Monday, February 4, 2013

Gameboy DS

I know that I'd written about playing rental video games on a PS2 at one of the internet cafes near the apartment, and that I'd said that it was an easy way to get the urge out of my system if I needed to, at 480 yen for the first hour, up to 1000 yen for 3 hours. But, with my schedule, it's hard to get three consecutive hours outside to do much of anything these days. So, while I was in the U.S. for Christmas this time, I made a point of picking up a used Gameboy DS Lite and grabbing 3 games when I had the chance. In part, I wanted a Gameboy because I'd seen a number of very cheap games for it at Book Off, and the fact that I didn't want to spend much on the player. I got a Lite because of the promise of being able to play the older GBA games through the legacy port. Turns out, though, after returning to Japan, that the games I'd seen at Book Off were much more limited in genre than I'd realized. I like Japanese RPGs, and there's nothing in that at the Book Off near me. I do have a second Book Off within walking distance (near the San El building) that I can visit, and I think the game store in the basement of Best Denki might have some used games as well. So, it's not a complete loss. Otherwise, I can try searching for stuff via the net mail order.

The Game Stop I got the DS from didn't have that much of a selection either, and the prices were still in the $12-$19 range. There were three games that looked worth trying - A Zelda sequel, a Dragon Quest sequel and a Golden Sun sequel. I've played the original Zelda twice (first on the Super Famicom, and then on the Gameboy), so I was looking forward to that. I'd played an earlier DQ on the Famicom, but was willing to try this sequel anyway. Finally, the shop clerk recommended Golden Sun, but only after playing the 2 prequels.

If you've played any of the Zelda games, you pretty much know what to expect in the Phantom Hour Glass. Zelda and his friend Tetra are on a ship on the high seas when Tetra gets kidnapped. Zelda then has to unlock various tools (shovel, bow and arrows, grappling hook, etc.) and solve various puzzles in order to advance the story. The graphics are good, and the puzzles are very challenging (even if you use one of the online walkthroughs). The ending is a bit abrupt and is obviously set up to lead into the next sequel. I didn't bother with some of the side mini-games, like fishing and the maze race, because the prizes weren't useful for beating the game itself. There's a lot of emphasis on getting a ship and then outfitting it with the best parts to increase its defense/stamina, but there's little reason to spend a lot of time on that since you can beat the game fairly easily with just the bare minimum number of parts. It was a fun game, but there's no real replay value, and you can't keep playing after you beat it. I just wish that, because of all the fighting you have to do over and over again, that Link would get experience points and become stronger over time (instead of just finding more hearts to extend his life in battles). Recommended if you like RPG puzzle games.

The second one was Dragon Quest IX, Sentinels of the Starry Skies. I've never really liked the DQ engine, and IX didn't fail to disappoint me, either. There's no real-time combat system, and you can't try running around to avoid getting hit or attacking an enemy from the back, where they're the weakest. What I really dislike is the experience points system. You go from one town to the next, and the monsters get tougher and deliver more damage, but the amount of XP and gold remains the same, or sometimes even goes down. You need 20,000 gp to get one good piece of armor for one of the 4 characters, and you're only getting 150 gp per battle. possibly up to 500 gp, in the places that pay off the best. To go from level 40 to 41 requires something like 35,000 XP, and the battles are averaging 800 XP per character.  Sure, there are certain monsters that pay off big, like the liquid metal slimes, but they show up in one dungeon, they show up rarely, and they have a 75%+ chance of fleeing in the middle of the battle. On top of this, the characters start at level 1 each for the first 6 vocations (warrior, priest, mage, etc.) plus the next 6 if you choose to unlock them, and all 12 vocations have an upper limit of level 99. That's a HUGE amount of churning to level up everyone all the time and it's not particularly necessary. I beat the main story boss with a Minstrel, a Warrior, a Priest and a Mage, average level of 41, and only a couple vocation changes each for building up skill points. (As the characters level up in each vocation, they get skill points that can be used for improving weapon or job skills, which can be used by the same character after changing jobs. Things like a 2% increase in chance of blocking attacks with a shield, or being able to attack twice in one round at a cost of 4 magic points per time.) It is nice that you can keep playing after defeating the story boss, but all you're really doing is dungeon crawling to find legacy bosses to fight, and completing minor side quests. As long as you like DQ, there's replay value. But for me, it turned into a major drag after a few hours and I put the game away. I found the story ending to be too abrupt and trite, and the monster and spell names felt like the localizers were trying too hard to be cutesy. I don't recommend DQ IX to anyone that likes Final Fantasy or Chrono Trigger.

The third game is Golden Sun - Dark Dawn. I'd been playing the first two games kind of non-stop for 2 weeks, and I was falling behind in some of the work that I needed to do, as well as writing for this blog. So, as soon as I finished DQ IX, I put the player away to take a break from it. However, I suddenly had a few minutes where I couldn't do anything else, so I pulled the player back out and plugged in Golden Dawn. The intro was so slow and drawn out that it took about 15 minutes to sit through, and during it all there was no save option so I wouldn't have to sit through it again when I turned the machine off. Finally, the game pretended to give me a chance to actually play it (pretended, in that it's still in the middle of the intro to game play) and when it let me save, I did so and put the machine away again. This means that I have a slight idea of the plot, but I haven't seen any of the monsters or gotten into a battle yet. I hope to get some real work done, and maybe I'll come back to it in a few weeks when I can justify playing games again.

The DS Lite was $75 used, which is better than what I'd pay in Japan. Overall, I like it, especially with games that take full use of its features, such as Zelda. (In Hourglass, you blow into the microphone to blow out torches in the game, use the stylus for movement control and marking notes on maps, and at one point you have to close it so a mark drawn on one of the two screens matches up with a trigger point on the second screen.) The only thing I don't like is that there's very little warning when you're running low on power (the green power LED stops showing green, but that's it). The built-in rechargeable battery can run up to 10 hours, then it simply turns off in mid-game. You can plug the charger in if you get worried about how much charge is left, but if you're killing time on the train, you either stop playing when you think you're getting close, or you keep playing and lose your game from the last save. This is definitely a preventable design flaw. And, I'm using it as an excuse to not waste as much time playing games as I could...

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