Thursday, April 2, 2015

Diary Entry #46: Resident Evil HD is Stupid, Abhorrent Revisionist Garbage

Two things really, really bothered me yesterday (I wrote this in January, which was not yesterday).

First thing: everyone's problem with some guy leaving blink 182. In 2015, these old assholes have absolutely no relevance. The only reason they're even pretending to be together is for cash, and the fact that one guy left the group is not going to affect anything creative, only profit margins. Honestly, I thought the band had broken up years ago and this was just some reunion bid gone wrong, but no, they're just sacks of crap who don't care enough to actually do something.

Second thing: I was reading that the new HD version of Resident Evil 1 eschews the tank controls that defined the survival horror genre.

This is heresy people.

Tank controls: it's probably easier to use this than to 
navigate Resident Evil 1's crazier sections.
Think back to all the bad jokes revolving around Steven Spielberg and George Lucas remastering their films, which ultimately led to some marked content revisions. Taking Star Wars and throwing in some extra CG beasties isn't improving much, although it does go far in terms of alienating the true aficionado.

For years, I recalled magazines speaking volumes about how great Super Castlevania IV was, how it improved on the original's time honored formula. But playing it years later after mastering the original NES classics, Super Castlevania feels like easy trash. Now that Simon Belmont can change direction while jumping, whip multiple directions, and leap onto stairs, almost all of the difficulty is gone. As with many games with limited controls, Castlevanias are largely difficult and compelling because you can barely move your character from point A to point B.

Super Castlevania IV = baby mode Castlevania.
The same principle goes for Resident Evil: how difficult is it to run away from a pack of zombie dogs when you can hardly tell what's happening? The tank movements are also done for aesthetic purposes: in Alone in the Dark, PC technology made it so that players could only move forward and turn very slowly through pre-rendered "camera angles", and it just stuck with the genre for years. It was fun, stylish, and while it might have just been done for technological purposes, it simply looked great. Eventually, even LucasArts used a similar set up for its 3D adventure games, which essentially were Alone in the Dark sans combat and add dialogue system. Almost every survival horror game was like this, and with several coming out a year, it was a total blast.

Now, just like Castlevania IV made jumping all easy and the whip all floppy, I'm supposed to believe that getting rid of limited movement somehow makes Resident Evil better. Just like I'm supposed to believe that extra CG makes Star Wars better. Just like I'm supposed to believe Final Fantasy 3 on the DS is somehow a remotely playable game.

This man will forever be Jabba the Hutt in my eyes.
If someone told me to rewrite the Great Gatsby and make Jay a Rambo type character with syphilis who spread his vile disease using a rocket launcher attachment in a vicious attempt to destroy humanity and simultaneously fulfill his abhorrent homoerotic desires, even though I think it would make it a better book, it would be a revisionist atrocity that any decent human being with a tenth grade education would absolutely abhor.

I haven't looked at gameplay footage, I haven't read any further than the whole new control debacle, I just know I'm pissed. This trend will totally ruin everything that made the game industry purer than the disgusting, derivative, glossed-over music, film, book, television, radio, and just about every other media industry out there.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Diary Entry #45: Star Ocean 2 Do Not Have The Value

            I remember balking at ads for PS1 games throughout the late '90s. At the time, I was an NES purist. We only owned three different game consoles: the Sega Game Gear, the Sega Pico, and the NES. I balked at the silly 3D images of Final Fantasy VII's huge marketing campaign, thinking about how stupid it all looked in comparison to my beloved 8-bit Final Fantasy.

            But in 1999, Star Ocean: Second Story's ad was played continuously on Cartoon Network. Years later after the actual content of the ad has faded from my memory, I can still recall how the ad made the spry, twelve-year old me feel. Did they show the little 2D people running around hitting each other? Did it show clips from the games 3D cutscenes? My girlfriend and I have only managed to uncover an old French ad, but I'm pretty sure the original ad had a robotic female voice telling me about the game's features. I do remember the ad boasting about the eighty different endings available in the game, which to me was unheard of. I could play this game EIGHTY TIMES and it would never be the same!

            Based on how often they ran the ad, this was Enix's attempt at having their own Final Fantasy VII, but I never really heard anyone talk about the game. If anyone ever did mention it, my eyes lit up and I started blathering on about how great this ad was.

