that as an adult you have trouble with the first world is something that many of us have had to face. Whether you blame it on aging or on the blatant handholding of modern games, many gamers that I have talked to over the past few years have faced this very problem. To pick up a game that I had beaten as a child without losing a life and realize that I had, in fact, become bad at it, was a realization both horrible and humbling. I blamed everything under the sun, from an uncomfortable controller to aging reflexes, before coming to the conclusion that I have since reluctantly embraced. I was the problem.

As I child, I spent many hours at my aunt’s house, and while the adults gabbed, I would be holed up in her basement with my cousins’ Atari 2600. I have mentioned this much loved console in previous posts, I know, and the impact that it had on my life cannot be overstated. While I’ve played many games for that system over the years, my favorite was most definitely Frogger. The love I had for that game was almost inexplicable in its intensity. My parents should be thankful that they never loosed me anywhere near the arcade version, as we might still be there today.

I still loathe that alligator.
For a game that was basically about getting a frog across a road or other obstacle safely, the fact that I still think of it so fondly is startling. I took that little frog’s mission personally, and every failure to get him safely home was almost crushing to my sense of justice. Therefore I would sit in my aunt’s basement for hours, the Atari 2600’s simplistic joystick cutting into my hand, playing through the same levels over and over again because ‘That gator isn’t going to get me again!!!’ Where I got that sort of patience, I have no idea. Where it went, I wish I knew. I honestly believe that if I still possessed that particular quality today, I could take on any game that I wanted to and win.

Perhaps if I am able to find a bit of that intense focus that I possessed as a small child, my ability to game at a higher level will slowly return. It is certainly an experiment that I’m willing to undertake. I must admit that I miss beating Nintendo platforming classics in one sitting, and I certainly miss bragging about it. There is no gamer credit to be had in the fact that you were able to do something twenty years ago, after all! While the more cerebral games that I moved on to later in life have been satisfying to me, I will not deny that I envy others the quick twitch reflexes that I lost which were necessary for success in my favorite games back in the day. Perhaps it’s not too late after all?

This bit of nonsense has been motivating for me, if nothing else. As previously stated, this post was a small exercise in amusement for me for my natal day which I hope that you enjoyed. With luck, I’ll be able to bring you something more worthwhile soon. Until then, I hope that your skills stay sharper than mine!

If you feel like hearing more of my gaming prattle, feel free to follow me on Twitter. You can find me at @bejiita_buruma

Thursday, October 23, 2014

A Most Ingenious Paradox

I’ve always considered writer’s block to be an immovable object in a person’s mindscape, which brings forth the usual question: what does happen when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object? While it would probably make for a pretty interesting mental battle and a heated physics debate, all it means to me is that I’m going through a pretty nasty writing dry spell. The immovable object is winning, if only because I’m not quite the unstoppable force that I wish that I would be. I’m so irritated that I’m using a paradox as a personal analogy, which is kind of pathetic. All this nonsense aside, my health has been iffy lately, and it has been affecting my ability to write. I’m working my way through this massive writer’s block the old fashioned way: sulking and blaming everything under the sun while getting absolutely nothing worthwhile done. If this doesn’t work (shocker of shockers) I’ll try a different approach in order to get this blog up and moving again. I intend to continue writing, I just need a bit of time to clean up this mental tangle I’m in. Please bear with me.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Disk 4: The Mystic Dragoons (ミスティックドラグーン), Part 4

Hello, my lovely readers, and welcome to part four of The Mystic Dragoons! When last we left our party, they were about to run headfirst into what sounds like the most hardcore boot camp this side of Gureizeru. Alright then, game, if that’s how you want to play it, that’s how we’ll roll. As always, the anglicized names will be given where they were used in the booklet that accompanied the game for ease of reading. The party enters camp, and apparently the Tactical Dragoons have been here before us, because Pamela has given them a heads up about our upcoming arrival. Nice of them to help out for once, even if it’s only to pave the way to our inevitable doom. Now let’s see what Gozetto the New Recruit Killer is all about, although I can make a few guesses. After watching our party get heckled by the soldiers as we pass due to their age and making a few notes in my head for suitable vengeance at a later date, we come face to face with the man of the hour.

It turns out that Gozetto is a rather...interesting fellow.

