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Game Comment: Puzzle Quest (PS2)

28 Mar

puzzle-questInfo: Infinite Interactive (Developer); D3 (Publisher)
Genre: Puzzle
ESRB Rating: E 10+

Started: May 2008 probably, then continued in February 2009
Finished: March 2009
Playing time: no idea how many hours altogether, it’s not provided on the save file

Links: Official Website; Current Obsession: Puzzle Quest (PS2) (with video)

Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords is available on all kinds of platforms. It also comes with different playing options: Single-player, Multiplayer, or Instant Action. Only the single player option follows a story line. It offers different types of heroes and heroines and you can gain companions who can give you bonuses in battles. There’s no animation and voice acting, relying on pictures and text to tell the story, so it’s far from what is standard in games today. Although there is a soundtrack at least.

Puzzle Quest: is a puzzle game using the well-known match-three formula and elements from role playing and strategy games, and combines them all with an ongoing good vs evil story. At the start of the game, the player’s character sets out with a small errand but soon it becomes clear that more is at stake: the evil Lord Bane is up to no good and it’s up to your character to save the world.

To achieve that, you fight battles in match-three (or more) games, using either spells or you match three skull icons to reduce your enemy’s hit points.


For each battle won, your character gains experience points, and with each level up, you’re able to improve skills. You also gain money from fights and either spend that on new items or on improving your skills.

In addition, various twists are added to this match-three formula for different tasks like capturing creatures, learning spells, level up your mount, or creating better weapons and armors.

What I liked

♦ I like match-three style games and so I was good with that. Where Puzzle Quest really shines is using this formula and adding to it.

For example,

when you want to capture an enemy, you have to clear the grid by matching three.


My favorite variation.

for researching spells (from the captured enemies), you have to match a certain quantity of icons and produce a certain quantity of scroll icons (by matching four or five other icons) to learn that spell. The higher the quantity, the more difficult it gets because when no more match-threes are possible, you fail to learn the spell and need to start anew.


I loved that but sometimes it also got rather frustrating and could be very time consuming the more icons you needed to match for a spell. (I still have two spells to learn. For one, I need to produce more than 40 scrolls!)

Then there are timed matches (you only have a few seconds to make decide on your move), and for creating items you need to find runes and forge three of them together by producing a certain quantity of hammer & anvil icons.

♦ I also like that you can play just for a few minutes or as long as you can take it.

♦ lots of sidequests

What I didn’t like

♦ auto-generated enemies on the map (between towns) could get tedious when you had to fight several battles to reach the town you wanted to go to. By the time I was there, I was sometimes fed up with playing and just quit. Some battles could take up to ten minutes…


♦ winning or – for example – learning a spell often depends on luck

♦ Because of the way it was presented, I didn’t follow the story line too closely.

Verdict: I like to play match-three games now and then and so this odd mixture of game genre elements was quite entertaining. IMO, Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords makes the best of the match-three formula and uses it rather well to incorporate elements of other game genres. So it’s a good game when you like these kind of puzzle games. Otherwise Puzzle Quest is not something that can compete with what games usually offer these days. (4/5)

[pictures: Xbox 360 edition, from the developer’s website]

Game Comment: “Persona 3” (PS2)

23 Oct

Info: Atlus Co. (Developer); Koei (Publisher)
Genre: RPG
ESRB Rating: M

Started: July 2008
Finished: October 2008
Playing time: ~ 110 hours (a couple of hours are due to not being able to pause the game and only two save points)

Links: Official Website; Games: Playing Right now;
Games: Playing “Persona 3” (PS2) with video

The Persona series is a spin-off of the Shin Megami Tensei series. In Persona 3, you’re playing an unnamed orphaned male teenager who goes back to the city where he grew up. Shortly after you arrive in the city, you’re attacked by Shadows, beings that feed on the mind of people, leaving some of them ill. Thanks to the awakening of your Persona, a kind of other self from deep within, you’re able to defeat them. It turns out some of the other kids you go to school with have the same ability. They are part of the Specialized Extracurricular Execution Squad (SEES), formed to hunt Shadows. You join SEES, and from then on, spent your nights defeating Shadows.

