Sunday, March 21, 2010

Too Little, Too Late: Episode 2 - Pokémon Heart Gold & Soul Silver Review [Archived]

Too Little Too Late
Episode 2

By: Grover Wimberly IV

Note: This is a review of the SoulSilver version. The HeartGold version is largely identical in structure save for the appearance of some pokemon and the legendaries that are obtained in each game. In the case of SoulSilver, Lugia is encountered at level 45 where as Ho-Oh is encountered at level 70. HeartGold is reversed.*

*I'm not reviewing the Pokewalker. I am considering it a separate peripheral.

The year 2000, hard to believe it was ten years ago. But if you're like me, the hottest handheld game at the time was Pokemon Gold and Silver versions for the Game Boy and Game Boy Color. I have fond memories of 5th grade where we would all bring our Game Boys (and the link cables) to recess and play multiplayer battles on the picnic tables after lunch. It was a simpler time, but it was a fun time. That's for sure. These two games have pretty much accurately brought that feeling back even after the first time of turning my DS on with the game inside. It's that good. But perhaps I should grade it by the guidelines, shouldn't I? I did make them after all. c.c

For fairness sake, I'm going to be showing a lot of footage from the original Gold and Silver and compare them to the gameplay within the new. For people who are on the edge of getting it.

The introduction:


Storyline (20 points) -

The storyline in Heart Gold and Soul Silver takes place chronologically three years after the events of Fire Red and Leaf Green for the GBA. For people who played the older versions, Gold and Silver took place three years after the original Red and Blue. So in essence HeartGold and SoulSilver are the chronological sequels of Red, Blue, Yellow, FireRed, and LeafGreen.

Not much has changed storywise from the original Gold Silver to HeartGold and SoulSilver other than the enhancement to the storyline from Pokemon Crystal. (Suicune story and what not) and its inclusion into the game.

As in Gold/Silver, the player must traverse the Johto Region, eradicate Team Rocket, investigate the Lake of Rage and claim/fight Red Gyarados, help the kimono girls in Violet City capture the legendary pokemon of the respective version, beat gym leaders and the Elite Four, beat the Kanto Gym Leaders, and then beat Red atop Mt. Silver.

The story is much more indepth than recent versions of Diamond, Pearl, and Platinum and I'm very happy that Nintendo and Game Freak went to their roots and re-released this marvel for the DS.

They did clear up some things, however, and I'd like to mention them.

In the case of Team Rocket, they added four central executives to the story. Back in Gold/Silver they were simply called Executives, but they now have their own names, hair colors and personalities.

In the original Gold/Silver, Giovanni was rarely mentioned in the game. Due to a better translation, he is now officially mentioned in the game by various Rockets, but he is not seen unless you obtain a Celebi from an event and go to the Ilex Forest.

Mentions to new regions Hoenn and Sinnoh are referenced and alluded to by various NPCs, and a lot of missing points were patched up.

Here is some gameplay of the storyline:

Score: 20/20

Gameplay (20 points) -

Needless to say, the gameplay presented in HeartGold/SoulSilver is way improved from its original counterparts.

My only complaint is that the frame rate is slower than its GBA predecessors. It's very noticeable if you use the Pal Park, or if you're trying to complete the GBA versions concurrently. Ruby/Sapphire/Emerald/FireRed/LeafGreen run at 60 frames per second where as HeartGold/SoulSilver only run at 40 frames per second. It's nothing huge or game breaking, but it offers noticeably slow gameplay for the game.

They also added 2v2 gameplay from the newer games that were not in the original Gold/Silver.

Here's some comparisons:

Original Falkner in G/S

Score: 19/20

Music (20 points) -

The music of Pokemon HeartGold/SoulSilver was done by Junichi Masuda and Go Ichinose. The music team never changes from game to game, and I think that is great because despite different themes being used for different regions, it gives the games a feeling of consistency between them.

My only gripe for the music is that the new legendary pokemon battle themes seem uninspired, but fortunately they do not play that often.

Another comparison between the original and the new.

Oh, I forgot to mention, you have the option to change the music back to the original beeps/bloops of the original if you want. You'll need a special key item though.

Score: 18/20

Innovation to Genre (20 points) -

This game didn't really innovate anything into the RPG genre. Everyone knows how Pokemon works by now. This didn't add anything too significant that I would consider innovative. This is a remake, after all.

