January 2012 Archives

Final Fantasy XIII-2 First Impressions: Because It's Impressive

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Final Fantasy XIII-2 opens up very much like Final Fantasy XIII.

 

That sentence could possibly freak out anyone who expected to walk into the sequel expecting a promised fresh take on the formula. But I only say that because both of them start off action packed. And honestly, its a gigantic cocktease. I’d hate to be in the feet of anyone who went on a media blackout shortly after the game’s announcement a little more than a year ago, the kind of person who thought they’d be controlling Lightning in her new duds. It’s actually the way the game gets players partly acclimated to the battle system, especially if they didn’t play the first game.

 

After that, the view shifts over to New Bohdum on Pulse and a couple of teenagers. There would be a tremendous amount of heartbreak and rage, since a good portion of its packaging and advertisements only give glimmers of the characters you’ll be controlling most of the time.

 

But fear not! Something the developers wanted to show everyone who started playing it immediately is that they’ve addressed some of the criticisms players had of FFXIII. The areas are more wide open, something that gives the game a less on-rails feel. There are periods of relaxation now, whereas its predecessor’s pacing felt like an unrelenting rush towards its conclusion with little to no breaks in between. To put it succinctly, the developers realized that their audience consisted of RPG fans, and they wanted to play something that actually represented the genre. This game is far more of a real Final Fantasy title.


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Thus far, newcomer Noel isn’t too bad. He’s a little snarky, but he’s a realist that’s determined fix the inconsistencies in time. A three year gap, however, hasn’t done much to change Lightning’s young sister, Serah. She’s still the timid, uncertain person you knew and loved (or, most likely, didn’t) in the last game. You also have a talking Moggle named Mog, but he (yes, he) isn’t anywhere near as annoying as you’ve likely heard. Keep in mind I’m only a little over five hours in, so these impressions are preliminary. Serah could completely change into a strong, independent woman in more time for all I know!

 

Also, it’s pretty evident that this game didn’t have as big of a budget as the last ot. I’ve only seen two CG videos in the game thus far, and the second of those was very short. There’s a reason why the game is only on one 360 disc this time. The game overall also doesn’t perform quite as well, with framerate drops if you’re heading towards a busy area. The backgrounds still display Isamu Kamikokuryou’s excellent art direction, though, giving you a healthy dose of scenery porn.

 

The music thus far is great, especially the thankfully-unaltered New Bohdum, featuring a performance from Origa. It really does sound like a track that wouldn’t be out of place as a theme for Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, music she was previously most known for among the geek audience. I should clarify that “the music so far is great” as long as it’s not being reused from the last game, and hopefully that becomes less prevalent as it goes on.

 

Basically, FFXIII-2 had one of those rare RPG demos that was representative of the overall experience, unless it drastically changes later on (which is unlikely). It’s definitely worth grabbing if you enjoyed FFXIII, but I’m not far enough to say whether its detractors will like it. So stay tuned.

Examples of Damage Control in Gaming: A More Private ModNation

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Anyone who’s been following Sony for the last few years is keenly aware of how much damage control they do for every questionable decision they make. Unsurprisingly, this always seems to happen around the time of a new console launch, despite the prevalence of these being detrimental to the system and the company’s overall morale. That’s not to say Sony’s making as many mistakes with the Playstation Vita as they did with PS3, but every flaw against it appears more severe because of the stigma currently surrounding dedicated handhelds. The fact that its predecessor fell out of favor with westerners is also an impediment to its success.

 

Case in point: ModNation Racers: Road Trip for Vita. This isn’t exactly a hardware-related issue, but it makes for a good discussion topic due to the damage control its developers had to do this week for its missing features. But in a way, it is a hardware-related issue in the sense that software needs to sell hardware. The previous ModNation Racers game was an OK Mario Kart alike that found a good audience, mainly on PS3. The majority of said audience, however, will be turned off from Road Trip, not necessarily because it’s on a system they don’t own, but because of one big missing feature: online play. A jarring decision considering even the PSP version of the original had this.


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Though speculated after a Q&A session with the developers at Sony Computer Entertainment San Diego, it was confirmed that the game will be shipping a week before launch day with no online play despite having certain features that would “take advantage of the Playstation Vita’s unique feature set.” (Note: saying this without including the main mode most players would inevitably use does the system overall no favors.) The explanation they gave is the most hilarious and sad example of damage control given this year so far, courtesy of SCE San Diego’s Erich Wass:

 

“If all we ever did as developers is rehash features that have been done in previous games, we’d still be entering passwords instead of using save files and you’d have to start the entire game over after you lost your three lives (extra 1-ups aside). While online head-to-head has been a mode used in many games in recent years, we focused on making a game that is crafted for how portable games are most often played—in quicker “pick up and play” sessions multiple times in a day.”

 

That’s a really terrible excuse. Not to mention that’s not the real reason.

 

But there might be some hope for those who want it. In the comments section of the previously-linked blog post, Wass said they’re “looking at” adding online play via a patch down the line. He also noted that the number of players who purchased the game on PSP and used its head-to-head online features were in the single digits. It sounds like he, along with the company he works with, doesn’t really have much confidence in the Vita’s sales potential or this game. Now you have to wonder how many potential purchasers have now been dissuaded to the lack of a typically integral feature for any game that has versus play.

