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In-Depth #60: Phantasy Star Series Event: Phantasy Star II #3

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Wow. Can you believe we have done sixty of these things? 60! But I digress because it is time to talk about Phantasy Star II again. I really want to update you guys a bit more often, especially if I hope to even come close to clearing 150 posts in the year, but PSII just is not a game that takes well to multiple updates; there just isn't anything to discuss. There is a story: something about the Mother Brain computer, who helped create peace and ease, is now causing problems for the galaxy. It sets the stage but it doesn't really do anything more than that. Therefore not much to talk about that front. What it boils down to is Phantasy Star II is one of those old school RPGs that is more about random battles and dungeons then it is about characters and story elements. I mean after that one crazy moment I mentioned in the first PSII update back in NLID #58 there really hasn't been anything worth talking about. Another thing to note is that the translation really impacts what story elements there are.

The second thing I guess is worth talking about is the supposed difficulty of the game. All I read in both the GameFAQs message boards and in the two different guides I have been using is how difficult the game is... let me put it this way... it's nothing a few old-school RPG skills can't handle. As long as you keep your levels up and keep yourself well equipped you should have no problems. If you rush in to a new area unprepared you will get smoked, it's just old-school RPGs 101. The dungeon difficulty can easily be mitigated by using a map and walkthrough to avoid getting lost in the mazes of teleporters.

The last thing I want to discuss is the Music in the game. Let me get this out there first... I can't usually stand Sega Genesis music and sound, while sound effects are nothing to get excited about; pretty typical Genesis stuff... the music is amazingly well done and has some great listenable instrument sounds. It is one of the best sound-tracks I have ever heard on the Genesis. I think that about covers it for this entry. I will try to have another as soon as possible I am almost done with the first planet of the game so hopefully more interesting stuff will happen as I make progress. Talk to you then. Loading Complete!

In-Depth #59: Phantasy Star Series Event: Phantasy Star II #2

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I'm finding that there isn't too much to say when it comes to Phantasy Star II; it's a pretty basic J-RPG. The futuristic / sci-fi elements give it charm for sure but the gameplay is pretty rudimentary. You go from town to town, dungeon to dungeon solving problems or grabbing key items. The battle system is different in that you don't select moves the way you do in most J-RPGs. Usually you select all your moves with each character and then the battle plays out... in Phantasy Star II you have a button marked fight (FGHT) and a button marked orders (ORDR). If you click fight the battle starts and does not stop until either one side is defeated or you press a button to interrupt the battle which stops after the current round of turns. The button marked orders lets you change each characters moves, but is a time consuming process and whatever you set here will play out every turn when you hit fight. So on one hand it streamlines the fighting down to hitting a single option, but it also makes it quite the process to change up what you are doing... if say you want to use a technique (magic) only for one turn... you'd have to cancel the current fight command then go into the orders section and change that characters orders again.

Phantasy Star II is grindtastic. Just like the first game it will mostly be for money but in PSII you will need to keep your characters leveled and equipped with the latest gear as the monster difficulty in each new area spikes pretty drastically. The other thing that causes the grinding is when you get new party members they all start at level 1 which means you are forced to raise them up so they don't just die immediately. Then there are the dungeons... these are over head mazes of teleporters. With maps they are only difficult if you are under-prepared for the monsters which are quite a bit tougher than the ones outside the dungeon. I think that about covers most of the gameplay mechanics... just like a lot of old 8 and 16 bit RPGs this game suffers from old-school issues like all the menus closing after using magic or items and a lot of the spell names are meaningless... you just try and guess what the hell Foi, Sagen, Shinb, Zan, Hinas or Ryuka do because the game isn't going to tell you. That's fire elemental attack, damage biomonster, make biomonster run away, wind elemental attack, escape dungeon and return to the last town you saved at in case you were curious.

As I said that about covers it for this update. I am enjoying the game, let me make that clear but some of these old-school design choices are tough to battle through at times. The next update will hopefully arrive in the next few days but we'll see what happens. I'll talk to you then. Loading Complete!

