The Best Game Never Played
Chantelise – A Tale of Two Sisters (Action RPG/ PC)
Introducing the Genre
I found a great Action RPG on a Steam Summer Sale. I have to emphasize both parts of the genre, it’s not an action game, with RPG elements, it’s not a full RPG, it’s one of the great undiscovered gems that would have been at home with the likes of The Legend of Zelda, Beyond Good & Evil, or the Square and Enix renaissance of the 90s with Secret of Mana, Secret of Evermore, Illusion of Gaia, and their kind.
Introducing the Game
I accidentally discovered this game while I was investigating another. I saw another one of Extra Credits’ “Games You Might Not Have Tried” videos where they mention Recetteer: An Item Shop’s Tale, a game where you run the item shop for adventurers. This game was part of a package sale for games from the same publisher and developer. I decided investigate. If this other game was as clever and original and surprising as Recetteer, it’ll be worth it. What I ended up with was actually not as original or as clever. It was actually a throwback to the difficult Action RPGs of the past, the like I haven’t seen or heard of in a long time. It was a welcome challenge trying to beat Chantelise: A Tale of Two Sisters.
The gameplay is simple to learn but difficult to master. Aren’t the best games like that? The best way I can describe this is, “what if The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of time had come out much earlier, with the Super Nintendo’s limitations with an early 3D FX chip?” There is a town, roads to dungeons, dungeons, bosses, sword fighting, a little bit of magic, secret items to find, even a little bit of fishing just to finish the Zelda parallels.
Combat from the beginning of the game is not too different from combat at the end of the game. You don’t have to purchase your attacks in order to string together 20-hit combos. You have most of your abilities at the beginning of the game. As you progress, you may find items you can equip to give you one extra ability. You’re forced to choose between special abilities, only able to have a limited number of items equipped at any one time. You can swap out on the fly, sometimes. This forces you to have to come up with some kind of strategy for difficult encounters, and believe me, there will be many difficult encounters.
The first real boss almost made me quit the game entirely, but I gave it another chance. There is a sharp difficulty curve when you reach the first boss, at least there was for me. Don’t get discouraged, you just have to come up with a strategy. Hint: Use magic. You can’t just power attack your way through the game. Figuring out how to defeat each boss is a satisfying challenge. They’re not quite Shadow of the Colossus specific and tricky, but it reminded me of that first time playing The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. I really need to stop comparing it to Zelda.
Once you beat the game, or if, there’s plenty more to keep you occupied. This is the type of game that should come with achievements and trophies, just to prove you’ve done the amazing. There’s in-game counters for secret items, special items to buy, super boss battles to take on, a fishing journal to fill out, even a crafting system if that’s your thing.
There’s an “old” amount of monsters throughout the game. By that, I mean there are few in variety, but there are plenty of pallete swapped versions that show up as you progress. You’ll end up seeing the same flying eyeballs, slimes, and floating wizard sprites again and again. This is actually a positive. The enemy placement is used to devious effectiveness, using what little they have in effective ways. Good old Mario has a limited number of pallete swapped enemies, but that never makes the games any easier. It’s how they’re used and placed that make things tricky. The developers of Chantelise definitely took some notes and implemented that design strategy. They’re not too punishing, but more than you’d expect considering the recent crop of Action RPGs to come out.
I don’t want to say this. I don’t want this to come off sounding derogatory. However, if this is the sort of thing that would turn you off from a game, you probably don’t deserve to play it. The story is very girly. The heroine is a young girl trying to save her sister and break a spell after she’s been turned into a fairy(another Zelda-themed similarity).
The tone of the story is very light and the main characters are very bubbly, which matches the anime shojo art style. Still, be ready to get your pride handed to you by the difficulty of the game. If I had a daughter, this game would serve as an excellent gateway into gaming as a whole.
I briefly mentioned in the last section about how the game is anime-inspired. There are very pretty and handsome male characters with chibi and cute female characters. It matches the tone of the story. No one is over-sexualized, so it’s great for all ages.
Even earlier I mention it’s also 3d. Imagine a 3d environment, but all the characters that you see are 2d sprites. It has slightly more graphical demands than the original Doom. If you’re on a budget PC, you’ll be able to play it, and probably enjoy it more than some other more demanding games.
It’s a shame the soundtrack didn’t come with the game like some other Steam sales. I hope this is the last Zelda comparison I make because the game really does stand on it’s own. The music reminds me of something Koji Kondo, of Zelda fame, would do. Imagine if someone else had scored Zelda, you’d end up with a soundtrack like this.
