Playing: Clock Tower (SNES) (PS)

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Considered by many to be one of the earliest games of the survival horror genre, Clock Tower (Later subtitled The First Fear) is a little known gem in the history of gaming. Originally released in Japan and later into the US, this retro hit is a surprisingly suspenseful and jump-worthy game that will have most on the edge of their seats.

It’s September, 1995 when four orphans are led to a mansion known as the “Clock Tower” due to it being its most prominent feature. Being led by a Ms. Mary, Jennifer, Anne, Laura and Lotte arrive at the foyer of the luxurious mansion and are eager to meet their adoptive father, Simon Barrows. Fear begin to set in as Mary soon disappears and Jennifer finds the other gone, leaving her to wander about the dark hallways of the mysterious Clock Tower.

With horror games like Dead SpaceSlender and Outlast, I was sure that a simple, pixel SNES game wouldn’t even come close to scaring me. I had heard about it before – being credited as one of the inspirations for future instalments of the genre. But even with that in mind, I carelessly decided to play it in the darkness of my room, deciding that it would be one of those games that you could simply breeze by. I was wrong.

I was surprised by how “survival” this point-and-click game was. I had played the original Resident Evil and Silent Hill games and considered that formula to be survival horror. Yet Clock Tower takes it to an unbelievably base level – with no weapons or offensive items, the best Jennifer can do is hold off the dreaded Scissorman for a few seconds before her life depletes, forcing the player to find hiding places to avoid the maniac. Interestingly enough, her health depletes from running, and if you’re being chased by the game’s slasher, you’re prone to tripping onto the floor, something which I found annoying in films but suspenseful in this video game. The controls are, as you would expect, very basic: Jennifer can only run left and right and interact with objects you click on. It is through this that she collects key items and progresses the story. The introduction of a “panic button” is also important, as it allows Jennifer to escape or complete tasks that would otherwise damage her. The game itself incorporates puzzle elements, which is actually quite difficult in some segments. It also features slightly different plot points in different game plays, often changing room or item locations. The most attractive feature of all in my opinion though, are the multiple endings that players can achieve. Those familiar with Corpse Party would enjoy this aspect, yet some ending criteria can be missed or obscured by gameplay alone, making it difficult to achieve all endings.

Clock Tower’s tense atmosphere is close to flawless, providing players with a sense of anxiety and insecurity about what they inspect and what rooms they enter. Most of the mansion is portrayed with dull colours, diverting from this in the few rooms where there are light switches. Certain events, which are shown to players in a cinematic still, are sudden and grotesque, catching players off guard. The music doesn’t help players in this regard – it only manages to heighten the suspense and tension already instilled in players.

As a whole, I was surprised by how well Clock Tower fared as a suspenseful survival horror. Not only did it completely change my initial opinion, but it also genuinely kept me frightened until I finally completed the game. It’s difficult enough to warrant multiple playthroughs, especially with multiple endings, but keep in mind that some interactions can become tiresome after awhile. if you’re looking for a good thrill, are a major retro-junkie or want to experience some real gaming history – turn off the lights and give Clock Tower a run for its money.

Bry Rating: 3.5/5
Recommended? Basic, but a great cult classic.
Country of Origin: Japan
Developer: Human Entertainment

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Listening To: PMMMM: The Rebellion Story OST

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Bundled together with the DVD and BD releases of Puella Magi Madoka Magica the Movie 3: The Rebellion Story last month, the soundtrack of the film is an excellent example of how melodies evoke sincere emotions in those who listen. Almost the entire track is comprised of sombre themes, matching the overall mood of the film quite well. While the film isn’t necessarily an uplifting addition to the series, and by extension it’s soundtrack, the sounds that it manages to convey are not only presented at a high standard, but are also highly emotive.

Anyone remotely familiar with the series understands that, although the plot centres on magical girls, it is by no means a childish or joyful series. Instead, it takes a dark and grim approach to the traditional magical girl genre, creating a more meaningful story than anyone could have imagined. The new film, The Rebellion Story, is a worthy addition to the franchise, and it’s OST certainly doesn’t fail to keep up with the tone of the series.

Yuki Kajiura’s work on the soundtrack is simply amazing – each of the tracks composed by her are coherent, relatable and most importantly: genuine. It’s no surprise that her experience in working with other anime soundtracks have led her to create such a refined OST, and I’m glad that she managed to keep true to the heart of the story. The pieces that feature orchestral sounds are by far my favourites, but by no means are her other tracks less than stellar. Her tracks encapsulate chaos, disorder and the death of hope, acting as the basis of the entire film.