Gozetto seems nice enough at first, which should have been our first warning. No sooner does he make us feel like we’re slightly less pathetic than the usual new recruits that he gets then he begins using us for gophers. First up: getting him a bottle of wine, and he’ll only drink a particular red from a certain year. Way to run a responsible army camp, chief. But hey, you just enlisted a ten year old, so who am I to judge? So after wandering around town gathering information from everyone, including the people who harassed you (who are now mysteriously pleasant, like they knew I was plotting my revenge), you find out that this wine gathering quest is apparently a long running mission of Gozetto’s. What a fascinating way to run an important military encampment, I reiterate. This wine that he wants is fifty years old, and therefore expensive too. Given that we’re the noobs on the force, he shouldn’t expect us to have that kind of cash. I do believe that we’ve just discovered the source of his nickname.
Apparently the village head is the person to go to for help, as he possess the wine that we need. But he, of course, won’t give it to us, as he has a different purpose in mind for it than giving it to our sadistic commander to guzzle. I really can’t say that I blame him. He’s saving it for his daughter’s wedding ceremony, anyway. He does give us a hint, though, telling us that his daughter goes to Sorisshu’s castle every day. Apparently she has a thing for the lord of the manor. Well, this entire conversation would normally sound useless, but this is a cut-scene in an RPG and he mentioned a place name, so it must be important. Further in the house, you find the storehouse guarded by a man who says that the place is infested by monsters who hate the light. Apparently Pauline, the daughter of the village head, has the magic lamp that will let us tramp around the storehouse and relieve her father of some of his beloved stash. I knew that that random info that he gave us would be useful. Off to track down Pauline for our drunken, unreasonable commander then!
We need to get the wine that is stored in here, but apparently it's dark and scary inside, not to mention monster infested.
When you reach Sorisshu’s territory, you are confronted with his pack of rabid groupies, who freak out when he shows up before them on his dragon. I maintain that they’re cheering for the dragon and not the rider, but that is just me trying to retain the shreds of my sanity in the face of this madness. Pauline sticks out in the crowd like a sore thumb, given that she is about as overdressed as a Disney princess at a five year old’s pizza party. After watching the girls mount a terrifying, but ultimately useless, attack on the giant wooden door to Sorisshu’s manor, the party talks to Pauline. She’s pretty irritated with all of her father’s attempts to marry her off and gives you the magic lamp, no muss, no fuss, telling you to tell her father that she’ll marry no one but Sorisshu. Right. Back to Faruken Camp.
I'll give you a moment to guess which of these rabid fangirls is Pauline.
Finally we can get into the storehouse, but of course it can’t be all sparkles and unicorns, can it? The guard says he doesn’t know if some of the monsters there aren’t afraid of light. Oh that’s just special. But as I’m not surprised by this in the slightest, it’s time to move onwards and get that fifty year old booze for the New Recruit Killer before we become yet another set of notches on his belt. Once again, the path to the end of the ‘dungeon’ is so linear that it is not worth mentioning. That is a beef that I have with this game. There have been no real dungeons so far, and we’re how many hours in? Come on, game, put forth some creative effort! Anyway, when we get to the final room, the magic lamp lights up even more brightly. Apparently it will now help us track down that vintage wine…yeah, I don’t get it either, but I’ll just roll with the RPG logic as always. Of course the light alerts the one local critter here that isn’t afraid of light to our presence, and so we have to fight a boss. Raise your hand if you saw this coming from a mile away. After killing the rather drunken monster, it drops a wine bottle. An empty wine bottle that once contained the fifty year old elixir that we needed for Commander Sadist. There are no words.
After convincing the village head that we didn’t swill his precious fifty year old booze, he decides to let you stay the night, given that it’s late. I like his style. Alf wakes Cliff up in the middle of the night and proceeds to shove him down the well outside. After processing the fact that your baby dragon is apparently made of crazy, you realize that you have shown up fifty years in the past. After grabbing a bottle of the appropriate future-booze from a useful local, Alf buries it in the backyard. I take it back, Alf is smarter than our entire party combined. Cliff makes another well-based time trip, but still hasn’t figured out the fact that his baby dragon has time-based gifts, even after all the evidence laid before him. Since we can’t slap him upside the head ourselves, it’s time to dig up our bottle of wine and move on.
Finally we give Gozetto the wine he seemed to be jonesing for so badly, and I think I truly see why Psy was so amused in my last post. This man is certainly unique in his style of commanding. At least I fervently hope he is, for the sake of every other soldier in Pura-ma. Of course he immediately has another mission for us. I do believe that I loathe him.
What Happens Next: A Summary!
After Gozetto the New Recruit Killer sent the party on their second mission, you make your way through a forest path, where you run into a half-naked man engaging a bear in combat with only his fists. After you ‘save’ him from his pet, you discover that he is Faruken, the guy you were looking for. He takes you to his castle, where we tell him our reason for joining the army. Faruken thinks our quest is righteous and awesome, and so decides to help us get to the capital, Agoni-, where we can learn to fight with dragons. YES! The party passes through a forest filled with traps laid by the Tactical Dragoons, dwindling one by one until Cliff is the only one left. At the end of the forest the party reunites, after helping Pamela and Psy squish a giant spider sent courtesy of Gureizeru. Then Faruken gives the Tactical Dragoons the verbal smackdown that I’ve been dying to give them since the beginning of the game. My new favorite character, hands down.
I believe I mentioned in a previous post that I dislike spiders... I did? Excellent.
Once we reach Agoni-, we’re called before the king. On the way we get a pretty good look at the dragons of all the different generals, several of which are hooked to some very bizarre vehicles. Turns out that they recognize Cliff’s surname, so he gets a little recognition for coming from a line of famous dragoons. Afterwards, your party gets to go pick out their own dragons. Again, YES! Then we head out after the generals, and they send us on various missions. I remember complaining earlier that there were no real dungeons in this game, finally we get several, although they aren’t very complicated.
The generals and their rather nifty transports.
You learn some interesting things, such as the fact that Bud is an elf who cut his ears so that he could be hidden among humans, and about the Pure Water that people have been mentioning a lot throughout the game and Cliff’s father’s connection to it. You also take out the man who helped Buran murder your friends and torch your hometown, which is a nice bonus. Everything isn’t marvelous for dragons in Pura-ma by Cliff’s estimation either, and Elmys gets her first glimpse of him via a spy bee, a bizarre little Gureizeru drone. During a mission with two of the Tactical Dragoons, you learn their full names. Apparently both men are named Quinn, and the way that they distinguish themselves from each other is by referring to themselves by the only thing that they will drink. So we’re working with Champagne Quinn and Beer Quinn. Yes, you read that right. I really hope that they came up with those names themselves, and that no mother would actually name her child Beer.

