You’ll Take Your $20 Peripheral and Like It

•July 9, 2009 • Leave a Comment

I’m going to spend some time whining about all the whining.

I spent some time recently asking Wii owners about the MotionPlus, and I was surprised to learn how angry many of them were about the new peripheral. To describe them as “energetic” would be generous; some of them were down-right infuriated. The general consensus from this subsection of Wii owners is that (suddenly) Nintendo has sold them an incomplete product, and they should make it up to them by giving them a free MotionPlus.

What?

When pressed for supporting arguments, the reasons were as follows: 1) the Wii’s motion-sensing is crap, 2) they advertised it as 1:1 motion-sensing, this is false advertising, and 3) they’re just gouging us because they’re greedy, like all big business.

Let me answer all three arguments as succinctly as I know how.

You’re a moron.

Here are the simple facts:

1) The Wii’s motion control is what it is, and has been for years.

Look, Nintendo has sold exactly three and a half craptillion Wii consoles since it came out, and until last year criticism of the motion control implementation has been confined to the occasional game review. It came out, and we bought it. We’re talking here about the technological implementation. Whether the concept of motion control is sound, and whether it’s being used intelligently by developers isn’t a part of this discussion. If you have a Wii, and you keep buying games for it, I have to assume that you’ve been content with the controls. Could they be better? Yeah, but it’s not like they’ve had a lot of competition. The PS3’s Sixaxis is a total turd (unqualified statement). Simply put, Nintendo was providing the best motion control on the market.

This is an important point. Let’s imagine you buy some strawberries from your grocer. You eat them all, enjoying them immensely, and then go back a week later for more. Now let’s suppose the grocer has more in, and you sample one and discover that these strawberries are even better than last week’s. Do you then demand free strawberries, because now you feel like you got gypped last week? Your grocer gave you the best strawberries available for that price, and now you call him a crook and demand compensation?

What’s it like in pink unicorn land, where everyone’s as insane as you? They sold you exactly the product they said they would. You are not entitled to a free upgrade just because it’s not available at a cost the grocer is willing to pay.

2) They most certainly did not advertise 1:1.

I really don’t know what else to say to that, and I don’t understand where this came from. They absolutely, positively have never said a single thing about high fidelity, 1:1 motion controls. Find me an instance where they did, and I will eat all the hats in the world.

3) The facts simply don’t support any arguments of avarice.

Let’s talk technology, shall we? The Wii MotionPlus uses a type of Vibrating Structure Gyroscope called an MEMS Tuning Fork Gyroscope. Now, this isn’t new tech, but miniature gyroscopes have only become particularly affordable in the last few years. Even so, the cheapest MEMS gyroscopes right now are a little less than $10 per, and it’s a sage bet that Nintendo isn’t using the cheapest ones available. Still, that’s half the cost of the MotionPlus right there, not including development costs (software, hardware, etc), the cost of other parts, marketing, etc. Nintendo’s assuredly turning a profit on them, or anticipates turning a profit within a year or so, but they’re not making a mint.

There’s a refreshingly detailed explanation of why it wasn’t included in the Wii originally here (as well as the trouble they had getting the damned things to work.) I’ll sum it up quickly: they couldn’t have met the $250 price point in 2006.

Simple as that. You could have had it, but the Wii would have cost more.

I know your sense of entitlement is still feeling wounded, but you really need to get over this. You do not deserve free new toys because you were an early adopter of an untested piece of technology, nor were you sold a bill of rights when you bought the damned thing. You got, as they say, what you paid for.

Now, do I think the peripheral will be a success in America? Maybe. Normally I’d say no without a second thought, given how well console upgrades have worked historically. But Nintendo cites developer feedback as one of the primary reasons why development of the gyroscope sensors continued even after the console was released. If there are good games that leverage it, then it’ll probably do fine. It’s sold well in Japan so far. However, $80 for a controller (remote, nunchuck, MotionPlus) is an awfully steep price to swallow.

