Pre-Draft Thoughts

The NFL Draft starts tomorrow and I have important (only to me) thoughts to get out.  Cam Newton as the No. 1 draft pick is a ludicrous notion. It is almost stupid. If the Panther’s pick him, I predict a monumental bust. His ceiling as a QB is a bit north of Vince Young, who was also picked too high a few years ago. And the claims of racism in the pre-draft process are stupid. Tim Tebow has a similar skill set to Newton and he heard nothing except how he didn’t fit as a QB at the next level. He had no chance of being drafted as high as Newton will, and the Broncos reached on him as it is. In my expert opinion (I watched almost 4 Auburn games last year) Newton has no better chance of NFL success than Tebow does. In fact, I predict Tim Tebow will have a better pro career than Cam Newton will. Also, Newton has 1 year as a starter in college. That is usually not a good indicator.

Just because I am really down on Newton as a serious NFL prospect does not mean I think the Panthers should take the better QB No. 1. Blaine Gabbert is absolutely a better future QB than Newton, and I’m not just saying that because I’m a Mizzou fan. I do love Gabbert, and I believe he will and hope he does have a long, successful NFL career, but the Panthers drafted a QB pretty high last year, they should use the pick on another position. My love for Gabbert does not make me believe he is a sure success. He may say and do all the right things, but that does not always translate into success. Joey Harrington seemed to do and say all the right things and he still failed (though to be fair, the Lions). While Jimmy Clausen is not necessarily the answer at QB, I do not think he has had enough of an opportunity to prove himself yet. Go get him some help, draft the best player available and if he fails, pick a QB next year. There is sure to be an option that is as sure a bet as any QB in this draft.

Normally I’m much more excited about the NFL Draft, but with the lockout (currently in limbo), it is hard to get too excited. It could be more than a year before any of these players actually play. I wish the NFL owners would get their greedy heads out of their greedy asses and let us have football.

Also, while as a Mizzou fan I do wish Gabbert had returned for his senior year, because with him we are a dark horse National Title contender, I do not begrudge him jumping to the NFL. He’s most likely going to be a top 5 pick; I say strike while the iron is hot.

The Quest: Part the Third

Another week, another game crossed off my list. Gungrave is beaten. Tsugunai: Atonement still is not, but I did make some progress. I also started playing Growlanser III again. All in all a productive week.

Gungrave is astoundingly short. Given what it is that is not surprising, but it does not change the fact that this game is not long at all. I am not overstating this; I beat the game in less than 3 hours. Gungrave is a shmup by way of the 3D action game. The graphics are rough, the story is barely intelligible (I assume it relies on knowledge of the anime/manga/whatever) but the game is actually fun. It occasionally puts the player in that perfect, zen-like shooter trance, where the controller is forgotten and the player simply reacts. Honestly, though, I would have been upset with the length if I had paid more than 6 bucks on this game.

Tsugunai’s blandness has kept me from making much more progress. If my opinion does not change by next week, the game is getting kicked to the bottom of the list, or even off it.

I also broke out Growlanser Generations back out. GG is Working Designs last release, a compilation of Growlanser II and Growlanser III. I’ve already beaten II and I liked it a lot. I played about halfway through III before I got bored or distracted by something else. Since starting it again, I’ve noticed 2 things. The first is how great the battle system is. It is like a real time Final Fantasy Tactics. More could have been done to improve it from II, all that appears to be changed is a significant bump up in the difficulty, but it is still very good. The second thing is how very anime this game is. That is something that may have appealed to me 5 or 6 years ago, but now it is somewhat off putting.

Next week: more Tsugunai and Growlanser, plus I plan to start Castlevania: Lament of Innocence. In addition, Eve of Extinction, which was found not purchased, is again lost. It has been replaced on the list with the newly purchased Yakuza 2. Which does not play in my PS2, but I am determined to play it.

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Gaming in the Clinton Years?

These videos have been making their rounds on the internet for a few years, but having rediscovered them recently I’ve realized that they never get old. A quick google search of “gaming in the Clinton Years” or “George Wood,” the deranged reviewer, will find you someone going after them with much more fervor and glee than I can muster, but I’d still like to highlight some of the more ridiculous reviews.

These are some prime entertainment. This reviewer combines a perfect blend of ignorance, belligerence and enthusiasm with some nonsensical mad-libs like observations. Whether he is exhorting the player to just give up on hard levels, spoiling every bit of story he can get his hands on or just wishing Lara Croft would get breast cancer, you’ll never be exactly sure where he is coming from or where he is going.

