Despite the noble premise of introducing a virgin audience to Final Fantasy II, what Origins boils down to is still just a re-package of obsolete 8-bit games that are guaranteed to sell because they bear the Square moniker despite the fact that they have aged terribly—an aging that no amount of superficial cosmetic enhancements can hide.

Let's not forget that Square(soft) was not always the blockbuster-maker that it is today, and Origins is stark proof of that. Besides revisiting the games for nostalgic purposes, the only other real motivation for playing them is from the perspective of a videogame historian interested in tracing the beginnings of Final Fantasy trademarks like the chocobos, Cid and his airship, spells, and character classes like the white and black mages.

Obviously, the beginning of any chronology is crucially important, especially that of a franchise that has grown to be as successful as Final Fantasy has. But eventually, the bridge between the old and new simply becomes too wide to cross without deliberate (and sometimes masochistic) effort. Medieval music, for example, is so far removed aesthetically from the music of today that most listeners find it incomprehensible. This is because over time, the ear changes in the way it perceives music. Dissonances become acceptable, conventions change, and certain musical practices die out altogether. The only way for modern people to appreciate such ancient music is to invest the time to study it and train their ears to listen in a different way. By learning the theory behind such works, they can eventually be regarded with a grudging respect, which eventually, after having saturated the ear with the "foreign" sounds for long enough, can evolve into true appreciation.

Final Fantasy I and II require the same amount of effort, with an arguably smaller reward. I've studied with scholars who can find deep layers of musical and cultural significance in the simplest of Gregorian chant, but I didn't find the same wealth of material by delving into Origins. The games are occasionally historically interesting for the reasons Thom mentioned, but the physical process of navigating two such bare-bones and unfriendly games may simply prove too much for the gamer acclimatized to the role-playing games of today.

For the record, I found Final Fantasy I almost unbearable to play, with its transparent fetch-quests criss-crossing over a sprawling world map, dungeons filled with dead-ends, and random battles that occur with neurotic frequency.

Nor was I particularly pleased with Final Fantasy II. The so-called freedom to control the development of each character is actually misleading, because certain characters are predisposed to take on certain roles in the party anyway. And of course it comes as no surprise that the one predisposed to be the wimpy, bow-toting white-magic-user is the girl. (A convention I would have been more than happy to see fall by the wayside along with II's stat-building experiment.) Level-building is essential to keep from getting annihilated in dungeons, and I quickly discovered that the easiest way to do this was just to have my party attack itself to build stamina, strength and hit points. Hardly realistic role-playing there.

I did find it interesting to observe how much the storytelling process had evolved between II and I. Although still awkward and childish in places, with potentially poignant moments losing their impact due to shallow NPC reactions, II's story can clearly be seen (as Thom said) as evolving toward the ambitious scope that would crystallize in the more refined sequels.

Despite my bravest attempts at immersion, however, I never reached the point where Origins was consistently enjoyable. The games definitely belong to another era; an era that I haven't played enough Dragon Warrior or Phantasy Star lately to be truly at home with anymore.

As it stands, Origins will likely be relegated to my shelf beside such "status objects" as Tolkien's Silmarillion (a dry history of Middle-Earth designed as a sort of compendium to The Lord Of The Rings that I never had the stomach to do more than skim), and my untranslated book of the German folktale Der Ring Das Niebelungen, of interest to me only because Wagner based his famous "Ring Cycle" of four operas on the poem. Although I appreciate what Wagner did with Der Ring, the source material, with my high school German rapidly fading, is all but incomprehensible to me.

Status by association? Yes. Rating: 5.5/10

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Based on Brad's review and my own experiences with this game, I'm not at all surprised that Dragon Valor has gone so long without a second review being written for it. Why did I even bother? Well, let's just say that I got the game very cheap and, since genealogy is a hobby of mine, I was slightly interested in the fact that the game had a family tree in it that followed four generations of Dragon Valors.

The Dragon Valors are supposedly a hereditary line of semi-divine humans who are capable of wielding magic swords and slaying dragons. Yet the execution of this idea, as Brad alluded to, is shaky at best because there is very little fleshing out of each successive member of the family line. I was constantly confused during the game and found myself struggling to understand what exactly made the Dragon Valors so important. Killing dragons isn't exactly central to the game's confusing plot, which actually wanders away from dragons half way through to focus on something else entirely.

