Not only am I having my first experience with iPhone games, I also recognize that I am really having my first genuine experience with handheld games. I’ve never owned any kind of Nintendo handheld device or any other type of portable gaming device (to be fair, there was that brief affair with the contraption I bought on a plane). I’ve always wondered about the gameplay model for a handheld game– are they strictly meant to be distractions when people are traveling or otherwise on the go? Or do people buy involved games and sit down in their homes to experience them? I guess it’s both, given the success of the form factor and the breadth of games available throughout the years. As for involved RPG games, the Final Fantasy series certainly seems to have thrived on the handheld systems.
So how does this game stack up against other games in the genre? I’m probably not qualified to answer that since I’m not really an connoisseur of the genre. I can tell you that Zenonia seems incredibly story-driven and linear, at least at the outset. It’s busy, yet highly simplistic. There are lots of things happening, but the game always tries to keep you on a single track. It’s almost as though the game is designed to grant the illusion of depth that a full console RPG would provide, yet still allow for abbreviated play sessions throughout a series of boring corporate meetings over several weeks, all without the player necessarily forgetting what has happened so far in the game.
The storyline on offer revolves around the protagonist Regret. Yes, Regret. Everyone in this game has strange names. Lord Virulent is another. I think he is one of the bad guys. According to my screenshots, there is a Lady Charity, Vicious, Sun, Tender, and Billy. A tricky thing about playing these iPhone games is that it doesn’t really lend itself to my usual Gaming Pathology workflow, where I take copious notes in the process of playing. Since I end up playing these games wherever I happen to find myself with my iPod Touch and a few minutes to spare, I don’t often have my note pad with me.
Here is what I remember from the storyline: There was an epic battle between the Good Guys and the Bad Guys. The Bad Guys lost and accidentally dropped a baby near the front lines. The general from the Good army adopts the baby and leaves the army to raise the baby. This baby is you, Regret. Years later, a demon comes and kills the adoptive father. Regret, now 17, sets out on a quest to learn why his father was killed, and whether it was a demon. I don’t think anyone actually saw the murder take place because everyone keeps whispering about whether a demon was involved.
But as with any good RPG, Zenonia involves lots of insipid quests. I’ve learned that these are sometimes called FedEx quests since they usually take the form of someone asking you to go fetch them something before they agree to help you advance the storyline to its ultimate conclusion. Quests like reclaiming 5 carrot cakes that some slime monsters just outside of town stole (sounds yummy– do you suppose that the person wants the cakes back just as a matter of principle?). At least it’s good, low-impact practice for combat.
Something that people invariably wonder about an iPhone game: What is the control scheme like? For Zenonia, there is a digital gamepad on the lower left of the screen and a general action button on the lower right. The action button attacks when near a monster and talks when near a person. The combat system consists of repeatedly hitting the action button in the general vicinity of a monster, hitting it most of the time, and occasionally missing; the success or failure of the swing is updated in a status window, as are the creature’s return blows.
There is also the status screen button which takes you to a tabbed window to manage a lot of extra information.
I stipulate that Zenonia has a great challenge to cope with– it needs to provide a lot of functionality, playability and control using a very limited input mechanism (relative to even a classic Gameboy which had a built-in gamepad and 4 other buttons) and everything needs to be very intuitive. It does a pretty good job, though the player probably needs to be familiar with RPGs in general to really get up to speed on this. For the first hour I played this, I was just trying to find an opportunity to save, knowing that if I backed out of the game, I would lose my progress and have to suffer through the story setup again. Eventually, I recognized that I could save absolutely anytime from the status screen.
There is also a good/evil aspect at play, which you can see via the status screen above. It begins at 50/50. I witnessed a battle between a Good character and a Bad character and was given the choice to intervene by helping out the Bad character. I took it and saw my alignment tip severely toward the evil end. Day and night also transpire in this game. These 2 features alone make this the single most advanced RPG I have ever played.
