Playing the Lame, Vol. 7

Before we begin, I’d like to take this opportunity to extend a big “f*ck you” to PSM as a collective entity, for:
1.) trying to justify homebrew PSP applications by using the old standby of how PC game makers don’t pay a licensing fee to release PC games. Hey, guys, Nintendo Seal of Approval, remember? Developers/publishers have been paying for the right to publish games on home consoles for about two decades now, so the belief that Sony’s going to suddenly say, “Aw, hell, make whatever ya want for the PSP instead of paying for our shit” is incredibly trusting and stupid. And if you DON’T believe as such, even broaching the argument is the act of an asshole. Knock it off.
2.) giving MGS3:Subsistence a “Perfect 10” despite being a re-release of a one year old video game. That really just speaks for itself.
And 3.) telling me that what we really should see is a movie adaptation of… you guessed it… BEYOND GOOD AND FUCKING EVIL. Did you even PAY ATTENTION to the (lack of a) plot? Well, lord knows it’d probably make more money than the game did; bad movies turn a profit all the time.

The front cover of the magazine states proudly, “Two months until the all new PSM” which, hopefully, involves all of these dipshits getting fired. God.

Anyway, hi everyone, I’m Mark B, and I have a headache.

I was under the weather last week, hence the lack of a column. This week, I posted after our esteemed editor had gone on vacation, hence why this update is late. My apologies. I’m trying to bang out as many reviews this week and next as I possibly can in penance for such crap, so hopefully you’ll forgive me.

Anyway, this month is THEME MONTH here at PtL. See, with what may quite possibly be the single greatest RPG achievement of God and Man, Oblivion, coming out towards the end of this month, I figured why not run a theme month on the reverse end of the spectrum, that is, some of the WORST RPG’s ever made. These will be the crÃÆ’¨me de la crud, the cream of the crap, some of the worst RPG games ever placed before us as gamers, I assure you. And hey, theme months are fun, right? Sure they are.

So, with that, let’s give it a go, yeah?

LINKAGE:

Tom Pandich reviewed a bad fighting game, wrote a column, and watched Destination X. I drank Nyquil and slept. Not really sure who won out on that exchange…

Keith’s been reviewing old SNME’s for about a month, and I find great amusement in this, so there ya go.

Eric does his usual. I do mine, and pimp him.

Arikado continues to write about video games in Culture. I’ve no perspective on such things; I go to anime conventions, I’m about as far from cultured as you get without having a gun rack in the back of the truck.

Kennedy talks Chicken Little. Didn’t see it, but I missed pimping his Oscar picks last week, so this is what we have to work with. He also wrote an Oscar wrap up, so I’ll hit that as well. And hey, have some culture, too.

O’Reilly (not the fatass blowhard one) talks gaming. The very idea that Acclaim may rise again simultaneously makes me cry and laugh. That was pretty interesting until I accidentally snorted a tear; then it just hurt.

FEEDBACK:

A lot of people seemed to enjoy the editorializing I did in the last PtL, so I thought I’d share some of the comments I got. Consider it controlled ego-stroking, if you will. It’s really more rampant showing off, but what the hey, right?

Jon Kinsey writes:

Just wanted to drop you a note to tell ya that the column was bang on!

I don’t know how the “conspiracy” works, but I’ve all but given up on the mainstream press when it comes to recommending what games to actually buy. I want to know who decides which run of the mill game to push to high heaven at any given time.

But there again, I struggled to get into Ico, so each to his own. (Colossus, on the other hand has my undying love).

Ditto on all counts. The conspiracy, as I’ve been explained it, works as such: company makes game, company demands press and either 1.) threatens to pull ad revenue if demands aren’t met, 2.) offers nice incentives if demands ARE met, or 3.) says nothing and lets the threat of what MIGHT come do the talking. How else do you explain games like 25 to Life seeing front cover on magazines?

