Phantasy Star Mini-Retrospective Part 2

Wow, it’s been a long time since I’ve talked about Phantasy Star! Due to Phantasy Star Online 2 finally being announced for a US release at this year’s E3, I felt it was a good time to talk about the games I haven’t covered yet. After all, Phantasy Star is my passion and there’s still a ton of games left to talk about! So, let’s continue where we left off.

Phantasy Star Universe is certainly the black sheep of the franchise, and one of my least favorite games in the series. While I definitely wasn’t a big fan of Episode III, at least it felt like a Phantasy Star game. Universe is trying too hard to be “Monster Hunter In Space”, to the point where it falters under the weight of its own ambition.

The game revolves around a young man named “Ethan Waber”, who happens to be the playable character for this game’s story mode. The game starts off simple enough, showing Ethan bopping around and having fun. He’s then drafted into a war against an alien menace, and becomes a “Guardian” as a result.

Ethan is probably the worst part of this game. His voice is pretty obnoxious, and his design is overall bland. He looks and acts like some kind of “space hipster”, and it gets really grating after a while. It doesn’t help that you’re stuck playing as him through the game’s entire campaign, as opposed to the custom characters of the past few entries.

While you can still create a character in this game, it’s only in online multiplayer. There’s also another mode where you can create a character, but you have to play through the entire game to unlock the mode and all the quests available for it. Even then, you can only play through quests that are available in the story mode.

There was also a severe lack of quests in online multiplayer, which made the whole thing feel rather lackluster. Couple that with the game’s needlessly complex crafting system, generic story, and a lack of the classic Phantasy Star staples, and you have one of the more hollow experiences in the franchise.

Surprisingly, Sega took the fandom’s dislike of Universe to heart for the game’s sequels. The game was followed up with an expansion just a year later, “Ambitions of The Illuminus”. It added in a better story mode, the ability to play as a custom character from the beginning, elements and monsters from the original Phantasy Star Online, and tons of new content. Even better, Ethan was working for the villains this time around! Yes, that means that you get to smack around the unlikable protagonist of the previous game!

Illuminus also replaced the J-Pop theme song of the previous game with an epic rock cover of it. Almost everything about the expansion felt like a step up from the previous game. Unfortunately, Illuminus also created an odd “identity crisis” for the Phantasy Star Universe sub-series. The franchise kept flip-flopping back and forth between trying to use its own elements and stories, and trying to pander to fans of the PSO games. As a result, it made the later games feel a bit disjointed.

Regardless, Illuminus was a fun return to the Phantasy Star games of old. With Illuminus, Sega realized that people seemed to like the PSO stuff more than the PSU stuff. This resulted in them releasing a pair of games in 2008, each one being in set in the two different universes. Phantasy Star Zero was a prequel to the original Phantasy Star Online, and was certainly an interesting game.

Zero takes what people loved about Phantasy Star Online, and brings it to the Nintendo DS! In this game, you play as a custom character who has just joined the “Hunter’s Guild”. The Hunters in this game are similar to the Hunters in the original PSO games, right down to the fact that both destroy alien mutant creatures and save the world. It’s pretty awesome to go back to being a Hunter, especially since the Universe series introduced their less cool counterparts, “Guardians”.

Zero was interesting in that it brought back a lot of gameplay quirks from PSO. This included removing the crummy vehicle sections and weird crafting system from Universe, and bringing back the “MAGs” from the original game. A MAG is a tiny creature that floats over your should and requires subsistence, which means you have feed to him all of your excess items. Feeding the creature will result in his eventual evolution!

Zero also brought back the monsters and general feel of Online, while giving the game a rather interesting story mode. The thing that made this game’s story interesting was that the race you chose to play as DEFINED your character. Each of the three races got their own unique intro to the game, and choosing a certain race would also define which areas you go to first. While it doesn’t change what happens in said areas, it does add for a bit of variety on repeat playthroughs.

Of course, Zero wasn’t the only Phantasy Star game to come out in 2008. The PSP also got Phantasy Star Portable earlier that same year. Phantasy Star Portable was a handheld spinoff of the Phantasy Star Universe series. The game takes place after the first game, but before the events of the expansion.

