Operation Rainfall: What’s Next

Now that I have played and completed all three games involved in the original Operation Rainfall. I’m left wondering what new Japanese Style RPG should be next on my list? Those of you that think Op Rainfall has closed up shop are mistaken. Aside from a victorious ending, the campaign also served as a reminder that many great games never see the light of day in the US.

If we had something like Operation Rainfall years ago, we may not have had to wait over 10 years to get a North American release of Final Fantasy II, II and V. We’d have official English versions of games like Mother 3. The SaGa series would be complete. So would the Mana series. There’s a slew of great games out there that many players simply don’t even know exist.

For more information of current projects at Operation Rainfall, please bookmark the link below:

Op Rainfall Campaign Hub

The games involved in Op Rainfall represent a genre that’s dear to my heart. Japanese Style RPGs. So what will be next for me? While not an Op Rainfall title, the next modern JRPG that I’m planning to sit down with will be Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch. It may take some time for me to start this, and there’s a lot of great games coming out in the near future, as well and a backlog of classic titles that I still want to review. So stay tuned.

Review: Pandora’s Tower

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With my summer vacation swiftly coming to an end, I was able to finish the final game from the infamous Operation Rainfall campaign, Pandora’s Tower. The release of this game represents the third and final victory from the campaign. Thanks to the hard work of all those involved in Op Rainfall as well as passionate gamers all over the country, US gamers were finally given an opportunity to play this title without having to resort to piracy or importing.

Of the three games involved in Operation Rainfall, Pandora’s Tower is the most unique. It’s much more action oriented than either Xenoblade or The Last Story. While there are many RPG style elements in this title, it features very fast paced action and even a bit of platforming.

The set up for the game is very original. In this title, you play the hero Aeron. The game begins when Aeron and his girlfriend, Elena flee for their lives from the nearby Kingdom of Elyria. Along with a very strange and mysterious old woman, Aeron and Elena take refuge in an abandoned observatory in the wasteland that overlooks a huge rift the landscape known as the scar. In the center of the scar lies an ancient fortress called The Thirteen Towers. It is learned that Elena has become afflicted with a terrible curse. She is doomed to be transformed into a monster unless Aeron can find a way to break the curse. For time being, the effects of the curse can be abated, but only with the continual eating of monster flesh. To ultimately break the curse, Aeron must bring back the flesh of twelve Master Beasts. The flesh can only be acquired by defeating the monsters with a weapon given to him by Mavda, The Orcalos Chain.

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The game is broken in to two parts. First, is the exploration of the towers. It is here where Aeron must defeat monsters, collect flesh, and solve puzzles. The ultimate goal is to defeat the Master that is locked away in each of the towers. The trick is that your time in the towers are short due to a meter that continuously counts down. When it runs out, Elena is transformed into a monster and the game is over.

The second part of the game consists of Aeron’s time at the Observatory. It is here that he interacts with Elena and Mavda. Aside from ensuring she has a ready supply of flesh to eat, you can chat with her and give her gifts. This raises your affinity with her (which is crucial to the game’s outcome and storyline). Also in the Observatory, you can interact with Mavda who will pay Aeron for treasures and information he uncovers during his exploration. You can also purchase and craft/upgrade goods from her as well. The game has multiple endings that depend on your level of affinity with Elena. So it’s important to do everything you can to keep this up. This includes making sure her humanity stays intact.

The game has really wonderful concepts, and I found it to be a full of very fresh ideas, but I was a bit disappointed with the execution. Combat in the game involved either standard close-quarters hand-to-hand fighting, or long distance attacks using the chain. The latter is accomplished by pointing the Wii remote on screen to target enemies. This annoys me to no end. I find it somewhat uncomfortable to play with one hand extended out in this manner. I guess it wouldn’t be so bad if all you had to do was point and target, but once you’ve snagged an enemy, you have to then shake or pull the Wii Remote to do damage.  Despite the fatigue, I found targeting with the remote very accurate compared with other games that use this type of interaction method.

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Visually, the game is well done. The graphics are superb for a Wii game and the soundtrack is quite good as well. The music is fitting but it’s not very diverse. It does get old after a while.

