RPG Index: Single player Role Playing Games

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Final Fantasy 9

Genre: JRPG, RPG
Release Date: July 7th 2000
Platforms: PS1
Score: 8/10
Similar Titles: Dragon Quest, Lufia, Legend of Dragoon

Traditional cover.

Today I shall continue the reviews on Final Fantasy series, with the ninth instalment of the franchise. Square decided to drop the angsty teenage protagonist this time around, and replaced him with an optimistic monkey man, Zidane. A lot of people dislike Zidane as the main character, and while I can't say I love him, he's not half bad.

Summons are depicted gloriously in cut scenes.
Final Fantasy 9 is somewhat a big leap from the previous games, it kicks off by reintroducing the four character combat system, followed by a new ability mechanic that allows you party to learn spells through their weapons. Summons like Ramus and Bahamut are in the game but only usable by two of your female party members later on. It's impossible to say you'll enjoy nine over other Final Fantasies, because it received more mixed critique than any of the others in the series. What I noticed on my playthroughs is Square-Enix have tried to combine what they think are the most successful aspects of their other games into Final Fantasy 9, including the characters (think about it).

The external world map is a feature I've always loved.

The combat hasn't evolved much, it's still very turn-based. However, your party adopts a class system from the earliest games in the series, Zidane is a thief, the main heroine Princess Garnet is a white mage, her guard Steiner is a fighter, and so forth. a new limit break/overdrive has been developed called trance, which boosts the strength of your characters in their speciality. Trance kicks ass, it facerolls boss fights. Overall, there's no drastic changes to the good old Square-Enix formula.

Battles are pretty interested with the class system.

Graphics have a noticeable polish about them in Final Fantasy IX, Characters look more defined and cut scenes are very pretty. It would never stand up to any of the games of today in anything but story, but the game had groundbreaking visuals for it's time, and people can appreciate them even today.

The graphics are impressive for PSX.
As the only reason to play the game today, the storyline is definitely something. If you know JRPGs and Square-Enix, you have a good idea of what it will be like. Zidane and his oddly assorted band of misfits have to work together, battling through the monster ridden mists to save the world from the greedy Queen Brahne and other evils. Sadly, the bad guys have nothing on Sephiroth, or even a fly. If that wasn't blunt enough for you, the antagonists just plain suck. Despite this, Zidanes antics and the other characters personality depth weaves an intriguing plot.

Even though a copy of this game is hard to get your hands on these days, if you like JRPG games I suggest you play it at some point. As you progress you'll most likely find yourself hooked. Same thing goes for any of the Final Fantasy games. Unlike 7 and 8 though, there is no PC version.

I wouldn't suggest this as your first Final Fantasy, it's not the best of the bunch. Read up on the others before making a decision.

If you're looking for a review on other final fantasy games check out these links:
Final Fantasy 8 review
Final Fantasy 7 review

Friday, 24 June 2011

Dawn of War 2: Retribution

Genre: RTS, Strategy, Action
Release Date: March 1st 2011
Platforms: PC
Score: 7/10
Similar Titles: Command and Conquer, Warcraft 3, X-men: Legends

Gotta love the style of 40k.

Todays review isn't what you'd call a traditional RPG. Unlike the single player games I usually cover, Dawn of War is an RTS franchise. However, the second game in the series, Retribution plays like an RPG more than anything else. Relic entertainment have sacrificed a lot of what was good in Dawn of War, and replaced it with an arcadey playstyle similar to that penguin flash game where you just keep trying to fly further and further.

Loads of the badass weaponry from Warhammer are included.

Featuring multiple campaigns with the races from the Warhammer 40k universe, you can play as: Space Marines, Chaos, Eldar, Orks, Tyrannids, or the Imperial guard. Sadly the missions are exactly the same (a couple of differences) regardless of which army you choose.

Dawn of War II adopts a new combat system entirely, eradicating the construction of buildings from the game. Instead of making a base, you will capture strategic points across each map and use them to create units. Resources are collected primarily through destroying crates in the field to find them.

With no buildings to manage, focusing on tactics is essential.

The best thing implemented in the new engine is the champions of each race. During the first mission, you will be awarded four heroes, each with their own abilities, level up system, and gear slots. As they increase in power you will find yourself cruising around without backup, kicking ass and looting shizz. Despite this obvious flaw in the games balance, it's hella fun and that's fine with me.