You help a “CAST” (which is a robotic being) named “Vivienne” stop yet another alien invasion. Phantasy Star Portable is a decent game, but its status as a handheld game holds it back. It lacks a lot of the more interesting elements that made previous Phantasy Star games fun. There was no online multiplayer, you couldn’t walk around the store areas, and the game’s story was sufficiently lacking.

I’m not saying Portable 1 was a terrible game, but it was just too bare-bones for me to get into. Thankfully, it’s sequel more than made up for it! Phantasy Star Portable 2 was released a year later and fixes many of the problems I had with the previous entry. For one thing, the game has online multiplayer!

Being able to go online and play with random people on a portable device was extremely fun! Of course, the online multiplayer was prone to hacking and cheaters, but what online game isn’t? Phantasy Star Portable 2 also brought back the ability to walk around the space-station, while talking to various NPCs along the way.

The game featured a ton of weapons to collect, over 3000 to be precise! The combat was the classic combat you’d come to expect from this franchise, with a few slight changes made to streamline things. For example, “Photon Points” were no longer tied to weapons at all now, and were instead tied to the the character itself. This meant that you couldn’t just switch out your weapons when you ran out of juice, you’d have to just wait for your character to recharge.

By far, the best part of the game was its room customization. I know talked a lot about this in the Phantasy Star Portable 2 review I did a while back, so I’ll keep this brief. PSP2’s room customization is amazing! Imagine being able to choose from hundreds of different room layouts, and almost a thousand different decorations to fill the room up with. There are literally millions of possible room combinations. Best of all, you could go online and visit the rooms of other players, as long as they were in the same lobby as you.

PSP2 is probably one of my favorite games of all time, but it’s sadly also responsible for killing the franchise in the West. The lack of sales for the Portable games meant that the games stopped getting released over here. Sega blamed the fans, despite the fact that it was their lack of advertising that killed the franchise.

Phantasy Star did continue on in Japan, however. Phantasy Star Portable 2 received an expansion which tied it closer to the Phantasy Star Online series, which is pretty awesome. It just sucks that we never got that game! We also never got Phantasy Star Online 2, or any of its many spinoffs… At least, not until the aforementioned E3 announcement just a few weeks ago.

After the series being stuck in Japan for almost a decade, it’s finally making its return to the West. I’ve been waiting for PSO2 forever, so it’s gonna be awesome to finally get my hands on it! Hopefully all this waiting will be worth it! Anyway, I hope you all enjoyed this Phantasy Star mini-retrospective! I apologize for part 2 taking so long, but at least I finally get it done.

Fallout 76 Review

Well, here’s a review I never thought I’d make! Fallout 76 is one of the most polarizing video-games to come out in the last decade. It was controversial, due to broken promises and tons of issues. It’s poor quality became an internet meme and was talked about nonstop by pretty much everybody. The game’s developer, Bethesda, even had to formally apologize at this year’s “E3” event.

However, something really interesting happened at that same event. Todd Howard (Bethesda’s President) announced that they would not only fix the game, but add many new things to it. This included a Battle Royale mode, numerous fixes, a new story mode with NPCs, and tons of new weapons and gear.

On top of this, they announced that they would be doing a “free trial” of the game for an entire week. Naturally, I decided to get in on this. I downloaded the crummy “Bethesda Launcher”, installed the game, and started playing it. Before I fully get into my thoughts, allow me to explain what Fallout is.

Fallout was originally an old-school RPG released in the late 90s, in a time when the RPG genre was starting to truly take off in the west. It was a post-apocalyptic RPG developed by people with a real passion for story-telling and world-building. These people cared about making a game that let the player role-play as their own character, while playing the game the way they wanted to.

The series had two entries and two spin-offs, before being bought out by Bethesda Game Studios. They then proceeded to turn Fallout into something it wasn’t, by removing all of the complex characters and writing. The series gradually became more dumbed down, and eventually felt like an entirely different series altogether.