Of all the games involved in the original plan for Operation Rainfall, I can say this title is easily my least favorite. There’s some really neat concepts in Pandora’s Tower, and the storyline and visuals are unique and first rate. But the gameplay mechanics are not something I was really able to enjoy. Aside from the point and target annoyances, I found the timer to be a bit of a drag. Yes, I think that story-wise, it is a great idea. But I love exploring, and the towers just beg to be seen. But sadly, I often found myself rushing through areas so as not to waste time.

Another issue which is worthy of mention, is the infamous endgame bug. The game has a terrible glitch in it, that can both freeze the Wii as well as make the game “unfinishable”. Essentially, sometimes, for unknown reasons, when entering the 11th and 12th towers, the game will get stuck on the loading screen indefinitely. Even powering off the Wii and restoring your save and trying again will result in the same behavior. fortunately, there are quite a few workarounds for this issue which can be found all over the internet. However, this is a pretty glaring bug that should be addressed. It seems that XSeed has decided to turn a deaf ear to player complains regarding this issue.

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Difficulty: Difficult –  Personally, I found this game to be a little tough. Not so much because of the challenging puzzle or battles (although some of these can be quite tricky). But mostly due to the odd gamplay mechanics. The need for a lot of “point and click” solutions with the Wii Remote combined with the fact that the game uses a fixed camera, that you cannot control, make things difficult. Often times you are required to target a certain area, only to find that area un-targetable thanks to the terrible camera system.

Story: As far as story goes, this game does an amazing job. The story is very unique and it continues throughout the game in the form of cutscenes at the observatory as well as through hints and items found through normal gameplay. The storyline is really the saving grace of the whole game in my opinion. There are multiple endings, and each is worth viewing.

Originality: Despite what I feel is a rather poor execution, this game has loads of original ideas. It’s much more than your standard damsel-in-distress situation. The curse on Elena really brings a new level of depth to the both characters. The in-game timer add a sense of urgency not found in many modern games. And, although flawed, the controls really take full advantage of the Wii’s unique features.

Soundtrack: I found the music to be very fitting but a bit repetitive at times. It has a very gothic and classical feel to really meshes well with the environment of the towers. Oddly enough there’s no official soundtrack available for purchase.

Fun: I got most of my enjoyment in the game from interacting with Elena and exploring the towers. The combat mechanics frustrated me a bit as did the timer. These two mechanics alone made me glad the game was over when  I finally finished it. I don’t see myself getting the urge to play this one again any time soon.

Graphics: The game is beautiful. But if you really look close, it’s not all that well done. There’s not as much detail in the textures as several other late-cycle Wii games. But this is really hidden with great lighting effects and a diverse use of color. Each tower has it’s own unique theme and I found the majority of the game to be very lush and exciting.

Playcontrol: This where I feel the game suffers most. Annoying point and click mechanics combined with a fixed camera really ruined what could have been a groundbreaking game for me. More than once, there will be a shining object in the game that requires you to target it with the remote only to find the item out of range thanks to the camera. Then while trying to readjust your character to make the camera swing around, you end up stumbling off a ledge or wandering too close to a monster. That really sucks.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 2 – For everything that Pandora’s Tower does right, there’s just as much about it that feels broken. Bad camera design and gameplay mechanics combined with a terrible endgame glitch really taint what should be a near perfect demonstration of the what Wii is capable of as a system. I feel that lovers of RPGs and fantasy games may enjoy a lot of what the title has to offer, but be prepared for a little suffering along the way.

Currently available on: Wii

Review: The Last Story

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Tonight I finished my playthrough of one of the infamous Operation Rainfall games, The Last Story. I’m somewhat ashamed to admit it took me so long to get around to playing this game. I had it pre-ordered and received it in the mail upon release, but I had so many other things to play it got lost in the shuffle.

Regardless, I started playing the game about 2 1/2 weeks ago and finally finished it and I have to say, I was very impressed. Created by Hironobu Sakaguchi, the original founder of Final Fantasy, this game is very story-driven. It focuses on the tale of a young mercenary named Zael and his companions.