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Review | Bionic Commando: Rearmed

•July 3, 2009 • 1 Comment
I can't comment on the facial expressions here and remain PG-13...

I can't comment on the facial expressions here and remain PG-13...

(Bionic Commando: Rearmed, Capcom, PSN / XBLA / PC)


Bionic Commando
was another one of those games I didn’t really get into as a kid.

Actually, that’s not entirely accurate: For me, as for any young boy, the grappling hook seemed like the ultimate in locomotive technology, and having one integrated into a robotic arm seemed like the coolest idea ever conceived. I was all over this game; I didn’t get it myself, but a friend did, and you can believe I was over there the day the shrink wrap came off. He was kind enough to let me play first, and so I did. And then I died. On the first level. Spencer was slow, awkward, and clumsy, and I couldn’t really adjust to the technique of grappling in lieu of jumping. Not that I gave it much of a chance, of course. Bionic Commando was clearly going to be ball-bustingly hard, and I knew myself well enough to know I was just gonna get pissed if I kept playing. I didn’t progress far before I set it aside. I just wasn’t a very patient kid.

Honestly, I’m still not the most patient guy in the world. Therefore, the highest praise I can give Bionic Commando: Rearmed, given my hot & cold relationship with the original, is that I played it through to completion twice and loved every second of it.

More than just a graphical upgrade, BC: Rearmed modifies the gameplay in a number of key areas which have served to improve the overall experience. It’s risky business to change too much when doing a remake, butCapcom has demonstrated that they know exactly where to stop. Every change makes sense, either because it improves the overall mechanics, adds content (there’s a new level and new equipment), or removes a bad design decision from the original.

New graphics, familiar layout.

New graphics, familiar layout.

Thankfully, many of the mechanics that were so onerous to me as a kid have been modified. Immediately noticeable is that Spencer can swap weapons on the fly. Where previously you had to pick which gun and comms chip to bring to each level — aggravating guess-work that only served to artificially lengthen the original game — now all your equipment is available on the fly. In addition to streamlining the level-selection process, this means that you can switch weapons during combat, which expands adds a layer of strategy to the encounters.

Speaking of combat, Spencer still dies quickly, but gone now is the mechanic of increasing your pitiful health bar by picking up bullets (bwah?) dropped by enemies. Now you can take a few more hits, and enemies drop health items occasionally. These new drops tend to restore less health than you lose from a single hit though, so the game still punishes you severely for being incautious. On the other hand, the continue system is removed, so there’s no senseless need to restart the entire game simply because you suck at it. The ability to save is a welcome addition as well, as are new weapons like the Vector Cannon and the Plasma Rifle.

Maybe it's just me, but it seems a bit easier to grapple these light fixtures than their NES predecessors.

Maybe it's just me, but it seems a bit easier to grapple these light fixtures than their NES predecessors.

Thankfully, Capcom had the good sense to retain the aspects of the game that worked. The world map, with the quasi non-linear level progression is still intact, as is the wonderfully absurd plot. The grappling hook remains much the same, and as a bonus the game gives grappling a sense of weight that was woefully missing in the original. That is, until you run into a wall, at which point Spencer bounces off like a rubber ball, loses his grip, and generally plummets into a pit of spikes. This is being changed in an upcoming update, but it wasn’t included in the game I played. This is pretty unfortunate, really, because it’s by far the worst feature of the game.

Bionic Commando: Rearmed is more than just a fantastic update to an (incredibly frustrating) gem from a bygone era, it’s hand-over-fist the better game. It came out last year, and it’s easily one of the top 5 releases of 2008. I could talk about how it’s dirt cheap onXBLA as well, but there’s really no point. The game is of a high enough quality that the price doesn’t really even matter. Play this game because itdemonstrates how to do remakes right, and because it’s a hell of a lot of fun. Laugh at the absurd story, grapple across some chasms, kill Hitler, and enjoy thesatisfaction of facing a challenging game and defeating it. You won’t be sorry.

