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Which Console Did You Buy/Receive Over The Holidays?

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Cattle Call
June 24, 2003
Arc the Lad: End of Darkness

Ape Escape 2
Arc the Lad: Twilight of the Spirits
Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy
 Written by Matt Partington  on May 23, 2003

Special: Neglected games are games too!

I'm not sure if anyone can define what separates the over-hyped from the under-hyped, or rather why exactly some are selected to be praised before release while some are disregarded in the frenzy. But what I do know is that some of the best games released are those that we didn't even see coming. This is a short list of games that you should consider looking into, those that didn't catch the attention of the average Joe. With titles such as Metal Gear Solid 3 and Castlevania stealing much of the scenes, it's impossible to see everything; so here's what you may have missed.

Formerly under the name Drag-on Dragoon, this will be one of the first games released under the Square Enix license. The story of Drakengard revolves around a young prince, Kyme, who was recently thrown from his own kingdom by a neighboring empire. His 19-year old sister is isolated somewhere unknown, endeared with a daunting task of maintaining peace within the land as well as oversee the dragons. His parents were killed by a Black Dragon militia (just to top things off for the poor guy). The narrative is on an epic scale and it's seemingly intriguing from what we've heard so far.

Where the game gets interesting is when Kyme's Red Dragon is introduced. This dragon is willing to held Kyme with any objective he holds. What this allows for is individual types of combat, mainly ground and air; both very unique. Ground combat takes place when you dismount your dragon and start hacking away at foes. This includes combinations, magic, and even adding attributes. Air combat plays out in a way that is reminiscent of games like Panzer Dragoon, and involves using a crosshair. The square, triangle and circle buttons suffice as different sorts of combos and attacks letting you demolish hoards of enemies with ease.

With an impressive team and even more impressive elements, Drakengard is shaping up to be quite something. Drakengard holds all the factors that make a great RPG ? a deep battle system, an immersive story, defined characters, and gorgeous graphics. Look for Drakengard within Fall 2003.

Sphinx and the Shadow of Set
Eurocom and THQ look to try and hit it big this year with their somewhat quiet action-adventure title, Sphinx and the Shadow of Set. What maybe makes Sphinx so great is the way it's blending so many somewhat incompatible elements so gracefully into a single, tightly-sealed package. Although it may look like a platform game, it's pretty far from it and you'll be experiencing a lot of action and stealth during the experience.

What will probably immediately stand out to you the most about Sphinx and the Shadow of Set is the setting. It takes place in Egyptian times, but it's very hard to recall any other game that has crafted the environments so stunningly and realistically. There are seven different levels (chapters), each one with a different tone and ambience. The worlds are simply massive with hundreds of characters, pieces of flair and are full of movement and life. The architecture is fantastic; Ancient Egypt has never looked so damn good.

Sphinx's gameplay revolves around a simple concept ? having the player undertake two roles, both The Mummy and Sphinx. Each are far different from one another. While playing as Sphinx you'll mainly encounter action-type gameplay while cracking skulls with your handy-dandy sword and shield. If you're playing as The Mummy you'll spend most of your time sneaking around stealthily avoiding any enemy contact. The game decides when you play each, and often switches in between the two for story progression and to keep things fresh.

Sphinx relies heavily upon its gameplay, but add in the fact that it has beautiful graphics and you've got something very marvelous on your hands. Keep a close watch on this title, and don't let it leave your sights; trust me. Plus it's always fun to torture The Mummy's body; after all, he's already dead.

Knights of the Temple
Oh, you've heard of it? You lie! But if you have, you'll probably be glad to be enlightened again about this fantastic morsel of a game. You play as a knight of sorts who ventures out to do what all knights do ? chop some freakin' heads off! Okay, so you're actually a crusader, but all they really want to do is chop some heads, right? On its surface, Knights of the Temple is pure hack ?n' slash, yet it's so much deeper once you see beyond the fundamental combat.

For starters, you have an array of attacks that are separated by high and low as well as your conventional block and jump. Knights of the Temple looks to elaborate on realism by adding elements such as making the character really fight like they're truly wearing a heavy load of chainmail, something that hardly no other games even consider adding. The AI isn't as conventional as most games, where you fight foes, they fight back, and repeat. Instead, enemies will often block more than attack as they really don't want to die unlike most opponents who jump at you without thinking twice about the consequences once your blade hits them across the skull. If you get tired of swinging your massive blade, go into a first-person mode and shoot some arrows!

