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Retro Game Night: Fire’n Ice and Skyblazer

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This week the “$130 episode” features the NES sequel to Solomon’s Key Fire’n Ice and the recently featured Retronauts favorite Skyblazer for the SNES.

Written by spydersvenom

August 17, 2014 at 5:57 pm

Video: Retro Game Night – Zillion

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zillion

It’s taken a bit to get uploaded but this first part of Retro Game Night is going to be the “Metroid-like” (MetroidVania) title Zillion for the Sega Master System.  Click on the image above to be taken to the video.

Written by spydersvenom

June 6, 2014 at 7:10 pm

Review: Splatterhouse 2

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Splatterhouse_2Console: Sega Genesis (Mega Drive in Europe/Japan)
Released: 1992
Developer: Now Production
Publisher: Namco
Digital Release? Yes – Wii Virtual Console (US/Japan only), also as an unlockable on the 2010 Splatterhouse on 360/PS3
Price: $35 (used, cart only), $87-$105 (used, complete), No known New pricing (all prices according to PriceCharting.com), $8 (VC), $4-10 (used 360/PS3 copies of 2010’s Splatterhouse)

 

Now I remember very fondly getting this game with my brothers when we were younger. My dad deliberately chose it for us because of the title since he was a fan of horror and gore. A game, whether brand new or pre-owned, in our household was rarer than a UFO sighting when we were younger so we  relished in any game thrown at us. Splatterhouse 2 shared a special place in our little hearts.

splatterhouse_2_1The story of Splatterhouse 2 will depend on your familiarity with the first game released in arcades and the TurboGrafx-16.  The basic plot is you are Rick and you have a mask which looks a lot like the Jason Voorhees hockey mask (he was the killer in the Friday the 13th series) and your job is to rescue your girlfriend, Jennifer.  The mask is known as the “terror mask” or “hell mask” depending which version of the game you own. The mask gives you super powers and also sort of possess you as it talks to you during small cutscenes between levels.

Spoilers: The paragraph below spoils the plot of the original game.  You may wish to skip it.
Towards the end of the first game your girlfriend turns into a horrific beast which you have to kill.  However, killing the monster also kills Jennifer and you see a very sad scene where Rick holds her in his arms. This essentially leads into the second game where you are instructed by the mask to return to a separate house and rescue Jennifer from the land of the dead.
End Spoilers

My first ever experience of the game I had no clue what was going on because the UK intro sequence was censored and just says, “go back to the house,” which seems rather hilarious since the game doesn’t censor any of the gore or graphic scenes in this game. You were not told why you were going to the house either, just shut your mouth and do it .

splatterhouse_2_2Graphics are pretty cool in this game. This game is able to achieve a moderate horror tone while using a wide variety of colours. Rather than being lazy and settling for shades of brown and grey, enemies come in reds, purples, and even pale colours. Even the blood varies in colour, but this is nothing compared to the amazing presentation of each end of level boss in the game. Every boss looks well thought out and pretty grotesque, suiting the horror feel of the game. Most bosses also have pretty spectacular death scenes, which is rather satisfying on finishing off a boss that is particularly tough to defeat.

The music in Splatterhouse 2 is just fantastic – though I do hold a lot of nostalgia from my childhood – and I feel still holds up even today. Level music is well suited to the horror environment, but the music you will notably remember is the boss music. It’s so epic and fired up you somewhat wish some boss fights would not end so quickly so you can listen to the soundtrack more. Sound effects are pretty satisfying too from the buzz of the chainsaw to Rick sounding like he is having an orgasm when he dies (it’s hilarious). Some enemies also make irritating shouts and screams but this only adds to the immersion of the experience and your desire to shut them up with a fist punch to the face.