Missions are straightforward, you will be able to either pick a side mission to gain gear and experience, or advance directly through the plot battles. Gear is thrown at you left and right, and it's pretty awesome being able to upgrade all your characters through their respective talent trees. Talents can be picked in either offence, defence, or utility. Most points will just give you attacks like grenade, but there is some really cool stuff out there (perma-invisibility or invulnerability).

Here's a video to demonstrate some gameplay:

It's pretty fun bossing it through each level, they look very pretty and are intimately designed. Overall, the lack of difficulty (harder modes are just tedious) kinda ruins the game. The Last Stand can be kinda fun for a while, but the game is severely lacking a skirmish mode. Playing online can be really fun, but after a couple of matches you'll really lose steam and enthusiasm.
Eldar attack in numbers, but are quite easy to break through.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Mass Effect

Genre: RPG, FPS
Release date: November 16th 2007
Platforms: Xbox 360, PC
Score: 8/10
Similar titles: Dragon Age, Witcher, Deus Ex

Commander Shephard, the protagonist.

Mass Effect is widely known as one of Biowares finest works. It certainly deserves the title. Originally on the Xbox 360, this game was so kickass it was ported to the PC a year later. When researching some other reviews for this game, It was hard to find someone who genuinely disliked the game. Here's a video compilation of the combat that I made, take a look if you're interested:

Character personalisation has some variety.

Using a new approach to their combat system, Mass Effect has essentially created an FPS with RPG elements stitched in. And whoever wove the needle, did it wonderfully. Character customisation is in depth, to the point where you choose a military and civilian background. There's also a fairly interesting class system in place, which allows you to level up your weapon skills accordingly.

The level up screen shows your moral compass and skills.

If you know Bioware, which you should, you will be expecting a rich fantasy world with an engaging plot. Of course, that's exactly what you get. Set in the near future, you will find yourself in the shoes of Commander Shephard, on board a starship exploring the universe.

Travelling between solar systems is incredibly quick.

It's the early days of space travel for humankind, possible only because of alien technology left behind by the extinct super species, Protheans. Using this technology, the human race encountered extraterrestrial life, led and ruled by the Citadel Council and their agents, the Spectres.

The plot is far from boring, is all I can say.

Some skills are really awesome.

Not many people have been disappointed by Mass Effect, and I doubt you will be either. The only alarmingly present flaw is the lack of difficulty. There's not enough enemies to overheat your pistol in a lot of encounters, even on the harder difficulties. Combat is fun, so you may find yourself shooting first and asking questions later more often.

A skilled FPS player will trash this game with ease.

Squadmates are talkative and immersive, and pretty useful in battle too. There is a variety of party members to choose from, all with their own backstory. This combined with the pretty graphics, can leave you scratching your head wondering why it's been 3 hours when you were only intending to play for 1.

If you like the video, then look for a copy, since it's very cheap now. Mass Effect 2 is out with 3 on the way, so be prepared to buy those too!

Sunday, 12 June 2011

The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings

Genre: RPG, Action
Release Date: May 17th 2011
Platforms: PC, Xbox 360
Score: 8/10
Similar Titles: Dragon Age, The Elder Scrolls, Mass Effect

I've been meaning to get around to review the Witcher 2 for a while now, because it seems rather popular at the moment. If you want to read a review on the first game, go here.

As a sequel to an inspired yet flawed game, the Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings needed a lot of drastic changes to fulfil a standard worthy of Bioware or Blizzard in 2011. Surprisingly, CD Projekt have done their jobs properly, and learnt from their mistakes. They have carefully replaced the majority of the time consuming and inconvenient design issues from the first game. Instead of giving the graphics engine an overall polish, they built a new one entirely. The scenery is truly beautiful, and you won't have any trouble immersing yourself in the world.

It begins where the first game left off, following the escapades of white haired Geralt of Riva, a Witcher taught to fight and kill monsters - usually for a price. I'm not going into detail about the storyline. All you need to know is that it is both intricate and magnificent; a compliment not frequent in my vocabulary. Advancing dialogue is quite interesting in the Witcher 2. Instead of picking archtypical lines from the good angel and evil devil on your shoulder, you will find yourself choosing options based on the possible consquences later in the story. In other words, karma will bite you on the ass later in the game if you're a silly billy.

