Project Antivent – Day Nineteen

If I could say any single game changed my life, it would be Secret of Mana. This was the game that kickstarted my love of RPGs in general, and probably the single best game on the SNES for my money. I still remember the day I got it, taking it home, switching it on and hearing this, the opening theme. At the time, aged 13, it was the most amazing piece of music I had ever heard in my life. Now... even now, it's still a front-runner.

Honestly, I don't have the words. See for yourself.

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Project Antivent – Day Nineteen

If I could say any single game changed my life, it would be Secret of Mana. This was the game that kickstarted my love of RPGs in general, and probably the single best game on the SNES for my money. I still remember the day I got it, taking it home, switching it on and hearing this, the opening theme. At the time, aged 13, it was the most amazing piece of music I had ever heard in my life. Now... even now, it's still a front-runner.

Honestly, I don't have the words. See for yourself.

Comments off

Project Antivent – Day Nineteen

If I could say any single game changed my life, it would be Secret of Mana. This was the game that kickstarted my love of RPGs in general, and probably the single best game on the SNES for my money. I still remember the day I got it, taking it home, switching it on and hearing this, the opening theme. At the time, aged 13, it was the most amazing piece of music I had ever heard in my life. Now... even now, it's still a front-runner.

Honestly, I don't have the words. See for yourself.

Comments off

The Best Game Ever (Pt.3)

Shin Megami Tensei

Super Nintendo – 1992

‘Der Wille zur Macht’ as a lifestyle choice

WARNING: The following review contains spoilers. Big ones. Continue at your own risk.

In case its escaped anyone’s attention (there may be a few of you not really listening at the back there) I am a huge fan of the Shin Megami Tensei series (‘Megaten’ to those in the know) and all its various spinoffs, from Persona, to Digital Devil Saga and all the little forgotten ones along the way. Yes, even Maken X, a hideously flawed attempt at doing something different, both in the series and in the realm of the FPS. There are a few games I’ll admit didn’t grab me as much as others – Raidou Kuzunoha Vs. The Soulless Army just rubs me the wrong way for some reason, and the original Persona has some very questionable gameplay mechanics that were bizarrely kept for the PSP remake/update – but it’s hard to say the franchise has ever had an outright bad game, something that I’d be hard-pressed to say about any of my other favourites.

The game opens with a dream. In it, our hero rescues two relative strangers, one from crucifixion, one from a demon, then meets a girl bathing in a pond, who says she’s been waiting for you. Unfortunately, it’s not that kind of a dream, and before sexytime can begin, you’re awoken by your mother, telling you you’ve overslept.

It’s the far-off, but indeterminate year of 199X, and the world is in a bad place. A general by the name of Goto has launched a coup d’etat and effectively taken over Japan, putting the country in a state of martial law. Meanwhile, the rest of the world, and in particular, America, is attempting to put an end to his game by any means necessary – even if it requires extreme measures. And as if that wasn’t bad enough, there are increasing reports of demonic creatures running rampant and attacking anyone and everyone. The hero receives a program via email sent by someone called ‘STEVEN’ (yes, all in caps). He explains that he’s afraid of the threat posed by these demons, and in response, has developed a program to control and summon them. He’s sent this program to as many people as he can, in the hope that someone, anyone, can do something to stop the outright anarchy that’s about to break loose on mankind. Of course, no one can possibly guess what’s about to happen next…

Okay, let’s get the bad stuff out the way first. Graphically, this game sucks. Everything is played from a first-person view, which, in theory, is great. However, the SNES doesn’t really have the grunt to pull it off, the screen lazily flicking from one map tile to the next. The endless hallways that make up the game have little to distinguish them from each other, so getting lost is stupidly easy, even in the simplest of areas. There is an automap, but it’s buried deep in several layers of menu, and the only way to get it onscreen while moving is to cast a spell only found on certain demons. And since this is one of the first incarnations of the demon fusion system, there’s none of that fancy ‘offspring gets the skills of the two parents’ skill mixing seen in the later games. So, your choice is to either keep one demon on hand solely for that one skill (it runs out fairly swiftly as well, requiring constant recasting for extra giggles), or to just wing it, checking the map every so often to make sure you haven’t taken that fatal left turn at Albuquerque.

