Ferretnibbles 1 – Die, Monster Die!, Dragon Quest VII, and Baldur’s Gate Enhanced Edition

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

Sometimes you want to jabber about something on Ferretbrain to an extent which would be unwieldy for a Playpen post, but not necessarily make for a full-blooded article. To encourage contributors to offer up shorter pieces when the mood strikes them, I’m premiering here the first set of Ferretnibbles – pocket-sized articles about all and sundry.

This time around, they’re all penned by me, but nibbles from others are always welcome at the usual editorial address. Today’s nibbles concern a mostly-forgotten Lovecraftian cinematic error and two remakes of classic RPG videogames. The first one is about as long as I’d want a nibble to be before spinning it off as its own article (and indeed, I did hesitate over whether to put it out as a nibble or a standalone); the latter two offer shorter pieces to showcase just how little a nibble can be.

Continue reading “Ferretnibbles 1 – Die, Monster Die!, Dragon Quest VII, and Baldur’s Gate Enhanced Edition”

Dragon Warriors? Dynasty Quest?

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

Omega Force, the studio behind the Dynasty Warriors series of game, has developed a fine byline in applying Dynasty Warriors-inspired gameplay to other franchises. It’s rather inspired, then, that they should have got together with Square Enix to give that treatment to the Dragon Quest series. There’s already a Dragon Quest Heroes spin-off series of action RPGs based on the series, after all, and the adorable monster designs from Akira Toriyama has long been a strength of that series and provides plenty of fodder to create adversaries worthy of the battlefield – plus the whole “one character against an army who builds up tension to unleash special moves” gameplay of the Dynasty Warriors series fits the the fantasy JRPG genre nicely.

The World Tree’s Woe and the Blight Below is set in a world where the various cute Dragon Quest monsters and human beings live together peacefully. The player character is a (male or female at the player’s option) captain in the personal guard of Doric, King of Arba, who presides over this happy society. (Whichever captain you chose not to make your main character is still available to you as one of your party members.)

Continue reading “Dragon Warriors? Dynasty Quest?”

Handheld Tear-Jerkers

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

In some respects, the Nintendo 3DS couldn’t have come sooner; lately I’ve been finding the DS shelves at my preferred game shops increasingly clogged up with an enormous tidal wave of shovelware. A while back, before Game decided to have a purge, the PC games section was dominated by various varieties of hidden object game (potentially a side-effect of most canny developers giving up on the idea of selling boxed PC games in shops in the first place); at points it’s seemed that the DS selection has been getting that bad. If the 3DS is substantially more expensive to develop for then hopefully that will mean the market isn’t swamped to the point where shovelware crowds high-quality games off the shelves.

The crappy selection of games currently out for the DS is particularly unfortunate, because I think the best console games often come out comparatively late in a console’s life cycle. Once you hit a point where developers are both comfortable enough with the system in question to really be able to put it through its paces, and the prospect of an upcoming new generation of consoles make them want to push the constraints of the old hardware in order to compete with the flashier offerings on the horizon, sometimes wonderful things can happen. The first Silent Hill game is one of the most visually arresting games on the PS1 and came out barely a year before the PS2 arrived; the PS3 had been out for years when Persona 4 came out on the PS2 and amazed me with how good the graphics on the old system could still be.

So I was quite glad when a while back I was able to score the latest sequels to some of my favourite series on the DS, and found that in both cases they pushed the graphical capabilities of the system to the limit. On top of that, I don’t know why it is but for some reason both of them seemed to take a more pessimistic, downbeat stance than is usually typical for downbeat games, which got me thinking about downer gaming in general.

Writing games that make people feel sad or bad about the things that happen on them is kind of a tightrope. Spec Ops: The Line, I would say, is a superb example of a game which did it right, not least because whilst it does teeter towards the trap of blaming players for attempting to engage with the scenario that a game presents them with (if a game gives you no option other than to kill people, is it really your fault when you kill those people? Is it really fair to expect people to play a game without partaking of the core activity of the game?), but it also spends just as much time analysing how games of its ilk are put together and presented by the industry in the first place.

It’s crammed to the gills with set pieces that the Call of Duty clones of the world unimaginatively cough up time and again, and has a perfect knack for making them very slightly fucked up, and generally getting across the idea that once you are in the midst of a full war situation then things are already fucked and nobody is getting out clean, and that’s not something to cheer or celebrate or valorise or treat as being a Good or Strong thing; instead, the capacity of a human being to do awful things because they are persuaded that they are the Hard But Necessary things is, in Spec Ops, something to deplore.

