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.

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