Hump Day Otaku News Report 06.18.03

Ok people, I have to apologize in advance. No, this won’t be a bad column, but it will definitely be different. Usually, when I write a column, I have some things in mind and do a little bit of planning. Well, this one is all spur of the moment stuff. Well, except for the review further down, but other than that, it’s me shooting from the hip. Will you love me or hate me when I’m at my nuttiest? I don’t know. We’ll have to see.

Gaming News

The makers of Final Fantasy have proven yet again how much they hate their fans. According to EBGames, Squaresoft is planning on shipping 3 Final Fantasy games in 2 days. On November 3, Final Fantasy X-2 for the PS2 and Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles for the GameCube will ship. The following day, they will ship Final Fantasy XI. Keep in mind that games typically ship on Tuesdays, so they will all probably ship on the 4th. Another thing worth mentioning is that this is a long time away, so the games could very well be split up, but since they are so close in ship date, it says to me that they want to make us fans suffer. Then again, EBGames could just be making up the dates. Gamestop has the same date for X-2, but XI they say will be shipped on October 1st. So this may turn into a big unsubstantiated rumor, but I thought I’d throw out the information anyway. It should also be noted that the fourth episode of the .hack series of games is scheduled to be released on November 4th as well. Here’s to hoping I get a raise by then. – me, my second column on 3/19/03

I told you so! Square officially announced the release dates for Final Fantasy X-2 and Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles. According to The Magic Box, it’s November 8 for both games. I haven’t seen this substantiated yet, but they will definitely be released on the same day. I also haven’t seen a concrete release date for FFXI yet, but I’ve seen one place say it would be a month before and another place say it’d be the same day as the other two. Not like I give a shit, I won’t be buying it. X-2 and CC though, I will definitely get. As for .hack Vol. 4, it looks like it’s been pushed back a month, so that’s good news to me.

Shadow Hearts 2
Sacnoth, makers of the original Shadow Hearts have announced that they are making a sequel to the game. It is unknown whether or not it will be released here in the states, but I hope it will be because Shadow Hearts was a great game that could have very well been a big hit, except it was a Mature game, and it was overshadowed by another little game called Final Fantasy X. Despite that, I think a sequel would appeal to more mature gamers and would be in the best interests of SOMEBODY to pick up. Square Enix anyone?

I Have Issues
This may not be news to some of you, but it was news to me, so I thought I’d share it, and tell a little story. Beware, this isn’t for faint of heart.

Anyway, everyone knows I’m a Square whore. I have been since Final Fantasy IV (or 2, as it was called then here in America) was released. I was hooked from then out. I was too young and impatient for the original FF, but I liked it, which is why I got IV. Anyway, I’ve also been an Enix whore since Actraiser and Soulblazer came out on the SNES. I didn’t own either (I was young, and didn’t have a disposable income:I had a total of like 5 games back then) but I rented them every few months, played the shit out of them, and returned them. Well, being a whore for both companies, I damn near creamed my pants when they merged. I mean, seriously, what RPG fan didn’t think that was the coolest thing in the world?

Anyway, a few days ago, I found out that Square Enix owns 12% of the Game Arts company. I think it may have something to do with the American distribution of Grandia Xtreme, because Game Arts makes the Grandia games and Enix distributed it in America. Yea. This brings me to my point. What other popular game series does Game Arts make? Yes, they make Silpheed and other popular shooters, but what else? I’m talking about one of the greatest RPG series of all time, LUNAR! After the incredible success of the Lunar games here in America, you know that Game Arts is going to make a third (and they may be working on it as we speak) and you know that it’s coming over to America. And how cool would that be for Square Enix to distribute? Oh, man, I need to change my shorts. Excuse me, when I get back, things will be back to normal, or as normal as it gets for me anyway.

I Wish I Lived In Japan:and Could Speak and Read Japanese too
The Japanese are so lucky. Seriously. They don’t have to worry about a game not coming out there, well, except for those made by American developers, and I could do without those. Yes, even the GTA series. They get all the anime they can stand, and it’s like on TV 24/7 there, and they get all the games. Games like Tales of Symphonia, Tales of Destiny 2, and the new Sega Ages line of games. I want the Phantasy Star remake!!!! My fellow gamers, we need to go on a letter writing campaign. We must request, NO, demand they bring these games out in the states. Times are getting better. They are releasing more eclectic games here, like Animal Crossing, so it’s not as bleak as it may seem, but dammit, I want all these games here! Oh, and how could I forget Bemani games? Konami, please, I’m begging you, no more DDR. We want Beatmania and Guitar Freaks AT LEAST, but preferably ALL of them! Sigh. I’ve completely lost it.

