Wednesday, March 19, 2008

My name is Bond...Juan Bond: My review of Just Cause (Xbox 360)

After yours truly gets done with a long RPG like Blue Dragon, I usually sit back and not play anything after a while. I will just goof with some shit and what-not. Oddly, after putting in Just Cause into my 360, I was hooked...for about 6 hours. Here is my review:

Story – Just Cause takes place in the fictional country of San Esperito. The hero, Rico Rodriguez, is sent to help out in guerrilla warfare in hopes of overthrowing the government of President Mendoza. You have two CIA agents that “help” you. Okay, all they do is give you information, drink, and get a tan on this beautiful island. That is about it. Along the way, you will meet up with a imprisoned guerrilla leader, as well as a drug dealer and his woman. The story does get to be a bit on the boring side as the intro screens and outro scene are only around 30 seconds long (if that). The good parts of the story has to be sometimes, there will be something completely out of left field that someone would say (like references to the movie Air Force One) and the voice acting of the main character, Rico (I will talk more in depth later).
One thing that is really cool is the cross references that occur throughout the game. Just Cause was the operation, back in 1989, that removed Panama leader Manuel Noriega from power. The outfits that President Mendoza wears is modeled after dictators. Even the cover is a pretty blatant rip-off of Che Guevara, a famous Cuban freedom fighter. It is these little things that actually bump up this grade because, to be honest, I like that sort of shit.

Grade – B+

Graphics – This is the bad part of the game. I will first start out with the videos that introduce and conclude the missions. The first thing that I thought of was that this looked like it was PS2 graphics on the 360. I thought I was looking at the graphics of X-Squad again. Every character walked around really stiff, the clothes looked stiff, and the character voices did not sync up with the mouths and that is a big no-no in my book. The first time I figured on this, I said, “This is a 360 port of a PS2 game.” Also, during the cut-scenes, the characters looked like they were a little too animated for a serious sandbox game. For example, the drug lord reminded me of Boss Nass from Star Wars: The Phantom Menace. I believe that the developers did not know how to make this game and tried to go in the middle...and failed.
Okay, enough of the cut-scenes, now onto the world. I will say this to you and that is this world is fucking huge. The reason why I say that now is because it seemed like the developers decided to not worry about the minor problems with this world, like the glitches. This game is very buggy. One time, during a mission, I grabbed a motorcycle that I had just left and I was immediately in the air about 300 feet off the ground. The is no reason why I was up there. There were times when I would be climbing up a tall hill and the view would tilt and I could actually see behind the slope and see light blue. There was nothing but light blue inside of the hill. Not a good thing to look at. The lighting was very good, as the sun would make Rico look very nice in the evening. The weather was not as the rain drops looked like it was raining diluted ink. Whenever you are inside one of the small villages or a city, you are confined to the outside world, no inside views. The NPC's do not show any personality of their own, just a “I need some anti-depressants” feel. The vehicles look very good. They obviously took that idea from the fact that Cubans have had to deal with cars from the 1950's. One really good thing was the explosions. When shit blows up in this game, you will notice it and want to sit back and watch it.
Overall, it seems like the developers worked on some things, and didn't care about others.