This is a list of games that didn't get much attention at E3, and Knights of the Temple is practically unheard of at this moment, giving us extremely limited details on the gameplay and story. What we know is that the graphics are superior than most anything on the system, the gameplay is realistic, there will most likely be a strong historical narrative, and it's definitely something to look forward to in the future.

Arc the Lad: Twilight of the Spirits
Although not a mass seller in any form, the Arc the Lad series on the PlayStation made a statement during the PSX lifespan (particularly towards the end) within hardcore RPG communities. It was a huge hit in Japan, why it didn't make it well here is gravy now, but Sony is at it again and is continuing the series. The first continuation will be Arc the Lad: Twilight of the Spirits.

At its core, Twilight of the Spirits tells the tale of Kharg. He's a young man in desperation of saving his own country from nasty little buggers called Deimos (they're actually an malignant demon race, bust nasty little buggers sounds better). While you'll fight and kill them as Kharg with your master swordsmanship, there's a big twist on the storyline. You can also assume the roll Darc, a soldier in the Deimos militia. This serves as two totally opposite perspectives, giving insight on both sides (very much similar to the Trinity Site system in the stellar RPG, Suikoden III). There's a large background behind the story as far as humans and demons connect, and how Darc and Kharg are somehow bound to one another.

The battle system contains components of turn-based strategy and generic RPG skirmish. You'll be able to use attacks, magic, items, and even team attacks while gradually moving up with each character on an invisible grid. On the visual side, Twilight of the Spirits keeps the track record of the series healthy as the graphics are full of color and are quite impressive on a whole.

Hopefully, Twilight of the Spirits will be the title that gets the American crowd engrossed in the Arc series; but not likely. Just like its predecessors, TotS looks to be another sleeper hit here in the States ? which is okay, as long as the game is good, which it is indeed looking to be.

Ape Escape 2
The first Ape Escape was an absolutely excellent game on the PlayStation, and after a very extended wait, its sequel is finally ready to be released in the United States now that Ubi Soft chosen to publish it. There was surely one point or another where AE2 was desired more than currently, but Ape Escape still maintains a strong cult fanbase that will guarantee a decent amount of sales when the time comes.

Ape Escape, even after being considered a class platform game, still feels different than any other platform title on the market. Luckily, Ape Escape 2 will play much like the original in terms of taking advantage of the dual joysticks on the controller. Using your highly advanced and utterly complicated monkey net, you play as Hikaru who's out to capture roughly 300 different monkeys across the lands (seriously, what's cuter than baby monkeys?). The right analog stick is used to capture monkeys via moving it around in different directions and pressing it to attempt a catch. R1 serves as jumping and the face buttons will alter from your monkey net to monkey tools and gadgets such as your Monkeypedia which lists all the different types you have to snatch.

One of the best features of Ape Escape 2 is the overload in mini-games. Not only is there a ton of them, but they're fun, easy to play, and completely addicting. From sports to music and beyond, each ones varies and this will serve as a great way of extending and enhancing the replay value.

Games don't come much more entertaining than in the form of Ape Escape, which is why so many gamers are dying for the sequel to release here on US shores ? but it's still not nearly as many as it should be. Ubi Soft made a great decision picking up AE2, so look forward to it in the very near future. We've waited a very long time, but better late than never. Oh, and did I forget to mention your close companion to guide you through the adventure? It's a monkey with wings!

Closing Thoughts
There you have it, a few titles that don't involve the words ?Metal? or ?Gear? or ?Solid.? Although some of these games are a little offbeat, they have a positive outcast and their futures look promising. Most of them are seeing releases between Q2 and Q4 2003, so we won't have to wait all too long to see them on shelves. The PlayStation 2 has been the home to maybe sleeper hits (such as the brilliant ICO), and despite the fact these games might generate hype within the upcoming months, it's always good to acknowledge the smaller, more independent titles out there. E3 may be over, but whenever it ends, we always see one hell of a new start in the gaming industry.

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