Thursday, June 19, 2008

Gamer's Diary - Star Ocean, Last Remnant

Having seen a trailer for Star Ocean 4, and realizing the series consists of science fictional JRPGs, I decided I wanted to play them. I like science fictional RPGs. I found that the publisher had never released the first two entries in the series in the US, but had released the third, Star Ocean: Till The End of Time, for the PlayStation 2. And it had a very reasonable price at the local GameStop.

So I put it in the console, started it up, and spent the next hour wandering around the resort planet's hotel, talking to the inhabitants and barging into people's rooms. I had no idea of where I should go or what I should do. Finally I figured out how to get into the battle simulator (the game's combat tutorial), and when I left that the game proper began.

An unknown force attacked the planet, and the hotel residents (including my characters) teleported to an emergency transporter room. There I found a save point, used it, and that was the end of my free time for the evening.

I don't think that the hour I spent wandering means that the game has a slow pace, or that it gets off to a slow start. I think rather that it means that the game gives you a lot of not-very-important things to see and do at the outset. I will start the game over tonight and I expect to arrive at the save point no more than five minutes after I get control of the characters. Because this time I know what to do and where to go.

All this suggests that I wasted most of the time I spent playing and didn't learn much about the game (especially since I cut short the battle tutorial) or its story. That has some truth to it, though I did find out a couple of relevant facts.

First I found that the game has a battle system that uses auto-attack, much like Final Fantasy XII but without the seamless integration into the game world. One can pause the battle at any time to change the attack or use an item.

Second I found that one class of attacks makes use of "symbology". The game calls it that in order to avoid calling it "magic". As if nobody can figure that out. Why can't JRPG developers get away from using magic spells in their games? Other games have health packs for healing and guns for distance attacks...why can't these do that? The concept of nanotechnology for medicine has been around since at least the early 90s. I found this lazy reliance on magic one of the most disappointing things about Xenogears and Xenosaga - though they called it "ether" there.

I expect to have more to say about this title after I get futher in it tonight (and play through the battle tutorials!).

I came across the trailers for The Last Remnant again recently, and they reminded me of why I both anticipate and scorn this upcoming RPG. On the one hand, it looks very pretty and promises the kind of turn-based combat I like in a JRPG. On the other, one couplet in the first trailer sets my teeth on edge: "Who created those remnants? And for what purpose?"

If the localization team erred in translating those lines, that bothers me. If they didn't, it bothers me more. A translation error in the game's trailer suggests that more and worse will come in the game. If they translated it correctly, it suggests that the game developmers have no idea of what makes a remnant a remnant: a usually small part, member, or trace remaining of a larger whole. One does not create remnants; the destruction of the whole leaves them behind. Since the game's story revolves around remnants of an earlier civilization, this bodes ill for the game's nonsense factor.

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