Tag Archives: xb360

Star Ocean 4 (Xbox 360/PS3)

Title: Star Ocean 4

Systems: XBox 360 / PS3

World War III left Earth a ruined wasteland, so mankind turned to space. Edge Mavrick is one of the specially trained expedition forces on the lookout for habitable planets and extraterrestrial life. What he finds is an adventure he never expected.

This is the first Star Ocean game I’ve put any significant time into. It’s supposed to be the second-worst, but I found it a fairly good game, albeit with a lot of things I wanted tweaked for quality-of-life improvements.

The story was okay (although most of the PAs you can trigger on ship journeys range from mildly interesting to extremely cringeworthy), though there was one big, big decision Edge makes in the middle that had me wondering how on earth anyone would be that stupid. And the rest of the crew doesn’t help, either—they not only unanimously agree it’s a bad idea, but they turn around and say they’ll still follow Edge’s every order. Even though he’s just gotten a lot of people in a lot of trouble.

And then, following that, Edge goes off the deep end in the other direction, equating showing off in the Coliseum with his big stupid decision. Even though no one copying his moves could possibly do a fraction of that damage.

Also I’m just shaking my head on the reasons why spacefaring civilizations are using swords and bows, even if I don’t care to fight everything with some form of gun.

From a gameplay perspective, everything I liked usually came with a “but I wish they’d done this.” The action fighting system is much lighter than a Tales game, which could be better or worse, depending on how much you like the often-intricate Tales systems. What I missed most was the ability to assign shortcuts to teammate attacks, so you can request healing or a certain attack without having to switch characters (because the AI almost never does what I want once I leave my chosen character). The targeting system is awful. Play a melee oriented character and s/he will consistently target an enemy that runs away—and rather than change targets to the enemies YOU ARE RUNNING PAST, will stick on that first enemy. This makes going for the lots of kill trophies really annoying if you’re trying to do them without setting everyone else to “Do Nothing”. Add to that it’s hard to cancel out of attacks, your spellcasters only fast-cast if you do it manually, stealing requires a knockdown attack . . .

Or take Item Creation/Synthesis. This can only be done on the Calnus. So if you pick up a new party member or finally gather/mine the ingredients you needed, you have to trek all the way back to wherever you parked your ship to use it. From a story standpoint this makes sense, but it’s one place in particular that I wish they’d ignored logic and just let you do it as long as the correct characters were in your party. Oh, and you can only carry 20 of any item, which includes materials only used in IC/Synthesis. And some recipes will call for up to 20 of one ingredient. (And using IC at all means dealing with Welch, who is supremely annoying and badly needs an option to turn off her voice.)

Also I am enough of a Synthesis nut that I went and bought the Xbox 360 version for any future playthroughs because I like being able to break the game when possible, and the rebalancing for the PS3 version cut out a lot of the more interesting synthesis possibilities.

The trek could have been less horrible if there was some way to fast travel. Nope, your advanced spacefaring explorers go everywhere on foot. The best you’ll get (eventually) is a bunny that’s not only marginally faster than your dashing (because it doesn’t hit the slowdown at the end of each dash). Also it takes a while to be able to summon the bunny where you need it, so until then have fun running to the two areas where they are found wild to pick one up for a trek across the giant maps. Which if you are coming from your ship is no help at all.

The Coliseum is fine . . . except the only good way to earn points for the prize shop is to use the bunny races. Because fighting below your level nets you 2 coins, so the only way to earn anything is to advance in the ranks, or try to advance two characters far enough for the reward to be worth it and then keep switching so they can fight each other and swap places over and over. But you’ll still earn more faster from bunny racing. Which isn’t really “racing” because you don’t drive the bunny, you just control whether it dashes or jumps. Also the PS3 version apparently interprets “50 consecutive solo wins” as “must be done in one sitting because reloading from save resets the counter.” Since you don’t get items or monster book data from Coliseum fights (why not? Seriously, this would make it at least a tad less annoying if I could farm for drops/percentage) this is just monotonous. (For the record, I only wanted 50% trophy completion to unlock level cap for postgame, so I could at least attempt Ethereal Queen. I don’t need to spend hundreds of hours for 100%.)

