Archive for the ‘PSP’ Category
This week Fred and Eli (@Sodoom) discuss what many believe to be the best 16-bit RPG of all time: Final Fantasy VI (better known as Final Fantasy III on the SNES in the US). We discuss the combat system, characters, plot, and most memorable moment on this truly timeless RPG.
Normally we solely talk retro on this blog but with the upcoming PS4 I just can’t help but get everyone acquainted with the story of Killzone. While I’ve been a hardcore fan since the second game (I played the original but didn’t much care for it), most people managed to skip the series due to its long development delays, similar aesthetic to other shooters of the time, and much better marketed titles from both Sony internal (Resistance 2) and competitor Microsoft (Gears of War 2). It really is a shame because Killzone 2 is quite distinct from other shooters of the generation, but I will get into that later in the article. The focus of this is to get you caught up with the story and elements of each game in the series, so that you can jump into the latest iteration, Shadow Fall, at the PS4 launch without having to worry about everything that came before it. Given that Killzone covers three console generations now (PS2-PS4) and almost 10 years, it’s got quite a lineage for a series with three main titles and two portable side stories. Unlike most game franchises, the Killzone series stays mostly progressive with story and each new iteration directly follows its predecessor in the timelineso Shadow Fall takes place at the tail end of the current franchise. I have each game listed below along with a story synopsis and notable gameplay elements and updates to each in the order they take place in the Killzone universe. Without further ado, I give you the Killzone story so far:
It all starts in the distant future where nuclear fallout has all but obliterated Earth and space exploration and colonization has become a lucrative business. Of these colonizing companies is the Helghan Corporation, which reminds me of the ethical compass of the Weyland-Yutani Corporation from Aliens and the dress code of the Third Reich. The conflict first begins with Helghan discovering Alpha Centauri, a system with two planets: Vekta, an Earth-like planet rife for colonization, and a decayed shell of a planet, Helghan, both named after connections to the company. Conflict breaks out as rivals begin to notice the value of Alpha Centauri, necessitating the formation of armies – the Helghast Army of Helghan and the United Colonial Army (UCA) of the United Colonial Nations (UCN) – and leading to the historical First Extrasolar War. War breaks out when the UCN embargo Helghan from sole colonization of Vekta, which they ignore, and thus get invaded by the UCA. In the end the UCA emerge victorious and colonize Vekta, banishing the Helghast to Helghan. With this dichotomy in place, the UCN create an extraordinary military force known as the Interplanetary Strategic Alliance (ISA, think Colonial Marines) to protect Vekta should the Helghast decide to retaliate. Instead of fighting back, Helghan colonizes the harsh industrial planet named after the company and eventually members of the Helghast are born with the ability to breathe the atmosphere of both brutal Helghan air and traditional oxygen. An aggressive leader with all the traits of Adolph Hitler and from the bloodline that can breathe both atmospheres named Scholar Vasari uses a staged assassination attempt and charm to rise above the ranks and take leadership of Helghan, declaring a new world order known as the Helghan Empire. As you can probably tell, this is no longer just a corporate mantra but now an entire people. After preparing a sizable army, Vasari calls for a blitz assault of the ISA on Vekta and starts the Second Extrasolar War.
And that’s just the story before you begin playing. Killzone tells the story of ISA Captain Jan Templar as he fights off the oncoming Helghast forces invading Vekta. After fighting in the outskirts of the main ISA headquarters, Templar is forced to fall back into the base only to find it overrun by Helghast forces. Eventually he will fend off the troops long enough to evacuate alongside fellow soldier Marshal Lugar, who saves his life. During the evacuation another lone solider named Ricardo Velasquez (remember him, he comes back again) assists a platoon from escaping large Helghast resistance, requesting the assistance of Templar and Lugar. It is at this time the two leaders also discover and set out to find traitor General Stuart Adams, a Helghan spy that lowered the alert system and defenses long enough for the Helghast forces to invade. As the game continues you take out strategic points across the various armies and interact with several spies, counter-operatives, and even an unnecessary side plot with another army. In the end, Adams and his troops are subdued, the main station of Vekta is destroyed, and both Templar and Lugar escape.
Relevance: Killzone had great graphics for the PS2 and the HD remake on the PS3 is also no exception. Unfortunately for developer Guerilla, the gameplay kinda sucked, the movement and shooting was complicated and clunky, aside from enemies the environment was sparse, and it just wasn’t that fun to play. It did, however, set up a pretty rock solid storyline and although the main campaign story was recycled and predictable, I will go on record saying I rather enjoyed the overall plot that has nothing to do with actually playing the game. I hate to admit it, but you should probably skip this one, it requires more patience than one really needs to offer an experience like this. Like all HD remakes, the PS3 version may look a lot better, but the gameplay remains mostly identical.
From there the series has two side tangents, both on portable consoles.