The group takes a job on the prestigious Lazulis Island doing some grunt work for the royal Count Arganan, hoping to wiggle their way into his good graces. It is the dream of both Zael and his best friend Dagran to one day become knights, thus leaving behind the dangerous life of mercenary work. During the course of the game, Zael has a romantic encounter with count’s niece and is bestowed with a legendary power that sends his world into a whirlwind of epic confusion.

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When I first sat down to play this game, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I knew that I was in store for a somewhat typical JRPG story, but I had heard whispers that the gameplay was somewhat action-oriented. Right from the start, this was made apparent. At first,  I found the combat to feel awkward and confusing. But it’s actually quite straightforward and not really that complicated once you get the hang of it. As the game progresses, the combat system becomes more and more detailed and complex. Eventually, you gain the ability to provoke enemies at will using Zael’s abilities, thus controlling who they are focusing their attack on. Later you can also issue commands to all the characters on your team and this allows you to create various strategies to overcome whatever the game throws at you. I found it to unfold at quite a good pace and by the time you’ve reach the latter parts of the game, it’s really a lot of fun. Mastering the combat system is pretty much the key to whole game.

Combat aside, the game also features a somewhat simple system of item customization. There’s not a whole lot of mystical treasures to find, but rather simple weapons and armor can be upgraded and made very powerful. Weapons are a bit of exception to this rule. Many bosses later in the game do drop some rare and powerful weapons, but regular weapons can actually be upgraded to be nearly as useful.

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If I’m going to be truthful, I have to admit that the game is very linear. For the most part, you’re boxed in by the storyline, there’s not a lot of open world exploration. At various points in the game, there are periods where you’re allowed to roam free and partake in sidequests and optional chapters, but not to the extent of other Japanese style RPGs.  Interestingly enough, I don’t really feel this to be a weakness. The game does a great job of hiding this.

The Last Story also features an interesting multiplayer option. It contains options for both co-operative play and player-vs-player combat. This optional mode does not factor into the game’s main scenario, but items acquired in multi-player mode are kept on the single-player file. I dabbled with this option, but did not get much out of it.

All in all, I was apprehensive about playing this game because I heard mixed opinions going in. My fears were quickly dispelled and I found myself enjoying this game way more than I expected to.

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Difficulty: Medium  – The main scenario of the game is not especially challenging. The key is taking the time to read the tutorials and actually learn and comprehend the art of combat. Once you have this down, you’ll be in good shape. Most areas before hard bosses contain both a place to save the game as well a “summoning circle” you can use to summons monsters for a little grinding. Upon completion of the game, you can start over with a New Game Plus, which features a few new challenges.

Story: Simple fantastic. The storyline in this game rivals anything in the Final Fantasy series. Of the 30 hours I spent playing the game, I imagine quite a bit of it was spent viewing storyline and cutscenes. But, I didn’t mind at all, it was fantastic.

Originality: What I expected to be a typical RPG turned out to be much more. There’s so much about this game really gave me a breath of fresh air. The unique combat mechanics to the item system, it was really a new experience.

Soundtrack: This game is scored by the legendary Uematsu (main composer of Final Fantasy) and it is simply lovely. The voice acting in the game is also surprisingly good. Top shelf stuff here.

Fun: It took me a couple hours before I started to get a firm grasp on how this game works. At first I was confused and a bit overwhelmed. But once I found my groove, I ended up having a blast.

Graphics: This game pretty much represents the best the Wii is capable of. It is by far the best looking game I have seen on the Wii. The level of detail is breathtaking. The effects and in-game rendering are amazing. I really looks more like a PS3 game, how the developers managed to pull this off is beyond me.

Playcontrol: We have a couple options here, you can play with either the Wii Remote and Nunchuck (which I did) or the Classic Controller. I tried both, and I found the Classic Controller to feel a bit awkward. The Remote and Nunchuck combo seems to feel more natural. The camera is user-controlled, but at times, it still seems to get away from you especially during intense combat.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 4 – For about the first half of the game, I was really leaning towards a Three-Star rating. I was having fun, and enjoyed the game, but I felt that combat system and overall weirdness of the game design was bit of a turn off. However, once I was able to break out of my preconceived notions on what a RPG game should be, everything just clicked and I found myself really enamored with the title. I found myself loving everything about the game. The characters, the visuals, the storyline and even the way the game played. The Last Story is a fantastic title.