Fallout 76 was the ultimate culmination of this dumbing down, while also being the point in which the fans put their collective feet down. Regardless of the main controversies and negative reviews of this game, I went into Fallout 76 with a fresh perspective. I tried to view the game through the lens of a new player, while ignoring the various controversies that plagued the game.

Unfortunately, this didn’t really help my experience at all. I hate to say it, but Fallout 76 is a bland and terrible game. My experience started off promising enough, I awoke in the titular “Vault 76”. While acquiring the starter items from the vault, a player started yelling at me not to leave. If only I heeded his advice, if only…

After leaving the vault, I wandered into the large vast world of Fallout 76. At first, things seemed cool. The environments were nice enough, and I found myself getting lost looking at the scenery for a while. I eventually made my way back to following the game’s compass, which lead me towards the main quest locations. Unfortunately, Bethesda had yet to add in all of the promised improvements they said they would.

This meant that the story was still bare-bones, and that I was stuck following random objectives until the end of time. Every quest involved finding holotapes, or going to a specific area. The inventive quests of previous games were gone, replaced by a bunch of pointless fetch quests.

The game’s story and side-quests are just lacking, much like the combat. All you do is run at enemies and swing awkwardly with a melee weapon, or camp out from afar and pepper them with bullets. The CPU is dumb as a sack of hammers, so it’s extremely easy to kite them into an area and pick them off one-by-one.

The combat is pretty boring overall. The “V.A.T.S.” targeting system from previous games doesn’t really function well at all in an online space, and there aren’t a whole lot of diverse weapon choices in these games. Something I did like about the gameplay was the crafting system.

Sure, they basically just copied the system from Fallout 4, but at least it functions well. Being able to craft better gear using random junk is definitely fun, even if your inventory has a tendency to fill up extremely fast. While creating new stuff is fun, your character will end up dropping items every time he dies. This could include valuable crafting supplies, prompting you to have to go out and retrieve them… By going to the area where you originally died. This means that you have the chance of dying again while trying to get that stuff back, risking the chance of losing even more stuff in the process.

Interactions with other players was scarce. People barely spoke to me, and would always run away as soon as they spotted me. I even bumped into a level 155 player, one who spent the entire time crouching for some reason. The social interaction aspect of this game was just bad, if I can be brutally honest. In fact, the whole experience felt very hollow.

While I appreciate that they fixed up most of the bugs and connection issues, there’s just not anything there to keep me enticed. I was only able to play the game for a few hours, since it became very boring very fast. While I’m sure the game will be more fun once more stuff is added, I just find it hard to recommend in its current form.

My suggestion is to wait for all of the game’s promised features, and then decide if you want to take the plunge. I would recommend not spending more than 10-20 dollars on it if you can, since it just doesn’t feel like something worth 60 dollars. Regardless, I did have a bit of fun with the game. It’s grindy and repetitive, but at least that first 30 minutes kept me engaged. At least it entertained me more than Fallout 4 did…

Why The Divinity Games Are So Awesome

One question people often ask is this: What makes a classic a classic? What defines something as being so good that it transcends its medium? This isn’t an easy question to answer, and there’s no definitive answer for it. To me, what defines a “classic” is what it does for the genre as a whole. A true “classic” sets trends and becomes remembered for what it does well.

A good example of this is the “Divinity” series of RPG video-games. If you’ve never heard of Divinity before, allow me to explain. Back in the early 2000s, a fledgling game studio released their second game, “Divine Divinity”. Their previous game, “LED Wars”, was immensely obscure, so this second game needed to be a hit to make up for it.

Surprisingly, this new (at the time) release proved to be extremely popular! It became a cult classic in a short amount of time, launching a large franchise that continues to this very day. The original Divinity had the player select from one of several classes to create their character with, before being thrust into an action RPG adventure of grand proportions! The game introduced the land of “Rivellon”, a world full of great characters and fantastic adventures.

Divine Divinity played like your typical “dungeon-crawler”, but had a larger focus on story-telling and lore. DD had this level of depth not seen in most games, due to its massive world and many skills. It told the story of the player character travelling across a fantasy world, while doing battles with the forces of darkness. What starts off as something basic soon becomes a quest to ascend to godhood, full of twists and turns that make this game a true treat to play. DD was followed up two years later by “Beyond Divinity”. This game wasn’t very good, if I can be brutally honest.

