Tuesday, August 26, 2014

A headbang worthy RPG - Ys: The Oath in Felghana

Here's a game with a bit of a lengthy history. Ys: The Oath in Felghana - It's pronounced "eese" by the way, sounds like ease - is a remake of the older game Ys III: Wanderers from Ys, a platform/rpg that was released to several different systems in the late 80s/early 90s, readers might be familiar with the SNES and Genesis/megadrive ports. The remake was originally released on PC in Japan, then improved upon and ported to the PSP and released in North America. Some time after that, the original PC version was translated and released on Steam, which is the version I'll be looking at.

At it's core, The Oath in Felghana is a top down action rpg, though I should note the game leans much more towards action than RPG, there is equipment in the game and you do gain levels, but stats are somewhat simplified and there's not a lot in the way of skills or spells to unlock, you do gain new abilities throughout the game and certainly grow stronger, but the game isn't very big on customization.
The game has a nice looking intro
The game has a decently sized world to explore and Interestingly, despite the game not being a platformer like Ys III was, the game is still somewhat broken into stages, there's a small overworld connecting several distinct areas you'll have to travel through, and they're all fairly different, from mines to old ruins to castles. There's a little backtracking, usually for secrets, but for the most part things are pretty linear as you visit each area of the map in turn.

Each of the areas you visit has at least a couple bosses and the bosses are where the game really shines. bosses in this game are big, most have several phases they go through as they're damaged and are very hard to beat. Most of the game's difficulty comes from these bosses and while they're hard they're also fair, while they don't seem to follow a fixed pattern, it's possible to learn each of there attacks and they do a decent job of telegraphing things, there's no real cheap shots and losses are usually the fault of the player. Fortunately, if you do lose the game gives you the option to try the fight again so you can try as many times as you need to take them down.
Bosses are big, impressive, and very difficult to take down
Despite the game moving from a platformer to a more top down perspective, there's still some platforming in the game which is a bit of a mixed bag. To it's credit, the game handles the plantforming well enough, and the few sections that heavily rely on it switch to more of a side view to better handle it. The game isn't horrible with it, thought at least one late game dungeon involves a lot of vertical climbing that can prove slightly annoying. It never got horrible and everything works more or less, but the game isn't really built for platforming.

The game has a fairly basic story, though they do a good job of telling it, this is helped by the game's size, it's not a large game and doesn't try to be: I beat it in a little over 6 hours. While this means the game is short it also means the game doesn't waste time or try to stretch itself out with needless padding. You won't find any forced plot twists or derailing side quests because the game needed an excuse for another dungeon. The game does exactly what it needs to do to tell the story it wants to tell and nothing more and the story rolls along at nice quick pace as a result.
almost every character has a name and a portrait, many are introduced with large ones as seen here.
Graphically the game is pretty good. Each area of the game world looks distinct and everything is at least decent, thought somewhat primitive, likely due to being a several years old PC game. Most of the characters are sprite based thought they look to be based form CG models, and outside of some pick ups dropped by enemies, many of which are unusually small, everything is readily recognizable world geometry is a bit simple but there's still a few nice looking areas to be had, such as the bridge leading out of town.

The games strongest point just may be the music. Falcom is noted for have some amazing soundtracks to their game and this is no different. Despite the games fantasy setting, the soundtrack is more than happy to break out the electric guitars and rock the hell out, This is a surprisingly headbang worthy soundtrack as you'll find out almost immediately upon entering the games first major dungeon, and it only gets better from there. Annoyingly, there doesn't seem to be any readily available version of the soundtrack, at least not digitally. Thought the game's music files are kept in .ogg format, so you have that at least.
While primitive in areas, the game still has some nice views like this.
The game's has very few flaws that I'm aware of, I didn't encounter any real bugs, and most of the problems with the game are more opinion rather than anything really wrong: it's a very hard game, even very easy difficulty can prove a challenge at points, and it's short. on the other hand it's a proper challenge and it doesn't doesn't waste time, taking exactly as long as it needs to do what it wants to do and no more. Outside of my issues with the platforming sections mentioned earlier, there's nothing here bad enough for me to have any major problem with it.

Overall I'd recommend the game. However, there is one thing I need to make note of: The steam version of the game is based off an older PC version, and not the more recent PSP version, while I'm not familiar with the PSP version, I've read that it includes features like New Game + and voice acting that aren't available here. So while the steam version is good, you might want to consider the PSP version instead if that's an option to you.

Ys: The Oath in Felghana was developed by Nihon Falcom  and published by XSEED. It is available on Steam.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Someone get the glue and scotch tape! - Shattered planet

NOTICE: This is a port of a free-to-play android game. The PC version, which this review is based on is not free-to-play, but has had it's microtransactions removed.

Roguelikes are very difficult games, there's a lot of stats and skills to keep track of, a large list of commands to deal with, and all sorts of situations that can very quickly get you killed if your not careful, made harder by the fact that that death means starting all over from square one. It's not an easy genre to get into.