I first got notice of the soundtrack when they were uploaded onto media sharing websites a few days ago. A few friends and I were, as expected, thrilled to be able to hear the music from the film. Now proudly close to the top of my phone’s playlist, I’ve been replaying the more sadder songs of the OST simply because they’re emotionally powerful. Although the film’s ending wasn’t exactly what I had hoped for in the storyline of Puella Magi, I have zero complaints about the soundtrack.

Songs to look out for:

  • Holly Quintet
  • One For All
  • Something, Everything Is Wrong
  • Noi!
  • Theater Of A Witch
  • I Was Waiting For This Moment

Playing: Mario Kart Wii (Wii)

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Ah, Mario Kart Wii. Otherwise known as “the great destroyer of friendships”, this loveable classic holds many memories with our family and friends. And while we’d all like to forget the negative experiences (i.e. Getting hit with a blue shell) and remember the positive ones (i.e. Hitting someone with your blue shell), this Nintendo release of the Mario Kart franchise has a special place in all our hearts. While it has been a few years since its release, the upcoming release of Mario Kart 8 has me wanting to replay it once more.

There’s no real story for the Kart series, unless you count the ones created when playing with others. But just for the record, I strongly believe it’s ludicrous that anyone would even consider allowing Bowser and co. attend the races (what with all the kidnapping and the like), but hey, it doesn’t really matter. I’m sure we all still loved passing big old Bow’ right before passing the finish line.

MKWii is not only one of my favourite party games, but also one of the few racing games I tolerate. I’ve never been a fan of racing games, or most sporting-type games for that matter, but with memorable characters and hours worth of fun, how could you possibly hate it? Good or bad – no matter how you are with racing games, players cannot deny the fun in competing with each other and the sheer joy in unleashing the arsenal of traps at their disposal. How quickly do the eyes of the player coming first drain when they realise a red – or even better, a blue shell – is coming straight at them? Apparently very slow if you’re the one who sent it.

It’s without saying that Mario Kart Wii is a fresh new take on the Kart series whilst still providing the same formula that players love and enjoy. Its variety of characters, vehicles (which include motorbikes!) and mix of both nostalgic and brand-new tracks makes it an all out winner as a racing game and a staple for any Wii owner. The added multiplayer option, as well as the range of game types gives this game a worthy level of replay value, as well as making it perfect for a get together with players of all skill types. In all its cartoony, loveable glory – this game does not disappoint.

The visuals of it are just what you would expect of Nintendo’s Wii- the game is a treasure trove of polished tracks and picturesque characters that create an visually exciting world. Even the game’s vehicle are up to its visual standards, as are the traps that are obtainable and the effects that accompany them. Aside from that, any one who’s ever played a single game before sure could recognise the distinct sounds from playing. From the character cries to the sounds of wheels drifting, and from the crash of a blue shell to the three beeps before a race, Mario Kart Wii is ripe with cute sound effects that fit perfectly in its setting. Even better though, but also overlooked, is the soundtrack of the game. The music of the game just makes it for me, and I do admit I’m a sucker for great compositions. Racing tracks are equipped with wonderful tunes that make it all that more enjoyable – even if you don’t realise it.

Personally, I recall the tantrums, arguments and mind numbing screams that were part of playing this game. But even more so than that are the good times playing this along my friends. The first time I held the Wii Wheel is actually very memorable and while I no longer own my original one, I still think back to the first few rounds I played with it. Mario Kart Wii is sure to be a classic for many players worldwide so if you have it alongside the no longer used games, why not have one more round? See if you can escape that blue shell this time.

Bry Rating: 4.25/5
Recommended? Fun for everyone!
Country of Origin: Japan
Developer: Nintendo EAD Group No. 1

Listening To: Tonari no Kaibutsu-kun Original Soundtrack

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Although I had planned a review of another album today, I had listened to the soundtrack of the romantic comedy anime Tonari no Kaibutsu-Kun (Eng; My Little Monster) and I just had to talk about it. Now I watched the anime as it came out, and while it’s not one of my all time favourites, it certainly had a very strong and solid comedy element which I more than appreciated. It also, to my surprise, had an amazing musical score.

Certain tracks feature synthetic melodies while others are comprised of mainly orchestral symphonies. To call it diverse would not give it much justice. It seems that the soundtrack itself covers the emotional spectrum –  the album seems to tick off emotions; from melancholy to unbridled optimism. If anything, theres a track for any occasion, making it perfect for the anime – as although its primarily a comedy-romance, it does touch on the darker and somber aspects of life and love.

I find that the tracks consisting of guitar and/or piano leads were more defined and better suited to the overall theme of the show. Although it may be preference talking, I believe that they were considerably much more emotive and at a higher level than other tracks that focused their sounds on other instruments. Another worthy mention goes to the highly enjoyable tracks with a peppy, almost cocky tone, as well as those that were comprised of positive notes and rhythms. In saying that though, the more pensive tracks don’t, by any means, fail to please.