New Game Releases
* Ship Date “Ëœ 6/16-17/03
Midtown Madness 3 (XBox), Evil Dead: A Fistful of Boomstick (XBox), Sonic Adventure DX (GC), MegaMan Network Transmission (GC), Hitman 2: Silent Assassin (GC), Resident Evil: Dead Aim (PS2), Tomb Raider: Angel of Darkness (PS2), Unlimited SaGa (PS2)

Wow, this is a huge game week. Let’s look at what we have here. Racing game? Skip it. Evil Dead for $20 brand new? If I had an XBox, I’d get it. Sonic Adventure redux? May be good. Cel shaded MegaMan game? It ties into the GBA series, so it may be good. Hitman 2 finally out for the GC, so most people have probably played it elsewhere. Resident Evil game that rips off House of the Dead? Probably no good, but the controls will probably be better since you only have to SHOOT STUFF. What’s next? Oh f*ck. No, anything but that. Another damn Tomb Raider game. Please, PLEASE gamers, do NOT buy this game. It’s the same as the other ones. No matter what the guys try to tell you, it’s THE SAME FUCKING GAME! Please, tell Eidos that this series sucks in a way they’ll understand, by not giving them any money! PLEASE. And finally, a game worthy of being played. One of Squaresoft’s lesser known series, but one that many enjoy. The latest in the SaGa series looks to be a pleasure to play, both visually and gameplay wise. I hope I can get it so I can review it for you good people that didn’t buy Tomb Raider.

Props to my Homies! (aka Plugs)

The week following my last column started out with Mr. Bryan Berg and another one of his fantastic columns that bash stuff that I didn’t pick up on. In the Thank God It’s Thursday News Report this week, Bryan hits on the Nokia N-Gage and the Global Gaming League.

Next, Alex Lucard came in and finished what he had started last week. In this week’s Weekend Retrograding News, Alex lists the 5 WORST licenses in videos gaming. In all honesty, the only one of those games that I got suckered into was Hail To The King, which I hinted at last week. Basically, Alex hit the nail on the head, from what I remember, which is very little since I’ve tried to purge it from my brain!

Next up, Bebito gives us one of his gigantic Rumor Down-Lo reports. Excellent as always, Bebito talks about the NEW GameBoy (not the GBA SP, the next one), Sonic CD, the PS3 logo, Yu Suzuki, and Bill Gates. He also reviews Daron Kappauff from 411 Comics.

Alex Lucard pulled double doodie this week (that means good shit times 2) and bestowed upon us his excellent as always Retrograding Mailbag. And what do we see when we read said mailbag? Oh, it’s a letter from me, right at the top! And Alex fools me by saying that he DID write about Captain America in the column, but he DIDN’T! How could you do such a thing? And here I thought we were such good friends. Please don’t yank my chain again. Otherwise I may cry TWIN WATERFALLS!!!

We’ve got another ton of review props to hand out here, so let’s get started.

First of all, I want to apologize to Jeff Watson. I f*cked up the link last time, or rather, Word f*cked it up for me. I’m a web designer for Chrissakes! So now that I’ve gone into the options and unchecked basically EVERYTHING, I can put in URLs without it going all wiggy on my ass. So check out Jeff’s review of Enter The Matrix for the XBox.

While you’re there, also check out Jeff’s review of State of Emergency for the XBox. Wow, Jeff is cranking them out. Way to go! Keep up the good work.

We have two more newcomers piping in this week with some reviews for the GameCube. First is James Renick and his review of Shrek Super Party, which he describes as Mario Party with Shrek characters. Then there’s Nick Vlamakis and his review of Ultimate Muscle, which sounds like a cel shaded Pro Wrestling for the NES. While neither of these games are appealing to me (except for the collection of M.U.S.C.L.E. figures a la SSB Melee), both reviews are very well written and describe the games in enough detail to make a decision on them.

And here’s two more games I’m not interested in, but some of you guys may be. First off is a review of MLB Inside Pitch 2003 for the XBox, reviewed by bossman Chris Pankonin himself. And Polecat returns again this week with a review of MotoGP 3 for the PS2. I don’t do baseball sims since I HATE baseball, but I was fond of Base Wars back in the day. Likewise, the last motorcycle game I played was Excitebike on Animal Crossing, and that’s because it’s frickin’ Excitebike!! No Moto games for me, thankyouverymuch.

