Archives for category: RPG Rewind

Now I’ve finished the two areas south of Beregost and have finally found my way to Nashkel.  I’ve started to realize why people don’t like Garrick: he has 6 hit points at level one and dies all the time.  He got killed by a gibberling of all things!  I ended up putting him in the rear with Imoen and let him use his crossbow but this didn’t last long as I quickly ran out of bolts.  First lesson learned is ranged weapons are your friend.

bub

I then ran into a vampiric wolf.  Now understand it has been a long time since I’ve messed around with D&D or a D&D-based game so I’d forgotten that vampiric creatures can only be harmed by magical weapons.  It took me a couple of reloads to realize that I wasn’t going to win that fight at this point in the game.  I skirted around the wolf and continued south.

dream

I ran into Foreshadow who let me know that Neverwinter Nights would be coming soon.  That was clever.  I ran into a member of The Flaming Fist near Nashkel.  I’d forgotten the fake-southern accent they have (“Ah serve tha Flaymin’ Fist!”).  I also ran into the ever-friendly Bub Snikt.

As my group was resting I had the first dream sequence.  I’d forgotten about them from when I played before.  They’re nice and completely unnecessary, which is why I like them.  They add some color to the game and help remind you that Something Big Is Going To Happen.

ch-2

As we arrived at Nashkel we finished with Chapter One.  I remember Nashkel being a big place so I’m not sure how quickly I can find Minsc.  Once I have him I’ll need to rescue Dynaheir but she’s a good mage so those two should complete my group.

One interesting thing about Baldur’s Gate is how many possible characters you can add to your party.  For example: I bumped off Khalid and now I’ve found myself with the bard Garrick.  I don’t remember Garrick at all from before.  In fact, I’m pretty sure I never ran across the guy.  Now he’s in my party.  Do I want a bard in my party?  I’m not sure but I’ve decided to not stress too much about who I’m taking with me.  Garrick looks a bit like a weenie but he’ll be able to cast spells and can probably use a bow so he’ll make do.

I wrapped up a couple of quests in Beregost and made a short detour back to the Friendly Arm Inn to finish a quest.  No sooner had I arrived than Jaheira began complaining that I should be on the road to Nashkel.  I’d forgotten what a demanding little princess she is.  But I don’t want her to leave my party as she is my only healer so we’re now heading toward Nashkel.  I’m pretty sure that’s where Minsc hangs out.

My character is a mighty level two fighter by the way.  Tremble before me ye evildoers or I’ll be forced to use strong language!

So I guess I’m officially playing Baldur’s Gate now.  It seems to work really well on this little netbook.  The ability to pause to issue orders is nice as I’m not particularly deft with the trackpad.  And with the EasyTutu mod I can play it in 800×600 resolution so I’m partying like it’s 2000 instead of 1998.

chapter-1

It’s interesting to play this again after playing Baldur’s Gate II.  Admittedly that was almost 10 years ago so my memory is probably a bit cloudy but I don’t remember Imoen being quite so irritating.  Wasn’t she dark and brooding in the sequel?

We already had our brief but fatal encounter with Sarevok.  Gorion is a dead dude now and we buried him instead of running for our frickin’ lives from the Big Bad.

dead-gorion

Our group arrived at the Friendly Arm Inn and defeated the weak wizard who was sent to kill my guy.  My guy’s name is Ratch Binatch by the way.  I liked the way it sounded.  Anyway, he’s dead and we met up with Jaheira and the always irritating Khalid.

Bet you can’t guess what I did as soon as I got out into the wilderness?  Yep.  I put Khalid in the lead, refused to heal him and watched him get eaten by a dire wolf.  No burial for him.

I’m going to move down toward Nashkel now.  I don’t remember where Misc is but I need to get Minsc.  I love Minsc.

I’m not sure I’m ready for this.

I got a spiffy new Asus 1000HE this past week so of course I’m putting some games on it to play around with.  Well I somehow wound up installing Baldur’s Gate II and then Baldur’s Gate, along with Arcanum and Planescape: Torment.  All of them look and work wonderfully on this little thing.

So I actually started up Baldur’s Gate for the first time in years.  I have no idea if I’m going to stick with it but I just left Candlekeep and am on my way with Imoen to the Friendly Arm Inn.

I’m making no commitments at this point but I could see me enjoying this.

Digital Devil Saga is the first Shin Megami Tensei game I’ve spent much time playing.  It apparently is known for marrying the traditional SMT gameplay with a more character-centered and developed story.  Having finished it, I can easily see how it could be a gateway drug for the rest of the SMT series.

Story

What if the world you lived in wasn’t the real world?  That’s the intriguing question posed by DDS as we follow Serph and his companions through a series of unfortunate events.  They are members of a clan living in the Junkyard where it always rains, and they are forced to battle other clans for domination.  The winner gets to ascend to Nirvana, though no one really knows what that means.  As the story progresses and Serph’s group defeats the other clans we receive hints and occasional glimpses of another reality which raises more questions.  Why is there a cat around?  Why are there no children?  Why do the characters have no emotions and later why do they begin to have emotions?  Who is Sera, the mysterious girl dropped into the middle of all this?

