action rpg

Illusion of Gaia

Full Review

Illusion of Gaia CoverI didn’t play a whole lot of Enix games growing up. I rented a few titles for the Super Nintendo, including E.V.O.: The Search for Eden, Ogre Battle, and 7th Saga, but it wasn’t until I beat Star Ocean 2 during college that I could poke out the Enix notch in my belt. Their merger with Squaresoft in 2003 blew my mind, but I had grown up in the world where publishers were like armies, constantly battling it out with each other for supremacy; but in the real world it was all business, and the merger made sense.

Illusion of Gaia was released during the time when Enix was in a heated battle (business and fanboy-wise) with Squaresoft on the Super Nintendo platform. In its six year lifespan, both publishers released over 30 games each, many competing directly in sub-genres that seem too similar to be considered a coincidence. One of these face-offs was Secret of Mana from Squaresoft against Illusion of Gaia from Enix. Released in 1993, both games were action RPGs that happily broke the mold of the Final Fantasies and Dragon Quests.

But in the end, Squaresoft easily won the action RPG battle and the Super Nintendo war. Secret of Mana was an engrossing, multiplayer tale with a huge variety of weapons and magic, Illusion of Gaia was a rather rote, singleplayer, cobbled-together adventure with little variety. Here’s its review.

The Witcher

Full Review

the Witcher CoverVery rarely do developers aim to make AAA PC exclusives anymore.  As one of the most well regarded action-rpgs in recent history and aided by numerous recommendations, I felt it was my duty to try The Witcher.  Its developer, CD Projekt, is a Polish firm who's been translating and publishing PC games since the mid-90s.  Recently they've been spending  money to expand, opening up the RED STUDIO for game development and creating Good Old Games as a DRM-free retro gaming service for modern computers.

So far, only The Witcher and its sequel have been released by the studio, with Witcher coming out in October 2007 and Assassins of Kings hitting just two months ago (in May 2011).  These projects are large in scope, using source material from a Polish novel series and brought to life by large development teams.  The Witcher immediately brings a fresh start to the tale as our hero Geralt mysteriously reappears with amnesia, after apparently being killed by an angry mob.  So let's see how this story goes.  I'm playing the latest version, the Enhanced Edition Director's Cut.

Dragon Age II

First Hour Review

Dragon age 2 CoverI enjoyed Dragon Age: Origins quite a bit, but it was a rocky ride to get going. Origins has a lot of stats, a lot of skill trees, and what I found to be a somewhat confusing array of attributes to put points into. When I heard that Dragon Age II was being developed to address many of those aspects of the game, plus a complete overhaul of the dialog system to make it similar to Mass Effect, I was pretty excited.

When Dragon Age II was released, it was met with a Spore-like backlash that railed against everything even semi-related to the game. Gamers lamented the Mass Effectification of their beloved hardcore RPG (which I seemed to deem a compliment reading from afar), and while the professional reviews of the game were lower than Origins but still highly respectable, a seemingly large group of gamers tossed goose eggs at it.

I’ve always been in the play-it-myself group of gamers. I can understand some of the spite, but forming an opinion before you even play the game usually makes one look foolish (and heck, I often look foolish after just an hour!).

Here’s my first hour review of Dragon Age II, released by BioWare in March, 2011.

Illusion of Gaia

First Hour Review

Illusion of Gaia CoverIt has been a long time since we covered a classic game here at the First Hour. Not since Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts in March 2010 have we played the first hour of a game more than a decade old (not counting remakes, such as Dragon Quest IV). This used to be a pretty common occurrence, but that was back when it was just me writing and I didn’t have access to any of the newer systems.

Illusion of Gaia has been sitting on my game queue for quite a long time now, I had heard of the game during its initial release but never played it, and then my roommates in college loved it but I still didn’t give it a chance. I decided it was finally time to sit down with this action RPG Enix release on the Super Nintendo.

Released in 1994, Illusion of Gaia seems a bit like Enix’s response to Squaresoft’s Secret of Mana, with both having similar action-based gameplays with some stats playing in behind the scenes. Illusion of Gaia was actually developed by Quintet, who also created ActRaiser, Robotrek, and Soul Blazer. Hearing those names brings up a lot of nostalgia, so let’s get to the game’s first hour before we’re overwhelmed.

Tales of Legendia

First Hour Review

Tales of Legendia CoverAs you might expect from someone whose primary consoles went from Genesis to N64 and Gamecube, Japanese RPGs have never been my forte. Though I've played bits and pieces of many, I'm having a hard time thinking of a traditional JRPG cast in the menu-driven, Final Fantasy mold that I've started and finished all by myself. Chrono Trigger may be the only title that comes to mind.

Many of the RPGs from the land of the rising sun that I've completed are better described as Action RPGs (The World Ends With You, Mario & Luigi series). And if I had to name a favorite, it would probably be Tales of Symphonia. This Gamecube exclusive from Namco quickly enamored me with its excellent mix of real time combat and menu-based management. I don't think I'd ever had so much fun in a JRPG: the exciting dodges, blocks, and combos in brawls on the front lines were perfectly complemented by magic, item, and strategy commands for party members through the pause menu. It's the finest marriage of Action and RPG I've come across.

I've only played the two Symphonia-branded titles in the storied Tales series, so I decided it was time to pick up another. I remembered hearing about Tales of Legendia for the PS2 back when it hit shelves for the first time, so I figured I'd pick it up now that I'm in the mood for a fat, juicy adventure. Does it live up to its franchise name, or is this Tale not worth the time?

