If I may have a moment of your time, I’d like to start this week off with what can politely be described as an inflammatory comment: any gaming website that derided Oneechanbara and Rumble Roses XX as masturbatory pap that devalued women that, in the past week, gave Bayonetta top honors is staffed to the fucking gills with goddamn hypocrites.
Hell, I almost wish EGM hadn’t gone out of business, if only because I’d love to personally walk up to Dan Hsu with a goddamn bullhorn and shout “YOUR MAGAZINE DERIDED RUMBLE ROSES XX WITH A TWO PAGE SPREAD OF A MAN MASTURBATING ON THE TOILET, YET YOU GAVE BAYONETTA A NINE!” right in his face. Because you know they totally would have. Not that the loud, angry pointing out of hypocrisy would make a difference, mind you, but I’d certainly feel better.
Yes, I can shout in italics. It’s awesome.
I am in no way bent about Bayonetta taking top honors from most reviewers. It’s a fun game and it certainly deserves the praise, I think. The issue I have is that, as of this moment, no reviewers have come out and said that the game is for perverts, nor that it’s “creepy” or “demeaning”, words that the gaming pundits of the world often reserve for games where the sexuality is overt and obvious. This is because when the game is good, such as with Dead or Alive 4 or several of the Tomb Raider games, the sexuality isn’t an issue. It’s only a problem when the game is a niche title, you see. Bayonetta can stand on its own merits because it’s a wide appeal game, and as such, reviewers can openly proclaim how awesome it is with no fear of repercussions. Oneechanbara has a more limited appeal, and it makes an easy target for rude comments about how tasteless it is because reviewers don’t like it as much. That Bayonetta is substantially more bawdy with its subject matter doesn’t matter. Bayonetta is great and thus gets a pass, Oneechanbara is not great and thus gets lambasted for being about a woman in a bikini killing zombies.
This, ladies and gentlemen, is hypocrisy in its purest form.
I’m not even saying “LISTEN TO ME”, mind you, so much as I AM saying “DON’T LISTEN TO THEM”. I am no more qualified to tell you what is and is not good on the market than many of the people out there writing game reviews, but I’m up-front when I admit that boobies are awesome and I have no problem with them being in my games. Dead or Alive Xtreme 2 is an uninteresting game, to be certain, but this has nothing to do with its showcasing of female flesh and EVERYTHING to do with its boring mechanics and inane design flaws. Anyone who tells you that this is a problem AND IS CONSISTENT ABOUT IT can be assumed to perhaps be a bit more easily offended than many of us, but can at least be assumed to be dedicated to that morality. Anyone who tells you this is a problem until the game is awesome, whereupon they conveniently forget all about it is a fucking hypocrite, and you cannot trust them to give you a straight answer about anything. I’m not even saying I’ve never said anything hypocritical ever, so don’t misunderstand me. I’m certain that, if you go through the something like five years of articles I’ve written for this site in its various incarnations, as well as anything I’ve written anywhere else, I’ve contradicted myself at some point or another, either because of a change of opinion or because some element of the thing I was discussing outweighed something I’d have otherwise been annoyed about. But when you make a spectacle of yourself as you trip all over yourself saying that a game is terrible because it’s sexually exploitative, then turn around and say a separate game is AWESOME despite the fact that it’s exploitative, and don’t even MENTION that it’s exploitative, you have failed at your job as a critic of the medium. You are not properly educating readers. You are telling people “what you like” instead of “what you think they should know”.
That, my friends, is terrible.
That said, lemme just kick aside the old soapbox and get down to what you’re REALLY here for: bad games.
PLAYING THE LAME, VOLUME 22.
Name of the offending title: Monster Seed, or Monsterseed, depending on where you look.
What system was this forced upon: the original Sony Playstation.
Who was responsible for this crap: NK System developed it, so they take the lion’s share of the blame, and since it’s apparently the only game they ever made, I’m guessing that it royally tanked. Sunsoft published and localized the game to US shores, so they have to take a significant amount of blame for the game too, and the fact that they almost tanked… well, I bet that sets the tone for this column nicely, doesn’t it?