 

Gamers who played the PSP version noted that the online community was sadly a barren wasteland shortly after its release, corroborating Wass’ reply. The PSP has also been pretty dead outside of Japan since around late 2009, so that’s not really a surprise. Either this is the reason, or they were in such a rush to have the game out for the Vita’s launch that they couldn’t include it for its release, with the definite intention of patching it in later. That won’t be good for the sales of a game that will likely be front loaded, though.

 

This event either shows the problems that come with rushing games for a new console launch, or that some developers don’t have faith in Vita -- the latter of which could be an extension of the notion that western developers don’t give a crap about handheld games. Road Trip was already going to have some problems selling because the Vita is going to have a problem taking off. And now they’ve lost their potential audience.

The Return of the Ace Attorney

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But which one!?

 

The 10th Anniversary Event for the Ace Attorney franchise recently wrapped up in Japan. There wasn’t much buzz about it prior to the event because no one expected much from it. That, or they just plain forgot about it. Turns out we were wrong, and no one is upset about that.


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The big announcement was that Ace Attorney 5 (aka Gyakuten Saiban 5) is in development…but they gave no more information than that. They didn’t even say what platform it’s coming to! Apparently finding information on this is going to be its own court case. The likely guess would be 3DS, given that it’s already getting Professor Layton vs. Ace Attorney. But there’s a chance it might be on that in addition to something else.

 

The logo was all they provided, but there might be a clue as to who the protagonist is contained within. All of the Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney logos have a sparkle on the left, while Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney’s has its sparkle on the right. The logo for AA5 has a sparkle on the left, similar to the PW games. This could mean something! But it also could be a red herring. You never know with Capcom. There was a sizable backlash against AJ for the number of inconsistencies it presented in the AA world, which Capcom noticed considering the Ace Attorney Investigations titles have only contained references to the PW titles.

 

Apollo was an endearing guy, but he was never given a chance to shine due to Capcom’s higher ups forcing the development team to insert Phoenix into the game. Parts of the plot were rewritten due to that, and the end result was a missed chance for Apollo to establish himself. Having a pretty weak opponent in Klavier Gavin also hurt him too. He really deserves another chance, but that runs the risk of everyone who didn’t like AJ passing on the game. They’re going to have to dig themselves out of this hole somehow, and hopefully it’s something that can be done skillfully.


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In what could be taken as another clue, the first three AA games are being given an HD facelift for iOS and Android mobile phones. All three games are being given higher resolution art, which appears to entail tracing over the original sprites and enhancing them via Photoshop. Anyone who already purchased the existing version of the first game will get a free upgrade to the new version. You’d think these would be a lock for an English release with a localization already existing, but Ghost Trick was released on iOS in Japan over a year ago and was never released outside of there for some strange reason.

 

And speaking of that: you’d think AA5 would be a lock for localization if it wasn’t for Ace Attorney Investigations 2 not being localized. Capcom USA’s reasons for not localizing it on DS are somewhat legitimate in that retailers were and are hesitant to stock any games for the system that aren’t published by Nintendo -- especially in Europe, where apparently most of them didn’t stock the first game. DS software sales also fell off a cliff from fall 2010 on. It likely would have been a financial loss for them to release it, but I personally think it was a risk they should have taken. Giving your fans skepticism as to the future of the franchise in the west wasn’t a good idea.


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Meanwhile, there wasn’t much news about the aforementioned Layton vs. AA, but it was mentioned that Studio Bones is handling the anime cut scenes. Here we have part of a scene which depicts a setting we haven’t seen before, showing Maya and an asleep Phoenix Wright aboard a plane soaring above a modern city. The game’s release date remains a vague “2012.”

 

Don’t expect to see much news on AA5 in the interim between now and the release of Layton vs. AA. The most we might get is the reveal of who the main character is, and what system it’s coming to. Please cross your fingers in the hopes that these will be localized. And if you still have hope for AAI 2 in the west, cross your fingers on the other hand too. And your toes.

Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker 2 -- Monster of the Weak

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DQMJ2-01.jpgIf I had a hat, like a proper Stetson or even a fez (fezzes are cool), I would be eating it right now.  I waited over a year for this?

Well, okay, the game wasn’t bad.  Everything good about it can be summed up in two words: “Dragon Quest”.  Pretty much everything I like about Dragon Quest was present in Joker 2.  Turn based battle system, slimes, fantasy-style soundtrack: check, check, and check.  However, I think the series is beginning to slip.  You see, Dragon Quest has always been known for a punishing difficulty curve.  Oh sure, the ninth instalment of the main series was easier than any other Dragon Quest I’ve played to date, but given its length, I would say it was easily the most balanced, too.  Even still, the series has a reputation for gleefully putting your characters in mortal danger at the drop of a hat, and I felt no sense of insurmountable odds while playing Joker 2.  Maybe at the beginning, when the game threw a very long snake at me, I thought I was going to die.  But the size of your enemies mean nothing when their stats are low.

While the Dragon Quest Monsters games generally haven’t been as challenging as the main series (for example, you can get about halfway through the tournament in the first Monsters game within the first six hours, and with your starting monsters), I don’t think I’ve played one as unchallenging as Joker 2.  And no, I refuse to believe that I’m getting better at them.  I mean, what skills do you learn when you play Dragon Quest?  The ability to select commands from menus while the enemy patiently waits their turn?  No, these games are getting easier.

