Backloggin’ the Year – Paul’s Playthroughs, January 2021
Welcome to Backloggin’ the Year, a feature that discusses the challenges and excitement that comes with working through your backlog. Staff member Paul Shkreli looks at where he’s at in terms of his backlogging goals.
January is when I establish my gamer’s resolution each year. Last year, my resolution was to avoid mobile/gacha games, which proved to be easier to accomplish than I thought. This year, I joined the team of backloggers to work through my queue of games I haven’t finished or played. As there are many titles over the console generations I want to revisit, I started the year with a trio of titles which caught my interest: two for the PlayStation and one for the Sega Saturn.
Tales of Destiny (PlayStation)
Tales of Destiny was my first encounter with the Tales series back in elementary school. I had my Christmas bounty and convinced my aunt to take me to the mall. Taken by the cover art with no real idea about the game or series, I plunked down my Santa bucks and took the game home. I have fond memories both surrounding and about the game, and was curious as to how it stands up decades later, both in its own right and as a part of a long-running and popular series. In a nutshell, Tales of Destiny features:
- A large cast of characters
- Many minigames
- Marginal graphical improvement over similar SNES RPGs
- Button-mashy combat
- An awesome soundtrack with some especially moody dungeon and overworld music
- An absolutely inane story replete with a fake-out ending and surprise siblings
Although I played the game to completion as a pre-teen, I was surprised to discover I completely forgot about half of the playable characters in the game. I’ve previously played Tales of Eternia (oddly named Tales of Destiny II in the US), which suffers from the same growing pains as this game. Tales of Destiny has the bones of a SNES RPG but wants to impress you with some flashy upgrades. While we did not get Tales of Destiny II proper in the US (or the remake of the first game for the PlayStation 2), the series really came into its own with Tales of Symphonia, the HD remaster of which is now asking to be added to my backlog.
First game on the backlog completed. Tales of Destiny. I remember liking it a lot more when I was in 5th grade. Story did not hold up well but man some real bangers in this soundtrack. Especially moody map music. pic.twitter.com/pUaHPuJFhg
— Pretzel (my new kitten) Stan Account (@paulwall217) January 28, 2021
Ultimately, this game hasn’t aged as well as my memory expected it to. It’s a great preview of what’s to come for the series, but was already a bit dated when it came out, let alone now.
Magic Knight Rayearth (Sega Saturn)
“I think it’s time for a little child abuse.” – An actual line from the game
I remember staring at this game in Electronic Gaming Monthly around the time Buffy the Vampire Slayer premiered on The WB; just staring at the cover art for this game based on an anime I had never even heard of. I had played some of the emphatically ordinary Super Famicon turn-based RPG of the same name which was never localized, but this was something different. This was next-gen and new. Of course, the large pink Working Designs logo emblazoned on the bottom corner of the box sealed the deal. This was the studio that brought Lunar Silver Star Story Complete and Lunar 2 Eternal Blue Complete and their enormous boxes stuffed with extras into my home. I could only imagine what jokes the same company who made a Bill Clinton joke in Lunar 2 would come up with.
very “season 1 cordelia chase” vibes in this video game from the Clinton administration pic.twitter.com/zi2QcTHRDI
— Pretzel (my new kitten) Stan Account (@paulwall217) February 1, 2021
Sadly, I did not own a Sega Saturn in the 1990s. Or in the 2000s. It was not until summer 2012 when, in an effort to do anything but study for the bar exam, I tracked down a stranger who happened to live near me in Lansing, Michigan, who had just the fix I was looking for: a Sega Saturn for sale, and some choice titles to boot. Eight years and a pandemic later, I’ve decided it was high time to experience both the Saturn game and the anime it is based on.
Before we continue, just know I took to this game and anime (the first two dozen or so of the 49 total episodes) in tandem. The beginning and end of the game matches its anime counterpart, but nearly every story beat in between is vastly different. I never came to a satisfying rationalization as to why the stories are so different. The localization tries too hard to be funny, succeeding only sometimes. Maybe if I had experienced this game as a pre-teen in the 1990s I would find myself fondly remembering the jokes. The only thing more dated than the jokes are the tragically animated 3D renderings of the boss enemy designs.
Someone translating this video game twenty three years ago did this to me today pic.twitter.com/WcVtz4EKJQ
— Pretzel (my new kitten) Stan Account (@paulwall217) January 30, 2021
That being said, the game is great. The graphics are vibrant, the character sprites are cute, and the magic spells are flashy and effective. It’s a standard action RPG and while the RPG mechanics are a bit limited, the gameplay is tight enough to make it work. I was a huge fan of Working Designs’ translations back when the company was functional, but my tastes in localization have matured with age. I would absolutely recommend this game to anyone who can get their hands on it.
Wild Arms 2 (PlayStation)
Pre-pandemic, I would sometimes long for the days of going to the mall and browsing until a random game I’ve never heard of found me. Wild Arms was one of those games that practically jumped off the shelf at the store and into my hands. The cover art spoke to me, and to this day I still hold an affinity towards the first game. I recently finished a playthrough of Wild Arms, and loaded up the sequel on my Vita thinking I would find the ugly battle graphics charming this time around.
The game occupies an awkward spot in the series’ history, languishing in a sort of uncomfortable teenage phase. Graphically, the game is still quite difficult to look at, even on a tiny Vita screen. Battle sprites are only minimally improved from the first game, and while party member’s super-deformed sprites are cute, enemies themselves are polygonal abominations. I appreciate the added ability to “cancel” random encounters before they begin but disliked having to scrounge for orange gems to power the ability. Likewise, being able to target body parts or sections during a boss fight is a great mechanic added to the game, but is it really required in every single boss fight? Someone was clearly proud of this mechanic as it is featured on the back of the North American box art. Even the story starts off promisingly, with interesting spins on convention featuring a science fiction story told in a Wild West setting. Ultimately, the experience is too familiar to the first game and features a host of improvements which don’t necessarily elevate the experience.
The Wild Arms games have more stylistic titles in Japan as opposed to the straightforward numbers in the west, with this game originally titled Wild Arms: 2nd Ignition. My alternative title for the game is Wild Arms Two (Steps Back). I am planning on visiting its cel-shaded sequel during this run and hope it fares better than this entry.
Time’s up for this month! I am working through Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII at the moment, and will be asking on Twitter for suggestions on where to go next.
Let me know which game to play next, and what you think of my backlog journey so far!