(Note: I really did write this whole thing longhand, in my little Mario notebook, and I’ve tried to stick to the original draft to capture that feeling… minor edits only.) I usually start off each podcast with a tangent, and I have a good one to kick off this installment of the column as well. I have nine hours to kill. I’m sitting in a giant room with fifty other people who are just as bored as I am watching a Power Point about (currently) payroll. What better time, then, to talk about a twitchy, time-bending platformer? I certainly can’t think of one.
1. A Little Foresight Would Have Been Nice- So the Prince has this brother, right? Nice guy, if a bit overzealous about some things, such as defending his kingdom. Don’t get me wrong; I understand that you definitely want to keep your people safe, free from foreign invasion, blah blah blah. This is perfectly reasonable. What may not be as reasonable is when you just run out of ideas, or worse, want to shortcut it. Sure, it sounds like an awesome plan to raise an army out of sand. The castle is surrounded by it, after all, and not only do sand soldiers lack the ability to feel pain, hunger, or fatigue, they also (and this is key) don’t need to be paid. Woohoo! Did no one stop to think that maybe–just maybe–using some sort of dark magic to raise a sand army might result in a bunch of evil, nigh-unkillable motherfuckers who have access to your whole setup? Remember what I said about them not feeling pain, hunger, or fatigue? Still valid. Only now, it’s against you rather than for you. Remember, kids, shortcuts kill. The more you know.
2. All In The Timing- I’ve actually never played any of the PS2/Cube/XBox era Prince games. (I’ve actually sort of been hoping that, like the God of War and Sly collections and the potential Team Ico collection, the three will be re-released on a PS3 compilation blu-ray, but I don’t think that’s even rumored at this point.) I do have a backwards-compatible PS3 as well as a GameCube-capable Wii (and, well…. a GameCube), so I really don’t have any excuses other than being too lazy to track down copies. Regardless, I’ve heard that, supposedly, this installment adheres more to the “original” series (Yes, I know there were PoP games before these. You know what I’m getting at.) than to the previous 360/PS3 title, which was more platform-y and less swarms of combat fodder-y. First of all, I should say that I loved the last Prince of Persia. I found it soothing, sort of along the lines of Flower. I thought it really flowed along nicely, with almost everything making sense and not requiring a whole lot of calculated thought. Every once in a while you’d hop down and beat the snot out of some random baddie, but by and large, it was more about running along walls and such. TFS definitely has more than enough platforming to keep fans happy, but it doesn’t feel the same to me. Instead of being intuitive, it’s more of a puzzle. This isn’t a bad thing, necessarily, but it does indicate a very different focus. This sounds cheesy, but it’s less of an “experience” and more of a “game.” As to whether something can be both at the same time, that’s a subject for another column… just know that, if the last (or, as in my case, only) Prince you played was the last one released, you’re going to need to adjust your play-style just a bit.
3. Water World- The very most challenging part of my TFS experience centered on a series of jumps that should have taken about a minute and a half, but ended up taking me about an hour to complete. I’ll describe it, and perhaps you’ll know what I’m talking about (or, like the friends to whom I’ve already lamented this, you won’t, and I’ll come off as a hopeless idiot, which I guess is par for the course anyway). Upon entering the palace towards the end of the game, you are confronted with two parallel sheets of water, beyond which is a series of ascending water spouts. One of the key features the Prince must master throughout the course of the game is the manipulation of water; once it’s “frozen,” you can run across it, jump on it, and otherwise treat it as solid. In this particular instance, you need to stand between the parallel sheets, freeze them, and then wall-jump between them to the top. This is where the tricky part comes in. At the top, you have to unfreeze the water after you perform the final jump so that you pass through the opposing sheet, then quickly re-freeze it so that the spout on the other side can be grabbed. You must find the sweet spot after you pass through the sheet but before you get to the spout, but for some reason I just couldn’t do it. They say that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. Well, if that’s true, then I was absolutely batshit. I simply could not figure out what I was doing wrong, so again and again, my little princely fingers would go crashing through the water spout, or I would just smack off of a solid sheet of water, frequently resulting in a painful (usually deadly) drop to the floor below. The really funny part (in retrospect… at the time this was not funny AT ALL) is that when I finally got it right, I was so excited that I immediately screwed up afterward because I wasn’t expecting to succeed, and thus was not prepared for what would happen when I did. So I had to start all over… but thankfully, some sort of muscle memory took over and I lucked into success much more quickly the second time around, even though I never did consciously figure out what I changed. The moral of this story is that water sucks.
4. Group Brawl- I mentioned before that in the last PoP, you rarely fought more than one enemy at a time. In TFS, as I understand was the case in Sands of Time, etc., fighting larger groups is not only the norm, it’s something that they tout as a big bonus, since apparently a lot of people had a problem with the single-combat model. Personally, I don’t care whether I’m fighting a big group or just one; it’s just a different style. As advertised, there are in fact a crapload of enemies thrown at you in any given fight, and the combat styles you have available to you are quite different as a result. I found that the tornado ability is pretty much all you need, actually. It’s all well and good if you want to introduce some variety by trailing a line of fire behind you or whatever, but if you can suck everything into one big vortex, seriously, what else is there? Just get used to being swarmed. I never had a terrible issue with this, but if you’re the easily distractable type, be warned that there will be a lot of things requiring your attention.