Grade – D+

Controls – This is, yet again, a mixed bag. The controls for Rico are spot on. You aim and fire your gun with the Right Trigger. You can move the right analog stick to move the target reticle to get near the person your targeting. If you get near it, it will latch onto him. No precise targeting needed, just get close. And if you are worrying about shooting an innocent person, don't worry. The reticle will never attached to a civilian or a fellow guerrilla. The A button is used to jump and the directional pads are used to cycle the weapons. There are a ton of weapons, but you can only carry 3 guns, timed explosives, trigger explosives, a grappling hook (later), and your fists. Also, there is a finite amount of bullets that you can carry. You can't overload the guns like in GTA. The good thing is that your trusty sidearms (defaults) never run out of bullets. The right analog stick moves the camera, and pressing it in will actually move the camera really close to Rico (ala, Resident Evil 4). There is even a parachute that is always on your back. If you are falling from a plane and you take out your chute, you can put it back into the backpack and remove it yet again. Everything about Rico's movements and gun firing feels really smooth.
A quick segway to the grappling hook. It is a gun that allows you to latch onto a helicopter or vehicle and ride it piggy back with the 'chute. You can real in the hook and actually take control of the vehicle. Unfortunately, that is when the controls turn to shit.
THE VEHICLES ARE VERY DIFFICULT TO CONTROL. When you are driving around in the game, it feels like the ground is covered in slick oil and turning is a fucked up adventure. The Right Trigger acts as the gas and the Left Trigger acts as the brake and reverse. There will be one vehicle that is equipped with machine guns and rocket launchers and that is, by far, the best controlled car out there. I was a huge fan of motorcycles in GTA, but they are almost unusable here. As well as the “slick oil surface”, the camera will tilt with you as you tip over to one side or the other. It makes a person very disoriented. You can also pick up helicopters and airplanes. They actually fly really smooth, making the cars pale in comparison. If you can get a copter, get it. A cool thing, though, with cars and helicopters is that you can go into Stunt Action. You will jump on top of your vehicle and start shooting while the car slows down due to no driver. That gives this game a sense that a little bit of XXX was mixed with Bond and Antonio Banderas to make Rico and that is very cool.

Grade – C-

Sound – Finally, something good to talk about again. The voices of the characters are near perfect. Rico's voice, in particular, is perfect. He puts the finishing touches to a great character that I cannot wait until Just Cause 2. His CIA agents sound just as good. The CIA agent named Sheldon sounds like he deserves to be in a Bond film. His cohort, Kane, is a regular run-of-the-mill military chick that likes to tan in the sun.

--------------------------------Dumb Shit----------------------
Okay. There will be times when you will come up to the mission briefing and Kane will be either standing in her bikini, or laying down. Near the end, I was getting sick of this game and decided to take my frustrations out on them. When Kane was laying down, getting some rays, I would walk over to her face and click in the left analog stick. That would squat me down and make me feel good because she was getting some Tee-Baggin.
When she would stand up, I would get really close to her and click the right analog stick and start shooting the shit out of her head. God, that was fun. Now, back to the review.

The Hispanic characters sounded very well. It did not seem like they were being stereotypical Hispanics. The NPCs even sounded like the natives and it helped in the feel of the game. Overall, great voices.
The environments were very good as well. There were times when I was in the middle of the jungle that I would listen to the sounds of nature and thought that is was happening in real life. The only complaints that I had with this game was two sound effects in particular. When you would be climbing up metal stairs, it sounded like you were wearing tap dancing shoes. Also, the sound you make swimming sounded like a typical sound byte of a person eating. Very annoying.

Grade – A-

Challenge – The challenge in this game comes from two sources: the ending and how long will you last playing the side-missions. The game has a total of 20 missions that pertain to the central story line. The other 280 other mission are given by guerrillas from settlements. You are able to get these by freeing regions of government rule and you do this by freeing town and cities. You get a group of guerrillas and you kill everything in sight in a town until you are able to raise the guerrilla flag. Now, with the side missions, they are pretty much “drive from A to B, kill or pick something up, and return to A”. That is it. After each main mission, a new area becomes “Unstable” and you get to free it. If you do so, you are rewarded with new weapons and new homes to be safe housed at. At around halfway through the 20 missions, I said fuck it and fought till the end. The side mission shit pissed me off. It will get boring really quick.
The 20 main story missions are not that difficult. All it boils down to is to blow up everything you see in red. That's it. There was one mission that you had to defend a radio station from being attacked so a guerrilla leader could speak. Afterwards, you blew it up. You may fail a mission a first time, but it should not take more than that...except the last level. Oh my fucking God, that was brutal. Okay, I am going to talk about your health meter really quick. If you are low on health and you hear a heartbeat, your energy will go up just a little bit (pretty much up to the length of the word Health). You are pretty much oblivious to gunfire because it just doesn't hurt you. Rockets, on the other hand, hurt like hell and can kill you quick. The last level is full of rockets and they will do whatever it takes to kill you. Fly really high, drop down, and run. That will be my advice to you in the end. To go through around a 20 minute last level took me nearly 2 hours because I continued to die and that is brutal. Not Star Fox Adventures, but close.