            Eventually, I managed to pick up the PSP remake of the game. The battle system was ingenious, with everyone running around wildly swatting and casting spells at creatures. You could set it up so that the game would play itself, or you could switch between your party members and take control of any of them at one time. Still, something didn't sit right with me. I wanted to play the original Star Ocean: Second Story, the one whose ads lit my face up and finally got me interested in 32-bit gaming.

            And now, fifteen years after that pivotal commercial, I'm knocking on the final boss's door. I broke down, got the game, and went through virtually everything Star Ocean 2 had to offer. Unfortunately, it didn't live up to my deeply-rooted personal hype.

            The company behind the game, tri-Ace, is either a very lucky company or an extremely talented group of developers. Over the past twenty years, they've gone from being a small independent company to being vanguards of the Japanese RPG. After years of Star Ocean and Valkyrie Profile games and releasing seven games in their first decade of existence, the past several years have seen them developing three games a year for big name publishers like Square Enix and Sega.

            Founded in 1996, the company was comprised largely of people who left Wolfteam during the troubled development of Tales of Phantasia. Prior to that game, Wolfteam was known in the west for it's Genesis and Sega CD games, ranging from the Castlevania clonery of Earnest Evans to the FMV auto action of Road Avenger. Phantasia benefits from this pedigree, reinventing the side-scrolling action RPG into something entirely new. Rather than having a Zelda 2-esque action title, the game's traditional JRPG random encounters are all in real time, with most of the strategy lying in your positioning of your party and timing of discrete attacks. Even better is the over-the-top use of digitized voice effects, with every character spouting silly battle cries and victory pomps. It's all very fun, and you can tell the Super Famicom hardware is being stretched to its limits.

            With all the main designers moving to tri-Ace, it's no surprise their first game uses some very similar principles. Star Ocean uses tons of recorded voice and a real-time battle system, although it's one of the first "it plays itself" style games. Ditching Phantasia's side-scrolling view, fights take place across a large battlefield where characters automatically attack based on the player's menu options. At the time, this was probably super innovative, but nowadays it's Square Enix's status quo. Final Fantasy XIII's battles are a prime example, forcing the player to choose between different fighting styles and just watch everything automatically unfold. Not surprising that Final Fantasy XIII's two sequels were developed in part by tri-Ace. 

            Expectations were astronomical coming into the game, and at first, I thought everything was alright. Great battle system, complex-ish skill development, cool digitized voices during fights, and some fairly interesting visuals peaked my interest. Unfortunately, early on, the games awful storyline managed to ruin much of the enjoyment.

            The game features two scenarios, although I'm sure they're largely the same. Claude is in the space military because he does whatever Commodore daddy tells him to, and Rena is part of a mystical race with special powers. Of course, they've got a budding romance thing that EVERY CHARACTER has to comment on or allude to in the first five hours of the game, and they're ALWAYS embarrassed by the implication. Here's a small thumbnail gallery of examples:

            It's obnoxious, and it doesn't get any better as the game goes on. Later, the game tries to shoehorn in a bunch of pop-psychology crap about the tension between Claude and his father. Perhaps the most striking scene is near the beginning of the second disc, where we delve deep into Claude's brain and uncover this: 

            How do I react to these decadently pixelated close-ups? Was this what developers had in mind when they created sprite scaling and rotation effects?

            Who writes this crap? Who does this appeal to? Embarrassed that someone might think you have a boyfriend? Shouting at your super-pixelated father? Perhaps the girlfriend-less, twelve-year-old me could relate to it. Crotchety old me doesn't.

            Even more trashy are the CG cutscenes. This strange pink Elvis demon looks even worse than pixel-face dad. I understand that Final Fantasy VII had a ton of awesome cutscenes, but those were integrated in fun and interesting ways. Here, there's just four random cutscenes that mostly look like trash.

            It's unfair to say any game is bad just because the story sucks, but Star Ocean's dialogue is so verbose and the cutscenes are so long that it totally ruins the experience. Do I really have to know what everybody thinks of each other? Do I really have to wade through twenty lines of dialogue about how cute a character is or general "how's everything going?" type deals. I don't mind the thirty second spell cast animations, but why do I have to know what everyone's thinking at all times?

            All of this functions to wear down the player, forcing them to endure hours of wordy garbage to go through the occasional dungeon. Perhaps the second biggest problem was no effort on the games part to explain the smithing or crafting aspects of the game. The only time I actually needed hyper-powerful weapons was the last two bosses, which is just plain rude. 

