Mid-Week Mid-Boss News Report 03.03.04

Happy Birthday 411mania! That’s right, it’s the 1st anniversary of the official founding of 411mania. The anniversary of my column is a scant 9 days away as well. So it’s party time around here!

Just to update you on the zoo in my house, well, it’s gotten bigger. Last Thursday, my wife had some money left over from her birthday, and she wanted to get yet another ferret. So we did. We got an albino ferret to go with our other one. So we have two baby ferrets. They’re brothers too, so of course, they fight a lot. But they’re cute. Oh, and since our ferret that died in December was named Mokona, we named the new ones Clef and Ferio, also from Magic Knight Rayearth.

This week I’ll be taking another break from doing an anime review. Why? Simply put, I’ve got something special. It’s a game review. But even better, it’s an MMORPG review. Ooooh. Besides, I don’t have anything new to review, but I’m one disc away each on finishing Sugar and .hack//SIGN, so when one of those is done, I’ll review them. Besides, I want to get my website up and running properly before I do any more, if at all possible. Anyway, read on and enjoy!

Gaming News
There isn’t a whole helluva a lot of news out of the RPG world, so I’ll hop outside of the box for this week.

Even EA Thinks the N-Gage Sucks!
Oh, this is classic. As I’m sure you’re aware, we here at 411Mania think that the Nokia N-Gage is one of the worst things ever created. Well, ok, I can’t speak for everyone, but at the very least, all the games guys think it sucks. But the funny thing is that John Riccitiello, president and chief operating officer of Electronic Arts, thinks the exact same thing. Here’s the quote:

“When I picked that thing up I knew it was a dog — it just feels stupid,” Riccitiello said in an interview at the Reuters Technology, Media and Telecommunications Summit in New York. He then mimicked how a person playing a game would have trouble answering a phone call with the bulky taco-shaped device.
Riccitiello said Nokia was one of the best design engineering companies he knew, and he had no doubt that Nokia would eventually succeed in the gaming category. “Nokia will figure it out,” he said. “It’s just that they haven’t figured it out yet.”

So, why does EA make games for the N-Gage? Well, apparently the titles are considered “non-meaningful”. He does think that they’ll learn from their mistakes, but when the whole thing is a mistake, the best thing they can do at this point is give up.
Credit: VooDoo Extreme

Infinium Labs Threatens Hard OCP Again
Hardware website Hard OCP has been threatened again by Infinium Labs, makers of the Phantom console. The last time, they said to remove the article entirely, or they would sue. After the “deadline” for that passed, they then wrote asking for certain points of the article to be modified. The funny thing is that many of the items listed either were never said or are total innuendo. Regardless, I find the matter rather amusing simply because I too think that the Phantom will be a failure. I always find it funny when companies toot their own horn. “Infinium Labs is an industry-leading global entertainment and interactive game company,” is what it says on their site. My questions are: what industry are they leading and how can they lead it when they haven’t shipped a product?

Speaking of which, the Phantom will supposedly be displayed at E3 this year. Will it be playable? Who knows. But it will be seen by a lot of people, so many in fact that it’s doubtful they will be able to fool anyone with their shenanigans.
Credit: Hard OCP

Blizzard is Hiring
Blizzard, the company behind the Warcraft and Diablo series, is looking for a new level designer. But not any level designer, they want someone who can build 3D RTS levels. Any guesses as to what game it’s for? My guess is Starcraft 2. If you’re interested in applying, go to their site.
Credit: Blue’s News

Doom 3 Prefers NVIDIA
In what comes as no surprise whatsoever, id Software has announced that Doom 3 will perform better on an NVIDIA GeForce FX than any other card. Oh my God, no way! Really, this is no shock at all, considering that Sierra has said the same thing regarding Half Life 2, except with ATI Radeon cards. This is it folks, the battle of the century! Which game will out sell the other! Looking into my crystal ball, I can tell you, without a doubt, that Half Life 2 will not only sell more, but it will be the better game. id will make more money because of how many companies will buy the rights to use their engine.
Credit: Gamespy

Christian’s Crazy Game Releases

Keep in mind, these are ship dates and are not set in stone. Game companies LOVE to push stuff back at the last minute, so don’t blame us if it’s not right. Also, since it is a ship date, it may take several days to arrive at your favorite store, depending on what it is, so please call before rushing over to pick up a game that may or may not have arrived.

