Samurai, Smartphones and Adventure Stuff (Shin Megami Tensei 4 Review)

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Shin Megami Tensei 4 is a challenging game that somehow builds a year-long adventure out of samurai legends, smartphones and demons.

That’s right–this Nintendo 3DS game is about ancient samurai who gained access to the most advanced electronic gauntlet ever invented. This piece of armor uses the latest in modern technology to summon demons to attack enemies.

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As strange as this story gets, Shin Megami Tensei 4 actually plays more like an old dungeon-crawler. In the game, the player simply moves around the underground dungeon of Naraku in search of treasure, bosses and any semblance of a storyline. The game does provide a main quest, but it literally leaves the player to figure out how to trigger the next event in the narrative.

And this storyline is downright bizarre, once it gets started. It opens with a long stretch of exposition. The player has to find a ceremony where the main character gets drafted into the samurai army of Mikado. In this group, he befriends three fellow samurai–Jonathan, Walter and Isabeau.

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Their initial mission is to explore the underground dungeon of Naraku. At first glance, this looks like another boring expedition into a cave with monsters and treasure. However, they’re in for a shock once they reach the bottom. The dungeon actually leads into the post-apocalyptic remains of modern Tokyo.

This game is long. Over the course of one year, I’ve spent about 140 hours exploring Tokyo. At around the halfway point, there’s also entirely different worlds. I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but this entire game is about morality. The decisions of the main characters ultimately determine the fate of the above-ground world of Mikado and the underworld of Tokyo.

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Overall, Shin Megami Tensei 4 is a great game if players are willing to invest time into it. The graphics look amazing for a handheld adventure. The music was spooky enough to give me chills whenever I ventured into a new section of Tokyo. There’s only one flaw–the game has too many random monster battles.

I’ve heard that the Shin Megami Tensei series of games is known for plunging people through extreme challenges. However, SMT (Shin Megami Tensei) 4 pushes everything a little too far. Every four seconds, a monster just rushes me out of nowhere and I have to go through another battle. The fast-paced fights only last a few seconds, but they kept distracting me from my main objective.

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By the time I reached the final boss, my characters maximized their power to level 100. Even at this level, the monsters still had enough powerful moves to dismantle my party in only two turns. Needless to say, SMT 4 is absolutely unfair. Thankfully, the game provided a satisfying ending to this hardcore tale of the apocalypse.

So believe me–SMT 4 is an incredible experience if people are willing to invest time into every part of the game. Just be sure to take plenty of breaks, because this legendary trek is like a marathon.

Convoluted Tales of Symphonia (Part Five)

 

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I usually love playing Japanese role-playing games. Their adventures in fantasy worlds grip me with dramatic love stories and epic battles.

Tales of Symphonia, on the other hand, isn’t exactly gripping. The game is fun, but the story still confuses the hell out of me.

First of all, the whole script reads like some cheesy Saturday morning TV series. Lloyd and my other main characters were trying to fulfill Colette’s mission to regenerate the world. They proceeded, up to the point where Colette would lose her heart and become a soul-less body. Lloyd didn’t like that because, well, Colette is his girlfriend.

Also, the evil Lord Yggdrasil was planning on possessing her. So yeah, we had to find a alternate solution to save the world. Thankfully, one of our new characters knew of a way to travel into an alternate dimension. They decided to travel into this second world so that they can bring back Colette’s humanity.

And now Lloyd and his group of superfriends wants to find a way for both the world and the alternate dimension to co-exist. Something like that.

The story is very difficult to explain, to say the least. I’d love to actually finish this game, but I might end up switching to a different one soon. Don’t get me wrong–I love Japanese RPGs. This one is just a little too cheesy for me. Or maybe the colors are way too bright for such a twisted quest.

The dialogue is funny, though. I love watching Lloyd say dumb hero lines, such as “Give me your name, and I shall give you mine.” I can never really take this game too seriously. The characters are just too cute and funny to listen to.

So…maybe I’ll finish it when I’m bored and I have nothing better to do.

Struggles In Writing About Symphonia (Part Four)

writersBlock1I started playing Tales of Symphonia, because I wanted to write more articles about video games. Now I seem to have a lot of trouble putting my thoughts into words.

I guess I really started this blog to figure out why I haven’t been able write about anything.