            And the eighty different endings? My one sucked. The characters just talk some more until the game ends. So much for playing the game seventy-nine more times.

            The game ends with the phrase "DO LIFEFORMS WHICH DO NOT EVOLVE HAVE THE VALUE?" Probably a desperate attempt to draw from the genes/cloning themes of Metal Gear Solid and FFVII. Talk about a flaming bullshit aftertaste. And why keep that as the only piece of Engrish in the entire game?

            So my hopes and dreams were deflated. Moving on.

            Currently I'm dabbling in both Tales of Phantasia and Star Ocean 1. I compared them a little bit here, but I look forward to going into much more detail. I'm also playing Hokuto no Ken 4 for the Famicom, and I'll probably start something else. Either way, I'm going to be playing four RPGs at once.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Diary Entry #44: Ain't No Ghetto RPG Party Like A PS1 Ghetto RPG Party

            A lot of people heap tons of praise on the SNES RPG library. With all the Fantasies and Illusions and Brain Lords, it's jam packed with JRPG classics. Still, there's a problem: a huge chunk of these greats stayed on the Super Famicom, never to reach American shores. Most criminal is the loss of Akitoshi Kawazu's directorial output, the Romancing SaGa games and the phenomenal Treasure of the Rudras.

             Even more criminal is that we missed the JRPG dung heap. No Hokuto no Ken V, no Ancient Magic: Bazoe!, no Aretha 2, no nothing. It wasn't until years later when games like Final Fantasy VII and Pokemon took JRPGs to the top of the sales charts, and all of a sudden many companies were releasing anything remotely RPG-like for a quick buck.

             Monster Seed is a grand example of this. Developed by NK System, whose only other game is the awesome looking Koukai Sarena Katta Shuki: The Note, Monster Seed is Pokemon with an extra chromosome added in for good measure. Imagine having to punch Psyduck in the face and he cusses back at you. That's Monster Seed.

             Rather than catching animals in the wild, you have create them in a strange incubation machine. The creatures are created through a strange process involving choosing different fluids and a setting a specific baking temperature. In the end, you get something that looks like this:


             Battles are on a square-grid map similar to tactical RPGs, with characters taking turns moving about and picking their attacks. When calling your creatures, they initially appear as little glowing orbs for one or two rounds before actually appearing, a feature that never really effects anything since it takes the opposing Monster Seeder the same amount of time to generate their allies.

             One of the worst aspects of the game is how small the battle areas are. This ugly and confusing fight pretty much characterizes the entire game, with six or seven creatures all snuggling together and sometimes hitting something.

             The dungeons are pretty straightforward, but I do appreciate the occasional old-school touch. In the first dungeon, the player character has to avoid giant spikes and pendulum axes to survive. Not nearly as cool as Wizardry's poison/exploding treasure chests, but the thought counts.

             Arc the Lad is a much bigger name series in Japan, published by Sony themselves and probably getting a nice marketing push as a result. With it's 1995 release date, it's one of the PS1's first RPGs, although it wasn't published in America until the immortal Working Designs brought it over six years later. As usual with the company, the dialogue is spiced with some goofy humor, but everything else remains intact.

             In comparison to the Final Fantasy VIII's and Legend of Dragoon's people were accustomed to by 2001, Arc the Lad looks like a 16-bit shit. Super-deformed midgets riding airships and talking about defeating the big evil is something JRPG fans have experienced countless times over. To be fair, Arc the Lad should be compared to other games from 1995 like Chrono Trigger, but it's difficult to cast aside the notion that this game is simply archaic.

             The battle system doesn't do much to add any complexity. Imagine the most generic tactical RPG of all time and you've got Arc the Lad. There's no rock-paper-scissors system or formation-heavy planning. Walk up to stuff, press attack, do it again. 

             The only battle variety occurs when enemies block your magic attacks. This can really ruin any battle where strong attackers are present, although this predicament seldom appears. My personal favorite magic attack involves a strange angel figure appears out of nowhere and showers the enemies with thunder and lightening. Looks awesome and terrible.

             The grand, sweeping melodrama is refreshingly stupid, especially since I just dipped my head into the obnoxiously stupid Tales of Xilia. Everyone's got a chip on their shoulder, ranging from parental fatality to wishing they were a musician. No confusing "I harness the power of elemental spirits that I lost so please help me kid who's still in high school" garbage, just a bunch of pissed off rebels who are ready to kick some evil ass.

