Monday, July 30, 2012

Ginkasa Reviews Xenogears

Xenogears is a title that has sat on my "must play" list for a long time.  I never had a PSX growing up, so when I received a PS2 for Christmas a lot of the games I bought were PSX games (primarily RPGs) that were pretty widely loved.  Xenogears was one of these titles, but even then it was becoming pretty rare and expensive to buy used.  I saw it a couple of times at my used game shop, but usually picked a cheaper title to play.  As time passed it got to the point where I never saw it and, if I had, it would have been much too expensive for a 10+ year old game.

Anyway, I finally bought it recently on the PSN and started to play it.  I got about 10 hours in before I decided that, on the whole, I didn't like and wasn't interested in continuing to play it when I have so many other games waiting to be played.  This is a shame because there was so much too like, and much more that should have been so much better.

The Story

The story starts off pretty basic and almost cliched, starts to become pretty interesting, but then overstays its welcome.  After an animated cut scene that would be a non sequitar if it wasn't the first you see, the story follows a man named Fei.  He has amnesia, but has lived in a quiet village for a few years under the care of the mayor.  Every seems pretty friendly in the village and treats Fei well.  Its a good life, but, alas, the village is attacked by a squad of mobile suits Gears.  Fei jumps into a seemingly abandoned Gear called Gundam Welltall and goes berserk killing the enemy, but also several villagers.  Fei is blamed for the whole thing and is cast out by the remaining villagers as a murderer. 

At this point, I was digging the story.  It had a nice twist on the "farm boy from backwater village" trope.  I wasn't necessarily digging the amnesia thing and it got a little over dramatic at times, but I was interested.  Soon, however, Fei is, for some inexplicable reason, dragged into a three way (maybe more?) conflict. He whined for a bit about how he didn't want to fight (not like he's really involved anyway), but then is convinced to... because?  The story wasn't really gripping me.  Fei stopped being interesting.  The other characters never were interesting.  I'd have been able to tolerate it, though, except the game is very wordy.  I would grasp the concept the game was trying to present , but the cutscene would run on and on beating whatever point it was trying to make into my head.  I just keep hitting X so that it would finally get to a bit of gameplay.  This was made worse by the dialogue just generally being poorly written and/or translated.  None of the writing felt natural.  It wasn't funny. It wasn't interesting.  It was clunky.

 It might have picked up later, but I stopped caring enough to want to keep pushing through it.


The graphics are a bit of a mixed bag.  The character sprites are legitimately good looking.  They're primitive, obviously, but they've aged a lot better than Final Fantasy VII's polygon blocks.  The characters basically look like chibi anime characters.  They're well animated and colorful.  Very nice to look at.

There was also a lot of artistry attempted in the cutscenes and environments.  There was a scene in a cathedral that particularly grabbed my attention.  They tried to some interesting things with lighting and camera angles considering the age of the game.  I'm sure it was very impressive at the time of release.  Now, however, the environments look muddy and blocky.  Not horrible, but definitely aged. 

The music is fine.  I'm not generally musically inclined, so these things don't generally jump out at me.  There was no particular tune I can remember that stood out, but nothing offended me either.


The good: battles are interesting.  You can fight outside of Gears and inside Gears.  Outside, characters used a combo system similar to a turn based fighting game.  You get so many actions per attack and you can combine buttons presses to deliver devastating combos.  Gear battles are similar, but you also have to keep in mind your fuel level.  Stronger attacks take more fuel, but you also can't just whittle an enemy down since you can't just magically heal your machine. 

It was interesting and fun.  Unfortunately, I wasn't able to experience much of it.  Gameplay. even at the early stages of the game, is generally overshadowed by the poorly told story.  The final straw for me was when I settled down to play for a bit, and spent an hour waiting for a true bit of game.  No, it wasn't all "cutscenes," but the gameplay bits in between the overlong conversations was simply walking between those overlong conversations.  There wasn't really anything to explore, either. Even new shops had the same stuff as before and there were no mini-games are sidequests to complete (at this point in the game).  the only other options besides laboring through the plodding story was talking to random NPCs who had nothing interesting to say.

There were some mechanical issues as well.  The game forces some platforming on you, which is horrible.  The jumping mechanics are poor and imprecise.  There's also a "glitch" that prevents you from jumping sometimes.  If a random battle is loading, then you can't jump, but you can still move for the couple of seconds it takes to load.  You could avoid falling and having to start over on the original PSX by listening for the CD to spin and not jumping during that time, but the PSN doesn't have this "convenience."  The camera is also a pain to work with. 


