Phantasy Star I-IV (1988-1995) review

A couple months ago I felt this urge to go back to retro gaming.  I don’t mean retro PC, I don’t mean downloading an emulated game on the PC.  I mean actual old-school console gaming.  But I found myself in a predicament.  I used to own a Sega Genesis, and a decent game collection for it.  But it was taking up so much space.  So I gave the whole thing away a few years ago, as a gift to some podcast guys I no longer listen to.  A part of me was tempted to purchase one of those “system and controllers plus collection of games” on eBay, but I knew that wouldn’t be the right thing to do, at least not currently.  That would just put me back in the same situation as before, and I need to be more efficient with my space.  So I opted for the next best thing, one of those classic retro gaming systems that had a bunch of games built into it, the the NES Classic, the SNES classic, or the recently released Genesis Classic.  I would’ve to go for the SNES classic, if it had the games I wanted.  But they didn’t, not all of them.  Then I found out it could be modded.  So I had two choices.  Either purchase the console mini and work on putting emulations on a USB drive and go through this somewhat complex process of adding more games to the console myself.  Or I could purchase this version I saw on eBay where the console was already modded with 7000+ games; this included not just every SNES game ever made, but also every NES and Genesis game ever made, plus a large selection of Arcade, Famicom, Sega Master System, and Atari games.  For about $200.  I decided just to purchase it.  I wasn’t sure myself if I could find good emulations of all the titles that this thing included, so I figured it was worth it to go for it.  Several sellers on eBay currently do this.  While there were some versions that had more or less the 7000 number, I opted to stick with that version for one reason only.  I wanted the entire NES, SNES, and Genesis collection.  Everything else was just a bonus.

So far, despite a couple minor nitpicks here and there (mainly due to cropping of the screen on some titles), it was worth the investment.  And aside from revisiting some games I played during my childhood, I went for the ones I hadn’t experienced.  One of the main ones being the competitor to the Final Fantasy series, Phantasy Star.

 

 

Phantasy Star

Rated: 3.5 / 5 *

* This score depends on whether it’s played modded or unmodded.  See mod note below.

So this game wasn’t technically released on the Sega Genesis.  It was released for the Sega Master System, the system Sega utilized (outside of their arcades) before the Genesis came out a year later.  And this is arguably the best-looking game on that console.  Hell, it’s better-looking than some of the games on the Genesis system.  Because they packed in a lot of memory space into the cartridge, to the extent where it became a selling point.  At a price above the average Sega title.  And it shows.  The animations of the characters when you’re wandering the world screen, the monster animations on the battle screen, and then the infamous dungeons themselves.  They all push the limits of what the Master System (in all its 8-bit glory) could handle.

And it’s the dungeons themselves that give this game the biggest entertainment factor.  And there are 3 ways to go about it.  One way is to use graph paper to track the layout of the dungeon.  Yes, this does mean purchasing a stack of graph paper, and marking out the squares to indicate how long a hallway is, space by space, knowing when the turns are coming up, tracking pitfalls, stairways (and marking where they lead, up or down, and using another graph paper for that level).  This will no doubt put off some people, and I have to admit I didn’t do this for the most part.  But I eventually decided I should try it for at least one of the dungeons, and I found it more immersive that way.  These games carry an extra weight of immersiveness when you utilize objects in the real physical non-digital realm to track your progress in a digital game.  That, and I also used a notebook to track important conversations with NPCs so that I would could reference what I should do and where I should be going (it also helps with the immersiveness if you do that rather than rely on an in-game journal, which old-school games like this don’t have).  These dungeons are a very fun maze when approached in this manner.  It helps to make you feel like you’re really in one.

The second way is to get a hold of the maps (which can be easily found online) to assist you.  This is what I did for most of the game.  If I ever replay this, I’m going pencil-and-paper.  But for those who don’t wish to do that, this is an option.

The third way can be used if you have a Nintendo Switch (which I don’t, and even if I did it feels wrong playing a Sega game on a Nintendo system, even though I did that anyway on an modded SNES emulator).  Which contains the Sega Ages mode.  They did a respectable job with their semi-updated game version, where they track your progress of the dungeon, and automatically map it for you the further you progress.

Whichever version you choose, you’ll also experience the iconic dungeon music.  And there are two versions of this track.  First there’s the regular version, which was the only one gamers in America could get a hold of.

And then there’s the FM enhanced version, which certain Sega Master systems contained in Japan, but nowhere in the U.S.A.  We got a bit screwed over, but it’s still a great track no matter which version you listen to.

All that aside, the story is minimal in this game.  Don’t get me wrong, there’s a story there, and it opens up with one.  Plus I highly recommend the game manual to further enhance it, as it tells you more about the world you inhabit, plus the solar system itself.  ‘Cause you’ll be traveling to a few planets in this game.  You don’t just stay one one planet.  That is also an ambitious feature.  Plus the manual gives mandatory descriptions of the spells and items in the game; which is must-have information considering the game doesn’t exactly explain what they are or what they do.

Back to the story.  Once you get past the intro, and you get the other 3 members added to your party, things stay largely minimal for the most part.  You have an established goal and character motivation, and you do learn more when you talk to the NPCs (something you have to do to gain an understanding of things, and learn what to do next, unless you’re using a walkthrough).  That’s right, talking to NPCs isn’t optional just for thematic fluff so they can tell you their life story and how the world is mistreating them or something like that.  They give you a grasp of the situation of the town you’re in, and the world, and give you need-to-know information required to take the right actions to progress through the game.  And there’s no map guide to tell you where to guy, you have to figure it out yourself until you get familiar with the environment.  The way a game should be, not holding your hand, and trusting you to find the information yourself.

But there are a couple instances where it definitely doesn’t tell you enough about what to do.  The first major instance is on the ice planet (Dezo for short) where you need to purchase an Icebreaker mobile to break the ice around some frozen mountain ranges so you can get to a dungeon.  The problem is, the machine doesn’t break just any ice wall, only a specific area.  And no one tells you where the fuck that area is.  That is when I had to utilize a guide to help me out.  The second time was with the very last dungeon, where I kept going in circles until I found out I had to turn to face a wall at this one spot, where a door will be.  And there’s no indication a door will be there until you turn to face that particular section.  We’re not talking optional hidden areas that are in some dungeons (where you have to walk through a wall to know they are there), this is a spot that you have to find in order to progress through the game.  Some rubbish!

As for the monotonous combat typical of J-RPGs like these.  I have to admit, one of the reasons I went for this game was because I part of me felt like going back to these simplistic repetitive combat systems.  I’m not 100% sure why.  Because I felt like re-experiencing these systems to see if I hate them as much as I did in hindsight (prior to playing this)?  Or some nostalgia factor for this style of gameplay calling me back in, despite how much I proclaim to despise these types of J-RPG turn-based battle systems?  Or because one game in the series was brought up in my Nostalgia for the 90s retrotrip series?  Or because I was this desperate to experience a quality RPG in a franchise I have never played out of spite for the quality of games in the current industry?  Who knows?  But in any case, the system in this game is a bit different than what I’m used to in turn-based battles.  Rather than having a character select an attack/spell type and who to target it with, you just select the attack/spell type, and they attack a random enemy on screen.  Now, there will only ever be one enemy sprite on the screen, but in the upper right corner it will specify how many enemies of that type there are, and your character randomly attacks one of them (unless it’s an attack that hits all of them).  I actually rather enjoyed this quaint little feature.  Gave my mind less to think about in these turn-based systems I already found a bit mindless.

The leveling and grinding.  At the start of the game, you will be doing a fairly good amount of grinding.  Because you’re character starts out as an absolute wimp.  You have to pick and choose your battles (ie knowing when to run away, when to fight, and when to realize you’re going to die so you better hope you saved the game prior to the battle starting).  Each time you level up will feel like a major accomplishment.  Eventually you will get tough enough to not need to go back to town and rest at a home after just one battle.  Then after just two battles.  Then three.  Eventually you will get tough enough to where you can make a trek to another town.  And once I got through the first major dungeon, I didn’t need to do anymore grinding for the rest of the game.  So leveling and grinding wasn’t much of an issue.  In fact, you become capped at level 25, a level you’ll most likely reach before you even hit the final dungeon, let alone the final boss.

Aside from going into areas with enemies much stronger than you (ie, you likely went there too soon, or forgot to acquire superior weapons and armor), the fights really aren’t all that difficult.  For the most part, you’ll just be doing basic attacks, with the only spells being cast after combat to heal your party before you continue on.  That all changes when you get to the last two bosses, especially the very last one.  They will definitely give you a run for your money, and will force you to put more thought into your battle strategy (of which you likely had none beforehand).

All in all, I rather enjoyed the pacing of this game.  You start on a quest for vengeance, get some allies along the way to fight a tyrannical leader, get some legendary destiny weapons and armor prior to the final battle, and bring peace not just to the world, but to the star system.  But it does have that extra added element to it about an evil force that corrupted the mind(s) of the ruler(s) to do its bidding, which is a theme I appreciated (as subtle as it was handled).

It was a worthwhile playthough, in spite of those two progress-halting problems.

 

Mods

However, it is worth noting that there is a modded version of the game that comes recommended, especially if you plan on playing the sequels.  The translation of the game was a bit on the problematic side when it came to names (let alone the dry dialogue delivery).  For instance, a character named Noah in the English version is referenced as Lutz in all the sequels.  So a fan-translation was made that is more faithful to the Japanese version, and more consistent with the names of some characters in the sequels, especially 2 and 4.  And having played just the first minute of this English translation patch (not to mention having the Japanese version downloaded as an .sms file includes the FM music, which grants superior sound quality all around), I can already state that this is the definitive way to play the game, and absolutely the way I would play it if doing so again.  I wouldn’t revisit the official English version after experiencing it this way.

