Date archives for January, 2009

January 31st, 2009

Review: Colour Cross

Now you can paint by numbers on DS!

This review has already been delayed twice in the past month; first by Royal Mail taking two weeks to deliver the game, then again by my inability to put the game down long enough to review it.


January 19th, 2009
Blog Entry

Carnival of Video Game Bloggers, January 2009

2008 came and went in a blur, but now 2009’s here there’s no better way to welcome it in from the winter cold than to get into the warmth of the Carnival of Video Game Bloggers cabin!

Clutching a Nintendogs by Nintendo DS hot water bottle in the corner is Robin from Kids Toy Reviews, who told me "I have reviewed this product with young kids in mind. I think that video games can be for many different age ranges!"

From Gaming for Glory, Judd‘s Game Review: Mirror’s Edge is heating us all up by reminding us of sunny blue skies and warm yellow suns.

With Why the Wii has Won and Wii Success Marks the Downfall of the Hardcore Gamer over at Console Me.., karmstrong is conjuring up images of families waggling in front of their goggle boxes. Nothing makes me sweat more than the idea of exercise. 

IMG_1224Tony Huynh is huddled in a corner somewhere, surrounding himself with plush throws and luxurious cushions. He’s keeping his mind off the cold by embroidering each with a message, then passing it around to his fellow bloggers. Let’s have a look at some.

One a huge throw, that’s almost entirely brown and grey, he’s sewn Gears of War 2 Through the Eyes of a Game Designer at, with the message "Gears of War 2 continues the story of Gears of War. The Locust horde has been sinking entire cities and steadily pushing humanity back. The game begins with humanity clinging to their last stronghold of Jacinto and the Gears setting out on a counter-offensive to prevent their last bastion from being undermined. In the following sections I will outline the aspects, levels and events in the game that left a more lasting impression on me."

He’s just given karmstrong a soft pillow, embroidered with 2 Months: Star Wars Vs. Star Trek, Super Mario Level Mod and Flash Game Sonny and "Videos of Star Wars Versus Star Trek Video and Most Difficult Super Mario Level Mod Ever Part 1. Flash games Sonny and The Worst Flash Game Ever."

Tony has just finished a huge quilt, on which he’s hand-stitched What Video Games Taught Me About Life at, with "I do not go a week without the media putting out a report or hearing somebody say that video games are a waste of time and that there is very little value in spending time playing them. I can personally say that video games have been hugely beneficial to both my social and professional life. I have learned first-hand many of life’s lessons from video games and I constantly draw upon my experience as a gamer to be successful in any goal or challenge that I face. Here are some of the life lessons that I have learned from playing video games" underneath.

IMG_0041On the quilt’s underside he’s embroidered Crayon Physics  Indie Game Released Today and 9 Theatrical Movie and Short Film and "I wanted to let you guys know that a great indie game came out today called Crayon Physics. Crayon Physics was created by one-man developer Petri Purho of Kloonigames. On another note I was talking with a co-worker and we started to discuss what books or movies would make a great game. He told me about Shane Acker’s 9."

Tony is just about to put the finishing touches to a chunky scarf, with a long message winding along its woolly fronds. In thick letters it reads Top 5 Greatest Moments in Competitive Gaming (eSports), followed by "Here are the top 5 greatest moments in tournament video gaming. To qualify these moments had to occur in a tournament witnessed by others and of course it had to be recorded." It is a very long scarf.

Tending lovingly to a big dixie of soup is old-wizard, throwing all kinds of ingredients liberally into the mix. With a handful of Top 10 Games on the Wii, a pinch of Top 10 Most Underrated Video Games and a teaspoon of his secret ingredient, Ten Steps to Making a Successful FPS, all from the world’s best Soup Ingredient Megastore,

Trench is staring longingly out of the window into the wintry abyss, no doubt wondering if he’ll ever be able to get back to 7milesdown. He’s not bored, though – with Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe, Prince of Persia, Call of Duty: World at War and Gears of War 2 for Xbox 360, he’s got plenty to keep him busy for a good few days. Or at least until the fresh water runs out.