Grade – B-

Achievements – The achievements are all seen at the beginning. There are no “Secret” achievements. You should get about 350-400 points by just going through the game. You get achievements from liberating provinces. You get achievements from killing 500 people (Jonestown would be so proud). There are achievements for picking up Collect Missions. It is just like the 100 hidden packages in GTA, but you can see them on the map. There are just 5 point achievements, but whores won't care.

Grade – B-

There are no extras in this game...sorry.

Overall, Just Cause is a good game...for about 6 hours. The great voice acting and all the shit you can blow up is cool. The repetitive game play will bog you down soon, though. This would be a good rental for maybe 2 weeks, but I found it for 14.99 so it is worth that price...barely.

Overall Grade – C+

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Sorry, here is my review of Blue Dragon (Xbox 360)

Sorry about the delay, I had some personal issues and this had to wait. Without further ado:

Back in 2004, Hirnobu Sakaguchi left Square-Enix and formed his own company, Mistwalker. People were shocked by this news and were even more shocked when it was known that Mr. Sakaguchi would make games for the Xbox 360; a western game system. When he brought in Akira Toriyama (Dragonball Z, Dragon Quest) as well as Nobuo Uematsu (well-known video game musician), people believed that only greatness could follow. With the release of Lost Odyssey, I thought I would give you my review of his first game for the 360; Blue Dragon.

Story – Once a year for 10 years, Talta Village has been covered in purple clouds. When those clouds come in, land sharks attack, devastating the village. Three people (Shu, Jiro, and Kluke) decide to do something about it. They attack the land shark and are thrown into a cave. They eventually find the land shark and it is actually mechanized. While in the land shark, they meet up with the person that is attacking their village, Nene. Later on, they are given light orbs and are told to swallow them. They do and their shadows become a dragon, minotaur, and bird respectively. During the course of the story, you meet up with a Deede named Marumaro and a warrior for the city of Jibral, Zola. That is the basis of the story. Your entire game is based on following and trying to kill Nene. The story follows typical Japanese story lines about finding you own way in life. The first time that you play an RPG with this story, you can handle it. But the 100th time is just getting old. First of all, Marumaro's voice is, by far, the most annoying character since Raiden from Metal Gear Solid 2. In fact, Marumaro is 20 times worse. There will be several times when Shu will say something such as, “I won't give up.” After the 100th time hearing that, you want to kill Shu yourself. There are rescue missions, as well as retrieval. In other words, this is the typical story with a horrible cast.

Grade – D

Graphics – The graphics are one of the best parts of the entire games. Akira Toriyama is well known for his work on Dragonball, Dragonball Z, and the Dragon Warrior/ Dragon Quest games. He lends his art style to this game and it shows. The character animations look great with a great sense of detail. The monsters all animate as well. The environments looks mostly good, even thought there are times when you could have sworn that you have seen this place before. You can spot minor glitches, but they are not that bad. Later in the game, you are given a special attack per shadow and they look truly amazing. They not on the scale of Final Fantasy, but pretty damn good. Overall, the eye candy makes the terrible story tolerable.

Grade – A-

Controls – Enemies appear on the playing field and you can choose to attack them or flee. You can place an attack circle around enemies by pressing the RT. Then you can fight the enemies in a typical match. There is no ATB in this game, which would have been nice. You can take as much time as you need for the attack. The battle controls are very smooth, except that you will be pressing the Defend command more often than you'd like. It can get very annoying. The character movement on the map is very annoying. It looks as if the characters are running when all they are doing is walking a small distance. Very awkward. Out on the world map, you are encouraged to check out everything. And I do mean EVERYTHING. If you get an item, good. If you get a Nothing, then that is good as well. It just seems like that was added to elongate the game a bit. Overall, the control is very good, except for some hiccups here and there. But hey, no one's perfect.