Shadows appear only during the Dark Hour, a time between times. It exists between one day and the next and appears every night at midnight. SEES members and a few other people are aware of it but most people don’t know. In order to hunt Shadows, you (and the other SEES members) have to go to Tartarus, a huge tower which only appears during the Dark Hour and which teems with Shadows.

The game follows a (Japanese) school year, and as the year progresses, you learn more and more about Tartarus, the Shadows and the Dark Hour. Your goal is to defeat all Shadows, or at least to make the Dark Hour go away, because more and more people fall in a state of unconsiousness because of it. Of course, it isn’t as straightforward as that and you encounter some twists and surprises on the way.

There are two distinct parts to the game: the dungeon crawling during the Dark Hour and the day-time activity with going to school, school activities and making and meeting friends. Persona 3 is a mixture of RPG elements and dating sim elements, although dating means you meet all kind of people, not just love interests, and try to establish a relationship with them (called social link).

What I liked:

  • story
    This is the part where Persona 3 really shines, IMO. Persona 3 features a story that tackles serious subjects in a much more thorough way than you normally see in other (RPG) games. Essentially, it’s a look at the meaning of friendship and love, and it asks questions about free will and fate. Each member of SEES has his own story and reason for fighting the Shadows, and when it comes to make the ultimate decision on New Year’s Eve – which comes down to a choice between free will and fate – their story influences the way they decide. Other games *coughFinalFantasyXIIcough* could learn a thing or ten from Persona 3 in regard to character development.
    Persona 3 has two endings; which one you get depends on your decision on New Year’s Eve. What is called the “bad ending” practically ends the game on New Year’s eve. You get to see the rest of the school year but you can’t play your character anymore and you won’t have to face the obligatory final boss fight. The “good ending” opens up another dungeon, you can continue to improve your social links, acquire new Personas, and you get to beat the final boss.
    The funny thing is, I wasn’t really sad after seeing the “bad ending” whereas after watching the “good ending” … oh my. The “good ending” expresses the “message” of the story most clearly and is therefore more powerful. It’s also the best example of how this game combines game elements (social links, fighting) and story and character development in a not-often-seen way for games.
  • mixture of RPG and dating sim
    Persona 3 is an unusual mixture of game genre elements. What makes it even more special is that these elements are linked to and influence each other and the story. For example, each person you can befriend and establish a social link with represents a Persona class called Arcana, modeled after Tarot cards like “Lovers,” “Judgment” or “Death.” The main character (you) is able to create (fuse) Personas, and since each Persona is part of a specific Arcana it’s: the higher your social link with a person, the higher the benefits for fusing a Persona that’s part of the Arcana that person represents. And the link between a Persona’s Arcana and Tarot cards connects this game play element with one of the main themes – fate – of the story. Neat.
    Also, each element is able to feed my compulsive nature like whoa (meaning there are lots of possibilities to max all kinds of things).

What I didn’t like:

  • game control
    I thought the handling of the menus a bit cumbersome, the loading a bit slow and there’s only minimal info on things like abilities. When your Persona levels up, there isn’t any info about what the newly learned ability does. This is especially annoying when there’s no free slot available for the new ability (each Persona can have up to 8 abilities at the same time) and you have to choose which one to delete. There are A LOT of abilities and most of them have names that give you no clue what they do, like for example “Me Patra” (provides recovery from Panic, Fear, and Distress, targets all allies). You also don’t get info about the already learned skills on that screen, making this really hard and annoying. Really, I think the days where you had to play with a notepad beside you and write EVERYTHING down are gone.
  • game balance
    While I thought the mixture of RPG and dating-sim elements interesting and intriguing, it also can lead to some dull periods during the game, mostly depending on how much attention you pay to the social links part of the game (and how good you are at it). You can either have lots of extracurricular activities or periods where you just press a button to advance to the next day. How much you must fight depends in part on the rank of your social links. If you screw up there, it means more fights, and they and the dungeons are not all that exciting (Persona 3 is much more forgiving than Lucifer’s Call). I thought the balance was off there.
    Also: screwing up the social links is very easy. In fact, it’s said there’s only one way to max all social links in one go. For that, you have to follow a very detailed time-table and do everything in the right order. One mess-up to do something on a certain day, and all was for nothing.
    In Persona 3: FES, which comes out in Europe at the end of October 2008, the social link element is supposed to be easier (more opportunities to max the links), making the game better balanced in that regard.