This game had you controlling two different characters, both of which were pretty bland. The game has you playing as a Paladin stuck to a “Death Knight”, while you both fight your way out of the underworld. While it does sound cool, a lot of the game doesn’t factor into the previous entry at all. In fact, the only part that continues the previous game’s story is this game’s ending! You learn that the Death Knight is “Damian”, who was the son of the previous game’s playable protagonist.

While I’m glad that the game does continue the previous game’s plot in some way, I just couldn’t get attached to this world. Setting the game in what is essentially “Hell” limited the setting, taking away the fantasy trappings from the previous game. While some may view this as an improvement, it works against it feeling like a true sequel.

In essence, Beyond Divinity is more like an over-glorified expansion pack. It wasn’t a true sequel, and was essentially a canonical spin-off of the main series. We would eventually get a true sequel to the original Divinity… 5 years after Beyond came out. In 2009, we got “Divinity II: Ego Draconis”.

The concept of Divinity II was pretty damn interesting, since it dealt with two new factions: Dragon Knights and Dragon Slayers. Dragon Knights are humans with the magical powerful to transform into dragons, while Dragon Slayers are a sect of knights sworn to slay all of them.

You play as a Dragon Slayer recruit, who comes into contact with a Dragon Knight during their first mission. You are then forced into becoming the last Dragon Knight, while your former order turns against you. Worse still, Damian has returned and is plotting to destroy all of Rivellon.

Divinity II was my introduction into the series, and it was definitely an interesting one! Few games I’ve played have done this good a job of easing me into an already existing world. Sure, there was stuff I didn’t get. There were characters from previous games who showed up, but weren’t given much development. Regardless, I still felt at home here!

Divinity II was an open-world action RPG unlike any other. It was entirely in third-person, had a simplistic combat system, the ability to read the mind of any NPC in the game, and the awesome power of being able to transform into a FREAKING DRAGON! Not only that, but you even get your own kickass battle-tower, complete with a Necromancer who can make zombie minions for you!

While Divinity II was far from perfect, it still presented one of the more satisfying open-world experiences I’ve ever had. It helps that that open-world itself is split into multiple areas, which you’ll explore one-by-one while progressing through the game. Divinity II is probably the best Divinity game I’ve played thus far!

Thing is, it’s far from the newest game in the franchise. In fact, there’s been 3 new Divinity games since then! I just picked up 2 of them today, which are “Divinity: Dragon Commander” and “Divinity: Original Sin”. With Larian’s announcement of a new “Baldur’s Gate” game just a few days ago, I thought it was a good time to talk about and get back into playing their other games! I plan to play through all the Divinity games and review them when I get the chance, so look forward to that!

Obscure Anime Gems: Juuni Senshi Bakuretsu Eto Ranger

You ever stumble across some obscure 90s show, one that makes you wish you had grown up with it? Well, that show for me would have to be an extremely obscure anime known as “Juuni Senshi Bakuretsu Eto Ranger”, which roughly translates to “Twelve Warrior Explosive Eto Rangers”. Eto Rangers came out in 1995, and was released exclusively in Japan. These was an English version planned, but it was never finished or released.

This show takes place in a fantasy world named Mugen, which is home to a variety of anthropomorphic animals. 12 of these cartoon animals are chosen to be the “Eto Rangers”, a group of powerful dimension-travelling warriors based off the Chinese Zodiac.

Each episode involves them travelling to a different fairy tale and setting it right. In a way, it’s similar to the Kingdom Hearts series that would come along much later. The Eto Rangers would often deal with bizarre fantastical scenarios, or wacky shenanigans. These include Momotaro: The Peach Boy becoming a sci-fi epic, or The Little Mermaid becoming a story of a mermaid-turned-human trying to become a famous singer.

