|Comments on Friday 6 October 2006:|
|Over the last few days I have played Gamecube games a lot. I wouldn't have bothered mentioning two of them, but the combination of all three merits some rambling because each of them has some sort of game-creation lesson to it.|
The most interesting of the three is Odama, a wargame set in medieval Japan, with a giant magical pinball. The presentation is great, with an angry subtitled Japanese voice narrating (including loud laughing at inexplicable points in the script - I think this has something to do with Bushido), and atmospheric music and sound. The troops are directed almost exclusively with voice commands, which is fun, except when "push forward" is inexplicably mistaken for "fall back" (the only instruction it ever mistook for another). My second-main annoyance with the game is that it is very short - I had finished it in about eight hours, and there doesn't seem to be any secrets or unlockable content. My main annoyance with the game is that troops are directed to specific objects by the instruction "rally", which means selecting the target object with a cursor first. This is extra annoying given the shortness - there are only about ten different things to rally at, so it would have been nice if the voice commands were "rally at the rice", "rally at the pulley", "rally at the key", "rally at the general" and so forth - it seems a shame for this one small aspect to deviate from the "troops are commanded by voice" model. Something the game could have done to extend its longevity is to have some sort of 'score' challenge level - a level of infinite length and increasing difficulty, or limited time to get as far as you can. That's my solution of choice to remedy a game whose plot has too few levels.
Then there's Lost Kingdoms II, an RPG whose combat system resembles collectible cardgames - most similar (as far as I can tell from the cartoon) to Yu-Gi-Oh. The weakness of the game in my opinion is the levels don't really play to the deck-of-cards combat system - you never need to tailor your deck to handle a level, just occasionally bring one or two specific cards. It seems like it would be interesting in its two-player competitive mode (where the deck-building might actually be significant), but that makes itself unappealing by requiring the players each to unlock the cards in single-player mode before they can use them in competitive mode.
And third is the rather poor Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles. The setting is a rather nice one for an RPG or, even better, for a half-RPG half-wargame (like the old "Defender of the Crown") - evil fog enveloping the land, kept at bay around towns by things that need recharging, which is your mission; you carry a small fog-repelling device, which you have to put down to fight. So the game takes place mostly in a bubble of unfog, which is visually appealing, thematically effective, and excuses the game-standard short camera range. What it doesn't excuse is the camera's behaviour which is entirely out of the player's control, or the game being tedious, inflexible and, despite not having the annoying turn-based combat system of the main Final Fantasy games, still having a boring combat system, just involving button-mashing rather than number-crunching. Ironically, despite being by far the worst of the three games, this is the one that most makes me feel "argh, making a game with proper polish is hard", because, despite being shite, it is very polished indeed. But after a couple of hours being gloomy about that I realise that Odama is by far the better game and its polish, though not as shiny, is perfectly adequate. And I'd rather make the good matt game than the shite gloss game. [15:46]