Xenogears – Retro JRPG Game Review

Xenogears is easily in my top 10 favorite games of all time. I also enjoy Xenosaga and Xenoblade as well which are spinoffs of this series (and involved most of the same staff). Xenogears was revolutionary for its time because of the extremely dark storyline and incredibly strong religious overtones which were considered to be almost “too mature” for a video game, especially in North America.

It had both scifi and fantasy elements; by that I mean, it really went into depth in some areas explaining the scientific theories and concepts behind certain things – but then other things have a more “magical” feeling that require suspension of belief. It also blended high tech (mecha, A.I., and space travel) with primitive “fantasy” style settings and characters.

Xenogears had some stellar production values and featured beautiful cutscenes, along with possibly the best soundtrack on Playstation One. Not only that, but it had 65+ hours of gameplay. Its storyline was not cookie cutter – it was very different from most other JRPG – and even its combat system was different from the traditional menu-based systems used by most other RPGs of the 90s.

To this day, Xenogears remains quite possibly one of the best JRPGs of all time. It has aged extremely well and is a game that really any JRPG fan should consider a must-play.

Title: Xenogears

Platform: Playstation One

Genre: JRPG

Publisher: SquareSoft

Release Date: 1998

Where to Buy: Your best choice if you have a PSP, PSVita, PS3, or PS4, is to pick it up on the PSN store. At time of writing it is priced at $9.99 – which is such an incredible buy for such an incredible game. https://store.playstation.com/… – However, if like some gamers out there, you are a Retro Game Collector, you may want the physical edition. At time of this review, Amazon has quite a few copies in stock ranging from $29.99 to $115 depending on the condition of the game disc, case, manuals, etc. You can see what they have available right here: http://www.amazon.com/Xenogears…

Geeky: 5/5 geekygeekygeekygeekygeeky

Sweetie: 5/5 sweetiesweetiesweetiesweetiesweetie

Overall: 60/70 86% B “Very Good Game For Girls”

Gameplay: 10/10 The game world is huge and rich in lore and history for those who love to explore and talk to NPCs or search through books and hidden objects. But even if completionism and immersion aren’t your thing – fear not – this little RPG actually has a pretty fun combat system. The combat system is two fold – in some battles you will be controlling human characters, and using martial arts like abilities as well as items to aid you in battle. This part of the combat relies on a slightly modified version of the “ATB” “Active Time Battle” system used in Chrono Trigger. – The second aspect of combat is with the introduction of large mechs known as Gears. While piloting a gear, you have much more powerful attacks and secret abilities for each character. Either way, when battling, things are sped up a great deal over other primarily menu-driven 90s JRPG – In Xenogears, you have various different levels of attacks, strong, moderate, weak, etc, and each are accessed via a simple button press. The trick is learning which orders of these presses will activate new special abilities and combo attacks. This made the large amount of random encounters (too many in my opinion lol) more enjoyable since combat felt more fluid.

Story: 9/10 I’m not going to really go into too much detail on what the story is about, because I feel, the main point in playing the game is to enjoy the story. As a brief overview, the story initially takes place aboard a spaceship but quickly jumps to present day in a tiny village where a child has lived with no memories of his past. Circumstances happen which drive the child (now a man) out of the village. He seems to go berserk when in the presence of mechanical weapons known as “gears” – As more is revealed we learn how the seemingly unconnected spaceship from the prologue has lead to the events in the present day. But that’s all I will say because to say anything more would definitely spoil the surprise.

So instead I will critique the technical writing and setting of the story. To achieve a more mature “scifi” story, they use a lot of technical details in how the mechs or vehicles, or space technologies or artificial intelligence, etc all work. They borrow from real world theories and terminology which if you look into these theories, you will find more details which helps create the impression that the world/story is very real and quite fascinating.

There really are very few games which rival the “scifi” nature of this title – keeping in mind the difference between scifi and fantasy – scifi is something which could in theory at some point become a reality – and in fact many things that authors have written about in the mid 1900s’ have come to pass as reality today – it’s something that although it seems “unbelievable” could in theory work (example Star Trek goes into explicit detail about the way their ships work – to the point where NASA has even tried to borrow ideas from this series) – Where as with fantasy – it’s more of a magical element, where you’re just expected to take it as “faith” that this is how something works (example, Harry Potter, etc.).

