January 2010 Archives

Geek News Roundup for 01/24/10 -- Small of Two Roundups

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Vancouver Tree Carnage.jpeg

The iPad is probably the most talked about new gadget right now.  This may or may not be good for the device.  My thoughts on this device are: I don't care, let's talk about games.

Yoshinori Kitase revealed that part of the delay in development for Final Fantasy XIII was due to the PlayStation 3's arrival on the market.  In other words, it's all Sony's fault.  It makes me wonder what effect the decision to create a version for the 360 had on the development time for the game.  So what Kitase is saying is that if they'd just stuck with the PlayStation 2, the game would be out by now?  And speaking of March releases on the PS3 for games that are also available on the 360, Grand Theft Auto: Episodes From Liberty City is being ported to the PS3.

Mass Effect 2 is out for the Xbox 360 and it's been selling very well.  Unless you live in certain places that, for some reason, haven't received copies of the game yet.  This doesn't seem to be Microsoft's main worry, though, for they have other fish to fry.  Microsoft's lawyers have filed a motion to dismiss an anti-trust lawsuit filed against them by Datel, a company that made unauthorized memory cards and game controllers for the Xbox 360, citing an earlier precedent set by Apple.  An observation: it seems like the only times anyone working for Microsoft are brutally honest about their products are when companies like Datel threaten the dominance that Microsoft tries to get on the market.  One could argue, though, that it's not really a monopoly as long as there's competition, and it's not like anyone's allowed to make unauthorized games for these systems.

Is it possible that video games can improve your sex life?  That's what Lara Roberts is saying.  She is a mother of two who says she lost over a hundred pounds while using Nintendo's Wii Fit software, and claims it saved her life.  And trust me when I say there is a major difference between her before and after pictures.  And come to think of it, I wouldn't be surprised if this is why Jann Arden looks like she's lost weight on the cover of her new 2009 album, "Free".

And last but not least, Google Street View seems to have caught some illegal tree cutting in Vancouver.  Given that a lot of this kind of thing happens over there, it's good that some of it happened on camera.  And since I missed last week, stay tuned tomorrow for more geek news!

Nintendo's Renewal

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Nintendo's Wii has an...interesting conundrum. In terms of its software lineup, the potential of it seemed good initially since smaller developers would have a venue to have with the rising cost of development Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 software would undoubtedly entail. The initial third-party lineup was admittedly bare compared to the HD consoles, which raised some concerns. Since then, it's fluctuated between both extremes, with the software situation never settling into one comfortable position. Especially in America.

But that's not to say Japan and Europe have been perfect. When the third-party lineup was still distressing, Nintendo has plenty of fantastic software to provide to fill in the gap. But when they felt third-party developers were stepping up their offerings, they let their offerings lapse, and the system's overall morale suffered for it. Nintendo has recently promised to fix the problem, but with third-party games seeing underwhelming sales on the system, many of them are starting to leave. It's pretty bad in Japan, where no third-party Wii titles have been announced for months.

Yesterday, however, we saw a new lineup from Nintendo that showed promise for their future output. They're indeed keeping their promise to provide some titles that will appease the core audience. So yeah, there will be some games to play later on this year. Maybe.

metroidothermpic_013010.jpgYou're already familiar with Metroid: Other M, a new Metroid title to be borne of a collaboration between Tecmo's Team Ninja and Nintendo's Metroid staff; the latter of which includes Yoshio Sakamoto, co-creator of the franchise. Given how both sides are talented, it should be pretty good. It also looks much more story-oriented than the previous games. The official Japanese teaser webpage went up in Japan yesterday, confirming that the game will release in summer 2010. The site also has a beautiful piano theme.

xenobladepic_013010.jpgIt took a while for Monolith Soft's new Wii RPG to resurface again, and it has in the form of a teaser webpage on Nintendo of Japan's website. Formerly known as Monado: Beginning of the World -- buried within Nintendo of America's press packet from E3 last year -- Xenoblade is going to be the final name of their new RPG. Yeah, Xenoblade. And the project is helmed by Tetsuya Takahashi too. And it apparently has mechs! This seems reminiscent of something in particular.

And before you conclude that the name is Takahashi's desperate attempt at recapturing the spirit of the good ol' days when the "Xeno" name was one of prominence, the final name was actually Nintendo's idea. We should be seeing more soon, as the game releases in Japan in spring 2010. Hopefully it's come a ways since its last appearance. Make sure to take in the music on the website too, because it's lovely. I've listened to it about six times now. I'm still trying to figure out who composed it.

thelaststorylogo_013010.jpg We've known that Mistwalker's Hironobu Sakaguchi (formerly of Squaresoft) has been up to something for a long time, given his intermittent blog updates on Mistwalker's website. And now we know, as a site appeared on Nintendo's website yesterday revealing The Last Story. Interesting name too, as it's a little reminiscent of another name. Something representing finality. Subtle.

Both Nintendo and Mistwalker are being sparse on the details, but Sakaguchi said the theme of it will be "the universal theme of human emotion." The site also has some beautiful music, possibly composed by Nobuo Uematsu. The game releases in Japan sometime this year.

This is a pretty nice batch of games, especially when you also consider some of the other games from Nintendo that will appeal to core gamers, like Zangeki no Reginleiv (which releases in Japan on February 11th), Super Mario Galaxy 2, and the new Zelda. And while I'd like to think that all of these games will release over here, who knows what will come over with company so schizophrenic with whatever they release outside of Japan like Nintendo of America. Hopefully, they've changed their minds, but the skepticism remains.

When I first entered the PlayStation generation of gaming, I hooked up the game system to an old Sears 13" television*.  When the faux Latin chorus began to sing "Fithos... Lusec...", the television was baptized into the world of video games.  Final Fantasy VIII's opening was visually impressive, even on the old television I was using.

Through the years, the television has served me well, and 13" was all I needed.  On such a set, I hardly noticed how ugly the graphics in Xenogears were.  And when I started playing Final Fantasy IX, I was blown away.  There are those who believe that Avatar fans who suffer depression after watching the movie - since they know they can't live in Pandora - to be idiots.  Well, long before Avatar, I suffered from depression for a day when I finished Final Fantasy IX.  Such a lush, amazing world and I wanted to visit it.  Fortunately, the condition only lasted for a day.

Legend of Dragoon, Breath of Fire III, etc.  I played a lot of them before I finally upgraded myself to a PlayStation 2.  The only game on Sony's first console that I had any kind of trouble seeing what was happening was Final Fantasy Tactics, for the font was too tiny to be legible to anyone except those sitting directly in front of the 13".

The PlayStation 2 era was no different: I was hooked.  Final Fantasy X, Disgaea, Front Mission 4, I tried to keep up with them all and ended up with a pile of unfinished (many of them not even started) games so high that I didn't want to buy a PlayStation 3 until I played down some of them.  And for the most part, my 13" TV stood up to the challenge.

When I placed Puzzle Quest into the PlayStation 2, however, I realized I'd finally hit the wall.  This was a game that played well enough, but I had no idea what was going on, since I could not read the tiny, squint-o-vision text.  That's when I knew, it was time to upgrade.  And with Final Fantasy XIII on the horizon, I couldn't delay any longer.

Buying a PlayStation 3 might not be a good idea after all, but that is a story for another time.

*I'm pretty sure it's a 13".  I no longer have the manual and I've not bothered to actually measure the TV.  Lazy!

Video of the Week

Currently Playing: Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords (PS2)

And once I purchased the new high definition television, this game has become far more enjoyable.  And now that I can play it, I can see just how much PopCap and Square-Enix ripped this game off.  Oh, they couldn't copy everything.  But yeah, partial rip-off.

My favourite thing to do is match a lot of gems, then spam Forest Fire while declaring the enemy should die in a fire.

Looking Forward To: Purchasing a high definition console

Although it's no longer a guarantee I'll buy a PlayStation 3.  Next week, I'll explain why.

My first introduction to importing Japanese-only BLEACH fighting games came with BLEACH GC: Tasogare ni Mamieru Shinigami on the GameCube in January 2007. It was fun to start but got old quickly, even while playing with friends. Despite importing the game (and the Freeloader disc required to play it) I knew about the BLEACH: Heat the Soul series on the PSP. At the time I didn't know Heat the Soul had been around since 2005 and games in the series were released once or sometimes twice a year. It wouldn't be until December 2007 that I got a PSP to call my own, and a few months later I bought BLEACH: Heat the Soul 4. Thankfully Heat the Soul 4 was much more entertaining than BLEACH GC could ever hope to be. When it came time to buy the fifth installment in the series I actually passed it over in favor of BLEACH: Heat the Soul 6. While the sixth installment was quite different from Heat the Soul 4 I found it to be just as entertaining.

BLEACH: Heat the Soul 6 closely follows Tite Kubo's manga along with some bonus material from the three movies. The story begins with Ichigo Kurosaki's initiation as a Soul Reaper and continues up to the content of the "Turn Back the Pendulum" story arc. Like any fighting game series the plot is revealed through multiple character fights. Story mode is also a clever way of introducing the game's two character tag system (similar to Marvel VS Capcom 2 -- obviously with two characters instead of three) and getting players to learn how special attacks work. Mindless button mashing won't always help you in this game. Sixty one individual fights are split up into ten chapters that cover seven major manga story arcs and the last three chapters cover material from the movies. Fortunately or unfortunately (depending on how much like you a serious challenge), completing story mode's 61 missions and unlocking all 74 characters isn't always as simple as just beating an opponent.

This can only be described as the sucker punch from Hell.

All matches are ranked on how well you complete each mission's objective within a fight. Matches are ranked from S to D with S being excellent and D being below average. In order to unlock every single mission, and thus getting 100 percent in story mode, you must complete a match with an A or better. Each objective is stated before a match starts and includes objectives such as only finishing off an opponent with a special attack, a tag team special attack, finishing off an enemy within a certain time limit, or just surviving a match until a timer reaches zero. Attempting to get an A (especially in horribly mismatched fights) requires saintly levels of patience at times. Additionally, the lack of an English translation for the said objectives makes the game more difficult than it should be. Thankfully, it is easy enough to guess an objective based on a storyline fight if you follow the anime or manga. For objectives that are a bit more ambiguous, or if you barely follow BLEACH there's always trial and error or a walkthrough.

While story mode is Heat the Soul 6's main attraction there is still plenty to do within the game. Arcade mode, Training, Soul VS (two player versus), Soul Championship and Soul Customization are the game's other major attractions. While every mode can be played without ever touching story mode the other modes aren't much fun before the character roster is filled out. Soul championship is new to the Heat the Soul series. Championship mode is split into four major tiers and you must start at the lowest tier. Each tier has 12 different tournaments and each tournament has its own elimination brackets. Soul customization is also new to Heat the Soul 6. As the name implies it is the ability build a custom technique set for any particular character not normally found in the course of the game. Such techniques include the ability to deal more damage when attacking from behind, inflicting block damage, an auto block, a long range dash, the ability to switch characters in tag mode while blocking, and lots more. This section of the game is so comprehensive that using it without a guide is impossible unless you're up to date on your Japanese.

I don't know why but I didn't enjoy any of my fights against her. Could have been all of those near game overs?

Graphically, Heat the Soul 6 is nearly identical to previous installments. The cel-shading comes off very crisp and stylish at times, but the game doesn't even come close to pushing the PSP to its limits. Other than a few mild changes to the graphical interface 6 looks pretty much like the original Heat the Soul did in 2005. If you're a stickler for graphics BLEACH may or may not please you. Surprisingly, the Heat the Soul series looks much better than the GameCube and Wii games--neither of which I recommend over the PSP titles. As for voice work it's hard to find any faults with the Heat the Soul series. All of the voice actors from the anime have reprised their roles and the J-pop group Porno Graffiti performs the excellent opening song, "Koyoi, Tsuki ga Miezu Tomo." While on the subject of music, the game's soundtrack gets the job done despite some tracks being completely recycled from prior games. It works for the context of the game but you're not likely to put the music on your favorite playlist.

Beyond the soul championship mode and soul customization Heat the Soul 6 isn't very different from Heat the Soul 5. This latest Heat the Soul game simply refines the tag team feature that was already introduced in 5, making it more of an upgrade. If you've already played Heat the Soul 5 I can't fully recommend importing this $50 dollar PSP title, unless you're hell-bent on having every new BLEACH game. A new sweeping system probably won't be introduced until Heat the Soul 7 is eventually released. Of course, if you haven't played a Heat the Soul game since 4, 6 is going to feel really different with the introduction of the tag team system. And if you've never played a Heat the Soul game 6 is a great place to start, particularly if you've played one or both of the BLEACH DS fighting games. A lack of an English translation, difficult mission objectives, and repetition aside, Heat the Soul 6 is a fun and well-rounded game that any BLEACH fan should at least try. It's just a shame that Sony refuses to publish the series outside of Asia.

Images shamelessly taken from the official Heat the Soul 6 website. Additionally, parts of this review would have been impossible to write without HolyDragonFire's comprehensive walkthrough on GameFAQs.com.

Folklore -- Lives Up To Its Name

folklorebanner.jpgFolklore's premise involves absorbing monsters - known as "Folks" in the game's context - and utilizing their attacks in battle as companions. This sounds familiar.

Many of us have the unfortunate ability of glancing over a premise to a game and writing it off because of its ostensible potential for being passé, and it could be the reason why Folkore slid right under the radar of way too many gamers; gamers who could have appreciated the merits of what it brings to the table. There's quite a bit more to it than being a monster collector; what really matters is what you do with them once you assemble them, which adds an interesting and intriguing layer of strategy to the game's overall design.

The story is also pretty good, and it takes place in our present world. Folklore tells the tale of a 22-year-old university student named Ellen, who mysteriously remembers very little about her past. She receives a letter from her mother instructing her to come to the village of Doolin (which actually exists), a sea side village in Ireland. The letter specifically instructs Ellen to meet her at the Cliff of Sidhe. When she arrives, she stumbles upon a mysterious figure within a cloak. While there, Ellen also stumbles upon the male protagonist of the game: Keats, 29-year-old a journalist who writes for an occult magazine known as "Unknown Realms" (which was part of this game's original name when it was originally announced. They found some use for it, apparently).

folklorepic1_012710.jpgDoolin, uh, changes at night.

