When Crystal Chronicles came to the US in early 2004, it seemed like a mea culpa. Years earlier, Square had abandoned the N64, instead bringing Final Fantasy VII to the PlayStation. And then the trend continued, as VIII, IX, X and XI all followed suit and became Sony exclusives. Final Fantasy fans who grew up with NES and SNES were devastated and betrayed.
I can remember seeing Crystal Chronicles in a game store back then and being delighted to see a new Final Fantasy console release on Gamecube. And even better? It was a Gamecube exclusive. It felt like I HAD to have it.
But maybe - just maybe - it was that feeling that made the game fun to me back then. Maybe I was so enamored with the fact I was playing a new FF game on Gamecube that really made the game feel "good." Because I'll tell you this, folks: Crystal Chronicles has not aged well.
Last year, Square announced that they'd be porting a big pile of FF games that had never appeared on Nintendo platforms to Switch. The one I was most excited about was Crystal Chronicles. I guess I had those memories attached. And I do have a soft spot for the weird non-numbered FF games.
Well, the demo for Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles Remastered dropped last night. Like with Dragon Quest XI, Square has given us a generous demo that you could sink some decent time into. I THOUGHT that this is what I'd be playing for the next week or so. But apparently, not so much.
My memories of Crystal Chronicles - as fuzzy as they may have been - were that the game looked gorgeous, and that it was a pretty fun Diablo clone. I mean, the game was built with co-op in mind, but I didn't have anyone to play it with back then on Gamecube. So to me, it was always a single player game, for good or bad.
Maybe the game was good in 2004. Maybe. But we've come a long way, baby. And yes, Crystal Chronicles does still look really pretty. But my goodness. I think I sort of hate everything else about it.
First off, let's talk about the atrocious loading times. This is 2020. A game by a large company like Square should definitely be more optimized than this. I'm talking LONG loading times between... everything. Starting the game is like loading screen, pick your save file, loading screen, cut scene, loading screen, move your party, loading screen, cut scene, loading screen, move your party, pick a dungeon, loading screen, cut scene, loading screen... AGH! There is just no momentum. I could feel the boredom setting in.
Just as maddening is the control scheme for battles. Basically everything is done with one action button. So you have to constantly scroll through a list to change what that action button does. You literally have to change Attack to Cure and then back to Attack, for instance. It sucks. Back in 2004 maybe this seemed like a good solution. But in 2020, we've seen other games (like Phantasy Star Online) come up with better fixes. Why couldn't we just assign actions we use a lot to separate buttons? If you're going to go through the trouble of remastering the game, why not iron out its UI wrinkles?
And forget casting spells. It takes so long to pull off a spell that it doesn't seem worth it to me. During the fight against the crab boss, I tried using Blizzard on him. You have to HOLD DOWN the action button for a good second or two before it registers that you want to cast a spell, then move the little reticle thing with the analog stick. Again, if the spell is my active action, then shouldn't the button just cast the spell without holding it down? Annoying. Eventually it just seemed less tedious to get in their and attack up close with my little sword.
Everything about this game feels like the game is battling the player. It's as if Square is challenging you to like the damn thing. Back in 2004 I was able to see through the madness, but in 2020 with a near endless library of games to choose from, I just can't seem to motivate myself to enjoy this one again. It's a bummer, but it's also a prime example of just how powerful nostalgia can be.
When I was a kid, I absolutely loved my Game Boy. I got it for Christmas in 1989, and that thing was a reliable little gaming paradise for a good decade. I suppose it made sense as a kid who went between two homes. Though I had different consoles at each house, the Game Boy could come with me wherever I went. I never had to stop playing whatever game I was into based on a schedule. And the reason I bring this up here is because one of my top tier Game Boy games was Final Fantasy Adventure, which stood as the best Zelda game on Game Boy until Link's Awakening finally rolled around.
It wasn't until I was much much older that I realized that Final Fantasy Adventure wasn't a Final Fantasy game at all. In Japan it was the first game in the Mana series. And it would be a long time before I knew that Secret Of Mana on SNES was actually the sequel to Final Fantasy Adventure. I had certainly heard of that game back in the day, but never did play it. Those SNES RPG's were generally pricey. But what made them more prohibitive was just local availability. I don't remember ever seeing Secret Of Mana in a store. So even if I thought magazine screenshots were pretty, I never had the chance to play it at the time.