There are few games therefore, with very realistic (all be it, futuristic) technology (such as that found in Star Trek, or in this case, such as that found in Xenogears). – However, Xenogears also blends that Scifi with its own sense of Fantasy and Charm found in your typical JRPG. Not everything is “Scientific” but compared to just about any other JRPG – Xenogears does a pretty good job staying “Scifi” as opposed to dripping into Fantasy when it comes to describing the tech found within the world – Of course, the exception to this is the glaring point that Xenogears deals with Religion as the MAIN focus of the game – the technical stuff is just a backdrop to the story. It creates a believable lore and setting for the game, but ultimately, in the end, due to the focus being on Religion which is in direct “conflict” with science, it creates an interesting dynamic and blend of these two very opposing viewpoints.

Some similarly written games (which rely on real world theories and science to tell their stories) include Stein’s Gate, Ever 17, 999, Never 7, and Remember 11. If you’ve played any of those, that gives you a clue as to the level of detail that really went into creating the story of Xenogears.

However, much like the similar in concept, Evangelion (an anime about mechs and religion), the concepts of Xenogears are sometimes hard to understand. I don’t think Xenogears is quite as philosophical and heavy as Evangelion which can be really “out there” at times – but the subject matter and technical and religious topics dealt with in the story definitely require some critical thinking to fully understand and appreciate.

Also, we never got to see the entire story the way the developers had intended. Xenogears was supposed to be part of a nine part game series however, the studio largely responsible for developing this game (Monolith), broke away from their parent company (Squaresoft) which left fans without a sequel for many years. It’s widely believed that Xenoblade is a “prequel” to Xenogears, however the developers prefer to think of it as taking place in the same universe, but ultimately, an unrelated and separate entry. Of course there’s also a multitude of Xenosaga games as well which also deal with the same themes of space, mechas, war, and artificial intelligence.

Characters: 8/10 – For me, I didn’t find the characters as likable as in Xenosaga. Out of Gears, Blade, or Saga, in my opinion, Saga had the best and most memorable characters. That said, the characters in Xenogears are far from bad – in fact, they are very unique and unlike most other JRPG characters of the 90s. The story begins with a crew aboard a spaceship, which then transcends to a small village and meeting our “hero” Fei Wong. Fei is an orphan with no memories of his past. Things quickly escalate as the village is under attack. Fei goes into some kind of rage which leads to him accidentally destroying most of the village and being banished. He is joined by a village doctor who has extensive knowledge of technology and history. Together they begin to search for clues to Fei’s past. They meet up many other memorable characters including a desert pirate, a prisoner, a religious zealot, and even a cute, fat pink rodent, and of course, a lady love for our hero.

Character Development is really high in this game. The story is told primarily through character interactions and the characters themselves evolve and shift motives and change deeply as the story progresses.

What I really enjoyed was all the mystery in this game. Things, and people, are not at all what they seem at first. From our hero, to the doctor, to the king, to even god, – what you think of the characters and their roles initially will be turned completely on its head by the final quarter of the game. It’s a long game (65+ hours for a single play through) – and the way the story slowly unfolds and learning the true pasts and identities of our “heroes” is very interesting. In fact, I’d say that solving these mysteries is what makes Xenogears such a well-written and fun, and memorable video game.

Graphics: 8/10 – I love the blend of hand-drawn anime cut scenes as well as stunning 3D cut-scenes to help tell the story. However, I feel some of the graphics outside of these cutscenes don’t use the PS1 to its fullest capabilities. The textures have a distinctively grainy feel to them – even for a ps1 game, and the battle animations were not as flashy as I had hoped. Overall though, it is a very detailed game with a high variety in both enemy design as well as environments.

Music: 10/10 – This was the first Squaresoft game to use vocal tracks (something that is super common now among their titles) – and it is a freaking FANTASTIC vocal track too: “Small Two of Pieces”. The piano pieces throughout the game are also just simply beautiful. Small Two of Pieces is maybe my favorite single song from videogame history. Of course there are numerous more up-tempo tracks for battles and when the suspense and action of a scene calls for it.  But what I really enjoyed were the serene and melodic tracks that made up a majority of the album. The music also stands out from any other game with a distinctive Celtic influence.

Replay Value: 5/10 – This is a super long linear game. It is interesting to replay however, as you go into it with a different perspective and knowledge that you didn’t know on your first play through. There may be things that make more sense now, or new things that you notice in the story now that you have all parts of the puzzle. However the 65+ hour long time and huge number of random battles can make multiple replays a bit of a chore.

