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May 29, 2017

The Chosen RPG (Part 2)

On the one hand, he's really lucky, he's going around with
three girls in skimpy outfits. On the other hand, they're in
a world where skimpy outfits are the DUMBEST
possible wear since there are monsters EVERYWHERE.
We’re continuing from Part 1 this analysis of what’s been done right in The Chosen RPG, as well as what wasn’t done right! When we left off, Edge (the, ugh, "Chosen") and his three female friends wearing nothing but skimpy outfits were out to retrieve legendary artefacts that are meant to permanently upgrade the mighty God’s Tear, AKA that sword made by the God of Order to stop Lord Akuma’s forces of evil.

I’ll do my best to avoid discussing the fact that this RPG is just the umpteenth story I see with a chosen one. It’s even in the damn title! But it’s like saying that a sheep is woolly. Sure, I said it and it’s true, now what do we do with that info? It’s not even subtle about it, but while it’s a clear part of the plot, I believe there are more important things to say about it.

Oh look, an ice building with rolling snow boulders!
Never seen that before!
So, we need to find the Snow Temple, located south of Elfbush Village. We can just go north and find it too… as the world map wraps around itself horizontally and vertically. Boy, what a small world. Granted, it gives the world a feel similar to the first Final Fantasy, where this was also done, and it’s a nice effect that can be done in RPG Maker. But it makes finding your way around a bit complicated, as there is no smaller map to figure out where to go. Missed a smaller island? Too bad!

We now reach the snowy island and enter its sole building, where we find a small community of people who escaped Lord Akuma’s prison. Of course, just because they have happily escaped doesn’t mean they’ll lend anything to you for free. Gotta fork over the cash for all of these armors, weapons and items! Then we enter the following dungeon, which sees the party going through the good old random puzzles. Yeah, playing around a dungeon, solving puzzles seemingly put there by a greater order, all to get one little item? Just pushing boxes around?

Ah, VGCats. Between the poorly-timed political jokes, blatant author
filibusters and that one outrageous coathanger abortion joke, Scott
Ramsoomair at least manages to point out the silliness of certain
video game conventions.

Ah yes, a maze of staircases. Never seen that before
either. I don't want to imagine the corridors
underneath...
Well… snowballs actually, but same difference. Then a maze of staircases, which feels like the teleporters from Pokémon – or maybe the staircases from StarTropics? Well, at least these two mazes award keys and special armor items, so it’s not all bad. Two Ice Keys collected, and the party enters the main room, where they battle an Ice Guardian. This victory gives them the God’s Wing. Now, all they need is the Holy Crystal.

Of note, as a programming quirk in The Chosen RPG, you can actually talk to and battle the Ice Guardian over and over again. That’s another thing to look out for when making your game; making sure that certain things won't trigger again when they should be done only once… But all that’s on my mind is how the three female party members must be freezing to death in their near-nudity in this environment. Trinity says that the Holy Crystal is in Rosefalcon Kingdom, where she comes from. Alright then, let’s go there. As we leave, we're accosted by the mysterious dark knight, so we have another boss fight with the guy.

That's Trinity's mom? She looks just like Trinity
in a dress. Might as well end up dating her instead
of her daughter, they look exactly the same.
He’s defeated, vanishes, and thus ends Chapter 2. The team goes to Rosefalcon, Trinity is welcomed as one of the greatest protectors of the place, and they head towards the castle. We enter the throne room, and when Trinity is revealed to be part of the royal family, we see that the Queen is basically Trinity in a dress. She doesn’t even look like a different character, doesn’t even look like she could be 18 to 25 years older than her daughter! Also note how Trinity’s sister has a bust appearing on-screen when she speaks, and miracle! She’s not in a bikini! …Nah, she’s in a leotard. The Queen says that Trinity and her team can only get the Holy Crystal if they can defeat Trinity’s sister Jen. Boss fight! And once that’s done, we move forward to get the Crystal. In the back room of the castle, upon touching the final artefact, the Angel Wing, the God’s Wing and the Holy Crystal merge on the God’s Tear to form the ultimate weapon of the game: The God’s Wrath.

They don't even bother to make the battler picture
look like Jen the character who appeared ON THE SCREEN
while talking!

Sure, let’s go with that, such a name can’t be as cliché as everything else in this damn story. Either way, it’s time to go out and beat up Lord Akuma! Thus ends Chapter 3 – well, that was a quick one.

There’s only one thing left to do, plot-wise. But no good RPG is complete without side-quests – and thus, what else is there to do in this game? Well, a fetch quest and bonus bosses. Standard fare.
-The fetch quest involves looking for six parchment papers hidden all over this world. They’re usually seen on the map, whether it’s on the ground, or on a table. Gotta look all over the place! Do you get a reward for bringing these parchments to someone? Actually, no. They just deliver tidbits of info about the game’s setting.
Finally a monster who might be the right size for this
battling format!
-The first bonus boss is a Cerberus. The three bonus bosses in this game were taken from the RPG Maker’s library of premade resources, I wouldn’t be surprised if it turned out that these monsters have the stats they already had in the premade encounters that are available to everyone. The Cerberus lives on the second floor of a witch’s house, and when it’s defeated, the heroes gain the Magic Wand Azert, which is the best weapon that can be equipped to Myste.
-In the cave between the first island and the desert island, there was a dragon statue. If you have a certain key item, that dragon will awake and can be battled – and defeated, letting the party get its hands on Serenity’s best weapon, the Magic Claw Zephyrus.
Oh, it IS the most powerful monster in the world.
Not poweful enough to beat us though!
-There’s a challenge in Rosefalcon Kingdom where a house claims to contain the “most powerful monster in the world”. This one turns out to be the Demon God, who happens to be the most powerful of all premade enemies given stats when you start building something on RPG Maker. Final boss material, excellent bonus boss. It can nuke your party. It is, no joke, harder than the actual final boss. But train your heroes properly on that one island full of giant, tough monsters, and you’ll beat this one eventually. Thankfully, being set as a “contest battle” of sorts, the battle won’t kill your characters, merely leave them at 1 HP if you lose. When killed, the Demon God drops the Magic Sword Tyrfing, AKA the best weapon for Trinity.

