Play Impressions (29/4/08) – PSP Edition

April 28th, 2008

burnout metal gear jeanne darc psp impressions

Even though I have been raving and ranting about the PSP before the gaming blog even came to conception and while these gaming orientated articles were being posted on my personal blog, up to now, I still don’t even own a PSP myself. Thats right, the master of hypocrisy has struck again 🙁 ! I have been interested in purchasing a PSP for some time now and still haven’t sealed the deal despite the release of the PSP Slim and the fruitation of an even more exciting library of games.

My reason for this is that I already have far too many games to play and should just wait until the console and it’s software is significantly cheaper. Fortunately my twin brother took me by surprise and picked up a PSP himself in a pack (PSP Media Manager + 4GB memory stick Pro Duo) as well as a few games. In the past 3 weeks we have been picking up a few games for the console and here are my impressions on some of my favourites.

Jeanne d’Arc

Jeanne d’Arc, what a fantastic little game. As an enormous fan of the original Final Fantasy Tactics I must say that I am throughly enjoying this (rather similar) little strategy RPG romp. If you have played FF Tactics before or in fact any SRPG game then you should immediately have some idea as to what to expect from this game. The basic; attack, defend, skill, wait options are all featured as well as the obligatory elemental triangle and the same weapon equiping system you’d expect. What makes this game such a fresh experience though are a few key factors; namely the gorgeously lush visuals, olde France thematic and the user friendly design. The last point shines in all its glory throughout this title and is a testament to Level 5’s role playing expertise.

jeanne darc psp

Now as mentioned at least three times already, I personally love anything that is or is heavily inspired from Final Fantasy Tactics (non inclusive of the GBA and NDS titles). So when I talk about this game, I will literally be gushing out the love. My apologies.

Cutting the fat though and attempting to stick with the gameplay for a moment, Jeanne d’Arc’s skill system works a little differently, each party member has 3 slots in which you can equip any skill to, this includes spells, concentrated attacks etc. With this you can equip various elemental attributes which align and add power of the respective element to your player. You gain these skills (as equipable items) through the spoils of battle.

What concerns me about this system is the lack of breathing space, there are only 3 slots for skills. Hopefully this will increase will leveling up or else I for see this system being highly restrictive. Especially considering how these slots are also used to assign yourself to various elements.

Marching onwards, the presentation in Jeanne d’Arc is simply magnificent. Everything in this game is lush and beautiful, each object has it’s own semi cell shaded look that developers; Level 5 are renowned for (see: Rogue Galaxy, Dark Chronicle). The colours literally burst out of the screen. There are plenty of subtle details too such as smog, dust and special effects. The whole graphical presentation reeks of polish and is visually stunning. Sound is equally as worked and used appropriately within the context of the game. I am listening very closely to the game’s music and attempting to gauge the difference between this and the gorgeous music from Final Fantasy Tactics. So far Jeanne d’Arc is holding it’s own in that respect.

Jeanne d’Arc is a bit of a sleeper hit unfortunately, much to my own misunderstanding. The PSP, in my eyes is the current console for SRPG gaming. With Jeanne d’Arc, Disgea and Final Fantasy Tactics leading the way. I have a lot to look forward to playing, that is once I finish obsessing over the next PSP game on the list:

Metal Gear Solid Portable Ops

Man, I am going to be playing this game for a real long time, I can tell. I must say I am extremely impressed with this game and no, not just because this is a Metal Gear title.

Firstly I love how Konami have carried over the sharp 1970s presentation, everywhere you look there are traces of this visual orientation. Be it the scanlines, the saluting logos, hell even the typography displayed over item boxes fits this theme to a tee. As someone who has an active interest in graphic design I find this aspect of these chronologically earlier games (MGS3 + PO) to make for scrumptious visual eye candy. This retro style spearheads the overall clean and slick presentation. Graphically everything is as you would expect, in fact Portable Ops is easily on par with Metal Gear Solid 3. Where it deviates though is in the environments, unlike in Snake Eater there (up until now) appears to be no grass, trees and the rest of mother nature to hide within, also each locale is restricted to a small, designated area more densely populated with objectives and soldiers. This was a very smart engineering move as it has allowed the game to run efficiently, maintaining a strong visual sense and keeping the loading instances to a minimum (before and after missions).