Not my favorite.  The story just couldn't keep my interest and since it seemed to be mostly story (especially later on in the game, or so I've heard) there wasn't much of anything to keep my interest.  Maybe I'll go back to it someday to finish it, but I'm not looking forward to it. -

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Ginkasa Reviews Netflix

Netflix seems to be in the news fairly often recently and not under very good light.  There's been a lot of harsh criticism thrown its way, so I feel its only appropriate that I make Netflix my next review subject.

I initially joined Netflix in November 2006 when I became frustrated by the limited selection at my local Blockbuster.  I was wanting a better selection of more obscure classic films and television shows.  Netflix had what I wanted, and the price was pretty fantastic.  Unfortunately, I found myself falling into the trap of having the DVDs on hand, but not actually watching them.  Now that I had access to almost any movie I could imagine I found I didn't have the time to watch them.  I cancelled the subscription at that point.

About a year later, however, I signed back up and used the service more often.  At this point, I considered Netflix to be the greatest thing in home video.  It was cheap.  It was easy.  I had a vast collection to browse.  I also rarely had to wait for a DVD to become available, although that might be more because I was choosing older movies rather than new releases.  Either way, I was as about as satisfied as a customer could be.  If I were reviewing Netflix at this point I would have recommended it without hesitation.  In fact, I was pretty vocal about how pleased I was with the service.

Things got even better when Netflix announced the streaming service.  I remember the notice exactly, but my impression at the time was that the Watch Instantly feature was considered "in testing" when they first released, thus it was added at no additional cost.  That never happens where a merchant out of the blue gives you more services without requiring extra cost.  It was fabulous!

Of course, I didn't use the streaming service all that often at the time.  The selection wasn't great, the quality could be weird (some movies were only in pan and scan, I seem to remember), and you could only watch things on the PC at the time, but that was okay because I wasn't paying for it.  It was along, however, until Netflix announced that streaming would possible through my XBox360.  We started using the service more often immediately when that became available.  While waiting for the next DVD to come in the mail my girlfriend (now wife) and I would watch various TV shows through the streaming service.

This was the prime of Netflix.  It was even better than before.  I really had no complaints at all about the service.  Okay, a DVD would be unplayable or skip every once in a while, but Netflix sent me a new one no questions asked.  Sure, I had to wait, which was annoying, but I felt it was inevitable with the service they were offering that issues like would happen.  They handled it well, so I didn't complain.  Additionally, the streaming servers would have issues apparently and Netflix credited me for the lost time, even if I otherwise wouldn't have noticed the service was down.

Earlier this year, Netflix announced a price increase.  Essentially, the streaming was no longer free.  You could keep your DVD-only service for the same price you were paying, lose the DVDs and keep the streaming on its own with its own price, or keep both but have to pay for both.  At the time I had the 2 DVDs with the unlimited streaming and BluRay, so my rate was going from, I believe, $17.00 (ish) to about $22.00.

Know what?  I didn't mind.  Sure, I would have preferred to keep the prices the same.  Its not like I wanted to pay more money for the same service I was receiving.  However, I remembered when Netflix announced streaming and said it was "in testing."  I also remember being told that when the streaming came out of testing it would no longer be free.  I could be misremembering, I don't have the e-mail anymore.  That was my impression, however, so I didn't mind the increase.  The issue, in my mind, was a PR issue.  Netflix took too long to charge for the streaming and/or kept it around as a standard feature instead of limiting it to people who had signed up prior to a certain date.  It gained them lots of cred, but they lost all that and more when newer subscribers (or older subscribers who forgot the original announcement) felt cheated and used.

Again, I didn't mind.  I was fine.  I understood and I felt Netflix had been good enough to me over the years that I could allow them this.  Brand loyalty had me.  Then the bombshell dropped.

I'm sure you remember, just a month ago Netflix announced they were splitting their services completely into two separate brands: the streaming service would stay as Netflix, but the DVD service would be re-branded as Qwikster.  Price would technically stay the same, but if you wanted both services you needed to have two accounts and would see two charges to your credit card.

Interestingly, although there was no change in price the backlash from this announcement seemed to worse than the price increase from earlier.  Although I didn't fly into an internet rage, I was included in the naysayers.  The change in name was horrible.  It completely undermined brand loyalty gained over the years.

Its maybe a little silly, but was I raving fan* of Netflix; primarily I was a fan of their DVD service.  With this announcement they basically said I wasn't worthy of the Netflix brand, that Netflix didn't want me, and that I was being relegated to "Qwikster."  Silly, like I said, but that's how I felt.