Of course, that’s not where the only problems lie. As mentioned, the controls are hideously clunky. If you want to do anything, you have to navigate through several menus. You’re never told what difference armour will have on your character before you equip it. In demon negotiation, there’s no clear indication that you’re saying the right thing, and what works right one time may not work at all the next. And the only way to find out what a particular spell does is to use it, all of them carrying names like ‘Bufula’ or ‘Dia’ with no indication of what does what. Much, if not almost all of this was fixed in later updates (most recently the GBA port) but wouldn’t you know it, it’s only the SNES version that’s available in English, thanks to those wonderful people over at Aeon Genesis. In short, this is a game created long before most of the RPG conventions we all now take for granted, and for the vast majority of you, that alone is likely to put you off. And that’s before we get to the legendary difficulty.

Okay then, graphics are very early SNES standard, controls suck, and the game’s harder than a punch with a granite boxing glove. Why bother playing it? Well, the short answer is that it’s awesome. But you probably guessed as much by the fact that I’m discussing it under the ‘Best Game Ever’ tag. The more direct answer… now, that’s a tricky one.

Back in the day all RPGs were exactly the same: there were castles and knights and you ran around with a sword and beat up evil wizards. Actually, when you boil it down, that still applies to a lot of RPGs even now – for all the innovation in gameplay and combat we still run through the same familiar stories. But back then, there was even less variation than we have now. Everything was, without exception, exactly the same. The exceptions were the two Megami Tensei games on the NES. Set in the modern day, it revolved around a high school student tinkering around with a computer program that accidentally opens a breach to the demonic realm, letting all manner of nastiness in. The sequel went a step further and was set in a world devastated by nuclear war. Utterly unheard of at the time, and while it didn’t exactly set the world on fire, it did set the scene for its SNES-based older brother, and the series as a whole.

The game starts off in a recognisable modern-day metropolis – the Kichijoji area of Tokyo to be exact. Wandering around, you’ll quickly come to the conclusion that something is very wrong here. People are disappearing, some turning up dead, torn to pieces, some not turning up at all. The Yakuza are operating openly, attacking anyone they feel like. And more and more people are talking about the oncoming threat of nuclear war. No, not a good place to be at all. It’s while out doing errands for his mother that the player character eventually encounters a demon, as it rips the throat out of a poor bastard at the local shopping mall. Things only get weirder as he has another dream, saving a girl from a strange occult ritual, before meeting with one of the people from dream in real life. He soon discovers the bigger picture: Goto, the general, is in a secret war of sorts with the US ambassador, Thorman. Thorman represents a group trying to build the Thousand Year Kingdom in the name of God. They believe that mankind has gone astray, and that the slate needs to be wiped clean, Old Testament-style. Of course, if you talk to Thorman, he’ll let you know that the demon attacks have actually been started by Goto himself, a side effect of him making bargains with dark forces in exchange for power. That, and he’s also been kidnapping anyone who might be involved with the resistance and authorising inhumane experiments on innocent civilians. And it’s here that you realise that the story is a lot darker than you ever suspected.

SMT has three possible paths to play through the game as: Law, Chaos and Neutrality. Law is under the purview of the Mesians, generally characterised as a church militant. They believe in order, following rules. At its extreme end, it’s ‘do what we say and follow our laws or we’ll break you’. Directly opposite them is Chaos. Chaos is represented by the Gaians. Chaos believes in free will, taking whatever path you feel is the right one in the name of self-improvement. Its extreme is the survival of the fittest mantra, that the strong should be able to take and do whatever they want because no one can or has the right to stop them. And in the middle, there’s the Neutral path. They’re not directly represented by anyone ingame, unless the player actively chooses to do so. Being neutral, obviously, requires you to maintain a balance between the two, as going too far down one path or the other results in suffering. Of course, you’re being pitted against both extremes on a regular basis, so that requires bloodshed on an even more regular basis.

One of the most fascinating things about the options, as you can see above, is that, when you boil it down, there are no straight-out “good guys” or “bad guys” in the game. Everyone is equally wrong or equally right in one way or another. Goto’s responsible for locking down Japan and unleashing demons on the unsuspecting populace, but he’s doing it in the name of freeing the world from the tyranny of the Mesians. Thorman’s holding the threat of nuclear war over everyone’s head, but it’s to stop a dangerous general from dragging the world into disaster, as well as to bring everyone together under the same banner. And if you walk the path of Neutrality, trying to keep everything on the same even keel, well, that involves slaughtering anyone who even dares rock the boat one way or another.

