Recently it is the feeling where game industry settles, but what you do?

Yeah, I typed a “What are you playing lately?” sentence in Japanese and babelfished it. Thought it would be more funny than the usual. :P

So this time of the year is supposed to be a lull for the game industry, but I find it never is. (Maybe because of the late January releases are always so huge and plentiful.)

Nevertheless, question stands, what’s up with you and games? Me?

Civilization IV for one. I know lots of people don’t like how the 3D graphics were brought in just for snazziness, but in a game that’s basically map blocks with stats, I think its important to have a real human feel to it. And I never get tired of seeing various religious dignitaries spread my love around or seeing my ships sail the ocean. I almost always play with the settings so that war never or seldom arises and I can peacefully go without any conflict. I loved the approach of spreading culture more. One day I may try to get into the turn-based combat system, but not yet. I’m having too much fun this way.

New laptop doesn’t just mean Civ IV, but Neverwinter Nights, which always ran too slow on my old one to really get into. So far so good, though I had to import a couple of pictures for my player character, because so much of the character art is just so awful (good lawd, Bioware!) I’m trying to finish all the official stuff before I go onto the player-created things. The so-called greyness of the campaign hasn’t bothered me yet, I think a lot of the incidental characters are pretty colorful to talk to. It reminds me of a mix of new-styled Infinity Engine play and old-style Dungeon Master hacking, with just an overhead perspective. Though I’m seeing what people mean about all the random treasure: I’m beginning to feel like I’ve been hired on a jihad to rid the world of crates and boxes. I’m playing a Bard BTW.

More new laptop fun in the form of Syberia, which mystifies me (and not because of the puzzles). I like it, but not for the reasons everyone else seems to like it for some reason.

I’ve also been replaying the Golden Sun games recently. I just a really huge urge all of a sudden for completely vanilla RPG gameplay and when I got back into it, that I like these games better now than I did when they were first released. You’d think it would be the opposite…Man, the puzzles in these games are really good (isn’t it nice to come back to puzzle intensive games after you’ve forgotten the solutions?), as is the gooey creaminess of the Djinn customization.

For a somewhat less banal RPG design, I’ve been playing Education, a game where you play a girl who graduated from basic school and is now attending a magic school on a floating island. I know the setting sounds familiar, but the gameplay includes exploring the island, picking a major, earning credits and then working through undergrad classes to get to graduate classes and well, graduate, and doing various part time jobs to finance your education. Its quite fresh and I like it.

And last, but certainly not least, Rogue Galaxy, the game I find myself always wanting to play when I can’t play it. There’s so much to love! All of Level 5’s various user friendliness kindness to the player. Love the way graphics design accomplishes the feel of different planets through extreme attention to planning and layout. Gasped when I saw that your characters don’t just run up against barriers, but can jump and climb and swim their way around. Tickled pink with the endlessly various combat.

I love changing my player character to different members, as they all take quite a bit of skill to master and are all fun characters, I like particularly playing around with every party member’s first and secondary weapons. Take Simon, for instance, who looks like an alien rhinoceros/anteater and who is a pragmatic, energetic, chemically-scarred, thick accent-speaking, pirate family man. He wields various rocket launchers (20-barrel monstrosities seemingly grafted to his amazing technicolor coat) and gaudy flame throwers/ice beams/electricity generators/pure death cannons!

Or pirate badass Zegram, who I must mention, has a red eyepatch bolted to his face! He wields various shuriken and katana. I’m not going to say anything more about him other than plead with you not to skip the cutscene where he and the main character go at it against each other. (Level 5 has marked the point you need to be advance the plot with a star on the map and allowed you to ignore every single cutscene and piece of dialogue in the game in the options, so you can play it completely storyless without wondering what you have to do next, if that’s what you want.)

Come to think of it, Rogue Galaxy’s party members pretty much only come in three categories: aliens, pirates and robots.

Yeah and I’m also addicted to catching, raising and playing Chess meets Advance Wars with the little bugs. That’s typical Level 5 for you. Basically, I feel like the game is one big generous gift from them, right down to the pleasant letter Hino writes at the beginning of the manual.

Mmmmm, Rogue Galaxy.

-Kitsune

I can’t wait for Rogue Galaxy.