First you’ll need a Sega emulator.  I prefer Fusion:

https://wowroms.com/en/emulators-software/181/Kega%2BFusion.html

Then you’ll need the Japanese version of the game:

https://wowroms.com/en/roms/sega-master-system/phantasy-star-japan/57928.html

Then you’ll need the English translation patch:

https://www.romhacking.net/translations/1069/

Then you’ll need the Lunar IPS patcher:

http://www.romhacking.net/utilities/240

After unzipping all those files, make a copy of the game .sms file, and the english patch .ips file, and put them in the same folder as the Lunar patcher, though it’s recommended just to have it all on the desktop (always keep a backup of the original sms and ips files in case something goes wrong).  Run the patcher, clicl the “Run IPS Patch” button, select the sms file, then the ips file, and it will patch the sms file just like that.  Place the .sms file in whatever folder is convenient for you (somewhere near the Fusion emulator folder), and run the game.  If it runs and it’s in English, you did it correctly.

Since this version won’t come with any fancy Nintendo Switch mapping, you’ll be forced to play the dungeons either as pencil and graph paper style, or downloading images of the dungeon maps and using them as a reference style.  Either way, this is the most immersive way to play.  Having great quality dialogue (not to mention superior quality music) will help A LOT.

 

 

 

Phantasy Star II

Rated: 2.5 / 5 *

* This score could go up a notch with the right mod.  See below.

So this game makes up for the first one in the storytelling department, in that more plot developments occur as the game goes on (plus more cutscenes).  And there are some major colossal events that happen in this game that even took me by surprise once they unfolded.  Though I do take issue with this one aspect of the ending, more on that later (I will give a spoiler warning, indicating when I’m about to spoil, and when I’m done spoiling).  But it’s not only an overall improvement in terms of storytelling from the first game, but also contains themes much more relevant to today, if not altogether more necessary to hear.  It’s about how the planets on the Algo system are run by an artificial intelligence known as Mother Brain.  And how those on your home planet of Motavia have become lazy and overly reliant on this AI technology that runs things for everyone.  Life doesn’t seem to have much meaning, especially since death has no meaning, thanks to clone labs which can revive anyone after they get killed, for a fee.  And space travel is now banned (it’s deemed unnecessary and dangerous; much like certain books banned from Amazon).  And once incidents begin to occur (starting with monsters appearing and killing people), it’s up to you to do something about because you’re one of the very few people motivated enough to actually do something (plus you’re an agent).  That’s about all I’ll say about it, but you could imagine where the relevance can go from there.

There’s also level design that accompanies this theme.  How the overworld itself is relatively easy to navigate, how each section of the planet with a town is divided too neatly, because Mother Brain designed it this way.  It’s efficient, but uninteresting (which is the point).  But once you go to another planet, then things open up considerably.  You’re now in a world not run by Mother Brain, without reliance on an AI system, and you have to navigate on your own without much ease of reference.  Highlighting the pros and cons of independence vs. lack thereof.  You’re independent, but life is more difficult, vs. your dependent for the sake of an easygoing life, but you’re at the mercy of those who rule over you or any unexpected catastrophes.

That would seem great and all, except for one very fucking annoying thing that practically ruins this game for me.  The goddamn dungeons.  It’s not that they no longer have that first person view of the first game that bothers me (none of the other Phantasy Star games even tried to replicate that; shame).  Oh no.  It’s how insanely complex these goddamn levels are.  And it mostly has to do with the fucking teleporters.  It’s so fucking annoying going into dead ends and getting lost, it’s no wonder the game came with a fucking player guide to help you through these things.  And you’ll need it.

Cover
“Your adventure would be very difficult without this guide.”  No fucking shit!

Those dungeons are so insanely complex, it tends to defeat the purpose of an easygoing world.  On the other hand, maybe they are supposed to be that way as a metaphor for how complex a computer mind works.  Either way, I don’t care; playing through them is a pain in the fucking ass without the guide.  And no mod I know of has dealt with that.  Whatever.  Fuck dungeons with teleporters.

And if that wasn’t bad enough, though this would likely explain why the dungeons are designed this way, the amount of grinding you have to do in this game is ungodly.  If you’ll recall my description of the amount of grinding you had to do in Phantasy Star I, and how that was mostly limited to just the beginning of the game, this game is like that, except the entire way through.  However, I did know about this ahead of time (I had a little experience playing this years ago), so I said, “Fuck this,” to that, and used an easy mode mod (more on that later).  It helped with the problem, considerably (I don’t have THAT much patience for monotonous J-RPG turn-based battles).  So yeah, compared to the first game, the leveling and grinding is fucking atrocious here, without an easy mod!  At least the battle music is decent.

So, dungeons aren’t that fun, the standard game grinding is horrible for those who aren’t into that sort of thing (you fucks who are into that will grow up into BDSM fanatics who pierce your tits with cacti and shove spoons up each others’ asses).  The other downgrade this game suffers compared to the first is also in the battle screen.  In that there is only one background, in total, in the entire game, without ever changing.  Some digital square thing like you entered Tron world or something.  With no fucks given about even trying to hide the fact that combat is monotonous.  The designers were probably thinking, “Oh, you spoiled rotten prick bitches thought combat was monotonous before?  Well then we won’t give a fuck about the background images.  See how you blue-balled virgins enjoy it now!”  Now, that’s not the real reason the battle system is like this.  The developers were pressed for time, so they had to make concessions (this wasn’t the only one, but it is the one that hurts the game the most).  This game is like the polar opposite of its predecessor, where there was such a thing as too much grinding, the dungeons were fun, and the battle screens had actual backgrounds.

But I will say this.  The monster animations on the battle screen are certainly improved compared to those of the first game.  And there is more detail to the characters, both in battle and outside of battle.  And now there can be up to four different enemies on the screen at the same time.  On top of that, combat can now go into full auto mode once you select FGHT (ie Fight).  You don’t need to hit any other buttons as you watch your characters fight.  You could interrupt at certain points though by hitting the B button (if using a Genesis controller), at which point you can customize the attacks/spells/items used in a round of combat.  Otherwise, you’ll be targeting the left-most enemy group first before going after the other enemies.

On top of that, this game is deliberately trying to piss me off.  In the previous game, you could save anytime anywhere outside of battles.  In this game, you can only save at save points in the city.  At first.  But if you get a certain character, level her up enough, and then take her to a certain place to steal a certain item, you’ll then be able to save anywhere outside of battles and dungeons.  That’s cock-teasing bullshit!  And on top of that, someone had the bright idea of having each character hold items separate from the party.  So when you acquire an item, it doesn’t go into a general item supply, it goes to the character who picked it up (or to the next in line if they reached a limit).  So now you have to micromanage who’s holding one, especially when you have to switch out party members.  And the process by which you do this is fucking painful (open menu, select item menu, select item, select “Give,” select party member to give that one item to, rinse and repeat).

Plus the instruction manual (separate from the hint book) for this game sucks compared to the first game’s manual (not enough descriptions of the spells/items).  This is an unfortunate problem that is maintained through the rest of the games, including IV.  You’ll need an online guide for the spell descriptions in those.

So, with that out of the way, the ending.

SPOILERS START

So it ends with you first encountering the Dark Force from the first game (implying it was influencing someone, or something, for an evil purpose; possibly Mother Brain itself or those who programmed it), and then take on Mother Brain herself.  Afterwards, you encounter a bunch of people in another room.  It is learned that they are a race of humans from a distant planet in another galaxy, known as Earth, and that they are responsible for coming to this system, creating Mother Brain, and using her as a means to take over each planet in the Algo system, making the occupants subservient, and then planned to colonize the planets for their own deeds.  Why do this?  Because they ruined Earth with their pollution and scavenging of all minerals/food/greenery/etc.  The main problem that I have with this is that these people are from Earth.  By trying to make this plot hit that close to home, it made me disconnect with the story a bit.  Plus it negates the appearance of Dark Force a bit.  Sure, we can assume Dark Force influenced the Earthers to destroy the Algo system, but it seems like they intended to do that from the start.  It just seemed forced, this message of warning us about creating our own destruction, when the same thing could’ve been accomplished by having people from one of the Algo planets create Mother Brain for similar reasons because Dark Force influenced them to do so.  In fact, one of the mods for the game did precisely that (see below).

SPOILERS END

So overall, despite the more ambitious and better told story (despite my caveats with the ending), ultimately I found this inferior to the first game simply due to the grinding (a problem non-existent with a mod or two), the dungeons, and the lack of a background in the battle screen.  With that out of the way:

 

Mods

Numan Revolution: Changes up the script a bit, and some revelations near the ending.  Plus it also makes the battles and leveling easier.  I haven’t tried this mod yet, but if I ever feel like giving this game another go (it will be a while before that ever happens), I’ll likely give this mod a spin.

Easy Mode: I played my runthrough with this mod.  You get more EXP and Meseta (game currency) with each battle, leveling you up faster and gaining money quicker so you can get the necessary weapon upgrades sooner.  If nothing else, I wouldn’t play without a mod that did something like this.

More can be found here: https://www.romhacking.net/games/66/

 

 

 

Phantasy Star III: Generations of Doom

Rated: 2.5 / 5 *

* Even with mods I’m not so sure the rating could be higher than this.

This one is notorious for being the black sheep in the series.  And it shows.  On the positives, it brought back backgrounds for the battle screens (thanks Christ), some improved movement where characters will automatically move around sharp corners (it’s subtle but welcomed), much more reasonable dungeons compared to the 2nd game, allows 5 party members at a time, had an insane ambition of multiple choices for multiple paths to take in the game and allow for up to 4 alternate endings, and a fairly good music track for the opening prologue.  Plus it has the usual Dark Force making a return to influence people to do evil again (a tradition in these games).  And that opening prologue music track, it’s pretty damn great (see video above).

The overall quality of the game suffers from rushed production (let alone a different team working on it).  The character and overworld quality looks a tad worse, the towns are very monotonous, many empty rooms where there should be NPCs, terrible monster animations (I’m not kidding, the attack animation for one monster is literally him flexing his pecs, another just flicking his wrist), irritating sound effects, battle music that causes some gamers’ ears to bleed, and poor presentation of the story, especially during the final arc.  For instance, after you collect the final legendary/destiny/prophetic weapons and armor (a tradition in these games), and take it to these priest guys to get enchanted or something, all that happens is you talk to a priest, he says something like, “Go forth and kill so-and-so,” and that’s the only indication you get that the weapons have been enchanted.  There’s no sound effect, no special effect, nothing.  I had to check my inventory to see if something changed, and that’s when I saw that it did.

