Friday, October 17, 2008

Romhacks: Their Finest Hour?!

This week saw the release of two long-awaited romhacking projects. The first was an English translation of Persona 2: Innocent Sin, a Playstation game about a couple of high school kids who totally rock Hitler's face. I'm not sure if I'm going to get around to playing this one right away. It has a tendency to randomly crash when running on a PSP, according to the patch's readme. That's not reassuring! Still, I assume I'll check it out eventually. It seems a little too interesting for me to skip out.

The other big finished project is Mother 3, the sequel to the cult classic Super Nintendo RPG that Westerners know as Earthbound. I played it in Japanese with the aid of a (pretty shitty) dialogue translation after play-asia had a sale on the game near the beginning of the year, and I was blown away. It's easily one of the best games I've ever played.
Shigesato Itoi
Moreso than any other game I can think of, the Mother series has always had the guiding hand of esteemed copywriter and essayist Shigesato Itoi behind it. He's not just a semi-famous name added for the sake of grafting meaningless clout onto the game. He's actually responsible for writing all of the game's dialogue. And conceiving the story and characters. Since Japanese RPGs are typically focused on story, characters and dialogue frequently written by computer science majors, Itoi's influence is immediately obvious. His games are warm, charming. They're humanistic.

In Earthbound, a common status ailment was homesickness. As a young boy thrust into a terrifying adventure, it's to be expected. The cure for homesickness? Visiting home, or calling your mother on the phone. That kind of charming thoughtfulness is Itoi personified. Frankly, though, after playing Mother 3, I think Itoi is probably just a genius. We need more people like him working on video games.

Something else worth mentioning: Mother 3 has the most amazing soundtrack I've ever heard in a video game. It was composed entirely by Shogo Sakai, who you may know as the composer of Super Smash Bros. Melee. It is 250-something tracks long. There are something like 50-60 battle themes (which fits in nicely with the game's wonderfully transparent rhythm-focused battles). All of those tracks are astonishingly good. In fact, let's go ahead and make this claim: Mother 3 has the best video games soundtrack ever. I am writing this mostly because I genuinely feel this way, and mostly because I want you to go and check this game out, even if you had no prior interest. Yes.

Here's the English-language trailer.
Go play this game. There are detailed how-tos on the official web site.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Fantasy Zone II Remake & Mega Man 9

First: yes, the Fantasy Zone II Remake in the recently released Fantasy Zone Complete Collection is pretty dang fantastic. Kurt Kalata's got a writeup over at HG101, and there's a youtube video you can watch here - it's got a link to a demo of the Windows version, too!

Mega Man 9, too, is pretty great. It's a lot less interesting to me at face value, just because hey - it's Mega Man 9, y'know? This franchise has had its time in the sun, and while People Who Played Video Games In the Nineties really dig Mega Man, the fact of the matter is that, uh, getting the chance to play another installment with intentionally anachronistic graphic design doesn't quite instill me with giddy excitement.

That said, they did a good job with the game. The level design is excellent, and occasionally a little sadistic. Sometimes it feels like there aren't enough mid-stage checkpoints (there's only one per stage, besides the one before each boss). It's a tough game. And yet, while you may initially struggle through a stage the first couple of times, a second attempt after finishing it will often reveal that hey, this game's not that hard after all. I think that's a good thing.

Most stages are built around setpieces or build on interesting new play mechanics that haven't been seen in a Mega Man Game before. One stage introduces swinging pendulums, which react to your movement while standing on top of one. The first time you run into them, they're spaced pretty reasonably over a bottomless pit, allowing you to come to grips with their behavior. The second time is similar, but this time there are spikes positioned just so, forcing you to swing the platform precisely through the gap and in to saftey. The third time you run into one of these things, it's suspended halfway up a room lined all the way around with spikes. The only exit is through a 2-tile-wide hold in the bottom of the room. That's some gutsy shit.
There's also a downloadable Endless mode, which Capcom is charging $3 for. Kind of a shame, because it's really neat and should be included with the game by default, I think. The way it works is, you start at the beginning of a randomly chosen 10-screen long stage. There's a warp at the end. Reach it, and you'll be warped to another randomly chosen 10-screen long stage. A lot of these stages are modeled after famous stages from Mega Man history, including that damned disappearing block section in Heat Man's stage from Mega Man 2. Every 30 screens, you get to fight a boss. Die, and the game records the number of rooms travelled as your best score. It's pretty dang clever!

Conclusion: You did a pretty good job, guys. Please do not make a Mega Man 10. I don't care how well this game sells. Don't do it.