As a serviceable third-person shooter for the Playstation Portable (PSP), Killzone Liberation takes place two months after Killzone. You once again control Templar as he seeks out multiple hostages taken by new Helghast leaders General Armin Metrac and right hand Colonial Cobar, both assigned by Vasari to capture key targets in the war on Vekta. As you progress through the game the writing on the wall steers to the Helghast upping tech to attack the ISA and both Lugar and Velaszquez (now known as “Rico” for short) make cameos. At the end of the 4th mission, the final one on the UMD, you discover that upon the defeat of Metrac, Vasari now plans to use nuclear weapons against the ISA and that there is a traitor in Templar’s midst. A fifth mission available as downloadable content epilogues the game with Rico Velasquez being wrongly accused as the traitor and it is discovered that it was instead another solider you worked with throughout most of the game (although he was forgettable).
Relevance: This game was much more gameplay than story, an interesting juxtaposition from the original. I recommend checking it out if you wish – it is compatible with Vita – but going into it with the open mind that it was a dated attempt to utilize Sony’s portable and did it better than most. It will be a lot of work for a storyline I just summed up in a paragraph and requires a piece of paid DLC to fully appreciate. Granted, I give props to Guerilla, who did develop this iteration.
The only jump in development/release dates comes next with the recent Vita release Killzone Mercenary.
It’s kind of a throw away plot that has little to do with the universe. Oh well, here we go. You control mercenary Arran Danner (what is with Guerilla’s names?), a former UCA soldier turned merc that works for whoever has the highest paycheck. During an extraction mission of an ISA diplomat, things go wrong and you end up protecting a little boy as you unfold a plot to use biological warfare on Vekta. You discover that the ISA forces have a way to wipe out the entire Helghast army on Vekta in one fell swoop, but the ethical reality of genocide is too much for this mercenary to bear. He joins forces with the Helghast, eliminating the weapon and extracting the boy, all while keeping their identities safe. At the end it is discovered that Vasari did, in fact, acquire a nuclear weapon in the midst of this conflict.
Relevance: Almost none. The story is throw away, the concepts already revealed in the release of Killzone 2 and it seems this was developer Guerilla’s alternative team showing off their talents at creating an FPS experience on the Vita without damaging the Killzone cannon. While I must admit it adds almost nothing to story or cannon, it is one of the best and most fun games on Sony’s handheld, so just go into it to have fun instead of revealing plot.
Now back to the console trilogy.
After the war on Vekta begins to take a back seat, a full blown invasion of home world Helghan takes shape with the ISA forces hoping that the elimination of leader Vasari will essentially “cut the head” off the army and discontinue the attack of Helghast forces. You now take control of Tomas “Sev” Sevchenko, a special forces operative, as they begin the invasion on Helghan. During an assault on the anti-air measures of the capital city Pyrrhus, Sev discovers that the Helghast have been able to harness the natural Helghan (planet, not army) resource of Petrusite, allowing for arc towers that can basically zap and destroy any solider or armament against them. As they attempt to take out the Tharsis Refinery on the outskirts, Colonel Radac (your nemesis for the game) kidnaps key members of Sev’s group. It’s not all bad news, Sev does discover the details behind Red Dust, the nuclear weapon, and manages to steal the launch codes before breaking out and escaping with his team. Everyone extracts to the New Sun, an invasion ship of the fleet that assaulted Helghan. Radac predictably finds his way on board, kills a key member of Sev’s team (playing the game reveals more background on character Garza) and steals back the codes, however the dying member Garza manages to crash the invaded New Sun into the Tharsis Refinery and ruin most of the arc tower plans. The game wraps with Sev and Rico invading the Helghan capital to capture Vasari, but being somewhat delayed by the triggering of Red Dust on the city. The two continue into the capital, fight a ridiculous boss battle with Radac in the process, and the gloomy words of Vasari convince Sev to kill the Helghast leader instead of taking him into custody. As the sun sets over Pyrrhus a massive Helghan fleet is revealed and ready to take out the ISA.
Relevance: Killzone 2 is a hell of an experience. Relatively long compared to other first-person shooters, roughly 12 hours, and with an enemy AI and “killbox” level design that forces you to play hyper aggressive, it’s unlike most games of its times. Couple that with gorgeous graphics, cool weapons, and a cover system not unlike that in Gears of War and there’s little reason to give this one a try. It was somewhat forgotten with an early 2009 release that put it outside the holiday season, immediately following Resistance 2, and in direct competition with Resident Evil 5 (not to mention Gears of War 2 just went up against Resistance 2 at the end of 2008). Of the games released on the Playstation 3 platform, I still consider Killzone 2 one of the top 5 games to try on the console despite it’s ridiculous final boss battle.
Opening immediately following its predecessor, the goal is now to get Sev, Rico, and the rest of the ISA forces off Helghan and out of the eye of the storm that is retaliation. Next in command of the Helghan forces is Admiral Orlock, a man not unlike Vasari in his ability to use rhetoric and propaganda to get his way from the Helghan senate. Not in his court is Jorhan Stahl, head of Stahl Arms Corporation and responsible for the largest number of military resources on Helghan. It is clear that these two men don’t get along and there may be some competition for the “throne” of leadership. Sev and Rico attempt an extraction and some botched plans and assaults later the two are marooned and separated on Helghan, lasting more than 6 months on the run. In the meantime, the senate grows weary of Orlock’s leadership and the suggestion is made that Stahl take leadership. While it doesn’t happen, Stahl withholds prototype weapons from the Helghan army and decides to use his own private forces to hunt down the lone soldiers in direct competition to Orlock, who has been hunting them for half a year. In the meantime, Sev makes his way to the Helghan jungle (an interesting level), speaks with Vekta leadership, and a cease-fire is negotiated to extract the soldiers. Stahls men find Sev and capture him, resulting in Rico and a few of his men saving him (this is now par for the course).
