Catherine Completed

18 05 2012

It’s a wrap… finished… completed… and soon to be in the hands of connoisseurs everywhere.


PS3 REVIEW: Tales of Xillia

11 04 2012

Let me preface this review by giving you a little history of myself and games in the Tales series of role-playing games.  I first heard about Tales of Phantasia probably in about 1997 or so, before any of the sequels, when it was available for the Super Famicom.  Back then, games that came on cartridges were much more expensive to import, and I remember it being somewhat hard to get as importers had turned their eyes away from 16-bit systems, and expensive… somewhere in the $125 range.  So I played it on an emulator.  At that time, nothing could emulate the special sound chip that was used to give the game an actual opening theme and voice throughout the game; but never the less I was blown away by the beefy graphics that seemed to hold their own against modern RPGs.  Additionally, I was struck by the attention to detail the programmers had shown, and it had me hooked.  I eagerly imported the limited versions of Tales of Destiny and Tales of Eternia.  Then I took some time off from gaming.  I would pick up with the Tales series four games later, when Tales of Vesperia was released for the Xbox360.  Vesperia, like the previous games, also impressed me.  So when it came time to get a new PlayStation 3, I went searching for the limited edition Tales of Xillia bundle, not only because I liked the design of the console; but because it included a game I planned to enjoy as well.


That machine is a beautiful, beautiful thing. Until it gets dusty.


The first thing that struck me about Tales of Xillia was the lushly animated eye catch it has.  Very beautiful.  What it does, though, is set your expectations up for a level of quality that ever materializes.  You begin by choosing a main character to play as, Jude, a boy, or Milla, a girl.  I chose Milla.  We’re then treated to a console rendered opening scene where Milla senses the death of a spirit, and travels to right the wrong that’s occurring.  The PS3 is a pretty powerful piece of hardware, and Namco had already set the standard for current-generation Tales  games with Vesperia (Tales of Graces F doesn’t count because it was made for the Wii and then ported over to the PS3).  Gone is the anime look of Vasperia, replaced with shocking low-res textures and jerky movement that had me flashing back to the marionette look of Star Ocean: The Last Hope International.  I really was shocked.  I expected more graphically than what I was given; but I trudged on, and I mean trudged.  For me, there wasn’t a lot to like about the game.  In fact, I’m not even going to give it the benefit of my prose, I’m just going to list what I liked and didn’t like:



–       You can actually rely on the characters you aren’t controlling to act intelligently in battle and to heal you when you need it.

–       One of the pieces of background music sounds like the Back to the Future theme.

–       The character of Tipo is awesome creepy.

–       You can set all party members to attack automatically, so you don’t actually have to play a lot of the game.

–       One of the characters gets hurt and actually has to go around in a wheelchair for a bit.  That’s new.


That little purple bowling pin thingy is made of pure awesome.



–       Gameplay is boring and repetitive.

–       Characters are beyond cliché, reminding me of hollow copies of characters from the last RPG I beat, Ni no Kuni, and then every RPG before that.

–       There’s no sense of urgency in the entire game.

–       Character customization is unnecessary and, well, dumb.  Why would I want my characters running around dressed as other characters from other games?  Why would I want my characters to have a wolf’s tail or wear bunny ears and funny nose glasses?

–       Areas beyond towns have items that replenish every time you enter that zone, and they’re marked on your map so you can just going back to that place and get more stuff.  Where’s the challenge?

–       Monsters are overpopulated, and advancing becomes a grind fest.  An easy grind fest.

–       Items that you can pick up are shine and are readily identifiable from a distance.  What is this, Resident Evil?

–       Characters movements are jerky and unnatural.  They move their head, pause, move arm, pause, etc.  And when they walk, it doesn’t look like their feet are touching the ground.

–       You can’t go in most of the buildings in the game, and when you can go into one, there’s nothing to do, you’re just in that building.

–       I didn’t die once, and only had to use healing herbs 6 times in the entire game.

–       One of the characters gets hurt and has to go around in a wheelchair.  That’s retarded.

–       The plot is pure cellophane.


OK, everybody attack while I go into the kitchen and make a sandwich.


I could go on; but I won’t.  Really, this game is just another hollow JRPG; the kind that gives JRPG’s a bad name.  And that’s so sad, because the Tales series and Tales fans deserve so much more than that.

There’s a reason why in Japan the almost three year old Tales of Vesperia still retails for ¥5480 ($68.00) used, while the newer Xillia goes for a much lower ¥1480 ($18.00).  It’s because the ball has completely been dropped by Tales Studios.  Where past entries in the series stood for quality and meticulous design, Xillia feels more like a cash grab.  It feels like Namco just slapped it together, threw it out the door, and said, “Here… now give us your money.” They set the bar so high with their efforts on other systems, Tales fans deserve so much better from the first true outing of the series on the PlayStation 3.  Maybe the next one will be better, or maybe Namco’s just trying to milk you for every penny you’ve got.  If the way they handle their DLC is any example, I’m betting on the latter.