Shattered planet is a roguelike that does things very differently, the first thing to come to mind is its control scheme. The game has a one click control scheme that lets the entire game be played with the mouse. Want to move? Click on where you want to go and the game does the rest. Attack an enemy? click on it. use an item? click on it, then if needed, click on what you want to use it on. It's a very easy game to control, and being turn based, there's no need to worry about not clicking fast enough.
The start of a typical dungeon floor. your support is generally not much more helpful than this.
The other thing that immediately sticks out is the games progression system. Unlike most roguelikes, you do not level up by defeating enemies and gaining experience points. Instead, you gather scrap metal that's sometimes dropped from enemies, but can also be found laying around the dungeon floor. this scrap metal can be used to buy permanent stat upgrades that stick with you between games. There's also a little strategy to this, as you can find vendors that take scrap metal in the dungeons, so you have to decide if you want to use it to buy something to help this game, or save up for those stat upgrades, which do get more expensive as time goes on. On top of scrap metal, you also gain crystal, which is slightly harder to find, but lets you do other things between trips through the dungeon like purchase equipment or extra supplies to take with you.

On top of your character there's also your research level. This game has what's called a datalog, it starts out empty, but tracks every last thing you encounter in it. The first time you beat an enemy? Find a new piece of equipment? encounter a new type of terrain or random event? It's logged in the datalog and as you discover more stuff your research level increases, granting you things like new classes to play as or new vendors to visit on the ship between games, of course, these benefits help you better progress in the game and thus discover more things to go in the datalog. The datalog is fairly large at over 300+ entries, and filling it makes a nice long term goal to work towards while playing.
The datalog starts empty, but everything you encounter gets added to it.
The game is also surprisingly fast for a roguelike, you're typical game last only a few minuets making it a very east to squeeze a game or two into a fairly short session. A bit part of the reason for this is the blight. The blight is this purple terrain that's spreads throughout each floor of the dungeon, starting from the same spot you do. Once the blight fully covers a tile, standing in it deals damage, and it will even send enemies after you once it's big enough. while there are ways to slow it down or stop it completely on any given floor, these ways aren't always readily available. The end result is your encouraged to be quick about finding the teleporter leading to the next floor and no spend too much time exploring the area.

Finally, the game comes with a few game modes, on top of the default explorer mode, which has you traveling through as seemingly endless dungeon, there's a handful of extra challenges that are harder than normal, but see you going through a dungeon of fixed length. There's also daily mode Every day, you get a challenge to travel through a 10 floor dungeon with a fixed set of equipment, and you're only given one chance to beat it. These extra modes give the game a good bit of re-playability, giving you opportunities to discover new things for the datalog, as well as acting as a good challenge for characters that have been upgraded considerably.
New discoveries help raise your research level.
Graphically, the game is very nice looking. Everything is colorful and detailed, with a very clean art style. Items and creatures are readily identifiable, and they did a good job of varying the tile sets to keep terrain interesting. There's not a lot of animation as the game is turn based: most of the game just has everyone standing around waiting to make their next move, but what animation there is is nice and smooth. Overall it's a very nice game to look at.

Sound in the game is good. There's not a lot of sound in the game, but what sound is there works, everything sounds like it sound and there's nothing odd or out of place. Music in the game is very good, it's atmospheric and fits the tone of exploring the broken remains of the planet quite nicely. it's nice to listen to and given the lack of sound helps keeps things from being too quiet.
The ship is where you get ready for your next trip through the planet.
The game does have a few flaws, namely the games simplicity is a double edged sword it's simplicity makes it easy to get into and play, there's very little to learn and while the game has a good amount of content to it it doesn't actually demand much of your time. This is a game you can readily play without having to set a lot of time aside for and that's honestly really nice. The problem is it's simplistic. There's no skills, no crafting, no stat points or even many stats at all, if you're coming from a beefier roguelike, there's not a lot here.

Overall I like the game despite how simplistic it is, and will likely still be playing it every now and then for awhile yet. I'd say it's worth a look but you honestly need to know what you're getting into. It's a fun, simple game that's easy to get into. Great if you're new to the genre and want something simple to start with, or just simply want a lite roguelike to play every once in awhile. but if you're a hardcore rogue fanatic looking for something to replace Dungeons of Dreadmor or Sword of the Stars: The pit with? you might want to look elsewhere.

Shattered Planet is developed by Kitfox Games. It is available on Steam. It's homepage, which includes an option to purchase directly from the developer, is available here and it's soundtrack is available on Bandcamp.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

I've never been a hero and I've never been a mage - Betrayal in Antara

So, here's a game with a bit of a weird history. Betrayal in Antara is the kinda-sorta sequel to Betrayal in Krondor. By that I mean it's not really a sequel, but when the developers lost the rights to make another game based on Riftwar series of books they decided to instead make a similar RPG using an improved version of Krondor's engine and an original setting. Thus Betrayal in Antara was born. Then they got the rights back and the real sequel Return to Krondor was released, making this game's existence awkward at best. On top of that the game got pretty badly hammered for not being Krondor, but in my experience it's not that bad.