With over a dozen protagonists, the show often struggles with giving each and every one character development. It doesn’t help that the series only ran for 39 episodes, while several episodes were spent on nonsense filler shenanigans. I get that 39 sounds like a lot, but character development is often spaced out much farther apart in Japanese animation.

Most of the early episodes were spent just giving our heroes random adventures, while the plot itself doesn’t kick off until 13 episodes in. The series is already one-third through its run at this point, while only having developed the most marketable characters. The rest of the series focuses on their struggles with a bunch of cat-based villains led by “Nyanma”.

Naturally, the arch-enemy of these cats is our mousy main character, “Bakumaru”. Bakumaru starts off as a generic anime protagonist, but gets a bit of depth later on. A tournament episode helps establish him as more than just a generic hero, while a few episodes are spent on getting him over his fear of cats.

While this development is appreciated, it also means that the rest of the cast gets shafted. This is especially apparent when you factor in that only 5 characters are picked for each mission, while the other 7 are usually left out of the main plot of the episode. I’ve harped enough on the character development, let’s talk about the show’s animation and music. It’s pretty much what you’d expect from an early 90s anime. The animation is pretty solid, but nothing spectacular. The music has a lot of good tracks, but none of them I’d call “jams”.

What the show has going for it is its comedy, characters, and writing. For those of you who don’t know, Eto Rangers shared its director and writer with another anime called “Kyatto Ninden Teyandee”. Americans will know this anime better as “Samurai Pizza Cats” in the States, a show which is often considered one of the “best dubbed anime” of all time.

Eto Rangers is often looked at as a spiritual sequel to Kyatto, due to its shared staff and similar writing style. Eto Rangers often goes for silly gags, bizarre scenarios, and fun character interactions. It’s hard to dislike any character on the show, even the ones who get little development.

The voice-acting and characterization behind each character is really good, to the point where I feel it negates the lack of focus they get in the episodes. This is a good thing, since Eto Ranger bills itself as an “action-comedy”. It needs good characters to help the audience get invested, while also delivering good jokes and puns here or there.

Eto Ranger is nothing unique or spectacular, but it has a fun premise and some likable characters. It’s one of the many 90s anime that nobody talks about anymore, which is a shame. Thankfully, all 39 episodes can be watched on YouTube FOR FREE with English Subtitles. If you are even slightly interested in obscure 90s anime, I recommend giving this show a shot. I feel like this is a show most people can get a kick out of, even if they aren’t a huge fan of anime in general!

Skyrim: The Ultimate Mixed Bag of Open-World RPGs

A game with an open-world is usually a pretty enticing prospect. Having a large and vast world for the player to explore is fun, especially when you fill that world with fun stuff to do. Unfortunately, this style of game has become way too widespread in recent years. It seems like every franchise is trying to the open-world route, and a lot of them end up failing at it.

One game that popularized the open-world genre was the RPG series known as “Elder Scrolls”. The first game was released in 1994, and has gone to spawn a multi-billion dollar gaming franchise! The games themselves were and still are being developed by “Bethesda Softworks”, a company that has become controversial for sleazy business practices in recent years. By far, the most popular entry in the series was 2011’s “Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim”.

The concept for the game alone was pretty enticing: You play as a chosen one warrior, named “Dragonborn”. You can use the language of the dragons as a weapon simply by shouting! Using your “Dragon-Shouts”, equipment, and various skills you set off on an intense viking fantasy and combat ancient evils.

It’s typical RPG fanfare, but Bethesda did a really good job of hyping it up to no end. I was truly interested in what Skyrim was going to do with its world and setting, especially since the last Elder Scrolls ended on a rather somber note. Uriel Septim and all his heirs were now dead, and Tamriel’s throne was now vacant.

The Septim bloodline that had been a part of the franchise since the first game was now gone, which left hardcore fans of the series feeling a bit hollow. With the talk of the “Dragonborn” in Skyrim, I had assumed the Septim bloodline would find some way to return in the sequel. After all, the Septims were also known as “Dragonborn”!

Turns out, the Dragonborn in this game isn’t of the royal bloodline. Instead, the Dragonborn is the player this time around. I remember back when Skyrim was first announced, since it lead to a hype train unlike any other game. People were getting excited about this awesome new game, and so was I!