Case in point: the giant monsters in Joker 1 were a harrowing experience that easily caught unprepared players by surprise.  In Joker 2, I found that I could challenge just about any monster to a fight and I had no problem winning.  I think I only died once, and that was during the final boss fight, and only because I wasn’t as prepared with items as I should’ve been.  Even so, I certainly gave it a fighting chance before I died.  Then I stocked up on items and gave it another go and kicked its tail.

In fact, the “I’ll give this fight a go” approach seemed to work extremely well for me.  I would save my game and then decide that I would see what the next boss was like before sleeping.  That way, I would be prepared to take on the boss for real the next day, right?  Nope, most bosses didn’t even last long before being defeated, and then I’d have to save again before sleep.

Even the typical task of grinding was simplified.  You didn’t have to go out and kill tons of monsters to level up newborn party members anymore.  Well, you could if you really wanted to, but in Joker 2, you could visit the Metal Menagerie instead and gain practically instant levels!

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Oh crap, I'm gonna die, I'm gonna die, I'm gonna... kick its ass?  What?!

You see, the main feature of the Dragon Quest Monsters series is that you could breed monsters as you went along.  First, you caught them by intimidating them in battle (and if it worked, they would agree to join your party).  When they were levelled up sufficiently enough, you could use them to breed more powerful monsters.  Although the offspring began life at level 1, they got to benefit from some of the skills and abilities of their parents.

Unlike the main series, monsters tended to level up faster due to shallower experience curves.  Sure, they had been able to do that since the first Monsters game, but it seemed like Joker 2 didn’t want you to waste any time grinding.  You see, the Monster Menagerie I mentioned a couple paragraphs ago made a comeback from Joker 1, and access was much more strictly limited than in Joker 1.  At least, that was the impression the game gave you from the beginning.  In practice, though, you could visit it pretty much whenever you wanted.  Access to the Metal Menagerie this time around depended on Metal Tickets that you could get randomly during the game.  Instead of being a rare drop like the game claimed they were, I at one point had accumulated a decent quantity of them.

Once inside the Metal Menagerie, you could battle between two and four Metal Slimes and then you were automatically kicked out again.  It became a time saving strategy of mine to just take my newly minted level 1 monsters into the Metal Menagerie and clobber a few Slimes.  Then, I took my suddenly level 14-16 monsters back into the main quest for a while until I felt ready to do more breeding.

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I doubt you're going to need any of that healing in this battle.

So Metal Slimes were nothing more than an easily acquired Ticket away.  Each area was full of new monsters that didn’t take long to acclimate to.  Bosses seemed to collapse easily when I attacked them.  The only difficult thing about this game was that it was difficult to put down.  It took me barely three days to finish it, not counting all the bonus content after the end.  I suppose that’s what matters the most.  It was not as difficult as previous games, but it was still very fun.  Let’s put it this way: it’s bubblegum.

There was something I noticed about the story.  If any of you have played the original Dragon Quest, you’ll recall that you had only two objectives in that game.  Rescue the princess and defeat the Dragonlord.  You had to discover the story yourself.  You were expected to explore, figure out where to go next, and defeat small challenges along the way.  The story was your own.  That’s almost like what this game was like.  I explored around, discovered various aspects of the world, defeated small challenges in each area, and eventually made right something that had gone wrong a long time ago.  There was a greater emphasis on story in Joker 2 than in the original Dragon Quest, but far less than in Joker 1; it was more a middle of the road game, where a story was presented to you like in Dragon Quest II and III, but you still had to look around yourself and find it with hints from the characters.

Sure, Joker 2 was a weaker entry in the series than I’m used to, but it was by no means a bad entry.  It was just disappointing that it lacked difficulty.  In fact, it was so easy to play, I would consider it baby’s first Dragon Quest.  If you want to introduce a young gamer to the series, give them either this game or Dragon Quest IX, they’re both a good starting point.


All images found on RPGFan.

Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning Demo Impressions

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Prior to the release of the Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning demo, I was worried about the game’s potential success. It is, after all, an EA Partners game; the same program that failed in marketing Alice: Madness Returns and Shadows of the Damned at any significant capacity. Fans of western RPGs are also coming off playing through Skyrim, so expectations for other games in the genre are going to be through the roof, which may not be a good thing for Amalur’s perception despite having the designer of Morrowind on board.

 

Now that the demo’s available, I’m even more worried. It’s a known fact that RPGs don’t tend to demo very well, and Amalur’s represents the pitfalls some of them can have. And more.


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Were amidst an interesting time where there’s a backlash against long, drawn out tutorials, which contain the feeling of making the player feel like a moron. While that’s not an accurate description of Amalur’s, it takes a while to pick up the pace. Apparently the developers felt it incredibly necessary to explain in detail that this game’s combat is very different from any other WRPG. It has its similarities to other action games like God of War, down to implementing QTEs. Combat in many other WRPGs can be pretty clumsy, this is comparatively a breath of fresh air.

 

It will take about 25 to 40 minutes to finish the tutorial dungeon, depending on how much you want to learn about the game’s back story from the characters, or how much you want to explore. After finishing it, you’ll be granted access to explore the world of Amalur for 45 minutes (which you can check via a timer in the menu). This gives the player time to experience a little of everything the game has to offer. For instance, you’re free to run into the first river you see and swim to a hidden cave to find special treasures. It’s the kind of exploration that makes RPGs of this type a joy to meander around in.

