Parasite Eve (Playstation)

So, finally, I’m talking about games I’ve beaten once again. Kinda sad that it’s been literally months since I did an entry like that, isn’t it? Seems like its either too hot, too cold, or I’m just not interested. That’s just how it goes around here, my interests flip-flop.

But I’m happy to say my latest conquest was actually a worthwhile game. Parasite Eve for the PSOne was probably Squaresoft’s last good game. I say “probably” because I kinda stopped following the company during the Playstation One years. On the Super Nintendo, Square’s name was synonymous with quality, but that didn’t quite hold true in future console generations. In fact one Square game, Final Fantasy VIII, was so bad it very nearly ruined the entire RPG genre for me. I’m glad that didn’t stick.

Getting back to Parasite Eve, the Happy Video Game Nerd already did an excellent overview of the entire trilogy, so there’s not much I can add, but I’ll try anyway. The reason I even played this game, considering my history with Square, was because I happened to find it in Goodwill for two bucks. Both discs only had minor blemishes, the case and manual were intact, and the only thing missing was the bonus disc of game demos, which for two bucks, I could forgive the loss.

After putting it into my Playstation, I immediately was drawn in by the well-paced, no-nonsense storytelling, with dialogue that gets right to the point, but more importantly I liked the gameplay. Happy Nerd’s “It’s like Chrono Trigger meets Resident Evil” comparison is spot-on, because you only ever fight one battle per screen and its usually obvious where its gonna pop up. Sometimes you can actually identify what I call the “trigger zone” and carefully step around it, and sometimes it just doesn’t happen anyway.

But even if you do get into battle, its fun to fight, because it really does play more like an action game (in fact, Parasite Eve basically justifes the existence of the term “action-RPG”). Getting hit, for example, is based on whether the enemy’s attack makes contact with Aya’s sprite, not based on random die rolls like in most RPGs, and since you have free movement that means you can actually get good at dodging. And let me tell you, one thing I normally hate RPGs is how they give you little or no control over your fate in battle, so a system like this is very welcome. When your AT bar fills up, you can choose to do an action (and later in the game you might find an upgrade that allows two actions per turn).

As for magic, here you have “Parasite Energy” and its basically unlimited–your Parasite Energy refills slowly over time. If you’re having visions of Eternal Darkness and its similar mechanic though, I have to warn you: Parasite Eve is nowhere near as broken and exploitable as Eternal Darkness was, largely because of three things: One, you only get two attack spells and they both require ALL your Parasite Energy, and using them leaves you stunned for a second once they terminate. Two, the more powerful healing and support spells take a large amount of P.E. And three, your bar refills slowly. It seems to refill faster if you keep using your action bar, something I particularly noticed in one fight where I just ran around dodging an enemy until I had half my Parasite Energy back.

You see, there’s an element of strategy here too. When you shoot, your locked in place until Aya’s done shooting. This means sometimes its better to wait until you dodge an enemy attack, then blast them while they’re winding down. However, casting a spell pauses the action until the spell is finished, which can be a lifesaver in some situations. Also, here’s a PROTIP, because I honest to God did not figure this out until the final boss, but: Just because you have a gun that can fire three bullets at a time, doesn’t mean you’re forced to. If you don’t want to fire all three, just assign the ones you do want to fire and then press Square. Likewise, when you get that upgrade that allows you to issue two commands in one turn, if you ever want to skip the second command, again, press the Square button. Trust me, knowing this made the game much easier.

There is one element I questioned initially, and it was the “Tools” system. Okay, basically you get these “Tools” that can take either perks or bonus points from any weapon or armor that has them, and give them to another weapon or armor, destroying the original in the process (unless you use a “Super Tool”, which moves the points or perk without destroying the source). Each Tool or Super Tool can only be used once, but by scrapping old equipment and giving its points (which do accumulate) to the new, you can build up the gun and armor of your choice to be the strongest weapon in the game.

The reason I questioned this system was, simply, because like most RPGs, you’re constantly getting new equipment that is better than what you had before. At times, I wondered if I was making a mistake by putting all these points into one gun when I knew something better could be just around the corner. However, now that I’ve beaten the game, I can confirm that for the most part, there isn’t a wrong move. If there’s a gun or a vest you really like, go ahead and build it up. Chances are you’ll still be able to beat the game with it.

PROTIP: So far as I know, there’s only one area in the game where you can get Tools as a random drop, and that’s on the 3rd Day, when [SPOILER] monsters invade the police station. I noticed some monsters there drop Tools, and even though I didn’t do this, it might be worthwhile to grind for tools so you can scrap all the spare gear you have and make a super-badass weapon and armor combination.

Okay, so do I have anything to criticize about this game?

