Saturday, May 30, 2015

Level Up: Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories

I really don’t have an intro this week. Here’s Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memory for the Game Boy Advance.
Chain of Memory was the first game in the Kingdom Hearts line that I played since I didn’t have a PS2. Playing this game first is really interesting since both Kingdom Hearts 1 and 2 were out, and this was set in between them. This should mean that the plot would likely stand on its own since it’s also on a new system and would likely be an introduction to new players, right? Well yes and no. While there is a plot that is introduced in this game, it’s not fully resolved at the end (though, I feel like that might be a trend in these games) . There are also many characters and terms which are referenced like they’re normal, but I don’t know who they are or what they mean. But, I’m getting ahead of myself.
The game begins with Sora (main character for most of the Kingdom Hearts games) Donald and Goofy entering a castle.  Upon coming face to face with a mysterious dark figure, they attempt to use some of the skills they would have known at the end of Kingdom Hearts, but have somehow forgotten them. Evidentially, the castle erased part of their memories upon entering and every floor they visit will be based on Sora’s past (whether he knows it or not). Things start getting a little complicated, as Sora realizes he forgets more as he climbs the castle, but remembers about a girl named Namine.
It is neat that this game attempts to explain how Sora, Donald and Goofy could forget all their abilities between games (the same way we sometimes see Samus lose her equipment), but I don’t think it’s something people raged with Kingdom Hearts 2, was it? If I could believe that the whole plot was based around that trope, it would be pretty cool, but that’s probably not the case. That being said, the easy reasoning behind visiting previously used locations and already met characters is appreciated.
The game play is actually pretty interesting, as it’s also based on the whole memory motif. As previously mentioned, everyone forgot all their skills upon entering the castle. All those abilities have been transferred to cards. You’ll make a deck of cards to use in each battle. While you have the expected selection of spells, assist and items, Sora’s basic attacks are also determined by these. The really neat thing is that even the enemy attacks work on cards, and one can actually interrupt the other. Each card has a number 0-9 on it. After someone plays a card, and until its effect is resolved, lower numbers cannot be played. Higher numbers will interrupt that attack. The exception to this is 0, which will interrupt any number (but obviously can be easily interrupted). 3 cards also can be set aside to use all at once in a combo: possibility letting you use a skill and giving you a higher, harder to beat number.
Of course, you’re not stuck playing the cards as they come out, as you can actually cycle through them and get the ones you need, and you can refresh your deck when you want. Yeah, I admit, on paper, the battle system seems pretty complex. In practice, it’s one of those ones where it’s simpler than it appears, and if you can figure out some of the tricks of it, you can do some pretty cool stuff (like nerf a boss’ deck by timing your 0’s right… and yes, that is how I beat the game).
Chain of Memories is an interesting side-story game for several reasons. First off, there were so many games that would come to later reference it (from what I’ve seen), you have to question whether or not it was intended to have that much of an impact. Also even just playing this one game, you can tell it has connections to others. But as for what it does on its own, I think it’s a pretty cool game. I like the card and deck system, along with the graphics and the worlds you visit. One of the coolest things is how they use a video game trope of forgetting all your skills to inspire almost every aspect of the game (whether it was intentional or not). I’ve seen that this game has seen been remade, and I can’t really comment on that version (since it seems to be more like the other games). But for the first Kingdom Heart game available to people without a Sony system, it makes for a good first impression. I give Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories on the GBA 8.5 Levels out of 10.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Level Up: Power Rangers Time Force

As I’ve mentioned in my reviews of the Power Rangers games for the SNES and Genesis, they were HUGE when I was a kid. However, I grew out of rather quickly when Power Rangers Turbo came around. It’s hard to say exactly what caused my loss of interest; maybe I had grown too old for it, maybe I moved to something else (Pokemon most likely), or maybe it’s just that TURBO SUCKED. Without teenage me knowing it, the Power Rangers were still going on even as of today. Let’s take a look at a game from a Power Rangers series that I missed: here’s Power Rangers Time Force for the Sony PlayStation.
As previously mentioned, I haven’t watched this series during its original run, nor have I have I watched it since. However, I have seen Linkara’s synopsis of it in History of the Power Rangers (and it does sound like a really good series). What struck me as odd was when I heard the Rangers were trapped in 2001. This is certainly not the case in the game, as you are time hoping. You play more the role of “time police” in this game, chasing after time travelling criminals. It’s not a BAD idea at all and I’m pretty sure it has been done before, but the way that it’s pulled off here isn’t even done well: they pretty much tell you what a bad guy is doing when, and you go stop him. Along with some of the obvious tasks you need to do in the stages, it kills the immersion and makes you really aware you are playing a video game.
The graphics in this game aren’t too bad for the time, but the character models are very jagged and polygonal. This isn’t unforgivable for the PS1, but what makes it worse is that the Rangers all have the same shape with a different skin on them (with the exception of the pink one). This isn’t helped with the kind of ridiculous martial arts animations that don’t always seem to connect the way it should. But while the graphics faults could be overlook cause “it’s on the PS1”, I don’t think that excuses the poor audio. The music is pretty generic, and I don’t if my disk is just scratched in a weird way, but it would stop randomly (though in some videos I’ve seen, I does sounds like the music fades before starting a loop over). And while Power Rangers isn’t remembers for the acting, the voices are pretty corny here, especially with the stuff you hear over and over, like when a ranger gets hurt.
So far, everything I’ve discussed are things that can easily be over looked if the game play was great. However, this game sucks all around, and it only takes one level to see that. The first thing you’ll be informed of is that there is a time limit on each stage (because time travel?) and by collecting hourglasses, you can pause the timer (reminding me of NES Back to the Future). You might panic to finish a level quickly, but they don’t tell you it’s just for a bonus. The next thing that happens is that you’ll try to move and notice that it’s very stiff. Your Ranger seems to have a hard time moving diagonally (even with an analog controller) and any movement means taking off in a rush. Then, you’ll likely try jumping, but the jump button is rapid fire. If you h old the jump button to get maximum distance, you might jump again upon landing. And finally there’s fighting. Due to poor hit detections and the weird animations I mentioned already, you might suddenly fall to the ground or just swing wildly at nothing. There’s no flow and it seems the best way to win is by being cheap with running kicks. This especially makes the bosses annoying since you also need to fight them in the Time Force Megazord (sorry, but this game makes me not care about the proper name). The problem is it doesn’t control differently, so it feels like you’re doing the same tedious fight twice.
Power Rangers Time Force is not a good game in anyway… but unlike previous bad games, it’s hard for me to be upset by this. First off, I didn’t watch the series before playing the game, so I had nothing to hold it up to. Secondly, I was kind of expecting it to be bad considering it was this licensed game on the PlayStation. It feels like developers Climax Studios and publishers THQ didn’t even put any effort in this and made a game based on just hearing the name and theme song, so why would I put more emotion into it? The one positive I can say about the game is that it’s irritating, but not frustrating (like a fly buzzing around your apartment). You can finish this and probably won’t break your controller. I give Power Rangers Time Force for the PlayStation 3 levels out of 10.