My top ten Saturn games (terms and conditions apply)

So a while back I stressed and stared and wrung my hands and eventually came up with my top ten Mega Drive games, and at the request of the lovely Adam I’m giving the top ten list format an airing for the Saturn and at some point down the line the Dreamcast too. 

As before I’ve given myself a set of three rules to stick to:

  1. The game must be an original Saturn game. It doesn’t matter where it ended up, but it must have started life on the Saturn.
  2. Only games I’ve owned are eligible. It’s very easy to gush over legendary £200+ rarities you can only dream of having but I’d feel a bit insincere doing so.
  3. Nothing too obvious. Thankfully there aren’t all that many obvious Saturn games, but if you’re wondering why <your favourite game here> isn’t on the list then this might be why. The reason for this rule is just to stop the list filling up with games you’ve already played to death when the space could otherwise be used to show something that’s hopefully both more interesting and useful.

Green text = hyperlink – click on any game title in green for further info!

Astal

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When I first bought this I expected Astal to be another cutesy platformer with a cute character and his cute bird sidekick… but as it turns out he’s an angry little chap who’s more than happy to uproot trees and slam them into enemies without a second thought - to be honest it still surprises me how up for a fight Astal is. I haven’t checked recently but I’d bet money that the game was criticised on release for not being modern enough (ie: not being in 3D); but it actually uses lots of clever tricks with sprite scaling and the like that all come together perfectly to both show off the Saturn’s strengths as well as create a beautiful and unique platformer.

Dragon Force II

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Dragon Force was ace. I bet most of the people that wind up on my blog have experienced the original or are at least aware of it. Dragon Force II took an already great game and tweaked it just enough to be an improvement without changing everything that we all loved about the first one – can’t really complain about Dragon Force with knobs on, can we?

Dungeon Master Nexus

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I loved Dungeon Master on the Amiga as a kid even if it did used to scare me and the sequel, Chaos Strikes Back, starts with your team basically naked in the dark in a pit filled with monsters. Anyway, finding out that FTL’s legendary dungeon crawlers had a Japan-only Saturn-exclusive send off was a bit of a surprise, but what was even better was playing it and finding out that it still felt authentically old-school – arguably even more so than the wonderful Legend of Grimrock, and I think that game’s the bees knees.

Enemy Zero

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Kenji Eno, bless him, was one of those developers that you had to admire whether you liked his games or not - when you played a WARP game you knew you were getting their vision, raw and untouched by PR men, focus groups or common sense. Enemy Zero’s sci-fi horror adventure FPS-by-sound ‘em up isn’t really a very good game all things considered, but it’s somehow still a gripping and unforgettable one.

Grandia Digital Museum

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A behind-the-scenes fan disc for an RPG doesn’t sound like something everyone should rush out to grab, but I thought this was really good. When you start the game the museum only has a few items in it, and it’s up to you to go off adventuring and grab the rest. More Grandia’s always a good thing (so long as we’re talking exclusively about the original), so getting a fun little adventure as well as the opportunity to gawp at bonus material at the same time really impressed me.

Sakura Taisen

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The game that launched a thousand drama CDs. I have played this game on every format it’s ever been released on, and I honestly never tire of it. Ogami & co’s adventures are just the best – likeable characters in colour coordinated uniforms off saving the world while making sure they’re back at the theatre in time to perform Cinderella. One of Sega’s flagship series, and a game I’d heartily recommend to just about everyone if only it had an English translation – I really cannot stress just how important this game is to Sega and to well, me, I guess.

Shining Force III Premium Disc

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This fan disc takes a slightly different approach to Grandia’s, although it’s no less thorough for it. It’s especially worth mentioning the model viewer (all characters, all promotions, with all possible weapons) and the sound test that covers every track in the entire trilogy – by comparison the official soundtrack only offers a measly thirteen, and one of those is a medley. But even better than all the glorious art stuffed on the disc are the battles that let you use your own Shining Force III save data to create an all-star team to go up against some of the series most memorable bosses, a Shining fan really couldn’t have asked for more *heart flutters*.

Shiroki Majo ~Mouhitotsu no Eiyuu Densetsu~

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“But Kimimi, you said no ports!” you probably cry. Well OK so this one is a bit of a cheat but it is so different from the original PC-98 Shiroki as well as any and all revisions after it that it may as well be an all-new game. Hudson’s port is a bright-n-breezy adventure with some impressive FMV and absolutely spectacular sprite animation. But they did far more than just give the game a makeover; they completely rebuilt it from the ground up, and cut out all the usual RPG fluff – the game doesn’t even have random battles! You think this’d kill an RPG but in practise it’s perfect for people like me who miss old-school RPGs with towns and magic and kids going on adventures but don’t actually have the time or the will to spend on all the tedious bits that can accompany that sort of thing.