 

When you arrive in the first village in the demo, you can purchase items and weapons -- which you won’t need if you’ve done some extensive exploration before reaching there. You can also go on some quests for the townspeople, though a good deal of them are impossible to complete in the demo (the game tells you which). The quests are when the demo starts getting very addictive, leading to the “just one more” syndrome until time runs out. The main concern, of course, is whether everyone curious about the game will be able to tolerate the tutorial long enough to get to this material.


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And if they’re not put off by the tutorial dungeon, they might be dissuaded by the plethora of glitches present. It’s loaded with usually-intermittent graphical and sound errors that, while not severe, can be pretty annoying. I was lucky enough not to encounter most of them (I played on PS3, by the way). But there were times where the ground wouldn’t load upon leaving a house in the first village, making it look like I was walking on a giant mirror. Some players have reported that their sound goes in and out, while others claim they lost it completely minutes into the demo. The demo was made on an earlier code, so it shouldn’t be a problem in the final game. But will everyone who played the demo know this?

 

Reckoning has the potential to be an excellent game, but it was already going to have a tough time on the market due to a glut of good-looking titles releasing along with it. But there’s the chance that they’ve gained new purchasers in anyone who was curious about the game, or decided to play through all of it for the Mass Effect 3 DLC gear and found an interesting RPG buried within. The game hits retail shelves on February 7th.

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When the nominees for the 84th Academy Awards were announced earlier this week, I (along with most of the entertainment world) was excited to see what was nominated.  I like seeing if there's something I may have overlooked or forgotten about or even missed entirely.  I'm unusual, though: I only really pay attention to two categories.  Animation and music.

I have no problem with the Best Animated Feature category this year, it looks like they actually made an effort to nominate some well deserving films.  Well, at least I got the impression they tried.  The problem with 2011 is that it was a year where nearly every animated film in theatres in North America was a sequel or in the case of Winnie the Pooh, partially a remake.  I'm surprised Rio wasn't nominated, but then at least the Academy saw fit to look beyond the borders of the United States and Japan this year and included two European films, and for that I applaud them.

The Best Original Song category let me down this year in a big way.  In most years, the Academy was able to find five good songs and nominate them.  At their worst, they still managed to nominate three songs.  This year, they decided that the total number of songs deserving nomination was... two.  Wait, what?


I see you driving 'round town
With the muppet I love and I'm like
Cluck you!


The list (and I use the term in the loosest way possible this year) of nominations reads more like the bottom of a rain barrel to me.  It's like the Academy didn't like any of the songs this year and just pulled two out of a hat.  They nominated the song I liked the least from The Muppets, and that's the one I think is going to win this year.

Rio managed to land the other nomination, but I don't think they stand a chance with "Real in Rio".  Maybe if "Hot Wings (I Wanna Party)" was nominated instead, they'd be much more likely to pick up the small statue.

And where was Winnie the Pooh?  Sure, nothing the movie did was particularly epic, but "The Backson Song" at least deserves a mention for its clever lyrics.

If The Muppets must be nominated in the Best Original Song category, why not the much better "Pictures In My Head", which would bring the entire audience to tears?  I don't think they'd have too much trouble figuring out how to perform that one live.

Then there's Cars 2.  "Collision of Worlds" is just as clever as "The Backson Song".  It plays up the 007-style spy theme of the movie with a simple guitar riff and the vocals of Robbie Williams while also staying true to the humble country roots of the first movie by bringing back Brad Paisley.

And finally, from Disneynature's African Cats, I would nominate Jordin Sparks' amazing song "The World I Knew".  I've liked her ever since she won American Idol (in fact, she's one of the few American Idol participants, winner or not, that I actually liked), and I think she should've picked up at least a nomination this year.  The lack of overall nominations for anyone just screams "mass Oscar snub".

There.  I found five songs, all of which deserved nomination and all of which were eligible (I checked).  And I liked "Life's A Happy Song" as well, also from The Muppets, so if six nominations were allowed I would pick that one as the sixth.  I invite anyone reading this to use the comments section to pick your favourite out of my five nominations above (also listed in its entirety below), and if I get enough votes, I'll award the first (hopefully annual) Damage Control best song award in a few weeks when the actual Academy Awards are handed out.

Today's Playlist and the nominations for the 1st Damage Control Best Original Song award
Jordin Sparks - The World I Knew
Brad Paisley and Robbie Williams - Collision of Worlds
Cast of Winnie the Pooh - The Backson Song
Kermit and the Muppets - Pictures in My Head
will.i.am, Jamie Foxx and Anne Hathaway - Hot Wings (I Wanna Party)

Street Fighter x Tekken Presents the King of Massive Trolls

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Not too long after the last plethora of reveals, Capcom just revealed two more characters for Street Fighter x Tekken. These qualify as guest characters, as neither of them are from the Street Fighter or Tekken universe.

 

Also, if you’re a Mega Man fan, you might want to inhale and exhale a few times before proceeding. Make sure you’re completely calm when you read the contents below, because what you see might…no, it’s guaranteed to make you lose your cool.