I don’t do basketball games either, but I like Cory Laflin, so I’m plugging his review of NBA Street Vol. 2. Yea, I’m not big into sports games. Well, except hockey. Especially after hockey games showed up in Kevin Smith movies. And now Kevin Smith is making a movie with Jennifer Lopez in it, and I’ve lost a lot of respect. I’ll go see Jersey Girl and all, but if it sucks, he better go back to the dick and fart jokes. Ahem, moving on.

What? Alex Lucard is at it again? We have 3 this week? This time, he posts one of his Retrograding Advance columns. The first half his him bitching about people who bitch about the GBA Player for the GameCube and people who bitch about remakes for the GBA. For the record, I just bought a GBA, and I agree with him wholeheartedly. Granted, there isn’t a LOT for the GBA I like, but I do like many of the remakes they are doing (f*ck yea, I’m getting Super Mario Advance 4: Super Mario Bros 3 when it comes out!), but I also like all the Castlevania games and Metroid Fusion. Also, Alex Williams is featured in the same column writing a review for WarioWare. It’s a really good read, so check it out!!!

Super Duper Special Mega Review of: Final Fantasy Origins
Genre: Traditional RPG (don’t get much more traditional than this!)
Platform: Playstation One
ESRB Rating: Teen (Violence)
Developer: Square
Publisher: Square Enix
Release Date: 4/9/2003
Official Home Page: FF Origins @ Playonline

I haven’t done an RPG review in a while, but my lovely wife got me this game for father’s day (even though she gave it to me 2 weeks ago), so I figured I’d do a review for it. Since there is no PS1 area on the site, I’m putting it here in the column.

Many people have asked, “Why is it called Final Fantasy” when there are so many different sequels?” The story is simple, and by now a lot of people have heard it, but I’ll tell it again. In 1987, Square was a small company who developed games for the Famicom Disk System, and they were on the verge of financial collapse. Square’s president, Hironobu Sakaguchi felt that they were in a do or die situation, so he came up with a concept for an RPG that was more complex and had a deeper story than the big RPG at the time, Dragon Quest. Since this could very well be Square’s last chance at a hit, Sakaguchi-sama dubbed the game “Final Fantasy.”

Of course, the popularity of Final Fantasy was so huge that sequels were going to obviously be made. Despite that, Sakaguchi-sama decided that the sequels would not be, and would never be direct sequels. Each game would be a completely new game with new characters, a different world, and virtually no connections with previous games. It’s something that they’ve stuck with until recently, with the release of Final Fantasy X-2. Each game has been good in some way, each with its own merits, and even though some people revile the games, I personally have always enjoyed the Final Fantasy series.

We poor gaijin here in America were treated to what we thought was Final Fantasy I, II and III, but we actually got FF I, IV and VI. Square rectified that with the release of FF VII, the first since the original to get the correct numbering in America. And now they have almost finished releasing all of the ones they have missed. So it’s my bet that we don’t have too much longer to wait for Final Fantasy III, one that many regard to be the best in the series, to be released on American shores. Until then, lets look at the first two games, which were recently re-released here.

Note: since this is packaged as one big game, and is on one disc, I will review it as such. Where necessary, I will give separate areas for the different games, though.

In Final Fantasy I, you play the role of the heroes of light. They are destined to save the world from the problems that are currently ravaging the earth. Though their mission starts as a “save the princess” quest, they quickly find out that they must do much more. Their job is to retrieve the elemental crystals and defeat the great evil to put the world back the way it was.

Final Fantasy II has a much deeper story. When the game starts out, your party, which consists of Firion, Maria, Gus and Leon, are trying to run from Imperial solders which are destroying your hometown of Fynn. Your party is defeated and left for dead. Firion awakes in Altair, and is reunited with Maria and Gus. It turns out that the king of Fynn and his entourage found the group and nursed them back to health. The only problem was that Leon is missing! The party ends up joining the rebellion against the Empire so they can hopefully find where Leon is.

Yes, these stories are rather vague, but keep in mind, these were made in the late 80’s and the stories were the best of their time. Despite that, they work well and are interesting, especially in the case of FFII. Often, you hope that you’re going to meet up with Leon again, only to be disappointed.

