May 23, 2012

EarthBound Zero - Ranking

Story & World

A RPG set in modern (with a dash of future) times is rare enough but EB0 ups the ante by casting the characters as young children.  With psychic powers.  The whole place feels like modern day Earth but set in an alternate dimension.  One that doesn't mind having children running around that can create force fields and fire lasers with their minds.  The world feels vast; appropriate from the perspective of a young boy.  A pretty silly place most times that adds to the overall charm of the game.

Talking to NPCs for the first time is always fun since you never know when they will give a good hint or just say something ridiculous (but funny).  Even though most are one-liners, there are plenty of things to talk to.  In addition to people and animals, there are also conversations with things like bone piles in the desert.  Cities are appropriately dense with people and somewhat unsafe as talking to certain NPCs results in combat.

The main quest of finding the missing tunes fit nicely into the other major quests (usually one unit of music per quest).  It's also about making a track so dope and slammin' that it can repulse alien beings (symbolizing parents, perhaps?).  The other quests were nicely varied, from wiping out a zombie infestation to finding a canary's lost chick.  Story-wise, the cohesiveness between all the quests is pretty jagged as they're not really related at all.  This is sorta forgivable considering the type of game EB0 is but it's still kinda lousy.  12/20

Character Development

No customization of characters at all throughout the game.  Attribute increases upon level up appear just slightly randomized.  Characters are prone to greater increases in certain stats than others.  For example, Ana gains high mental but low physical whilst Loid does the opposite.  Shen is the standard balanced character.  Gaining levels is satisfying for the "magic-users" since they sometimes gain a new "spell" but boring for the "fighters".

Both weapons and armour are in short supply.  The armour items bought in Magicant early on stay with characters the rest of the game.  Useable items fare a little better but mostly just duplicate spell effects and lose their usefulness after Shen and Ana become psi-proficient.  5/20

Combat & Monsters

Combat is the standard model with no tactics involved, just mashing the fight option unless a spell needs to be cast.  There is an option to defend but does anyone seriously ever use that?  The magic-like abilities of Shen and Ana's Psi power are both diverse and many.  Most spells are tiered in that there are different versions of a base spell type (e.g. four different versions of the fire spell).  It's not just a simple increase in power as later spells might switch from normally targeting a group of monsters to just a single.  Another example is changing from doing points of damage to an enemy to a possibly instakilling them.  Older spells are not replaced as newer ones are gained ensuring an arsenal of magic to choose from in the late game.

From hippies to vehicles to robots to bag ladies, you never know what you'll end up fighting in EB0.  All foes can be checked out during combat at the cost of a turn.  This will give the base stats of the creature and a, often humourous, description.  A lot of foes have special abilities but they're not always beneficial.  Sometimes they waste a turn or attack another member of their group (always hilarious to roleplay).  14/20

Graphics & Sound

Graphics are acceptable and lean towards a cartoonish edge.  Some animations for the psi-effects would have been nice, though (at least the ones that manifest physically).  The music really stands out with many pieces fitting perfectly into the setting (e.g. haunted house).  I'd give another link to the hippie music but I assume everyone has bookmarked it.  14/20


I like that the economy is tied in with level gains instead of encounters and dad is certainly very generous to Shen (I ended up with over $80,000 by endgame).  Maybe a little too generous as, after purchasing all the expensive Magicant equipment, there is little to spend on other than useables (which are cheap).

The ability to move in eight directions instead of the standard four is wonderful although it's still pretty easy to get stuck sometimes on impassable terrain.  

Very linear though there is some wiggle room during the middle game.  The difficulty for combat encounters is solid.   Each new area's selection of monsters has easy, moderate, and hard encounters.  It's very satisfying to go back into an older area and beat the asses of the monsters I'd previously always had to run from.  The pacing is great with loads of story scenes balancing nicely with the dungeon crawling.  10/20

Final Ranking:  55/100

May 21, 2012

EarthBound Zero - End Game

Before making their way to Ellay, Shen and company head back into the desert to see what that tank-killing robot was guarding.  Turns out to be a large complex inhabited by talking, lying monkeys.  Mostly there for laughs as no simian really says anything useful.

She's twelve, you sick little monkey.

