Speed running Symphonia

There are very few games I have played more than once, and even fewer that I played three or more times. I don’t know why I wanted to play Tales of Symphonia for a third time, but I was able to complete the game and master the game by beating it in 13 hours and 31 minutes.

The only other games I’ve speed ran through were Golden Sun and Donkey Kong Country. Since I don’t have much experience in this regard, I figured it would be fun to try, especially now that I remember the puzzle solutions like the back of my hand.

Speed running through the game provided a new angle towards many aspects, such as the game play and music.

Perhaps this happened because I went from mania to hard, but I found this play through very easy. Without carrying anything over, I was able to beat the final boss 20 levels lower than my previous play through. Furthermore, I did not find myself ever using items. For those who watched my stream of mania can attest that I was popping items every 5 seconds during boss fights. Part of me feels as though I got better, but part of me believes hard makes it so the AI isn’t as much as a hindrance as mania.

Instead of controlling Lloyd, as I did on mania, I decided to play as Zelos. What I realized is how Zelos is not as fun and seems to lack techs that could chain well. He has some of the same moves as Lloyd, Raine, and Genis, such as Demon Fang, First Aid, and Thunder Blade, but being a jack of all trades implies he will not be particularly strong in any area. As the player, the last thing I want to do is stand back and cast, so of course I rush to the front lines. Simply put, I was using the same combo over and over since it was the only one he had.

While controlling Zelos, I noticed how Lloyd has manuverability over everyone else. With moves such as Tempest and Rising Falcon, Lloyd has jump over enemies and go from side of the battlefield to the other almost instaneously. None of the other characters can perform such a feat. Rather they could knock the enemy down, and one can instantly appear on the other side of the enemy. With a big boss or enemy, knocking them down over and over is simply not as effective as appearing on the other side.

Because I couldn’t hear the top notch voice acting, I learned to appreciate the music. Honestly, I was never a fan of Sakuraba’s work whenever he composed for the Tales of.. Series. I personally think he has done a better job on Valkyrie Profile and Eternal Sonata, but I will admit the OST for ToS is not as bad as I originally thought. However, I still don’t think its very good or memorable.

Knowing I can play through this game so quickly gave me a rush of satisfaction. Barely do I put my own challenge while playing a game so this play through felt rather fresh. Furthermore, it has inspired me to try and master more of the games I love. For example, I intend to do a Pistol only run in Uncharted (maybe first on hard then crushing). Even without giving me the drive to start new challenges, I can cast this game to the side and know I have explored all of the content and understand the depth of the battle system. Now what, though? Don’t think I have forgotten how I intend to play through all of the Tales of… Games I have. Tales of the Abyss is next!

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My Symphonia Insanity

A month ago, I beat Tales of Symphonia on Mania mode, most of which I streamed. I replayed the game as a part of my Tales marathon, where I plan to replay all of the Tales of… Titles I own.

However, with the start of a demanding job and after accumulating some new games in thanks to Amazon and from some fellow backloggers (thanks Rpggamer606 and Iowasfallen), my marathon was put on a hold. In addition, I was attempting to replay Shadow Hearts and Wild Arms 5 which simply was not happening. My solution is to put Shadow Hearts and Wild Arms 5 on hold while I play only one game at a time.

So how does another game, that I just played, wind up on my now playing? Simply put, I just wanted to play it again because I am so close to a completion. To challenge myself, instead of playing it on mania, I will play it on hard and attempt to speed run it on a low level.

These rules are the conditions of my master run attempt:
1) Nothing bought in the grade shop a part of play time, battle data, and titles. This rule means that no 10x or 2x experience and no additional grade. This rule serves the purpose of keeping my level as low as possible.
2) Lloyd will have to be the on screen character at all times. With his Ex Gem lvl 2 personal gem, he will be the fastest character on field.
3) Sheena will have her personal skill equipped as well, which will give me the chance to walk through monsters depending on her luck stat. This skill is being used in order to save time in dungeons.
4) For completion, all titles will be obtained. For those not well versed in the game, that means Lloyd cannot unequip his wooden sword until a particular battle (for Eternal Apprentice)and I cannot use gels until a certain point (for Genis’ I hate Gels!).
5) In addition, I must get Zelos in my top 3 for affection in order to trigger the scene in Flanoir. That way I can get his unique item
6) No battles can be escaped. If I get stuck in a battle, then I have to deal with it

My goal is to finish the game somewhere between 15-20 hours, which I consider reasonable. My last two runs were 36 then 50 hours.

