Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Review: Castlevania: Symphony of the Night (PSP)

Game: Castlevania: Symphony of the Night
Platform: PSP
Initial Release Date: March 20, 1997
Publisher: Konami
Developer: Konami
Directors: Toru Hagihara, Koji Igarashi
Designer: Ayami Kojima
Original Version Platform: Sony Playstation

How do I go about reviewing this game? It is widely regarded as one of the best video games ever made. After playing through and clearing it (186.7% - more details later), I have to say that the hype around this game is 100% deserved. It's definitely one of the best games that I've ever played. I'm going to have to let it ruminate for awhile before I can say just where it sits in my personal pantheon, but I can at least say that it's an amazing, must-play game. So, reviewing this game might be kind of pointless, but I'm going to give it a go anyway. Buckle in.

What is Castlevania: Symphony of the Night?
Symphony of the Night was first released in 1997 for the Playstation, coming out in March in Japan and then October for the U.S. It was a sequel to Rondo of Blood, the PC Engine CD game that was not released outside of Japan. The game was largely inspired by Super Metroid and the two games together birthed the unofficial and now massively popular genre, "Metroidvania." The game differs from the older games in the Castlevania series in two important ways. First, the stage-by-stage design was replaced with a large open world that can be explored mostly as the player wishes. Second, there are a number of RPG elements in the game: experience points and levels, equippable gear, save points, and magic spells. It initially sold poorly, and rumors were that it wouldn't actually get a US release, which made sense as Rondo of Blood hadn't either. This led to many hardcore gamers in the US modding their Playstations and paying ridiculous amounts of money to import the game. Then it came out in the US after-all only to suffer similarly low sales numbers at first. However, over time it developed a reputation as a cult-classic and has seen release on several different platforms, including Xbox, Sega Saturn, XBLA, and (as in this review) the PSP. Check out the Castlevania Wiki for a comprehensive list of the differences between the versions.

How do you access the game on PSP?
Symphony of the Night was never officially released on the PSP. It is instead an Easter egg hidden inside Castlevania: Dracula X Chronicles, the PSP 2.5d remake of Rondo of Blood (check out my review of Dracula X Chronicles). This version might actually be the best version to play, as it restores some content from the original Japanese release that was cut for American release. To my knowledge, this content doesn't appear in any of the later American releases, though I could be wrong. So, how do you unlock it, then? It's actually pretty easy to do. As I mentioned in a previous post, I had heard about how to do it on an episode of the Retronauts podcast, but I ended up doing most of it on accident and then going "Oh, yeah!" In the second stage of the game, after you beat the stage's first miniboss, there is a sequence where you are being chased by a giant minotaur. There are holes in the ground that you naturally assume that you're supposed to jump over. However, if you instead fall into the first hole, you land in the sewers beneath the stage. Finish the level and you are now taken to an alternate stage 3. Proceed as normal through this stage until it branches up and down. Take the upward branch. A little later, you'll come to a spot with a skeletal serpent that spits fireballs and strikes at you. Kill that and you'll just barely be able to see that above you is a cage covered in vines or maybe made of vines. You have to hit it, which requires the use of a sub weapon like the axe or Bible. That causes it to fall and become a platform, letting you access a catwalk above this part of the stage. Proceed along until it dead-ends at a tombstone. Break the tombstone to reveal a hidden cache with a copy of Symphony of the Night. After you've collected it, you will now be able to access the game from the main menu.

Once you beat the game, you can play as either Maria or Richter from Rondo of Blood.
So, how is it?
Like I said up at the top, I think this is one of the best games I've ever played. It hits all of the right buttons across its various sub-genres. The platforming feels great and lacks the frustrating "Castlevania gravity" of all the previous games. Alucard sort of glides through the air while jumping in a way that feels very similar to the Metroid "spin jump." The visual effect of the glide is neat, as if Alucard's soul is not quite keeping up with his body. When you see a ledge, you just kind of know whether or not you can get to it and you're probably never wrong. The one exception I found was a section on the outer west side of the castle where you are going up a long staircase. There are ledges above the staircase with vases. Some of them are easy to jump to once you have the double jump ability, but one or two are just barely out of reach in a way that feels like you could make it if you stood in exactly the right place. Of course, later in the game you get a flying ability that makes all of that trivial.

