Retrograding 01.12.04

Well, the columns been slacking due to the amount of reviews I’ve been churning out. This week you’ll see reviews on Arx Fatalis, I-Ninja, and Curse. But as well, I’m finishing up Lucard’s Top Ten RPG’s of all time. Not franchises like we did last year, but solo games. It’s been a lot of fun, and I’m guessing most of you long time RG readers can name most if not all the games. But we’ll see. Each week for ten weeks we’ll look at a single game from the history to the story to the pretty graphics. The whole kit and caboodle. I enjoyed doing a lot of the background work, and I hope you’ll enjoy the countdown as it’s done in an unusual way for 411. Just remember these are my choices, and are not the be all and end all of what is good.

And Bebito will probably turn them into a giant feature when I’m done.

But that’s next week. This week I want to talk about how excited I am for 2004. Usually there are huge gaps in time before a game comes out that I actually want. 2003 was a pretty big dry spell for me. I was retrogaming until May when Ikaruga came out. But in 2004, there are games a plenty I want to buy.

And it’s only January. So let’s get the saliva starting shall we? This week’s Retrograding is a look at one game each month and why I am excited for it.

January: Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance 2

Although Fallout: Brotherhood of Steel comes out this week, it’s still run on the Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance engine. And why settle for second best when you can get the prime rib itself?

It’s no shock that I’m a big fan of D&D RPG’s, even if I prefer the old SSI games. But BG:DA on the Cube was one of the most pleasant surprises I had this year. I really got into the game, and even dealt with the fact they snuck platform bits like the jumping into the game. As always, when I’m given the option, I played as an archer. And hadn’t enjoyed a D&D RPG this much since Eye of the Beholder. But then, I think I’m just a mark for any game with an Eye Tyrant in it. Go figure.

Dark Alliance two offers five new characters to fall in platonic love with. Although the though of a Cleric is rather nice (I loves me Clerics.), I’m all about the Necromancer you can play in this. My reasoning is, why fight when you can kill somebody and make them do the dirty work for you? Also, there is supposedly an unlockable character is this game. My guess is Drizzt Do-Urden (sic) but then it probably won’t be a name brand character, will it.

I am going to miss Snowblind doing this game, as they developed the original, but I can contain my sadness pretty easily since good ol’ Black Isle did this game.

Points of coolness: Characters can do bigger attack combos as they level up, each character gets their own specific quests to do, and of course a demo disc for those that preordered containing a ton of nifty stuff.

There’s no better way to quick off this month that with an RPG I think we’re going to be remembering all the way by December.

February: Shining Soul 2

Yep. Feb is the month of games. Final Fantasy returns to the Cube, SVC Chaos hits the non Neo Geo circuit, Metroid Zero comes out and Ryu Hayabusa hits 3D for the first time ever.

So why were none of these chosen? Well first of all, with all the hype around FF:CC and Ninja Gaiden, I realized there was no way the games would live up to the buzz around them. I already have SVC Chaos for the MVS and love how hideously unbalanced it is. And Metroid Zero is after all, just another Metroid game.

But Shining Soul 2? Oh my children, gather round for yet another tale from Alex’s ‘I loves me some sweet sweet Shining Force’ book of glory.

See, here’s the thing about the first Shining Soul: It was good. It wasn’t great, but it was mindless fun and reminded me of the glory days of 16 bit gaming. However, the graphics were poor and the story was gibberish thanks to bad translations.

But now? Now we get a story closer in vein to what a Shining Force game should be. And so much more.

As I mentioned in the SF history: Complete there are four new characters to play as in this game, along with the original choices (PLAY AS THE ARCHER), there are more dungeons, actual question instead of dungeon crawls, and even a gladiator mode.

In truth, this game has gotten pretty far away from the glory that is Shining Force. But at the same time has managed to recapture a lot of the magic from the old series. The end result is something that feels nostalgic but is in fact something completely new and addicting. I’ve had my Japanese copy for months now and I love this game. I really do love it. And I can’t wait to have it in English. Seriously, FF:CC and Ninja Gaiden are going to be around forever. Shining Soul 2 will be a cult game, especially with Atlus publishing it instead of Sega, and this is the game to pick up in Feb, if only because it might no be around for you except on inflated ebay prices by April.

March: Pokemon Colosseum

Was their ever any doubt? The first 3D Pokemon RPG. The first chance to catch old Pokemon since the induction of R/S into the series. Your first and only chance in the US and Europe to get JIRACHI!!!!