Score: 16/20


Re-playability (10 points -- 20 if not a sequel) -

It's Pokemon. These series of games are re-playable by default. That's the great thing about them, you'll be playing them long after the main story is beaten. HeartGold/SoulSilver has online battles against friends or random people world wide in the Battle Tower, and also has a Wi-Fi plaza, and you can climb up the battle tower with a friend. You'll be playing for hours and hours, and hours.

Score: 10/10


Nostalgic Inclusion (10 points -- 0 if not a sequel) -

Pokemon HeartGold and SoulSilver effectively recaptures the Johto and Kanto regions in a beautiful rendition of 2.5D. Every dungeon from the original as well as ones that didn't make it into Gold/Silver from Red/Blue are included as well. This includes places like the Power Plant, Seafoam Islands, and Cerulean (Mewtwo's) Cave.

Score: 10/10


Final Score: 93/100 A (VERY Highly Recommended)

I highly recommend this game to anyone who owns a Nintendo DS. In short, it's worth every freaking dollar. It's very fun and addictive. I had to force my DS to die just so I could focus on studying for my finals and writing this review. (I'm not lying. I this game. XD)

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Too Little, Too Late: Episode 1 - FINAL FANTASY XIII Review [Archived]

Too Little Too Late
Episode 1

By: Grover Wimberly IV

Note: This is a review of the Xbox 360 version. The PlayStation3 version is not much different other than the fact that the 360 version requires the swapping of disks and a higher resolution that takes advantage of the PlayStation 3's capabilities.

Storyline (20 points) -

The storyline for Final Fantasy XIII attempts to establish a story about the Crystals, which is a common theme in most Final Fantasy games. However, there hasn't been a story that revolved around crystals in a futuristic sci-fi setting, and Final Fantasy XIII pulls it off, and establishes it very well. It mixes classic storyline themes from older titles with the setting and futuristic elements of the newer ones.

You can really sympathize with some of the characters too. Without spoiling the story, there are some scenes that really play with your emotions, so to say, and it feels almost real.

I found parallels in this story to books such as Fahrenheit 451 and 1984. The story in this game always has you thinking that Big Brother is watching, and I even found some parallels to the real world and government. It's kinda creepy if you think about it.

Also seeing as Final Fantasy XIII is supposed to be part of a collection of many games in the Fabula Nova Crystallis collection, I'm anxious to play the other games to try and find a connection in mythology and the lore of the setting in this game with the upcoming related titles in the series.

Score: 18/20

Gameplay (20 points) -

The gameplay in Final Fantasy XIII is straightforward. ...Literally. Until the end of the game, the game is extremely linear. So linear in fact that treasure boxes are set off to the parts that aren't. A majority of the dungeons in the game are just long lines of ledges and walkways and that's it. Expect to see very few branches off the main road, and if you do, it doesn't go anywhere worthwhile. That was really disappointing, in my opinion, but it makes up with the amount of cutscenes in the game, and there are a LOT of them. Consider the game a video game Avatar, and I'll probably mention it again later down the line.

The battle system is very fluid, and I like how they brought back the "transition to another dimension" feel that is reminiscent of older role-playing titles.

The battle system does have its flaws though, and sometimes the AI will not do exactly you want it to do and end up getting you killed which leads me to my next point.

If your main character (leader of the party) dies, it's game over. It doesn't matter if person 2 or 3 in your party has HP coming out of their bunghole, if the leader dies, it's automatically over.

But the cool part is, you have the option of exiting the battle and being thrown right before the battle you lost, instead of going back all the way to the last save point which matters little anyway because the area is littered with save points. I'm serious, never have I seen so many save points in a game. Since due to the storyline, the protagonists are not welcomed to towns in general, the save spots also act as Weapon and Item shops which is pretty nifty.

Anyway, back to the battle system. The game does away with the "save your HP until the boss" endurance feeling that usually arises in role-playing games and your HP is automatically recovered at the end of each battle. This is a welcomed change because battles are very difficult (and frequent) in the game, and it disallows running away from a fight if you've already engaged due to what I've explained above about losing battles and boss fights.

Also, the summoning system in this game is freaking amazing. Take a look for yourself:

The summons also act as vehicles or a personal aide to the characters in the story. Since there aren't any specific character specials or limit breaks, the summons act as them pretty much. The animations are flawless and the summons themselves are not overpowered like in FFX and not totally useless like in XII. It's very balanced and fits with the battle system extremely well.

