A couple weeks ago, Atlus sent out an email stating that they were repressing copies of Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 2 for the PS1 in 'ultra-limited quantities' for sale on Amazon.com and Amazon.ca only. Needless to say, as soon as I got the email, I went and bought one from Amazon without thinking twice.
After checking out, I thought about it - how cool is this? For a company to reprint a two-generation old game is pretty awesome, even if most people think they did it to capitalize on their rabid fanboys needing a sealed copy of the game. Personally, I applaud any company that knows how valuable their old properties are and tries to make their fanbase happy.
When the game arrived, I was home sick and got a chance to play it, although, I have only put about three hours into it total. Even with such limited playtime, I can honestly say the the game is fantastic.
The Persona system seems pretty much the same as Persona 3 and the battle command system is streamlined and simple to use, if only a bit boring as you set your battle commands and just watch your party do their thing, round after round until they all die or win. Honestly, I like it. It's simple and fun, requiring little in the way of micro-management, but its there if you need it.
But the real draw for me at the moment is a mix of its tremendous story and fantastic characters and the world where the game is set. It's set during the present day, incorporating a heady mix of surrealism with it's rumor system, where you spread rumors and they can become true(!), evidenced early on in a resturant where an npc makes a phone call declaring that the resturant you are in is selling firearms (when, at that moment, they aren't) and a cut-scene later, a waiter has a silver case open in front of you, letting you know they have anything you need. Now that's cool.
I look forward to getting some time in on this in the comming weeks, but as Persona 4 hits shelves next week, I have a feeling I may be waiting until after the new year to get into this one fully.
The game I did put a bunch of time into while I was confined to quarters, was Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne, a PS2 offering that had a reprint last year and I bought it, but never played it under the deluge of other titles I have been playing.
I dove into it and put about 30 hours into it in three days, trudging through the tough parts, committing fully to it and after 32 hours, I'm giving up.
It's not a bad title by any means, but one that requires you to A) be very into collecting and B) like to have your a** handed to you by every boss you encounter, multiple times before you have any idea how to defeat them.
The collect-a-thon element comes from gaining monsters for your party, which have certain attacks, strenghts and weaknesses and when fused together correctly, can be a reall asset to your party when it comes to boss battles. Unfortuntely, you have no idea what you need until you fight each boss.
Each boss requires a very strict strategy of buffs, debuffs and attack methods, which can be fun to figure out early on, but later, bosses will pretty much one-shot your party if you aren't sure which strategy to employ. Very frusterating, especially when you are sick and cranky.
Then the collecting comes in big time, as you need to find a bunch of monsters and convince them to join you, which can take a good amount of time, and then dive into the fusing system, trying out different combinations to find those which work best for your current strategy. Like Persona 3, you will have a few keepers in your party that have a fair variety of spells, but you need to adopt new menbers constantly, collecting them often, which kind of takes you out of the experience and can be a very boring trudgefest, fusing them, leveling them up and trying them out on the bosses before you have a good idea if they will work.
For all the headaches that the boss battles gave me, the game does have some standout points, like the characters and storyline, which are both well-thoughtout and exectued. The game takes place during the modern day, after the end of the world (the 'conception' as its referred to in-game) and in Tokyo. It's the desolate, sparse overworld and matching dungeon setting that really makes the atmosphere of this game startling. It's very mature and serious, even if almost all the characters are teenagers.
The gameplay is very similar to other SMT titles, though instead of recruiting other humans into your party, you recruit other monsters that you usually fight. This is a fun sort of minigame that you can indulge in in each and every battle in the game, except for boss battles. Instead of fighting, you can talk to the monsters and proceed through a conversation tree, giving them items and money to influence them and answering questions from them to convince them they should join you. It's a fun change of pace from typical rpg character involvement. It does get a bit tedious as you can fuse them together like in the Persona titles, but there is a lot of trial and error. Since you usually pay them in part to join your party, it can get expensive as well, especailly if they refuse to join you after you have given them a bunch of cash.
For all the difficult elements there are, and there are a number of them, the game is a solid jrpg, but not enough so to draw my attention away from the other SMT titles I am be playing, namely Persona 2 and next week, Persona 4.
Lately, I have been pretty obsessed with the NES version of Castlevania, even buying the GBA Classic version to play on the go and practicing the game at home an insane amount.
I have been able to beat the game with 1 continue, usually at Dracula, a few times, but I have never 1CC'd it until today.
And I have to say that it feels awesome. I love this game and not only was this a 1-miss, 1CC, but a solid, really good scoring one, even without point pressing, like in stage 16 or so with the imp men (they infinately spawn). 200k would be pretty easy with just a little work.
I did play a bit of the second loop, finally dying at stage 24 with 225,520 points, but I wasn't really trying at that point. I was too stoked on the 1CC!
To beat a tough game from my childhood is pretty satisfying, but to 1CC it, espically a title as hard as Castlevania, makes me super happy.