Gameplay is fairly standard; Splatterhouse 2 is a platforming beat-em-up where you punch, jump, and that’s about it. You can duck and kick too and if you’re really skill full you can do a slide kick, though as a kid I found this really hard to pull off but does double damage if achieved. For some reason you can press up on the D-pad and Rick will face the wall looking like he is going for a pee, whereas actually this is probably old code from the first game when Rick could climb ladders, alas no ladders here Rick, you just look funny. Throughout the game you will also come across weapons, like the pole, which splats enemies on the wall, the boat oar that flings enemies into the horizon, and the good old shotgun which just blasts the entire top half of an enemy’s torso off. In fact even using just your fists results in enemies receiving a rather grim end, and for a game with no rating (in any country worldwide) at this stage it was impressive developers managed to get away with this level of gore.

splatthouse_2_3

This title is difficult but not impossible. You will probably rage quit this game on your first playthrough.  On standard difficulty you have three lives and four hearts of health which are lost very easily by touching enemies or falling in traps. The game is pretty unforgiving as there are so many things that can kill you, but through practice and memorization of the levels you will find yourself eventually flying through them. If you die on the boss but still have lives left you can restart from the beginning of that battle.  If you lose all lives you have unlimited continues but you have to restart the entire level from the start, and levels in this game are not short; this applies even if you’re on a boss segment. There is a password system in place, which is shown on the continue screen should you wish to continue at a later date. Once completed, though, there is not much reason to re visit the game straight away unless you want to try your luck on a harder skill setting.

Splatterhouse 2 is a very fun game for fans of horror and the 16–bit era. It certainly does its own thing and deserves a playthrough even today; however for those not fond of frustrating difficulty or gore may want to sit this out. This is a great horror classic but will probably only be remembered as a cult classic as opposed to a “hidden gem” to most gamers. Either way this title has a special place in the collection for Genesis/Mega Drive owners willing to show it some love and attention.

Final Score: 3 Out of 5  (You can see our review score policy here.)

Written by jamalais

June 5, 2014 at 11:00 am

PC Gamer Replays Hell

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In the mid 1990s PC gaming was a bit of a wild world.  Consoles were clearly embracing the 3D as an up and coming technology – Star Fox, Virtua Racing, and Donkey Kong Country were just a taste of things to come – and PC developers all had various approaches to making the next big thing.  During this time a series of point-and-click adventures, often with embedded action sequences, made their way to your Windows 95/DOS platform that featured voice acting from stars, adult themes, and horrible early 3D renders.  

hell

Some of these games caught on and have quite the cult following.  Sometimes it’s quality, like Tim Schaefer and LucasArts’ Grim Fandango, and other times it’s the creator’s reputation, like Roberta William’s Phantasmagoria.  Still others are a complete anomaly, like D.  One of the more buried projects that released was Hell: A Cyberpunk Thriller, and before you think of it as a victim of circumstance it really is a terrible game.  Your guard should always be up when words like “cyberpunk” and “thriller” are in the title instead of the description and the big sticker that proudly announced voice work from Dennis Hopper was a red flag even back then.  I spent a lot of time and chunk of change getting my hands on a copy of this game for the 3DO – I tend to grab old PC games on this console because it’s easier to just drop the game into my 3DO than try to get it to work on a Windows 7 device.  Needless to say after one hour it was a dust collector in my game closet.  Fortunately for all of us, Richard Cobbett over at PC Gamer covered the entire campaign and gameplay in a more-words-than-it-deserves addition to his Saturday Crapshoot series.  If you don’t know this game, this well written piece is a much better way to experience Hell and I chose to cover it because there’s no way I’m ever going to review it.  Check it out!

Written by spydersvenom

January 30, 2014 at 2:19 pm

Podcast: Blue Stinger Game Club

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Blue Stinger

This week Rob “Trees” (@treeslounge00) joins us to celebrate the launch Dreamcast title Blue Stinger. Our game club covers the complete campaign with gameplay elements, plot, encounters, and level design. Enjoy a fun and hilarious show that might arguably be better than playing the game itself.


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Written by spydersvenom

November 27, 2013 at 11:02 am

Rise of the Triad Historical Context

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rott_wolf3d2_protoRise of the Triad is more significant than it initially seems in the annals of first-person shooter (or Doom clone) history. In fact, had it remained under its original title, Rise of the Triad: Wolfenstein 3D Part II it would probably have more awareness and fall under the pantheon of id titles still garnering praise on Steam and Good Old Games. Due to several disputes that arguably are the direct result of John Carmack, a co-founder of developer id Software and lead in milestone shooters Wolfenstein 3D, Doom, and Quake, the project was terminated in 1993 to avoid clashing with upcoming title Doom. This led to several disputes within the developer of Doom, id Software, and the planned publisher of Doom and previous publisher of several other titles, Apogee Software.

