Neverwinter Nights: Enhanced Edition Review

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Good to see that 2002 is still alive and well!

Dungeons & Dragons is a game that is powered by the imagination and creativity of those who play it. It’s a board-game that has stood the test of time and continued to get many new iterations, while inventing the whole “RPG” genre. As you can tell, I am a huge fan of “D&D”, despite not playing much of the game myself. I never really had the patience to sit down and play a complex board-game, but I was always up for partaking in various adaptations of the game!

I loved that silly and weird Dungeons & Dragons cartoon, that overtly campy live-action film, and those downright hilarious D&D parodies made by the “Deadale Wives”. While those are all great, I prefer video-game adaptations of D&D the most! D&D has had many game adaptations, such as the extremely popular “Baldur’s Gate” series.

Set in the “Forgotten Realms” world of D&D, Baldur’s Gate was an attempt to bring the popular board-game to life in a whole new way. It was an RPG based heavily upon old-school D&D, drawing upon its many rules and mechanics to help build the experience. As a result, Baldur’s Gate felt like a worthwhile adaptation of both classic D&D and The Forgotten Realms.

Baldur’s Gate was made by Bioware, who was a brand new company at the time. They’re work on Baldur’s Gate propelled them into the limelight, making them a household name in the process. Baldur’s Gate did so well that they cranked out a fantastic sequel, right before following it up with an amazing expansion pack. Naturally, people loved the Baldur’s Gate games and wanted more.

Bioware was eventually handed the D&D license once more, but decided to make a completely different game this time around. Instead of doing a third Baldur’s Gate game, they ended up creating a spiritual successor to an older D&D game. Before Baldur’s Gate was released, there was a game called “Neverwinter Nights”. The game was unique in that it was the first ever “MMORPG”, paving the way for similar games like “EverQuest” and “Ultima Online”.

While the game itself shut down its servers in 97, Bioware decided to revive it in a way that nobody was expecting. Bioware brought us a new “Neverwinter Nights” game in 2002; one that was completely unrelated to the original. This game was unique and touted by trailers as a “Multiplayer Revolution”.

Neverwinter Nights 2002 set itself apart from the original by being a game with a single-player campaign, which could also be played entirely with friends. The new Neverwinter Nights was originally built to be another MMORPG like its predecessor, but Bioware had run out of time during development. They decided to make a rather formulaic story mode instead, while also adding in multiplayer and releasing the development tools to the players.

The game was a head of its time, as it was one of the first to embrace player-made content. In fact, the game was mostly known for its fan-made content. It was revolutionary in helping develop the game-modding scene, and really broke ground when it came to how such content was made. It also helps that the community who helped make these great mods were allowed to work on “Premium Modules”, which were essentially miniature expansions you had to pay for.

The system worked, and Neverwinter Nights enjoyed success for several years. However, this didn’t stop the server list from getting removed, or support for the game being discontinued. This all changed in 2018, when the game studio known as “Beamdog” decided to release a newer version of the game that runs better on modern computers. This version of the game was called “Neverwinter Nights: Enhanced Edition”.

This is the first version of the game I ever played, due to having never found the game in stores. It also doesn’t help that most of the older versions of the game are incompatible with modern computers. Thanks to Beamdog, I was able to properly experience this game for the first time!

So, what is this game like? Well, it’s certainly a grand experiment in game design, that’s for certain! While the game’s story mode is lacking, its endless amount of user-based content and premium modules make up for it. The Enhanced Edition comes with “Steam Workshop” support, which allows for the easy usage of various mods. Using mods with Steam Workship is as easy as a simple click of the mouse, making the installation of said mods a simple task.

On top of this, all mods and modules are treated as separate “campaigns”. What this means is that since almost every mod is its own thing, so you don’t have to worry about installing too many mods and causing the game to break. The game itself plays like your typical MMORPG, CRPG, or Dungeons & Dragons game. You click the enemy to attack, can use potions or abilities in battle, and can level up at your leisure.

It’s a pretty basic system, but the wide array of skills and abilities available make up for the simplicity. There are several classes and races to choose from, some of which have an impact on how you interact with NPCs. For example, choosing a “Half-Orc” as your playable character will give you “dumb” dialogue choices. On top of this, various characters in the game will often react in hilarious ways to your unintelligent dialogue.

I really wish modern games had this level of creativity when it comes to creating interesting characters. Speaking of modern games and how they do things; Neverwinter Nights is certainly lacking in some areas. I don’t just mean the horribly dated graphics, which I still find to be rather awesome after all these years! I’m talking about how the game’s mechanics are handled.

One such mechanic is the “Teleport Stone”, a magical stone that’ll warp you back to the temple. Once you’re back in the temple you can heal up, sell some stuff, and then teleport back to where you left off. The problem? The stone can be easily abused, so you can warp in and out of combat with no consequence!

The cost to teleport back to your starting location is a measly 50 gold, so most combat situations quickly become trivial. That’s not to say the game is easy, since there are certainly some tough battles here or there. On the subject of toughness, let’s talk about that story I keep harping on.

