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Which Console Did You Buy/Receive Over The Holidays?

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Game Profile
PlayStation 2
PLAYERS:   1-2
August 31, 2004
Star Ocean: The Last Hope International

Star Ocean: The Last Hope

Star Ocean 2: Second Evolution

Star Ocean: First Departure

Final Fantasy XII
Jak 3
Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater
Silent Hill 4: The Room
Star Ocean: Till the End of Time
 Written by Chris Reiter  on May 26, 2004

Specials: Deuces wild, boys! Four two's and one Jak spell one very fine hand from E3.

Ten years in running, E3 has ridden into town each year, presenting something new, something exciting, and something marvelous for all eyes to notice. Ten years may be an awfully long time, but E3 isn't a vehicle that breaks down the older it gets. In fact, it gets better every year. E3 in 2004 was particularly no different, except it was. In 2004, E3 was just so amazingly stunning, that the hardest part was being able to swallow as much of it as possible. This feature will cover only just a fraction of some of the hottest PlayStation 2 highlights that were available at the show, and what has yet to come.

Star Ocean: Till the End of Time
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Tri-Ace
Release: August 24, 2004

Waiting it seems until the end of time, Enix has delayed its third Star Ocean entry almost forever now (starting from its originally scheduled early 2002 launch). Then last year, Enix partnered with Squaresoft, and the two RPG giants formed Square Enix. Now a Square and an Enix property, the long wait of delays appears to finally be slowing to a crawl, as Star Ocean: Till the End of Time is shipping at the end of August. Still a bit away's off from now though, here's to hoping that Till the End of Time doesn't literally take that long to manifest.

Staged 400 years after the events of Star Ocean 2: The Second Story, Star Ocean Till the End of Time takes place with Fate Linegod, a 19-year-old young man whose real "fate" is about to begin. Vacationing in a space resort with both his folks and his best friend from childhood, Sophia Esteed, much shock ensues when the facility undergoes a surprise and very unexpected attack from alien forces. Separated from his captured parents, Fate and Sophia now decide to embark on a journey that will likely include many perils at whatever the cost is to get his family back home.

Star Ocean's battles aren't turn-based and they aren't strategic, and yet they are. As opposed to Final Fantasy games, the Star Ocean series' battle system has and once again will combine menu commands and action abilities in a real-time format. Amongst a list of up to three characters while in combat, you'll be able to assign different functions to selective character attributes before battles so that they follow suit. During battle, for instance, players will only have the ability to manage one character, while with the remaining two the computer will manage. Order one character to defend another the entire battle, or attack, or use magic will push the computer to do so. Also switching between characters in the middle of a fight will give you back control of whatever character it is you want to play as.

As it once always was, Star Ocean: Till the End of Time has always been set to be an astonishing accomplishment as a PlayStation 2 RPG. This appears to be still true even today, with the game's influential 3D style. Coming along in full 3D (opposed to its 2D roots on the PlayStation), Star Ocean's visuals will kick in blending an anime-inspired world with that of a science-fiction-based one. Not without voices either, the game will also receive acting talents from a top anime voice-over studio for each of its character's roles.

Having waited all this time for Star Ocean has been drudgingly slow, but will be well worth it as the final date approaches. That reason being that Japan saw a Director's Cut edition of the game already. Now with the American version being in check for such an enlongated duration, that same bonus disk will ship with our version too -- including material like an extra playable character and a versus fighting mode. Just try to hold your horses a little longer, kiddies -- Star Ocean: Till the End of Time should be out before we all die. At least, for most of us.

Final Fantasy XII
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Square Enix
Release: December 30, 2004

Square Enix had put a cork in its waterworks over the last few years it seems. After the triumphant launch of Final Fantasy X, things seemed to roll down hill for the Squaresoft giant. First they stuck their lot of Squaresoft characters with the ones from Disney movies, then they took Final Fantasy online, and then they showed us a more feminine side in the first-ever direct Final Fantasy sequel. Granted, these games aren't terrible by any means, and they've all performed quite well in their own respects. But the point is, Square had wanted to deviate from an already brilliant formula, and this move rattled many opinions of the gaming community -- both in good and bad taste. For the first time in a long time, Square Enix is finally fixing a dish best served "Squarely," in the company's upcoming twelfth installment.