And on top of that, it still has that “each character holds a bag of items” annoyance from the last game.

Weak.

It’s like this game took one step forward, two steps back.

Seriously, don’t those red things on the lower right look like a bunch of dicks?

The only reason this is worth recommending is because of its ambition.  You play as one protagonist for a while, then you’ll eventually have to choose one of two women to marry.  Not much is really said about either of them, so I didn’t really know what traits either of them had to make me attached to either of them.  They have no character.  I blame the rushed production on this, and the lack of insight into any of these characters.  But anyway, you pick one, then you continue the game later on as the son of that couple.  Rinse and repeat one more time, then you play through the rest of the game as a 3rd generation.  So yeah, this was quite ambitious and commendable, but the presentation of it is so poor it becomes difficult to appreciate.  At least you can save anytime again (and there’s no jerking you around like the 2nd game where you have to acquire a mcguffin first in order to do that).  And you won’t need to grind too much either (just at the beginning, like the previous games).

But the absolute worst thing about this game, almost as bad as the dungeons in the second game, is the goddamn backtracking.  Which is exacerbated by the fact that you no longer have those spells from the last game that can teleport you to the nearest town (no items that do that either, best you’ll get is something to teleport you out of a dungeon), which is a dick move.  You will backtrack through this cocksucking world a lot.  And I’m not just talking going back and forth between the same areas in one generation.  No.  All 3 generations travel the same paths, except the next generation explores a couple more areas each time.  This was a fucking chore.  At least the battles are overall easier than in all the other games.  Seriously, even the final boss is easy to beat.  First game got pretty damn hard, the 2nd game’s Dark Force Boss was very very hard, and this one is easy compared to both.

And honestly, that’s all I really have to say about this.  It could’ve been one of the best, if not the best, in the series if they had more time to work on it, or maybe had a better writing/animation team.  But they didn’t.  And it ends up being one of the worst.  Disappointing.  But playing through it, at times, you can really see that potential.  It’s there, it really is.  It just wasn’t tapped into.  On top of that, this doesn’t contribute to the main overall storyline of the series as much as I, II and IV do.  That being said, IV makes some references to it, so it could still be worthwhile.  And there is that opening prologue music…

 

 

Mods

Well, having not tried any of them, some look like they could address some of those presentation problems.  Only other thing that would be great is if they could improve the music and the speed of movement.

Nial Edition: Dialogue has been improved (yay!), but equipment is weaker (boo!), but the amount of EXP and Mesenta gained from battle is doubled (yay!), but I’ve heard you can’t marry one of the women, thus cutting down the potential paths and endings by half (boo!).  A mixed bag, but it’s known among the modding community for those who play this game.

General Improvement: Improved/expanded dialogue, more NPCs to give them so that the towns are less empty, and overall makes the plot, characters, and development more clear.  Doesn’t mess with the gameplay at all.

More Accurate Translation: Basically like the mod for Phantasy Star I, in that you need a Japanese version of the ROM, and this patch, and a patcher.  Worth noting because the General Improvement mode states that it never bothered to look at the original Japanese translation, and doesn’t care.  But hey, if you enjoy the game enough, maybe you’ll feel like playing it through once with one version, and again with the other version.  Assuming having 4 paths to take leading to 4 endings isn’t good enough, for a game of this quality.

 

 

 

Phantasy Star IV: End of the Millennium

Rated: 4 / 5

Oh man.  This game made playing through the others feel worthwhile.  If you enter this game coming off the heels of the previous three, the upsurge in overall quality is going to hit you fast and hard like a bag of bricks to the face.  It all led up to this, which provides an ending to the franchise, and ending to the Dark Force arc, and all the while references characters and events from all the other games (though only minor mentions to the 3rd game, but it is brought up enough in this one side quest that made plowing through it feel worth it).  And it’s considered not just the best in the series (though some people who are fucked in the head would argue the 2nd one is better), but one of the best J-RPGs of all time.  And after having played it, I’d have to agree.  This is easily the best Phantasy Star game, by a mile.  The presentation blows the others out of the water, the leveling is perfect, the difficulty in combat is perfect, the callbacks to the other games are great (and are only really impactful if you’ve played through the others; you could get away with skipping the 3rd game though), it nails the pacing…

… gotta stop with the praising if I want to review this properly.

The graphic style has returned to the form of the 2nd game.  The monster animations in combat are better than ever, and it’s got loads of different backgrounds.  And there aren’t only cutscenes of people walking around, stopping, then having a dialogue box pop up.  Oh no.  This has cutscenes of images popping up ala comic book style.  The amount of detail, and the quantity of detail, going into those alone is insane for a 16-bit game.  This game was expensive (and a bit difficult to find) when it first came out, and you can see why when you play this.  You wouldn’t think a Sega Genesis game could look and feel this great.

Plus the characters walk considerably faster in this game compared to the others.  Some have argued that they move too slow in II and III (especially III, with all the backtracking).  You will not have that problem here.  Some might say they move too fast.  Though I do see a potential consequence of this.  Sometimes, when you try to talk with an NPC, you move into this position where you end up talking to a blank space, and your lead character will say something like, “There’s nothing here.”  One of the lead characters will even berate you for doing that.  Other times you’ll do that auto-move around sharp corners thing, when you really want to just press up against some object to get more details on it.  Minor inconveniences like that.  But honestly, I’ll take those irritations over moving too slow.

The combat system has some changes to it (aside from removing the whole, “each character holds a bag of items” shtick from the last two games; it’s back to a general supply bag, thank Christ).  It’s more traditional, in that now you select an attack/spell/item from your character, and select a target for them to hit with it.  But it also brings in something else to combat more unique to this game (though others have sort of copied the essence of this idea).  There’s a system where you can program which type of attack a character will make, in which order.  It’s possible to form some technique/spell combos when doing this, though you’ll likely be discovering them by accident.  It’s possible to play through the game without ever utilizing this system to that effect, but it allows for a nice system of discovery and exploitation.

As for the story themes, honestly, despite my praise for the presentation and the pacing, even though the plot is very solid, there’s a lack of that tradition of Dark Force influencing people to do evil.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s there.  But it goes away before the game is even halfway over.  It becomes a more typical good vs. evil type of game, without really playing into the faults of humanity and giving in to temptations and the lust for power.  On the other hand, I’m not entirely sure the game should be faulted for that.  After all, the previous three games go over all that, and the only way to really raise the stakes is to elevate the significant of Dark Force itself rather than the people it influences, and put the fate of the galaxy in your hands amidst the conflict.  I think it’s because I just wanted epic perfection to go along with this presentation (which is the best presentation anyone could’ve asked for from this series).  A little more of the human struggle.  But that’s just me.  The story is still solid, and it adds considerably to the lore that was setup in the first game.  Come to think of it, aside from the development and evolution of the population of the Algo star system, nothing much is really developed about Dark Force in II or III, other than it returns every 1000 years (sort of like The Fifth Element).

Unlike the other games, there are some legit side quests here.  With the other games, anything given the appearance of a side quest is more of a mandatory quest in the end.  Here, there are some honest-to-God sidequests that are completely optional to winning the game.  Some of them are meh (specifically some of the Hunters Guild quests), but overall a nice addition.

The music is also some of the best this series has ever gotten.  It has an amazing remix of the dungeon theme from the first game, a decent remix of the battle music from the second game, and has plenty of its own great tracks.  The dungeon music in this (for the cave dungeons anyway) is hypnotic.  Almost as hypnotic as the look of the game’s final dungeon (try not to get hypnotized with that).  Seriously, you’ve gotta give those dungeon tracks a listen.

And lastly, the difficulty of the combat.  There are about 4 boss fights (well, 3 boss fights and 1 side-quest boss) that are definitely challenging.  The first 3 will really make you work for it.  They are worthy in their difficulty.  The last one, well, that one is more of an endurance test than anything else (so long as you have the means to heal certain members of your party and keep doing damage at a consistent rate, you’ll be fine).  And the regular enemies seem to stay at just the right amount of difficulty the whole way through.  A bit difficulty at the beginning (need to do a small amount of grinding), average stuff through most of the game, then they start to get a little more difficult during the final act(s).  This game nails the difficulty and leveling better than the others.  If the first game had you level too fast (in that you reach the cap too soon), and the second game had you level too much (plenty of grinding required), and the 3rd game it didn’t matter because the final boss wasn’t that tough, then this one is nearly perfect in its execution.

All in all, it’s worth going through the others just to get to this game (though 3 is a bit on the optional side, especially if you find it insufferable).  This one comes recommended.  But you’ll only feel the emotional impact if you’ve also experienced the other games.  This is the game that proves the Phantasy Star series should’ve been on equal footing with the Final Fantasy series.  In fact, I’d argue that I and IV were better than the Final Fantasy games put out during those time periods.  As for II, well, having not played any of the older Final Fantasy games outside of IV and VI (Or was it III and IV?  Or III and VI?  Fuck if I know, North America really pisses me off sometimes with how they mess with foreign games), I wouldn’t know for sure how it stacks up with Final Fantasy II in terms of story and dungeon crawling (I’d imagine it’s on-par when it comes to grinding).  Either way, the Phantasy Star franchise is worth experiencing.

 

Mods

They exist, but I don’t find myself ever using any of them.  So for those who are curious:

http://www.pscave.com/dow/hacks/

Shadow Tactics: Blade of the Shogun (2016) review

shadow tactics

Rated: 3.5 / 5

I question how much I actually enjoy stealth games.  Aside from Thief I and II, I don’t normally go out of my way to play these sorts of games.  On the other hand, certain RPGs like Deus Ex, while not primarily a stealth game yet can be played as one, do end up causing me to take the stealth-tactic route.  Mainly because it seemed more logical to me to not try and be a one-man army, since games like those try to have a sense of realism.  Plus they subtly encourage you to try more pacifist tactics, lest you risk causing hostages to be butchered or something.  I don’t know, maybe it’s because of some subliminal shit that causes me to take the stealth approach in those games.  Or because I’m not that great of a shot (at least compared to online players), so I just play like a pussy.  But since this game was getting rave reviews, I thought I’d try it out.  And overall, it’s not too bad.