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You might have seen the tease at the end of the last trailer, but Capcom confirmed that Pac-Man and Mega Man are both in this game. Apparently Pac-Man was a little too small to fight with his limbs, despite Toro and Kuro managing fine with their similarly small (or smaller) frames. He uses a machine modeled after Tekken’s mimic character Mokujin to fight with, though it won’t be changing fighting styles after each round. He does shoot beams from his eyes, though. The way he uses a robot machine is strangely reminiscent of Mega Man Legends’ Tron Bonne. Uh oh.


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OK, that should have been enough time for you MM fans to take a deep breath, because oh my lord is this the king of all trolls. Here you have “Mega Man,” which is actually some dude who’s clearly let himself go dressed up as Mega Man, complete with using a gun as a “Mega Buster.” His design is based off the iteration of Mega Man that appeared on the NES cover of the first game, which was to be known as “Bad Box Art Mega Man” in Mega Man Universe before that game was cancelled.

 

And if you haven’t rammed your fist through your screen in sheer rage just yet, there’s a chance you might think it’s just Capcom having some fun. This is definitely not the case, and the proof of this is contained in “Mega Man’s" bio on the official website. Read it in its entirety. Does it remind you of anyone else? His background is eerily similar to Mega Man Volnutt’s from MML. There’s no way this isn’t a complete troll, and I sure hope none of Mega Man’s fans are the violently rebellious type for Capcom’s sake.

 

(Though if you are, you could probably get this game and take your frustrations out on this particular character. Maybe it’s not a troll! They might be just giving you a punching bag.)

 

But if you’re an MM fan, this probably isn’t a surprise at this point. Hell, you almost have to admire the lengths they’re going through to troll them. But really, the biggest surprise here is that both of these are exclusive to the Playstation 3 and Vita versions, meaning they now have five exclusive characters (the aforementioned ones along with Cole from Infamous). It’s interesting to see Sony is springing for all of these exclusive characters, but who knows why they’re doing it.

 

It appears Capcom wasn’t content with leaving Mega Man behind just yet, and wanted just one more opportunity to give them the finger. So now that “Mega Man” has made his way into Street Fighter x Tekken, they’ll probably have to cancel this game too. Aww.

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I doubt I'm going to win many friends with this, not unless you the reader have worked in retail, because I know what you're thinking.  If someone's trying to sell you something, they're no better than Satan himself, trying to cheat you out of your hard earned money the first chance they get.  Well, I hate to burst your bubble, but retail workers are people too.

I think what the biggest problem is, is that very few people who work in retail are allowed to really communicate with the customer.  It's like you're not allowed to educate them on how business is supposed to work.  Well, no, I guess you are allowed.  It would be more accurate to say that most people just don't listen.  They think that you're only in it for yourselves and anything you say to explain why you charge the prices you do is just your flimsy way of justifying charging the moon for a cheap Made In China trinket you can get at the dollar store for three bucks.

Come to think of it, there is something a retail worker isn't allowed to do, and that is to stand up for themselves and their rights.  I know, it's a big shock, right?  A retail worker with rights?  What's next, a cat and dog wanting to marry?

It's sad to say, but if you want to work a job in a retail environment, you have to give up the right to be treated like a human being.  Sure, you can treat your customers well and hope that they'll do the same to you in return, but you're not allowed to point out when they're being awful.  You're not even allowed to complain to anyone about it or try to correct the customer's behaviour.  That's up to the boss or manager to do, but even still, if you work for the wrong person, it's you who gets canned if you don't kiss the customer's ass when they act up.

Customers know they have all the power.  I've caught them in a lie at the store I work at when they're trying to rip us off over a return and the first thing they threaten when it looks like they're not going to get their way is that they'll never buy anything from us ever again.  In other words, they punish us for not letting them rip us off.  They could also threaten to being in their attorney and sue us out of existence; I've never been threatened with an imaginary lawyer before, but it can happen.

The customers that I really hate are the clueless ones.  I can't tell whether they're just acting clueless or if they really are a few bricks short of a load.  Is that a shit-eating grin they're hiding behind their eyes as they pass a phone they've dipped liberally in beer towards an unsuspecting me?  Are they trying to fight back laughter as they watch me react as I predictably would to a phone that feels wet and smells disgustingly yeasty?  How long did they practice keeping a snicker out of their voice as they continue to ask me to check if the battery is any good while ignoring my repeated questions about the alcohol content of their device?

I really wish that I could confront customers like this, slap them on the face with a two by four and tell them to stop being disgusting assholes.  I would also lose my job because for some reason, pointing out how bad a customer acts reflects bad on a company.  Oh yeah, and it also reflects bad on a company if someone complains about a customer's bad behaviour to others.  Even though others can see the customer if they're in the store at the same time, if you, the retail worker, so much as breathes a word about it to someone else, that's against your store rules and you could get fired for that, too.  So where does one go to complain about bad customers?  How does one vent if you can't do it to the customer's face or behind the customer's back, so to speak?

Sure, the Internet has a few solutions.  Customers Suck is a community on LiveJournal dedicated to workers' dealings with bad customers.  (Well, actually, there are two of them, one of them containing over a hundred thousand entries, the other only seven thousand or so.)  Something like this is needed because at least on LJ, if you want to hide your entry from the prying eyes of an employer looking for an excuse to fire you, you can do so.  Then again, they can always join the community as well, but they'd have to know about it, first.  And at least the smaller one requires memberships to be approved by a moderator.  So if your employer doesn't already have an LJ, it'd probably look suspicious if they showed up at the community with either no friends listed in their profile, or lots of friends but no "friend of"s, as if they added random LJ users to try to pretend they've been around for a while.  Oh yeah, and being newly registered would be a tip-off, too.