Combat is fun and mostly easy, with the occasional miniboss or just tough room that found me dying and reloading over and over, but never in a way that left me frustrated. The gear plays into this. Alucard's different weapons have their own attack animations that actually matter. One-handed swords mostly whip outward in a motion similar to an anime samurai, while maces and rods typically swing over the head, hitting enemies in an arc. Punching weapons sometimes just jab, but some do an uppercut that gives an arc sort of opposite of that of maces. And many weapons have special interactions when used in conjunction with certain off-hand items or other weapons. I read about an especially cheesy combination that I ended up using to defeat Dracula in about 5 seconds, which I actually regret, so I won't say it here.
"So I tragically sacrificed all I held dear just to be cheesed to death before I could finish this sente--?"
The magic spells are neat but I didn't really use them very much. Each one requires a button combination reminiscent of Street Fighter II. There was one in particular that was easy to pull off and summoned a ball of energy that would fly around and hit an enemy. I used that a lot when fighting agile, flying enemies, but otherwise mostly ignored the spells. Similarly, the transformations were really neat but I found myself never having any use for the wolf after the one time you have to use it. The bat and the mist, on the other hand, I used a lot. I spent a long, long time just flying around the outdoor sections in batform, finding all sorts of hidden items but mostly just filling in my map. You also get familiars. I used the fairy briefly, the demon the only two times that you need him at all, and the bat and the ghost just once to see their animations. I used the sword familiar for the whole game after I got it, though. The familiars gain experience and level up, becoming more powerful but also gaining new abilities and behaviors as they do. Once the sword reaches a certain level, he says something and flies away. You then have to turn him back on and he comes back, but you'll notice that you now have a very powerful sword in your inventory. Once I got that, it was the only weapon I used (until the above pictured cheese, anyway). 

The story to the game is nothing special, but that's not really what you come to a Castlevania game for, is it? You're the dhamphir son of Dracula. You come to his castle to collect his body parts and destroy him once and for all. Meanwhile, an evil wizard named Shaft (not one bad mother--) is trying to resurrect him and is using Richter, the hero from the previous game, to do so. You battle your way through and eventually fight Richter. If you do it the wrong way, as I did, you get the bad ending and then need to go back to your last save and do it a different way that I won't spoil. This then brings you to some sort of alternate reality, upside down version of the castle. It's at this point that you start actually collecting parts, which also act as items that increase your base stats. Finally, you fight Shaft and then Dracula, who seems honestly sad about having to fight you and about the monster he has become. It's not bad, as such things go.

The game is also full of a vast amount of references, Easter eggs, and secrets. You'll find references to the previous games, of course, random jokes that only make sense if you're Japanese, and weird combinations of items that are never explained. Late in the game, there is an extremely hard boss who is constantly hitting you with electric attacks. But there is a crown you can wear that causes electricity to heal you. To get it, you just have to randomly walk into a specific tunnel while in wolf form, then fly out of it as a bat. Of course! Why wouldn't you just randomly do that? Once you beat the game, you can also play as either Richter or Maria from Rondo of Blood. Doing so totally changes the game, as these characters actually play like they did before and don't use gear or have experience. Maria is very fast, has ranged attacks, and naturally jumps better than you can do with the Gravity Boots, but she also dies in four or five hits from anything and doesn't appear to have any way of upgrading her health or defense. Fun times.

Final Thoughts
So, as I said before, this might be one of the best games ever made. In all likelihood, you've probably already played it and are thinking that I'm an idiot for reviewing it 21 years after its release. If, however, you're someone who never got around to it, never owned a Playstation, whatever the excuse, you absolutely need to play this game. If you like Metroid games, Castlevania games, or any of the many Metroidvanias currently filling up the indie games space, you need to play this game. It blends platforming, combat, exploration, and RPG elements in a way that I've never seen in any game before or since. Good hunting.

We, however, WILL meet again, I hope.

Friday, April 27, 2018

Review: Castlevania: Dracula X Chronicles (PSP)

Game: Castlevania: Dracula X Chronicles
Platform: Sony PSP
Initial Release Date: October 23, 2007
Publisher: Konami
Developer: Konami
Directors: Akahiro Minakata, Koji Igarashi
Designer: Ayami Kojima
Original Version Name: Castlevania: Rondo of Blood
Original Version Platform: PC Engine CD ROM
Original Version Release Date: October 29, 1993

I just (sorta) beat my the first game that I bought for my PSP. This is going to be shorter than my typical posts, I think, but I thought I'd go ahead and share my thoughts on it. 