I had played Oblivion and fell in love with that game, so I knew its sequel would be just as good! I received the game on Christmas and ended up loving it, but I noticed something was off. The game lacked the same kind of “spark” Oblivion had, and felt less interesting as a result of this.

I still loved and played Skyrim to death, but I’d be lying if I said this game didn’t have glaring flaws. One of the things that really hurts this game is that it starts off on the wrong foot. The game opens with an infamous tutorial sequence, one which involves you being stuck on a cart with a bunch of random people.

The cart is slowly being pulled along by a horse, while a neurotic guy screams exposition at you. You are then brought to an execution block, which is interrupted by a random dragon attack. You then spend the next 20 minutes running away from a dragon and attempting to get out of the destroy town, just so you can get to the fun part of the game.

I’ll be honest, this tutorial is terrible. It’s slow, unskippable, and just flat-out annoying. Once you finish the tutorial, you are then greeted with a beautiful and vibrant open-world. Your first thought is to go out and explore, which is often the best way to play this game.

I’ll be brutally honest, following the story was always my least favorite part of the story. The plot of the game was a bland “chosen one” story, where you travel across the lands and fight dragons. I disliked most of the main quest NPCs, and I was always annoyed with how detached the plot was from the “Civil War” story-line going on the background.

It doesn’t help that doing the main quest will make you insanely overpowered, as well as result in the dragons appearing all over the land and attacking you frequently. Honestly, I sometimes prefer to just wait to do main quest for as long as possible. It’s more fun to just explore and do random quests, then to deal with repetitive dragon attacks.

Of course, not doing he main quest also means you can’t use “Dragon Shouts”. You see, these shouts were one of the game’s main selling points. They were special magical shouts that would recharge over time, while also being way more useful than typical magic spells. The shouts could do anything from knocking over foes, freezing them solid, or summoning dragons. Heck, you could even use a shout to RIDE A DRAGON! Sadly, it’s not as cool as it sounds.

While Skyrim is an impressive game, it was also a massive step backwards. The game ended up being over-simplified, while having most of its RPG elements removed. Several skill trees from previous games were removed, as was the ability to choose a class. This game went classless, choosing to let the player craft their own class through their play-style instead. While this does invite creativity, it also means that every player is essentially a “Wild Card”.

Everyone can be the character they want to be, but there’s no way to define yourself as a specific class in game. This removes a lot of the nuance from character creation, since all you can do now is choose your race and look. All of the other choices in character design are made outside of the tutorial.

I’d be able to forgive the lacking character creation, but so much of the game follows these poor design decisions. The combat is simple and often times boring, and the game is just filled with too many innocuous pointless quests. That being said, Skyrim had a world like no other.

You’d travel across snowy mountains, beautiful hotsprings, and gorgeous forests to get to your destination. The game’s open-world was truly breathtaking and it still stands as one of the best in any game I’ve ever played. On top of this, some of the caves and dungeons can be fairly entertaining to delve into.

The crafting/blacksmithing system is fun and rewarding, albeit very overpowered. There’s just generally a lot of things to do and take part in, even if not all of them are good. To me, Skyrim is a game that I forever will be mixed on. I’ve dumped so many hours into this game, especially when compared to any other game I’ve ever played.

I’ve put so much time into the game that I’ve made myself sick of it, to the point where I can’t even touch it anymore. Even when I do play it, I just find myself getting bored more often than not. People tend to tell me to revisit Skyrim with mods, but I feel I just can’t anymore. If I want to have fun in Skyrim at this point, I’d have to put so many mods into it that it’d become a different game entirely. At that point, I may as well just get a different game to play.

Still, Skyrim was a fun experience for its time. While my feelings will always be mixed on it, I’d be lying if I said I regretted the many hours I spent on it. Will I ever revisit the game? Probably not, unless some serious changes and additions are made to it in the future. I just hope the next game in the series isn’t a mixed bag, or a terrible game like Fallout 76 was. Here’s hoping Bethesda Softworks can learn from their mistakes!