Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Speaking of NIS...

     It would be a little unfair of me to say "I am a loyal customer of brand X, but here's two games of theirs that suck..." without at least mentioning some of the games that made me like the company in the first place, so here's some Amazon links to a buncha games NIS either made or imported over here that I really like:

Disgaea Series:
Obviously, there's the Disgaea series, which probably marks the best series of S-RPGs ever made, period.

As you can see Disgaea and Disgaea 2 have made the rounds to PSP, and #3 was NIS' first PS3 game.

Other SRPGs:
NIS has developed a wide variety of different approaches to the SRPG.  While Disgaea was perhaps their best-known attempt, all of these games have fascinating battle systems, well-developed storylines and characters, great music, and loooooooooaaaaaaads of replay value.

Imports of Gust games:  The Atelier Series

On a complete sidenote, I have no idea why some of these are showing up on Amazon as being released by KOEI (EU versions maybe?).  Anyway, all of these games were developed by Gust and released here in the US by NIS America.  The atelier series in general focuses on something completely askance from most RPGs:  Item Creation.  In fact, while the more recent games (and besides Annie, the only ones NIS has shipped so far) actually have an interesting battle system to speak of, most of the atelier series have the most basic battle system you can give an RPG and get away with these days.  And mind you, that's a bit refreshing (it's about as simple as Dragon Quest games).  The main point in these games is typically to go around to different areas where you gather some materials for alchemy (oftentimes you have to visit during a particular season for a specific item), and then you return to your shop and mix them together in a number of different ways.  And of course, your item creation is somewhat directed via certain story sequences (which are controlled by certain event triggers) or simply by keeping track of alchemy requests from the local shops.  Personally, my favorite thing about these games is, again, their music.  Very awesome mix of somewhat techno-ish, somewhat metallish music.

Anyways, there's lots of other games NIS has imported, but I can't speak to many of those (since I haven't played them yet).  I should also mention that the Rosenqueen store (, NIS America's official storefront) offers all of this stuff, often with equivalent or better customer service.  And, one of the other cool little things about NIS America is that Rosenqueen often keeps stock of other small-release niche titles, such as Atlus' Persona games.

Review: Last Rebellion

     Well, this game was unexpectedly short.  I had bought the game with the idea "oh, I'll reward myself with this as a self-incentive to get some schoolwork done."  Y'know, finish an assignment or a bug chunk of a larger assignment, then play for a few hours.  That kind of thing.  Unfortunately, this game was over after 3 days, in about 5 or 6 sessions of ~3 or 4 hours apiece.  So what's my overall impression?  Dissapointment, really.  Nothing pisses me off more than seeing something this half-assed being released by a company that has, through its past products, earned my respect and my loyalty as a customer.  Now, lemme be clear that this game is not developed by NIS, (except perhaps the inclusion of an extra boss), but rather by a company called Hit Maker.  NIS America, however, did the translation and localization here in the states (and NIS America is the company which I'm losing respect for, to a degree).

Let's start with the graphics:  2/10

     This game really should have been released as a PS2 or PSP game.  The graphics are atrocious compared to even the best of 2D games.  The style seems like something out of a Koei game (which is not, by any means, a compliment) with very effeminate male characters.  None of the cut-scenes animate; we are told the story through still pictures, which again, have questionable aesthetics.  The various zones in the game are generally bland and unimaginative, and the enemies are your standard fantasy fare.  The best art, at least aesthetically, in this game are the loading scene images, which were evidently submitted by guest artists.  And let's not forget the loading scenes.  The maps in this game are teeny tiny compared to most games, made even smaller by the use of teleporters left and right.  And yet, despite that this game shouldn't be using even 1/10th of the system resources, there are loading screens for every transition.  It's pretty clear to me that a) they didn't try for anything that you could even call competitive with the graphics engine here; b) they didn't bother to do any optimization, or include any kind of caching techniques that would allow for instant loads of areas you had visited within the last 20-30 seconds; and c) again, the best style comes from those guest artists.  Why didn't they hire THOSE GUYS?  Seriously.

