Pokemon White


Pokemon White Box
Date Completed: November 21st, 2012

I’ve been an on-again/off-again Pokemon fan for a long while.  I really got into the 4th generation games (Platinum / SoulSilver) and I was feeling pretty burned out on the series when the 5th generation was announced.  I bought it anyway since Nintendo was offering a special Victini Pokemon as an early buyer bonus and there would be no other way to legitimately catch a Victini.  I bought the game, caught my Victini and shelved the game until recently when I needed something to play on a long plane ride to Iceland (About a 7 hour plane ride, worth a visit).

Pokemon Black and White officially introduce the 5th generation of Pokemon gaming.  The Pokemon formula hasn’t changed since the beginning of the series and Pokemon White is no exception.  You run around the world catching Pokemon and participating in morally ambiguous ‘dog fights’ to increase your level and build your bond with your Pokemon.  In real life you might be called a sociopath and be placed in an institution (either correctional or mental) but in the context of a video game world this turns out to be a lot of fun.  The biggest surprise this game has to offer is that the main plot point actually examines the morality of capturing Pokemon and battling them against each other.  I wouldn’t say the conclusion reached is especially convincing but it does add a bit of complexity to a plot that otherwise is targeted towards a younger audience.

The game starts off normally.  You pick a starter Pokemon of Water, Plant or Fire type and then set off to collet the 8 gym badges so you can challenge the Pokemon League.  There are 17 types of Pokemon and battle is played like the world’s biggest game of rock-paper-scissors.  Fire beats plant, plant beats ground, ground beats electric and so on.

Pokemon White Starter Pokemon

Oshawott, Snivy, Tepig

Several graphical improvements such as partially 3D environments have been included in the game but for the most part this game looks like the previous generation.  Items, moves and the menu system are largely unchanged.  There is a new ‘dream world’ your Pokemon can access that requires online connectivity and (like most Nintendo online features) is a pain in the butt to use.

A 3D street view

I’ve already mentioned that the game is targeted towards a younger audience.  Dialog can be simplistic and explanations drag on far longer than they need to.  There also seemed to be an issue with the random encounter rate.  Some parts of the game seemed to have an enemy encounter EVERY SINGLE STEP.  Eventually I gave up and used Pokemon repellant so I’d be able to move around.  This left my team a bit underpowered at the end of the game but I was much less likely to smash my DS while playing.

I enjoyed the game but the whole Pokemon genre is getting pretty stale.  There are now 649 Pokemon that can be caught several of which (such as my Victini) are only available through special events and are otherwise unavailable.  Nintendo has been irritatingly stingy about how often they release event-only Pokemon, especially outside of Japan.  It’s all a transparent ploy on Nintendo’s part to extort gamers into buying more Pokemon games and attending Nintendo events.  The worst part is how easily it works on me.  I own a game from every Pokemon generation and I’ve picked up (almost) every event Pokemon for the last several years.  I’m pretty sure my wife thinks I’m a loser but thankfully she rarely tells me to my face anymore.

Pros

  • 156 new Pokemon!
  • Improved game engine.

Cons

  • Random encounter rate seemed unusually high.
Is it fun: Yes
Score: 7/10
Length:  ~31 hours
System: Nintendo DS
Genre: RPG
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Final Fantasy : The 4 Heroes of Light

Date Completed: January 8th, 2012

I’m a Final Fantasy fan.  I’ve played every game including Final Fantasy XIII and (to my eternal shame) Final Fantasy X-2. Like many fans I have long felt that the series has been in a long gradual decline.  Unlike most fans I actually went through the exercise of graphing the Metacritic scores over time and proving beyond a doubt that the series is transmuting into absolute crap.  Final Fantasy : The 4 Heroes of Light was marketed as a return to the traditional formula that people actually enjoyed playing.

After starting up the game the theme song starts playing.  It’s a suitably epic track that I found myself whistling for several days after starting the game.  The poor audio synthesizer of the DS can’t properly do it justice but the soundtrack composition of this game is the most memorable since Final Fantasy VII.  It may not have quite the variety of tracks that previous titles have had but the quality is a vast improvement.

After the normal start up sequences you take your first steps in the world.  The graphics of this game jumped out at me.  The way that color and light are used in the different environments in the game is almost impressionistic.  Wind blowing over the wheat fields creates a shiny ripple adding movement to usually static backgrounds.  This stands out as one of the best looking Final Fantasy titles I’ve seen on the DS. 

Wind in the wheat fields.

 This game wasn’t without it’s irritations.  They were mostly minor, but I will list them here:

  1. You are unable to target specific enemies or allies in combat.  You just have to hope you attack (or heal) the target you want.
  2. For the first half of the game the 4 Heroes split up and you’re following several little sub-plots all over the world.
  3. Several dungeons must be repeated.  They have new enemies but no new treasure.

This game uses a job system called ‘Crowns’.  You wear a crown that gives you access to a specific role and role specific abilities.  Since you spend the first half of the game with your team scattered to the wind I found that I wasn’t really able to test out the different crowns.  I had to choose a crown that gave my character a decent hit point bonus (usually a warrior crown).  After I’d unlocked most of the crowns and the heroes had all grouped back together again I picked out a balanced team and never changed crowns again.  There are 28 crowns in the game but over the entire course of the game I only used about 8 of them.

There is extra content available in the game but it isn’t fun at all.  It takes the form of four separate towers of 100 randomly generated floors.  I found these buildings to be extremely frustrating and I didn’t finish any of them.  The only benefit to climbing them is to collect some new equipment and get some of the optional crowns.  I decided the frustration wasn’t worth the effort.

Overall I enjoyed the game but this is only an echo of once made Final Fantasy great and isn’t a great game in itself.  Even so, it’s worth a look if you’re a fan, or new to the series.