When the Seiken Densetsu collection was released on Switch, I knew I had to get it. You see, I had played the Final Fantasy Adventure remake on GBA when it was released (and re-localized as Sword Of Mana), but it just felt kind of 'off' to me. It didn't quite FEEL like FF Adventure. There was something so perfect about that original Game Boy version. And while Densetsu collection would be in Japanese, well, at least I'd be able to re-play FF Adventure the way I (mostly) remembered it. I knew the game itself enough that the language barrier shouldn't be a problem.
The other reason I wanted the collection was so that I could FINALLY play Secret Of Mana. I mean, beautiful 16-bit sequel to one of my favorite GB games. C'mon! Of course in this case the language thing will be a bigger barrier. So obviously I knew I'd need to follow a walkthrough. Which... is fine. But it does kind of take away some of the fun of the game as it strips out some of the natural discovery and so on. But whatever. At this point, I guess I'd say it was more about EXPERIENCING the game rather than really PLAYING it properly.
And so I did that. I got to experience Secret Of Mana, at least for a few hours. And just superficially, I was sort of mixed. Graphically, the game is pretty stunning. There's some crazy Mode 7 stuff going on, and the color palette is gorgeous, and the soundtrack is excellent. But the combat itself... kind of clunky. It's funny because I had this same complaint with the Sword Of Mana remake on GBA. So it must be a series thing. Though I never had that problem with FF Adventure. So I don't know. I also found it kind of annoying that things would continue to attack you even if you were going through the animation of opening an item chest, or talking to a NPC. But that's minor, since if you're aware of it you can plan for it.
I played long enough to recruit Primm and had a good time with a second attacker to help out. The strategy planning menu is pretty cool actually. And since all of the menus are in minimal English, and mostly use pictures, it's not too bad to figure out. But the NPC conversions were rough. I mean, you can figure out how to stay at an inn or buy some stuff. But at one point I met a guy with a cannon and I thought I said "no, I don't want to ride in your cannon," but apparently I said, "sure, fire me someplace far away and since I'm following a walkthrough I'll have no idea where you just sent me and now I'm confused, thanks." Yeah, that happened. And then I got sort of bogged down with this needing a walkthrough to play the game and I didn't really feel like figuring out where the hell I was. So I just kind of stopped playing out of frustration. Oh well.
A YEAR AND A HALF LATER... and now I actually have the US version of Collection Of Mana, which means I've been able to play Secret Of Mana in English. And guess what? it's way less frustrating that way. No walkthrough required.
Apparently I've gone off on a different route this time, though. I've beaten some kind of plant boss in the Dwarf Cave, and yet still don't have a 2nd party member. Well, I do now. But it's not the same girl (Primm) that I had gotten earlier in the game last time I played. Interesting.
Anyway, this game is a lot better now that I know what's going on. And with Final Fantasy Adventure still fresh in my head, it REALLY DOES feel like a sequel to that game, which is pretty awesome for me.
Okay, I changed my mind, and fairly quickly. I know this is a so-called hot take, but I don't think Secret Of Mana is all that great. I know it's a cult classic. Actually, it might even be considered a straight up 16-bit CLASSIC. But it's just not doing it for me. This is the Mana game that everyone loves. But me? I love Final Fantasy Adventure. And from what I played of Trials Of Mana, I found that one way more interesting. But Secret Of Mana just feels kind of annoying to me.
For one thing, I really don't love the combat. The whole waiting for your gauge to refill before attacking again thing is annoying. The UI sucks. It takes me so long to cycle through menus to do something simple like change gear or use an item. I don't know. It just doesn't click with me.
Last night I got up to the battle to save Primm. This time she was guarded by two werewolf looking dudes and they INSTANTLY killed my other party member; then they'd charge me and I'd spent the majority of the battle stunned and being hit over and over again. When I managed to get some hits in they'd cast heal on each other. And because they look the same - and move SO FAST - I had trouble focusing on one long enough to get him down. After a few attempts I realized that I really wasn't having fun. Not the kind of fun I'd have with Final Fantasy Adventure, that's for sure.
I can't say I've ever been a big fan of Mario Party games. They're fun enough party games that sort of mix board games with mini games. And that's fine. But too often they seem to come down to chance and luck. I hate that.