At the end of the day, the Tonari no Kaibutsu-Kun Original Soundtrack is an absolute delight to listen to. With a range of sounds and emotions to accommodate the daily lives of anyone, it came as a wonder to me that it’s not better known within the anime community. If you’re willing to take the chance and take a listen, I have very little doubt in my mind that you would be disappointed with this underrated gem of an OST.

Songs to look out for:

  • Tetsukazu no Kanjou 
  • Monster March
  • Yamaguchi-Sanchi no Kenji-Kun
  • Appare Sanningumi!
  • TEBASAKI
  • Memento 

Playing: Earthbound (SNES) (GBA) (WII U)

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There’s no doubt in my mind that I simply love retro gaming. I do have a long list of all the best games that you all should totally play, but for today, I’d like to let you all know of the priceless antique known as Earthbound (Also known as Mother 2). I remember playing this on an emulator at a very young age and I’ve probably replayed it more than 10 times throughout my years. And I must say, this oldie never truly gets old.

The story opens with our silent protagonist, Ness (Fun Fact: Ness is an anagram of SNES), waking up after a meteorite hits a nearby hill on Onett. When the annoying kid next door urges you to follow him, he meets an alien known as Buzz Buzz who tells him he will embark on an epic quest to rid the world of evil. With the story taking place in, well, practically all four corners of the world, Ness and 3 other chosen heroes set out to defeat the evil entity known as Giygas.

Now for a game that was made in Japan, it certainly feels like a JRPG… but also doesn’t. Whilst traditional games during that era were predominantly set in the middle ages and featured wizards and swordsmen, Earthbound had kids armed with baseball bats and frying pans. It’s chock-full of references to pop culture (Like an interesting Yellow Submarine) and is, as a whole, a bright and colourful take on epic quests.

The story is certainly out there – 4 Kids against the world. Literally. The alien entity known as Giygas basically exerts his evil influence on everyday people, animals, machines, zombies, coffee cups and records to name a few. The world of the game, Eagleland, is based on the United States (With a name like that, who knew?) and gives rise to myriad of quirky comments and interesting remarks about Western and Eastern cultures. The game itself is pretty simple to play though: it has an ordinary levelling up system, a turn based battle system, status effects that affect the party in and out of battle, an ATM to store the money your dad gives you… Wait, hold on a minute.

Music is definitely an integral part of the game, and many of the 8-Bit tracks are unique in their own way. It’s definitely an engaging part and it just works so well with the visuals. The graphics evoke distinct moods in the player, evident in the happiness felt as you travel along the streets of your home town, the melancholy in leaving it, the excitement of the big city and the fear in traversing through dark dungeons. The countless sprites and objects that lay throughout the world of Earthbound are without a doubt interesting to look at and provide an interesting sense of humour. Especially when you decide to talk to it (like a black sesame seed in the middle of the desert).

Honestly, it’s hard for me to choose my all-time favourite retro game – it’s always a tie between Final Fantasy V and Earthbound. But despite that little toss-up, this game will forever be a timeless classic in my heart. It really does have it all for me –  JRPG elements, an interesting plot, humour and art all in an excellent blend of retro goodness. It’s disheartening knowing that it may never get the glory it truly deserves, although the recent port into the Wii U warms me up just a little. If you’re a fan of good old games or just want to experience something hilarious and different, please give Earthbound a go. You’ll feel better than a bunch of “Fuzzy Pickles“.

Bry Rating: 5/5
Recommended? Avenge Buzz-Buzz! Play this now!
Country of Origin: Japan
Developer: Ape ; Hal Laboratory

Playing: Record of Agarest War (PS3) (XBOX 360) (PC) (Android)

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The Japanese role playing game Record of Agarest War, also known as Agarest: Generations of War, has become a project for me for awhile. Although it sports amazing storyline visuals and the overall plot is interesting, the game (And mind you I’ve never quite said this) drags on for far too long.

The story spans five generations of heroes, starting with Leonhardt – a knight that is disgraced after he saves an elven girl. After sustaining a fatal blow from the mysterious Dark Knight, he manages to live through a pact that ties his destiny, and the destinies of his children, to the end of the darkness that plagues his world.

Before you keep reading, please understand – this is a hardcore strategic JRPG. For those familiar with games like these, play throughs typically last 50+ hours. For those less experienced, you’re looking at about 100+ hours worth of playtime. This would most likely be due to the level of customisation in the game as it quite literally depends on it.

The gameplay of the RoAW is an interesting mix of different games – it’s essentially a Final Fantasy Tactics – type strategy game with elements from dating simulators and choice-driven games. At first, it can be extremely overwhelming to deal with all the battle and story related game mechanics. These are, as always, quite useful though, but only later in the game. 

