Monthly Archives: January 2012

Final Fantasy IV Advance

Nintendo made quite a business out of releasing old games for the Game Boy Advance and has continued the trend for the various incarnations of the DS. Here we have the popular fourth* Final Fantasy game remade and reformatted for the GBA. The idea is that if you liked these games in their purest form, now you can play them anywhere. Often, Nintendo would add cool extra stuff to these remakes. This is no exception. In fact, thanks to the new goodies, this is actually better than the original.

*Although the second in the U.S., since the second and third games were never released here except as ports on later consoles.

Plot: 9 out of 10

I always thought this game had a great storyline. It’s a tale of deception, betrayal, loyalty, and redemption. Cecil is captain of the Red Wings, a fleet of airships owned by the monarchy of Baron. Ordered to steal the crystal of water from the village of Mysidia, Cecil feels guilty that he would commit such an act, even under orders, and soon rebels. Many twists and turns occur before the game is over. It’s a really a gripping tale and holds up well even today. My only critique is that (warning: spoiler ahead) they cheat you with many sad death scenes without most of the deaths actually happening.

Graphics: 6 out of 10

Final Fantasy IV was one of the earlier SNES games. It showed in the graphics, as character designs were small, exploration mode was simply detailed, and enemies, except perhaps for some bosses, aren’t much better. Square Enix may have made a mistake in not even touching the graphics. If anything, they’ve suffered just a bit. Then again, Final Fantasy has a distinct look. As long as it has that look, the fans are happy.

Top: 8-bit. Bottom: 16-bit. Not really that much improvement, is there?

Sound: 9 out of 10

Final Fantasy is a series with sound that is second to none. All the music is quite catchy and fitting. My favorite song would probably be the music that plays when you fight one of the four fiends.

Gameplay: 9 out of 10

Far from the best game in the series, in my opinion. Why? It’s just too damn linear. You always know where to go and that’s it. No sidequests, not even any mystery as to what to do. I’m not saying I’m a fan of the other extreme — making locations so obscure that it takes a trip to GameFaqs or NeoSeeker to find them — but what’s wrong with a little flexibility?

Still, the game’s fun. battles are simple and to the point. So simple a crack addict can play OK. The usual routine is attack-attack-offenisve spell-attack-heal. The only real strategy is that some spells, especially in the end, take too long to cast (I’m talking to you, Meteor). This might disappoint some who enjoy strategy in their RPGs, but sometimes it’s nice to not have to think too hard about what you’re doing. This is especially true with handhelds, as outside the home, you really can’t afford to focus too much on the game.

This category gets a point or two more for the extras. Remember how at one point many former allies would stay at Mysidia except for the five who are still in your party? In this version, things have changed. You can sub your current people out for others. It’s really quite cool. You might think them to be rather weak since everyone had a unique weapon type. Not to worry. There are two new dungeons you can go through if you like. The first opens as soon as this option becomes available and includes an up-to-date weapon for any untraditional choice you may have made. The second is a difficult one that pops up after you’ve completed the game and has special, character-specific quests that flesh out the personalities a little more.

Challenge: 8 out of 10

The original version was much easier in America than Japan. Word is, the Japanese thought their version was too hard for us. This appears to be that version, although perhaps a little easier (Square Enix often seems to alter the difficulty in these rereleases, One way or another). For all its simplicity, this can be a challenging game. Expect just a little more level grinding than in the American version of the original. In other words, its kind of like having to drill a lot more boards into walls than you might expect. Not a complicated job, but one that will make you sweat.

Overall: 8 out of 10

Bouncing up a point due to the additional features, Final Fantasy IV is a textbook example of how to do a remake. The original wasn’t anything magnificent, but Square Enix did a great job adding enough new things to make it more worthwhile.

Ninja Gaiden II: The Dark Sword of Chaos

I played Ninja Gaiden II long before the original and now realize how much of an improvement was made. Ninja Gaiden II does almost everything better and was always one of my favorites.

Plot: 8 out of 10

I’m not gonna lie. This is the one area that got worse. While the original cleverly mixed a revenge story with all manner of twists and turns, this one is just the “save the girl” story that was pretty much standard back then. I would have rated this lower if not for how few games had a real story back then. Thus, it gets three or four points more than it would get today.

Corny but family-friendly insult.

 Graphics: 8 out of 10

Very similar to the original, except more detailed. After a year of advances, that’s to be expected. It’s nice to see the quasi-3-D backgrounds and cutscenes again. Still, other series (Super Mario Bros.ZeldaCastlevania, etc.) did a complete retooling of their graphical systems. Not seeing that here is kind of disappointing.