One person I certainly don’t want to intrude on our little Carnival bunker is a zombie wolf, but thankfully should the worst happen we’ve got Reviews: Little Red Riding Hood’s Zombie BBQ for the Nintendo DS. If there’s one person I trust to defeat zombies, it’s Little Red Riding Hood. And Scott Davis of, of course.

Actually, maybe one thing worse would be vampires, but we’ve got that covered as well, as Pwn Greenland (not his real name, I suspect) has brought along the vampire-slaying guidebook NES Hell: Castlevania. "A brief rant on Konami’s "Castlevania" for the NES. Contains strong language and humour. Discretion advised."

IMG_0072 Looks like a few more winter hikers are trying to seek refuge in this tiny cabin. Yoshi’s here with Megaman the toughest enemy, wearing his favourite G’s game vids woolly hat. I feel sorry for Yoshi – with his cold blood there’s no way he can survive outside. Better let him in.

What the..?! Mike Kurz just burst out from under a pile of coats! He’s shouting something about the Community Game Of The Week: Blow posted at Check Your HUD. I hope he’s not coming down with cabin fever…

Trudging through the snow towards the warm refuge of my cabin is Gene Simmons. He looks weighed down by a huge briefcase – probably the result of his recent $100,000 Flash Game Experiment – part 2. As he gets closer, I can read "Accumulate Profit Margin Invest Destroy" on the case, so I decide to let him in. He greets me with "this is part 2 of one man’s journey into the sinister world of the online flash game business. In this episode, he goes through the creation of his first game and eventually ends up losing his sponsorship-virginity." Nobody just says "hello" any more.

My good friend DaggleC has recently started his blog Dag’s Paradigm, and his first proper post is a real cracker – end of an era tells his view of the good old days of the Spectrum and Commodore machines, and mourns the loss of the good old times of cassettes and lines of codes. Nostalgia is always a good way to get a warm glow going!

Of course, I’ve been in here all along, putting together the most heartwarming post ever imaginable – The Top Sega 50 Games of All Time. It’s finally finished after a long time’s toiling, so let’s all bask in the warm sunshine of my love affair with Sega.

Game bloggers copyHopefully this cold weather is going to pass us by in a few hours and we can all get back to our families, but until then let’s join together in saying a big thanks to everyone who reads and submits to the Carnival of Video Game Bloggers, and a very Happy New Year to you all.

If you’d like to submit to next month’s – much warmer! – Carnival, head on over to the Blog Carnival Submissions form and let gamers and bloggers all over the world read what you have to say!

January 10th, 2009
Blog Entry

No. 1 – NiGHTS into Dreams

NiGHTS NiGHTS into Dreams on Sega Saturn was what stopped Sonic Team from developing a proper Sonic the Hedgehog game for Sega’s black beauty, but I couldn’t be happier we got the purple jester instead of the blue blur. It was a huge risk that, sales-wise, did Sega much more harm than good, but it resulted in the creation of what I believe to be the greatest video game of all time.

A recent games article stated that NiGHTS plays like a further simplification of Sonic the Hedgehog, with its reliance on speed, collecting and a recurring challenge to beat rather than it being a necessarily difficult game. In Sonic you have times to beat: in NiGHTS, the score is all-important. Even after ten years of beating my own scores, I’m still amazed to read some of the scores on Score, some of which are ten times better than my top efforts! That’s the beauty of NiGHTS – whereas most ten year old games rely on players revisiting the familiar to make them worth playing, NiGHTS offers a continual challenge and the promise of greater reward with each play.

It’s interesting to see how complicated Sonic’s move set has become in recent years compared to how simplistically he started, but NiGHTS is even more straightforward – you can fly, dash and Paraloop, but they’re the only important moves. Every level, boss and top score can be conquered by skilfully combining these controls, and for a game so simple to challenge after twelve years proves depths I don’t think even Sonic Team could have predicted.