             Refreshingly stupid is really the only way to describe Arc the Lad, packed full of the same old stuff in the most direct package possible. Concise battles, goofy cutscenes, and a whole lot of little else in between. Moves quick, kicks ass, great game.

             Digimon World 3, on the other hand, confuses the hell out of me. The opening cutscene, comprised entirely of your character walking into different rooms, is way too long, and finally ends with you meeting your Digimon. Why do so many Pokemon rip-offs have the monsters speaking in English?

             The battles look totally high-tech; bright pink Digi-worlds like these are one of the reasons they put seizure warnings on video games  nowadays. You'd think a game coming at the tail end of the PS1's life would look awesome, but Digimon World 3 looks absurdly cheap.

             These old men want to become Digimon. What?

             I've walked around the Digi-city for twenty extra minutes and could not find a way to fight anything else. I give it a 2/1000. You can simplify that to a 1/500 if you want.

             In addition to these greats, I've also played Granstream Saga and Beyond the Beyond, with the latter playing a lot better than most of Camelot's Shining games. I might continue Tales of Xilia, I might play Arc the Lad. I might play my guitar. I could probably use a shower. Not all at the same time.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Diary Entry #43: Budget Titles Are Better Than Alan Wake

             I recently picked up a 360, prompting me to pick up a copy of Alan Wake. It's one of 2010's most revered games and one of three 360 exclusives that deserve my time. The only problem: it sucks.

             Called a narrative triumph by many, Alan Wake's storyline is incredibly threadbare. The game is broken into six "episodes", and any interesting story content is featured at the beginning and end of each portion. Most mid-episode cutscenes lead to absolutely nothing except more woods to run through.

             If Alan Wake teaches me anything, it's that wooded areas always feature nice little hallway like trails. Final Fantasy XIII has a similar walk-down-the-obvious-path setup, although the story tries to compensate for it somewhat. The characters in that game are running through "the tube", a long path filled with random robots and soldiers that's supposed to eventually lead to an escape from the city. Alan Wake's tube is absolutely soulless and inexplicable, forcing the player to wander in circles until Alan makes it to a mundane locale. Never in my gaming life have I ever thought I'd run straightforward for twenty minutes killing anything in sight for the express purpose of reaching a gas station, unless it was a zombie-free outpost or something. In Alan Wake, it's just a bright spot where you finally get to end the awful combat sections.

             Every enemy is at first totally indestructible due to the dark aura that surrounds them. Shining a flashlight at these monsters dispels the darkness, and after they've turned normal, it's all Resident Evil clonery: dump as many bullets into them as possible and hope for the best. In what appears to be a cost-cutting measure, the woods are filled with the same three enemies for the entire game: a gardner guy who slices at you with a little sickle, a small lumberjack that throws axes, and a big lumberjack who takes more bullets. It never gets more complicated than that, and even while I was playing on the hardest difficulty setting, the only thing that killed me was my apathy towards the games dull combat.

             The Heavy Rain-esque exploration sequences are probably the most interesting aspect of the game, but they only represent about twenty minutes of the games six or seven hour playtime. You'd better really like shooting stuff with flashlights and guns, because there's really nothing else going on.

             For a game about an author, it isn't particularly well-written. Alan Wake's scattered pages from his novel, which function as both a throwback to the journal entries from Resident Evil and a way to totally give away what will happen next in the story, is beyond hammy. The six featured characters are lifeless. Alan himself bitches about whatever for most of the game because he's deep, the FBI agent trailing him is a pissed off veteran with a chip on his shoulder, his manager is fat and nerdy, etc. It's the same as any other blockbuster-media influenced game like Heavy Rain, appealing to the players sense of stereotypes over anything else.

             I feel like Alan Wake is best compared to another 2010 title with a similar Twin Peaks influence: Deadly Premonition. Many people believe Deadly Premonition's story is its strongest suit, and while it certainly has the most colorful, divergent, and thought-provoking narrative since D2, the gameplay is really what shines through. A fractured mix of a J-Adventure, Grand Theft Auto, and Resident Evil 4, there are so many disparate ideas that end up working well.