However, for every Spec Ops: The Line that comes out there’s a dozen indie attempts at Challenging Your Preconceptions which fall flat like The Path or Dear Esther, and two or three major league developers revealing the extent to which their artistic pretensions overreach their craft, as happened with Mass Effect 3 or Grand Theft Auto IV. And yet here are two games in series which had previously proven quite cheerful which had me genuinely engaged and mooping away at the moop-worthy things that happen in them, and they make the whole thing look easy. What gives?

Continue reading “Handheld Tear-Jerkers”

The Handheld’s Heavenly Game

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

Is it just me, or has the Nintendo DS become the new home for the Dragon Quest series? Dragon Quest IX is a DS exclusive, as were the spin-offs Dragon Quest Heroes: Rocket Slime and Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker (the latter of which is a kind of dull Pokemon ripoff), and Square Enix even saw fit to rerelease Dragon Quest IV on the system – the first time that particular game got a European and Australian release.

Clearly, the remake was enough of a hit to make it worth another go – hence the rerelease of 1992’s Dragon Quest V: Hand of the Heavenly Bride on the DS, and the upcoming DS remake of 1995’s Dragon Quest VI: The Realms of Reverie – the two main series Dragon Quest games released on the SNES, and the final two parts of the Zenithian Trilogy begun by Dragon Quest IV, the first time either game has become available outside of Japan at all.

Continue reading “The Handheld’s Heavenly Game”

Grind Them To Dust With Your Bare Hands

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

The current kings of the handheld gaming arena, the Nintendo DS and the PSP, both enjoy a potent and powerful advantage over their predecessors, and that is that they were designed by people who understand that it’s often necessary to stop playing games and go and do other things. Thus, both can be placed in a state of dormancy at a moment’s notice. Close the lid on the DS, or briefly nudge the power switch on the PSP, and they’ll enter a state of peaceful dormancy; wake them up again, and you can pick up your game precisely from where you left off. This overdue liberation from the tyranny of save points is more than welcome – it means that the systems are perfect for playing on the train or bus, or whilst waiting for an appointment, or in other spare moments of the day. It means that there’s no excuse for paying more attention to your handheld console than to other people; “hang on, just let me save the game” doesn’t cut it. And it means that certain games, which might otherwise risk becoming repetitive and tedious to modern audiences, can enjoy a new leash of life.

Take the classic Japanese CRPG. Both the Nintendo DS and PSP have been host to a slew of remakes of classic games in the JRPG genre, and I suspect part of the reason is that, thanks to the way people approach the DS and PSP, the large amount of grinding many such games require doesn’t seem like so much of a burden as it might previously have. Sitting down in front of the TV, turning the PS2 or XBox 360 on, and spending the next few hours solidly murdering goblins to get my party up to a sufficient level to fight the next boss is something that, now that I’m no longer a full-time student, I’m increasingly less inclined to do; with gaming time more rationed than it used to be, if I’ve managed to set aside more than about half an hour to devote to a game then I want something to bloody happen in the game aside from a series of meaningless random encounters.

On the other hand, if I’m just fiddling with the DS for half an hour before going to sleep at night, then that’s a whole different story. In that case, the fact that I’ve spent the last three hours of game time doing exactly the same thing is less significant, because I don’t experience those three hours all at once. By breaking up the grinding into tiny, manageable chunks the portable format makes it digestible. The downside of this is that the plot can unfold at a comparatively glacial pace – on the other hand, I personally find that if the plot is decent, then if I have to wait longer to unlock the next part that makes the reward all the sweeter, whereas if the plot is rubbish it isn’t a great loss if the gameplay is good enough to make up for that. And if the gameplay is not good enough to make up for a lacklustre story, then I’m not likely to stick with the game very long anyway.

Continue reading “Grind Them To Dust With Your Bare Hands”

I’m Not the Slime They Think I Am At All…

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

If there’s one thing that the Dragon Quest series (also known as Dragon Warrior) is known for, it’s consistency. The original Dragon Quest helped establish many of the conventions of Japanese CRPGs which Final Fantasy would popularise, and although Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King included beautiful graphics, a fun plotline, enchanting characters and engrossing gameplay, it was also an extremely traditional JRPG, complete with random encounters, turn-based combat, and grinding.

This makes Dragon Quest Heroes: Rocket Slime particularly interesting, because it’s such a spectacularly odd game, concerning as it does the adventures of a bouncy blue Slime and his enormous Slime-shaped tank.

Continue reading “I’m Not the Slime They Think I Am At All…”