Picking Games Apart, One Title At A Time

Examining Star Ocean 4 Part 2 – Hopeful Beginnings

The most punchable face in the universe.

After the opening cinematic, in which we’re introduced to the newly-formed USTA – the Universal Science and Technology Administration – as well as the SRF, Space Recon Force, we have our first run-in with the slimy piece of flubber known as Deputy Director Shimada.

Everything about this man is designed to repulse, from his looks, to the silly way he moves, his voice and mode of speech, and especially his personality. In a game where the main antagonist is an incomprehensible entity from beyond the void (or whatever), it’s a really good idea to have a human sub-villain for the player to hate first, before the Big Bad is introduced. And boy oh boy does Star Ocean 4 deliver.

Not only is Shimada himself a thoroughly detestable piece of unripe manure, he also has three yes men with him, as if he couldn’t get any nastier. He’s the sort of man who only thinks of himself, doesn’t care about the mission or humanity or the SRF, and is literally only in it for his own personal self-aggrandisement and gain. Bravo, Tri-Ace, this is pretty much the perfect example of a drama first bad guy. (more…)

Examining Star Ocean 4 Part 1 – Sailing the Star Ocean

After SO3, this really was my last hope for the series…

Star Ocean: The Last Hope (henceforth known simply as either Star Ocean 4 or SO4) is probably one of my favourite games of the last console generation. Despite it having a number of pretty serious flaws, not least of which taking place in the same universe as Star Ocean 3 (I’ll have a post on that game soon…), I have an immense fondness for this game.

Maybe it’s the characters, most of whom are varying degrees of fun and interesting, if a little too stereotypical in a Japanese kind of way. Maybe it’s the hugely fun combat. Yes, even the battle trophies, though screw that final (PSN) trophy. Maybe it’s the overall setting and the fact we actually got to spend more time in the ostensible title of the franchise; the star ocean itself. Unlike Star Ocean 3.

In reality it’s all three of those things combined, of course. I’m a big ol’ Japanese RPG nerd in any case and can generally overlook some of the usual issues they have, which I’ll be going into in detail on over the course of this series, but beyond that Star Ocean 4 simply has a really fun gameplay loop combined with a workable story and fun characters I enjoy spending time with. (more…)

Reconstructing Fallout 3 Part 21: ATOMIC SCIENCE!

Nukuler Attums.

Nukuler Attums.

As promised, this week we talk about the atomic dimwits. Remember when I talked about the ghouls in the DC ruins at both the museum and beneath the White House? And how the Super Mutants would be one of their main trading partners? Let’s add to that.

Thanks to a random discussion at the No Mutants Allowed forums, I had a new idea, one involving an existing – and incredibly stupid as it currently stands – faction: The Church of Atom.

Allow me to start by saying I don’t necessarily think the Church of Atom faction itself is stupid. It’s how they’re portrayed that’s stupid. Especially the likes of their radiation immunity, something that is never explained. Or why they’re so widespread in Fallout 4. Or why they’re automatically hostile (eh, could say the same about most Bethesda factions, I guess, gotta have them targets to shoot).

Anyway, my idea for this faction is thus: they’re a cult who sprang up several decades ago in the Boston Commonwealth area (yes, this will span both 3 and 4, I’ll talk more about them in 4 when I start the Reconstructing series for it). Cults generally worship something, and like in the base games they effectively worship atomic energy.

However, unlike Beth’s dumbass cultists who literally treat it as a religion, I’m thinking something more along the lines of the Followers of the Apocalypse. They’re cult-like, kind of nuts in some ways, have some weird as hell rituals, and certainly treat atomic power with an almost religious fervour and reverence. Okay.

But they’re also made up of people who understand nuclear power and weapons. Scientists, technicians, mechanics, all sorts, alongside regular folk who provide the more basic day to day amenities. In the Boston area they’ll be pretty big and pretty powerful, notably through their understanding of technology.

They’re also a pretty decent sort overall, willing to help people get old tech working and so on (basically the east coast’s answer to the Followers), but are also extremely interested in anything to do with nuclear power. They’ll use energy weapons, be capable of producing fission batteries, microfusion cells, and other useful tech, and generally be a force to be reckoned with.

Moving to the DC region, the Atomists (nice shortening of their name for convenience) have sent out some small expeditionary parties to scout out other areas and determine whether there is anything of value. (more…)

Reconstructing Fallout 3 Part 20: Mutant Mayhem

Ancient Evolved Ninja Mutants: The Secret of the Ooze.