Silhouette Mirage

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Treasure were at their peak on the Saturn, which is a little odd coming from someone that thinks Alien Soldier is the best game they’ve ever made. But the important thing to remember is that Silhouette Mirage is completely nuts, and while I’ll never be any good at it I’ll always enjoy putting it on and grappling with the quirky mechanics and fun encounters.

Terra Phantastica

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Sega systems aren’t really praised for their RPGs the way Nintendo (SNES) or Sony (Playstation) are, so it’s always good to remind ourselves that they do have some brilliant exclusives too. Terra Phantastica is pitched just right for me - an SRPG with some interesting ideas that doesn’t confuse “interesting” with “drowning you in a million stats” or lumbering you with a dozen esoteric battle mechanics. It’s nice to find something with a bit of thought behind it but not demanding that I need to dedicate all my time to it just to get anywhere, and I found this kept me engaged the whole way through.

So, that’s that! What would you include on a similar list? Let me know either here or wherever else I happen to be lurking, OK?

Final Fantasy XIV tries to bring sound to life

It’s 2014. Games have been around for… *checks*… a long time. Yet even though modern budgets for anything that hopes to be Christmas #1 stretch to millions of US dollars simply as a matter of course and we’ve got designers falling over themselves to motion capture anything that’ll fit in one of those ball-covered mocap suits (famously including a bleedin’ dog) by and large developers/publishers still struggle with the idea that maybe it’s not a safe bet to assume that all gamers (or people that would like to be gamers) have a fully functional set of limbs and senses.

Not all gamers have hands capable of operating the now standard twin analogue quad-triggered controllers our consoles and PCs expect us to use. Colour blindness can make some very simple puzzles almost impossible. High quality voice actors are a pretty standard inclusion in most mainstream games – subtitles are not.

So it was with some surprise as I browsed the latest patch notes for Final Fantasy XIV that I came across this little nugget -

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I was as impressed as I was intrigued, so as soon as the game updated I hunted through the menus and had a go with Square-Enix’s attempt to cater for hard-of-hearing and deaf gamers.

As the patch notes say, sound is split into three distinct categories – music (blue), environment (green – anything your character can hear), and system (red). The following screenshots will hopefully show you how it works -

This screenshot shows a normal level of sound: there’s music playing and there’s some environmental noises (birdsong, people running about in the distance, etc.), but nothing in particular is going on -

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Let’s contrast that with the following image – there’s still music playing, but it’s briefly drowned out by a very loud environmental sound that has just occurred close to my (the camera’s) right; in this case, someone successfully synthesising an item -

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Lastly let’s take a look at sound visualisation in battle using probably the most extreme example available – a boss fight against Titan, Lord of Crags. As you can see from the image below not only is the music far louder than in any of the previous situations but Titan crashing into the ground has generated a sound so loud it’s completely overwhelming everything else.

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It might look a bit distracting but in practise I found I soon got used to it and you can alter the transparency level if you do find the default setting too much to take in. As someone without hearing difficulties ultimately I really can’t judge if this is actually useful, but from my position of ignorance it certainly seemed to bring things to life and it’s good to see a big developer other than Valve at least trying to include as many gamers as possible.

Have you used this new feature? What do you think of it? Either leave a comment below or get in touch on Twitter!

Phantasy Star Online 2 Fashion Parade Vol.2

Time to finish off this fashion parade!

When preparing to face the forces of darkness it’s always important to be prepared carry a great weapon show up looking fabulous, and PSO2 allows me to fulfil my previously untapped desire to play virtual dress-up like nothing else, with outfits that range from elegant to “You’re not going out dressed like that!”.

Unlike the licensed fare in the previous post, these ones were all (if memory serves me correctly) designed specifically for PSO2, although a lot of them are obviously based on real-world traditional or formal attire. As before the Japanese name is included so PC PSO2 players can easily search for the outfit in the game should they wish to buy one for themselves.