In-Depth #58: Phantasy Star Series Event: Phantasy Star II #1

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This one is going to rather short because I have been up for quite a while but finally decided to sit down and write this. Phantasy Star II for the Sega Genesis takes place 1000 years after the first game and even starts with the main character having a dream about Alis fighting the final boss from the first game. Unfortunately the translations don't match up and Motavia somehow became Mota, but you do start in Paseo which does have the same name of the town in the first game. I'll talk more about the game's mechanics in the next update but soon after I finished the first game I discovered something while reading up on PSII... Phantasy Star II is supposedly a very difficult game. While I can't confirm this for myself just yet as I am only 3+ hours into the game its nothing maps of the complicated dungeons and a few extra level ups can't deal with so far. Again I'll talk more about the dungeons and stuff in the next update in a couple of days; what really spurred this update to be released more quickly was a certain scene that played out...

Let me set the stage. After raiding the hideout of "scoundrels" you discover a ransom note to a man named Darum calling for him to dish up 50,000 meseta for the "scoundrels" to release his daughter Teim who they are holding in the tower of Nido. After rescuing the girl and putting a veil on her to protect her identity you bring her back to her father who has turned to a life of crime to get the money for her release... then (SPOILERS!!) THIS HAPPENS. DAMN... I never expected to see that... That's pretty damn shocking for a 16-bit game from 1989.

Next update I will talk more about the game mechanics and the crazy dungeons but I really wanted to not only share that crazy moment but get the next update under my belt. I will talk to you in couple of days or so with that. Loading Complete!

Month-In-Review: March 2012

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Welcome to the third Month-In-Review of 2012. Today we are going to review March and I think it was a decent month. There were a couple of dry spells and I didn't quite make the 12+ posts a month rate, but there still is a lot to talk about with 7 posts this month. Go, go, go!

MARCH 4, 2012
I gave you my impressions of the new SSX game and Split Second. SSX doesn't quite capture the magic that SSX 3 did mostly because of crappy tracks filled with bottomless pits. Split Second is a arcade racer with potential but with its developer gone will never see that potential reached.

MARCH 8, 2012
This is one of the shortest posts that I have ever made on here. In one paragraph I talk about Mass Effect 3 multiplayer a bit.

MARCH 13, 2012
This was a set of three finished article quickies where I wrote one paragraph (give or take) for each game. I covered Kingdoms of Amalur, a fun game that over stays its welcome. SSX (2012), the lackluster single player and the dumb pit filled tracks killed my enthusiasm for playing. And lastly, Mass Effect 3, I wasn't able to say much, but its a really good game with some great story moments and a slightly confusing but thought provoking ending.

MARCH 14, 2012
(NLID #55) A bit of a controversial decision had to made as I was just playing Final Fantasy 13 because I thought I had to for whatever reason. Doing that was starting to weigh on me as I honest was not getting anything from the game. I didn't really like most of the characters, the story didn't really impress me and the combat while very interesting and challenging, I felt it didn't allow for broad enough strategies and boiled down in to: you're doing it right: you win easily; you're doing it wrong: you die in minutes. It's sad but I think I am done with the Final Fantasy series for future installments.

MARCH 16, 2012
This was the quick obligatory holy crap GameSpot and Giant Bomb are joining the same group reaction post. It was pretty sweet to hear and see Jeff Gerstmann get Gerstmann-gate off of his chest though. I also listed some of my anticipated games of 2012.

MARCH 17, 2012
(NLID #56) I begin the Phantasy Star Series Event where I plan to play through Phantasy Star 1 - 4. I needed to go old-school for a while to maybe recharge my modern game batteries, I don't know if it worked but I will complete this series challenge. Most importantly: TURN OFF THE SOUND if you play the first Phantasy Star.

MARCH 27, 2012
(NLID #57) This one got delayed for two reasons I was busy playing some other games and I wanted to delay the update because I knew I was edging closer to the end of the first Phantasy Star. Regardless, it is a really enjoyable little RPG but suffers from its retro game design: A poor translation with cryptic, hard to find story triggers, grinding for money to buy KEY ITEMS and those terrible 3-D corridor maze dungeons. I have moved on to Phantasy Star II and will update you on it soon.

There you have it, March 2012 in a nut-shell. I will attempt to have more NLID updates in April as I don't think there are too many new games coming out for a while. I will have the first Phantasy Star II update in a day or two as I need to get a bit further before I can write my first thoughts. I will talk to you soon. Here's to a great April. Loading Complete!

In-Depth #57: Phantasy Star Series Event: Phantasy Star #2 (Final)

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The first game in the Phantasy Star Series Event has been completed. There are a lot of positive things to say about 1988's Phantasy Star on the Sega Master System. It's a decently long game for its time as it took me nearly 15 hours even with a walkthrough and all the maps. The graphics are pretty nice and there are some nice use of cut-scenes for some of the key sequences. Phantasy Star is a really good game, but the biggest problem is that it is one of those unfortunate old-school games that just does not hold up here in 2012. There are just too many old-school design issues for the game to be playable the way it was intended; without a walkthrough and maps. Here are the few that I feel hold the game back the most.