So will I keep playing this game after this MobyGames recon session? Most likely. I mean, it comes with me everywhere and it’s never to difficult too remember where I left off. The status screen helps in this respect since it defines what your current mini-quests are and the map screen lays out the world quite well. For now, I need to figure out how to present all the aspects of this game in a concise MobyGames entry.
A brief tech note about this game: the download weighs in at just under 10 MB and decompressed (did you know that iPhone apps are just standard ZIP files with the extension .ipa? It’s true– just run ‘unzip’ against one), it comes in at 15 MB. I merely point this out as evidence that small, efficient, lightweight programming seems to be making a comeback (notwithstanding the Myst remake for the iPhone which allegedly decompresses to 1.5 GB on the phone, phenomenal considering that all the original versions fit on single CD-ROMs, and that the multimedia compression technology that the game extensively relied upon has significantly improved in the intervening years).
I would liken the Orphen PlayStation 2 game to this item that can be collected throughout the course of the game…
…but let’s face it– that would be entirely too easy. I gave it another chance since I finally have a platform for capturing video. To review, Orphen is a dippy anime-based game with an odd action-RPG style of gameplay which likely serves to underscore my inexperience in the role playing game genre since the original Final Fantasy game on the 8-bit NES.
First of all, the game thrusts you into the middle of an anime tale with established characters and no introduction; viewer is assumed to understand all backstory. The title character and his two young charges are walking through a seaside town and meet up with 2 little thieves that they apparently know. For reasons that are somewhat unclear, the 5 board a ship that immediately strays off course and hits rough waters. All of the passengers are suddenly obsessed with “getting out”, though what that entails is never really discussed.
Eventually, some interactive action occurs. Orphen squares off with a giant crab monster and takes turns exchanging fireballs. Do you remember when Ken and Ryu used to announce every fireball they launched in Street Figher II? “Hadouken!”. This is a tad more annoying since every move is announced, not just special moves. “The Hand of Pyro!” “The Bite of Lightning!” “The Shield of Immunity!”
Since I captured all this footage for screenshots that I would hate to delete right away, drink in this gameplay sample in all of its YouTube-quality glory:
Orphen faces off with the giant crab who, when almost defeated, turns into many little crabs. Fortunately, by that time, I had remembered that I could summon one powerful attack to dispatch them all. After the attack, Orphen is seen gaining a new spell.
I can already tell this business of collecting screenshots from console games is going to hurt. This is because I have to experience the game at least twice. The process is to play the game for whatever length of time, capturing footage on my computer. Then, I get to watch the game again to capture the actual screenshots. And in some cases, I have already been exposed to the wretchedness months before, as in my inaugural PlayStation 2 gaming session.
So I delved into Evergrace once more. For some reason, I really do want to like this game. But the screeching opening music insists on scratching at my delicate ears. This time, the story didn’t grate on me like it did last time. I admit, it was starting to draw me in, just a little, at least until I saw the name of the land where the adventure begins for one of our protagonists:
I was willing to give the game the benefit of the doubt in the hope that perhaps Toledo has some mythical, mystical meaning. Wikipedia says no dice, that the Ohio town is the most prominent use.
The last time I played Evergrace, I could not figure out how to arm my hero– all I could do was punch for offense which seemed to only irritate monsters. The first time I replayed, I still couldn’t find an offensive tool. It wasn’t until I reviewed the captured game footage that I noticed that the game was trying to drop subtle hints about weapon possibilities during the opening exposition with a character named Krisalis.
Wait… in the background there: see it? Could it be? A sword!
A notable facet of this game is that it features perhaps the creepiest old man in the history of video gaming:
His name is Morpheus and he bobs his head and rubs the top of his staff in rhythm with his excited speech.
Now that I actually figured out how to effectively fight enemies in this game, I actually feel some motivation to play it. Unfortunately, such motivation is dashed by the delayed response when I play through my video capture bridge. Common problem, but I must keep it in mind when evaluating console game quality.