Betrayal at Krondor is an RPG, and a really oldschool one at that. It's one of those old RPGs where you have to worry about things like food and sleep and there's a lot of stats to keep track of. and there's a lot of factors that go into your stats. fora start, you do not level up in this game or have typical stats beyond HP, instead, you have various skills that increase through use or studying. Studying is actually in interesting feature, you're allowed to select up to a few skills on each character that they'll study, causing them to slowly increase over time as you rest and wander around, however, the more skills you select, the slower the process. The game even lets you change how much time is spent studying each skill so you can study say... 3 skills, but have the studying favor one over the other two so it rises faster. It adds a bit of strategy as you have to think about who needs to focus on what and there's no obvious 'right' answer.
There's a lot of info to track in this game
Magic is another interesting part of the game as you have no MP, instead everything is cast via HP, and the only way to regenerate HP is by camping, staying at an in, or spending a turn resting mid battle. Some spells can even be powered up at he cost of more HP and makes combat with mages an interesting balancing act. you need to make those spells count and really think about when to cast and when to rest or wait a bit. even amongst non-mages the rest mechanic can be important, as your skills take penalties according to your current health and stamina. A beaten up fighter will have a harder time dealing out damage and avoiding hits than one at full health. Surprisingly, the AI does not seem to cheat with this from my experience: enemy mages are damaged by their own spell casting and most enemies seem to be easier to deal with once you've done enough damage.

The game is decently written but bit of a slow burner. The story starts with the man character Aren discovering they have magic powers, and having to wander across half the game world to seek training. there's a decent bit of world building here and talking to NPCs and paying attention will show lots of plot threads and small side stories to get involved in, but the main story doesn't really pick up until around chapter 3-4 which is a good ways into the game. Actually, speaking of side stories, I should notice that the game involves a LOT of side quests, in the process of reviewing this game I managed to get myself a good ways into it and am pretty sure I have missed a LOT of content, if you're not using an FAQ, it could easily take a couple playthroughs to see everything the game has to offer if you're not through.
Cutscenes are given in this storybook format.
That said, since the game is oldschool, it's also fairly hard. Your party at the start is very weak and you'll likely have to rest after every fight for quite a ways into the game. The game does have difficulty levels, along with the ability to automate certain parts of the game like studying. Even then though, the game can be fairly tricky, characters don't die when they hit 0 hp, but recovering them takes expensive temple visits or a LOT of healing items. gold is somewhat tricky to come across and on top of rations, equipment can degrade which does reduce it's stats, and needs to be occasionally repaired or replaced.

Another tricky thing is tracking information: The game does have a full world map and local area map that keeps track of your current position, and you can even place markers on it to track the location of npcs and stores, or have the game do it for you, but there's no quest log. I was able to play well enough without one, though I'm sure it'd be better if I manually tracked stuff. The game honestly leaves it up to you to figure things out yourself. It's great that the game doesn't hold your hand but the lack of info can be a bit annoying. There were times where I wasn't sure if a conversation I had was quest related or just random fluff, and there was times where I didn't have a clear picture of what I needed to do next. Given that the game has a very large world to explore and no easy fast travel, not knowing where to go can be a bit worrying.
combat is turn-based and takes place on a hex grid
 Graphics are probably the games biggest weakness. The game was released in 1997, but as a windows 3.1 game, and it suffers from it. graphics are washed out, pixelated, and grainy, and while there is a huge world ot explore, it's not very interesting to look at. most of the game world is perfectly flat with no interesting terrain. I know as an older game it's not really going to look good by today's standards, but the game was graphically primitive for when it came out and time wasn't any kinder to it.

Sound is a bit of a mixed bag the main problem is the game is quiet, very quiet. Outside of the title and battle themes, There's virtually no music to speak of and minimal sound, not even footsteps, making your long trek through the gameworld a weirdly silent one. On the other hand? The voice acting actually isn't half bad, there's even songs you can hear in many of the the games inns and they're not half bad. What few sounds there are at least functional. I haven't heard anything that made my ears bleed, it's just a lot of the time, there's nothing to hear.
This flat stretch of land is what most of the game world looks like.
 I did encounter a few bugs while playing the game. The game suffers from some heavy terrain pop in as it loads sections of the map, and I once had a section fail to load properly, forcing e to reload an earlier save. I also had a battle that I had to redo several times as it kept crashing the game for some reason. The game fortunately makes an autosave before every fight, though it's a good idea to manually save every once in awhile in case something goes wrong. Fortunately, outside of those two incidents I actually encountered very little in the way of actual bugs. most of the games major problems are the hassles and inconveniences you'll have to deal with like the lack of quest journal mentioned earlier, but that's more a result of the games old-school origins and is pretty par for the course at that.

The game got a bit of a bad rap at release and I'll admit there's defiantly better RPGs out there. But overall it's honestly not that bad. The mechanics are solid and the story gets pretty interesting once it finally gets rolling. The game is fairly cheap and even comes with Betrayal at Krondor these days so at the very least? Buy it for Krondor, but give this a shot while you're at it.

Betrayal at Antara was developed and published by Sierra On-Line. It's available on GoG.