1. Poor translation / Cryptic Story Triggers
This is the flaw that most holds back someone having fun with Phantasy Star. The translation ranges from okay to bad and I am pretty sure a lot of the clues to finding the triggers for progression were lost in translation. Of course even with hints these still might tough to find... I'd say without a walkthrough you'd be extremely lucky if you figured out what to do after leaving the first town. Secrets are nice and discovering them is rewarding but there is a point were your game is being held back by not giving the player enough information to progress.

2. Grinding
This is only on here because the game doesn't have that much grinding in it. You're probably not going to be grinding for levels too much... but you will be grinding for money. There are sections of the game where you have to grind for hours to get enough money to buy key items. 12000 for a key item and the best money dropping enemies drop between 135 and 405 (group)... that's a lot of fights.

3. Pseudo 3D Corridor Maze Dungeons
These things are beyond annoying. With and without a map it is really hard to get your bearings and even the provided compass is useless because compass directions are relative to the direction you are facing and if you are turned around are not going to help you. Bottom line: mazes suck.

I think that really covers it. Those elements just make the game tough to play at times... probably now (2012) and then (1988.) If you want to play it I recommend that you use a walkthrough and maps for those stupid maze dungeons and you should have a good time if you are in the mood for an old-school RPG. The next game is of course 1989's Phantasy Star II for the Sega Genesis. I will talk to you again as soon I feel I have played enough to warrant an update. I'll try to get that update in before Saturday's Month-In-Review. Talk to you soon. Does the breeze knows of the hardships they went through? Loading Complete!

In-Depth #56: Phantasy Star Series Event: Phantasy Star (1) #1

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Welcome to the first ever Series Event here on Now Loading In-Depth. Series Events are when I play through an entire series of games (or at least the ones I own) and give them all the NLID treatment. Plus, I think it will be fun to keep track of how a series evolves over the course of its games. As for this particular series event: ever since I got Sonic's Ultimate Genesis Collection which contains all of the Phantasy Star games (back when they were regular RPGs and not MMOs) I have always wanted to spend some time with Sega's RPG Franchise and see what it offered. For reference the games are Phantasy Star (Master System, 1987), Phantasy Star II (Genesis/Mega Drive, 1989), Phantasy Star III: Generations of Doom (Genesis/Mega Drive, 1990) and Phantasy Star IV (Genesis/Mega Drive, 1994). The first thing to remember is I have never played these games, or at least not enough to know the fine details about them. The second thing to remember is that I will be playing most of these games with a walkthrough at hand... I will not suffer getting lost or stuck because of old-school game design that doesn't have enough obvious story triggers. I think that is enough intro time to start discussing the first Phantasy Star game which appeared on the Master System in 1987.

First things first... for the love of whatever you believe in... turn off the sound and music. Mute the TV and play a CD, grab your iPod, use the 360's music player; whatever you've got employ it! Don't believe me? Fine, but suffer the consequences once the screeching modem monsters start attacking you. In objective and realistic terms that means the music and sound are terrible and you won't want to listen to them. The second thing is get a walkthrough if you are going to get anywhere in this game. To start the game: enter a certain house in the first town to get a rare pot, head to an undisclosed town nearby and attempt to buy "secrets" from a shop keeper three times to get a passport, then head to the space port to go to another planet to give the pot to a man in a shop there to get your first party member... yeah, you won't figure that out. There are some clues but not enough to actually properly point you in that direction you'd only figure that out if you exhausted all possibilities.

If the difficult to find plot triggers were not enough, here is another reason you will want a walk through: Pseudo 3-D corridor based maze dungeons. You do get a compass and it tells you what direction you are facing but that does you little good if you don't know what that relates to. Maps are a must! As for the battle system, it's pretty typical for the RPGs of this time pick attack or pick magic and bash on enemies until they die. The only oddity with Phantasy Star is that because of hardware limitations you'll only see one sprite to indicate which monster you are fighting and others are represented by a list in the top right of the screen. This leads to a small issue I have: there is no way to select which of the group of monsters to attack, you just attack random ones on the list and this makes it hard to focus your attacks when there 3, 4, 5 or even more are attacking you. The other small issue is that you have to open a treasure chest for your money after every fight which adds to the time to the bit of old-school grinding that you will be doing.