What is Castlevania: Dracula X Chronicles?
Castlevania: Dracula X Chronicles (Akumajo Dracula X Chronicle in Japan, literally "Demon Castle Dracula X Chronicle") is a remake of Castlevania: Rondo of Blood, a Japan-only release for the PC Engine CD ROM system (that's the Japanese name; PC Engine was called Turbografix 16 in the US). Dracula X is a 2.5D remake of Rondo, meaning that it's a 2D side-scroller like most Castlevania games, but the characters are rounded out and there are some techniques such as parallax scrolling to make the game appear more 3D. 

Rondo of Blood was a novel introduction to the series. Released in 1993, it was the 10th Castlevania game. It was the first to get rid of the upgradeable whip system and also introduced a few new ideas to the series, such as the Item Crash ability, in which the player can do a special item attack while using up a large portion of hearts. The game also included some things from some of the earlier games such as branching, alternate paths and unlockable playable characters. It was also the first game in the series to come on CD and made use of the Redbook Audio format, which allowed you to listen to music from the soundtrack by placing the CD into a regular CD player. Using a CD allowed the addition of animated cut-scenes, voice-acting, and higher quality music. 

The naming of these games can be confusing. First of all, in Japan, Konami could never decide what naming convention to use, resulting in several different games called Akumajo Dracula then some using Castlevania and others not. But in America, we got a game for the Super Nintendo (and I think the Sega Genesis) called Dracula X. It's a watered-down version of Rondo of Blood that mostly plays the same, but with some major differences, such as taking out the playable characters. Then, when Konami released their remake of Rondo of Blood for the PSP, they named it Dracula X Chronicles in all regions, even though it's a true remake of Rondo, not Dracula X.
"Akumajo Dracula X: Chi no Rondo," or "Demon Castle Dracula X: Rondo of Blood" 

So, how is it?
Okay, so now that we've gotten all of that confusion out of the way, how is the game itself? I've actually written about it a little before in my "Retro Gaming with the PSP" article. My only experience with Castlevania prior to this was the original and the N64 game. I got the original Castlevania for the NES back around 1990. My dad came home from work one day with an NES and a handful of games that he had bought from someone at work (I already had had an NES at my mom's house for a year or two). I assume that some poor teenager had gotten busted for something or other and his punishment was that his dad sold his NES. I think my dad gleefully told me that he had only paid $60 for it, too. I can't remember the other games for sure - I think Commando and Ice Hockey. Anyway, I loved the original Castlevania and played it for hours and hours, but even in my teen years going back and playing it again, I was never able to get past the 3rd stage and only even made it that far once or twice. 

Likewise, I found Castlevania: Dracula X Chronicles to be very difficult. It felt exactly like playing the original Castlevania in just about every way. Richter Belmont jumps and falls with that famous Castlevania gravity just like Simon did. Swinging the whip has exactly the same little delay that makes it so hard to hit swooping enemies like Medusa heads and ravens. Getting hit still makes you fly backward in a very frustrating manner, often into more death. Speaking of which, there is this one boss that you fight while inexplicably standing atop the crossspar at the top of a very high mast. If you get knocked back or just make a bad jump and jump off, you fall all the way to the bottom of the level and die. Fun times. And of course, you have a very limited number of lives. When you lose them all, it's all the way back to the beginning of the level.

All of that aside, I really enjoyed the game anyway. I found it very hard, but in a way that pushed just the right nostalgia buttons. The addition of saves really helps. I probably replayed the third level 30-40 times before I finally beat it. Beating the game was very satisfying, though I think I got the worst ending possible, having failed to rescue any of the four missing women. I know that if you rescue them you can play as at least one of them, if not all of them. I don't really feel a burning desire to go back and do so, though.
In other words: "You beat the game, but you really sucked at it."
Final Thoughts
The best thing about Dracula X Chronicles is that it includes a port of Symphony of the Night. There is a thing you have to do in the second level (I won't spoil it here). I had heard about it on the Retronauts podcast, but I actually did it completely by accident. Once you do this series of tasks, you find a little floating CD. Hitting it unlocks Symphony of the Night, playable from the main menu. As of writing this, I'm about 20 hours into Symphony. If you have never played this game and don't believe the hype around it can possibly be justified, let me tell you: you are wrong. I think it might be one of the very best games I've ever played. You should play it now. If you have a PS1 or a PS2, go buy it. If you don't and you have a PSP, then buy Dracula X Chronicles and unlock it. Either way, you owe it to yourself to play it.

