Thursday, March 27, 2008

Xbox 360 - Lost Odyssey

Lost Odyssey by Microsoft Studios

Even though Lost Odyssey is 3 discs long, this review is short and sweet. If you like Final Fantasy VII, get Lost Odyssey. It is, for all intents and purposes, a clone of Final Fantasy VII.. not quite as well done, of course. If you didn't like Final Fantasy VII or are not a fan of turn-based games, skip Lost Odyssey.

This game claims to be an RPG, but Mass Effect and Oblivion are more an RPG than this is. This game is basically turn based random encounters to level up. This game has much more in common with Pokemon than it does Oblivion. There's really very little in the way of questing. So, expect mostly random encounters, like Pokemon.

The controls work reasonably well and the fighting system works well enough if you happen to like turn-based Final Fantasy style gaming. Note, if you want a more detailed review, leave a comment letting me know and I will review this game in excruciating detail.


  • Gameplay: 6/10 (too repetitive)
  • Sound/Music: 8/10
  • Controls: 9/10
  • Story: 4/10 (mostly encounters, little story)
  • Bang for the Buck: 8/10 (length, if you like this sort of game)
  • Overall: 4/10 (mostly for being unoriginal)

Xbox 360 & PS3 - The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion

The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion by Bethesda

While I realize this is a not-so-recent game, there is still no other RPG that compares to the level of detail that this RPG offers. Oblivion is presently the best RPG on the market for the nexgen consoles even if the graphics are a year older than most RPGs available today.


The graphics of Oblivion aren't the absolute best I've seen as of today, but it's a far cry better than Morrowind's graphics (the predecessor to Oblivion). The level of detail is not as high as games like Mass Effect or Halo 3 (even though Halo 3 isn't an RPG), but the graphics do not, in any way, detract from the overall gameplay. That isn't to say that the graphics are bad, though. For a 3D adventure game, the graphics are definitely in keeping with today's standards. However, even though it isn't state-of-the-art, the lack of it is more than made up for in the gameplay system.

RPG portions

Oblivion is as true an RPG as you're likely to find on the nexgen consoles. The battle system is real-time vs the turn based systems like Final Fantasy. It doesn't have 'dice rolls' or anything visual like this, but it does offer a random chance and probability system. So, if you're fighting, there is a chance you could do more or less damage on each hit and vice versa for your enemy.

Elf, Atronach or Redguard: Birthsigns and Classes

You choose what you want your character to be. Through the birthsigns and the classes, you outfit your character's strength and weaknesses. For example, the sign of the Atronach gives you strong magic skills, but no easy way to regenerate magic. You have to then create or buy absorb spells to regenerate your magic. If you choose to be a High Elf, then you get a 100% bonus to your magic skills, but you also have a 100% weakness to magic (so, one spell on you and you're dead). If you choose to be a Breton, this is a more well-rounded character and you are good at being both a warrior and casting spells.

So, again, it's your choice. Bethesda did a superb job designing this system. It's extremely well thought out. So, you can complete the game no matter which class or birthsign you choose. However, it could be a bit challenging if you choose to be born under the Atronach sign. But, if you've played the game once through, you might find it completely different playing it through again as a different class or birthsign. Once you know the game and what it has to offer, you can easily make up for your weakness by using other battle strategies.

Swords, Daggers and Spells

Weapons are found just about every location throughout the game. Most physical weapons are found on enemies you kill. Some are found in chests and other can be awarded to you through completion of quests.

Spells are found in one-use scrolls or multi-use spells can be created once you gain access to Arcane University. You can enchant items and equip these items to add additional effects to your character.

Battle System

Oblivion has a real-time battle system. I prefer real-time battles over turn-based because turn-based systems seem stilted and difficult to manage. Also, waiting for each character to take their turn is annoying. Most systems that use turn based systems also make you have blind random encounters. So, you don't see the enemy on your screen until the encounter starts. With Oblivion, you can easily see your enemy in the distance before you even approach. So, you can avoid the encounter if you so choose. For this reason, the battle system in this RPG is about as flexible as you can get.