His Goldeneye review as a lot of time makes fools of us all in it, as Goldeneye was really one of first games to sell mostly due to its multiplayer. But it is nowhere near as hard as he seems to believe. And suggesting any game ape Turok is as incorrect as possible.

On Mega Man Legends, he praises the game for being more story focused, like he wished more games were, then faults it for being too story focused. Making a story heavy Mega Man is as bad as a Mario sports game indeed.

I could keep posting these all day, but the complete failure of his Symphony of the Night Review is a good stopping place.  Search for Gaming in the Clinton Years on youtube and have fun.

The Quest 2

In the first week of my concentrated effort to clear out my PS2 backlog I have made some good progress. I started the week playing two games: Activision and Neversoft’s Gun and Tsugunai: Atonement developed by Cattle Call and published by Atlus. So far, I would say I enjoyed both of them to at least some degree.

I beat Gun. It is a competently made GTA-clone with an–at the time at least–unique setting, but it definitely has its flaws. For one, its game world is very small. There is a decent variety of missions, but there just aren’t very many of them. There is a variety of locales, but they are all really small. Even with how small they are, they are still sparsely populated. Gun manages to feel both cramped and empty. That doesn’t ruin the game, though. It just leaves the player wishing there were more, and that is not the worst thing to say about a game.

I just really wish they had done a better job with the story. Gun’s story is just a slap-dash collection of western clichés that does a decent job developing the protagonist but leaves everyone else simple caricatures (the gold-hearted hooker, the corrupt mayor, etc.). I would like to see how it stacks up against the recent Red Dead Redemption. Gun is a good, but nowhere near great game.

Tsugunai: Atonement I did not beat. I haven’t quite played quite enough of it to form a full opinion on it; the game is structured into 34 missions and I’ve cleared 9 of them. So far, the game is long on ideas and short on execution. I really like the premise: the main characters spirit has been separated from his body and he must possess people to help them solve their problems. Someone could make a great game around this idea, but Tsugunai does not appear to be that game. The most obvious flaw is in how the game looks. Not only are the graphics bland, which they very much are, but also the screen is very dark. This is not a problem with my TV; I can see every other game just fine. However, Tsugunai is often so dark you cannot even see how bland the graphics are. On the plus side, the soundtrack is by Yasunori Mitsuda at his Chrono Crossiest.

So next week I’m going to continue hacking away at Tsugunai and start up Gungrave. I’ve been told Gungrave is quite short, so if I finish that I may start on Castlevania: Lament of Innocence or start again on Growlanser III. 27 left.

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25 Years of NES Part 22:  Final Fantasy

Final Fantasy has a title which is of course ironic now considering the more than dozen sequels and spin-offs in the Final Fantasy series today, but at the time of its release, according to video game legend, Final Fantasy was SquareSoft’s last gasp as an early game studio, so the title was apt. It is a little hard to look at this primitive game now and see the progressive title it was at the time. However, compared to its NES competitors Final Fantasy had some innovative features.

Taking a page or more from D&D, Final Fantasy lets the player choose his party from a small stable of available jobs. These jobs are FF most brilliant feature. By tying different combinations of jobs, the player can replay this game numerous times and get a vastly different experience. Those jobs are:

  • Fighter: the meat shield. One of the most important classes. He can use all the good armor and weapons, but he gets no magic, at least not to start. Because the way game has the enemies attack (50% of the hits go to the party leader, 25% to the number 2 guy and 12% each for the last two spots) having a Fighter or two at the top of your party can let you go for a long time with the pair of meat shields eating the majority of the hits.
  • BlBelt: like the fighter, the BlBelt is an effective damage dealer. Unlike the Fighter, the BlBelt does not get all that great armor or all those great weapons. Fortunately, he does not need them. He is more than a match for the Fighters damage output, and after the first few levels he will not need and sort of weapon. A very low maintenance character. To offset his great damage output, he looses the ability to take that many hits. He’s not exactly fragile, but he is no match for the fighter.
  • BlMage: Pure magical damage. This little guy is death on a larger scale than the Fighter or the BlBelt, hampered only by the number of charges he has for his spells. Most of the battles are beaten by blasts of Lit2, the BLMage is the best choice for clearing mobs until you acquire some items that cast Lit2 when used.
  • WhMage: the healer and undead killer, the WhMage has its uses, but it is not necessary. Yes, the WhMage is unnecessary. S/He is not useless, but the goal for most battles should be to get out as fast as possible, and the WhMage has few good damaging options, as well as being fragile. Some money can be saved with the WhMage’s healing magic, but likely not enough to offset the loss of damage. Still, adding one, but not more, is not a terrible choice.
  • RdMage: Jack of all trades, master of none. In the first half of the game, the RdMage is great. He deals and absorbs all most as much damage as a Fighter as well as almost matching the casting ability of the BlMage and WhMage. As the game goes on his abilities become less and less impressive; the RdMage does not get access to higher level spells, armor or weapons. He is much better early than late, but is still a good addition.
  • Thief: He combines the damage and armor limitations of the RdMage with the spell casting ability of the Fighter. The Thief is just not very good. He does get the most significant change in class to Ninja. The Ninja gets some good spell casting and better equipment. The Thief has many disadvantages but no advantages.