Voices are all in Japanese, which doesn’t make any real difference. The accompanying text in speech balloons and text windows are all translated into English. Sound effects are very classic game-y, the kind you might have heard on an SNES. If you’re a fan of challenging, but not impossible Action RPGs, it’ll sound just right. The sound helps establish and remind players of the pedigree of the game.
I had no problem with the keyboard for controls. They’re sharp and responsive. Camera control is better than most. Deaths were more due to lack of a strategy than by any hangups caused by the interface. If you have a controller, you can use that, too.
Even though the game is about two sisters who are always together, there is no multiplayer. For most RPGs, action or otherwise, that’s usually for the best. RPGs have never been for the competitive players. It’s hard to tell your own story when there is another player involved. The only multiplayer I can imagine would be asymmetrical like Super Mario Galaxy’s star collecting with the Wii-mote. That might actually make it better for younger players.
Start to finish, the game is very straightforward. There are plenty of perks for traveling off the beaten path, like winning challenge and time attack rooms. Besides bonus items, they help to train and refine your fighting style. If you saw a reward for beating a boss in 2 minutes where it took you 10, it plants the idea in your head that there is a trick you haven’t figured out yet.
I’ve put in 22+ hours into the game and beat the final boss. I’m pretty sure I can double that before completing everything extra. If you’re the kind of player that likes challenges, real challenges, not artificially inflated difficulty, you’ll love this. There’s just as many “easy” challenges to bait you into seriously upping your game and wanting to complete others.
If you can get a group of people to buy the game, this is the type of game you can really talk about and exchange strategies. It’s the kind of game you’d talk about at recess and pass rumors about before people just looked up information on the internet. Sure, I could just do that to find all the hidden treasures, but I’d just be cheating myself and cutting my enjoyment of this wonderful game short.
Some levels are just fun to replay, thankfully this game lets your replay any one of them at will, even the bosses. You can’t XP grind because there are no levels. So replaying levels helps further refine your skills as a player.
If I were to start again, now that I’ve mastered the combat/magic system, I wonder how quickly I can beat the game and cut down that 22 hour time.
I’m SO glad I bought this game. It’s been one of the most satisfying buys, in a long time.
The penultimate boss was harder than the final boss. Classic!
At one point, you fight your shadow, another Zelda-ism. You know, if you were to re-skin everything, this could very well be renamed, “The Adventure of Zelda.”
You can buy riddles to find hidden treasure. They’re not obvious, but just enough to spark a treasure hunting bug.
If you’ve played Recetteer, you will find something familiar about the town’s item shop and the item shopkeeper.
Mastering the magic system, as a player, did wonders to my ability to progress through the game.
I can’t wait to see what else the duo of developer EasyGameStation and publisher Carpe Fulgur LLC come up with. They scored two major hits with this and Recetteer. Maybe I should check out their other collaboration, The Summoner.
Boiling it Down
If you like Zelda, classic difficulty, on a budget computer, for a budget price, this is for you.
Originally written on 3/1/2011
Top TEN – Zombies
I mentioned before in a previous list that I used to have a severe phobia of zombies. In spite of that, I seem to have played a lot of games with zombies or zombie-like creatures in them. Here, I’ve collected the favorite zombies from my gaming collection. The mindless, shambling, reanimated, undead vary in fright factor and in the satifaction in dispatching them. Those, along with how memorable they are, are the biggest factors in where they’re placed on the list.
Number 10 – Castlevania
Every Castlevania game has zombies. They’re infinite, easily killable, and can be dispatched in many ways, axes, holy water, boomerangs, and the whip, just to name a few. Decapitating three with a single boomerang throw is always fun. I was looking forward to that in Lords of Shadow, and was disappointed. But the whipping is the most satisfying. The idea of beating a zombie to pieces with a heavy chain whip adds a personal level of hostility that I appreciate. Maybe I appreciate it just a bit too much.
Number 9 – Hellgate: London
Along with demons and ghosts, undead creatures appear all throughout the game. They automatically level up with the player, so they’re always difficult. They’re significantly memorable because of their intensity. They tend to swarm you and scream. In some environments, they are in total darkness, so you have to have a head lamp. Darkness always enhances the fright factor. All you can do is hear them, you know they’re nearby, but you can’t find them. Besides the fright, there are a variety of ways to kill them. I prefer incineration, but there are also sniper rifles, shotguns, machine guns, buzz saws, electrocution, explosives, cleaving in half, stabbing, throwing a sword into their face, crushing them with a shield, or summon robots or other monsters to kill them, like locusts or an armor plated demonic rhinoceros.