The one downside, if any, is that Oblivion doesn't support squad based play. Later on in the game, you can have characters follow you around and they will fight when you fight, but you can't control their actions. They do what they do. If they die, they're dead and you leave them there.

Sneaking and Thievery

Oblivion offers the ability to sneak around undetected (under the right conditions). This allows you to approach people and creatures unheard and steal things or even pickpocket them.


The quests and the quest system in Oblivion are top notch. Bethesda thought of just about every way to make the quest system as friendly at it should be. From big easy to read type to linking each quest right to a point on the map, to putting a placeholder on the map so you know where to go. There is really no way to get lost when doing nearly all of the quests. There are a few exceptions to this, though.

The quest journal keeps all of your quests neatly in order. So, you can pick and choose the quest you want to pursue at any point in time. You can also change your current quest just as easily. In the quest journal, it's broken down into three categories. Current Quest, Completed Quests and Active Quests. The current quest is the quest you are actively working to complete. Completed quests are those you have finished. Active Quests are those that you have discovered, but not completed. Some quests are multi-step, others complete in one step. It's entirely up to the quest.

Some quests require you to be at a certain level before you can begin.

World / Map

Cyrodiil / Tamriel is easily one of the biggest landscaped worlds I've seen in an RPG. Mass Effect's levels are quite big too, but overall I believe Oblivion's map is the absolute largest. Bethesda went to great lengths to make the world seem as seemless and believable as possible. So, when you're wandering the landscape, it honestly feels like one very large area.

The map covering the world contains all of the necessary items you need to travel from place to place. As you discover new locations, they are placed onto your map. Some quests reveal undiscovered locations and place them on your map. The map is the central tool you'll use with this game. It's the primary way to select a new location for 'fast travel'.

Fast Travel vs Slow Travel

In Cyrodiil, you get the choice on how you want to travel between each of the towns, camps, mines or caves. You can choose to hoof it yourself and walk over there. You can buy a horse and ride. You can fast travel. There are different reasons to choose each mode of travel. When you run, it increases your athletics skill. When you ride a horse, it doesn't. When you're out roaming (horse or running), you can run into encounters which ultimately give you experience (blade, spell, etc). So, for leveling up, doing encounters is a good thing. When you fast travel, you skip all of the encounters. But, fast travel gets you from place to place extremely fast (in real time). So, you spend less time running around and more completing the quests.

So, it's really left up to you how you choose to travel and roam.

Conversation with people

In Oblivion, you can talk with anyone you see. Yes, even some enemies (as long as they are people). Animals and Daedra don't really converse... with the exception of some Dremora. So, when you're wandering the game, be sure to strike up conversations with anyone you see. Sometimes, the conversation will open up a new quest.

If you want to converse with enemy Conjurers, Vampires or any other humanoids in the game, you will need to charm them with about 100pts. But, they will talk with you without fighting you. Just be ready to get out of there or become invisible once the conversation is over and the spell wears off.

Main Quest

The Main Quest is really fairly short. The main quest requires you to complete a few side quests in order to complete the main quest. So, be prepared to be sidetracked a few times to go get a few items you'll need to complete the main quest. I believe the completion of the side quest is really to get you familiar with all of the quests in the game and how the questing system works.

Time needed to play Oblivion

The time required to play Oblivion is really up to you. If you want to complete every official quest, it will probably take you anywhere between 1-2 months of play (assuming you play for several hours at a time). If you want to complete only the Main Quest, you can complete than in probably a week or two. This game has so many quests and add-ons that you can continue to play and level your character up for months. This is easily one of the lengthiest games I've ever played.

Not for everyone

Some people have stated they couldn't get into the game and didn't really like it. You have to like this style of free-form gaming to really get into it. But, for those who like this style of game will absolutely love Oblivion. It is easily one of the best RPG style games to date.

Quests are mostly linear

Each individual quest is typically linear. So, there's a beginning and an end. There are specific steps necessary to go from the beginning to the end. Most quests are self-contained (i.e., they don't rely on other quests). The Main Quest is the exception. Some quests are two or three steps to complete. Other quests are 10-20 steps. It's all dependent on the quest. Most quests require you to venture into caves to find something or someone. So, expect a fair amount of fighting unless you have invisibility.