Keats is called to the scene when he receives a distress call from an unknown woman, which he presumes to be either Ellen or the mysterious figure in the cloak. As the two of them arrive on the scene, a fierce wind blows the figure off of the cliff, the figure landing on the shore of the beach. Ellen, distressed by all of the occurrences, faints, while Keats ponders how to piece everything together for the story he'll eventually write. He is a journalist, after all.

A lot of mysterious, unexplained events have occurred, so it will be up to the protagonists to figure out the meaning behind everything that's happened. This will entail travelling to the Netherworld, the realm of the dead. This place can only be accessed from within Doolin, and it's a fantastical place where mystical beings and creatures exist - some kind, others malignant. It's the latter, known as "folks," that you'll have to absorb to make them act on your command while you explore the areas of the Netherworld.

Folklore has an unusual way in how it presents its story, and your mileage may vary on how much you like or hate it. While it sometimes has the occasional cut scene similar to most games in the genre these days, in both in-game and CG form, this game presents most of its cinematic scenes in a comic book-like form (or, "manga" form, for you nerds). It...really doesn't work as much as the developers wanted it to, and it feels like something that would have had a bigger effect if it was, well, based on a comic. In a fantastical game like this, it feels a little out of place.

Yeah, the designs are pretty out there. But in a way that will help it distinguish itself.

The manga sequence cut scene as described above is, sadly, an unfortunate representation of its low budget. It's a shame, too, because this is the kind of game that could have really shined if its production quality was higher. But that's not to say it doesn't shine regardless. In fact, its environments actually manage to shimmer because of its incredibly unique art style; a kind that you probably haven't seen in a video game all that much. The outfits are a mix of contemporary-style dress and fantasy-style clothing to match whichever environment it needs to. Your characters don mystical clothing whenever they venture to the netherworld. The designs help it stand out, and developer Game Republic actually managed to handle the low budget thing pretty well.

The unfortunate aspect about not having many cut scenes doesn't come from the game needing to feel showy; it's just that it lessens the chances of hearing much of the voice acting, which is pretty good. Given how Folklore takes place in Ireland, the cast consists entirely of English and Irish actors. They all do a pretty good job, for the most part.

The music is also quite fascinating and diverse. The latter point isn't surprising, given how many music composers were involved with this game, which might answer the question as to where the budget went. Kenji Kawai of Ghost in the Shell and Vampire Princess Miyu makes a few contributions to the soundtrack (including the opening menu theme). Shinji Hosoe, Ayako Saso, Hiroto Saitoh, and Yuriko Mujoujima also contribute to the soundtrack. The soundtrack overall has a very cinematic feel, feeling inspired by movies close to the genre; most notably Danny Elfman's works.

folklorepic3_012710.jpgSome souls can get a little complicated.

The main gimmick for the game is collecting every kind of folk you come across. Each of the folks have an element that will assist you depending on what battle or path lies in your way. Some of them have different attributes as well; you can use a few for melee attacks, some for projectiles, some for gigantic explosions, among others. How well you fare in battles depends on how well you use each folk, which depends on what element your opponent is weak against. It's at this time that you realize how Folklore actually has a nice layer of strategy that it requires, which means it's not the button-masher it initially seems like.

It may not be a surprise that the game has monster collecting gimmick. Though Yoshiki Okamoto was responsible for overseeing the progress of the project, Folklore's creative director was Kouji "Cozy" Okada. You may know him, because he was instrumental in creating the Shin Megami Tensei franchise, and left Atlus for Game Republic about half a decade ago.

folklorepic4_012710.jpgAnd some folks can get a little complicated to deal with. All in good fun, however.

Folkore has a unique way in how you go about gathering your allies: When one of them is nearing defeat, their spirit will glow red, meaning you can absorb them. You do this by pulling their spirit out by using Sixaxis motions. Said motions depend on the monster you're fighting, and if some of them are a bit obtuse (and they will be), you can view a tutorial by pressing R3. What's great is that it uses the Sixaxis uniquely while not being too annoying about it. Well, initially, at least, because some of the more complex motions get a little annoying when you have to do them very often near the end of the game. Still, on a system where a lot of developers haven't the faintest as to how to use the Sixaxis in any meaningful way, this game represents a nice try.

It's not a surprise, but it's still a shame that Folklore is such an underrated little gem. Sure, Sony's insistence on leaving it $60 in America definitely isn't helping, but if you can find it for an affordable price (which isn't hard), you'll find one of the best action/RPG's on the console. And that's not just because there aren't a lot of them on a console, in a generation. Just try and find it cheaper than the aforementioned price.
Sands of Destruction Banner.jpg

Wait, was that the ending?  It can't be.  Wow.  Not only was this a short game, but it didn't feel like it should've ended that way.  I'll elaborate.

This game has been linked closely to Xenogears by both the creators and the fans.  Many of the people behind Xenogears played a part in the making of this game, and considering that it took most people between 80 and 100 hours to beat Xenogears, the 25 to 30 hours that it takes to beat Sands of Destruction seem like a gyp in comparison.  There don't seem to be any minigames either (none that I found, anyway), and any bonus side quests that exist are hard to find, since the game is largely linear.  It's so linear that the characters openly objected whenever I tried to go where I wasn't supposed to, to the point where they refused to take another step in that direction.  This applied to both areas that I wasn't allowed to explore yet and areas that I'd already been.  It's possible that there's a point or two where I could've gone back to explore further, but the game does a very good job at discouraging you from taking a break from the main story.

It's not like you'd have much opportunity to explore your surroundings anyway.  The world map is, as is the norm these days, a point and click interface.  With the lack of minigames and extra features, the majority of your time will be spent in battle anyway, and most of the rest of your time will be spent exploring the various dungeons scattered throughout the world.  Occasionally, you'll spend a few minutes in a town, but only long enough to purchase new weapons and armour, sometimes visit a smithy if one is available, and talk to the one important NPC in the entire city.

Those few minutes in town will mostly be taken up by the various plot events in the game, sometimes centered around the one important NPC.  True to the usual modus operandi of the developers, plot events can take a while to get through, but that's alright.  Only some of the scenes are voiced, and it seems random which ones are and which ones aren't.  Most of the voice actors seem like they were cast well, except for the occasional ham (one such character whose voice actor I didn't like was reduced to sand anyway, so it's all good), but overall, I had no objections with the voice work... that is, when I could actually hear it.  The music and spoken dialogue are not balanced well, and at some points, I could hardly hear what the characters were saying over the sudden swelling of music.  There is an option to change the levels of both in the settings, but gamers shouldn't have to do the developers' work for them.

It's a good thing I know how to read British.

Controls, like in Xenogears, are confined to the X and Y axes and their diagonals only.  The dungeons, however, seem designed for an analog stick or some other dynamic movement system, as opposed to the stiff movement present in this game.  There are times when your characters are forced to zig zag when taking curves, rather than just taking them naturally.  It doesn't help that the camera also moves a set number of degrees every time you move it, so you can't try to compensate for the movement system with the camera.  There is one thing to be grateful for: you don't have to make awkward jumps like in Xenogears.  It seems that they learned an important lesson from making that game.

It would've been nice to control the movement through the touch screen instead, because then it might've been a little easier, but there was absolutely no touch screen support present in this game.  It was like playing a PSP game, but with two screens instead of one.  In fact, it would be easy to throw away the dungeon maps on the top screen and just port the game to the PSP, if not for the battle system requiring both screens.  It's probably possible, though, to port it to the PSP without losing any of the dynamics of the battle system.  Square made flying enemies out of reach of normal attacks in Final Fantasy VII, but didn't offer any alternatives other than equipping long range attack weapons and using magic.  They did, however, show this all on one screen.  The same could be done with this game, except better, since a character has two different sets of attacks depending on whether an enemy is on the top or the bottom screen, so if ported to the PSP, a flying enemy should suffice to signify a "top screen enemy".

Speaking of the battle system, it will be confusing at first.  It seems like, the way it's set up, timed button presses are important.  They are, but only to a point.  To chain together your attacks, you do have to select your next attack right after the previous one ends, or else you lose out on a large chain bonus to your CP; CP are points you can spend to level up your various attacks and spells.  Also, you can only have up to six BP in a turn; BP are the points used to determine how many times you can attack.  Confused yet?  There's more: your first critical hit on the enemy will add one BP to your total for your turn, and ten consecutive hits upon the enemy will add another BP.  Your various skills can hit more than once, and once you've earned enough CP, you can level up your skills and set them up in chains to get the most out of your BP, so it's not like you're at a complete disadvantage.  Certain characters, though, are worse off than others.  While your best characters can set up a chain of 12 hits on one BP, there's another character that can only go up to 7.  This wouldn't be too bad, if the developers had stopped there.  Apparently, certain characters can have their morale affected by the story, rendering them suddenly useless in battle.  Ordinarily, a character receives 2 BP at the start of their turn, which is more than enough to make up for a deficiency in hits.  But a depressed character becomes less effective in battle and only receives 1 BP at the start of their turn.  If the character only has a chain that hits 7 times, then they'd better hope they can crit on their first turn, or else they're going to be pretty useless against a boss.  There is nothing you can do to change this, either.  The developers have apparently decided that certain characters must be rendered completely useless during certain sequences in the game.  It does help that sometimes, characters will have high morale and therefore receive 3 BP; it doesn't help that the Quip system adds an extra layer of luck into the battle system.  Occasionally, your character will spout a line that somehow affects the outcome of battle.  Either they'll gain an extra BP, or they'll boost their defense.  At the end of battle, gold or experience may be doubled.  And so on.  There's no way to increase how often these quips activate, and it seems like each quip has its own frequency associated with it: an experience doubling quip will definitely not activate nearly as often as a gold doubling quip, for example.

Kyrie Eleison
Down the road that I must travel
Kyrie Eleison
Through the darkness of the night
Kyrie Eleison
Where I'm going will you follow
Kyrie Eleison
On a highway in the light

Regular enemies in battle aren't too bad.  Bosses, on the other hand, can be hell if given a chance.  They possess skills that are mysterious and apparently boost their stats and abilities.  This seems to extend to their BP, which is on a hidden meter and I swear it goes to eleven.  Occasionally, bosses will suddenly draw upon an infinite pool of BP to completely fill their meter up, spam skills that delay your characters enough that you'll die before you can take another turn, and in extreme cases, they'll start hitting characters one at a time and keep going until they kill the character (which should ordinarily end their turn), then will move on to the next character until you've suffered a complete party wipe, often from as much as full health, especially if you've just healed everyone.  The only thing I can think of is that maybe the speed boosting skills that bosses use can stack, but there's no indication that this is the case.

When it comes to music, the game seems to straddle the line between modern full orchestral compositions and old school style tunes that you can actually make out.  Although you might not end up humming the songs from the game, they do have tunes you can hum.  Although I know that Yasunori Mitsuda composed some of the music for this game, it seems like he's long over his Celtic period, so I only partially recognized his style.  In a way, it helped to distance myself from any expectations I would've had for the music.

To further the comparison with Xenogears, I would say that the music was a little more light hearted this time around, especially near the beginning.  But then again, there was a lot less Man Vs. Everyone in this game, and although the theme of the game is world destruction, the story treats it with a more romantic angle than most would.  Although you fought a bunch of enemies that were oppressing your race, none of them really stood out as a big bad, so there wasn't an epic feel to the game either.  The majority of the game was spent in a Man Vs. Himself mindset, kind of like if Fei from Xenogears was allowed to be angsty about Id for the entire game.  The main character, Kyrie, finds out in the first hour or so that he's a weapon meant to destroy the world.  He's activated by a mysterious bell during a confrontation, and his power goes out of control and reduces the nearby landscape and all the people within to sand.  From there, he is forced to join an organization whose goal is to destroy the world, and finds himself nursing a crush on his female companion.  The character that ends up being the bad guy is subtle and doesn't really count since he's not visibly hounding you during the game.  He doesn't lift his hand against you, nor does he send any minions to kill you.  In fact, while most RPGs put your characters on the defensive for the majority of the game, Sands of Destruction breaks the mold by having your characters seek out and kill most of the powerful enemies present in the world.  Also unlike most games, recurring villains are very scarce.  There was only one that I could recall, and you dispatch him for good about a third of the way into the game.

When it comes to graphics, the designers went with the style they employed in Xenogears, placing low-detail sprites in a 3-D environment.  If I didn't know better, I'd suspect that these sprites were leftover from Xenogears, since they're about the same quality.  Although I've seen better on the DS, the graphics do get the job done, especially since most of the game is spent in a rather drab, sandy world anyway with four continents themed after the seasons.  I guess if the winter continent is perpetually winter and the summer continent is perpetually summer, then the autumn and spring continents are always autumn and spring?  However that works.  Meanwhile, you sail around the world (presumably, since it's point and click) in a ship that somehow sails upon the sand.  And this is no ordinary sand.  It's sand that magically will not clog engines, unless it's required by the plot that it does.

By the time I was a few hours into this game, it was clear that, although there were some similarities to earlier games made by the same team, I was playing something completely new and different.  Although there were a few missteps (sound balance needing work, occasional unfair advantage of bosses in battle, initially confusing battle system, too linear story), I would say this was an enjoyable 30 hours.  Take the above criticisms with a grain of salt.  Chances are, anyone who plays this game will enjoy their experience as much as I did.

Screens stolen shamelessly from RPGamer.com

Classical Pro

mh3bundlepic_012510.jpgGood news, everyone! Nintendo of America finally decided that they felt the Classic Controller Pro should be available to non-importers. In a press release early (like, early) today, they announced that the controller would finally be available throughout America in April -- despite it being available in Japan and Europe since August and . It will come in both black and white, and will release for $19.99, the same price as the older iteration. The PR doesn't mention the original Classic Controller at all, so they definitely intend on retiring it. Given the favorable impressions of the new controller, they're doing consumers a favor.

