RPGs for the Playstation 3 (PS3): An Oldschool Perspective, Part 4
PS3 Exclusives, and The NKOTB...
This is the fourth installment in the series on Playstation 3 RPGs. In this issue, we will turn our attention to a couple of Playstation exclusive titles, Demon's Souls and White Knight Chronicles. It seems rare for any system to get an exclusive these days, so gamers want to know which systems exclusives are better. The fact that Mass Effect 2 has been announced for the PS3 is a major blow to the Xbox 360 exclusive RPGs. How do the PS3's exclusives add up? This issue also takes a look at the newest RPG available for the PS3: Fallout New Vegas. Yup, I've already saddled up to New Vegas and spent 100+ hours there and am ready to play tour guide.
The year 2009 was dominated in RPG reviews and sales by Dragon Age: Origins. But Dragon Age: Origins didn't even end up winning RPG of the year by many people's reckonings. Demon's Souls is one of those rarities is it such a joy to run across. It is a game that quietly builds a following until someone stands up and says, "You know what? Atlus has made quite an impressive game here".
If you were to watch a video of Demon's Souls, you'd think it was a hack n' slash 3rd person Dungeon Explorer-esque dark fantasy adventure. You'd be mostly right too. The thing is, the aspects of Demon's Souls that make it so engaging and replayable are things you cannot see when you watch a video of game play. Demon's Souls is a game that you have to play to understand the appeal. You don't just play it, but you get killed over and over and over until you start to figure it out. The learning curve reminds me of Super Mario Brothers 1 on the NES. I'm not saying it's not fun, I'm saying it's harsh and that only the dedicated gamer will discover the many secrets hiding within this game.
The Good: Instead of gushing, as this is one of my favorite games, I will keep my points to three. There are three things about the game that stand out as fantastic and make the game one of the best games available on the PS3.
One of the best things about Demon's Souls is the atmosphere of the game. I play it at night when natural lighting doesn't get in the way. It's the first time an RPG has made me feel a quickening of the pulse that I associate with Survival Horror games. I literally worry about what's around the corner. The worlds you visit are varied and each have a theme to them. For example, the second world you visit is a vast mine and you keep exploring deeper and deeper reaches of it as you progress through the second world. In contrast, the fifth world is a swamp set deep in a ravine/canyon/cave that you have to descend for the entire first level just to reach the ground level and begin to explore the swamp. The mood is ever dark, and for reasons related to the plot, the land is filled with oppressive sorrow and an impending sense of doom. The Playstation 3 is a video system fully capable of realizing a fantasy world imagined to the proportions of the Nexus.
Another innovative and amazing thing about Demon's Souls is that it incorporates on-line play into the single player campaign perfectly. At any time you can discover messages left in the world by other players who have found secrets or discovered traps. These appear as red marks on the ground which you can read and often alert the player of things you might otherwise not notice. You can also see semi-transparent white-outlined ghostlike entities as you play. These are actually other live human players. They appear in your version of the game as ghosts you cannot interact with, but you can watch them. The behavior of other gamers is a huge clue as to what to do when you are lost in your explorations of the Nexus. Coupled with this non-intrusive interaction, you can also actively invade other players worlds to kill them and capture the souls they've accumulated. (In Demon's Souls, GIL and EXP are the same thing, and they are called "Souls", hence the title). Don't worry, however, you can also summon friendly human beings to fight at your side and help you fight the invading human. Human players can also join your game to help you defeat boss Demons, which is great because sometimes they are very hard.
A third thing about Demon's Souls that makes it great is the combat. The game might look like a hack and slash, but it's all about timing and parrying, thrusting, blocking, etc. You must time your attacks and learn your opponents moves to defeat them, or you will die. This will happen every time. This makes battle slow at first and difficult to master, but as you get better and begin to easily handle enemies that used to kill you, the feeling is awesome. This is not a game for mindless leveling to crush the difficulty curve, this is a game that actually gets harder. If you didn't go get amazing armor and reforge your weapons into reinforced enchanted massive tools of war while maxing out your strength, magic, endurance, etc., you'd never survive. The demon's you fight are truly awesome in their presentation and AI (there are a few exceptions that are simple, but when you get to them, you'll take an easy fight). This game is not for the faint of heart, but then again, it's rated M. If you want a challenge, this game delights.