There are so many games that you will end up going back to where your memories of them are of fun filled afternoons growing up, good times with friends, or great solo quests. And then there are those which you never played, but may have loved the series, like Final Fantasy or Dragon Warrior. Most action titles, if good, got a play through or two back in he day as the good stuff for the NES rose to the top quickly through word of mouth and schoolyard bragging rights of those who actually owned the games.
Castlevania III - Dracula's Curse was one of those games that slipped between the cracks. I didn't like the series when I was younger, always despising the difficulty, but I never heard about anything it after Simon's Quest and before Symphony of the Night. Well, I definately missed out.
Castlevania 3 is quite possibly the best of the series for me and the sheer variety of levels is a bit daunting at first, but like hard alchohol, after a few, it goes down smoother.
I have been playing through it, attempting a level a night (when I get a chance to play it) and it is the king of motherf**kery, a super-difficult game that at first feels as if it was designed by people who hate you. There are so many little spots in the game where the game knows what you want to do - and makes you do something different or quicker or way more exact. This pretty much starts at level 4 and carries through the rest of the game.
At first, I really got pissed when I would have to pause for a second before decending a staircase as there was a bird that may fly out or an axe from an Axe Lord that would clip me, but after a while, I liked it. It's as if the game creatrors played the hell out of the game and knew where you could take shortcuts, or move through areas without much trouble and broke up all the easy patterns into way more difficult and exacting ones. Which, it turns out, are way more rewarding anyway.
Take that excellent level design, which would be enough for any series' part 3 and add three other playable, swappable characters, a password system and you have an truely amazing game.
8-Bit sound defiantely has its lovers and I am among them, but the Japanese got the better version of this one, installing another sound chip in the Akumajō Densetsu Famicom cart to give it an unbelieveably awesome soundtrack. Definetely worth getting an adapter for.
I am up to level 8 at the moment and just enjoying the hell out of this one. It now ranks up in my top five of all-time. It's that good.
I'm hoping to finish this one soon and give it another play through as I am finishing it with Sypha first, then trying Alucard again as my first playthrough hit a snag at level 7 and I hated playing through the falling block level a dozen times trying to get it right.
When I was introduced to Cave via emulation, I played this a bunch and liked it for its novel approach to a shooter, but never really clicked with it. That is, until I played the pcb down at gunbird18's place at the Missouri Cave Matsuri and knew I woul have to get one.
Dangun's maniac speed, acid jazz soundtrack with disco-themed visuals and DoDonpachi-esque sprites are awesome, if only a little strange. This becaume the second pcb I got in trade for the Aero Table and it's friggin' fantastic.
I figured this one would be in the cab more than the other newcommer, Battle Garegga, as its just a bit more accessable and a little less punishing, but Garegga has steadily remained in the cab since I got it set up to it's current, official version. Not that Dangun has had any lack of playing time - I still have managed to pump quite a few credits through it and I am pretty impressed with it.
The scoring system is based around destroying enemies and collecting the disco men they drop - allowing one to go off the top of the screen resets your disco men count - without losing your count. So you frantically collect disco men and dodge bullets from the patterns which vary from later generation Cave bullet mazes to Strikers-style speed and punishment. There is a brutal difficulty spike at stage 4 and this one will be very tough to 1CC.
There is a certain amount of memorizing that you need to do to score well, by using your option shot (bomb, in my case) and anticipating enemies, you can easily collect your disco men. In the case of Dangun, it's actually fun to memorize bits of the stages as you can reap huge rewards from taking larger enemies out by making more enemies appear on screen, meaning more disco men to collect.
I defiantely need to get more time in on this one, but Garegga is just soooo good.
I got the rom chips in from Steph over at hobbyroms.com (hella good guys) and popped them into my pcb, then clipped the jumpers from 3 & 4 on the pcb and viola! NIPPON version, with the Mahou Daisakusen characters available without imputting the code each time and rank reset after each credit! YES!!
After playing for a little bit, I struggled to get 1 mil and knew something was up. I couldn't get anywhere! I know I'm not the best STG-player, but I'm certainly not that bad.
I checked the dip switch settings and lo and behold - the pcb was set to 'very hard.' I set it up for free play and normal difficulty, turning off the attrach music and went to work, racking up a 1.6 mil score the first time out and then playing with the game for a few credits, trying different ships and trying to dodge the second boss's first five patterns and bomb the center (pretty hard to do right now).
This game has me totally entranced. It is beautiful, dark the music is the best shooter soundtrack ever released - Namiki, you're a genious!- and the gameplay is so deep that each time I play it, I can try something new, improvise and enjoy the game in a way you often cannot with shooters.
I'm going to shoot for a 3 mil score, which shouldn't be too hard to do with the second boss trick and medal bridge on the beginning of the third stage, provided I can keep my medal count maxed.
So hard, so brutal and very, very enjoyable. This pcb has the China version (Ver Tue Apr 2 1996) rom chips installed (larger, yellow bullets, no stage editor), but I have a set of the original, official version (Ver Sat Feb 3 1996) chips on the way, courtesy of Steph over at Hobbyroms.com. These are the modified roms, where your rank resets after each game ends instead of increasing with each credit and where the Mahou characters are unlocked always, so you don't have to keep entering the code to play them. Check out the 'Hey Poor Player!' blog to learn more about the guy who created them.