The only thing accomplished by going through this encounterless area is to change the Magicant exit to one closer to Youngtown.  Pointless since the gang can already teleport to Youngtown directly.  Onwards to Ellay.  Once there, the three pals have a few run-ins with the local toughs, the Bla-Bla Gang.  Not too tough to withstand the fireballs that Ana can unleash WITH HER MIND, however.  The only place of note in Ellay is a live show which requires a ticket (purchased at the store) to get in.  While taking the scene in, Shen gets offered a drink by a local hottie.  Shen cannot possibly refuse since his game is hella tight.  Just as he's about to get them seven digits, 5-0 shows up and puts Shen in the slammer.  After getting a slap on the wrist and released, Shen is right back to the club.  The hottie is giving him the cold shoulder now so Shen does what any red-blooded male would do in this situation... gets on stage and does a choreographed dance number.

♪ When you're a Jet, you're
a Jet all the way... ♫

It fails to captivate the hottie's heart but does get the attention of the Bla-Bla Gang's boss, Teddy, who storms in and attacks Shen.  After a few rounds, he gives Shen his props and decides to join the group, replacing Loid.  Teddy is a hard-hitting motherfucker and uses real weapons like a sword or a katana.  Grinding up a bunch of levels for the group now is cake.  They're needed for the treacherous Mount Itoi; the final area of the game.  Climbing up the mountains is tough even after the grinding but the group finds a healer's hut about half way up.  While staying for the night, Shen and Ana finds themselves alone with each other and they have a heart-to-heart.

Umm... you know we're twelve, right?

After not roleplaying this part, the two lovebirds get ready to leave when all of a sudden a giant robot smashes through the wall and attacks!  Alas, there is nothing to be done as the bot takes minimum damage and hits for hundreds.  Just when death's door seemed to be opening, Loid comes to the rescue in the fixed up tank and blows up the robot!... as well as Shen and the others.  Okay, Loid comes partially to the rescue!  Shen and Ana are able to be healed but Teddy is out of action. 

"Oh well, guess you've got a slot
open for me now, huh guys?"

Our would-be murderer rejoins the party and another climb up the mountain is attempted.  Encounters are brutal now that Teddy is gone.  Luckily the group comes across a dormant robot named EVE in a hidden laboratory.  Upon activating EVE, it tells them that Shen's great grandfather built it to protect Shen.  It then proceeds to one-punch its way up the mountain while the rest of the group sits back and sips on lemonade and iced tea.  Close to the summit, another giant robot is encountered and it and EVE proceed to smash each other to pieces. 

"Why?  Why was I programmed
to feel pain?"

Examining EVE aftewards has the robot ring out its death knell, which happens to be part of the tune that Shen is collecting for the queen of Magicant.  The final segment of the melody is found soon after from Shen's great grandfather's spirit, George, at his grave.  *deep breath* Shen finds out that the tune is really the love of his great grandmother, Maria, whose spirit in the form of the queen had created Magicant but then lost her memory so the group warps to Magicant to the queen and the tune restores her memory which reunites her with George which causes Magicant to disappear which warps the group back to the grave at the top of Mount Itoi.  *exhale* The final cave beckons.  The alien, Giegue, that has been snatching all the adults from Youngtown is confronted but it can't be hurt by any normal means.  The group has to sit there and absorb attacks while singing the special tune directly into Giegue's earhole.

Loid being five semitones off
key causes extra damage.

After about 20 rounds of belting it out, the song finally causes Giegue to bugger off and everyone is freed.  The game finishes with a bunch of cut scenes showing what everyone ends up doing after the climax.  Ana is reunited with her parents, Loid gets a hero's welcome back at his school, Teddy recovers from his injuries and sings daily at the bar, and Shen goes home and has a solid nap.

Lock the door or Ana might try to sneak in.

Unbeknownst to Shen, while he's sleeping the phone is ringing off the hook.  It's his father and he's desperately trying to leave a cliffhanger for the sequel.

May 14, 2012

EarthBound Zero - Heaven and EarthBound

Past the northern gate guards, standing impassively inert in the depths of a cave, lay a strange, rocky shell formation.  Using his Nungcun mind meld technique, Shen learned that this, apparently sentient, structure was pondering the age-old question that has plagued mankind for generations; who has lost his tail?  Figuring that the thing was perhaps alluding to evolution, Shen went back to the zoo to perhaps fetch an ape (or maybe a monkey would do).  No dice.  Journeying back to cave, Shen tried using all his available items on the shell.  No dice.  Oh well, must have missed an item somewhere along the way.  Let's retrace our steps through the known world and chat with everyone again.  No dice.  It was only after a good night's sleep at his house that Shen realized that he had left two items with his sister at the very beginning of the game (thinking that they had already served their purpose).  The grandpa diary that Shen had read briefly at the start turned out to be the key.  Finally Shen is on his way to Merrysville.  Or is he?  In an unexpected twist, he finds himself in the heavenly land of Magicant.