Main complaint

My main complaint with Oblivion, and in particular the PS3 version, is that the game is still buggy. At inopportune times it tends to crash and/or hang forcing a complete power down of the system. On the Xbox 360, it's reasonably easy to power it off. On the PS3, you have to press and hold the power button due to the 'touch' sensor. The Xbox 360 version is quite a bit more stable than the PS3 version, however. There were times I might reboot the PS3 about every few hours of play. With the Xbox 360, I might play a week (or longer) before I hit a hang.

So, obviously, the rule here is to save early and save often. Not so much that your character might die, but more so that you don't have to redo an entire dungeon and/or quest(s) because of a bug.

Even with the bugs, I still rate this game high due to the shear details, size of the game, length of the game and overall detail level put into this game.


  • Sound: 9/10
  • Music: 9/10
  • Gameplay: 8.5/10
  • Story: 9.5/10
  • Control: 9/10
  • Bang-to-Buck: 9/10
  • Replay Value: 5/10
  • Overall: 9.5/10
If you enjoy RPG style video games, Oblivion won't disappoint as long as you are willing to put time into playing it.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Xbox 360 - Mass Effect

Mass Effect by Bioware

While I want to love this as an RPG, I just can't. Unfortunately, Mass Effect has so many problems that it really ends up a mediocre RPG in among this genre of game. Frankly, with the poor level of graphics performance of this game, I'm surprised it was released at all.

Graphics Engine

Let's start with the graphics. Clearly, the 3D imagery is highly detailed with every attempt to make the characters seem lifelike in this world. On the one hand, this is one of the most visually detailed games I've seen to date. On the other hand, BioWare obviously worked so hard on the stunningly realistic visuals that they let too many other things slide. This makes for a rather overall disappointing game. Even as detailed and stunning as this game is visually, there are major performance problems that really hinder the game experience.

The 3D movement and performance is herky-jerky. The game pauses every time it has to load information from the media (which is extremely frequent). The game's graphics rendering has severe issues including screen breakup (striping as the entire screen moves), lagging, slowness and overall performance issues. These 3D issues are completely unacceptable in this day and age on a console. If the console doesn't have enough game power to display the game properly, the game should never have made it past the concept phase. Alternatively, they should have redesigned the graphics to give smooth 3D gameplay experience most of the time. To actually let Mass Effect get all the way into production with these major graphics performance issues is just incredibly stupid.

Granted, the performance issues don't prevent you from playing the game, but it does become a continual inconvenience as you progress through the game. Yes, it is even an inconvenience that really almost makes you want to stop playing, it's that bad. I, however, am continuing to play Mass Effect because I've started it and want to see the conclusion. Consider that Knights of the Old Republic (KOTOR was BioWare's previous RPG) had none of these graphics performance issues on the Xbox.

RPG Aspects

Having played recent RPGs including completing Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion (and KOTOR), this game really doesn't much advance the RPG format in any substantial way. In fact, it takes a step back from Oblivion in several ways. It even takes a step back from some aspects of KOTOR. As examples of things missing:

  • KOTOR would let you swap team members and use a specific team member's skill to do a certain thing. Like, one of the team might be skilled at security, so you use that member to unlock doors or cabinets. Another might be skilled in the Force, so you let them use their Force powers.
    • With Mass Effect, you cannot swap your team and you cannot ask your team to do things like open locks. Your main 'Shepard' character must do everything.
  • In Oblivion, quests are stored in a journal as is Mass Effect's quests. But, Oblivion takes it one step further by letting you locate where you need to be directly from the Journal entry.
    • In Mass Effect, you are left to fend for yourself to find out where you need to be. While the Journal might tell you where you need to go, you have to back out of a ton of screens to get to the map and find the location. This makes finding where you need to be next a chore.
  • There are many many people wandering around on the levels, but you can only talk to a handful of specific people. In Oblivion, every wandering person was a potential new quest. In Mass Effect, other characters are completely ignored.
  • The Citadel is sprawling... and while it is huge, there's really very little to do in it. There're few people to talk to and even fewer things to actually do. While it's impressive to see the world they built, it really goes to waste.
  • Oblivion's objectives were always clearly documented in the quest journal. So, you knew exactly what to do next.
    • The Journal in Mass Effect is a bit on the confusing side. Yes, it's off the main menu, but then once you get into it, each quest expands and collapses. It also puts check marks beside the portion of the quest completed. But, it fails to really show you exactly what you need to be doing or where you need to go next.
    • With Oblivion, each quest objective was clearly marked on the map.
    • With Mass Effect, nothing is marked on the map. If you want it marked, you have to get out of the journal, open the map and then mark it yourself. So, you have to write down or remember what the current quest objective to know what you want to mark. Not impossible, but a hassle. Worse, if the objective is not on your present level, you can't get to that map to mark it.
Leveling Up

It's not very clear what levels you up and what doesn't. But, frankly, there aren't enough quests or battles per level to really help you level up. I found that the quests and battles were far too sparse and the dialog scenes were far too abundant. Ditch the dialog and add more action. Or, at least balance the dialog with action.

Because of this, leveling up is difficult. But, at the same time, it also looks like Bioware was aware of this issue and, thus, gives a LOT of experience points for completing even the tiniest little quest event. If there had been more quests and more action, then the game's RPG portions would have been more complete.

Character Creation

While I understand that Bioware kept the formula from KOTOR for this game (giving you a specific character with a specific history) and then letting you customize the look (to a degree), this really isn't an RPG. Yes, you can pick the 'class' your main character is, but unless you pick the combat class, you can't make it through the game. The other classes are so weak, you can't even make it through the first quest. So, this is a HUGE weakness for this game.

Even with Oblivion, there were weak classes, but you could make up for that weakness in other ways. In Mass Effect, there is no way to make up for those weaknesses. Maybe you call it making the game more challenging, I call it a defect.


The inventory system is limited to 150 items. This limitation isn't a problem until you pick up item 151. Then, it forces you into a screen that you can't get out of. You must convert one or more items into Omni-Gel (an all-purpose substance). This screen is extremely annoying. The inventory system works much like KOTOR's system, but with obvious differences.

Game Saves

While I applaud BioWare for giving a 'save anywhere' system, the limitations of this system are abundant:
  • You can only have a limited number of saves (15-20, I think). After you have used them up, you have to overwrite previous saves. Not smart if you want to be able to go back to a critical point and rework what you did.
  • When you die and the game 'resumes' it assumes you want the last Autosave rather than the last actual save. Because it autosaves so infrequently, you're likely loading an extremely old save point. So then, you have to waste time loading another save.
  • This goes with the previous point. The Autosave system saves too infrequently. The resume functionality assumes you want to use the last Autosave rather than using the most recent save. You can end up playing through an entire level before it Autosaves again. Bioware should have dumped the Autosave feature altogether and required only manual saves.
  • The system prevents you from saving while enemies are present. I don't get this one. Oblivion would let you save anytime, even during battle. I guess Bioware didn't want to have to deal with programming a save system that would save a battle sequence in action.
Audio / Soundtrack

While I wanted to like the audio, the backing tracks while you are roaming the levels are too repetitive and annoying. It's not soothing, it's not calming, it's just there and annoying. The backing tracks repeat far too frequently to not be completely repetitive. Oblivion's soundtracks got old after while too, but the rotation of the soundtracks and the length/differences were often enough that it kept from becoming completely boring. Even as I play Oblivion today, I've heard them all, but I can still listen to them without being annoyed.

Music should ALWAYS be under the volume control for Music. In the Hotel on one of the planets, the background music is considered a sound effect. This is wrong. Music should never be a sound effect. The music in the hotel is very annoying. I also wanted to play my own music from the XBox 360. But, because it is a sound effect, it mixed in with talking and other effect noises. There's no way to turn the music down as a result (or at least, no way without affecting dialog and other sound effects). Bioware needs to fix this issue.