Date this abomination was foisted upon us: March 31st, 1999. Wikipedia says this is the 90th day in the Gregorian Calendar (AKA the calendar we follow), and that on this day in 1909, construction began on the Titanic, which seems strangely appropriate. I’m not saying that playing Monster Seed is equivalent to the death of over fifteen hundred people, but I am saying that playing Monster Seed is about as painful as watching that shitshow James Cameron based on the incident.
I’m listening to the soundtrack from Baroque this week. That’s all I’ve got.
A BRIEF LAYOUT OF ‘MONSTER SEED“:
There’s this experience I feel sometimes after watching a film, reading a book, listening to a CD or playing a game that I don’t really have a term for. It’s not a frequent experience, which is probably why I don’t have a term for it thought up, but the closest term I can come up with on short notice is “a what the fuck experience”. The experience, as it were, can be described as such:
Say you’ve acquired either some piece of media or tickets to see some sort of media. Let’s say, for the purposes of this example, we’ll use the Japanese film A Tale of Two Sisters, since it’s the first thing that came to my mind. It doesn’t matter if you’ve seen this film, so don’t think that you need to see this to understand what I’m going for when I explain this, because you REALLY don’t. Anyway, you take this film home for whatever reason. Maybe you read a good review online, maybe a friend recommended it, maybe you saw The Ring and this looked like it. The reason is unimportant. You pop the DVD in your player, sit down, relax, and watch what you’re expecting to be a simple, enjoyable horror film.
Two hours later, you eject the DVD from the player, look at the disc label for a moment as you pop it back into its case, and stand there in the middle of your living room/bedroom/whatever for a long moment reflecting on the situation, until at last, your mouth manages to form the words “What the fuck did I just watch?”
Monster Seed is one of those games.
I haven’t exactly made a career out of seeking out these sorts of experiences, you understand, and I wouldn’t say I’m easily thrown off, but I’ve had a few of these experiences in my life, and they’re not always bad. Jacob’s Ladder, for instance, is a film that leaves the viewer scratching their head, at least for a bit, but it’s easily one of my favorite films ever. Bringing the comparisons back to video games, Chulip was a game no amount of hype could have prepared me for, and despite the Whiskey Tango Foxtrot nature of the game I walked away amused. Rez was the most bizarre version of Panzer Dragoon I ever played, but it was something I remembered days afterward and enjoyed overall. Frequency was a game about filling in musical sections by pressing buttons while sailing down a tube, and despite my inability to figure out what in the hell the game was ABOUT, I loved the hell out of it and still do.
Therefore, just because a game leaves you sitting before it, staring slack-jawed at the screen as you try to figure out what in the FUCK was going on there doesn’t mean it’s bad by ANY means. Just because Monster Seed left me befuddled as to what in the hell I’d just spent the last few hours playing during my first few hours does not, by any means, mean the game was horrid. It simply means the game was confounding, that it defied my expectations and gave me an experience that I was not expecting. It means that the game turned my expectations on their head and left me wondering what, exactly, had I experienced and was it something I wanted to experience again? Monster Seed wasn’t quite the Pokemon clone I’d first pegged it for, it seemed, and after the first hour or two I spent with the game, I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it.
That said, it turns out that after some reflection, I realized that I was having a WTF moment not because the game is some sort of masterful combination of elements that left me breathless and confused, but because the game is some sort of masterful abomination of broken and unpolished bad mechanics that left me befuddled and confused. I mean, I’ve never played anything quite like it, but this is primarily because the game fails SO HARD at what it’s trying to do that you can’t help but be enamored by the experience, awful though it is. It’s rare that a game combines so many elements into an experience that fails so profoundly, but Monster Seed not only manages it, it makes it look easy. I’d be impressed if I thought this was in any way intentional, but who makes a bad game on purpose? Besides Danny Ledonne.