As your ship finally makes its way to Gureizeru, it is met mid-ocean by a ship containing Buran and his army. I know I gave them flack for not being cliché in an earlier post, nice to see them making up for it now. You finally get the glorious pleasure of avenging yourselves against Buran, which is rather satisfying, given how long it took to get here. You take the barrier that surrounds Gureizeru down, allowing dragons to fly over the continent and bringing your vengeful little troop to the country that has been harassing you since the beginning of the game. Unfortunately, during this long battle, the Tactical Dragoons lose Dolby via Buran’s sister, and Buran himself kills Eugo in a final attack against your party. The rest of your party has had enough after Eugo’s death and return’s home to rebuild, and Cliff joins what remains of the Tactical Dragoons. He also gets a pretty sweet armor upgrade to go along with his new status.

Want to know what happens to our rather disappointingly weak new party after they set foot in enemy territory? Well, you’ll have to play the game for yourself. My little experiment with The Mystic Dragoons ends here. I hope that you enjoyed the weirdness as much as I did.

If you feel like hearing more of my gaming prattle, feel free to follow me on Twitter. You can find me at @bejiita_buruma

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Disk 4: The Mystic Dragoons (ミスティックドラグーン), Part 3

This week we go back to the Mystic Dragoons once again for two reasons. One, I did promise that I would post more about it at some juncture or another, if only for my own amusement. Two, due to some recent health concerns, I haven’t been able to write very much, and thought that this would be better than leaving my readers without any post this week at all. I hope that you enjoy it.