With all that stuff equipped to the heroes, they can’t lose the final battle!

And thus we sail back to Lord Akuma’s dark fortress. On the way, it’s also possible to find a house where a witch will channel Edge’s mother through her bangle (remember that?), and that’s also where the Cerberus can be fought. The witch can even give the party the keys to her Airship, allowing the four to travel wherever they please. Reaching the fortress, we enter and can find a portal in a room leading towards another world. Gee, never seen that before.

Why, that just looks like a world where the designers forgot
to put on a floor!

You want to get in my way, lamia bitch?
I KILLED A DEMON GOD! TRY ME, 
There are powerful enemies in there, as is to be expected from the final dungeon, but the enemies are still giant in comparison to the hero sprites. Soon we get to a room with a locked door and one portal, with a little trial behind that portal. Each trial opens another portal towards a new trial, with a total of 4 "challenges" for the heroes. And, for a final dungeon, it’s simple but underwhelming. The first room is a simple “push stones” maze, one is a second maze of staircases. The third one is an incomprehensible quiz held by a… demon? In this final dungeon, you’re quizzed on the elements of the plot you’ve seen this far? Granted, the challenge is there, since it’s so hard to care about anything going on in this cliché story, but the advantage is that if you fail a question, you’re not booted out of that room and you can just pass the quiz over and over and over again until you beat it. The last one is a mix of portals and holes in walls. Too similar to those other challenges, but it’s something.


Can't I just kill you and skip the pop quiz?
Seriously, I couldn't be bothered to give a damn about
most of what happened in this game.

With all four challenges beaten, the middle door opens and the group enters Akuma’s throne room, only to meet Akuma himself and the mysterious dark knight. Honestly, it would be hilarious if his entire motivation for being a villain is because he’s fed up of seeing women walking around in lingerie and nothing else. But no, it’s generic “I want revenge because my father the God of Chaos was defeated and waaah waaah waaah”.

So, all this time I've been kicking my father's ass?
...He's gonna be so, so proud of me!
Akuma sends the dark knight at the heroes, and they battle him for a final time. If you got each party member’s ultimate weapon, this fight is surprisingly easy. When the dark knight is defeated, and possibly killed, the heroes ask him to drop his armor and helmet, and the guy does so… revealing himself to be Edge’s father.

Well, gee. Part of me wants to snark that I didn’t see that coming, although the intro of the game and the mentions of Edge’s dad hinted quite strongly at it. There was plenty of foreshadowing indeed. This game at least got that concept right, even if the twist is fairly obvious.

And thus, despite Edge’s dad risking death if Akuma is defeated… Edge takes on Akuma in a battle. This is the final battle, and Edge has the… well, edge of the fight. It kinda helps that he has three more characters in his party. It also helps if you overleveled on the isolated island. The party defeats Akuma and he vanishes, but then Edge’s father dies after sharing some final words with him. Good work, Edge. Then the place comes crashing down and the three girls flee before Edge. He leaves but gets trapped behind, while Trinity, Serenity and Myste are back in their world, just fine.

Nah, he dead.
Till the sequel, anyway.

And thus ends The Chosen, in a cliffhanger that gets resolved… in the sequel, which was released on Steam on March this year. And, great; that means that I’m gonna have to review that someday. So, this is all there was to say about this game…

By the end of the game, this screen of magic spells
that Myste can use is full. You have plenty of choice
to rain down blows on the enemies.
Yeah, it’s pretty bad. Not that it doesn’t have its merits, mind you; it makes good use of the RPG Maker’s map building, it utilises the status and element effectiveness charts (as in, to some enemies water will deal more damage than lightning, or lightning will deal more damage than fire, that sort of thing), and it has plenty of items, whether it’s healing items, armor, helmets, weapons and so on. Many key items, too, some which are important, some which aren’t. There was at least an attempt at making a complete story. It’s also pretty neat to have full busts of the characters showing up on-screen when they talk, though it was a double-edged sword in this case. The game is pretty well-balanced, with a decent difficulty progression, and its creator went the extra mile by including a searching side-quest (even if it gives nothing in return) and three bonus bosses – and while the side-quest offers nothing, the bonus bosses do give out three of the four best weapons in the game, so that’s pretty good.

They are facing the player and ignoring the characters!
However, the game also suffers from many issues: For starters, the game’s dialogue could have been spell-checked for errors and edited so that no part of text trails off out of text boxes. Then there’s the battles against enemies, which make no sense for the reasons explained last Friday: Due to the combination of battling sprites for the main characters and front-facing, large sprites for the enemies (as the regular RPG Maker system has battles in a First-Person P.O.V., hence the enemies are closer and are thus depicted as larger on the screen. The result is a clash between styles where the hero sprites are too small and the enemies are too big.

