Saturday, 29 August 2009


Title: Professor Layton and The Diabolical Box
Developer: Level-5
Publisher: Level-5 (JP), Nintendo (NA/PAL)
Year: 2007 (JP), 2009 (NA/PAL)

Two years year ago, Professor Layton and The Curious Village was released in Japan to the delight of puzzle-lovers everywhere. A year later it was released in English, allowing a good number more of the gaming population to try their hand at it. Of course, the game's 'TO BE CONTINUED' screen at the end left many eagerly awaiting the sequel, so fast forward a year and a half later...

My excitement for Professor Layton and The Diabolical Box was only heightened by the fact that it feels like we're in the middle of a game drought, combined with the fact that I had been looking forward to playing more games about charming English gentlemen.

And I couldn't wait for more mind-breaking puzzles, of course.

You see, the Professor Layton series is based off the Metal Gymnastics series of puzzle books by Akira Tago, which are reportedly very popular in Japan. Many of the puzzles from the books have been directly transposed into a more interactive form for the DS and as a result, the game is chock-full of logic and lateral thinking puzzles, designed to really make you think.

A puzzle's difficulty is measured in 'picarats', which acts as the player's score throughout the game. The more difficult a puzzle is, the more picarats it is worth. If a puzzle is too difficult, the player has the opportunity to unlock a hint using a hint coin, which are limited in number and found scattered throughout the game world.

Additionally, some of these puzzles are directly related to the plot and require you to solve them in order to progress through the storyline, but a large portion of them are optional. Solving some of these optional puzzles give you items such as camera pieces, a hamster toy, a diary key or a tea ingredient, which are used for the mini-games. Completing these minigames means that the player can unlock bonus puzzles.

I suppose puzzles like the ones presented in The Diabolical Box are either a love-hate affair, but in my case, I thoroughly enjoyed having to think each puzzle through carefully. It's a refreshing change from games in which shooting everything that moves is key. The hints make perfect sense, and the game has the decency to explain the solution to you in greater detail when a puzzle is completed. This is especially useful if you've managed to solve a puzzle by luck.

I only have a slight problem with The Diabolical Box, and that is the slight imbalance in puzzle difficulty. There are quite a few puzzles that seem easier than the number of picarats they are worth and conversely, some supposedly easy puzzles that are challenging. But that could just be me.

As in The Curious Village, Layton is back in The Diabolical Box to solve another mystery, this time concerning a strange artifact called the Elysian Box. After receiving a letter from Layton's mentor telling him he has acquired the Box, Layton and Luke set out to meet him, only to find him dead and the Box missing. The two of them decide to find the Elysian Box as well as solve the mysteries surrounding it.

As you would expect from any good adventure games, there are several plot twists, many of which I didn't see coming at all. The characters are charming and are each distinctive in their own right with their own catchphrases and mannerisms. Professor Layton himself is especially notable, managing to be no less than a total badass who just happens to be polite and likes drinking tea.

Professor Layton and The Diabolical Box is a very special game, one that is sure to appeal to a large audience. With its numerous puzzles, loveable cast and exciting storyline, anyone who is enthusiastic about games that require a bit more brainpower is sure to love it.

Monday, 24 August 2009

Being a dick about Eternal Sonata

After finishing Baten Kaitos and being somewhat reluctant to start Baten Kaitos Origins before finishing Yakuza 2 (or something), I decided to sit down with Chip and play some Eternal Sonata.

Apparently he got some 8 year-old girl with stupid hair and a Southern accent in his party while I was playing other stuff.

It's kind of strange, you know - I don't particularly mind ES, really, but there's something about it that makes me wrinkle my nose. It's more than me just yelling about how much better BK is, despite the voice acting in ES sounding somewhat better and not like they were recorded from inside a telephone booth.

It's such a goddamn pretty game, too. Today I commented with "Holy crap everything in this game is so bright seriously I think we need to take a time out and go back to Gears of War or something." But then Chip said something that I actually agree with: gee, copypasting faces much?

But I feel that the characters are kind of irksome. Everyone just kind of hovers on the same level as each other, in that HEY LET'S ALL HAVE THE EXACT SAME REACTION TO EVERYTHING. There was a cutscene where they escaped prison and made it outside and all just bitched about 'We did nothing wrong man and they just dumped us in prison' - AND I MEAN ALL OF THEM. Everyone used pretty much the exact same words with maybe a couple of them changed.

It's kind of like how BK had one faggot pansy-ass character (read: Lyude), except it's the complete reverse with ES; there's maybe three ok characters so far and everyone else should just quit blinking and moving.

