Rants and raves about all the latest in video games and other forms of mindless entertainment.

May 14, 2005

No School like the Old School Vol. 1

This is the first installment of "No School like the Old School". It's a look back with quick hit reviews on games we knew and loved, and have for some reason or another been lost in the spacetime continuem of gaming enthusia. Some of these games are timeless, and some are forgotten for good reason. The festering pot of crap that managed to be approved back when gaming was a cheap gimmick is appauling, but generous game developers, devoted to their hobby, managed to take the job seriously and give us a taste of what gaming can and will be like. Regardless of how far we advance the sexual appeal of polygons, or how many gigatexels, teletrons, and techno-babble we manage to cram onto a single disc, there's no forgetting the hidden gems and buried treasures of the past. Some such games include the Gradius series, Final Fantasy, Super Mario, and a little known tactics game known as Bahamut Lagoon.

Bahamut Lagoon

This little known tactics RPG, in the same vein as Tactics Ogre and the more recent Final Fantasy Tactics and Tactics Advance games, was a suprisingly deep RPG with an intricate plot, plenty of gametime, and managed to incorporate a few sim aspects too. You play as Byuu, an man who flies the skies hopping from lagoon to lagoon. The game is set in a post apocalyptic era, where every remaining human colony has taken to the skies inhabiting small airborne islands, and dragons are the primary means of travel. You team up with an army of air pirates, demi-demons, wizards, warlocks, and mystics who aid you in trying to unlock the sleeping dragons of lore. While the plot is suprisingly thin at th surface, there are quite a few back stories for each and every character in your party (up to 30 different party members and characters) and you can go through many many sidequests to further the back story and gain additional items and experience.

As you travel from city to city, you'll get a chance to peruse the shops and inns for items and artillery, and engage in conversations which further the storyline of the game. In between these city hubs, you'll find yourself on a large map, laid out in a grid like fashion with enemies strewn about all over the field. You and your fellow parties (up to 6 per battle) advance up the map to engage in battles. There are no random battles here, and you can easily head up the boss of the map, but battling the peons he sends to fight you will yield more experience and hence make your parties stronger. It's a true tactics game, and aside from JUST party members, each party is also armed with a dragon you can raise to become stronger and bigger. Feeding the infantile dragons greens of different elemental properties, or special items like rare weapons and armour will increase the HP, strength and defense of the dragon, aS well as increase it's ability repetoire, thus making the dragon more deadly. You can raise dragons of any elemental type, including dragons who heal party members. During battle, dragons will attack targets randomly, and you have no control over them, however they tend to be incredibly useful assets when fighting strong enemies, as they weaken them enough for your normal parties to take them out manually.

The down side to this dynamic is that as you raise your dragons, they all eventually plateau at the strongest dark form. Every dragon, while initially diffuse in their ability sets, end up being one and the same later on once you've fed them enough food. It's a slightly disengenuous development point, however there are other dragons that will aid you in your quest. You can find and summon the sleeping dragons, including working your up to the coveted Bahamut from Final Fantasy fame. True, this game could stand alone without the Final Fantasy tie-in, but this is in a day when you were lucky if your game sold even a handful of copies, so anything to draw the attention to this superbly fun adventure tactics game was worth the investment. Bahamut Lagoon is a genuine RPG, with a lot of charm, not to mention was one of the fore runners for the tactics genre.



Super Mario RPG (SNES)

Super Mario RPG is one of those games you love to hate. It was never anything special, and was a desperate attempt to cash in on the RPG craze set by Squaresoft's Final Fantasy series. It's amazing to see how much influence the Final Fantasy franchise has had on the gaming industry. Suprisingly enough, Nintendo pleaded with Squaresoft to transform their coveted Mario franchise into an RPG. It wasn't easy, and the end result is definitely less than sub-par, however the main focus of the game and the overall transformation is somewhat well done.

Mario and his compadres, Mallow, Geno, Yoshi, and even Bowser join Mario in attempting to retreive the Seven Stars. Creatively enough, very similar to Nintendo's first outing with Wario. Where Squaresoft went wrong with this game is in the combat and exploration. Simplistic puzzles and pseudo-3D lanscapes were nothing to drool over. The puzzles and environment layout were clearly designed for children, and with simplistic gaming in mind. However, the battle system consisted of an insanely cruel enemy AI. Boss battles were annoying and difficult, oftentimes acting as swift kick in the nuts after navigating through a laughably easy maze with isultingly easy random battles. The fact that everything Final Fantasy is was mimicked through and through, except renamed so that no one's the wiser, was also slightly aggrevating. Your party members were oftentimes useless compared to you, the main character Mario, and the items and weapons you could equip to them were just as disappointing if not more so. Items and armour were ridiculously expensive compared to the little money you actually made, and leveling up merely once required upwards of over an hour to do most of the time.