The Bad: There isn't a lot in my bad column on Demon's Souls. One of the biggest complaints I have read, and experienced, is that the learning curve at the beginning can be so difficult that many players give up long before they begin to understand just how amazing the game is. It's nice that the game doesn't dangle its goodies up front like a lot of games, but this also means it will be mysterious and enigmatic in the long wrong for casual gamers. When you make a game only hardcore gamers will have the skill level to engage in, you inevitably alienate several fans of RPGs who want something a little more casual.
Another complaint about Demon's Souls is that if you lose your connection to the internet while you are playing, you immediately are kicked out of the game and sent back to the main menu. The nice thing is that your character will be right where you left it when you come back in, but sometimes this can cause a death because of what you are doing at the time that makes it hard to recover from. This brings up another possible down side of the game. If you die, all of your accumulated souls are on your corpse and if you don't get back to it before you die again, you lose them all. Once you spend "souls" to level up or buy equipment, you cannot lose them, but still, sometimes you can lose so many souls you will feel sick.
The only other complaint I could have about Demon's Souls is that it is not an open-world RPG by any stretch of the imagination. You are constantly exploring one of five or six different environments, and any curiosity you have about what else there is to see and do never gets satisfied.
The Verdict: Overall, Demon's Souls is one of the most engaging and fun RPGs to play if you enjoy combat that takes thought and skill instead of just mindless button mashing. The game will not be for the young gamer or for the casual gamer, but if you want a challenge that rewards for the challenge, this is your game. Out of the RPGs available on the PS3 right now, I'd give Demon's souls a 9 out of 10. This score is partly because of the high quality of the game and the excellence it displays at what it attempts to do, but also because I've seen it used for $29.99 and under. A great price for a game of this depth. If you are looking for a serious game, click on the links on this page to order Demon's Souls from Amazon.com right now.
Fallout: New Vegas
The last installment in the Fallout series found you crawling around the DC wasteland. Most, if not every, structure had been damaged in some way. Most of them were damaged significantly. Furthermore, the some areas were just completely reduced to piles or rubble. Fallout: New Vegas, by contrast, is set in an area that is relatively untouched by the bombs in comparison. In fact, the two central locations within the main plot, the Vegas Strip and Hoover Dam, are almost completely untouched.
The outlying areas of Clark County are relatively intact as there were not very many places worth bombing during the war. If you've played Bethesda games before, you'll be pleased that the map is huge and that there are well over 100 locations to discover. Of course, I'm writing this before any DLC, so expect the world of New Vegas to grow significantly before we are treated with a game of the year edition.
The setup is the same, you interact with the world in an FPS style and collect a great array of weapons throughout the game as you explore the world and complete different quests. The main difference between this game and Fallout 3 is the fact that the main plot can go in one of four distinct ways.That is to say, there's at least four separate ways to "Finish" the game that I can think of, but I'm probably leaving out one. The fact that the tribes who control the area have loyal followings means that you'll end up developing reputations with certain groups that might limit your options later in the game, this makes replaying the game a lot of fun because you know specific things you'll want to do and the game does not disappoint with the alternate ways to complete quests. So let's get down to the nitty gritty.
