Friday, October 10, 2014

Blog: Favourite YouTube Videos (Volume 63)

In this volume of my favourite YouTube videos, we get music on a tea tin, posters made on three continents and the nerdfighteriest variety show.

  • First, Laura Shigihara, gives us the Oolong cover of Schala's Theme from Chrono Trigger.
    • Also check out the trailer for the game she's making! I'm excited!
  • Next John Green takes a look at how the creation of a cool thing involved a lot of internet leg work and how copyright law's relation to that creation is complicated.
  • Finally someone let John and Hank on the stage at Carnegie Hall. I guess there might be something interesting to watch in that (although I won't lie to you this video is 2 and a half hours long). Also the Mountain Goats show up and some guy named Neil something or other...

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Blog: Thoughts on Breath of Fire

Nostalgia is a funny thing. There are a lot of games I remember a specific fight or a cut scene or a character moment, but Breath of Fire, I remember mostly for a cup of coffee... getting the morning off school in Junior High or High School and getting a fresh cup of coffee and sitting down to play.

Breath of Fire (yes that is a Fish to the left of the hero) - From Hardcore Gaming 101

Lately I've been felling a pull to play a lot of the old games I keep kicking around and for whatever reason Breath of Fire was at the top of that list. I've play every entry in the series and found them all to be generally likeable if not quite outstanding.

On replay, I thought to myself that while Breath of Fire had some pretty significant limitations but since it must have been such an early SNES RPG that it's easy to forgive. The problem came when I started doing some research:

From the Wikipedia list, Breath of Fire was released in North America on August 10, 1994, just over 2 months before Final Fantasy III/VI was released and years after much stronger RPGS such as Secret of Mana, E.V.O. or Final Fantasy II/IV. It's out of place historically, but given what I've been able to gather from the Internet, it was a project with very limited support within Capcom. This is only in North America as well, I can't imagine how it must have been viewed in Japan compared to some of the RPGs that weren't released internationally.

The other thing to say is that despite the general problems with the first entry in the series, the rest of the games get increasing better (at least up to a point) and the series really manages to differentiate it self.

A dragon told me - From Hardcore Gaming 101

Overall I can't recommend playing Breath of Fire (at least on the SNES, I've never tried the 2001 GBA port), the story is mediocre and much of the game's length is in the form of compound fetch quests (aHaHA, I won't give you the thing until you go get this other thing from the guy who will want you do do something else for HIM! aHaHaHaHa). The combat system drags and when coupled with the very long (though sometimes interesting) dungeons makes for hours of vaguely tortured boredom. At least without a good cup of coffee and a free morning, you should probably give this a miss.

Things I Liked

There were a few things I generally liked about Breath of Fire. First, even though the story is not especially well crafted, I do like globe trotting RPGs and every location in the world is interesting enough that when you first get there you feel like it's worth exploring, even though most of the locals don't have anything useful to say.

Travel the world! Meet these people! They talk by flute. - From GameFaqs - Ofisil

I also liked that each of the characters in your party have a role outside of combat (on of the features they focused on to improve the rest of the series). Going into a dungeon? Better have your thief out so he can defuse the traps. Need to get though that wall? Get out the big guy. Running out of supplies? Bring out your hunter. Running out of money? Put the merchant to work. These all have plusses and minuses, but generally I like the way they add flavour to the game.

Beyond the main party, I also liked the once or twice when guest party members showed up. I like it particularly as an aspect of the story, having some extra people around who are not actually passive and incompetent around you and allowing you to do things with part of the party without having to change the difficulty. Mechanically (although less so in this game) it's also a nice chance to see more and different powers than your low level party might have.

The game also has an interesting tactic for dealing with your extra party members. One of your party can fuse several members together creating a character who is stronger than any of the separate members and has most of their abilities. In the late game this means that you can have seven of the eight characters in your party participating in big combat. The fusion system does produce one major question however: why do a monkey, a fox, an ox and a gold fish fused together form a floating green duck?

The dungeon design is also an interesting point for the game. When playing, it's awful, because the dungeons are long and the random encounter combat takes over every 4 steps on average. However, I do like that most of the dungeons make sense. When they're a ruined castle, they have rooms a castle might. When you're in a temple you have rooms a temple might. When you're in the great treasure store of the ancients there are traps and secrets hidden everywhere. I like this and I think that if the combat didn't drag the game down so far it would actually be a general boon to the game.

Another  thing I liked about Breath of Fire was the "surprise" extra HP on the bosses. Especially early in the game fighting down the super powerful boss, getting their HP bar to drop to zero and then having them stand up and laugh at you is pretty cool. That it happens on every boss throughout the game is a little silly and loses the effect, but for a one-off it's not a bad idea.

Finally I have to say that while it's frustrating that the game had to rely so heavily on them, I love all the extra maps and charts that Breath of Fire came with. I like that kind of stuff and actually needing to refer to the map or look up what an item will do. As I said the fact that you needed to within game was a bit of a draw back, but doing it was cool.