In the end, the plot is nothing short of typical for a Mario game, and the combat is clunky and clearly has far too many kinks to be worked out. The game itself is short, up to only about 10 hours even with the mind numbing difficulty of the bosses, and the strategy in battles is next to absent. This game is a classic example of "if you can't beat 'em, level up until you can". What the game does right is cleverly attributing the RPG fare to common items and elements from Super Mario. Potions become Mushrooms, magic potions become honey syrups, weapons consist of turtle shells and Mario's patented hammer, and the special abilities of Mario and his buddies relate to their side-scrolling platformer attributes like Jumping and casting "fire" with fire flowers. It's clever to witness, however the execution is severely flawed.



Gradius III (SNES)

Konami is known for producing great titles. They're probably right next to Square Enix, Nintendo and SCEA for being publically known for making hit after hit. While the title of quality developer has only just become a universal constant for the latter three, Konami's pedigree of games goes back, way back. Starting with the Metal Gear series, then Contra, Castlevania, Ninja Turtles, and then there was Gradius. Gradius is a hardcore gamer's game. You play as the space ship: Vic Viper; now a Konami trademark name. You fly through space for no other apparent reason other than killing aliens...lots of aliens. Gradius III is the first installment on the SNES system from Konami and Gradius, and it ended up being a phenomenal hit. Perhaps not financially, as the game performed slightly below expectations, however the world was wowed by the intense action, and challenging yet extremely balanced and fair difficulty.

Gradius III involved you maneuvering the ship up and down across the screen, shooting your very uninteresting and lame laser at the enemies. To overcome this, Gradius III comes equipped with a sweet customization system, where you customize your ships sequence of upgrades to make combat as easy or difficult, or obscure as you see fit. Each upgrade has 5 different forms, and there are a total of 6 different upgrade classes. You can first upgrade your speed, which is essential, and any gamer worth their salt will upgrade their speed twice before they even begin upgrading further. Secondly, you can upgrade the laser into a modified laser shooting in two simultaneous directions, and the third upgrade allows you to upgrade the laser into a super laser, which also has 5 different forms, and the player gets to chose which laser is used. Keep in mind, that the upgrades chosen carry through the entire game, so chose wisely. The last upgrade is known as the "Gradius Option". You get to chose an option, and you can have up to four options. The name is slightly confusing, so let me elaborate. An option is simply a small orb, or clone of the Vic Viper which mimics all of the same attacks that you currently have. As mentioned earlier, the player can have up to four options at any one time, meaning up to 5 different "Vic Vipers" attacking. This turns you into a astro soaring tank, capable of taking out anything coming your way. Keep your eyes on the screen, since the game ramps of the difficulty mighty quick and you'll have to nimble with the joystick and fast with your fingers, since the amount of enemies on screen at one time can reach upwards of twenty, and they all want a piece of you.

Attaining upgrades comes from collecting special orbs that certain enemies relenquish when you destroy their mortal bodies, but the only disappointing thing is, if you collect all of your upgrades and you happen to perish you will restart at a checkpoint, but you won't have any of your upgrades. Considering most of the later stages of the game will collectively require most of your upgrades, getting through the game dying is near impossible; you'll have a much more fluid experience by getting through from start to finish without dying. As daunting a challenge as it is, it's entirely possible but it will take practice. The game is only about an hour long from start to finish, and there is no save points, but overall the game offers supreme customization, and is one of the best and most fluid side scroling shooters of the SNES generation of games. Among the ranks of the R-Type series and even surpassing it in some instances, Gradius III is perhaps one of the best games no one played.



The next installment of No School like the Old School will consit of reviews of every Final Fantasy game from Final Fantasy game from the first through to the sixth installment. From the NES to the SNES, Final Fantasy has dominated and it's the perfect candidate for a spotlight in a montage of old school game reviews!


Blogger CPT PYRO said...

I was/am a huge fan of Gradius III, that game was so addictive.

June 15, 2005 1:59 PM


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