A young man with dreams of one day owning his own airship. A lady friend determined to get by. A new world on the brink of war. Set in a different time period from Final Fantasy Tactics' own Ivalice, the Ivalice in Final Fantasy XII will set itself up for the conquering dominion of the Archadians. Closing in on one kingdom after the next, the Archadians now focuses their eye on the city of Dalmasca, which in turn gets the leading man Vaan involved with the rebel forces when the Archadians strike the city of Rabanastre and bring doom to his one and only relative. Through this occurrence, it's when Vaan meets Dalmasca's Princess Ashe that the great dream becomes the great adventure.

Deriving its battle system from that of its recent attempts in Final Fantasy XI, Final Fantasy XII will take its toll in a real-time scenario. Enemies will approach in third-person without the use of an additional combat window. While in battle, it's here where a string of colored lines will sprout from each individual character's body to distinctively show who is attacking whom. In the battles themselves, players will have control over applying directives to the AI allies they should follow -- whether they are to imitate your own maneuvers in battle or serve as a protector for all. Able to switch between individual characters in battle, it's also that you can control whomever the computer isn't. And both standard and magical attacks will automatically activate whenever the game's battle ATB gauge fills by and by.

So far, Square Enix has dealt out only some of the most extremely lavish visuals the PlayStation 2 has had to offer with its previous lineups of Final Fantasy fare. Continuing this benchmark, Final Fantasy XII is looking to set the bar again by shedding off the series' traditional use of pre-rendered backgrounds, and instead going the way of a standard 3D engine. Though, the game itself will look lovely. More reminiscent of Square's PlayStation RPG, Vagrant Story, in game movies and out the presentation will follow what seems to be a water-colored based style. On an incidental note, Final Fantasy XII's director will be the same man responsible for Vagrant Story, Yasumi Matsuno.

Luckily for those RPG fans jaded by Square's recent departures from their traditional RPG stylings, Final Fantasy XII should at least bring the company's record back on the right track in some form of way. With all that's said and done, this twelfth Final Fantasy installment should be on its way for a tentative December release, or possibly even one in early 2005, or if Final Fantasy X vets remember -- both.

Silent Hill 4: The Room
Publisher: Konami
Developer: Konami TYO
Release: September 7, 2004

Feel that thing crawling on your back? No? Stupid poisonous jungle spider, not wanting to get off my... OH, I mean hello! Out of the many individual elements that make up each person's emotions, fear is one of the most intriguing. It develops from the largest of exciting venues, such as panic on a falling plane, to the smallest, like this ugly spider burrowing deep into my arm's warm flesh. One of the greatest examples in horror is that of being all alone. Who can you turn to when you're locked up inside an inescapable apartment chamber? Where can you go, or will you travel when you slip through mysterious portals manifesting all around your living space? Do you step through them? Everyday man Harry Townsend will find out for us in Konami's fourth sequel to the scary-as-f*ck franchise, Silent Hill 4: The Room.

Trapped like a rat, Henry Townsend comes to one morning inside his living quarters. Differently than other day, however, there are chains linked across his apartment exit. Even stranger, there are several peepholes plotted into his quarter's walls. Finding that he can make no contact with the outside world, and he cannot get away from his entrapment, it's not until five days later that Henry stumbles into his bathroom where a mysterious portal has evidently appeared. Curious, Henry has no other choice but to step into the portal, and to come out on the other side into the dark and abnormally perilous universe of Silent Hill.

Silent Hill 4's direction now is not to be just about surviving, but also about fighting your way out of doom's very depth. More combat oriented than any other Silent Hill release before it, Silent Hill 4 for the series' first will implement a menu system you can access directly while in-game. Weapons like usual will range from a handgun or a shotgun to melee weapons like a pipe and a katana blade. This new weapon selection mechanic of course will go hand-in-hand with a new life meter that will appear on the screen, along with several new monster types. Mutant dogs, crawling two-headed-baby crawling apelike things, giant moths, and even ghosts that peel off of walls will come at Henry in all directions. While certain monsters can be put down with any one weapon type, it's specifically with ghosts that you can't kill. Instead, you'll have to pin them down to the ground with special blades, or with use of silver bullets that can once and for all end them.