I can honestly say I am pretty impressed and daunted at the same time. This game is punishing and there are massive amounts of information on rank and playthrough tactics out there and you'll need them to get anywhere. But the game has so much depth and so many little programming gems (the flamingos on stage 2, for instance) that you feel compelled to play it more and more, even if it kind of hates you. Yagawa built a really challenging game here and one that requires dedication and a bit of OCD-ness to get good at, but one that is also enjoyable - as long as you don't mind lots and lots of deaths and a stark, dirty, military-feel to your STG's.
I'm just the guy for it. To control your rank, good players will have to suicide at certain points. It's so counter intuitive, that when I learned of the game originally, it dropped to the bottom of the list of games I must play/own someday. Then, after doing some reading, watching some replays and learning about the depth and strategy involved, it creeped its way back up and became a pcb I wanted to own badly.
A high score isn't even a priority at the moment. Just learning the game is enough right now. I'm hoping to get sometime in on it in the next few weeks, learn enought o post a high score, but with another new pcb waiting in the wings, it will have some competition for cab space...
I noticed a post in the shmups forum a while back that gunbird18 was planning on having a meet down in Central Missouri and kind of shrugged, thinking it would be cool to do something like that here. Then I looked at the distance to drive it - 6 hours, give or take a bit. I had just driven 7 for the CAGDC contest and that only had one shmup - made in 1986!
I had to do it. First of all, gunbird18 is a very nice and respectful forum member, whcih carries a lot of weight in my book and knowing that we could bring a cab to up the total of cabs to 2, I thought it would be a great idea. I asked Dave if we could bring his cab down as he has a first floor place and all we would need to do is unplug it, wheel it out to the Element and go. He was down. I realized that we could probably fit in the newly acquired Aero Table in the truck as well, if I could get some regular Sanwa sticks into it and maybe some buttons that didn't stick and actually registered all the time. I hacked one of my Astro City plates, used a bunch of leftover bits when me and Dave had bought our cabs and it was ready to go.
The list of boards that were going to the event was epic: Muchi Muchi Pork!, Guwange, Fixeight, Outzone, Ketsui, Deathsmiles, ESP RaDe, ESPgaluda II, Ibara, Dragon Blaze, Battle Garegga, Fever SOS, Battle Bakraid, all 3 Strikers titles, Dimahoo, Raiden Fighters 1,2 and Jet, Armed Police Batrider, Progear, DOJ, Raident Silvergun, Soukugurentai, Mushihimesama and Strikers 1945 Plus - plus every good shooter for the Saturn, Dreamcast and PS2. Unbelieveable. I barely got a chance to play half of them!
We got there Friday night and met up with Todd aka gunbird18, who really is a nice guy in real life and unloaded all the cabs, pcb's, the tv and luggage and ended up playing until 2 a.m. that first night.
The next day, I woke up early, so stoked to play some of the titles I had been waiting to play for years and made coffee, played SOTN on my PSP and started in on some of the console titles while people arrived, like Raiden III, which I had never played and ended up enjoying for a bit.
Almost everyone was there by 1 p.m. and people swapped games in and out of cabs at a pretty prodigious rate, trading Raizing titles for Cave, Cave for Psikyo, Psikyo for Toaplan and on and on.
The Aero Table got a lot of play, which I was pretty stoked about. In fact, caldwert like it so much, we worked a trade for it as he needed a jamma cab that was easy to turn horizontal and I needed room! I ended up with Dangun Feveron and Battle Garegga - two pcb's that have been on my want list for a while now. Glad I brought it!
For me, the best game that made it was MMP, a title which I hadn't paid that much attention to - even owning the OST/DVD combo didn't get me that stoked to play it. But playing through it for the first time I realized that it is a really deep and fun game with a great art style and soundtrack.
I also set a new high score for myself on Batsugun Special Version at 4mil+, which was a great accomplishment for me. But, shortly there after, stuminator set at it and killed it with a second loop run that had a number of people standing around watching in amazement.
Some surprise hits of the get together were the Simpsons pcb, which, if it didn't need to be swapped out for Guwange shortly after it arrived in the cab, would have probably been in for the entire meet!
The Wii and 360 also got a work out when people were taking a break from STG-ing, with Tennis and Golf the favorites. Dave certainly got into it and his curses rang out louder than those of any other gamer. I also got a chance to play Bomberman Live, which, being a huge fan of the Bomberman series, was awesome. Multi-player Bomberman is just stupid amounts of fun.
Kudos to Todd for putting on such a great meet and to all of the attendees who brought pcb's to make this - in the words of szycag on shmups - 'THE MEET EVER!'
Put some time into this at the Missouri Cave Matsuri and reached a new high score of 4,254,110, dying midway through stage 5 after suiciding at the turrents which, when bombed give you ~59,630 points, thinking I had another life, which I didn't. Bummer.
Super-stoked on this game. So good, so old skool and the best of Toaplan's efforts.