I should have known taking twenty
drugs all at once was a bad idea.

Magicant is full of witches to chat with and home to a series of shops with some sweet (and expensive) magic items.  After coming down a bit, Shen visits the local queen who really would like to sing some song but can't remember all the bits.  Shen has already learned a few riffs of the tune in his journey already but needs eight parts (only has three at this point).  A quest for music?  Coolest quest yet.  Saving the world is played out anyway.

I'll get yo groove back, shortay.
You just chilly chill.

Leaving Magicant to return to the Earth requires a slog through an ice dungeon and then a trip through some wilderness which eventually spills out into Merrysville.  After Magicant, Merrysville is sort of a letdown.  Just regular earthies being their boring-old, non-magical selves.  Though I shouldn't be too hard on the hoo-mans; they've still got some good traits.

Heh heh... You're alright, man(kind).

During his stay in Merrysville, Shen visits the high school and ends up befriending a chap by the name of Loid.  Bullies had put him in a trash can on the roof of the school and he would not come out until Shen found him some bottle rockets for him to fire off (he's an explosives geek).  These, of course, were located in an abandoned factory infested with tough encounters.  After acquiring them, Loid joins Shen and can actually use the bottle rockets in battle.

Hi, Loid.  I'm already annoyed.

Thirsting for more explosives, Loid drags Shen back to the factory to stock up on more bottle rockets, bombs, and the occasional laser.  They are also looking for a missile that they can fire into a heap of boulders that lie on the train rails, preventing access to some other towns.  Thankfully, Loid does not miscalculate his trajectory coordinates and soon the path is cleared.

Probably should have made
more rubble but whatevs.

Three small villages are now accessible and after doing a cursory examination of each place, Shen and Loid quickly found a third companion to join their group.  And it's a GIRL!  At the risk of coming down with a severe case of cooties, the boyz allow Ana to accompany them.  Ana has Psi-abilities just like Shen except she gains them a lot faster and has access to many offensive abilities that Shen lacks.  She sucks in melee combat but so does Loid and he doesn't have any Psi-powers at all.

Back into the trash can with you, Loid.

Now three strong, the terrific trio brave the long and harsh journey across the blistering desert in their efforts to reach Youngtown.  Rumour has it that all the adults are missing from Youngtown (whoa, no way!) and it's up to our stalwart young detectives to investigate.  Shen had previously attempted the desert back when he was on his own only to get swiftly pwned.  Bringing no water or food, the tenacious trinity soon found themselves succumbing to the scorching heat and they were only half way to Youngtown.  Their parched throats were a constant reminder of just how important H to tha 2 O is.  Just when they thought they could go no further, fortune smiled upon them and they stumbled across a man giving airplane rides for a nominal fee.  Sure, why not?

*krsh* Passengers may want to note
the delicious water to their left. *krsh*

The pilot informs the group that if they take a bunch of trips in his plane, he'll give them the keys to his tank.  Doing a double take, Shen quickly wiped away the drool from his mouth and forced everyone to take the full amount of trips.

Shen never says no to tanks.

The tank is a little fucked up as it can only traverse desert and can't handle grasslands.  It could have got the party across the rest of the desert safely but Shen just had to tear himself up some sand dunes.  This resulted in accidentally coming across a guardian boss battle in which the guardian and tank were both destroyed.  Luckily, they weren't too far from the edge of the desert and, after Shen had dried his tears, they proceeded on to Youngtown (making note to return to see what the guardian protected).

In Youngtown, a psychic baby teaches Shen and Ana a teleportation spell.  It functions like most teleport spells and allows the party to return to any city or town visited.  Its execution, however, is quite different from the norm.  It can't just be used anywhere.  The group needs to have a clear path in order to get a running start (of about two screen lengths).  If they run into something, hilarity ensues.

So we're burnt or something?

The city of Ellay is now the only place that has not been visited.  Only half of the melodies needed for the music quest have been found so hopefully just the half-way point has been reached.

One final detail.  The spanking Hippie music (go ahead, listen to it again, you know you want to) has carried over to other creatures as well, ensuring that there's always a slight chance of awesome in the random encounters.

Keep close, that's right. Watch
out for the Killer Cars.