The Good: One of the best things about Fallout: New Vegas is that they kept everything that worked from Fallout 3, and improved it in several ways. One quick fix they did was raise the level cap to 30. This means that you get to explore while still developing your character for 33% longer than you did in Fallout 3. I fully expect the level cap to be raised to 40 with DLC. I feel a 40 level cap would be a lot better. I still complain that the only game I know that has 200 hours + of original game play won't let you level up after about 65 hours. This just seems silly. This has been improved in other ways in Fallout: New Vegas as well. Now, you earn perks for performing certain types of kills with certain types of weapons. These perks level up even after you stop so your damage percentage to insects will continue to increase as you hunt them and kill them by increasing your perk level. There are perks for every category of thing you can kill (animals, humans, insects, mutants), and perks for using guns, energy weapons, melee weapons, etc.
On top of this, there are all kinds of guns to look for, so you can continue to get "more powerful" by hunting for rare weapons. On top of this, they added weapon modifications to weapons, so you can add three special pieces to upgrade your favorite weapons. Plus there are all kinds of rare pieces of armor that increase your character stats and skills in unique ways. All in all, they make character development an experience that continues after you reach level 30, something I felt Fallout 3 did not deliver as much on.
Another really great thing about Fallout: New Vegas is that your companions cannot be killed, so you don't have to worry about your dog dying. Also, you can upgrade your dog (yup), and other companions. So, having help in New Vegas is more, well, "helpful" than it was before.
The Bad: I know I mentioned this in the good, but a level cap of 30 is still not high enough. I don't think I'm unreasonable in thinking it should be level 40 and add 10 more levels in the DLC. Another reason I think this is particularly true with New Vegas is that you only earn perks every other level instead of every level, so, when you hit your level cap at level 30, you have 5 less perks than you did at level 20 in Fallout 3. This could be remedied by going to 40. it would make the 200 hours of game play more fun. I cannot honestly believe that, having seen the amount of perks available, this would end up ruining the challenge of deciding on what perks to choose. There are so many you cannot choose, you feel cheated. I don't think asking for five more perks is a big deal.
Another bad thing about Fallout: New Vegas is that it is quite possibly the buggiest game I have ever played. I believe it crashed on me if I played for over two hours every single time I attempted it. I never have this problem with my PS3. I have already received an update, but there needs to be more work done on a game like this before you release. This brings me to another bad thing. The DLC has been announced as for Xbox 360 owners, for PS3 owners this means you have to wait till who knows when to get to play the expanded adventure, but there is a silver lining. By the time the DLC is available on the Playstation 3, all those bugs will have been worked out by frustrated Xboxers while we play Mass Effect 2 and wait on the DLC to come out. It's a trade off, but I'd rather have the option then be forced to wait.
My last complaint about Fallout: New Vegas is that it just feels anti-climatic. I don't want to give away the ending, but the plot hints at grand things that never realize. I believe the DLC will add to this, but, for my $59.99, I wanted a bigger finish to the first Fallout set in the city with the biggest reputation of them all (Well, Fallout: New York would probably be way beyond Vegas).
The Verdict: For the price, $59.99, I'd like a more polished product, but the truth of the matter is, there is no other RPG out there on the PS3 that will give you more to explore, more guns to shoot, and more hours of game play. I think when it comes out as Game of the Year edition at a discount price, it'll be perhaps the best RPG for your money on the PS3. For right now, I give it an 8 out of 10. Your money would be well spent, but for the price, you could get a couple of really great older RPGs with guns like Fallout 3, Valkyria Chronicles, or Borderlands.
White Knight Chronicles
Early in 2010, Level 5 released their long awaited JRPG in the west. It had been heralded as the RPG of the PS3 and touted such features as the ability to take your character to an online world where you can have your own city and interact with other characters. The game also features tried and true JRPG elements from graphic style, to plot, to setting, to battle style.
So was the game, that was delayed almost to the point of tedium worth the long wait? Did famed game producer Level 5 achieve the glory of their ambition?
The Good: One of the best things about White Knight Chronicles is the White Knight himself. There is one major twist on the traditional JRPG formula in this title: it's that you can change into a huge mech warrior-esque giant clad in white who wields a giant sword. (See pictures). Not only that, but there are a few other knights (Black and Red) who play a large part in the plot as well. I don't want to give away spoilers, but the slower parts of the game were highlighted by the ability to transform into a huge metal knight.