I still recognized that the Qwikster service would technically be the same DVD service I had been using for years, so I didn't cancel outright.  However, my use of the streaming service was mostly convenience.  If there was something in my DVD queue I didn't want to wait for or I wanted to pass the time while waiting on a DVD, I would pick something from streaming.  With "Netflix" streaming not being connected at all to "Qwikster" that convenience went out the window.  So, I went ahead and preemptively canceled the streaming portion of my subscription.  Additionally, I had been slowing down on my DVD watching watching as well.  So, for good measure, I also lowered my plan from the 2 at a time to the 1 at a time plans.

Of course, Netflix tricked me and announced The Wonder Years was added to the streaming library, so I added streaming back.  I was resolved, however, to cancel it once again once I was finished watching my favorite television show (but that's a review for a different time!).

And then, just earlier today, Netflix announced it would no longer be splitting itself into two entities.

So, with all this history, what are my thoughts on Netflix now?  Personally, I still think it provides a great service.  The DVD service is still aces in my book.  Yeah, streaming seems to be the big deal now and that'll probably be the standard fairly soon.  No streaming service matches the Netflix DVD selection, in my opinion.  There is some hullabaloo about new releases taking a while to get on there, but that doesn't effect me.  I use the service exclusively for older releases, so I don't notice the delay.

The streaming is alright.  I really haven't compared Netflix streaming too much to other services like Amazon Prime or Hulu.  Its not my primary interest, so I don't give it too much thought.  For me to switch to streaming exclusively they'll need to make some improvements to both the selection and the presentation of the movies themselves.

Ultimately, though, Netflix is still aces in my book despite the recent mistakes.  Hopefully they'll learn from the past few months and communicate better and make some better decisions.

*BTW, I'm not trying to sell this book to you.  I tried to link to the wiki page, but there wasn't one so Amazon had to do.  It is kind of interesting, though, if you feel compelled to buy it.  That's a review for another time, however.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Ginkasa Reviews Spoilers

As we're still setting up, I want to lay out another basic ground rule for this blog concerning spoilers.  Basically, whenever I review a story based medium that can be spoiler go ahead and insert a big ol' "Spoiler Warning" at the beginning for yourself.  I'm not going to set out intentionally to ruin every twist or secret a movie or whatever has to offer.  I'm not going to summarize a whole book.  However, if a plot twist or even the ending of the story drastically affects my opinion of the work I will discuss in my review.  This applies to old and new works, so heads up if you don't like knowing what's going to happen.

Ginkasa Reviews Dragon Quest

So, my first review and I pick a old jRPG.  That really sets the tone.  Since this is not only my first review at all, but also my first video game review, I want to explain a little on how I determine the quality of a game in my mind, and this how my game reviews will be structured a little.

First, I figure most games can be judge on three areas (by importance [least to most]):

- Story.  This is the actual tale being told by the game.  The writing.  Basically, the questions I ask are, "Is it engaging?  Is it funny?  Do I care about what happens?"  If the story gets me involved, its done its job.  However, the story is also the least important part of a video game.  It can definitely add a lot to the product as a whole, but ultimately a game can be fun without even having a story at all, much less a good one.

- Presentation.  This is the graphics and sound.  Does it look good?  Does it sound good?  How's the voice acting? 

- Gameplay.  Obviously, the most important thing about a video game.  Does it work?  Does it make sense?  Is it fun?

So, in my reviews I'll go through each section in order and provide my thoughts on them.  My reviews won't be in depth.  They will be pure, unfiltered, reactions to those areas.  At the end of each section I'll grade the area with either a "+" or a "-" to designate whether I think that sections impacts the game as a whole in a positive or negative fashion.  At the very end I'll give a brief, overall recommendation.  I'll also give the game as a whole a "+" or a "-" to designate whether I thought it was a positive or negative experience overall.

One thing you should note, however, is that the overall recommendation is completely unrelated to each section individually.  There is quite possibly a game that gets three "-"s in a row, but still, overall, I give it a "+".  And vice versa.  Anyway, we're just starting out.  We'll get the hang of it.

So, now that that's out of the way...

Dragon Quest

I'll be basing my review on the Super Nintendo remake of the original Dragon Quest.  This version of the game was not released in America; I played it via emulator with a fan translation.  You may be more familiar with the game under the name Dragon Warrior which was released on the NES in the '80s and again on the GBC  in 2001 (the latter of which, by the way, I own and have played multiple times so, no, I don't feel guilty about the emulation thing).


DQ's story is as basic as it comes.  The evil DragonLord/DracoLord/King Dragon is terrorizing the land and has kidnapped the Princess Gwaelin/Lora/Laura from the Kingdom of Tantagel/Radatome.  It is up to the descendant of the legendary hero Erdrick/Loto/Roto to save the princess and rid the world of the evil DragonLord/DracoLord/King Dragon once and for all.