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Boys with shovels spouting cheesy lines, over… and over.

My previous posts were all oriented around a particular game, discussing my thoughts and other junk. However, due to time constraints and the fact I want to update this blog frequently, I decided this post will be bit of an experiment. I will discuss what I have been playing for the last week.

Wild Arms 5 is my favorite game in the series and I thought highly of it when I initially played it last year. With its hex-based battle system and superb music, I over looked the cheesy story. My review for it can be found on GFAQs.

In the last week, I’ve been playing the game exclusively as Shadow Hearts has kind of hit the back burner. I figure with my severely decreased gaming time compared to summer, focusing on only one game will severely raise my chances of playing a game from start to finish.

Without discussing spoilers, I have played through roughly 75% of the main story and accomplished one side quest. The story seems much shorter than I remember, although the grand scale of exploring a diverse world remains. The perks of NG+ is keeping items, money, and equipment. Therefore, the game should be shorter.

It was not until this playthrough until I noticed how cheesy the story really is, even though the game does feature some humorous moments. Furthermore, I continue to enjoy the music and really regret how the 10th anniversary bundle came with an art book instead of a special CD featuring prominent tracks from the series.

One cool aspect from this game is how every playable character from the previous four entries are featured as NPCs. When I initially played through, I had only gone through WA4 opposed to now where I had played every main entry. I now recognize some of the characters and the titles associated with them.

Later this week, I expect to start the optional content which I previously ignored. I figure that this new content will continue to make the game feel fresh and expose strategies I had glanced over.

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Tales of the Beaten Backlog

Beating my backlog really did not make me feel as though I had accomplished some feat. Instead, I now know that I don’t have a pile of games that I may never touch. In a way, that fact is relieving but this accomplishment felt rather anti climatic. The only difference between now and then is that I can solely dedicate my time towards replaying the games I truly liked.

Instead of discussing how I enjoyed Tales of Vesperia, the last unfinished game I had or discuss the games I really think stand out in my 200 game collection, I am simply going to rant about my current Tales of.. Marathon.

Considered the “FF7” of the franchise, or the game that made the series known to jRPG fans, Tales of Symphonia is the first game from the series I played. When I went through the 36 hour tale in 2007, I remember constantly comparing it to Final Fantasy 10. Why? Because FF10 set the bar, in my book. The comparison only shows I highly regarded ToS. Parts of the plot are similar while the game play is radically different.

Unlike Tales of Legendia, I thoroughly enjoyed my replay of Symphonia. Not only did I learn how in depth the game play can be by playing the game on its hardest difficulty, mania, but I delved into the side content I previously glanced over. What I enjoyed about the replay was not the story, but experimenting with different characters and tactics to tackle the bosses that can dish out twice the damage while having twice the health. My first play through consisted of me playing as Colette because I felt as though she was broken with a certain move and I could sit back and fight long range when the battles were getting touch. However, this time, I tried to play with each of the melee fighters.

By swapping members, I noticed how my play through was not much of a cooperative effort. Instead, my AI companions were a hindrance during most battles. My healer would not heal constantly, but rather run up to the enemy and start casting even if her tactic was set to “not pursue”. My other fighters would die seconds into a battle and result in me fighting much more defensively from the get-go. I would have to turn off all of their techs except for a few to get them to fight semi-decently, although I noticed they cannot backstep or link techs.

Because I played this between Vesperia and Legendia, I saw the considerable difference in quality regarding music. Legendia’s music, in a nut shell, was brilliant. On the other hand, Vesperia may have one to two tracks that I thought was tolerable. Symphonia’s felt very average, not sucking or excelling during any scene.