WHY THIS GAME SUCKS:
Several modern RPGs have been accused of taking too long to get to the actual gameplay, with games like Persona 4, as an example, spending around an hour introducing the player to the story before actually dumping them into the combat. Monster Seed takes the opposite approach, as you’re dumped into a battle AS SOON AS YOU START THE GAME. Seriously. As soon as you press the button to begin the game the screen pops up with a black screen filled with the following words:
The above, aside from being a goofy way to start any battle, is not exactly the best way to start off the game proper. It’s incredibly disorienting to start off in combat INSTANTLY with no real background on what in the hell is going on, especially when said battle is a no-win proposition. Monster Seed, of course, doesn’t seem to care very much about propriety or not confusing the player, as we’ll discover later, so the introduction to the game is as follows: you, as the main character Daniel, bumble into an unintelligible discussion between two thugs of some sort. Said thugs confront you and offer Daniel a chance to bugger off, but Daniel is apparently brain damaged, because despite his complete lack of ANY NOTABLE REASON to actually need to proceed to his destination, he just kind of stands there and waits for them to get pissed off. Words are exchanged, the whole situation spirals into chaos, and you end up fighting the two thugs because Daniel is simultaneously too stupid to tell them that he didn’t hear anything of worth AND too stupid to turn around and walk away. So, this being a battle you cannot hope to win, the bad guys give you several crippling bodily injuries to go along with the brain injury Daniel must have suffered at some point in his life, and you wake up in some random girl’s house.
This is where the game decides to fill you in on the world and how it works, so we might as well do the same here. Daniel, it seems, is a Ruler, and as such is able to command monsters in battle to aid him as needed. In other words, he’s a Pokemon Trainer with a more pretentious title. Apparently, this is no great shock to Daniel, because he mentions that he was, in fact, in possession of usable monsters, but he had to sell them all to continue on in his travels. This is, in essence, like making a trip across Iraq and deciding that it would be best to sell all your weapons, and the end results (minus Daniel’s survival) are just as predictable. The young girl, Kal, has brought Daniel back to full health after her father, Wolf, found him in a less than optimal state, so OF COURSE Daniel decides he’s going to spend his free time puttering around town trying to help everyone out, because he has NOTHING better to do. The game kind of tries to hand-wave this by indirectly noting that Daniel is broke and really wanted to find work anyway, and it kind of makes sense that he’d want to help out the girl who saved him and whatnot, but the story here literally amounts to “Daniel becomes the town errand boy because he’s broke and indebted to the girl who saved him, which is cool because that’s what he wanted in the first place”. This sort of thing was normal back when we were playing RPG’s on the NES and SMS, but by the Playstation era we were starting to expect that our stories should not be completely inane, at the very least. The remainder of the plot is equal parts doing odd jobs for the town and saving the world, and absolutely none of it is in any moving or well written, in case you were curious. It is, however, WONDERFULLY translated, in case the “ENCOUNTER! Your start!” bit didn’t clue you in. The translation in this game is more tortured than the dialogue in the Left Behind books, between the awkward sentence structure, nonsensical battle sentences, random Japanese that pops up for NO REASON that adds nothing to the experience, and the sentences that, though grammatically correct, seem wrong in context.
Since Daniel is a ruler, as well as the bitch-boy for the whole town, he is going to need something to defend himself. Monster Seed has no interest in equipping Daniel to engage in combat, of course, because that’s not how this world works. Instead, Daniel is given seeds from which he can hatch monsters to do his bidding. The concept of hatching monsters to use in combat, while entirely too much like Pokemon, isn’t terrible in theory. You’re given various different types of seeds that can hatch different monster types, be they attackers, magic users, support unit, or harassment types, which you can hatch for free in town. Each time you hatch the seeds, you can vary the temperature, and mild temperature variations can potentially yield better monsters… or complete garbage. You’ll also be able to use different items to modify the stats of each monster you hatch, whether it be to boost their attack power or defense, boost their health, give them improved elemental attacks, and so on as needed. The CONCEPT behind the monster hatching, though elementary, isn’t too bad, and it’s one of the few things Monster Seed does that works fairly well overall.