There is also very little continuity among this particular family; each new warrior barely seems to know where he came from, and as a result the player is forced to endure multiple variations of the same moment of self-discovery when the character realizes that he is indeed a Dragon Valor because he killed a dragon that he has just happened to come across while in the midst of a totally non-related adventure.

Brad was bang on when he commented that everything about Dragon Valor is about as clichd as they come. The game has a decidedly "been there, done that" feel to it, from the sliding spiky blocks and lever puzzles to the zombies enemies that can be chopped in half and still go after the player by dragging their top halves along the ground.

The levels, too, are painfully predictable. I quickly learned to ignore extraneous passages in the dungeons because I would inevitably have to keep going and obtain a key before doubling back and taking the secondary route.

Brad covered the nice range of special moves that are ultimately rendered pointless by the game's sluggishness and the fact that most enemies are so easily felled. Personally, my repetitive button-mashing move of choice was X-X-R1, which produced an impressive downward leaping stab. There, let it be said that I actually disagreed with Brad on at least one point.

Though Brad and I seem to share all of the same disappointments with Dragon Valor, I will also add the fact that except for a decently challenging final boss, there is no perceivable learning curve to the game. The levels are all more or less at the same difficulty level, which is "easy" save for a few spots that are rendered difficult by stupid control quirks (especially the depth perception issues while jumping) or other unfairness. The same batch of enemies crop up in every single one of the five chapters without any stat adjustments or even so much as a palette-swapped skin to give the illusion of being something different.

I did in fact ultimately finish Dragon Valor; it took longer than it could have because I had to break my sessions with it into small chunks to avoid brain atrophy and left hand strain from constantly holding down the dash button (Brad was absolutely right about this). I'm not necessarily against action games that are on the easy side, but the sheer monotony and repetitiveness of Dragon Valor makes it a wholly undesirable experience. Rating: 3.5/10

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Matt really hit the nail on the head when he said that one needs a particular sort of mindset to truly enjoy Morrowind. It is non-linear in the extreme, and the sheer size of the world and the number of quests can be staggering. Many may find such immensity and open-endedness intimidating or even ridiculous, but I found it liberating.

Morrowind is a role-playing game in the truest sense of the word, and those who are expecting to sit back and be told what to do, get shepherded from scenario to scenario and click through endless scenes of scripted dialogue will be in for a shock. I find it very interesting how the term "role-playing game" gets thrown around and applied to many games that dont even follow that basic criteria; where instead of "playing a role" of some sort the player merely controls a party of characters whom they may or may not actually relate to or care about. Morrowind, on the other hand, gives the player the opportunity to assume a personality and profession of their own choosing. Herein lies the key to getting the most out of Morrowind: one must role-play a character. The game throws so much out there all at once that its easy to get overwhelmed by the number of different avenues to pursue and the fact that its common to have 10 or more quests running simultaneously. Sticking to a persona helps to determine which quests to take on and which to leave behindfor example, if I decide to play a thief or assassin with questionable morals, I am likely to ignore the peasant woman on the side of the road asking for help. Those trying to be the go-getter who does everything will get hopelessly bogged down.

The weaknesses in logic brought up by Matt are all valid; however, I wouldnt go as far as to write off the games attempt to let the player "live another life" as a total failure. Unlike Matt, I felt that a big part of "living another life" (in other words, role-playing a person) was in fact tied directly to the profession and other variables involved with the character generation process at the beginning of the game. As for the personality itself, that is really up to the gamer to create, and more importantly to stick to throughout the game. In this way Morrowind itself isnt much help, because almost all of the moral and behavioural decisions and environmental interactions are left to the player, who can choose to react "in-character" or not as he or she chooses. In other words, it takes a certain kind of pro-activeness to assume a personality in Morrowinds world and, Im ready to admit, it requires a fair amount of creativity and imagination on the part of the gamer. Is this a carefully crafted challenge on Bethesdas part to make the gamer participate non-passively in his or her environment, or merely laziness which demands more out of the gamer than is fair to ask? I dont feel that Im able to answer such a question.

