- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Here’s a look at some hardware and software that’s available:

• “Star Ocean: Till the End of Time,” from Square Enix for PlayStation 2 (Rated T: Content that may be suitable for ages 13 and older), $49.99.

If movie directors now wield the power of fixing their films via releasing special cuts on DVD, then why not video-game developers, who are now afforded the same digital medium to work with?

Such is the case with this massive role-playing adventure, which debuted in Japan back in 2003 but never achieved the greatness of its heralded arrival due to some glitches and bugs. The developers fixed the problems and put together a more robust version of the game as penance.

That two-disc set has made it to the United States, although it’s not as visually spectacular as the Final Fantasy series from Square Enix. But it’s way more fun than Microsoft’s Sudeki. It will still satisfy fans entranced by science fiction and Japanese-inspired animation.

The epic combines real-time combat (meaning characters are controlled immediately by the player as they attack) and exhaustive exploration as the story relays the tale of Fayt Leingod and his quest to find his loved ones through a multilevel adventure.

Action begins after a relaxing vacation on the Federation-managed resort planet of Hyda is disrupted by an alien attack, which separates Fayt from his parents and eventually his childhood friend Sophia. He now bands together with other characters to investigate locales within mountains, caverns, dungeons and forests.

The player will end up spending hours talking to other characters, collecting items to manage through inventory screens and making split-second decisions on the attack styles of three heroes at a time — one of which he completely commands during battle while swinging swords and using magic on such foes as bats, dragons and warlords.

The sometimes long-winded, movielike quality of the story presentation can be a bit stifling for gamers just looking for a quick fight. However, that is fixed as, eventually, a two-player mode can be unlocked. Gaming friends can choose favorite characters and battle one another as the role-playing game transforms into a fighting game.

Other features include a wide-screen format, a percentage indicator on maps to see how thoroughly a hero has looked around an area, a way to modify collected items and the challenge to satisfy about 300 battle conditions to unlock more content.

I rarely have the time to spend immersing myself in this type of adventure game, but Star Ocean’s mixture of action and investigation makes it worth plunging into.

• “Pokemon FireRed and Pokemon LeafGreen,” from Nintendo, For Game Boy Advance and Game Boy Advance SP (Rated E: Content that may be suitable for persons ages 6 and older), $39.99 each.

Along the same lines of Ocean’s director’s cut, Nintendo has updated the games that really helped fuel the Pokemon phenomenon in the United States and Japan back in the late 1990s with new versions of the FireRed and LeafGreen titles. Each even offers a bit of a technology upgrade for user’s handheld system to sweeten the deal.

FireRed and LeafGreen both cram role-playing epics into a 2.5-inch screen as players become either a boy or girl Pokemon trainer and travel the lands of Kanto battling strangely named and shaped monsters while assembling an unstoppable team of well-bred and -fed minions.

The action revolves around talking to villagers, finding other trainers and their Pokemon to engage in battle, and selecting proper fight techniques to defeat other Pokemon to make the winners more powerful. The latest games come with well-developed and easily accessible tutorials to learn the basics, creature trading with all current Pokemon games and a new-and-improved Pokedex resource to tell the difference between a Rattata and a Weedle.

The addition of the new wireless adapter, which plugs into the rear port on the Game Boy Advance, expands gaming options. Now, up to 40 players, from about 10 feet apart, can visit a union room located in any of the game’s Pokecenter environments to meet and greet one another, via text chat, and negotiate trades between systems and battle.

However, I would suggest that just a couple of pals get together to start off because the wireless connection is a bit stuttery, and I could not imagine the pain on parents’ faces watching more than three dozen Pokemaniacs gathered in their entertainment room rambling on about Bulbasaurs and other creatures.

Write to Joseph Szadkowski, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20002, or send e-mail (jszadkowski@washington times.com).

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