Sound: 10 out of 10

A fantastic soundtrack, this game certainly has. The sound effects are also certainly well-done.

Gameplay: 10 out of 10

This game improves everything in the original. A new “shadow doubles” power-up that creates inner red clones of the protagonist, Ryu Hayabusa, is extremely cool and valuable. Other improvements include making it easier to climb walls.

Level design is also quite solid. There’s even a couple areas with unusual environments (you’ll know them when you get to them).

Ninja or not, i’d coat up for the snows.

Challenge: 8 out of 10

The difficulty has gone down from the original, but the length of the game has significantly increased. That should satisfy most pros while leaving the game accessible to novices. Just remember that it being an old school game, Ninja Gaiden II doesn’t have a save feature, so make sure you’ve got some spare time.

Overall: 9 out of 10

I compared the game way too much to the original, didn’t I? Ah, well. the point is Ninja Gaiden II is a superior sequel and one of the best games on the NES besides.

The Legend of Zelda

Some older games are a challenge to rate, simply because they were unique at the time yet have been improved on in so many different ways that they seem bland by comparison. Nonetheless, this critic trudges forth but not without looking at The Legend of Zelda with the perspective of the past.

Plot: 8 out of 10

Like the game itself, this is hard to judge. There’s not much plot development here. But compared to what? This was 1987. Back then, there was very little plotting going on. The pre-game introduction and dialog from people in caves were about as good as it got. In fact, this really wasn’t far from the days when a lot of games never even ended. So I have to be lenient here.

As for the story itself, I’ll let the game do the talking.

Graphics: 5 out of 10

I’m far less forgiving on this. The characters are at once small and undetailed. Meanwhile, all backgrounds and objects are both simple and constantly repeated. The NES version of Ghosts ‘N Goblins, released a year earlier, looked much better. Furthermore, it was just a year later that this game was getting regularly outperformed graphically.

Tell me these “ghosts” don’t look more like old men with super-long beards.

Sound: 8 out of 10

A very memorable soundtrack. Plus, it’s very fitting for a fantasy setting. Sound effects are very good and in place too.

Gameplay: 9 out of 10

Maybe nostalgia’s a factor, but I find this game quite a romp to play. The most fun romp there is to play? Not even close, as so much of what it did was soonafter improved upon. Contrary to popular belief (and what Nintendo’s PR department wants us to think), this was not the first game to challenge gamer’s wits. There had been many games in the PC realm, such as the Ultima series, that required thinking. But it certainly can be argued that Legend of Zelda perfected the concept. You get a sword in the beginning and have to buy and find many other items to succeed. Additionally, there are nine dungeons — eight to assemble the pieces of the Triforce, which make the last one accessible to you*. This was a somewhat fresh approach at the time and is quite fun even today. It can’t hurt that the controls are quite solid.

*That reminds me of a really bad translation I can’t not share: “Ones who does not have Triforce can’t go in.”

Challenge: 9 out of 10

This is a moderately difficult game. The first three of nine dungeons are easy but the difficulty picks up somewhat from there. By the sixth, they’ll be throwing everything and the kitchen sink at you. And don’t expect to make it through in one trip.

After you complete the game (or name your save game “Zelda”), you’ll get a chance at a second quest. This is a much harder quest and the locations of nearly all the important stuff has been changed for the tougher. This would be the expert version. I definitely don’t recommend trying this before you’ve done the first quest.

Dick.

Overall: 8 out of 10

Improved on or not, the Legend of Zelda is a quite solid game. Just be warned that after the many sequels, this might come off as a little underwhelming.

Ninja Gaiden

When it comes to video games, Ninja Gaiden is famous for being the first game to use cutscenes and by extension, is the first to have a storyline that is more than for appearances’ sake. It is also known for a high but not unmanageable difficulty. All in all, it’s a very strong title is well worth your time.

Plot: 10 out of 10

Like I said before, this game was unique in its strong plot. It uses cutscenes at the beginning and end to move the story along. It’s about a young ninja named Ryu Hayabusa, who receives a letter explaining that he is entering a duel and should he not return, Ryu is to take the family’s flagship weapon, the Dragon Sword, go to America, and meet archaeologist Dr. Smith. But it’s the twists and turns that make this plot stand out. I won’t spoil anything, except to say that there are lots of surprises to be found. When I first played this game, I had already played the sequel and I still was surprised despite obvious secondhand knowledge.