Combat System

The combat system is downright horrible. For one thing, each 'enemy' gets completely blocked visually by this HUGE red triangle. So, instead of aiming at a character, you just see the triangle. This means, most of the time you don't really even know what you're shooting at visually. You have to rely on the identification text. It's also very difficult to determine exactly when someone has shot you. The character's response to being shot is not responsive. In Oblivion, the health meter was plainly visible and you knew how much health you had left. With Mass Effect, it's extremely hard to gauge the health.

Team Effort

While Mass Effect let's you build a team up, it really doesn't give you much to do with the team once you have it. With KOTOR, you could at least rotate among the characters and use the skills they offered. With Mass Effect, there is no such rotation. You can't choose to use any characters in your team for anything other than combat. Even then, they do what they want and the best you can do is tell them to move to a specific position. More often than not, your team members get in the way. They stand or crouch exactly where you want to be.

In fact, there was one battle where they were so stupid, they just stood and took fire until they died. It wasn't a particularly hard gun battle, it's just that their AI wasn't sophisticated enough to deal with the situation. I ended up waiting until they 'died' and I finished the battle myself so I didn't have to compete with their stupid AI.


The gameplay is fair. Not great, not excellent, but fair. You wander the levels hoping to find things, but you find relatively little to do. Shepard runs very slowly, so it takes an age to go from one side of a level to another.

Renegade vs Paragon

As with KOTOR, you can choose to be 'bad' or 'good'. In Mass Effect, you can be both at the same time. The problem is that there is no clearcut distinction in the dialog which specific dialog leads to which outcome. Sure, you can sometimes tell based on a smart mouthed comment, but in other cases it's not that clearcut. So, you're constantly trying to find which leads to paragon and which leads to renegade. I guess it doesn't really matter much unless you're trying to get 100% paragon or 100% renegade. It's still frustrating.


Here's where Bioware dropped the ball. While there are many choices of dialog, the words in the menu almost never match the outcome dialog. This is extremely frustrating. So, while the menu says one thing, Shepard ends up saying something completely different. The menu dialog should have matched the actual dialog word for word.. another Bioware failure.

Character movement

The character moves reasonably well, but about as well as can be expected from this kind of game. I would have preferred an eye level view so I don't have to watch the character from the back all the time. As I said above, he runs rather slowly.

Story Line / Ending

The storyline is not horrible, but not the best I've seen either. Because this is an RPG, there really should be many stories here. Not just one main one. However, because this game is mostly linear, the side stories don't mean much. The side stories are also just offshoots of the main story. On completion of the game, the entire game ends. You can't complete any uncompleted quests, you're just tossed into the credits and given the heave-ho. If you're a true RPG, the ending of the main quest shouldn't end the game. The Darkness (review coming soon) also followed this ending and I also didn't like that ending either. Again, I go back to Oblivion. Oblivion got all of the pieces right in terms of the RPG aspects of the game. Even the way to handle the ending of the main quest story line.

Xbox Live

There is no live component to Mass Effect. This is a single player game.


While I would like to give this game an 8 or a 9 rating on a 10 point scale, I can't. The flaws are graphical performance issues are too numerous and problems too abundant for this style of RPG. The lack of side and free quests make this game more or less linear. These issues really preclude Mass Effect from being a full out RPG. Yes, it does have some RPG aspects, but overall it lacks in too many ways to really be what Oblivion was.

If Bioware wants to make a real RPG, they need to sit down in a room and play Oblivion. Then, from that game craft a new better game from the same things that made Oblivion work.

  • Graphics: 6/10 (9/10 for details, 2/10 for gfx performance)
  • Music: 6/10 (too repetitive, not inspired, out of context)
  • Sound Effects: 9/10
  • Control: 9/10
  • Gameplay: 6/10
  • Combat: 5/10 (combat system really bad, lack of proper team commands)
  • RPG: 7/10 (works, but not outstanding)
  • Replay Value: 3/10 (little replay value unless you want to pick up game challenge points)
  • Overall: 5/10 (needs work)