Grit instead of gloss has been the appeal that has always made each of Silent Hill's games so delectably dirty. Silent Hill 4 will be no different, and even better, as Konami wants to take its game even further by designing the most fabulously corrosive entry yet. In Silent Hill 4, players will be able to leave Henry's apartment to the town of Silent Hill in settings from a sordid building, to a fog-covered forest, and also a watery prison, only to return to his apartment later. Each time Henry will return to his home, it's here players will be able to notice the walls and furniture gradually changing and becoming more and more like a twisted composition of imagery straight from the bowels of Silent Hill.

Not so long ago had we saw Silent Hill 3 on store shelves and in our gaming consoles. Soon, gamers again will have the chance to scream their heads off, run into their parent's bedroom, and ask to sleep in between the covers with them. Known to be the most wretched in all of gaming scaredom, Silent Hill 4: The Room will be finding its way into your room soon. Moo, hoo, hoo, ha, ha, ha!

Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater
Publisher: Konami
Developer: Konami JPN
Release: November 2, 2004

Big is soon going to get bigger. Konami's mega-hit blockbuster of a series, Metal Gear Solid, has become one of video game's largest staples in the industry. Since the original on the PlayStation (Metal Gear Solid, or MGS as it's referred to by millions) introduced "solid" tactical stealth gameplay in an emotional roller coaster ride through a film-quality voice acting storyline, the franchise has spawned legions of fans that are always wanting more. With killer visuals too, the dynamics of Metal Gear Solid only led to a sequel and one very amazing demo that built up one of the largest, if not the largest, bases of hype in video game history. Three years later, the third and presumably the final edition of Solid Snake's adventures will be on its way later this fall.

Assumed to be Solid Snake, or possibly someone who looks like him (Big Boss, maybe?), Snake Eater's plot will unfold in a 1967 Soviet Union jungle as the legendary operative Solid Snake skydives down into its forestland surroundings. His mission from here on out is to locate and escort from out of the jungle a scientist working on a top secret nuclear weapon. If Metal Gear doesn't come to mind, I don't know what does. Outside this limited intelligence, Hideo Kojima's keeping his lips squeezed pretty tightly for any major surprises until the dawn of the game rises. You can bet your 70's-cut mullet, though, that there'll be plenty of huge plot twists and turns involved.

Surprisingly, what was an absolute essential to Metal Gear Solid's and Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty's formulas, for Konami's third Metal Gear Solid, they've decided to ditch the standard radar window all together. Not to fret, though, as Snake in Snake Eater will progressively have to learn to adapt to his environments in new ways. Snake Eater's major alteration is likely its use of camouflage suits. Similar to the series' stealth wear, camouflage won't make Snake invisible per se, but rather a composite with the environment around him. Able to blend in with trees, grass, ground and other miscellaneous jungle brush, Snake will have to don certain outfits to blend with their elemental properties. A percentage meter will deduct or rise based on how well his disguise masks him from enemy vision. The higher the number, the more avoidable he'll be to their detection. Ironically, Snake also will have to make do with killing snakes to survive now -- that along with other jungle critters like crocodiles and tree frogs.

Style and substance were both of what Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty proposed to gamers in late 2001. Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater will do the same, only better. From out of the terrorist guarded buildings, Snake's adventure will persist in a jungle, where trees, grass, and other types of plant life will thrive in this new Metal Gear world. Entrancing, the quality of Snake Eater's habitat, along with its superbly detailed and animated character models will give fans of the series a reason to be hungry in slobbering over the game's divine naturism.