Finally, the postgame dungeon desperately needs a save point, or a fast travel checkpoint. Doing everything in one run would be fine if it didn’t take HOURS to get to the top due to the horrible way it gates the floors. And you have to redo those every single time. I like the challenge of creating ultimate equipment and trying it out against a superboss. I don’t like the assumption that I have no life and can throw away better than a half a day any time I want to attempt that challenge.

Overall, this was decently enjoyable, but the little aggravations were enough to prevent it from being a favorite. I beat the main game in about 100 hours (mostly because I’m OCD when it comes to things like filling out a monster encyclopedia to 100%, but I eventually gave up because beating 100 of the monsters that only spawn one to a mob got too tedious). Recommended if what’s detailed above doesn’t scare you off.

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Lost Odyssey (XBox 360)

Story: Kaim Arganor has been alive longer than he can remember. An immortal wandering the world of mortal men, he’s seen too much of life and death to care much about the machinations of any one nation. But when he’s sent on a mission to investigate a facility that generates magical energy, the past he can’t remember becomes vital to stopping an ominous future slowly unfolding. Mortal nations rise and fall, but when an immortal goes rogue, it will take someone with Kaim’s experience to stop him.

The story does a generally excellent job of avoiding too many cliche elements. I was especially impressed with how well the rift between mortal and immortal was highlighted, particularly through the various dreams you can unlock throughout a playthrough. These vignettes are snapshots into Kaim’s past, showcasing various aspects of life and death he’s lived through in his long wanderings. These short stories have textual effects to accent the words, like slowly fading in or bouncing around.

The characters, too, were great for the most part. Jansen was the biggest surprise. I didn’t really care for him at first, but his consistently humorous quips soon had me laughing almost every time he opened his mouth. (Listening to him mock the final boss was also hysterical.)

Gameplay: Lost Odyssey is a turn-based RPG, although turn order depends on what you’re doing in a given turn. Characters have a base attack speed that applies to physical attacks, but skills use a different speed stat (and also can depend on the skill you’re trying to activate), and each magic spell has its own casting speed.

Enemies are encountered randomly on the map, and although the random encounter rate was generally good, I did really want a way to tweak it to make it easier to grind for SP (eg, getting a late-game character who has loads of skills to make up on) or avoid battles (TEMPLE OF ENLIGHTENMENT, I am looking at YOU). The battle load time was rather bad, with several long background and character pans before the enemy is ready to fight, although some of that may have been because I did not install the game to the hard drive.

Attacks are modified by rings. I remain confused on how to visually tell the difference between a Perfect and Good ring, but I eventually got the hang of timing it to be able to get at least a Good every time. My eyesight isn’t great, and the ring is a small white ring around a smaller black ring, which on some backgrounds (most notably the last boss fight which has a bright light behind the boss) can make it nearly impossible to tell where you’re striking. However, the additional effects mostly just speed up your battles. A small hint: the most effective rings are the type-targeting ones, followed by the elemental, followed by the generic damage increases (I wasn’t good enough at Perfects to get much of an increased Critical chance even on the best Critical-enhancing rings). Status effect rings are virtually useless since with rare exceptions any fight that takes long enough for a status effect to be useful is a boss immune to all of them. Rings can be crafted fairly easily, although late-game rings have much more annoying requirements, but it’s perfectly possible to play through endgame with only the level 2 rings, which can be crafted through buyable items. Also, on the plus side, rings can be changed on the fly in battle, so it’s easy to swap things around for maximum damage on any given foe.