You play as a graduate of “Neverwinter Academy”, which is a school for would-be warriors and adventurers. After an attack by an evil cult, you are given the task of hunting down a bunch of creatures in order to cure a plague. From there, the game extents into a much grander quest and its up to you to set things right.

It’s the same story we’ve seen in most fantasy games, though it does benefit a fair bit from being set in a D&D universe. The setting allows for some great monsters and encounters, as well as some interesting characters. In spite of its lackluster story, it does at least provide an engaging world to explore.

Thankfully, the expansion packs and Premium Modules make up for the lackluster story mode. They include many interesting stories and activities, such as entering a jousting tournament, becoming a pirate, or even escaping from the underworld itself! Couple this with a cavalcade of interesting party members and you have a game that elevates its quality with each new addition.

The main goal of Neverwinter Nights was pushing the envelope of what the engine was capable of. This is why all of these expansions and modules are so ambitious, it’s because they wanted to see what could do with the tools they had. The “Aurora” game engine used to power the game is old, but is variable enough in nature that it allows for some amazing things to be made.

The last thing I want to touch on is the multiplayer servers, which are the real draw of the game. There are so many custom servers made by fans, all of which allow for some fun and epic adventures. Most of said servers are essentially miniature MMORPGs, and allow the players to interact with each other and have adventures. While the game’s expansions and main quest all allow for multiplayer; it’s the MMO servers are the true pull of this game.

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Gary Gygax: Gone but never forgotten.

One such server I’ve spent a lot of time is “World of Intiquity”, which is an awesome MMO-like world. It had a ton of quests to do, items to collect, and adventures to go on. The drop rate for rare, unique, or magical items was also pretty high. This meant that I would often be rewarded with something nice and shiny after playing for a measly 10 minutes. The way Intiquity doled out rewards kept me engaged, even if I found myself dying quite a bit.

I know this gets said a lot about many games, but Neverwinter Nights feel less like a game and more like an “experience”. While its main story isn’t all that good, all of its supplementary content is truly interesting and engaging. The base game has hundreds of hours worth of content, while the player-made content helps expand that greatly.

There’s just so much to love about this slightly updated version of Neverwinter Nights, in spite of how old and outdated the game feels at times. I highly recommend this game to those that want to try a unique take on the MMO genre, or those who want to experience one of the first games to thrive on community-made content. It’s not a revolutionary game, and its certainly past its prime. Regardless of this, it’s still a fun time for those with the time to invest into it!

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Ready Player One Review: A Good, Yet Very Flawed Film

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“And I got long legs, very very long legs!”

I know I’m technically a month late to this, but I recently saw Ready Player One. This is one of the biggest nerd movies to come out this year, and it ended up getting a lot of buzz because of it. I thought I’d finally give my two cents on the movie, and what I thought of Steven Spielberg’s “newest” movie. The film revolves around this young man named Wade Watts, a guy who enters a MMORPG named “The Oasis”.

Wade plays the game in an attempt to obtain the ultimate “Easter Egg”, an extremely hard to find and obscure secret that will let the winner inherit a vast fortune. Along the way, he has to deal with the corporate goons at “IOI”, the various trials to get the special keys, and fighting his own romantic feelings for a woman he just met. Of course, the plot wasn’t the main draw of this film.

What really drew people to the movie was the egregious product-placement. By product placement, I don’t mean that they shoved a Pepsi Machine or a Taco Bell in there. I’m referring to the film’s various cameos and references, all of which are from hundreds of different franchises. This film features tons and tons of things that nerds will remember, essentially making it one massive crossover between all these properties.

Games like VRChat, and to a lesser extent Miitopia also had this gimmick going for them. Unfortunately, the nerd references kind of work against this film quite a bit. The film is packed with way too many references, to the point where the film lacks an identity. Most of the cool stuff in the movie only happens in The Oasis, while the real world stuff is always boring and tedious in this film. Worse still, most of the epic action sequences during The Oasis sequences involve the characters and things that were made by other people.

The film is the cinematic equivalent of knocking two action figures together and having them fight. The film definitely excels in bringing that kind of experience to table, but squanders it in other areas. One thing that I felt was holding the movie back was its protagonist. Wade Watts is a young man who is somehow one of the greatest players in The Oasis.

It’s never explained why he is so skilled at the game, he just kind of is. There’s no backstory behind how he came up with the character, the struggles to get this far, nothing. When the movie began, I felt like I was watching a sequel that was just barely explaining the first film. Most of the explanation goes towards the world, story, and setup. Not so much the characters and how they got to where they were.

At times, Wade feels like a character who was meant to act as an avatar for an audience, to help them get used to this crazy world. Unfortunately, Wade ends up coming off as insufferable. He’s way too overpowered at in the game, and has very few flaws. The few flaws he has are easily and quickly shoved aside, so that the movie can show us how great he is at games.

