17 September 2018

Review: Castle Shikigami 2 (PS2)

Originally a Taito arcade game, Alfa System's Castle Shikigami 2 found its way onto a couple of home consoles, the PS2 being one among them. With atrocious voice acting, pretty bad music and generally good gameplay it quickly gained a reputation for being a mixed bag. However, the PAL port of the game was treated differently and is by many concidered to be the worst version out there. I've played it for about a week now and my verdict is as follows.

Castle Shikigami 2 is a shoot 'em up. It's got a fairly straight forward scoring system even though it has a lot of options on how to play the game. You have seven different characters to choose from, each with three types of attack - standard shot, shikigami and special shot (mostly a bomb of some description). The shikigami attack also comes in two types, type 1 and type 2, which gives the player a total of fourteen different options as how to tackle the enemies. I often find a favorite and stick with that character, but in this game there were actually a couple of characters that I ended up using evenly (those being Kohtarou Kuga Type 1, Sayo Yuhki Type 2 and Kim De John Type 2).

The five stages are divided up into two parts each with their own bosses, which makes it a quite, for the genre, lengthy experience. I've yet to 1CC (one credit clear - a.k.a. no continues) it, but I don't think it's impossible for me to reach that goal in the future. I managed to get pretty far after just a couple of days of practice so one day I might do it!

"Ten levels of crappy music is enough to get anyone to mute the TV."

The famous voice acting is cut from the PAL version all together, some argue that this is a bad move as it's one of the main reasons the game is even remembered today - but personally I don't mind at all. I've never cared about story in any shoot 'em up and would end up skipping it even if it was there. But the music? What the hell happened? There's a different soundtrack in the PAL version, and personally I absolutely 100% prefer the NTSC J/U soundtrack over what we in the EU got. Sure, it's different and makes the game stick out, but it's just so utterly boring. Ten levels of crappy music (not even comically crappy!) is enough to get anyone to mute the TV. It also runs at 50 Hz instead of 60 Hz, so there's that.

The scoring system that I mentioned briefly is centered around the shikigami attack and grazing. When an enemy is killed it drops coins that fall down the screen. If the shikigami attack is used to kill the enemy the coins are collected automatically. And the closer you are to enemy bullets the stronger your attack becomes (this is what is known as grazing where you want to be in danger all the time to net bigger numbers). The usual options one would like in a shoot 'em up is here, TATE mode, arcade slowdown, practice mode and so on. There's also a gallery to unlock and browse but honestly I've never cared about stuff like that. I buy shoot 'em ups strictly for the arcade version of the game and nothing else.

To sum this rant up I'd say Castle Shikigami 2 is absolutely worth giving a try - even the PAL version is fine regardless of what all the whiny purists say - but it's nothing exceptionally special. One of the weaker titles in my PS2 shmup library.

13 September 2018

Review: Forbidden Siren (PS2)

I was heavily into survival horror games on my PS2. I loved the genre and played just about anything I could get my hands on. Eventually I picked Forbidden Siren up. It was supposed to take a whole new turn and bring stuff to the survival horror table that no one had ever seen before. To some extent they were right, but not in a good way. I actually ended up not playing any more survival horror games for quite a while after this. I recently gave it another go and here's what I think.

Forbidden Siren tells the story of… a few people lost in a place shrouded in fog and darkness. And something about red water. See, the story isn’t told as a regular story. It’s chopped up into fragments played seemingly in a random order. After a while it becomes apparent that the fragmented nature of the game is very much intended to be that way to give the player an unusual way of discovering the story. Say that I sneak through a village as one guy, perhaps opening a door or two. Then if I enter the same village with another character (at a later point in time) – the doors will remain opened. In the same vein things you forget to do, or pick up, can make things difficult for other situations further down the lane. The immediate problem with this is that there are minimal clues as to what to do. I followed a FAQ and still was stumped several times. At one point I couldn’t trigger a cutscene for some reason. It turned out I missed to go inside another room with another character earlier in the game – and that character initially couldn’t enter that room because I didn’t pick up a key with a third character even earlier in the game. While this is all fine if you are given instructions as to how it all was connected – this is not the case with Forbidden Siren. The cutscene wasn’t triggered and that was that. No clue. Without a FAQ I doubt I would’ve gotten further into the game than an hour or so.

Anyway, the story. Since it’s played in such a weird and arbitrary order, with lots of characters with names I couldn’t keep apart in my head – and only small events happening in any given mission – I had absolutely no clue as to why anything of this was happening or why I should care. The only thing that kept me going was that it was indeed a bit intriguing to unravel more and more of the story. Even though it was happening much slower than I could tolerate.

