Last week I examined the Xbox 360 and my experience with it. The week before that I took a look at the GameCube. This week shall be PlayStation 3’s time to shine. The PS3 had a rough start, launching at a very high price point relative to the 360, and also coming out a year after the 360 launched giving up a crucial head start. But what those disadvantages did to hurt Sony, the pack in of the would-be dominant HD movie format, Blu-ray, would handsomely compensate for them. Priced between five and six hundred dollars, the PS3 was not a cheap game console but in 2006 it was a cheap Blu-ray player and consequently found itself as many people’s only means of playing that format. Sony’s gambit on the media format would pay off, eventually trumping the rival format HD DVD. The games for the PS3 would also benefit from the higher capacity disc, as PS3 games have yet to require a multiple disc game whereas the 360 has required, in some cases, up the three discs to the PS3’s one. Being a Sony console, and particularly one that follows up the RPG haven of the PS2, I would look to the system for continued RPG support. However this generation, and not necessarily any one console, was not particularly supportive of RPGs. And yet, some gems did come down the line this generation, including the very special Valkyria Chronicles.
Sega’s beautifully cell shaded semi-realtime strategy RPG released exclusively for the PS3 in 2008. The game would instantly win my heart with its perfect mix of top town strategy, turn based movement, and realtime battle mechanics. But when I realized they had slipped in a few charming Skies of Arcadia references I was over the moon. The game gives the player control of a squad of units to move with a limited supply of action points to do so. When moving, that unit then has his or her own action gauge that limits their actions and movement range on the field. While moving a unit around, the game snaps into action as all enemy units will take fire when the unit is in line of sight. Stop moving and they stop shooting. In some ways it is akin to a Fire Emblem game, but with out the grid lines, and with guns. These games may actually be a bit more different than that, but I digress. The most striking feature of the game, and why I lament the movement of Valkyria Chronicles 2 & 3 to handheld screens, is the aforementioned cell shaded art style. It does not simply add a black outline on characters that have flat colors, as many cell shaded games aping Wind Waker have done. Instead it goes for an almost water color appearance, or hand drawn look. The effect is hard to describe but amazing to behold. The game also offers its share of challenge but not nearly the level of difficulty my next game provides.
Demon’s Souls. The name should make any gamer quiver. Not the considerably easier, but much more bemoaned, spiritual successor Dark Souls. No, I speak of the original. The game that, in response to the player dieing multiple times in a world, increases the health and damage output of the enemies in that world. The game that halves the player’s HP when they die for the first time. Yes, From Software’s Demon’s Souls released in 2009 is the truly hard game that gamers have allegedly been clamoring for. A seemingly straight forward action game, Demon’s Souls asks patience and observation of the player before they go barging into a room or encounter. A steady pace and a keen eye will be the best tools of any player with the perseverance to see this game to its end. The combat system, which uses the right trigger buttons for light and strong actions on the character’s right hand and the left triggers for the same on the left hand, is also deceptively simple. Most actions cannot be canceled, and following through or committing to an attack can be the player’s downfall as much as their key to victory. Upon death, all of the player’s souls (which can be spent on item purchases or on upgrading character stats) are deposited on the ground where they died. Should the player die again attempting to recover them, those souls are replaced with another blood stain containing the current souls on hand. And therein lies the greatest source of frustration and anguish a Souls player will experience. But when it happens to me, I try to remember that progress in this game is not numerical, it is psychological. When the world resets upon death, I now know how to avoid that last mistake. And in this I take solace, for what else can I do in a game as punishing as this?
My overall experience with my PS3 has been a highly positive one. As a competent and reliable machine, not host to the horrid breakdown problems of the 360, I would always opt for the PS3 version of any cross platform titles. In fact I purchased a few games a second time just so I could play them again on my PS3. The greatest asset of the PS3, however, is the free online services of the PlayStation Network. Whereas Xbox Live requires a subscription fee, and I therefore never took my 360 online until much later, the PS3 would become my first real foray into online gaming. Unfortunately the PS3 looks to be the first and last well supported and readily online console with a free online component. Be that as it may, the PS3 still stands as the console that may not have over taken the 360 (though it is close as both systems recently reached eighty million units sold worldwide) but it has done a lot to claw its way back from rocky beginnings.
It seems like not as many of you readers were 360 owners as I had thought. But perhaps you did buy the PS3? I should hope so, because any rational gamer looking to save money (read: not me this gen) would have done very well to buy a post-price drop PS3. As such, I fully expect you to regale me with your tales of love for the PS3 and your favorite games. Or tales of lament for not having owned one, which ever. REGALE! DO IT NOW.