Alright, I think I've had it with JRPGs. Eternal Sonata came out 2 weeks before in Germany. I've enjoyed the demo quite a bit actually so I gave it a try. The graphics are very, very pretty, and technically the game is very solid. But: story and gameplay ... oh where to begin... what the fuck is up with the cutscenes? Very pleasing to the eye but even the cheapest, most shittiest German telenovela is more entertaining. On the one hand, everything is so extremely childish that if I would be a 10-year old boy I would be completely embarrassed to watch this shit. On the other hand it's about heavy stuff like drug abuse, terminal illness, revolution and war. WTF? And they are tooo loooong. I swear it took 15 or 20 minutes of completely useless chatter until the game actually started. Well at least it's possible to skip the cutscenes... which brings us to the second problem: gameplay. This game is so extremely linear that watching a DVD offers about the same set of choices. You can pause, rewind, or go forward. There is almost no sense of exploration, no choices in customization (everything is just linearly upgraded), shops are pretty much useless, they basically just offer to buy some piece of equipment which you may have missed in the previous area during exploration (and it's nearly impossible to miss something because every treasure chest is right near The Way). Combat is actually quite fun because it's more action oriented compared to the traditional purely turn based battle, but it's too repetitive to keep me interested in the long run (yes, my attention span has suffered a lot since I switched to console gaming). Eternal Sonata has a very pretty, expensive looking shell, but unfortunately it seems to be completely hollow inside.
On to something completely different: Naruto! I never heard the name in another context. Guess it's some anime that's currently running in the USA, maybe here in Germany too on some obscure TV channel. I've seen the pretty screenshots, read some good things about the game, so I bought it in favour of the Orange Box which came out last week as well (Portal will have to wait a little bit I guess). And the game doesn't disappoint at all. The graphics are really impressive: stylish, great, consistent art direction and a lot of attention to little details. I've spent quite some time just running around in the world and looking at all the pretty scenery. Gameplay is a shameless mixture of GTA and Tekken with a very little bit of JRPG.... aaalriiiight, let me explain: The GTA aspect is there because the village where the game takes place is basically your sandbox where you can run around and solve small quests and do errands for the villagers. At the start of the game everybody hates you because you're that small annoying little brat who wants to be a ninja. By helping the villagers with their problems, more and more of them start to like you, which is good because villagers that like you can give you directions in future quests. The JRPG aspect is there because combat doesn't take place in the game world, but as you encounter an enemy, the actual fighting will happen in a small fighting arena just as in a typical JRPG (thankfully that's where the similarity to JRPGs ends). The combat is just like in an arcade fighter with simple combos, blocking, throws and special attacks. The special attacks are especially funny, because they are accompanied by absurd and completely overdone anime effects SHADOW-CLONE-JUTSU!!! Blam-Blam-Splat-Wooosh!!! You get the general idea :) They even managed to sneak Quick Timer Events into the game in a way that isn't annoying, which earns an extra point because usually I hate QTEs. The story is told through traditional 2D anime clips which look like they're taken directly from the original TV series and is - well... mildly entertaining to me, but probably a big deal for fans of the original series.