Welcome to part three of our trek through The Mystic Dragoons. As mentioned beforehand, many of the names that I use in this post will be the anglicized names given in the art booklet that came with the game. I’m doing this purely to make my work somewhat easier for people to read. Anyway, when last we left our intrepid band of misfits, they were wandering around the bar in Harvey, looking for passage on a ship to the mainland. Considering the dubious nature of the patrons upstairs, the basement of a dive bar is not exactly the kind of place that I would normally want our underage heroes to go, but given the drastic situation that we’re in, I suppose we have no choice. So here goes nothing.

The first rule of Fight Club is...
Well whatever I was expecting to find in the basement, a fight club was certainly not it. Apparently anyone who wants to board the captain’s ship has to beat his underlings in battle. Rasseru, the aforementioned captain, tells everyone that it’s not to the death, which is incredibly reassuring and makes this scenario seem perfectly normal and socially acceptable. This sounds like a healthy form of entertainment for our emotionally fragile heroes to unleash our pent-up rage in, and since we’re stuck here anyway, I suppose that we have no choice. After taking out three generic looking soldiers that each have names that I don’t care enough about to write down, we’re granted passage to Pura-ma. Finally! In other news, that was the lamest fight club ever. I think that the soldiers were weaker than some of the random encounters I’ve come across. Also, the crowd sound effect in this section of the game is worse than nails on a chalkboard. You can’t say that I didn’t warn you.

My eyes!!!
Moving onward, it’s time to head to the port and get off this island once and for all. We board Rasseru’s glaringly fuchsia ship, and it’s finally time to head out onto the ocean. Being that this is an RPG, I expected something terrible to happen to us between here and the continent, as that is the usual formula. But except for several random encounters along the way, the voyage was completely peaceful. What, no ghost ship, no sneak attack by an enemy fleet? I am severely disappointed in this game for letting a chance to be cliché completely pass them by. What were they thinking?
After working my way through my little snit, I decided that it was time to see where Rasseru had dumped us. He wouldn’t give us much information either, so it seems that we have our work cut out for us. Of course we do. It seems that we’re in Borushu, which is in the southwestern part of Pura-ma. Grand. Well, at least we’re closer to wherever we’re headed than we were. Time to go fishing for information. We find one of the scouts who have been mentioned around town, made quite noticeable by the fashion statement he makes in his bright pink armor. Apparently we need a letter of introduction if we want to become the dragoons we were clearly meant to be, but we don’t know anyone in power, and have therefore reached another roadblock between us and the sky army. Oh joy. We’re stuck here, with the bridge being out, and we have no letter of introduction, so it seems that we have no choice but to enlist in the regular army. So with dreams of glory dashed, we head off to become grunts and work our way up the proverbial ladder the old-fashioned way.
Interesting fashion statement you're making there, Skippy.
There is a bizarre looking dragon near the city’s exit that appears to be some form of transportation, and near it is a soldier. Turns out that this is where we want to be, so we board the dubious looking equipage and head out. Cliff and company protect the critter from mooks until we reach the bridge, which isn’t any less broken than it was when we were exploring the field just a little while ago. But before we can consider the logistics of maneuvering ourselves and the dragon vehicle across the gap, somebody appears out of nowhere and murders our escort and his beast companion with fire. Our heroes all leap across the gap in the bridge to confront him. Let me repeat this. Our party members jump across the previously un-crossable, ridiculously large gap in the bridge in a single bound to confront the murderer. What just happened!?

That is one weird looking dragon.
After processing the fact that rage seems to give us very limited superhero-like abilities, Mila demands to know why they killed the dragon. Nice to see how much she cares about the human life that was lost. But anyway, we discover that these creeps are from Gureizeru. And yes, they killed the dragon because of the aforementioned prophecy that caused the destruction of our hometown way back in the beginning of the game. After giving the murderer a good old-fashioned butt kicking, his henchmen stick around long enough to tell you that the fight has only begun and that Gureizeru is going to win. Typical enemy posturing finished, they die in a mass of glittering sparkles. Not the most intimidating way to go out, but good riddance.

