Monday, November 28, 2005

VG REVIEW: RPG Roundup

Hope everyone had a nice holiday. Here's this week's game review:


"DRAGON QUEST VIII"
Square Enix, for PlayStation 2
rat­ed T for Teen (alcohol reference, fantasy violence, simulated gam­bling, mild language, suggestive themes)
$49.99


"FIRE EMBLEM: PATH OF RADIANCE"
Nintendo, for GameCube
rated T, (fantasy violence)
$49.99


"SHIN MEGMI TENSEI: DIGITAL DEVIL SAGA 2"
Atlus, for the PlayStation 2
rated M for Mature
$49.99.


"ROMANCING SAGA"
Square Enix, for PlayStation 2
rat­ed E10+ for ages 10 and up (mild fantasy violence, mild suggestive themes)
$39.99

Judging by the length of most video games these days, I’d say developers think that I have nothing but free time on my hands.

Take your average role-playing game. While your average game might take you eight to 10 hours or so to complete, your average RPG will take no less than 40 hours to finish. And that’s assuming you don’t go after every hidden minigame and special item buried somewhere in the computer code.

Few people have that sort of time. Nevertheless, let’s move along and look at some of the RPGs that have come out in recent months.

Standing at the top of the heap is "Dragon Quest VIII," the latest sequel in a series (actually one of the very first console role-playing games ever) that has garnered juggernaut-like acclaim in Japan but only minimal attention in the United States.

Unlike some new RPGs that try to tweak or subvert the traditional turn-based formula, "Dragon Quest VIII" is old-school and proud of it. The plot is simple, with a motley band of warriors going after a nefarious sorcerer/jester bent on world domination. None of your fancy-pants moral ambiguity or haughty sermonizing here.

That traditionalist attitude extends to the gameplay, which involves the usual formula of leveling up characters through battles with random enemies and uncovering new spells, abilities and weapons along the way. It’s a format that will be comfortably familiar with anyone who’s played a Japanese RPG.

What keeps the game from suffering from a case of "been there done that" are its high production values and delightful sense of humor. The monsters are so goofy and unpredictable that random battles rarely get tiresome or routine. What’s more, the colorful cartoonish graphics (with designs by "Dragon Ball Z" artist Akira Toriyama) and sumptuous sound track ensure the game feels epic instead of routine.

I also wouldn’t mind spending more time with "Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance." The "Fire Emblem" franchise has traditionally stayed on the Game Boy Advance’s small screen. "Radiance" marks its first appearance on Nintendo’s GameCube.

Unlike "Dragon Quest VIII," "Fire Emblem" is a turn-based strategy game, which means you send your troops up against other enemy armies on a gridlike battlefield.

Each member of your team has his own strengths and weaknesses, meaning success requires more than just attacking willy-nilly. Archers, for example, are great for long-range attacks, while fighters on horseback are able to hit and run.

The plot and characters in "Radiance" aren’t particularly engrossing, but the combat is, making the game a welcome addition to the dearth of role-playing games available for the GameCube.


"Shin Megami Tensei: Digital Devil Saga 2" is, as its long name suggests, another installment of a franchise popular in Japan. The series is different from its RPG brethren, however, in its decidedly adult themes and more disturbing look and feel.

The problem here is that this title is a direct sequel to last year’s "Digital Devil" game. So if you didn’t play the first game you might be at sea, at least plotwise.

While the gameplay is turn-based and will be familiar to those who played, say, "Dragon Quest VIII," the story plunks you down right in the middle with little exposition or explanation. It’s not too hard to figure out what’s going on (you lead a band of fighters who can turn into demons in a post-apocalyptic world) or how to play, but the net effect is like starting a lengthy novel on the 20th chapter instead of the first.

It’s a shame, because "Digital Devil" is a smart, well-made game that demands strategy and a certain amount of thoughtfulness on the player’s part. My recommendation, though, would be to try and scrounge around for the first game before getting involved with this one.

While most console RPGs hone a tried and true path, diverging from the norm doesn’t necessarily mean success. Witness "Romancing Saga," a frustrating, confusing "epic" from the same folks who brought you "Dragon Quest VIII."

In "Romancing Saga," you play one of eight different characters fighting against a malevolent evil that threatens the world’s safety. The story differs depending upon who you play.

The problem is the characters aren’t interesting. What’s more, the combat is dull, the menus are text-heavy and confusing to maneuver through, and the missions are rote and rarely add anything to the main storyline.

If your free time is cramped, "Romancing Saga" is an affront to your limited schedule. It’s better to spend those hours on something like "Dragon Quest VIII." Just try not to think about how long it’s going to take you to get to the end.

Copyright 2005, The Patriot-News

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2 Comments:

At 1:36 PM, Blogger jason @ RIOT said...

i went slumming for used PS2 games last night and happened to see Dragon Quest VIII...almost bought it. looks like fun.

when's the GUN review going up?

 
At 4:25 PM, Blogger Chris said...

When I actually get around to playing the stupid game. I've got to get through some Xbox 360 titles first, not to mention Mario Kart DS.

I'll probably do a dual review of the new Tony Hawk game and Gun (since it's the same developer and all) sometime at the end of the month, but before xmas.

Dragon Quest VIII is fun, it's true.

 

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