Overall: 60/70 86% B “Very Good Game For Girls”

Xenogears – Retro JRPG Game Review was originally published on GeekySweetie.com – Geeky & Kawaii Anime, Tech, Toys, & Game Reviews & News

Advertisements

Dark Cloud 2 – Dark Chronicle – Retro JRPG Videogame Review for PS2

A day later than promised, but here is my review for Dark Cloud 2. Dark Cloud 2 improves upon Dark Cloud 1 in almost every way.

(By the way, I reviewed Dark Cloud 1 yesterday, which you can read here.)

You may want to read the review for Dark Cloud 1 first to get the fullest understanding of the Gameplay mechanics, as a lot of those same mechanics are carried over to Dark Cloud 2.

Dark Cloud 2, like its predecessor is an Action-RPG with real-time combat and unique weapon leveling system, procedurally generated dungeons and world and city building gameplay elements.

Title: Dark Cloud 2 (also sometimes referred to by the Japanese title, Dark Chronicle).

Platform: PS2

Genre: Action-RPG

Publisher: Level 5

Where to Buy: Playstation Store has Dark Cloud 2 (digital version) for $14.99. Amazon has the physical disc with prices ranging from $32 to $92 at time of this review, depending on the game’s condition. http://www.amazon.com/Dark-Cloud-2… Amazon also has the digital version, the same as the Playstation Store, for $14.99 – accessible from the same amazon link above.

Geeky: 5/5 geekygeekygeekygeekygeeky

Sweetie: 5/5 sweetiesweetiesweetiesweetiesweetie

Overall: 77/90 86% B “Very Good Game For Girls”

Concept: 10/10 The concept of Dark Cloud 2 is very similar to that in Dark Cloud 1. It’s a Dungeon Crawler with randomly generated dungeons and real-time combat. There’s also multiple quick time events. The city and world building elements return in Dark Cloud 2. The weapon system, and the non-leveling characters also return. The game is enhanced with new features such as fishing and character customization through a unique costume system. Combat is improved, and the game is given a much needed makeover with adorable anime style cel-shaded artwork that looks like it came out of a painting or storybook. The Soundtrack is almost double the size of the original, and has some truly amazing tracks. It also adds voice acting to the game which helps highlight key events and scenes. Yep, in every single way, this game is much better than the original – which was already pretty darn great!

Gameplay: 10/10 Dark Cloud 2 takes everything that made Dark Cloud 1 so great, and then adds in some new features as I mentioned above, an improved combat system, a new fishing “minigame”, ability to customize your characters with different costumes, etc. But at the core, it’s still the Dark Cloud that we all know and love from the first game. You crawl through multiple procedurally generated dungeons, in which you will find artifacts called Geostones which when taken back to town, allow you to place objects, people, houses, even landscaping elements into your city. As you add more to your city, you will begin to recruit new npcs which will open new shops, give you new quests, and make your city come to life. The weapon system also makes a return in Dark Cloud 2. In the Dark Cloud series your characters do not level up or have any stats or abilities. Instead, it is their equipment which levels up during combat and can be refined back in town to add attributes and abilities directly into the Equipment. Also as in Dark Cloud 1, If you over-use the equipment and forget to repair it though you will permanently lose the items, which sucks for rare or high powered gear. However, this element of “risk” definitely makes Gameplay more fun and challenging.

Story: 6/10 Dark Cloud 2’s story is a significant improvement over the bare bones story of Dark Cloud 1. But to me it’s still just not “great”. I still think story is a weak point for this series overall. Dark Cloud 2’s story focuses on Time Travel. A Princess from the future is sent 100 years back in time to try to save her kingdom. To do so, she joins forces with our hero, who is able to also Time Travel (to the future). Using their powers combined they can freely go to the past, present, or future. As you make changes in your town, things begin to change in the future also. It’s a unique and fun concept. As the story progresses you travel between the past, present, and future re-writing certain events to prevent a terrible war from taking place while seeking help from the moon people. I just felt overall, the story lacked a lot of heart or emotion which prevents me from being able to score it higher. I enjoy the time travel concept, but just never felt as immersed or connected to the story as I have in many other JRPG.

Characters: 5/10 Here we have fewer playable characters, down to 2 from 6 in the original game. Also both characters are human looking in appearance and no where near as creative looking as in Dark Cloud 1 (a cat girl, moon person, etc). I just felt the characters themselves also, just like in Dark Cloud 1 were rather flat and didn’t engage me right away. I think maybe it’s the way they interact with other characters and overall a lack of character development that really hurt both games in this series.

