November 29, 2014

STED - Ranking

Story & World

I heap tremendous amounts of dislike on RPGs that choose to go with a non-fantasy setting and then proceed to do little with it.  The whole game feels like a fantasy game with a partial sci-fi skin on it.  The first two Phantasy Stars are eerily similar to STED in a lot of ways, but they managed to blend any traditional fantasy elements a lot more seamlessly.  The looooong "dungeon" in the final tower also reminded me of the likewise annoying set of last dungeons in PSII.  It also irks me that my robot buddy, Gap, ended up more of a liability when, in reality, it should have kicked more ass than the three meatsacks combined.  Additionally, I would have liked to able to use Gap's superior positronic brain in order to figure out what was going on half the time.

I'm not sure if the mangled story is the fault of the original game or the translation, so let's just place the blame equally on both parties.  NPCs spew nonsense at regular intervals and those trying to help fail horribly (or should that be terrifically?).  Not giving any indication of what to do with the three gems is probably one of the biggest blunders in a plot I've ever encountered.  In the FAQ I read, the author admits to finding the solution purely by chance, so I'm pretty sure it wasn't just me missing something (which was always a strong possibility).  3/20

Character Development

A character can be developed as a fighting man or a magic user or any combination inbetween.  I kept with my original plan of Actes/fighter, Corona/mage, Shen/multiclass, at least until the late game when I buffed up Shen's ESP capabilities.  At one point in the middle of the game, a computer lets you reset a single character and redistribute all the points they had accumulated.  Unfortunately, the room in which this took place was graphically glitching the hell out and I was too scared to attempt anything other than to leave the screen.  The level system itself bears mention as it uses a unique naming system.  Instead of just getting plain old numerals, a colour word is prefixed to it.  It starts off with whites and reds and ends with silvers and golds (all my characters got well into the golds).  Every time a new colour level is attained, the character gets double the normal amount of points.

Arms and armour follow the standard model where the more expensive it is, the better it is.  There are no weapons that have special effects of any kind, although a lot of weapons usable by Actes and Gap have to be powered by batteries (just another item to take up valuable slots).  ESP abilities give a little more versatility but will mostly be saved for healing and doing damage to monsters resistant to normal attacks.  9/20

Combat & Monsters

Battles require a lot of attention, which is good for normal progression but bad for grinding.  In addition to having a character's attack miss if the target dies, regular random encounters will often have creatures resistant to normal attacks.  This leads to having to memorize each creature's nonsensical name to determine the correct path to an efficient victory.  Forget memorizing by the picture because only the first creature in the enemy list is shown.  Fortunately, name memorization is easy-peasy, as there is so much grinding in the game that a player will have no choice but to.  No joke, at least a third of the time spent on STED was in pure grind mode (and that's at turbo grinding speed).  The Bowser and Shiseikan boss fights were epic in their difficulty and length, even if they did end up becoming wars of attrition.

The damageable body location system is cool in theory but only really comes into play if one forgets to get a checkup when returning to a town to heal or if one forgets about the system altogether (hey, why are you looking at me like that?).  There are items to restore these points but I never ended up needing them, as trips back to a town are frequent due to other factors.

I think I bagged a little too hard on the monster types not being robotic or futuristic enough.  Most of the other monsters are not derived from fantasy lore and are clearly mutants (it actually ended up reminding me of Gamma World except less fun).  There are few status ailments that monsters can inflict and most of the time it's sleep which wrecks any carefully planned battle orders.  11/20

Graphics & Sound

The monster graphics are nicely done and show a lot of creativity but everything else ranges from par to subpar.  While the overall visuals are recognizably futuristic, it just... I don't know, doesn't look futuristic enough, you know whut I'ma saiyan?  It looks like it's about halfway between fantasy and future and can't bring itself to go full tits futuristic.

The music doesn't fare much better as it's pretty generic.  Sound effects in battles will net a few points as each weapon type has its own sound and those do sound future-y.  6/20

Gameplay

If one wants to be able to purchase anything in STED, one better be prepared for massive grinding.  Even then, the rewards sometimes aren't worth it.  For example, I ground out 30-freakin'-thousand credits just to get PsyShield which protects the entire group.  Too bad it didn't seem to do a damn thing, at least again bosses (which is what you want it for).  Still, I'd rather have an overly restrictive economy than one that breaks by midgame.