The town elder won’t hire you to do any jobs in town until you prove your worth at the town arena, so you’ll need to go and fight in some battles there to prove yourself before you can take on any missions in the town proper. This is understandable, as Daniel got flattened by two guys just outside of town prior to arriving, so it’s entirely reasonable to assume that he’s completely worthless. Mechanically, this translates to fighting a bunch of guys at the local arena to learn how everything works, which would be fine if the combat was any good. The combat takes place in a three-fourths overhead view, and is entirely turn-based strategy combat fare. Every character gets a turn, more or less in order based on their speed (I think). The game uses standard action points to determine actions such as attacking, moving and so on, and the turn ends when they’re exhausted. You can summon your monsters to any open square in your line of sight, and they will hatch within a couple turns, ready and willing to kick the crap out of whatever they see like good little minions. Your enemy can do the same, though if you’re quick you can do enough damage to the hatching seed you can destroy the monster before it’s summoned. You can attack enemies, use items, move around through the various grid spaces to get into advantageous positions and so on. Fans of strategy games should be able to learn the game in minutes, as it’s got a very familiar feel to it.
If any of that sounded interesting or fun, I’m sorry, because it really isn’t. I was just trying to explain why the game COULD have worked, if only the combat wasn’t so very, very annoying. If you found yourself in any way interested in the game because of the above description, sorry about that, but it sucks.
It’s hard to explain what really makes the combat unenjoyable, because SO MANY THINGS contribute to that problem. For starters, you can’t control your monsters in battle. Rather, you simply assign them a tactic of some sort or another, like “Attack” or “Support” or what have you, and they go off to do this thing. Bear in mind that THIS IS A TURN-BASED STRATEGY GAME, more or less, and stop to consider that the STRATEGY aspect of that concept is almost completely removed from the game. Combat comes down to summoning a monster, issuing it a vague direction, and watching it scamper off to try and do this. This is great, because your monsters are rock-stupid, and will do things like cast area of effect healing spells in large groups of enemies or change targets in combat for no reason instead of killing weakened enemies, thus COMPLETELY killing the strategy aspects of the game. You CAN, at least, control Daniel in battle, but there’s hardly a point to doing so, since he’s often weaker than your monsters and generally isn”t worth bringing into battle since if he dies it’s game over. Should you choose to do so, of course, you’ll discover some of the more annoying control problems the game has, such as the inability to walk through spaces occupied by allied units, which is GREAT in the many tight battlefields the game has to offer. You can’t just, like, STEP AROUND them or something? It’s not like they’re enemy forces, dumbass. They’re your allies. What, you’re too effing polite to ask them to excuse you for a second? Fuck off. There’s also the lovely issue where the game won”t just allow you to change the direction you’re focusing in, meaning that if you want to attack an enemy above you, you must first TURN DANIEL, and THEN attack, instead of simply choosing to attack and rotating your character as needed at this point. I can”t ever remember seeing a strategy game that MADE the player turn their character before it allowed the player to perform an action in a specific direction, primarily because THIS IS A HORRIBLE IDEA THAT WASTES THE PLAYER”S TIME. RPGs are generally for players who have a certain degree of patience, this much is obvious, but this is a mechanic with NO benefit whatsoever, and it seems to exist only to annoy the player. If there’s some sort of practical reason to make the player waste thirty seconds turning their character for no adequately explained reason, I can’t figure it out.
Then there’s the matter of monster death. Should your monsters die in battle, that’s it, they’re gone, they’re not coming back. Now, this, by itself, isn”t horrible, as you can certainly keep them alive if you use tactics and items enough, thus reducing the possibility of losing a valuable monster, if not removing it outright. However, every monster you summon has a finite shelf-life (around ten to fifteen battles), and when THAT limit expires, they’re also gone for good. This, in other words, means that there is absolutely no purpose to getting attached to any of your monsters, because THEY WILL ALL FUCKING DIE. This also means that you’ll be spending hours making new monsters CONSTANTLY because you’ll be running through your old monsters one way or another, and the last thing you want is to fight a Ruler and his monsters with no backup. The game uses the “monsters with expiration dates” mechanic to replace the need for a level-up system of any sort, so aside from acquiring new loot, battle is essentially useless and pointless. In an RPG, this is probably not the impression you want to give the player. It also doesn’t help that the pacing of the game is so slow, between the slowness of the animations and the small movement ranges and damage numbers of your monsters, that ONE BATTLE can take ten minutes. Ten minutes spent fighting one battle for a couple of crappy items and the knowledge that you’ve come one battle closer to killing some of your monsters LITERALLY makes you feel like you are wasting your time playing the game.