While he does struggle in certain parts of the film, he just as easily finds a way to overcome them. Both in real-life and in the game, Wade manages to skirt past dangerous and life-ending situations in some of the most nonsensical and plot convenient ways. There’s even a part where something really tragic happens to him in the movie, but he rarely brings it up aside from one or two instances. He doesn’t even really seem that sad about it, which feels like bad writing if you ask me.

The villain isn’t much better, due mostly to how he is portrayed in the film. The main adversary was a generic businessman, one who was so bland and formulaic that I couldn’t even remember his name by the end of it. To put things in perspective, Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World had 7 different villains, all of which had personalities and were memorable. I could remember all their names, and tell you 3 things about each of them. The kicker is that most of those villains only appeared for about 3-10 minutes each.

In this film, the villain is just kind of there. Unfortunately, you’ll notice that this is kind of a trend with a lot of Spielberg films directed at children and teenagers. Earlier, I said that this was Spielberg’s “newest” film, with “newest” being in quotations. The reasons for this is simple, Spielberg’s directing and writing style for films aimed at younger audiences is a bit too bland.

Most of these films are aimed at kids/teens and have Spielberg’s usual plot outline associated with them: Young man with big dreams is forced to on an adventure, while being chased by some big organization or the government. The young man meets an enigmatic figure, befriends an unlikely group of friends, and then goes on a quest to make his dreams come true. That’s basically the plot of Ready Player One, E.T., and A.I. Artificial Intelligence.

Now, if this were just the first time he’s done it, this wouldn’t be a problem. The thing is that this appears to be one of the only kinds of films that Spielberg knows how to write, since he seems to think that it’s all teens and kids enjoy. Meanwhile, the films Spielberg makes for adults are his true masterpieces, where more of his effort seems to go. Which gives me the feeling that Spielberg seems to have more respect for his older movie-going audience, more-so than the younger audience that sees his other films like E.T. and Hook.

With all that being said, does this mean I hate the movie? Not at all, I actually got it was pretty good. Not a truly great film by any stretch of the imagination, but one that is a fairly fun watch throughout. The effects are great, as are the action scenes. Despite the films severe lack of originality and uniqueness, the way the various parts of this world are designed are just nice to look at.

The opening to this film reminded me a lot of the opening to Summer Wars, both of which were brimming with strange worlds and oddities. The Oasis is basically one big mashup of everything in nerd culture, and it just works well. Fight sequences are also bad-ass and awesome, and are the center-point of this film.

Even though I wasn’t a huge fan of the protagonist or villain, I dug several of the side characters. Aech was probably one of my favorites, being the main character’s sassy best friend in The Oasis. I also dug Daito and Sho, two recurring characters who’s game personas have this awesome Japanese vibe going on. There was also i-R0k, a recurring henchman for the main antagonist, one who I found to be a very silly and endearing nerd character.

Also, as intrusive as the references are, they kind of do spice up the film at times. It’s fun to see your favorite hero or villain suddenly show up in the background, or a famous movie character deciding to attack our heroes. The second key challenge felt like it spent too much time on retelling a well-known movie in a short amount of time, but was enjoyable enough that it didn’t feel too stale.

By far, the best character was James Halliday. He’s a socially awkward weirdo, one who created a vast financial empire through the creation of his games. I’d say more, but I don’t want to spoil the whole film for the few that haven’t see it yet. I think it’s about time I summed up my thoughts on what I thought of the film, since the post is long enough already.

Ready Player One is a good film, but mired by formulaic writing and its overabundance of product placement. It’s a solid experience, despite its flaws. Just be warned, what you’re getting is basically a mishmash of all these franchises you’re already invested in. It’s not going to rock your world, or revolutionize the way you see film.

It’s just another Spielberg film, albeit one that has a lot of effort and passion put into it at times. If you’re interested in nerd culture at all, I suggest at least giving it a watch if you get the chance. However, if you’re not a nerd, then I’m sure this movie won’t do much for you in terms of entertainment.

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Yep, that’s a poster for a Spielberg movie alright.

VRChat Game Review: A Beautiful Mess of A Digital Chatroom

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The best place to watch anime is in “Space Japan”, AKA Seisoken City!

Something that has gotten traction as of late is “Virtual Reality”. While this has been a concept in movies, TV-shows, and literature, the general concepts of VR hadn’t been defined until recent years. Modern VR is in its infancy, and there aren’t a whole lot of fun games out for the platform yet. Still, developers are trying their hardest to put some unique and memorable experiences out for the hardware.

This brings us to one of the most popular VR games in recent memory: VRChat. This game is essentially a virtual chat-room, not unlike that of “Second Life”. The key difference between the two is the inclusion of Virtual Reality, which is what gives VRChat a bit of an advantage.

Being able to pop on a headset and get immersed in a virtual world is something I’ve been interested in ever since watching the “.Hack//Sign” anime back in the early 2000s. VRChat is looking to capitalize on the experiences present in that show and similar franchises, by presenting the player with a massive virtual world to interact with.