There are 13 missions in the game, each one getting progressively longer, complex, and challenging.  First mission is a great intro to the game system, the 2nd mission is a decent progression.  But from the 3rd mission and onwards, it doesn’t pull any punches with the difficulty.  You have to learn the capabilities of the characters inside and out, just as you’ll need to learn to utilize the controls for quick maneuvers to get the timing right, plus to utilize the ability to see the line of sight of specific soldiers/samurai/civilians.  Shadow mode for simultaneous character actions, each of their special abilities, knowing when to move by quickly, or crouch and move; when you should kill someone, when you should just try to avoid them, etc.

In other words, I strongly recommend using a controller for this one, rather than a mouse and keyboard.  This game seems more designed for control pads.

If it wasn’t obvious, this takes place in medieval Japan, during a time when the way of the samurai was ending.  So of course there’s going to be some challenge to their traditional ways, especially with the questions asked to or about the Mugen character (one of the five party members you’ll have through much of the game).  And, of course, they have to throw in a bit of women power (mainly with this one character who can disguise herself to blend in with the enemy), but they thankfully don’t go overboard with it.  It’s the same kind of thing you get with the film The Last Samurai, except the war-mongering samurai are given a more antagonistic light this time around.  Two significant events happen in the game to thematically represent this way of life coming to an end, signified by two major characters having their lives ended.

Theme aside, the game controls fine for the most part.  I found myself frustrated at points for not being able to pull off these plans I had in mind to get through a section, but that’s mostly on me.  Overestimating the capabilities of my characters, underestimating the number of enemies and their patrol routes (I needed to learn more patience, even if the whole thing seems like trial and error), and just getting angry knowing that, in hindsight, there was a better way to go about completing a portion of a level (if not the entire thing).  However, there were a few times where the NPC movement seemed glitched, with one or two guys being stuck together or to some object on the map and being unable to move.  This was rare, and I think it only happened at 3 points throughout the entire game, but it was noticeable when it did.  Nothing game-breaking, thankfully.

There are some caveats though, which I noticed during the last 3 missions.  Sometimes there’s a portion of the map that juts out just enough to stop you in your tracks unless you go around.  I’m not talking about a section of a cart or something, I’m talking about one or two fucking pebbles that your character should be able to just fucking walk/run across, but can’t, so you have to learn to go around these things and not hug the walls too much or else you’ll get stuck and then get caught by the asshole NPC you thought you were about to avoid until that shit happened.  So, you know, little frustrations like that, which again aren’t game-breaking, just irritating.

After the first 2 levels, I’d say each stage took me roughly 2 hours each to beat (on Hardcore difficulty mind you, I’m not that much of a pussy to settle for normal mode, especially when it felt like the game was pulling it’s punches, let alone beginner mode).  Which gives this game a playing time of roughly 25 hours.  A solid enough length for a game of this type.

And even after you finish a level, you can replay it again to complete challenges (of which there are 9 per level).  If you beat a level on hardcore mode, there’s a chance you will have completed at least 2 of the 9 challenges on a first try.  For the first level, I completed 8 of the 9 challenges (including a speed-run of beating the level in under 11 minutes).  I enjoyed them, at first.  But then I came to realize some of these challenges are just downright stupid.  For instance, one of the challenges in the first level is not to kill anyone.  You can knock them out, but they’ll come-to after about 40-60 seconds (I never timed it).  And it seems impossible to get through a level only by knocking people out.  But then I figured out the trick.  Knock someone out, dump their body in a well (I think there’s only 2, at most, in this level), rinse and repeat for everyone else in the way.  But this gets really fucking tedious when you realize there’s only 1 well that you can use for this purpose for a good portion of the level, so you’ll be knocking guys out, carrying their fatasses for up to a minute at a time trying to get back to this cocksucking well, dumping them, and doing it again and again, having to travel further and further distances while doing this.  When a challenge gets that tedious, I tend to stop giving a shit about them.  Seriously, don’t worry about the challenges, at all, during your first playthrough.  Don’t go back to those missions and repeat them just to do those challenges until you’ve completed the game.  These challenges have the potential to increase the amount of times it takes to complete a mission exponentially, sometimes for ridiculous reasons.

Or so I thought.  But then it turns out there was a way to do this quickly without needing to KO all that many people.  This hot shit Korean gamer (you fuckers and your god-mode Starcraft skills) makes me look bad:

So it’s watching this video that made me realize I’m nowhere near close to being a master at these types of games.  I may be capable of beating them, but I’m not capable of being great at them, at least not on my own without looking up how someone else “did it.”  This is one of those games that every stealth game ultimately ends being in a glorified sense: a puzzle game.  It’s not just about figuring out a way to progress though a stage, it’s also about figuring out the best most efficient way to do it.  And I will admit, I am not the best at figuring out that stuff on my own.  It infuriates me, but that’s on me, the game isn’t to be faulted for that.  You hearing me you asshole game journalists who bitched about the difficulty in Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice!?

But anyway, if stealth games like these seem right up your alley, I say go for it.  It seems like one of the better ones released in recent years that I’ve learned about.

 

bq-5cbe1b02b3a88

System Shock (1994) and Quake (1996) review

So in celebration of cocksucking California passing bullet legislation, I figure I’d talk about the best defining first-person-shooters ever made, outside of Doom (made after Doom).

Surely everyone has heard of Doom being the first major defining first person shooter game, which is still awesome to this day.  True, Wolfenstein came before it, and was made by the same company (iD).  But let’s face it, Doom in superior to Wolfenstein in every way.  But there are at least 2 other first-person-shooters which have defined the genre and made it what it is today (well, one would hope; plenty of today’s games could take lessons from these).  Recently played through both these games.  So let’s start with the earliest one.

System Shock (1993)

Rated: 4 / 5

While Doom may be the first major first person shooter, it was limited in how the player could move.  In that the player could only turn on a 2-dimensional plane.  They couldn’t look up or down, only side to side.  Well, System Shock not only allows the player to look up and down, but also to crouch, to lay flat, to lean left or right, and even enter a virtual world where they basically get full 360 degree freedom of movement.  All this just one year after Doom hit the market.  Quite a feat, even if the controls were clunky as hell (this has since been mostly rectified thanks to the Enhanced Edition which grants the ability to play in a fashion more similar to shooters of today; believe me, you’ll want to play it this way).

And what else did this game accomplish?  It’s arguably the first FPS game to have narrative immersion.  You aren’t just playing the game just to get guns and ammo, and rack up a body count, and discover secret rooms, gain a high score, etc.  In this game, you are actually involved in a developing plot, with a flawed protagonist (you) against an antagonist partly made because of your past misdeeds.  It has warnings of the future, about AI, about cybertechnology (in the same vane as the Cyberpunk universe, except in space, on a space station).  And it’s also likely the first game to have “logs” littered throughout to give you insight as to what happened on sections of the space station prior to your arrival (just about every FPS game nowadays incorporates this).

And I’ll be damned if I wasn’t invested into what was going on.  The last third of the game is quite a ride.  And it’s great when you’re first starting out, because it’s like a survival horror.  Especially when you learn of the fate of the crew, and what SHODAN did to them, and what the origin of these mutants are.  But you get stronger as the game goes on, becoming more of a threat to SHODAN (the AI), which initially thought of you as insignificant in the grand scheme of eliminating all human life from the world, and replacing it with a new race of machines.

Honestly, when it came to the “Grenade” and “Patches,” I don’t think I even used half of all the available options throughout my entire playthrough.

If there’s any fault I can give this game, aside from the clunky control scheme and interface, it’s the level design.  Don’t get me wrong, it works just fine, but you can’t help but think that it was designed more for gameplay-sake than narrative sake.  In that the designs don’t make all that much sense in terms of how one would want to design a space station.  Alien: Isolation did a much better job by comparison (to make a more recent example).  That, and you could find yourself lost on what to do and where to find something if you miss it early on (like some notepad that has a passcode on it, or the numbers on certain screens).  That being said, the stuff that you can get stuck on isn’t anywhere near the worst I’ve seen from FPS puzzlers, especially from that time period.  Even Doom and Duke Nukem 3D had levels which players would find themselves stuck on for a while.

Regarding the difficulty (at least on Normal mode), it started out challenging, but after a while the game mostly feels like a breeze until the last couple levels.  If you spend enough time picking up ammo from each enemy you take out, and each crate that you find, you’ll have more than enough for whatever meets you later on.  Especially once you get the lightsaber (yes, this game has lightsabers).  You’ll be using bullets, and energy (the latter of which can be recharged through one-time use batteries, or an energy core located in various areas).  Every now and then, there will also be a first aid station that fully recharges your health (and you’ll be provided consumables for health as well).  Overall, it took me roughly 15 hours to beat.  That being said, there is a hard mode where you are given a time limit for beating the game.  7 hours.  Go longer than 7 hours, you lose.  Good luck with that.

Aside from the historical impact this had on gaming, it’s still a solid experience to this day.  Though it does end a little too abruptly once you beat the final boss (I mean, there’s no epic explosion or anything; it literally cuts to the epilogue after you hit SHODAN with the last bullet).

And did I mention they’re remaking this game?

 

And for the next step in the evolution of FPS games:

 

 

Quake (1996)

Rated: 4 / 5

This was the game that set the standard for every FPS game made afterwards, in my opinion.  Especially if you play with the HD graphics.  That’s a bit tricky to do though, for a few reasons (more on that later).  You move around like a normal modern FPS, shoot guns and collect ammo like a normal FPS (none of that “press a button to pick up the ammo pack” bullshit, you just walk over it to collect it), etc.  And it doesn’t try to be as ambitious as System Shock control-scheme-wise.  There’s no laying prone, or leaning left or right.  It’s just move, run, and jump, and that’s it.