The main frustration I had with the gameplay is that enemies will only ever give you one item. Since an enemy can have a common steal, a rare steal, and four drop items if it’s fully loaded out, getting what you want can be a real hassle. If you steal either of the items, the enemy won’t drop anything. And there’s no way to increase drop rate or influence which drop you get, either, so if you need a particular item, it’s best to look for something you can steal it from, and then try to get lucky finding it in random encounters. I usually like to max out my endgame gear, but in this particular game decided it just wasn’t worth the effort.

Overall this is a great game, with solid visuals and excellent music backing up a strong story. I beat the game in roughly 70 hours and did 100% of the available content and learned all the skills (though I didn’t bother to platinum the game due to one particular fight sequence that is designed to make getting the treasure trophy next to impossible). There isn’t much benefit in the New Game+ offered, so I doubt I’ll replay it anytime soon, but it was a lot of fun going through the first time. I rate this game Highly Recommended.

 

Infinite Undiscovery (XB360)

Story: Capell is a musician in jail because he looks too much like the rebel leader Sigmund, the man responsible for going around smashing the chains that bind the moon to the earth. When an unexpected rescue lands him in Sigmund’s group, Capell reluctantly agrees to help. No one anticipated Capell was also capable of that rarest of feats: smashing chains.

The story ranges from pretty good to downright terrible. The general setup is fine, if you ignore physics entirely, since we have the major villains chaining the moon to the earth, but this only affects things like tides when a chain is presently fastened in the water (presumably magic is able to regulate things once the chain is severed, even though the actual moon is still in the same spot).

That aside, I liked Sigmund. He’s serious, doesn’t talk much, and is so focused on smashing the chains as fast as  possible that he’s willing to sacrifice more human considerations. He’s out to save the world, but recognizes (sometimes perhaps wrongly) that he can’t be everything to everyone, and often chooses to ignore smaller struggles as a result.

(As an odd aside, even by the end of the game, no one seems to have made the connection that the reason Sigmund and Capell can smash the chains is because they’re unblessed by a lunaglyph. Since the moon’s power is holding the chains in place, the unblessed can act as a kind of anti-matter to disrupt them. So technically they had a whole village of people capable of doing the job, only no one figured it out.)

On the flip side, the major plot twists won’t surprise anyone, and the harem antics are cringe-worthy (a princess tripping herself to give Capell a panty shot? REALLY?)

The story plays out in actual cutscenes, which I like. Most of the core characters have good voices, though a few (Vic’s attempted accent, more than the voice itself) aren’t as polished. And a surprising number of cutscenes are subbed as though they ought to be voiced but instead have utter silence.

I like the amount of characters. The game has three kinds of characters: melee, mages, and more of a mix. Some of the characters, however, only join as secondary, which means they won’t ever go into a party with Capell. That part was annoying. Several points in the game split the party, which is where those secondary characters can be used, but it also means if you are using them then you need to equip them.

Gameplay: Battles play out in real time on the actual maps, and this worked really well. Enemies can be surprised (or can surprise you) by hitting them when they aren’t looking, and this substantially affects what items they can drop (not fun. At ALL. Dragon Fangs can only be dropped with surprise attacks, and you’ll need a LOT of them just to learn some extra moves for various characters.) But apart from farming considerations, this was a good mechanic. Enemies spawn relatively quickly and inhabit dungeons as though they lived there, such as harpies perching on top of cliffs or pillars.

One limitation is that the only character you can control is Capell. He’s incredibly versatile to make up for it. He can melee with his sword skills, or use his flute to provide more of a support role. He also has a Connect ability that allows him to command an ally to perform specific (player-assigned) skills. I did wish that more than two skills could be assigned for use in battle. They end up being less special attacks and more finishers. The attacks can also level up, but they do so at a rate that put me in postgame dungeon without anything hitting level 3 (the max). And since nothing carries over into a new game, it’s useless to max more than one or two skills you find extremely useful (eg, Astro on Eugene or Michelle to help get surprise attacks).