I’ve written about NiGHTS into Dreams in such length over the past three or four years of this blog that you must be wondering if there’s anything else I can say you won’t have heard before. If you haven’t read or listened to any of my previous posts on NiGHTS, they’re listed here:

NiGHTS into Dreams

My Personal Journey of Dreams

NiGHTS: Journey of Dreams – Podcast Episode 3

Episode 4 – Innovation in NiGHTS into Dreams

NiGHTS: Journey of Dreams Impressions

No. 18 – Christmas NiGHTS

This time last year I was worried whether NiGHTS: Journey of Dreams would spoil my memories of the original one if it turned out to be rubbish. Well, even though it wasn’t rubbish it hasn’t changed my opinion of the original at all; if anything, it’s made me realise what an amazing achievement it was. It clearly wasn’t an easy game to get right, with so many daring ideas that they all had to work for the game to succeed. Artificial Life, remixing music and a reliance on score over completion were all daring choices that extended the game’s lifespan far beyond the few hours needed to defeat Wizeman.

NiGHTSA thought just occurred to me – what would I have missed out on if I’d just defeated Wizeman and decided not to play the game any more? How many people thought that was the game’s end and traded it in? That thought actually gave me quite a chill.

The most beautiful, innovative, unbelievable game I have ever played, NiGHTS into Dreams is the greatest game Sega ever created, and in my eyes the best game ever.

January 9th, 2009
Blog Entry

The Sega Top 50 Recap

I realise I’ve been rattling through these games at quite a pace, so here’s a handy rundown of all the games so far in my Sega Top 50. 56k warning – there’s lots of lovely pictures to download!

SC5 copysegarallyshinobisharrierFzero
cmissionbfiredaytona cyborg hotd lost world vf2 monkey Hangon samba Outrun 35gaxeRISTAR Sonic AdventureCrazy TaxiMario and Sonic AfterburnerComix ZoneOutRun 2006 copyGuardian HeroesSecret RingsJSRHeadhunter copyRevenge of ShinobiStory_of_Thor_2SSoul2ColumnsChristmas NiGHTSChuChu RocketsonicMSRStreets of Rage 2Sonic CDPanzer Dragoon ZweiRezSFIIS3andKPSOPanzer SagaBurning RangersSkies of Arcadiavirtua-fighter-4-evolutionsfiii main shenmue

January 8th, 2009
Blog Entry

No. 2 – Shenmue

shenmue To many Sega fans, Shenmue is a sacred text, representing everything about Sega that delights and frustrates; hugely ambitious, completely original and, sadly, a flop. With a budget reportedly around the $100m mark – the most expensive game ever, until Grand Theft Auto IV – it was always going to struggle to make its money back, even at £40 a time. Those that did buy into Yu Suzuki’s paean to 1980s small-town Japan found a game as beautiful as any ever constructed.

From the very first scene, Shenmue drips the production standards and level of detail you would expect from a big budget AM2 project; a broken dojo sign has visible splinters, each character has eyelashes and the detail of Lan-Di’s dragon design is absolutely breathtaking. Through judicious use of cinematic conventions – lightning, the mysterious intruder, Ryo’s harrowing cry of “no!” – the scene makes a strong impression extremely efficiently, ditching lengthy exposition for a quick hit of action to act as a catalyst for the whole saga. It’s quite a brave decision, but the whole scene has a visual impact countless video games would kill for even now, and is such a strong start that no matter how many times I see it I never fail to get drawn in.

shenmue_b2_screen053 The detail level rarely drops from here on. Famous for its “go anywhere, do anything” doctrine at the time, Shenmue offers a hugely interactive world unlike anything before it, with working drawers, light switches, arcade machines and hundreds of other objects. After finishing the game you can even play through again with the weather as it was in real life on those days, which is so exciting I find it quite frightening. Such detail goes a long way to creating a realistic picture of 1986 Japan, and perhaps explains why it wasn’t quite so well received in the West. It may seem at odds for a game dealing with patricide, but it’s precisely this depth that forms a huge part of Shenmue’s appeal, crafting a believable world for the player to explore. With a slow pace and relatively small game area it’s crucial that you can’t see the cracks, and it’s here that Shenmue excels.