But I did recently read a review of Star Rush in Nintendo Force where the reviewer was also not a fan of the series. And he loved this one. The other draw for me was that apparently Star Rush is a quality SINGLE PLAYER party game. So I figured I'd give it a try.
Know what? It's not bad! I mean it's still a fairly shallow board game mixed with mini games. And luck is surely still a thing here. But it's also pretty fun. I get the feeling it'll be the sort of game that I play through, enjoy, but never revisit again in the future. Which isn't the worst thing in the world. Also, I think my wife might enjoy it, so it'll be worth hanging onto.
So far I'm up to World 2-1.
I never played the original Splatoon. Actually, I never had a Wii U. My wife and I considered getting one a couple of years ago - before the announce of the Switch, of course. But for some reason we never did bite the bullet. We were going to make it our anniversary gift to each other at the time, and went to Target and played Mario Kart 8 on the little kiosk. But I don't know. I couldn't seem to find enough Wii U games to make me feel like the purchase was all that justified. And eventually we decided to just buy a gazebo as our anniversary gift.
When Splatoon 2 was announced for Switch, everyone was raving about it. I just assumed those were Wii U owners who loved the first, so it didn't really do much to my interest level. To be totally honest, it looked like a sort of shooter for kids in my book. I mean... it was a game about shooting ink. It really didn't grab my attention at all. I should point out that when Splatoon 2 was released I was pretty heavy into both Overwatch and Paladins - two other competitive team based shooters. So not only did I feel like I had enough of this sort of game in my life (and I still do), but it reinforced my feeling that Splatoon 2 was for kids.
But people still raved about Splatoon 2. It was inescapable. Here we are a year later and people are still talking about the damn game. It's just now received a huge expansion called the Octo Expansion which adds 80-something levels of a single player campaign. Plus, there are some very cute Amiibos related to this game. It felt like maybe I was missing out on something big. Maybe just maybe I was missing a game that I'd really enjoy.
Well it turns out that I should learn to just listen to my gut sometimes. Because I grabbed a copy of Splatoon 2 in time for my summer vacation this year and y'know what? It's not for me. I'm not saying that it is for kids... but still, it's not for me. When I first fired the game up I was thrown into the lobby and... I don't even know. It made no sense to me where I was even supposed to go. My wife and I played through the little tutorial thing and then some single player levels by passing the controller back and forth. She quickly become uninterested, and I guess I wasn't surprised as competitive shooters have never been her jam. I tried to play a bit on my own and realized that the motion controls were really fucking me up so I turned them off and it was a little better. But my interest just wasn't there. The single player stuff to me felt pretty boring.
Boring and frustrating. I should point out that in a game like this I HATE the third person perspective. Dicking around with the camera never feels good to me. And I just vastly prefer the feel of a first person shooter. That's (partly) why Overwatch and Paladins are far more appealing. But I spent some time doing battle with the camera and it just never felt very fun. I admit that the bright neon pink and green aesthetic was fun and cute. But I just wasn't having a good time.
Things only got worse when I took the game online. Maybe it's no surprise by getting tangled up in third person for me was even more of an issue when trying to deal with other players. And I should note that even though Fortnite is like the biggest game in the world right now I had the same exact complaints (and lack of fun) attempting to play that game - also in third person. But I have friends who adore this game so I promised I'd give Splatoon 2 more of a chance maybe I'm just missing something, right?
But y'know what occured to me? I don't owe Splatoon 2 anything. There are SO MANY other games that I'd rather be playing. I gave it a shot and it didn't click. Meanwhile I've been getting BACK into Paladins again - for the THIRD time! That's a game that does click. I don't see the point in forcing myself to play something that I'm not enjoying. So...
It's funny how things change. Two years ago I could not get into Splatoon 2 at all. But right now, I kind of love it.
After four years of Overwatch obsession, I was starting to feel a fatigue. I felt like maybe I needed some other competitive game to scratch that itch. But maybe something a little less demanding. And then one Saturday morning I was up with my daughter and we were watching the Nintendo Youtube channel. There was a Splatoon 2 tournament being shown, and I don't know - the game just started to make sense to me.