Battles are fought in a generated board with a 2D team the player can construct. Characters have distinct roles in their style of fighting, something the player must take into account when building playable characters. The player must also be aware of other things such as the concepts of AP costs, Combined attacks, Fields,  Extended fields and SP. These things, which are trivial at first, can mean instant defeat or victory near the end, especially if characters are under-leveled or the battle has taken more than an hour.

In the over-world, destinations are either towns, dungeons, battles or story points. The number of “turns” are taken into account and can affect certain the story in different ways. In towns, players can visit the shop to purchase items, the Blacksmith’s Guild to create and enhance items, the Adventurer’s Guild to earn titles and the Horoscope to see the compatibility between the hero and his love interests. The “Soul Breed” system is also of particular interest in the game: at the end of each generation, the player can choose to wed one of the three available girls. The catch? Depending on who you choose to marry, the stats and weapons of the future heroes are affected.

Although the battle visuals are disappointing and the story itself can be long, the storyboard art is excellent, as is the CG images that can be obtained if the player makes the right choices. The music for the game is also great, but the best part of the game must be the voice acting. It’s extremely well done and gives all characters distinct personalities and qualities.

Overall, RoAW is an average JRPG balanced by its pros and cons. With an interesting plot, high level of customisability and exceptional art and audio, it fails in its length, battle mechanics and nearly unfair “True End” path (Which must be followed to a tee to fully complete the game. It can be found here if needed). Although I mostly enjoyed it, it is virtually unplayable after one full play through. I only recommend it for those absolutely in love with JRPGs, but be warned – this is not a game one can simply complete on a weekend.

Bry Rating: 2.5/5
Recommended? Only for the Hardcore JRPG Gamer
Country of Origin: Japan
Developer: Idea Factory; Compile Heart; Red Entertainment 

Playing: Bayonetta (PS3) (XBOX 360)

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Let’s face it: SEGA’s games have lately been on the decline, not only in quantity, but in quality. Of the few gems that it has to offer, Bayonetta stands out in all its raunchy, addictive and intoxicating glory. It’s an action packed, hack-and-slash third person shooter – so naturally, its was impossible to pass up.

Bayonetta, an Umbra Witch that has lost her memories, sets out to uncover the mysteries of her past and the “Eye of the World”, a jewel she has owned from as far as she remembers. Sporting a wide of range of weapons, four guns being her favourite, she battles the armies of Paradiso Angels who impede her progress. Why they do this delves deeper into the world of Bayonetta (which is in turn, beyond the realm of this blog). She meets a handful of character who she seems to be connected to somehow – of interest a small girl named Cereza who calls her “Mommy”.

Bayonetta herself is a fiery, smart-mouthed, glasses-wearing woman with a flare for… sexual innuendo. Whilst on the surface she may seem like eye-candy for the teen male, her character is fleshed out through her relationships with other characters. Her development as a selfish character to one that acknowledges the value of compassion demonstrates not only the way people can change through life – but also how “sexual” characters in games (Especially women) can have a perfectly good story that adds depth.

Admittedly, the story of the game is hard to follow, choppy at best. In “compensation” players are given the satisfaction of an extremely intriguing and flashy form of fighting. The player controls Bayonetta as she glides across the screen performing amazing combos. It’s awfully satisfying – gaining momentum, performing timed backflips and executing a string of commands that makes her dance (Seriously). The game also has two additional mechanics when fighting – Witch Time and Torture Attacks. With Witch Time, the player has to narrowly dodge attacks to slow down the passage of time whereas with Torture Attacks, players complete a series of QTEs to finish of their enemies  (in an ever-so-flashy manner). Items that can be equipped consists of an array of weapons (ranging from katanas to magical ice skates) and magical ornaments whereas consumable items appear in the form of lollipops.

The visuals of the game are definitely encapsulating, especially when you consider that this was pre 2010Enemies are detailed and interesting to view, although in the later game colour pallets are swapped to make room for new enemies. Character designs in particular stand out though – they range in shapes and sizes but are all believable and executed well. As for the music in the game, all I can really say is that I’ve downloaded “Fly Me To The Moon” and “Let’s Dance Boys” and both are on the top of my playlist my phone. And computer. And music player.

All in all, Bayonetta is remarkable game that utilises incredible fighting mechanics, powerful visuals and a striking soundtrack. Although the story lacks a sense of clarity and is begging for more (Pst, Sequel), the characters in the game more than make up for it through their quirky personalities and backstories. If similar games like Devil May Cry bother you, or you have an unreasonable hate towards the rings from Sonic (Oh Sega references), then this game is probably not for you. But if you’re more than happy to experience the diamond that is Bayonetta – “Let’s Rock Baby!”

Bry Rating: 4.25
Recommended? Of Course
Country of Origin: Japan
Developer: Sega ; Platinum Games