Wonderful plot aside, I'm going to talk about the thing that impressed me most in the Witcher 2 - combat. Adopting a new action orientated style, fighting as Geralt is better than ever. The mechanics allow you to smoothly navigate the battlefield while stringing together blows to slay enemies. The signs (magic) system is also improved, the spells are cooler and cause devastation, and can be deployed effectively using the new combat menu, which slows down the fight to a managable pace. If you experienced the fairly sluggish you hit I hit from the Witcher 1, then you will be astounded by the new design.

Levelling is much simpler this time around; each level aquires you one skill point to allocate into a specialisation. Since you won't be completing all of the trees in one playthrough, choosing wisely is advised. Each specialisation has some awesome talents, enough to make you eager to plow through quests to get that overpowered upgrade. Armour also provides stat boosts, providing another way to customise and compliment your build.

Alchemy works much the same as any profession in an RPG game, materials pile up from your relentless monster killing and ruthless herb collecting - then you mash it together and you have a hulk concoction. I'd like to say you can play the game without becoming an addled potion chugger, but there's no doubt you will. When you get addicted to drugs, blame the Witcher 2. Eventually alchemy starts to yield some pretty badass recipes, so take advantage of it.

If you're looking for something epic to kill some time before Diablo 3 or Skyrim, this is the game to get. Completing all the content should take 40-80 hours, depending on how you play it. The Witcher 2 kicks off 2011 as a promising year for RPGs.

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Final Fantasy 8

Genre: JRPG, RPG
Release Date: February 11th, 1999
Platforms: PC, PSX
Score: 9/10
Similar Titles: Dragon Quest, Chrono Trigger, Grandia

A fair bit of controversy surrounds Square-Enix and their eighth instalment of the series, some hail it as the best game of the franchise; others criticise it as the worst.

Since I'm not here today to continue the age old argument, I'm going to skirt over the subject and get straight on to my personal opinion regarding this game.

What you will find in Final Fantasy VIII is a well developed JRPG story with a tinge of romance, backed up by a fairly interesting battle system. Intimidating at first, junctioning and controlling GFs (Summons, like Shiva and Ifrit) and magic can be frustrating. Early on you will find yourself in unnecessary battles for a prolonged amount of time; merely to draw basic magics from an enemy to power up your party. Despite this annoying flaw, the random battles are surprisingly bearable through most parts of the game.

Square-Enix also attempted to make drastic changes to how battles functioned, implementing features that allowed enemies and bosses to level up at the same pace as your characters, GFs being able to learn their own abilities, and a new style of limit break. Overall, the improvements did make a difference; the fights had more depth and tactics than the games predecessors.

The key factor to enjoying Final Fantasy VIII is to appreciate the story; although the same could be said for any of the games. I can't say the plot is flawless, but I found myself engaged enough to play obsessively on my first couple of playthroughs.

Squall Leonhart, the protagonist is essentially a soldier, working under the command of Balamb Garden,a home to many young orphans and students alike. Gardens are situated throughout the world with dozens of pupils, as a military power of sorts. Students are assigned under squads, and employed on missions similar to mercenaries. All residents of Balamb Garden aspire to rise to one role, SeeD. SeeD are the highly qualified soldiers of Garden.

Squall is a strong and angsty young teenager, approaching the day of his SeeD test. Although he doesn't have many friends, he has a groupie who goes by the name Instructor Quistis Trepe, and a rival named Seifer. When I put it that bluntly it sounds terrible, but if you are no stranger to Final Fantasy games you'll know they can weave a damn good story.

I don't think it's appropriate to go into more detail without spoiling the game, so guy buy it you scrubbers!

As you may know, I have already reviewed Final Fantasy 7, which can be found here.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

The Witcher

If you are searching for the Witcher 2, the review can be found here.

So I found this hilarious review on gamespot about the Witcher, it sums the game up better than I ever could. Since I wanted to review the game myself, I've decided to use this one courtesy of Brett Todd. Enjoy.

