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Metal King Slime
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2014 In Review: Zero: Secret Pasts Collide 
 PostMon Jan 05, 2015 2:22 pm
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Bug report: the wall map is broken in this area. Yes, I'm sure it's not a secret passage.

Bug Report #2: You can tell where secret passages are by holding down escape, even if you don't have the item equipped.
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CATS is on the loose again!
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This is an awesome system.
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Catfight! Catfight!
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Ho ho
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It's that kind of game.
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You know it's a dark night when you can't even read what your friends are saying to you
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The knights "biggest sword" contest got pretty controversial. They had to get an outside judge.
This is a review of Zero: Secret Pasts Collide.

NOTE: Due to forewarning by fellow reviewers that this game extensively features midis, and having some bad experiences with CTDs involving midis, I stripped the midis from this game a little bit into my playthrough. This means I'm unable to judge the music on its use in context, but what I heard while deleting it was a good mixture of ripped stuff that didn't seem to have suffered much in the ripping/conversion to midi process.

SECOND NOTE: I hate it when games don't include Game.exe! Not giving an easy means to play your game means that some of the stuff I'm reporting might just be weirdness between whatever version I'm using and whatever version you made it in. You also included compiled plotscripts for reasons I don't fully understand.

So, having covered all that, this is a pretty impressive game. From the opening's "Buni" logo to the very nicely worded end of demo message, there's a million ways you can tell that the person who made it cared. The first chapter of the game is rather painfully paced, but it picks up in the second and I try not to shit on effort. Chances are they were learning as they went and I'd much rather see someone charge forward learning
rather than polishing the first thirty seconds forever. That's doin it right!

The most impressive feature is, without a doubt, the ability learning system. Similliar to how you learned spells from Magicite in Final Fantasy 6, equipped weapons have a selection of skills they'll teach to the person who uses them and once you've gained enough AP to master a skill you can switch to a new weapon and not lose what you've learned. The menu that covers this is nicely integrated into the standard OHR features and gives you all the information you need. It gives you some extra incentive to grind, extra incentive to play around with abilities and generally makes the game feel more professional. I'll give bonus points, I really thought I'd be able to "wreck it" by not equipping a weapon but the game handled it admirably. You can even learn a skill that way!

Second most impressive would have to be the cutscenes. As Hawk mentioned in his review, characters can laugh, blush, cry, look alarmed. I'm sure this was a little bit easier to implement seeing as how they could just rip the necessary graphics, but it still goes a long way to add character to the scenes and make the emotion more relevant. There's even battles with animated backgrounds, my favorite under-utilized feature! Falling snow, moving trains, it's fantastic. Everyone oughta do it.

Not all of the features are good, though. There's this one terrible screaming sound effect that seems to pop up in every other cutscene. Hawk compared it to an internet shock video and it's a fair comparison. I came to dread every cutscene, just in case it popped up. The characters are also voice acted, and announce their spells/techniques. It's nowhere near as bad as the shock-video screaming, but it doesn't do a whole lot for my enjoyment of the game. Could be a novelty to some, though.

Another bad feature is a touch-NPC stealth segment near the end of the first chapter. The NPCs aren't limited to zones, and the orderly ones sometimes run into wandering ones, throwing the whole sequence off track. In one 3 wide hallway, enemies can wind up walking up and down the middle, making victory impossible. It's a sequence that takes up two maps, with a save point in the middle. The second half is worse than the first: an enemy can end up in a position where it is "touching" you when you respawn, triggering the dreaded infinite touch glitch. I had to use a debug key to reload the map data and put the NPC back where it belonged to escape. You can apparently negate the need for stealth by fighting an optional battle in an earlier room to get a disguise, but I didn't discover that possibility until after I'd already done it the hard way. Was frustrating.

The story drags at the start of the game, due largely in part to an unskippable intro about ten minutes in length. As other reviews have noted, the auto-skip textboxes go by just a little too quickly: You have enough time to read what people are saying, but not enough time to really appreciate it. That makes it easier to get confused, easier to not care about what's going on. Things get better when you gain control, things DEFINITELY get better when shit starts blowing up, and when the end of demo message popped up around the five hour mark it was a disappointment because I was finally interested in how things were going to develop.

You'll notice from the screenshots that the graphics are ripped from a wide variety of sources. It's imported well, and a lot of care is taken to make sure nothing sticks out too much from its neighbors. The only thing I remember that really seemed to clash was the Mario RPG treasure chests, which served as Monster-In-A-Box. One thing that isn't ripped are the character portraits. Every now and then they're a little goofy, but even that makes it easier to recognize characters. They all share the same style, but aren't the cookie-cutter kind of thing where everyone looks the same and you get confused. Makes me wonder how it would've worked if they'd drawn all the graphics instead of just the portraits, but they probably wouldn't have made it this far if they'd had to do all that art.

The battles are a little too slow at first, though they get more tolerable with a full party and speed-boosting relics. The previously-mentioned abilities aren't always worth the effort it takes to get them. At the same time as I got the equipment to learn Steal 2, I also got the equipment that teaches Steal 3, making the previous equipment pointless. Largely, you can get by with the standard attack and occasional healing. There's a number of unwinnable battles scattered throughout, and worse still, you can sometimes end up in a boss battle without an opportunity to save or heal. I was lucky and had found some hidden potions. Had I not checked the barrels and crates to get those, I would've lost about 25 minutes of wanderin around to the first boss and might not have continued. Once or twice, I'd swear that when I cast heal on myself, it also cast heal on my enemies. Dunno what would cause that.

I'm tired and I'm rambling. Long story short, it's an ambitious demo that gets better the longer you go. It does a lot of things right, it does a lot of neat things that it doesn't need to do (Counting my footsteps and showing gold on the main menu is great), but it also does a lot of stuff wrong and can be frustrating and slow. It's probably one of those games that you shouldn't play yet, wait for the next version or the finished product. But if you play it now, and can stick it out through the slow start, you probably won't regret it, either. Lots of good stuff to take inspiration from. I'm curious how it'll turn out.
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