There’s nothing terribly wrong with the game. So far, my only problem with this game is that it throws in too many random encounters with monsters. Aside from that, I’m having a blast with Tales of Symphonia.

However, I’ve struggled with writing about anything. Writing used to come naturally for me as a journalist. Sometimes my mind got stuck, but I always convinced myself to keep writing.

Unfortunately, I feel like I always keep getting stuck these days. Even since I lost my job as a freelancer, I’ve spent a lot more time in a mental block. My mind was so stressed that I stopped writing entirely.

I shut myself away, hoping to spend all my time searching for a job. Once I found a job, I figured that all my writing skills would come back naturally. Instead, I lost my ability to put all my feelings and thoughts into actual words.

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I’ve even distracted myself with lowbrow puzzle games, such as Picross 3D. I figured that a casual diversion would keep me happy, but I kept longing for something greater in that puzzle world.

Don’t worry. I’ll get back to writing about Tales of Symphonia. I probably just need more coffee to perk myself up…

Confusing Plot Twists of Symphonia or Something (Part Three)

 

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In my previous post, I wrote that Tales of Symphonia captured the full innocence and charm of childhood.

I’m about 20 hours in and I still love the game. However, all of the plot twists in this game are just downright bizarre.

For starters, I thought that my characters were just on a quest to save the world. After all, the first half of my adventure focused on the Colette and her crusade to regenerate the world. Colette was picked to become the Chosen, the savior of the world who would supposedly save the world by becoming an angel.

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So how is this going to save the world again?

Well, I had a hunch that the story would grow complicated. After all, this is a game where some random angel stranger just likes to call Colette his daughter (even though she’s not). He kept reminding us to hurry up and release four elemental seals, so that she could turn into an angel. And he gave us no explanation on how this would actually save the world.

That’s my main problem with this game–too many story elements remain unexplained. There’s this evil group known as the Desians, who are enslaving innocent people into human farms. And they’re turning those humans into mutants by implanting these ExSphere devices into them.

I just had no idea what to make of this game. I mean, this game has so much weird stuff. So far, I’ve seen it all. There’s human prison camps. There’s these half-elf dudes who like to cosplay as dudes from Dragonball Z. By the time the next “shocking” plot twist arose, I was just wondering where we were going with this.

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Yeah, your name is Vegeta, isn’t it?

So I’ll just spoil part of it right here. The angel was tricking us all along. After all, every time Colette released a holy elemental thingie, she lost something. She lost the ability to feel pain and to feel hungry. After she released the last seal, she lost the ability to speak. At the end of our journey, she turned into some weird undead thing with really creepy eyes. And now some ultimate evil villain appears out of nowhere, saying that he wants to possess Colette with the spirit of his dead master.

I’m impressed that story raised this much crazy drama, but my characters really don’t know what to make of all of this. Heck, I wouldn’t mind if someone in this game would tell me why I’m going in the direction they’re pointing me.

For now, I’ll just say that my characters used some gliders to fly into an alternate dimension world. I guess we’re now searching for a way to give Colette her true heart back.

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Do a barrel roll!

Hey, I’m just guessing here. I might as well keep playing. After all, someone is bound explain this. Or not. Whatever the case, this game has a nice spin on the “save the world” storyline. The dialogue can get downright confusing, but I really like watching my characters as they try to figure out what’s going on.

I mean, anything is better than the first Tales game. Ugh. No more Phantasia.

Childhood Memories Revisited in Symphonia (Part Two)

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Tales of Symphonia captures the full innocence and charm of childhood into a vibrant masterpiece that still holds up today. I decided to start revisiting this game last week.

At first glance, Symphonia didn’t impress me much. The story followed two teenage boys who want to help their friend Colette in her quest to regenerate the world. The whole journey was another one of those bland quests to save the world.

While the overall plot wasn’t really anything groundbreaking, the focus of this game was on small talk. The characters spent a lot more time talking amongst each other about whether this journey was even worth the effort.

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Their expedition took many strange turns. The main heroine, Colette, discovered that her true father was actually some angel dude named Remiel. She also undertook a trial to turn into an angel.

However, Colette fainted soon after her second meeting with Remiel. She began to lose her appetite and she grew more frail as her crusade continued. It left me wondering whether this trip around the world was really worth the effort.

Anyhow, these are just my first impressions of Symphonia, based on the first 10 hours. The story started slowly, but it grew on me as I kept plodding through it. Hopefully the next few hours will be even more exciting.