There's also Not Always Right, a site that also collects bad customer experiences.  Not Always Right uses a script format to tell their stories while Customers Suck lets the user decide how best to tell their story.  You can't hide submissions on Not Always Right from the eyes of your boss, but the site allows for greater anonymity by not revealing anything personal about whoever submitted.  Unlike Customers Suck, Not Always Right also includes funny anecdotes about customers, whether they were bad or not.

Although I applaud the Internet for these much-needed services, in the end neither of them are really combating the problem of awful customers.  Someone is not going to let their children zoom around a store where they break perfectly good bottles of alcohol, get away without paying for them, then sit down at the computer later to read LJ and have a three ghost epiphany.  Someone is not going to look at Not Always Right after trying to scam a free pizza from their local restaurant, then call back and apologize and promise to include a large gratuity with their next order.  It's disappointing that neither scenario is likely to happen.  Unless someone like the Gord were in charge of a business, you probably won't get to see very many instances of employees giving bad customers their just desserts and getting away with it.  I don't like to end on a bad note, but let's face it.  Bad customers will always be a fact of life unless there were more retail workers allowed to stand up for themselves, armed with a witty comeback and a nail gun.

Video of the Week

Honestly, retail workers have to deal with a lot of scary shit.


Currently Playing: Radiant Historia (DS)

I don't really feel like talking about this game much tonight, mostly because a lot has already been said on the blog.  I just want to say that everything Angela and Geoff say about this game, so far, is 100% correct.  Am I being lazy?  Absolutely.  But it's always good when other people have already done the work for you.

Cognition Dissemination: What's the Point of Metal Gear Solid 3D?

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The idea of a handheld remake of Metal Gear Solid 3 for 3DS left me ecstatic upon hearing its announcement at E3 2010, the same event where the system was unveiled. The game is my favorite game from the last generation of consoles, and effortlessly makes my list as one of the best games I’ve ever crafted. So here we had a version whose overall presentation quality would be enhanced to take advantage of the 3DS’ more powerful hardware. The assumption was that the demo shown then, which allowed for the camera to be manipulated, was an accurate representation of what the final product would look like.


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Then something peculiar happened. In the months following its announcement, we saw absolutely nothing new. For the rest of 2010, all we received was a direct feed version of the aforementioned demo, called “The Naked Sample” -- which looked good, but needed to be seen in actual 3D to gauge is intended effects. But as far as new information went, there was a long and dreary silence as none of Nintendo’s shows gave us anything. The demonstration at Nintendo’s show just before the system’s launch consisted of showing cut scenes from the PS2 version.  The game itself finally surfaced at E3 2011, and it turns out that cut scene demonstration was more accurate than we thought.

 

Despite the initial promises of a remake, Metal Gear Solid 3D: Snake Eater is really just a port based on the original PS2 version. And “based on” should be taken literally there, because it doesn’t even look as good as the original in some places. That’s partly because of the reduced aspect and pixel ratio the 3DS has, which is even lower than the PSP, which could mean its graphical fidelity won’t be on par with even Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker. We knew that some of the models in that demo weren’t completely accurate, though, due to Snake’s outfit looking nothing like any of the outfits he wears through the duration of MGS3 -- it actually resembles his PW outfit in some ways. But there’s no denying that the real game was far below expectations.


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There are few changes in the port, too. Being able to walk while in a crouched position is a nice new feature, but not when coupled with the 3DSs default controls, which have you manipulating the camera with the face buttons a la PW. Fortunately, the Circle Pad Pro was introduced, and this game takes advantage of it. Also nice are the changes to the Close Quarters Combat (CQC) moves that Naked Snake can perform, with each action being marked to the d-pad. That’s far better than the original’s setup, in which the player performed moves based the circle button’s pressure sensitivity -- which made it easy to accidentally kill a soldier if you wanted to incapacitate them because you held the circle button too long. This was very frustrating, and this new method is far better. Also, being able to select weapons, items, and having the ability to patch Snake up after a serious injury by using the touch screen is also nice, especially for the last one.

 

But those extras still don’t make this a substantial package, especially one that’s selling for $40. MGS3D will be selling for the same price as the recently released Metal Gear Solid HD Collection (it released for $50, but has since dropped to $40). It’s priced the same way in other territories, which means there aren’t going to be a lot of gamers who will choose this rather than playing the game in HD on PS3 or 360 (which also includes Metal Gear Solid 2 and Peace Walker HD), or Vita if they want a handheld version (though that one doesn’t include PWHD). Speculation suggests that Konami didn’t have much faith in the 3DS during the period leading up to and following the system’s launch, and decided to reduce the budget to this.

 

It’s a shame this had to happen, because the current team at Kojima Productions was definitely capable of making a good MGS3 remake. The game deserves better than this, but this was probably to be expected from Konami these days. So, what's the point?