Perhaps one of the biggest shocks in the game (and this is your last chance to back away: skip this next couple of paragraphs if you don’t want it spoiled, and believe me, it’s more effective if you’ve never played it) comes at the end of the first act. This is about 10 or so hours in on an average playthrough. You’ve finally listened to both Goto and Thorman, and, one way or the other, you’ve decided to make your choice: your mission now is to kill one or both of them. At this point, you might be expecting that after this, you’re going to be sent out on missions to destabilize the various factions present. You could not be more wrong. Lets say you choose to side with Thorman. You go to Goto’s headquarters and assassinate him. Upon your return, he thanks you for your loyal devotion to his cause… unfortunately, this world is too sinful to be kept as is. A new age must be ushered in on the ashes of the old. He reveals himself to be the Norse god Thor, and brings down his hammer in judgement of mankind – he launches his nuclear ICBMs on Tokyo. You’re then presented with a hige red 30-second countdown on-screen as you desperately attempt to escape somewhere, anywhere, as you try and outrun nuclear destruction. You fail, but somehow find yourself transported to a realm outside of time and space.

Of course, even if you choose not to side with him, mankind is screwed, and he launches the missiles as a kind of last-minute ‘fuck you’ upon his defeat anyway. But, far from being an annoying ‘But Thou Must’ lack-of-choice, this is where the game really shows its teeth. One brief detour in limbo later, you arrive back on Earth. But it’s a different world to the one you just left. Thirty years have passed since Thorman launched his missiles, and the destruction of the world has been near total. Mankind is only just starting to crawl out the wreckage, and now, somehow, you have to help it. Yup, not content with bringing the world to near-obliteration, the game now has you attempting to bring it back from the brink. You failed to save it in the past, but maybe you can do something here. To my mind, there’s only one other game that has ever had the successful destruction of the world midway through, and that’s Final Fantasy VI. Two games that actually have the balls to pull the rug out from under you and drop the hammer – literally, in this case – on the very thing you’re striving to protect. It’s a hell of a way of punching the player, and a sadly underused tactic in games. Of course, things can always get worse: remember that two of your party members – who are more than willing to give up their humanity for more power in one form or another – are known as the Law Hero and the Chaos Hero and that, one way or another, you’re destined to fight at least one of them. All of this gives the game an unparalelled atmosphere. Suddenly, the graphics only add to the bleakness of the setting. The music too, gives you the feeling that you’re walking through a dead world, just trying to survive long enough to avoid the next demon attack. Not an easy prospect considering the crushing difficulty here.

(it’s okay, by the way, you can come back now)

Ever wonder why the Megaten series has a reputation for being the hardest RPG series around? Wonder no more! Yes, this is a game from the early days of RPGs, when concepts like ‘balance’ and ‘fairness’ were just seen as silly friviolities, so the challenge is to be expected. Somehow, the game actually manages to go beyond that, however, and winds up being outright sadistic. There’s no instant game over if the main character dies, so that’s one saving grace, but beyond that, everything is an uphill struggle. If you’re even slightly underlevelled, you will be punished at great length, and opportunities to heal, or even save for that matter, are limited. Depending on your perspective, that’s either a plus or a minus: you can’t scrimp on the level grinding, but on the other hand, lots of people enjoy that. Same with the difficulty – it’s generally agreed that games are getting easier all the time, so going back in time and playing something that bends you over, slaps you in the face and demands you call it ‘Daddy’ makes for a welcome change.