As an RPG of sorts, between the shit combat and the badly written and translated story, Monster Seed is pretty much screwed all around, but wouldn’t you know it, these aren’t NEARLY the only problems with the game. Hatching monsters is a diluted and boring affair, as there’s little to no variety to the experience. You take an egg, apply an item to it, heat it up, and viola! A monster pops out, ready to use. The items you can apply have some minor effect on the monster stats, but they’re virtually noticeable, and any variation of heating temperature beyond, maybe, one degree makes a garbage monster that’s completely worthless in battle. The graphics are horrendous, the monsters are blocky as hell, your character is stiffer than a Lego man, and the environments are pre-rendered and boring. There are maybe ten dungeons in the entire game, and the only reason the game could take any great length of time to complete is because the battles take FOREVER and there are a fairly decent amount of them in each dungeon. The audio is boring, and when the nicest thing you can say about it is “at least there’s no voice acting”, you know that there’s nothing complimentary to be said. The battle arena outside of town seems to be some sort of sick joke on the player, as it’s essentially an area devoted to forcing the player to go through THE WORST ELEMENT OF THE GAME over and over for virtually no discernible benefit, save for items that you’ll turn up while dungeon crawling anyway. Navigating the menus is a pain, because they’re not laid out clearly, there’s virtually no useful descriptive text on anything but your monsters, and figuring out what you want to access and where it is unintuitive. Hell, even renaming the main character is a goddamn production, as instead of offering you the option to do this up-front, the game makes you do so from the menu once you’re in the game proper. There’s no reason for this, and it’s baffling that this is the way that it is.
The only novelty of the game is the ability to challenge friends in the Versus mode, which would be a novel and interesting element to the game, if only (say it with me) you weren’t challenging them to a duel in THE WORST ELEMENT OF THE GAME. That’s like offering to take your friend on a drive in your broken down car that tops out at thirty miles an hour and smells faintly of vomit.
I guess what I’m trying to say here is that anyone who wonders why Clock Tower 3 turned out the way that it did, apparently it’s all Sunsoft’s fault. If that helps you sleep at night, well then, my job is done.
So the obvious question is, “Is Monster Seed the worst game ever made?, and the answer is, I don’t even think it’s the worst RPG ever made. Despite all of its flaws, despite the completely baffling and “WTF?!?”-inducing first couple of hours, despite the complete lack of interest it generates in the player otherwise, despite the fact that the combat is apathy inducing AND aggressively bad, and despite the terrible story, translation, presentation, and everything else, it’s still playable. You CAN play it. You CAN make progress in it with little effort. The fact that you most certainly WOULD NOT WANT TO is obvious, but the game is simply nowhere near as painful to play as Beyond the Beyond or Ephemeral Fantasia. The former is openly disdainful of the player, and the latter confusing and unintuitive; this is simply boring and piss-poor, and it fails to invoke the rage of the aforementioned titles because there’s nothing to really get all that angry about. Monster Seed is a bad game that is so unexciting that, simply put, I really have no further interest in even extolling its lack of virtue.
Sorry, Tom. I fell asleep playing it once, if that makes you feel any better.
Our very next game to review will be Wreckless: The Yakuza Missions, but the next column will be devoted, not to this game, but to a very special announcement that I”ve been hoping to make for a while. It’s going to be a little bit of a production, but trust me: when you see what I have to show you, I think you’ll be pleased.
So, until next time, I don’t have anything to say about you not being me at the moment, so good night!