Billy C. writes:

I’ve been enjoying your column since you started it, but this one has to be the one that I agreed with the most. It’s about damn time someone takes the game media to task. THANK YOU. I remember when EGM used to be a ballsy magazine. Of course, that was back during the NES days. Now, it’s 100% corporate shilling. I personally hate how they shove games down my throat so deep, my ass gets a disc read error. I remember buying
the Getaway because of the reviews. It happens to be the last game I bought that I later sold because it sucked. It was pure ass. They loved Mario Sunshine, which was basically unplayable due to the ass-tastic camera control. And… their beloved Prince of Persia series is highly overrated, as is Jax.

Well, I figured one of the rites of passage here at IP is shitting in the coffers of the game media, and I was about due. Anyway, I was a major fan of the first POP personally, but the rest of the games mentioned did nothing for me either, so I feel you. The issue, I think, comes down to a lack of different directions in gaming, and everything ultimately feeling like everything else. Then again, I own nine different versions of King of Fighters, so maybe I’m not really the guy to ask.

Aaron writes:

Fantastic article. Permanent bookmarking. Bravo. Doesn’t hurt that you namechecked some of my favorite games, and dislike some very similar to me, but it is BRUTAL that a game like Shadow Hearts is ignored while random crap with a sponsor get huge spreads. Shadow Hearts 3 almost didn’t make it over! I also import, though I hate it, and you’re dead on for that, as well. I currently have a free subscription to some magazine or another and the reviews are so bad and unbalanced it makes no sense. Low budget games are scored realistically. High fame games start out with an 8 and only go up from there. Once again, thanks for the great read.

First off, I’d have replied to this one personally, but again, I been sick. That’s no excuse though, but thank you for the kind words nonetheless.

Anyway, I rarely import personally, and there’s a reason for that: I don’t want to be bothered. It’s a pain in the ass, especially since something like, gasp, NOT REGION ENCODING the games would save me so many headaches. That said, when you end up having to Slidekey your PS2 to play Shadow Tower Abyss because Sony claims it’s “too violent” (hello, God of f*cking War?) and “too much of a niche product” (which doesn’t matter because you’re not the ones f*cking publishing it), you tend to get a little pissed off. Well, Lucard pulled review duty for SC3, and the Penny Arcade guys are already puddling all over it, sight unseen, so here’s hoping we see a fourth.

And a shout out to Jed Schaffer for his kind words as well. We don’t entirely see eye to eye on all things, but when he wrote,

I also raise an angry voice for my Phantasy Star Collection; twas the sole reason I bought the Power Base Converter, just to play Phantasy Star and be up on the universe when Phantasy Star II (8 MEGABYTES!!! HINT BOOK INCLUDED!!! … fond memories) came out. I stand alongside you, sir. Well done.

I knew I was in good company.

Anyway, feel free to keep hitting me up and I’ll reply to ’em as soon as I can.

PLAYING THE LAME, VOLUME 7.

Name of the offending title: Beyond the Beyond
What system was this forced upon: Playstation
Who was responsible for this crap: Camelot, SCEI/SCEA
Date this abomination was foisted upon us: 8/31/96

Your soundtrack is the music of Etro Anime. If you played Digital Devil Saga, they provided the opening theme song. Interesting jazzy band out of New York, it’s solid and relaxing music that should appeal to almost anyone. I hate that name though.

It might be hard for those who started playing games during the PS2/Xbox era to understand, but back in the PS1 days, the game that most everyone was looking forward to was Final Fantasy VII. Personal opinions aside, the game generated massive amounts of hype, and for the first time, well, ever, large amounts of people were interested in the RPG genre who hadn’t even considered getting into those kinds of games before. Not that there weren’t good reasons for the interest, of course… the game looked absolutely stunning, compared to what we had been playing in the previous generation of games. Not only that, but the demo for FFVII that had been included with Tobal only served to cement the opinion that the game was just destined to be absolutely awesome. Of course, the fact that Squaresoft was developing this game for the PS1, when prior to this they had been a fully dedicated Nintendo company (so much so that the big N had allowed them the use of Mario, something they’ve almost never done before or since) only served to increase the hype. Several of their SNES titles were considered by many to be incredibly awesome, and that they suddenly felt the need to back a competitor in the console war stirred up a lot of interest, all of it good.

