Bio: Michael Beckett

Michael "CactuarJoe" Beckett
Greetings one and all! My name's Michael Beckett, a reviewer at this fine establishment. We hope to bring you the very finest in RPG-centric coverage, so hang out for a while. Leave a few comments, maybe visit us on IRC, shout at us a bit if you like.

And now the serious bit: It's my opinion that video games, and RPGs in particular, have the potential to become one of the strongest artistic mediums available. As a reviewer, I try to look at RPGs from an artistic as well as a gameplay standpoint. I look at how well a game's parts fit together, and how these parts contribute to an overall message or feel to the game. Of course, you'll also get information about game mechanics and the basic elements of the game - a review is useless if it doesn't provide information, after all.

Besides being a reviewer, I devour books and anime, and dabble a bit in art. My favorite movies are Tokyo Godfathers, 12 Angry Men, and Farenheit 451. As for games, I'm a big fan of the Shin Megami Tensei and Katamari Damacy series, although training Pokemon tends to eat up most of my free time.

Anyway, that's all from me. Enjoy your stay. ^^

Posts by Michael Beckett

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The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim – Staff Review #2

Friday, April 13th, 2012 by | Posted in Action RPG Reviews, Reviews, X360 Reviews

One of the highest-praised games of recent years, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim has a great deal going for it. With an enormous seamless world to explore and a highly flexible character development system, Skyrim is exceptionally easy to get lost in, with some of the most engaging role playing RPG fans have seen in a long time. On the whole, Skyrim deserves a great deal of the praise that has been heaped at its feet, but there are a few hitches in its design that are worth stating. Skyrim has a bit of awkward fumbling in its menu layout and a bit of difficulty with overly compartmentalized storytelling, as well as a troubling lack of subtlety in its art direction and a fair number of bugs and glitches even this far out of release. Ultimately, however, Skyrim’s vast and detailed world gives it an uncommonly broad appeal. (more…)

The 3rd Birthday – Staff Review

Thursday, August 11th, 2011 by | Posted in Action RPG Reviews, PSP Reviews, Reviews

Long feared to be a dead series, the announcement of The 3rd Birthday caused no small amount of surprise and delight amongst fans of Parasite Eve. Unfortunately, the finished product cannot be said to have the same effect. Featuring an overcomplicated mess of a plot, suicidal AI, and an actively hateful interface, The 3rd Birthday has fundamental issues that really prevent it from being enjoyable. There are some good points, of course: the game is great at creating a sense of tension, has a huge amount of replay value, and it presents some unique ideas in gameplay. It’s unfortunate that these ideas are buried under the weight of the game’s less player-friendly elements, to the point where it becomes difficult to recommend The 3rd Birthday even to fans of the series. (more…)

Fallout: New Vegas – Staff Review #3

Thursday, August 4th, 2011 by | Posted in Action RPG Reviews, Reviews, X360 Reviews

With the release of Fallout: New Vegas, it seems Bethseda is trying answer what fans wanted when Fallout 3 was released: a setting familiar to long-time fans featuring established factions and dozens of callbacks to Fallout 1 and 2. On a more fundamental level, Fallout: New Vegas builds on its predecessor in a number of ways, from basic improvements to game mechanics to a far more twisty, open-ended plotline, but it also has a number of unique issues. Even this far from release, New Vegas has bugs that range from the annoying (frequent freezing) to the catastrophic (quest failure), and has a few issues in setting and art direction left over from earlier Fallout games. Taken as a whole, New Vegas is an extremely enjoyable experience, but as so many have said so frequently of this series, it could really have used better bug testing. (more…)

Dissidia 012[duodecim] Final Fantasy – Staff Review #2

Tuesday, May 10th, 2011 by | Posted in Action RPG Reviews, PSP Reviews, Reviews

A veritable sea of callbacks and references, Dissidia 012[duodecim] Final Fantasy is about what is expected from a massive crossover game. Whether this is a good thing or not depends a great deal on what your personal feelings are towards the Final Fantasy series, but thankfully, the underlying mechanics are solid enough that even those who find the constant self-reference tiresome should find something to enjoy. Dissidia Duodecim is a game with a steep learning curve, omnipresent loading times, and a rather disjointed plot, but it also presents a wonderfully deep combat system and a pool of content so huge that it borders on the absurd. But given how heavily the game relies on its combat system, how much a player will enjoy Dissidia Duodecim depends a lot on how eager they are for a fast paced battle. (more…)

Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together – Staff Review

Thursday, April 14th, 2011 by | Posted in PSP Reviews, Reviews, Strategy RPG Reviews

An exceptionally influential tactical RPG, Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together is responsible for a large number of the more common elements found in the genre today. As the original printing has been more or less relegated to the status of collector’s item, the PSP remake of Let Us Cling Together is an excellent opportunity for fans of the genre to enjoy this seminal title. There have been a great deal of changes made to the game, and although the core mechanics remain basically unchanged, it has been heavily rebalanced, with new systems and ideas added in order to make it a bit more forgiving. The end result is that Let Us Cling Together is a more than worthwhile play, though the hugely complicated nature of the game, along with some lingering balance issues, makes it difficult to recommend without reservation. (more…)

Pokemon Black and White – Staff Review

Monday, March 21st, 2011 by | Posted in DS Reviews, Features, Reviews, Traditional RPG Reviews

From Pokemon Gold and Silver onward, each new generation of Pokemon has improved on the basic formula of the series, refining the execution bit by bit. Pokemon Black and White continue follow this tradition, although the improvements are nowhere near as huge as the shift between the GBA games and Pokemon Diamond and Pearl. Primarily a shift in interface and presentation, the core mechanics of the Pokemon series continue largely untouched from the previous cycle of Pokemon games, while the series’s habitually scattershot interface and connectivity receive the lion’s share of attention. Overall, it’s not quite the geological shift of Diamond and Pearl, but changes Pokemon Black and White introduce have been a long time coming, and they are most welcome. (more…)

Final Fantasy: Four Heroes of Light – Staff Review

Friday, October 29th, 2010 by | Posted in DS Reviews, Features, Reviews, Traditional RPG Reviews

Perhaps related to the success of Matrix Software’s DS remakes of Final Fantasy 3 and 4, Final Fantasy: Four Heroes of Light is a stand-alone Final Fantasy game deeply ingrained in the old school tradition. Unfortunately, the developer seems to have taken all the wrong lessons from the old school. Four Heroes of Light does push for overall simplicity of design, and that does capture something of the spirit of older RPGs, but it also features an obtuse interface, inconsistent difficulty, and direction so vague that it borders on the incomprehensible. Four Heroes of Light does do some things right — the class system is interesting, if a bit basic, and the game’s visuals are exceptional — but the game is unfriendly on a basic level and doesn’t offer the player much reward for getting past that. (more…)

Fallout 3 – Staff Review #2

Wednesday, October 27th, 2010 by | Posted in Action RPG Reviews, Reviews, X360 Reviews

The controversial successor to a short yet venerable gaming dynasty, Fallout 3 generated a lot of backlash amongst older fans. Frankly, there’s a lot of wiggle room as to whether or not Fallout 3 constitutes a worthy sequel (whatever that means) to the Fallout series. The combat system has been changed from an almost tactical turn-based affair to a first person shooter with a sort-of-kind-of turn based option, and the mainline plot is very inflexible, both aspects previously considered hallmarks of the series. However, by not relying too heavily on established conventions, Fallout 3 pushes itself further towards being a stand-alone title, which allows it far more creative freedom. (more…)

Fragile Dreams: Farewell Ruins of the Moon – Staff Review

Sunday, October 24th, 2010 by | Posted in Action RPG Reviews, Reviews, Wii Reviews

In the world of gaming, it’s fairly common for titles to focus far too much on abstract gameplay concepts and not enough on setting the stage. So often, fighting legendary monsters feels absolutely nothing like being in a fantasy world, as players are simply too aware of the multitude of systems that surround the experience. Fragile Dreams: Farewell Ruins of the Moon is an odd reversal of this issue. It is supremely easy to get lost in the sheer beauty and tragedy of the crumbling world the game presents, only to have that illusion come crashing to the ground when asked to do something practical, like press a switch. (more…)