Believe it or not, the man describing this scientific improbability is a CIA agent. A priest on the other hand…

Graphics: 8 out of 10

At first glance, this game may not seem visually amazing. On further examination, however, its graphics become clearly impressive. For example, the backgrounds and structures have a protruding, almost
3-D effect. And the cutscenes are some of the best in any NES game. The enemy sprites are quite detailed as well. The only real disappointment is the sprite of Ryu himself.

Sound: 9 out of 10

Perhaps the best 8-bit music in any NES game. Very catchy. Lots of songs, too. Sound effects are similarly fitting. The only reason this category isn’t a perfect ten is because the music starts over every time you pause the game.

Gameplay: 9 out of 10

Ryu handles quite well. He moves moderately quickly and jumps with great agility. His main weapon is a sword that strikes swiftly. He also has special weapons, each of which costs a certain amount of “Ninja Power” points each time it’s used. These weapons include regular shurikens, boomeranging throwing stars, fire that flies at the up/right diagnal, a few spinning fireballs that offer temporary invulnerability, and a four-way somersault slash, which is quite weak for most of the game but is EXTREMELY effective against bosses. They are all in orbs scattered throughout the entire game (sans boss fights), along with bonus points, extra health, and extra lives.

A dog’s worst nightmare is a midget’s bladed somersault. Wussies.

Challenge: 7 out of 10

This game is known for its high difficulty, yet I can’t help but consider it overrated in this regard. Yes, when you first start to play, it may seem utterly impossible. The enemies are numerous, quick, clever, and well-placed. The bosses aren’t too shabby either, attacking in such a manner that it’s really hard to hit without taking multiple hits in return. And then, there’s the enemies (particularly the birds) that specialize in knocking you into pits. I tell you, that has forever damaged the sanity of many a gamer.

This is me completing Ninja Gaiden for the very first time.

The problem is, once you beat a level, it never challenges you the same way again. I think what hurts the difficulty on return trips is that every enemy has a clear pattern. For instance, cloaked men with swords walk for a few seconds before throwing swords. Once this pattern is discovered, the difficulty drops tremendously.

Still, I can’t rate this category low because there’s still enough challenge left to keep me coming back every once in a while to see if my skills are still there.

Overall: 8 out of 10

While it would be surpassed by its first sequel, Ninja Gaiden is a very good game worth owning. It’s a benchmark in gaming history and is just plain fun besides.

Spider-Man

Tobey Maguire as Spider-Man/Peter Parker
Kirsten Dunce as Mary Jane Watson
Willem Dafoe as the Green Goblin/Norman Osborn
Cliff Robertson as Uncle Ben
James Franco as Harry Osborn
Rosemary Harris as Aunt May
J.K. Simmons as J. Jonah Jameson

In the late 1990s, adaptations of comic books, which had been a big deal for decades, were dying. The failure of Batman and Robin killed the series of movies by Tim Burton and Joel Schumacher and the TV adaptation suffered a decline. Some have credited Spider-man with saving this genre even though it was really X-Men that proved that comic book movies could still succeed if done right. But it was probably Spider-man that made comic book movies big again. For until the Dark Knight, remained the most successful of its genre ever.

The first Batman and Superman movies were the only examples on how to make a comic book movie to follow. Director Sam Raimi and writer David Koepp chose to follow the Superman: the Movie model of spending a great amount of time on the hero’s origin, not just jumping in like Batman. We see the tale of nerdy high school kid Peter Parker, who is mocked for being uncool and more than a little weird by his classmates. About his only friend is Harry Osborn, son of CEO Norman Osborn. Peter, of course, is bitten by a radioactive, experimental spider, giving him spider-like abilities. At first he uses these abilities to make a fortune. Until that is, he fails to help catch a criminal who escapes and murders Ben Parker, Peter’s uncle and surrogate father. Peter realizes that “with great power comes great responsibility.” And a career in superheroing is born.

As usual with these movies, there is love interest: Mary Jane Watson. We’re told that Peter has loved her since he was a child and despite his unpopularity during the high school portion of the movie, he becomes friends with her. But no more, or so it seems. This creates a level of angst, which made this movie quite popular with female viewers.

So did this scene.

This was one of the earlier movies that were very CGI-heavy. For its time, the CGI is extremely well done. It makes for the kind fast-paced high-flyin’ combat that could never have been done before. Of course, coming after the Matrix helps as well; action scenes filmed before the Matrix look very slow-paced compared to those shot after it.

As for the antagonist, this series begins with, as usual, the most prominent villain: the Green Goblin. Willem Dafoe plays this character with a thrilling amount of sadism and megalomania.