Currently available on: Wii

Update: Operation Rainfall

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Last year, I talked about an ongoing movement known as Operation Rainfall. For those that missed it, Operation Rainfall was a fan-led movement to help bring three of the top rated RPGs for the Wii to the USA.

The first two games, Xendoblade Chronicles and The Last Story were brought over back in the spring and summer of 2012. For the longest time, it looked like the final game; Pandora’s Tower was not going to see the light of day here in the west.

Today, I received an email from Xseed Games, announcing the spring 2013 release of Pandora’s Tower for the Wii! Ladies and gentlemen, we did it!!!

Congrats to all who participated and donated to OpRainfall. It was gamers and fans like us who made this possible!

Review: Xenoblade Chronicles

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Taking a break from the retro reviews for a moment, I’m going to share my thoughts on a title a little more modern. Back in April, I purchased the long awaited Wii RPG, Xenoblade Chronicles. And I am so glad I did. This game has been a breath of air.

For the last 5 or 6 years, I’ve really neglected my single player console games and focused more on online multiplayer titles. It’s been a while since a single player game has hooked my the way Xenoblade did. This is a classic JRPG is every sense of the word. The storyline is deep and filled with twists and turns. The characters are memorable, the locales are exotic and beautiful. The music is simply top notch. The soundtrack is one of my favorites of all time. It has all the elements that a true role playing game should strive to achieve.

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The game takes place largely on a world known as Bionis. You see, the Bionis is really an enormous sleeping titan. A titan who is engaged in an eternal struggle with another titanic entity, the mechanical Mechonis.

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The peoples of Bionis are constantly on defense from invasions by the forces of Mechonis. It is in this world, that the game begins. The lead character, Shulk becomes entrusted with a legendary sword known as the Monado. This blade is the only known weapon actually capable to doing real damage to the Mechon attackers. As the game progresses, Shulk and his friends learn more about the reason for the Mechon invasions and discover some real earth-shattering secrets behind the struggle between the two world-titans.

This game features a vast world filled with what seems like endless content. Aside from the main storyline, there are more sidequests that you can imagine. On top of that, your actions can affect the relationship between non-player characters. These affinity levels can have a major impact on the game as time goes on.

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I’ve never played this type of game on the Wii before. At first, I was a bit confused by the control scheme and by all the options the game had to offer. However, after a while things started to click and when they did I found myself in a world so immersive that I was truly impressed by the sheer masterpiece that the developers were able to put together. This is truly one of the greatest games I have ever played.

Xenoblade was one of the games responsible for the Operation Rainfall campaign. If it is any indicator of the types of games we are missing out on here in the west then for goodness sakes, we have no idea what truly fine gaming is all about. In my opinion, part of the wonder of this title is discovering it for yourself. That being said, I shall say no more and leave this review with the following breakdown.

Difficulty: Hard Most of the base game is fairly straightforward. However, towards the ends there are a handful of boss fights that can be extremely brutal unless you take some time to really think out your strategy. Many of these fights will require shuffling around your party members and making sure they are geared to match the situation at hand. A lot of the optional content in the game, requires A LOT of patience and the will to go above and beyond the normal grind.

Story: One of the greatest stories I have experienced through a video game. The basic set up is fascinating as it is, but just wait, you will be amazed at how the plot unfolds

Originality: This is not your standard RPG. Everything about this title seems to be re imagined from the ground up. The combat system is designed specifically for the Wii, regardless of what controller you choose to use. The affinity system provides a new take on interactions between your characters and the “fluff” NPC that typically populate a game world.

Soundtrack: This soundtrack is a must have. It rivals anything from the Final Fantasy series. The song selection seems appropriate for the various areas in the game. Often, the music will change depending on the time of day. Songs fade in and out as you switch zones, making everything seem to fit into place. Listening back to the theme from Makna Village on my iPod, triggers memories of the exotic little Nopon village. I can almost feel the warmth of the little city in the trees 🙂

Fun: This game is a great way to pass the time. The only drawbacks are that a few of the boss fights seem to be much more difficult than called for. This will lead to some frustration for some. Also, the game is EXTREMELY big. I fear that some players will grow impatient.