During the escape, Sev and Rico discover a plot to eliminate all of Earth’s forces from Stahl, using a prototype weapon. As a result they go about infiltrating and destroying Stahl’s forces before attacking the man himself. This entire conflict takes place in space, specifically in the Helghan orbit, and involves some interesting space combat, physics, and an eventual push to Stahl himself. After a brief battle, Sev drops a massive Petrusite nuclear bomb on Stahl’s cruiser to eliminate any chance he will be a threat, resulting in a nuclear fallout that wipes most of Helghan. After some reflecting on killing millions of people all at once, Sev and Rico return to Vekta and a post-credits scene shows two Helghast soldiers investigating an escape pod on Helghan and stating, “Welcome home sir,” implying that Stahl may very well be alive.
Relevance: Killzone 3 was a bit gimmicky. It had 3D, jetpacks, and plenty of crazy weapons on its side, but in the end it just wasn’t as strong as its predecessor. Still, it was quite enjoyable and many liked the new lighter feel of your fighter and his ability to act a bit more like a Call of Duty soldier (which I felt was a step back). Multiplayer continued to thrive and with long battles, massive maps, and rotating objectives, still stands strong today as an exclusive multiplayer shooter.
And that’s the story at this point. With the preview coverage I’ve seen on Killzone Shadow Fall up to this point I think it’s safe to assume that much like the other iterations, it will be a visual masterpiece with the jury still out on gameplay. Here’s hoping it plays as good as it looks.
This week Fred welcomes listener Yuri (@JamesFortengard) and fellow podcaster Isaiah (@i_say_uh) from the Party Chat to discuss the console generation that officially comes to an end on 11/15/2013. They discuss innovations, trends, and passing fads of the longest generation ever in history that awarded gamers with some of the most dynamic experiences to date.
If you are going to talk significant JRPGs in America, one of the most influential series is Final Fantasy. Whether you believe that it was the last game Square may have ever made or that it was simply the last game designer Sakaguchi would be a part of, the massive success of this digital Dungeons & Dragons title started a strong fan base that continues today. In part one of our coverage, Fred and Eli “Sodoom” team up to discuss Final Fantasy I-VI including development, design, gameplay, and of course Cid.
Console: SNES (as Final Fantasy II in the United States – title changed in later releases)
Released: November 1991
Price: $24.67 (used, cart only), $70.57 (used, complete), $300.00 (new)
Additional Releases:Wonderswan Color (Japan only, updated graphics), Playstation (Final Fantasy Chronicles, new translation), Gameboy Advance (Final Fantasy IV Advanced, upgraded visuals, new translation/conversion to more closely resemble Japanese version), DS (full 3D remodeling, new dungeon), PSP (Final Fantasy IV: The Complete Collection, updated 2D visuals instead of 3D, includes The After Years and a new campaign Interlude to bridge gap between the events of IV and The After Years)
Digital Release? Wii Virtual Console (SNES version, $8), PSOne PSN (Playstation version, $10), PSN (PSP version, $30), iOS/Android (GBA version, $16)
Similar Titles: Dragon Quest (Warrior) franchise, Phantasy Star franchise, Vay, Ys I & II
Please note: This was originally released as Final Fantasy II in the United States and later re-named to the appropriate numbering system. The actual Final Fantasy II Japan-only Famicom (NES)release review will be live shortly.
Despite the numbering of this game (and Final Fantasy VI) to be completely messed up in the US, Final Fantasy IV is a must play for fans of the series and JRPG genre. As George Lucas would put it, this is the “definitive version” of the game director (and series creator) Hironobu Sakaguchi originally wanted to make. It learns from its three predecessors and weaves in a powerful story almost unheard of at this point in gaming. Originally intended to be a final NES title in the series, budgetary and scheduling issues forced the 80 percent complete title to be scrapped and re-made on the new Super Nintendo (SNES) console with some of the original ideas integrated. The elemental concepts of the original, heavy story elements of the sequel, and job system of the third (it would be better utilized in Final Fantasy V however) were all mashed together with a new active time battle (ATB) system to create the most compelling game yet. ATB ditched traditional turn-based combat for a timer that allowed characters to attack at their own pace based on the type of warrior they were. This continues to be a staple of the series today and even snuck into other RPGs like Chrono Trigger. Final Fantasy IV hit early in the SNES and celebrated mass critical and financial success worldwide and is considered a favorite by many series fans.