But that's not all: That press release was sent from both Nintendo and Capcom, announcing that the controller would also be available in a special bundle with Monster Hunter 3: Tri, which also releases in April. The controller that will be packaged with the game will be black, just like the Japanese counterpart. The bundle will be $59.99, a mere $10 more than the standalone game. This should help the game's sales, since the Monster Hunter games have the unfortunate habit of only selling especially well in Japan. You could call this the Dragon Quest Syndrome.

ccprojpad_012510.jpgSo I think it would be a good idea to promote it using the ad that helped push it in Japan. I also think it would be good to market it with the product behind them. Of course, I'm talking about...no, not the HDTV. Or the guitar. I mean the black Wii, which has still yet to make an appearance in America. I think NoA likes to tick off their fanbase every now and then for the sake of it. (

Word among various third-party developers (some of which are being discussed here) distressed about underwhelming software sales is that the hardcore base has abandoned the platform for the supposedly greener pastures of the 360 and PS3. With something like a black Wii and Monster Hunter 3, they could stand a good chance at reigniting the core gamer fanbase. That, along with a marketing campaign, which I'm sure Capcom is doing anyway since they're even giving one to Tatsunoko vs. Capcom: Ultimate All Stars (out tomorrow!). Time will tell if Nintendo is really serious about this.

Recommended Soundtracks: Castlevania Judgment

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recommendedsoundtracksbanner.jpgI've been at this "Recommended Soundtracks" feature for a little while, for almost precisely two months, in fact. It's been a lot of fun, and really the only part that proves a challenge is finding the tracks you want to use on Youtube or any other service. But I'm straying from the point here; the point of this seemingly-overwrought introduction is that for the two months I've been at this feature, I haven't featured a single Castlevania soundtrack. Not a one. And as someone who, as you may now, likes the series quite a bit, that's pretty disappointing.

But now is the time to rectify that by featuring one, and it's...a soundtrack to a game I haven't played. But that's probably not a bad thing. Castlevania Judgment has a dubious reputation of being a concept borne of good ideas with pitiful execution. Sure, it's nice that someone went ahead and designed a fighting (or fighting-esque?) game with some of the most popular characters, but that promise is completely shot when the final product is lacking. The character designs don't help either. While Takeshi Obata's designs are fine for his own works, those being Hikaru no Go and Death Note, a fit for Castlevania they certainly aren't. There's nothing like seeing your favorite characters in the franchise in barely recognizable and sometimes egregious form. And yes, that last bit goes for both the males and females.

castlevaniajudgmentostpic_012410.jpgThe soundtrack is the only thing that really stands out about the game. It's incredible, and comes off as a glorified "best of" collection for individual, remixed Castlevania tracks. If you're a longtime Castlevania fan, the entire soundtrack is like a love letter addressed to you; there is a good chance that there's at least one of your favorite tracks here. Konami, and presumably series producer (or former producer?) Koji Igarashi (IGA), gathered some of the best composers they could. Yasushi Asada and Konami Kukeiha Club member Kenichi Matsubara may not be too familiar to Castlevania fans, but Michiru Yamane and Kinuyo Yamashita - who composed the soundtrack for the original NES Castlevania -- should be.

The soundtrack, unsurprisingly, contains remixes of some of the more popular tracks in the series. To be honest, tracks like Bloody Tears and Vampire Killer seriously didn't need another remix. Instead, I'd like to focus on tracks that haven't been remixed to death, either because they're from unpopular games or plain overlooked for some silly reason. This first one here is "The Wolf Revealed" from the mediocre Nintendo 64 Castlevania: Legacy of Darkness:

The second one we have is "Slash," remixed from the original track in Castlevania: Rondo of Blood. This was also previously remixed for the remake on PSP, though it's not commonly referred to as one of the greatest tracks in Castlevania's history. That doesn't mean it's not as impressive as them, however:

The last one here is the arranged version of "Darkness of Fear," which is an original track from Judgment. The arranged version is comprised from the music from the opening, and the final boss' theme. It's also pretty great, and I hope it stays around a little longer:

I'm not sure what curse Castlevania has that makes all of its 3D titles misguided efforts, but something else they have in common is that they all have great soundtracks regardless of the composer(s). Judgment will be seen as a blight on the franchise for as long as it sticks around, and it may have been the game to cause Konami to wrestle control of the franchise from IGA. Hopefully his team can still make 2D games, which is where they seem to have their expertise. Anyway, this year's Castlevania: Lords of Shadow will have orchestral remixes of Castlevania tracks from older titles, but hopefully it doesn't fall into the aforementioned trope.

Adventures in Canadian Gaming #13 -- Status Change!


I'm beginning to regret the title of this column.  It forces me to constantly try to find angles that relate my antics to the state of Canadian gaming in general, which isn't really that different from American gaming, except for the presence of French on everything (which is less of a difference these days), the lack of availability of certain items, and the presence of crappy game companies within our country.  Ubisoft apparently has the ability to do a good job on games that they care about, but when it comes to translating games from other companies, they do kinda drop the ball sometimes.  Lunar: Dragon Song was apparently the first traditional RPG on the DS.  Ubisoft didn't have to rush their translation, considering that I'm pretty sure the next RPG on the DS was also translated by Ubisoft.  Who were they racing?  Themselves?

Next week I'll be giving this column a new name.

Twittering a gaming journal does have its downside.  If I'm playing my game and I'm not near a computer, I had better hope that I don't come up with something that I want to post, since I don't have a cell phone, and apparently my PSP doesn't like the site.

But anyway, this week I can't help but notice just how badly certain survey companies handle gaming questions.  There was one survey I took recently where they asked about games I'd heard of, then asked about games I'd personally owned copies of.  The games they listed?  "Zelda".  No individual titles, just "Zelda".  "Mario".  "Spyro".  And others.  It's clear that they were just cutting and pasting from lists they'd compiled from ten minutes of research.  There are no games that go by the one word title "Zelda".  Similarly, there are no games that go by the one word title "Spyro", unless you drop subtitles on a few games.  There was a game, apparently, that went by the one word title "Mario" on the Commodore 64, but the likelihood that anyone taking the survey would've played that one is next to nil.  They also list "Final Fantasy", which was the title of exactly one game, which has been ported to many different systems by now.

What really pissed me off was that, halfway through the survey, it blocked me from continuing because I was using FireFox, and apparently FireFox is the spawn of the devil or something, because they'd programmed their survey to only work in Internet Explorer 7.  Then it wouldn't let me back in when I tried to re-enter the survey in the proper browser.  I was not warned of the requirement before I started the survey.

At first, I wondered if Microsoft has control over some of these surveys.  I noticed that, when asked what websites I went to for gaming news, most of the ones listed were general sites, but one of them stood out: Xbox Fanboy*.  It sounds like a Microsoft fan site, doesn't it?  However, the website has little to do with the Xbox; it appears at first glance to be another general web site for gaming news.  The name is misleading, and seems like it would drive away all except those who happen to like everything that Microsoft has done.

On the About Us page, Xbox Fanboy tries to gloss over the fact that it's just an ad site, set up to encourage people to go to their partner website, shopping.com.  The way they phrase it, it makes it sound like the web site is fully automated, while pretending to be the home of a fan of the Xbox.  It's kind of a weak ploy, in my opinion, a way to try to advertise a web site while spending as little money as possible.  Not only did it make me wonder what it was doing on that survey, but it also made me reconsider my first impression.  The survey may not have originated from Microsoft, but from shopping.com.  If not, then the survey was even more poorly researched than I had first thought.

*I hope it's this website.  I'm going by memory, since I can't get back into the survey.

Video of the Week:

This is all you need to know about what the idiots at NBC tried to do.

I showed you this, so that I could skip a lengthy description about the whole debacle.  (And come to think of it, Carson Daly, at 1:15am?  I think he should change his name to Carson Nightly.)  Here's what I really wanted to show you:

And I'll give Craig Ferguson the last word.

Currently Playing: Sands of Destruction (DS)

Those of you following my Twitter account probably know what I think of this game so far.  After using such science fiction references as Soilent Green in Xenogears, it seems like the writers are using other science fiction references this time around.  I can't help but see the same race divide in this game as I do in the Moreau series by S. Andrew Swann.  In the Moreau series, however, the humans seem to have the upper hand against the various species of animal people, and in this game, the humans are the ones who are at a disadvantage.

In this game, the animal men are called "ferals", but I can't help think of them as "furries".  The words are very similar.  However, through the course of the game, you're trying to kill all the furries, among other destructive goals.  This game must've been influenced by Something Awful (and I refuse to dignify them with a link to their website).

Looking Forward To: Cautiously Optimistic About: Lunar: Silver Star Harmony (PSP)

And you probably already know my thoughts about this as well.  I'd previously been looking forward to this game, but I've downgraded my enthusiasm in light of a few things that I didn't like about the recently released demo.  I'm getting sick of point and click adventuring.  It's faster, yes, but it seems like the lazy way out of designing a world map to run around on.  For example: while the world map did kinda suck in Suikoden IV, it's no excuse to remove such a thing entirely from games like Suikoden Tierkreis.  Likewise, there is little reason to leave it out of this game.  I hope the only reason they left it out is because of lack of space on a UMD.  They did, after all, carry forward the anime FMV from the Complete PlayStation version.  But: they rewrote the lyrics to the opening FMV, and I don't like the new lyrics very much.  I shudder to think about what they might've done to my precious Boat Song...

That Other Game: Nier

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nierpic_012210.jpgA tad over two weeks ago, I made a two part list displaying games I felt were OK to be a little concerned about. Part of the reason for that was to drum up some controversy, I'll admit, but some of them were genuine concerns. But there's one game that I decided to refrain from including in the list, because its entire concept, and how it's building up, confounds me incredibly. That game is Nier, an action/RPG developed by Cavia (of Drakengard, Bullet Witch, and Resident Evil: Darkside Chronicles; among others) and published by Square Enix (of...well, you know.)

If you've been reading this blog for a good while, you might know that I've talked about this game before. Twice. And that's because of how outrageous things have developed since then. Yeah, it's gone a bit beyond having a hermaphrodite as one of its central characters, and making a Japan-exclusive PS3 version - which would be Nier: Replicant, which starts a younger main character instead of the old, gruff guy people outside of Japan like with Nier: Gestalt. Or what Square Enix thinks we like.

But it didn't stop there. Just take a look at the next trailer that was released (Warning: Some coarse language):

Yeah, I don't know what to make of that. And I'm sure that's the entire purpose of it. Sure is intriguing, though! There was also another trailer released this past week. Unfortunately, this one's more basic:

Aside from telling us that Jamieson Price is voicing the main protagonist, it also gives a little insight on the story and the gameplay. The look of it reminds me a lot of Drakengard, which is a game I originally thought was pretty mediocre when approaching it like a Dynasty Warriors game (its definite inspiration). But Drakengard actually has more to bring to the table than what it initially seems. The variety of it comes in its over 200 weapons, which all had a different use and a surprisingly hefty back story. That combined with the game's overall story is what differentiated it from any other action/RPG.

And boy was its plot bizarre. It had a main character that lusted for violence and decided to make a pact with a dragon to save his sister, which caused him to lose his voice. The game also implied that he was heavily romantically involved with his sister as well, which is pretty new territory for a video game. (There's also word that the Japanese version went beyond implicating their relationship, which is...huh.) There's far more to the plot than that, but I don't want to ruin everything in the chance that you might want to play it yourself one day - though the game has aged horribly graphically. Drakengard 2 had a more basic plot, fortunately (unfortunately?), but the core action was much better.

So now I'm holding out hope that Cavia can take the ideas they've learned from both games and incorporate them into Nier, which looks like a spiritual sequel to the Drakengard games. As you can tell from the now three entries I've posted on this blog about this game, I'm pretty intrigued by it. No, not just because of its woman-esque character, but because I think Cavia can pull it off one of these days. The prior paragraphs weren't a ruse; I think this game has potential, which is more than I can say for a game like Front Mission: Evolved. The game's coming out this spring worldwide.

P.S. Do make sure to check out the official Japanese website for some nice music. If nothing else is good about this game, there's always this.

Dividing By Zero

megamanzeroart_012110.jpgI made a note in this week's Geek News Roundup that a Mega Man Zero Collection was making its way out in Japan pretty soon. But honestly, I think it deserves its own entry because of how great all four games are, especially when many of us first played them when they were released on Game Boy Advance from 2002-2005. The arrival of this is great, since all of the games, besides the fourth one (which is currently in stock at Amazon.com as of this writing for $15), are becoming a little tough to track down. These days, they demand about around $20-$25 used, and you'd be lucky to find any of the first three new for a cheap price. Meanwhile, this collection will be the best way to obtain all four games for a pretty cheap price.

Well, if Capcom USA decides to localize it. But of course they will, unless they have a newfound hatred for easy money.

If you're a fan of platformers at all, I highly recommend that you keep watch when these eventually release, which would be sometime after the Japanese release in April The first Mega Man Zero had a nasty habit of being blatantly unfair at way too many times (blind jumps, obstacles you couldn't see unless you're psychic, etc.), but fortunately it wasn't as unbearable as a lot of older games in its genre. The games following the original, while not easy, made things much more fair.

Another one of the supposedly best aspects of the DS collection will be the ability to map the controls to the two other face buttons, making the controls feel like the Mega Man X or ZX titles. That's good because using only two face buttons made things feel a little constrained. Of course, that could be futile if Capcom decides not to give you the option to do that. I like Capcom, but I wouldn't put it past them. This is the same company that's porting the Phoenix Wright games to Wii, after all.

Hopefully, you're not one of the people who recently purchased all of the games in the series in order to collect them on GBA before they became too hard to come by; if you are, then you have my sympathies. The package overall reminds me of a vintage collection, and it's something I'd like more companies to do for their GBA games. I'm not going to hold my breath for them to do it, but it's definitely a nice idea.

Sting Operation

Knights in the Nightmare Japanese Cover.jpg

Recently, I was talking to a regular customer at work who was looking for a game called Knights in the Nightmare (and our suppliers used the "too old to get" excuse when we tried to order it; meanwhile, they can supply Mario Kart Wii and Final Fantasy VIII, no problem).  He finally got a copy of it the other day (out of town) and was happy with it so far.  That night, I came home to this news story, announced just a couple hours prior.

It brings to mind other Sting Entertainment games that have been ported at least once.  Honestly, I shouldn't be surprised at this point.  The majority of the Sting games that have been released since July 2002 have been republished on other systems at least once, and everyone who missed out on the excellent Riviera: The Promised Land the first time around have had two other opportunities to get it.  It makes me wonder if they have their own kind of Crystal Tools to port games over smoothly.