“It’s morphin’ time.”

Unlike most superheroes, Spidey gets a minor antagonist who doesn’t really do more than slander him. I refer of course to newspaper publisher J. Jonah Jameson, played by J.K. Simmons. Simmons does a very good job of playing Jameson with the bad temperament, opportunism, and cheapskatedness of the character.

This movie does almost everything right, but there’s one thing I can’t really praise. Except for Dafoe and Simmons, There aren’t really any particularly good performances. They’re not bad or anything, they’re just very ordinary. Some might argue that in a movie maintaining the true Marvel Comics feel of “regular people with powers,” mediocre acting actually helps. I’m afraid I can’t agree. Mediocrity is mediocrity.

Despite this major flaw, Spider-Man is a very solid superhero movie and well worth seeing.

Overall: 8 out of 10

Schindler’s List

Liam Neeson as Oskar Schindler
Ben Kingsley as Itzhak Stern
Ralph Fiennes as Amon Goeth
Caroline Goodall as Emilie Schindler

Schindler’s List is widely regarded as one of the greatest movies ever made. It won seven oscars and cemented Steven Spielberg’s place in the all-time high end of directors. After making a name for himself with horror movies (Jaws andJurassic Park, for example), kid’s movies (E.THook). and the Indiana Jones series, Spielberg thought he was ready to suddenly shift to art. An ego problem? Maybe, but like they say, “it ain’t braggin’ if you can back it up.” And Spielberg could and did back it up.

Set in Nazi Germany, the storyline is about a list of over a thousand Jews that industrialist Oskar Schindler placed under legal protection… well, “protection” is still too nice a word. These Jews are still treated like animals. But they are not sent to concentration camps to be literally worked and starved to death. No genocide for Oskar’s Jews. They are merely to be treated as slaves.

However, what really drives the picture is how it shows what life was like for German Jews under the oppressive thumb of Adolf Hitler. We see a poor, oppressed people who are subjected to constant insults and even beatings. One of the highlights is the scene where a soldier is preparing to execute a Jew, but his gun is jamming. He repeatedly tries to fix it, to no avail. Each click is almost in the Jew’s face and you better believe the hapless prisoner is scared. Finally, the soldier walks away and is like, “screw it, I’ll kill him later.”

Speaking of which, we get to see just how mean and nasty even the average German folk were. From civilians cheering on demonstrations where Jews are being paraded away like the kills at the old big fox hunts to a soldier being punished severely for kissing a Jewish woman, the evil that was apparently very easy to succumb to during those times and at that place is put on horrifying display for all to see.

This girl’s actual line: “goodbye, Jews! Goodbye, Jews! Goodbye, Jews… “

Schindler’s List ends on a positive note at last. With the end of the war, the Holocaust ends and we fast forward to the modern day. We see that Schindler is seen as a hero to many because he saved so many Jews. And make no mistake — in the political climate of Nazi Germany, he was risking his life in doing so.

All in all , Schindler’s List is not to be missed. As a historical film, it’s a grim look at a history we can’t ignore; As a drama, it’s a true classic.

Overall: 9 out of 10

Red

Bruce Willis as Frank Moses
Mary Louise-Parker as Sarah Ross
John Malkovich as Marvin Boggs
Helen Mirren as Victoria
Morgan Freeman as Joe Matheson

Red is a spy action movie with an all-star cast. Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, Mary Louise-Parker and Karl Urban, among many others, are all quite popular actors who appear in this movie. And while some cynics might write this movie off as “Die Hard meets James Bond,” it has enough uniqueness to seem fresh.

The Storyline is quite simple. Ex-covert operative Frank Moses is attacked by a terrorist group and his case worker, Sarah Ross, is dragged into this. So are all the members of Frank’s old team, who then defeat the terrorists. Of course, this series of coincidences is laughably implausible. I admit, the script is rather weak. So weak in fact that one can be forgiven for not paying much attention to it.

Either he ages well, or he’s got great makeup people.

Still, what Red lacks in plotting it makes up for in character development. These older and grizzled operatives give us a strong sense of over-the-hill people but still with some years of badassery left in them. Strong character interactions (complete with a couple of romances) also help.

There’s also clever tongue-in-cheek humor. Especially from John Malkovich and Helen Mirren.

The action is both flashy and intelligent. Just like in the aforementioned Die Hard, it’s nice to see a smart action movie.

This must be my shortest review by far. Thats’ because there’s really not much to tell. Red is no work of art, but it’s highly appreciable for what it is.

Overall: 8 out of 10