Graphics: By Wii standards, this is a work of visual art. Even when compared to other consoles with more graphical power, it’s not too shabby. Despite being a bit pixelated, the developers have managed to create some truly beautiful scenes.

Playcontrol: Overall, the playcontrol is pretty much spot on. There are some frustrations with the camera, so I can’t give it a perfect score, but overall this is not a really big problem.

Overall rating (out of four stars):  4 Stars – If you like RPGs and own a Wii, this title is a must have. This is probably one of the top three RPGs I’ve played in my lifetime. Definately the best in the last 10 years or so.

Available today on: Wii

Operation Rainfall – Why It Is Important

It is August 22nd, 2012. Yesterday, I received in the mail, my copy of The Last Story. I couldn’t be happier.

The Last Story is a Wii title that was released in Japan some time ago, but is only just now seeing the light of day here in the United States. This wouldn’t have happened without an online movement known as Operation Rainfall.

A while back, three great games were introduced in Japan. These games are: Xenoblade Chronicles, The Last Story and Pandora’s Tower.  Later, these games were introduced to the European audience. However, Nintendo of America showed little to no interest in bringing these games to the American audience. All these of these titles have received rave reviews and many gamers in the US eagerly awaited their release.

Initially, Nintendo made it clear that for a variety of reasons they had no intention of localizing these titles. Once it became obvious that their minds would not be easily swayed, the Operation Rainfall movement was born. What started a group of IGN forum users soon became a much bigger phenomenon. Operation Rainfall began a social media blitz, that is still ongoing to this day.

Rainfall had it’s first success with the announcement that Xenoblade Chronicles would in fact be released in the US as a Gamestop exclusive title. Finally, after almost two years the American audience received what is considered by many to be one of the best RPGs in a decade. The game rocketed to the top of charts. Outselling even the expectations of it’s fanbase. Pre-orders for the title came with a breathtaking book of original artwork designed for the game.

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I purchased Xenoblade upon it’s release and I have been nothing but pleased. This game has sucked me in completely. Everything from the environment, to the characters have me hooked. The music composed for the title is some of the best I’ve heard. I listen to it on my iPod when I’m at work. It’s magical. I’ve been playing it almost exclusively since it’s release and there is so much content packed into this title that I’m still only about 3/4ths of the way through.

Not long after Xenoblade’s success, it was announced that Xseed Software would distribute the North American release of The Last Story. This is a title that holds a special place in my heart. It was created by the original inventor a Final Fantasy, a series that I have cherished for more than half of my life. I have high hopes for it, and once I’ve finished my time with Xenoblade, this will be my next focus. Like Xenoblade, the first run of this title comes with an artbook and a limited edition game soundtrack. My only complaint is the soundtrack only features seven tracks, it is not the complete game score.

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That brings up to Pandora’s Tower. As of today there is still no official North American release planned for this game. Operation Rainfall is preparing a final-effort pitch to Nintendo of America. Beginning on August 31st, a three-day blitz with be launched. Supporters are urged to email, message and call Nintendo to politely ask that this title be brought to the USA. With sales of the previous two titles doing better than expected, it is our hope that Nintendo will finally see the light and give gamers what they are asking for.

This campaign is important because aside from these three titles, there are a number of great games that never see the light of day in the US for a variety of reasons. I’ve recently reviewed Super Mario Bros: The Lost Levels, this is a prime example of a game that was held back because it was assumed American audiences would not find it favorable. For many years, North American gamers went without Final Fantasy II and III for the same reasons.

As a fan of the Wizardry series, I would love nothing more than to sink my teeth into those mysterious Wizardry Gaiden and Neo Wizardry titles that have so far been exclusive to Japan.

I would urge you to read the following post from Operation Rainfall and participate. I’ll be all three days. If the campaign is sucessfull, Op Rainfall will distribute a special collectors sleeve designed to hold all three titles.

Operation Rainfall: The Final Push