I think we need a drinking game for this too. 'Take a shot every time Polka looks depressed'. You would be dead so fast.

But really, it's an ok game. Will update if shit gets really awful.

Sunday, 16 August 2009

Repeat after me: I am Optimus Prime.

More kid's meal fun, this time a toy promoting Transformers 2. I'm sure you will agree with me that this is worse than Bumblebee and Ratchet combined.

WARNING: Camera-phone, ergo, shitty quality.

The vehicle mode is ok, I guess. The cool thing is that it comes with gay-ass flame stickers that you can put on yourself. I haven't put them on yet though.

But yes, that is his head sticking out there.

Oh, something to note is that this came with no instructions whatsoever. I only had a poorly-printed image on the tiny plastic bag the toy game in to refer to when transforming it. So for all I care I could be completely wrong and it's actually an ok toy.

So how do we transform this thing? Well first, we pull his trailer apart like this...

Then we flip the front out like this...

Then we spin the front around so it's facing in the opposite direction...



Prime, what did they do to you? Maybe this is what actually happened when he died.

It should be noted that even though this is a spectacularly horrible toy, the others look equally uninspired. According to the plastic bag, you can also collect a Bumblebee torch (car with blinking light in the middle), a tiny dartboard, dogtags and a 3D puzzle cube (which might be decent).

But I suppose I get some kind of masochistic glee out of buying crappy junk food and playing with the crappy toy. And of course, I like writing about it so that you, dear reader, can laugh too.

Saturday, 15 August 2009

Halo: District 9: The Videogame

Saw District 9 last night with J and Andrew. Without spoiling too much: it would make the greatest multi-genre game ever.

All Halo jokes aside, it would run like this:

- Long-ass intro cutscene.
- Diplomatic/social dialogue choices
- Look for the object in this picture, click on object
- 'Interactive cutscenes'
- Stealth section - run the fuck away
- Diplomatic/social dialogue choices x2
- 'Interactive cutscenes'
- Fetchquest/SHOOTAN' TIME - every weapon is the BFG
- Pilot aircraft
- Action sequence
- Hacking minigame
- More hacking minigames
- More pilot simulators
- 'Interactive cutscenes'
- Origami minigame

THE END. Expect a fake-FAQ from me when the DVD comes out and costs $12.95.

In all honesty, it's probably the best movie I've seen all year. Highly recommended, if you can handle some splatter.

Monday, 10 August 2009

Review: Lux-Pain

You can't spell Lux-Pain without 'Pain'.

Title: Lux-Pain
Developer: Killaware
Publisher: Marvelous Entertainment (JP), Ignition Entertainment (NA), Rising Star Games (PAL)
Year: 2008 (JP), 2009 (NA/PAL)

Visual novels are proving to be a popular sub-genre of adventure game, and given the nature of the DS, several of them have either made their first appearance to the world or are ports of previous games.

One of these games is Lux-Pain, the story being about a teenager named Atsuki Saijo who is an undercover agent for FORT, a government organisation that works towards eliminating the threat known as 'Silent'. 'Silent', a worm born through hate and sadness, has infected Kisaragi City, where Atsuki is sent to find the root cause and to eliminate it.

To do so, you must use the Lux-Pain, a kind of psychic-scraping device, to read people's minds and thoughts and to eliminate worms that are the result of any negative emotions NPCs might have. However, there is a time limit as well as a sort of health bar for the minds of whoever you decide to scrape - if either of these empty, you ruin the person's mind, and it's game over for you.

It's simple gameplay, but the process of 'Go to area - Find person - Read mind - Erase thoughts - Repeat' gets dull very quickly. It certainly does not help that Lux-Pain has a godawful localisation which can often leave you scratching your head and wonder what the hell is going on.

It's this localisation that hinders the game's messages, such as those of suicide, animal cruelty and dealing with loneliness. Add to the fact that a vast majority of the characters are mind-numbingly boring and/or horribly annoying and you'll find yourself not really caring and wanting to breeze through the game as quickly as possible.

Admittedly there is a lot of cool attention to detail, such as being able to have your fortune told by a whacky Chinese lady or checking a message board that updates according to what you have learned from your conversations with your peers. But again, with every message being chock-full of grammatical errors, it's often hard to decipher what's really going on.

The problem with this game is that in the genre of visual novels, a strong storyline and a cast of characters the player must be able to sympathise with, relate to, or just generally like, is very important. Perhaps Lux-Pain would have been so much more different and enjoyable if a better job had been done with the localisation, but we have to make do with what we're given.

Friday, 7 August 2009

So many reactions, so little time

Two things. One made me laugh hard, the other made me cringe hard.