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I’m getting some early 2000s anime flashbacks from this.

Sadly, VRChat is a gigantic mess in its current state. For one thing, there’s not a whole lot to do. You can walk around, pick stuff up, talk to people, and play the occasional mini-game. Aside from that, the experience is pretty bare-bones. Sure, the game is still in Early Access, meaning that it’s not fully complete yet. Despite this, I feel like the game won’t change all that much upon full release.

This is especially annoying, since the game is essentially a “MMOG”, a Massively Multiplayer Online Game. If the game continues to lack varied content, it’s not going to be able to hold the attention of the large audience it recently gained. A MMO lives and dies by its ability to retain an audience, which a lot of online games tend to have problems with nowadays. To be fair, this game is known as a “Virtual Chat-Room”, meaning it’s more of a space for just talking to people.

And sure, it’d probably be your kind of thing if you just want to chat. Unfortunately, VRChat also has problems in this area as well. You’ll often run into people spouting memes, verbally attacking other users, or people just screaming as loud as they can into their microphone. Now, this normally wouldn’t be as big of a problem, as most online games have this.

However, when most of what you can do in a game is often spoiled by trolls or people just pestering you, it can get annoying. I’m not saying all the players are like this, but several people do tend to do this a lot. There’s quite a few people who like to break the rules of the game and are often able to get away with it. This is because the mods aren’t really good at their jobs. They’ll often ban people for the dumbest of reasons, and let the actual rule-breakers get away with whatever they want.

For example, you can get banned just for pointing out how bad the mods are at what they do. I get that being a moderator on anything is difficult, but mods should have thicker skin than that. So, I’ve brought up a lot of bad things about this game, but what about the good? Surprisingly, this game does do a fair bit of things I like.

For example, it fully endorses player-made content. These include character skins, entire maps, and custom soundtracks for said maps. Almost 90% of the stuff you’ll see in the game was handcrafted entirely by players, which is actually pretty awesome. I can’t tell you how cool it is to walk around the futuristic “Seisoken City”, or venture into a recreation of “Kami’s Tower” from Dragon Ball.

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It still amazes me that places like this exist in the game. It’s so beautiful!

Not only do these worlds look good, but they all have a unique feel to them. For example, Seisoken City boasts a ton of massive screens that play non-stop anime clips and J-Pop music videos. Meanwhile, you may venture into a completely different city-scape and happen across all of weird real-world advertising.

You can also visit these worlds with any custom skin currently available, essentially allowing you to traverse these lands as your favorite character. I can’t begin to tell you how awesome it was to venture through an expansive city as a gigantic monkey! It was like King Kong, but mixed with anime and randomness.

Unfortunately, getting character skins can be very annoying. Every time you log off, your character skin disappears. If you want to wear anything other than a generic template skin, then you have to run all the way back to that specific world. You must then equip that skin again, if you want it back.

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“Behold my giant monkey… FORM!”

Still, the shear variety of character skins is enough to make up for this. Name any kind of popular character from any well-known series, chances are that you can play as it in VRChat. The biggest thing VRChat has going for it is accessibility. Not only is it free, but you don’t need a VR headset to play it!

Let’s be real, VR is freaking expensive! VRChat circumvents this, by allowing you to play without a headset. This is great for people who can’t afford one, or are having issues with their headset. Plus, this allows people who are on the fence about VR to experience to give the medium shot. Heck, it might even sell some people on VR as a concept! On top of this, the game is also free. I doubt it’ll stay free, they’ll probably add micro-transactions once the game is finished. Hopefully, micro-transactions won’t ruin the flow of the game.

Here are my final thoughts on VRChat: It’s a beautiful mess. There’s barely anything to do, a fair amount of the community is toxic, and the mods are terrible at doing their job. Despite this, VRChat was able to fully immerse me, even without a VR headset! The beautifully designed worlds, the shear amount of character skins, and the ability to chat with your friends in a virtual space is the true selling point here.

While some of the interactions with random users can be less-than-savory, there’s still fun to be had. Seeing silly interactions between people role-playing as their favorite characters is surprisingly entertaining. I mean, once you’ve seen Agumon from Digimon get drunk with the Green Goblin, it’s hard to go back to regular games. Check VRChat out if you’re interested, just don’t expect too much out of it.

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Portals: The only way to travel in this game! Aside from walking everywhere, of course.

 

Elder Scrolls Online: MMO Side-Questing Done Right

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“I’VE GOT A BONE TO PICK WITH YOU!”

I’ll be completely honest with you guys, I’m not much of a fan of MMORPGs. In fact, I can’t stand them. I’m the kind of guy who will spend a fortnight downloading an MMO, only to play it for 10 minutes and immediately get bored with it. To me, an MMO needs to hook me within that first hour or so. If I get the feeling that the MMO won’t get interesting until I pour 20 hours into it, then I most likely will not continue with it.