A Late Arrival in Africa -- Resident Evil 5

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After playing through Resident Evil 5 nearly three years late to the party, I realized that the benefactors of playing a game well after everyone else has. Sure there are some downsides -- good luck finding someone to play with after most people you know refer to it as “old news,” if they were interested in it at all -- but there’s one swell aspect of it: the ability to adjust expectations accordingly. I consider its predecessor, Resident Evil 4, one of the best games I’ve ever played, and my second favorite game from the last generation of consoles (behind Metal Gear Solid 3), but I knew that I should lower my expectations for its sequel.

 

And it worked! Probably. It’s definitely not as consistently good as RE4, but RE5 is an enjoyable game despite having some sections that could have been designed better. I also began realizing that anyone who said it was a legitimately bad game inherited the internet’s ability to only deal in extreme absolutes. There are much worse games than RE5, but its reaction from some fans represents the pitfall of being way too psyched for a game after glancing at too much media disseminated from the developers and glowing previews.


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They're undoubtedly looking down at some of that body horror.


One of the biggest complaints about the game was its protagonist, Chris Redfield, having a partner always tagging along with him throughout Africa, Sheva Alomar. Her story-based reasons for travelling with him are fine, a quest to find out what’s happening to the people on the continent, and stop the T-Virus from spreading any further. Her existence, though, was considered a problem for the game’s flow, regardless of whether she was being controlled by the AI or a human. The AI, admittedly, sometimes doesn’t do things as well as a human would -- attacking the enemy with melee attacks in lieu of wasting bullets is a lost concept to them -- but they have some benefits too. There were times where I didn’t know enemies were present in the vicinity of certain areas, but AI Sheva knew to shoot them. They’re also capable of hitting targets from long distances with regular weaponry, ones a human would struggle with, especially early on.

 

The problem with having a partner tagging along for gamers, human or not, was that it ruined an atmosphere that could have been particularly horrifying while venturing through solo. While this is true, the environment not being as harrowing as it could be is entirely because they just weren’t designed that way. The disappointment had to do with Capcom making this a survival/action title rather than the survival/horror experience some wanted. There’s plenty of body horror present, which looks all the more realistic because of its HD graphic sheen. But there are plenty of daytime areas, which don’t invoke as much fear as they could if they were enshrouded in darkness.


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Though things can get a little creepy within more claustrophobic areas.


RE4 definitely took more of an action-esque approach than the older games, and RE5 is the logical extension to that. The focus is less on fearfully keeping the enemy back while conserving ammo and more on shooting bad dudes. The problem is that the tank-style controls don’t really lend themselves to an action game well at all times, which can lead to some unfortunate mistakes from the player. This isn’t a very common problem, though, since most of the game is designed around not being able to run and gun.

 

But this can be especially jarring when you’re fighting someone like Wesker, who’s definitely fast enough to zoom up and break the necks of both of your characters before they could make a move. This is a problem Capcom realized too; it’s the reason why they added the ability to move and shoot simultaneously starting with the more recent crop of titles. It’s slightly less jarring when characters are capable of techniques you can’t do on your own in cut scenes, but that’s a typical video game issue.

 

If you even the least bit familiar with RE5, you probably remember all of the racial connotations the game supposedly had, along with the back and forth arguments between two parties that never came to a real conclusion. That cooled down significantly shortly after the game’s release, but it’s risen again in the wake of Resident Evil 6’s announcement…for some unknown reason. As an African American, I don’t see this game as racist, but there are stacks upon stacks of unfortunate implications in a few areas. The idea of a beefy (perhaps from steroid abuse, considering Chris’ appearance in previous RE games) Caucasian shooting up a bunch of Africans does not look good, but it’s not racist.


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When things get action packed, they push it up to eleven.


But some of the enemies later in the game generated some legitimate tension, and not the kind that’s usually expected from an RE game. They’re dressed in wild African garb, and seemingly shout gibberish and assorted noises while attacking the protagonists. They’re reminiscent of enemies seen out of an episode from an old Hanna-Barbera cartoon, the kind that may have been conspicuously absent from syndication because it might be seen as a little insensitive. Some of those enemies were not good choices.

 

But this didn’t get me too upset, honestly. It was nowhere near as infuriating as the inventory system, which remained limited for the entirety of the game. Upon starting it, my assumption was that it would begin with not having much room for a plethora of items, which is adequate when starting the game. However, there are no options to expand it a la RE4, meaning it was eventually tough to store all the items I need for a given chapters. The fact that every weapon and item couldn’t be mapped to the quick select functions is also a problem.


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See? Who said this game doesn't have any horrifying parts!?


Some of the side modes are also very enjoyable, especially The Mercenaries. I didn’t think it would be that appealing initially, but playing each level more to unlock more characters, stages, and obtain a higher grade became addictive very quickly. Playing some obviously broken characters like any Wesker iteration and some of Sheva’s was also fun, along with playing characters that aren’t playable in any of the single-player modes.  Unfortunately, Capcom realized how much people enjoyed it when they decided to release The Mercenaries 3D for 3DS, a standalone package for full price.

 

While RE5 isn’t quite as good as RE4, it’s still a well done game. Hopefully the areas the development team didn’t get quite right will be polished for RE6, a game that’s definitely going further in the survival/action direction for some parts. Of course, if you don’t like that, there’s a classic-style survival/horror experience in Resident Evil: Revelations for 3DS.

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Are you still finishing up the games you bought in October and November? Good, because January is another month filled with very few notable releases and even less swag. The lull in release activity won't last much longer as next month is already looking quite busy. If you're interested in the few games releasing this month there won't be much to distract you from those titles.


