Archive Page 2

Humans, Monsters and Fireworks

Out of the ‘not-so-intense’ gaming that I’ve done in the past, I don’t remember myself ever liking a game that I cannot beat, for not being able to beat it kind of defeats the purpose of ever playing a game extensively, and of course, practice comes along and even that only takes you so far.  Thus I believed there must always be something else in a game that leaves an impression on you even if you can’t get past the first screen.  For that matter, I would like to share my thoughts on a series of games where those other elements that stuck even when I could not beat the game itself:  the Touhou Project games.

Cover-art of the 8th installment: Imperishable Night

Touhou Project was a series of games released for the NEC PC-9801 and Windows by the 1-man team Team Shanghai Alice.  They are initially created as dojin soft which are essentially just games made for fun and enjoyment rather than for profit, it does count as an Indy game in a sense, but only the design team of said games involves much less people and funding than indy game companies.  The game is entirely designed by 1 person only, and he takes care of every single aspect of the games he produced.  Onto the actual game itself, it is pretty much your everyday top-down shoot ’em ups similar to titles like 1942 and Raiden.  However, the exceptions are that no airplanes are involved, and there are more bullets on screen than you can imagine.  The main characters you control in the game are actual flying humans that possess different types of abilities.  Although such abilities are not implemented as an actual game mechanic, it gives the characters more depth compared to just an ordinary airplane.  Also since they’re humans, they are also subjected to human emotions and interactions with other characters in the game, where some are villains and some are comrades.

A Dialogue Scene

The games themselves feature a standard shoot ’em up moveset of D-pad control on the keyboard, with Z as shoot, X as bombs, and a SHIFT key ‘flight-mode’ that allows the players to see the hitbox of the character.  You may see it as boring and not cutting edge, but when actually playing, you would wish for it to be simple and easy.  The objective of the games aren’t entirely difficult to figure out as you are more than likely forced to go all the way to the end of a stage.  In terms of rules there aren’t many, for the only rule in the game is essentially just shooting everything that comes in your general direction.  Sure there are things you can limit yourself from doing to achieve a higher score, but for the most part, you are only tasked with separating your character from a rainstorm of projectiles and destroying the things that produce them.

Hakurei Reimu, one of the main characters of the series

As mentioned above, the game features humans as actual controllable players with unique bullet styles, however, these attributes change from game to game for the same character and almost never remain the same.  As such, old attributes such as movement speed and power are neglected in the more recent games.  Moreover, the ‘creeps’ and more prominently, bosses you encounter each possesses a wide array of extremely bizarre and intricate bullet patterns that more than often mesmerizes you.

Kirisame Marisa, another main character in the series, good friend of Reimu

Also mentioned above, the elements of the games that left a lasting impression on me were the story and characters.  Touhou Project features too many characters to count each with their respective back story and personalities, although many of these personalities are not explicitly stated and are branded to them through the in-game dialogues, each characters are more fleshed out than the average space ship and battle tank in your average shoot ’em up games.  Also, each installment of the games are sequential thus boss characters return a game after as playable characters or important characters in the plot.  It’s as though through progression in each game, you as the main character encounters more and more friends (although they are not real for the most part).  The story, often not associated with shoot ’em ups, usually talks about the strange ambitions of creatures such as vampires, ghosts, and other mythical Japanese monsters.  The story’s outcome can also be dictated by whether or not you played the game well enough.

On top of that, the game is accompanied by an unusual use of bright colors and bullet shapes that look more like fireworks than an attack.  Music for the most part can go from piano arranges to something like electric trance to something out of an orchestra.  When put together, all of these elements sort of immerse the player into something like a strange case of acid trip that’s hard to explain and hard to comprehend.  Not that it’s an unpleasant type of acid trip, but it really serves as something that can be a jaw-dropping experience.  Although the game originally served only as a non-profit project, but the obscure plot lines and diverse characters bred a following of fans, to the point now where annual large scale conventions in Japan are dedicated to the entirety of the series, and merchandising of the game exists worldwide in the forms of comics, figurines, artworks, music CD’s and animations.