As you probably have noticed, the game was originally titled Final Fantasy II in North America because it was the second game to be released here – Square released the original in late 1989, about a month before the third game released in Japan. It was decided that instead of localizing the previous games, which were met with mixed feelings, the next game would simply be released worldwide with different numbering. It’s not simply blind porting that is responsible for the game’s massive re-releases, Square seems very scared of introducing the original rather brutally difficult title to North America. The US version on SNES is shortened significantly, probably 12-15 hours, due to storylines and dungeons being removed as well as a significant drop in the game’s difficulty. An even easier version, Final Fantasy IV Easy Type, was released in Japan after countless complaints of the game’s punishing difficulty in its original form. Religious spells and symbols were also changed or removed based on Nintendo’s censorship policies in the US as well, which led to confusion when comparing both versions for walkthroughs. Subsequent re-releases of the title in America re-named to the proper numbering, which also gave way for releases of the previously unreleased titles as well, and adjustments for the appropriate spell names, symbols, and entire plot made for a beefier 30-40 hour game. Square also updated to the original difficulty, which required a much heftier amount of grinding and replaying of long dungeons with brutal boss battles, resulting in an understandable popularity of the original shorter and easier SNES release. If you give it the time and patience it deserves, Final Fantasy IV is a magical fairytale that stands strong even today, and if you get highly invested the additional side stories/games of Final Fantasy IV: Complete Collection on PSP creates one of the most expanded worlds of the Final Fantasy universe aside from FFVII. Personally I have a hard time thinking this is of the best because the dated grinding and steep difficulty is just something fewer and fewer gamers, even retro ones playing on portables, have time for.
Final Score: 4 out of 5
Price: $13.49 (used, cart only), $48.50 (used, complete), $288.00 (new)
Additional Releases: MSX2 (Japan only), Wonderswan Color (Japan only), Playstation (Final Fantasy Origins, updated graphics), Gameboy Advance (Dawn of Souls, upgraded with additional dungeons, new translation), PSP (original title, includes Dawn of Souls content with updated visuals and soundtrack)
Digital Release? Wii Virtual Console (NES version, $5), PSOne PSN (Playstation version, $10), PSN (PSP version, $10), iOS/Android/Windows Phone (PSP version, $7)
Similar Titles: Dragon Quest (Warrior) franchise, Phantasy Star franchise, Vay, Ys I & II
If you ask most Americans what the first true console RPG was probably one of the most common responses would be Final Fantasy. Not only is Square’s epic tale of four warriors taking on a timeless being that plans to destroy the world memorable, but it stood well above the competition of the time. The Legend of Zelda may have taken around 10 hours to complete, a size and scope only possible with the ability to save that was unheard of prior, but it was nothing compared to the massive world and 30-50 hours you may spend conquering Final Fantasy. Aside from that, the 1986 Famicom title Dragon Quest (changed to Dragon Warrior in the US for its earlier iterations) had just received a slight upgrade and released to North America in 1989, less than a year before Final Fantasy. It was great but couldn’t compete with a game that was made three years later with the lack of classes, a party system, and various other differences. It should be noted that in Japan Dragon Quest II had already released and Dragon Quest III came out in February 1988, a mere two months after Final Fantasy, which had slowly built up most of the game’s staples such as a party system, exploration, turn based battle system, and both games had similar class systems. That doesn’t mean that Final Fantasy doesn’t have its own identity, it’s far superior in terms of graphics, nothing like the airship showed in the first three Dragon Quest games, and instead of sending you back to town when you die like Dragon Quest you would instead get a game over and go back to where you last saved. Final Fantasy also shipped with a map and huge manual that got players more invested in exploring and completing the campaign, not to mention a cheap and huge Nintendo Power strategy guide that released shortly after. For me, it was the near perfect conversion of the Dungeons & Dragons universe – some of the characters are literally stripped from the Monstrous Manual - and converted it into a single player experience.
Final Fantasy drops you into a vast world with multiple continents and terrain to explore with four warriors. Each of these warriors are named and given a class from the start. This allows a single player to control the party and do their favorite balance of brute force, tactical strategy and magic. You could have any combination you like, including having all four characters being one class. It really rings significant to me with heavy hitters like Borderlands and Diablo still being based on a class system. The game is riddled with random encounters that are invisible, so the key is to be prepared for everything because at any time you can die. Saving is possible anywhere on the overworld map but once you enter a dungeon, the true challenge of the game, you cannot save and must complete it before getting back to the surface to save. That’s why two taxing activities are a must: grinding and losing progress. You will die in the middle of a crazy ramped difficulty boss battle at some point and be forced to reload a save that you made (hopefully) just before entering and re-do an entire 1-2 hour dungeon only to try again to beat it. If you want to prevent a game of chance, you can opt to grind – beating countless random enemies to get to a high enough level that you no longer have a challenge in said dungeon or against said boss – which may waste hours of mindless gameplay but is often your only hope at progressing. This staple of Final Fantasy titles, and JRPGs as a whole, is why some players never even attempt to pick up the genre. If you can stomach it, the reward is significant. Not only do you progress on an epic journey that is a mixture of a decent story but also your personal achievements on the battlefield, all to feel like you truly saved the world. It took me 40 hours to complete this title with nothing more than a map and free time, but conquering Chaos at the end is still one of my favorite and proudest moments in gaming.
Final Score: 5 out of 5 (GH101 review policy and definitions can be found here)
In the 8-bit era the game was available to Americans only on the NES, but in Japan it was on the MSX2 microcomputer with some glitches, the Wonderswan Color (Gameboy Color competitor) with mild graphical upgrades, and a re-release on the Famicom with the sequel updated with re-drawn sprites.