With the way the economy has gone down the toilet, especially within the games industry (recession proof, indeed), I'm not surprised that a company like Sting would want to make their games available to as many gamers as possible, to maximize the amount of money they can make off of them.  It also helps the gamer out in the long run, because then he will be able to wait for the game to come to him, without making it a necessity to own multiple consoles.  It also kinda helps those who own multiple systems when they've missed the game the first time, then they can buy the game for another system, where it may have been enhanced, with entirely new scenarios or elements of game play included.

Sting has recently released a game called Hexyz Force in Japan, with a May release date for North America, and although the title looks like a bad attempt to get rid of unfortunate Scrabble tiles, or maybe one of the members of Organization XIII, the game itself looks pretty decent.  For those of you who don't have a PSP, you can probably bet on a DS port to be announced eventually.

Cover Art Chronicles: Interplanetary. International.

coverartchroniclesbanner.jpgTo 360 RPG fans, Star Ocean: The Last Hope is nearly a year old, and was given mixed results when released upon critics and fans. To PS3 RPG fans who don't own a 360, this February will be the first time they will be able to experience it. And like every late port, it has some new features. To show off the, uh...internationalness of it, this version will include English and Japanese languages, the ability to switch to anime portraits instead of using the "westernized" CG versions, and...well, that's it. Unless Square Enix isn't telling anyone about the other features. What incentive!

With this comes the purpose of this entry, new box art. The aforementioned features imply that Square Enix is going for a different audience than the one they, perhaps misguidedly, catered to with the 360 version. It's no surprise, then, that they want to change the box art accordingly. Like the 360 version, every region has a different box, for some strange reason. The results of which...well, they depend:

Here are the 360 versions:

so4360covers_011910.jpgAnd here are the PS3 versions:

so4ps3covers_011910.jpgYou can probably tell how the 360 versions all have a similar theme to them, but the PS3 versions together are pretty inconsistent. The European PS3 version takes cues from the previous covers, taking the previous silhouette and pasting it onto the American 360 cover. The Japanese PS3 version contains a nice collage the entire cast in anime form, which comes off rather nice. The American PS3 version is...well, rather confounding. I can see what they were going for, but I sure wish they chose some less awkward poses.

While I was writing this, I suddenly remembered the CG/anime divide that afflicted Tales of Hearts when it released. Admittedly, that was a much sillier situation, where Namco Bandai thought Japanese buyers would rather have a version with crummy CG as opposed to one with anime cutscenes. It's kind of the same situation here, where the the CG portraits have this dollish and frightening look to them in their miniature iterations. So having the option to replace them is pretty neat. So maybe the covers and fans knowing the features will get the job done come February.

OK, probably not. Who am I kidding?

Sword of the Stranger -- A Lone Wolf and a Cub. And Some Kid.

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swordofthestrangerbanner.jpgSword of the Stranger, at a glance, is kind of a tough sell. The average person who's interested in anime could easily look at its synopsis, and jump to the semi-logical conclusion that it's not worth their time because of how generic it could possibly be. It's one of the reasons - but not one of the biggest reasons - why anime isn't as popular nowadays, especially outside of Japan. But to pass on this movie for this reason would be a big mistake: It's actually quite different from the usual samurai-themed anime.

And that's precisely what stands out about the movie; it's a successful attempt at taking a predictable concept and making it nearly unpredictable through the actions of its characters and diversifying the happenings in the setting. It also has necessities like character development and a well-developed plot to keep anyone who isn't in for the ride for the inevitable samurai battles that ensue over the course of the movie. And for anyone interested in those, it has them too; it has a nice mixture of every element it needs.

Sword of the Stranger takes place during the Sengoku period in Japan (aka the era of the Warring States), and shows us the story of a boy named Kotaro and his dog. For some reason, a mysterious group of men are chasing after him, and they've been tracking his route of escape throughout Japan. Given the state that Japan, its citizens, and its warriors were under at the time, it probably isn't an ideal environment for a boy running around, especially when there's a bounty on his head.

swordofthestrangerpic1_011810.jpgThe endearing story of a boy and his dog...

As Kotaro is wandering through a village, some of the soldiers pursuing him manage to catch up because of some innocent and frightened pedestrians who felt they had no choice but to reveal their location; regular people who did it for either money or their life. How lucky for Kotaro that a nameless, mysterious warrior arises from the house they run into, and the man defeats the soldiers with minimal effort.  The guy may be homeless and he takes random jobs for money, but he sure fights well; something which suggests to the viewer that he's more than what the lets on.

And it's the bonding between Kotaro and the nameless warrior that emotionally charges the film. (He's referred to as "Nanashi," which means "nameless" in Japanese.) A good portion of the first half of the film is dedicated to developing the two characters, but throughout that you'll also get a glimpse of the nameless swordsman's past, and the politics occurring around Japan. It's not too much that you won't be able to follow it, but its inherent happenings are something you'll want to pay attention to.

swordofthestrangerpic2_011810.jpg...and plenty of intriguing-though-light political intrigue.

A shame the film could lose a bunch of viewers during its character development time, because they might feel that it gets a little long in the tooth with its penchant for all character development and minimal action. That would be a shame, because the creators of Sword of the Stranger not only wanted to craft a stylish samurai epic, but also a piece of work where you could care deeply for the characters it presents through tragic back-stories. It takes all of the time it needs to, and doesn't take any more time than it needs to.

In fact, the time it takes to tell its entire tale is a blessing in disguise, especially for the story it's aiming for. It actually manages to cover quite a bit within its 101 minute run time. A problem with too many movies these days is that they run way too long without justifying the necessity of that length, as far too many people associate value with length.

With this being a 2007 movie produced in HD, unsurprisingly the animation is beautiful and the picture quality is top notch. These qualities are usually tertiary concerns compared to more important aspects like the story and sound, but just because it's less important doesn't mean it doesn't need to be there. This movie isn't just some brainless samurai flick, so don't expect swordfights every few minutes with minimal justification. They only happen when the need arises, and when they do, they're a sight to behold. You can tell a lot of money was put into this, because it doesn't cut any corners with the animation.

swordofthestrangerpic3_011810.jpgBut yes, moments of badassery are a prerequisite for movies like this, regardless of how deep they intend to delve.

The English dub is pretty acceptable for what it is, with some pretty quality acting from The Ocean Group. The thing is, English dubs tend to be pretty difficult to produce for movies that are well steeped in Japanese history, and it kind of makes the Japanese version feel more authentic. But there's another angle presented here that makes dubbing it even more tricky than usual. Sword of the Stranger presents a story that involves both Japanese and Chinese at war with each other, and each perspective is provided in their respective languages. In a dub that replaces any lines that aren't English in English, that sense of authenticity is lost on the viewer.  Thus, I highly recommend that you watch it in Japanese (featuring Japanese and Chinese) with subtitles.

If you're interested in knowing how someone can take a generic setting and story and make it feel original, Sword of the Stranger is what you've been waiting for. Heck, even if you don't, you should at least check it out. The most appealing aspect of the movie is that it offers something for everyone. You want a good story? It has that. You want stylish and admittedly improbable action sequences? Well, it has plenty of those too (though hopefully you don't find character development too obtrusive). It basically raises the standard for what we should expect from a samurai anime.

Screen captures courtesy of Hundland.org. Because unfortunately I lack the ability to take screen caps from a Blu-Ray disc.

Geek News Roundup for 01/10/10 -- Because Variety is Underrated

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birdsofpreycover_011710.jpgThere's been a lot of news this week, but it would be best if we started with something geeky. I mean, duh. Birds of Prey was originally due within Spring 2009, but to the chagrin of fans was unfortunately canceled due to the team being occupied with other projects. But now it's OK, as DC Comics understood what fans wanted and has revived the project, now due in Spring 2010. In addition to the expected team of four, that picture also teases two mystery inclusions. Any guesses as to who they could be?

2009 may be over, but it's desire to either kill of or give ill will to celebrities continues on into 2010. This week's unfortunate casualties are American punk rock musician Jay Reatard and R&B and soul icon Teddy Pendergrass. I thought 2010 was supposed to be better. Oh, and Spider-Man 4 was also killed this week, if that counts. I don't think anyone's mourning that, though.

People of America who are fans of late night television have likely been following the mess that's NBC's current handling of Jay Leno and Conan O'Brien. NBC wants to shuffle them again after low ratings for both of their current programs. Recent word is that Leno is going to be taking  the Tonight Show back, despite announcing the retirement. Some people are defending Leno's involvement in this, but most are definitely not; and there's a reason for that. There's way too much to hyperlink here, so just keep following all of the news on it at TMZ or something.

In good video game news this week, a Mega Man Zero Collection was announced! Well, in Japan that is, though Capcom USA did mention it on their blog. It includes all four Mega Man Zero games on one DS card, and it's due for release on April 22nd. Also, in a surprise to everyone, niche Cave shmup (Japanese shoot 'em up) Death Smiles is getting localized for an American release, though its publisher has yet to be revealed. Hope this paves the way for more Cave shooters in America, though.

In bad video game news this week, Gran Turismo 5 was delayed. Again. It was previously announced for sometime in March 2010, though only for Japan, and now it has no date at all. I hope this pays off, because all of these delays have to be a serious financial setback for both Polyphony Digital and Sony. Also, Splinter Cell: Conviction was delayed from its previously given date of February 23rd to sometime in April 2010. Well, at least the first quarter is less stacked, right?

It looks like 3D is going to be the newest "in" thing for Hollywood. It's proven successful for Avatar -- which just topped the U.S. Box Office again this week -- and MGM wants to use it for the next Bond movie and wanted to for the remake of Robocop. They sure would have used it for Robocop if director Darren Aronofsky didn't refer to it as "digital bullshit." Now it's in hold. As for the 3D material, if it's used purely to enhance visual effects, that's fine, but hopefully it won't be used to make otherwise mediocre movies look by dazzling impressionable moviegoers in lieu of a plot and character development.

Finally, our condolences go out to everyone injured or has a connection to someone in Haiti. The death toll keeps disturbingly climbing, amidst other turmoil.

Image courtesy of Comics Alliance.

Silver Star Demo

lunarsshpic_011610.jpgAnyone anticipating Lunar: Silver Star Harmony got their first chance to play it this Thursday, as a demo for the game was made available on Playstation Network this week; the sole beacon of light in an otherwise dismal update. Dedicated fans of the Working Designs iteration could find out whether XSEED's version lived up to the one that exists in their nostalgia (and likely on their shelves still). The results are mostly good, but I'm sure fans are going to have a problem with some of them.

As you'd expect, none of the original voice actors reprise their roles. The omnipresent Yuri Lowenthal once again voices an RPG protagonist in Alex. Some of the other voices should also sound familiar if you've played a bunch of RPGs (which you can listen to samples of on the official website). The fact that their changed isn't a bad thing at all, though the redone English intro sounds incredibly awkward. Some parts of the translation are also completely faithful to the Working Designs versions.

The presentation is a mixed bag, however. Graphically, it looks very nice, especially in motion. Game Arts did a splendid job in upgrading the visuals while maintaining the charm of the original sprites. And all of the music has been remixed, and it's redone beautifully. The same philosophy for the redone sprites also applies, as the few tracks available in the demo have been rearranged to keep the nostalgia factor for anyone who played the original games. It's good enough that the extra $10 for the limited edition sounds worth it for the soundtrack.

(I'd make an argument for how it's also worth it for the bromides here too, but I'd like to keep some of my dignity.)

A pity there are some issues that could prove bothersome with the final game. While transitioning from one screen to another, the game has to load the data for the next section. For about five seconds each time. It's bad enough to be bothersome after a while; and even worse, the music constantly stops between the transitions -- though the tracks continue from where they left off. And this is playing off the memory stick! Imagine how bad it could be from a UMD.

Lastly, while the demo shouldn't be any place to judge this, the dungeon in the demo is much easier than it was in Complete. Thankfully, it's not easy and incredibly boring like the sub-par GBA remake Lunar Legend was.

While the demo is a mixed experience, it's nonetheless enjoyable. It may not replace your memories of Complete, but it should be an enjoyable game nonetheless. Just, uh, try to think of it as a new adaptation rather than XSEED trying to heartlessly wrench your memories from the nostalgia-laden section in your brain.

Those were the voyages...

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We are nearing the end of an era in mankind's quest ad astra per aspera. The fleet of space shuttles — what remains of them, sadly — will soon face retirement with Discovery making the final launch, STS-133, this September (STS-134, mysteriously, takes place two months earlier).

In the mean time,

NASA hopes the next-generation Orion/Ares combo will be ready (and funded) to launch in 2014.

NASA has also been holding a patch-designing contrast for the final mission, with submissions from 85 past and present employees, weeded down to the 15 seen here. NASA will eventually announce the winning design. The prize is obviously a mark on this mark of history.

As mentioned before, NASA's funding is a touchy subject. Some politicians would love to funnel them more money, while others see funding (or even the agency itself) as hard to justify, what with the recession and so forth.

Perhaps this uncertain financial future is what is leading NASA to the waste-not approach of selling the fleet (Buy it Now: $28,800,000 USD, winner pays shipping), most likely to museums. Discovery is earmarked for the Smithsonian Institute; it is speculated in doing so NASA would recover Enterprise for the auction block.

In a perfect world in which NASA had no trouble with money (amongst other wonderfully perfect things), they would be able to retrofit Enterprise and give the first shuttle her first trip into orbit instead.

Whereupon news dissolves into biased admiration

Space always held a fascination since my indoctrination into science fiction at an early age. Even through there were no Klingons or cats with telekinesis-enabling collars up there, space was even more amazing in reality than any fantasy. I already knew what was out there in galaxies far, far away, but REAL space had the wonder and mystery of the unknown.

To see real-life milestones in space travel achieved with modern (or even '70s) technology — moreover, to see a time when the world considers a shuttle launch commonplace — is to bear witness to history. Being alive in the century when we made our first journey into the final frontier, and seeing the giant leaps we have accomplished with such small steps, is something I can always look to when I need inspiration. The Space Program is a defiant mark of human achievement that taunts nature like no other voluntary challenge our species has taken on.

John F. Kennedy called this ongoing mission "the most hazardous and dangerous and greatest adventure on which man has ever embarked." And now we look to the black horizon where the next goal that "will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills" awaits us. It's hard to envision everyone wanting the commitment in this time of war, earthquakes, depression, hunger, disease, homelessness, joblessness, indebtedness... we've got issues.