In order to stay strong you have to train your skills every day, a sometimes tedious exercise that sees you repeating moves for fifteen minutes a time. The rewards are real though, as moves increase in potency and even take on different forms, with follow-up attacks or greater speed other benefits. For a game that doesn’t use experience points or equipment there has to be some way to develop your fighting skills, particularly with the game’s later emphasis on combat, and as you play through you begin to pick up a training routine. You can learn new moves by translating move scrolls, or even by befriending certain characters and being in the right place at the right time. Even Tom, the world’s worst Jamaican, has a new move to teach you. Like a lot of Shenmue, many of these elements are completely optional, but go far in maximising your experience.

iwaoFriendships are more than just a means for learning new moves, though. Regularly buying coffee for a friendly (if twitchy) Chinese chef befriends him, meaning later in the game you can bring him Chinese scrolls to translate, but by far the most important friends to have are Fukuhara and Nozomi. Far from presenting friendship as straightforward, Ryo’s relationships with these two are more complex than your average game. Fuku-san is a student at Ryo’s late father’s dojo, a well-meaning if somewhat clumsy teenager who has always felt his skills are second best compared to Ryo’s. Fuku-san pleads with Ryo not to pursue Lan-Di, but when he realises he can’t stop him he breaks open his piggy bank to help pay for a ticket to Hong Kong. It’s a wonderful gesture of childlike warmth that even gets through to the oft-stony Ryo, and a genuinely touching moment in their friendship; Fuku-san is so often the doting little brother it’s only fitting he raids his loose change to help in any way he can.

The real crux of the relationships, and the game’s heart in many ways, is the interaction between Ryo and flower shop girl Nozomi Harasaki, probably the most problematic friendship in all of games history. The two are (quite literally) made for each other, yet Ryo maintains his distance for the same reason as any comic book hero would: protection. It’s clear that Nozomi resents this, but no matter how many cut-short telephone conversations and words of advice they share, she finds it almost impossible to break through his guard. Towards the game’s end there is a (completely optional) scene on a park bench that stands out as one of the most heartbreakingly romantic moments in any game or film I can remember, filled with the sort of restrained desperation you’d expect from a literary classic, not a Dreamcast game. Theirs is a kind of doomed relationship – she knows he has to leave and he knows he can’t risk taking her with him – and so they suppress every emotion imaginable to keep each other at arm’s length. You can imagine the therapy their children would need.

ShenmueThere are so many memorable moments in Shenmue I could spend another 1,000 words and still only get halfway through them. The often-maligned Quick Time Events give rise to some of the most cinematic and incredible fight scenes ever witnessed, my particular favourite being the bar room fight that’s as exciting as any traditional fighting game with twice the impact. The real-time fighting is essentially Virtua Fighter with more moves (and movement), and knowing you’re strong enough to conquer the game’s huge final brawl because you trained every day is an extremely satisfying pay-off.

Shenmue deserves enormous praise for setting its sights so high, and even higher praise for getting so damned close. It’s not a perfect game by any means – some of the voice acting is a particular bone of contention of mine – but it is still a unique and endlessly fascinating adventure that stays with you long after the boat to Hong Kong has set sail.

January 7th, 2009
Blog Entry

No. 3 – Shining Force III trilogy

sfiii main

Shining Force III is the high point of an incredible series, telling one huge story over three different Scenarios, each with its own heroes, perspectives and unforgettable battles.

The epic trilogy starts with Scenario I: God Warrior of the Kingdom, the only part of the game officially released in English. The plot starts with peace talks between the Republic and the Empire, but soon escalates into kidnappings, religious plots and a vicious cult seeking to bring about the end of the world. The second game, Target: Child of God, occurs simultaneously but sees you take the role of the Empire’s Prince Medion. Both games start and end in the same place, but along the way show very different sides of the same conflict, and that’s where Shining Force III‘s genius lies.

In many games players aren’t encouraged to see events from alternative perspectives, but developers Camelot devised a system named Synchronicity that not only shows conversations and battles from both sides but also the effects your actions can take on others. For example, if you allow the brainwashed General Spiriel to live in SFIII: Scenario I, she appears in Scenario III to join your force to help defeat the Bulzome Cult. This is just one of many examples of the Synchronicity system at work: treasure chests opened in Scenario I remain empty in Scenario II, a stolen key on one disc can unlock a character in the next, and any number of other strands serve to keep all three Scenarios locked together as one huge game, rather than playing like three disparate versions of the same story.