Graphics: 8/10 The graphics are a tremendous step up from those in the first game. Gone are the grainy textures and poor lighting. Also gone is the more realistic art style. Instead we have adorable anime inspired cel-shaded artwork. I did deduct 2 points because the characters facial expressions and animations felt stiff as is often a problem with 3d games especially from this time period. Overall I feel Dark Cloud 2 is adorable, and beautiful to look at. Dark Cloud 1 looked more like a PS1 game, while Dark Cloud 2, clearly took full advantage of the PS2 Hardware. It’s not as beautiful and fluid as say, Dawn of Mana, which is another PS2 game that utilizes similar cel-shaded art styles, but it’s very attractive in it’s own right, and the added touch of being able to customize the characters with various costumes really made the game’s art stand out even more.

Music: 10/10 The soundtrack to Dark Cloud 2 has nearly 80 unique tracks (up from the 40-ish tracks in the original game.). Some of these tracks are amazing. It is really a hidden gem among retro JRPG soundtracks. The game is relatively obscure, but I’d rank Dark Cloud 2’s music right up there with other great JRPG such as Final Fantasy or Chrono Trigger.

Voice Acting: 10/10 No expense was spared in localizing this game. Although I’m not really a fan of dubbed voice overs, most of the ones in Dark Cloud 2 are fairly decent. And it’s nice to have Voice Acting added to help highlight key scenes in the story. The game featured almost every high profile voice actor of the 90s.

Replay Value: 8/10 Still a linear (and not great) story, but with a plethora of new gameplay additions, enhanced combat, and already addictive and unique world/city building elements, the randomness of the dungeons, and great music score – this is a game that you will definitely want to replay.

Overall: 77/90 86% B “Very Good Game For Girls”

Dark Cloud 2 – Dark Chronicle – Retro JRPG Videogame Review for PS2 was originally published on GeekySweetie.com – Geeky & Kawaii Anime, Tech, Toys, & Game Reviews & News

Legend of Mana Review – Part 4 of 4 of Secret of Mana Review Series

Check out Parts 1 – 3 of Our Secret of Mana Review Series here:

Secret of Mana / Secret of Mana 2

Secret of Evermore

Secret of Mana 3

Welcome to our 4th and final review of the Secret of Mana series. This time we’re covering the PS1 classic, Legend of Mana. Like Seiken Densetsu 3, Legend of Mana also features several intertwining stories. It brings with it several new gameplay concepts as well such as a world-building aspect, gardening, crafting, and more, making it easily one of the most fun titles in the series. However, like most of the mana games, it suffers from a somewhat weak story, made even weaker by the non-linear nature of this particular game. Of course, out of all of the mana titles, it is by far the prettiest to look at and has a new painting or picture-book like quality to the artwork.

Title: Legend of Mana

Platform: Playstation One

Genre: Action-RPG

Release Date: 1999

Where to Buy: Amazon has the game in used condition for about $28, “collectors” condition for around $60, or brand new in shrink wrap for $140 http://www.amazon.com/Legend… But if collecting is not your thing, it’s much more affordable to go digital and pick it up in the PSN store for just $5.99 https://store.playstation.com/…

Geeky: 5/5 

Sweetie: 2/5 

Overall: 58/80 73% C. “Good Game for Girls”

Concept: 10/10 As mentioned above, Legend of Mana brings several new features to the series which greatly expands upon the gameplay. It also loosely ties into the other games’ stories by revisiting the concept of the Mana tree (which was a very prominent concept in Seiken Densetsu 3). However no previous experience with the series is necessary to enjoy this title. I’ve never understood why this title is slammed by so many critics when gameplay wise, it’s definitely more solid than any other title in the franchise. As for story, in my opinion, the entire Mana series is more light on story than say Squaresoft’s other titles such as Chronotrigger and Final Fantasy. Legend of Mana is just plain fun with so many different things to do from gardening to world building to crafting and of course questing and leveling and experiencing the story. It’s also very nonlinear which is rare for a JRPG, especially one from the 90s.

Gameplay: 10/10 You start the game by selecting either a male or female hero. Your other party members rotate in and out depending on which story or quest you are on at the time. Like most of the other mana games, a 2nd player can play co-op mode by taking control of one of the other NPCs. Also like the other mana games, your party consists of 3 members at a time. Unlike the other mana games, this game features a series of mini stories and lots of quests strung together in a nonlinear fashion through a world building system where you get artifacts to place on the map. Depending on where you place them, you will earn different bonuses to certain abilities while in combat. The biggest draw in gameplay is the extensive crafting and gardening system. There’s also a virtual pet raising aspect, and the pets you raise can even join you in battle. The choices you make also impact the storyline and fates of the various characters. Combat once again is in real time, and this time it takes place right on the main screen without loading a new scene for rendering the battle.