But in the end, "space is there, ... and the moon and the planets are there, and new hopes for knowledge and peace are there." And we will be there too. As far as we've gone before, and farther to where no one has. The end of the shuttle will someday prove to be just the end of us settling for orbit.

Adventures in Canadian Gaming #12 -- All A-twitter (How Original)

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I was playing Suikoden recently, and I beat the game last night.  Unfortunately, it was too late to start the brand new Sands of Destruction game and still have time for work, but that's beside the point.  During the playing of the game, I came up with some comments about the game that would've made good tweets, but I've long since forgotten them.  But I mulled such an idea around in my head, and eventually decided to add a Twitter account to my weekly column.  Starting with Sands of Destruction, I'm going to be tweeting the random comments I think of when I play a game.  I suppose it'll count as a mini-review until a full review is written, especially if I pepper my comments with "This game sucks!" all the time.  I can just imagine what I would've tweeted when I was playing Dragon Song.

The Twitter account can be found here.

Also, a correction submitted from a friend in Japan (you're still in Japan, right?) to a recent news article I posted about the Child's Play charity.  In my haste to write the news round-up this week, I posted the wrong total and then proceeded to make a joke based on that total.  The charity itself took in nearly 1.8 million dollars in cash and toys (which would be over 9000, nearly 200 times).  The total previously reported by me only covers the total raised by the Ars Technica web site.

There were nine Canadian hospitals taking part in Child's Play last year, along with one in Egypt, one in Great Britain, one in New Zealand, two in Australia, and plenty in the United States (including a hospital in Philadelphia).

At any rate, I screwed that one up.  Oops.

Video of the Week

Let's hope none of you experience a date like this.  Scene is from season 1 of Numb3rs.

Currently Playing: Sands of Destruction (DS)

As soon as I remove the shrink wrap, of course.  You'll hear all about it on my Twitter account.  I can tell you right now that some of the team that made Xenogears made this game as well, and from screen shots, it definitely looks like it.  I'm looking forward to playing this one.  I'm almost looking forward to this game:

Looking Forward To: Final Fantasy XIII (PS3)

It's getting closer!  Lightning will strike soon (hmm, I think Geoff already made that joke), and I'm buying a PS3 for it.  I'm so glad I wasn't one of the people who bought a PS3 when Square first announced this game, for it would've collected all kinds of dust by now and I'd have wasted a couple hundred dollars in discounts.  Angela already has a 360, so when she plays the game, she gets to switch discs.  I am jealous of this: one of my favourite moments when playing PS1 games was when the Please Insert Disc X screen came up.  Finishing a disc felt a lot like finishing a chapter in a book.  For me, Final Fantasy XIII will only be a one chapter story.  For her, she'll be able to gauge how far along in the game she is, a lot easier.

Poor Kids

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Did you know that there was a contest held for kids/people to design a new Mega Man robot master for Capcom back in 1992? If you were a kid around then that always read Nintendo Power to keep up with the latest news, you might remember this. Apparently, Capcom was so creatively bankrupt that they had to resort to their audience to design a new master. Or masters. I sound a little cynical here, but doing that and passing it off as a fun contest really speaks volumes for how desperate for ideas they were!

But there comes a time when you have to dip into the forbidden pot for some "inspiration" for their newest designs for Mega Man 10, which Capcom revealed for fans anticipating the game due within two months on IGN Wii and in Japanese magazine CoroCoro. But some of them seem a little familiar Perhaps like this one:


Take a look at Blade Man here, and then look at the robot masters designed by fans on one of the pages in the aforementioned Nintendo Power issue. You might find something a little interesting. I think a certain someone owes this guy some money.

Oh Capcom. I wonder who else is going to have their idea pilfered for the next Mega Man game. Or the one after that.

The New Epic Poem

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Video games are beginning to enter the realm of serious literature.

But not in a way that you may think. And not in a way that's good for anyone. Well, unless it's someone that really hasn't exposed themselves to literature in any kind of meaningful way.

At this point, if you follow video games, you're probably unfortunately aware that a game based on, of all things, Dante's Inferno is coming soon. Despite the fact that I decided to sell my soul and admit to liking the game's demo, I still think the idea was bizarre. Along with it being a blatant copy of God of War. A parody is as far as this needs to go, which the Devil May Cry games already provide; those games have a main character named Dante and a villain named Vergil, who happened to be Dante's twin brother. Anyone who read Dante's Inferno knows that its material wouldn't really transfer to a game all too well.

But that's not what Dead Space developer Visceral Games thought! No, someone felt that the material would make the perfect video game. Well, as long as they took a few liberties with the source material, and turn it into one man's quest for redemption as he, with his holy cross and Death's scythe, battles through the circles of hell while killing every enemy in his path. Messily. Yeah, sounds just like the "divine comedy." And because it sounds so similar, this was apparently inevitable:

dantesinferno2010cover_011210.jpgThe epic story of Dante's Inferno, that you might have a copy of, will come with that cover very soon. And before you think this is just some joke to pass around as a fun little marketing stunt for the cynics to smirk at (like their last one), it's most definitely real. And it's...both hilarious and terrible at the same time. Again, though the outside makes it look like a video game tie in, but the inside (aside from what's listed on the cover) is exactly the same as the older paperback editions. Imagine the disappointment of people who pick this up and realize it's not an adaptation of the story the game depicts.

Man, if only I was in still school and assigned to read Dante's Inferno. But I think I'll pick it up anyway, just for the novelty of owning it and showing people in the future that they actually made this...thing. Well, unless this kind of thing becomes commonplace, which would be final proof that we really are screwed.
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How many times have I told you, replace your divets!

Happy new year, everyone!  This year's geek news starts off with a murder in New York, most likely over a video game.  The victim had just received a PlayStation system for his birthday (probably a PlayStation 3), and was playing a video game starring Tony Hawk (my best guess is it was probably Tony Hawk Ride).  He only got to enjoy it for a week.  Meanwhile, his attacker has been revealed to have a history of mental illness, and shouldn't have been around the kid in the first place.  It's shocking that the news would report on this, rather than try to blame video games as is the norm.  I don't approve of people being stabbed to death, but if this is how the popular media chooses to report news this year, it looks like 2010 is going to be a good year for a change.

I completely missed anything related to Child's Play this year, which sucks.  Speaking of awesome things that gamers do, Child's Play is an annual charity drive with a video game theme, and this year, the charity event smashed their old record and raised $17,000.  They almost made it over $9000, twice.  Despite the tight economy, people donated more than ever before, and once again made the event a huge success.

In order to keep from being censored in China, all of the major search engines voluntarily restrict the Chinese from making certain searches that their government doesn't approve of.  Well, Google has finally grown a set and told China that it's no longer willing to turn a blind eye to the plight of an entire nation of people, after the company detected a series of cyber attacks on human rights activists who currently live in China.  And simply by reporting this story, we've probably been added to the famous Chinese firewall.  Meanwhile, Google's competitor in China also got hacked.  What, does the whole world hate China or something?  (Yes.)

The open beta of Star Trek On-line has started, which adds yet another game to the long list of MMOs already in existence.  What sets this game apart, though, is the fact that you get to play in an established universe with a long history that you can draw from, and you can just bet that Star Trek nerds will make reference to obscure Trek events while playing the game in order to score some points with no one but themselves.

Spider-Man got rebooted today.  Expect an article from me over the next day or two about science fiction reboots.  Anyway, Sam Raimi pulled out of Spider-Man 4 because he felt that he was being rushed during the production of the movie, and so the film franchise is being tossed out and restarted.  Damn.  I was promised a big Bruce Campbell role in the new film, and now look what happened.  Ah well, at least I still have Burn Notice.

And finally, it's not geek news (unless you dive into the science behind it), but our sympathies to any Haitian readers caught in the recent earthquakes.
Given all of the excitement over the hotly anticipated titles of 2010 it's easy to overlook many of the low key releases. In this case Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney was released on Nintendo's WiiWare today. The game is a port of the original DS game, albeit updated to work with Wii controls and a single screen. Of course, the said DS game is a port of the original GBA game which saw a Japan-only release in early 2001. The first four cases are available for 1000 Wii points. The fifth case which is a DS original is slated for release as downloadable content in May and will only cost 100 wii points. As of this writing there is no set date for the release of Justice for All and Trials and Tribulations, but both games have been confirmed for an eventual North American release.

While some gamers may object to the cost and redundancy of the Ace Attorney games, I find it to be a great opportunity for those who've been wanting to try the series. Not all Wii owners possess a DS, and given the fact that the DS games average about $16 to $30 dollars (and a whopping $115 from one seller on Amazon.com), $11 for the game is reasonable. If you already own all of the Ace Attorney games on the DS I wouldn't recommend purchasing the games again. However, if you've wanted to give the series a try and you happen to own a Wii the price couldn't be better. The only downsides are the lack of portability, Capcom's refusal to upgrade the graphics in the slightest, and having to wait until May for the first game's fifth case. Nevertheless, such issues are trivial-- even the issue with graphics as the Ace Attorney series never had mind-blowing graphics to begin with. The fantastic story and engaging gameplay more than make up for any graphical short comings the series may have. Even the missing fifth case in the first game isn't a big deal, as it has little impact on the overall story, being a DS original. Also on a slightly subjective note, I found the DS original case to twice as long and half as interesting as any of the GBA cases. With that said, if you're looking for a quirky, yet solid Wii title, you can't go wrong with Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney.

Image courtesy of GameSyndrome.

Recommended Soundtracks: Tsugunai: Atonement

recommendedsoundtracksbanner.jpgWhen you have a favorite music artist or composer, they'll always inevitably reach the point of stagnation in some point in their life. What's worse is that eventually fans will begin to notice it, and the criticism will begin to affect the person the works originated from in some way. Sometimes, they'll branch out from their usual routine, mostly with mixed results. In this case, it happens to almost all popular music composers in video games. Like Yasunori Mitsuda.

The point of stagnation doesn't mean their particular tracks have become bad, just samey. Anyone who hasn't heard every work, and every kind of work that composer has done, will find themselves enjoying what they hear. Early in the last decade, Mitsuda kind of hit a brick wall, and soon after that he took a small hiatus from working solo on video games after Xenosaga (which also meant he only composed a few tracks for a lot of games here and there). One of the last soundtracks he composed solo was that for Tsugunai: Atonement.

And that's a game you probably haven't heard of, and the game whose soundtrack I'm featuring here today. Tsugunai: Atonement is an RPG for Playstation 2 developed by Cattle Call (who also later made Arc the Lad: Twilight of the Spirits and End of Darkness), and was published by Sony in Japan. Nine months after its original release in February 2001, Atlus released the game in North America. Unfortunately, it wasn't received well at all, though if it was good, it might have joined Jade Cocoon 2 and Shadow Hearts in being great RPGs unfortunately overshadowed by the then-looming behemoth: Final Fantasy X.

tsugunaiost_011110.jpg But hopefully no one forgot about the soundtrack, which goes b the name An Cinniuint. It might have been considered generic back then, but it's been so long since Mitsuda's done a soundtrack by himself that it stands out as a piece of greatness nowadays. These days, you might say that it reminds you of the good old days. You know, if you remember them.

This first one is the first battle theme, fittingly called "Battle - Level 1." This is one of the first tracks where you can feel the Celtic vibe Mitsuda is known for. It may not be one of the most memorable battle themes he's composed, but it's worth a few listens:

This is definitely a town theme, and it definitely sounds like one; it's known as "Early Afternoon in the Village." When people said this soundtrack was rudimentary and predictable, they weren't kidding! But hey, that doesn't mean it's bad:

The last one here is called "The Devil," and it's as haunting as you could imagine. It's ability to send a chill down your spine is what makes it one of the more captivating tracks on the soundtrack:

Listening to these makes me wish that Mitsuda was still composing the entirety of most soundtracks he's contributed to. He did the entire soundtrack to DS RPG Soma Bringer, though Nintendo of America didn't feel it was worth bringing over despite the praise it received in Japan. He also did the soundtrack for Sands of Destruction, which, wouldn't you believe it, is being released tomorrow in America by Sega. He also contributed to the upcoming Wii RPG Arc Rise Fantasia, coming from Ignition Entertainment later this year. So yeah, he's still around, but in a more subdued position.

P.S. Originally, it wasn't my intention to use "The Devil" as a sample of the soundtrack. I actually wanted to use a more emotionally-driven track known as "Grief." The problem? Well, most of the second disc isn't even on Youtube, which shocked me. It's, I think, proof of how underrated this soundtrack is.

Best of 2009 -- Television

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So 2009 was pretty much dominated by what dominated in 2008, and 2007, and 2006...  Reality TV and crime drama were big over the past year, and if anyone tried to put anything else on, it was pretty much ignored.

It doesn't seem like there's much good stuff on TV anymore, which is actually a good thing.  If my television schedule was full, there's no way I could play any video games.  My top three shows of 2009 were:

3) Jeopardy!

What can I say?  It's a fast-paced show where the entire episode is like a Lightning Round.  Whereas on other shows, you're given time to think about what your answer is, Jeopardy! doesn't grant you more than a few seconds to come up with the answer.  With up to 61 trivia questions an episode (122 an hour!), it's like many rounds of Trivial Pursuit, rolled up into one.

For the 2009/2010 season, Jeopardy! has started a season-long celebrity invitational tournament, which will air one episode a month, and the winner of the tournament will receive a million dollars to donate to the charity of their choice.  Jerry Orbach would've so won this if he was still alive.

Note that this show only got third place.  It lost marks because they got rid of this sound effect and replaced it with a rather dumb-sounding one (the new sound effect can be heard about one and a half minutes into the first video, above):

I was very disappointed.

2) Numb3rs

Whoa, how did this show get the #2 spot?  There must be something made of even more awesome in the #1 spot, right?

This show gets the number two spot, not only because it's my current favourite show on television (mathematics solves crime!), but also because of the sequence of episodes that ended season five.