Graphically, I thought the game aged well and had a much more solid presentation than Legendia. I felt as though I was exploring a complete world full of distinctive traits depending on region. The anime scenes aren’t quite as nice as Legendia’s, but they are still rather good. On the other hand, these anime scenes are drawn in the same artistic style as the in game models so the scenes don’t look out of place unlike Legendia’s.
This recent play through has not only showed the glaring problems with the AI, but I now understand why I had been fond of the game. The game could have used some polish, but the graphics, sound, and battle system all combine to make a fun and enjoyable game. The normal mode provides a venue in which a player can simply mash buttons to win, while mania provides the strategy for those who like to have some challenge. The story has a simple premise but attempts to deviate from cliches at certain points. Furthermore, there is plenty of side content which not only gives backstory for each character, but these optional segments can make your party near-unstoppable. I would definitely replay this for a third time some day, but for now I will continue with my Tales of… Marathon and play some other RPGs, such as Wild Arms and Shadow Hearts.

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Marathoning Tales of…

As my backlog continues to dwindle, I am trying to replay the games I own instead of buying new ones. There have been a myriad of games where I simply blitzed through the main game and booted a new game 10 minutes later. As of now, my last unbeaten game is Tales of Vesperia, the game I bought a 360 for. To celebrate the end of my backlog with a game I have highly anticipated, I decided to replay the Tales of… Games I own.

Replaying through the Tales of… series was an easy decision. By using the grade you have earned throughout the game, you can carry an assortment of perks into a new game plus, such as double experience, keep artes, etc.. I figured, with these perks, going through these games again would be quicker and I could delve into the content I had previously missed.

I intend to go through Tales of Legendia, Symphonia, Abyss, Dawn of the New World, then Vesperia. Apart of Eternia, that is every game I own in the series.

Only a few days ago I had replayed through Legendia on hard. Many people seem to hate it because of the battle system, silly graphics, and cliched story. When I initially played the game in 2008, I thought the game was decent enough and it somehow held my attention for 55 hours. I remember a strong, likeable, cast that felt like a tight-knit group. I remember setting my controller down and wondered why other RPGs did not dedicate screen time towards characterization as much as ToL. In other words, I had fond memories.

However, I quickly grew tired of the game on my recent replay. Unlike Abyss, there is nothing new that opens up in NG+. Furthermore, apart of the character quests and main tale, there are no real sidequests apart of the arena.

Replaying it made me wonder why I felt the way I did. My feelings of the game has completely changed and I cannot see myself ever playing it for a third time. Even with new costumes, carrying over my skills, my money, and whatever, I just found the game boring. There were a few moments, story-wise, where I was amused, but the battle system was rather boring. I remember abusing two of Senel’s moves, the only two that are multihit. So I abused those, watched the AI get comboed by the enemy, and mashed more buttons until I heard victory music.

What amused me the most about this replay were other peoples’ reactions. I played the game on stream and maybe 2 people came in without bashing it in some way. On the other hand, it was unanimous that the music was amazing.

What I learned from this replay is that, like with movies and film, the first time is the best. The sense of unfamiliary will evoke stronger reactions from the playing than simply observing how the plot unravels. People may identify these feelings as “nostalgia” and while I agree to an extent, a solid product must have some indescribable charm to warrant such a title. In other words, I was blinded by the feelings I felt by the end of Tales of Legendia after my first play through. The end was charming and somehow that feeling overwhelmed the feelings I felt throughout playing the game. It was not until my replay where I was able to uncover the veil and see what the game for what it truly is.

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The Forgotten Prince

Last generation, The Prince of Persia: Sands of Time trilogy were my favorite set of platformers. I thought the use of time, whether it was to freeze, fast forward, or rewind, were implemented into thought out levels were traversing from one platform to another felt like an accomplishment.

I did not own any of the current gen systems when Prince of Persia, a reboot, came out so I happened to skip it. However, the reviews were lukewarm so I never bothered buying it. I decided to go out on a limb and try out The Forgotten Sands, named after the movie that came out the same week. What I found was an enjoyable experience that could have been so much better with an extra layer of polish.