Speaking of unlockable little CDs, let me save you some time. You can unlock music files from the soundtrack by collecting these little floating CDs, but most of them are sitting in plain sight behind a little red pillar thing. When you hit the pillar, it goes down, but then it pops back up before you can pass. I spent a lot of time trying to get past these things, using items, the backflip, and even wasting my precious hearts on item crashes. I finally looked it up: you have to play through the game as Maria, the first maiden you can rescue, in order to get these. There you go; I just saved you an hour of futility.

So, should you play Dracula X Chronicles? I think that depends. If you really love the original Castlevania, Castlevania III, and/or Super Castlevania IV and you've never played Rondo of Blood or Dracula X, then yeah, totally. If you love Symphony of the Night but find the older Castlevania games kind of tedious, then it's fine to pass up. I think once I finish Symphony of the Night, I'm going to try Super Castlevania IV (I just bought an SNES Mini - stay tuned!). Then I might see about coming back and playing Dracula X Chronicles again for the unlockables, maybe with a strategy guide. No shame in that, my friend; anything to lay Dracula to rest.

Review: Metroid: Samus Returns (3ds)

Game: Metroid: Samus Returns
Platform: Nintendo 3ds
Initial Release Date: September 15, 2017
Publisher: Nintendo
Developers: NintendoMercury SteamNintendo Entertainment Planning & Development
Directors: Jose Luis Márquez; Takehiko Hosokawa

Just a disclaimer right up front. I am a huge, unapologetic Nintendo fanboy, but the one big gap in my fandom is Metroid. As a kid, my only exposure to Metroid was playing Super Metroid at a kiosk at Target for about 15 minutes when I was 11 and having the magnet below, which is still on my fridge today.
Then in college, when the Gamecube came out, I originally bought two games for it: Super Smash Bros. Melee and Metroid Prime. I'm of course a big fan of the entire Smash Bros. series, but I also really loved Metroid Prime. I played it a lot, but I never got very far. I think my furthest save in the game was probably only about 40% through. Over the years, I've played an even smaller amount of Metroid 1, Super Metroid, and the accursed Other M. 

The point of this rambling history of my Metroid experience - or lack thereof - is that I went into Samus Returns without any nostalgia for the Metroid series. I know a lot about it, because I'm the kind of nerd who listens to retro video game podcasts (shout-out to Retronauts) and read articles on blogs and in magazines. But, ultimately, I went into this game knowing what to expect but judging it purely on its own merits and instead of as the newest installment of a treasured series. And my verdict? I LOVED it.

What is Metroid: Samus Returns?
Allow yourself to journey back to the distant era known as the 1980s. Tony Danza was somehow considered funny, Heaven was a place on Earth, and the home video game market had recently crashed and burned only to be resurrected almost single-handedly by Nintendo. At the time, Nintendo's in-house development was divided between two rival teams: Shigeru Miyamoto's EAD and Gunpei Yokoi's R&D 1. Miyamoto and EAD created such iconic games as Donkey Kong, Super Mario Bros., and the Legend of Zelda. Gunpei Yokoi was the designer of such marvels as Game & Watch, the D-Pad, and the Gameboy, and his R&D 1 team created Kid Icarus and, most important to our conversation, Metroid. Two years into the Gameboy's life-cycle, R&D 1 produced Metroid II: the Return of Samus in 1991, five years after the initial release of Metroid for the Famicom Disk System. It traded the zoomed out view of Metroid for a more zoomed in view that would make better use of the Gameboy's small screen and varied environmental textures to make up for the lack of color. It was also a little more linear, with players progressing from killing one Metroid mini-boss after another. Exploration still existed, but to a lesser extent. Three years later, the team would put out Super Metroid for the SNES, a game that is widely regarded today as one of the best video games ever made. 