Shining Force 3 Episode 3 (J)Shining Force III was the very first RPG I played, and it made such a huge impact I’ve been a big fan of the genre ever since. I remember reading a preview in Sega Saturn Magazine and completely obsessing over it, even going so far as to plan a play diary so I could recall all the major plot points, items and secrets. When the game eventually arrived I was absolutely blown away by it, leading me to get my Saturn switched, which proved to be one of the best decisions I ever made!

There’s a rather good piece on the Shining series in this month’s GamesTM (although it does neglect Shining Force II, officially the tenth best game ever), but for all the talk of its political plot and the lack of translation for the last two discs, it doesn’t sum up why I love the game so much. Crammed into the three discs are so many amazing battles, characters, weapons, attacks and enemies that it’s like a constant revelation to you, with something new in every battle. Scenario II has a great battle by a lighthouse, and at the end of each turn you have to take cover or the lighthouse’s beam will expose you to the enemy as you sneak over the bridge. The idea of making a stealthy turns-based battle amazes me every time.

sfiii Shining Force III‘s sense of spectacle was only bettered on Saturn by Panzer Dragoon Saga, but as beautiful as PDS is, it could never compete with the SFIII trilogy’s sheer size: completing all three Scenarios properly probably takes between 100 and 150 hours of gameplay, a huge game even by today’s standards. Even better is that by completing the third Scenario, you can access even more battles on the best "thank you" gift ever, the elusive Premium Disc, which lets you use the  characters you’ve so lovingly raised to take on classic Shining bosses including Darksol and Dark Dragon. For a Shining Force fan, it doesn’t get any better.

I could reel off another fifty unforgettable moments from the trilogy, but the fact is that Shining Force III changed my life. I must have completed the first disc at least six times, and I have a save file on Scenario III that’s no more than a few months old.

artbook-01_jpg_w300h420For Christmas, my brother gave me the Shining Force III artbook, and it reminded me how incredible the series is. It was clearly a real labour of love for the Takahashi brothers and Camelot, and it’s such a shame that we’ll never again see their vision of the Shining world brought to life. The three Scenarios of Shining Force III stand as the pinnacle of Sega’s greatest RPG series, and the third-best game they ever made.

January 6th, 2009
Blog Entry

No. 4 – Virtua Fighter 4: Evolution

virtua-fighter-4-evolutionWithout a doubt the finest fighting game in the world  – Virtua Fighter 5 loses out by lacking the comprehensive training mode, something that definitely should have gone into the 360 version. Characters and stages are beautifully rendered with water, snow and sand thrown about by the fighters’ movements, and lighting and camera effects emphasise the dramatic action. Even now, the PS2 version impresses.

Two-player mode is, as usual, reliant on finding an opponent at your level. If you’re lucky enough to know someone willing to pit their Pai against your Sarah, make the most of it as there’s enormous fun to be had. Even though VF5 on 360 features online play, it can never provide the accuracy needed to perfect your Dragon Smash Cannon or Tetsuzankou.

Even if you can’t find anyone, VF4:Evo compensates with the greatest single-player mode in a beat ‘em up: Quest mode. Virtua Fighter mixed with role-playing parts, you take on VF players at Tokyo’s top arcades, gaining experience and collecting items to customise your character. Your opponents are based on real players from Sega’s arcade network, so you face AI versions of Chibita, Napoleon, Ohsu, DemonKitty, Kyasao and more. There’s a real sense of achievement when you manage to defeat one, and with the tiered ranking system there are still promotions and items to be won long after the final tournament has passed.

The real beauty of Virtua Fighter has always been in finding a character you click with, learning their moves and building combos and strategies. Evo’s training mode contains all character moves as well as their best attack series, combinations and tactical advice. It teaches you how to predict and escape attacks and throws, which attacks are best countered with grapples, when and where to dodge and the meaning and application of Evading Throw Escapes, Half-Spinning Attacks, Sabikis and everything in between. The deeper you go, the more you discover and the more wonderful and engrossing it all becomes. Virtua Fighter 5 may be bigger and prettier, but without a Dojo mode it doesn’t give up its subtleties as easily; had I started with VF5 I would have been playing at scrub level for much longer.