Believe me when I say that this really is a fantastic game. If you’re new to the series, having gotten in through the anime-stylings of Persona 3&4, this is a huge step backwards. Tremendously so, since we’re talking going back three or four console generations and 18 years here. This is not an easy game to get into, even for someone determined to crack its shell. I’ve made numerous attempts and replays across different PCs and machines. I’m now currently replaying it – again – on my PSP. I don’t even want to think about what number attempt this is. But that alone should tell you something about the game: It’s tough and it’ll kick your ass hard, but you will come back to it. You need to play this, not just because this is where it all began – many of the basic ideas, such as contacting, summoning and fusing demons, the Law/Chaos alignment system and even most of the demon designs are still in use in some form today – but because even now, it’s unique. The third game in the series, Nocturne (or Lucifer’s Call if you prefer) shares some of the same feel, but the tone is arguably more hopeful,as you’re looking to rebuild a shattered land. Here, there’s no real hope. At best, there’s survival, at worst… Shin Megami Tensei is a game with problems, and a couple of outright bugs that can stop you from finishing the game if you’re extremely unlucky. But look past that and you’ll find one of the darkest RPGs ever, as well as one of the best on the SNES. It’s a tremendous work, overshadowed by its descendants, and one that needs to be appreciated as more than a piece of history.

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The Best Game Ever (Pt.2)

Persona 3

PS2, 2008

And I swear that I don’t have a gun…

WARNING: This review contains spoilers. Proceed at your own risk

Persona 3, for many, is a game of mixed blessings. On the one hand, it arguably revitalised the Shin Megami Tensei franchise in a way nothing else had. After its release, the level of interest in the series simply exploded, resulting in more games being announced and localised in the space of 12 months than we’d seen in the last few years. Of course, this was not without its drawbacks, according to some. Upon first look at the game’s revamped artstyle, people were quick to react, largely with horror. The designs were being handled by Shigenori Soejima, who did some minor work on Persona 2 and Trauma Centre, rather than series mainstay Kazuma Kaneko. The game would be set primarily around a school, and deal with day to day life to a strict time limit, rather than cheerfully allowing you to set your own pace. And, as people were so very quick to point out, you just know that where there’s a fandom, there’s people ready to write really messed up fanfics where they grab the characters and smoosh them together like dolls, making kissy noises as they do so (you know exactly who you are, don’t try to deny it!). But this article is called “The Best Game Ever” and not “Reasons Why People On Both Sides Of Fandoms Suck”, so we’ll move on for the moment.

Behold the main character, saviour of us all! He has an official name in the canon, but I can’t remember it right now, so for the purposes of this article, his name is Kazuma. Kazuma Tenryu. Kazuma’s transferring to a new school this year, and is moving to the local student boarding house. On his way there, however, things get kinda… weird. Weird as in the sky turning a queasy green colour, all liquid turning to blood and, oh yeah, everyone around him spontaneously transmogrifying into coffins. And as he arrives, he’s immediately confronted by a creepy kid who has him sign a contract of some sort. And then he has a gun pointed at him. It turns out the girl on the other end of the gun, Yukari, is one of his classmates in his new school, and the event is waived off as part of the school club she’s a part of. Of course, that doesn’t entirely explain the massive control room in the upper part of the dorms. Or the fact that they seem to be spying on him as he sleeps. Or the weird visions that he’s having as he sleeps. Or the fact that everyone turns into a goddamn coffin on the stroke of midnight every night!

His suspicions that something is amiss are proved a few days later when the boarding house is attacked by a gelatinous blob monster wielding a mask and too many hands. Yukari drags him out of bed, hands him a sword and tells him to follow her. Unfortunately, they make it as far as the roof before the monster catches up to them. As a last-ditch effort, Yukari pulls out her gun… and turns it on herself? The monster, known as a Shadow, knocks the gun out of her hand, the weapon landing at Kazuma’s feet. Instinctively, he picks it up, puts it to his own head, and pulls the trigger…

“Per… so… na…”

And thus, the game begins.

Persona 3 takes place over the course of a year, and can be neatly split into two parts: day time and night time. During the day, you’ll go to school. This is far more important than you’d believe, since this is where you’ll build up your Social Links. In gameplay terms, Links are required for the enhancement and evolution of your Personas. As its explained in-game, a Persona is a facet of your inner self that can only be released with an Evoker – the gun-like item Yukari tried to use at the start. Everyone has it within themselves to be, at turns, a wise mentor or a cruel bully, a crusader for justice or a vicious destroyer. These take the form of beings of myth and legend, gods and monsters and everything in between. The Social Links themselves all correspond loosely to cards of the tarot, as do the Personas themselves, and the stories that unfold are oddly compelling. There’s the friendly rivalry you encounter with a fellow athlete (The Star), the girl you meet in the online RPG (The Hermit), the shady businessman who offers to take you under his wing (The Devil) the shy treasurer of the student council (Justice)… all of these stories are woven into the bigger picture, and as the Links develop, you find yourself warming to them. You find yourself making time for them, not just because it has a practical effect on the game, but because you actually like these people, and seeing them work out their problems and dilemmas gives you a small sense of pride at having helped them. Your influence, as they point out, has changed them, and your friendship has made them stronger. Of course, as each rank of each Link grants bonus experience to a Persona during fusion, their friendship has an arguably greater effect on you.