Source

While there is a story, it’s not something that will be at the forefront anymore than it was in Doom (made by the same company, iD).  This game is all about the gameplay and shooting the shit out of demons, pure and simple.  Over the course of the game you get more guns to shoot, and more enemies to shoot at.  However, it’s not as diverse as Doom.  By comparison, the variety of enemies will seem limited.  In Quake, you get 8 weapons and 7 enemies.  In Doom, you basically got 8 weapons and 10 enemies.  But what it lacks in diversity compared to Doom it makes up for in some of the best level design (and enemy placement within said levels) I’ve ever seen in an FPS.  The design is tight, every door, hallway, secret, platform, enemy; it all seems designed with intent, with everything very well thought out.  Masterminds designed the levels for this game.

And while there isn’t a story per-se, you do get the sense that you’re in a sacriligious place.  A place outside of your world, your own dimension.  Why are you even there?  Why even visit a place like this?  Well, reading the instruction manual, pretty much for the same reason you visit Hell in Doom: demons are invading through a portal, so it’s time you return the favor and invade their world, and throw them a very big hello party, courtesy of humanity from Earth.  Our protagonist doesn’t like illegal aliens invading his fucking turf.  So, naturally, he decides to gear up and blow some of them away.  It’s a challenge of his manhood and masculinity, which is why the gun is always front and center, like it’s your massive erection, blowing out bullets and beams and shells and rockets.  And if you’re into it enough, you might also get a stiffy and cream yourself in the ecstasy of all the carnage.  At some point you’ll probably scream like you’re having an orgasm.  Like Trent Reznor does.

And to stand apart from most other shooters, this is more of a gothic horror.  It’s like you’re in a fucked up medieval castle that’s out of time in some hellish realm with hints of sci-fi thrown in.  It’s rather unique.  And to make it even more unique, the soundtrack was done by Nine Inch Nails (NIN).  And to make their presence even more significant, there’s a Nailgun, with ammo packs containing the NIN logo.  It’s more atmospheric rather than in-your-face; it conveys a more subtle horror and disturbance that slowly seeps into your skin.  The music is every bit as important as everything else contained within the game.  It would feel incomplete without it.

Unfortunately, incomplete is the standard version people tend to get nowadays with this game.  Whether you purchase it on Steam or GOG (I prefer the latter), the soundtrack is missing (because of rights issues).  Well, that’s no completely true.  GOG did manage a workaround, though you are forced to play it with the inferior graphics (more sprite-based than 3D model based).

So on that note, here’s the 3 main ways you can play it once you purchase it on GOG (assuming you’re not using an alternative method):

Quake GIF
Quakespasm mod, which allows the music to be played, with tweaks (see below).  Full 3D models.
Game GIF
Standard GOG version, with no music.  Sprite-based models.
Quake GIF
Horrendous GOG workaround that doesn’t look great at all, but does allow the music to play.

Otherwise, if you can manage to play a version of it with the best graphics and the music thrown in, it’s a great experience.  The only downside to it is that there’s only 2 boss battles, when clearly there should’ve been 5.  There’s basically 5, uh, “dimensions,” with each dimension having a certain number of levels.  Only in the first dimension is there a boss at the last level, and the fifth dimension is basically a glorified (get to the final boss of the game) level.  There were some production troubles that prevented them from having the time and budget to program in the other bosses, so they scrapped them and made the last levels of dimensions 2-4 basically be like any other level, except progressively more difficult.  Not necessarily bad, as the challenge is still great and the level design is impeccable as always.  But it’s just tragic to think of what could’ve been.

 

Mods (for Quake only)

Ok, so first things first.  While there are a couple bits of software out there that basically do the same thing, this is the one I used.

Quakespasm

Download this, put in the files/folders (from the GOG download) needed in the Quakespasm folder, and you’re good to go.  Will run in the best quality.  However, it still won’t include the music, not right off the bat.  Still needs some tinkering to get that to work.  You’ll need to either copy-paste over the mp3 music files the GOG game has stashed away in one of the folders and put them in the Id1 folder; each music file should be titled track02.mp3 or track02.ogg (.ogg is the best format), with the “02” number being anything from 02-11 (there is no track01, there isn’t supposed to be).

how to use quakespasm

And honestly, that’s really the only mod you’ll need.  However, if you want more levels out of quake, there are several fan-made campaigns which add a crapload of content, including cutscenes (in a similar vane as Red vs. Blue, except these guys try their best to take it all seriously).

 

Nehahra

This is a fan-made campaign that is absolutely massive.  If you want to check out fan-made content, this is the absolute best place to start (though the cutscenes do run for too long in my opinion).  There are others in existence, to be sure, but this is the best starting point.  Unfortunately, I don’t think it works with Quakespasm (at least I couldn’t figure out a way to make it work with it), so you’ll be dealing with the more sprite-based graphics.  It’s still good.

 

 

PS: And yeah, I know, I didn’t really have much to say about these games other than just recommending them.  I’m not the best when it comes to video game reviews, I’ll admit.  Difficult to summon the willpower to discuss the graphics, audio, gameplay, story, and replay value.  I tend to be more about philosophical aspects, or food for thought, when it comes to my reviews, and games tend to be difficult about that stuff because they’re more about challenging yourself, and seeing if you can take on that challenge and succeed, and have fun along the way.  Adding a narrative is a bonus.  If you want a solid review for each game, I provided videos to LGR.  He is second to none when it comes to reviews for games like these.  So consider this article a recommendation for the games and the LGR reviewer.  That being said, there may come a day where I come across a game that is so narrative dependent, so devoid of any real gameplay, that I may just end up reviewing it like a movie.

 

https://media.tenor.co/images/a2f1e259c2476b72ad4f3845efcef461/raw

Entertainment Industry Nostalgia: May 1990

microsoft 3

Stuff that happened this month: Angela Bowie reveals that ex-husband David slept with Mick Jagger.  Nora Dunn and Sinead O’Connor boycott “Saturday Night Live” to protest Andrew Dice Clay’s hosting which was perceived as sexist; the show uses a time delay for the third time in its history.  “Cheers” star Kelsey Grammer sentenced to jail for 30 days for DWI.  European court rules on pension rights for men & women.  World Health Organization takes homosexuality out of its list of mental illnesses.  Hubble Space Telescope sends its 1st photographs from space.  Microsoft releases Windows 3.0.  NYC’s Zodiac killer shoots 3rd victim, Joseph Ponce.  James “Jim” Henson, American puppeteer, artist, screenwriter and filmmaker, best known as the creator of ‘the Muppets” (Sesame Street, The Muppet Show), dies of toxic shock syndrome caused by pneumonia at 53.

Source: https://www.onthisday.com/date/1990/may

 

Music

Music some may like that I don’t (again, I won’t include everything, as there’s too much, and I’m not exactly a connoisseur): Sonia: Everybody Knows; Kim Wilde: Love Moves; Tony! Toni! Toné!: The Revival; Adrian Belew: Young Lions; Doug Anthony All-Stars (notable for only releasing one album, which was successful in Australia, but banned in the UK); George Strait: Livin it UpThe Pretenders: Packed!; Katydids: Katydids; John Doe: Meet John Doe; The Breeders: Pod (maybe add this, with the track Fortunately Gone); Wire: Manscape.

Billy Idol: Charmed Life

His 4th studio album.  You should know his name, as he’s one of the most famous rock stars to have ever existed.  While I enjoy the whole album, the biggest hit was the single Charmed Life, which also had a hit music video directed by David Fincher, which also appeared in the film The Adventure’s of Ford Fairlane, an Andrew “Dice” Clay movie that would be coming out very soon this same year.

 

Flotsam & Jetsam: When the Storm Comes Down

Thrash metal.  Not considered their strongest album (it does get monotonous at times), but it does have some notable standouts such as The Master Sleeps, and Suffer the Masses.

 

Mark Lanegan: The Winding Sheet

Not bad, but I’m only really keen for “Mockingbirds.”

 

Yngwie Malmsteen: Eclipse

“Devil in Disguise,” “Faultline,” “See You In Hell,” and “Save our Love” are pretty damn good songs.  In fact, the “See You In Hell” song has some beats similar to what would be used in Final Fantasy VIII battle music some years later.  This could very well be the best album of the month.

 

Bruce Dickinson: Tattooed Millionaire

First singles album from the lead singer of Iron Maiden.  The song “Lickin’ the Gun” isn’t half bad either.  Rather enjoyed “All the Young Dudes,” if only to be reminded of that awesome song’s existence (originally done by Mott the Hoople).

 

Dio: Lock Up the Wolves

It’s Dio.  You can’t go wrong with him.

 

Y&T: Ten

Not bad.

 

Ice Cube: AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted

Considering this is one of the most famous rappers and rap albums of all time, kinda have to include this just for the culture shock (though not as big of a culture shock as NWA, but that was the 80s).

 

Madonna: I’m Breathless

Released to promote the film Dick Tracy, which would be released next month.  Also has a music video directed by David Fincher (that guy sure gets around) that was also a big hit.  Big hits were “Vogue” and “Hanky Panky.”

 

The Jeff Healey Band: Hell to Pay

 

Concrete Blonde: Bloodletting

Behold the resurgence of the goth subculture.  And I’ll be damned if I didn’t find some of this catchy.

 

The Breeders: Pod

Quite unique and interesting girl band.

 

Movies

There was this one little movie called Bird on a Wire, starring Mel Gibson and Goldie Hawn.  It sucked.  That’s why I’m not listing it.  But it does have some amount of popularity, mainly because it was such a terrible film made with a film starring two popular stars.  There’s also this bland forgettable Top Gun knockoff with Tommy Lee Jones and Nicolas Cage called Fire Birds that isn’t really worth recommending.  The better Top Gun knockoff would come next month.  Lastly, there’s this one film called The Swordsman, Chinese martial arts film (kind of), which was the first part of a trilogy of which many say the 2nd is the best.  I can’t seem to find a way of getting a hold of this film currently, so this blog might get revised if I ever do see it.  That being said, this wasn’t exactly what I would call a good month for movies in my personal opinion.

Short Time

Honestly, this movie is just an ok film.  So why mention it?  Because it has this amazing car chase sequence.