Impressions | Red Faction: Guerrilla

•July 2, 2009 • Leave a Comment

It’s just now starting to get talked up, but apparently in the midst of the puerile flame war that erupted over various publications reviews of inFamous and Prototype, a third contender in the “best open world game of the year” competition quietly slipped through the cracks. While fanboys and bored Internet trolls were busy tearing their favorite publications to shreds over 1 point differences in scores, Red Faction: Guerrilla was quietly receiving better scores than both from most of the major publications.

In light of this startling development, I decided I’d give the demo a spin.

The demo can be completed so quickly that it evoked memories of a certain other demo. Still, short as it is, this is one of the most effective demos I’ve ever played. I know exactly what this game is about, I know how it plays, and I like it. I like it a lot. So much so that I played the demo 5 more times.

The most important achievement the gameplay interface accomplishes is that it gets out of your way quickly. You’ve got your shoot button, your cover button, and the ability to switch weapons, and all these functions are taught and learned quickly. The HUD is simple, obvious, and direct. The objectives are clear, and there are plenty of ways to achieve them. Everything I saw in this super-short demo suggested that the game was all about enabling you, not obstructing you. The obstructions are the enemy soldiers and the buildings in the way, and you have a big-ass hammer, not the interactive systems. It’s amazing how often the latter becomes your true enemy in a game.

Plenty of games have boasted fully destructible environments, but RF: G appears to have actually hit the mark. I couldn’t find a single edifice that couldn’t be leveled with a little effort. It wasn’t until the fifth or sixth building that I noticed that the walls I was tearing down had actual structural depth. Some walls, for example, are supported byrebar, and require some extra effort to dismantle, large chunks of concrete breaking off with each swing before the rebar finally crumples. There’s an attention to detail here that’s unobtrusive but effective.

There’s a quiet precision to the game, an excellence that you only notice in hindsight. The controls are at that pinnacle of excellence where you quickly forget about them. All the mechanics are quiet, allowing you to focus on the importance of leveling every structure on the planet with your hammer. Or truck. Or bombs. Whatever. Even the fact that it’s a sandbox game is understated. At no point do they expressly state that the game has an open world, but at the end they show you an in-close satellite “YOU ARE HERE” photo, and then pull way out to show you the entire game world. I’m not a big fan of the open world scheme, because it tends to be directionless, but suddenly I wanted to explore every cranny of this map, uncovering secrets and smashing crap.

Your mission in the demo is to a) find a giant fighting robot, b) steal said giant fighting robot, c) smash things with said giant fighting robot, and d) drive away with said giant fighting robot. I played through the demo 6 times using different routes and different tactics. Frontal assault. Stealth mission. Demolition derby. Murder spree. Sight-seeing. Everything I thought to do, the game provided. The only thing I couldn’t do was ride in on a pink unicorn, but really, that’s asking a bit much.

5 minutes of gameplay got replayed for 30 minutes, and I had a ton of fun. I’m looking forward to playing it for review (if GameFly can be coaxed into sending it to me).

Worst thing about the demo? The main character’s name is Alec Mason (he’s got a big hammer, and knocks down buildings). It’s not Edge Maverick or Isaac Clarke kind of bad, but it’s still pretty bad. What is this, Dragonlance?

I Like a Zombie, But I Couldn’t Eat a Whole One

•June 27, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Zombies with guns are not scary.

Seems weird, doesn’t it? I mean, everything drilled into our heads in school tells us that the summation of two things results in something greater. 2 + 2 = 4. So when zombies (scary in all sorts of ways) are combined with firearms (thereby increasing their lethality) the union of the two ought to be horrifying. A shark with frickin ‘ laser beams is utterly terrifying. Rabid zombie dogs make my knees shake. And yet, when you hand a gun to a zombie the result feels about as threatening as a sleeping kitten. This is of course presupposing that the zombie is an intelligent, fast zombie with the skill-set necessary to accurately utilize a firearm. Imagining one of the undead from Shaun of the Dead with a 12-gauge is not so much frightening as it is hilarious. But a Resident Evil zombie horde equipped with machine guns should inspire pants-pissing fear, yeah?