Well, now even Alf is upset, and if he weren’t so precious looking during his fit, I would be enthused to have an angry dragon on my side. Oh Raira, why did you have to die? (To further the plot, of course.) The realities of war seem to finally be sinking in to Bud, and everyone is pretty low, until Roxy notices something approaching. I don’t believe it. I really don’t believe it. It’s the Tactical Dragoons, late as usual. They recognize us immediately, which is nice, considering the situation that they last saw us in. After giving us some well-deserved props for taking out the Gureizeru murderers here on the bridge, they point us in the direction of the army camp, tell us to be careful, and book it again. On the way out, Psy, one of the dragoons, makes a comment to one of her companions about the commander of this particular camp’s nickname being Gozetto the New Recruit Killer. Oh this just keeps getting better and better. They seem to be amused by how this is going to go for us, which, considering our recent circumstances, is just mean. Why do we want to join them again? Oh right, the dragons. I almost forgot.

Mila is about as enthused with the Tactical Dragoons and their attitude as I am, but there is nothing to be done about it at the moment. We have to move onward to the army camp on our own, even though Bud is being a complete wuss and seems unnerved to be going there without an escort. After some mockery of Bud courtesy of Roxy, we regain control of the party and finally reach the land on the other side of the bridge. We can’t commit anymore herculean leaps, so there is no backtracking. Nothing to do now but move forward and into the loving arms of Gozetto the New Recruit Killer.

Next time on The Mystic Dragoons: Boot camp for ten-year-olds and the commander from H-E-double-hockey-sticks.

If you feel like hearing more of my gaming prattle, feel free to follow me on Twitter. You can find me at @bejiita_buruma

Friday, August 29, 2014

Cartridge 5: Elfaria (エルファリア)

Name: Elfaria (エルファリア)
Type: Fantasy RPG
Available Languages: Japanese

Today’s blog post is going to be an interesting one, if only because it is going to be a bit different from the norm. The game that I’m looking at, Elfaria, was a game recommended to me by my friend Julian Hill over at the excellent SNES blog Boxed Pixels. We decided to both go into this game cold, me being able to read Japanese and him not, to see what each of us got out of it. So if you haven’t had a chance yet, make sure you head over to his blog to check out his post on Elfaria when you’re done with this one. It’s sure to be a very different take than mine. With that said, it’s time to take a gander at another Super Famicom RPG.

So apparently this is the story of Elfaria, the land that has been blessed by Ra. After reaching the start screen, you can wait to watch a rather interesting cut scene, which shows both character introductions and gameplay hints. After doing that, it’s time to start the game proper. A cut scene occurs, which informs us that a long, long time in the past there was a kingdom of elves. The elves controlled the ‘power of Ra’ that built up in their holy land the ‘spring of Ra’. ‘Ra’ is the source of life and magical power. Far, far in the past there was an era called the ‘Magic War’. Elves and people were in conflict, the ‘spring of Ra’ dried up, and the land fell into ruin.

The elf elder meets up with a woman called Eruru. He has had a bad dream about the destruction of the world. Someone was using the power of something or someone called Eruza-do. The scene switches to a castle, where King Jyozeru states that General Shi-raru has begun a coup d’état in Mu-rania. Jyozeru says that Elfaria will save Mu-rania and sends Darugan to handle it. On the battlefield while fighting the monsters, General Darugan performs a face heel turn and attacks his former allies. He says that the era of Elfaria has come to an end and that the era of Mu-rania is beginning. The remaining soldiers run off, realizing that the general has betrayed them. A few more scenes flash by, and the game informs us that fifteen years have passed. We have reached the in game title screen: A Fantastic Theater Elfaria the Isle of the Blest.

We are introduced to what are clearly our antagonists, who are led by Shi-raru, an ax wielding giant who could squish anyone else on the screen like bugs. The traitor Darugan is at his side. Shi-raru is in the midst of sending out his grunts to take control of places called Foresuchina and Kana-na. One of Shi-raru’s underlings, Zo-ra, is exchanging items called the ‘symbol of water’ and the ‘symbol of fire’. This will make the Ra in the water country of Kana-na become chaotic and cause the country to overflow with monsters.