Story: 5/10 Story is not a strong point in any of the mana games if you ask me, at least not compared to most other JRPG. The story does suffer due to the nonlinear nature of the game, which is true for many nonlinear titles. It’s not without its merits though as well. There are some very touching and tender scenes, interesting mysteries, and the lore and history of all the other mana games.

Characters: 3/10 This game also suffers from lack of strong centralized characters. The main character never speaks, has no back story, no motivation, no real connection to any of the events in the game. The supporting cast depends on which quest and part of the story you’re exploring, giving them so little screen time that we never really develop much attachment for any of them.

Music: 10/10 In my opinion, this is the best soundtrack of any of the mana games. I especially love the opening theme song and had it on my ipod for years after playing this game.

Graphics: 8/10 Beautiful hand-painted or painterly styled artwork gives the game a cute storybook feeling. It’s also very brightly colored and lush feeling. I only wish there were some anime cutscenes to help flesh out key moments within the game.

Replay Value: 5/10 There are some choices which alter the events or impact the lives (or deaths) of key characters in the game; but ultimately, those changes are very insignificant that I don’t see them being a huge motivator for replaying the game again. However, the crafting, pet raising, gardening, and nonlinear nature of the game do lend themselves to multiple playthroughs. In fact, even after completing the game, you will be sent back to the hero’s home and can still engage in many of these activities.

Overall: 58/80 73% C. “Good Game for Girls”

Legend of Mana Review – Part 4 of 4 of Secret of Mana Review Series was originally published on GeekySweetie.com – Geeky & Kawaii Anime, Tech, Toys, & Game Reviews & News

Monster Rancher EVO | Monster Rancher 5 | PS 2 | Monster Taming | Retro RPG | Review

Monster Rancher is a series of games (there’s also an anime) in which you (at certain prompts) insert another cd, dvd, or game disc into your machine to generate a monster which you then take back to your ranch to train for battle.

I’m reviewing Monster Rancher EVO today because it stands out the most for its story and characters, although its gameplay deviates significantly from any of the other games in the Monster Rancher world. I recommend this game, but I also would recommend any of the other Monster Rancher games as well. I’ve played them all (with the exception of the hand held ones). It is truly a great monster taming series.

Also, although no new games have been released in over half a decade, there are 2 different mobile games which come close to capturing the spirit and fun of Monster Rancher for fans who miss this series. These two mobile games, include one actual real Monster Rancher game by Mobage. And another app called Monster Nursery.

Of those two apps I prefer Monster Nursery because it has the monster generation mechanics (It uses your facebook friends to generate a monster – they don’t get spammed or notified either, it just reads their “name”).

You can check the apps out at the end of this article I will put some links there for you. But first, here is my review of Monster Rancher EVO.

Title: Monster Rancher EVO (Monster Rancher 5) (Also known as Monster Farm 5 Circus Caravan in Japan)

Platform: PS2

Release Date: April 2006

Where to Buy: Amazon – prices range from $10 to $40 depending on the condition of the game. Buy Monster Rancher EVO on Amazon.

Genre: Monster Taming RPG

Geeky: 5/5 stars

Sweetie: 5/5 hearts

Overall: 68/80 85% B “Very Good Game for Girls”

Concept: 9/10 The concept of these games is truly unique. I don’t know of any other games that allow you to insert CDs (or DVDs) as part of the actual gameplay. That was the most fun and addicting element of these games. And I had a massive huge collection of games to try too. Still have most of them too, though I have sold parts of my collection over the years. Would love to see a new Monster Rancher Game (maybe on PS4 :)).

Beyond just generating random monsters from your CDs and DVDs, you then take that monster to your ranch to train him for battle. In Monster Rancher EVO you can have up to 3 monsters in your battles while adventuring at once, which is different from most of the other games in the series which allowed only 1 on 1 battles. Though in this entry tournament battles have been replaced with a circus minigame. I kinda do miss the tournament style from the other games. I would’ve liked to see the tournaments also used, but I understand they didn’t fit the story or theme of this installment so I won’t deduct a point for that.

As mentioned above, Monster Rancher EVO also introduces a Circus minigame element to the mix. You must perform different tricks with your monsters through a series of minigames to progress through the game. The tricks start out simple, but increase in difficulty as you progress through the game.