Pros

  • ‘Traditional’ Final Fantasy Experience
  • Quality Soundtrack
  • Interesting Artistic Style

Cons

  • Repeating Dungeons
    Is it fun: Yes
    Score: 7/10
    Length:  ~30 hours
    System: Nintendo DS
    Genre: RPG

    Kingdom Hearts : 358/2 Days

    Date Completed: September 24th, 2011

    HOLY BORING GAME BAT MAN!!!  As a Final Fantasy collector and Disney fan I was compelled to pick this game up shortly after launch but I did not finish it until now, over two years later.  I’ve been playing it off and on since 2009 but the game is so horribly boring that I only played it when I didn’t have any other options.  Sometimes when I did have other options I chose to sit alone in the dark and cry rather than play this game.  I finally got far enough into the game that I was able to power through the ending so that I could retire the title.  That joyous day has finally come.

    Kingdom Hearts 358 / 2 Days starts off with a series of tutorials designed to make the player hate the game.  Each of the tutorials is a mission that the player must embark on.  These missions can not be skipped and all teach your completely trivial actions (such as how to jump, how to move) that you could find out in a matter of seconds by mashing buttons or reading the manual (I know, no one does that).  After wasting several hours going through tutorials you can finally start on the real missions of the game.

    The game is entirely mission driven.  You choose a mission from a menu and then you are sent to one of the Kingdom Hearts worlds to fulfill some objective.  You may be killing a certain number of enemies, breaking pots, exploring, whatever.  You don’t have full access to the worlds you visit during the missions.  Areas that are not relevant to your current mission are blocked off so there is no open exploration.  After completing your mission you ‘RTC’ or ‘Return to the Castle’. 

    Between missions you can save and change equipment.  Changing equipment involves you putting equipment panels on your panel grid.  As you progress through the missions you unlock additional spots for the panel grid.  You are required to update the panel grid to get access to abilities as well as level up.  Your level is calculated based on the number of ‘level up’ panels you’ve positioned on your panel grid.  To make things even more fun you can link certain panels together to increase their power.  You can create and save multiple configuration of panels to take with you in the missions but since you have to update your panels after each mission I never bothered to do this.  I found the panel system to be unnecessary busy work and I avoided using it any more than I had to.

    Camera control is predictably awful.  You can lock on to enemies but the camera never seems to be facing the enemy you’re locked on to.  Worse, once you get locked on you can never look at anything else.  If you’re not locked on to something your chances of hitting it in battle are pretty slim.  Combat missions were always miserable time.

    You can only save between missions and there is no quick-save feature.  Often there are cut-scenes or other dialog heavy interactions between missions or during missions that can extend your game play time beyond what you intended on spending.  After getting 20 minutes into a mission with no end in sight I often had to make the choice – Force myself to complete the mission or put the game on the shelf for another three months when I can bear to go through all of this again.  More often than not not I chose to quit playing the game.

    So, what about the selling point of the Kingdom Hearts series?  Disney characters and Final Fantasy characters all mixed together?  There are no Final Fantasy characters that I can remember and the Disney characters only appear in passing.  You won’t be interacting with them much at all.  LAME.

    Not only do I hate this game, but this game has burned me out on the Kingdom Hearts series completely.  I still have two more games in the series backlogged and I have no desire whatsoever to start on them at all.

    Pros:
     -None-

    Cons:
    * Boring game play mechanics
    * No exploration
    * Panel System
    * Camera Control
    * Awful Story
    * No Quick-Save

    Is it fun: No
    Score: 1/10
    Length:  ~30 hours
    System: Nintendo DS
    Genre: Action/RPG

    Pokemon SoulSilver

    When I first started playing Pokemon titles 10 years ago I was surprised to find that they are actually RPG games.  Not only is it an RPG, but it has the largest cast of playable characters of any RPG I know of.  You get a party of 6 Pokemon which you can choose out of a total of 493 (and growing) available creatures.  Most Final Fantasy titles these days give you a party of 3 and maybe a total cast of 10 characters so Pokemon really has the advantage.

    Other than the giant cast of character the game plays like any standard RPG.  You wander around knocking out Pokemon to level up and you learn newer more powerful moves.  Your Pokemon ‘evolve’ into more powerful forms which is roughly equivalent to a ‘Class Upgrade’ that is common in many other RPG’s.

    The storyline of this game is pretty standard for Pokemon.  You are a trainer and you want to become the best trainer of them all.  That means beating everyone else in the game.  There is also a sub-plot going on where an evil gang of Pokemon thieves (Team Rocket) is trying to take over the world and you are instrumental in seeing to their downfall.

    Morally, making animals battle for your own perverse enjoyment is wrong but the game does a pretty heavy handed job of trying to talk about love and respect so in the end you don’t feel like you’ve spent the day betting on dog fights.

    The real killer feature of this game is the GIZMO.  The game is packaged with a pedometer called a ‘Pokewalker’ which you can transfer your Pokemon to and level them up when you’re on the road.  You are given an incentive to exercise, and while many people will just put their pedometer in the clothes dryer and call it good I’ve been stubbornly unlocking everything the hard way – by walking around.

    Overall the game is fun, although not quite as good as Pokemon Diamond/Pearl/Platinum.  The story is a bit thinner and I breezed through it pretty quickly.  If you want to catch all of the available Pokemon you’ll be busy for most of the rest of your life but I managed to finish this game in about 25 hours.

    Pros
    * Packaged with a pedometer peripheral.
    Cons
    * Not much of a plot.
    Is it fun: Yes
    Score: 6/10
    Length:  25+++ hours
    System: DS
    Genre: RPG