Cladun: This is an RPG – Staff Review

Tuesday, September 21st, 2010 by | Posted in Action RPG Reviews, Features, PSP Reviews, Reviews

Cladun: This is an RPG is a game with very clear goals. An action RPG dungeon crawler with an old-school aesthetic, Cladun is designed to be played in short bursts, and very little else. The game’s largest issues arise from the inconsistent application of these old-school elements and a certain lack of a consistent overarching theme to the game. Though Cladun’s combat system is a fairly basic, some might say rigid affair, its sub-systems are surprisingly complex, a fact which does cause some problems in a game meant to be played in small servings. Overall, Cladun is a solid game, but it never quite reaches the point at which it transcends the conventions and cliches that the story makes fun of. (more…)

Persona 3 Portable – Staff Review

Saturday, July 24th, 2010 by | Posted in Features, PSP Reviews, Reviews, Traditional RPG Reviews

Following the port-heavy schedule for the PSP, Persona 3 Portable builds on what was already a great game, adding new features, more combat options, and a huge whack of new plot in the form of new Social Links. Unfortunately, not all the alterations really work, as there has been some excessive tinkering with the game’s balance, and the technical limitations of the handheld platform have resulted in an oversimplified interface that causes some serious issues with suspension of disbelief. The end result is a game which feels a bit overworked, but has the potential to provide an excellent experience. (more…)

Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey – Staff Review

Friday, April 30th, 2010 by | Posted in DS Reviews, Features, Reviews, Traditional RPG Reviews

Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey, the most recent addition to the rather scant roll of the series’ mainline continuity, is a game with significance for the series as a whole. As the central pillar of the Shin Megami Tensei series, the mainline entries have always been fairly old school dungeon crawling affairs, considerably darker than the numerous side stories that have spun off of them. It has been a major point of curiosity to see which direction Atlus would take the series: outward into the younger, more upbeat world of spinoffs such as Persona and Devil Survivor, or back inwards, towards the darker, more chaotic entries of the early series. Interestingly, Strange Journey seems content to pick its own path, taking to heart many of the upgrades the series has seen in interaction and depth of character, while maintaining the disturbing, often sharply critical edge the older Shin Megami Tensei games had. The end result doesn’t quite have the same bite as Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne, but Strange Journey‘s excellent story, solid character customization scheme, and exceptional dungeon design mark it as an excellent game in its own right. (more…)

Pokemon Heart Gold and Soul Silver – Staff Review

Tuesday, March 30th, 2010 by | Posted in DS Reviews, Features, Reviews, Traditional RPG Reviews

Over the years there have been signs and portents of a remake of Pokemon Gold and Silver, fan favorites in the series due to its sheer size and the fact that it was the first game to expand the Pokemon universe beyond the confines of the Kanto region. The final result, Pokemon Heart Gold and Soul Silver, is every bit as fully featured and chock-full of Pokemon goodness as the originals, but unfortunately, they also carry over some of the less desireable quirks of Gold and Silver. Most serious of these are bothersome balance issues, and a plot which is flat even by Pokemon standards. On the whole, HG/SS isn’t a bad game, and makes some definite strides in the areas of sound and visuals, but it probably won’t be of much interest to anyone but fans of the series. (more…)

Borderlands – Staff Review

Saturday, March 13th, 2010 by | Posted in Action RPG Reviews, Reviews, X360 Reviews

Borderlands presents an interesting mash up of First-Person Shooter and RPG elements, which eventually come together to produce a unique sort of combat system with a lot to offer. Unfortunately, a clunky interface, flatlined plot, and a certain monotony when it comes to environments drag the game down significantly, becoming glaring issues towards the end of the game. On the whole, Borderlands is a solidly built game, and it works well for gamers looking for something a little bit different, but it’s not a particularly compelling or amazing title. (more…)

Glory of Heracles – Staff Review

Saturday, February 13th, 2010 by | Posted in DS Reviews, Features, Reviews, Traditional RPG Reviews

Over the course of the last decade or so, North America has seen a remarkable influx of games and series which, in the past, had been exclusive to the east. From Shin Megami Tensei to Fire Emblem, the widening acceptance of gaming in general has allowed for a much broader cross-section of Japanese gaming to be seen on our shores. However, there still remain a number of long running series which have yet to make the jump across the pond. Glory of Heracles, whose first game was released in 1987, is one of these, and although the game contains many elements that are carried over from earlier entries in the series, the fact that this is the series’s first international release works strongly in its favor. (more…)

Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World – Staff Review

Tuesday, January 19th, 2010 by | Posted in Action RPG Reviews, Reviews, Wii Reviews

The main features of Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World are an engaging and solidly balanced combat system, and a somewhat overbearing and at times saccharine story. In this, it is a fairly typical Tales game. That isn’t to say ToS:DotNW is a bad game — on the contrary, the game is quite well constructed — merely that it comes off as a bit derivative, particularly where the story is concerned. ToS:DotNW does try a number of new things with the series with varying levels of success, but overall, it’s unlikely that anyone who already has an opinion about the Tales series will find their position swayed one way or the other due to this game. (more…)

Shin Megami Tensei: Persona – Staff Review

Saturday, December 5th, 2009 by | Posted in PSP Reviews, Reviews, Strategy RPG Reviews, Traditional RPG Reviews

The early PSOne game Revelations: Persona is widely considered to be the victim of one of the biggest localization hack jobs of all time. Besides a lackluster translation filled with poorly conceived attempts at mythological nomenclature, the localization team saw fit to fiddle with the game’s balance, alter character art in order to make the cast appear more western, and even remove whole sections of the game for no readily apparent reason. And so when a PSP port-slash-remake was announced, there was a great sigh of relief in the Western Hemisphere. And, thankfully, Shin Megami Tensei: Persona does indeed improve vastly on the localization of the original game. Unfortunately, with a poorly executed plot, badly balanced combat system, and a mishmash of aesthetic elements, the game lying hidden underneath the piles of meddling heaped on Revelations: Persona isn’t exactly a diamond in the rough. (more…)

Disgaea 2: Dark Hero Days – Staff Review

Saturday, November 14th, 2009 by | Posted in Features, PSP Reviews, Reviews, Strategy RPG Reviews

Disgaea 2: Dark Hero Days continues the recent trend of PSP rereleases, retooling Disgaea 2 and dropping it onto Sony’s handheld with some new features. Although it adds some interesting new content, including an epilogue starring Axel, Dark Hero Days lacks some of the wit and energy that made Disgaea so much fun, at least in the plot department. It doesn’t make too many changes to the Disgaea combat system, and most, if not all, of the really new content introduced for this port is available only after completing the mainline quest, meaning this port will probably be a little dull for gamers who have already sucked the marrow out of the game’s PS2 iteration. (more…)

Dragonica Online – Staff Review

Thursday, October 1st, 2009 by | Posted in Action RPG Reviews, MMO RPG Reviews, PC Reviews, Reviews

Dragonica Online is a very solidly designed game which is unfortunately marred by some of the same issues that have plagued other free to play MMOs for years now. It offers arcade-style beat-‘em-up combat that makes the game genuinely entertaining to play, and provides a wealth of activities for players who are interested in more than mindless grinding, but it also has some significant issues with its level curve, as well as some unpleasant balance issues. On the whole, Dragonica Online is a good choice for those looking for an unusual and active online game, but it doesn’t deal with the pacing issues unique to online gaming any better than most free to play MMOs. (more…)

Valkyrie Profile 2: Silmeria – Staff Review

Wednesday, August 19th, 2009 by | Posted in Action RPG Reviews, PS2 Reviews, Reviews

Valkyrie Profile 2: Silmeria has an impressive set of credentials to recommend it. Possessing a high-energy, yet tactically challenging combat system, an unexpected epic symphonic soundtrack, some truly impressive visuals, and a sharp, well written story, Valkyrie Profile 2: Silmeria is a remarkable title which should appeal to a wide variety of gamers. However, those expecting an experience similar to Valkyrie Profile: Lenneth will be disappointed, as most of the gameplay mechanics that made it so unique have been gutted or outright omitted. There are also a few problems with stiff animation, poor lip sync, and a bit of excess deus ex machina late in the plot, but the game offers an entertaining and thought-provoking take on the Valkyrie Profile world to those willing to accept the changes it makes to the series. (more…)