In other words, FFVII was huge. Really huge.

But we’re not here today to talk about that.

“Then why did you just spend two-hundred and twenty three words talking about it?”

Filler. Also, how the hell do you keep getting into my house?

“The chimney.”

I don’t have a chimney.

“Um…”

Look, never mind. Anyway, we’re not here today to talk about FFVII. We’re here to talk about what came before.

In the span of time between the launch of the PS1 and the release of FFVII, interest in RPG’s increased greatly over what it had been as little as a year prior. In the wake of FFVII’s release, a fairly substantial torrent of RPG’s were developed or imported for American audiences, some obviously better than others. But a few companies were interested not in cashing in on Square’s success, but rather on trying to satisfy the RPG audience PRIOR to FFVII’s release.

Three RPG’s hit American shores prior to the debut of the above-mentioned title (if there were more, I remember them not, so oh well). Two of those titles, Wild Arms and Suikoden, went on to inspire multiple sequels and some pretty reasonable fanbases. Unfortunately, we’re not here to talk about them.

We’re here to talk about Beyond the Beyond.

Beyond the Beyond holds some pretty impressive distinctions on first glance. It’s the first RPG to hit the PS1 on American shores, it’s amongst the first (if not THE first) RPG produced by Camelot (Shining Force III, Golden Sun, etc) after their separation from Sega, and it’s the first RPG published by SCEI/SCEA. Indeed, that’s a pretty impressive pedigree, no two ways about it. But upon playing Beyond the Beyond, you come to realize that it’s an impressive product for an entirely different reason altogether.

Quite simply, Beyond the Beyond is the most stereotyped, bland, unplayable pile of RPG bullshit you’ll most likely ever play.

A BRIEF LAYOUT OF BEYOND THE BEYOND:

A long time ago, Light battled against Darkness, with the fate of the world hanging in the balance. The battle destroyed towns, shattered civilizations, fire and brimstone came down from the skies, rivers and seas boiled… Forty years of darkness, earthquakes, volcanoes… the dead rising from the grave, human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together – mass hysteria.

Oh, come on. How often is that appropriate?

Anyway, everyone eventually agreed to a truce that went as such: Light would rule topside, and Darkness the Underworld. Sounds like evil got the shaft, but such is life.

But we don’t have anything to do with that. Instead, we control Finn and company as they venture forth to have stereotypical RPG adventure number 3 (young child and cohorts go in search of adventure, only to wind up saving the world). Woo. Feel the excitement.

WHY THIS GAME SUCKS:

Well, first off, what the hell is up with that title? “Beyond the Beyond”. Were we to analyze the meaning here, what we effectively come up with is “Past the Great Void of Nothingness” or something to that effect. Well, “the Beyond” would more or less be the end of all space, I’d imagine, so what’s beyond that? The Matrix? Parts Unknown? WCW Special Forces? The mind boggles. Of course, as we neither go to “the Beyond”, nor do we go Beyond this, the title would theoretically be in violation of the Trades Descriptions Act. A more appropriate title might be “Trip to Hell”, or perhaps, “Crappy Game About Pre-Pubescent Dipshits Saving the World”. Hey, I’d buy a game with that title.

Okay, so once again we stare down the storyline of “underage kids save the world”, complete with all of the stereotypes associated therein, so that’s nothing new. For the record, I hate that story concept. Teenagers saving the world from certain doom has long been a staple of the RPG genre, to be fair, but with the recent influx of massive amounts of anime and Japanese games, I’ve become incredibly sick of this. Sixteen year old boys who can’t even grow a respectable beard are NOT battle-hardened combat veterans, nor should they be prodigy evil slayers. Unless they either 1.) spent their whole life out in the field killing stuff (Skies of Arcadia), 2.) develop super powers by independent good fortune (Persona) or genetics (Shadow Hearts), or 3.) spend their time in the company of adults who are otherwise capable in battle (Phantasy Star 4), I want nothing to do with it.