In "The Fifth Man", Don Eppes gets stabbed and his brother Charlie doesn't rest (and I suspect he doesn't eat and he hands off all his lectures to other professors) until he finds the guy responsible.  Then in "Disturbed", Charlie shows signs of hyper vigilance, and it's thought that he's just dealing with what happened to Don in his own way (considering that in the past, he tried to solve P vs. NP to deal with upsetting situations), until he declares that he's discovered a serial killer who doesn't act like a serial killer.  Turns out he's right.  "Greatest Hits" is an episode featuring Henry Winkler's character Roger Bloom, so I was largely unimpressed, but the last 30 seconds of the episode seem like they're leading up to a major step forward in Charlie and Amita's relationship, until Amita is kidnapped and the kidnappers try to run Charlie over, to be continued.  In "Angels and Devils", Charlie manages to roll out of the way and call Don, who gets pretty much every law enforcement agency ever on the case, and would've called upon God Himself to smite the kidnappers if he had the authority to, because that's how close the two brothers are.  In no time at all, the kidnappers' van is being followed, and there's nowhere for them to go.  So they crash the van on purpose and blow it up, with everyone inside.  The episode gets even better from there, until at the very end, Charlie proposes to a very much alive Amita and the episode fades out before Amita can respond.

Wow, the title of that video displays even more atrocious spelling than Charlie's.

1) Canada's Worst Driver 5

I think this is the first season that I felt a lot of sympathy for some of the drivers.  Not only that, but some valuable lessons were learned, sometimes rather poignantly.  This was also the first time that someone was nominated as a bad driver for driving too slow, and it was pointed out on the show that driving too slow is very much a ticketable offense.  Well, in Canada it is.  I don't know whether it's the same in the United States, or elsewhere in the world for that matter.

In some cases, bad driving isn't always the fault of the driver.  One of the nominees was constantly being bullied by her husband, and this caused her self esteem to drop and she would constantly make mistakes.  It was a vicious cycle, and at one point, the host had enough of it and put together a recording of everything that the husband had said to her.  Then he invited the husband along and had him drive around and was talking to him about how he treats his wife.  Then he invited the husband to listen to the recording while he drove.  When he started listening to himself, noticing how he talked to his wife, it shocked and devastated him.  Later on, after the drive, he broke into tears.  The change afterwards was dramatic, and it was in that very same episode that his wife was declared not to be Canada's worst driver, and was graduated off of the show.

Another driver thought that it was all a game.  She treated all her accidents flippantly, and didn't seem to care about the carnage she's caused on the road.  During the taping of an episode, she got the worst phone call in the world.  Her brother-in-law had been out on his motorcycle, and someone drove right into his path and killed him.  A bad driver killed the brother-in-law of a bad driver.  Devastated, she was allowed to go home to grieve with her family, and out of respect for the tragedy, the remainder of the episode (there were only a few minutes left anyway) was left as a tribute to the fallen motorcyclist.  A sad and rather frustrating footnote: the bad driver who killed him got to walk away with a $150 fine for a moving violation.  This is especially infuriating because a similar thing almost happened to me when I was trying to cross a street.  Is my life really worth $150?

And also, in the very last episode, perhaps the best line delivered in any show this year: when one of the bad drivers nearly mowed down an elderly lady in Toronto, the host cried out, "Watch out for grandma!", and the lady commented to the driver, "No wonder you're Canada's worst driver".

Unfortunately, this is a Canada-only show.  Sorry.

Honourable Mention: Medium

This was a good episode:

Honourable Mention: Burn Notice

Only on SuperChannel... oh, and a little network called USA.  Ha, promo fail.  (All the promos for the originating network that I wanted to use had someone else's website plastered all over the top.)

I'm still catching up on season two episodes, so I haven't even started season three.  Since I've not seen any episodes broadcast in 2009, I can't comment on this show.  But I've enjoyed it in the past, so it gets the honourable mention.  Now I go back to gaming!

The Void is Regrettably Dark

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darkvoidpic_10910.jpgFor a good while now, I've had my eye on Dark Void. It's a flying/shooter hybrid being published by Capcom, and developed by Airtight Games -- the latter of which is comprised of a team of former Microsoft Games Studios developers who previously worked on Xbox-exclusive Crimson Skies: High Road to Revenge. A demo for it just went out earlier this week for everyone interested to check out; well, everyone who's able to get over the admittedly silly name. After downloading and playing it, I'm wondering if it should have even gone out.

It's possible that you can tell where the team's expertise lies right from the brief bout of gameplay on hand. There are sections involving both flying and on-foot combat. The flying is actually pretty good, though it's a little difficult to perform stunts without a bunch of practice, all while making sure you don't run head-first into an obstacle. It's when you have to start shooting that things become a little problematic. Just a little. Moving targets can be a bit of a problem to track, especially when they fly in and out of view -- and can shoot you just fine. It's pretty finicky, and I could only imagine how frustrating this section would be with some tougher adversaries.

But it's the ground sections that are the most fun. The game utilizes and mimics the cover and shooting style of combat games like Gears of War and Uncharted use. Here I am just coming off Uncharted 2, so I didn't have much choice but to compare its shooting to this; and it's definitely nowhere near as good. Pressing the Square or X button to duck behind a cover felt awkward and imprecise, and god forbid if you're near two walls and happen to duck behind the wrong one. It also takes a good while for enemies to go down once you start shooting at them. But that's OK, since they have the strange habit of walking up close to you and shooting after a few seconds in one position. So yeah, the A.I. is pretty good!

Oh, and I was also amused to see that Nolan North, of both Uncharted games and plenty of other titles, is the main character. I'm sure a lot of people aren't going to like that, but the very small amount of voice acting here is pretty good. The music, from Battlestar Galactica composer Bear McCreary, is very nice to listen to.

It's a shame, because it definitely had some potential. But there's still a chance that the actual product could be better than what the demo represents, and if that's the case, why would they want this to represent it? Plenty of good games have been given bad demos, like Dead Space for instance; but there's something about Dark Void that feels off whereas Dead Space was mechanically solid. The game releases on January 19th, but if it's not any good, there's always the retro-themed Dark Void Zero to spend our time with instead.

Uncharted 2: Among Thieves -- Among Excellence

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uncharted2banner.jpgYou can't blame some of the more cynical people who like any form of entertainment for disliking sequels. After all, they've become the foundation various industries are based on. But it's a practice that's easier to dislike more than usual these days thanks to more and more of them being made to play it a little too safe. But sometimes, it's worth it to give them a free pass; developers have the potential to make another game in the franchise (because everything is a franchise these days) that's even more superlative than the original title. One that refines the ideas found in the previous game; or games.

Uncharted 2: Among Thieves is one of the games that epitomizes the idea that sequels are perfectly OK as long as the resulting product contains elements to better the franchise. Sometimes significantly. Not to say that it will make it too hard to go back to Uncharted: Drake's Fortune for another replay, but the sequel really does a great job of bringing to light the pacing (it slows up around half of the way through) and predictability (oh, why here's a big room. I wonder what's going to happen in here...?) issues it actually had. Needless to say, the sequel is the original's undoing, but more in a Spider-Man movie rather than X-Men movie style.

You can really tell that Naughty Dog listened to fans when it came to refining Uncharted 2. An aspect that makes the experience enthralling from start to finish is its sheer unpredictability factor. Uncharted had a problem where every time you walked into a large, sprawling area full of cover, you knew that the entire situation would result in a hail of gunfire. In this sense, the second game is much more unpredictable and has tighter pacing. You'd be surprised at how much more this one feels like an adventure in usurping pre-established video game conventions with its set pieces.

uncharted2pic1_010810.jpgSaid set pieces are also much more involving and intense this time around. Rarely does the same type of skirmish play out multiple times, as this game forces the player to use the environment a lot more. Sometimes, the environment can act as a hindrance from allowing you to complete your task of focusing your complete attention on taking out the opposition. Not to say this is a problem. In fact, it's the exact opposite, as it gives a new dynamic to the combat itself. Also, don't be surprised if you find that you can predict where some of the skirmishes will take place.

The gunfights themselves are also more intense because of the enemy A.I.'s actions. In Drake's Fortune, the enemies were mostly smart about how they wanted to take you out, but some of them occasionally got the bright idea of trying to shoot you while standing in a wide open space, which is pretty much an invite to shoot them for an easy target. That rarely happens this time around, as your targets will use much smarter tactics to work together and stick behind the cover to try and bring you out of hiding. Usually with a grenade. Though there will still be a few times when a regular opponent will come to try and attack you headfirst while you're wielding a shotgun, but those instances are surprisingly minimal. This is also not helpful for them since your more devastating melee attacks are much easier to perform than in the first game.

uncharted2pic2_010810.jpgUnlike the first game, this one also has some stealth sections. And they're surprisingly good! Usually, when a game whose expertise isn't stealth, the sections involving that will be arbitrary and frustrating experiences due to the controls not being designed around that (see The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker and Beyond Good & Evil for good examples). But here, they're actually well designed whenever they come up, and you can also choose to eliminate your enemies silently if you don't feel like, or don't have enough ammo to, engage in a gun fight.

You'll also occasionally have help when fighting a bunch of enemies. While your companions are nowhere near as effective as you - they'll never use anything other than a pistol, never melee attack, and never use grenades -- they can still hold their own. And, unlike you, they can't die in battle (they'll only be stunned temporarily by explosions), so they'll be there for the long run.

uncharted2pic3_010810.jpgThe story is also very well told, and definitely bests the first game's in making it feel even more Indiana Jones-inspired than it was originally. This time around, Nathan Drake, along with new character Chloe Frazer and other returning companions, are out to find the secrets to what befell the lost fleet of Marco Polo. There is definitely treasure involved, which is the logical explanation as to why there are a bunch of other guys chasing you down for it.

Something that helps with the game's vivacity is how the characters interact in and out of cut scenes. There's always been a looming fear of the uncanny valley in newer games for a while, but this game manages to avoid it due to how well the characters emote through animation and voice. The voice acting present outside of cut scenes also really makes you feel like you're part of an adventure. You might be surprised with how much this immerses you in the game; it actually does a better job at this than the first game.

Speaking of the voice talent, it's exceptionally good and well delivered. Though Nolan North has received far, far more exposure since the time he voiced Drake in the first game, this is still where he fits best. (Not to say the guy isn't capable of vocal range.) Anyone who voiced specific characters in the first game returns for this game, and Australian actress Claudia Black (of Farscape fame) does a great job as Chloe. The story itself is right on the same level as a fun-yet-suspenseful action movie. Yeah, it's totally brainless, but who needs that when the resulting work is perfectly enjoyable?

uncharted2pic4_010810.jpgThe music is also pretty good, whenever it decides to play - or if you can even hear it amidst the ensuing chaos - or even if it decides to grab a few of its tracks from Drake's Fortune. Similar to the story, the soundtrack is on par with your usual action movie; it's pleasant to listen to, but it knows when to become more upbeat. There's a track to match every situation, and it helps in making exploration and puzzles a memorable experience.

Better pacing means there's a good balance of every element the game offers - that's adventuring, exposition, and shooting. This means that if anyone labels this as a shooter, you shouldn't listen to that person (which people who should know better have been saying). It's during all of these elements that you realize how good this game looks. As of right now, it's seriously the best looking console game on the market, perhaps besting Metal Gear Solid 4. I'm sure that victory won't last long, though.

Uncharted 2 is, more or less, exactly what fans Uncharted and Naughty Dog in general wanted. It's also precisely what a sequel should be: something that doesn't undo what the original achieved (like Naughty Dog's last franchise), and it's something that not only refines the mechanics established in the franchise, but enhances them so that any developer who intends to make an adventure game should take note. It definitely deserves the accolade it's received this year, and if you own a PS3...well, you've already played it, right?

It has been quite a while since I posted anything here, hasn't it? Normally when a person stops posting blog content it either means he or she has moved on or has died. Fortunately neither scenario is true in my case. My time at VGXPO in October ended on a frantic note as I had to prepare to move. Despite months of packing the move was still disorganized and I was left without enough time to write up a final post. My November was spent unpacking and December was dedicated to overtime at my two part-time jobs. Some work weeks dragged on for more than 50 hours. I'm thankful for the work but it made blogging all but impossible. But enough about my sudden leave of absence; let's talk about some video games.

Last month I bought a used Wii from a co-worker, and because the console belonged to children the included copy of Wii Sports was long gone. So a friend was kind enough to let me borrow his copy of Wii Sports and Muramasa: The Demon Blade to get me started until I could buy a few games of my own. Despite having the games I couldn't help but browse though Virtual Console, being a fan of older games and all. I was impressed with the selection of games available-- although there's always room for more games to be added considering Nintendo's extensive library. Still, there are a ton of old games I never had a chance to try as a child. Suddenly, podcasts such as Retronauts are more relevant than ever. Even with the extensive catalog of existing games on the Wii and Virtual Console there are a number of new games I'm looking forward to this year (actually playing them is another matter) on various consoles and handhelds. On a quick note these are just some of the games I'm personally interested in, many hotly anticipated titles aren't listed because I simply don't want to play them.


On the Wii I'm looking forward to Arc Rise Fantasia, Epic Mickey, and Trauma Team. Sure there's Mario Galaxy 2 and No More Heroes 2 to look forward to but I have yet to try the original games. Arc Rise Fantasia looks as if it'll be a solid RPG, and at worse a merely competent RPG. After reading Game Informer's cover story on Epic Mickey and being a fan of Disney I've decided the game is at least worth a try. The surprisingly dark take on Mickey is a welcome change to what the iconic mouse has become over the years. As for Team Trauma, I've wanted to try the Trauma Center series out for years and a more accessible game feels like a good starting point. Besides, the art style is amazing and the story looks as if it'll be quite entertaining.

On the DS there's Ace Attorney Investigations: Miles Edgeworth, Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey (there's no such thing as too much MegaTen), and Pokémon Soul Silver. There's also Ghost Trick (from the creator of the Ace Attorney series) and Okamiden: Chiisaki Taiyo to look forward to, but neither game has a confirmed US release, much less an actual release date. The Ace Attorney series is easily one of my favorite DS series and while I'm not a huge fan of Miles Edgeworth this game looks too awesome to pass up. And who wouldn't want to play the role of prosecutor and investigator for a change? As I said earlier, one can never have too much MegaTen, especially when the said SMT game is actually a mainline game in the series. Pokémon Silver was easily one of my favorite games in the Pokémon series, and even allowed players to revisit the world of the Red and Blue series. It was almost like having two games in one, and sadly the feature was never used again in later games. I have no doubt that revisiting a remake of one of my favorite games will be a deeply satisfying experience.