A Playstation port of the first two games, entitled Final Fantasy Origins, would update the graphics to high detail and some re-drawn looks, a remixed soundtrack, animated sequences, and an art gallery. This same collection would move to the Gameboy Advance as Dawn of Souls: Final Fantasy I & II with four new dungeons, an updated bestiary, and new script. The somewhat recognized definitive version of the game was released first on the PSP that retained the original title, contained all content of Dawn of Souls and updated the visuals again to high resolution 2D graphics as well as updated cutscenes and soundtrack.
An in-between port that was similar to a 16-bit look, but with none of the tweaks beyond the NES version, released on mobile phones in 2004 in Japan and eventually in 2010 in the United States. Shortly after that the PSP version was ported first to iOS and eventually to Android and Windows phone.
There are two stories that are traded off as the reason for the game’s title. The first is that Square was nearing bankruptcy and most of the staff went into the project thinking it would be a swan song for the developer. This was widely regarded as unsubstantiated rumor given the large amount of successful titles developed by Square on the Famicom/NES in addition to no one substantiating the claim. In July 2009, Wired’s Chris Kohler – a well known gaming historian and co-host on the widely popular retro gaming podcast Retronauts – interviewed Final Fantasy composer Nobuo Uematsu and he claimed that this story is, in fact, true.
On the other hand, director Hironobu Sakaguchi has consistently claimed in interviews that the game title is due to the fact that he was set to return to university in the event it was a commercial failure. Obviously the game’s initial 400,000 unit sales (huge at the time) and eventual more than 2 million units sold worldwide by 2003 prevented such events and started a long lasting franchise that still remains today.
While Uematsu stated in the interview that these claims are true, he remains firm that the title’s origins are with the potential Square bankruptcy. Sakaguchi has never claimed the title to mean anything more than his fear of leaving the game industry if Final Fantasy was a failure. The truth will most likely never be known for no better reason than the memories of the individuals involved have already been clouded by the passage of time.
While it has celebrated decades of success in Japan, the Shin Megami Tensei series didn’t even come to America until Persona on the original Playstation. It wasn’t rebranded with the classic Shin Megami Tensei prefix until the release and mainstream love for Persona 3 and I can see why. If you read back to my Persona 1 & 2 review you will see that while I dug the direction it was going, I had major issues with both games that made the 50+ hour slogs through the campaigns less than enjoyable. All of these issues are addressed in Persona 3 without letting go of the core that got gamers interested in the first place. If you are a fan of JRPGs or have never played an epic dungeon-crawling quest, you should seriously consider giving Persona 3 a play because its modern setting, streamlined battle system, and socially integrated plotline will keep you playing for tens (if not hundreds) of hours.
The basic setup in Persona 3 is that you are a male (you have a female option as well in P3: FES and P3 Portable) second year high school student (think Junior in US terms) in Japan that has just transferred to a new school. As a student to a private academy, there are some differences to the public system: the only day off is Sunday, you wear a uniform, and students live in unisex dorms. Due to overcrowding, your character moves into an available dorm that is temporarily coed. It turns out that all of this dorm’s students have one thing in common: they are able to summon beings from within them named “personas”. These personas are capable of both physical and magical powers and are an extension of the individual controlling them. You also learn that each night at midnight an alternative realm known as “the dark hour” takes over the world and certain beings are allowed to roam freely while the rest of us reside in coffin-like structures, removed from this realm. Naturally persona users are one of the beings that can roam as are evil beings known as “shadows” that take on different forms. The goal of the shadows is to end the world and the persona users are rallied to prevent this. Wouldn’t you know, the main tower/source of evil is none other than the school, which transforms into a tall castle called Tartarus at night. Quite the setup, isn’t it?
Sure, it’s a lot to take in, but the pacing of the game moves at a gradual but consistent rate that gets you caught up within the first five hours. During this time you will become acquainted with yourself, your peers, the town, school, and the basic battle system. Right off the bat this introduction is a massive improvement from the originals that just threw you into the mix to figure it out. Along the way the battle system ramps up, requiring you to know how to counter enemies – you can potentially harm yourself, strengthen a foe, or just plain waste a turn with the wrong type of attack. This was a huge oversight in the original games because the logic for what works with and against a creature isn’t obvious and the original games didn’t provide any reference guide to learn from. Now instead of mentioning a discovered weakness mid-battle that you need to memorize, the game will analyze characters for you and remember what you learn from them. Additionally your character is the rare single entity that can control multiple personas, each with unique attributes, attacks, and requirements. This is where Persona 3 seems to combine both Final Fantasy and Pokemon for an addicting battle mechanic that makes the hours you will spend in dungeons fighting the same enemies actually fun instead of menial. My biggest gripe of the previous two games was the endless random battles that would spring up every three steps or so and drag the pace of the game to a halt. In this title the battles are instead seen and the amount of time you spend in Tartarus is completely up to you (save for the occasional story mission), so that problem is gone altogether. As for the pace, the game is broken into an entire school year – the date, day of the week, and moon cycle are constantly displayed. It doesn’t seem to matter at first, but by the middle of the campaign you will be acutely aware of exactly what the date is and what it means. As I write this it still impresses me how I went from knowing almost nothing about Persona and came out a seasoned veteran.