The night time part is where the majority of the game takes place. On the stroke of midnight, we enter the Dark Hour, a secret time between 12:00:00 and 12:00:01. During that period, the game’s only dungeon, Tartarus opens up. Tartarus is a 260+ floor randomly-generated dungeon that, chances are, you’ll rapidly grow to hate. You won’t be able to tackle it all at once, thank god, as new areas are only opened after certain events, mostly boss fights. Added to that, is the fact that your characters will suffer from fatigue the longer you stay in the dungeon, potentially rendering them unusable for the next few days. This only really affects you at the beginning of the game, and past the halfway mark, probably won’t even factor in to your decision-making, but it’s at the beginning of the game that you’ll want to spend as much time as you can in there, not only to gain money and experience, but also to get a feel for the combat, and limiting you in such a way is frustrating.

More than that, the dungeon designs are, frankly, poor. The decor only changes when you complete a full block of the dungeon. There are a total of about five or six blocks in the whole game. The game takes place over a year or so. Get used to seeing the same bleeding floors quickly, because they’re not going to be changing any time soon. Of course, when they do change, it’s not always for the better. The progression of the first couple of areas is nice, leading on from one area to the other visually, keeping the same motifs, but towards the end… come on, who thought it was a good idea to have an area that’s best described as ‘blacklight disco party freakout’? And then decided this was a good area to put black enemies in? Don’t be surprised if you spend most of your time watching the radar in the corner of the screen than the game itself, because otherwise, you ain’t seeing shit, buddy. Then the block after that goes even more into whiplash by apparently being made entirely of crystal. It’s like the designers went “Yeah, I know we’ve been trying to have each area thematically consistent with each other, but we’re, what, three weeks away from deadline, let’s just throw in some wacky crap and be done with it!” Smooth move there, guys, doesn’t show at all, really.

Of course, the Tartarus music isn’t that much better. It starts off low-key, subdued, but, as with the level designs, it only changes with each block. And when I say ‘changes’, I mean ‘gains an extra instrument’. It’s horribly repetitive and droning, and it was only with the aid of an mp3 player at my side constantly, that I was able to tolerate it. Of course, that leads in to the main battle theme, Mass Destruction. The Megaten series has a reputation for some of the best boss and battle themes in gaming – Hunting: Comrades from Digital Devil Saga and Battle For Survival from its sequel, the boss theme from Nocturne and so on – and as a piece of music by itself, it’s great. Seriously, can’t fault it, I love it. However, those of you out there reading this, quick question: how quickly did you come to dread the words “Baby baby baby baby”? Like I said, it’s a great song, but they always play the track from the very beginning each and every time. When the intro rapidly acquires the Pavlovian response of your hand hitting the mute button, it’s probably a sign that you should rethink putting lyrics in a battle theme (or not, since Persona 4 did the exact same thing, albeit with a slightly less irritating song intro).

Actually, much of the music in the game suffers from this problem, as anyone who ever felt like da da-da-da-dah can attest. It’s not that its bad, its just that it’s repetitive, and it has to start from the very beginning of the track each and every time you enter a new area. And trust me, you’re going to be doing that a lot. As I’ve said before, lyrical themes are a great idea, but only if they’re used sparingly, otherwise you’re going to be driving a lot of people hopelessly mad on a scale your average Elder God could only dream of.

And then we get to the combat itself. The Press Turn system from Nocturne is reused here, but with a minor difference: any character who scores a critical attack, or exploits a weakness gains an automatic chance to attack again. If they do the same thing again, this time on a different enemy, they get to attack again, and so on until they miss or run out of enemies. If they manage to do this, the enemy (or character, as it can happen to you as well) is knocked down and has to waste a turn getting back up, assuming they’re not hit with a physical attack in the meantime. If all enemies are down, you get the option for an All-Out Attack, where everyone bum-rushes the enemy dealing massive physical damage to everything. Needless to say, exploiting weaknesses is arguably more important in this game than others in the series. Unfortunately, that’s not particularly easy with the AI exhibited here.