Though many people have played Final Fantasy I, I’ll go over the gameplay here since it hasn’t changed a bit in the remake. In the beginning of the game, you choose 4 character classes and names for your group. You have Fighter, Thief, Monk (formerly Black Belt), Red Mage, Black Mage and White Mage. The character classes are very important to how you progress. The Fighter is the strongest attacker and gains use of White Magic later in the game. The Thief is a decent fighter and gains use of Black Magic later. The Monk can’t use any magic anytime, but is a strong barehanded fighter. The Red Mage is a decent fighter, and can gain a limited repertiore of Black and White magic, and the Black and White Mages both suck at fighting, but can gain any spell for their class.

As far as gameplay goes, that’s about it. It doesn’t get more traditional that this. You walk around, fight enemies, and gain standard levels and money from monsters. You can buy weapons and armor for your people, and one thing that is unusual for today is that you have you buy the magic spells. For example, for the Black Mage to learn Fire, he has to buy the book to learn it. Then he can use it as much as he has magic for. Everything else is standard stuff. You can get a boat, and a canoe to travel the rivers, and later on an airship. There are no special attacks of mention (like the Thief cannot steal), but after you level up, your characters do multiple hit attacks, which are nice.

In Final Fantasy II, traditional concepts were tossed in favor of more experimental ideas. If FFI made the mold, FFII broke it. In FFII, you don’t choose your character class like before, since there ARE no character classes. You can choose the names of all of your characters though. There are no experience levels for your characters. Instead, your individual abilities go up based on what you do. If your character attacks all the time, eventually his strength will increase, and occasionally his intelligence will decrease. If you get hit enough, your HP and endurance will go up. Another nice thing is Weapon Proficiency. Any character can use any weapon, and they can even hold two different weapons. As you use a weapon, you gain proficiency with that weapon, and as your proficiency goes up, so does your damage to enemies. There is even shield proficiency that you automatically gain if you use a weapon while a shield is equipped.

Another unique concept is the idea of keywords. Occasionally, the text of a character you talk to appears in red. You then have the option of memorizing that keyword, and you can ask certain people about the keyword. It reminds me a lot of concepts in some of the later Ultima games where someone says something that is important, and you can ask that person to expound upon the idea, or even ask others about it. It’s really a nice concept. And another different thing about FFII is the ability to buy magic and assign it to anyone, but it can’t really be abused because people only have a limited amount of slots, so in theory, you could have a character learn only black magic, one learn only white, and one learn a combination of each. Like with weapons, the more you use magic, the better it gets, so if you use Bolt a whole lot, it levels up to Bolt 2. I don’t know what the absolute limit of such levels are, but I got hit by Ice 5 once, and it was painful.

Another thing to note for both games is that they added the ability to dash while in towns and dungeons and also the big problem with attacking was taken away. I mean where if you have all of your characters attack one enemy, and one person kills it, how everyone else after that person hits air. Now it works like it should, where when the enemy dies, the people move on to the next monster.

Also, the problems that were inherent in previous re-releases (IV, V, VI) are not present. There is no slowdown whatsoever at any point in the game, there are no glitches, and everything runs the way it should be! Also, I’m playing it on a PS2, so that’s not a problem either. Thank you Square Enix for getting it right!

Both games have about the same graphics, which is to say that both are good. Both were completely redesigned and the graphics were upgraded to look more like those found on the SNES Final Fantasy games. And both fit the bill very nicely. Oddly though, it seems like the graphics for FFII aren’t as good as those for FFI. The battle menus for II don’t look quite as polished, and the character sprites look almost too small when roaming around out of battle. Despite that, the graphics are still very good, especially compared to how they were originally.

They also added new CG scenes at the beginning of both games. The CG for FFI shows a knight fighting a dragon, and while very cool looking, I keep wondering what it has to do with the game itself, because no event like that occurs. Maybe they put it there just because they could? The CG for FFII is cooler, showing the Empire’s Dark Knight begin the attack on Fynn, and the 4 heroes running from the army. Both CGs are very well done, of course, and the quality is about as good as could be expected for a PS1 title. Also worth noting is the transitions into battle. They have been revamped for both games to include a nice fade in type transition, like was done with FFIV, V, and VI when re-released.

There’s not a whole lot that can be said about the sound effects for the game. There are no voices, except for the sounds of people breathing heavily during the FFII CG. Oh, and the person who did Maria’s sounds of exclamation sounds like a little girl.