So, let’s head down the list and see what we’re working with here:

FINN.

Your standard child prodigy of combat, he’s trained in the arts of combat by his retainer/foster father, Kevins. Because apparently, one Kevin just isn’t enough. He’s your standard piece for piece knockoff of Max from Shining Force, right down to the general appearance of the character:

I mean jeez. Finn McRipoff, king of the f*cking Muppet Brigade.

As a character he’s wholly uninspiring, and I felt no amount of interest or appreciation for his generally vague quest. Oh, and of COURSE, he’s the child of an amazing warrior from days gone by, what did you expect?

STEINER.

Hey wow, it’s a magical animal. We’ve never seen that before.

And on top of it all, he’s a dragon. Myau, Ruby and Nall called; they want their frickin’ gimmick back.

ANNIE.

Galahad’s kid, and your jailbait love interest. The stereotypically obvious “healer” of the group who just happens to be completely useless for any other function whatsoever.

Speaking of, y’ever notice how often the party healer/caster is 1.) female, 2.) totally incapable of doing anything BUT healing, and 3.) hot and heavy about getting sweaty (or some sort of equivalent) with the main character? I mean, I get the whole “wish fulfillment” deal, and the cute healer who may or may not have a mysterious past tends to fill that niche nicely. But that said, it’s pretty sad when I’m making fun of a ten year old game and then turn my head and see games that came out a MONTH ago that do the same exact thing. Maybe all of those people bitching about the lack of originality are on to something after all.

PERCY

Annie’s brother, and a combat class character. I guess all the fighting skill in the family went to him instead of his sister.

SAMSON

Ah, my favoritest character in the whole damn game. Samson is your “grizzled veteran” character (so he, of course, has to be like a hundred years old), as well as your prototypical block of meat character. In theory, he’d be a solid, if unspectacular addition to your party, except for one minor problem. See, he spends something like half of the game cursed, which means that unless the gods smile upon you and allow him an action with no penalty… either he cannot act a round due to paralysis, or he takes damage when damage is inflicted on enemies. In other words, he is a completely useless liability that has absolutely no reason to exist, and he honestly BREAKS THE GAME entirely. Were this problem not the way it is, the game would be less problematic (it still has issues), but as it is, Samson renders the game almost entirely unplayable for a sizeable portion of your quest. I can’t possibly make it any plainer than that: the first adult you meet is incredibly useless and screws you over hardcore. Totally worthless.

PRINCE EDWARD

Your standard “kid who’s not only royalty, but also a badass spellcaster”. See also Anri from Shining Force. Jeez, I know these guys MADE Shining Force and all, but you’d think you could do something besides rip off your past successes.

You get the point. The characters are all lame stereotypes that are bland and uninspiring, or in Samson’s case, bland, uninspiring, and BROKEN. The storyline has Shining Force envy, but never manages to evoke the same emotions that game did, largely because Shining Force was actually GOOD as a game. Beyond the Beyond never manages to achieve even that miniscule of a goal.

Okay, now let’s take a look at the graphics.

… that I think you’re really lame. And take a bath, too.

So here is a screenshot of your standard town. Note the distinct lack of anything even remotely attractive. Now, town and overland graphics aren’t really expected to be the best of the best visually, but Suikoden, which came out not even a year later, looked far better than this, and it was ALSO a sprite based RPG. This… hey, this looks an awful lot like… SHINING FORCE. What a f*cking surprise!

Now, here is a screenshot of your standard battle sequence.

Note the pixelization in, well, practically everything on the battlefield. It’s not an occasional occurrence, either. Here:

See? And here again:

You get the point.