5. Getting Better All The Time- It’s not exactly a secret that I enjoy games which offer a well-developed progression system. It’s a lot easier for ME to get better of my character and/or his/her equipment gets better as well. Better yet is if I have some sort of say in how that progression takes place, so I’m happy to say that TFS does just that. As you level up, you can develop your character map as you see fit, expanding basic abilities and stats as well as making your special shiny skills specialer and shinier. As I mentioned, the only skill other than the basic ones that I really put to use was the Tornado, so that’s the one I pumped my points into. If, however, you prefer to spread your smackdown methods out mre evenly, well, you can certainly go that route as well. If you’re of the more variable sort, and you’re playing on the 360, there are, as an incentive, plenty of tasty, tasty cheevos to be had as well. (I imagine trophies for the PS3 are the same, but I played on the XBox…. and also, “cheevos” is more fun to say.) The Prince is yours to develop, though, and that’s the m0st important thing. You’re really not going to screw yourself over no matter what you do. Unless you ignore the tornado. Seriously, that skill is awesome.
Well, my meeting is only about halfway over, and I’m still bored, so guess what? This Five Things just became a Ten Things double feature! Next on the list is Muramasa: The Demon Blade. This is an interesting little title that’s worth snagging if you happen to run across a copy (which you probably won’t, as it didn’t sell very well). It’s by Vanillaware, and it very definitely looks it. In fact, I think the box blurb should really be something like “A Dumbed-Down Odin Sphere!” ….Well, that’s being a bit mean. Not inaccurate, mind you, but not very nice, because it’s not a bad game, just not exactly complex. Let me see if I can clarify this a little.
1. Easy Mode- Muramasa is not a difficult game. In fact, to tie some threads together, it’s sort of a relaxing experience rather than some sort of extreme test of skill. Even though the gameplay (and obviously, the visual style) is extremely reminiscent of Odin Sphere–and I’ll be talking a lot about Odin Sphere for that very reason, so get used to seeing it–it’s much, much easier. Much. It’s so easy, in fact, that it sometimes feels a little boring. Odin Sphere was fiendishly difficult at times, so a bit of a decrease was probably due; surely, though, there should have been a middle ground somewhere? These games are both enjoyable on their own merits, but they could have been really good with just a few minor tweaks. I feel like Goldilocks–the “too hard” and “too soft” games are already covered, but I’m still waiting for my “just right.” Come on, Vanillaware! I know you have it in you!
2. Twin Paradox- There are two main characters in Muramasa, Kisuke and Momohime, and each of them has his or her own individual storyline. This is great in theory, but in practice, they get a bit same-y. The stories themselves are kind of neat, and both are worth telling, particularly in context with each other, but I think it could have been just as effectively covered in one interwoven playthrough as opposed to two parallel ones. I sort of had the same issue with Folklore (might as well call out all the obscure titles I can while I’m at it), where dual storylines were presented in more or less discrete chunks, which after a while just starts to feel like you’re repeating yourself. Because you are.
3. Backtracking- One of the reasons I really would have preferred to see a single storyline is that you see a lot of the same scenery in your second playthrough as you did in your first. Now, don’t get me wrong; the art is lovely, but when you’re looking at the exact same thing for hours at a time, even pretty art gets old. What bothered me even more than that repetition, however, was the fact that you have to run back and forth across the map every time you get a new quest destination–and there is no fast travel option at all. In my ideal version of Muramasa, there would be a fast travel option, perhaps unlocked once you have traveled the long way to a place once (I’m actually a big proponent of this in most games–if there’s a storyline reason to hoof it, that’s fine, but there rarely, if ever, is; once you’ve established a travel route, it generally works just as well to hop around). Once travel times had been condensed, it would be a lot easier to interweave the storylines, too; with both of those things accomplished, the finished product would end up being much tighter and more polished–less sprawling and artsy, perhaps, but I think that would actually be a good thing. For me, anyway.
4. Collections Department- Have I mentioned that I’m a bit of a completionist? I may have. This usually translates into an obsessive devotion to side-quests, which don’t really exist in Muramasa. Instead, there’s a great big flowchart of 108 swords you can forge for your characters. I suppose you could argue that the swords themselves count as side-quests, because they are obtained by spending the souls you obtain when you slay your enemies, so if you were so inclined, you could farm enough souls to continue unlocking as many blades as you wanted (some are storyline-linked, but aside from that, this holds true). You’d probably expect that I would get a little crazy about my blade collection, being, as ever, a collector at heart. Honestly, though? I just got kind of bored. I did like the idea of forging your own upgrades, though, and if the repetition issue had been fixed a bit, I probably would have gone for a full complement. As it was, I unlocked as many as I could for both characters (they do have separate trees, which eventually intersect, but not until well past where I got in the process).
5. …For A Wii Game- Seems like every time a good (or even sort-of good) game comes out on the Wii, you can rely on this to be the end of at least a few normally positive review sentences. It’s like people feel that they have to be apologetic because it just can’t be a good game if it isn’t on the 360 or the PS3. And, admittedly, the Wii has some limitations. It’s not high-def, and it doesn’t have a standardized control scheme, which often makes it more difficult for a “traditional” gamer to get invested in a title. In general, the Wii isn’t geared towards these people anyway, at least not in the majority. This has always been a sort of sticky point for those who would identify themselves as “hardcore,” or even as “gamers” at all–most soccer moms who just bought the system for Wii Fit and Just Dance aren’t very likely to self-identify in this way. So, when a game that dares to strike outside that mold comes along, it somehow falls lower on the prestige scale than, say, your typical 360 shooter. I’m not saying that this is never warranted–sometimes it is. But I think that some games unnecessarily get a bad rap just because they’re on the Wii, and that’s not fair. For all my issues with it, Muramasa is a pretty damn decent game, for a Wii game. And for a game. Period.
Well, now that my hand is cramped as hell from writing all of this, I’ve actually managed to stay relatively sane throughout most of a horrifically boring day, so even if no one reads this, I’m a winner! Until I have to transcribe it all… I’ll look up what’s going down next time as soon as I get home and find my list. It’s something awesome, I’m sure. (Note: It’s Trauma Team.)