Well… there was one thing. When opening doors, chests, lockers etc. positioning is super-picky. Sometimes I thought a door or chest was un-openable but no, I was actually just standing one micropixel away from where the game wants me to stand. I wouldn’t be surprised if I missed a lot of items that should have been obvious just because of this picky positioning (The Happy Nerd points out a case of this in his review).

Okay, so was there anything I HATED about Parasite Eve?

Yes, there was.

It’s one of those mistakes that Squaresoft kept making well into the PS2 days.

My old enemy.

UNSKIPPABLE CUTSCENES!!!

Let me tell you about the final boss. There’s a save point, and then you go through a door, sit through a cutscene with some Full-Motion Video sprinkled in for good measure, then the fight starts, and its four stages, and if you die at any stage, its back to that save point…

… And you have to sit through the cutscene again. There is literally no way to skip it.

And the final boss is kinda tricky, it might take some experimenting before you finally figure out the trick to dodging its attacks and taking it down. It took me about three times, and each time I failed, I had to sit through that goddamn cutscene.

Oh, but then the game pulls one last trick. It doesn’t end with the defeat of the boss, see: After all four forms, the game goes into a Clock Tower-like segment where you’re running from a monster and have to do one last thing, and if it catches you, you instantly die. The first time, I got caught by it because I tried to go back to that save point, only to be told it no longer worked, and really I didn’t properly understand the shift the game took–I assumed that if it caught up, I’d simply have to fight it in a battle screen like every other monster.

So I died…

And I had to sit through that goddamn cutscene again…

Really, it says something about how good the game was that I kept playing it. If it had been just about any other game, this bullshit would’ve been enough for me to just call it quits and be done.

Like the Happy Nerd, I only played through the main game, and felt the main ending was satisfying enough. I went to the EX game and took a glance at the Chrysler building but didn’t bother to complete it. Not yet anyway, but maybe someday.

PROTIP: I want to point out something the Happy Nerd didn’t properly convey: He made it sound like the EX Game was the Chrysler building, but its actually more like a New Game Plus because you play through the main story again, just you get to carry over a weapon and an armor that Wayne engraved your name on when the choice was offered (he also still has whatever you left in storage with him, except for plot-relevant items like keys), and Aya starts with 3000 bonus points, but is back to being a level one character. I think the Chrysler building might be easier if, instead of tackling it immediately, you instead replay the story until Day 5, by which point Aya will be more built up.

… By the way, while I’m not unaware of the irony of doing a post immediately after Christmas about a game that takes place ON Christmas, I by no means planned this. Even so, I hope you all had a good Santa Day!

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Currently Playing: Shining Force II and Ogre Battle

Man, I almost hate doing this entry. It feels like such a cop-out. But the whole “record games you beat” thing hasn’t been working well lately.

I have something to confess. I have seasonal mood disorder. Not only do my tastes change with the seasons, but so does my temperament. Over summer, I basically had little patience for–or interest in–playing video games. It was made worse by the fact that I was mostly attempting super-hard arcade games, which I’m not very good at. This is the reason I barely post new entries these days. That, and experimenting with video reviews.

Anyway, now I’m into RPGs and Strategy Games, which led to me attempting a pair of Strategy-RPGs: Shining Force II for the Sega Genesis, and Ogre Battle for the Playstation. Despite being the same genre, the two couldn’t be more different.

Shining Force II opening thoughts

I actually beat Shining Force 1 last year, before I started doing this blog. For those who have never played it… imagine a 2D version of Final Fantasy Tactics and you’ve basically got the idea. Well, that, and Shining Force also has overworld and town exploration like a real RPG (if I remember correctly, Final Fantasy Tactics reduced towns and the overworld to just menus and hotspots on a map). People often claim that the Shining Force series was basically Sega’s answer to Nintendo’s Fire Emblem, but in fact series creator Hiroyuki Takahashi denies that he was inspired by Fire Emblem in any way, shape, or form.

Now, here’s a little bit of personal history. I first got into RPGs in 1994, and for awhile I thought that all the good RPGs were on the SNES. Shining Force was the series that showed me how wrong I was. Back then, there was no internet and Fire Emblem was still a Japan-only franchise, so there was literally nothing like it on a Nintendo console at the time. And frankly, I loved it. I never liked how RPG battles tend to lack strategy and depth and are often just button-mashing, so naturally I loved Shining Force’s more strategy game-like battles. The battles, by the way, are not random–they’re set up in advance, and in most cases once you’ve cleared a field, its clear for good. It is possible to grind (if you for some reason leave the battle without killing everything, the monsters all come back), but generally this isn’t necessary.

