Thursday, November 20, 2014

The first part of one of Falcom's biggest series - Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky

If there's one trend I would of never seen coming in gaming, it's Japanese RPGs on PC. outside of stuff by indie devs, JRPGs had been content to stick to consoles and handhelds, but lately there's been a trickle of them showing up on Steam and there seems to be a slowly growing interest on seeing more of them on PC. enter The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky. the first part of a trilogy, itself part of a much larger series. This game had initially seen a release in North America on the Playstation portable, with no sign of the second and third games being released until last year, when XSEED announced not only is a translation of the second chapter in the works, but it, along with the first chapter, would see release on PC.

Trails in the sky is about a pair of characters named Estelle and Joshua, and their attempts to become what are known as Bracers, basically adventurers for hire. As you might expect, this seemingly simple task ends up anything but. I should note that there is a LOT going on in this story, not only due to it being a fairly long game, but because this is the first game in a trilogy, so the game has to lay out a lot of ground work for the later games. Fortunately, while there's a lot of information to chew through, I never found the game very hard to follow. It helps that the game has some wonderful characters and a good sense of pacing: The story is serious and treated as such, but there's enough humor and lighter moments to keep thing from getting too straight faced for it's own good.
You will meet several characters in your journeys, some weirder than others.
At it's core, the gameplay for Trails in the sky should be fairly familiar for anyone who's played a JRPG before: you travel a very large world, solving various quests and fighting in turn based battles. it's worth noting however, that battles battles have a bit more to them than a typical JRPG, rather than your party and enemies lining up to trade blows, battles take place on a grid that characters can move around on. This changes things form a more typical JRPG because you can't simply attack, you have to be able to reach enemies to hit them, also spells take some time to cast and while many can simply target a specific area, some have an area of effect need to be targeted, forcing you to think ahead to where enemies might be in the next few turns when deciding where to aim them. at the same time, some enemy attacks can be avoid by using your characters turn to move out of the way. It forces you to think about how the battle is going and not just constantly attack, pausing only to use the occasional healing spell or item.

Another thing that stands out in the game is orbments While the game does have various pieces of equipment your characters can wield and wear, orbments are how you really customize them. Each character has an orbment with several slots you can put what are called quartz into. These quartz have various elemental values and the total value of the quartz decide what spells the character has access to, on top of that, the quartz themselves can have various stat bonuses or penalties on them, as well as extra bonuses like decreasing the casting cost of your spells, called arts in this game. it's actually a fairy complex system, where slots can require certain types of quarts, and there's lines that decide how your quarts various values are added up. fortunately it's easy to come to grips with once you've tinkered with it for a bit, and the game has a built in magic list so you can see what values you need for what spells.
Battles take place on a large grid
On top of a lengthy main quest, the game also has a number of side quests. From the bracers guild in any town you can pick up any of a number of side quests that range from finding lost items to exterminating dangerous monsters to delivering items.  Fortunately, these side quests are not your typical MMO-style 'find x items' or 'kill x monsters' quests, some of them involve various puzzles, and even the simplest of them: exterminating dangerous monsters' have specific encounters for you to deal with and aren't just random monsters. There's even some hidden quests if you're willing to explore and not just rely on what's in the guild. It helps break up the main quest and gives you a good reason to explore the world beyond what's strictly necessary.

It should also been noted that the game has a very large world. While there's only five major towns to visit, there's plenty of side areas and smaller villages to explore. each chapter of the game takes place in a different section of the world map, and exploring any one of them can take some time. Exploring is also well rewarded, as useful items are often hidden off the main path. This size however, does come with one drawback. The game has no fast traveling, and you're often required to travel between several distant locations. Granted, the game world isn't as large as a full blown sandbox game like Skyrim, but it's still a lot of ground to be stuck repeatedly traveling through.

There's a lot of ground to cover in this game

Graphically the game is pretty decent, the game uses 3D graphics mixed with sprites that appear to be based off 3d models, everything looks nice, textures are nice and colorful, and hte game world is nicely detailed without becoming cluttered. The only major fault I noted is the animation for some of the 3D objects in the game seemed a bit choppy, but otherwise there's nothing to really complain about.

The game's sound is also decent: Everything sounds like it should and while the game doesn't have much voice acting beyond a few lines used in battle, what's there is done well enough. The music, is actually very nice. Falcom is known for producing some great soundtracks and this game is no exception. Though I should note for those who know of Falcom mostly through Ys and are coming here from that series, this game is an entirely different beast so sorry, no rock music to headbang to.
Attempting to take items form the same chest twice has interesting results
Overall I would highly recommended this game if you like RPGs, JRPGs in particular. it's a very large game that took me over 40 hours to beat, and even then I missed quite a few things, the story is well told and the characters are very likeable. As I've said before there seems to be a recent trend with JRPGs showing up on PC and out of all the games involved, this is one of the ones to get.