I am actually enjoying Phantasy Star contrary to all the complaints I might have... a lot of old games are simply like this and you just have to learn to accept all their little issues if you are going to play them in 2012. It's also nice to just go back to a simpler time where the only plot motivation for the characters is "kill the evil boss dude, because he is an evil boss dude". I have spent about 4 hours with the game and I don't really know how much is left to go... it will have at least 2 updates I know that much and the second will be up in a couple of days or so. I will talk to you soon. (Monster Name) had a treasure chest. Do you want to open it? Loading Complete!

Now Loading Update (03.16.2012) - The Truth, 2012 Games and NLID

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It was quite a busy day yesterday wasn't it? I wake up only to find that Giant Bomb is going to affiliate itself with GameSpot. What the ****!?!? Then I hear that Jeff Gerstmann is going to reveal all and finally bring closure to an indecent that not only screwed up the life of game critics everywhere but fractured the GameSpot community that was at its pinnacle back in late 2007. I was happy to see Jeff get this off his chest and even though Jeff's statement merely cleared up what we mostly already knew: mistakes were made and everyone paid for them. I think this collaboration can only mean good things for both communities . Giant Bomb gets the resources it needs to survive and with "Gerstmann-Gate" cleared up maybe some ex-GameSpotters will come back (there have been some rumblings). That's my thoughts on the subject.

2012 Anticipated Games
I figured this would be a good time to list my anticipated 2012 games. I'm going off the top of my head so I am probably going to miss a couple I'm sure.

MineCraft (XBLA) - Always wanted to play this but my PC would be eaten alive by the PC versions JAVA programming.

Borderlands 2 (X360) - I loved the first game, but it lacked polish in some areas that hopefully this sequel will fix.

Resident Evil 6 (X360) - I'm interested to see the changes to this sequel.

FarCry 3 (X360) - I am curious about this one to see if they fixed the issues I had with FarCry 2 (my most disappointing of 2008 winner).

Darksiders II (X360) - After playing the first game for NLID earlier this year I am interested in seeing how the sequel makes out.

As I said those are just some of the games off the top of my head, I am sure there are more or even new ones to add to the list as the year goes on.

Closing Out
That about covers it. Last thing though is the update on Now Loading In-Depth. I will be updating you on that tomorrow with NLID #56. I decided to go back to playing some old-school games and you might be surprised which one in the first "Series Event" of the year! I'll talk to you then. Loading Complete!

Now Loading In-Depth #55: Final Fantasy XIII #8 (Hiatus)

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Let me start out by saying this: I did not come to this decision easily. It wasn't keeping me up at night or anything but it was weighing on me quite a bit. I'll be honest, though this might already be obvious: I don't like Final Fantasy XIII and no matter how much of it I play I am pretty sure that won't change. I will admit the game grew on me a little as I neared Chapter 10, but I still have 20+ hours to go if I am going to reach the end and honestly I don't really care what happens. I'm just not invested in the game, the story or the characters... I don't have enough of an attachment to follow through. And a pretty fun battle system is just not enough to motivate me to play another 20+ hours of a game I don't really like.

I had this happen with Star Ocean 4: The Last Hope back in Alpha's Picks 2010. It was the reverse for that game as I kind of enjoyed the first 20 hours, then the story went sour and I couldn't stand it after that. This is a common problem for me and J-RPGs: it is very rare that I get through them without having to really persevere. In fact I have never done it with the Final Fantasy series and only a handful of J-RPGs have ever been beaten from the first play to the ending. Most of them required certain methods of focusing: Alpha's Picks, RPG Completion Challenges and more. Final Fantasy XIII is unfortunately one of those games I might never finish... it's on hiatus and if I ever get in the mood to play it again it can always come back. My lack of energy and enthusiasm to play it was holding back In-Depth which I still have big plans for. I apologize to anyone who was enjoying my FF 13 coverage but it was just not meant to be.

As for what's coming up next on Now Loading In-Depth, I have a few ideas but I want to think about my options before I commit to anything at this moment. You should know in a few days what I have in store for NLID. I also have started Final Fantasy XIII-2 and I don't want to jump to conclusions or imply anything but I spent over 4 hours playing it in just one sitting. I will probably have an impression article on that too in the near future. The NLID hiatus count is up to three now: Banjo-Tooie, Skies of Arcadia: Legends and now Final Fantasy XIII... I don't want to make a habit of doing this but I also don't want to get stuck on a game that I don't enjoy and kill In-Depth. I really do enjoy playing games and then updating you on them, which also helps me keep track of my own thoughts as I play them. I will talk to you soon... go easy on me please FF13 fans, I gave your game a good run... it's just not for me. Loading Complete!