Turns out, no. Not even a little bit.

I touched on this briefly in yesterday’s review, but didn’t go into a whole lot of detail. Resident Evil 5 makes several design decisions that really don’t work for a zombie game, and rather than dilute the critical nature of the review with detailed design analysis I thought I’d elaborate here.

There are two decisions in particular which I just can’t understand: the living dead as crack shots and the inventory system.

Why zombies with guns, anyway? I mean, if the past 70 years of films, comics, and games are any indication, we like our zombies just fine the way they are. There’s certainly plenty of room for innovation in the survival horror genre, but the zombies themselves seem like the area least wanting for change. Even assuming that there’s innovation to be had, why zombie gunmen? By the way, understand that when I say zombie gunmen, I don’t mean that there’s the occasional gun-toting brain-muncher, but rather that the entire final third of the game is spent facing these foes exclusively.

The problem here, the reason why the math doesn’t add up right, is because zombies are not terrifying in a meadow or courtyard. Zombies are a close-quarters terror, plodding inexorably on in numbers so vast that you simply can’t shoot them quickly enough. They limp and hobble up, snuggle up intimately, and then eat your face. Meanwhile guns are a long-distance weapon, not made for cuddling. A zombie that uses a sidearm is no longer trying to shamble up and make a meal of your head, he’s hiding behind a steel plate taking pot-shots at you. The Majini zombies become just another Locust or Helghast. Just another Storm Trooper.

Well, I’m not scared of Storm Troopers, in the same way that I’m not scared of Nazis. Or Combine. Or Outer Heaven soldiers. Whatever. I’ve killed them by the hundreds in different games, executed them flawlessly, with precision. Zombies remain scary because no matter how many I kill, there are always more, and most of them have already lurched up behind me.

Another aspect of the terror that zombies inspire is that they are inhuman. Weaponry, especially guns, have a distinctly humanizing effect on the shambling monstrosities, drawing them out of the shadows of nightmare and plunking them in the harsh fluorescent lighting of yet another ruined military installation. And at the long-distance range, they are further humanized by the lack of detail. RE5 zombies are rotting (as one does), but not especially. At a distance they just look a little under the weather, like I’m being assaulted my a platoon of grunts with chicken pox. Not scary.

Unfortunately, it’s also quite clear that while Capcom is an old hand at programming shamble-AI, it’s not so skilled at the take-cover-and-shoot-AI. Tactics employed by the Base Majini that haunt Chapters 5 and 6 are “Shoot”, “Reload”, & “Grenade”. Sticky cover is always in absurd abundance during these firefights as well, and your enemies will happily keep shooting at you regardless of whether you’re visible or not. There’s no flanking, no group tactics. Within the game’s universe, these zombies retain all the training and skills of their former selves, so in that case these former military men must have been members of the worst military the world has ever known.

At this point the biggest challenge you face in resource management. The game you’re playing stops being “survive the zombie hordes” and becomes “don’t waste your ammo”. This worked in the old RE games because the objective was to evade, run, and survive, not plod through the multitudes crushing zomb-skulls and blasting zomb-chests. It’s a very different type of game. Running out of bullets in a situation where I have to kill everyone is only frustrating, never scary.

The inventory system itself doesn’t help either.