Onto the sound/music:  1/10:

     First things first: NIS America did not include the Japanese vocals.  Now, you may ask, why is this important?  Because NIS has ALWAYS included the original Japanese dubs on their games (at least for their PS2 and PS3 games anyway).  If nothing else, it's a nice touch to be able to hear the voice actors the original creators of a game picked to represent the characters they created; and for NIS America to have forgone the inclusion of such in this case is a sign of laziness.  To make matters worse, the voice actors chosen by NIS America for the localization were so bad I made an effort to interrupt them and just read through the dialogue because I couldn't stand half of them.  The only semi-appreciable performance was by the cat-girl (Sefi I think?) and the mechanic dude.  Everyone else, especially the main characters, was guilty of not reading the lines in context (at the least) if not plain over-acting.

     As for the music and the sound effects, they weren't particularly memorable.  What was memorable was the few sound bugs during boss battles.  On several occasions, the game kept reloading the music track it was supposed to play, so not only did you only get to hear the first half second or so of the song, but it was warped and warbled and the performance of the game was effected.  Kinda sad that the most memorable thing about the music was a bug...

Story & Dialogue: 1/10
     I don't have much to say of the story and the dialogue other than it's almost non-existent.  I think their intention was to show the main male lead as a kid that acts tough in order to hide his own insecurities.  Either that or he's supposed to be brutally honest and nihilistic.  Whoever wrote the dialogue couldn't decide, apparently.  So anyway, the premise of the game is that this kid, named Nine, that acts like a douchebag to everyone he meets, is supposedly the strongest "blade" around; and right after you start the game you are introduced to Aisha, the sealer.  Farcical dialogue ensues and right away we are introduced to Nine's father, the King whose name we can't pronounce (Erlizand or Elrizan or some such), who gets stabbed almost as soon as we meet him by Alfred, (who we are also just meeting) who is apparently related somehow.  We are also introduced to typical cowardly vassal (whose name I also never bothered to remember).  Now, so far Nine has said he hates pretty much everybody, and while he's yapping his mouth off about how he's going to kill Alfred, even though he doesn't apparently care about anything, the King, now in zombie form, stabs Nine in the back.  Next thing we know, Nine and Aisha are talking together in a metaphysical room in some kind of subspace because Aisha has used a forbidden spell to bind his soul to hers.  Clearly, if a guy you've just met treats you like shit, he must be worth literally giving your body to, right?  Anyways this is just the opening scene, and I mention it because the entire game is about as believable.  I don't know, maybe I was a little harsh on the actors earlier.  They really weren't given much to work from.

     I suppose I should also talk a bit about the backstory of the game a bit.  As you might have guessed from the zombifying thing with the King, this game involves lots of stuff coming back from the dead.  Apparently the god of life has given too much life into the world and disrupted the passage of souls out of the world, so you side with the goddess of death to restore balance.  Only, in reality neither of the gods really care about what's going on, and you end up stopping the goddess of death from destroying your world on a whim (again, with farcical dialogue with characters acting and saying stuff that's not really believable).  Anyway, pretty common fare in videogames to imagine a world where people are merely the playthings of gods, and the heresy or indifference of your playable characters is supposed to be wisdom or special insight.  Whatever.  I've seen NES games with more depth in that regard.

Gameplay: 4/10

     The only somewhat interesting bit about this game is the battle system, where everytime you attack a given monster, you have a list of places to aim your attack, and every attack stamps the target.  Now, if you hit the right places in the right order, you get bonus points, which can up your experience points after the battle significantly, as well as rewarding you with rarer items.  The stamps are also required to cast hostile spells on the enemy.  The tutorial in the game actually tells you a few things involved with the gameplay that aren't actually implemented, though.  For one thing, the tutorial says you can decrease an enemy's speed, attack power, or defenses by hitting certain points on their body.  This never happened in any of the fights.  There are red points, where if you hit a particular body part out of sequence you enrage the enemy, and he gets a double or triple damage boost...but otherwise attacking doesn't provide any extra benefits.  So that's the basic idea of the battle system, but let me go into a bit more detail on some specific details that bugged me.