Ancient Evolved Ninja Mutants: The Secret of the Ooze.

Super Mutants! Regardless of how little sense this faction makes in Fallout 3, they remain the primary antagonistic force in the game for a considerable period until the Enclave shows up. Let’s see how they might be improved and fixed. My first thought was to remove the dumb second generation Vault 87 mutants entirely. But then I decided there is possibly a better way.

Instead, what I’m thinking is this: Marcus originally set out with a large number (comparatively, given there aren’t many left) of fellow mutants in order to find a place to call home. Because we now have our own version of the Silk Road, we can say they travelled with the merchant caravans, providing some additional muscle and protection until they decide to put down roots somewhere.

However, over time a secondary faction arose among the mutants that didn’t feel like sticking around the west coast region. While some mutants integrated into society, the new faction decided it wanted to leave this area behind and make a new life far to the east. (Note, Harold also goes along on this particular journey.)

Eventually, this second faction split entirely and made their way east, continuing on with the caravans. Marcus, the Nightkin, and the other mutants with him settled down at what would become known as Jacobstown, thus neatly tying into the later plot/location in New Vegas. (more…)

World Building: A Look at Star Ocean 3

Love the ancient look with that sepia tone.

Love the ancient look with that sepia tone.

So I’ve been replaying some older games recently, and one of the last was Star Ocean 3: Till the End of Time. Great game in a lot of ways, some nice world building, okay characters, spends far too much time on underdeveloped planets. No major problems there.

But then we reach that ending. You know the one I mean, the last portion of the game where – SPOILER ALERT! – it’s revealed that our world and entire galaxy/universe is just a big old quantum computer simulation and effectively nothing more than a vijda game for a group of 4-dimensional beings on another plane of existence to cock about with.

If you’ve not actually played the game, I’m not joking. That’s really how the game concludes. No real lead-up either, there are hints that something weird is happening in our galaxy, with insanely overpowered creatures destroying entire planets and some weird energy flooding the universe, but the reveal itself falls utterly flat because it happens out of nowhere.

Now, I could talk about the ending itself, how it fails on various narrative and thematic levels, how it could’ve been handled better (or changed entirely), and all manner of other things. But instead I’m going to talk a bit about the world building in this game. Stuff like lore, back story, locations, planets, etc., as those are some of the strongest aspects of this title for me. (more…)

Reconstructing Fallout 3 Part 19: Ever-Clean Pills

A Behemoth chillin’ after some pillin’. Because giving giants drugs is fun.

A Behemoth chillin’ after some pillin’. Because giving giants drugs is fun.

Evergreen Mills, yet another location that could’ve been great but ended up being utterly squandered as usual.

Now, before I get to Evergreen Mills itself, I need to quickly cover one other, uh… I can’t say faction because it’s basically a faction of one, but certainly an important character who’ll have a prominent role in the world, even if he technically wants to remain hidden for the most part.

Remember that ghoul fella living in Northwest Seneca Station? Murphy? The one who wants to improve Jet and make a shitload of caps getting ghouls addicted because regular Jet doesn’t really have the same effect for them? Yeah, him. Let’s improve him and turn that quest into something a little more helpful (or the reverse depending how you decide to play it!). (more…)

The Fallout: New Vegas Amnesia Theory

I appear to have made a grave mistake.

I appear to have made a grave mistake.

I’ve been watching the New Vegas season of Spoiler Warning recently because eh, why not. And in episode 4 they talk about the Courier’s amnesia, at least briefly (around 12:30). This is an interesting topic to me because a lot of people seem to assume the Courier has this affliction when in reality… he/she kind of doesn’t.

It’s clear from dialogue choices later in the game that the Courier doesn’t in fact have amnesia, but it’s pretty easy to see why people might assume they do. For starters, you have dialogue options in the opening area (Goodsprings) that sort of indicate you don’t know the major factions in the region. You also have options to ask about your job, the very one that led you to getting shot in the head.

These speech options aren’t there for the Courier. They’re there for the player’s benefit, in order to inform them as to several important aspects of the outer world and the main story hook (the platinum chip/Benny).

Later on, if you visit… let’s say the caravan in the North Passage before heading off to play Honest Hearts (or the New Reno singer in Novac for a base game example), you’ll get a speech option clearly showing that the Courier in fact has all their faculties intact. There are several situations like this where you can ask questions the Courier could only know if they still have their memory. (more…)

Mess Effect: The Reapers

Messy. Very messy.

Messy. Very messy.