I really liked the story in DDS.  As I was playing I kept trying to figure out what was going on and what was behind this strangeness.  The characters were also intriguing and though they were somewhat one-dimensional, this was explained as the game’s story progressed.  I do wish Serph wasn’t the stereotypical Silent Protagonist and I also found Cielo seriously annoying but otherwise I wanted to know more about these characters.

Obviously DDS is the first part of a two-part series of games.  The story will be completed (hopefully!) in the sequel so many of my questions are still unanswered.  Presumably the second game will need to spend more time developing the story as there seems like quite a bit to wrap up.

The major complaint could be that there wasn’t enough of the story.  DDS is primarily set up as a dungeon crawler so the story is typically not a prominent feature.  Going into the game I knew this and appreciated not being taken out of the game every 10 minutes with a cutscene (hello Grandia III!).  The story elements usually arrived between dungeons and always left me hooked with more questions.  Someone looking for a very plot-heavy game filled with cinematics and overflowing with emotional scenes might be disappointed.  There is a story, and it is a strong story.  It’s just not thrown in your face as much as other RPG’s.

Rating: 8.0

Gameplay

Digital Devil Saga is a difficult game.  Though the difficulty was toned down a bit from Nocturne by all accounts, DDS nevertheless presents quite a challenge.  I’m happy to say that I saw the game over screen many times.  What makes it difficult?  First, the encounter rate is set relatively high.  There were times in dungeons where I would literally take the equivalent of two or three steps and be hit by another random battle.  Second, the game relies heavily on enemies who use status attacks as well as elemental attacks that target your characters’ weaknesses.  To succeed, you need to have a phenomenal memory or else write down what monsters repel ice attacks, what ones are weak to force attacks and so on.  Third, the dungeons are long and frequently set you up with surprise encounters, dead ends and confusing layouts.  Last, there are just some encounters that will kick your ass.  Several times I had full health and was feeling cocky when I ran into an enemy that hit my party with sleep spells and then the next turn hit me with Calm Death which kills sleeping characters.  It’s the nature of the game and you adjust to it quickly.

These things would ordinarily make the game irritating but I found I didn’t mind, in part, because the battles are over so quickly.  Combat is a snappy affair, though it is definitely turn-based.  And battles not only give you experience but also Atma (skill points) which are used to level up your Mantras (skills).  This makes each battle significant as it draws you closer to that more powerful healing spell or nifty attack.

Also, I found that I had to change my playstyle to be successful at this game.  I don’t tend to buff, use items much or exploit enemy weaknesses unless I get lucky.  DDS requires you to think carefully about the game you are playing.  Let your mind wander too often, or become stubborn and try to push to the next save point without fully healing your party and the game will spank you.  But when you do play the game, paying attention to what’s in front of you, accepting what needs to be done and “going with the flow” it becomes a very addictive Zen-like experience.

The game is certainly frustrating at times, but it also goes out of its way to help you along.  You’ll almost never find a boss battle where you don’t find a save point first and a warning that “Behind this door there appears to be an evil presence.  Do you still want to go in?”  As you level up your characters will sometimes spontaneously recover HP or MP and save points are generously spaced and some will let you teleport back to various points in the dungeon.

It’s a well-designed game and obviously the system has been tweaked and honed since Nocturne.  I spent a very enjoyable 30 hours with it and there was a lot of optional content I didn’t explore.

Rating: 9.0

Presentation

Let’s start with the character and monster design of Kazuma Kaneko which is nothing short of phenomenal.  He has the ability to create characters that are stylish and otherworldly at the same time.  It suits the game perfectly and the monster design is nearly as good.  Some of the creatures are just bizarre.  I’m still not sure why Argilla’s demon form has sharp-toothed jaws on her breasts but it seems to fit with the game for some reason.

Other visuals continue the trend of being otherworldly and stylish.  While most of the locations are stark and not particularly jaw-dropping, they all maintain a cohesiveness that suits the strange game world of the Junkyard.  While other games have made my Playstation 2 work harder, DDS is no slouch and I never found myself thinking “Boy, I wish this game looked nicer.”  The framerate is solid throughout and there were no visual glitches.  Graphically, the game is very polished.

Voice acting is also particularly strong.  Withe the exception of Cielo’s annoying accent and Serph’s silence, the actors all turned in great performances.  It’s nice to see how far game production has come since Final Fantasy X’s voice acting.  Equally strong is the soundtrack by Shoji Meguro.  Several times I would pause in a particular area just to continue listening to a song.  I’d buy the soundtrack if I could find it without spending a fortune.

Rating: 9.0

Conclusion

I’m glad this is the first part of two as I have another whole game to look forward to.  I’m anxious to spend more time with Serph, Heat and Argilla, particularly after the cliffhanger ending and teaser scene after the credits of DDS.  From start to finish this has been a challenging, intriguing and lovely game.

Final score: 8.7

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