Right now I’m playing WoW, mostly. Against my better judgement, but hey, it’s something I can do with my girlfriend while we live 700km apart.

Think I’m going to pick up Mega Man Maverick Hunter for the PSP, as soon as I finish Final Fantasy 5, so that I don’t mind the upgrade. Also want to grab Tokobot, and would have done so already if I had any idea what firmware it requires.

Other than that, the next game on my horizon is basically Oblivion, which will shatter my dreams yet again in that way only Bethesda can ever achieve.

Has Sony narrowed down the release date for Rogue Galaxy in the US? Because I really really want it.

-Tom

Not that I know of; it would seem that they’re trying to plan where they won’t be crushed in between the release of dual Square Enix huge 'ems Kingdom Hearts 2 and Final Fantasy XII. I’m going to guess May, but if not by then, only to expect an announcement at E3. While Dark Cloud 2 only came out a little while after Dark Chronicle (3 or 4 months, I believe), there’s a lot more to translate in Rogue Galaxy than there ever was in Chronicle and a lot of it could prove pretty tricky.

Just because I can’t stop talking about the game, I have to go on and demonstrate four ways in which Level 5’s design ethics rock.

The first way is the method in which they’ve solved one of my biggest caveats with party-based AI action RPG combat. You select a leader to play as and other two act on AI (though you can change at any time, which is always good). Like usual, they act one of four different settings. However, unlike other RPGs where the braindead will go wasting your items and use up all their MP with bad use of special abilities, the characters will not use items or abilities until they ask you first. It appears subtly right above your basic stats for each character, either one or two suggestions. You can either ignore their request and they won’t do it, or tell them, yes, they can do it, using either the L1 or L2 button. There are even options to tell them what you do and don’t want them suggesting in battle. Therefore, your comrades, never irritating and always feel intelligent and like a team. I feel like its the perfect solution to all the old problems. Since it mapped to buttons you can push without interrupting anything you’re doing, it completely painless.

But how do they get these abilities? That’s number two. Characters earn new upgrades or abilities by setting items into slots that each character has on their respective “inspiration board.” Its kinda like a sphere grid, but way better. In any case, whenever you get a new item that can be set in a slot, the main menu option for the board will glow slightly to let you know and so will the slot on their board and the character’s face.

Furthermore, in the item menu you can check if the item can be used on any character’s board by selecting the “inspiration.” Thus, its completely user friendly and leaves you to concentrate on the gooey goodness of the system: how to use items in a game where many are limited, rare and useful in various other ways. Just like how Dark Cloud 2 had systems that all ran into each other, so does this. Items at shopkeepers have limited inventory and get restocked or resupplied periodically. Yet you can sell stock to various stores by managing a factory that produces items. You can see how systems like that go around in circles and enhance the whole, right?

Number three is the way abilities are implemented in battles. Clearly, Level 5 was influenced by their work on Dragon Quest, because they have a serious feel of really in-depth and varied application. For instance, one of the very first abilities you can get is one that makes the main character’s sword glow with lightning. This does several things: it breaks the guards of strong enemies, it makes combo linking easier, it lengthens the amount of time they are stunned by your blow, it will periodically shock creatures so they can’t move, increases your damage and gives your weapon much greater lightning element strength. And yet it doesn’t feel at all overpowered. Level 5’s clear appreciation for what different gamers like is in effect here too. If you like Final Fantasy style flashy effects, there are those in abundance. If you hate that and just want to get on with the battle, you can skip the animations.

As you go on in the game the abilities go from being very different specials for each character to something more like techs in Chrono Trigger. Depending on who is in your party you can combo into new abilities that works exactly the same way as double techs and triple techs in CT. Anyone who has played CT can probably attest to how much fun that was and how much additional depth it added to choosing party selections.

The fourth way also shows a little bit of Dragon Quest influence. Every savepoint allows you to warp instantly to every other savepoint on the planet, making backtracking and tedious travel at an absolute minimum. Also, the item storage is freely available at all savepoints, as is your hunter ranking, which is kind of like your rewards and status for all the fighting you do, which you can redeem and update from the savepoints.

Yeah, I can’t stop talking about this game, sorry. But I hope you can see at least a little bit all the reasons why I want other action RPGs to steal liberally from this game.

-Kitsune