Grade – B+

Sound – This is a tale of two different sounds. On one hand, you have the terrific Nobuo Uematsu scoring the game. There are times when the music is very good, especially the ending song. I can just sit back and listen to it because it just sounds like a very good and happy song. The environmental songs are very reminiscent of Final Fantasy songs and it just sounds so good and subtle. But there are times when the music can just drive you up the fucking wall. There are, of course, boss battles. And with boss battles comes the inevitable task of a boss battle song. This song is fine at first, but when you are listening to the horrible Japanese hard rock song for the 50th time, you know the words to the song and wished that you didn't. Mr. Uematsu made a great soundtrack, except for one.
The sounds of the game are a mixed bag of good and downright shitty voices. Every grunt, every yell, every rustle of branches in the game sound as they should. The supporting cast of NPC's are voiced excellently, minus one town (I'll talk about that later). The main characters are also a mixed bag. Shu, the lead character, sounds very good but he continuously uses the same “I won't give up” mantra throughout the game. It will get old really quick. Kluke and Jiro's voice is very good. It fits the characters very well. Zola is, by far, the best of the bunch. Her voice sounds like a dark Gillian Anderson from X-Files fame. Far and away the best. Then there's Marumaro. Oh my fucking God. He sounds like Jar Jar Binks from Star Wars getting kicked in the nuts. His entire village sounds just like him and there is one time where you have to help cure his village of an illness and you actually wish that you had the option to let them die.

Grade – B-

Challenge – There are points in this game when you can cheat (somewhat) and I will tell you in this section. One of the challenges in this game is deciding how to level up your shadows. You have 9 different classes to level up and you try to get all of the skills unlocked for all 9, but it will make the latter levels brutally difficult. The shadow skills can all be unlocked by around shadow level 35 (Barrier Magic takes level 50). You want to get to level 50 with one person at the start and here is how. Go to the laser field during the game and there is a place where Needle Nosed Moles reside. When you start your level 3 field barrier, you can start to kill them and they continue to regenerate. You can gain massive amounts of levels for you shadows and make the latter parts pretty smooth. Another challenge in this game is getting a couple of achievements that are HARD. One is finding every monster in the game. There are times when you will fight a monster, or even a boss, and they will summon underlings. That may be the only time you can fight them. You may have to get two monsters together and have them fight each other to create a whole new monster. Almost impossible to get without a guide. The Last challenge involves collecting every item in the game. There times when you can purchase an item once and that is it. There are times when you need to steal a rare item from a boss and you will have to reset the game several times to get it. Just try to get the Treasure Hunt ability from the Assassin class to improve your odds. The game did not bother me at all so hopefully it will be harder for you. There are 8 super bosses that you can battle besides the final boss and they can wipe you out quickly. Just make sure that you are properly equipped. One boss kept beating my sorry ass until I had my characters at around level 66. Yes, I said 66.

Grade – B-

Achievements – There are a bunch of secret achievements in Blue Dragon. There are, in fact, too many to name here so I will put it to you like this. If you get to a scenario where it seems like a mini-game; get a perfect score on it. You will get an achievement on it. Also, run away from 50 battles for a zero point achievement.

Extras – The extras are involved in the download of extra content. For 200 points, you can get 6 new items that are not in the game. There is a free download for vets of the game. It is called “impossible” and that is all that you need to know. The gem is the Shuffle Dungeon. For 400 points, you will unlock a special cube (play the game and you will know what I'm talking about) that has new enemies, new items, and the level changes every time you enter. That adds an additional 9-10 hours easily. That with the super-bosses, makes it worthwhile.

Grade – B+

Overall, Blue Dragon is the game that you want to play because of the names, but end up not even caring about the story. The only thing that makes this game decent is the solid fighting engine and the extras. Hopefully with Lost Odyssey, Sakaguchi-san (I say that because we're tight) will do a much better job.

Overall Grade – B-

Phil-N Rob'd moment: With the leveling up shadow trick that I talk about earlier, I tried to do it on an island that constantly regenerates enemies. I put a piece of cardboard in between the analog sticks and left it so I could go to sleep. I woke up 6 hours later and found that my characters didn't level up once. I was running in a circle and enemies were behind me and would disappear before I got to them. 6 hours of my 360's life wasted on that shit.

And, of course, here is the 2nd opinion, courtesy of