I know I’ve done three RPG’s in a row, but PokeCol is just amazing beyond description. Yes you have the usual stadium abilities, but coupled with by far the best plot ever to hit a Pokemon video game, incredible graphics and the ability to see Pokemon to scale? This franchise just keeps getting better and better with each new innovation. I don’t think there’s going to be a member of the Kliq that doesn’t snag this game up.

Not only do you get that incredible bonus disc of Jirachi: The Wishmaker, but the fact you can now catch and keep classic Pokemon should be enough to make anyone with a Ruby or Sapphire cart want to play their game all over again. Plus the fact Tyranitar is back is something I am very much looking forward to!

I know I keep mentioning the plot of PokeColm but it’s great. Not only do you have a character that can steal Pokemon from other trainers, but you have to remove the taint of evil from corrupted Pokemon by training, loving and using them. Some very interesting and fun new concepts for the Pokemon Franchise and something that is really going to reinvigorate not just the franchise, but also gamers. You will remember why Pokemon is one of the best franchises in video gaming ever. And you will remember on March 22nd.

April: River City Ransom Advance

Bar none people, the year climaxes in April with a GBA version of my favorite 8 bit video game ever, and one of the best games ever made. Yes, that’s right. River City Ransom deserves a place amongst some of the most fun games ever created like Panzer Dragoon Saga, the Original Castlevania, and Shadowrun.

Not only is it a great action beat ’em up game, but it’s got RPG elements as well (I know I know, The whole first quarter is dominated by RPGS…) But it’s the little things that matter most. Lines like “BAAAAAAARF!” Eating plate after plate of food but getting free smiles. Merlin’s mystery shop. The fact gangs will expand and contract their territory. And that the game allows you to do things other than the linear story line. How many times can the twins be chucked in the water?

I wish Alex and Ryan and the gang members would have had their outfits changed from Japanese costumes to the US ones they had on the US version of the NES classic. But every shot I’ve seen has been shows that we’re getting the Japanese outfits. But still, clothes do not make the man, or in this case, the game.

There is so much in River City Ransom that has been able to hold up through the decade plus since its inception. The hilarious dialogue, the incredible play control, the customization, EVERYTHING. It’s all good. No, it’s all great.

If you’re going to buy one game this year, make it this one. If you don’t own a Game Boy Adavance SP, then THIS is your reason to buy one. This game alone is a system seller. It is a GB Player seller. This game, although it may still have 8 bit graphics, is far and away better than most games you’ve played on any next gen console. You want to see why I’m such a Retrogramer? It’s right here baby. A big plate full of River City Ransom. Eat it up and eat it up good.

And Metal Slug Advance comes out the same day. JOY!

MAY: Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

Well, it’s an interesting concept for a game. You’re playing as the Fallen Angel Abaddon. And here’s the catch. You’re the good guy in this game. That right off the bat should tell you this is not going to be a happy cuddly game.

The premise is the rapture from the Bible has just occurred. For some reason Abaddon is trying to stop the destruction of the world. His job? Find the three Chosen humans that can actually stand up against the Four Horsemen. I personally say Sting should be one of them, as he managed to once beat Flair, Whindam, and Vicious all in a month span. What, wrong Horsemen?

The only thing I don’t get is, why are there three ‘chosen’ if all the good, just, holy type people are already in Heaven? And why would a Hooker, a Serial Killer, and a Politician be the choices to save the world? Still, that intrigues me and makes me want to play the game even more. To see how the storyline plays out.

And the voice work? Oh god, the voice work. Traci Lords as Pestilence! Lance Henriksen as Abaddon? Great choices. But the king of all choices is Tim Curry as Satan. What can I say? I love Legend and I love Tim Curry as Darkness. This is the closest we’re going to get to seeing Curry reprise his role as Darkness, and I’m all about that.

Plus Simon Bisley of Judge Dredd (Comic, not the shitty movie) fame did the art direction, and you just can’t beat that!

So an interesting premise, some incredible graphics, and voice work that I can’t wait for. I am a bit miffed this game is no longer all platforms and is instead now just PS2 and PC, but it’s still a game worth checking out.

June: The Movies

It could have been Samurai Shodown 5, but it’s already on the Neo Geo. It’s certainly NOT Star Ocean, as that series is just as over-rated as Final Fantasy IMO. I NEARLY Chose VTM: Bloodlines, but as it uses the Half Life 2 Engine and isn’t allowed to come out for a certain amount of time after Half Life 2 Comes out (And of course, we have no idea when THAT will be do we?) I couldn’t honestly say that game. Plus if you can’t be a Setite or Tzimisce, it’s just not as fun.