Don't be afraid of change. Even though The Witcher may scare off some people with inventive combat that replaces comfortable old rapid-fire clicking with rhythmic sword swinging, there is no need to avoid one of the deepest, most adult role-playing games to hit the PC in years. Polish developer CD Projekt has crafted one of those landmark games that moves the goalposts for everybody, a truly grown-up take on swords and sorcery that breaks just about every fantasy tradition in the book. Once you experience a grimy medieval world so realistic that you can practically smell it, quests that reject simplistic good and evil for ambiguous "decisions and consequences," and, yes, newfangled battle mechanics that add welcome twists to left-click scrapping, you'll find it awfully hard to go back to the usual D&D rip-off.
Built on a 2007 edition of the Aurora Engine that powers Neverwinter Nights, The Witcher is something of a cross between action RPGs such as Diablo and more complex plate-mail potboilers such as Neverwinter Nights. Essentially, the developers work both sides of the street. On the one hand, you have exactly one character choice in the form of greasy-haired Geralt of Rivia, the monster-hunting mercenary "witcher" of the title, along with other ostensibly dumbed-down features such as big bunches of combat and Gatling-gun-quick leveling up. But on the other hand, you also get a postwar fantasy world called Temeria that feels lived in (if not postapocalyptic), as well as plot points that involve serious moral choices. Story and setting have been borrowed from The Last Wish, a Polish fantasy novel published way back in 1990 by Andrzej Sapkowski, and for once such an adaptation has been pulled off successfully.

Although there is a fair bit of saving-the-world RPG claptrap involving a powerful evil mage and a mysterious group called the Salamanders, you deal with a lot of lowlifes. Woman-hating religious fanatics; merchants who deal in abducted children; slatternly bar wenches who'll bed down with you for a bottle of wine; witches who sell poison and play with voodoo dolls; racists who openly hate nonhumans and threaten to kill elves and dwarves. Make no mistake: Although there are a lot of traditional, Gygaxian monsters on the prowl here--barghests, wargs, ghouls, drowned undead, vampires, wraiths, wyverns, and loads of different demons--the biggest enemy that Geralt faces is always his fellow humans. You're not much of a hero, either. Requests for assistance can be turned down. Money is always a factor, even when you decide to be a good guy and lend a helping hand. And you have no problem taking advantage of just about every woman you encounter, having pre-marital relations with a handful of babes in every act of the game despite apparently being in love with one of your fellow witchers.
It shouldn't be much of a surprise that the line between good and evil here isn't a very thick one. Everything is a murky gray. The first act is simply astonishing in how it plays out. You start off trying to track down the bad guys who raided your witcher fortress and killed one of your pals, but soon get involved in a feud that pits the religious leader and nobles of a hamlet against a witch. However, nobody's hands are clean. One merchant you deal with is in cahoots with the evil cult you're hunting. A guard you help with a ghoul problem turns out to be a rapist. The village priest you're helping cleanse the region of a demonic dog called "the Beast" is actually a misogynistic lunatic. And the witch isn't much better, given that she's sold poison used in a suicide and employed a voodoo doll to make one of the local bigwigs kill his brother. By the end of the act, in a showdown complete with burning torches and pitchforks, you're forced to choose between the woman-hating, rape-loving, cult-affiliated mob and the murdering witch. It makes the most sense to side with the witch because the villagers are an awfully sleazy lot, but doing so forces you to slaughter virtually all of them and leave their town burned to the ground.
So no, The Witcher sure isn't all sunshine and lollipops. But even though you might need a few Prozac pills to handle the game's bleak tone, the story becomes incredibly compelling when you have so much riding on your actions. Characters seem like real people, not the good-evil-neutral triad of stereotypes that populate most fantasy games. Only a few aspects of the story and setting remind you that you're just playing a game.
A lot of this is probably due to poor translation from the original Polish. Dialogue seems truncated in many spots, which leaves you in the dark as to character motivations. You know something important has just taken place, and the interface clearly points out what you're supposed to be doing, but the big picture doesn't completely come together.