Music is a different story. Done by the FF music master himself, Nobuo Uematsu’s music definitely can stand up to the test of time. Though the music was improved with the re-releases, it sounds much more orchestral and the melodies and rhythms flow much better.

Fun Factor
Though the games start out as fun, at times it just degrades into tedium, with FFI in particular. Much of the game is spent fighting enemies to gain money to buy stuff, and it just gets very old very quickly. Fortunately, there is the tile game from the original (you know, the secret on the boat in a dock, the game where you arranged tiles in order) where you can earn money.

Likewise, in FFII there is a lot of time spent fighting for money and levels, but this time it’s not quite so tedious since your levels come about by more attacks you do and more times being hit. But if you do get tired, there is also a mini-game that you can use to gain money, but it’s a little bit later on.

And if that’s not good enough incentive to keep going, maybe the Collections will. In what serves to be a little omake, or bonus, you can view the collections section of the menu, which lets you see which enemies you’ve fought and all sorts of stats on them, which items you’ve gotten and from where (like treasures, not what you’ve bought) and you can even view some art from the character designer, Yoshitaka Amano.

Gameplay: 8
Graphics: 8
Sound: 9
Fun Factor: 9

THE 411: While occasionally tedious, these games prove why Final Fantasy is one of the most popular RPG series out there. Though not up to par with many newer games these days, they show us the Origins of the series and let us see how the series has drastically progressed over the years. This game is a must own for any and all Final Fantasy fans, and for fans of the first 6 games of the series. Now, all we need is for them to release III in America.

Final Score: 8.5

BONUS: Here are some links for any old school Final Fantasy fans out there.
8-Bit Theater – One of the greatest webcomics of all time, it features the exploits of the heroes of light in FFI, and is really, really funny.
MobyGames’ The World of Final Fantasy – This is a really in depth look at the history of the Final Fantasy series. It does a lot of comparisons between the different games and looks individually at the numbered FF’s (I – X). It focuses primarily on the positive, rather than the negative, and after reading it, I respect the series so much more.

New Anime Releases
* Release Date “Ëœ 6/17/03
Crest of the Stars Collectors Set, RahXephon Vol. 3, Real Bout High School Box Set, Steam Detectives Vol. 1 (also w/ artbox)

There are some pretty good releases this week. We have Crest of the Stars, which I have but highly recommend. I still need to get the 2nd season of it though, since the 3rd season is about to come out. Next is RahXephon, which is a great show and I can’t wait till I have lots of money to get more discs of it! Real Bout HS is a show I bought the manga to, and it’s pretty interesting and the animation looks good, so I’ll probably pick this one up. Lastly is Steam Detectives, which sounds pretty interesting, and it’s got a box. Damn you ADV. Hey, I have a deal for you ADV. If you give me the discs for free, I’ll give you good publicity! That goes for any anime company. Free discs, free publicity! I’m only kidding. I don’t have any credibility, and it’s not like anybody reads this column anyway.

My Collection
As always check out my collection, and if there is anything you want me to review, just tell me.

My Collection

New Shows Added This Week: none. My wife still is mean to me and won’t let me buy anything. I can’t blame her though. If it were up to me, we’d be poor, but have a lot more anime.

Main Shows I Need: .hack//SIGN Vol. #2, Ai Yori Aoshi Vol. #2, Noir Vol. #3, RahXephon Vol. #2 and #3, Ranma ½ Season 5 Box Set, X Vol. #5

Thanks to reader Mark Greene for pointing out two glaring flaws here. First, the link was formatted incorrectly on the page and threw a 404 error. Secondly, if you could figure out the actual link, it pointed to a page that was private. OOPS! Well, I’ve fixed the link and made the page available for Public viewing. Thanks Mark! I don’t know what’s worse, that I made these mistakes or that you’re the first one to notice it, 3 weeks after I start posting that link!

Mini Anime Reviews
Ok, I lied. No review this week because of the FFO review. I don’t want the column to be TOOOOOO long.

Well, another week as passed, and it was an odd one at that. I don’t think I’ll ever be this crazy again, unless I want to be, and then you’ll have to deal with it. I think I had 5 regular readers before this week, but now I’m probably back down to 1 or 2. Ah well, it’s been fun. Hopefully I’ll be back to normal next week. I need sleep. Enjoy the rest of the week!