Final Fantasy Tactics Advance

1814647-box_ffta

I have a confession to make: I’ve never played a Final Fantasy game. When I was younger, I didn’t care for turn based battle systems, and when I was older and in college, the anime styling was just not appealing. I’ve come around on both accounts, and was able to dig in a bit on Final Fantasy Tactics Advance (Giant Bomb|Wikipedia).

For those who don’t know, FFTA is a strategy RPG – you command a group of characters in turn based battles who then gain experience points and levels. I didn’t get far enough to see exactly, but it seems that there is also an element of loot with different equipment available to the various characters. This is a full on RPG no doubt, but with a more strategic combat phase. It’s a nice mix, but I will say that the various mechanics are a bit overwhelming to a newcomer like me – job and law systems, the different character classes and their attacks and roles in combat, and a map that allows you to place points of interest. Incredibly deep and complex. I could see spending the first dozen or so hours with this game to just learn and get a feel for it, then start over.

459628-gfs_44908_2_13

The game is played from an overhead isometric perspective and the visuals are top notch. Sprite work is detailed and beautiful and the battlefield is readable at a glance – no small feat on the small screen and limited resolution of the GBA. I am still in love with the look of this game, it may be the best looking GBA title in my collection.

Music is overall great – but I can see it getting a bit stale after dozens of hours… not a fault of the game, but a limitation of cartridge sizes at the time. Sound effects crisp, clear, and perfect in every instance I saw. Overall, this is a great sounding game and it compliments the visuals quite nicely.

Overall I enjoyed my time with FFTA, but I think I need to read a beginners guide before I get too much further. The amount of time I dedicate to each title for this site is usually sufficient to judge – but in this case it wasn’t even close. I played close to double what I normally do and I was still a bit lost when it came to some of the mechanics. Thankfully, FFTA is compelling enough for me to keep up interest and follow through – I’m looking forward to playing all the way through in the future.

Verdict: Play again! This is fun and really deep – I can see sinking a ton of hours into it over lunch breaks.

Images courtesy of Giant Bomb

Sonic 3D Blast

2374515-genesis_sonic3dblast_2

Sonic 3D Blast (Giant Bomb|Wikipedia) was a late release on the Genesis, and I never got around to playing it. The graphics looked strange compared to the other entries on the Genesis (which I have extreme nostalgia for and love) and in late ’96 I was starting to get into PC gaming and didn’t use my Genesis much. I’ve always heard that this entry is, well, awful but I wanted to check it out for myself.

In Sonic 3D Blast you have an isometric top down view of Sonic and the level. You can move him in any direction on a 3D plane and do the standard jumps and spin dashes.The goal here is to defeat enemies by jumping on them, then gathering up the flickies (small birds) that pop out and escorting them to a collection area – this is a much different game than the side scrollers. Lining up jumps is actually fairly difficult with this perspective, and I was never confident that I would actually hit an enemy once I jumped – the game does feel fairly generous in this (probably because the designers knew it was an issues) but it never feels natural and intuitive. The game seems very easy, and not very fun – and on top of that there is no save system – a ridiculous oversight.

1164676-sonic3dgen_green

Visually, Sonic 3D Blast is one of the games from that time period that use prerendered 3D objects to generate sprites that are then put in the game (see Donkey Kong Country and Vectorman). Overall I’m not wild about this art style, but for what it is it looks nice. There is also an FMV cinematic intro, which is crazy to see on the Genesis (it is compressed all to hell though). Overall I would say the graphics are probably the one good thing I would take away from this game – they do look quite nice on the Genesis, cleaner and crisper than you would see for most titles on the system.

Sonic titles – to me at least – are well known for their music. It’s some of the best that we got on the Genesis, or hell the whole 16-bit era. Unfortunately, here it falls short. Way short. The music is overly happy and poppy and doesn’t really fit in with the game very well. It’s completely forgettable too. Sound effects are mediocre with little punch felt when destroying an enemy or opening a power up. At least the ring sound effect is the same as Sonic 3.

Verdict: Back on the shelf. This is a terrible Sonic game and while it’s not offensively bad, you really shouldn’t waste your time with it.

 

Images courtesy of Giant Bomb

The Simpsons: Bart’s Nightmare

2364758-snes_simpsonsbartsnightmare

The Simpsons: Bart’s Nightmare (Giant Bomb|Wikipedia) was a video game tie in released in 1992 at the start of peak Simpsons. At the time, the show was approaching the height of its popularity (mid-90s would be where I would place that) and all the tie ins began. The toys. The games. The butterfinger commercials. You couldn’t go very far without being greeted by a Simpsons character by 1994, but in 1992 this was just starting. Unfortunately, other than the wonderful arcade beat ’em up, I’ve never played a good Simpsons game and this is no different.

