Castlevania

Contrary to Konami developers, this castle’s architects had no idea what they were doing.

Game Name: Castlevania (1986)
Developer: Konami (Gyrus, Gradius, Contra)
Platform: Family Computer Disk System (original), NES, Arcade, C64, Amiga, MS-DOS, Windows, Game Boy Advance, Mobile Phones, Nintendo DS, MSX2, Atari 2600  (reviewed on NES emulation)
Categories: NES Classic, Side Scrolling Platformer, Pitfalls, Power-Ups, Meticulous Level Design, Multi-Stage, Catchy Soundtrack, Medieval Castle Dungeon, Delayed Player Input, Life Bar, Hidden Items, One-Hit Minions, Vampires and Universal Movie Monsters, Overlapping Enemy Patterns, Infinite Tries, No Saves, Punishing Difficulty

May Appeal To: leather wearers, 17th century tailors, S&M enthusiasts, lion tamers, and those that chow down on pork chops discovered in the very walls of gothic castles.
May Repulse: sun shunners, neck biters, atheists, anti-reflectionists, those with a garlic allergy, and anyone requiring explicit permission to enter a domicile or who felt compelled to cart a coffin of dirt from their country of origin.

Comparable To: its descendants. Castlevania II has inferior design, pacing, art direction, music, and level layout. Symphony Of The Night empowers the player instead of crippling them, though it showcased a complex map and bestowed personality upon the very environment with attractive sprites and surprises. Castlevania 64 reeks of the early push to convert popular side-scrolling platformers into 3D, low-poly, shitty-camera shadows of their former selves. Lament Of Innocence and Curse Of Darkness successfully hone this newer perspective, added more to the strategic RPG experience with customizable summons or inventory management, and offer spatial reasoning challenges as well as a new focus on exploration. Portrait of Ruin was considerably easier for me, though the loads of maps and the dual-character system prove to be fun, diversionary mechanics in hindsight.

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Rampage

“Cut out that racket. I’m trying to FISH.” – Man with a mermaid  in his boat.

Game Name: Rampage (1986)
Developer: Bally Midway (Mortal Kombat, Cruis’n USA, Spy Hunter)
Platform: Arcade, Sega Master System, NES, Atari Lynx, Amstrad CPC, ZX Spectrum, C64, Amiga, Atari ST, Atari 260 (reviewed on an NES emulator)
Categories: Arcade Port, 2D Side View, No Scrolling, Giant Monsters, Button Masher, City Smasher, Tank Trasher, High Scores, Infinite Lives, Multiplayer (co-op/competitive hybrid), 100+ Levels, No Saves, Great Localization, Bad Ending

May Appeal To: Godzilla fans…. excuse me “Gojira” fans, King Kongers, social gamers, digital marathoners, Americana tourists, home-grown 80’s nostalgic terrorists.
May Repulse: PETA, irresponsible corporations, challenge seekers, soloists, arcade diehards, cartographers, city planners, and members of the organized armed forces.

Comparable To: an early proof-of-concept for Smash Brothers, baby’s first Primal Rage, and Godzilla: King of the Monsters but with expressive characterizations. Lastly, let’s throw in GTA’s wanton abandonment of social mores in a city setting. Continue reading

Wizardry VI: Bane of the Cosmic Forge

I don’t…. I mean….. How is…. Alright fine, whatever.

Game Name: Wizardy VI: Bane of the Cosmic Forge (1990)
Developer: Sir-Tech (Jagged Alliance 2, Wizardry 8, Freakin’ Funky Fuzzballs)
Platform: AmigaOS, MS-DOS, SNES, Mac OS, NEC PC-9801 and FM Towns according to Wikipedia, whatever those are (reviewed on PC via DOSBox)
Categories: 1st Person Dungeon Crawler, Custom 6 Person Humanoid Team, Old Skool Fantasy RPG, Movement Grid, Turn-Based Battles, Vendors/NPCs, Deep Spell System, Sprawling Labyrinthine Locales, Dialogue via Word Parser, Traps and Loot, Punishing Difficulty, Archaic Presentation, DIY Mapping, DIY Quest Notes/Tracking, DIY Item Juggling and Stat Cataloguing, Multiple Classes, Multiple Endings (sort of)

May Appeal To: senior citizens, codgers, curators, dinosaurs, dotards, fogeys, fossils, geezers, grandfathers, greybeards, old timers, patriarchs, and those with an unusually severe computer budget. I’m kidding around but this game is really showing its age.
The cartography is quaint and amusing while epic completionists looking to export their party across the Dark Savant trilogy will want to start here.
May Repulse: anyone with eyeballs, ear holes, or sensibilities. Wizardry 6 lacks post-90s conventions and by no means should be played on its own without ulterior motive.