The main issue is probably the cliché story, which we’ve seen dozens of times. Gods of order and chaos in a constant struggle? A human descendant of a God causing havoc? A legendary sword that can defeat the evil? Collecting pieces to obtain something even stronger? Getting a team of allies? …Okay, that last one is kind of a requirement. The final level in a different, dark universe? A dark knight? A troubled hero with family secrets? Come on now.

For Christ's sake, if I want drawn porn of female
characters who never take off their underwear, I'll
go back and play Sexy Poker on my Wii again.
The worst part, though, is still the blatant, unnecessary fanservice. This is the only reason why the game has an age requirement on Steam: Half-nude busts of ladies. It adds nothing to the game, it’s just… there. As in, their state of dress is never alluded to, never referenced, there is nothing that ever justifies it or explains it. For some reason, three of the strongest ladies in that world just walk around in bras. That’s shameless. To make it worse, all the guys we see are in full body wear, especially Edge, the dark knight and Akuma, who wear FULL GODDAMN ARMORS, and even some other ladies in he story, like Trinity’s mother (who looks EXACTLY like Trinity) wearing a dress. Hell, even Trinity’s sister is better covered, wearing a leotard! I swear, this is terrible. I can usually give fanservice a pass, because it’s usually well-integrated in the story, but not in this case.

Look at that full body armor for Edge. If guys followed the
same fanservice rules, he's be in boxer shorts, fighting evil.

If I ever discuss this game again, it’ll be when I review the sequel, which I got as part of a bundle (so I paid very little for it). Judging by the user reviews and the screenshots in the trailer… yeah, it seems as though none of this game’s issues were resolved in the sequel.

Well, I’ll get there when I get there. Tune in this Friday for the next review, when I’ll be discussing the first free game I got from Ubisoft’s UPlay last year: Rayman Origins. See ya then!

May 26, 2017

The Chosen RPG (Part 1)


The version I personally like to use.
One of the very first things I bought on Steam was RPG Maker VX Ace, because I always loved the idea of building my own game – however unprofessional the end result could be. Of course, because that software offers all the resources to make your own game, you can simply build something with them and be happy; who knows, if it’s good enough, you might just be able to sell your creation!

And sell, many RPG Maker users do! The land of lower-price titles in the Steam store is home to dozens of games that were built with that engine. Of course, just because someone can finish a game and publish it on Steam doesn’t mean that the published game is all that great. Granted, the published games tend to be better than some games in development showcased in the Workshop... but that's faint praise.

And that's only Page 2!
Due to how inexpensive the RPG Maker games on the Steam store are, it’s actually pretty easy to gather many of them for a relatively low price. I bought that game, I kid you not, for 0.99$ USD (or 1.09$ CAD). The Chosen RPG is yet another run-of-the-mill Chosen One story, because obviously there aren’t enough of those out there. However, that’s far from the worst thing in the game. As a guy who develops his own game as a hobby (whenever I have some time between my night job and writing reviews for this blog), I decided to take a look at some of the RPG Maker games in my Steam collection, and review them: What did these developers do? Did they start with little knowledge, like I did? Since it’s easy to build something with that software, these games may be one young developer’s first attempt at making a game that they’ll then sell. What was done well, what was done poorly? Let's start this "series" of sorts with The Chosen RPG!


Hopefully you'll remember this scene when the end of
the game rolls around... but you likely won't.
This game starts with scrolling text explaining the backstory of this world we’re going to be visiting. Something about a God of Chaos and a God of Light dueling for the fate of mankind, with a sword given to the greatest hero in order to stop evil. I can already feel myself yawning. What else is new. All I can think of is that this backstory would have been more interesting with still images accompanying it, because that’s something you can do in RPG Maker. We’re also presented the hero, named Edge, because subtlety won’t be a part of this game’s repertoire. Edge wakes up in a prison cell where he meets his father, only for the man to vanish… and Edge wakes up in bed. Tortured by past events perhaps? We won’t delve on this too much for now, as Edge has plans to visit his mother’s tomb at the local graveyard today.

May 19, 2017

Castle of Illusion


Didn't think I'd put a pic of such a
different game in the review of a
Disney-based platform game!
On Steam, we’ve all got that one game that was pulled out of the store for a reason or another. It’s no longer available for others to buy, but if you’ve got it in your game library, you can still play it as much as you want. For some reason, a few games included in Humble Bundles can also be this. In other cases, the game is announced as leaving the store and can still be purchased, sometimes with a great price reduction, before it goes away; this recently happened to the Alan Wake series due to expiring music licenses. That was also the case for a while for Disney’s Castle of Illusion: Starring Mickey Mouse, HD Remix.

Or, if you prefer brevity, you can just call it Castle of Illusion.

I would say a toy box world makes sense for a platforming
character who's a mouse, except Mickey is usually too
big for this to make any sense...
The original game was released on the Sega Mega Drive, known in America as the Sega Genesis, in 1990. It was, at the time, a very sweet little side-scrolling platform adventure featuring Mickey Mouse, where he ventures through a few worlds in order to save his girlfriend Minnie. The game was praised at the time, even reaching 21st place in Mega magazine’s 1992 list of the greatest games of all time on the Mega Drive.

And thus, much like DuckTales Remastered, an appreciated, beloved and cherished retro title had to get its 3D remake for the new era. Bonus points for Castle of Illusion HD coming out less than a month after DuckTales Remastered, on September 2013. Removed on September 1st, 2016, from the Steam Store, Castle of Illusion has returned on March 30th, 2017, now costing 16.99$, so my introduction about games no longer being in the store is kinda pointless. Oh well, it happens! It just means that I have an even better reason to review it! Follow me in this adventure, as we follow Mickey in the eponymous Castle, and meet all the dangers within!