Number 8 – The Bard’s Tale
The undead are the major enemy throughout The Bard’s Tale. There are reanimated human and animal skeletons. But the standard zombies are not any more threatening than any other creature in the game, they are not overly satisfying to kill. But there is a show stopping song and dance number as one zombie “crew” tries to “serve” another in a dance-off. That’s just one of the many show stopping “WTF” musical moments in The Bard’s Tale. Singing and dancing zombies are hard to forget. With the advent of the musical game genre, there needs to be a remake.
Number 7 – X-COM – Chrysalids & Deep Ones
The turn based environment makes for great tension. The fact that a mission can fall apart and become a disaster at any moment is ever present. The alien’s movement phase takes control away from the player. When you see a threat, there’s very little you can do about it, unless you planned or prepared for it beforehand. X-COM’s aren’t your typical zombies. There is one dangerous creature that I hate more than any other, the Chrysalids. It runs up to one of your soldiers, kills them(I hope you weren’t attached to them), and then another creature spawns up from the corpse on the next turn, producing an additional monster that can, and will, do the same.
The sequel, X-COM: Terror From The Deep, has a similar monster called a Deep One that does the same thing. When you see it coming, it’s pure terror. They’re both fast, too. So by the time you see one, you must kill it immediately, or else you will not survive the next turn. And there’s nothing you can do about it but hit the “End turn” button. It’s the waiting that’s the worst part. You have to resign yourself to dooming that soldier. By pressing that button, even if there’s nothing else you can do, you know you’re going to lose him.
I hope the new X-COM by BioWare will have Chrysalids or something similar. They added a great element of terror!
Number 6 – Metroid: Fusion – The X Parasite
The scariest thing about the X Parasite is the fact that it’s not really far fetched. The X Parasite is an organism that infects a host cell, replicates the entire creature, and animates the newly created body. In Metroid: Fusion, the ideas is taken to the sci-fi extreme. This behavior is based on a real life parasite that zombifies lower life forms like snails, caterpillers, and worms and moves them in to sacrificial, suicidal situations. It travels up the food chain by letting itself be eaten until it’s “expelled” through the digestive track and is deposited in a new location to replicate.
Metroid: Fusion creates zombified versions of life from planet SR-388. It even infects Samus, replicates her, and steals her power suit. Samus then has to play cat and mouse against a zombie of herself that has all her equipment. For such a powerful bounty hunter, Samus usually blasts everything that moves. So for her to repeatedly retreat from a battle is a very different experience.
Number 5 – Half-Life – Headcrabs
These are the first creatures you see. You see the headcrabs before you even get a weapon to defend yourself. They leap up on and munch on a scientist’s head, take over it’s body, then shamble it towards you. Early on, you’re low on ammo so it’s wiser to bludgeon them to death with the crowbar(!). Getting that up close and personal, that early on, creates a very memorable experience. Most games before that would usually, at the least, give you a firearm. The headcrab zombies appear all throughout the game, creeping around corners, clawing through doors, and are featured more extensively in the sequel. In Half-Life 2, they majorly amplify the fright factor, putting them in darker locations, making them stronger, and introducing new species of headcrabs. Half-Life 2 also ups the satisfaction in killing them with grenades, buzz saws, sicking giant insects on them, dropping cars on them, and lighting propane tanks to create defensive firewalls. Rock on!
Number 4 – DOOM 3
I suppose the rest of the Doom series qualifies, but Doom 3 has the best zombies of the series. I used this game as part of my zombie exposure therapy to get over my zombie phobia. It’s does a great job combining the creepy environment with eerie zombies. After the first random dead “environmental decoration” body got up, I never trusted any “decorative” body to stay down. I double tapped every body I saw and was low on ammo the rest of the game.
I came to one quiet segment with a long hallway and little alcoves dotted along the sides, like the detention center on the Death Star. I knew that was a perfect spot to hide zombies. If I was a developer, and a jerk, that’s where I’d put them. Before entering, I cautiously fired one single bullet down the hallway with the pistol. The shot was enough to wake up all the zombies in the area and have them slowly climb out of the alcoves and shamble single file down the hallway towards me. I sighed, smiled, hefted up the chainsaw, and yelled, “F*** it! Cut ’em up!” (Bonus points to anyone who knows that quote). It was incredibly therapeutic.
Number 3 – Zombie Shooter
After playing Alien Shooter 2, I was pleased to see Zombie Shooter come out from the same people. They knew how to create the eerie atmosphere, restrict lighting, fill the screen with zombies, and have enough choice in weapons to allow personal preference to shine through(like incineration). Killing zombies is intense, challenging, satisfying, and empowering in this title. It’s amazing how slowly, yet suddenly they can fill up the screen and surround you if you’re not paying incredibly close attention. The title is really all you need to know. That’s what it is, and that’s what it does best!