Another good thing about the game is that there is tons to do. It's a true JRPG, unlike FFXIII. So if you want to do the millions of little quests and walk around talking to people ala FFXII, this is the game for you. There are many locations and they all seem to have their own personality. They are also filled with characters who, if a bit redundant, do give the game a feeling of population that makes seeing these different locations enjoyable in it's own right.
Another good thing about the game is the level up system. You can focus your skills onto separate weapons so that each player, as they develop, become more and more unique. Traditional JRPG rules apply, like projectile weapons for flying monsters, etc. So if you have played games for a long time, you'll be very comfortable here.
The Bad: The problem with White Knight Chronicles, despite all it's size, expanse, and ambition, is that it's just boring to play. Honestly, I've run from town to town delivering messages and rescuing the lost boy so many times that this game just felt tired. Nothing about the game felt innovate or fresh. Certainly it did things FFXIII did not, but FFXIII did what it chose to do very well, this game, sadly, does not.
More Playstation 3 Role Playing Games...
Another thing I was really disappointed in was that the battle system took way to long to develop. You can see the potential of mixing commands in unique ways from the beginning of the game, but it just seems to take for ever as you level up without learning any great skills or combos or developing a system to make combat more entertaining. The approach is actually kind of innovative, but I feel like it needed to be tweaked. Maybe that, or maybe I'm the western market that's falling out of love with JRPGs. I don't believe that though because if Chronotrigger were made today, westerners would fall in love with it all over again.
Another thing I didn't like is that the character you control is this nameless silent character who tags along to the entire story, like an afterthought. White Knight Chronicles could have learned a thing or two from Dragon Age which pulled off the silent main character in a way that didn't leave you feeling like you were left out of the action. This is me being picky, but always being an outsider looking in on the main conversations made it feel as if you were inconsequential.
The Verdict: There is nothing really bad or wrong with White Knight Chronicles as much as it is just mediocre in almost everything it does. The tropes of the JRPG genre it uses are well overused and tired. The promise of one day running my own city doesn't hold up to the long hours of grinding and retracing your steps it costs to get there. Since the game didn't go over so well, it is relatively cheap in price. If you can get it for under $30, I think it'd be an alright snag. I'd seriously only play it, though, if I couldn't get a hold of almost any other RPG. I give it a 4 out of 10 as far as RPGs on the PS3 goes. This is disappointing for Level 5, but that's not really something that bothers me too much when games like Dragon Age 2 and Final Fantasy Versus XIII are on the horizon in 2011.
Coming Up Next...
In installment five of this continuing series on RPGs for the Playstation 3, we will look back at a few of the first big hits on the Playstation 3. It's hard to tell if the first big games on a system were actually any good, or if they just sold a lot because nothing else was on the market. For this reason, I'm going out and getting Disgaea 3, Valkyria Chronicles and Eternal Sonata so that we can compare them to the latest and greatest RPGs on the PS3. It might be a few weeks before the next post, so make sure to catch up by reading up on early installments in this series of hubs.
It's Poll Time Again...
Which Upcoming PS3 RPG Release are you most looking forward to?
Other Hubs in This Series
- RPGs for the Playstation 3 (PS3): An Oldschool Perspective, Part 1
The first in the series. It discusses Final Fantasy XIII, Elder Scrolls IV, and Borderlands.
- RPGs for the Playstation 3 (PS3): An Oldschool Perspective, Part 2
This is the second installment in the series on RPGs for the PS3. It focuses specifically on Marvel Ultimate Alliance 1 & 2, Sacred 2, and Dragon Age: Origins.
- RPGs for the Playstation 3 (PS3): An Oldschool Perspective, Part 3
This is the third installment in the series on RPGs for the PS3. It focuses specifically at Dragon Age: Awakenings, Fallout 3, and Nier.