The economy, in addition to the vagueness of the quests, makes for a very slow-paced game.  I took so many breaks due to lack of stimulus that this single game took just over 30 hours stretched out over two months.  Jumping back into it was never a problem, though, since the player never really knows what's going on anyway.

An STED replay would be one of those rare cases where the second time around would actually be more fun than the first.  One wouldn't have to worry about getting stuck and the character development is just barely configurable enough that a replay would be slightly more enjoyable.  Too bad a player would always have to endure the initial playthrough — and if there's just one word to describe STED, it's endure.  3/20

Final Ranking:  32/100

November 19, 2014

STED - End Game


STED — the leading edge in SCIENCE!

So, yeah, the spot I was missing was, in no way, discussed or hinted at during any point in the game.  One is just suppose to know that the center point of these four rocks are important because... uh... symmetry?  And it's not like I didn't search that area the first time I found it, before having all the gems, only to find absolutely nothing.  You know what would have made more sense, STED, if you just had to go with such an ambiguous scheme?  How about three rocks, arranged in a triangle?  You know, because there are three gems and that at least gives some connection, however feeble, between the two.  *sigh*  Anyway, I had to spoil myself with a walkthrough on this roadblock and I'm actually glad I did because: a) I never would have figured that isht out; and b) fuck STED.  If this was the only example of this kind of nebulous bull, maybe I'd feel worse, but STED is chock-full of this crap.  NPCs often give either confusing or outright false information.  For example, the fellow who eventually fixes the harp needed to find the hermit mentions that new strings for it can be found in a nearby cave — right before handing over the completely fixed harp.  For another example, some NPCs have their cardinal directions reversed (here's a hint, guys, north is always towards the top of the screen).  For yet another example... well, I could be here all day if I start goin' off on this.  Okay, just one more; when talking with NPCs that give you crucial details (e.g. passcodes) needed to advance the game, the player only gets one chance to write/memorize the detail.  If that finger slips and taps the A button, sorry Charlie, you're SOL.  You'd better hope you realize that something important was missed so you can reload.

Thankfully, nuggets of wisdom such as this
can be repeated as often as necessary.

The final tower proved to be a real challenge (the good kind, not the frustrating kind).  It has a very long path compared to the other towers, complete with traps that force you to warp out to the beginning and try again.  Near the end, one can tell that the developers began to run out of level design ideas — the last two floors are just hallway spirals to maximize the chance of random encounters.

To its credit, there were finally
some cool robot foes.

When I reached the final boss, I took a quick glance at my remaining inventory and cringed.  Almost completely depleted.  I didn't want to risk the levels I had gained getting here, so I warped out in order to grind creds for the EP-restoring Brainers.  At 5K a pop, this took a very long time.  I found an area where the monsters are likely to drop Porno (sells for 1K) but one particular creature there likes to destroy inventory items, so that place was out.  Just can't catch a break with this game.  A couple hours later and I was brimming with Brainers and MentalCs (for Gap).  With the true path mapped out, I made it back to the final chamber to endure the last stretch of STEDness.

Encounter-free and pointless "maze" — check.

Villain speech that doesn't
really make sense — check.

End boss that's a dragon or wizard...
Whoa! — NOT CHECK!

Seriously, Shiseikan is looking all kinds of badass.  There's no part of this guy that doesn't scream awesome.  I especially like the ironic heart he wears on his lower torso; he's a destroyer of humanity but is still playful about it.  I think this is his way of showing us that, even after he succeeds in killing all humans, the spirit of humanity will still live on within all the monsters he's creating.  He was almost successful too.  I thought I had overstocked for this journey but I'll be damned if that Shiseikan didn't manage to drain almost all my items.  Gap ran out of MentalCs and bite the dust but the rest of us managed to finish Shiseikan off.  And so the galaxy was saved...

Well, planet really, but I guess
galaxy sounds more epic.