I 100%ed it! My first Metroid game that I've beaten and one of the first games I've ever 100%ed, too!
Fast forward to September 2017, when Nintendo released Metroid: Samus Returns for the 3ds. This game is a modern remake of Metroid II, produced by a different team of course (Gunpei Yokoi was tragically killed in a car vs. pedestrian accident in 1997). The game essentially recycles the plot and map of Metroid II, but uses mechanics from Super Metroid as well as Metroid Fusion for the GBA. It also adds in some new things, such as the ability to add pins to your map (essential if you want to 100% the game as I did) and the ability to rotate your arm cannon 360° by holding down the L button. They also added a fun melee counter attack that stuns enemies and powers up your next immediate attack, allowing you to kill most stunned enemies in one shot. And to make up for the changes in resolution, they spread the map out more and added a lot more enemies. But, more or less, it's what Metroid II would be if it had been developed after Super Metroid and with modern technology.

My Thoughts
So, I really loved this game. I've heard it criticized a lot, mostly for not being Super Metroid. I think the fact that it's really my first true, 2D Metroid helped me to judge it on what it is instead of what it isn't. The difficulty isn't too hard on Normal mode, but there were still some bosses that it took me several tries to beat. There is one boss late in the game, in particular, that I think I might have attempted something like 20 times. So, there is definitely some difficulty there. The difficulty is ameliorated very well by the addition of soft autosaves; certain actions, such as using an elevator or teleporter or entering a boss's room, will cause the game to autosave, but this save isn't permanent. I found this out the hard way when I turned my 3ds off after using a teleporter, only to find that I had lost about an hour of progress by not actually saving first. Still, these soft autosaves are great for making you not want to break your 3ds in half after being killed by a boss. 

There isn't much else in this game that will kill you unless you're just being foolish. Few of the enemies do very much damage and pretty much anything you kill will give you health. In fact, because enemies respawn when you reenter a room, it's very easy to fill up health, ammunition, and your Aeon tank anytime they happen to be low. And unless you're just going around spamming super missiles, your ammo probably won't ever be low, either. 

There are a few things that it would be nice if the game told you. A big one is that Metroids are vulnerable to ice. Everyone who grew up playing the series knows this, but there is nothing in the game to indicate it to newcomers. I only knew about it from the Retronauts podcast (second shoutout!). Freezing the Metroids with a charged ice blast pretty much always makes those fights completely trivial.

Speaking of Metroids, the repetitive nature of killing Metroids as minibosses is probably the only really negative thing I can say about the game. They did vary it a bit - this Metroid shoots electricity at you, this one shoots fire, this one is in a room full of lava, this one runs away and goes to nearby rooms. But ultimately they are all the same easy fight. The real curveballs in boss fights are the non-Metroid bosses, all of which were very hard for me and all the more rewarding once beaten. The final boss fight is really great and I won't spoil it for you. It's broken up into stages with really neat cutscenes in between. I don't normally play 3ds games in 3D, but these cutscenes had me pushing up the slider, and I didn't start skipping them until I had already died probably 6 times. 

Final Verdict
If you have a 3ds, Metroid: Samus Returns is an absolute must-buy. I think any fan of the series who is willing to judge it on its own will really enjoy it and be left wishing for a Super Metroid remake with some of Samus Returns' quality-of-life improvements. Anyone new to the Metroid series will probably enjoy it even more. I went from this to Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. The latter is better, but this one is still an excellent example of the Metroidvania genre. Pick it up and get to playing.

See you next mission!
PS: Sorry about the long gap between articles. I got the super flu and then had an avalanche of responsibility fall on me at work. I've found a tiny little niche of free time and will use that to get several of these in the can, so to speak. 

Monday, April 2, 2018

Retro Gaming with the PSP

My inner 11 year-old just did a happy dance.
As part of my ongoing quest to spend probably too much money playing old games, I recently purchased a PSP. My reasoning for this went something like this:
  • I want to be able to play retro games on a mobile device with dedicated buttons rather than virtual, touchscreen buttons that don't work for crap.
  • I don't want to rebuy games that I already own (I won't pirate anything I don't legitimately own, but I have zero problem pirating something that I do for the sake of convenience).
  • I can't emulate games on my 3DS without some risk of bricking it.
  • If I were to brick something, I'd want it to be something cheap and easily replaced.
So, I went on eBay and found a Japanese PSP 1000 launch model for just $52 including the cost of shipping. Twenty-two days later, it finally arrived.

