Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Fly The Friendly Skies of Unit--, uh, Sega

Two games played recently:

Panzer Dragoon Orta for the Xbox. This game frickin’ rocks. I loved all three PD games on the Saturn. Sega’s Team Andromeda had created this amazing alien world, enthralling yet almost totally unlike ours. As a lot of players probably know the first two games are rail shooters and the third installment is an RPG. These games were done so well that they corralled a lot of players that were not fans of those genres into playing and enjoying them.

Flash forward to 2002. The PD series has a new game released for the Xbox, Panzer Dragoon Orta. If there were one game on that system that could’ve enticed me to buy it, this was the game. Alas, I was too busy spending money on games for my PS2, and buying stuff for my consoles even older. When I eventually bought an Xbox 360, Orta was one of the first things I investigated being able to play.

There were complications, not least of which was my having to buy a vastly more expensive Japanese copy to run on my JPN Xbox 360. But it was well worth it.

I’ve gone through the game completely once. Averaged a B grade across the ten levels. The difficulty is, if my memory is correct, similar to the earlier PD games, but clearing the game is a lot easier owing to it saving your progress. There are a lot of (skippable) cutscenes, but I find the PD world so interesting that I let them roll. The additional mechanics include a boost/brake element that took some getting used to. It feels clumsy at first, but the game never requires really split second timing with it until near the end. This chapter also gives you three dragon types that you can switch between on the fly, all upgradeable as per your dragon in PD Saga (Azel).

The graphics and music are phenomenal. Even considering the Xbox isn’t a current-gen console, these design elements are still very impressive. Definitely a ‘wow’ game.

If you liked the old PD games, getting this is a no-brainer. It is like the Saturn games but slicker looking and with a couple of easily-handled complications. Interestingly, the original Panzer Dragoon opens up on completion of the game, but it doesn’t play nearly as well as the one on an actual Sega Saturn disc.

Skies of Arcadia for the Sega Dreamcast. I don’t play RPGs all that much, but this is one I’ve been meaning to get to for a long time… I got it when it was a current retail title.

Skies is an old-fashioned game. Its turn-based combat, simple color magic system, and linear plot would all be considered quaint now. At the time it was thought pretty amazing for its graphics and the ship combat system. Having delayed all this time actually getting around to playing it, that quaintness is actually kind of a draw. Besides the obvious retro aspect, the game is just very positive. Vyse and crew are very well designed and charming. Despite the blocky visuals, the characters are more expressive than most any ‘more realistic’ game you’d buy new today. The music is good too, but not spectacular considering all the epic scores spanning all the RPGs one hears now.

Despite the occasional grim dialogue from the villains, the can-do attitude of the villains and the bright, decidedly non-gritty environments just makes a great change of pace from the constant angst permeating video games. I like me some angst too, but this game reminds me when the fun was the thing, not the drama.

Skies isn’t without drawbacks. Famous for the frequency of its random encounters, this is a real pain in a game that emphasizes exploration. It is fun to sail about the world trying to find cool locations and landmarks, but you won’t even have time to get into an exploratory segment before you’re dropped into yet another fight. Happens in the ships and happens on foot in the dungeons. While this hasn’t killed the game for me, as it has some players, it definitely has had me sighing resignedly more than once. I understand there is an item that’ll reduce random encounters while ship-board, but I don’t have that wonderful piece of kit yet.

I’m also not loving the ship combat. This is one of the big draws for the game in reviews, and while it is innovative, and on the surface interesting, the battles are too drawn out considering the so-so level of excitement, for me at any rate. It also doesn’t help that I suck at the ship battles. I don’t out-and-out lose most of ‘em, but I usually take way longer and incur a lot more damage than I probably should. I just can’t really get the hang of the process. Probably for the same reason I can’t ‘get’ stupid Bejeweled 2.

I can see the appeal of the ship battles. The game does enough things well to keep these or the random battles from making me give up. That barely sounds like an endorsement, but the good things are REALLY good things. I look at my stack of games to get to playing and while they will probably have lots of moments to enjoy, not many look to actually convey a positive, uplifting outlook. Enh, some of this has to do with the class of game I run with. If I was more into Pokemon or Kirby, I wouldn’t think this was so unusual. See the Super Mario Galaxy games for a similar upbeat outlook, but SMG games aren’t RPGs with swords and killing!

Anyway, for an old-fashioned RPG experience WITH swords and killing, Skies of Arcadia is a fun time. This looks to run about 50 hours and I think I’m a little less than one-third into it.

(image kyped from HG101)

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