Also, the menu doesn’t pause, which makes using items in battle something best left to your team.

Vermification battles are just straight up annoying, though. Capell has to play the flute to even reveal the enemy to his party, and that visibility wears off very quickly, and he has to use Symphonic Blade while connected with a teammate to be able to hit them. Except by time you’ve finally got Symphonic Blade charged up, you probably need to play the flute again (if it isn’t already dead). This can be somewhat alleviated by leveling up Symphonic Blade so its synching effects last longer, but it burns so much MP and time trying that it’s hard to bother.

The party AI is very good, though. You can’t set individual actions apart from when Capell connects to someone, but your team will behave in ways similar to their personalities and roles. Capell can issue general directives like Spread Out or Focus to further refine this.

The crafting system is both deep and for the most part accessible, thanks to the free vouchers making about half of the needed materials available from any shop (blacksmithing and some alchemy is great, cooking not so much). I wasn’t as big a fan of each item taking a set amount of real time to generate, as a good chunk of my game time was me reading a book while mashing A so Edward or Eugene could craft something I could sell at a profit. The other annoyance is that item creation can have failure rates. This is fine for things like Salamander Boots, whose materials can be bought from stores, and much less fine when crafting unique items into their ultimate forms. Basically, craft near a save point and save often if aiming for better crafts.

Speaking of saves, there aren’t many. And these are huge dungeons. I spent an hour and a half running around Luce Plains the first time because I couldn’t find the castle I was supposed to be aiming for, and the only save point in this massive map was back in the town I’d left. And there’s no quick travel, which really hurts when sidequests keep pushing you from town to town, trekking back and forth across maps. And you can only change parties in towns (WHY???) which means you’d better either really like using Komachi or say goodbye to the chests only she can reach in one-time dungeons.

It’s not any better in towns, either, since Capell is by himself while the rest of the party hangs out on their own. This is a nice touch of verisimilitude that becomes utterly aggravating when sidequests like “Connect to all your male party members and introduce them to this guard” come up, because you have to grab them one by one and run back and forth.

Overall: I beat the game in about 46 hours, which would’ve honestly been closer to 35 if I hadn’t spent so much time crafting for money so I could try to keep 99 of every material on hand. The postgame dungeon is taking me a bit longer, but mostly because of those dratted Dragon Fangs (I’m not trying to get my HP to 2 billion; I just want to learn all the available moves. Although it greatly amuses me that it is entirely possible to get so much HP the postgame boss literally can’t outdamage you equipping a 3% HP-regen accessory.)

For all the annoyances, it’s still a decent game. The story is too short to have much fluff in it, so it trucks from beginning to end. The real time, on-map combat can be a lot of fun, though don’t go into it expecting something as complicated as the Tales series. And if you’re looking for JRPGs on the Xbox 360, this one is likely worth the $10 or so it runs for these days. I would, however, HIGHLY RECOMMEND the guidebook, if only for the maps. The maps will keep you from going insane. I rate this game Recommended.

Tales of Vesperia (XB360, PS3 Japan exclusive)

Story: When someone steals a magical item that controls the water for the Lower Quarter, Yuri Lowell decides to take matters into his own hands. It’s not the first time he’s picked a fight with the people who oppress the poor of the Lower Quarter. But a rather routine stint in jail turns into a completely different adventure. A noble girl begs his help escaping the castle so she can warn Flynn—Yuri’s childhood friend who is now in the Knights—about something. And then the assassin after Flynn. And the journey quickly becomes something much larger than hunting down a thief for a little robbery . . .

I have long heard people singing Vesperia’s praises, so to be perfectly honest, I wasn’t expecting a whole lot when I started the game. (Mostly this is probably due to the sheer number of people who say Symphonia is the best game ever, which I thought was good but not great.) I was happy to find at least a few of the things I had heard were true, and the story overall was enjoyable.