As a final note, I’d like to mention that I was finally able to pick up an actual copy of the original Tales of Phantasia for the Super Famicom.  It rocks so hard, and what they did with that special sound chip is simply amazing, even 15 years later.  It’s mind blowing to hear a SNES game that actually has an opening theme song that not just bleeps and bloops, but is sung.  If Tales Studios could be half as inventive now as they were then, we’d have another gem in our hands; but as of now, we only have a lump of coal.

PS3 REVIEW: Journey 風ノ旅ビト

16 03 2012


There are some people who argue that video games are art.  They like to point at pretty, stylized graphics and moody, adult stories as the basis for their judgment.  Of course, modern video games are just aping movies, which in turn copied stage plays that just brought to life the images we see in our heads when we read.  What is art?  Is it a painting… a sculpture?  Can a well-cut lawn be judged a work of art?  Part of the problem with modern video games is that they try too hard to be art, putting style over substance.  I would say that video games are not an art form, although they can be artistic; sometimes too artistic as in the case of Journey.


I am very beautiful. Love me.


I would love to tell you what the plot of Journey is, I really would.  It seems like most games tell a story of some sort; but I can’t find one here.  I mean, the whole point of the game is to walk to a mountain, and then walk up it.  There’s no text anywhere in the game telling you why you’re walking up the mountain.  There are cut scenes here in there, but they paint a picture that you aren’t privy to the meaning of.  The game hints at things, and then deliberately doesn’t tell you what the hints lead to.  In the beginning, you see a shooting star, so I suppose that’s as good a reason as any to start walking.  It worked for the wise men.  Journey is an artsy-fartsy kind of game, so I assume the developers would tell you that the story of Journey is the journey itself; although that’s really a cop-out.  Plenty of games have journeys: Mario journeys across many lands to rescue the princess, every RPG ever made has a journey in it, heck, you even journey here and there in a fighting game to find new people to beat up, so don’t get all aloof and tell me that walking to a mountain is the story.  I could walk to any number of mountains and find more things of interest than there are in this game; but I digress.  Everything you need to know about Journey is in the title.



Graphically, the game really shines.  It’s downright beautiful, juggling between being drop-dead gorgeous and simple run-of-the-mill gorgeous.  Sometimes the game is so good looking that the camera chooses to linger on the good-lookingness of it all as if to say “forget about a point, look how goooooood this looks!”  But it didn’t fool me.  Real life looks good, but if I have nothing to do I’ll go stark raving bonkers.  That’s why I blog.

Musically, the game also stands out; but then most arty independent games have great soundtracks.  The control is OK, but there’s really not much to complain about because there’s not much to do.  The analog stick moves your character, one button allows you to jump (when you have enough power) and another button makes you sing a tone.  That’s it.

It’s hard to rate Journey as a game, because as a game it completely fails.  You can’t have a game with no point, and no I don’t believe “walk to the mountain” is a valid point.  You can’t die in the game, in fact the only way to fail at beating it is to get bored and turn it off, which is what I did three times.  The game is beautiful, and the atmosphere is extremely moody and epic feeling; but with no payoff and taking less than an hour to beat, it’s difficult for me to not just rip right into it and tear it a new one; but something about the game holds me back.  It has a kind of charm and good nature that you don’t see in many games now days.  Playing Journey is almost like fast-forwarding through a Miyazaki film: you know you’re going to see crazy wonderful things, it’s going to be beautiful, and nobody’s going to get hurt.  Here’s same gameplay that illustrates that very thing:



Journey does include multiplayer.  It’s not something you select, it’s an automatic part of the game where people join you on your mountainy quest as you progress, coming and going.  Sometimes, it was pretty cool traveling with a “friend”; but most of the time it just gets in your way.  If you’re keen on unlocking all of Journey’s trophies, you have to complete different task throughout the game.  Because your randomly chosen partner might have already unlocked what you’re going for or might be trying to get it themselves, or might be completely oblivious, it makes getting said trophies all that more difficult.  And because the only way you can communicate is with a tone, it’s impossible to tell them to bugger off, which is what I wanted to do most of the time.


Bugger off


My advice to you is, if you want to experience Journey, then by all means, watch someone else play it.  It’s much too short and nebulas in concept and execution to warrant the $12 that Sony is asking for it.  Bide your time, and if you really have a jones to make an incredibly short, metaphysical trip, wait for it to go on sale.