Swearing and bizarre word choices are another issue. One moment you're cruising along listening to fairly standard RPG conversations, and then you're hit with out-of-the-blue modern slang and "F" bombs. It's pretty jarring to hear the leader of your witcher band calling a female team member "babe," let alone to hear Geralt disgustingly grunt "Abso-f***ing-lutely!" Voice acting often lacks authority as well, which highlights these strange lines. Fellow adventurers look like grizzled warriors but sound more like high schoolers. The actor who voices Geralt tries too hard, like a kid attempting a deep, gravelly voice so he can fool the counter jockey at the corner store into selling him a six-pack. Likewise, the youngest member of your group has all the gravitas of Potsie Weber (for a reason, it soon turns out).
Interactions between the sexes are also risqué in a corny way that would rev up only Beavis and Butthead. It's ridiculous enough that the side quests in every act let Geralt get horizontal with virtually every woman he meets, but it's just pathetic that each conquest is rewarded with a playing card that depicts the lovely lass in a come-hither pose. There isn't even any real payoff with these pics, either, given that the nudity that appeared in the European version of the game has been censored due to prudish Stateside sensibilities. (Thank you, Hot Coffee controversy.) At any rate, the sex is ludicrous and out of place, and is apparently there only to give game geeks hope that a fellow guy with lanky, unwashed hair and corpse-pale skin can score with hot babes.

The game's mechanics are a little more reserved, although CD Projekt has tried to slightly jazz up everything that fantasy gamers take for granted. Combat mechanics are the biggest change. Instead of the traditional left-click attacks employed by virtually every other real-time RPG this side of the cult-hit Gothic series, melee fighting here is based on give-and-take combos. You click once on an enemy to begin an attack sequence, then click again precisely when the sword-swinging ends to begin a second flourish, and then again and again to string together combos. Miss your moment at any point and it's back to square one.

This sounds pretty simple, but it doesn't work so well at the beginning. The game starts with few unhelpful tips on how to fight on all three difficulty settings, and on hard there is no obvious visual feedback indicating when to click again to link a second attack to your first. You're supposed to take click cues from a twirling sound and visual indicators like a flaming sword slash, but this information is buried more than 20 pages into the manual. In order to figure things out from a hands-on perspective, you need to play on easy or medium difficulty, which removes all doubt about when to click by turning the combat icon into a flaming sword. Then you pretty quickly pick up on the visual and audio cues provided during Geralt's actual fighting. When you do get used to things and want to try a more challenging difficulty setting, however, as both easy and medium are a little elementary at times (aside from some of the boss battles), you have to restart the game. Still, even with the poor introduction, it's hard not to love the combat system. Battles are only a little more involved than the standard clickfest stuff, yet the mechanics always make you think about what you're doing and provide real satisfaction when you take out tough foes. Attacks also simply look cool, especially when you're jumping around slinging your sword in all directions in the middle of a pack of monsters.
Three different fighting styles as well as a skill system with more listings than the Manhattan yellow pages add to the cerebral workout. You can change your battle stance between fast, strong, and group, each of which makes you better able to handle speedy, muscular, and gangs of enemies, respectively (the last of which lets you make sweeping swings that hit multiple bad guys at once). The one catch is that these styles can be employed only while wielding witcher steel or silver swords, which makes a lot of the other weapons that you find during the course of the game pretty much useless. Each style can also be tweaked with the talent points earned every time that you level up (which happens early and often; expect to cruise beyond level 30 before wrapping Geralt's adventures). All of your other characteristics can also be upgraded, from your attributes to your abilities with both types of witcher sword, as well as your aptitude for the signs that make up the game's spellcasting component.
Every category has five levels, and each sports four different related skills. For example, you get started in strength by taking the basic level-one ability to buff attacks and then move on to specific proficiencies such as Cut at the Jugular, which increases enemy bleeding damage after successful attacks, or Bloody Rage, which boosts damage done by 40 percent whenever your vitality dips below 15 percent. CD Projekt even shows a bit of a sense of humor with some skills. For instance, buzz means that your attacks are improved when drunk. The only negative with the skill system is that it seems to force you into a jack-of-all-trades configuration where you're talented as both a warrior and a spellcaster. Consequently, players who like to hardcore specialize in a class are out of luck here.
At any rate, magic isn't actually as big a deal here as it is in most other fantasy RPGs. The five signs featured are fairly generic takes on the elements and the basic D&D schools of magic that let you blast off fireballs, charm enemies, set up protective globes, and that sort of thing. Basically, the signs just give you alternate attacks with the right mouse button. More mystical depth is provided by alchemy. Witchers are notoriously good with magical concoctions, and as such Geralt can acquire various recipes that let him brew up potions and oils that heal, enhance weapons, and so forth. It actually seems as if you're really cooking something up, too, because you have to meditate before an open fire (you level up and assign talent points in the same fashion). However, as with most of these brew-your-own systems in RPGs, you don't have to get too involved with the creation of your own noxious chemicals, aside from the odd quest that makes doing so a key part of fulfilling an objective.