There is one thing about experience though: Characters get EXP whenever they do anything in battle other than simply moving. So if a cleric casts a heal spell, she gets EXP (the amount depends on how much HP she restored). Any character uses an item? That gets EXP too (usually not much). But the majority of EXP gains, of course, come from combat-related options. Characters get EXP based on how much they hurt an enemy… and they get a nifty bonus amount if they deliver the killing blow. Unlike most RPGs, in Shining Force characters level up every 100 EXP, but how much an enemy is worth is directly proportional to how strong they are–so if you do grind, eventually the monsters in the local area become worthless. That’s actually a pretty good system, and its actually not that hard to ensure everyone gets their fair share of EXP bonuses. One tactic for weaker characters (like mages) for example, is to weaken a tough enemy with your powerful fighters, and then let the mage or cleric or other weak character kill it off when it only has one or two hit points left.

Shining Force I was awesome, the only issue I had at first being it’s soundtrack… for some reason it’s rather low-key, and seems to always exhude darkness and danger. Just for example (skip to the 15 second mark). But the more I played the game, the more this soundtrack grew on me. In fact the reason I didn’t play the sequel immediately was because I found it’s more exciting, upbeat music to genuinely be kind of jarring. Hear for yourself (skip to about the 40 second mark). That said, both games have excellent soundtracks.

So far, Shining Force II is basically a “more of the same” type sequel, which in this case is a good deal, because I don’t think Sega could’ve improved on the original–they pretty much got the gameplay right the first time. One thing I particularly love is how Shining Force handles movement–most strategy-RPGs give you movement points, Shining Force just says “here, you can move around inside this area. Just tell me when you’ve decided where you wanna place your character.” Also, the battle animations rock. Seriously, I love those things.

I have, so far, only one complaint, and this only goes for the second game:

Why the flying flip do I have a computer-controlled character in my party?

To be fair, Peter the Phoenix isn’t that annoying and can actually be quite helpful sometimes. It just bothers me when I have an enemy down to one hit point, and I’m waiting for one of my weaker characters to get a turn so they can get the experience… only for Peter to swoop in and kill the guy himself. Again, though, this isn’t all that annoying, and I can work around it.

Ogre Battle thoughts

Unlike Shining Force, I never played Ogre Battle as a kid–although I had read about it in Nintendo Power (the original version was a Super Nintendo game). It was a game I had always been curious about, but never got to try. Then, about a year or two ago, I finally decided to just buy the game on eBay, opting for the Playstation “Limited Edition” (which was both cheaper and more common than the SNES version).

Ogre Battle is… it’s sort of a real-time strategy game, except it thinks its an RPG. You have units, but each unit is actually a party of characters. You can give orders by clicking on a unit, which brings up a menu (and yes, the game pauses while you’re in menus) with choices, usually just “move.” On each map, there are towns to liberate, and the goal is to attack the enemy boss’ castle. There are, however, secrets in each map that are discovered by sending a unit walking over them–these can include hidden towns, buried treasure, or hidden characters. Ogre Battle supposedly has 13 (or 15, depending on who you ask) endings, which are based on factors like your alignment, reputation, finding certain items, recruiting certain characters, how big your dick is, whether or not you can recite the multiplication tables while standing on your head, and so on and so forth.

The game is really not as complicated as I’m probably making it sound. In fact, it’s actually pretty simplistic… almost to the point of being boring, if I’m completely honest. That’s actually why I haven’t beaten it yet despite owning it for two years. At first, it was interesting enough to keep playing, but Ogre Battle got old kinda quick, and I wound up putting it away. I almost sold my copy, but I caught myself rationalizing and making plans about getting another copy later, which made me realize I really wanted to keep the game after all.

But about the “boring” aspects. See, part of the problem is that you don’t really have a lot of control. You can customize units, you can deploy units, you can shop or recruit in certain locations, and you can tell your units where to go… and that’s about it. When your dudes get close to an enemy unit, it goes into a separate battle screen. But see, the battles are handled Phantasy Star II-style: your units attack all on their own, and all you can do is interrupt to make suggestions, basically. The only direct involvement you have is that you can use a magical Tarot card to attack your enemy. Otherwise, you’re basically just watching the computer fight. I’d rather have a more hands-on approach.

Other than that, the only other thing I have a beef with is that Ogre Battle seems to almost require a strategy guide to understand some of its aspects–for example, I played through six chapters and my reputation never either raised or lowered (except when I drew certain tarot cards), and I could never figure out what I was doing wrong. Likewise, there’s supposed to be an “alignment” rating (there is, but its in the stat sheets rather than on the OSD like reputation is) that can raise and lower, but again I’ve never seen anything significantly affect it. But then, I am more or less an Ogre Battle newbie and perhaps if I had been a fan from way back, I’d know this game’s depths. So I’m willing to overlook these flaws and give it a chance.

One last thing…. for whatever the flip reason, this game is subtitled Episode Five: March of the Black Queen. There never was an episode four, three, two or one. And honestly, the story is pretty straightforward, so I don’t see much room for prequels anyway. I guess the creator just made that the title for shits and giggles. (By the way, “Episode Six” is Ogre Battle for Nintendo 64, and “Episode Seven” is Tactics Ogre, originally a SNES game).