A lot of this comes down to one major factor: Side-quests. I talked about side-quests a couple days ago, primarily those belonging to the Elder Scrolls series. Today, I want to talk about Elder Scrolls Online, an MMO that manages to do side-questing right! In a lot of games, the first thing I tend to indulge are the side-quests. The main story is great and all, but I like to flex my legs a bit and get to know the world! Well-constructed side-content can do just that, which is why I love it so much.

MMORPGs are heavily reliant on this feature alone. After all, a Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game needs to be able to have you play a role in the universe your character exists in. Elder Scrolls Online understands this ideal very well, which is quite refreshing for a modern MMORPG. I found myself really digging a lot of the side-content in this game, since a lot of it tied back into the game and the series itself.

So, what makes the side-quests in Elder Scrolls Online better than most MMOs? Well, a lot of it comes down to the fact that most of the missions aren’t “fetch quests”. Sure, there are quests where you have to get certain items. However, these quests usually lead to you obtaining something unique, or have some kind of twist.

For example, one quest involved you beating up several random mercenaries for a shopkeeper. Once you go back to him, you find another mercenary there who tells you that the shopkeeper has “fled” the land. A new storekeeper is put in place of him, and you never see the old shopkeeper again. Makes you wonder, did he really leave or did these mercenaries just off him?

A lot of these quests really stood out to me, they reminded me a lot of the quests you’d find in Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. That game had crazy quests, including one where you leaped into a painting and another where you tried to solve a murder mystery. This game has memorable quests as well. One of the first quests in the game was undoubtedly one of my favorites.

In said quest, you had to save a random NPC who was captured and held in a cave. The twist was that he was being kept there by a trickster character named “The Frozen Man”. The Frozen Man was the insane ghost of a powerful mage, who mostly just wanted to keep the NPC as a personal plaything.

After you outsmart the trickster using his own insane logic, you are allowed to take his prisoner home. Despite the fact that you never see this character again, I still enjoyed his limited screen-time. His voice-acting was spot on and he generally felt like an interesting character, reminding me a bit of Cicero from Skyrim.

One quest I really dug was one that involved you trying to solve a series of murders. It starts out as you just trying to solve a few killings, but soon turns into an all-out war against a group of Body-Snatchers! The “Skin-Stealers” take on the form of various soldiers in the Ebonheart Pact, and it soon becomes difficult to discern friend from foe.

Quests can have different outcomes, some can even radically change certain parts of the world. Completing a certain quest-line may result in several NPCs dying and be removed from the game, while others may bring new beings into existence. The game boasts over 900 different side-quests, split between three separate factions.

Out of this large myriad of side-quests, I think my favorite has to be “The Thin Ones”. The quest involves you helping a group of immortal villagers, who are cursed forever to be skeletons. The quest eventually gives you a choice: Kill the villagers and end their immortality so they can rest, or allow them to remain immortal and undying. It’s a complex choice, with its own set of positives and negatives.

The best part of the quest is its reward: The ability to turn into a skeleton! Well, sort of. It’s really just a costume you can wear. Still, being able to walk around as a skeleton is certainly a fun concept! I’d love to bring up more side-quests, but I don’t want to spoil too many of them. After all, the fun in the game comes from discovering them on your own!

The last thing I’d like to mention is that the game brings back the NPC reactions from Oblivion. People will now acknowledge your accomplishments as you walk by, unlike in Skyrim. As much as I dug Skyrim, I always got annoyed by how I was always treated like a peasant. Even after saving the world a dozen times, I still get mistaken for the “guy who fetches the mead”. No respect, I tells ya!

Wandering Through The MMORPG Graveyard

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Sleep well, PSO. You were too good for this world…

Last weekend at my local comic book convention was truly a treat, especially due to the fact that I finally managed to buy a physical copy of Phantasy Star Zero! This game isn’t rare, just really hard to find. This is an action RPG released for the DS, with a feature that is rare for games on this platform: A MMORPG component. Yes, you could play Phantasy Star Zero online with strangers across the world!

This was awesome for the time, but sadly this feature is now non-existent. The online servers are dead, and have been removed for three years now. While people can still play the game offline (Much like any other Phantasy Star game) the option for online play will always be there. It just sits there, taunting the player for all eternity.

Phantasy Star Zero has it better than most games with online functionality, in that you can still play it. However, few MMORPGs actually have this luxury. Most MMOs are always online, meaning that there’s no way to play the game if the servers get shutdown. Well, there is a way, but it’s usually considered “unofficial”.

These are known as “private servers”, and are usually servers set up by fans of the game. Of course, running an online game can be difficult and expensive, so not every game gets a private server. These are usually made for games with massive fan-bases. Most of these private servers are usually completely free, unlike most of the games they spun off of. An example of this is Ephinea’s Phantasy Star Online private server, which is free now and doesn’t require a subscription.

PSO and a bunch of older MMOs required subscriptions, and most of them eventually replaced it with a “Free-To-Play” system. Going Free-To-Play is a death sentence for most MMOs, since they have a tendency to shut down if interest is still low. Going back to a game that was shut down years ago is definitely an odd experience. Despite several of these games being preserved with private servers, these games still feel barren.