Let’s stay away from comparisons to the RE4 system, first of all. You had more space, certainly, but the main game was constantly interrupted by the constant need to Tetris your stuff together in your attache case. That system had it’s own problems. RE5 eliminates the puzzle-esque aspect of inventory management, and instead severely curtails your inventory space. That’s fine to an extent. Being able to carry limited equipment can certainly add to the intensity of the experience, but in previous RE games there was the option of storing your equipment for later use. You can do that here too, but you have to either quit a level, beat a level, or die in order to do so. Don’t get me wrong, given the system as it is, being able to modify my inventory after a death is an incredibly intelligent design decision. It just shouldn’t be necessary. The rest of the gameplay isn’t structured around resource management anymore. The objective has changed from survival to zombicide, and so having strict resource management dropped in again just feels out of place and awkward.

The actual implementation of the inventory system just makes things worse. The fact of the matter is, the Resident Evil 5 inventory system is just not intelligently designed. For a system that you access in real-time, while foes are potentially lurching toward me, it takes a significant number of button presses and menu selections to perform the most basic tasks. Having my partner heal us is impossible except when her AI decides it’s time. I have to request the healing item from her and then use it myself either by navigating to the use command or equipping the herb and using it manually.

In co-op it’s better, since you’re only responsible for your own inventory, but the fact of the matter is that the inventory system is simply an obstruction to the game. Obstructions in the form of opponents are expected. obstructions in the form of a maze or a puzzle are more than reasonable. Obstructions in the interface are artificial, and there’s often no real way to truly overcome them. Your best hope is to adjust.

Unfortunately, Resident Evil 5 is littered with inexplicable decisions like this, and they all share a common trait: they work in direct opposition to the general gameplay. Why design the later scenarios with an obvious eye to co-op, leaving the solo player shackled to the vagaries of Sheva’s AI? Why the nearly total absence of any ability to issue commands to Sheva? Why change the entire nature of the combat by giving the zombies guns?

How is it that during development, during testing, these things weren’t quickly identified as gameplay mechanics which did not support the experience being presented but instead weighed it down?

In other words, why didn’t they consult with me before releasing the game? I could have cleared this all up: I’ve read World War Z.

Review | Resident Evil 5

•June 26, 2009 • 2 Comments
Didn't know the number 5 was satanic, did you?

Didn't know the number 5 was satanic, did you?

(Resident Evil 5, Capcom, PlayStation 3/Xbox 360/PC)

Look, let’s be clear: Resident Evil 4 is the better game by almost every measure. Resident Evil 5 naturally invites review-by-comparison, and this doesn’t really do the game justice. There’s a quality experience here, and I don’t want to marginalize it by nitpicking the changes (or lack thereof) from 4 to 5. 5’s pretty good. 4’s better. Done.

It’s rare that I devote much time discussing graphical quality. It’s just not very important to me. I have to be really wowed in order to give it more than a passing mention, especially now when pretty much every game boasts obnoxiously beautiful graphics and stunning special effects. That being said, by God this game gorgeous. Even in low-def RE5 looks amazing. HD Resident Evil is like a revelation. The water is convincingly cool and soothing (or it would be if it wasn’t so dirty). The zombies look beautiful in their putrescence. It’s nauseatingly good. Facial movements in particular are executed with an unnerving precision, fiercely shoving the game off a cliff deep into the uncanny valley. In fact, it’s fair to say that the facial expressions represent the best acting in the game. A huge percentage of communication is non-verbal, and these faces provide more clear communication than anything contained in the weak script.

We solemnly promise not to say a single word about racism in this review.

We solemnly promise not to say a single word about racism in this review.

The acting is predictably bad, though better than early entries in the series, and the storytelling is damaged further by bad writing. Every line feels as blocky and awkward as a mouthful of Legos, and it presents a story that is depressingly predictable. RE5 is filled with plot twists that have not only been done before, they’ve been done before by previous games in the series, and have even involved the same characters. The overarching plot of Resident Evil has only ever been good in broad strokes, not in the fine detailing, and the same can be said of this latest installment. At a distance the setting and history of their world are fascinating, but up close it reads like a crappy fantasy novel: scores of cardboard cut-out characters pursuing monstrously evil objectives with no clear motivation, antagonizing equally flimsy heroes. This ensures that RE5‘s plot remains as ridiculous as all of its predecessors. This is disappointing, but not terribly surprising.