Overall, I do think the gameplay alone can be overly challenging and unforgiving, and sure the graphics are not top notch because of man power and platform issues, but somehow, everything else that came with it complimented it in such a way that it became good as a whole.  Perhaps it’s the story, or the music, or the fact that all the characters are girls, or maybe just the fact that you can show off to your friends how you dodge those curtain of bullets.

Shot of game GUI

Some examples of in-game music:

For the General Wiki Page

For the In-Depth Wiki Page

For the official Team Shanghai Alice Site (Japanese)


Some FPS revisit

Lately I’ve been feeling a little FPS again in my games, so I decided to play Day of Defeat, a Half-Life mod that I used to play extensively.  It’s one of the more popular Half-Life mods out there along with Team Fortress and Counter-Strike.  The game itself is pretty much a WWII based FPS that includes all the major firearms used at the time.  The game itself mostly features a capture-the-flag objective or destroy the target objective in order for one side to win.

In essence, the game is near identical with Counter-Strike.  But a thing or two that stuck out about this game for me is that you die VERY easily.  Normally that would be a bad thing, but it also means that others die very easily as well, so naturally, the difficulty of killing an enemy is not as high as other FPS such as Counter-Strike or even modern titles like Call of Duty.  As such, I usually find myself spending more time enjoying the true nature of an FPS rather than frustrating over the usual death streak that I have in other games.

In comparison to the source version of the game, I never really liked any of the source games that came out, specifically speaking it’s the loss of the authentic “block” feel that really turned me away from it.  But to be fair a remake without better graphics would just be plain stupid.  There’s also the factor of your ‘feel’ of the game, where you just can’t seem to leave behind your bad habits from the old games and when the new game comes, you’re like a clown just recycling the same old tricks but it just doesn’t seem to work with everyone.  I’d take the time to learn it, but I suppose I am just too lazy to.

In all honesty, I love the game and I still love it now even without all the tanks and fighter jets.  If you do happen to have some loose paper in your wallet, definitely buy it and try it…although I doubt there are very few good servers leftover after Day of Defeat: Source came out.

For more info, you can check the link or the official source site.

A Good Forecast

During a random surfing session on Youtube a year back I remembered seeing a bunch of trailers for a ‘game’ titled Heavy Rain.  Curiously, I did some personal research and came around to knowing that the ‘game’ was a murder mystery.  Now I didn’t know what to expect of the actual thing as most videos on Youtube only showed what seemed to be cut scenes from the game, but it wasn’t until I played it did I know that was actually how the game is played.

Covert art of the European release

Heavy Rain featured a unique type of gameplay that’s different from the conventional move and select, it’s a game entirely based on the use of interactive inputs, which pretty much means pressing buttons at the right time in the right fashion.  It may sound easy to some, but once you get down to playing it, it really is no walk in the park.  I initially set the game on hard thinking that a few buttons and a few flicks on the joystick cannot possibly be hard, but midway through the game it got so difficult that I was forced to settle the controller on a table to press all of these buttons correctly.  The main reason it may even seem difficult is because the game pushes you to make split second decisions, and really puts your reaction to the test.  It’s really a matter of whether or not you can react in time and do the right thing, and personally I think that simulates reality in some way.  Aside from the general gameplay, the game’s flow is also based on these interactions that you encounter during the game, where different decisions you take in certain points of the game will affect the final outcome or ending.  As the 4 characters of the game, you are really free to do whatever you want, including whether or not you let your character die.

A typical decision scene, prompting an input

The game heavily emphasizes on mood and story more than anything else.  It really settles in on my mind how gloomy the game was during my playthrough as it was literally raining everyday throughout the game.  But then again, I’d find it weird that they call it Heavy Rain when it doesn’t rain.  The settings are mostly dark and gritty in places like abandoned factories and low-income suburbs.  The music also gives a melodramatic tone to the overall experience but at most times it’s either silent or covered by dialogue in game.