"Everything, from equipping a weapon to accidentally bumping into a wall takes absolutely forever in this game"

The controls are of the tank variety, with a bit of a sluggishness to them. Everything, from equipping a weapon to accidentally bumping into a wall takes absolutely forever in this game, and since it’s very easy to die you spend a lot of time replaying the same mission over and over and over again. Each time growing sicker of the slow controls and the cryptic structure. A few hours into the game I was reading in a FAQ during every mission I activated. I just didn’t have the patience to figure anything out – and more importantly I didn’t have the time to aimlessly wander around the villages in search for secrets and clues. I found myself almost reading ahead at many places so that I wouldn’t become surpriced and die – because it’s such a pain to replay everything. And the checkpoints. God, the checkpoints. About halfway through most of the stages a checkpoint is silently activated. If you happen to die at any point after this, everything you did prior to the checkpoint is undone. Picked up a very tricky to reach key? Tough tits, it’s gone. Opened a hatch for another character in another mission later on in the game? Yeah it's closed. You get the picture. And many times, the checkpoints are placed after a point of no return in the mission, meaning you have to restart the whole mission. Well, you can technically finish the mission, but without also clearing the secondary tasks – you’ll be coming back to that level again. I 100% guarantee you have to.

"When the credits rolled I had wanted it to be over for a good five hours at least"

With about ten missions left to do, the credits rolled. Leaving it up to the player to decide if that’s enough or if they want to uncover every little remaining secret and find out the real truth. I really didn’t care. When the credits rolled I had wanted it to be over for a good five hours at least. Plus, the mission after the credits seemed glitched as I didn’t meet the criteria for the secondary objective no matter how perfectly I played. Perhaps I forgot to do something in a different place and time in the game… But I wasn’t about to figure out what. Life is just too short.

Some cutscenes were very engaging and the story seemed to be quite interesting once I also read a few discussions and theories online – but this game is just such a unforgiving waste of time trying to figure anything out and slowly progress through this mess. They claimed an all new take on the genre and while it was indeed new, it was also terrible. Stay away from this game unless you really love quirky survival horror games, have a lot of spare time and the patience of a saint.

02 September 2018

Review: Manhunt (PS2)

Ah, Manhunt. Now this is a game I hold close to my heart.

I remember when Grand Theft Auto: Vice City was released, I got it for my sixteenth birthday. The whole world had its eyes on Rockstar, the power house who pumped out success after success. Not long after Vice City people started to thirst for another installment. San Andreas. But that’s when I found out about Manhunt – which was also a Rockstar game set to be released a year before San Andreas. Initially I thought ”cool, a game to keep me occupied while I wait for more GTA!” and started researching it (as I do with most games I buy). Manhunt had a pretty hard time, as it would turn out, promoting itself. It was so gruesome and violent that no store really cared to put up any promotional stuff for it – and in some countries rumor had it that it was going to be severely censored. So… It was sort of an underdog game, with (for the time) insanely violent content and a graphical style (we’ll get to this in a bit) that was like no other. I just had to get it. I pre-ordered it as soon as it was available to do so and a few months later it arrived.

"sort of an underdog game, with insanely violent content"

Even the cover looked brutal. I remember almost feeling a bit uncomfortable staring into the eyes of that thing. I turned off the lights, put the game into my PS2 and just minutes later I was knee deep in a violent gorefest that had me dropping my jaw every five minutes. I loved it. I absolutely loved it! But it was very hard. In fact, it was so hard I soon gave up on it and kind of forgot about it until very recently. It popped up as ”Unfinished” as I scrolled through my backlog and I immediately decided to give it another go. And so, here we are. I’ve finally beaten it and I’m here to tell you why Manhunt is my absolute favorite of all Rockstar games.

The story is fairly straightforward. We take the role of James Earl Cash who is about to be executed. But he wakes up shortly after the procedure, in a dark and gritty room. There are speakers in the room and from them comes a voice ordering Cash to partake in a game of death. This voice wants to create authentic snuff films by having Cash fight through heaps of ”bad guys” to regain his freedom. And Cash really has no option. It’s either do as the voice tells him or die. So he picks up the earpiece from the tray in the room and embarks on the journey that is Manhunt.

"The sneaking is the challenging part but we do it to get to witness exquisite violence"

At first we’ll have to perform simple tasks to get a grip of the controls (it’s a third person view kind of game, much like GTA but without the cars) and the enemies are few and far between. We learn that we often have to rely on melee weaponry such as chains, sickles, knifes and bats – which means that if more than one enemy spots us – we’re as good as dead. Stealth is the name of the game as we crawl through the shadows of run down areas and sneak up on people to kill. The more gruesome the better, and this is determined by how long we charge our attack from behind. It’s a risk and reward kind of thing with three levels of goryness. I can absolutely see why this game had a hard time with lawyers and age restrictions because the way Cash kills his victims is pretty much the core of the game. The sneaking is the challenging part but we do it to get to witness exquisite violence – where people get strangled, stabbed, their throats cut, their skulls smashed to bits with brains flying everywhere. And the sounds, the gasping for air, the panic in their voices as Cash tears them apart… Man, it’s so cool.

