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