Saw this month's issue of Hyper at the newsagent yesterday. Jordaan and I laughed and laughed and, um, yep, kept laughing.

The answer is 'King of Technical Fighting Games'.

Then today, I was zooming around eBay looking for a good price on Ryu ga Gotoku 3 when I stumbled across this page. I dig slash and all but OH MY GOD, OH MY GOD WHAT

I certainly didn't expect Ryuga fans to care enough.

Monday, 3 August 2009

Review: Baten Kaitos: Eternal Wings and the Lost Ocean‏

Title: Baten Kaitos: Eternal Wings and the Lost Ocean
Developer: tri-Crescendo, Monolith Soft
Publisher: Namco
Year: 2003 (JP), 2004 (NA), 2005 (PAL)

My brother bought a copy of Eternal Sonata the other week, so taking advantage of the 'multiplayer' mode, I played it with him. Despite being about Chopin and girls in frilly dresses who are dying and can use magic, I noted that certain aspects of it were similar to another game I had played ages past: Baten Kaitos. So of course, with the memories of the game in my mind, I tracked down a copy and bought it.

There's nothing really special about the story, and indeed, it's typical Japanese RPG fare. Perhaps the point that stands out the most is that you don't play as the main character per se. Instead, you play as a Guardian Spirit assigned to the main character, Kalas, at the beginning of the game. Oh, and you're a Guardian Spirit with amnesia.

So Kalas is on a typical quest for revenge of the deaths of his grandfather and brother when he rescues a girl named Xelha from death by giant monster. As it turns out, Xelha is on a quest to warn the world of an evil scheme to resurrect the evil god who was thought to have made the ocean disappear and they begin tagging along together, meeting interesting folk and whatnot. Did I mention Baten Kaitos takes place in the sky? Personally, I'm a sucker for games/movies/etc. that take place in the sky, so I forgave the plot because of this.

The thing I like the most about Baten Kaitos (and indeed, I think this was the main selling point) is that its combat system features a unique turn-based card battle system. Unlike a fair few Japanese RPGs which involve hammering the confirm button over and over again, the player's success in Baten Kaitos relies heavily on quick thinking, card management and a good amount of luck.

The cards, known as Magnus in the game, come in several different flavours, such as offensive, defensive, equip and quest. The tricky part of this system is that some Magnus will evolve over time. This can either be advantageous or disastrous. For example, while a common item such as a 'Cedar Tree' may be useless for a fair bit, but will eventually turn into 'Cedar Tree Sap', which can heal up to 380HP. On the other hand, several healing items will rot.

Of course, there are several opportunities to gain new Magnus. This applies to all types of Magnus across the board, as having more powerful attacks does not only mean leveling your character. To ensure your success in battle as the game progresses, you must obtain Magnus that have higher offense and defense ratings and can heal more HP.

Moreover, leveling up does not happen automatically. To gain levels, you must access the Church via the blue flowers scattered throughout the game world (which also act as save points). The Church not only allows you to level your character but also allows you to increase your class, should you have the special Magnus required to do so. A character's class is important as it determines how many cards appear in his/her hand at once and how many cards he/she can play in any one round.

Another high point of the game is its stunning graphics. Baten Kaitos was released in 2003 yet playing it now, I'm still awestruck at the quality. Everything looks fresh and clean, with just the right amount of visual effects to wow you, but not causing you to shut your eyes in fears of being blinded. The character portraits are well-drawn and the colour schemes for the various locations in the game are chosen with utmost care to convey the appropriate atmosphere to the player.

The musical score does an equally impressive job of feeding emotion into the game's world. Composed by Motoi Sakuraba (a JRPG soundtrack veteran, considering he also composed the music for Star Ocean, Valkyrie Profile and Eternal Sonata), the tunes are memorable and are likely to stay with you long after your game session has ended. In fact, one of the main reasons I began wanting to play Baten Kaitos again was because the battle theme in Eternal Sonata sounded so similar.

However, I can't say such positive things about the voice acting. It is worth noting that Baten Kaitos contains a rather good plot twist in the middle of the game but unfortunately, this scene is ruined by the worst voice acting I have ever heard. The voice acting in the rest of the game is not as bad, ranging from amusingly corny to slightly cringe-worthy. As a result, it's somewhat embarrassing to play if there are other people in your immediate vicinity.

Despite the laughable voice acting and the somewhat atypical Japanese RPG storyline, there is a lot to love about Baten Kaitos. It must be commended for having unique gameplay, gorgeous graphics and a wonderful score. And while it is not a game that will appeal to the masses, I have no doubt that it will always be remembered by those who played it as one of the most memorable games they have ever experienced.