 

Tales From the Darkside: The Movie

http://www.movieposter.com/posters/archive/main/99/MPW-49945

This personally isn’t my kind of film.  I’m not really into horror anthologies, or even anthologies in general.  But it’s a cult classic that deserves to be mentioned, and you’ll likely enjoy it more than I did.  This film is also known as the true sequel to Creepshow 2.

Back to the Future: Part III

While it is considered the weakest of the trilogy, it’s still Back to the Future.

Class of 1999

Easily my favorite film of the month, by a mile.  Such a guilty pleasure.  Schools taken over by gangs, so cyborg teachers get sent in to get the students in line, and then they start a gang war, and it ends in a climax at the school with shootings and explosions and stuff.  And to be honest, it’s kind of eerie when you consider how relevant some of the thematic implications of this are today.

Games

I couldn’t find a large selection of games that were released this month in particular.  Either I’m missing a bunch of releases, or there weren’t very many released this month compared to the previous months.  Either way, here’s a short but very sweet selection.

Qix (May 1990; Game Boy)

Fascinating.

 

Shove It! …The Warehouse Game (May 1990; Sega Genesis)

I’m getting a sense of deja vu.

 

Ninja Gaiden II: The Dark Sword of Chaos (May 1990; NES)

Are you a glutton for punishment?

 

 

 

TV Shows

America’s Funniest People (May 1, 1990 – August 28, 1994; ABC)

America’s Funniest Home Video’s spiritual cousin; both shows aired during the same period (this one came a few months after AFHV got started).  I personally consider this to be inferior, but it has its fans, and it certainly ran for a long enough time period.

 

Talespin (May 5, 1990 – August 8, 1991; The Disney Channel)

Oh-eyah!

 

The Dave Thomas Comedy Show (May 28 – June 25, 1990; CBS)

Another comedy sketch show that was somewhat popular at the time, but has faded into obscurity.  Seriously, despite how it crashed and burned in the ratings, many today still think it was great, and wished it went longer.  Or even got a DVD release.

 

 

Edit (6-29-2017): Removed Final Fantasy from Video Games (the actual release date for that game in North America was in July).

What is censorship in the face of sensitivity?

So I originally had this as a blog post on boardgamegeek.com.  I suspected it would be too hot for it to handle.  Sure enough, before the day was over:

admin message

“Your blog has been deleted due to multiple severe violations of site rules, including defending sexism and objectification, dismissiveness to concerns about inclusiveness, personal attacks, and antagonizing.”

And when they mean “blog,” they don’t just mean this post that I’m basically going to mirror on this site.  They mean EVERY post that I have ever made under the “Board Game Philosophy” blog title, which is roughly 30 blog posts I think.  Jesus suffering Christ, that’s overkill isn’t it?  Considering all my other posts weren’t anywhere near as bad as this one in terms of arguments against inclusion.  Granted, I’ve evolved a bit since my earlier posts, but I referred to them every now and again for an introspective.  My thoughts on what I thought about dice rolling, solo gaming, critiquing games objectively, etc.  Basically the only surviving posts from that series are my rant against Gloom of Kilforth, and then my apology for the rant.  I mean, fuck man.  Those EU articles about Internet censorship must really be fucking them in the ass if they want to fuck users who have legit grievances about board game news up the ass that hard.

Dismissiveness to concerns about inclusiveness?  Could’ve just said “dismissive.”  But anyway, that was the whole point.  The whole point of the blog was an argument against inclusiveness!  Bunch of hypocritical cocksuckers these admins, especially when they’ve got exclusive groups on their inclusive site.

rainbow bggers
I’m feeling the inclusiveness from this forum doesn’t apply for straight people.

I’ve heard about how restrictive this site was, how hypocritical and selective the admins were about what comments they would allow and which they wouldn’t.  But now I see how bad it really is.  Honestly, after seeing this, it’s worse than I thought.  So bad that you can’t even argue about how the community would be better without inclusiveness.  So bad that they don’t even practice what they preach!

Your life is trite and jaded
Boring and confiscated
If that’s your best, your best won’t do

Whatever, here’s my damn blog post that got me a stern talking to (and worse).  I did add in some fuck-bombs though, for this site (along with some images and vids).

Continue reading

Entertainment Industry Nostalgia: March 1990

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

March 1990, the sequel to February 1990.  An interesting month to be sure for that year.  Steve Jackson Games gets raided by the U.S. Secret Service; a case that would evolve years later into something establishing the legalities of online speech still equating to speech; as in free speech.  Carole Gist becomes the 1st African American to be crowned Miss USAHeriberto Seda becomes a New York City Zodiac Killer copycat.  Janet Jackson wins a Soul Train Music Award.  The first world ice hockey tournament for women is held in Ottowa.  The LA Lakers retire Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.  Star Trek V wins the Golden Raspberry Award.  Akira Kurosawa wins the Lifetime Achievement Award.  The United States begins broadcasting TV Martí to Cuba in an effort to bridge the information blackout imposed by the Castro regime.  The final episode of the cancelled series Alf aired on the 24th.  And Michael Jordon is still hot in basketball.

Music

Ok, some disclosure before proceeding here.  I’m generally not a fan of rap and hip-hop, but I can’t ignore something that reached platinum status (and later quadruple platinum; that’s not a joke in case you were wondering, that’s a real thing apparently).  So Bill Biv DeVoe released an album titled Poison that was a huge hit.  Not my kind of music, but for those who are curious to know and are interested in that style of music.  I’ll be sticking with my metal and rock.  Also worth mentioning is Salt-N-Pepa: Black’s Magic, Digital Underground: Sex Packets, Above the Law: Livin’ Like Hustlers, Urban Dance Squad: Mental Floss for the Globe.  The rap and hip-hop wave was out in full force.  For those electronic lovers, there’s also The Beloved: Happiness.  As for the rock & roll genre, I’ll give an honorable mention to The Fall – Extricate, and to Nitzer Ebb: Showtime.

Tribe: Here at the Home

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The song “Outside” would later be featured in the game Rock Band.  Personally, I’m more akin to the song “Rescue Me.”  The band never made it big and only released 3 albums and disbanded in 1994.  It had its fans; I wasn’t one of them (a casual listener at best).  But the songs are decent enough.  Plus I’m a bit biased with this particular selection, considering some band members would go on to get involved with the creation of the videogame Thief II: The Metal Age.  And System Shock 2.

Borghesia – Resistance

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So this is an electronic band, which usually isn’t my thing.  But I have to admit, I really dig the beats on this album.  It sounds epic, yet not overdone.  I mean, just the opening track is incredible.  The downside is that it’s in a foreign language that us English speakers won’t be able to understand, but that’s ok, because I usually have a hard time listening to lyrics in general anyway.

Robert Plant: Manic Nirvana

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Interesting rock n’roll stuff.  It’s groovy.  Stand outs for me were Tie Dye on the Highway, Anniversary, Watching You.

Depeche Mode: Violator

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You know this band from the song Personal Jesus.

Heart: Brigade

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Definitely one of the best female bands that has ever existed.  But there’s only one song for me on this album.  Wild Child.

Social Distortion: Social Distortion

It’s one of the most famous rock bands with their debut album.  I have to include this just on principle alone, even if these guys are pricks.  You’ve heard the songs “Ball and Chain” and “Story of my Life.”  I think the band is just ok, but one can’t ignore their fame.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Movies

I’ll give an honorable mention for a film called Side Out.  The film itself is just so-so at best, but it does have, “that’s so 90s” feel to it, and many do consider it the greatest beach volleyball movie ever made (some competition that genre’s got; I still say Top Gun is the best one, and it’s not even a beach volleyball movie).  So, with that out of the way, there were some fairly good picks for this month.

Lambada

A film to capitalize and promote the lambada dance craze, which never really took off as well as many hoped it would.  In fact, in the same month, another lambada film was released titled The Forbidden Dance.  Let’s just say it’s not even in the same league as this film.  But whatever, this is a prime guilty pleasure film, with great cheese and ridiculous moments.  Such a guilty pleasure for me that I enjoy it more than Dirty Dancing (you can’t hit me, I’ll lambada dodge all those beer bottles and bullets coming my way).  This is one of the definitive, “that’s so 90s” films.  Though I have to admit, that chick in the poster is a bit of a bitch in the movie, in ways that, well, just don’t happen in movies anymore, at least not in the context of this movie.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Joe Versus the Volcano

First it’s a dystopian future film about a guy who hates his desk job.  Then it turns into a road-travel-romance flick.  It’s interesting, and a bit of a cult classic (this month’s films have plenty of those).  What would you do if you’ve been diagnosed with a terminal disease and only had a few months to live?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Last of the Finest

So it’s mainly a so-so cop action-thriller, but I’m a bit of a sucker for this movie.  Especially because of the bitchin’ shootout during the finale.  Also known as Blue Heat in the UK, which is a better title.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Ambulance

This is a pretty damn fun thriller that moves along at a brisk pace which never lets up once you get about 30 minutes in.  James Earl Jones literally chews the scenery, Stan Lee makes a cameo, and there’s some fun stunts served with a decent dose of cheese.  This film flies under the radar of many, but it’s a great under-appreciated popcorn flick worth checking out.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Blind Fury

A cult classic.  It’s no Zatoichi, but it’s the best American-made blind swordsman movie we’re ever going to get.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

House Party

House Party movie posters at movie poster warehouse ...

Found it difficult to get into until the 2nd half kicked in (though I do believe I should give that portion a second chance).  That second half alone makes the film worth seeing.  Great down-to-earth characters and moments; some good laughs; and one of the best endings ever.  A true cult classic, the kind that Superbad wishes it could be.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pretty Woman

This was the #1 highest grossing film of the year.  It also skyrocketed Julia Roberts film career.  And… it’s not bad, for a dream scenario of a rich guy going out with a hooker and making her life better and saving her from it (I’ll take it over 50 Shades anyday).  Richard Gere and Julia Roberts work well together, and would team up again in a future romantic comedy film.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Come on, you know this movie!  You know this franchise!  The most financially successful independent film of that decade.  And you bet your ass it’s the best live action TMNT film ever made.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Hunt for Red October

Arguably the best film of the month, at least as far as popularity from today’s perspective goes.  Also arguably the most famous Tom Clancy novel-to-film adaptation ever done (though not my personal favorite; that one comes later on).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Games

I’ll give brief mention to Kid Kool and the Quest for the Seven Wonder Herbs, just because the Kid Kool franchise  was known well-enough during the time period.  But this game is too fucking irritating to recommend playing.  Fuck you, and your Mario Bros. rip-offs.