Finished Article: 3 Finished Quickies

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Normally I write quite a bit for finished articles but today I'm not really in the mood to write a three super long finished articles so I am giving each game today a single paragraph to get my thoughts across. The three games that I am covering today are Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, SSX (2012) and Mass Effect 3 (spolier free). Time's a wastin' let's get to reviewing.

Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning
*sigh* Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning is a pretty enjoyable game... to a point. If you decide to do all the side quests then KoA could possibly last you for 100 hours... the thing is that the side quests are so repetitive and simplistic that you will get sick of doing them after the first 50 or 60. It's not much fun to travel the length of an area to kill 5 things and then walk all the way back to be rewarded with 2,500 gold when you have amassed over a million. In fact there is a long running "task" quest that has you find ten books strewn across the world and once you get the final book at basically the last area of the game you get.... 250 gold. The other thing is by the time I was nearing the middle of the game I started using the quick travel feature if just to avoid the easy as hell combat (and travel over the overly huge area maps); by the end of the game my armor bonuses regenerated my health faster than the amount of damage I was taking... that's right! I was practically invincible. Kingdoms of Amalur is a enjoyable game but it over-stays it welcome.

SSX
*sigh* The SSX reboot has tons of potential... but its darkly toned "Deadly Descents" past comes back to haunt what could have been a really fun game. You see after the first couple of tracks on each mountain range the tracks become so full of pits and cliffs that force you to use you crappy rewind feature the game becomes a chore. I really wish they would have made some more just fun to race and trick tracks instead of focusing on making them dangerous. I love the new trick system with the animation cancel and even the racing isn't too bad but the tracks just don't work as well as the tracks in SSX 3 which where specifically designed for either tricking or racing. The single player mode is throwaway but the integration of online stuff is really cool with RideNet keeping track of times and score against your friends and grabbing someones geotag is very satisfying. Unfortunately the lack of enjoyable tracks cut the life of SSX down considerably. Maybe SSX 2 gets tricky and returns to having fun tracks.

Mass Effect 3
*sigh* This is going to be a short one because I can't really talk about anything I experienced in fear of spoilers. I will say though while I was slightly disappointed with the ending it was more because it was so short and not because of whatever everyone else is up in arms about. I would have liked to have learned more about how the universe got on after I did what I did. Oh, well. I was also slightly disappointed in the fact that a lot of your choices from the first two games merely boiled down to numbers called "War Assets". Saved the Rachni in the first game? After a short mission featuring them they become a war asset that helps you get the "best" ending and you never see them again. Fan of a certain character in Mass Effect 2? They'll probably show up for one mission, make an excuse why they can't help you and then become a number in your war room computer. It's a little sad to see this happen but its obvious why... there would be too many characters and some of them have simply moved on to different roles. The game has some fun missions though and you'll want to see the ending(s) for yourself. As I mentioned in the last post the multiplayer is really fun and with a good group of players is a really amazing co-op experience.

There you have it two disappointing games and a really good one. With Mass Effect 3 finished it is time to return to Final Fantasy XIII and NLID in which I will have an update as soon as I make some progress. Talk to you later. Loading Complete!

Now Loading Update (03.08.2012) - One Paragraph Update

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This is going to a short one so I can't waste time. I'm busy playing Mass Effect 3 right now so I just wanted to give a quick update on what I have been doing the last 4 days. I was going to give impressions of Mass Effect 3 but a funny thing happened... I am hopelessly addicted to the game's *gasp* multiplayer mode. You play 11 waves of enemies, waves 3, 7, and 10 have objectives you must complete. The objective waves hand out credits, the credits are used to buy packs of cards which have random supplies (one use items such as Medi-gel, spare ammo, etc.), weapon attachments and/or weapons/character races for the different classes. It's an addicting method: you earn XP during matches to level your skill tree, you earn credits for packs of cards and do it all again, especially if you don't get that random rare weapon or character card you are looking for. I am going to work on the single player too, right after I finish this post in fact, so don't worry about that. Once I have enough time played in the main story I will post my impressions; spoiler free of course. Talk to you later. Loading Complete!