             Like Alan Wake, Deadly Premonition's combat is easily it's lowest point, but half the game or more is dedicated to wacky cutscenes, side-quests, and mini-games. Even then, at least I can blow people's heads off in Deadly Premonition. In this day and age, if shooting a baddie in the head does as much damage as shooting them in the foot, your third-person shooter is lacking something.

             I'm not sure why, but I also keep comparing Alan Wake and Cursed Mountain, a budget Wii and PC survival horror game that came out a year earlier. Like Alan Wake, enemies are not easily killed at first, but Cursed Mountain uses a pretty novel mechanic to pass this: players must use their "third eye", an otherworldly power that allows you to slip into the realm of the dead and shoot awesome projectiles at baddies. Unlike Alan Wake, the games puzzles actual have more depth than flip-a-switch-after-wading-through-ten-baddies type objectives. Additionally, the Himalayan setting of Cursed Mountain is a great idea, recalling the snowy horrors of great films like The Thing, The Shining, and Silent Night, Deadly Night.

             The 360 is part of a larger goal of mine to collect more and more gaming stuff to eventually open a store. I'll go into more detail about this as details become clearer, but I'd say I'm off to a good start. I definitely need more 360 and NES games. I'm not clear on how many people actually take DS collecting seriously, especially since I always just see tons and tons of them sitting around unsold at GameStop, so I'm not too worried about accumulating that stock.

             Current games to play: Final Fantasy XII, Deadly Premonition (again), Mario and Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story, Yakuza: Dead Souls, and Pixel Pirates.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Diary Entry #42: Dune!

             The Dune film is one of those sci-fi shambles that everyone loves anyway. It doesn't matter how poorly edited or paced the film is; the fact that it's slightly more intelligent than Star Wars is enough to make nerds go crazy. In a similar manner, Cryo Interactive's Dune is slightly more intelligent than the average adventure game, but it's not nearly well made enough to stand up against any Sierra or LucasArts game. Or Dune 2.

             From the start, you can instantly tell the game's modelling everything after David Lynch's Dune. Kyle MacClachlan's pixelated mug is the first image you see, and other actors and actresses likenesses are featured throughout the game. Gotta love pixelated Sting.

             The goal is for you to travel to various Fremen (FREE MEN!) bases, recruit them, and use them to fight off the Harkonnens, a fat, slovenly race. They're all ugly, and every one of them makes some sort of cryptic remark about how you might be the one. You control every territory you visit excluding any already owned by the Harkonnens.

             Options are decidedly limited. There's a limited number of Fremen you can recruit, and they can be turned into either warriors or spice miners. Spice is the only form of currency, and tributes to some sort of space emperor have to be made every few days to keep the game going.


             And that's about it. You fly around, recruit guys, talk to people to further the story, and then it eventually ends. The strategy is very limited: sometimes a Harkonnen will take over one of your territories, and the only real way to win is just have strong warriors walk right into the area. Eventually, you can grow plants that will drive the Harkonnens out of their areas, but this is too little strategy far too late. 

             Harvester, on the other hand, is a great game. Here's some photo evidence:

             I'm hoping to cover this shortly in my next blog post. I recently order the NES PowerPak, a developmental cartridge that looks really, really awesome. I'm going to play the hell out of it.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Diary Entry #41: Cryo's Odyssey, or How French People Never Realized that Adventure Games Weren't Cool Anymore

             Thousands of years ago, people verbally recited all of the travails of Greek heroes like Achilles and Odysseus. Now, I need only play a PC game thanks to some French people.

             At the turn of the millennium, PC adventure gaming was in a dreadful spot. 3D was in, so companies were forced to develop fancy 3D engines if they hoped to compete with the Quake 2s and Half-Lifes. In 1998, LucasArts released Grim Fandango, a 3D adventure that played like Resident Evil with more lateral thinking and less action. The game sold below expectations, although the similarly designed Escape from Monkey Island fared better in 2000. Still, these two games were the final adventure titles in the LucasArts library, leading the company to release tons of Star Wars titles.

             Sierra, the other juggernaut of adventure gaming, fared even worse. King's Quest 8 plays like a better version of Ocarina of Time, although this is purely coincidence; both games were developed at the same time, released within a month of each other. Their final adventure title, Gabriel Knight 3: Blood of the Sacred, Blood of the Damned, was plagued by various delays, the biggest being a switch to 3D in mid-development. The game has one of the longest and most detailed puzzle in adventure gaming history, but it's buttressed by a variety of idiotic puzzles. Check this article to see what I mean. It hit store shelves in 1999 and sold below expectations. Now that action games could tell just as good of stories as your favorite point-and-click game, the adventure genre was no longer mainstream.