Would I recommend this game? occasional player: not necessarily; (consloe) RPG players: yes

Would I play this game again? Yes (to max all the missed things)

Grade: 4 – / 5

Game Comment: “Okami” (PS 2)

3 Aug

Info: Clover Studio (Developer); Capcom (Publisher)
Genre: Action-Adventure

Started: May 2008
Finished: July 2008
Playing time: over 50 hours

Links: Official Website; Currently Playing post with video

Okami contains a lot of references to Japanese mythology. You play the wolf incarnation of a Japanese sun god, Ameratsu, and your task is to get rid of the evil that came over the world and restore the world to beauty again. For that, you have to regain your magical powers which you wield with a paint brush and (that’s for the most part optional) fight demons on the way. To lighten things up you’re accompanied by a side kick character, Issun, who looks like a small bug, rides on your back, and does the talking.

The paint brush thing is what sets Okami apart from other games in the use of magic and makes it fairly original, IMO. For example, you can restore broken objects and make trees bloom by going into paint modus where you pause time and paint on the screen using the game controller. This may sound complicated or difficult, but it isn’t. In fact, the controls are easily learned and smooth and that makes Okami fun to play.

Although the game is linear in that certain areas are only accessible after you did certain things, there is a strong focus on exploration in this game with all the extra stuff to find and do. Learning a new (brush) technique often means you can go back to already visited and restored areas and then do things you couldn’t before like digging on different ground. You also feed animals and help people with things. For that, you get praise which you use to improve yourself (for example, you can store more ink or money).

What I liked:

  • what I probably liked most: bringing order back to the world and restoring it to its former beauty
  • story
    Of course, it is a rather generic story when you look at what it comes down to: good vs evil. But there is actually a real story there and it is actually told (no “and then…”). The story even has some twists. It also has a nice (told) ending, not just a “the end” screen, and something like a message.”
  • graphics
    I don’t know what to say. I liked the water-colour painting look. And when you restore an area back to life and all the green and flowers spread and cherry blossoms floated through the air – just beautiful. Just letting Ameratsu run around and see more and more flowers swirl behind her the faster she runs is fun.
  • side quests
    There are quite a few side quests to do so you can take a break from the actual story line when you want and go fishing or go looking for objects. I just like to have some extra stuff in a game.
  • boss fights
    I liked that I had to figure out how to beat them. Just smashing buttons wouldn’t do for most fights. There is a strategic element involved in that you first have to get the enemy to a stage where you can attack him (smash the button) and often it involves the use of the paint brush techniques. Once you figure that out, the boss fights get rather easy.

What I didn’t like:

  • some of the extra stuff is quite difficult to get; even more so when you compare it to the rest of the game
  • sometimes the control is a bit tricky
  • sometimes the text messages are a bit slow to appear on screen and you can’t make it faster

Last thought:
Despite the rather dark story, Okami is actually a rather hopeful and cherry game, IMO. It easily is one of the best, most original and most beautiful games I played on the Playstation 2 with a near perfect balance between its elements.

Did I enjoy playing this game? Yes.

Would I recommend this game? Yes.

Grade: 5 – / 5

Game Comment: "Dragon Quest VIII" (PS2)

5 Feb

In Dragon Quest VIII – The Return Of The Cursed King you’re playing a male hero who travels with his king and the king’s daughter to find the one who cursed them so that the curse can be reversed. It’s a very linear story, there are side quests of course, but basically you move from one place to the next. This is especially true for the beginning. Later you get means to go back to places already visited. There are random enemy encounters which follow a some kind of turn-based system.