Besides the multitude of names used in the various translations of this game, the story is pretty simple.  The hero, who is named only by the player (mine's Ginkasa!), has no real personality and speaks only once at the end of the game.  This is, of course, meant to involve the player in the game and pretend that he/she is, in fact, that hero  There are no real twists or turns involved in the story.  The only real neat bit is when you save the princess and the game isn't over yet.

I feel, however, that the simplicity of the story is to the game's benefit.  Maybe players who are accustomed to today's games may not dig it, but I really enjoy the very fairytale quality of it.  I wouldn't want to read a book based on it, but the story does its job well enough to keep me going through the game.  +


As I stated, I'm playing the SNES version of this game, so if you're playing the NES or GBC versions your mileage may vary here.  Graphically, the game is, well, what you'd expect from an SNES remake of an NES game.  Its pretty colorful and the monster designs, by DragonBall's Akira Toriyama, are timeless.  The music is nice, although I don't think it meets the heights reached by more legendary soundtracks from the same era.

Ultimately, you're not going to be wowed by what you're seeing (especially if you're playing on the NES or GBC), but it does its job.  You know what everything is supposed to be, and you won't be relying on your iPod for your music.  +


This is an '80s jRPG through and through.  You walk around and run into random encounters.  You have to grind monsters to level up and amass the gold necessary to buy new equipment.  You have to talk to everyone and rely on vague hints given by random townspeople to figure out where you're supposed to go.  Cliché time: if you look up "Old School" in the dictionary you will find a picture of DQ.

One thing that's unique, at least among console jRPGs, is that the entire game is spent with the single hero.  You never gain a party.  You also never fight more than one monster at a time.  Mano y mano the whole way.  There is no customization of your hero.  Scratch that.  Your level up bonuses are somehow determined by your character's name, but other than that there is no customization.  You don't get to choose to be a mage or warrior.  There are branching ability paths or whatnot.  You gain experience and you level up.  You learn certain spells at certain predetermined levels and that is that.  You don't even really get to choose your equipment.  Every town you come to has stronger equipment and each piece does exactly what the last piece did, only better.  There's no having to choose over this benefit versus that drawback.  You either upgrade or you don't.  You could opt out of not buying equipment for a challenge or something, but that's it.

All in all, though, I like that.  It was my first real RPG, so it acted as a guide primer for more complicated fair.  Plus, when I originally played this as a kid, it really allowed my imagination to get involved.  It was very easy to imagine myself as the hero wearing this or that equipment and kicking butt.  I, regrettably, can't get that involved today, but my memory's still there.

And its pretty darn short.  I've never timed it, but its just the right length, in my opinion.  Just when you might be thinking, "I'm kind of getting done," the game's over.  You've won and that's it.  Its not deep and it probably won't satisfy a "hardcore modern" gamer, but I think its great. +


Dragon Quest is not, under any circumstances, a deep or very involved game.  Its about as simple as a jRPG can be without the game playing itself for you.  Personally, I really enjoy that aspect.  As a child it was a wonderful primer on RPGs in general and really allowed my imagination to play a part in the proceedings, unlike many games today.  I can still enjoy it in the fashion now.  Most modern gamers will probably have to add the "good for its time" addendum to their opinions, but I think an  inexpensive re-release on the iPhone or similar could attract a modern audience. +


Welcome to Ginkasa Reviews Everything* where I, Ginkasa, review everything*.  Mostly, this will include entertainment options: movies, books, video games, comics, etc.  Sometimes new releases.  Sometimes old.  It can also, however, include just about anything else: my day, my night, food, drink, a random post from a random message board, the weird sound my dog makes when he starts to get really anxious about something.  Whatever.  The sky's the limit.

There won't be much structure to this blog.  I will update whenever the mood strikes me.  That may be every day, or may be once every six months.  I don't anticipate anyone actually reading this, so I'm not going to much proofreading either.  I'm going to type, and whatever comes out is what gets posted.  Additionally, my reviews will not necessarily be intended to guide anyone on what they should or should not purchase.  If you watch/read/play/eat something based on my recommendation and don't like it, I don't want to hear about it.  I don't care; its your own fault for watching/reading/playing/eating something the internet told you to.  Also, if I don't like something that you liked...  Sucks for me, I guess.  I missed out.  So don't mention it in the comments, it'll make me cry.

If you're still interested in reading this (ha!) don't expect anything funny.  Or insightful.  Or entertaining in any real way.  If that's a-ok by you, then welcome.