The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky was developed by Nihon Falcom and published by XSEED and Marvelous USA, Inc. It is available on Steam and GoG. It's homepage is available here.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Gravis Gamepad Not Incluided - MURI

NOTICE: please excuse the windows borders in the screenshots. the game had some issues with me taking screenshots and this was the only way that didn't upset it.

As someone who plays a lot of indie games, I see a lot of 'retro' homages. lots of games with chiptunes and pixel graphics meant to mimic old 8 or 16 bit systems, usually the NES and SNES. I don't mind this, and some games manage to do an amazing job with mimicking the look and feel of these older games but I prefer it when developers decide to base them game on something more unusual. For example, 80s DOS shareware games.

MURI is a platform game about the disappearance of Mars, the game actually has more story than you might expect for a simple platform game, told through cutscenes at various points through the game. it's not a massive story or an insanely complex one. That said, since a big part of the story is finding out what's actually going on, I can't give any actual details for fear of spoilers. I will say however, that the story felt like something out of and old 80s anime, which does a good job of fitting with the retro tone of the rest of the game.
cutscenes like this tell the story
Gameplay is fairly simple. This a classic run and gun platform game, you job in each level is to simply find the exit. levels however are fairly open. you do have to explore a bit as the exit isn't always simply to the right. even when you do know where the exit is, exploring is still worthwhile as levels can be full of side passages and hidden areas which include powerups and extra lives on top of bonus points. there's also a cell hidden in each level, which you can use to get extra powerups to help fight the boss at the end of each episode. So it pays to thoroughly explore each level.

Each level also has plenty of enemies, and there's a good variety of them in game. ranging from wall turrets to combat robots to tiny flying drones. Each enemy can come in several variants, these variants are not only tougher than the original enemy, but have extra abilities like jumping or shooting. to fight them, you actually have a decent selection of weapons. Weapons are mostly straightforward but get the job done nicely, wither it's rapid fire or a spread shot. Some of the later weapons however, can have some interesting abilities, such as a laser that splits and bounces off of walls.
you can even bounce off enemies Mario style
Each episode in the game ends in a boss battle, and the boss battles are pretty good. They're nice and big, take some effort to beat, and finish off each episode nicely. boss stages are also where the cells I mentioned earlier come into play. Before the boss you're presented with some doors blocking the way to various powerups and the cells unlock them, meaning if you managed to find some cells in the episode, you can get some extra help with dealing with the boss. it's not required as the bosses can be beaten without having any cells, but it's there if you need it and a good way to reward exploration.

While MURI is a solid platform game, it's greatest strength is easily how well it captures the look and feel of an old DOS game, the game is broken up into episodes, each of which is played separately and you can tackle them in any order, just like in old shareware games. The game's story feels like something out of that era and the gameplay does a good job of supporting this. If you've played any older DOS games like Commander Keen, Duke Nukem 1 and 2, or Bio Menace This game will feel very similar. it even has keyboard only controls, no mouse input, though you can use a gamepad if desired.
Each episode ends with a boss battle like this one.
Graphically, the game mimics the look and feel of dos games perfectly, The game uses large sprite graphics with a minimal color pallet like an old EGA game, the game can even be made to run at 16 frames per second and when run this way it looks exactly like an old DOS game. If it wasn't for the 2013 copyright, you could readily pass this as something from the 80s, it does it's job that well.

The game's sound is authentic as the graphics, which is both good and bad. It's PC speaker only which fits the game perfectly, Everything sounds exactly like what you'd expect from an older game and nothing is out of place. This is great, but it does have one major drawback: the game is fairly quiet due to a lack of a soundtrack, there's a small tune played for the title screen, but that's it. What you here fits the game perfectly, there's just very little to hear.
Levels are fairly open, and readily reward exploration

The game has a few minor flaws. Namely, weapon selection is automatic and can't be controlled by you at all. the way weapons work makes this mostly a non-issue, though it's a touch annoying if you wanted to use a specific weapon to save ammo for later. The other problem is the game is short. I beat all 4 episodes in one sitting and that took about 2 hours. It would of been nice if there were a few more stages, though the inclusion of high scores and multiple difficulty levels does give a decent reason to play through the game multiple times. Finally, and this is just a personal thing, the game does not have a demo, as the game is based on old shareware titles, it would of been great if there was a shareware demo of the first episode, and the lack of one feels a bit like a missed opportunity.

In recommending this game I'll have to note that what you get out of it depends a lot on where you're coming from. If you grew up playing those old shareware games, this game is an awesome throwback that's definitely worth picking up. If you didn't, it's still a solid game that could be worth a playthrough, but you might find it hard to appreciate what the game is doing.

MURI was developed by Ludosity and Remar Games and published by Ludosity. It is available on Steam.