As you might expect from the grim moments catalogued above, The Witcher is pretty dour when it comes to look and sound. The Aurora Engine has never looked better, and it's hard to believe that this thing dates back to Neverwinter Nights in 2002. Landscapes are generally gorgeous, and the characters are all distinctive (if a bit cartoonish), but the graphics deal in awfully bleak scenery. Many stone buildings in the game are either run-down or falling down. Villages consist of ramshackle huts constructed with wattle and daub and topped with straw roofs. Skies always seem to be a dim steel gray, and rain pours down pretty much every other day. NPCs are filthy, and often come with various scars and minor disfigurements. There are two main camera angles, over-the-shoulder and isometric, although the former is the best choice because it provides the best perspective on everything. The controls are smooth even close-up.
Audio effects and music are perfect counterparts to the look of this shattered world. Little kids skip around while talking about death and playing crude pranks like pissing in the dwarf's bellows. Women can be overheard setting up assignations with their lovers. And all of this is surrounded with subtle, creepy tunes loaded with offbeat tones and sparse organ notes. The superb soundtrack is particularly effective at night; the gothic organ plinking under the moonlight makes you shiver like someone just walked over your grave.
Memorable story, immersive combat, fascinating characters--what's not to like? A few fit-and-finish issues mean that The Witcher isn't quite an all-time classic RPG. Regardless, it's awfully, awfully close, warts and all, and it provides a new benchmark for future developers that are looking to lift their games out of the done-to-death elf-and-orc ghetto.

Original review can be found here:

Saturday, 4 June 2011

Dragon Age 2

So I recently got my hands on a copy of Dragon Age 2, excellent title by the way, because that's just the amount of dragons you actually get to fight.

I loaded the game with anticipation, hoping it would live up to its predecessor. I must mention before you get into this game that finishing Dragon Age 2 takes approximately half the time it took to finish the first game, not including the DLC. That means your finished saves probably won't be above 50 hours, even on the hardest difficulty.

Don't let this get you down however, as it still exceeds expectations in many ways. I shall try my best to inform you of the silver lining without ruining any plot details.

As for my first playthrough, I chose a mage because as everyone who played the original will know, mages were damn overpowered. I feel classes are more defined in DA2, the ability system allows for a multitude of builds within the confines of their role. Warriors are able to focus on tanking and physical damage dealing hitting multiple targets, and can make an wonderful hybrid between the two. Rogues are similar to the first game, they have a couple of handy tricks like stunning bombs and stealth, but they shine at single target nuking, especially against mages. Mages are back with plenty of tools at their disposal, be afraid, be very afraid. Choose your class carefully, because you might not have the patience for a second/third run at the game.

The new Mass effect style dialogue system was developed to accomodate the introduction of a talking protagonist, Hawke. While this limits your options when wanting to be a cruel evil bastard, it smoothly allows your character to come to life. Hawke can kick up a pretty good quote once in a while.

In my opinion, combat has never been better in a single player RPG. Fights can be fast and brutal, or as slow as you choose with a tap of the pause. This is nothing new however, what amazed me was how fluidly you can beat your opponents into the ground. I found myself pinning several enemies into a wall, while tossing them around so my party can eat them.

Overall, the new dialogue and combat mix together wonderfully, your party members are somewhat interesting although sadly rather two dimensional at points. However, you will find yourself propelled to push on with quests because of the characters, there's a lot of decisions to be made that affect you later on.

What really grinds my gears about this game is the world map, simple and efficient, but repetitive and dull. Even so, the graphics are quite beautiful, a definite upgrade from the lacklustre scenes from the first game.

I have tried to lump the good with the bad throughout this review, because the game has a lot of standards to live up to. It's definetly worth paying for as an epic game, but it is likely you won't have the enthusiasm to play it as much as Origins.