These are servers that were designed to house thousands of players, but good luck finding at least 100 people in that game nowadays. Going back to something like ToonTown Online or Phantasy Star Online is definitely a fun experience, but it’s never going to be the same as how it was back in the day. Sure, there are new features and quests, but you are still playing the same basic game.

Revisiting an MMO is like going to the site of a major event in human history. It was a big deal at one time, but now it’s more of a time capsule of what happened in the past. Of course, the experience is still really satisfying. Being able to play a game that is now defunct is definitely a good thing, especially for people who didn’t get that far before the servers were shut down.

Sadly, an MMO getting shut down is an inevitability. Every MMORPG will eventually get shut down, even the really good ones like Elder Scrolls Online and Dragon Ball Xenoverse. People will still be there to keep these various games (and the servers they dwell on) alive in some form or another. Despite online games being a graveyard, it’s good to know that some players out there are fantastic gravekeepers!

Weird Commercials From The 90s: Phantasy Star Online

Having just talking about the oddity that was the Batman OnStar commercials, I thought I’d discuss another oddball advertisement. I’m of course talking about the often forgotten original trailer for Phantasy Star Online. Back in the day when a game was coming out, you were usually given a trailer that was mostly gameplay. Nowadays, you have all these cinematic trailers for games that tell you little of the game itself, aside from the setting and plot.

However, in the 90s and 2000s, trailers for games would actually talk about the games! Wish trailers were like that nowadays. Regardless, PSO’s original trailer was really out there, and was coated in the late 90s cheese. So, today I thought I’d review a commercial and talk about the original trailer for PSO.

The trailer in question starts with that classic Phantasy Star Online music, coupled with the Sonic Team logo. Honestly, PSO’s soundtrack is so amazingly solid that it would be a crime to not attach it to every single commercial for the game. The game then has several voice actors saying random words as the appear on the screen. Most of them relate to the game, but at one point a person says “Not Fighting”. Yeah, fighting is like 95% of the game. Not fighting is never an option, unless you’re in the lobby or you’ve cleared out a room of monsters.

Still, the game seems to say it as if the option to not fight monsters is a thing, which it isn’t. One of the last keywords they say is “A New World”, which will never stop being cheesy to me. I mean, you couldn’t come up with a sillier line even if you tried! I still love the line, despite its rather awkward delivery. Speaking of awkward, time to get into the obligatory narration about how amazing the game is!

The trailer then cuts to a person hooking up a Dreamcast, while a narrator with a strangely intense voice talks about how awesome PSO is. This guy sounds really campy and over the top with his delivery, as if he’s trying to be the narrator for Dragon Ball Z or something! After a bit of narration, we cut to an explosion on the planet known as “Ragol”. I’ll be honest, the way soundtrack is framed here makes this moment fairly intense.

We then cut to the logo for the game, before getting into more over-the-top narration. This guy deserves a medal for making a Dreamcast game feel like some kind of momentous event! We are then given a jumble of concept art, intermixed with gameplay from the actual game. The narrator then refers to the game as “the world’s first network multiplayer consumer RPG”. This description makes no sense, as MMOs have existed for a long time before this. I think what he meant to say was “first massive multiplayer RPG on a home console”, which would’ve been far more accurate.

This guy goes to make more wild claims, like how the gaming population is “the entire population of the world”. This is probably one of the most insane claims ever made, especially because online gaming was such a niche market at this point. It’s more than likely a fair bit of countries didn’t have access to stable internet at this point, so online gaming on a global scale wasn’t as developed.

The narrator then tells us that he wants to us to “enter the world of ultimate network gaming”. I’ll be honest, this is one of the few claims he has said so far that have made sense. PSO is ultimate network gaming, at least in my eyes. It’s fun with friends, and certainly enjoyable. Playing online is fun too, if you can past everyone stealing your items.

However, the trailer then goes back into complete insanity. The narrator than says “we want to give you the experience of travelling to different planets”. Uh… That isn’t a thing in the game. You only ever travel to one planet, which is Ragol. You can travel to other planets, but that’s only in the spinoff “Phantasy Star Universe”. Universe itself didn’t come out for several years after this, on top of being in a completely different continuity.

The game then talks about communicating with other players for a bit, before recounting the explosion from earlier. The best line the narrator gives is this: “Just what happened here? To find out, you’ll have to communicate and cooperate with people logging in from all over the world!” Again, this is not true. You do have to figure out what’s going on, but you don’t need to team up with other players to do so. In fact, if you tried asking them what’s going on, they’d probably spoil the whole plot for you.

In fact, it’s recommend that you play the story mode in offline mode first. Why is this? Well, various logs left behind by “Red Ring Rico” detail most of the plot. You won’t see these logs if you play online, so you’re missing out on large chunks of the plot. The narrator then says “You’ll solve numerous intricate puzzles!” Wait, what puzzles? This game has puzzles in it? Well, to get certain areas, there are a few switch puzzles. Most of these are optional though, and usually just lead to extra item boxes.