We finally catch up with the main character, Pain, who is reading a large tablet. It tells him not to throw Ra out of order lest monsters be born, the land die, and the world be destroyed. It appears that this is an ancient legend in Elfaria and that it is possibly coming to pass now. Pain, being the hero, wants to do something about it. Music starts playing, distracting him from his musings. He is confronted by the strange woman that we got several glimpses of in the opening sequence, accompanied by her critter companion. She knows who Pain is, but he doesn’t know her at all. If you recall, her name is Eruru, and apparently she’s been waiting a long time for this day. She tells Pain that it’s time for him to go on a journey to gather the four symbols. Pain is rather startled the he is the one who is needed to collect the symbols of the holy land, but he seems prepared to roll with it. As we already know from the opening sequence, the symbols are being switched around in order to mess with the natural flow of things in the world, so we need to fix this as soon as possible. Stopping this will staunch the flow of monsters, which can only be a good thing. Eruru gives Pain an elf orb called the ‘Blue Gem’. It can be used to calm the ‘holy land of water’. She says that the four symbols will surely give power to you and your future allies as well. Eruru tells you to do your best and then tells Papi, the little pink creature that accompanies her, that it’s time to leave. Knowing no more about this strange woman than we did before, she leaves.

Pain returns home, where we meet Razeru. She knows that he has been to the elven monument again, which seems rather obsessive of Pain to me. Heroes. Considering that there are monsters in the village nearby, Razeru finds Pain’s excursions rather dangerous. Pain ignores her and addresses the man with the epic hair who is also in the room. This is Professor Uppara-. He shows him the elf orb, which Uppara- is way too hyper about. When Pain tells the professor that he got the orb from a girl, Razeru is not amused. Ignoring her yet again, Pain tells Uppara- that he is going on a journey. The professor decides to join him, as it has been a while since he has used his magic. Razeru decides to go too, because she can use magic, and because she’s worried about Uppara-. I’m sure Pain doesn’t factor into her decision at all. As if by magic, a swordsman named Ji-n shows up at the door looking for Pain. He works for the king of Kana-na, and has heard that Pain has been investigating a way to fight the monsters from the people in the village. Wow, word travels fast in these parts. It appears that the king of Kana-na ran to the village next to this one and was captured. It looks like Ji-n needs Pain’s help to rescue him. So with that, Pain begins his journey, and with a full party no less!

This game is certainly different from your average turn-based RPG fare. You don’t gain experience or money from battles, and only level up at boss fights. You do, however, get equipment not only from chests, but from item drops in random encounters. You can meld different weapons, armor, and items to one of five slots in each character’s melding menu in order to raise their stats.

The battles play out mostly automatically, with the commands at the bottom of the screen depending entirely on your party members. Your original party commands consist of Off, Dwn, Luk, and Ice. Off turns off your magic. Dwn is a stat lowering spell that can be used against your enemies. Luk is a stat raising spell that can be used on your party members. Ice is an offensive spell. Party members also have other abilities. Razeru, for example, is a good healer. The only control you have during battle is moving your cursor over one of these four commands in order to direct the game towards which spell you would prefer for the characters to use and hope for the best. I’ve read that A button mashing will speed up spell use, but I haven’t personally found this to be the case. It seems to me that it is really up to the AI in the end, unfortunately.

The character designs are extremely interesting, if you like really stylized visuals. If memory serves, they are what drew Julian to the game originally and they are unique enough that I knew immediately what game he was talking about even though I had never played it. Some of the music is rather nice, I must admit, until you’ve been listening to it on loop for several hours. In the cut scene that runs off of the start menu, when you see a skeleton of kaijyuu proportions being attacked, the old-school music brought a broad grin to my face. Call me a colossal nerd if you like (you’d be right), but I liked it. The game itself doesn’t look horrendous, with detailed sprites and bright colors, but if you’re looking for eye candy, this isn’t the game for you. The mapping is quite bad, to be honest. I’ve seen better work done by amateurs on RPG Tsukuru. To quote Julian, “The villages look shocking.” Considering the amount of time that you spend in towns in this game, that’s quite a problem.