In the beginning there were two companies: developer id Software and publisher Apogee Software. For the most part Apogee was better known as its later developer 3D Realms, the team responsible for Duke Nukem 3D and originally Prey. Before that all happened, Apogee was making its money publishing id Software’s earliest successes including Commander Keen and Wolfenstein 3D. Apogee utilized the plan of “shareware” to market games, which is a method of giving people approximately 25-33 percent of a game to try out with the option to purchase the full game if interested. John Romero, the then lead designer on Doom at id Software, canceled Rise of the Triad and John Carmack decided to have id self publish so Apogee ended up not publishing Doom.  id Software’s co-founder Tom Hall (Carmack and Romero were the other founders) left id to join Apogee. Apparently Hall had concern over the amount of violence and gore in Doom, a project he assisted greatly in creating. Ironically a year later when he completed work as lead designer on Rise of the Triad for Apogee, it would have even more blood and gore than Doom, including a random occurrence where an enemy would explode into gory giblets and “Ludicrous Gibs!” would appear on the screen.

rott_gibs

apogee_logoAfter the split, id Software would celebrate success with Doom and its next franchise, Quake, as a combination developer and publisher. id would continue3drealms_logo to utilize the shareware marketing strategy begun by Apogee and even coin the term “gibs” in Quake, meaning literally giblets of human gore and flesh. While the concept of gibs in games was started in either Wolfenstein 3D or Doom, both created by id, I don’t recall seeing the word “gibs” until Rise of the Triad and definitely know it was popularized by Quake. Apogee would release Rise of the Triad on its own as both publisher and developer, the project led by Tom Hall and his team he dubbed the “developers of incredible power”. Aside from some preliminary work in the early-to-mid 90s on Prey, which would eventually be re-developed by Human Head Studio and published by 3D Realms (Apogee) 12 years later, the team’s only title was Rise of the Triad. When Apogee renamed itself to 3D Realms (although it kept Apogee as its traded company name) in 1994, Hall would assist in the Duke Nukem series including the very popular Duke Nukem 3D before leaving to work with John Romero at Ion Storm and produce Deus Ex.

Rise of the Triad is not only significant for being a game where the point is to navigate a predominantly linear level killing everything in your path (Call of Duty says “hi”), but also as the first title to be a total conversion mod. It started as an expansion pack and became a highly modified engine of Wolfenstein 3D, but little hints like the Nazi-esque uniforms of enemies give away what it originally started life as. Furthermore the engine was a technical marvel containing features like panoramic skies, simulated dynamic lighting, fog, bullet holes, breakable glass walls, and even multi-level environments – although it faked it well, Doom was a flat plain in the eyes of the engine. Rise of the Triad was going to be even more dynamic with pre-loaded enemy packs that would randomly generate and extra levels and challenge runs, but all were scrapped due to time constraints and technical limitations. It is also one of the few games of the time that had environmental hazards so drastic that they were usually one-hit kills.

rottGameOver

Although mostly forgotten in time, Rise of the Triad is significant in assisting to move the genre of the first-person shooter to the complex world it is today. As a transitional title, it really has a hard time holding up against the more beloved and popular shooters of the time (as our review clearly demonstrates). Still, it was in the nucleus of shooter innovation and many of the crazies and best features of contemporary FPS started almost 20 years ago with the only shooter ever to come out of Apogee software and the Developers of Incredible Power.

