Sunday, July 14, 2013

Dark Gate

GENRE: Role-playing game (classic turn-based jRPG)
2012 Hit-Point / Kemco Games (Kotobuki Solutions, Ltd)

Dark Gate for Android
Dark Gate for iOS
All other Kemco games
Manufacturer Product Description:
This game is a fantasy RPG. You must destroy the rifts where the monsters are coming from, each called a "Dark Gate." The hero Leo joins his ally Sandy on a mission to destroy the "Dark Gates".
A world full of adventures and powerful foes unravels during your assignment of destroying the Dark Gates.
‐ Unfold a fast-paced, automated, and intense battle system
‐ Different endings based on your choices in game
‐ Over 70 different job classes
‐ A full roster of characters. The story develops based on who is in your party.

A new game that delights retro-gamers >>> by skysenshi
I was on a gaming slump when a friend mentioned that Final Fantasy Tactics had an iOS version. I don't own an iOS device so I ended up looking for classic jRPGs on my Android phone. That was how I first landed on the page of Kemco Games. I was delighted by what I saw, because many of their games' sample screenshots were reminiscent of old school jRPGs, though the art style is mostly tailored for 21st century gamers.

Dark Gate was on sale at approximately ¥300+ or $3.00 so I immediately picked it up. What I love about mobile gaming now is how portable everything is. More so than when portable consoles came out, so when I would play this game in the faculty room, the reactions of many of my game development co-faculty members upon seeing the graphics was full of nostalgic delight. And I'd get questions like, "OMG, what game is that? Where do I get it?" This elicited the same reaction from my colleagues in the game development industry.

By no means is Dark Gate an old game. From the title screen alone, you will know that this game came out last year. But the sprites, the backgrounds, and even the music felt very much like I was thrown back to the days when I was first introduced to jRPGs.

Dark Gate employs a job system where all your characters level up both themselves (LV) and their job skills (JP), as you can see from the screenshot below. There are so many tiers to these jobs, so it was actually fun mixing and matching them. I thought I wasn't going to be able to use all the available members, but it turns out that I maxed out my main party's jobs right before the final dungeon opened up so I used the other characters just for job skill point distribution purposes. My only major annoyance with this game is that the jobs aren't so balanced and though I did not feel like I did some grinding, my alternate team got to level 99 pretty quickly in the last 4 optional dungeons. I already set the difficulty to normal but it was still too easy.

Looks like I have to buy a more challenging difficulty mode if I want to finish this game at a much lower level, though the thought of buying in-game options isn't such a bad thing, considering the massive content that's available to me at only ¥300+. That's the price of one Venti Starbucks drink so I'm not complaining.

There will be some difficult enemies, which you can't physically damage, on the first parts but these only serve to make you realize that you need to make use of other jobs. For instance, if you're a player who loves using physical attacks, like me, you'd now be forced to turn your party into magic casters. The game basically teaches you without the overly intrusive tutorials that seem to have defined much of the newer games.

The dungeons are also pretty standard classic jRPG fare. The design, however, has a more balanced progression. If you remember, older jRPGs already have intricate mazes from the first dungeon onwards. This one starts out pretty easy and the intricacies of the dungeons build up as you go through the game. I wish they'd make leveling up a little bit harder from levels 50 and above, though. The last few dungeons are so long that my alternate party, with all members staring at level 1, exited 2 optional dungeons at level 99.

Notice I actually had to use an alternate party because I didn't want my main party to become too strong when they meet the final boss. It was useless, because the final dungeon had so many mazes that not a single character in the entire game was below level 99.

Now for the most nostalgic part: There are no FAQs available for this game. It's just like when I was playing my first few RPGs and the internet wasn't the noisy place that it is now. You will have to figure things out on your own. The good thing here is that there are no save points, which means you can save right before a boss battle and then try different combinations of skills. There are some bosses who will only be affected when you combine two kinds of magic or two kinds of physical attacks. There's also the fact that each boss has a different strategy, so you'd end up either thinking your strategy through or doing a lot of trials and errors.

Overall, Dark Gate is such a fun trip for retro-gamers like me. If it weren't too easy, I would have given it a 10.

COMPLETION TIME: 32:44:21 (end of credits)
All characters at level 99
All jobs mastered for main party (Leo, Sandy, Caffie, Shura)
RATINGS: Gameplay 9; Battle 10; Story 6; Visuals 9; Characters 8; Sounds 7; Replay Value 10

Saturday, July 6, 2013

The Final Fantasy series must be put to rest...