I will say up front that the narrative arc of the game starts off going in one direction (vigilante justice or lawful justice?), then shifts gears and spins in the mud (Estelle being flighty and not able to make up her mind), then finally settles into a somewhat different story that it follows to the end of the game (the world-threatening disaster). I thought the first arc of the game would have been the most interesting to pursue to its logical conclusion, as it sets up a nice contrast between Yuri and Flynn as representing change-from-without and change-from-within that never really went anywhere. But I did like the eventual ending and was only really frustrated at Estelle’s ADD in the middle when she starts jerking the plot around to a bunch of minor useless quests.

And quite frankly, I loved Yuri’s solution to some rather annoying lowlifes. It’s simple, logical, and efficient—and hardly anyone ever does it. The one thing that weakens it is that the eventual discovery by the rest of the party is so underwhelming as to have virtually no impact on his relationship to any of them (well, Karol actually reacted a little, but he gets over it pretty quickly).

The villains were rather cheesy for the most part, except one whose turn is frankly baffling (if he really had good motives, as claimed, then why is he doing the full-fledged evil laughter bit? It just seems someone wrote one character and then decided to shove him sideways into another cheesy villain role). The last boss, at least, I enjoyed both plot wise and battling. The world-threatening disaster seems to go down a little too easily (it basically stands there and gets smacked).

The cast relationships feel a lot more like a family this time around, with Yuri in a more father-like role, Estelle’s motherly concern, and Rita and Karol’s big-sister-little-brother vibe (Raven and Judith are kind of the odd ones out). I loved Rita and mostly disliked Karol (probably because I had little brothers and also reacted violently to severe annoyances). Karol has a good role in the plot, and he actually has one of the better character arcs, but I suspect I would have preferred him as an NPC rather than a party member. I also hate slow tanks so his playstyle did little to endear him to me (Estelle I lost the 100-man melee in the Coliseum first time around due to a timeout because she’s slow and has terrible normal attacks, but she’s primarily a healer with some decent attacks thrown in. I should NOT be also timing out with someone who is supposed to be a frontliner).

I disliked Raven at first, but he grew on me (and I really liked him after a certain point in the game). Judith is kind of there—she’s the least interesting on her own, and is actually better from Rita’s side since Rita has to struggle with whether or not she can be friends with someone who has such radically opposed beliefs. I liked Rita’s testiness and genius and the way she’ll shorten her spell chants to “blah blah blah”, and how someone that no one liked (because of said temperament and genius) gradually gets sucked into caring about a group of people who can appreciate her. I like how Karol has to learn to stop running away from everything, and especially how Yuri encourages him to step up into a role he doesn’t feel ready for, and how Yuri supports Karol going after his dream. Estelle was another one that for me was kind of just there. I didn’t much mind the her innocence or ignorance (it contrasts well with Yuri’s more pragmatic bent), but I couldn’t really get invested in her arc of learning to make her own choices.

Speaking of, the choices angle was the only thing that really bothered me about the end. Yuri promotes choice above all, but his actions and his words rather contradict. Ragou and Cumore and even Duke made their own choices, but they were choices that harmed people, and rather than tell them he was happy they lived true to their own convictions Yuri stands up for a standard of right and wrong. And there are a few similar contradictions earlier in the game, most notably when Yuri talks about “cutting out the cancer” and then makes excuses when it comes to Estelle. It’s just funny that although the stated message is choice above all, the actual plot can’t get away from good being honored and evil being challenged.

Gameplay: Overall, the gameplay is excellent. The battle system has a fair number of gimmicks, but most of them are unobtrusive and can be used or ignored as desired (I think I used a handful of burst artes all game because I kept forgetting about them). The battle system goes a little crazy on special attacks, with Fatal Strikes, Burst Artes, and altered artes in addition to the more typical base/arcane/mystic artes. In a rather aggravating move, the three-hit-combo standard is actually reduced by one for certain characters, making already ineffective physical attackers like Rita even more useless without magic.