Gameplay really needs to be discussed twice, because there are really two games here: Co-op and single player. Despite taking place in the same levels, against the same enemies, with the same controls, the gameplay experiences provided by each are so different that they could have been packaged and marketed separately and I doubt anyone would have noticed.

We also promise not to make jokes about Chris's tiny head. That joke's stale.

We also promise not to make jokes about Chris's tiny head. That joke's stale.

The co-op experience is basically flawless. Once you adjust to the weird controls, the game plays great, and the layout of the levels provide plenty of opportunities to perform devastating group tactics against your opponents. The inventory system could be better, but with two people managing it on the fly, passing items back and forth, it’s not that bad. Co-op is, in a word, awesome. It’s just no longer relevant; outdated before it was even released. It’s good, but it’s not as good as Left 4 Dead, and it’s impossible not to think about that as you chew through the zombie hordes. Not Capcom’s fault, really, but it’s terribly unfortunate. It’s clear that this would have been the go-to game for zombie killing if it had come out a year earlier. Co-op here carries a different objective than in L4D — attack rather than defense — so there’s definitely room for both in your library, but it’s not going to be your primary fix when you’re jonesing for zombie.

Single-player is another matter. In single player the inventory system becomes more than just annoying, it becomes a total obstruction to play. Without someone else to help you manage resources you’re stuck doing the work of two people, and this is exacerbated by the AI’s kleptomaniacal tendencies. Sheva will pick up everything from ammo she’s not using to rotten eggs, and as your inventory fills up you’ll find yourself spending more and more time passing things back and forth. You also can’t take direct action on items in her possession requiring a constant game of requesting and exchanging items just to discard or use them. What’s passable in co-op becomes untenable in the single-player campaign.

But jokes about eating too many zombies? Those are timeless.

But jokes about eating too many zombies? Those are timeless.

Also maddening is Sheva’s AI, which is schizophrenic at best. She’ll go long stints making excellent decisions, and then spend even longer being dumb as a post. She wastes whole clips of ammo against bosses than can’t be hurt directly, runs around collecting ammo while you’re getting mauled by zombie dogs, and stands directly in front of you while you’re lining up a headshot through the rifle. Worst of all, there’s almost no way to modify her behavior, other than to set her to “Attack” (waste-all-the-ammo-mode) or “Cover” (waste-it-more-slowly-mode). Early in the game this isn’t terribly noticeable, but by chapter 5 her stupidity has become fully manifest. Worse still, her skill doesn’t increase as the game continues, unlike yours, so by the end of the game she has slipped so far behind you that she becomes nothing more than a liability. Her ineptitude is never so obvious than during the final boss encounter, which is thrilling in co-op but practically broken in single-player. The boss fight is structured to require team work, and CPU Sheva just can’t be relied upon to distract the boss. Half of the time she’ll waste her ammo in the lead-up to the fight, leaving her with no way TO distract him, making it nearly impossible to get at the weak spot on his back.

Resident Evil 5 is good, but it’s good in spite of itself; there are mechanics in place here which try to undermine the fun to be had, and it’ll take some patience to learn to cope with them. The real experience being presented here is co-op, not solo play. Play Resident Evil 5 with a friend. Otherwise you’re just wasting your money.

This game rates: Crocodile.

Resident Evil 5 Review and Feature

•June 23, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Resident Evil 5 is spawning both a review and a feature from me, however the feature will spoil the review if I run it on Thursday before the review.

For that reason, Thursday’s feature will appear on Saturday. Friday’s review will post normally.

Why I Gave Up on Star Ocean: The Last Hope

•June 18, 2009 • 1 Comment

What to do, what to do?