And so I've been super into this game now. All my experience playing Overwatch seems to carry over to an extent. The whole thinking like a team thing. The prioritizing the objective (inking) over getting kills (splats). The being aware of the full map instead of just where I am. The paying attention to your teammates. The way that your loadout is pretty much a class. I just kind of GET IT now.
It's a bummer that I'm sort of late to the party, though. I missed the last Splatfest, and it doesn't seem like Nintendo is supporting this game the way they are Smash.
But I leveled up to 9 this weekend, and soon I'll be level 10 and can unlock the ranked play. We'll see how that goes.
Yup. I do love this game.
I started using the NES Zapper 85 and things got really good and fast paced for me. There's something about that weapon that just felt really good. I ended up going on quite a winning spree in random matches, and was quickly at level 10 which means that the ranked mode opened up.
I jumped into ranked, but the map was a tower control and I had no idea what was going on. I wasn't familiar with the map, and just had no clue what to do to help. So I jumped right back out of ranked, until I feel like I'm more prepared to be productive.
I played some more casual matches, bumped up to level 11 which granted me access to an upgrade to the NES Zapper. The 87 model is orange, haha. So good. I love when Nintendo does these sorts of nods to their history.
There's nothing quite like getting sucked into a game. That feeling when you stop thinking about what you might play next because you're so content with the game you are playing.
I'm so into this game, I find myself thinking about all periphery stuff I want now. I want the starter guide that Nintendo put out; a want all the Splatoon Amiibos; heck, I want a Splatoon t-shirt.
I attempted a Salmon Run last night, but I don't find it as riveting as the multiplayer proper. But man, I love this game. I spent some time tweaking my attire, which is always a heavy process that involves weighing out the perks associated with the gear, and still managing to keep my Inkling looking like a 90's grunge kid.
I'm level 12 right now, and am pretty sure that another upgrade to the NES Zapper unlocks at 15, so that's what I've got my eye on right now.
It took me a long time to come around, but when Nintendo unveils its next console, Splatoon 2 will undoubtedly go down in history as one of my favorite Switch games of the generation.
As it currently stands, it is my #6 most played Switch game, which is kind of insane. It has now eclipsed the hours I've spent in BOTW... Skyrim... Pokemon... and I've only had the game for less than a month.
This is one of those games that I've really sunk my teeth into. I've ordered a copy of the strategy guide. I'm constantly trying to find the right balance of gear - doing my best to have GOOD functional attire, that still retains the 90's grunge look I'm going for with my character. And I'm taking my time experimenting with new weapons. I'm always trying to get better.
And still, I've yet to really dip my toe into the ranked mode. For now I'm having a blast just experimenting and trying to improve in the casual mode.
I'm trying to explore some of the other modes more now. I did another Salmon Run with randos, and then I started working on the single player mode which is something I didn't mess with much back when I first played this. I don't know if finishing the single player will grant me anything other than being able to say I finished it, but I figured why not. It's certainly still a little extra 'practice.' Plus, it occurs to me that I also have the Octo expansion to get through as well. So I guess I can dabble with those offline modes in between playing actual (casual) matches. I figure it'll be a little while before I really feel confident enough to jump into ranked mode.
I picked up the lovely Splategy Guide from ebay and have been thumbing through it. I kind of wish I had had it from the get-go. It would have been fun to treat their "how to get good" section as assignments, such as completing the single player first, then leveling up to a certain level and moving on to the next task. Oh well.
Of course guides for online games are almost outdated from day one. Like, the N-Zapper (my weapon of choice) isn't even mentioned in the guide. But it's still a really neat little piece of memorabilia to possess. I love stuff like this. I feel like some Splatoon amiibo are in my near future.
The throwback Splat Fest was fun! Though I only got to dabble in it briefly. And my team lost - because people don't like science. But whatever. This game still rules for me. It's already my fifth most played Switch game, which is kind of crazy.
When I was 20 my girlfriend at the time house-sat for these people who went on vacation for a week. I'm guessing that when they asked her to house-sit they wanted her to feed their pets and keep an eye on things, and that they didn't really want me and my friend Mark to be over there all the time playing their Gamecube. But y'know, 20 year olds are stupid.