Baseball Simulator 1.000 (NES)

No, I’m not a fan of sports games.  But this one is remembered by anyone who played it during that time period.  That’s all I’ll say.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Burai Fighter (NES)

Now this is more like my kind of side-scroller shooter.  This is fun, but like most of them, hard as hell.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Abadox: The Deadly Inner War (NES)

Yep, another fun side-scroller.  Just look at those levels.  Aren’t the graphics great?  It’s like you’re flying through intestines.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Adventures of Lolo 2 (NES)

Finally.  Something that is neither a sports game nor a shooter.  A puzzle-like game.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Conflict (NES)

Well what-do-ya-know?  Another one that stands out.  This time it’s more of a tabletop wargame than it is a puzzle game or shooter.  Basically think of it as one of those Avalon Hill wargames from the 70s and 80s put into videogame format, and this is basically what you get.  If we had an NES back in the day (I was a Sega Genesis person, didn’t hop over to Nintendo until the N64 came out), I’d imagine my dad would’ve played the hell out of this.  He’s a sucker for stuff like this.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Code Name: Viper (NES)

Another side-scrolling shooter, but this time it’s a shameless rip-off of the arcade game (also ported to the NES) Rolling Thunder.  However, they did improve on the gameplay, letting it be a bit more forgiving (ie fair).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Al Unser’s Jr. Turbo Racing (NES)

That racing music.  The immersion this manages to bring for an NES title.  Have to admit, despite racing games not being my thing, there’s something alluring and addictive about this one.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Astyanax (NES)

Good luck pronouncing the name of this hack-and-slash side-scroller.  Another port of an arcade game (most NES games were).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Bugs Bunny Crazy Castle (Game Boy)

Well…  Ok, so this game isn’t regarded as good.  But it does have a reputation that made it well-known.  The first videogame released to feature Bugs Bunny.  Puzzle elements.  And gameplay that infuriated gamers; including the inability to fucking jump, while you played as a fucking bunny!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kwirk (Game Boy)

So this is when I usually throw the Game Boy a bone here, because their games aren’t on par with those from the NES and PC.  But when the games emphasize puzzle-solving rather than action, then it’s not bad.  The hand-held systems weren’t capable of making any decent real-time action games yet.  But every now and then…  But this is no masterpiece.  It gets monotonous.  But the fact that there’s a Game Boy game that’s fun which isn’t Pokemon…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Revenge of the ‘Gator (Game Boy)

And what-do-ya-know?  Another decent title for the Game Boy.  Another pinball game.  Quite polished for a Game Boy title.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Phantasy Star II (Sega Genesis)

Yeah, this was the game of the month.  Considered one of the greatest RPGs of all time.  Personally, I don’t agree with that, but the game is certainly a memorable experience, and I can see why it has such a reputation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shows

Well, there were at least 2 memorable ones that go a bit beyond being just cult favorites.  Makes it better than last month’s offerings then.

NewsWatch TV (March 1990 – present; AMC Network, Ion Television)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You can pretty much tell what this is from the description.  A news series.  Well, considering it’s still ongoing; kinda worth mentioning.
H.E.L.P. (March 3, 1990 – April 14, 1990; ABC)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I honestly can’t say I know much about this series.  What I do know is that some consider it to be ahead of its time, and cancelled as a result.  To quote a youtuber: “it was basically Third Watch…but a decade earlier, with some really big names in it.” Also came out before Law & Order, though that would be coming soon.  Only ran for one season (6 episodes), and was intended to be a simple mid-season replacement for Mission Impossible.  Mainly mentioning the show because it may have inspired others that came after it, particularly Third Watch (which wouldn’t come out until near the end of the decade).

Sydney (March 21 – June 25, 1990; CBS)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A show that was hyped and sort of popular, likely because it starred Valerie Bertinelli.  But it was short lived and didn’t go past 13 episodes for 1 season.  Never saw it, but I’m aware of the brief popularity it had at the time.

The Outsiders (March 25, 1990 – July 22, 1990; Fox)

 

 

 

 

 

 

There are a lot of mixed opinions about this show.  On the one hand, the pilot episode ended up being one of the highest watched and rated series premieres of all time during that time period.  On the other hand, the ratings fell sharply after that, thanks to 60 Minutes and Married With Children.  Some revere the show, others think it is a borderline disgrace to the famous film it acts as a sequel to.  Main reason it has its haters is largely due to the cast, which many felt were inferior to those who were cast in the 1980s movie.  The show only ran for one season and was cancelled, but from what I understand it didn’t end on a cliffhanger either; so it can be considered more-or-less complete.  You be the judge, if you ever decide to watch it.

Equal Justice (March 27, 1990 – July 3, 1991; ABC)

 

 

 

 

The show had its cult following, which were outraged when the show got cancelled after 2 seasons.  From what I understand, just about everyone who watched the show loved it.  Great cast and writing.  But it never built up a big enough audience (like others); probably because many dismissed it as an LA Law ripoff.  Plus the early 90s was loaded with courtroom drama and police drama shows already, and Law & Order hadn’t even aired yet.  So if you like your Pittsburgh D.A. shows, well here’s another you might like.
Bagdad Cafe (March 30, 1990 – July 27, 1991; CBS)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As if The Outsiders wasn’t enough, now we have another series made that is based on a film (and may more or less act as a sequel to it).  I wouldn’t have given this sitcom much thought if not for one thing.  It stars Whoopi Goldberg.  That should be enough to convince some to give it a watch, even if it did get cancelled midway through season 2.

Carol & Company (March 31, 1990 – July 20, 1991; NBC)

 

 

 

 

 

Only ran for one season, then got cancelled (though there was some sort of spin-off which some would consider season 2, which also didn’t last long).  An anthology series without any ongoing character development or storyline.  So it didn’t leave any threads dangling when it got off the air.  Anyway, some people love the show.  I was never a watcher.

Alright, so enough with the petty shows only some fanatical fans remember.  Now for the 2 big tamales.

Tribes (March 5 – July 13, 1990; Fox)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ah, this show.  One of the High School soap operas that made its mark alongside other shows like Degrassi and Edgemont (the latter of which would show up during the next decade).  It was created precisely for the timeslot it occupied, so that high schoolers could catch an episode when they got home before doing their homework.  Unfortunately, despite the popularity and cult following this series had, it was cancelled after 1 season of 95 episodes.  Fox hoped the series would reach Syndication, but it never happened.  Oh well.  Thanks for the memories.

Road to Avonlea (March 5, 1990 – March 31, 1996; The Disney Channel)

 

 

 

Heard good things about this Emmy Award winning series from Canada.  Ran for 7 seasons.  Technically, the series started airing in Canada in January 1990, but made it’s way to American televisions for this month.  But watch out for those alternate titles and versions.  To quote Wikipedia, “In the United States, its title was shortened to simply Avonlea, and a number of episodes were retitled and reordered. When the series was released on VHS and DVD in the United States, the title changed from Road to Avonlea to Tales from Avonlea.”  It’s a family show that takes place during the very early 1900s.  And this could very well be the top show of March 1990, and one of those series many hold in high reverence.  I should check it out sometime.

Thief: The Dark Project (1999) Gold edition review

thief poster

Rated: 4 / 5

This is a game I’ve been interested in trying for years now.  Back in the early 2000s, a few friends of mine tried to get me into it, but to no avail for a couple of reasons.

1.) Every time my mother or father had purchased a computer, it was never one capable of running modern games.  That was fixed when I personally bought the components to build my own computer, but that was a decade later.

2.) I was a fucking idiot who didn’t understand the appropriate way to play, nor did I fully appreciate the pacing and playstyle, or the intelligence.

Cut to about a month ago, and I see a Youtube video (yes, as much as I hate Youtube, there are too many good content creators using that platform to ditch it) which discusses the problems with AAA gaming today.  Long story short, the problem is style over substance, too much repetition, too much hand-holding, too few chances taken.  AAA games today are made more for profit than they are for longevity and creating fans who will continue to revisit such a game decades later.  Because think about it, of all the AAA games that have been released over the past, um, let’s say from the X-Box 360 and PS3 and Wii generation of consoles and onwards (roughly 2006 to the present), how many do you often revisit?  Why do you revisit them?  What is it that makes them appealing and stand out from all the other games of the same genre and playstyle?  What makes one Call of Duty game different from another?  What makes open-world games so unique and appealing?

Well, many of them suffered from similar problems that I was aware of subconsciously, but couldn’t put into words or fully comprehend.  Then watching the above video, and after playing the game, I am now aware and can comprehend why the status of many games today is totally fucked.  It’s the same thing that made The Witcher 3 tiresome for me after a duration of time (despite how much I wanted to love that game more than I do), the same thing that plagues The Elder Scroll V: Skyrim, and many first-person and third-person shooters.  Map markers, mission markers, waypoints.  Whether it’s on the main screen or on some mini-map at the corner of the game screen, they do the same fucking thing.  They distract the player.  They dumb down the player and the experience.  It makes the player focus more attention on the marker and moving from point A to point B completing one objective after the next and being guided while doing so rather than thinking for themselves.

The version for taffers.

But it’s not the hand-holding alone that makes it bad (well, ok, maybe it is, since it promotes laziness and practically letting the game play itself; more on that later).  In fact, it could be used as an optional hint/cheat for players who are lost in the game who don’t want to be challenged in that way (pussies).  Rather, it’s the hand-holding combined with the distraction.  Players more often focus on the waypoint rather than the world itself.  The environment, the buildings, the people, the conversations, the subtle indications that are sprinkled in various areas (assuming that much attention to detail was given).  Whenever I play Skyrim or Witcher 3, or any such game similar (hell, even Jak II and III is guilty of doing this, but it’s more justifiable in those games because the open-world environment is less interesting than the destination of the waypoint when you do start platforming and shooting), my attention is focused more on the dot/arrow/icon that indicates what direction to move in rather than anything else around me.