The whole game is coated in an ”old VHS”-vibe, which ties in with the notion that it’s all part of the snuff movie making. Movie grain, static and those classic VHS artifacts and tracking issues are all present to make it feel like you’re watching a forbidden movie about real snuff. This is what I talked about earlier when I said it had a graphical style not really seen before. Not to my knowledge at least.

But it’s not all good. The later part of Manhunt is much more action focused with a lot of shooting. I really prefer the stealthy aspect of the game (something I never thought I’d say as I’m normally not entertained by stealth segments), because it’s where the game shines. The silent sneaking up on someone that’s soon to be a bloody puddle of meat. The shooting, while also very graphic, just makes it feel a bit too similar to a regular shooter – and it doesn’t really have the shooting nailed. Think of GTA 3 and you’ll understand. It’s just… a lot of auto locking to be able to hit anything at all and the controls are too clunky to feel natural. But I got through it, from start to finish in a couple of days with two instances where I had to look up a walkthrough just to get some advice. Certain areas had me pulling my hair out with over 20 retries.

When the credits rolled I thought ”Damn, minus the controls, this is a gem, an absolute gem, even today!”. And that pretty much sums it up. If you like gore and sinister themes then Manhunt is a must. No question about it.

16 May 2018

Review: Fable (Xbox)

Here’s one of those ”this is why I got an Xbox”-games that I have never really beaten, but started so many times. I don’t really know why I haven’t played it all the way through because I remember I was utterly impressed with the graphics and the amount of fun stuff to do. Anyway, I’ve beaten it now. Here’s what I think. (Note: I’m skipping the explanation of the formula, if you’re reading this blog you probably already know about the franchise.)

At first I thought Fable was about a vast and unique world to explore. Then I realized the map wasn’t all that big to be honest. So I changed my mind and had Fable pegged as a game with endless choices and possibilities. Then I realized there wasn’t all that much to change. Sure, the story is changing depending on my choices, but not in a lot of ways. It’s more or less ”Do you want to be good or evil? Here’s good and evil quests and things to do.” A or B. So what is it about Fable then, that makes it so appealing? Having played it half-way through multiple times and now finally ALL the way through once, I’d say it’s the immersive setting. It’s the dialogue, the music, the mood of it all!

"It feels like I’m taking part in a old fairytale"

It feels like I’m taking part in a old fairytale (albeit a very grim one from time to time). There’s excitement, there’s sadness, there’s humour, there’s bravery and all the good stuff that makes a great story. My main problem with the game, because I actually have one, is that the storyline is way too short. I went on every side quest I could find and the credits still rolled not 10 hours into it. Granted I didn’t care about most of the demon doors (doors that open when certain more or less cryptic requirements are met) and I had a build that focused on strength/melee so I didn’t expand on my magic abillities (I bet that’s where a lot of grinding and character development takes place). This might have been why it was over so quickly, but even so, the story quests could’ve been a lot more. If you rush things and are a good player I bet you could wrap this game up in under 5 hours.

On the other hand it’s pretty nice with a game that isn’t unrealisticly long. Fable doesn’t overstay its welcome one bit. It just delivers a short but sweet tale of magic, action and revenge. I get to make a few decisions along the way that somewhat tweaks the turn of events and when it’s over I really feel motivated to look up Fable 2. (I’ve already beaten that as well but it was on Xbox 360 so that’s no candidate for review here.)

27 September 2017

Review: The Bard's Tale (Xbox)

The Bard’s Tale is a self-aware humorous action RPG with a witty brittish narrator and a randy main character that is only after ”coin and cleavage” as it were. Sounds like a simple concept, right? It is. It’s perhaps even a bit too simple.

The story begins with the Bard sending in a magic rat into a tavern to scare the owner, ”rescue” her from the rat and then recieve… rewards… The things he need to do to get laid and earn the silver snowballs on him and before he know it he’s knee deep into quest after quest over the, rather small, land. Gradually we earn stronger abilities, stronger helpers to summon (through songs, because the gimmick has to make some sort of sense I guess) and after a few hours of fetch quests, peculiar meetings with strange people and a whole lot of senseless killing it dawned on me that this is a pretty repetetive action RPG with only the most basic of components. It feels like one of those ”what if we did this sort of video game, lol”-ideas that shouldn’t have seen the light of day. Not in it’s current form at least.

"I was fed up with the humour and the gameplay but I still had 15 hours to go"

After a handful of hours I was fed up with the humour and the gameplay but I still had 15 hours to go. That’s right. A game that showed me everything it had to offer during the first three hours dragged out to a 20 hour journey. I didn’t care for the Bard or his quest what so ever and I honestly picked it up mainly because I thought it’d be much funnier with more good jokes. But it just didn’t deliver. So once again, I played through a game just so that I could mark it as cleared. Out of duty to my backlog. Not because I wanted to keep playing. It’s a curiousity and a time killer, sure, but I can’t see myself going through it again in the future. It wasn’t very good. A pity.