At the time, I think the only games I had for Gamecube were Luigi's Mansion and Super Mario Sunshine. I think? I know I didn't have many yet, because 20 year olds also don't have much disposable income. So when we discovered Pro Skater 3 in these people's house, it was pretty much the only thing we did that week. We also watched Mulholland Drive. But mostly we played Pro Skater 3 and for some reason I remember listening to the Melvins album Stag over and over again.
Anyway, by this point I was a huge fan of the Tony Hawk games. A year or two earlier I had played the first two games on my college roommate's Dreamcast. And THPS3 just blew me away. You can argue that THPS2 is "the best," and I can see that. But something about 3 just feels like this perfect refinement. The addition of manuals meant that combos could go on forever. And since I tend to prefer street skating to ramps in the game, this was huge for me.
So I've played THPS3 plenty over the years. And in my mind, it'll forever be a Gamecube game, since that's how I originally played it. I'm playing it now and testing out these "Hip Gear" portable Gamecube monitor I nabbed off ebay. The monitor itself is pretty beat up and has some dead pixel lines on the screen. The resolution is bad and blurry, and there's a lot of noise coming from the speaker. But... man, it's still fun.
THPS3 definitely takes advantage of the hardware. The graphics are excellent, but more importantly the stages are huge. The challenges feel way bigger and more satisfying to figure out. Some stuff easily comes back to me, while other challenges like secret tapes can take a while for me to remember where they are.
I coasted through the Foundry, completed several challenges in Canada, got a silver in the first competition and am now just tackling Suburbia and going back to Canada in between. This game still rules.
For a long time I've said this thing that Castlevania is one of my absolute favorite series of all time, and yet I'm not very good at them. It's held true for years. Another thing I've said for years is that I think Castlevania III is my favorite of the NES trilogy. Though I hadn't played it in over ten years now. So (stupidly) I bought it on the Wii U Virtual Console right before a physical edition of the Castlevania Collection was announced for Switch. Ugh.
Anyway, the things I had raved about was that Castlevania III took the things that made the first two games work on their own, and sort of combined them. So while it's a linear game in the way that the first one is, it had branching paths which made it a little less linear, but not quite as sprawling as Castlevania II. It also added new playable characters with different abilities. And of course, it had amazing music.
All of the above remains true. However, having somewhat recently replayed (and beat) Castlevania II, I know think that's my favorite of the NES trilogy. There's no denying that that game can be a jerk. It's often cryptic, yes. But it's AWESOME in its tone and its breadth. Back when I replayed it I called it a precursor to Symphony Of The Night and the many GBA/DS Metroidvania entries. And I stand by that.
Castlevania III tones down on the "where I'm supposed to go" and "what am I supposed to do" stuff, but ramps up the difficulty by just making enemy placement and the environment brutal. I genuinely forgot how difficult this game gets. I'll say this - I still think it's a great game, but I do think I prefer the first and second. And at least at this very moment, I'm getting frustrated trying to make progress in it the way I used to be able to.
I didn't play Balloon Fight back in the day. Actually, I'm not sure I even really discovered it until I played NES Remix. But it did click with me, which sort of surprised me. A lot of these super old NES arcade style games tend to feel too simplistic to me. And given that Balloon Fight is without a doubt a rip-off of Joust, I wouldn't have guessed I'd enjoy it. Honestly, Joust never did anything for me. Yet somehow Balloon Fight just feels like a way better version of Joust. The controls are SO good. The rounds are quick. There's such a solid quick arcade play experience to be found here.
What's really cool however is the "Balloon Trip" mode included in the NES game. This version deviates from the single screen boards of the main game and offers up a sort of endless runner mode. It's actually incredibly forward thinking for a game released on console in 1985. I found myself getting pretty into that mode, and once I got going there was a very zen-like zone-out kind of thing going on.
Anyway, Balloon Fight is not the kind of game that I'd play for too long at a time. It's the sort of thing I'll have the urge to play like once a year, for maybe 30 or 60 minutes. But it's still a great experience. Up there with Donkey Kong for me as far as early arcade NES games go. Good stuff.
And now for something completely different. Pac-Man Vs was a sort of cult hit on the Gamecube. But it was also a game that demanded a lot in order to actually play it. In order to actually get a full game going with three friends, you'd need three additional GBA's and link cables. Because of this, the game remains a rather niche experience.