It's been reported by Metal Gear creator Hideo Kojima, that Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater will be the final episode in the Metal Gear Solid franchise -- though said not to be limited to that. Whether this means Konami may transport Snake's exploits into a spin-off series of some kind or create a whole other "MGS" hasn't been divulged. What is known is that MGS in fact stands for MEMEs, Genes, and Scenes. Metal Gear Solid explored Genes -- the stuff that's passed down in your body from your ancestors, Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty dug into MEMEs -- which are the skills passed down to people from art or music, and Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater lands in on Scenes -- in whatever the type of community you grow up in, will be the type of person you are to become. These three letters together evidentially form MGS. As it's sad to see Snake disappearing, it'll be nice to know that gamers' will at least have one more thrill ride from the greatest espionage franchise the world has ever known.

Jak 3
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment America
Developer: Naughty Dog Software
Release: November 23, 2004

The last we saw of Jak and his tiny friend Daxter was in last year's platform adventure, Jak II. Together, they were sucked into a portal, that led them into a new place in time, that gave Jak these amazing Dark powers, and that when in danger Jak set out to save this new place he was to call home. But all that's about to change... Jak 3 will ultimately and sadly be the culmination for Jak and his partner in crime Daxter. While only sharing two titles and soon a third to come this fall, the Jak and Daxter saga has become a favorite amongst platform fans as the series is as innovative as it is imaginative. And with Naughty Dog claiming this to be the best Jak yet, it's going to be a good but bad thing for Jak 3 to have to come and go as it will so soon.

Like I was saying before, Jak and Daxter had yet again saved Haven City from trouble: trouble from Metal Heads; a belligerent species introduced in the last Jak. As Haven is now under no one's rule any longer, and three separate factions are vying for that title (the elf-people, the Metal Heads, and the Krimzon Guards), it's not until Haven City undergoes a surprise attack from the Metal Heads that Jak, Daxter, and Pecker the talking parrot are banished into the desolate wasteland outside Haven City's walls. This was all because of Jak's suspicious Dark Eco powers and his ties in with those who previously sought to open the city's doors to Metal Heads. However, eventually Jak and his pals are discovered by a gang of marauders, or people who live in a city named Spartus where Haven's refugees all go to survive. Here, Jak will start working on his next and the last chapters of his life's epic story.

Switching over from a Haven City where Jak was originally able to take any vehicle he so chose and was able to kill any random member of the town as well, Jak 3 will introduce Jak now to Spartus: a place where he'll instead have to earn his vehicles in completing various tasks, and where he can't just shoot at anyone he feels like. Because, now they'll shoot back. What's more, is that Jak will not only have his Dark Eco powers to back him up, but now Light powers too -- in which he'll have to figure out a balance between both. Where Dark Eco gave Jak abilities that allowed him to destroy all surrounding enemies, Light Jak will perform healing feats and even allow Jak to spread wings from his back and fly, all the while emanating in a beautiful blue glow.

Fluent and fancy, each Jak before now has presented PlayStation 2 gamers with a most colorful virtuosity in Jak and Daxter's intersecting stages. As huge and as wonderfully detailed as the previous Jak offerings were, Jak 3 will get bigger. Five times bigger in fact, and now with additional cloth and rag doll physics to boot. With fabrics now able to sway around in the wind appropriately in all actuality, and enemies whose death sequences will each portray a uniqueness to the way in which they fall, Jak 3 is indeed going to ante up the magnificence of its already amazing to look at series.

In addition to Jak 3 being the last Jak we'll ever see (well, for now...), Naughty Dog's leading man, Jason Rubin, had also announced recently that he will be calling it quits for Naughty Dog. With his leaving, and Jak ending, it'll be a sad fall for fans of Naughty Dog's most venerable franchise. But, with Jak 3 being Jason's last project with the Dog pound, this game should be one fans can expect big things from.

Final Thoughts...
Technically, E3 is over. Though, spiritually it will continue to endure. Through showgoers memories and through the coming games and new platforms we have all yet to see in their official form, this year's E3 will be one no one is sure to forget. It's great that it came, and it's good that's it over: because now, all we have to do is wait, and wait, and wait some more for those appetizers that we took a bite of at the show, to at last come wrapped in a fully three-square shiny plastic-boxed meal.

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