Things I Didn't Like

As I've mentioned by far and away the worst part of Breath of Fire is the combat. It's the worst of the old-style turn based combat. Swinging your sword causes a random amount of damage to the enemy, casting a spell causes a set of damage to the enemy. That's it.

For the whole game.

There is too much of this. Also she's not supposed to be blue ... I think. - From GameFaqs - Ofisil

There's a hint of a damage type system, but it's either glitched or not properly implemented because nothing ever changes. The hero can turn into several types of dragons, but the only thing to turn into is the one that will deal the most damage. To everything.

On top of that healing spells are cheap and your healer deals awful damage so even there the only question is how much damage to heal from the rest of the party.

The random encounters have another problem, they don't scale. The random encounter rate is set and you fight whatever is in the area. So if you're in an area with easy enemies, you fight them. Over and over again. And if there are enough of them then you can spend turn after turn dealing hundreds of times the health of the enemy but you can only hit them one at a time. Any kind of system to recognize that you're about to curb stomp the bad guys would have been great relief, especially given how much back tracking the game expects of you.

Another problem with Breath of Fire, but also one many RPGs of the age, is that clues about what's going on with the story are few and far between. If you weren't paying attention while plot was happening, or didn't understand, or heaven help you, you haven't played for a week, you're often left with no idea as to where to go next and there's no way within the game to get anyone to tell you anything. While I don't love some of the hand holding that modern games provide, Ni No Kuni's ever present plot instruction comes to mind, I think it's important to have something to give the player a direction to go if they're not finding it on their own.

Finally, as I already mentioned, for a game released this far into the SNES life, it doesn't look very good. The overworld sprites are not very detailed an animation though out the game is very limited. The combat sprites are nice and big, but are also oddly coloured compared to their overworld versions.

Generally I think a lot of the problems with this game come down to the size of the cartridge.  Breath of Fire was released on a 12Mbit cartridge which was significantly smaller than just about any other RPG released on the SNES before or after. I think generally this shows that Capcom was not willing to put much money into development or production.

Things I Noticed

One thing I thought was funny as I played Breath of Fire was how much I did and didn't remember about the game. There were a few dungeons that I remember the layout of perfectly having not played the game in at least a decade. Some of those were early but interestingly some were quite late in the game. At the same time there were parts of the game I had no recollection of at all (such as the fusion system) despite having used them before.

He's the first. Others will follow. Ryu - From Hardcore Gaming 101

Things I'd Include in a Game

I think the big thing to take away from Breath of fire is that if you're going to have a large group in an RPG make sure that they all have things to do. There are some games where you have a bunch of people sitting around because they're not as good as others and you don't have a reason to use them. While I might not always implement it the way Breath of Fire has, making sure that every playable character has a unique and required characteristic in gameplay is important.

I also always like to make sure that dungeons are reasonable, if a place was a place make it look like that place rather than just like a random assortment of rooms. I think this probably untenable in some situations but it's still an ideal I find important.

Finally I do like the bosses not getting knocked down when the "run out" of HP. If used sparingly I think that can give a game a little memorable spark. If overused, like in Breath of Fire, it gets uninteresting really quickly.

Final Thoughts

As I said in my introduction, there's not a lot of inherent reason to play Breath of Fire. Other games in the series are better and other games of the era are also better. I enjoyed it for the nostalgia and for some of the touches of the world, but that's about it. I'm glad it exists and I'll leave it there.

The End. Also that's a hell of a font.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Blog: Favourite YouTube Videos (Volume 62)

In this volume of my favourite YouTube videos, we take a look at some cool and creative covers of video game music (surprise!).

  • First we have Brentalfloss's Ballad of the Mages. The song is great, and the muppetry is awesome. One of my all time favourites (hence how it got in this list... I'm feeling super obvious today). 
  • Next Brentalfloss sings of the love that a dinosaur who eats everything can have for a baby who fell out of the sky.
    • Funny side note: I'm actually watching ProtonJon play Yoshi's Island right now.
  • Finally Jimmy Wong puts together a great group of people to cover a medley of Legend of Zelda Music.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Project 14: Flash Fiction

A little while ago I had the please of listening to Neil Gaiman speak and read at my university. Unsurprisingly, this was really good and it was also inspiring.

I want to write and I don't write, which tends to be an impediment to getting anything written. So given this inspiration (months and months ago, remember we're fighting the procrastination here), I decided that I wanted to write a handful quick things to get myself going.

So Project 14 is a handful of Flash Fiction things. Basically, short 500-100 word pieces from some of the worlds that float around in my head. I'd like to do six of them and I'd like to do one a month for the next six months.

The first one is set on a space station and I plan to put it up here by October 31, 2014. (Sorry, it's not spooky).