I imagine that had I played this game when I was in college, and had the proper set up, it would have been a hit with my friends. But, as a dude in his late 30's who plays games only when the baby is asleep - it's just not the same world for me.
But I was still curious if Pac-Man Vs was worth playing. And so I discovered that the version included on the Namco Museum Arcade Pac on Switch actually has an added single player mode. So I figured why not give it a try. Of course playing it this way pretty much means you're playing it WITHOUT the selling point of the game, which is playing with friends.
Anyway, the quick version is... it's fine? I mean, I don't know how to properly evaluate a game when I'm playing it "wrong." If you don't know, Vs is a game where you (and your friends) play as ghosts and your job is to catch Pac-Man. It's interesting, sure. You can only see little pieces of the board at a time. And not to beat a dead horse, but this is a lot more interesting a concept if you're playing with others instead of alone.
Playing this solo feels like... a nice waste of time, or something. It feels like a mobile game. Something I'd try for a few minutes and then get bored of.
I did consider tracking down the DS version of Namco Museum which offers the ability of download play, which would enable me to play a few rounds with my wife. But honestly, I don't find this game so compelling that I'd go out of my way to track down ANOTHER version of it.
Also, there's already a "new" game just like this - one that my wife and I have already played and enjoyed. Nintendo Land on Wii U features a Luigi's Mansion mini-game that is totally just Pac-Man Vs reskinned. And it's awesome, and makes great use of the gamepad. So yeah. We've got that if we're ever in the mood.
I've been so into Splatoon 2 lately, but I wanted to have something else I could play alternately so as not to let myself get burned out. I figured it'd be easiest if it was something NOT on Switch. And maybe an entirely different genre. Something slow, and chill.
Now when most people think of Nintendo exclusives they think of Marios and Zeldas and Metroids. But I've gotta say, I really think the Fire Emblem series is one of the greatest Nintendo series out there. Of course, it chugged along in Japan from way back in the Famicom days, and didn't grace our shores until the GBA. And even after that, the games trickled out to a frothing cult fanbase here and there.
I do think that Marth's showing up in Smash has helped the brand gain some name recognition, and certainly Three Houses was a fairly heavily promoted game. But I feel like there have been some pretty under the radar releases in the Fire Emblem series of the years. Games that I'd think "I should play that someday," but never seemed to get around to it. I think the last FE game I played was Awakening (and I loved it).
I recently got FE Fates: Conquest via a B3G2 sale at Gamestop and I'm pleased as punch to finally be playing this one. I think I initially overlooked it because it sounded slightly gimmicky to have two versions of the same game released (not unlike Pokemon), and wasn't really sure which to look into. It turns out that Birthright is the "easy" game and "Conquest" is the difficult one. So here we are.
Well, Conquest has everything I loved about Awakening. Everything I've loved about the FE series period. I'm a huge sucker for a good tactical RPG. And as I approach Chapter 11 of the campaign, this one is knocking everything out of the park. I love the characters, love the art style, love the music... but more than anything it's the refined battle system that sucks me in. The FE games are pretty much perfect tactics games.
I will say that I don't think it's QUITE as good as Awakening. At least not so far. I don't really care about the base building stuff between chapters for instance. And I've caught myself skipping some of the story cut scenes here and there - but that's more because I just want to get right into that next battle.
Anyway, this is a great game, and a perfect compliment to Splatoon 2 depending on if I'm in the mood for something fast and competitive or slow and meditative.
Awakening is a tough act to follow, but I think Fates is a great follow-up. Again, I think the addition of base building is superfluous. And other than using it as a way to build shops to buy new gear, I don't see a point. I'm not bothering with having the game online, so there's no base invasions or anything.
But the core gameplay is just that classic (and excellent) Fire Emblem. Having clearly defined (numbered) chapters keeps it easy and fulfilling to track your progress. Such an awesome game.
I'm currently on Chapter 17 and am getting destroyed. At this point, I think I'd say that Fates is as good - maybe better - than Awakenings. However, I'd also say that while these sorts of deep strategy games are my total thing, it can sometimes be tough for me to put in the mental ability required right now. It turns out that having a teething toddler in the house can take a lot out of you, mentally. And sometimes my brain isn't up for such a heady challenge like this. So while I do think this game is fantastic, I think I might switch to something a little less taxing on my mind right now.