There is a class change about halfway through the game, but most of the classes just become slightly stronger versions of the original class. More spells, more equipment, few substantive changes. Except, of course, the Ninja who makes the Thief useful.

The game’s quest is simple, but significantly more involved than Dragon Warrior’s. After you pick your four Warriors of Light, then you must defeat the four elemental fiends who are killing the world to relight the Crystals. By the end, the story morphs into one about a time loop and an infinitely repeating quest. Luckily, the translation is quite good by NES standards, though it is sometimes still hard to figure out exactly what is going on.

Unless you already know the game inside and out, Final Fantasy is also very hard. The most annoying thing is wasted attacks. If you have a character attack an enemy that is already dead, then instead of moving to the next target, like nearly every game sense, it tells you that your attack was “ineffective.” I cannot help but imagine the warriors blindly wailing on imp corpses. Then there are the long dungeons, with tons of both random encounters and triggers that cause battles with every step, plus chests that are designed to be empty. Half the game seems designed to frustrate the player.

Outside of its primitiveness, there are real flaws to Final Fantasy. It was evidently a hastily programmed game, because there are numerous bugs and glitches. Some are interesting and have become a part of the game’s lore, like the Peninsula of Power, a spot on the map that allows a player early in the game to fight some of the strongest enemies. If the player is unaware then this could be a disastrous encounter, though the peninsula is far enough out of the way that most players would not encounter it naturally. A prepared player can use this mythical Peninsula for some dangerous but effective leveling. The truth about this peninsula is that the area box for those enemies was made just a little too large and accidentally caught the piece of land sticking up there. Others are more detrimental. For one the Intelligence stat is broken. It does nothing, so the mages big stat means nothing, so a Black Mage casting Lit2 gets the same result as a Fighter using an item to cast it. Also, many of the spells are useless, or are bugged so they do not work correctly. Many of them are slightly different instant death spells that are ineffective against most late game enemies.

None of these flaws really makes the game unplayable, and many of them are fixed in later versions, but it does make Final Fantasy a significantly flawed game. For people with no nostalgia for FF on the NES or for NES RPGs I would recommend the GBA or PSP versions of the game. If you did play this game back in its day, then I recommend giving it a replay in its original form; its well worth the repeat experience.

I can’t finish this book

For the better part of the last 2 years, I have been reading The Once and Future King. I blew through the first “book” The Sword in the Stone. As all good people are, I was very familiar with Disney’s animated version and it is mostly the same in the book. Only there is more of it. And Robin Hood. It is exactly what I thought I was getting into. The second part, The Queen of Air and Darkness, sets up Arthur’s goals as king and is largely terrific. But I have not been able to make much progress since I finished the second part, and I have only recently realized why.

I know how King Arthur’s story ends. I’m fairly sure everybody does. Everybody knows about Lancelot, Guinevere, and Mordred. If I read the rest of the book, that stuff happens. As long as the book remains unread, Arthur is still a young, idealistic king. I can still look back fondly on his adventures with Merlin. Once I read it, I’ve condemned him to the failure of his dream. It is like the reverse of “The Monster at the End of this Book,” in which Grover is deathly afraid of the promised monster and appears afraid of letting the reader turn the page.

This sort of thing does not normally bother me; I’m sure I’ll get over before long. I want to read the rest of the book. I feel compelled to see it to the end. However, knowing what is coming has made me put it off as long a possible. I can count the number of books I’ve started but never finished on one hand; aside from The Once and Future King and what I’m currently reading (The Devil’s Eye by Jack McDevitt) the only thing that comes to mind is that monstrous turd Battlefield Earth. There is little fear I will not finish.

Honestly, I wanted to see if I could relate serious literature to The Monster at the End of the Book, and I feel I succeeded. Really, I love that book for introducing young me to the concept of meta-fiction.