Mar 2
World Championship Pool (GC)

Mar 3
Deadman’s Hand (XB)
Drakengard (P2)
Mega Man Battle Chip Challenge (GBA)
MTX – Mototrax (P2, XB)
Ninja Gaiden (XB)
Phantasy Star Online Ep 3 (GC)
Worms 3D (GC, P2)

Mar 4
Bomberman Jetters (GC)

Mar 5
Romance of 3 Kingdoms 9 (P2)

Release dates courtesy of Christian at Game Crazy. For the month of March, get your strategy on at Game Crazy! Purchase any new game and get 33% off the corresponding strategy guide. See your local Game Crazy for details!

Christian’s Comments: While there’s a few smaller games that look to be good (Romance, Phantasy Star, Worms) there’s only one really big game this week. Ninja Gaiden. I played the demo last week and that thing is going to be unbelievable. If you didn’t have it pre-ordered, you’re going to be screwed unless you camp out for it…

Lee’s Comments: I’ll agree that Ninja Gaiden will be the top release of the week, but don’t count out Drakengard or Phantasy Star Online Ep 3. I haven’t played the former yet, but I’m going to rent it this weekend so I can review it. PSO3 is something that I think will either succeed or fail. Personally, I don’t see many people picking it up, but I’ve been wrong in the past.

Video Game Review
This is a special review for me. Why? Well, it’s my first MMORPG, that’s why! Seriously, I had never even considered playing one until some buds at work suggested it. But the kicker is that they had an offer to try it for free for 7 days, assuming you have the bandwidth to download the puppy. So will you be interested as well? Read on. If it sounds like the thing for you, you can get details on how to download it at the bottom.

Horizons: Empire of Istaria
Genre: Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game
Platform: PC
ESRB Rating: Teen (Violence)
Developer: Artifact Entertainment
Publisher: Atari
Release Date: December 8, 2003
Official Home Page: Istaria.com

Recommended Machine Specs:
-1.4 GHz or better Pentium IV or AMD Athlon processor
-GeForce 3 or better
-512 MB RAM
-DSL or Cable Modem Internet connectivity
-Windows 2000/XP
-DirectX 8.1a

Minimum Machine Specs:
-850 MHz Pentium III or AMD Athlon processor
-GeForce 2
-256 MB RAM
-56.6 dial-up modem<
-Windows 2000/XP/98/Me
-DirectX 8.1a

Review Machine Specs:
-2.4GHz Pentium 4
-GeForce 4 Ti 4600
-T1 Internet Connection
-Windows 2000
-DirectX 9.0b

Let’s be honest here; there are a lot of MMORPGs out there. It could be argued that there are too many. This could be the reason why there have been several cancelled (Microsoft’s Mythica and Ubisoft’s The Matrix Online), but it proves to be a problem for anyone (like myself) who may be wanting to get into the world of MMORPGs. With current big titles such as Everquest, Asheron’s Call (and AC2, which seemingly isn’t as popular), Final Fantasy XI, and Dark Age of Camelot, and more titles on the way, like Lineage II, City of Heroes and the highly anticipated World of Warcraft, one would think that there would be little room for yet another title. But in December, a new game was released called Horizons.

It didn’t make a huge splash in the mainstream, but there were many people that were excited about it. This is how I came to be in the picture. I work with a few of the aforementioned people who anticipated its release. They like it a lot. But will I like it? Can someone who has never even really wanted to play an MMORPG enjoy the experience? Read on and see.

One of my biggest complaints about games of this sort is that there was seemingly no story. Sure there were events, but those typically didn’t seem to add much story. Horizons seems to be somewhat different, but not a whole lot. It may be that I didn’t get a manual or anything, but it seems like the game just starts and you’re left wondering what the hell is going on.

I did read up somewhat on the story, and sadly, I came up with little more information. What I did come up with is simple. The races of Istaria have been battling the Weathered Aegis and their Undead Hordes for many years, and there seems to be no end in sight. Some of the races have lost their homes in the war, and other races have seemingly been destroyed. Ok, so that’s not much, but it’s something. There is a lot of potential for the story to be crafted, which is nice. And there are some pretty cool events going on. One is the freeing of a new race, and once they’re free, anyone can create a new character on that server using the new race. Nice. Plus, another event starts on the road to freeing the Elven homeland. It appears that there is a new event every week, so that if you want to participate, you can, but you don’t have to.