The game starts with Bart working on his homework and falling asleep. Soon he’s transported to a dream world where he has to collect the scattered pieces of paper in order to assemble his homework. The game starts with you walking down a street full of obstacles and enemies. Lisa is a flying angel that will turn you into a frog, Otto is driving the bus so fast that you’ll get killed if you’re caught in the street, and severed heads of Jebediah Springfield bounce up and down toward you. Getting hit by any of these causes you damage, take enough and it’s game over. Your goal is to find bits of paper from the homework, and when you do you’re ‘treated’ to a mini game. I say treated lightly – the only one I got to was an exercise in frustration. That’s it. Complete all the mini games, and you win. The street level is always the same, and the single bonus stage I played had me fighting enemies that consistently hit me from off screen (unavoidable damage). When you die in the mini game, it’s game over and you have to start from scratch. Besides not being fun, controls were floaty and hit boxes were wildly inconsistent.

874644-bn_blinky

The game looks.. fine. It’s not spectacular in any way, and it’s just so mediocre that I have almost nothing to say about it. It serves it’s purpose, it’s not terrible, but it does not standout in any way. It’s fine.

Music in this is pretty bad. They even screwed up the Simpsons theme by having it so compressed and low quality that it’s barely recognizable. The digitized voices are muffled and hard to make out. The best thing I can say about the sound is that the sound effects are simply acceptable. Poor quality in general.

Verdict: Back on the shelf. This game is not as bad as Bart Vs. the Space Mutants, but that’s like saying that being puked on is better than eating a shit sandwich: technically true, but both are very unpleasant.

Samurai Shodown

2373863-genesis_samuraishodown

Samurai Showdown (Giant Bomb|Wikipedia) is a fighting game released by SNK on basically every platform ever – seriously, check out the Giant Bomb page and look at the platforms list (at the time of this writing there are currently 17 platforms listed). SNK, for those who don’t know, is a large producer of arcade games focusing on fighting games and who released the NEO GEO home console and arcade system in the 90s. Samurai Shodown is one of their premier fighting game series, and I was excited to try it out given the pedigree.

I’ll admit right here and now that I’m not a big fan nor particularly skilled when it comes to fighting games. I certainly appreciate them in a casual way, but they aren’t something I normally seek out on my own. A surprise for me was that this title is actually sort of a weapons based fighting game – something I wasn’t expecting. You can pick one of several fighters and compete in a tournament. Each fight is best of 3 rounds, pretty standard fare for a fighting game. The controls felt pretty good once I got the hang of them but the style/feel of this is completely different from what I’m used to. There are certainly fast fighters in the mix, but there is a sort of – how to say it – a lack of transparency on what attacks will hit before others. Say you punch and so does your opponent at the same time… one of you will hit and the other won’t and it’s not really clear how that is determined. When you are knocked to the ground, you gain some temporary invincibility when you stand up – many times I was waiting for my opponent to stand up to attack them and my hits didn’t register. I know why this is done, but I fell into the trap repeatedly. On the bright side, going on the offensive and attacking feels deliberate – you can’t button mash and hope for the best here. Overall, once I got used to it the controls and gameplay felt really good.  Finally I should mention that while I’m sure there is some sort of story here, I only have a loose cartridge so it completely eluded me.

1648865-oh_gen_an

Graphically this is a good looking game – but there are some flaws. Character sprites look good by and large, and the environments also look pretty great. Backgrounds have some limited interaction (such as slicing a bamboo stalk in half) which was a treat to see. Unfortunately, there is a lot of slowdown and backgrounds do not do any parallax scrolling – something I was hoping they would do. On the whole, I’d say the positives far outweigh the negatives, but if you hate slowdown you are going to have a bad time with this one.

Music was period appropriate and fits the mood of the game, but it’s not really great – I can’t see listening to the soundtrack outside of my play session. Sound effects otherwise were solid and are clearly where the effort went when porting this to the Genesis.

Overall I did enjoy my time with Samurai Shodown. The controls and fighting felt good, and the visuals were quite nice. It also takes advantage of the Gensis 6 button controller, which is very nice to see. I do also love the really goofy translation, which gives us such gems as “I thought I was dead. But I think I’m Cleopatra, too.” and “No one calls me freak and lives! No one but my wife, that is.” – really bizarre and fantastic.

Verdict: Play again. Not my favorite fighting game, but solid for sure – I’d like to finish the campaign and see what happens.