May 02, 2012

[Game 020] EarthBound Zero (NES - 1989)

Translation by Neo Demiforce

I must say that I've been looking forward to this one.  Whilst out for my daily jogs in cyberspace, I've heard only good things about the EarthBound series.  Any memories I had of the SNES release I stupidly stored on some Western Digital drive partition somewhere and so now are obviously gone.  I can't have any memories of this game since it was never localized for (U) or (E).  There's a whole backstory to the series and, once again, I'll defer to the master cylinder of historic gaming over at 16-Bit Gems.

Right away the game starts in with its light-hearted and quirky humour.  The first fight takes place right in Shen's bedroom.

Can you spot the hidden enemy?

For those that guessed lamp, you receive a free entry in this week's raffle.  After punching the lamp's lights out, Shen discovers that the rest of the house is also acting bonkers.  More lamps are attacking as well as a stuffed doll!  Dusting off the ladies, Shen gets a-punchin' and dispatches the household items.  After chatting with mom and dad, Shen heads off to the closest town of Podunk to try to find out more information on the strange phenomenon.  Instead, the mayor talks Shen into investigating the zombie-infested cemetery and locating a lost girl.

All this serenity sure is frightening.

One thing that stands out while traversing the lands is the smoothness of the journey.  Since the point of perspective has such a sharp angle to it, the developers have allowed for diagonal movement in addition to the cardinal directions.  This greatly decreases the feeling that the character is clunkily moving from tile to tile (as happens in most top-down RPGs).  The towns and the wilderness are seamless (just like in Heracles) and the whole place is huge!  Thankfully, the encounter rate is very reasonable and many locations are completely free of battles.

The battles themselves are a hoot.  The playfulness remains high with odd enemies and plenty of shenanigans during the fight.  Enemies will sometimes get distracted or confused and end up missing their turn.  For example, crows will often forgo their turn to laugh instead and bats like to either get confused and attack each other or just sit there and self-reflect.

"Hmm, am I being the best BatC I can be?"

Topping all these encounters, however, has to be the fight with the Hippie.  The Hippie's special move consists of him taking out a megaphone and saying something about yo mama.  This causes Shen's offense stat to drop... IF it's successful.  In a pleasant twist, if the attack fails, then the reverse happens and Shen's offense increases due to rage.  He also likes to waste a turn every now and then to take a break and meditate.  This is all fine and well but what really takes the Hippie fight to the next level is the absolutely groovin' tune that plays.  It's unique to this fight and never fails to get Shen in a hippie head-bustin' mood.

Oh snap!  Sick burn, game.

A win nets Shen some experience points but no money.  So far, no random encounter has generated any cash.  Money is only acquired after gaining a level.  The gain is not immediate, either.  It requires finding a telephone and talking to Shen's dear old dad who puts a little green into his bank account.  Since the hotel in the city costs money, Shen usually opts to make the trip back home for a free meal and snooze while also checking in with dad (who is always at the office).

Not appropriate for children, Dad!

There are lots of items available to be bought in Podunk.  The department store in Podunk is a massive five level structure with everything a kid could want.  From baseball bats to 75 dollar sports drinks, there is nothing Shen could possibly want more out of his shopping experience.

Yes, one hundred drugs, please.

Not being happy with Shen just rescuing the girl lost in the cemetery, the mayor then asks Shen to investigate why the animals at the zoo have broken out and started to attack everyone.  Shen was a little worried that his slingshot that he'd been using up to this point might have difficulty taking down elephants and tigers.  Luckily he had enough ducats in his bank account to afford a sweet wooden bat.  With all the kinetic force his 30 kilo body can generate funneled directly into that cylindrical chunk of ash, Shen felt more reassured that he'd be able to take on the LARGEST LAND CREATURE ON EARTH.  While he did manage to bag a few pachyderms, most of the time Shen high-tailed it outta there.  The path through the zoo itself is a long and linear one but at least there is some sightseeing along the way so it's not so bad.

So glad to not have to fight these cuties.

After destroying the source of all of the animal craziness, Shen gears up and prepares to head to nearby Merrysville.  He's got a ton of dinero burning a hole in his account and he's a little anxious to spend.  Maybe there'll be a metal bat or a super soaker or, oo!, those little guns that shoot the little plastic discs.  Pew!Pew!Pew!  Okay, calm down, Shen, because the road guards aren't letting you pass, even though the animal threat is over.  No, you have to go to the gateway faaaar to the north and have the slack guards there let you through.  Well, let's stock up on precious drugs and get a move on, Shen.  Merrysville awaits!