Number 2 – House Of The Dead Series
Killing zombies is satisfying. Killing zombies with a pistol, shotgun, or sub machine gun is even more satisfying! Having my hands on an actual fake firearm adds another, deeper, level of fulfilling immersion to the zombie killing. Just give me some elbow room in the arcades, and plug your ears. I have a tendency to shout obscenities the more immersed I am in the zombie killing. It’s probably for the best that I don’t have the home versions of the pistol, shotgun, and sub machine guns. Televisions are getting more and more expensive. I don’t want to have to replace my television like I had to replace that arcade cabinet. Who knew the screens were so fragile? I kinda, struck the screen with the butt of the plastic shotgun to get one of the zombies off of me. It was instinct! I just reacted!
TIE Number 1 – Dead Rising 1 & 2
Frank West is my hero. I never owned an X BOX 360, but I did get to play it on a roommate’s console. I never got anywhere near the end. I couldn’t focus on the story without getting easily side tracked with killing every zombie I see. Being able to smash, crush, mow, run over, slice, cook, and kill zombies any number of ways, was incredibly satisfying and therapeutic. Out of any item on this list, this game has the most varied ways to destroy zombies. Though I wonder, how come all the zombies were grown up, how come there were no kids at the mall that day? No baby zombies in strollers?
TIE Number 1 – Left 4 Dead 1 & 2
These games were made for me. If they had come out a few years earlier while I was still suffering from my zombie phobia, they might have done the trick of curing me. There’s so many different types of generic zombies, and plenty of ways to kill them, I like this game a little too much. I can only play it for short periods since my heart rate gets a little too high. And I’m afraid if I lose too many times, it could trigger a nightmare. I haven’t had a “losing” zombie nightmare since my fateful Z binge, but I still don’t want to tempt fate. This game could be very therapeutic to anyone suffering from my former phobia.
Coincidentally, all the zombies are the same height, so when you get rushed by a gross of them down a narrow hallway, you can rack up a ton of head shots. The melee weapons are a great addition, frying pans, swords, cricket bats(a nod to Shaun of the Dead), chainsaws, baseball bats, Molotov cocktails, and pipe bombs, all offer a strong, sick sense of satisfaction to me. My problem is that I don’t do speed runs very well. I enjoy checking every closet, every bathroom, and every hedge just to make sure I get them all. And since they’re actually infinitely spawned, that can take a while. Lots of hordes and special infected come and rush me while I’m looking for a few.
It’s a shame there are only ten items in a top ten list. Maybe I should start counting in a base 16 hexidecimal system? That ought to help, but only a little. I have too many zombie killing games.
Starcraft – Infested Terrans
The Zerg from Starcraft are a swarm that assimilate other species into their hive. They infested the humans and turned them into mindless suicidal zombies. The Zerg infested so many humans in the first war that they apparently have a near limitless supply of space marines to spawn at will from Starcraft 2’s new units, Infestors. In the first game, they were very effective, but hard to get. In the second, they’re too easy and much less threatening. They’re really only worth mentioning because of the single player campaign. There’s one mission that has you burning infested buildings during the day, and bunkering down at night to defend against a zombie onslaught.
Mass Effect – Thorian Infected, Geth Husk
I guess they’re zombies, just not very good ones. They’re the reanimated bodies of people who were infected. But they just don’t have the fright value as some of the others. I don’t get as much satisfaction in blowing them away with the anti-tank pistol. Honorable mention.
I saw the trailer, I don’t know what to expect from this. How will this be any different than another series of levels in a Left 4 Dead campaign? That wouldn’t be a bad thing. It may be “more of the same.” But it’s more of the same awesomeness! I just don’t know how much I’d be willing to pay for it. Or could I just download a custom level in L4D for free? It’s not out yet, so for now, it’s just an honorable mention.
Diablo I, II, & III
Fantasy action RPGs nearly always have a zombe or two somewhere in them. Diablo has plenty. Diablo 1 had some nice atmospheric creepiness. The zombies were fun to watch fall over with a hack and a slash, or a fireball to the face. They certainly weren’t threatening at all, except for the bright neon yellow Plague Bearers. They permanently removed 1 max HP from you every time they hit. That fact alone made them frightful. Diablo II was much less scary as a whole since it took place outdoors and you could easily outrun them. Diablo III isn’t out yet, but it looks like their zombies will be very satisfying to kill since they will come in many varieties with many ways to kill them.