Wedding Dress
ウェディングドレス

Yukata Via (Moon)
ユカタヴィア月

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Lady Surf Pants
レディサーフパンツ

Kanagi Maihime (Shadow)
カナギマイヒメ影

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Ouka Tenkou
オウカテンコウ

Aquaria Coat (Snow)
アクエリアコート雪

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Roman Bakama (Snow)
ロマンバカマ雪

Juno Charis (Night)
ユーノーカリス夜

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Seras Alicia
セラスアリシア

China Dress (Ocean)
チャイナドレス海

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Himenagi Seikai
ヒメナギセイカイ

Miyade Furisode (Moon)
ミヤビフリソデ月

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Lufter Orbit (Moon)
ルフターオービット月

Engage Calceolaria (Night)
E・カルセオラリア夜

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Just like last time, if you want to check out the full range of male, female, and Cast outfits then you’ll probably want to go to Cirnopedia - click!

A little look at… Elmknight

I like RPGs. I like PC-98 games too. But often older computer RPGs seem to take a special sort of delight in crushing the very souls of anyone that dares to play them. This was fine back in the eighties/early nineties when you’d expect the latest RPG to last you months and a new computer game cost six shillings and a fresh chicken, but for better or worse the idea of sitting down and puzzling your way through a single title to the exclusion of all others went out with the 3.5” floppy disc.

So when browsing Project EGG for a new (old) game to spend ¥500 on it was with some trepidation that I settled on Micro Cabin’s 1992 RPG Elmknight, as it was not only an RPG but a first person RPG – the sort of thing that’s practically guaranteed to have you scrawling on graph paper like a gamer possessed. Why did I take leave of my senses and go for this game? I’ll be honest – it was because the title screen’s really cool:

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What gamer can resist an RPG with the promise of incredible giant robots? Not me, that’s for sure! Luckily it turns out that not only is Elmknight an RPG that absolutely delivers on the cool robot front but it’s also surprisingly forward-thinking in its execution, and by that I mean this is a 1992 RPG with a useful auto-map, checkpoints, and it’s balanced in such a way that people will be able to complete the game simply by paying attention and playing well – unlike Falcom’s PC-88 RPG Dragon Slayer which, much as I love it, did have me literally taping down keys so I could go out for a few hours while the game levelled up my party so I could proceed past the latest brick-wall boss.

But that’s enough rambling – what about the game?

Well as I briefly mentioned above the game’s navigated entirely from a first-person perspective, with your wandering broken down into town (actually more of a base), on-foot, and in-Land Mover (robot, for simplicity’s sake) flavours. Each of these has an always-on minimap at the bottom of the screen which while not especially detailed by any stretch of the imagination does go a long way to helping you get your bearings and at least gives some reassurance that you aren’t blindly walking in circles for hours. Both the on-foot and robot piloting sections features real-time fighting – players are expected to pick off enemies from a distance with carefully aimed shots and avoid incoming fire by moving out of the way, as opposed to hoping a DEF/LUK stat will do the work for them.

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Considering the format and the age of the game you’d expect this to all feel rather clunky, with flip-book movement (much like genre classics Dungeon Master and Eye of the Beholder) and limited animation, but Elmknight goes against the grain by featuring relatively smooth and responsive movement and lots of big well animated enemies to unleash your selection of weaponry upon.

The impressive visuals extend to the cutscenes too, which are frequent, well animated, and feature lots of unique one-off effects – as you’d probably hope for a game that spans ten floppy discs. The plot’s not going to win any awards, but it’s told with a sense of confidence and energy that means you’re more than likely to get swept up regardless, and the ending is satisfying enough to make the struggle of the final boss battle feel worthwhile.

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In the interests of fairness it’s worth pointing out one particular flaw – the text speed. All text auto-scrolls at a set speed, meaning fluent readers are left drumming their fingers and those of us that need to look up words find that the game isn’t prepared to just hang on for a minute while we consult a dictionary. There is an option to skip text entirely (ESC+D), but sadly not to simply speed it up. It doesn’t sound like much, but when the rest of the game is so polished it does stand out as something that really should have been addressed before release.

For whatever reason Elmknight didn’t receive any sequels or spinoffs as far as I’ve been able to see, although it did have its soundtrack released in 1993 – if you want to pick one up yourself it will apparently cost a minimum of ¥29,999, which is the cheapest price on Amazon JP at the time of writing (it wasn’t in stock anywhere else, including Yahoo! Japan Auctions).

Bonus info: Elmknight has a debug mode! Any time you’re in the Vanetta open up the weapons menu and then press 2, 7, 5, 6 on the number pad to open up a handy menu that offers invincibility, the ability to move anywhere on the map, ammo reload and all sorts of other useful little features. The downside is that your screen ends up looking like this -

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- but even then it’s actually quite interesting to get a peek under the hood and see what’s going on as you move around the map.

Want to try the game for yourself? You can! Project EGG have it for sale over here - click!