It also had a decent story – more so than most of its predecessors. You play as Julio, a circus performer who trains monsters for his traveling circus troupe. You begin to doubt your training methods when one of your monsters runs away from the circus and dies as a result. A mysterious girl also shows up and joins your group.

Each week you must meet with your Ring Leader in order to review the schedule for the upcoming week. You can choose from tasks such as Training, Performing, Adventuring in dungeons, or just going to town to shop for items to talk to NPCs

Also in this series, the number of main species is only about half as large as Monster Rancher 4 which is rather disappointing (deducted 1 point here).

Gameplay: 6/10 – While the concept/theory of this game sounds good on paper, many of the minigames in the circus performances – which are required to progress through the game – become very challenging, to the point that they can become more frustrating than fun later on. Also, although generating the monsters and caring for them is a novel idea, the gameplay in all of these games, not just EVO, does have a tendency to become very repetitive if you play for long periods of time.

Still, it is kept fresh with a huge variety of things to do, from the circus performances, to adventuring and battling with a party of monsters, to just going through your CD and DVD collection looking for rare monsters to add to your book. Also more than any other Monster Rancher game this one feels the most like an RPG because it focuses more on story, character development, and NPC interaction.

It was also nice how the circus theme was tied to every single thing in the game – even at the cost of losing the beloved feature of the tournaments. It kept me feeling like I was playing in part of a world, with a goal, a story, and characters that I cared about, which ultimately caused me to enjoy the Gameplay more. It was more structured in this game, and less sandbox style as its predecessors.

Losing the feature of the tournament style gameplay was super disappointing though. It is a hallmark of the series and well, in a way, what makes Monster Rancher, Monster Rancher. I’m not sure how they could have tied it into the circus theme, but I really did miss the tournament style gameplay throughout.

Story: 8/10 Out of all of the Monster Rancher games, this one easily has the most immersive story. It’s not the best RPG for story in the world, but it was highly engaging with characters and a unique theme that pull you in right from the start. Then it develops more mystery and intrigue which keeps you wanting to continue to play to see how things evolve throughout the game. Story in most Monster Rancher games takes a back seat to gameplay. I would say in Monster Rancher EVO, the gameplay and story are of equal importance. Sadly, the story is executed better than certain aspects of the gameplay. But both story and gameplay are joined together with the overarching theme of the traveling circus troupe. I enjoyed the unique setting and unique characters and feel that it’s worth playing for story alone, even without the other gameplay elements which make the series so unique and engaging (such as generating monsters from discs, etc).

Characters: 10/10 As mentioned a few times above, this is a very story and character driven RPG which focuses a lot on NPC interaction and really makes you care about the cast of unique and unusual characters. The characters are also all drawn in a very cute, colorful, and bold style. The monsters themselves have also always been “characters” within these games with many species making a return, and a few new arrivals as well. Having more of a focus on story in Monster Rancher EVO really lets the trainers and NPC cast members shine just as much, if not even more than, all of the cute monsters in the game.

Graphics: 10/10 I fricken love the graphics in this game. They mix in Cell-Shaded 3D graphics with 2D anime cutscenes to give it a very colorful anime feeling. There’s also character portraits that are nearly full body when talking to NPCs which have a bright vibrant style. The monsters are always cute in these games. While EVO and MR4 both feature slightly more “realistic” designs, and less “cartoony” artwork for the characters – all of the human trainers in EVO are very “cartoony” or “anime” feeling. EVO upgrades all of the textures, environments, and character designs SIGNIFICANTLY even from Monster Rancher 4. It’s hard to believe both of these games are on Playstation 2, because EVO looks so much better than Monster Rancher 4 that it looks almost like it should be a PS3 game. Everything about this game is super colorful, stylized, and unique helping it to create a lasting impression.

Music: 8/10 The music, while bright and innocent sounding, and rather simplistic or even childish in a way, fits perfectly with the circus theme. The music is just another testament to how the theme of the circus was carried out into every single aspect of this game. It fits with the cute vibrant nature of the Monster Rancher series, and helps to further immerse into the game world.

Replay Value 7/10: While this is a linear game, and while there are other Monster Rancher, or even other Monster Taming games in general, this one definitely keeps you coming back – In fact, you may find yourself putting in 100+ hours or more just trying different CDs and combining your monsters before you even complete the story mode. It offers a ton of things to do and is very fun – but ultimately since it is a linear game with very repetitive gameplay and sometimes unforgiving difficulty and minigame mechanics, I’d say there are some people who would probably prefer to play other installments in the series or move on to other similar games.