What I liked

  • the world: The developers created a beautiful world for this game. There are lush green landscapes, deserts, and snowy parts. There are night-and-day changes and yes, I took the time to watch the sun come up on the ocean.
  • the bonus dungeon: There’s a bonus dungeon after you finish the game for the first time where you’re getting some background information about the hero. It’s here that the boss fight of the boss fights take place.
  • a loooooong ending sequence

What I didn’t like

  • story:
    Dragon Quest VIII tells a generic story. You’re a no-name hero and nothing to say. You accompany your king and his daughter on their quest to find the one who cursed them. He leaves a path of destruction so that’s easy to do. Which means that you’re goal now is not only to find Sephiroth him but also to stop Sephiroth him. The last dungeon in the game (not the bonus dungeon) reminded me strongly of a location in Final Fantasy VIII so the similarities between Final Fantasy and this game don’t end with the Sephiroth-like villain and story.

    The story starts really slow. I was bored and it was only after playing for a considerable amount of time that I was developing some interest in the story.

    The characters in your party are also pretty generic. After their lengthy introductions, which slowed the start of the game even more, the interaction between the characters was nearly non-existent.

  • cumbersome controls:
    – There’s a lot of dialogue to save your game. I know it’s keeping this element in the story – you talk to a priest for saving – but it takes about 30 seconds to do it and that gets annoying in time. For each dialogue box you have to press a button to get the next one.

    – The same is true for your alchemy pot. A lot of dialogue to get your ingredients in the pot and before that some button pressing to even get to the pot.

    – There’s a skill that draws enemies to you. Useful, when you have to level up, and you’ll do in this game. But to use it, you have to – yeah, you guessed right – press buttons. 4 in all. For each fight. It nearly takes as long as running around and waiting for a fight to happen on its own.

  • game balance:
    – Levelling up. Levelling up is slooooooow (see investment and reward). And to make things worse, the characters in your party don’t need the same amount of experience points from one level to the next. Jessica (level 53) needs nearly twice the experience points Yangus (level 56) needs right now. Why?
    There’re enemies which are supposed to help here. You get a huge amount of experience points when you beat them. But, 1) they have to turn up first; 2) they have to stay for the battle (they tend to flee right away); 3) you have to kill them – taking only one or two life points away or hoping for a critical hit (and they can always flee at the last minute). If you want to beat the last dungeon, you’ll know what you have to be prepared for: hours and hours of mindless and boring fights.

    – Investment and Reward. Also known as running around (and fighting) with no end to it only to finally reach the treasure chest with a healing herb you’re able to get in the first shop of the game. Or: fighting dangerous random battles to get a small amount of bucks and experience points which translate into fighting a lot and a lot and then some more to get one more level for your character.

    – Battle System. Or who goes first? You would think that in two battles which take place right after each other (and nothing changed), the order who acts when in your party would stay the same. Well, it doesn’t. There are sometimes fights where this order is messed up, messing up your commands in return and possibly even getting you into trouble.

  • skill system:
    You don’t know what you’re going to get for your (sometimes measly) skill points. You can easily end up with skills worth nothing at all and be unable to finish the game. I want to know what I get after all the fighting I had to do to level up. Is it any wonder I relied on a guidebook?
  • Casino anyone?
    This side quest is something that drives home the point that it’s not always good to want to do everything in a game and get the best. One would be hard pressed to come up with a more boring and luck-based thing. The hours I spent on this …

You might get the impression, counting the dislikes, that I didn’t like this game. That’s not true. I think it’s a good game. It’s just that is has so many small, irritating things and nothing that really made me go “WOW” that it seems I didn’t care for it.

Did I enjoy playing this game? Difficult to say. I had fun with it after playing for some time. After twenty hours? Or even more? I can’t remember. Maybe it was after I got more “freedom” doing things and I no longer had only the story line to follow.

Would I recommend this game? Probably yes.

Grade: 4 / 5