If you know anything about the game, it’s probably this: you only directly control the main character throughout the game. You can issue orders to the others, which they will follow, but it’s mostly broad suggestions like ‘support the group’ or ‘hit the enemy with everything you’ve got’, and its up to the game how they choose to interpret that. For example, if you get someone to act in support, they’ll immediately heal any and all damage or status affects. Great in theory, but that means they’ll heal all damage, no matter how insignificant, effectively meaning they’ll never heal otherwise. Tell them to cut loose? Enjoy watching Mitsuru use Mind Charge or Ice Break, thus wasting a turn that could’ve been used just stabbing the damn thing! Of course, if your character is incapacitated for whatever reason – status effect, knocked down, whatever – you’ll be incapable of ordering them at all, further flirting with death. And, in proud Megaten tradition, if you die, it’s all over. Your milate may vary, of course: some have found the system perfectly agreeable, and have never had the computer make stupid mistakes on their behalf. Personally, I prefer direct input as to what happens. Call me a control freak if you will, but I like to know any deaths are the result of my screwups, not anyone else’s.

The only other main flaw comes in the voice actresses for two of the main characters, Fuuka and Ken – Ken starts off bratty, before becoming dull, and I’m sorry, but no high schooler should sound like a 30-year-old housewife. Of course, this is balanced by an otherwise phenomenal cast. You’ll recognise most of the characters from other previous roles (the cast has credits from series such as Fullmetal Alchemist, Bleach, Digimon and Disgaea to their names), but after a while, you’ll be hard pressed to imagine anyone else in their roles, the voices are that perfect. Special mention has to go to Derek Stephen Prince, voice of Takaya, who manages to straddle the line between controlled madness and charismatic evil. In a game filled with a stellar cast, the fact that he’s able to outshine them all tells you all you need to know. The man knows how to play a charming villain on a par with Crispin “I’m Allucard, y’know” Freeman, and that’s a hell of a compliment to both.

The characters are, without a doubt, what makes this game. Most of you will probably find yourself liking Junpei most quickly, because, when you get down to it, he’s the easiest to relate to. He likes games, he’s fairly laid back, in a lot of ways, he’s a lot like us. When he finds out that sealing the Dark Hour means the loss of his Persona, he goes into a slump. In his mind, his powers make him a hero, and if he gives that up, he’s back to being a nobody. In that, it’s hard not to feel even the merest twinge of sympathy for him. He doesn’t want fame or recognition. He just wants to be somebody, something more than he is, and who hasn’t wanted that? Then there’s Akihiko, who initially comes across as brash and imposing. As you start to learn about him, you realise he’s not such a bad guy after all. Then, a close friend, practically a brother, is murdered in front of him. Rather than running off wildly for revenge, however, he uses this to drive himself further onward to try and live up to his friend’s memory. Honestly, I think that’s the first time I’ve ever seen someone do that in a game, standard protocol is to charge head on, screaming like a lunatic.

And then… then there’s Ikutsuki, and here, the game plays its cruellest trick. Y’see, in the previous games, there was a character called Philemon, a benevolent (sort of) deity (kinda) who gave the characters their powers, known for wearing a camel-coloured suit and a porcelain mask adorned with a butterfly. You never had much contact with him, but, by and large, Philemon was on the level. Philemon himself isn’t in this game, but here’s Shuji Ikutsuki, head of the team and, by and large, a guy who’s seemingly on the level. He’s dressed in a similar outfit, and while he didn’t expressly give you your powers, armed with this prior knowledge, you’re probably more inclined to trust the guy than someone unfamiliar with the series. And then events unfold, and you realise how much of a fool you were to believe him. The game told you he was okay, but while everyone playing it was fooled, series veterans would’ve been fooled that much harder. You went the extra mile. No one else did. It’s heartless and messes directly with the player. I loved it.