Overall: 68/80 85% B “Very Good Game for Girls”

Other Games You Might Like: As mentioned in my introduction, there are 2 mobile games which you may enjoy if you like Monster Rancher. These are Monster Rancher by Mobage, and Monster Nursery. Check out the links below to get these free games.

Monster Nursery for IOS

Monster Nursery for Android

Monster Rancher by Mobage for IOS

Monster Rancher by Mobage for Android

Edit: apparently Mobage has closed the US version of Monster Rancher. However, if Monster Nursery above is still not enough to satisfy your Monster Taming goals, I did find Neo Monsters – but it is a paid app. (99 cents) and looks closer to Pokemon than Monster Rancher – You can grab it here: Neo Monsters on IOS.

 

Don’t forget to check out the rest of the Monster Rancher Universe. These are great games, and if you like one, chances are you’ll like the others.

Also I recommend Dragon Seeds on PS1, Digimon, and Pokemon. I also presume that you’d like Yokai Watch although I’ve not played it myself yet :). Lastly, check out the Petz games, especially dogz and catz 3, 4, and 5 for the PC.

Monster Rancher EVO | Monster Rancher 5 | PS 2 | Monster Taming | Retro RPG | Review was originally published on Geeky Sweetie

Growlanser Generations: Growlanser II and Growlanser III Review

Hang tight; things are going to get confusing if you’ve never heard of this series before. Growlanser Generations is the name of an American version of Growlanser II and III (that’s the one I’m reviewing below). BUT Growlanser Generations is the name of a Japanese game in the same game series, which is Growlanser V (and this game was also released in America as Growlanser Heritage of War, but I hate (or at least strongly dislike) that one, so I’m not reviewing it (at least not right now).

So Keep in mind, this is a review of Growlanser II and Growlanser III (Generations NA). And it is NOT a review of Growlanser V (Generations JP) Got it? Good :)

Title: Growlanser Generations

Publisher: Working Designs

Release Date: 2004

Platform: PS2

Genre: Strategy RPG with Dating Sim Elements

Where to buy: Amazon has a few available ranging in price from $65 to $95 depending on quality and deluxe or standard editions. You can browse whats available on this page here: http://www.amazon.com/Growlanser…

Geeky: 3/5 

Sweetie: 5/5 

Overall: 71/90 79% C+ “Good Game For Girls”

Concept: 7/10 Though packaged in America as a single game, this is originally two separate games (though from the same series) in Japan. Growlanser I was never released in America, which puts us at a disadvantage because Growlanser II’s story takes place at the same time as, and has the same characters as, Growlanser I. It is basically letting you play as the opponent’s army  from the first game, to draw sympathy and give you another look at the war from a different view point. But since we never got Growlanser I in America (I’m sure Working Designs would have if they could, but this game actually was one of their last games and probably partly responsible for the ultimate demise of the company – selling two games, for the price of one, at the expense of double the staff hours, wages, localization fees, etc.) — Anyways, since we never got the first game, Growlanser II is mostly a stand alone story for English speaking players – and I felt its story, while good, was weaker than III – which is intended to be a new stand alone story – because Growlanser II is supposed to be enjoyed with Growlanser I.

Anyways, beyond that, they are both real-time strategy rpgs with a high amount of freedom and player choice and consequence. Choices matter, and there’s a branching plot, mostly focused around who you date in the game. There’s multiple endings and of course the data from one game to the next can be carried over from game to game.

Gameplay: 8/10 The gameplay in these two games features real-time (as opposed to turn-based) strategy rpg battles which sometimes have you trying to reach the edge of the map to “escape” or sometimes destroy all enemies on the map, or sometimes must protect an NPC from being killed. Growlanser III expands on the gameplay of II by allowing you to freely move around the overworld instead of just choosing points on a map. However, Growlanser III cuts the active party members in half from 8 in Growlanser II to just 4 in Growlanser III. Growlanser III also raises the encounter rate significantly from that of II and introduces proceduraly generated dungeons which are sometimes rather hit or miss in their design.

Upon gaining a level you can spend attribute points to customize your party members to your liking, which is just another testament to the freedom of choice these games provide. Also as you level up your equipment, you can unlock new spells and abilities that are tied to the equipment, making the equipment a key focus of your battle strategy. You can team up with party members to unleash joint spells and abilities and you are also free to move around the map, not stuck using a grid based system in other Japanese strategy games such as tactics ogre and final fantasy tactics.