The narrator then details how you have to communicate with other players again. Man, this guy really loves to stress the “communication” aspect of this game! One part I like is how the narrator details how “language barriers have broken down”. This is actually something completely true about the game, as each dialogue option you can use is translated into multiple languages. So, you can say “hello” in English and it be translated into cultural equivalents for people who speak other languages.

The line that really encapsulates this game is this: “The world of Phantasy Star Online lasts for an eternity!” This pretty much sums up the game in a nutshell. People are STILL playing the original game, and its various spin-offs and sequels. The narrator then goes back to gushing about how amazing the game is, and how you can play it for “as long as you want”. Sadly, you can’t really play the game at all anymore, unless you use private servers or have the console versions.

The narrator then proclaims the game as an “unlimited adventure fantasy”, before going over all the “groundbreaking” features of the game one more time. Then he starts talking about how PSO has an “online population open to the entire world”. Again, not everyone had dial-up at the time. So, it was mostly open to the large countries with stable internet, if you can even call DSL stable.

Our narrator finishes off the trailer with this line: “Phantasy Star Online! The gaming revolution comes in the year 2000! The door to the future, the door to freedom.” Gotta love that cheesy ending line, designed to send chills down the spine of any avid video-gamer in the late 90s and early 2000s.

So yeah, that was the original trailer for PSO. I’ll be honest, I kind of like this commercial. I like it mostly because it’s so bad it is good. It’s cheesiness is what makes it so entertaining! I’ll be honest, they seemed to get several facts of the game itself wrong. They made the game sound like it was some godly masterpiece of gaming. While it’s true that this is my favorite game of all time, it’s not the “ultimate gaming experience”. Still, the commercial did get some things right. At least it was entertaining, unlike a lot of other game trailers today…

Digimon Masters Online: The Worst MMO I Ever Played

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Pretty sure that’s not an Agumon…

Yep, I’m talking about MMORPGs again. I’ll be honest, I don’t play a whole lot of MMORPGs. These are games that will eat up a lot of your time and tend to be pretty boring, at least to me. A ton of MMOs (like Phantasy Star Online and City of Heroes) do something unique or interesting. Certain MMOs just have so much passion poured into them, that it’s easy to overlook their flaws.

However, there are so many MMORPGs that are just downright terrible. I’m talking games that are just a wonder to behold in terms of their terrible qualities. One such game is the extremely atrocious Digimon Masters Online. So, a brief synopsis for people who don’t know what Digimon are: The Digimon franchise revolves around humans teaming up with Digital Monsters in order to save the world. Each series and iteration of the franchise is its own thing, and is set in a universe separate from the others.

Somehow, this MMO spinoff really misses the point of the franchise. For one thing, instead of creating its own separate universe, it just uses the one from Digimon Savers. Now, I love Savers, it’s a great show, but the problem is that the setting doesn’t lend itself well to an MMO. It’s about an elite group of digital policeman called “D.A.T.S.”, who are limited in number. Sure, there’s a fair number of them, but not an army like this game seems to suggest!

What’s worse is that the game only lets you choose from four characters, and you can’t customize their appearance AT ALL. Sure, you can dress them in certain outfits, but that doesn’t change the fact that they’ll always be the same character. Most outfits disappear after a while anyways, making this whole game feature feel pretty trivial. Now, it is true you can get more characters later, but they function the same. There’s no real stat differences, and they are just other characters from the show. There are no unique new characters made for the game, only characters that people who watched the anime will know.

That’s another problem with the game, it doesn’t know what kind of audience its trying to rope in. You’d think the game would be made for those who are familiar with the shows, but it gets a lot of the elements of the series wrong. It also blends together several shows into one plot-line, including taking element from both seasons of Adventure. It makes so its difficult to follow at times.

Worse still, certain events will play out exactly how they did in the show. Even if you know the events in advance, there’s nothing you can do to change it. For example, everyone who watched Savers knows that the one mad-scientist guy is clearly evil. Yet, even if you go into this game with said knowledge, you still have to help this guy with his plans. You can’t confront him early, or do something interesting with that knowledge. No, you have to play stupid and help this guy essentially destroy the planet, or at least attempt to.

These are just minor things I’ve brought up, so far. Trust me, there’s a lot about this game that is really terrible. For example, it’s completely pay to win! You want to keep those clothing pieces so they don’t explode off your body? You gotta pay! Want Digimon that don’t suck? You gotta pay! Want better items and gear general? That’s right, you gotta pay! I’m fine with games being free-to-play and using micro-transactions, but not when they are scams like this! This game is completely pay-to-win, you need to buy things to get further in this game. While this doesn’t seem like a huge problem, it is.

If you want to have actual fun in this game, you need to pay out the wazoo for trivial items. It’s annoying and cumbersome, and makes the game feel like a scam overall. Honestly, I’d still be willing to toss the developers a few of my hard-earned shekels, if the game itself wasn’t fundamentally terrible. It’s your typical “click a bunch of things on the action bar and wait for them to recharge” type of MMO.