The package says "no battery," but luckily that was just a ruse to fool customs. Very crafty, Japanese used video game store.
Ultimately, I ended up spending a bit more, as I needed to buy a power cable for it, but thankfully it came with the original Sony branded battery, the 1800 mAh rather than the 1200, and it actually holds a charge for nearly 6 hours.

Of course, now I have to learn to read Japanese.
No, I'm kidding. This was easily fixed, thanks to the Internet.
How To Do It
The process for soft-modding your PSP is very, very simple. Check out this simple guide to adding the necessary custom firmware (CFW). You'll need this to be able to install emulators as well as to play ripped Playstation 1 games (the PSP comes with a PS1 emulator but only to play games purchased from the PSN store, which you can't even do anymore). Warning: the guide ends with the option to permanently flash the custom firmware to your PSP. Do not do this. This is the only part of any of this that carries any risk of bricking your PSP. Once you've got the firmware on there, you'll want to start adding emulators. This comprehensive list of emulators has everything you could ever want from Colecovision to Commodore 64 to the Atari Lynx. I just went with systems that I actually have games for and that I know the 1000 can handle (the 1000 only has 32mb of RAM compared to the 64 of the other models, so emulating the Nintendo 64 or anything beyond that is probably out of the question) or that would be feasible on something this size (no Nintendo DS for now, anyway - besides, any game I legitimately own on there I can just play on my 3DS). As for where to get ROMs for all these emulators, I'm not going to link to that. All I'll say is that the best, safest site I've found rhymes with Fimm's Fair. Happy hunting.

The Review
So far, it's pretty great. The PSP buttom configuration is perfect for emulating the SNES or the PS1 in particular and works just fine for the NES. The emulators that I'm using (NESter for NES, SNES9x for SNES, MasterBoy for Gameboy/GameboyColor/SegaMasterSystem/Gamegear, and Daedalus for N64) all have deep customization options, allowing you to do all sorts of things, from setting custom controls to changing framerate. One thing I found really neat is that, at least with the SNES9x, saving in the game actually creates a save file. So, you can do legitimate, no quick-save runs of classic games, if that's your thing. I discovered this on accident while playing Super Metroid. My quick-save broke and I thought I'd have to start the game over. I decided to do so since I was only about 30 minutes in. When I loaded up the ROM and got to the New Game screen, my save from a save point was there. I've never seen that in any other emulated game, including on SNES9x for the PC. So, that's pretty awesome. My big disappointment with saves, though, was that copying my saves from the PC didn't work. So, I can't pick up my Final Fantasy V game at hour 30 as I was hoping. I'll have to continue playing on the PC.

One really cool thing the PSP has over the DS/3DS - no region-locking.
The system is a little too small, though. Playing for more than 30 minutes at a time causes my right hand to hurt in the same way that the original DS and 3DS did, whereas I can play on my 3DS XL for hours without any hand pain. It's not bad, though, and definitely worth it. The screen is big and beautiful, too. PSP games have some "ghosting," which is where there is a soft afterimage at some points. I've been playing through Castlevania: Dracula X Chronicles, the 2007 PSP remake of the Japanese-only PC Engine release of Rondo of Blood. If you've ever heard of Symphony of the Night, widely considered to be one of the best games ever made, that was a sequel to Rondo of Blood. You can actually unlock the original, uncut Japanese release (but localized in English) version of Symphony of the Night in Dracula X Chronicles (which I actually did already) as well as the American SNES version of Rondo of Blood (which I haven't). Anyway, it's the only game I have on UMD, though I'm expecting Dissidia 012 Final Fantasy, soon. It plays very well, though the ghosting happens a lot with it, but it's not bad at all. If you're worried about it, the PSP 3000 supposedly has zero ghosting.