I’m writing this long and rambling post as a direct consequence of a retrospective series I read not long ago on the Mass Effect games. If you’re interested, go check it out, it’s a great read: Mass Effect Retrospective at Twenty-sided. And the specific entry this post is in response to: Part 34. The specific passage that triggered the idea for my post is as follows:

“The Cthulhu idea was abandoned. The Reapers are reduced from gods to bullies. This is why the whole “quest for knowledge” idea was important. You can’t beat gods with guns. You need to find the secret to close the gate, break the spell, placate the gods, or otherwise avoid or forestall your doom. (Even beating them with a superweapon feels sort of lame and ill-fitting.)”

There are some striking parallels between Mass Effect and Babylon 5 – hell, B5 was clearly a big inspiration for Bioware – but this passage in particular stands out to me. Babylon 5 absolutely nailed the concept of incomprehensible and timeless villains here to ruin our day, because B5 had coherent themes throughout and tied those themes into basically everything that happened through five whole seasons. Having only one writer really helps to keep everything together, too. (more…)

LTTP: Serious Sam 3 BFE

Cool ship. When it's not trying to kill you.

Cool ship. When it’s not trying to kill you.

Welcome to Late to the Party, the first in a new series of posts I’ll be writing on a totally random basis whenever I happen to feel like. As the name implies, this is me going back to older games I missed at the time and seeing if I enjoy them.

Note that these aren’t retrospectives in that I’ve not played these games before, that’s a different category I’ll use for nostalgia goggle games I loved back in the day. Also, spoilers obviously, though it shouldn’t need stating. Won’t be anything too major as I’m still playing it myself. Anyway, let’s get started!

First up is Serious Sam 3 because I love the franchise and kinda missed this game when it released originally. I wasn’t playing anything much on PC at the time, to be honest, mostly focusing on JP imports for PS3 (and Vita in 2012… hmm, maybe I should gush about my love of Persona 4 The Golden one of these days…).

I’ve always been a huge fan of Serious Sam and played First and Second Encounters to death back when they were still new and fresh. Co-op play, single player, finding all the secrets, Iron Man (permadeath) runs, the works. I love those games to bits, and the main reason for that is there’s no annoying cover mechanics. It’s sheer, hectic, frenetic insanity on all sides at all times. And I love that.

Then I grabbed a Sam bundle during a Steam sale last year around summer if I recall correctly; the entire Serious Sam collection including the HD versions of First and Second Encounter. And included, alongside the weird spin-offs I’ve so far not looked at, was Serious Sam 3.

I finally got around to trying it this last week. And yeah… this is still Serious Sam. Few issues and caveats, not least of which the piss poor performance for a game that released in 2011 being played on a GTX960, but overall? It’s great. (more…)

Reconstructing Fallout 3 Part 18: Wasted Space

It’s time to delve into some of the minor locations that are just sort of there, no real reason behind them besides the usual Bethesda Rule of Cool, including the DC ruins and Citadel. This’ll be a shorter post since it’s going up together with Part 17.

DC Ruins:

I love the smell of radiation in the morning.

I love the smell of radiation in the morning.

First of all, I have no interest in console limitations, I’m writing this series from the point of view of world building as a writer, so all those godawful metro tunnels blocking your way? Those would be the first thing gone/altered.

Getting lost in a maze can be fun for a short while, certainly, but not when you’re being forced to navigate it regularly. The only mitigating factor is fast travel, but a convenience like that should never be used as a crutch; some players roleplay to the point of disabling fast travel, after all.

The Metro system itself would of course still exist, not least because it’s an integral part of trade between Rivet City and several other locations. But it needs some drastic fixing as far as layout and complexity goes.

Honestly, a less detailed but more stylised art direction would’ve gone a long way towards fixing this as you could have larger areas with less loading screens. Think along the lines of the style used in Borderlands, something simpler that doesn’t demand ultra-realism… especially as ultra-realism often results in reduced realism because everything looks so uncanny and unreal (especially with Bethesda’s potato people).

Beyond that, I actually like this region a great deal. The grandeur and decay, the tall and imposing skeletal remains of buildings surrounding you, the desolation. It all adds up to a pretty nice thematic whole. I’ll give Bethesda credit there, at least, they’re pretty damn good at tone, mood, and environmental storytelling. I just wish they’d put the same effort into the rest of the world, characters, and story.

Add in copious greenery overgrowing everything and you’d have an I Am Legend kind of dealie; a necropolis populated by the dead, but with some safe areas and various quests available from people in settlements who want particular things but don’t have the wherewithal to retrieve or complete them. (more…)