What starts this adventure? The implication that the main Disney cast (the fan-favorites of the Mickey and Donald sub-series, including Scrooge who probably got his ticket for free, the cheapskate) is watching the events unravel like they’re a stage play or a movie. Well, I hope they’ve got a good stunt actor for Mickey, because he’s gonna get hurt a lot! Also, a Disney play/film and no songs? 1/10, not musical enough.

May 15, 2017

2064: Read Only Memories (Part 2)

I spent Part 1 reviewing this game. This, today, is a special; I’ll discuss some themes of the game. As I mentioned previously, 2064: Read Only Memories is a game that touches on a lot of social topics that are still controversial, especially among gamers. I mean, I don’t have a high opinion of people in general, but I’ve seen some gamers exhibit the worst kinds of behavior. A certain event in 2014 But I digress. Long story short: Don’t like this game and the subjects it brings up? Don’t read this, simple as that. Also, if you do read, be aware that there is a spoiler alert; I’ll be spoiling details of the plot here.

Race, gender, orientation… and ROMs

The world of 2064: Read Only Memories shows a society that has moved past many of the questions of our time.

Lexi is offhandedly mentioned to have dated the protagonist's sister.
Yes, a lesbian, but never is it ever glorified as a wonderful or mystical
thing, nor is it used to allure viewers in any way.
In other words, it's banal - and that's what we should look for, a world
where one's sexuality matters not to the world at large. Same goes for
gender, as shown by TOMCAT or Sympathy in this game.
If there’s still racism in that world (outside of the Hybrids case), it’s not depicted. Homophobia and transphobia also seem to be a thing of the past, seeing as various people throughout the game are revealed as being either gay or trans, without any form of discrimination affecting these characters – nobody seems to mind. Majid, one of the owners of Stardust, is from Pakistan, and his origin is a problem to no one. And no one bats an eye when it’s mentioned that the second owner, Gus, is his boyfriend. Meanwhile, Lexi Rivers, the ex-girlfriend of the protagonist’s sister, occupies an important position at the Neo San Francisco Police Department. Sympathy is a woman sporting a beard and cool glasses, and if everyone around her didn’t keep referring to her with female pronouns, I’d be certain she’s a trans man, or a woman currently transitioning. In fact, that might be the case, her fellows maybe just didn't start calling her with male pronouns (and we could argue it's still not very respectful...). TOMCAT is nonbinary, and is always referred to with the correct they/their pronouns… which is also an option for the main character. In other words, this has all become normal, banal even, which is pretty great.

I actually applaud Turing for being a three-dimensional
character, as a robot that is still struggling to comprehend
all of the emotions they can use, and as a machine that does
not yet know proper etiquette for interactions in society -
also for being sometimes a smartass that runs their mouth
with pointless trvia when they can slip in some of that info.
Interacting with the world at large, not only with Hayden,
helped greatly their character development.
Where do ROMs, that world’s robots, factor in all this? Well, for starters, Turing also wants to be referred to as nonbinary, having no personal concept of gender nor a desire to identify as either gender. Their design and voice leads some people to assume that they’re like a young boy, and use male pronouns. Here comes the major spoilers: Turing is the second ROM made by Hayden to exhibit emotions; the first one, Grace, identified as female. Also, the best ending in the game sees Turing transmitting Hayden’s emotion matrix code to all ROMs on the planet, leading to widespread machine sentience. Or, at least, as close to sentience as robots can be. And with this ending, we can see that a) not all robots are happy with it, b) many struggle in dealing with these new emotions, and c) all robots can now make choices in line with the ones done by humans in 2064. I think one or two robots even mention what they want to be addressed as from now on, with which pronouns. The advantage being, ROMs having no gender to start with, they’re free to choose how they want to be identified: Nonbinary, male, female... I’ll discuss machine sentience later.

Hybrids (and cyborgs) versus the Human Revolution

Arguably a good idea; in some science-fiction stories,
too much cybernetics on a single person would make them
go insane.
In my opinion, one of the more interesting parts of the plot is the struggle of Hybrids (and, to some extent, cyborgs) against a group of protesters known as the Human Revolution, led by Brian Mulberry. The game attempts to portray various things realistically; among them, prejudice and protest groups. See, the Human Revolution isn’t a homogenous group where everybody has the exact same goals. The whole group is against drastic modifications to humans that can turn willing subjects into half-animal beings known as Hybrids… but its members show varying degrees in their demands. The more accepting members state that they want to cease gene splicing when it’s used only for fashion; after all, the procedure is irreversible. The more extreme Human Revolution members, on the other hand, are against any and all gene splicing, and are also starting to go against cyborgs too. Their basic argument is that “people who undergo these changes aren’t as human as everyone else anymore”, which they seem to believe gives them a pass to discriminate them.

My personal stance on the matter? Choosing to become a hybrid only for fashion isn’t really worth it. It’s a major decision that cannot be taken lightly. As the game shows, this treatment will radically change the life of the person undergoing it. Doing it just to look cool is overlooking all of the potential difficulties that can result from such a drastic change. And a person becoming a hybrid “for fashion” must be ready to face these changes in the eyes of the people around them – since hybrids suffer from discrimination. However, there are some people suffering from rare or otherwise untreatable diseases who survived through gene splicing.