Final Thoughts
Piracy is bad, but if you already own the games, why not play them in a super-convenient and enjoyable way? At a cost of $50-60, a PSP is a great choice for anyone wanting to relive the glory days of 80s and 90s gaming.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Final Fantasy Adventures

This February, I got an email from Green Man Gaming that included a special deal: pre-purchase Final Fantasy XV PC edition for just $40! As a PC Gamer / Nintendo fanboy with a long-time love of Final Fantasy, I had watched reviews and gameplay videos of Final Fantasy XV on the PS4 and Xbox One with a nearly obsessive jealousy, so I jumped on it. I added it to Steam and then waited three weeks for it to finally unlock on March 6th. That day, I came home and opened up Steam to find the game already installed and waiting for me. I was very excited. I clicked PLAY and got ready to start my adventure.

Except, my adventure started and then abruptly ended with the Black Screen of Death, the younger cousin to the infamous Blue Screen of Death. It turns out that my PC doesn't meet the minimum requirements. My only choice, of course, was to go spend $200+ upgrading my PC to just barely be able to meet the requirements. Or was it?

My misadventure with FFXV coincided with my recent discovery of the Retronauts podcast. I had somehow missed this awesome podcast and had been injecting myself with a steady overdose of retro gaming nostalgia. Literally the same day of the FFXV PC launch (mislaunch in my case), I had listened to their episode on Final Fantasy V. Like most Americans my age, I had originally missed FFV. Final Fantasy I had come out on the NES a few years after it came out in Japan, but Nintendo then decided that Americans weren't going to be prepared for the difficulty and complexity of the next two Famicom (the Japanese version of the NES, aka the Nintendo Family Computer) titles in the series. So, Americans wouldn't get another Final Fantasy game until the Super Famicom's Final Fantasy IV came to the American SNES as Final Fantasy II, which was actually simplified for American players. Then when the fifth game came out in Japan, Nintendo again decided that Americans just weren't ready for it, so we didn't get another Final Fantasy until VI, or III as it was known here.

This game is NOT a Final Fantasy game, guys.
I had actually first heard of Final Fantasy when I got my SNES in 1993 along with Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest. Mystic Quest was an overly simplified Final Fantasy game designed from the ground-up for American players and actually released here before it was released in Japan. The story is pretty standard NES Final Fantasy fare: there are some important crystals and some bad guys have taken them, so generic fantasy hero dude has to go find them. The combat and party system are very reminiscent of Dragon Quest 2 but the game itself is mostly very easy, though I never could manage to beat it as a kid. But my real introduction to Final Fantasy was two years later, when my best friend, Beau, brought over his copy of Final Fantasy III, the SNES version of Final Fantasy VI. This has ended up being one of my top five favorite games ever (stay tuned for that list in a future post). I would talk to you about it forever, but then who couldn't? Everyone loves FF6, right?

So, anyway, here I am, disappointed that I can't play Final Fantasy XV, receiving the blessing of my awesome wife to spend $200+ upgrading my computer, and the next podcast that comes up in my feed is talking about Final Fantasy V, a game that I've never played but which I have a copy of sitting in the drawer next to my TV. Several years ago, I had bought a whole bunch of Final Fantasy games for the PS1 and then proceeded to not play any of them. In all my years of loving Final Fantasy, I had only gotten maybe halfway through I, perhaps 2 hours into IV, beaten VI three or four times, a disc or so into both VII and VIII, not even 2 hours into X, and spent probably over 100 hours in Tactics building crazy parties and then never even coming close to actually beating the game itself. The podcast and the situation came together just right and I decided to give FFV a go.

Man, am I glad that I did. I'll post about it more once I've beaten it, but I'm currently about 10 hours into the game and absolutely loving it. The story is fine, though nothing to really write home about. But the mechanics! Oh, the glorious mechanics! Job systems like Tactics (introduced in III, but I haven't played that) but with static characters with their own backstories and silly, anime hair. Airships and ridable Chocobos and dragons! Dragons! This game is awesome, and I can't wait to tell you all about it. So, stay tuned, and if you have a copy, play along.


Friday, March 2, 2018

System Launch

   The podcast you never listened to has now made the jump backward to blog form! Welcome to Middle-Aged Geeks the blog. This is essentially a place for Kerry, Brandon, and their friends to talk to you about all the random crap that they are into...which is mostly video games, because we are all middle-aged man-children. I'll try to update this more often than we updated the podcast (so, more than 3 times a year). Check back soon for the first post as I talk about my recent rash of retro gaming spending. Talk to you later.