To be honest, this game is way too random for me. The melding system aside, I still feel like I have little control over the outcome of the battles. I’m an RPG gamer, which means that I thrive on control. Therefore, random encounters quickly become an exercise in pain for me, particularly if I don’t get a decent item drop afterwards. I quickly decided that Julian and I were on the same page in regards to Elfaria, his opinions of the game quickly moving from “Shoddy shoddy shoddy.” to “I have demoted it from ‘okay’ to pretty terrible.” to “How did enough people buy this to justify a sequel!?” All the hope for this game was quickly gone. The thought of someone playing Elfaria as their first JRPG, let alone using it to judge an entire genre, terrifies me. As this is a joint post, I will quote Julian yet again by saying, “‘Elfaria’ would not be considered the game to persuade Westerners that JRPGs are accessible, exciting and beautiful. Even with an English fan translation, I doubt that this game would ever be the adventure of choice for a player who had access to anything Square or Enix published in the 16 bit era.” Truer words were never spoken. So in closing, while I relish the experience of playing something different from the norm, and talking about it with a good friend of mine, I must admit that I can only recommend Elfaria to the most patient and stalwart of gamers. Scratch that, I really can’t recommend it to anybody.

If you feel like hearing more of my gaming prattle, feel free to follow me on Twitter. You can find me at @bejiita_buruma

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

A Good Novel

The inimitable Jane Austen once wrote that ‘the person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid’. Being a fan of books in general, I have always considered this to be one of the truest statements ever made by man. Given that JRPGs are, in essence, interactive books, it should therefore come as no surprise that I like them. Their popularity in the west is, unfortunately, more of a recent phenomenon. Suffering from bad translations and even worse PR, the JRPG has only recently received due recognition by an English speaking audience. This particular post has been churning in my brain for days now, due to the fact that I have been working on a joint post with a non-Japanese-speaking friend of mine who is much newer to the genre than I am. The game that we were working on, which will remain nameless due to spoilers, was one of the plethora of JRPGs that was released for the Super Famicom in Japan back in the nineties. When most people hear about Super Famicom RPGs, they think of grand adventures like Final Fantasy VI or quirky cult classics like Mother 2. Rare it is that you think of SNES + RPG = bad. All that I can say is that it actually happens with as much frequency as any other genre, and it got me to thinking about JRPGs in general. What would have happened if that game had been the first JRPG that I had ever played? Would it have been the last? After coming to the conclusion that I have way too much free time on my hands, I decided to write my thoughts down, if only to give myself some peace.

Given the experience that I had with the previously mentioned mystery game, not to mention several of the bad games that I have canvassed for this blog, it wouldn’t surprise me at all that some people would wonder why I love this genre far above all others. I suppose that I love RPGs mainly because they combine two things that are very dear to my heart: reading and winning. Of course there is never enough winning to be had for my taste, but I think that that is a complaint that every gamer would make. Having discussed this particular character flaw of mine in detail in the post The Same Old Grind, I won’t go into it here again. If I’m awake, I need to be distracted, and RPGs are very good at forcing you to organize your thoughts in order to propel your way to that elusive win. Add in a bit of micromanagement without it being tedious, and you can keep my constantly churning brain busy for hours. Perhaps I just enjoy the busywork.

When asked by a friend of mine what I considered to be the ingredients to make a good RPG, my first response was likable characters, both playable and otherwise. As some of you may have noticed in previous posts, I can’t click with a game that doesn’t give me a reason to want to play it. A solid battle system comes in a close second with me. Bells and whistles are nice, but we’re talking about a good RPG, not a great one. A tricked out battle system can quickly devolve into something really irritating. Final Fantasy VIII comes quickly to mind as a game that I would have loved if the battle system had not been so very annoying. Give the likable characters an interesting path to follow in a world that seems alive and you have a good RPG by my standards. Greatness, of course, requires more than this. If you want an example, go play Chrono Trigger instead of reading this nonsense.

My love for the JRPG has been canvassed lightly here, if only to clear my head. I could spend hours rambling on about the sense of majesty created by a truly great game, how games as recent as Ni No Kuni and Tales of Xillia 2 have brought me to tears, but that would be a waste of space. Instead I’ll refer once again to my shelves of games, some twenty years old, a few twenty days. Much like novels, there are the classics, the exciting current bestsellers, and more random games than I could ever remember the stories to. Unfortunately, there are those special few games that, much like the Twilight series, I most fervently wish had never been made. But I keep all of them together in one room, in as safe a condition as is possible, in order to always know that I have the comfort of an adventure close at hand. Be they good, bad, or indifferent, JRPGs are an integral part of my life, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

If you feel like hearing more of my gaming prattle, feel free to follow me on Twitter. You can find me at @bejiita_buruma