2010 looks like it'll be a fantastic year for RPG gamers on the PSP, and several titles have already caught my eye. Lunar: Silver Star Harmony, Valkyria Chronicles 2, and Persona 3 Portable are several games that I don't want to be without. I already have the PS1 collector's edition of Lunar. Like any good gamer I'm more than ready to part with my hard earned cash in order to buy an enhanced port of the game. Besides, it'll be interesting to see how Xseed handles the translation given Working Designs excellent work in the past. It's always possible to have too much Persona but P3:P is just too tempting to pass up when Atlus finally gives it a US release date. As for Valkyria Chronicles, I currently don't own a PS3 but I saw enough of the anime adaptation to play the sequel before getting my hands on the original.

If I had a PS3 I'd definitely be anticipating God of War 3, 3D Dot Game Heroes, The Last Guardian, Final Fantasy XIII, and Final Fantasy XIV (if it actually releases this year).

However, I do have an Xbox 360 and I will be grabbing Final Fantasy XIII. Bayonetta is a maybe at this point, and Mass Effect 2 will only come if I ever get around to playing the original Mass Effect. The same can be said for BioShock 2, if I can ever get over my dislike of first person shooters. At the very least FFXIII is all but guaranteed in March. For his part, I'm certain that Geoffrey will be grabbing the PS3 version of the game, leaving me as the lone 360 hold out. If I had both systems I'd probably still grab FFXIII on the 360 for novelty's sake.

Speaking of numbered Final Fantasy games, I've decided to actually finish  (or at least try to finish) Final Fantasy XII before March. Considering the fact that I've been playing the game off and on since December of 2006, I don't have high hopes for my lofty goal. For one reason or another I've had a time hard putting a serious dent in FFXII. Three years into the game and less than 50 hours to show for it is pretty sad, as I actually like the game itself a lot. Yet, I don't like the infrequent save points and large sprawling maps, as it makes the game all but impossible to play in short bursts. My complaints about infrequent save points aside, I'm convinced my copy of Final Fantasy XII is cursed.


Every time I seriously get into FFXII my controller begins to malfunction or simply stops working. The first incident occurred in early 2007. I was navigating the license board and the right direction on the d-pad only responded with aggressive mashing and ultimately stopped working. At the time I was foolishly convinced it was the stupid license board system until I asked a friend of mine who was also playing the game. He wasn't having the problem at all and gave me one of his spare controllers. Later that year I took FFXII with me to Otakon 2007 and while playing the game the controller died on the spot. The said friend purchased a new controller during the convention and I borrowed it for nearly two years. I continued to play FFXII off and on but eventually moved onto games such as Xenosaga II, the first two Bloody Roar games, and King of Fighters: Maximum Impact 2 (i.e. King of Fighters 2006).

In early 2009 I finally bought a wireless PS2 Katana controller and returned the borrowed controller. Using the controller I finished Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4 in July without problems. Then I decided to finally return to Final Fantasy XII and not long after playing the game the right direction on my d-pad stopped working while navigating the license board. Later in the day the triangle button stopped working and a few hours after that the controller completely died. That night I drove to the store and purchased a used Pelican controller (pictured above) which seems to be holding up quite well. Only time will tell if the FFXII curse strikes down a forth PS2 controller. Sure it could be a huge coincidence, but I can't help but feel a touch of superstition when going through three gently used controllers in three years. I don't even want to think about the possibility of a cursed copy of Final Fantasy XIII striking down that many Xbox 360 controllers. At least I'll have plenty of games on other systems to play.

Game images courtesy of GameSpot.

Adventures in Canadian Gaming #11 -- Another One?!

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It's happy "What the fuck?" time once again, and this time it's all Nintendo's fault.  The president of Nintendo, Satoru Iwata, has made some rather cryptic comments that pretty much amount to the announcement of another new handheld system in the works.  Honestly, what the fuck?  Is it not enough that there have been four versions of the DS since 2004?  Yes, Nintendo has had a history of creating some very good products, but they don't need to constantly be creating them!  There was nothing wrong with the original DS when it came out*, but out came the DS Lite after a couple years, and I accepted that.  Then came two versions of the DSi, both of which I felt were unnecessary, and now there's going to be another handheld?  Are they not happy?  Were the sales of the DSi LL/XL/WTF/OMG/RACECAR/BLING/BLING not good enough?

I think it's about time that Nintendo takes a step back to rest upon their laurels a little.  There's little chance for Sony's PSP system to dethrone the DS, or else it would've happened already.  It's true that the PSP is not going anywhere, but it's also not going to suddenly spike in sales.  The PSP Go was given too optimistic a name (I'm ready to start calling it the PSP Gone).  Anyone else who tried to break into the handheld gaming market were defeated pretty quickly by Nintendo.  Even Apple can't seem to make much headway, even with such exclusives as Square-Enix's Song Summoner: The Unsung Heroes (but then again, Square-Enix has demonstrated that they're willing to work with anyone, so Apple shouldn't feel special).

It's not likely that there are any target audiences left for Nintendo to go after, anyway.  The DSi was great for those who like to have a poor quality camera inside their gaming console, the DSi LL was great for those who like to be able to use their handheld console for a spare paperweight in between gaming sessions, and the DS Lite was great for those who have wrists made of paper.  Also, entire regions of the world have adopted the DS as if it was an adorable little puppy needing attention.  For example, up here in Canada, the Quebecois have supported the DS so much that Nintendo of America automatically puts French on the back of the DS cases now, even on copies being sold to the United States.  I highly doubt that anyone in Quebec would appreciate having to buy yet another Nintendo handheld just because another one emerges from the brains of their R&D department.

If a new handheld system must be released, then here's what it requires in order to have my support: a slot for GameBoy games.  I'm talking the entire line, including original, Color and Advance titles.  It also requires a slot for SD cards.  The DSi came with one, so the DS5 (or whatever they call it) should, too.  If it is to have two screens (which right now seems highly debatable), then it should also have a DS slot as well, either right next to the SD slot, or above/below it.  If Nintendo insists on putting a camera inside their device, then make it at least a 3 megapixel camera.  If not, then release a 5 megapixel camera as an add-on, attached probably through the GameBoy slot.  Everyone who wants it can have it, everyone else can ignore it.  It must also connect to the Internet as painlessly as both the Wii and the PSP does (and, I assume, the PS3 as well; I still don't have one yet or I'd know for sure).

And one last requirement for the DS5: that once it releases, Nintendo does not create any more new hardware for at least the next five years.

Video of the Week

What is your opinion of Taylor Swift?  How about Katy Perry?  Miley Cyrus?  Jason Mraz?  Yeah, didn't think you liked them either.  So how would you feel about a remix containing all of them?  Don't knock it before you try it:

And if you thought that was awesome, I'll give you 2008's mash-up as a bonus, just because it's the new year and I'm feeling generous:

All of a sudden, some of the worst singers imaginable have become listenable.  You wouldn't think that you could put Kanye West and Taylor Swift in the same song together without the one butting in and taking over so he can say that Beyonce is the better singer, but it seems to work.  I can't wait to see what DJ Earworm comes up with for 2010.

Currently Playing: Final Fantasy VII, the Remake

Mwahahahaha.  Okay, that's a little misleading.  I'll do it properly this time.

Currently Playing: Final Fantasy VII (NES)

Yes, I'm playing through the NES remake of Final Fantasy VII.  A Chinese company did it in secret, without Square-Enix's consent, and released it quietly.  Then a fan translated it into English.  But I'm giving him or her too much credit when I use the word "translated".  The script reads very similarly to the original English translation of the game, which tells me that all they did was type up the original PS1 script and insert it into the game, with a few extra translations added just so that it looks like they made a little bit of effort.  It's true that Barret didn't always talk using awful Ebonics in the original game (it wasn't even proper Ebonics, it was a rather miserable attempt at an already poor version of the English language), but I can tell when the fan actually translated stuff and when he just lifted it from the original: there are times in the NES version where Barret talks like a normal person, when he probably should've used Ebonics.

The game itself plays more like a romhack than a completely new build, right down to the recycled graphics (Midgar on the world map looks exactly like the city you started out from in the original Final Fantasy, for example, and Cloud looks like a modified Fighter sprite) and the music stolen not from VII, but from earlier titles.  The music from both Final Fantasy II and Final Fantasy III didn't make much of an impression on me, and I can't tell which of them were used in the game to replace VII's music.  Maybe both.

Looking Forward To: Avernum VI (PC)

More power to Spiderweb Software for being one of the few developers who are still not only creating games for the Mac, but releasing the Mac version first before they work on the PC version.  Sadly, I have only a PC so I will have to wait until March before I would be able to try this game.  Also sadly: I have not yet played a single Avernum game, but given that I've played some of the old Exile series, I've had some experience in the world of Avernum so far.

The Avernum series is a remake of the Exile trilogy, which then continued the story in a trilogy of original games, and the prospect of playing through another critically acclaimed long series of video games just makes me tingle with joy.

*Okay, there are two major things wrong with the original DS, but I don't care about the one (from what I understood, I would have to change my router settings completely if I want to connect my DS to the Internet).  The other major problem is that the power button is located just above the direction pad.  It's entirely possible to fight a tough boss, then after a moment's break, reach for the direction pad and hit the power instead.  It's only happened to me a few times, but enough to make it an issue.  The DS Lite fixed that problem.

Games to Worry About in 2010: Part II (of II)

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Continuing the inane madness from yesterday, here are two more games that you might (emphasis!) be worrying about. The intention isn't hating on games for the sake of hating them -- because we're not solely out for hits, and we're not jerks here -- but merely stating some worrying concerns with an upcoming product.

castlevanialospic_010510.jpgCastlevania: Lords of Shadow (Playstation 3, Xbox 360)

Though it's been over six months after its initial announcement back at E3 2009, there's been little to assuage the fears for how Castlevania: Lords of Shadow will actually turn out. It has a lot to live up to, and it's a new installment in a franchise whose 3D offerings have been middling at best. It was also originally revealed as simply Lords of Shadow, not involved in Castlevania at all (though admittedly a few people acknowledged its initial resemblance to a Castlevania game). Not to mention that it's coming from a developer - that's MercurySteam -- known for releasing something not well received like Clive Barker's Jericho. Unfortunately, it seems that Kojima Productions' involvement has them only overseeing the project to help maintain its quality.

And it's until you stop and think about that last sentence when you realize that it may not be so bad. Kojima Productions is probably the best development studio Konami has right now, so they have judgment you can usually trust. With games like the Metal Gear Solid titles, Lunar Knights/Boktai, and Zone of the Enders, they have a pretty good resume. There's also no denying that the game looks very good, and very God of War-inspired (which makes sense, actually, since God of War occasionally felt like what Castlevania should be in 3D). Look for it sometime this year.

ffxiiipic_010510.jpgFinal Fantasy XIII (Playstation 3, Xbox 360)

You don't need anyone to tell you that Final Fantasy XIII is nearly upon us - or already upon you if you live in Japan. Because it's available in the east, fans who couldn't wait for the American release or happen to know the language couldn't help but import it. And the results from them are...well, pretty mixed actually.

There's everything about the game looking beautiful and having a soundtrack to match, but an apparent key problem in the game is that it's apparently very linear - much more so than any of the previous games (yes, even Final Fantasy X). What you think of the initial impressions will depend on your personal tastes. It appears that Final Fantasy XII isn't the last game that will have a series of mixed reactions, despite XIII definitely playing things a little safer. The ostensible thing about FFXIII is that it appears to be more honest about its straightforward approach. You'll see whether you like it or not come March 9th.

(Wow. Could there have been any more conjecture in that last paragraph?)

Again, I have to say that I'm in no way hoping that these games will be bad. I might be a pessimist, but I'm not that sadistic or masochistic. In fact, I'm actually looking forward to playing all of them! (Yes, that includes Front Mission Evolved) But there's just one - or more, in some cases - thing that throws the entire perception of it off. In the meantime, I really hope I'm wrong in worrying about some of these.

Games to Worry About in 2010, Part I (of II)

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As we look into this year in gaming, 2010 looks to be more packed than many other years before it. That's not only because of how many of these games were supposed to release in 2009 but were delayed until 2010 because developers wanted to release them in a time when the economy was better. No, it's also because this is the time where developers are beginning to hit their stride with many of the consoles this generation, especially the Playstation 3 and the Xbox 360. Joseph gave a good summation of all the sequels that are coming this year at the end of his Geek News Roundup early yesterday. But there are always a few games that give you an eerie feeling that something is a little off about it. I'm not talking about a game that you can tell is going to be terrible from a mere glance; these are games that could be perfectly good, but have some worrying aspects about them.

Something else that these five games have in common is that they're either sequels or spin-offs. Now, I'm not about to say that these are the only five games that you'll have to worry about in terms of quality this year; there are plenty of games that haven't been announced yet, and are probably (though hopefully not) destined to land on a list like this. I'd also like to add that I'm not hoping that these will be bad in any way. I want them to be good in fact! But something about them seems a bit...off.

bioshock2pic_010410.jpgBioshock 2 (Playstation 3, Xbox 360, PC)

Ostensibly, making a sequel to Bioshock seems like something that was destined to happen, given how successful the first game was on 360 and PC (much less so on PS3). But anyone who finished the first game, perhaps more than once as a testament to how good of an experience it was, can tell you why they have misgivings about a sequel. Bioshock is like a good book, in that it has a perfectly adequate preface, body, and conclusion. The ending doesn't leave things open in the least, and actually gives you a glance into the future of your character. What more did you need to know?

And that's precisely where the worries manifest themselves. It's going to be tough to figure out how precisely Bioshock actually needs a sequel. The first game introduced console gamers to a fusion of first-person shooting and horror - though PC gamers were adjusted to this with System Shock. It's going to be tough to replicate the world of Rapture from the previous game so that everything can feel fresh. I'm sincerely hoping 2K Boston can pull off an experience that's as good as the first game, but the seeds for skepticism have been well planted. We won't have to wait long to find out if they've recaptured what made the first game so great; it releases on February 9th.

frontmissionevolvedpic_010410.jpgFront Mission Evolved (Playstation 3, Xbox 360, PC)

This is not going to be the first time I express my misgivings with the concept behind Front Mission Evolved. Upon laying eyes on the game, and upon realizing how different it was from all of the other games in the series, things didn't look good. But if that sounds vapid, that's OK, because the bland-looking aesthetics and combat and the developer are going to be enough for any fan of the other titles, which were deep and intricate strategy RPGs, to scoff at it. Developer Double Helix doesn't have a reputation that could honestly be referred to as "good" -- their best game is based on Buffy: The Vampire Slayer, which really qualifies for the "good, but not great" category -- and switching the genre to a Call of Duty: Modern Warfare-inspired combat-driven game - that admittedly makes it look like the older Armored Core titles - isn't going to do anyone any favors either.