Written by spydersvenom

August 3, 2013 at 11:00 am

Review: 9 Hours, 9 Persons, 9 Doors (DS)

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999_Cover_ArtAlso Known As: Kyokugen Dasshutsu (Extreme Escape in English, later re-branded to Zero Escape)Release Date: 11/16/2010
Developer: Chunsoft
Publisher: Arksys Games (US), Spike (Japan)
Value: $17.50 (used – pricecharting.com), $19.74 (new – Amazon.com)
Similar Games: Sweet Home (Faimcom), Clock Tower series (SNES-PS2), S.O.S. (SNES), Corpse Party (PSP)

999_19 Hours, 9 Persons, 9 Doors (999) is one of those games you’ve always been told to play, but many haven’t pulled the trigger.  Upon the release of the sequel, Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward, that premiered late 2012 this title has been re-branded as the predecessor and seen a bit more love.  That still doesn’t change the fact that few have experienced this hybrid between classic point-and-click adventure puzzles and Choose Your Own Adventure storytelling.  It’s a very Japanese concept that may not capture many, but those willing to put in the time and effort will find an intriguing mature form of an interactive book.  Yes, you read that right, 999 is basically an interactive work of fiction.

This is probably the biggest hurdle to getting into 999, after that just sit back and enjoy the ride.  You play as Junpei, a young man who awakens on a ship that is sinking and must assist 8 other people to get through a total of 9 doors in 9 hours (see the title significance) in the “Nonary Game” set up by a gas masked kidnapper known only as Zero. Along the way you will see death, betrayal, and plenty of twists concluding in one of six endings – 5 bad, one good. Bring a pen and paper, you’ll need it, and an FAQ upon completing a few endings, it’s a complicated ride to the perfect end. After the tens of hours to get through the entire adventure, the unfolded plot impressed a novel reader like myself quite a bit. If you have 20-30 mins a day for portable gaming, this is a new take on two classic genres of storytelling, and worth it for those that find that kind of thing intriguing.

999_initial

Score: 4/5 (see our review policy for what each score means)

Due to the title’s late release only a few years ago, there is currently no historical significance to date.  It was reviewed due to its classic style and was purchased by the reviewer.

Written by spydersvenom

July 25, 2013 at 11:00 am

Retro Game Night: Patriotic Edition

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This week we post a little early and celebrate America’s Independence Day with patriotic video games:

First up is actually a Japanese game, Parodius Da! but it has quite the patriotic boss so it’s here because I love this game and found a connection:

Next up is a rare unlicensed NES game by Color Dreams entitled Operation Secret Storm:

Third on the list is a digital pinball game from the PS1 era, because why not right?  Here’s Patriotic Pinball (please excuse my technical difficulties):

And last but not least we close the show with a game so American, so amazing, so awesome it was only released on one console (Xbox) and in one region (Japan).  Yeah, you read that right.  Since I have no way of getting my hands on it and don’t have a Japanese Xbox to play it on, here’s a great flashback of 1UP’s Broken Pixels show bragging about From Software’s 3rd person uber-American title Metal Wolf Chaos:

Hope you enjoyed those and have a safe and happy 4th of July!

Games You’ve (Probably) Never Played: Tiny Toons Adventures: Defenders of the Universe (PS2)

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If you’re not familiar with this Playstation 2 title it’s probably because it never came out.  On our most recent podcast, we discussed the developer Treasure, responsible for a slew of great and popular titles but the company itself is quite lesser known to those in America.  With a resume that spans almost every console from the 16-bit era on, there are some odd releases that Treasure is also responsible for, namely Tiny Toon Adventures: Defenders of the Universe (which will be referred to as DotU from now on and was also at one point Defenders of the Looniverse).

Conspiracy Games, a somewhat obscure publisher that is responsible for a bunch of licensed and lower budgeted projects on the PS2, Wii, and PSP, must have acquired the Tiny Toons license because it was and has developed a few games for the series.  Conspiracy specifically works with developers that want to make a game but do not have the financial backing to do so.  This title was to be a somewhat large collaboration that had Tetsuhiko Kikuchi (aka HAN), best known for the great Saturn brawler/RPG Guardian Heroes, as director and even its own web site: http://www.dotu.com.  Very little is known about the development cycle, struggles, or overall issues about the development of this game, but what started as an early PS2 release in 2001 eventually was delayed 3 years into 2004 (according to IGN) and eventually canceled.  Because deals with publishers and developers often result in delayed processes and forced decisions that the creative team does not like, it’s really anyone’s guess why this game spent so long in development and was eventually sapped.