Where Portable Ops really innovates is in it’s gameplay structure which again works in the PSPs favour. Essentially the gameplay works like this; unlike the linear progression of previous MGS games in Portable Ops the game is broken up into mission like levels where you select where to move next on a map. Much like the maps in Final Fantasy Tactics or even Jeanne d’Arc you move around freely to where you want to go next. You can stray from the storyline if you wish and just go around procuring soldiers for your army. This structure allows the game to be played in not entirely short but short enough bursts.

metal gear solid portable ops

Gathering a squad of soldiers is the next important feature in this game. Portable Ops continues to focus on the realistic limitations of Metal Gear Solid 3 in two ways. Firstly with items, Snake can now only hold 4 items at a time, including ammo clips. You need to store and managed your items among team members prior to battle. Secondly; soldiers, in this game the soldiers (and medics, techies etc) that you down (KO) in this game can be dragged back to your truck and can join your ranks as a member of your squad. You can then make up smaller units of soldiers and deploy them in battle or get them to seek out intel in other maps.

Along with these radical changes to the formula, the controls have also been streamlined and overall work very effectively on the PSP. Snake can do most of what he could in Snake Eater with CQC so far being quite limited (it makes for a better game though). Holding up soldiers is also now much easier as well. Overall it will test your dexterity a little but once you settle in it becomes a breeze.

One last note about this game, it is currently discontinued in Australia (in fact probably worldwide knowing this series) so grab a copy while you can.

Burnout Legends

Burnout Legends, to me appears to be very different from the last two games mentioned. Instead of focusing on providing a PSP exclusive experience that is worthwhile within it’s own rights, Criterion have tried to make this title into a game it could never be; a portable Playstation 2 title. I don’t believe that Burnout is a completely guilty offender of this, it is still customized for the PSP to some degree but most of it’s issues stem from Burnout trying to be what it frankly isn’t and can’t be.

I guess that my comments are a little harsh considering that for 80% of the experience Legends delivers. The game is fast, furious and much fun to play. What it isn’t though is a PS2 game and as such if you have played any of the console games chances are you will find this one a little less overwhelming (not underwhelming, just a little less overwhelming). The crashes aren’t quite as spectacular and the bugs are a little too frequent to simply ignore yet when you weigh this all up you’re playing Burnout on the go which is indeed admirable.

burnout legends psp

I haven’t plugged too many hours away with Burnout yet and despite its often glaring issues this title maintains the staples of the series. The soundtrack is great as well with most of it being ripped straight out of Revenge. This game is a throwback to previous games in the series and draws it’s content from there. So if you prefer the earlier Burnout games then this compilation of sorts should suit you well. On the flipside, I myself as being more use to ramming cars from behind and all of that jazz didn’t enjoy this game as much as I did say Revenge. I feel that this game takes a step backwards, one which I can’t understand. Why would players want to play a less evolved iteration of the series? The load times are also quite frustrating and the presentation is kinda weak but if you put this into perspective and do prefer the originals then sure, this is a great title and it’s Platinum as well. But for the full experience I myself would prefer the console iterations.

  • Thanks for your impressions. I’m currently thinking about finally taking the plunge and getting a PSP. For a long time, with my DS, I felt I had enough portable gaming. Plus I have a small mental block against Sony. But there are finally enough games appearing on my radar that have me very excited, including Jeanne D’Arc and MGS PO, which you mentioned. So sometime, I’ll be joining the ranks of PSP owners. And I’m looking forward to it.

  • Solid Squirrel

    I own all three of these games, and I can say you have made wise decisions. the FFT direct port for the PSP however will be disappointing to you– it runs SLOWER than the original PS1 version. Sound lag behind actions is the key disappointment. Every sound, short of a typical weapon strike (sword, arrow, etc) will lag behind it’s respective animation. Very disconcerting.

    If you enjoy MGPO, be sure to pick up MGPO Plus once you’re done with it– take your soldiers online with even more options and the ability to double your roster from 100 to 200 soldiers– infinite mission will also help you be come a master of sneaking and blazing through a level even more– best of all, 16 total taunts for the online portion you can acquire along the way as well as text chat!

  • Korey, you could always do what I am doing and just pinch..borrow one off your brother. In all seriousness though, yeah there is a great selection of PSP titles out and the console itself is relatively cheap. So its a good deal in my mind.

    Ugh, that does sound very concerning Solid Squirrel. Hmmm I am not sure if it is worth paying full price just for an excuse to play FF Tactics again.

    I plan on picking up Portable Ops Plus sometime as well. All of the Australian copies have probably already shipped and they’ll never see a price reduction so I may as well just pick one up now. Thanks for your insight. 🙂

  • I borrow my partner’s – it’s nice having another gamer in the house :3

    I was impressed by the remake of Final Fantasy (the original). I was going to pick up Tactics for it too… but I think I might steer clear now.

  • If you haven’t played/played much of the original FF Tactics then definetly Keira, pick this one up for the PSP. I don’t believe that these niggles would hinder such a fantastic experience. Otherwise, yeah I wouldn’t worry about it.