I always like to post the final end screen and even here, STED manages one last middle finger directly to the player's face (though it's completely the translation patch's fault but somehow still seems completely appropriate).

November 10, 2014

STED - Stumpsted

Often in these older RPGs, I'll reach a point where I get completely stuck.  I spin my wheels for awhile, revisiting old towns and dungeons until I figure out what I missed.  I don't hate this aspect; it adds to the challenge and sometimes it's my own damn fault (okay, most times).  But usually there'll be just one major roadblock and once it has been hurled, the rest of the game goes smoothly.  STED has issued me two such roadblocks and there's still more game to go, but I'm getting ahead of myself here.  Last I spake with thee all, I was having problems with the uber-tough Bowser.  Even with micromanaging all my available resources, he was still a tough customer.  At one point, I was beginning to think that he wasn't actually taking damage and that I needed a special item or weapon of some kind.  I barely managed to eke out a victory but what a victory it was.  The celebration was short-lived as, soon after, I realized that I'd need a password for the computer... which I didn't have.  After administering a spanking to myself (which was hot), I exited the tower and went back to the nearby towns to quiz the folks a second time.  It doesn't help that the majority of townsfolk spout off the obvious instead of a clue (or even flavour text).

Well, I guess this isn't one of
those places, huh, asshole.

I was aware that I had an unfinished quest involving finding a hermit.  I even knew the general area that he was hiding in (thanks to a vague clue from a useful citizen).  I searched every goddamn rock and tree in the area but to no avail.  This was the first roadblock.  I wasted a lot of time tooling around, hoping to stumbling across something.  It was during this long, aimless trek that I started to fade out a bit as the redundancy of encounters took their toll.  During this hazy-headed time, something in the back of my mind clicked — something that had been bothering me since the beginning but that I wasn't even conscious of.  The little music jingle that plays whenever a random encounter happens is the same as the one that plays whenever a level is selected from the map screen in Super Mario Bros. 3.  Fascinating, right?  But that didn't help me in my quest.  What did though was realizing that I had a quest item in the form of a harp that I hadn't used yet (or had any clue what it was for).  I tried the harp on all the rocks and trees and voilĂ , my first hurdle was hurdled.  After getting the password from the hermit, I climbed the tower again and got another gem from the computer.  Now it was off to the next continent and finally some new monster types.

This Sith's light saber is just too adorable.

This time I was prepared; I knew there would be a tower with a compie at the top and I would not scale it until I had a password.  I had plenty of incentive to explore around; the photon weapons being offered were hella expensive.  While exploring, I found something even better than the SNES.  You know how I ended off the last post with a being-distracted-by-porn gag?  In a hilarious coincidence, STED itself distracted me with much the same.

Nothing happened... just like in real life. *sob*

Things went much smoother on the third continent and soon I had the last gem needed to enter the (hopefully) final tower that had been mocking me since I left the first continent (there's a central hub from which each of the continents can be accessed).  I was in good spirits as the entire party had sweet photon weapons.  Even sweeter was that we could buy Brainers, which restore EP.  This meant we didn't have to carry less efficient healing items as well as being able to weather the random encounters.  A lot of randoms have monsters that can only be damaged by ESP and that takes precious EP away from healing.  Not that that matters to Gap as it can't be healed by normal means.  Speaking of Gap, I hate to bag on a fellow bro-bot, but Gap kinda sucks.  It's a decent fighter, about on par with Actes, but its non-organic status means it has to have its own separate healing items.  Gap also can't use ESP and doesn't gain stat points to distribute like the meatbags do.

The Photon Cannon would be impressive
except for the fact that Corona and
I also have photon weapons.

At any rate, we were set for our assault on the maybe-final tower.  With a deep breath, I stepped forward onto the tower only to have nothing happen.  I walked through it like it wasn't even there.  Dread began to creep up my spine.  I knew there were only three gems to collect and I had 'em, so why wouldn't this stupid tower let me in?  And so we've come to my second roadblock.  Perhaps these gems are used inside the tower and I need a different item to get in?  If so, I have no idea what the item could be.  Guess I'll have to see if the local citizens can clue me in.


Goddammitsomuch!