The things I do not like about gameplay in Final Fantasy XIII is that it has a very long drawn out tutorial. I mean expect to keep learning how to do things by the second disc.

It very slowly adds new things over the course of the story, but there is a lot of things to remember.

I also like how you must constantly switch roles in battle via Paradigm Shift. (Paradigm shift replaces switching out party members from X and XII so characters can perform different roles as to see fit). Even though you can only control the leader, you can give generic party commands to the party members, but you can never control them directly, not until the end of the game at least when you can switch leaders freely at will.

I also applaud the game designers for allowing you to juggle monsters in the air. For an extended amount of time, now that is really fun!

Here is a video of some gameplay of the protagonist sneaking through town.

Score: 17/20

Music (20 points) -

The music of Final Fantasy XIII was done by Masashi Hamauzu. This was not his first Final Fantasy composition, as he did work on some themes for Final Fantasy X. But this is the first time he has composed a Final Fantasy by himself. XIII also marks the first game in the main Final Fantasy series that did not have any input from long time FF composer Nobuo Uematsu.

Anyway, the score in Final Fantasy XIII is actually done quite well, the battle theme is very well done and matches the feel of the battle system.

However, my complaints with the music is that a lot of it is forgettable. This also had a similar effect in previous installments such as XI and XII. Off the top of my head the only themes I can even remember as I type this are the Battle and basic Boss themes.

Another complaint I have is that a lot of the music is repetitive, especially with the dungeons, it kinda gets old when you're hearing vocals music loop over and over with the music. I'm not saying it's bad music perse, but when it begins to loop, it loses its listening value.

All in all I would have to say the music in Final Fantasy XIII isn't bad, but it's not anything over impressive. It doesn't have that memorable feel to it as the older installments do and the songs are very forgettable and repetitive.

One grip I have about the main theme is that there should have been an option to have the Japanese theme as well as the English one. Trading out the original theme for Leona Lewis was kind of trying to go too mainstream in my opinion, and I didn't like that too much.

Another grip I have is that they dropped some music that was notable to the FF franchise, but to keep this review fair, that's in another category.

Score: 16/20

Innovation to Genre (20 points) -

I would have to say Final Fantasy XIII did a hell of a lot to change the RPG genre. I've really never played a role-playing game before that went to such lengths to get a well known music artist in Japanese and English and get two incredibly different songs to match the main theme.

I've also seen comparisons to the recent blockbuster film Avatar when comparing XIII in the video game, and I would have to agree. It would be very difficult to top how innovative this game is and it's influence to modern single role-playing games for next-generation consoles after this.

Score: 20/20

Re-playability (10 points -- 20 if not a sequel) -
Although the game lacks any form of a NewGame+ mode (like most Final Fantasy titles do), Final Fantasy XIII has a hunts system which can be undertaken near the ending of the game.

Like Final Fantasy XII, this encourages players to come back to the game later on or before the end game to try out all of the miscellaneous monsters and hard to kill optional bosses for items and equipment. The concept is pretty solid, and from what I've seen the rewards are fairly decent. I haven't progressed this far in the game as I am only on chapter 8 of this post so the score is pending and may be adjusted as I see fit later on.

Score: 10*/10

Nostalgic Inclusion (10 points -- 0 if not a sequel) -

I have a lot to say about this one...
If you're a Final Fantasy veteran like myself, you will be very disappointed to know that they completely dropped the Prelude, Prologue, and Victory Themes! Like I've said though, it's not like the music is bad, but they dropped some series renditions that I wish they would have kept, even as if it were to be a homage.

XIII Prelude:

Like I said it's not anything to really serious bring the score down, I was just kinda disappointed in it. As for the Victory theme, that's been scrapped for a much smaller one, but I think the newer one fits the pace of the battles, so I don't see that necessarily being a bad thing, but the classic one should have made a cameo appearance or something.
The chocobo theme remains the same, though it was remixed for the new game as they have been in the series since its debut in Final Fantasy II.


For series veterans, they will be happy to know that Odin, Shiva, Alexander and Bahamut do make an appearance as playable summonings.

Carbuncle, Ifrit, and Ramuh make appearances but aren't playable.

Score: 6/10

Total: 87/100 points - Grade: B+ (Highly Recommended)