(P.S. The old Armored Core games have completely been supplanted in quality by the new games, so that last quip wasn't a compliment.)

Now, there's nothing wrong with a franchise switching genres, and it's not like this is the first time Front Mission has done so. The concept itself doesn't sound too bad either, at least on paper. It's just that when the game has terrible animations and combat that looks as bland as can be, people aren't going to look positively on the product. (Though this could have changed since September, I'll admit. At least, I hope it has.) One saving grace is that Square Enix Japan, presumably the team that handled the previous games, is going to handle the story, scenario, and character designs. Look forward to it, or not, this spring.

popforgottensandspic010410.jpgPrince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands

The Forgotten Sands is a very easy title to be worried about. It takes place during the Sands of Time era, which got severely mangled after the first game - The Two Thrones tried to redeem it, but it was too late. Also, the main character this time bears a striking resemblance to Jake Gyllenhall, who will be playing the prince in the Sands of Time movie that releases in theaters in May. And how fortuitous is it to see that it's releasing the same week as the movie in May?

Not that I'm implying that the gameplay will be lackluster at all, but it's the kind of game that you want to be good, but gives you nothing to convince you that it will. Everything, from the first all-CG trailer to the interview with the developer makes this feel like a quick cash-in. It's almost pretty sad, especially after the great aesthetic 2008's Prince of Persia had. I hope it's good, but it's no surprise that we unfortunately have reservations.

I actually do have five games to talk about, but this is already too long (it's already twice as long as I had intended), so I'll do the other two games tomorrow.

Geek News Roundup for 12/27/09 -- 2009 Year In Review

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Here is an example of what 2010 has to offer.  An Olympic Games which features a crappy logo.

2009 has certainly been one of those years.  I don't think there are very many people who ended the year better off than they started it.  Plenty of celebrities died this year (but then again, they always do).  Certain video games did well despite the recession.  People were dumb (but then again, they always are).  And the world kept turning.

When it came to people being dumb, big corporations were the dumbest and the greediest.  Not only were they stupid enough to fail, but back in 2008 (and into 2009), many of them cried out to the government for help, saying that they were also "too big to fail".  In other words, it would make things worse if they did go bankrupt.  It's gotten so ridiculous that I've decided to get fat.  Then, the next time I'm in financial hardship, I can call upon the government to bail me out, since I'll be too big to fail.  Well, the governor of the Bank of England, this year, decided that if you're too big to fail, then you're too big in the first place.  Also speaking out against being too big to fail was the Lake Superior State University, whose list of banned words this year included the much overused phrase.

"Balloon Boy" might not have made the list, but he does represent another overdone trend that seems to have lost some steam and credibility this year, for many of those people who cried out for attention this year got what was coming to them.  The parents of the unfortunate kid who supposedly couldn't wait to kiss the ground wherever he touched back down ended up receiving some attention from a judge, as well as jail time.  Not only that, but their initial plan to turn this into a successful reality show was also nixed: they're banned from using this ordeal to make a profit, for the next four years.  Plenty of time to become nobodies again.  Meanwhile, the Octomom received nothing but negativity from the general public (as well as movie and television offers from various sources), and Jon and Kate got divorced.  Perhaps this means that there will be fewer attention hogs in 2010, but I doubt it.

Popular television got dealt a few other blows this year.  It turns out that ratings are no longer the be all and end all for a show to be successful.  It must be cheap as well.  Case in point: CBS waited until the last possible moment to announce which show they wanted to renew back in May, between Without A Trace and Numb3rs.  The less expensive show won out.  Then, recently, Comedy Central announced they're cutting The Jeff Dunham Show off, partially because it's more expensive to make than some of their crappier shows.  What this means for television in 2010 is unclear, but it may mean that the age of the expensive television is coming to a close, and cheap programming such as game shows and reality TV might be coming back again.  (Of course, lower ratings can still kill a long-running show, but that's another story entirely.)

Back in 2008, the gaming industry was thought by some to be recession-proof.  Forget "too big to fail".  They thought that gaming was not going to fail in the first place.  Tell that to Eidos Interactive, Midway Games, 3D Realms, and Microsoft, among others.  But just when things were looking bleak, a few timely miracles happened.  The latter stages of 2009 were full of big games such as Assassin's Creed II, Left 4 Dead 2, and Final Fantasy XIII (in Japan; North America can expect to see it in early 2010).  Sales records were broken when Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 was released.  Batman: Arkham Asylum ended up being more than just your average superhero video game... in fact, it was far better than a superhero video game.  And the Xbox 360's sales in Japan doubled.  Then again, double nothing is still nothing, so what can you do?

This year saw some oddly timed death, as well as the continuation of things cut short by oddly timed deaths from past years.  Case in point: The Guin Saga anime premiered in April of this year.  One month later, the author of the series died.  Then in June, celebrities started dropping like flies (one of them dying while working on his final, farewell concert tour).  But all was not bad ugliness and death.  This year was the year that the last Harry Potter book was published, and unlike what happened to Douglas Adams and Robert Jordan in years past, J.K. Rowling did not die while writing the book (which I think means that we haven't seen the last of Harry in book form.  Either that, or Rowling is going to suddenly die during the premiere of the eighth and final movie).  And speaking of both Adams and Jordan, the last Hitchhiker's Guide book was published this year, as well as the beginning of the last Wheel of Time book.

The war on music piracy was always a losing battle for the RIAA (and to a lesser extent, the Canadian version, CRIA), no matter how many small victories they claimed.  But this year, the major players in the industry were shown to be full of nothing but shit.  First, it comes out that CRIA hasn't even been paying artists for use of their music, which could technically make the past few decades' worth of Canadian-published compilation CDs illegal unless an agreement can be reached.  From the looks of it, it could be a very expensive agreement.  Then, it's made known that artists still haven't been paid for when their songs are played on the radio.  And if you take a look on the list, it appears on the surface to be full of obscure or hard to find musicians.  Like a group of rising stars who just released their first album this year.  Oh, and Uncle Kracker, too.

So that was 2009 in brief.  Where does that leave us for 2010?  Well, for movies, we have crappy-looking remakes, delayed remakes, Furry Vengeance, lots of sequels, some of them completely unnecessary, and that's not counting the latest in the Twilight, Harry Potter, and Narnia series.  On television, FOX is losing their reality channel, when it turns into... a National Geographic channel.  I'm serious.  Meanwhile, I'm beginning to think that 2010 will be the year that television dramas die.  My prediction is that shows like Numb3rs and CSI will fade away this year (more on that in the next few days).  In anime, you can probably tell what kind of a year it's going to be with titles such as "Cat Shit One" and "Ladies versus Butlers!" coming out this year.  As for video games, there are a lot to look forward to, like Final Fantasy XIII in North America and Europe, The 3rd Birthday, the new Lunar port for the five people who still don't own a single version of the game, and more.

Lastly, I look forward to continuing my interrupted series of Final Fantasy retrospective reviews, culminating in my own review for Dissidia (Geoff's excellent review can be found here).  But we'll see what happens.

Recommended Soundtracks: King of Fighters: Maximum Impact 2

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recommendedsoundtracksbanner.jpgYou're bound to get a mixed reaction whenever you mention any of the King of Fighters: Maximum Impact games when talking to fighting game fans. That's because fans of the series, or fighting games in general, are mixed when it comes to precisely how it represents the franchise's gameplay. Oh, and because it's 3D, and it sure isn't the best use of 3D polygons we've ever seen, even for 2004. But it helps if you can accept it as a different, interesting, and fun alternative to the standard 2D games. And it also makes the transition from 2D to 3D much better than any of the Street Fighter EX games.

But if there's one thing that absolutely no one can deny -- not even the most die-hard, stubborn opponent to the game that just has to vocalize their emphatic dislike to the game to the whole internet -- it's the music. It's really some of the best music I've heard in the series, with the exception of a few main games in the series. (And no, I'm not just saying it's better than the music you'll find in King of Fighters 2001 and 2002, because that's too easy.) You'll only find one familiar King of Fighters theme here (hope you're a big fan of Geese Howard), but that doesn't mean most of it isn't memorable.

kofmi2ostpic_010210.jpgThe game being featured here, King of Fighters: Maximum Impact 2, also includes a few of the best tracks from the first game. In other words, it includes the tracks without the lyrics that would raise anyone's eyebrow from being ill-fitting for a fighting game. If there's one qualm I have with its soundtrack, it's that the tracks themselves are too short. When you listen to a good track, you want it to go on for as long as it can, while simultaneously not overstaying its welcome. Here, each track plays once, and that's it, making most of the tracks two minutes at most. It's a departure from the first game's soundtrack, which had each individual track loop its tune once (which was perfect). 

Also, the second disc includes a bunch of fan-favorite arcade (as opposed to remixed console) tracks from the 2D series. If you ever wanted a convenient collection of some of the best tracks -- subjectively, because there's bound to be something you like that's not included here (plenty of my personal favorites are missing) -- here you are.

KoF: MI2 is a Japanese fighting game involving quite a few characters of Asian descent, so you know it's bound to have some music themes that are derived from eastern sound styles. Of the tracks, Taiko Man is definitely the best.

When you see a track named "There's a Semi-Sale in That Forest," you're not likely to think that it's a wonderfully ambient track that feels like it should be used as an RPG battle theme (that's a compliment). No idea what this has to do with sales though. Or semi ones:

Last, we have "Giving a Manicure to the Fingernails of Darkness," which is the final boss stage's theme. As such, it's perfectly epic, and gives off the sense of danger. Said boss doesn't have dangerous fingernails through:

(It's only by writing this that I realized how weird some of these track names are.)

The music is only one part of what makes the Maximum Impact games a fun little alternative. Unfortunately, things aren't too good for SNK financially at the moment, so they recently had to cancel some of the games in the franchise. The last game in the MI series, King of Fighters: Maximum Impact Regulation A2, is apparently pretty good according to fans. It's a shame it never received a release outside of Japan, though. I'd like to see a game in the series made for a current generation console, but as of right now, the chances of that happening are around the same as Sega porting Virtua Fighter 5 R to consoles; i.e. zilch.

(Also, please don't refer to this game as the SNK Playmore USA-given King of Fighters 2006.)

The ReBirths of Konami

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Oh look! It's a new year! Let's talk about old stuff.

You can either thank or blame Capcom for starting something that's become what you could call a "trend" in the gaming industry now: new games made in the spirit of classic ones. Mega Man 9 was not only regarded as a return to form for the main franchise, but also as an interesting-though-successful experiment that was received well by fans. But it was also a hit with certain gamers who weren't fans of the franchise, and who were intrigued by the idea enough to drop a mere $10 on it to try it out.

Given previous developer's success with the formula (look at how well Retro Game Challenge was received), you really can't blame Konami for taking the idea and running with it, considering that gamers loved being reminded of the "good 'ol days." Konami recently decided to revisit some of their older franchises and make them in the spirit of their classic iterations. Since a game like this sadly wouldn't have a chance of making it at retail, they used digital distribution via WiiWare, a serive that's bound to appeal to gamers with a fondness for classic gaming because of the Wii console's robust Virtual Console. Three of them are out now, but who knows if they have more planned.

gradiusrebirthpic010110.jpgI might be wrong about something: this entire thing may not be inspired by Capcom's MM9, since Gradius ReBirth originally released in Japan in early-September 2008; that's actually before MM9 released (which was later that same month). Gradius Rebirth is like a best-of compilation, in that it takes levels from the previous games, gives them somewhat of a graphical overhaul, and places them together in one package to give the aura of a new title. It also took its time making it outside of Japan, not releasing in America and Europe until March  and July 2009, respectively -- which probably led to the aforementioned thought process pertaining to an idea started by Capcom. Of the three ReBirth titles, it's received the least amount of accolades; fortunately, in this case, "least" is still pretty good.

contrarebirthpic_010110.jpgTo continue development of the formula, Konami went ahead with, which was, as you could have guessed, made in the spirit of the old Contra games. Contra fans have had it hard, constantly being dealt an unfair hand with a plethora of games in the last decade-and-a-half that missed the point of what made the Contra titles such an enjoyable experience. The old Contra games were difficult, but not in a way that felt cheap. Meanwhile, games like Shattered Soldier missed that "cheap" aspect, and opted for frustration and rote memorization over fun. You could consider Contra 4 a return to form, but it was a shame that the franchises' fanbase primarily resides outside of Japan, where its fans tend to favor consoles over portables. ReBirth was fortunately not as overlooked as its portable counterpart, and definitely received some good support. If you're an old-school Contra fan...well, you've probably already played this. But it's highly recommended if you haven't.

castlevaniarebirthpic_010110.jpgLastly, Castlevania: The Adventure ReBirth was finally released in North America this past Monday, releasing in Japan around two months ago (i.e. in time for Halloween). The Adventure ReBirth is based on the not-very-good original Game Boy game, similarly titled Castlevania: The Adventure. It was Konami's intention to take the original game, a quest starring Christopher Belmont which had potential but seriously failed to realize it, and make something good with it. They seem to have succeeded, and have decided to remix some of the more obscure-though-fantastic music in the franchise along with it. It's also great for Castlevania fans who have been hoping for a new game in the style of the older titles in the franchise, something we haven't seen since the original Rondo of Blood back in 1993. Hopefully you're currently enjoying it, and hopefully they decided to redo a few of the other games in the franchise that had potential but squandered it; like Castlevania Legends.

I'm pretty glad that people are gobbling up retro material, especially when its quality -- well, usually when its digital, since no one sure as hell purchased Retro Game Challenge when it came out last year. And one of the games most influential in telling us how a small, retro game could be more engrossing than most console games at the time, Cave Story is still not available on WiiWare yet. Utterly ridiculous, to be honest. Anyway, here's to more ReBirths in 2010; hopefully one of them is a Metal Gear game or something.

February 2013

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