The Sony PlayStation 2 is nearly 7 years old. Yet today was the first time I actually sat down and played an actual PS2 game. I got this PS2 unit some months ago, mostly for DVD playback. I have tried out a few PlayStation 1 titles on it. But I also have 3 PS2 games laying around.
The first one is called Evergrace, from the confusingly named FromSoftware. Apparently, this was a PS2 launch title. I purchased it while procuring a bunch of other cheap, old games from an eBay seller. Even though it was already in MobyGames (sans screenshots), it was cheap and in new condition, and I thought it might be nice to try a real PS2 game, and an RPG at that. I was disappointed. First, I tried to dutifully digest the manual before delving in since RPGs can be complicated. I have to pinch myself to keep from falling asleep since the manual goes into so much storyline. I skim the section on the controls and figure that they’ll make more sense in context, so I fire the game up. The first order of business is to check my speakers to see if anything is wrong. Nope– the music really is that cacophonic. Then the game assaults me with the same storyline I didn’t care about from the manual.
Eventually, the game gets rolling and you essentially have 2 characters to choose from — a guy and a girl — who will follow different paths in the game. Evergrace bills itself as an action RPG with an emphasis on equipment. I guess I’m supposed to kill creatures, get currency, exchange it for goods, and kill more creatures. I found the store, found out I was broke, went outside and tried to kill something, and learned that I was fairly ineffective in this task when using only my bare hands. I got bored of this quickly though I tried to give the game a fair shake. I even went back to the insomnia-curing manual a few times but couldn’t maintain the motivation.
The next title, Orphen: Scion of Sorcery, was also a launch title. I’m beginning to think that early adopters were awfully forgiving. I know these kind of graphics reigned supreme at one point but they seem fairly ho-hum these days. There is also the fact that for the past 7 years, I have largely been examining magazine and internet screenshots of PS2 games rather than seeing the actual games in action, which tends to elicit a far different reaction.
Anyway, Orphen– I had never looked too carefully at the literature for this one. I had always assumed it was an action game where the hero fired magic bullets. While that’s part of it, the game turns out to be of the genre action-RPG. RPGs really left me behind somewhere along the line. Mostly, I am used to the classic NES turn-based stylings of the original Final Fantasy game, the Ultima: Exodus port, and the classic Dragon Warrior series. The principle action in Orphen consists of encounters where characters square off with a number of enemies and quickly attack using offensive magic spells or magic weapons, or parry attacks with a magic shield. It’s RPG-ish, in a fast-paced way.
There is also some kind of storyline tying this all together. Based on the opening scenes, it was pretty obvious that Orphen must be based on an anime series, and sure enough. I’m not especially fond of anime to begin with and this game’s characters seem to embody much of what I despise. Still, I gave it the old college try. It’s a tad slow-going as you walk a few meters, run into a pre-scripted story advancement sequence, walk a few more meters, get more story, an enemy encounter, and then repeat. Apparently, that’s the whole game. The game’s copy lists as one of its key features “51 action-packed, event-based encounters.” I got through 5, maybe 6 of them, depending on how score is kept.
Finally, I decided to actually play a dreaded sports game– NHL Hitz 20-02. Generally, if I wind up with a sports game in my collection, it’s because A) it was dirt cheap, and B) because I wanted to study its multimedia files. This game served its purpose to that latter end. But how does the game play? The Hitz series is apparently a totally X-treme hockey experience based on licensed NHL teams. “No rules” is the overriding theme. The game assaults your auditory senses with Limp Bizkit in the opening FMV. Then there is quite a variety of activities available. Not only actual hockey, but violent minigames, such as body checking a number of players within a set time limit.
When I finally set up a screen capture process for my PS2 and Saturn games, at least I will know exactly what to capture for these 3 titles and be done with them.