Star Trek – The Borg
I have nothing against techno cyber zombies, but I just don’t think they offer up enough threat or satisfaction. In Star Trek Voygaer: Elite Forces, they play only a minor role. And the magic weapon, “The Infinity Modulator” makes them too easy to kill. They could have been much scarier, like in Star Trek: Borg, the interactive movie. I don’t know how scary they are in Star Trek Online. Can anyone chime in? Are they a real fright? Or are they just fodder like any trash mob in any other MMO?
I mentioned Alien Carnage / Halloween Harry on several Top TEN lists, Harry has a flamethrower, a jetpack, and fries zombies. Not only does he use the flamethrower, he uses a photon gun, grenades, and mini-nukes. There’s just not enough zombies throughout the game to rank high enough on the list. There are several better games for zombie killing.
Secret of Mana
Fantasy RPGs and Action RPGs will usually throw zombies in somewhere. Secret of Mana sprinkles them throughout. Normally, they act like any other monster. They can be spotted alone or come from another creature that is a zombie generator. But the reason they make the list is because of one particular instance. Late in the game you travel through an underground subway. For some reason, the subway car is full of zombies on every seat. It’s a very strange and out of place scene, which is why it’s so memorable. Anyone who has taken the journey through Secret of Mana probably remembers the WTF moment I’m talking about.
Mortal Kombat – Meat, Zombie Liu Kang
In Mortal Kombat Deadly Alliance, the “hero” of the series, Liu Kang, is assassinated in the opening credits. From then on, you get to play as a zombified version of him. In Mortal Kombat 4, the first 3d installment, there is a a hidden character called Meat. He’s a completely skinless creature with muscles and bone visible, constantly bleeding everywhere. He’s reappears in Mortal Kombat Armageddon. The skinless, bleeding model really creeps me out.
Final Fantasy – Undead
Somewhere along the epic journey, every Final Fantasy will throw some undead monsters at you. It’s a turn based RPG, so the fright factor isn’t as strong as some other games’ zombies. What makes these undead zombies, ghouls, so satisfying to kill is unique to Final Fantasy. All you have to do is cast Life or some kind of healing spell to incur massive damage on them. Use one Revive potion or Pheonix Down and it kills them instantly. Bam! Problem solved.
Crazy Taxi meets Zombie Shooter. Top down arcade style driving game that fills the streets with zombies. You can deck out your taxi cab, bus, ambulance, or limo with machine guns, missiles, or my personal favorite, flamethrowers. You mow down zombies by the dozen. I bought it on a Steam discount weekend and have been completely satisfied with my purchase. It’s a great game to pick up in bursts for when you have only a short time to squeeze in some zombie killing, or to warm up for a marathon.
I know the game has zombies, I just never got far enough to see them. I never played more than the shareware episode of Wolfenstein 3D and the free multiplayer client of Return to Castle Wolfenstein. Can anyone write more about them from experience? How do they compare to the zombies of other FPS games?
Zombies Ate My Neighbors
I know many people hold this game in high regard. It’s just, unfortunately, one that I haven’t played. I was still severely handicapped by my zombie phobia at the time. Is there anyone who would speak on this game’s behalf and rate it higher on their own lists?
This is another old shareware gem. A side scrolling platformer game with creatures all drawn from Halloween and horror movies. There are garish zombies that, when defeated, their bodies disappear and heads roll along the ground at you. Eew.
Technically, you’re playing a zombie. Level 1 starts off in a graveyard where there are other zombies. The first weapon you get is a pitchfork to stab zombies and keep them at a distance. Keeping them at a distance is very important since the next weapon you get is a flare gun. One shot is all you need to kill a zombie because a few seconds later, they burst into flame and come running at you. This was the first time I used a flare gun as an offensive weapon. The zombies are not as frightening as some of the other items on the list, but immolating them with a flare gun and keeping them at bay with a pitchfork is incredibly memorable. If there were ever an update, I’m sure they’d be much more fearsome.
Scantily-clad, Kung-fu fighting lady vampire that kills zombie Nazis. If you need more of a reason to check it out, it’s probably not for you. There are a lot of great ways to kill them, harpooning, blood draining, cleaving, exploding, spiking, shooting, and more. It’s just that the controls are a bit loose and I never got the hang of them. Sometimes I would insta-kill them, other times they’d take 4-5 stabs. If the controls were tighter and I could master them, it might have made the list.
Zombies. I used to fear them. Then I hated them. Now I love to hate them. Since I love to hate them so much, what other zombie games would I enjoy?
Hmm… since this was a top ten list, inspired by another top ten list, I could probably make more based on the other items in other lists. Top ten favorite aliens? Top ten favorite robots? I wonder how recursive I can get with this?