Another nice thing is that there are multiple servers. Some are regular servers, but others require role playing, including names. In those servers, the Weathered Aegis is active, and will capture and take towns, meaning that you have to fight them off. This is definitely a nice touch, because I’m the type that likes to do stuff at my own pace, and typically doesn’t want to role play. So it’s definitely nice in that aspect.
Rating: 7.0

Not surprisingly, the graphics aren’t that spectacular. This is completely to be expected since there is quite a bit of stuff to be shown on the screen on the same time. The models aren’t bad either. In fact, they all look really good. In fact, it’s really cool how every single item you equip shows up on your model, including an item called Special Pants, which are essentially boxers with little hearts. There are quite a bit of pieces to wear, including body armor, leggings, boots, armguards, wrist guards, helmets and faceguards. This may be a thing that is in many MMORPGs, but it’s new to me, and it’s something I’ve always liked about other RPG titles.

But of course, there are always bad things that can be said about graphics in games, and this game is no different. There are quite a few graphical glitches that I’ve encountered in the limited amount of time I was able to play the game. For one, whenever you run up to someone, be it another player character or a non-player character, in many cases, it will lag on drawing the textures on the character. They will first show up as a grey body, and then the skin, then clothes will appear on them. It’s not a big thing, but it’s odd nonetheless. Likewise, a lot of times characters will move without moving their legs. It seems to happen more often when they stop and start running again. Again, not a big deal. What IS a big deal is how long it takes to do some things. Most things don’t take very long, but it takes a good 3-5 minutes for the game to load initially, but what’s worse is getting into the options screen. It takes a long time to load, it takes a long time to change a setting, and it takes a long time to save the changes. In fact, when playing in windowed mode, it takes at least 1-2 minutes, if not longer, to simply resize the window. That really is too long to me.
Rating: 6.0

To be perfectly honest, I didn’t ever play with the sound on, so to be fair, I’ll just leave it out. This isn’t an official review anyway, so I can do it if I want!
Rating: N/A

This is where the game really shines. Basically, it plays like a true RPG. You choose a character race and then a class. In fact, you can train from one of several classes right from the beginning. Then you go do stuff. What stuff can you do though?

Well, any character can have an adventure class or a crafting class. Adventure classes include your standards like Warrior, Scout, or Mage, while Crafting classes include Blacksmith, Outfitter and Scholar. So you can choose if you want to go fight monsters a lot, or make stuff (weapons, armor, and spells respectively), or both. There are even classes that resemble prestige classes from D&D, where when you progress to a certain point in one class, you can become an even better one. The nice thing is the ability to change to any class at any time, with the only pentalty being how much experience you gain. For example, if you are a high level Warrior and you switch to a low level Scout, you won’t get as much experience if you simply started from a Scout.

Personally, I really love the crafting aspects of the game, because you start out with some tools, use them to gather a material, refine that material into something else, and then turn the refined material into an item. It’s a lot of fun to me, and though it’s tedious, it never got boring. If I’m able to continue my character in the game, I’m positive that I will take the route of primarily being a crafter.

A big part of RPGs of this sort is the quests you do. And fear not, there is no lack of quests in the game. Sadly, many of them are very repetitive. There are a lot of gather or crafting quests, or on the adventuring side, killing a certain amount of enemies, or taking an NPC a letter or something. So it’s good that that you can always get quests, but not that many are so similar.

There are many things about this that sound similar to other games, but there is one thing that is not: dragons. One of the races you can choose is the dragon race. Dragons are much more difficult to play than bipedal characters because they can’t wear the same armor, and are more limited as to what they can do. But one of the things that dragons will be able to do eventually is FLY. That’s right, fly everywhere. It will be difficult, but I can’t imagine how cool it’d be to have this huge dragon flying around.
Rating: 9.0

This really depends on what you’re in to, but to me, the game could be played forever, which really is the point of MMORPGs. There are so many things to craft and so many things to do that I could see myself playing it for years, assuming I didn’t get bored at some point or another. This is especially added to by the weekly events. These are things that truly change the outlook of the game, so taking part in them can mean everything changes.
Rating: 9.0