             Thankfully, Europeans never got the memo. The French company Cryo Interactive made some great adventure games throughout the '90s, with Commander Blood and Dune being bonafide classics. Both are quite innovative, reshuffling traditional elements of adventure games into something wholly different, whether it be wonky puppetry or bizarre grand strategy. Unfortunately, it was much more common for Cryo to release hackneyed clones of whatever was popular. Their long-running Atlantis and Egypt games managed to ape Myst to the breaking point.

             In 1999, Cryo opted to copy the 3D LucasArts titles instead. Evidently there's a trilogy of Grim Fandango clones: the original Arthur's Knights, Arthur's Knights 2, and Odyssey: The Search for Ulysses.

             Odyssey looked to be the most competent of all three, so I quickly snatched it up. As Heriseus, a representative of Ulysses's wife, Penelope, you are tasked with searching for the big U himself. For those of you without a high school education, Ulysses got lost after the Trojan war, being cast back and forth across the sea by various demented gods and lusty goddesses.

             Naturally, the search begins in Troy. On the streets, you'll find prostitutes, gamblers, and soldiers, all of whom might steal your money or kill you. One of the features I like is that Ulysses can kill anybody, although doing so will typically end in him getting killed by a soldier. A slave in the opening section is fair game though.

             Unfortunately, the only murder that gets you into jail isn't actually your fault. Early on, a rogue named Mikis offers to take Heriseus straight to Ulysses, but it's actually a plot! Regardless, Heriseus blacks out, and upon awakening finds the dead body of Mikis. Getting imprisoned for the game leads to one of the games sillier puzzles.

             Step one: get on roof of jail.

             Step two: pick up rock on roof.

             Step three: drop rock on guard.

             Honestly, I wish all of the puzzles were that simple. The next puzzle is far more complicated. Over a dozen tiles are placed into the walls and only four are needed to be placed arbitrarily into this door. This is the kind of obtuse logic I'd expect from Myst, not Grim Fandango. 

             The door leads to a teleporter, which sends you to the infamous city of the Lotus Eaters. This dude seems to be having a particularly bad lotus trip. The city shows off the game's excellent use of perspective, which often pans about as the player moves rather than cutting to different angles a la Resident Evil. It's a great touch, especially for the 2000s.

             Heriseus has to make this psychedelic potion in order to follow a specific Lotus Eater that transports him to the Medusa's forest. This is actually one of the worst parts of the game, forcing the player to go through a maze of sorts. While it's not actually a maze as birds often pop out and guides you, it frequently disappears, so you'll be clambering to find the starting point over and over again.

             The actual battle with Medusa is incredibly frustrating. It's terribly dark, and Medusa never gives up. Sneaking up is impossible, not to mention the whole turning you into stone gimmick.

             Constant reloading is the only real technique. I finally beheaded Medusa on my eleventh try, grabbing her head and quickly pressing onward. There's a rather strange puzzle involving a deep, dark pit that looks like a puddle. I stepped on it and instantly died, requiring me to reload and beat Medusa again. Many curses were spit out.

             Next up is the island of the Cyclops. In the original story, Ulysses tricks some Cyclops who is the son of Poseidon. Your prisonmate from the beginning of the game is found in a small shack here, although he quickly admits that he's trying to lure you into a trap. A hungry Cyclops appears outside, and your flesh is as good as any. Heriseus needs to find a way out of here quick.

             There are several solutions to the Cyclops problem, giving the player options that most adventure games skimp on. First off, you have to determine a way to get rid of your comrade. You can let him run out of the cabin and get eaten by the cyclops, slay him with your sword, or flash Medusa's head at him. Next, the Cyclops can also be stabbed or have Medusa's head flashed at him. I personally prefer turning everything to stone.

             Unfortunately, while Ulysses blinded Poseidon's son, you murdered him! Poseidon's pissed and wants you to go through his challenge palace, promising to be ever so magnanimous if you pass his challenges.