Because the game has a branching plot and multiple endings, there are some things which may happen in battle which would typically be a gameover in most games, but in this case, the game goes on (not always, haha sometimes it REALLY IS a gameover lol.) – Sometimes though this can throw you off the route you want in the game so save often and make use of multiple save files.

Outside of battle there is not much to do in this game (aside from talking to your comrades which can influence the storyline which is a big draw to this series) — That is changed years later with Growlanser Wayfayer of Time on PSP which introduces city building and “pet” raising elements to the game series. (But that’s a review for another day (maybe soon).)

That’s not to say that all you do is hack and slash your way through Growlanser Generations either. Both games feature a huge branching storyline with several secret hidden side quests and dialog scenes which unless you take time to back track to previous locations and explore the map fully, are very easy to overlook. If you enjoy exploring  every nook and cranny of every location, you’ll really enjoy the huge worlds and the fact that this game does not hold your hand or force you down any “correct” path as it’s very non-linear. However, there are some gamers, who may find all this back tracking and side questing to be tedious.

Storyline: 10/10 Both games have a very emotional and action packed story which is fueled by the theme of war and focuses strongly on character backstory and development. They take place in a fantasy setting, however; it is draped around a very modern and realistic atmosphere that makes the characters and story feel quite engaging and believable. Mostly, what I enjoyed about these stories is the overarching theme of betrayal, trust, sadness, and pain that are told through the events and actions that happen in each game. As mentioned above, Growlanser II definitely has the weaker story, because in America, we only experience “one half” of the “game” (although it is in fact 2 games in Japan too, Growlanser II is a “direct sequel” – and not only takes place “after” but also concurrently during the first game. So I can’t deduct points here, because it’s no fault of the game that we only have “half” the story here.) Overall, the story becomes very emotional and the sheer volume of the game world itself and lore added into every nook and cranny and dialog options and extra scenes really help bring these games to life.

Characters: 8/10 Growlanser II is packed full of dozens and dozens of interesting characters. Like most branching plot games, some character routes are more well developed than others. Growlanser III significantly cuts back on the number of characters, BUT in exchange, they devote the time to writing a very interesting and well developed story around those characters. As I’ve said a few times, III is definitely the more story-focused of the two games in this collection, and that also shows through character development and interaction – not that it was terrible in II either, but III just really digs into it more. 12 years later I still deeply remember the story and characters of Growlanser III – while I only sorta vaguely recall some of the characters of Growlanser II.

Graphics: 7/10 While the character portraits themselves are LOVELY and very appealing, especially I think to females, as they’re rather “Shoujo” in nature, the battle effects, background environments, and other artistic elements are very underwhelming, even for a PS2 game.

Music: 5/10 – It’s been awhile since I’ve played, but I can’t recall having a strong opinion of either like, or dislike, for the music in these games. I’ll update this the next time I play :)

Voice Acting: 8/10 Working Designs is always pretty good with their localizations – of course they westernize things and take some pretty big liberties with their translations (which some fans criticize them for) but for me, I’ve always enjoyed their sense of humor and found it often times make a dry script more engaging – not that I think Growlanser is dry by any means, but it’s always fun to see Working Design’s little touches. That said, the cast is very good, reusing many actors from previous Working Designs titles (such as Lunar and Vay). So if you enjoy the voice acting in those games, you’ll enjoy it in Growlanser as well. Each game has probably about 2 or 3 hours of voice over content – which isn’t much when each game probably spans hundreds of hours through multiple story lines and endings. But hey, there are games from early 2k that don’t have any voice overs at all, so can’t complain much. I would’ve liked the option left in for Japanese voices as well but I understand those are expensive with licensing fees and Working designs was such a small little studio. I appreciate all the love and care they always put into their games and I feel out of all the 90s Dubs out there, Working Designs were some of the best!

Replay Value: 10/10 Both games feature Multiple endings, though the differences to these endings are definitely more distinctive in Growlanser II as opposed to III. There’s also tons of hidden side quests and dialog options which will require multiple playthroughs to experience everything these games have to offer. Between both games, you’ll probably spend hundreds of hours to get 100%. I’d wager it’s about 35-40 hours per single play through.

Overall: 71/90 79% C+ “Good Game For Girls”

Growlanser Generations: Growlanser II and Growlanser III Review was originally published on Geeky Sweetie