What if it IS the only way to cure them?
Speaking of, this is also portrayed realistically – or, at least, the game tries to depict the hypocrisy of people who call themselves “accepting” of a change while actually encouraging hatred of said change. Take Brian Mulberry, as an example. He’s the leader of Human Revolution, one of its moderate members – or so he says. He claims to be fine with those who go through it to be cured from a disease, and adds that he’s only against the gene splicing treatment being done on someone who requested it for fashion. That is what he says. However, a little later, he actually approves discrimination against all hybrids – nearly celebrating that a hybrid was thrown out of their apartment by their landlord. Y’know… a hybrid who could have been one of those who had to become one to be cured from a disease. This highlights Mulberry’s hypocrisy… a form of hypocrisy he doesn’t seem to realize, much like various people in real life, supposedly holding accepting views with caveats that contradict that image of acceptance they are trying to convey.

Oh, Jim Sterling may have a voice to make this guy sound as trustworthy as possible; doesn’t matter, Mulberry is a jerk. Good work from this game to realistically portray this kind of thought process.

Big Brother is watching… and editing

That woman was just thrown out of a third story window.
We don't find out by who until the final chapter...
...not counting the epilogue, of course.
One of the secondary arcs of this game involves the media sources of Neo San Francisco. It’s actually important in discovering why Hayden was kidnapped – and killed, as we learn. For, you see, the main character’s investigation brings them to speak with other people from news sites… and most of them are either found dead, or are killed during the investigation. Even at least one other person who helps the heroes gets run over by a truck, in a time period where cars are all computer-controlled, and built to avoid hitting people unless their system is overridden.

It thus turns out that someone or something is aware of the protagonist and Turing’s investigation. And indeed, something is aware. The sparse leads are eventually tied together – and bring the two to Parallax, the enterprise Hayden was working for, and the most important ROM manufacturer out there. We learn of Big Blue and Baby Blue, two projects set up by Parallax. Big Blue is, basically, a program that will extend to every single ROM through the network and keep a complete database of every person’s preferences… in anything. So, you know, a less subtle version of social media that keeps track of everything you talk about and makes ad suggestions to go with these preferences. Except all of this data would go to Parallax… and considering all the people that died to bring this project to fruition, they’re not doing it for the good of mankind.

Obviously, if someone is plugging these leaks , then the
heroes are getting into far more trouble than they ever
thought!
But is Baby Blue really responsible for this?
Meanwhile, the other program, Baby Blue, was sent through the network already. Its purpose? Spy what’s said about Parallax on the new Internet of 2064, known as the Meshnet, and correct anything that may paint a negative picture of the company. Articles that critique Parallax, reports that shine light on the controversy around them… sometimes words are edited, other times big sections are modified. Yup, say hello to actual attacks on freedom of speech. That’s basically what this amounts to. That is entirely too much power for a company, now imagine if a government had both Baby Blue to edit critiques towards its leadership, and Big Blue to know everything about everyone and have the possibility to sell people’s secrets… One could say we’re already living in a world where Big Brother exists, but the situation barely avoided in Read Only Memories is even worse…

Machine sentience

At the end of 2064: ROM, the player and Turing spread the latter’s sentience-replicating code to all ROMs in the world. I discussed it earlier, machine sentience has a lot of effects that nobody saw coming, in particular Turing and the protagonist on this quest to stop Big Blue.

The program transmitted to all robots truly acted like they suddenly gained a personality and emotions – or, basically, as if they had a brain. A sudden acknowledgement of sentience has to be disorienting. A sudden surge of sentiments, this new creativity… The ROMs of the world were clearly not ready for this.

This concept draws parallels to other instances in fiction of robots developing something that feels eerily close to sentience, like Sonny in I, Robot (I still need to read the damn book, I only saw the movie with Will Smith). An artificial intelligence so powerful it makes a robot more like a person than a machine. This is reflected in the playable epilogue of 2064: Read Only Memories. Since Turing was the only one living with this new program so far, all the robots are asking him for advice. Some robots who were designed to fulfill certain purposes no longer want to, they either want to do something else or just be lazy.

For the record, it's that tiny spherical thing on the floor
speaking. It now has intelligence... but not many ways
to use it!
A floor-cleaning ROM at the hospital, who’s little more than a half-sphere sliding around, is not very happy about this change, saying he’s an old model and will probably be replaced sometime later – and that this new humanlike intelligence is useless to him, since all he can do is clean floors, he doesn’t even have arms or legs. It raises another question – the protagonist and Turing did share this intelligence with all ROMs, but did all ROMs want it? Not all of them are equipped in such a way that they can benefit from it. At least, the ones who are can now pursue careers that would have never been possible for robots before, mostly in art. But some others realize their important role in society and decide to continue doing what they were doing originally; that’s an option too. Although I have to wonder, would they ask for money? What could any of them desire now? They don’t need to eat, they can’t access most forms of entertainment (almost all video and gaming is done through VR in that depiction of the future, and that requires a human brain to work)…

You keep offering water, Alphie. If that makes you happy.

Long story short, an artificial intelligence that is strikingly similar to sentience sounds incredible – and it is, but we’d have to keep in mind the other possibilities brought by it. If machines become as intelligent as humans, or gain a similar “emotional intelligence” or “creative intelligence”, must we start considering them as people? That’s the conclusion 2064: Read Only Memories reaches, and draws parallels with the Hybrids. In a way, the two situations aren’t all that different. This new intelligence opens ROMs to discrimination from humans (“Why would you want that? You may be smart but you’re just a stupid machine!” type of comments), not all that different from the kind of things Hybrids often hear in that world (“Why should I consider you a human anymore? You’re more of an animal anyway!”). Granted, it gives Jess plenty of work since she's a lawyer who defends cases of such discrimination, but still...