Comparable To: the overall feel of Wizardry 7, Bard’s Tale, and The Dark Spire. Wizardry: Tales of the Forsaken Land, Strange Journey, and the Etrian Odyssey series are all superior versions of the same style of grid-based first-person dungeon crawling. Wizardry 8 and Legend of Grimrock take obvious cues from Wizardry 6 though have splintered off in considerably different directions. I couldn’t help but think of King’s Field and Shadow Tower as being inspired by this game despite a lack of similarities. Continue reading

Vagrant Story

Can someone get him a damn comb?

Game Name: Vagrant Story (2000)
Developer: Square Enix (Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest, Kingdom Hearts)
Platform: PS1, Vita (reviewed on Vita)
Categories: Grand Cinematography, Interesting Characters, Attractive Artstyle, Labyrinthine and Mysterious Dungeon, Intricately Gritty Story, Real Time RPG, Pausable Battles, Isometric, Weapon/Armor Melding, Equipment Affinity, Cube Puzzles, Halberds, Dragons, ye Olde English, High Fantasy, Dark Magic, Risk/Reward, Chained Combos, Powerful Growth and Progression, Item Management, Ambitious, Formidable

May Appeal To: Ivalice completionists, Akihiko Yoshida fans, dungeon divers, monster slayers, weapon crafters, game design students, dialogue skeptics, Archers, Berserkers, Black/White/Red Mages, Chemists, Dark Knights, Mage Knights, Dragoons, Fighters, Gamblers, Monks, Paladins, plain ol’ Warriors, and spatial puzzle Wizards.
May Repulse: puzzle haters, challenge shirkers, Squeenix detractors, the disorganized, the immethodical, people prone to getting lost, and fashion critics of ass-less chaps.

Comparable To: Parasite Eve + Fullmetal Alchemist + Disgaea in a blender. It has combat from the first, the second’s setting, and visual/gameplay elements from the third. Newer Fallout players will draw correlations to the Vault-Tec Assisted Targeting System, specifically that you freeze time and target an enemy’s unlucky body part. The map draws parallels with a horizontally-oriented MetroidVania; the character design is distinct to Square’s Final Fantasy XII or Tactics Ogre; and Shadow Hearts Covenant’s timing and puzzles are in the forefront of my mind once more. Diablo II’s gradual -and irreversible- leveling system as well as Monster Hunter’s focus on personal knowledge and equipment affinity vs numerical player levels are both relevant. Continue reading

Final Fantasy Tactics

“Many will fall. In fact, most of you pale by comparison to story-oriented characters. But the second wave of disposable recruits may very well have a chance once the invisible guiding hand learns to attack at range. Onward!”

Game Name: Final Fantasy Tactics (1997, War of the Lions remake 2007)
Developer: Tose, Square Enix (Bravely Default, Kingdom Hearts, Tactics Ogre: LUCT)
Platform: PS1, PSP, PS Vita (reviewed on the Vita), Mobile and Tablet versions exist
Categories: Turn-Based Tactics, Squad Based, sRPG, Single Player, Bare Bones Mechanics, Sprites, Symphonies, Side Quests, Inventory Juggling, Team Management, Endless Overworld Battles, Heretical Plots, and Bourgeoisie Backstabbing

May Appeal To: armchair tacticians, Final Fantasy Fanatics, grid and turn-based gamers, or anyone hungry for lasting revenge against a too-hard challenge that previously thwarted them *cough, erm*.
May Repulse: the apparent target audience for modern Final Fantasy games: either Jpop quaff-wearing doofuses or fashion-forward boy band douchebags. This game doesn’t cater to the crowds lining up for immediate gratification. Anyone offended by time honored traditions of FF’s Christianity blasphemy, check out now.

Comparable To: Tactics Ogre’s artstyle and story, though this has simplified personal statistics, less cast members, and more concise and rewarding battles. Vagrant Story shares its world and design inspirations; Suikoden 3’s harder battles are reminiscent. Growlanser had a more compelling positioning and magic attack system. And FF Tactics A2: Grimoire (the sequel) had better team management, a lighthearted story, improved presentation, but a worse -or at least a childish- theme. Continue reading