On top of all that you have a life to manage. Not only is this a nightly slog through more than 250 total floors of enemies, but you are a high school student that has to manage schoolwork, social circles, jobs, and even dating. If you are told to meet a professor after school on a certain date, it’s up to you to remember that and show up. The same goes for swim team practice, making friends with an old couple that runs a bookstore, and picking up a hand-crafted weapon. If you are dating a girl and do something as innocent as hanging out with another there can be consequences. All of your social links give strength to your personas, making grinding much less necessary. By the way, did you do well on those final semester exams? There are also side missions doled out by Elizabeth, an employee of the Velvet Room, which assists you in creating and managing your personas. It sounds daunting, and it will be at first, but like everything else Persona 3 develops at a pace completely under the control of the player so your progress is natural. This is why some people get to the end in 40 hours, some get to the end in 80 hours, and others get to 200 hours, because the amount of playtime, side missions, and pace are up to you. This game is as limited or robust as you make it, but you should probably plan a minimum 60 hours to even get through the main story.
While there’s a lot to enjoy with Persona 3, don’t forget that it is a classic RPG underneath it all and will have some of the tropes that come with that fact. You will spend hours grinding to that certain level or get that persona boosted up so that you can complete a quest or overcome a brutal boss. Saving in the game can be a tricky circumstance – although you are free to save almost anywhere in the game, backtracking through floors in Tartarus can be a pain. On the other hand you might encounter a random lucky enemy that takes you out instantly and lose 30 floors of progress because you got cocky. Boss battles can be a frustrating endeavor when you get a puzzle boss or seemingly overpowered boss with one fatal weakness, but the game always gives you an opportunity to save (and you’d better take it) before any such encounter. Despite the focus on social relationships, once they are maxed out the character ceases to be of much value to you and there’s no way to establish a stronger relationship than close friends. If you max out someone who is in love with you, feel free to start working on another person the next morning. I also don’t like the all or nothing mentality of this series – doing one or two side quests usually doesn’t do anything unless you remain consistent and complete all of the side quests. I must also warn about the end of the game (don’t worry, no spoilers) where you will be forced to make a decision and there are drastic differences to the game depending on what you do. In fact, the “true” ending can only be achieved with one of these options, so I highly recommend you save before any major choices.
By the time you reach the end of Persona 3 you will have an intimate relationship with the game, something I rarely experience. In order to get there, though, the journey is long, sometimes tough, and time consuming. Depending on your gaming habits, you may want to consider picking up the portable version (Persona 3 Portable) on PSP, available digitally, and compatible with the Vita. Otherwise the definitive version of this game (Persona 3 FES) can be found digitally on PSN for the PS3 or in tangible disc form on the PS2. Regardless of how you obtain it, this is a new spin on the classic JRPG formula and I can safely say that I am of the converted. I rather despised most of my experiences in the first two games, but now I’m an avid fan that can’t wait to experience Persona 4. If you need something new or want to see the potential of this genre, then Persona 3 is a great way to break the ice.
Also Known As: Vampire Savior: Lord of the Vampires in Japan
Ports: Playstation 1, Sega Saturn (as Vampire Savior: Lord of the Vampires in Japan only), PS2 (part of Vampire: Darkstalkers Collection, released only in Japan), Dreamcast (technically, see below, as Vampire Chronicle for Matching Service in Japan only), PSP (as Darkstalkers Chronicle: The Chaos Tower), PS3 (part of Vampire: Darkstalkers Resurrection, released to disc only in Japan)
Digital Release? Yes – As a PSOne game on PSN ($5.99) that works for PS3/PSP/Vita, as Darkstalkers: The Chaos Tower for PSP ($10.00), Part of Darkstalkers Resurrection in the US on XBLA or PSN ($15.00)
This is the game where Capcom went nuts. As the list above suggests, there were several ports of this game and in different forms. So many, in fact, that a brunt of this article is about the ports and differences themselves than the actual game. Darkstalkers 3 released to a very crowded arcade in 1997, most fighters at that time were also developed by Capcom might I add, and thus Darkstalkers 3 was almost unnoticed in an arcade in America. Furthermore, the dwindling US arcade market probably saw it releasing to fewer locations. Originally titled Darkstalkers: Jedah’s Damnation for the US, this title was dropped – I can think of a few reasons why – and the very generic Darkstalkers 3 replaced the title domestically. As it stood in 1997 you could walk into an arcade and choose between Street Fighter III, Street Fighter EX Plus, Marvel Super Heroes vs. Street Fighter, and that’s just the Capcom fighers.