I had mixed reactions when Square Enix unveiled their plans for Final Fantasy XV -- formerly Final Fantasy XIII Versus -- at E3. Just to give some people a visual backgrounder of what I'm going to be somewhat ranting about, here's the trailer (if you haven't seen it yet):

I was amazed at how beautiful and grand it looks. The cinematic storytelling is awe-inspiring. They obviously learned a lot since their Advent Children days. Most importantly, the gameplay holds a lot of promise.

So why am I saying that the Final Fantasy series should just die?

Well, it took me weeks to figure out what it was. I even searched through many articles just to find some ways of knowing if I wasn't the only abnormal person who felt this way. Turns out that I wasn't. Here are a few write-ups I've stumbled upon:

Let me summarize and address a couple of points that have been raised in each page's comments section.

#1. Newer Final Fantasy titles have become too visually realistic.

It seems like the Japanese aren't too happy that their favorite fantasy game has become too realistic for their tastes. Personally, I have no problems with this. 

A screenshot of Esthar City, a place in FFVIII where everything looks sci-fi.

Final Fantasy VIII was one of my favorite FF titles and even though a lot of people, at the time of its release, complained about it being too modern and bordering on sci-fi, the gameplay still felt very much like a Final Fantasy game. There's the active time bar (ATB). It's turn-based. And the classic job system is very much in place even though it isn't too obvious to many lovers of classic FF. (For example, Quistis is a Blue Mage, though it wasn't explicitly mentioned in the game.) Which leads me to the next complaint.

#2 Battle system has changed from turn-based to action RPG.

Again, I have no problems with games that employ a non-traditional approach to RPGs. I have no problems with action or fighting games. I was a fighting gamer before I was introduced to Wild Arms and Final Fantasy VII. I have enjoyed Parasite Eve, Dissidia (both the original and Duodecim) and would have enjoyed Kingdom Hearts had it not made me nauseous.

A scene from Final Fantasy Dissidia 012 Duodecim, featuring many of my beloved characters

I could name many more games I enjoyed that the newer Final Fantasy installments are similar to but don't share the same title.

So if these two top comments aren't my issue, why do I still want FF to die?

It's simple. A game as promising as Final Fantasy XV should have its own franchise. This new direction that Final Fantasy is taking alienates many of us who aren't purists but want to retain a certain level of consistency in the title itself.

I feel that since FFX (a great game, though its sequel FFX-2 actually felt more like its old school counterparts, specifically FFV), the title has been veering farther and farther away from what was expected of it. Sure, innovation is a wonderful thing, but like stage musicals...there has to be a binding force to keep its identity intact. If you can't help but update the look and feel of the game, at least keep the atmosphere in place.

Well, a chocobo could be considered a binding force.
Except I'm not too sure if I should believe Squeenix when it  says  that this is a chocobo.
Source: uploaded by Paramina at Final Fantasy Wiki.

Nobuo Uematsu wasn't heavily involved with FFXII, hence I did not feel the Final Fantasy in it, even if I loved its characters Fran, Balthier and Ashe. But with FFXIII totally removing even the battle theme, I wanted to call the game by another title. To me, it has lost every right to call itself a Final Fantasy game even if I still gush over the likes of Lightning and Oerba Yun Fang.

It wasn't until that time that I realized that the Victory Fanfare was the last remaining glue that held all FF titles together. The book Buy-ology by Martin Lindstrom explained this feeling perfectly. Among all our senses, our sight is the one most bombarded with stimuli. Visual cues compete with each other for our sight's favor. Because of this constant visual overload, we have actually become quite jaded when it comes to the things we see. This makes our other senses -- particularly our hearing and our smell -- even more powerful. To me, at least, hearing a semblance of the old Final Fantasy reminds me that yes, it is a Final Fantasy game.

And now they totally want to deviate from the old ATB system. That blows the "feeling" part out of the water. I understand the need to milk a franchise for what it's worth, but whatever happened to producing other great  titles and franchises like Star Ocean, Chrono Trigger, Valkyrie Profile? Couldn't Final Fantasy XV have a franchise of its own so that it wouldn't have to dwell under the shadows of its beloved predecessors?

The death of Japanese RPGs...NOT.

Well, there's still hope for us people who miss traditional old school games. With the advent of mobile games, a few Japanese game developers and publishers like Kemco have been churning out new mobile jRPGs that have that traditional feel we all miss. I am currently addicted to one of those games, which I will be reviewing soon. Their games are available at (sometimes they even have $0.99 titles, and they often have half-price sales). So all is not completely lost...even if half of me is still pining for a new Final Fantasy that actually feels like one while the other half wishes for a Final Final Fantasy.

The title screen of Kemco's Eve of the Genesis

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