The Corrente Review Of Games: Volume II, Number 1 (English Edition)
The Corrente Review Of Games is published on the first Saturday of the month.
Posting is done in rotation by the following contributors:
Aeryl, BDBlue and danps.
Please contact any of us with submission ideas or feedback.
Valkyria Chronicles on the PS3 was a great game that a lot of people didn't play. It should've been a huge hit, but wasn't (at least in this country). So I was pleasantly surprised when Sega announced that they would be making a sequel, albeit for the PSP and not the PS3. The good reviews made me even more excited.
A recent business trip gave me an excuse to dust off my PSP and take Valkyria Chronicles II for a spin. While the basic combat stayed the same, I found the game disappointing. A pale copy of the original (not an unusual event where sequels are concerned).
For those who didn't play the first Valkyria Chronicles, it was a turned-based strategy role-playing game. The story was set in the fictional Gallia, a neutral country caught in the middle of a great war between the empire (think Axis) and the Alliance (not really seen, but think Allies). Your character, Welkin Gunther, is a young militia member called up to defend Gallia from the evil invaders. Although Welkin's father was a famous general, Welkin's interest is nature. By Welkin's side is a squad of other young people drafted into the defense of their country. Each of them has a unique personality. Although the non-main characters say little, the voice acting and the few lines of dialogue give each of them their own personality. The sadistic and vengeful Jane. The loyal veteran Largo. The incredibly gay - and kickass tank killer - Jann. The combat system, while not flawless, worked well and provided little bursts of action while also emphasizing strategy.
Because it's a turn-based game it should work well on the PSP. And technically, it does. The combat system in Valkyria Chronicles 2 is essentially the same and works well with the PSP controls. The screen isn't as big (obviously) so they've had to make adjustments by creating multiple battle maps that you flip between instead of one large one. Although I prefer the larger map on the PS3, the multiple maps make sense on the small PSP screen.
If the combat works well, why is it a pale imitation? The same reason so many stories fail. Character. For starters, the lead character - Avan - is an ass. It doesn't help that he doesn't get as many cut scenes as Welkin got on the PSP. In fact, each "chapter" of the original included more story scenes than battles (although the battles took much longer). The voice acting was well done and gave a sense of characters. On the PSP version, they didn't use as much voice acting. Most of the scenes with Avan and the other characters have the characters saying one word designed to capture the emotion (like "Wha-!") and then the actual dialogue is printed on the screen.
To make matters worse, the story takes place in a military academy. As a result, a lot of the story is essentially teenager, high school bullshit. Now, high school can be mined for great story (Buffy!), but that's hard to do in a few short scenes in a video game with printed dialogue. Most of the time, I found myself skipping the optional story scenes.
If you enjoyed Valkyria Chronicles' combat system, it's probably worth catching the sequel on the PSP, but I wouldn't rush out to buy it. I'd wait until the price drops to $20 and then get it used for even less.
Ratchet & Clank have been around for almost ten years now and as far as I can tell it's a fairly low key franchise for one with so many installments. I haven't played all of them; A Crack in Time (ACIT) is only the third for me. There seems to be a consistency ("sameness" if you're feeling ungenerous) to them that makes jumping into a new one pretty easy. Ratchet ais a cat-like creature called a Lombax, Clank is a robot. The big majority of the time you play Ratchet in a cartoonish first person shooter mode.
Stripped to bare bones, you run around and whack inanimate objects with a wrench in order to bust them open and collect metal scraps, which can then be used to purchase weapons and armor. The weapons range from the conventional (a laser pistol) to the absurd (a frog like device that "shoots" an enormous croak) and as you kill more enemies with them they automatically upgrade. The auto-upgrade is one of those "give the hamster a pellet" features that designers use to prod gamers on, and it works like a charm with me. I'm always switching up weapons to get them up to the highest level possible (5, I believe).
ACIT, like its predecessors, also has plenty of side quests and mini-games for those who like to suck the marrow out of their games, which I suspect is how most gamers approach any game they actually pay for (unless it's a complete disaster). The main plotline involves a mysterious race called the Zoni, small atemporal race who help rescue Clank from the captivity he starts the game in. There are stray Zoni scattered throughout the solar system and you can drop down to various small planets along the way, collect them and get upgrades. There are also Gold Bolts, which I believe are just there in a "collect them all!" capacity, and actual upgrade packs that add new features to weapons. All in all, lots to keep a completist busy.
The R&C franchise has a slightly whimsical, sarcastic and sophomoric tone (the froag croak can easily be mistaken as a fart, especially by a 5 year old boy), enemies often make "ow that hurt" kind of comments when they're getting blown up, and there are lots of amusing throwaway lines. For instance, one of the planets is inhabited by a race of super smart dweeby creatures - small and lumpy with oversized brains. If you happen to whack one of them (which is almost inevitable if you're collecting bolts) they say "this is just like high school" (with a kind of beaten down resignation of course).
The plot in R&C games is almost always irrelevant. It's all about running around blowing up stuff in a variety of amusing ways and the gameplay is easy enough for even a beginning gamer to get through. The bosses are even fairly easy. It seems like they are aimed at the tween crowd, kids who are too old for Mario and too young for God of War. I try not to get hung up on target markets though. A game for little kids or adolescents is still a game, and if it's well done why not play it? ACIT is a lot of fun. In an era when there's a premium on seriousness and heavy play, there's a lot to be said for a game that doesn't take itself too seriously. The R&C team seems to take that to heart each time out, and that makes for games that are a nice break from what's on offer. If you're looking for a change of pace you could do a lot worse. This year, you probably have.