The battle graphics were abysmally low-res, and the characters were more pixelated than the creatures in DOOM. The battle backgrounds were some sort of ugly 3D/2D hybrid that make the background graphics in Robinson’s Requiem look like Final Fantasy VII by comparison. I kept waiting to get poked in the eye with a polygon, it’s so jagged.

“Oh, but Mark…”

I thought I told you to get out.

“… right. Anyway, RPG’s aren’t about graphics, you know! You’re not turning into a Final Fantasy fanboy, are you?”

Far from it. And if you’re going to speak to me like that in my house again, I’m going to throw you out the window.

“But-“

Never mind. Anyway, that is a valid point to make; graphics are most certainly NOT everything. Of course, we’ve already established that the storyline and the characters are rather beat, but perhaps the combat system can redeem this?

Well, if you look at the title of the column, I imagine that you’ll realize pretty quickly that NO. I mean, I don’t know if I’m always entirely clear about the purpose of this column, but even so, I think if you put some thought into it, you realize that NO. Just NO.

See, there are two broken mechanics in the combat system in Beyond the Beyond. The first is the actual combat itself. See, the game touted that if you pressed X at just the right time, you could do all sorts of great stuff, like strike harder, or multiple times; deal extra damage with spells; and even withstand fainting or death!

In reality, you can spam X and achieve the same effect. This, as you might expect, reduces the inherent specialness of the combat system somewhat.

The other part of the combat system that bombs miserably is the subdivision of Hit Points into two separate categories: Vitality Points (VP) and Life Points (LP). Okay, see, your VP is your “present” health. You can take up to this amount of damage before you lapse into the blissful land of unconsciousness, far from the reality of this terrible game. Sadly, you aren’t quite dead. Each turn the game rolls a status check, and if it comes up aces, your character gets up with a piddling amount of life that is drained out of his or her LP pool. In other words, you revive with less hit points than it would take to kill you all over again. Assuming your healer can get off a healing spell fast enough, this isn’t a problem, except for the facts that 1.) enemies can target characters in the same round they revive, thus blasting them straight back to unconsciousness before you even have a SHOT at healing them, and 2.) most of your deaths will occur in boss fights, and unless you spend hours munchkining, bosses will ALWAYS act first.

So you’re either stuck dying constantly or leveling up for hours at a time. In good RPG’s this sort of behavior is forgivable, but in BTB, it’s just outright insulting. Only one other RPG did this sort of corny bullshit, and that was Romancing Saga. And in RS it worked because not only do you not black out when your main HP (let’s say VP for the sake of argument) is depleted, but your VP refills at the end of every battle, while the LP bar is left as is. Not only is this more user-friendly, but it’s also a far better dynamic than having to wait for a character to revive only to watch them bite it three seconds later.

So.

Bland storyline. Lame characters. Ugly graphics, even for their time. Poor combat mechanics, and a hideous hit point management system. And, best of all, a character who is so fundamentally broken that he drags the game further down than even I could possibly imagine.

And THAT’S how you make a legendary bad game. When everything is just so unquestionably lame, you can be absolutely certain that your final product will live on in the annuls (or, perhaps, anals) of history as a testament to everything that is ABSOLUTELY HORRIBLE. Good job Camelot! Way to go Sony! We at Playing the Lame salute you for making a bad game’s bad game! Awesome job!

Now pardon me while I rinse my hands with bleach. I think I touched the disc by accident, and I don’t want whatever’s on it to spread.

WHY THIS GAME REALLY SUCKS:

Well, let’s see. Camelot has made far better products before and since, and even if we count this as a simple lapse in judgement, it’s a far cry from their previous efforts. I mean, seriously, this is the sort of game that if you made it wholly generic, it would be an IMPROVEMENT. I can’t honestly imagine how you could possibly make something like this unless you were aiming for bad on PURPOSE. It’s a stain on the otherwise reasonable lineage of Camelot as a company, and I’m sorry to say it, but shouting “Out damned spot!” isn’t going to magically make this go away Lady Macbeth.