This title did away with rounds, substituting for a more versatile life bar that could regenerate in certain instances and multiple life bars were used to decide a round winner. Each time a character depleted a life bar they would separate for a moment and then continue fighting without the other player’s life being regenerated. The special meter now had a “dark force system” that allowed certain special moves to only be performed during certain meter ranges. These complexities were interesting but again they were all mixed into plenty of Capcom’s fighters and even for an enthusiast like me it’s hard to focus on any one game for the time. A new story involving Jedah, a noble being from the demon world that gets resurrected, has decided to rebuild the demon world and use a group of souls to do it. Wouldn’t you guess, it just so happens to be the Darkstalkers clan. Characters Donovan, Huitzil, and Pyron are dropped – guess bosses weren’t a good idea – and four new characters Jedah, Lilith, Q-Bee, and Baby Bonnie Hood (who named her?) are added. Now if you’ve seen characters like Donovan in Darkstalkers 3, bear with me, I’ll explain in a minute. There’s also a hidden character in the arcade game, Shadow, who takes on the moves and attacks of the character he last defeated. To play as Shadow, in the character select screen you want to highlight the character you wish to start off as and press Start 3 times (it’ll be random if you skip this), then highlight random fighter, press start 5 times, and finally press any punch or kick button.
Vampire Hunter 2: Darkstalkers’ Revenge
This was a Japan only 1997 arcade release (update) that came out shortly after Vampire Savior and was an interesting experiment in updating the engine of the previous title. Still, I consider it to be an alteration of Darkstalkers 3 and not Night Warriors. This game brings back the soundtrack of the previous game, removes all of the new characters and retains the 14 character cast list of the previous title as well. Aside from the roster and soundtrack, the entire game is brought into the Darkstalkers 3 engine, animation, and style, move lists are based on the new moves and attacks, the game and rounds function as the newest title, and air chain combos are removed. It basically feels like an experiment that Capcom wanted to do to test if the game’s popularity would change based on retaining the character list of the previous game and I’m guessing omits the new characters due to memory limitations. Before Darkstalkers 3, no characters had ever been removed from the game, only added.
Vampire Savior 2
This was another 1997 Japan only experiment released alongside Vampire Hunter 2 that switched around the roster at the cost of removing characters to keep it at 15 fighters. This further suggests that memory limitations are responsible for the shortened list, especially with the integration of all fighters in most home ports. In this version the roster gets rid of Sasquatch, Rikuo, and John Talbain to bring back Donovan, Huitzil, and Pyron. As I never much cared for the boss characters and Sasquatch and John Talbain (werewolf guy) are two of my go-to fighters, I find this to be a very poor updated. As with its simultaneous tweaked brother, this game is identical to Darkstalkers 3 save for the roster tweak.
I don’t know if it was due to the end of the Darkstalkers series – with arcades dying out and a bunch of fighters being cranked every few months by Capcom to both arcades and consoles all while the genre was dying – but Capcom handled releasing home versions of Darkstalkers 3 much like the arcades. The most abundant version is the Playstation port, which features the entire roster of Darkstalkers characters, totaling 18, as well as playable versions of four secret characters including the aforementioned Shadow, Dark Talbain (color and sprite change, moveset the same), Oboro Bishamon (secret character from Night Warriors now playable), and Marionette (secret mode in Hunter 2 and Savior 2 turned into character, she retains attributes of your current opponent). This was clearly a throw everything at the wall move that makes for the most complex and full version of the game to date. Much like Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 there are some who think integrating all characters throws off the balance of the game, although with this series and its many releases I tend to disagree. The port was decent, most of the animation was smooth, load times were still a bit of a problem, and the graphics were okay. I’m biased due to the fact I have played and own the Saturn port that was released to Japan only.
Saturn’s version, known as Vampire Savior due to its Japan only status, utilized the cartridge port to add 4MB of RAM and make for near arcade perfect animation and graphics. It was packaged with the game when it released in Japan, although to play it on an American system required the Pro Action Replay that also acts as a 4MB RAM cart. This version also compiles a hybrid of all versions of Darkstalkers 3 with all 15 original characters and the three omitted for a total of 18 characters. Shadow can also be used but Marionette didn’t make it over. Additionally, as far as I’m aware, Dark Talbain and Oboro Bishamon are not playable, but can still be fought like in the arcade.
In 2000, via Capcom direct, a hybrid of all the Darkstalkers games entitled Vampire Chronicle for Matching Service (sounds better in Japanese) released in Japan only for Dreamcast. This game took all of the characters, all of the fighting styles, and all of the assets from the three (technically five) games and made one giant game. Additionally online play was added. If the Playstation Darkstalkers 3 is like UMK3 then this is the Mortal Kombat Trilogy version. This title was re-released to all territories on the PSP as Darkstalkers Chronicle: The Chaos Tower in 2004, although online play was cut for ad-hoc play.
Finally the Playstation 2 yet again collected all five games, although separated and not fused together like Chronicle, in the Vampire: Darkstalkers Collection in Japan. With Vampire Savior you literally select which of the three arcade versions you wish to play, but there’s no way to play a hybrid version like on the Playstation or Saturn ports. Also the XBLA/PSN version of Darkstalkers Resurrection features only the original arcade version of Darkstalkers 3 and does not include the updated versions or any hybrids of such.
Given the frantic and brief nature of most shmups, the genre is perfect for the portable platform, much like it was perfect for the arcade. For one reason or another, these titles can be rare to find on traditional handhelds and even harder to find actually good ones. On the other hand some of my favorite shmups are exclusive to portables (at least in the United States) so we’ve compiled a list of the portable shmups actually worth playing.