I guess, the entire point is that, whenever there’s a major change to the world, there will always be people who hate that change and everyone who gets something from it.

---

Well, that was quite the analysis! I still suggest you play the game, though. On this, I say, see you next Friday for the next review on Planned All Along!

May 12, 2017

2064: Read Only Memories (Part 1)

They love to sneak in and take centerstage.

Some of the more interesting topics of science-fiction, in my opinion:
-The evolution of society decades, even centuries after what we know today;
-The line between artificial intelligence and sentience;
-Changes to mankind, biologically and mentally;
-The advancement of medical technology;
-How different, and yet how similar, humans are regardless of the era.

Greed, hatred, prejudice, fear of the other, any negative sentiment, name it; it has existed since the dawn of time and will continue to exist no matter how advanced we get. Today’s game sheds a light on a world, 47 years after our current time, where things are both radically different and not all that different.

"How many different drinks do you have?"
"53."
"I'LL TRY THEM ALL!"
Yes, you can do that.
“2064: Read Only Memories”, released in January 2017, is the Director’s Cut edition of “Read Only Memories”, originally released in 2015. I haven’t played the original, so I can’t use it as a point of comparison; but that’s alright, I don’t intend for this review to be a comparison. The game is famous for its deep story, featuring social issues that reminds one of similar debates we currently have; it’s also quite popular for its comedy, its voice acting, and the various paths the story can take, based on your successes, failures, and attitude (as you are often asked to reply to characters, and the responses range from “Nice person” to “Total jerk”). It’s also infamous in the less respectful circles of gamers for featuring these social issues I just mentioned, and for using the voice talents of Jim Sterling and, in a minor role…Zoe Quinn.

If you start frothing at the mouth hearing that name, you better ignore this review. In fact, ignore my entire blog. (She's not even in it for 10 minutes!)


With this out of the way, allow me to say how this review will be done: Part 1 will be the actual review, with a short description of the plot (to keep most of it a secret, so that those of you interested in the game can discover it without me spoiling it all). Part 2 will be a discussion of the game’s themes, with actual spoilers, thus you can skip if it you want. Let’s get this started, shall we?

May 8, 2017

Chroma Squad (Part 2)

Read Part 1 here.

When we left last Friday, the Chroma Squad crew had just completed their second season, with even more success thanks to the ratings boosters installed by Lord Gaga in their studio. They managed to avoid the sophomore slump; can they keep it up with their third season? Well… only if the Lead’s attitude allows them…

This serious discussion on the behavior of their team leader comes right
after they beat up a person in a very dumb giant pigeon costume. With arms.

"I'm, usually doing more of the hard work as the Lead
so I deserve a bit more?" Screw you, dude!
Yes, Season 3 promises better costumes, better plots… and a diva demeanor from the character in red, both inside and outside the show. Yes, the Lead, whom I’m calling Lead because you, the player, named them. For the sake of simplicity, let’s call him… Ace. I dunno, that’s the name I went with in my playthrough, because I didn’t bother changing names much.

So Ace is having an attitude, and it reflects in both his comments and his behavior during filming. Trying to steal the spotlight, doing more things than his fellow actors… And for some reason, Lord Gaga seems to be encouraging that behavior. That’s not good… His teammates will have to take him down a peg, because it’s becoming troublesome.

Gaga, do NOT encourage the egotism!

Big flytrap monster in a pot, summoning smaller plants...
Yup, that's a mean green motherf- from outer space.
As the season goes, things get more difficult due to the Lead’s newfound egotism. At the end of the season, however, after the group defeats a cheap Audrey II wannabe, we learn the truth. Lord Gaga had been toying with them all along! (Remember, this is outside of the show.) The audience boosters he installed? Actual portals used to summon real monsters! (Yup, that’s also outside of the actual show.) As for the Lead’s bizarre attitude thus far? Brainwashed. Sheesh, I’ve heard of fiction overtaking reality in stories before, but that’s really silly! …Oh wait. I remembered, we ARE talking about a Tokusatsu series within a game about making a Tokusatsu series, where the characters are actors portraying the team members while also being characters in the game and the Tokusatsu elements bleed over into their reality and-

AND THAT'S FOR SEYMOUR KRELBORN!

Er… I think I need to go lie down. Is that breaking the sixty-fourth wall or something? Why not the 1024th wall while we’re at it?

Not if we can stop it! Sorry, we're off-script, I can't
think of anything better to say.
Well, at least the team manages to get their good Leader back before the start of the fourth season. Lord Gaga has clearly announced himself as an evil alien overlord trying to take over the world (of course), so now the grand mission is to stop him. The team destroys the audience booster, but Gaga’s plan worked; monsters have been summoned! The original anthropomorphic city vermin enemies played by various stuntmen in suits have been replaced by actual monsters and aliens to defeat… all of which are, also, anthropomorphic city vermins. It appears the universe has aliens who look like pigeons, rats and squirrels; who knew? Quite the coincidence that Chroma Squad originally picked that theme for its mooks, huh? The alien ones are much tougher than the actors, though. But hey, now each and every one of them can brag about being on Earth television to their alien families and friends! A lot of Earthlings don’t even have that honor!

Season 3 also ended with the reveal that Cerebro is, actually, really a giant sentient brain in a jar, one that belonged to an ex-Hero of the Universe who is now reduced to this form, and who can now function as an actual character, not just a machine with given lines to say. I don’t think even a brain as big as his could explain why he was found turned off in an abandoned warehouse on Earth, though.