Overlimit is tiered, which is a shame, since mystic artes can only be triggered off level 3 or 4. On the other hand, even level 1 allows near instant-casting for spells, which make Rita, Raven, and Estelle overpowered in most fights. And Estelle has a skill which combines with an arte for invincibility (a bug which was actually fixed in the PS3 edition from what I’ve heard).

The skills system has a lot of depth. Skills are associated with weapons and learned from points gained after battles. This encourages synthesizing, as shop/standard weapons will frequently gain or change skills once upgraded. Setting skills in particular ways can also get you overlimit bonuses, although it was only a few hours from the end of the game that I actually had things staggered on certain characters to get those bonuses, since I wanted too many skills all over the place to get the bonus. One of the grade shop options I’ll definitely buy if I go through another playthrough does allow for skill cost to be set to 1, which will mitigate a lot of the “I have this awesome skill but would have to de-equip eight other skills to use it” dilemma.

Synthesis is a bit frustrating. The Monocles that improve item drop percentages aren’t available until later (green Fatal Strikes can help, but it does require a bit of care while battling), and the ingredients are not that easy to get. More, funds can be a real issue main game, and materials sell for 100 gald apiece (with a very few exceptions, usually drops from boss monsters). That means it’s useless to sell drops for cash, since at best you’ll be able to make a couple thousand on items that cost a lot of battles to obtain. But as a whole the synthesis isn’t too bad. By end game the rare items aren’t too hard to get hold of, especially if you’ve been diligent about farming search points. It’s a LOT better than Symphonia/Xillia 2 which required synthesis down several layers in order to get to the best items.

Character play styles have some good variety, although Yuri, Judith, Repede, and Raven were the best. Rita, unlike Jade from Abyss who could actually put forth a somewhat decent physical assault, can really only do spells, which means she can be run via shortcut and/or turning artes off. Estelle is a bit slow to be a physical fighter but doesn’t have much arsenal as a mage (only light-based spells, which is problematic if the enemy resists). And Karol is just slow. At least he gets Reaper Knock, which gives him something like a ranged attack (assuming the ball’s arc actually crosses the enemy’s body, as I had a few that I couldn’t consistently hit depending on the distance because it would go over their heads).

Sidequests were generally good (although get a FAQ if you want a few of them, as they require all-game participation), with a few notable irritants. The Dog Map was a lot of grinding, and several other quests have you hopping to every corner of the world just to complete one step.

Secret Missions are available for most of the boss fights, and they range from easy enough that you’ll probably get it by accident to incredibly frustrating. This is entirely optional and can give nice rewards, including a costume for Yuri if you manage to get all of them. I did them all, but never again. Some of these were pretty hard to trigger, and it felt really stupid to put everyone in the party on standby (and get murdered) while I’m trying to get the boss to use the one super special move that’s required for the mission. What makes it more frustrating is that there is no scene-skip option, so if you fail to get the secret mission before the boss dies, and want to retry, you’ll have to watch everything again (Zagi on the boat, I am LOOKING AT YOU).

Overall: This is a solid entry in the Tales franchise, and I can see why people like it so much. Mechanically it’s very good, and the plot generally hangs together well. I beat the main game in 100 hours (earned the Too Much Free Time achievement right before trashing the final boss), although people who aren’t trying to get every synthesis weapon and sidequest will get through it faster. Final levels were 74-75 for the party. I haven’t touched the ex dungeon yet, but I’m not sure how far I am going to go within.

The game has both PS3 and XBox 360 versions, but only the 360 version was released in English. That’s mostly why it took me so long to get around to this entry, since I had to buy a 360 to actually play it.  That said, if you have a 360 or don’t mind picking one up, this is a good RPG to have for it. There’s a lot to explore, a lot of systems to master, and a grade shop that makes replays more valuable. If you can understand Japanese, the PS3 version adds Flynn and a new character Patty to the party and fixes a few small things. I rate this game Recommended.