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Posts Tagged ‘earthbound

Undertale Review

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Undertale is a game that is hard to ignore if you are a retro gamer.  It strikes me as a bit of the hipster’s version of an SNES title because it seems to check all the boxes that get several communities pumped up as well as intrinsically embracing what is great about contemporary retro.  Couple that with the fact that it was almost completely created by one person, Toby Fox (who had art help from Temmie Chang), and there’s no doubt Undertale is an achievement.  None of this really matters for a review, though, which forces the critic to look a work right in the face and give his or her opinion.  Is Undertale a one-man-band achievement that results in one of the most impressive indie titles that hearken back to the days of 16-bit?  Sure, but that’s all left to award ceremonies and Fox’s peers to decide.  Is it the “must play” retro game that garners all the glittering prizes and game of the year nominations from my peers?  Perhaps not.  While I can admit to being entertained by the title – especially the very notable fourth wall breaking aspects that you almost never see coming – Undertale is weakened by the zeitgeist and harmed by the fact that no one on the Internet can just let you play a game anymore.  That game, while great, leaves more to be desired.

undertale_introUndertale began to make waves with the Earthbound crowd and while it’s not quite as heady and definitely not even a fraction of the length of those titles, Undertale does grow from those roots.  Personally I was never all that fond of the series (although I have not yet played Mother 3), but the humor was undeniably charming and Undertale embraces and builds upon that humor in spades.  You play as a character named “the child” who is given a name of your choice and skates that line of androgyny just enough that your avatar can identify as whatever they want.  An introduction explains that there are two worlds, the humans and the monsters, that have become separated from one another and whenever a human enters the world of the monsters they become corrupted and never escape.  As your quest begins, you start to learn that the irony of this is that monsters aren’t all that bad and much like humans just have a wide spectrum of personalities and behaviors.  The theme is hammered home when you discover that interactions with monsters are just that, interactions, and just because video games have taught you that fighting is the only way to go that you have a slew of other options.  From this point on you journey into the world to behave as you wish and reap the consequences of quite literally all of your actions along the way.

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Written by Fred Rojas

January 11, 2016 at 11:00 am

Podcast: Top Scores, Volume 2

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Video game soundtracks are as varied and nostalgic as the games themselves.  Sometimes just hearing a few bars from a classic tune brings the memories of playing that game rushing back.  Thanks to the community and a handful of personal selections, Fred and Jam present a collection of nostalgic favorites.

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Track List:

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Review: Mother aka Earthbound Zero (Famicom)

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mother_boxConsole: Famicom
Released: 1989
Developer: Ape
Publisher: Nintendo
Instruction Manual: None released outside of Japan
Difficulty: Difficult
Played it as a child? No
Value: N/A – No official US release, most versions are fan translations and prototype carts have no official price
Other Releases: Yes – This game was updated and re-released in Japan on GBA as Mother 1 + 2
Digital Release? Yes – Although technically not true.  Digital fan translations to English are available but not really legal.

Thanks to a strong and devoted fan community and some odd ambiguity with Nintendo’s releases of this series, Mother (known as Earthbound Zero with most circles that play english translations) has got to be one of the hardest series to cover.  Having never played Earthbound (Mother 2 in Japan) I did the traditional completionist thing and started with the original game, which is extremely dated by almost all RPG standards.  Mother suffers from everything I dread about going into retro role-playing games: a ton of grinding (or “meat walls”), constant random encounters, no true direction as to where to go next, casual dungeons with incredibly hard boss battles, slow pacing, and a limited inventory system.  Not only that, anytime you try to look up help on this game, everyone who’s written about it has played the game a million times and speaks so condescending of people who get stuck that you feel like an idiot.  That’s because Mother has a small but incredibly devoted community that feels this game and its sequels are the apex of game design.  Despite all these faults, the charm of the writing and what it was doing at the time was enough to keep me invested until the grueling end.

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Written by Fred Rojas

December 27, 2012 at 12:45 pm

Genre Study: Japanese RPGs (JRPGs)

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Nowadays when people refer to a “JRPG” it’s either associated with a flood of nostalgic love for a handful of long-running series or a groan as modern Japanese companies try to capture the form of evolution that many game players strive for.  This is because modern day JRPGs aren’t a whole lot different from the ones that started life and popularity back in the 16-bit era in Japan and the 32-bit era in America.  If you’re not too familiar with or have never played any of these games, modern or classic, you may wonder why games that follow a well-known and successful formula may fail.  Sure, gamers’ tastes have changed to a certain extent, but there’s still plenty of us that love to play these classic titles and have no problem sinking tens of hundreds of hours into beating them all over again.  Unfortunately for modern titles of this ilk, they suffer from a lack of resources and that personal touch that made the older games so charming.  Even when they do, like the recent Wii release The Last Story, these titles still can’t hold a candle to the heavy hitters of history.  As a result fans of the genre have pretty much independently decided to freeze this genre, and its subsequent games, in time and appreciate that era as exactly that: a specific time of genre-specific gaming bliss.  This makes it difficult for modern gamers trying to break into the genre because the amount of time to complete most games is much lower these days, lack of explanation and exploration are things of the past, and the price tags on the “classics” are either sky high or dirt cheap for the “poor ports.”  For that reason, we’ve compiled a basic overview of the genre as a whole, it’s roots, and the factors that make a title considered JRPG.  At the end we also suggest a handful of very accessible titles that are good for those starting out, especially with many of the classics porting to handhelds with varying results, and will continue coverage throughout this site.

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