Persona 3, more than anything is a story about stories. Everyone has one, from the main characters, to the social links, to even the people standing around doing nothing. Everyone has a tale to tell that unfolds slowly as the game progresses. And at the tale’s close, when you find out exactly how much you meant to everyone, even the people who didn’t know what you were doing at midnight every night, it’s hard not to sit up that little bit straighter. You’re no longer playing a game. You’re fighting for these people. You’re fighting to ensure the sun rises tomorrow. The effect it has will vary from person to person, but if you’ve made it this far, it’s impossible not to get swept up in the story by now. And with the ending… I can’t spoil that here, not even a little, but if you didn’t find your eyes just a little moist, you have no soul. Even now, writing this, the throat’s tightening just a little, and at the time… let’s just say I lost a little of my manly composure and be done with it, huh? The end is played beautifully – another five minutes and those final moments would’ve been positively heartbreaking. As it is… there’s no way I could see it as sad. It doesn’t end badly. It ends exactly the way it was intended to. The way it had to.

There was an updated re-release, FES, with an extra 30+ hour epilogue that caps the whole saga off. I haven’t played it yet, so I can’t comment on it. In all honesty, I’m not entirely sure I want to. It’s not that the extra content is bad or anything, more that… I liked the way it ended. It was a subdued ending, the likes of which you don’t often see in games these days. A quiet, melancholy finale that lets the game wind down to a natural stop. No. Better to leave Kazuma, sitting on that bench, enjoying the warm Spring morning, as a hand strokes his hair softly. He’s earned his rest.

To Kazuma Tenryu. The young man who fought a god to a standstill. Twice. I can think of no better tribute, than starring in a game such as this.

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The Best Game Ever (Pt.1)

Devil May Cry 3

Capcom, 2005

PS2

The adventures of a narcissist with OCD on a quest to beat up his brother.

When you were a kid, someone – probably a well-meaning elderly relative or aunt or something – told you that no one likes a show-off. It’s one of those things everyone had to go through at least once. Well, Grandma Hilde, I’m afraid to say you were so horribly wrong. Showing off may not be big, and it may not be clever, but it is awesome and it makes you awesome. This is Scientific fact, and trying to say otherwise makes you a fool. Just look at Dante.

Dante, as I’m sure you’re all aware, is the walking personification of Awesome incarnate. Everything he does and says has to be as OTT as possible, no matter how mundane, and, as a result, he winds up reeking of the Awesome, and possibly pizza. Or strawberry sundaes, if the anime’s to be believed (which we’re all hoping it isn’t). Devil May Cry 3 is a prequel to the series as a whole, detailing the events some time prior to the first game. While setting up his titular (as yet unnamed) agency, Dante receives an invitation of sorts from his long-missing twin brother, Vergil. Seems he’s planning some shenanigans, and wants Dante to come along with party favours for all his friends! Except by ‘shenanigans’ he means ‘summoning a demonic tower in the middle of the city’, by ‘friends’ he means ‘demons’ and by ‘party favours’ he means ‘violence’. So, Dante, never one to miss a shindig, ventures forth to figure out what in the hell his brother is up to. And, I dunno, stop another demonic incursion into our world if possible, or something.

This is the intro to the very first stage:

That tells you just about all you need to know about the game. Over the top acrobatics? Check. A cocky main character just the right side of obnoxious? Check. A fantastically thumping soundtrack? Check. Riding enemies like the devil’s own skateboard, firing and whooping like a lunatic all the while? Oh hell yeah, check! Of course, if the game were all improbable sword-slinging and nothing else, it’d be a pretty piss-poor show. Thankfully, the DMC3 has the chops to back up its boasts, with chutzpah to spare.

So, after the intro, and once you’ve stopped laughing at how insane that opening is, you finally get to take control of Dante himself. And it’s good. The controls are as fluid as you could ask for, and while they do take some getting used to at first, once you have them down, pulling off the myriad combos will be child’s play. It’s okay if you start feeling every bit as cocky as Dante when you start facing down the legions of enemies ahead of you, we all do it ourselves from time to time. Even better though, showing off actually has a practical application in the game. The style meter, trademark of the game, makes a return appearance. As you beat up on demons, the bar fills. The more impressive the combo, the more red orbs, the game’s currency, you get after they die. In the grand scheme of things, you don’t have to invest much in the combo system: it makes things easier for upgrading and the like, but, other than investing in a couple of key moves and some extra health, you can easily murder your way through the underworld with the same basic attacks. The very existence of the bar, however, almost guarantees that, like it or not, you’ll be driving yourself to reach the upper ranks as often as possible, for no other reason than the fact that you can. After all, you’re Dante! No way in hell he’d do anything less than the craziest moves known to man or demon!