     Status ailments in this game are poorly designed.  First of all, both of your characters share the same body, and while that goes along with the story well enough, it means that when you get stunned, paralyzed, or put to sleep (all of which have the same animation, going back to lazy graphics designers, but I digress), you literally can't do ANYTHING to get yourself out of the status ailment.  Which is funny, because the game gives you spells which cure status effects, but rather than a direct cure, they make you immune to said status ailment for 5 turns.  Now, look, if you get an ailment right off the bat (not unusual when you're fighting opponents that are your level or above), you're likely to take quite a bit of damage during the interim between when you first get stunned and when you can act again.  So you now have to make a decision about whether to get off a healing spell, or to cast a preventative anti-ailment spell.  To add to the problem, you often fight enemy groups made up of several different kinds of monsters, each having typically two status effects they can inflict.  This is poor design, plain and simple.

     I should also mention the magic system in this game.  While it's an interesting idea that you have to stamp your targets before you hit them, you would normally expect this to mean that your magical damage is going to hit all the harder.  Not so, for the most part.  Unless you can find out which branch of spells your opponent is especially weak to, and use the highest rank spell of that school at the highest level on them, even your "sealer" hits harder with her regular weapons against said opponent.  Especially once you've gained some levels, since your magic levels only when you collect "aria papers" which you can constantly use and unuse on any given skill in your library to increase its effectiveness (only out of combat, mind).  You also have to assign your spells to one or the other of your characters to use.  While the obvious is that your sealer has slightly better magical damage and your blade has slightly better physical damage, in the end it's only marginally different.  Granted, you should have to plan ahead a little in any given RPG when deciding equipment and spells and all, but this only ends up being an additional annoyance when you find yourself in the situation where you want to use any number of different spells (say, to restore your health, to remove or prevent status effects, to restore your CP, etc) and have to deal with both spells being equipped to the same person.  To sum up, then, for all the various magic spells you're given (and you DO have to be pretty choosy about which spells you put aria papers on so you can use the higher ranks) I found far more spells than I ever found really useful, and magic damage was, again, only marginally more powerful than physical attacks.

     When you play a RPG, there's another type of gameplay you typically expect to find:  puzzles.  Whether it's the simplest of tasks (IE a fetch quest) to a devious labyrinth with traps to avoid left and right, we expect to come across a few places where our mind is really put to the test.  And what does this game have?  Nothing but lameness!  Some of the few useful spells in the game, which you can only use on the world map are run (which increases your running speed) and true sight (which lets you see otherwise invisible enemies and treasure chests).  And lo and behold the biggest "quest" or "puzzle" in the game is a fetch quest to find holy waters, which are hidden in invisible treasure chests, each located in one of the areas you've visited before.  There are two elements to this which, as someone hoping to be a game designer, I find despicable.  First, here is a game requiring you to backtrack significantly, without really adding any real value to backtracking.  The least they could do is have some trigger activate such that when you do get to the point in the game where you have to backtrack, at least the earliest areas' enemies get buffed up.  It was pathetic and annoying to spend 3-5 minutes per battle with enemies that I was killing in one hit (another gripe, after you outlevel an enemy they stop providing experience of any kind, and killing them in one hit means you don't build up any bonus points so the items you get are always their most common drops).  And I almost forgot to mention the worst part about invisible chests:  the true sight spell only lasts like thirty seconds or so and costs a sizable amount of MP.  There's also another part where you have to run across "ether bridges" for lack of a better word, where your character switching ability actually gets some use since the color of a bridge denotes who can cross it (the other character will just fall through).  This is made annoying though, in that there are points where you go straight from a bridge of blue (your male PC) to a red bridge (the female can walk over it), so you have to time your character switch just so or you fall through the floor.  Rather annoying, if you ask me.  Anyhow so the gameplay has a lot of elements that kinda suck, despite the kinda-sorta innovative battle system (though even the battle system was half-assed in that the game talks about elements that are not implemented... and the big element, performing hits in order, has been done better before like in Legend of Legaia or Legend of Dragoon, to name only two).

Overall Score:  2/10 or 20%