So instead my pick for June is a little talked about PC game that I am salivating over. I know, two PC games in a row at 411?

Now I love sims. Not THE Sims. But simulation games. Harvest Moon, Princess Maker, Bloody Bride. The list goes on. And the movies is such an original and beautiful concept, I only wish it was coming to consoles.

It’s the roaring 20’s! The era of the silent film, when a movie was truly art. I know Ken Anderson and I have talked about the Lon Chaney collection now on DVD (BUY IT!) and if you’re a VC fan, you know I am an anal freak about the 1922 masterpiece, ‘Nosferatu.’ So I can’t harp enough about how this is my game of the year to come after River City Ransom.

You’re the owner of a Movie Studio in California. It’s you’re job to pick the scripts, the directors, the actors, the cameramen, EVERYTHING in regards to a film from the smallest most minute detail on down. You even get to WATCH the movie you made! Holy crap!

But here’s the thing. It’s not just the 1920’s you will be playing in. You will be running the studio from the silent era all the way up to modern day. It even includes real actors, albeit under quasifake names.

It’s also great that the era you are making the film in defines what is considered good. If you make a raunchy sex film in the 30’s, you’re doomed. However if you make a Leave it to Beaver/Donna Reed aw shucks type film in the 1990’s…you’re doomed.

I am really looking forward to this game. I want a movie starring a very old Max Shreck and a very young Vincent Price. Or a film that just involved Carrottop being mauled by animals for 90 minutes. Mean, angry, rabid animals.

July: Tales of Symphonia

The tales series goes 3D! How great is that. One thing I love are the stories behind the first three Tales games. I even loved ToD2 getting an anime series I imported over to the US 2 years ago. And everything I’ve read about ToS seems to indicate the series is still running wild in terms of plot.

What I like most about the plot is that there is no truly defined good or evil (so far…) and the game talks about how the supply of mana that fuels one world, is also shared with another. And as one world strengthens and grows, the other withers and dies. Nice concept.

Other nice new additions to the game are the diary option and also the ability for character to talk to each other. Not only does this let you learn more about the people you’re playing as, but the conversations can affect moods, attitudes, and friendships. Conversation mode will be a nice change from RANDOM BATTLE MANIA that does indeed plague most RPG’s.

It’ll also be interesting to see how the battle system, which has remained the same, translates into 3D. And the best part? Multiple player battles! Yes! Friends can plug in a controller and take the part of one of the characters in battle, instead of the usual horrid AI video games tend to have.

Although Pokemon, Lost Kingdoms, and Baldur’s Gate have made the Game Cube somewhat RPG friendly, having a Tales game on the system is going to be a big plus for those wanting a familiar RPG series that doesn’t involve cock fighting.

August: NARC

I wanted to say Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth. I really did. I wanted to shout up and down about that game until I was blue in the face. But there are 5 problems with it.

1) It’s been damn near 2 years since the game was supposed to be out. Even Working Designs doesn’t do that! I was supposed to have this game before I was even in England! That long of a wait = dampened Enthusiasm.

2) The game’s been delayed so long, the graphics are outdated and actually not that impressive

3) The story is a butchery of ‘The Shadow over Innsmouth, one of the best HPL stories ever written.’I won’t spoil the story, but there is NO WAY that should have been made into a First Person shooter.

4) It’s a first person shooter

5) Eternal Darkness, Persona 2, and Koudelka all do the Lovecraftian game so well, this is going to pale in comparison.

And NARC thus wins.

God I loved this game in the arcades and when it finally came to the home console. Max Force vs Mr. Big. Tons of violence. An anti drug message straight from Ronnie Reagan himself. This was an incredible game. I know a lot of you don’t remember it as it was out while I was in 5-6th grade. But when I saw they were updating this I was excited beyond words.

Why? Because at much as I loved this game, something ruined it for me. A little TV chow called The Power Team. It was about Acclaim characters being transported to this world and fighting evil here. Characters like the barbarian from Wizards and Warriors, Kwirk the tomato guy, Bigfoot the Monster Truck, and of course, Max Force.

One of the worst cartoons ever made. Especially as all the villains were NARC ones and they were completely butchered. Does anyone remember this travesty of a cartoon. It was on before I went to school every morning, and it was that or the Bozo Show or Snorks. God I wish I had chosen Snorks, because I could never play NARC again without the characters from this cartoon popping into my head. Much like whenever I play Castlevania, I think of a blond egotistical jerky Simon Belmont.