The soundtrack is similarly fantastic. The ambient music that makes up the majority of it is inoffensive and fits into the background easily. Not that you’ll really be hearing it that often, as the game’s main battle theme, Taste The Blood kicks in each and every time you encounter an enemy. And there’s a hell of a lot of enemies. If you’ve played games like, say, Persona 3 and 4, you’ll know it’s hard to have a battle theme with lyrics in it. It’s a nice idea in theory, but it all falls apart when you remember that your average player’s going to be hearing it several hundred times during the course of a normal game. More so if they’re grinding for whatever reason. Thankfully, unlike the Persona games, Taste The Blood and its variants work well as both a stand-alone piece of music and as a battle theme, probably due to the emphasis being on the music rather than the voice (and due to it fading in, rather than crashing in with the same repetitive intro every time). The boss battle themes are, likewise, of a high calibre, being, at turns, dark foreboding pieces, as in the case of the Cerberus fight, or frantic electronica when you’re fighting the succubus Nevan. The game’s overall theme, Devils Never Cry is easily the standout piece. It accounts for what seems like half the tracklist by itself, showing up in various remixes and rearrangements and as a piano version on several occasions. Give the song its due though, it’s a fantastic track, and while your mileage may vary, it’s not a bad piece of music to riff on.

Devil May Cry 3 was eventually re-released as a budget-priced special edition. While there were a few extra modes – Bloody Palace, a 9999 level endurance mode, extra costumes and art and so forth – two spring to the forefront most clearly. First off is the ability to play as Vergil. While this is touted as a separate storymode, that’s actually something of a lie. There’s a few extra cutscenes as Vergil, mostly at the start and end, but between stages, there’s nothing. There’s not even any difference between the stages or the order you tackle them in – the first stage takes place in Dante’s office, note for note, for God’s sake! Vergil mode basically amounts to little more than a palette-swap with a new set of moves and no story, rather than a ‘true’ new gameplay mode, and while it’s a nice addition, it’s really nothing to get excited about.

What’s more interesting is the re-jigged difficulty levels. We all know how crushingly hard the game gets on account of the difficulty levels being moved up a notch during the translation to Western Shores – our ‘Normal’ is the Japanese ‘Hard’, our Dante Must Die mode doesn’t even technically exist over there, and so on. With the release of DMC3SE, they decided to throw us a bone and moved the settings closer to the original Japanese settings. The end result is a game that’s not exactly easier, as much as it is less frustrating. Lots of people out there wanted to like the original, but were put off by the monumental challenge it offered, even on the sarcastically offered Easy Mode (to unlock: die. That’s it). With this, and a few refinements and tweaks here and there, the game is finally within the reach of even the less than godly of us out there.

DMC3, if you haven’t already guessed, is a phenomenal game, and easily one of the best ever seen in the action genre. The cutscenes are wonderfully overblown, and there’s a healthy vein of self-mocking humour running through it from end to end – anytime Dante does something cool, and takes a moment to congratulate himself on it, events never fail to remind him that he’s still an utter goofball. The controls, the gameplay, the graphics, voice acting and characters all come together to produce an absolutely amazing finished product. It’s even more amazing considering it came out after the second game in the series, an offering so laughably poor, even Capcom themselves are doing their best to distance themselves from it. When a company is more ready to consider a cameo in another company’s game (see Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne) more canon than an actual instalment of the series itself, it gives you some indication of just how dire that offering must be. DMC3 puts you in the boots of a qualified badass and lets you go wild with some of the most demented attacks and weapons you’re ever likely to see – if you can find a weapon more spectacular than an electric guitar that doubles up as a scythe that also fires electrically charged bats with every riff that, fyi, was also originally a virtually naked succubus not ten minutes ago, for the love of all that is holy, keep it to yourself, less its magnificence tear the very fabric of the universe asunder!

Devil May Cry 3: Dante’s Awakening is, without a doubt, the craziest party you’re ever likely to visit. Let’s rock!

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