There’s nothing unique or interesting here, aside from maybe the ability to Digivolve your Digimon during combat. This can change certain things, but is otherwise just as boring as other things in the game. The biggest problem with this game is its terrible translation. I’ve some pretty bad translations, mostly from Bandai-Namco. However, Bamco’s translations are at least legible. Sure, they may be filled with the occasional spelling error and bad translation, but you always know what’s happening in the plot.

The translation for this game is so awful and illegible, that half the time I don’t know what’s happening! Dialogue seems so shoddily written, and each sentence is mired with dozens of grammatical mistakes. It’s hard to find a single line of dialogue in this game that doesn’t reek of poor translation. Yes, I know translation is a difficult undertaking, but this is a game meant to be played by millions!

People are expected to throw tons of cash at this game, but will end up getting a product that is littered with terrible writing and impossible to understand dialogue. The last thing I want to touch on is the soundtrack… It’s okay. It’s not awful or anything, but it’s not special either. You got some pretty good sounding guitar riffs, but otherwise nothing too interesting.

As you can tell, I really did not like this game. In fact, the only thing that kept me playing was the Digimon branding. Without Digimon, I never would have touched this game. I respect that some people may like it, but I just don’t. To me, this game was the antithesis of what the series stood for: Which was reinventing itself and its universe with each new installment. Instead of getting an MMO with its own story and setting, I was just playing through the Savers plot, that was hashed together with plots from other seasons.

In the end, there’s not a whole lot of good things to say about this game. I mean, the graphics are okay. The designs look like how they would in the show, and the game never seemed to lag all that often. Aside from that, there’s nothing that really stood out to me. This was a game that was just boring, and felt like it was trying too hard to con me out of my hard-earned cash. In order for me to put down cash for a free-to-play game, I need to feel like I was being given a good demo of the game. If this is a demo, than I definitely don’t want the full package!

Games That Should Totally Happen: Tron MMORPG

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How come characters in sci-fi always get the coolest outfits?!

So, lately I’ve been getting into Tron: Uprising. It’s this really unique and well thought-out animated series with a refreshing art and animation style. It’s got a deep lore, and manages to stand apart from the films and be its own unique thing. With the Tron series, there are a fair bit of iterations and deviations. You have Tron, Tron 2.0: The Videogame, Tron 2.0: The Comic, Tron: Legacy, Tron: Uprising.

You have so many versions of this world inside a computer, ripe for exploration and adventure. So, that begs the question… Why isn’t there a Tron MMORPG? A massive multiplayer online role-playing game set in the world of Tron seems like a no-brainer. You already have a pre-existing world and a fair bit of source material to build upon. This seems like it would make for a fantastic MMO experience!

Instead of typical character classes and archetypes, you can have “Functions”. You’d play as a specific program with a function that would determine your program’s capabilities. For example, if you were a repairman program, you’d be able to build “Light Cycles”. Stuff like that would make the game super interesting! You can have characters from the films return, and have them labeled as “Backup Duplicates” of the original. When you set your series in a computer world, it’s just ripe for bringing back old threats in unique ways.

Heck, who wouldn’t want to take missions from Castor, or join the MCP and try to take down the system? Tron is this universe that is just rife for expansion, and it’s one of those few Disney franchises that hasn’t been milked to death yet. I thought Tron: Legacy was an okay film, but I feel it could’ve used a lot more expansion. With an MMO, you can’t really get a more expansive experience than that. MMOs are designed not only to be huge time-sinks, but also to flesh out a universe in ways that normal series could only dream of.

Best thing about a Tron MMO would be attempting new plot-lines and seeing which ones work and which don’t. Heck, if a Tron MMO was successful, it could lead to a resurgence of interest in the brand! Plots and ideas from the game might even make it into a film itself, or at least a TV show! This sounds like a match made in heaven, but sadly it can never be.

Why is that? For one thing, MMORPGs are a dying breed. These are the most difficult kinds of game anyone could ever make. They are also very expensive to produce, especially considering how graphically intensive most modern MMOs are. Not only that, but Disney doesn’t tend to MMOs anymore. They shut down Club Penguin and ToonTown Online, too popular massive-multiplayer games. These games raked in the cash, but Disney shut them down.

To be fair, MMOs are hard to constantly keep running. Servers are expensive and the interest tends to die after a while. An MMO hinges upon it’s player-base, and I doubt that the Tron fan-base can keep the game running forever. People have fond memories of this series, but it’s not enough to keep a MMORPG running for more than few years.

Even though a Tron MMO mostly likely wouldn’t work in today’s economy, I still feel that Disney needs to do more with the license. I’d love to see more Tron games, and I’m not talking about more crossovers with Kingdom Hearts. I want to see legitimate Tron games set in the classic world. Or heck, maybe even a followup to Tron 2.0! The thing is, with the ever-increasing advancement and prevalence of computers, I feel the world just needs more Tron.