It really doesn’t get much more balanced than this. When you start out, you learn all the ropes very easily and quickly, and then you go to a Starter town. These start you out real slow. If you want to fight monsters, there are signs that point you towards them, but if you want resources for crafting, there are signs to those as well, and you can gather them without worrying about getting attacked. The monsters you fight start out at the lowest level, and the further from town you go, the more powerful they are. So you can progress to the more powerful monsters whenever you’re ready. The more powerful, the more experience, so it really depends on how quickly you want to level up.
Rating: 9.0

There isn’t a whole lot in this game that hasn’t been done before. But everything they do as far as the gameplay goes is done very well. There are tons of classes and tons of items you can craft, and you can get dragons! DRAGONS! And once everything is set up, the high level dragons will be able to become adult dragons and FLY. That’s too sweet!
Rating: 7.0

Ok, I’ll admit it, I’m hooked. And I need my fix. Sadly, I can’t get it. I just can’t afford it at this point in time. When I wasn’t playing, I was thinking about it. Thinking about how I wanted to level up my blacksmith skill so I could make better tools to make stuff. And use those tools to make better weapons and armor. Seriously, this is what I was thinking about when not playing. In fact, I’m thinking about it now. My name is Lee, and I’m an addict.
Rating: 9.0

Appeal Factor
This game is sadly underhyped. It’s a great game, and the effort the developers put into it shows, but to most people, it’s just another MMORPG. It’s not made by a big name, so it doesn’t have that going for it. In fact, much of the company that produced it was laid off after it shipped, so the company likely won’t release any more games either. But hopefully I can inform people somewhat that it IS a great game, and the crafting and DRAGONS alone make it special.
Rating: 6.0

This game has a good hook. Maybe not for everybody, but for me. I like playing games like Harvest Moon where you do things that may seem tedious, but they’re a lot of fun to me. I had a blast going and picking Copper and Tin Ore, then turning that into Bronze Bars, and then turning those into all manner of things like swords and shields. I think it’s a bunch of fun, and hopefully you will give it a shot and get hooked too.
Rating: 9.0

Ratings Summary

Story: 7.0
Graphics: 6.0
Sound: N/A
Control: 9.0
Replayability: 9.0
Balance: 9.0
Originality: 7.0
Addictiveness: 9.0
Appeal Factor: 6.0
Miscellaneous: 9.0

Average: 7.88

THE 411
Before this game, I had no desire to play any MMORPG titles. I had considered getting FFXI a few times since I had money at the time, but I’m glad I didn’t. After watching my brother play it, it simply doesn’t look appealing to me. Horizons, however, has gotten me hooked on the greatness that is MMORPG games. Sure, not every game is as good, but Horizons IS. And really, at this point, you don’t have anything to lose. You too can try it for 7 days. You can download the software from either File Planet or Gigex. Beware though. The download over a GB in size, so it’ll take a long time even on broadband. And you need a credit card number, but don’t worry, they will not charge it after the 7 days. They only take that information so if you buy the full version, it’s easy to transfer your information to the billing people. So give it a shot. Maybe you’ll like it.

Final Score: 8.0

Anime/Manga Press Releases

Rising Stars of Manga Winner Signs with Tokyopop

Tokyopop has been sponsoring contests called the Rising Stars of Manga, in which the winners get their manga published in an anthology. Well, recently one of the winners has signed for a multibook deal with Tokyopop. Here are the details on the winner and the story:

Marty LeGrow’s Bizenghast is a wonderfully inventive combination of
hypnotic plot and intricate artwork featuring Dinah, a waiflike hydrophobe who lives with her aunt in the small, gloomy town of Bizenghast. They reside in a former care home for the mentally ill, where Dinah teeters precariously on the brink of sanity. Bizenghast’s array of unsettling characters and elaborate clothing designs will make this debut series an unforgettable gothic masterpiece! LeGrow lives in New England and works as a freelance comic artist. Her work can be seen at www.bizenghast.com.

Bandai Release Announcements

Bandai sent along a press release with their anime titles being released on May 11 and May 25.

