Sunday, 11 April 2010

Josh Whelchel's New Album

Josh Whelchel composer for The Spirit Engine soundtracks has just released a new album comprising of songs from 2001 to 2008. Check it out here.

Spirit Engine Review + Save Files

So just finished The Spirit Engine by Mark Pay. A freeware RPG game. If you love RPGs I highly recommend you get it. It's an amazing effort and I think still stands the test of time. By the way, I enjoyed it way more than playing Quake 4.

Download it from the official site here:
The Spirit Engine

Don't forget you can download the music for free at Josh Whelchel's site here:
Spirit Engine OST

The game has good writing, good story, good pacing, good grahpics and I only get stuck in a couple of places and had to level up a little. Which is good because I can't stand training for too long.

Anyway, here are a couple of gameplay and interface issues I noticed with the game which mar this otherwise great freeware classic. Most of these issues are fixed in the Sequel The Spirit Engine 2 so take this as a lesson in what not to do in an RPG.

1) Save points cost gold - Games like Resident Evil did the same thing with limited saves and was the game better for it? I don't think so. Furthermore, save points cost more money the further you travel into a world. The thing is the game has a sneak/run past function allowing you to cross completed areas without engaging in battle. So what I ended up doing was using that to travel back towards a free or cheaper save point to do so. It just means more pointless clicking for the gamer.

2) Skill chains are hard to change - You can save up to 3 skill chains and toggle between them mid-battle on the fly but the better option is to enter the skill menu causing the game to pause and then changing it. Entering the skill menu is much better because it gives you greater control over what you want the characters to do.

3) Skill chains are hard to track while in combat - Because the timing is different depending on the skill used you don't really know where on the skill chain your character is. i.e. is the character performing skill 1, skill 2 or skill 3? It's easy to tell if you've specified all of them to be different. E.g Life Drain, Chain Magic, Kinetic Shield. But if you're like me and have a chain such as Life drain, Life Drain, Kinetic shield and need to change it, it gets troublesome. Is my Wizard on the first Life Drain or the second?

4) Pointless underground graphics - One of the unique aspects of The Spirit Engine is the fact that the game takes place from a side-on perspective similar to platformers. I am very curious why Mark Pay bothered to create graphics showing the underground. i.e. tree roots and buried rocks. It certainly is interesting but honestly I would have preferred some sort of additional GUI interfaces to help address the above issues as covered above.

5) More descriptions required in the menu - When buying an item, a very creative text by the merchant gives you a rough idea about what the item's special properties are for. Unfortunately after buying it there is no indication of what it actually does except for an asterisk next to its name. You have to exit the current game and check out the included help file for a more detail description. Annoying as there seems to be plenty of empty space in the game and equipment menus that could have used for it so it's curious as to why this was done. Maybe something to with memory issues?

6) Skills were unlocked too soon - You obtain access to all the skills early on in the game there really isn't anything to look forward to. I was kind of hoping to see some super powerful attacks or something but unfortunately these never materialised which is a shame. I think maybe one special ultimate per character would have been cool. Not a big deal but would have been icing on the cake.

7) Larger inventory needed - There are a fair number talismans and pieces of equipment in the game. It would have been nice to be able to have a larger inventory to actually keep most of them!

7) Music instruments are a bit too artificial - First of the actual melodies are actually quite pleasant, I do feel Josh Whelchel does need make the music instruments less artificial and sharper. I can't really complain although because it's free free free!

This wasn't quite fixed in The Spirit Engine 2 unfortunately. I guess I was hoping for Playstation 1 type music but still getting music that's sort of more similar to Sega Megadrive and SNES music.

The Spirit Engine Troubleshooting
Crashing to desktop after battle
A very common bug in the game is where your game crashes to the desktop after battle. This usually happens about 30-45 minutes of playing without exiting the game. This bug is due to how the program engine interfaces with newer windows. The only way around this is quit the game completely and re-enter it. I usually do this after I reach a save point.

Screen too small in Windows XP
You have to right click and set to resolution to run at 640x480 resolution on the "The Spirit Engine.EXE" file.

The Spirit Engine Save Files
You can download my Spirit Engine save files here in case you would like to replay the last level, defeat the last boss and watch the ending again.

Spirit Engine Save Files

The characters I used were:
  • Clara
  • Edward
  • Matthieu

Granstream Saga Review

As a fan of Soul Blazer, Illusion of Gaia and Terranigma by Quintent, when I heard Granstram Saga was in fact by Quintent I resolved to sit down and play the game. I had played a little bit of the game and read the reviews calling it immensely entertaining and was excited about the game. Having played through all of Quintent's Gaia trilogy, each one better than the previous one, I was expecting something that would that would be rough around the edges (as reviews said) but would be deliver a philosophical experience with strong characterisation. I was really hoping it would making me ponder on the idea of the reincarnation and humanity's reason to live like Illusion of Gaia and Terranigma did.

Unfortunately, my expectations were not met by this game. Here are my reasons:
Boring story - The story is your typical "save the world" standard fare. The world was mostly destroyed and the remaining inhabitant live on floating islands which themselves are sinking. The imperial wizardy is trying to obtain the power which keeps them afloat while you are trying to use the same power to restore the islands. The characters are fairly typical with fairly predictable plot twists but overall the cast is fairly likeable if bland. It is literally at the last stage where all of suddenly it tries to do a 'Terranigma' style climax on you, which was great but there was no real hint of the ending and completely inappropriate at the end of the game where nobody would want to sit through the typical boring story to actually get there to witness it! There really isn't any hint of what happens in the ending to real string you along unlike Terranigma which had you resurrecting the world and guiding history through your choices.

Bland graphics - I won't fault it graphically too much. I certainly think it could have been better if they had stuck to 2D graphics like Terranigma and the 3D models are okay. What I do want to fault it on is its lack of imagination in the level designs and overall creativeness. It lacks the distinctive regions of Illusion of Gaia or Terranigma based of other cultures. There are certainly a number of unique areas but not enough of it. I suspect it might have been because it appeared early in the Playstation console's phase.

Combat - For an action RPG this is really what makes or breaks the game. And unfortunately, the combat is not up to standard. The game has you fight enemies one on one at a time. This is way too repetitive and combat takes way too long due to the weapons being underpowered, the enemies having way too much life and the the extremely slow special abilities. There is magic in the game but the only way to get mana is to defeat enemies and most enemies don't drop it. All in all very disappointing. I can't understand why they didn't implement the standard top down action that all of the other games in the Gaia trilogy have.

I really wanted to like this game but I just can't in good faith really recommend this game to anybody but really really die-hard Quintent fans. It's mediocrity in all areas especially the combat and with glimpses of brilliance make it all the more disappointing. Thumbs down.

Monday, 5 April 2010

Front Mission 5 Translation

Completely, slipped under the radar but Front Mission 5 (which was never released in the US) has an English translation. Check it out here.