So I am very happy to see how they have updated this game. It’s using an enhanced version of the State of Emergency engine and you can even go the route of being an evil NARC agent. A far cry from being a Federally Endorsed video game, no?

This is a classic that has been mostly forgotten by the mass of gamers out there, and one that truly deserves an update.

Just please…no Power Team updates.

September: Kameo: Legends of Power

To be honest, September is a crap month to me. No really good games. Zoids? ICK. Middle-Earth online? Gonna bomb. ANOTHER Tribes game? Sigh. And so Kameo wins by default.

Well, it’s got Otherkin and Furries in it. But you can beat them up. That’s a plus. And it’s a RARE game. As in the company, not rare like finding a sealed copy of Panzer Dragoon Saga in English rare.

Yes it’s another, Princess learns of a secret past she has and is the only one that can stop a world conquering tyrant of evil plot. Snore. This was old when FF7 rehashed it for the ten millionth time, and it’s played out now.

But what is interesting is the game’s main strength.The main character can capture and domesticate monsters and raise them. They grow in power and mutate according to how they were raised. Like Digimon except you know, GOOD. Kameo can also turn into any of the animal monsters she’s raised, which is again, another nice touch as Faeries generally aren’t known for combative skills.

It’s a cute idea, tying together things like Pokemon, a platformer, and Lost Kingdoms into one game. And Rare has a sterling reputation (Even if Grabbed by the Ghoulies was lame as hell), so it’s worth giving this title shot.

Plus everything else in September sucks.

October: Shayde: Monsters vs. Humans

Holy crap! Alex actually looking forward to a first person shooter. Yes people, you read that right.

So what do I like about it? Well, I like the Supernatural angle. And that’s it’s coming out in October. I like that you have six distinct characters to play as, each with their own style and unique story. I like that you can play as a human, or as the supernatural monsters trying to eat humanity. I like the 8 player Xbox live ability.

I’ll be honest, I know little about this game other than what I’ve said and a few screenshots. But it looks good and an interesting twist on a genre I think pretty much has always sucked. But this has managed to intrigue me enough that I’m willing to snatch it up when it comes out. However, I was intrigued by BG&E and learned from that experience that most VG reviewers pretty much want eye candy babes and a plot that is pabulum. Forgive me for have an actual background in literary criticism.

I hope I can be a mummy though! Mummies kick ASS.

November: Lobo

Feetal’s Giz! The Main Man has his own video game coming out? One where you can frag things with a meat hook or one of his BFG’s? One where you can hug his beloved space dolphins and beat the tar out of every interspatial bad guy on the planet?

People, Lobo helped save comics in 1988. Once upon a time he was a little known character that had only appeared in 2-3 issues of a few sci-fi DC comics. Then Geffen added him to JLI during the ‘Lord Manga Kahn’ run. And it was glorious. Here was a character whose name did not mean ‘The Wolf’ but was in fact a Kundian dialect meaning, ‘He who devours your entrails and thoroughly enjoys it!’ A man who killed his own planet because he could. A man who only loves dolphins and is totally utterly psychotic and insane. Who could go toe to toe with Superman and who would spawn a clone of himself with each drop of blood he shed. NICE.

Lobo became an overnight smash hit in the late 80’s, rivaling Blue Beetle, Booster Gold, and Guy Gardner for surprise super mega popular characters that rivaled more famous characters like Batman, Wolverine and Spiderman for popularity. Geffen wrote him perfectly and he became a mainstay (and selling point) for JLI and LEGION. Lobo had a string of mini series that grew progressively worse, but only because Geffen stopped writing him. The Lobo Paramilitary Xmas Special however remains one of the most infamous comic books of all time and any comic collector worse his salt has flipped through this disgusting and hilarious issue.

Lobo was DC’s cash cow until Geffen stopped writing him and then he became a pale shadow of himself. The ruination of Lobo, the JLI, and Captain America was why I stopped reading comics long ago and have yet to pick them up again.

This game better be the violentist thing ever. And holding true to the REAL Lobo, not the watered down piece of crap that now exists. Geffen, get you ass back and write Lobo properly again!

Just to warn you: KOF2003 comes out this same month for you PS2 owners. GET THIS GAME TOO.

December:NOTHING

There’s only one game named for a December release and I don’t anything about it. So I’ll just ignore it for the time being. And that of course leaves December with no games to nominate. Alas.

And that’s it for this week. Hopefully I highlighted some little known games to you guys that will be coming out in 2K4.

And now I’m off to do some reviews.