Tales of Symphonia – It’s Actually Good (Part One)

 

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After the god-awful Tales of Phantasia, I didn’t want to play a Tales game ever again. Naturally, I decided to try out Tales of Symphonia. Hey, the series couldn’t be that bad.

Sure enough, Symphonia was just a warm and inviting as I remember it. Any fan of adventure games would find something to enjoy in Tales of Symphonia.

For starters, Tales of Symphonia was one of the only role-playing adventures to come out for the Nintendo Gamecube. When it came out in 2003, Nintendo fans had to get this game. Back then, kids couldn’t afford to own two advanced game consoles, so they sided with one of the three big home consoles–the Nintendo Gamecube, the Playstation 2 or the Microsoft Xbox.

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The Nintendo Cube.

The Gamecube was actually a good game console at the time, but it didn’t last as long as the other gaming systems. Nintendo couldn’t find enough third-party developers to make games for them. So I was honestly surprised that a Tales game came out for the Gamecube.

Believe me, I thought that Tales of Symphonia would suck. I wanted it to suck. After all, the first Tales of Phantasia was…painful. I mean, I wrote an entire article about that piece of trash. So the Tales series couldn’t possibly save itself after such an atrocity.

However, it received rave reviews. Every major game publication couldn’t stop talking about Tales of Symphonia. After all, the Gamecube didn’t have many games to begin with. They were crazy. There’s no way that a Tales game could actually be good.

I tried my best not to give in. After a year or so, I couldn’t take it anymore. I had to get this game, to prove once and for all that this series couldn’t redeem itself. So I bought it. And guess what.

It didn’t suck.

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I also have a crush on Colette, by the way.

Yeah, I’m still infuriated to even think about this. I can’t believe that it’s good. So now I have to play this game again. I’ll write a few more articles in the next few weeks, just to figure out what I’ve missed.

Tales of Phantasia – I Hate Random Battles

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There is one game series that I always hate to look at–the Tales games. Namco published a ton of these “Tales of” games and I can’t even finish one. The first game in the series literally scarred me for life with its technical flaws.

I won’t go into a entire chronology of the Tales games, because there are over 10 of them. However, the first game, Tales of Phantasia, was a pain. It was one of the most frustrating experiences in my entire life.

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Don’t get me wrong–a lot of the Tales games are actually good. Every good series has to start somewhere though. To this day, Tales of Phantasia is still a trial in frustration. All I remember is that this role-playing game had a ton of repetitive battles. In each dungeon, I only had to take one or two steps to get into another battle with some monsters.

I first played Phantasia on the Game Boy Advance. I’ve heard that this was the worst version of the game, because it added in too many monster encounters. I guess I should’ve bought the Japanese Playstation version, along with some emulation software or something to play it on my American Playstation. That would probably cost me $50. However, I wouldn’t even want to bother spending it on this darned video game.

Oh sure, the game has a reasonably good script. The story is based on an actual novel, so the adventure has some well-written Japanese dialogue where it counts. And it was translated terribly.

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Kangaroo. Really?

I guess it also had something to do with time travel, but then the darned characters kept jumping around in time because the villain loves to warp all over the place…I don’t know. The story confused the heck out of me. I eventually ignored all the theatrics though, because I got so sick of all those random battles.

So I’ll just end this review right here. The story confused me with its time travel. The game sucks. I can’t finish it. End of story. Sigh…

Welcome to Gaming. Again.

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Video games. I’ve always had fond memories of them. Even as an adult, I still long for the old days, when I could jump around in the Mushroom Kingdom like Mario.

My name is Jonathan Oyama. I used to work as a freelance writer for Patch.com and the Laguna Beach Coastline Pilot. Now I work as a computer programmer and a tech support worker for Centenary United Methodist Church.

I grew up with video games. I’ve played a variety of titles, from Super Mario Brothers to Final Fantasy 13. Sometime after college I focused more on finding a job. And I gradually played fewer games.

To be honest, my job search hasn’t gotten any easier over the years. I switched my focus from journalism to computer programming. However, I want to revisit these games again. I want to look back at how these games have changed everyone’s lives, for better or for worse.

Every one or two weeks, check out my blog for my reviews of these games. I have a pretty big backlog of games to try out, so I’d love to share my experiences with all my readers. Stay tuned.