What really did it for me was the story, which really covered all the flaws the game had.  I was literally entranced by the mystery and the reality of the plot line, although it’s kind of hard to get into during the first hour, but once you get hooked onto it, it grips you like some sort of spell that enables you to ignore everything that matters in a game.  The reality was also a point that I find essential in a game, or at least in a game that involves putting yourself in someone’s shoes.  I think without the freedom to make whatever decisions you want, the game would just be another linear plotted flop.

The 4 playable characters: Norman, Madison, Ethan and Scott

Ultimately, for a game that did not involve leveling, killing, and upgrading, it was 4 hours well spent.  I would even consider playing it again just to see how the game would have ended differently, but I think the feeling of anticipation or suspense would be absent.  Since I do think this game more or less reflects how effective the little things we do in life are, and that we could only go with it once and live with it.

A Love-Hate Relationship

Rather than going on a whim and saying a game is good or bad, I’ve decided to talk about one that’s neither good or bad, at least for myself.  It all started during my freshman year in high school, when my friends came along and just asked me to play a game called Maplestory.  I didn’t really know what to expect initially as the title didn’t really leave a lasting impression on me.  But how naive i was back then…

Maplestory was developed by Wizet, a South Korean game company who later joined with Nexon, a game publishing company, in releasing the different language versions of the game.  In essence the game is a 2-D side scrolling MMORPG with cartoon and anime like sprites…something like a Mario MMORPG if you will.  In the beginning you are…oddly enough…a beginner, where you have the choice of 4 classes once you reach level 10 as a beginner, the generic warrior, mage, archer, and rogue.  Each of these classes offer a rather generic array of attacks and are pretty much identical to their counterparts in other MMORPG’s.  Once you reach level 30 as any of these classes, you can advance into a more focused type of the first job you have chosen.  So for instance, the warrior would be able to become a spearman, page, or a fighter.

A generic 'map' in Maplestory

Players can choose to level their character with either quests or grinding monsters that just run straight at you, which really brings up the only issue I’ve ever had with this game: the time it takes to level.  In the beginning everything seems fine and dandy, I was able to get to level 10 within a reasonable amount of time, but after that point, the curve just seem to go up exponentially and I had to take an upward of 3-4 hours to get 1 level.  Needless to add that the maximum level of the game is 200, you can probably imagine the time it takes for one to get there when it takes more than a week’s time to get past 30.  But to make up for it the game does offer things that take your mind off grinding such as jump quests that tests your platforming skills, and party quests that gives significant boosts to your experience gain.  It also offers a cash shop for those who just want to play for the cosmetic aspect.

A party quest

Going onto the less technical aspects, the game does offer nice, colorful and consistent graphics for the majority of the game.  The sprites look much like disproportionate bobble-heads which always helps in attracting the younger audience and covers a wider gender demographic.  As for the music, it consists of a 1-2 minute loop of mostly jolly and calming music.  However, when coupled with the amount of hours a player spends in the same location the music easily becomes a mind-numbing drug, so it is best to play in mute when you know you will sit there for more than an hour.  The game has no speech, but it does have sounds that plays when a monster dies or gets hit, and these sounds can range from something like a squealing pig, squishing jelly, wood cracking, thumping, etc.

A Maplestory sprite with cash shop items

Now ironically, despite the game being named Maplestory, there is really no story in Maplestory, you are just some adventurer thrown into a world of monsters and people.  There’s no explanation of your origin, your species, history, or anything for that matter that the game centers around.  I think the purpose of the game is for the players to create their own story, if that does make any sense at all.  Also as a game that originated from Korea, the dialogue will at times display untranslated texts or grammatical errors.

Speaking from a personal view, I never really decided whether Maplestory was fun or not.  It’s one of those guilty pleasures that you never really understand and you just go along with.  It frustrates the hell out of you when you die because you lose experience, but it’s a delight to the eyes to see that level up sign go over your head.  And to be quite fair, the game has grown and changed so much over the years that all the flaws it had back then are more or less gone.  It’s not so much that I enjoy it now as it still bores me here and there, but at least I can safely say that this game bores me slower than it did before.