At long last, I’m working Sega CD games into this mix. I have at least 1/2 dozen Sega CD games in my pile that aren’t yet in the MobyGames database and a whole bunch more that are missing screenshots. I guess I have been a little hesitant to go to work on this matter since I know it can be a bit tedious to set up the Gens emulator for Sega CD emulation at first. You need to install ASPI drivers for CD reading, which I did, but still no luck. However, I went the other route which is to rip an ISO + series of MP3 files for the game to play from the HD. That worked splendidly and I can now cover my collection of Sega CD titles for this experiment.
And what a collection! Let’s kick it off with Revengers Of Vengeance. I’ll give you a few moments to re-read that title a few times. Revengers Of Vengeance. I found this in an eBay store while purchasing some other games. I had absolutely no idea what to expect as the CD-ROM surface (all I had to go on) doesn’t really give any clues. It bears an MA-13 rating from a system called V.R.C. which predates today’s omnipresent ESRB.
I think the game may bear the alternate title of Battle Fantasy; at least, that’s the title that Gens shows in the window title bar. The game is definitely fantasy in nature and kicks off with an awesome scene of griffons in the shadow of a castle:
From there, the game goes on to explain, rather generically and matter-of-factly, that the Devil King — who goes by the name of Venum — has gained the infinite power of evil. Despite that, it’s implied that you somehow have what it takes to bring this villain down. By what manner of gameplay will you achieve this feat? Well, that’s where things get tricky.
From what I can tell, this game represents a genre mashup of a 1-on-1 brawler game and a role playing game. So in addition to being the first Sega CD game in Gaming Pathology, it’s also the first RPG (or RPG-like game). Not that I have any aversion towards RPGs (although one brief evening of gameplay wouldn’t be enough time to do justice to the nominal RPG). But I suspect that the RPG genre as a whole tends to be quite popular with the type of hardcore gaming nerds that contribute heavily to MobyGames. Thus, the genre already has good coverage in the database.
But I digress. Aside from the options screen, there are 3 places to go from the main screen. The first is The Tournament. This allows you to select from among 10 unique fighters to battle it out with other characters against colorful, fantasy-themed backgrounds. It’s pretty tough, too, even on the easiest level:
“The Quest To Destroy Venum” is where the RPG element comes into play. You begin in an RPG-style town:
You have a supply of gold and you can purchase dresses and perfume in shops, or coffee or cola at the village Starbucks franchise (serious about the coffee purchase, though at a nameless pub). When you leave town, you are shown this map of locations to warp to:
I head to the waterfall since that sounds like a pretty background. I get my mythological rear handed to me in the first battle. Even afterwards, I am awarded an amount of gold and experience points and sent back to the original town. Ostensibly, I need to spend some time leveling up and perhaps equipping myself before I can possibly hope to have a chance in this game. I also spy a fitness club in town.
During the Quest mode, each of the 10 characters appears to be following its own storyline with corresponding cutscenes. It occurs to me that a lot of beat-em-ups try to have storylines for each fighter, but that storyline is only fleshed out in the character’s brief ending sequence. This game has a full storyline from the get-go and tries to carry the concept even further. (Come to think of it, Criticom also had a storyline cutscene inaugurate each character’s quest, but… look, I’m sorry I even brought up that game again.) Some character backstories are more involved than others. One, though, for an absolutely enormous were-rhinoceros creature is quite simple: he simply wants someone — anyone — stronger to challenge in a fight. Maybe the infinite evil dude will fit the bill.
I have located cover art scans on other websites that evidence that this game must have been released in the U.S. Given that, it’s curious that the name entry box has a bunch of Japanese characters to choose from when writing one’s own name. I don’t know what any of them mean but I feel obligated to use a few since they’re on offer:
I see from this review at Sega-16 that a) I really suck at the fighting sequences, and b) I’m missing one genre– a vertical shooting type of game. I’ll need to devote some more time to this title some night.