I would also mention that Morrowind is far more sophisticated than its predecessor Daggerfall in terms of believability and non-player character (NPC) interaction. It is no longer possible to steal all the items from a store one night and sell them back to the same shopkeeper the next day. Merchants have a fixed amount of gold and cannot afford to buy the most expensive items, making it harder to amass ridiculously large sums of money. NPCs still have their quirks, to be sure, and when it comes right down to it are still moulded from the same finite number of character templates. However, the pool from which they are drawn is much larger than in Daggerfallso large that the game must be played for some time before the repetition of phrases or similarities of appearance become noticeable.

The PC version comes with a feature called the "console," which is in my opinion a mixed blessing. The console is a little window that can be called up during the game and gives the player access to the game code, so that by entering programming commands they can artificially alter aspects of the game environment such as adding or removing items from the characters inventory, changing the characters location, and raising or lowering stats or skills. I question the motivation behind the inclusion of the console; likely it was put there to provide an easy way of fixing potential bugs or glitchessomething Morrowind has its fair share ofbut of course once it is used once its very hard to ignore. I found myself using it with increasing frequency as a sort of "fast travel" option to move my character to the various cities instantaneously, rather than suffer by walking from location to location (which can take 5-10 minutes of real time).

Also included with the PC version is a separate program called the Elder Scrolls Construction Set, which allows the creation of custom-made "modules" that use the games templates and can be added on to the existing Morrowind environment. I chose to explore neither the console nor the construction set in great detail, partly because I felt that it was like ripping the skin off the game and exposing the skeleton underneath. In a game that strives to be totally immersive, it seemed that these things merely reinforced the fact that what I was playing wasnt actually real. Nevertheless, I will not deny the fact that they are both powerful and potentially useful tools.

If Morrowind is any indication of where The Elder Scrolls series is headed, I would say that it is certainly moving in a positive direction and I am very excited to see what will happen with The Elder Scrolls IV. I feel that the Elder Scrolls is a work of arta bastion for serious gamers amid the full-motion video driven, linear, autocratic "go here now!" RPGs that both insult my intelligence and annoy me. I agree with Matt that there are some fundamental issues with the game engine that need serious tweaking if the game is to achieve, as he so aptly phrases it, the "dream of the Ultimate Non-Linear RPG." For this to happen really comes down to whether the developers acknowledge the issues or care to do anything about them. It would be very easy to get into a "waiting for Godot" mentality, believing that the perennial "next one" will finally achieve the perfection that Bethesda has come so close to achieving with Morrowind. I suppose I am more willing than Matt to believe that they can and will do it. Rating: 9.0/10

(Disclaimer: This review is based on the PC version of the game)

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To be perfectly honest, there isn't much more to say about EverGrace that Brad hasn't already covered. Like him, my disappointment with EverGrace culminated in the realization that, after hours of play, the game was content to simply go through the motions and was never going to get any better.

I felt alienated by EverGrace from the moment I saw the introductory cutscenes, which were borderline-incomprehensible. From there, I was never able to totally shake the feeling of being set adrift in a game that was indifferent to my confusion. The story is hopelessly convoluted, non-player characters (NPCs) spout cryptic dialogue like "go northwest" (when there are two or three paths that branch in that direction), and the lack of a large-scale area map just exacerbates the situation.

The puzzles are almost maliciously ambiguous in many cases, which was the biggest point of frustration for me. Brad mentioned the trial-and-error wardrobe-switching as being a major annoyance; for my part, I also disliked the fact that key items are often held by random monsters that drop the item when killed, while others are scattered in obscure places and are easily missed (such as Sharline's white bow sitting on the white bed).

There's "open-ended," and then there's just confusing, and EverGrace falls into the latter category. Even though aimless wandering figures prominently in the game, there's nothing interesting about back-tracking through the barren environments hoping to trigger an event or find an item that was overlooked the first time around.

The aspect of alternating between two character quests was my favorite part of the game, but mainly because it let me work off my frustration with one character by taking a break and switching to the other much like trying to stave off a massive debt by juggling the balance back and forth between two maxed-out credit cards.

At least unlike Brad I had no optimistic expectations going into EverGrace, rather just curiosity in seeing whether a title I picked up cheap, used, and on a whim could actually deliver anything of substance. Predictably it didn't, which just goes to reinforce the old maxim of nothing ventured, nothing gained. Rating: 3.5/10

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