Dragon Drive Vol. #1- May 11 – $24.98 MSRP
Dragon Drive Vol. #1 (w/ Limited Edition Artbox) – May 11 – $34.98 MSRP
Big O II Vol. Vol. #3 – May 11 – $24.98 MSRP
.hack//Legend of the Twilight Vol. #1 – May 25 – $29.98 MSRP
.hack//Legend of the Twilight Vol. #1 (w/ Limited Edition Artbox and OST)- May 25 – $49.98 MSRP
s-CRY-ed Vol. #6 – May 25 – $29.98 MSRP
Galaxy Angel Vol. #6 – May 25 – $29.98 MSRP

They also included some soundtracks as well:

.hack//Legend of the Twilight OST – April 27 – $14.98 MSRP
Wolf’s Rain OST – May 11 – $14.98 MSRP

Those are some pretty good releases. You can tack .hack on my gotta get list!

Bandai Re-Releases in April

Bandai has decided to re-release a whole slew of their collection on April 13th. The list they sent me was gi-normous, so I’ll shorten it down a little. Here they are:

Angel Links Complete Collection, Cyber Formula Box Set, Saber Marionette J, Saber Marionette J Again, Gundam 0083, Mobile Suit Gundam, Gundam Movie Box Set, Melti Lancer Vol. 1 and 2, Tenamonya, Z-Mind Vol. 1, Betterman, Brain Powered, Silent Mobius, Pilot Candidate, Tsukikage Ran, Saber Marionette J-X, Ronin Warrior, Ronin Warrior OVA

Whew. Whenever a volume number isn’t listed, I assumed that they were re-releasing the entire series. If I’m wrong, well, I’m sorry. But if you missed out on your chance to get one of these, you’re getting another shot.

Anime Releases

Release Dates provided by Anime on DVD. See past releases at my website.

March 2, 2004

Final Fantasy Unlimited Vol. #4
Nuku Nuku TV Vol. #1
Orphen II Vol. #3
Super Gals Vol. #5

Note: In the above table, TSRI stands for The Right Stuf International and ACS stands for Robert’s Anime Corner Store. (H) means Hentai, so Adults Only on those!

Comments: It isn’t that big of a week, but it is an all ADV week. That being said, none of these series really interest me a whole lot. Granted, I haven’t seen any of them, so I can’t comment either way. I’m sure I’ll get FFU sometime, but not right now.

Links to the Past

Eric S. didn’t pimp me last week, and I cried. So to get him back, I’m gonna pimp both his wrestling column from yesterday, AND his black column from last week. Take that!

Thank God It’s Thursday News Report – Bryan Berg
Berg talks about the PSP delay, no hard drive in the Xbox 2, and more N-Gage suckage. And if you didn’t read before, the ferrets are named Clef and Ferio, and in case I didn’t mention it, the new kitty is named Hugs (my mom named him!), but I call him Huggie Bear. Sadly, he has been around our other cats for long enough to completely transform into a brat.

411MAX: News News Revolution – Alex Williams
Alex 2 talks about DDR Ultramix Song Pack 3, Jak III and Ratchet III, and Ninja Gaiden. And yes, I’m a huge Rumiko Takahashi fan. Ranma was my first and still one of my favorite anime titles.

Retrograding Mailbag – Alex Lucard
Alex 1 was the only columnist to turn in anything this week, but he was lazy too, with one of his mailbags where he rubs in how many more letters he gets than everyone else! I’m kidding though. Nobody here is lazy. If there’s no column from anybody, it means either more behind the scenes stuff is going on, or real life is kicking our asses. Plus, those guys have it a lot harder since they have to come up with original content, whereas we can just do news.

Gamer’s Hangover News Report – Cory Laflin
Cory talks about his first foray into the world of DDR, Doom 3’s supposed release date, Volvo’s new commercial, and the DICE summit. Plus it’s the return of Matt Wong!!!

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Video Games – Misha
Misha talks about 24 the game, GTA: San Andreas, and Neo Contra. Wow, two full seasons of Ranma in one night? That’s way beyond anything I’ve ever done. I’ll have to try that sometime though.

Expect more reviews to be coming out in the near future! Here’s what we have this week:
Armed and Dangerous (Xbox) – Cory Laflin
R-Type Final (PS2) – Alex Lucard
Metroid: Zero Mission (GBA) – Alex Williams

Well, since I get paid on Friday, hopefully I can get Horizons so I can get my fix. Anyway, enjoy your week! Don’t party too hard!