Okay, maybe I have a little culture. Shut up.

Anyway, while this is a besmirching stain on Camelot, for Sony, hell, it’s another day in the office. Considering how many mediocre RPG’s they’re responsible for as a company (off the top of my head, the Legaia games and Legend of Dragoon), that their FIRST RPG would be lame is hardly a surprise. Now, when one stops to consider that THIS was brought stateside, but Arc the Lad, another game they published, was left in Japan, well that might seem confusing as well. That is, until one remembers that Sony outright denied Squaresoft the option to publish Tobal 2, yet gave a green light to Killing Zone. Sony’s history is replete with boners of the highest caliber, and this one is no different.

Hey, they just wanted to be first, right? Is that so wrong?

In this case, hell yes.

WHERE IT COULD HAVE BEEN IMPROVED:

Take out that active battle bullshit. No more spamming the X button. You hit, game rolls for critical, end of discussion.

Regarding the VP/LP crap… well, I’m rather partial to the Romancing Saga system, so let’s change it to work like that. Barring that, cut out LP entirely and double the amount of VP the characters have at all times.

Fix Samson. Take that stun/damage curse bullshit out, period. You want to make him weaker, keep the curse in for storyline purposes, fine, that’s cool by me. The effects in battle, however, are gone, period.

Okay. So with those three fixes, the game has gone from “hideous and an abomination of God and Man” to “meh”. Now let’s try and make it good.

Age the younger characters about three years each. Make them more believable in the roles they are expected to undertake.

Balance the game difficulty a bit more. Eliminate the need to munchkin. I mean, make it challenging, to be sure, but don’t stick me in the Caves of Ass-raping with a toothpick and a match that’ll go out of someone breaks ass for four hours trying to get one more level, okay? Fix that up, and fix it good.

All of the things that directly rip off Shining Force, change them. Character designs, non-generalized weapon names, the works, excise all of it and make something else. And change the town designs for God’s sake.

Clean up the pixelization. It doesn’t have to look like Guilty Gear, but it shouldn’t look like I’m running Street Fighter 2 on a 56″ plasma either, okay? Bump up the resolution on the sprites a bit, maybe clean them up, you know, make them less ugly.

Re-write the story. Not completely, but fix the dialogue so it isn’t so corny and clichÃÆ’©.

Make Steiner into something else. I don’t care what. Give him wings, call it a day. Anything but another freaking dragon, alright?

And for God’s sake, change the damn title. Here: “Beyond the Unknown”. Still stupid, basically means the same thing, but dramatically less lame and offensive.

And I’m doing this for free people. How much do the actual storyboard writers get paid? They should contract me to pick this shit out and fix it before the games go into pre-production.

Now, this isn’t going to be the best RPG in existence either, mind you. But that’s not my job. My job is to make it not suck, and in this, I have (I think) succeeded. Obviously more work would be needed to make the game something truly special, but from what I’ve put together, at least you wouldn’t want to shoot up with Drano before you’d try and play it again. And thus, my job is done.

WHERE YOU CAN GET IT:

BTB has no financial value worth mentioning, so your local EB or Gamestop may have it in amongst the used PS1 game piles, though in recent months some gamers have begun trying to acquire EVERY PS1 RPG that exists, so keep this in mind. Ebay and Amazon.com are also thoroughly viable alternatives, and if you find someone who DOES have it somewhere, you could probably talk them into selling it for $5 plus shipping. I’m just speculating, of course, but I’d have to doubt I’m inaccurate.

CLOSING COMMENTS:

And that wraps up another Playing the Lame. I hope you had as much fun reading it as I did writing it. And if you didn’t, well, I was lying.

Anyway, next week, I’m going to continue the theme, only with something a little closer to the modern era. Be sure to check in to see what I pick. Or don’t. You know. Whichever.

Anyway, remember, until next time, I’m Mark B, and you’re not. TTFN, ta-ta for now!

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