5. Space Invaders Extreme (Nintendo DS)
When Taito decided it would re-invent the Space Invaders formula I was skeptical. We were told in previews that the game would feature an upbeat techno soundtrack, plenty of screen tricks and explosions, dual screen integration on DS, and a hybrid between modern game mechanics and the original title. Just in case that sounds tempting to you, it’s almost verbatim what no gamer wants to hear when a beloved franchise is rebooting. Somehow Taito pulled it off and with no updates save for that fearful list Space Invaders Extreme was an addicting masterpiece. It released in a few forms on a few consoles but bar none the Nintendo DS version is the one to get. With non-linear level progression and utilization of dual screen to make the DS function more like a vertical arcade monitor, it’s like having Space Invaders on speed. Bonus rounds, boss battles, and power-ups were simple tweaks to the original formula that switched up gameplay without being a specific reason to play the game. Needless to say if you haven’t played Space Invaders Extreme, regardless of whether or not you’re a fan of the original, you should give this handheld game that’s easy to learn and brutal to master a try. It will keep you occupied for many a train, plane, or bus ride to come.
4. Halley Wars (Sega Game Gear)
With the small screens of most portable consoles it never ceases to amaze me how many vertical shmups find their way over, but despite that fact Halley Wars is not to be missed. Set in space, this is the sequel to the 1986 arcade game Halley’s Comet entails defeating an alien invasion that is utilizing Haley’s famous comet as cover for an attack on Earth. In Halley Wars you progress through six levels that are not only lengthy but end with great pattern-based boss battles. True, this game did come to home consoles in Japan but in America the only version we received was on the Game Gear. While I can’t think of anyone who had this in their collection growing up, I found it surprising that this title is neither hard to find nor is it expensive locally or on eBay.
3. Solar Striker (Nintendo Gameboy)
Gameboy (and Gameboy Color) aren’t really hurting for shmups, but I don’t like many of the home console ports that seem forced into Gameboy’s little screen, especially when I’ve got a much better version I can play in another room. Solar Striker was developed purely for the Gameboy and it’s a vertical shmup that not only follows the Gradius theory of beating the game in one life, but it also takes to the green blurred effects of the portable nicely. Each enemy is larger, taking up real estate on the screen and not making their presence a secret, sub bosses and end stage bosses offer pattern learning that’s sure to aggravate today’s gamers with their initial unfair feel. You get power-ups throughout the game and building up five in a row gives you a primary shot that fills a big portion of the screen, which is why I say the game is best completed in one life. Maybe compared to all shmups that exist it’s nothing special, but for a game that is aware of and works with the limitations of the Gameboy, you can’t do much better.
2. Gradius Gaiden (as part of the Gradius Collection on PSP)
This is another game that was previously released to a home console, but unfortunately we never saw Gradius Gaiden on the PS1 in the US so your only option is through the collection. It’s really a shame too because Gradius Gaiden is easily the best in the series, utilizing 3D sprites in a 2D background and bringing a nice aesthetic to the Gradius formula. It’s not all smoke and mirrors either, this was the first in the series to feature fully customizable ships and power-up chains – you can literally use any previous Gradius ship and have your power-ups unlock in any order. If you want to have your first power-up be options, fine, you can have 5 options before the brunt of the level even starts. This doesn’t make the game easy by any means; the balance is that attacks and enemies are so varied you will need various power-ups to overcome many of the levels. Not only that but the new graphical tricks allow for some crazy encounters like ice caves crashing to pieces and dropping snow and debris into the play field as you traverse the level or a cube of Moai head statues rotating in all directions around you. While the Gradius Collection is the only of the three Konami collections to release on PSP in the US (there are fantastic Salamander and Parodius collections in Japan), it has become a title that’s a bit hard to come by with no digital version released. Still, I don’t see it for more than about $10-$20 when I do find it and you can always give in to eBay mark-up if you’re desperate, but the fact that you get Gradius Gaiden plus the original three titles (including the super rare Gradius II: Gofer No Yobo arcade version) makes this a must buy for shmup fans on the PSP.
1. Aerial Assault (Sega Game Gear)
I have no specific argument as to why this is my favorite portable shmup, except for the fact that it fulfills the need for catharsis with every move. You play as a simple airplane craft that navigates a horizontal landscape taking down mostly easy to shoot enemies and collecting power-ups along the way. Like the other Game Gear title on this list, the levels are lengthy and offer a decent run for a game designed to be played in short spurts. While I’m sure hardcore shmup fans find the difficulty to be pathetic, I personally appreciate the fact that the game isn’t too hard or requires too much concentration from you. It isn’t enough to make your bored, there is still some fight in the title, but it’s not Ikaruga by any means. I appreciate it because the developers seemed to understand that you will most likely be playing this in public where it’s difficult to offer the concentration of a normal shmup and you probably don’t want to throw a hissy fit in front of a bunch of strangers. It’s for those long days at the office or nervous moments before a dentist appointment when you can bring out your Game Gear, spend 10 minutes feeling like a badass by blowing up a ton of aircraft, then power it off and move on with your day. Thankfully this title is neither rare nor particularly expensive and as it’s the only fighter jet shmup series that’s set in my preferred horizontal perspective. As if this isn’t enough, growing up this was the first portable title that I played at home when I had other consoles at my disposal. I can’t help but love the fact that Aerial Assault exists.
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 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.
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.
Persona 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.