Interesting, isn’t it, how I still haven’t gotten past the first disc of Star Ocean: The Last Hope, and yet here I am writing my second piece about the game, neither of which has been a review. There won’t be a formal review at this point, either, because frankly I am fed up. SO:TLH is hand’s down the worst crap-that-thinks-it’s-awesome that I’ve played in years, and I can’t bear another minute of it.

So no formal review, and yet I want to tell you about my experience. How do I do that? You see, I’ll still talk about the game, but we won’t call it a review, and therefore it won’t be. Right? Clever, yeah?

Okay, so it’s cheating. But my experience was so protracted, and so overwhelmingly negative, that I can’t help but feel that there’s value in sharing it with you.

So, grain of salt: I only got through the first half of the first disc. Somehow I’ve still managed to sink 20 hours into the game, though; a 20-hour flight where the only scenery is the black of space, and the in-flight movies are every Space Battleship Yamato flick, played over and over.

Star Ocean’s ship orbits two major problems, and their enormous gravitational pull is enough to obviate the game’s few good traits. The graphics are gorgeous, the music is pretty okay, and some of the environmental set-pieces are stunning. But you stop noticing these things quickly in the face of the game’s deficiencies.

Problem 1: Everything about the story in the first half of the game is god-awful. I certainly can’t pass judgment on the entire plot, but what I sat through was badly written, badly paced, and badly acted space trash. The game opens with this dry, uninteresting, and cliched exposition extravaganza that puts both Metal Gear Solid and Xenosaga to shame. It’s filled with contrived acronyms — which are immediately explained — and plays out like a bad 70s documentary about the development of aluminum siding. It honestly feels like the developers were trying to bore their audience, ensuring that only the most dedicated would play their masterpiece. The acting itself is not the worst in the business, but it’s really wooden. Think Star Wars Ep 3. Drama delivered by the brain-dead. Even Michael McConnohie — who can be relied upon to deliver a good, if predictable, performance — seemed to be phoning it in.

Problem 2: SO:TLH seems to have been designed by people who have heard of RPGs, maybe seen a few, and had a checklist of things which should be included, but didn’t really understand how to put them together into a cohesive package. Androgynous hero? Check. Best friend cum love interest? Got it. Weapons, customizable skills, item crafting? Got those too. How about side quests? Oh boy, do we ever have those! To torture a metaphor, it’s as if someone handed you a can of green beans, a can of mushroom soup, and some french fried onions, called it a casserole, and invited you to dig in. You’ve got all the pieces, but you haven’t really made anything.

The primary cause of this impression is the constant sense of “I could do these extra things, but why would I want to?” Side quests are all over the place right from the start, many of them require an hour or so of item farming, and most of the time the reward isminuscule. Side quests work best when they’re either interesting for their own sake (Fallout 3, GTA), or else net you a substantial bonus ( Chrono Trigger’s a perfect example of this).

If you defeat enough of a monster, you can transfer your knowledge of it into a jewel, which augments your strength. But the augments are almost never reward enough for the time required. You can do supply quests for every shop. Except, of course, all you get is a littleXP , and often you have to farm very rare drops off of monsters. And there are plenty of little side fetch quests to pursue as well, but they’re all for cardboard cut-out people and involve objectives that are inane at best.

Dungeons, another textbook component of a JRPG, are all over the place, but right from the start the dungeons are too long and too generic, and they devolve quickly into running grudge matches with the hoards of monsters that litter the land. There’s clearly been some effort to make combat interesting, but the fact of the matter is you’ll be spending most of your time mashing the attack button, with the occasional Blindside attack thrown in.

Star Ocean: The Last Hope casts the silhouette of a good JRPG. When we look at the shadow that it casts, we can see the huge volume of content, the promise of an epic story, the gorgeous graphics. But when we pull back the curtain to get a good look at it, we see that the shadow was an illusion, cast by a group of unrelated objects. SO:TLH is a boring, unimaginative grind-fest that, frankly, just doesn’t know what it’s doing.