Thursday, January 10, 2008

Saints Row and Whoops! I forgot I had Gamefly now...

I did leave work early yesterday, and decided to drop buy Gamestop to pick up a 2nd controller finally for the Xbox. I got a black one (ooh, sexy) for anyone who cares, but I also couldn't resist the allure of the used game section and ended up walking out of the store with Saints Row at the suggestion of many respected bloggers and friends.

When I got home, I found my mailbox filled with the usual junk mail and, oh yeah, my 1st rental from Gamefly. Doh! Thank Jeebus it wasn't Saints Row or I would have been very ticked at myself. While shrouded in the soft and humble glow of the Gamestop games and their wonderfully green plastic cases, I must have completely forgotten that I started that thing up again... and that there were games on this system I actually cared to rent. The rental in question was in fact Eternal Sonata, and since I had the entire night to myself I bet you can guess what I did.

That's right... my eyes now are bleeding from hours upon hours of gameplay. I probably could have used that time off to do some homework, or clean the bathroom, or even just vacuum... anything more constructive. But no, that wouldn't have been nearly as fun. Mind you, at the end of the night when getting ready for bed, I surely felt lazy and all, but man was it worth it. I think the entire country should get Wednesday afternoons off after yesterday. We all know that there's not enough time in the day during the week to get anything done, much less enjoy yourself, and a half-day Wednesday is the perfect break in the middle of a long post-Holiday workweek. I'll be doing it again sometime in the near future.

Now, about those games.

Saints Row has got to be one of the dumbest games I've ever played... but it's also easily one of the most fun. Let me explain. The art work, the horrible puns, the general subject matter... it's all clearly a GTA: San Andreas rip off. And for someone who thought that game was horrid in its portrayal of 90s Los Angeles, this one goes one step further. Its over-done attempts at humor are as flaccid and witless as the "jokes" in any of the recent National Lampoon's movies. I mean truly awful. The "Gangsta" vibe the game tries incredulously to pull off is also heinously over the top and uncalled for.

But despite these things... I'll be damned if the game's not a ton of fun. The activities you have to do in order to gain "respect" (sort of like experience) are wacky in the "This Equals Fun" kind of way. At least for males it does. Not sure some of the more feminine persuasion would find carting around lawyers and celebrities while they're "serviced" by a young lady and tyring to stay away from the raging press fun. It's not the subject matter that's entertaining in these events, it's the way the game handles and how it plays. Do away with the hookers and the drugs and the lame as all hell "gangs" and you'd still have a fun game based on a huge open city and lots of crazy tasks to do. There's even one where you're asked to throw yourself in front of speeding cars to collect insurance money. This might not sound fun, but when you throw in 10 car pile-ups and rag doll physics you quickly realize the genius in it.

It's obscene and ridiculous... but it's also a lot of fun. This is the "1 Sentence Review" for Saints Row. $26 well-spent for pure open-city mayhem. The only thing I wish Saints Row had is the ability to scale buildings and throw cars and large objects a la Crackdown. Those two games together would make the ultimate urban sandbox experience.

Eternal Sonata is a decidedly less manic adventure than Saints Row, but by no means less enjoyable. Traditional Japanese RPGs have fallen off of my list of must-play games over the years, due to the lack of innovation or excitement I was seeing in the genre. "Random-turn-based-battles-are-all-we're-about" is what they used to say to me, but then along came my first "Tales of..." game from Namco on the Gamecube. I was thrilled. it had all the same campy anime goodness, but the combat was much more akin to Smash Brothers than Final Fantasy, as in it was action-based and not turn-based.

With reservation I followed the development of both Blue Dragon and Eternal Sonata (called Trusty Bell in Japan, I believe), and while the former turned out to be a good game based on a very traditional premise and thus one I have skipped so far in my 360-ownership, the latter decided to go a different route and use a more action oriented battle system. You still trade turns with your opponents, but what you do with your turn requires much more than menu-filtering.

You must run around the battlefield, find an advantageous spot to attack from and use either your normal attacks, your special skills, or an item if you're in need of healing. And on defense you'll find that you must quickly adapt to enemies' attack rhythms so that when you're prompted you can press B quickly enough to deflect majority of the damage. Toss in varying attacks and enemies depending on whether you or they are standing in shadow and you have a surprisingly deep an complex combat system that really is engaging.

In Eternal Sonata, you can see your enemies before you enter combat with them, and thus you can avoid them, but I still found myself purposely trying to get behind an enemy's back so that I could both have the joy of the fight, as well as the attack first advantage. Combat's a lot of fun, for sure. But what about the rest?

Well to say that ES is a bit full of cut scenes would be a major understatement. At times so far it has felt like I've done more watching than playing. The English voice acting is decent, but nothing compared to Mass Effect, so it can be tedious at times to sit through them all. You can skip them by pausing and then selecting to do so, but this being a story-oriented game, I wouldn't recommend it unless you truly don't care about the tale and just want the action.

The story itself is interesting enough though. Detailing what Tri-Crescendo (the developer of both Baten Kaitos games on the Gamecube) what believes to be the last dream of Frederic Chopin, the game's premise is both artful and enthralling once you make it past the first couple of boring introductory hours. In what's becoming standard practice in the genre, the beginning is slow as hell but not entirely lacking entertaining moments. I wouldn't call it high-art in terms of dialog, but as translated from Japanese it is admirable. And the way the developers weave the dream and reality together, along with little history lessons about Chopin's life and work, is nothing short of unique. Like Mass Effect before it, if though a bit campy, one can certainly say that Eternal Sonata is trying to advance the art of storytelling in video games.

And really, as developers, isn't that what the job should be about: making something fun, unique, and entertaining to play with? If you're a fan of JRPGs or anime, or even Frederic Chopin, this one's worth a look.

That's it for today, thanks for reading the rambles.



Keen said...

I should bust a cap in u fer dissen on the Row playa.

Oh, sorry. I was channeling Julius.

I liked it much more than San Andreas but my brother liked San Andreas more. Although it's incredibly similar to the point of being a ripoff... it's so much fun. Saints Row 2 is coming out soon.. ;)

Bildo said...

Easy, Julius. You know I ain't tryin' to be a jive turkey.

I'm just keepin' it rizzle.

wldwlf said...

Yeah, Saints Row is one of tha mizzay off tha hook sandbox box games tizzy I have ever played in recent times doggystyle. It may be a ripoff but it is a dizzy good rip off so i can get mah pimp on. I liked tha graphics alot more than San Andreas too where the sun be shinin and I be rhymin'. I also like tha F-to-tha-izzact thizzat you can create yo own playa instead of using tha same homey tizzle everyone else does . One, two three and to tha four.