Playing Thief: The Dark Project (aka Thief: Gold, which I’ll refer to as just Thief from now on; and don’t you dare confuse it with the 2014 version, fanatics of the old franchise will sneak into your house and murder you in your sleep for that), it got me to see why it is those waypoints take away from the game.  Which seems contradictory if you think about it, adding in elements to a game actually taking away from the experience; sometimes less is more, even in videogames.  Without waypoints to guide me, I was forced to try remembering portions of the level, utilize the map to some extent, as well as the compass to determine where I am and where I should go.  You also may not even want to reference the map or the compass ever.  In this way your attention is held entirely on your immediate surroundings.  You are forced to memorize the level up to a point.  You are forced to look for your goal(s).  And there are details worthy of your eyes.  Not just the shadows to hide your presence, or the types of floors which are safe to walk/run quickly upon vs. those that make too much noise.  No, there’s also the subtle story elements.  Not just the books you come across, I’m talking about the items and materials strewn about around the map.  They give indications as to what the place is like, what the occupants of the place are like, how things are run, hints at some room being the optimal location for riches to loot; plus the occasional secret door to come across.  Not having a waypoint ultimately allows one to be more immersed in the game world itself.

This isn’t to say its not without its headaches.  One can get easily lost in a level once you get to mission 4 and onwards (out of 15 main missions).  It may take you longer than your patience allows to find some obscure item necessary to complete the level.  Hell, there were a few times I had to resort to looking up youtube videos and/or game guides on gamefaqs.com to figure out how to get myself unstuck (I probably could’ve figured out how to get through it if I put enough time into it; but when I started clocking in at 3 hours on one level, that starts to make me think about what else I could be doing with my time).  Many games from 1999 and earlier suffer from similar situations, even the first Doom game from 1993.  But while the frustration is there, it also accomplishes something else I hadn’t felt in a while.  A sense of accomplishment.  While I did utilize guides at some points, later on I forced myself not to for the sake of trying to complete it all on my own.  And at some points, I succeeded.  This sense of discovery and solving the puzzle, getting through the maze, is more invigorating than simply being guided from one point to another.  Plus it adds to the length of the game.  15 levels, where you’ll be spending anywhere from 1-5 hours on each level depending on how good you are at this sort of thing, or if you’re replaying it.  You won’t feel like the game is too short to say the least (hah).

Which brings me to another point.  The whole getting lost in a level and learning your way around the place.  It does something else.  It makes the level memorable.  It makes each level feel like its own stand-alone experience.  Where the enemies are placed, how they patrol, what enemy types there are, the look of the level, where the lights are and whether or not they can be extinguished, certain areas you can use the rope arrow at (if anywhere), learning the paths to take to sneak past enemies, or how you can knock them out one by one until you have free reign of the entire area.  On that latter point, I found it hilarious in the context of this one level where I had to infiltrate this opera house (to steal shit of course).  I could’ve tried doing the level without knocking anybody out and hiding their bodies somewhere.  I could’ve, but considering I’ve been knocking out pretty much everyone I came across in previous levels, why stop know?  So I ended up knocking out most of the security guards, all the ballerina dancers and opera singers, and all the upper class nobles who came to watch the play.  I couldn’t help but chuckle at this, considering the context.  It’s a great moment that the game doesn’t force onto you.  It’s something you can choose to do of your own accord, without even being told it’s an option.

And on that note, this is a game that’s a stealth-thriller.  You’re not meant to just go in and butcher everyone because the sword-play aspect of the game is intentionally fiddly, and just about everyone else can wield a sword better than you can.  If you try to fight a bunch of guards, you’ll most likely get killed.  In fact, on the highest level of difficulty, the Expert difficulty (which is the level of difficulty I recommend to all, it’s the way Thief was meant to be played), you’ll automatically lose a mission if you kill anyone (well, anyone who’s human anyway).  So you’ll be forced to play like a thief.  You’ll be forced to feel like a thief.  You will be encouraged to play in such a way as to stick to the shadows and avoid combat wherever possible.  However, the last 3-4 levels eventually do away with this.  You are eventually allowed to let loose on these monsters and undead that wander around.  You can still sneak, to be sure, but there are some places where combat becomes unavoidable in later levels.  In some cases, it becomes mandatory to kill off certain enemy types.  It does offer a change of pace, but its subjective as to whether or not it’s a welcome change.  Some like it, others don’t.  Personally, I was just ho-hum about it.

So yeah, there’s more than just regular humans in this game.  There are undead and supernatural beings in this, and they become relevant to the plot, and are foreshadowed in documents and discussions, should you choose to read/listen to them.  And the undead make an appearance as early as level 2, so they are established as existing within this world early on.  Despite that, the game sticks closer to stealth-thriller rather than stealth-horror, up until you reach this one level titled, “Return to the Cathedral.”  Once you get to that level, holy Jesus-aged-titty-fucking-Christ almighty.  That level is one of the scariest fucking things you’re ever going to experience.  The game suddenly turns into a survival-horror game in that level.  You will want to hide not just because you don’t have the means or the ability of wiping out these demons that show up early on, but also because they are scary as fuck.  You hide because you don’t want to encounter these things.  And if they spot you and chase you, God help you, even though it’s likely he won’t considering how often you’ve stolen religious artifacts and desecrated holy sites.

Outside of that, there’s this other level called The Sword, which many state is their favorite level in the entire game (it’s not my personal favorite, by I can see why it is for others).  It starts out like a normal mansion level, until you go deeper and deeper into the mansion where the level design gets bizarre and unnatural.  One would wonder how it’s possible for someone to construct a mansion like this.  There are documents you can find in the level that indicate how it could be done, but it doesn’t fully explain everything witnessed in the most logical sense.  But it makes more sense later on when you learn more about the owner of the mansion.

Like I said, each level has it’s own unique and memorable aspect.  It’s something that can be overlooked if one were left focusing on a minimap and/or waypoint.  But there’s also an aspect that, well, I won’t say is unique to this game, but isn’t utilized anywhere near enough as it should be.  Sound.  Listening to the footsteps of guards to get a general idea of where they are and how far away they are, if they’re coming closer or moving further away.  Using sound to determine if it’s safe to come out of hiding, or if you should stay hidden for a while longer.  This is a very crucial element of this game, something that makes it work as well as it does.  The only other stealth game I can think of which utilized something like this is Alien: Isolation.  Other than that, most of the time, games go for visual cues rather than audio cues.  I mean, look at how the Uncharted games evolved between Uncharted 3 and 4.  Uncharted 3, yeah, you could sneak around and knock some foes out before having to get in a shootout.  Sometimes you could clear out an entire area stealthily, though it’s optional to do it that way.  Uncharted 4, fairly similar, except it’s easier to sneak around and take people out silently.  It becomes easy because you can mark your targets, and always see their location even when they’re not in your line of sight (because you mark them with waypoints).  Games today prefer visual cues rather than audio cues, and it cheapens the experience.

All these elements make this game stand the test of time precisely because of how much it does with what little it provides, though it is most likely intentional that they left some things out, restricted what the character is able to do, precisely to make it more realistic.  Because realistically, people can’t mark targets and then always know their location just by marking them visually with eyesight, as opposed to listening for their footsteps.

Most modern AAA games sacrifice immersion for more bling, more waypoints, more handholding, etc.  Open-world games somehow tend to be the worst of this.  Sometimes they offer the ability to turn off waypoints, but then you run into another problem.  Some games aren’t designed well enough to work without the use of waypoints.  Which is another thing that allows games like Thief to stand the test of time.  Level design.  While they can be headache-inducing, they at least offer challenge and actual exploration (moving to an objective via following a waypoint/minimap is not exploring, that’s riding an escalator).

As for the specifics to that game, you play as a thief named Garret, who is trained by a secret organization known as The Keepers, learning the tricks of the trade when it comes to thieving, but decides to abandon the organization and go independent.  Then he has occasional run-ins with other thieves and the organization known as The Hammers.  His way of life isn’t easy, as he needs to steal constantly and attempt to avoid being double-crossed and cheated, just to pay the landlord, nevermind having suitable living conditions.  But as the game goes on, his skills become noticed by devious figures who want him involved in their schemes.  In the end, he goes on missions he doesn’t entirely want to go on, including those pitting him against the undead and some mages.  But the potential reward is worth the insane risk.  But then he begins to realize he has underestimated what he’s been getting involved with, how supernatural things he put off as superstition end up being real, and begins to suffer for it.  By the end of the game, he wants nothing to do with the Keepers, the Hammers, or anyone else that big.  Only for it to be indicated that he is still being used for some organization’s purpose, as he had been used during the second half of the game.  The narrative is subtle, but good.  There are some plot elements (and/or treasures) you may have overlooked on a first playthrough, which encourages a second playthrough.  While Razorfist (see video above) doesn’t care for this game as much as the others, I found it to be just fine.

The game comes highly recommended.  Rough around the edges, sure, as anything from 1999 is likely to be.  But it does more things right that should be taken for granted, but have been tossed away through the years.  One of those things includes being a game that doesn’t insult your intelligence and try to lead you like a sheep.

Mods

Oh, right, there’s 2 mods I can recommend for this game, one of which is mandatory.

TFix

An unnofficial patch the fixes some bugs, and makes the game more compatible for modern engines.  This is the mandatory mod.  It’s less of a mod and more of a fix, though you can’t use the next mod without this one.

Thief Gold HD Texture Mod

If you think the graphics look too dated (ie too 90s), then there’s this mod.  It’s not going to make it look like a modern graphics game so much as it makes it look 1 console generation better in terms of graphics.  Works for me.  The only things I found iffy were the gas cloud effects of the gas bomb.  They looked too good for this game.  They stood out too much compared to the other special effects.  I prefer the graphics to be consistent.  It’s more of a minor nitpick than anything else, as the pros far outweigh the cons.

PS: Now I’m eager to play the sequel, The Metal Age.