Mount & Blade: Warband

Full Review

Mount and Blade Warband CoverI enjoy medieval RPGs. I mean, the majority of games I play - fantasy or not - are based in that setting. There's just something about slicing my enemies up with swords that's just completely satisfying. So when I got to play a few minutes of Mount and Blade: Warband, I knew I'd desperately want more.

What? You haven't heard of this masterpiece from Taleworlds? That's okay, there wasn't a whole lot of advertising, and the original Mount and Blade was made by a married couple virtually by themselves. It's not exactly common that things like this happen.

I played the original briefly, and it was fun, but the overhauled Warband made vast improvements over its predecessor.

So, what is it? Well, it's massive and somewhat complicated, but I shall attempt to explain. Mount and Blade: Warband is a medieval role-playing game that puts you into the world of Calradia, a land filled with several kingdoms, all wanting to unify the land under their rule.

Fable II

Full Review

Fable 2 CoverThis was not a great way to kick off 2011, Fable II is a below average action RPG that exhibits all the same qualities of nearly every other Peter Molyneux game: far too much ambition in a totally lackluster package.

Fable II was released in October of 2008 to much hype, praise, and handfuls of cash. I'm apparently in the critic minority by not enjoying Fable II as it has a Metacritic rating of 89 and received Game of the Year award honors from outlets X-Play and Joystiq in a year that featured Fallout 3, Grand Theft Auto IV, and Metal Gear Solid 4  (if my respect for G4 could have gone any lower, it just has). But that is their opinion, and this is mine.

I'm going to try and keep my full reviews a bit shorter this year, I spent an extraordinary amount of time writing them in 2010 (what with there being about 30 of them and all), and I would like to focus my efforts back to the first hour reviews where it belongs. Speaking of first hour reviews, here's Fable II's.

Fable II

First Hour Review

Fable 2 CoverI once owned an Xbox for what it was intended: to play games. Now it sits under just about every television in my house as an excellent, but dated, media center running XBMC. Games have taken up about 1% of its total processing power over its life.

But at one point, it was the darling of my dorm room with Halo: Combat Evolved and Halo 2. There was another game though that caught our attention, and that was Fable. I have no idea what originally drove me towards this game, but I pre-ordered Fable from GameStop and even received some throwaway bonus DVD that I would never watch.

Three of us in our house played Fable, and we all played different classes (warrior, mage, and archer) which made for three entirely diverse 15 hour gaming experiences. My roommate could one-shot werewolves from across the map and my other roommate’s hero looked to be about 150 years old after draining his body from excessive magic use. My warrior was scarred and muscular; I’d like to say that these avatars represented us in real life, but that would be a stretch.

Fable 2’s release, like many games this generation, came and went for me without much notice. I’m trying to be much more selective with what I played, and while I enjoyed my first Fable experience, I wasn’t that interested in returning to Albion.

But in time-honored First Hour tradition, with Fable 3 just released a few months ago, it is now time to play Fable 2. Here is its first hour.

My JRPG Localization Wishlist

Blog Post

Tales of Graces CoverFor years, Japan was the dominating force in the games industry. Ever since Nintendo blasted onto the scene in the eighties, it's always been my opinion that the developers in the land of the rising sun have had the edge on everyone else. The Atari age has long since given way to names like Nintendo, Sega, Sony, Capcom, Konami, Square, and so many others. If I made a list of my hundred favorite games, I'd be willing to bet that seventy or more of them come from Japan.

These days, however, the tide has shifted. The worldwide yearning for platformers and action games and traditional RPGs has been eclipsed by the first person shooter and sports game markets, two genres that Japanese developers are woefully unfamiliar with. Only the top games in each genre outside of Halo clones and Madden wannabes can make bank anymore, and developers are starting to play it safe with what they bring to the table. One genre affected by this trend is the JRPG, which has always had a focus in Japan, but also branched out to the world stage more often than not. These days, however, it seems Japan's favorite genre seems to be transforming more and more into Japan's shyest genre, rarely coming out to say hi to the rest of us.

In a rather shocking revelation, I've actually managed to find a hearty list of JRPGs that I pine for. I've never been the genre's biggest supporter, which doesn't surprise me in retrospect considering I never owned a SNES, Playstation, or Playstation 2 during their primes. However, I hereby pledge to buy any of the following games that come to America. I said the same thing about Tatsunoko vs. Capcom, thinking it would have no chance of arriving; I made good on my promise, bought TvC: Ultimate All Stars, and loved it. So it's on you now, localization teams. Make it happen.

Memorable Ideas from Forgettable Games - The Level Slider

Gaming Nostalgia

the World Ends With you CoverSome games are unforgettable. After forking over our birthday money at K-Mart, we bounce all the way home in the backseat of the station wagon, wrestle the plastic wrap away from the box, gingerly place the game in the system, and steady our feverishly shaking hands with an anaconda grip on the controller. We don't let go for hours. And when the credits roll, we tear up a little, knowing we'll always cherish that first time through.

And then there are games that are largely forgotten weeks after release. Niche appeal, scathing reviews, or even just lack of hype can doom a game to obscurity and the Target bargain bin. But even these games deserve a second look...sometimes. Every once in a while, a kernel of brilliance can be found within these steaming piles of mediocrity. The purpose of this feature is to sift out some of these conceptual gems and put them under the microscope.

Today's trip takes us all the way back to 2008, when a game called The World Ends With You dared to eschew every gaming convention it could think of, for better or worse. In the "better" column resides one particularly inspired idea, the Level Slider.

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