             The trials are really some statues that ask very obscure questions regarding Greek mythology. One will make a statement regarding a myth. Your task is to push three buttons on the floor reflecting three people or things related to it, which becomes rather difficult considering a few of the answers are INCORRECT.

             Consulting a walkthrough is mandatory to press on, but the next section is definitely the most interesting. Heriseus must pose as a slave to gain access to a castle inhabited by giants. There's a brief stealth portion, a usually groan inducing affair in early 2000s games, that honestly doesn't ruin the experience. 

             Even with expert stealth skills, the entire plan fails miserably. The giants intend on eating you, and give you instructions. For five days, you will be their servants. The first, third, and fifth days you will cook in the kitchen, while the second and fourth days will be spent chilling in some random room.

             If Heriseus doesn't escape after five days, the giants feast on him in a fabulously graphic cinematic. This game over is so detailed, it might as well be considered an official ending! The actual escape route is appropriately ridiculous, requiring you to smooth out a cliff bottom in order to gracefully escape through the kitchen's garbage chute.

             Back on the boat, Heriseus's dead wife tells him to guide his airship over to Circe's island. Sorry I forgot to mention the airship, but so much ridiculous stuff is crammed into this game that the flying boat feels a little inconsequential.

             And Circe turns you into a pig. 

             The following section is rather silly, requiring piggy Heriseus to drop pillows and vials into specific spots. Still, it's better than putting stuff into doors at random.

             Poseidon's henchmen comes and stabs straight through Circe. Despite her earlier malevolence, Heriseus gets her a curative potion and Circe restores his human form.

              The next stop is Hades itself, where Heriseus gets to cut in line.

              There's a strange and lengthy portion that follows where three giant statues analyze the various deeds of Heriseus. I thought that I had played the game conservatively, not killing anyone or anything needlessly, but the statues act like I'm a total dick. 

              Even weirder, it's immediately followed by a section where you're Mikis, the guy Heriseus allegedly killed in the beginning of the game. The premise is simple: Heriseus kills Mikis, and if you don't figure out a way to save the poor fellow, the scene simply replays to give you another opportunity. This leads to Mikis getting killed over and over and over again until you determine the rather obvious solution.

              Hell is not a cool place. There's fire, brimstone, lava, the works.

              Not only that, but the actual denizens of Hades are pretty big a-holes. Sysiphus can trick you into taking his job of pushing that boulder up the hill, which sounds pretty contradictory to the original myths. I guess it's good that I don't care at all.

              Cryo's artists did a great job on some of the locales. I love the mixture of photo, video, and 3D effects mixed together, even if the results are more bizarre than aesthetically appealing.

              The final battle with Poseidon eventually unfurls, although it's pretty awful. You have to select three randomly determined weapons from a list of seven and attack Poseidon with each in a specified order. If the correct weapon is used in the right sequence, Poseidon falls to one knee. If it's the right weapon in the wrong slot, he gets slightly stunned. 

              In the end, Poseidon dies...

              ...the whole thing ends up being a story reiterated by Homer (imagine how many reloads he'd have to describe in his tale)...and then it ends. Odyssey: The Search for Ulysses is a fascinating snapshot of where people thought adventure gaming was going circa 2000. It's the exact same stuff you do when playing a 2D point-and-click adventure: use item A to further story, get item B, use item B to further story, etc. There are some interesting choices that recall Dynamix's excellent adventures, Heart of China, Rise of the Dragon, and Willy Beamish, but they really don't matter in the end and hardly effect the game's outcome: you find Ulysses.

              Original reviews for Odyssey: Search for Ulysses don't really know what to make of it. They lambaste the interface, although I didn't have any real trouble with it. Puzzles themselves polarize reviewers, with some claiming they're overly simplistic while others think they are too complex. You'd think it couldn't be both, but at times it truly is, although the word "complex" might as well be exchanged for a phrase like "totally random".

              Despite all this, I'd probably rather play this than Grim Fandango or Gabriel Knight 3. It does a lot right, and what it does wrong is still better than the bulk of adventure games. The reason the adventure genre disappeared: 3D brought absolutely nothing new to the table except weird polygonal figures.

              I've played more graphic adventures recently, but I've spent so much time describing Odyssey that it's best left for another post. One of the others is also based on a classic story: Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None. While many of the game's elements recall The Colonel's Bequest, that probably has more to do with Roberta Williams's Agatha Christie boner than vice versa. I might blog about that next, but then again, maybe not.