None of the powers the Prince was given this time were practical in theory. Nevertheless, they were fun to use and were integrated into the puzzles at every step. From freezing water, to restoring objects that were once there, the player needed precise timing. I thought the end game areas, though, got a little out of hand. There were a few sequences where the prince had to wall run, then freeze water while in between two water falls, then bounce off one to the other, unfreeze it, wait for the prince to approach a third water fall, freeze it again in order to bounce to a forth then restore a pole so the Prince can start swinging. I am not saying the sequence was difficult, but my hands were tapping a, the joystiq, holding the back triggers, then had the tap on the front trigger. The problem was that it was simply too much button input for such a short sequence.

The level design and platforming were top notch and unlike the Warrior Within and Two Thrones that seemed to become more combat oriented, about 80% of the game is dedicated to platforming.

The Prince is just as agile when taking out enemies, as he has a simple 3 hit combo. However, he also has a charged attack, can kick the enemy back, and has an aeriel slash. A part of these techniques, the Prince has a RPG-esque growth tree where he can learn four more skills, each based off of an element. Combat is a bit shallow but it breaks up the platform sequences.

The graphics are a bit inconsistent. The character models, like in Assassins Creed 2, are simply atrocious. I don’t even know how to describe the characters faces, but I do know some look more human than others only because there is facial hair. Some levels look especially good, such as the outdoor gardens, while others look rather generic. Its a shame, too, because the latter half of the game not only has better looking levels, but the platform sequences are simply more fun. Watching The Prince defy physics is a bit weird, though, as the way he runs across walls seems a bit worse than in The Sands of Time.

Musically, nothing stands out. However, I consider it a major upgrade from Warrior Within considering there is no Godsmack. The voice acting is decent enough, as it seems Ubisoft attempted to make The Prince witty and charming, again.

Speaking of the lines delivered, the story seems to be a bit nonsense. It was not until the scene before the credits rolled that I realized the game was a prequel to Sands of Time. How The Prince reacts in Sands of Time would really make no sense if he had actually gone through this current-gen adventure so I have attempted to negate the story completely.

The game excels at level design but stumbles at every other front. The game is a rental, at least, seeing as it took 6-7 hours to beat. There may be some incentive to go back, but does it really warrant another play through? I think not, but I do believe the series going back to its last-gen roots is a step in the right direction.

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The Visual Novel – RPG

Persona 3 Portable is currently the only game I own on my year old PSP. While I have played several games on the handheld, none of them had such replay value where I felt the need to keep them. Persona 3 Portable is a port of the Playstation 2 RPG with a few tweaks, integrating battle elements from Persona 4, such as granting the user another turn if he/she hits one of the enemies weakness.

At first, I was hesitant to buy the title since I thought I would get bored of a game I played a mere six months ago. However, I found myself enthralled, yet again, of a story about the dark hour, a time between midnight and 1 A.M., where being called shadows wreak havoc upon the world.

I started a file on the hardest difficulty called maniac and chose the female protagonist, both of which are exclusive features to P3P. Although the underlying story remained the same, I cannot see myself ever playing the PS2 version again. From the ease of transportation, to the more user friendly battle system, I cannot believed such a text- heavy RPG has become so portable friendly.

While some may argue how the experience has become down graded since exploration has become limited to Tartarus, I would want future RPGs to utilize such a system. While running around towns can immerse the player, several rpgs depict them in such an unrealistic way, whether the construction looks absolutely absurd (eg. Grandia 2) or have several screens inhabited by two to three people (eg. Wild Arms 3). Persona 3 has several locations, but each serves a distinct purpose. Furthermore, each of these locations are inhabited by people whose speech will change depending how far the player is in the story.

All of the exposition is through a character portrait with text underneath, although most of it is voiced. The portraits facial expressions will change depending on the text so the exposition does not feel so static. A problem with several 3D RPGs is what I like to call the “moving hand syndrome,” where the character model has the hand moving while speaking to show the player who is speaking (eg. Tales of Abyss). While this may be a limitation of the system, I thought the up close portraits in P3P were more immersive. Final Fantasy 13 may have been an exception to this problem, but let’s be frank: most RPGs don’t have such high production values.

Playing through P3P has made me realize that I would like RPGs that are much more straightforward while providing immersion. From being able to quickly travel from location in Port Island City to watching single character portraits react based off of the text, I believe RPGs without the production values of Final Fantasy 13 could take a note or two from P3P.

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