I think certain players might have convinced themselves VF’s not for them, but with an open mind, a little instruction and the right character, it proves itself as a hugely rewarding game of limitless depth and opportunity.

January 5th, 2009
Blog Entry

No. 5 – Skies of Arcadia

Skies of ArcadiaA bona fide Sega classic and one of the all-time great RPGs, Skies of Arcadia and the revamped Skies of Arcadia Legends are brilliant examples of what it means to be a Sega game – optimism, adventure and endless blue skies. 

The lead character Vyse, member of the Blue Rogue Air Pirates, is the quintessential young RPG hero, but rather than falling into the hot-headed or angsty clichés he’s endlessly optimistic, determined and adventurous; the son of a pirate, he’s wanted this kind of adventure all his life, so he throws himself headlong into action without hesitation. He’s not the only memorable character, though – über-cool gunfighter Gilder is constantly harassed by the lovesick Clara, De Loco is a Doctor Octopus-inspired madman and Sigmund Freud would have had a field day with Vigoro. The interplay between these characters, particularly Vyse and his tomboy teammate Aika, is classic, with plenty of comic interludes and facial expressions to make the dialogue scenes much more enjoyable than your average RPG.

Of course, this isn’t your average RPG in any sense. Yes, it’s full of turns-based battles, experience points and random encounters (frustratingly so at certain points), but it innovates within these areas. Aside from the standard hand-to-hand fights, at times you’re attacked by other ships in the skies and have to defend yourselves with cannons; when fighting Armada Generals or the enormous Gigas creatures, these encounters are absolutely without parallel. Standard battles are entertaining too, of course, with plenty of over-the-top magic attacks to please the eye and strategy to keep the brain happy. Skies of Arcadia Legends adds extra "Wanted" battles against notoriously difficult Air Pirates that rank among the hardest enemies you’ll encounter.

SkiesEach land you explore has its own culture, architecture and customs, from the ancient Japanese Yafutoma to the secluded jungle city of Ixa’taka, and this is reflected in a varied score that never dips below the excellent. The opening theme is leaves you in no uncertainty about the adventure ahead of you, and the music that accompanies the end credits is almost unspeakably enjoyable, which is to say nothing of the huge amount of music in between: when battles begin to go badly the music changes accordingly, hugely increasing the intensity, but when you gain the upper hand the music changes to power you across the finish line. It’s a simple system but one that adds so much to the battles. The only real downfall to Skies of Arcadia Legends is its poorly compressed music, which is markedly inferior to the Dreamcast original, and despite the wealth of extras in Legends I’m still playing through on Dreamcast for the sheer joy of the soundtrack.

All in all, Skies of Arcadia is a refreshingly original RPG, not just in many of its elements (its boat travel predates Wind Waker by several years!) but in its approach to character. Throughout all the hardships that befall him and his crew, Vyse never loses optimism, and can always be replied on for a clenched fist of determination in times of need. Skies of Arcadia is pure Sega, and one of the greatest roleplaying games ever. I just wish the sequel rumours were true.

January 4th, 2009
Blog Entry

No. 6 – Burning Rangers

Burning Rangers Just missing out on the hallows of my all-time Sega top 5 is ace fire-fighting adventure Burning Rangers, the Saturn’s last hoorah and a perfect slice of Sonic Team gaming.

Burning Rangers is remarkable not just for being one of only a handful of games dedicated to saving lives, but for its unique style: combining anime cutscenes and full voiceovers with gameplay places BR more in line with an interactive cartoon dissected into four episodes. Each character’s personality shines through, from Big’s nobility to Phoenix’s snide comments, and short cutaways in each level bring a strong sense of teamwork to the Rangers. Sonic Team originally planned for the player to switch between team members in levels, but personally I always find the focused approach more worthwhile, showcasing as it does the teasing relationship between Shou and Tillis as well as their individual determination in saving lives. There’s plenty of humour in there, particularly over the team’s radio communication system, most of which you can use on a PC if you pop your game CD in the disc drive.