The world map

A Rather God-like Experience

As a first entry I’ve decided to play a fairly well-received game to save moaning and hair pulling for the future, because I know that I will eventually get there…But with that aside, here is God of War 3.  Now I have never followed the series ever since its successful first installment on the Play Station 2, but it’s not to the point where I have never even played the games before.  At the very least I knew the premise and basic style of the game, in fact, I think I prefer these fast paced types of action adventures over the generic mine-stepping based RPG’s of the past.  But I think anyone here would have heard of the title at least once if they consider themselves a gamer, and if you don’t…then well, I think it’s about time to get out from under that rock.

Box Art

Box art of the game

The game revolves around Kratos, the returning protagonist from the previous installments continuing to set his bad weekend straight with the Gods of Olympus.  As an extra bit the developers actually began the game with a slideshow style puppet play illustrating the past events of the previous games which refreshes players who have enjoyed the past games but are too immersed in other ones to remember it.  The opening is accompanied with an action inducing theme song and whimsical narrative that you never seem to understand until you are finally greeted by a familiar title screen.  As you click into the ‘New Game’ option you are immediately thrown into the action atop the Titan Gaia on the ascent of Mount Olympus.  It seems as though games nowadays love to throw you in the midst of chaos at the very beginning, and personally I think it captures the attention of the player and establishes a strong tone of how the rest of the game will look, although sometimes that’s not the case, but it definitely reminds the players that they are indeed playing an action adventure game.  Continuing on with the game, you are showered with a bunch of ‘button-testers’, which are really just monsters that poses no threat or danger and exist solely for the purpose of letting you learn the controls.  At this point, it really becomes a free range slash-fest on your way to the top, but the game does glide rather linearly and guide you most of the time with the necessary camera angles to show you the way to go, and while doing so, it always displays an array of impressive backgrounds and effects.  The accompanying music are what one would expect in a game with the word God in its title, which compliments both the mood and situation of each scene.

For the majority of the first few minutes, the experience was great and the mini in-game cut scenes were downright epic in every sense of the word.  But to nitpick, I did have several confusing moments where I seem to have orientation issues with the joystick while I was climbing on some roots.  Usually one would naturally treat ‘up’ on the joystick as climbing up, however since Kratos at the time was hanging down on it, up became forward, and I took quite a beating from an aquatic horse crab snake thing while trying to figure out the right way to go.

The giant aquatic horse crab...snake thing...while on the arm of Gaia

On the topic of the aquatic horse crab snake thing, God of War was known for setting mini boss monsters for you to defeat before you can proceed to a different section of the chapter, and since most modern games are rather forgiving in nature, you are almost never required to beat the thing with one health bar since it replenishes every time the boss makes a dramatic exit and enters again.  Although that is the case, the bosses aren’t always a pushover and requires some memorization in attack patterns and escape maneuver command to escape from its grapples.

A little climbing around

Since I was only on the game for 10 minutes I never got around to the upgrading aspect of the game which I know exists, and that is another thing that really brings a either a challenge or simplicity to different players, for it gives the player freedom to decide whether they want to rambo their way to the end with no upgrades or load up and open a can of major whoop-ass with a juiced out Kratos.  Either way, it’s an experience for both the hardcore and the casual.

Overall, I enjoyed the eye candy, the ear candy, and all the gory glory the game offered in that short span of time, although at times it may get stale in its repetition of attack schemes and AI movements but the provision of interactive in-game cut scenes and reactive button commands really cover these flaws.  Moreover, the game is well balanced out in both its platforming, puzzle, and action aspect to keep you immersed in your journey of vengeance.  So if you are a fan of good ol’ hack and slash action adventure that involves ripping the heads of a god or two, do play this game even if you have never played the rest.

Starting off

This is a test start, welcome and thank you for visiting.


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June 2018
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