Somehow, a prototype of the game was recovered and released on the Internet for all to enjoy.  In order to play this “game” you need to either have a PS2 emulator on your computer (that runs marginally well) or burn the game to a disc and play it on a modded PS2.  I have a modded PS2 so I check it out on the latter.  Below is a video of the gameplay and pretty much the entire prototype (I was one or two screens from the end), which appears to be simply a demo.  It’s pretty interesting that the game seems to support up to four players taking on each other in a hybrid co-op/competitive team game to save the Universe.  DotU seems to harken back to the N64 days – at the time of initial development somewhere around 2000 this would make senses until a publisher comes in and explains that the N64 is dead and to release a game is far too great a risk and cost.  I don’t even know if the 4 player multi-tap for the PS2 was out yet, but you can see where Treasure would have made great use of it.  I wish there was more to this game – I’ve heard this is a nearly completed version, which sounds completely wrong since there’s only about half an hour of content on this disc and half of it is cutscene.  Still, had they continued on and increased the dynamic of team play while also adding the challenges of beating the group, I could see this being one of those licensed games we discuss that was “ahead of its time.”  As it stands the title remains unfinished and unreleased, lost to the annuls of history and just another holy grail of people like myself that want to experience as many prototypes as possible.  If you have the capabilities to play it, especially with multiple controllers, you may want to check out this early knock-off of a Mario Party title.  For the majority of you, here’s 18 minutes of a game that never saw the light of day.

Perspective: Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 1 & 2 (PS1)

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persona_box Persona2_box innocentsin_box

I’ve only just begun Persona 3 with about five hours under my belt, but already I can tell I’m going to like this game. It’s a massive hybrid of so many genres woven together in a nice JRPG shell that sucks you in and gets you hooked, fast – just one more day, am I right? I’m glad to see that, too, because having just completed both Shin Megami Tensei Persona and Persona 2 (both Innocent Sin and Eternal Punishment) I was beginning to fear I was missing something. That’s because by all accounts the first two installments in the Persona series (Persona 2 was split into two games and up until recently Innocent Sin was never technically available in the US) are a dated, rough ride through all of the confines and setbacks of traditional JRPGs along with a steep difficulty and very complex battle system to boot. From the start, both games are a daunting task and none of the remakes update the gameplay at all. In the end I only made it through with step-by-step instructions in a strategy guide, lots of patience, and a little luck. This is not what I signed on for and given the current landscape of this genre it appears that for most gamers the PS1 outings of Persona are caught between two amorphous worlds (much like the characters themselves) when the genre was drastically changing. After somewhere between 150-250 total hours to complete (there is no game clock, I’m completely guessing), a total of five different games, and an incredible hunger to extract the draw of the early iterations of the series I must issue a strong suggestion to bypass Persona’s roots and start with the third title, you’ll be thankful you did.

Establishing the PS1 Iterations

persona_1Persona games are always the story of a group of teenagers caught in a disaster that leads to the end of the world. Demons have fallen upon our world and threaten to end it (this is a common theme in all of the Megami Tensei titles, which revolve around demon summoning). Unlike most teens, this group is special because they can summon strong beings under their control, named “persona,” that can assist them in fighting these demonic forces. Not only that, but the group soon finds that they have transported to an alternative dimension where everything looks the same, but nothing feels or acts like they are used to.

They are unique in comparison to most JRPGs of the late 90s because they take place in the modern day. Almost every other title took place in a fantasy setting or the ever popular neo future or cyberpunk distant future. Despite the familiar setting, the minutia of the world in Persona games has that perfect tweak between reality and game. Along with the modern setting come locations and situations that any gamer can be familiar with including interpersonal relationships, the stress of school, and just trying to be around for your eighteenth birthday. When you’re first introduced to this world, at least in my case, you fall in love with it and settle yourself in for the long journey ahead.