Good thing I was recording my playthrough!
Another thing I might like to clarify about the game; the developers have done a fantastic job and there’s no arguing there, the game looks and plays great. But! Like any finished product, there may be things they’ve overlooked. As a result, there’s a way to contact them through a helpful button on the top right of the screen if you notice a bug or glitch. I personally encountered one that was quite annoying. It was against the Audrey II boss, which had a tendency to run around the stage after dropping a bunch of plantlike bombs. At one point it ran outside of the squares it could walk on, and started attacking from there. It had also become impossible to hit it, since you need to select the enemy’s square in order to attack, and that boss was no longer on a square – nor could it come back. I wrote in a report and sent it to the team. So yeah, if you see glitches, be sure to tell them. That’s very kind of them – although it’s often too easy to accidentally click that big report button at the top of the screen.


See that blue-haired girl in the bottom right corner?
Yep, she's important.
Season 4 starts as Chroma Squad battles a monster in the sewers and saves a bunch of civilians, one of which looks like a martial artist. The girl, who goes by the name of Tammy, immediately catches your Techie’s eye. Throughout the following season, we see more tough aliens and bizarre creatures with themes, but we have a new overarching plot. Indeed, Cerebro is dropping hints about his old team… In particular, an implication that he was part of the old saviors of Earth, until their defeat at the hands of Lord Gaga and his forces. Speaking of Gaga, the reason he took on the pompadour and the sunglasses, well, he grew to appreciate Planet Earth’s pop culture. What can I say, we’ve had that effect on extraterrestrial life forms for as long as I can remember. So yeah, Gaga was not born this way, but now he lives for the applause! No need for a poker face, he’ll just dance around your bullets and punches! You can do what you want, that won’t stop him! …Okay, I’ll stop.

This season ends as Tammy resurfaces… as a zombie controlled by Lord Gaga. As it turns out, Tammy was one of the members of Cerebro’s old team. A fighter with experience against the universe’s forces of evil! Yes, yes! Give me that good Sentai cheese! Thus, the final battle of that season has our team of 5 battling Tammy and Gaga. Now, this is the most interesting part of the game, as the decision taken here by the team will radically change what Season 5 offers. Defeat Tammy before Gaga? Oopsie! You basically activated Hard Mode. Good luck with what comes next! Beat Gaga, save Tammy? She’ll offer to join the team. Refuse her offer, and she leaves, to go back to her family I guess. Accept her offer, and you get a very, very strong combatant added to your team! Her playstyle is different, she can become either a strong attacker or a target for enemy attacks. That’s the path I went with, so that’s the one I’ll describe.

Whaaaaaat? The ultra-realistic brain-in-a-jar
prop that can say lines and act like mission
control turns out to be a Honest-to-God real
brain in a jar that can act like mission control?
Gee, I never saw that coming!

The enemies get serious. The villainss become nastier.
Here, we're apparently battling Tammy's ex-boyfriend,
turned into a hulking brute.
As it turns out, the team’s Techie is quite overjoyed that Tammy joined the group, and tries some pretty poor pick-up lines on her, which I could have sworn I’ve already heard somewhere else. Yes, that Puck-Man anecdote is strangely familiar… It also turns out that said Techie has been working on a way to transport the Chroma Squad Tower, along with the camera crew and the Mech – which has become an actual, giant robot, to battle actual, giant monsters, with all the actual, giant damage they can inflict on the surrounding city. As for the season, it features such memorable villains as… Colin’s Bear... A Barney parody… a cat in a mecha with tentacles… a hypnotist harlequin with a pirate attire and big claws… Dammit, harlequins again? The best part, in my opinion, is that the season’s episodes tend to focus on a character of Chroma Squad. That’s great for a final season, each character gets their moment to shine!

Believe in my experience, that is no good pick-up line.
Come to think of it, there is no good pick-up line.

At the end of the fifth season, Techie’s project is destroyed by the villains… but they manage to salvage a piece of it, allowing them to rebuild it quickly – and thus they make their way to the villains’ lair, where they defeat a winged fellow using four miniature kaiju as helpers. That’s, like, 5 bosses in one! Season 5 ends with that fight, but the game isn’t over… Any good franchise needs its movie. There is no Season 6; THAT’S the movie.

The team prepares before the grand finale, and then can head out. We’re going back to the villains’ lair! Chroma Squad runs into Lord Gaga’s room, where he awaits. His battle is pretty impressive, as he can summon any of the previous bosses in the game. These are still much stronger than the average enemy despite the Squad’s heightened strength, so it’s best for them to concentrate their efforts on attacking Gaga. Following this, Gaga flees but Tammy follows – leaving the other 5 to battle in the previous room, which has turned into a gas chamber that’s slowly asphyxiating them. Don’t worry, they get better. Tammy isn’t so lucky, pursuing Gaga and being defeated by him. Confident in victory, Gaga takes on an even more stylish suit – thankfully, he left aside the meat dress and the cockatiel full body suit.

Gaga’s superior, the Master of the Universe, appears, and if you expected He-Man, prepare to be disappointed. Instead, this final boss looks a lot more like… Um…

That Star Map cape doesn't lie.

…Yep. Same cape. Definitely some Kirby influences there.

Having escaped from the gas chamber, Chroma Squad appears and heals Tammy, Master of the Universe (MotU?) considers Gaga’s mission a failure and promptly kills him. Aww, I’ll miss that villain. …Okay, no, not really. But I guess he was pretty interesting. After Chroma Squad is brought down, Tammy reveals her true potential, becoming the White Ranger. Her friends recover, and the team is ready for battle!