BRStylish though it is, there’s no shortage of substance in Burning Rangers. An extremely streamlined control system lets you rip through levels like there’s no tomorrow, and one of my favourite innovations is the ability to escape an incoming fire by tapping Down as the walls visibly heat up. It’s extremely simple and admittedly wouldn’t work in many similar games, but it succeeds in giving real-time reactions a QTE-style quality without interrupting the game flow. The other major innovation is the use of audio direction instead of music and a game map; Chris Parton issues directions automatically, but can also be called upon with the tap of a button to send you the right way. Aside from its functional performance as a guide system, it’s also extremely effective at developing the story within a level, as other Rangers radio in with their current locations, requesting teleportation for survivors and assistance with everything from lifts to locks. It’s a unique take on character development that keeps the story flowing, limiting the number of interruptive cutscenes to a handful within each level.

Burning Rangers communicates in other innovative ways, too; many of the characters you rescue send emails of thanks, often explaining their actions and giving little insights into their lives, from boyfriends and pets to aspirations and dreams. It’s a great feature that humanises the survivors, and often reveals secrets such as artwork and sound test if you manage to find members of Sonic Team. There’s always someone new to rescue too, as the levels are randomly generated each time you play, extending the replay value immensely.

All in all, Burning Rangers is an amazing game that is, I feel, sometimes cruelly overlooked in the annals of Sega and Sonic Team greatness (although Sega Europe have a football team named “Burning Rangers”!). The fact is it came out at a difficult time – the Saturn was nearly finished in Europe and the Dreamcast was on the horizon, and I’ve no doubt if it were a Dreamcast launch title it would be remembered for the amazing game it is. It could even have used real-life email!

Considering we saw a resurrected NiGHTS, I believe the much more commercial Burning Rangers could find a home on any of the current generation consoles.

January 3rd, 2009
Blog Entry

No. 7 – Panzer Dragoon Saga

Panzer Saga Stripping the action from the Panzer Dragoon series and replacing it with RPG battles might seem like a step backwards, but the combat in Panzer Dragoon Saga is as exciting as any shoot ’em up and involving as any RPG. The most amazing part, though, is the dragon-morphing system, which lets you alter its form to favour Attack, Defence, Speed or Spirit. Seeing the dragon cycle between colours and different forms is absolutely stunning even today, and favouring one form makes mastering that attribute’s magic quicker. Being able to change your form mid-battle to pulverise weakspots or fire up a magic shield is a crucial skill and feels fantastically satisfying.

I wanted to start by mentioning the gameplay – so much has been written about its graphics that I thought it was important to focus on the game itself. That’s not to say it doesn’t deserve its praise: the character designs, lighting, architecture and atmosphere are all unmatched in the Saturn’s catalogue, and there are more breathtaking moments in its four discs than many RPGs I’ve played since. The many hours of FMV cutscenes are stunning in their detail, but many of the cutscenes are rendered with the in-game engine, which is years ahead of its time for a game released in 1997.

PDSPanzer Dragoon Saga’s rarity is bordering on legendary among PAL Saturn owners – I paid £80 for mine nearly four years ago, and since then its value has actually increased. I seem to remember reading there’s the equivalent of 20,000 A4 pages of dialogue spread across its four discs, which is one hell of a translation job, and the localisation staff deserve huge praise for making such a daunting prospect so rich and coherent. Aside from the dialogue in-game and over cutscenes, there’s also completely optional elements such as books detailing mining, the evolution of dragons, the history of villages and much more. The Panzer world is one of the most detailed and well-crafted in any media, and to see it spread out in front of you both geographically and historically is a real accomplishment by Team Andromeda and the translators.

The downside, unfortunately, is that it’s actually a very short game – I completed it in around ten hours, which is quite expensive if you calculate value by the hour! As an experience, however, it’s a tremendously rich and coherent world where music, art and gameplay combine to create a true masterpiece that, although over quickly, captures the imagination so completely that you want to explore every inch and savour every moment.

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