Then the gameplay gets in the way and totally screws everything up. The series’ biggest flaw is that it’s overcomplicated and redundant in spite of itself. There’s a sense of urgency in every task you embark on (and lets not forget the world is coming to an end), so you would think that where to go next and tasks to perform would be clearly explained. Nope, without a guide I wondered around lost for hours before finally deciding that instead of writing down all the information that’s casually conveyed in volumes of dialogue that I could just get simple information like the next location to go to and speed up the process. Not only that, but the battle system is complicated, integrating a grid-based distance system when partaking in turn-based battles. This isn’t a bad thing by itself until you realize all of the options you have in battle with the “try it and see what happens” method clearly being the intended approach. You can battle with your melee weapon (and depending on class or gender of the character you can wield different items), your ranged weapon (always a gun, but again it’s gender and character specific), your persona(s) – each with their own set of moves and leveling moves, your items, the ability to interact with a creature, and to top it all off just about every other non-combative option I’ve ever seen in an RPG. I know some of you that have played Persona 3 and Persona 4 want to jump in and tell me it’s the same – it’s not, you’re wrong, it’s not streamlined at all like it is in the later titles. Most of the time you will get stuck trying to use a weapon that doesn’t have the right range or in an interaction that won’t net any results, which is frustrating because in many battles every decision counts. You can’t just ignore these options either, though, because each enemy has a complex system of what they’re vulnerable to, what they absorb, what they counter, and how they respond. You also need to communicate and interact to get more cards, the currency for which to buy personas, a fact that forced me to start over 10 hours in my first playthrough because I was unaware of. Even with a store bought guide I was overwhelmed just looking at all the charts, graphs, and profiles for the enemies, weapons, and battle system. I don’t know how you guys in the mid 90s did it, but I don’t have time for this.

persona_2

Aside from the complication, the games are severely slow paced and held back by all the worst aspects of JRPGs. Your random battles happen every three steps and in dungeons there are little invisible floors that give out and force you to backtrack through half the thing (with dozens of random battles in tow) in order to re-attempt to get around the gapped floor. The intro to Persona 3 is roughly an hour or two to get going and through your first “dungeon”, which took easily 5-10 hours in the originals. At first you fight all these random battles thinking you’re getting in some serious grinding and leveling nicely for the more tough fights, after which you realize that this is the normal pace of the game and you’ll be doing hundreds (literally) more fights to actually grind. It’s just too much repetition that slows the game’s pace and plot to a crawl. This is especially true in the first game, which I would have given up on long before the end had it not been for the fact that it was portable. Thanks to the fan translation, full use of a guide, and knowledge of the series tropes I went in to Persona 2 much more prepared for what lay ahead. The only repetition that I can speak positively of is the main theme songs. In all of these games you will hear one track replay for your entire adventure, and even though it’s an upbeat J-pop song that has awkward lyrics when translated to English, I loved them all. I can’t explain it, but I’m immediately hooked to all of the various main themes in each game and would gladly listen to them again and again even now.

As for what games I played, these are the games that have released for America (one is a fan translation):

  • Revelations: Persona (PS1), remade as Shin Megami Tensei: Persona (PSP)
  • Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 2 – Innocent Sin (PS1, Japan only, Fan remake available), remade as Persona 2: Innocent Sin (PSP, released in America)
  • Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 2 – Eternal Punishment (PS1, title of game in Japan only, it was released as Persona 2 in the US)

I played a few hours of all of these, but when it came to playing through and completing the game I played Persona on the PSP, Innocent Sin fan remake on a modded PS1, and Eternal Punishment on PS1 (I played the only version we got, the Persona 2 original game). Despite which version you play, the gameplay remains the same, which is the one thing I wanted to have updated.

Final Verdict

innocentsin_3Persona and Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 2 are a lost art and those that played them when they first released have fond memories of the games. Unfortunately to the modern gamer there just isn’t enough time and patience to justify returning to the roots of the series. In truth, they all tell the same basic story and Persona 3 is just another re-telling with a modified interface and updated gameplay (exactly like we’ve seen with Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest). It pains me to say it, but if you played Persona 3 or 4 and think that going back to the originals might be a good idea, you won’t find much similarity between the early titles and the modern ones. At the same time there are some people who love nothing more than 100 hours of endless, mindless, grinding and learning every aspect of a game complete with huge flow charts. If this is your idea of fun, then these games and many others like it from the 80s PC world are here for the taking. As for me, it was an experiment that I admit will never happen again. I don’t feel accomplished to having played them, I just feel like I wasted far too much time when I should have just started with Persona 3.

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