The White Ranger overshadows all of the others.
Even though she started off as a guest party member.
MotU is the boss with the biggest life bar, no doubt there. It will frequently summon mooks who bring weapons to him, and he can use these weapons to badly hurt all of the heroes surrounding him. When cornered, it’ll also teleport away. This is a long, long battle… and midway through, MotU turns into a much more demonic fellow, with strong attack power, but much easier to fight as a whole team.

When that boss is defeated, you can guess what happens. Come on, this movie has been severely lacking a giant monster battle. And thus, on the toppled remains of this spaceship, we get the Master of the Universe demon, turned giant, against the Squad’s very real and very dangerous mecha. For the record, Giant-MotU has 480,000 HP. You might only have about 80,000. MotU’s attacks are super-strong, too. You can’t win that one. Seriously, you can’t.

...Okay, we're doomed.

Look at those numbers! It's literally impossible to lose!
You can’t… because it’s made in such a way that when you lose, the fans come to your rescue, and it turns out that Chroma Squad has all of Planet Earth encouraging them. It’s so cheesy, and yet, it’s so awesome – the perfect Tokusatsu scene! On top of this, the mecha’s HP keep increasing, making it impossible to deplete, and its hit chance grows past 1000%, meaning that every single hit will land, and increase in power, until the boss is defeated with this final combo. With the threat defeated once and for all, the space station starts crumbling, Chroma Squad makes a run for it. Hopefully they didn’t leave any cameramen behind!

And it only took two minutes of skipping past a whole bunch of text
from a narrator who didn't want to show you anything, to get thus
awesome short scene.
The Mecha leaves as the station implodes, and heads back to Earth, where the characters are hailed as actual goddamn heroes. Because that’s what they actually became. And thus ends the story of Chroma Squad; have fun viewing the end credits, which includes the gigantic list of Kickstarter backers for this game! There’s a few scenes past that point, mostly the Narrator addressing the audience, doing a Ferris Bueller – because no story that breaks the fourth wall into a 10,000-piece puzzle is complete without that post-credits reference. If you pull through the many, many messages, you do get a pretty cool scene showing the game’s developers as their own team (Zyumerica Clonerangers), and revealing what Cerebro originally looked like – an awesome giant lizard in a hoodie. Can’t get better than that!


Damn, this is a great game. If you’re a fan of Sentai series, you’ll probably enjoy even more the various references to the many, many popular shows of that genre. Chroma Squad is packed full of references to those shows, but also to various other geek series, and it would be very long to list them all. It's clearly a labor of love. On top of this, the gameplay works very well; every decision you make during the management sim will have an impact while episodes are being recorded, and every little element and ability must be taken into consideration. Hence why it’s very important to learn to manage the money made with each episode, in order to improve every aspect of the studio, equipment, and so on, so that the next battles are easier for the team.

There are so many menu screens in the management sim, that I
decided to stick them all together.
While it is possible to directly buy the weapons you want, it’s a lot more rewarding to collect materials and use them to craft what you need – in fact, enemies can drop materials when defeated, meaning you can sometimes make weapons and armor without having to buy much. On that note, one thing that does annoy me is that, when you buy packs of materials (which, by the way, are fairly expensive, especially the damn cardboard box packs!), the contents of a pack are determined at random among the items that can be found in said pack. You could buy many packs without getting what you want, while accumulating stuff you don’t need at the moment. Don’t worry, you’ll (usually) get to use it later. Also of note is the rather interesting “Recycle” system where you cannot sell the crafted equipment you’re getting rid of; instead, you recycle them and recover some materials. Every item to recover is decided by a percentage (usually 50% or less), so once again, what you receive from recycling old equipment is all up to chance.

Much of the challenge of the game lies in completing the Director’s Instructions, although it’s very rewarding when you succeed. There are fans and money to gain! It definitely adds some difficulty to every battle. Since getting more fans and maming more money becomes required to get better equipment and have better chances of winning the next fights, ou kinda have to try and complete these instructions. Speaking of, the villains are all very creative, with many great attacks – the folks at Behold Studios definitely went all-out to imagine these enemies, which can be weird or awesome – or both. And of course, the combat mechanics are great, and introduce things that I haven’t seen anywhere else – among them, the Teamwork mechanic, which adds greatly to the strategies that one can use. Yes, the game plays great, and feels unique. Oh, sure, there may be the occasional bug – but, at least, you can report said bugs.

Do you know what's missing here? A Cerebro-sized party hat.

It's ann in the details. Have you noticed that with every punch
thrown by your mecha in these sections, the screen tilts
a little more?
The pixel art is impressive, and the very detailed screens we often get when a Season starts, ends, or when something major happens, look great. It’s also great that the monitor screen often feels like an old TV set, or the series looks taped on VHS (you can fastforward cutscenes and there’s definitely a VHS effect when you do). The chiptune soundtrack also adds greatly to the retro feel of the whole thing.

Truly, a wonderful game. It’s got a few issues here or there, some would say it doesn’t go far enough in its homage to Sentai shows, others would say that the combination of management sim and tactical RPG wasn’t as smooth as it could have been and neither of them has a big enough impact on the other… Eh, I thought those two elements were done well. Really, if you like Sentai series, you should like this game. Get it. It costs 14.99$ USD, so if you’ve got that amount to spend, look it up.

Next Friday: Something completely different!