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Final Fantasy XIII-2 is the biggest RPG of the month although it releases on the last day of January. Square Enix is following up its highly controversial RPG with a sequel that sports a variety of interesting changes in response to fan criticism. The demo itself was released about two weeks ago and both Joseph and Geoff wrote first impressions of it. A big change to how Square Enix does business (at least in North America) is the fact that the company is actually releasing an impressive Collector's Edition of the game. For $80 or an extra $20 over the standard edition fans will receive the entire four-disc soundtrack and a 20-page art book all housed in a hardcover case featuring Yoshitaka Amano's iconic Final Fantasy artwork. As a bonus anyone who pre-orders the game from Best Buy will also receive the Episode 1 novella that bridges the gap between Final Fantasy XIII and FFXIII-2. A pity Square didn't release Episode 0, the novella accompanying the original game (it was one of my complaints) but I applaud them for releasing Episode 1. Final Fantasy XIII-2 arrives in stores on January 31.


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If RPGs aren't your thing or you simply want nothing to do with Final Fantasy XIII, Namco has you covered with Soulcalibur V. Since its official reveal last May Geoff has been extensively writing about the upcoming game. If you're a longtime fan of SoulCalibur or you're a fighting game enthusiast you probably already have this game on your "to buy" list. The Collector's Edition of Soulcalibur V comes with a number of goodies for fans. For $80 the Making-of DVD, a soundtrack CD, a hardcover art book and downloadable costumes for the character creation mode will all accompany your game. Namco's latest entry in the Soulcalibur battles its way into stores on January 31.


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If you prefer anime over video games Aniplex of America has a treat for you. Volume two of the Blue Exorcist DVD set will soon be available to buy. This classic shonen series is quite fun to watch and I'm really enjoying it. Alex reviewed it in October. The premium release comes with a number of goodies including a double-sided poster, a reversible DVD cover and even an extra episode not aired with the original broadcast. This six-episode DVD set has an MSRP of $37 but you can easily find it on Rightstuf for about $30. Volume two of Blue Exorcist will be released (albeit to online-only retailers) on January 24. If you'd like to check out the series it can be found in its entirety at Crunchyroll.com.


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Unfortunately or fortunately (depending on your uh, tastes) I'm really scraping the bottom of the barrel with the mention of this anime series. Yamada's First Time: B Gata H Kei is about a high school girl named Yamada who wants to take the virginity of one hundred boys at her school. Before she can work on that uh, lofty goal she first sets her sights low. Really low. She begins by flirting with the ultra-geeky Kosuda hoping to score with him. If she can't snag a fellow of that caliber then she'll never score with one hundred guys. A bonus mousepad will be included with the first printings Yamada's First Time. The MSRP for this 12-episode series is about $70, although it can be found at various retailers for less than $45. If the premise of this series gets you going the DVD/BD combo pack will be released by FUNimation on January 31.

Recommended Soundtracks: Virtua Fighter 3

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I haven’t written a feature for Recommended Soundtracks in a while, so it must take a really special soundtrack to revive a dormant feature, right?

 

That’s possibly what you were thinking upon seeing the title, if you’re a regular of the site. But no, Virtua Fighter 3’s soundtrack isn’t exactly a mind-blowing experience. I would describe it as spiffy listening material, especially if you have a sense of nostalgia for 90s video game soundtracks -- especially from Sega.  And really, that was all I needed for incentive to revive a feature that I killed of because I thought each entry was becoming tepid. It’s the little things that matter, is what I’m saying.


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I came up with the idea for this post after watching an excellent Japanese player match between an Aoi and Pai from Virtua Fighter 5: Final Showdown, a game that includes tracks from previous Virtua Fighter games. I hate to use the word “epic” because it’s so criminally abused these days, but this is one of the rare instances where it’s perfectly applicable. I actually watched that match back in November, meaning while I had the idea of reviving the feature with this particular soundtrack, I decided to shelve it because, well, I didn’t feel like writing it -- primarily because of the aforementioned “they’re boring” problem.

 

After listening to the entire soundtrack again for the first time in about a decade, I decided to go through with it. The composers for Virtua Fighter 3 Sound Tracks are Takenobu Mitsuyoshi, Takayuki Nakamura (using the pseudonym “Sega Sound Team”), and Fumio Ito. It wouldn’t be a good feature if there was only one track that stood out, of course. As before, I’ll only feature three tracks here.




It’s fitting that we should start with Pai’s theme, whose full name is “Open the Deadgate ‘Pai on the Roof’” by Takenobu Mitsuyoshi. (They all have names like that, some of which venture into Engrish territory.) This theme was always the first you heard when starting the Arcade mode in the Dreamcast version, because you fought every opponent in the same order every time you played. It’s not the most fitting theme for a stage whose arena consists of a rooftop in China, but when it’s one that so expertly wavers between a slow and fast tempo without sounding bizarre in any sense, it doesn’t matter.



 

Just the same, “Underground ‘Sarah in the Subway’” doesn’t sound like something that’s most appropriate for a subway theme, but it manages to get away with it because it’s such a good track. Notice the use of 8-bit style music mixed in with the then-modern sound (the mid-90s, specifically). Takayuki Nakamura used it to good effect. The only problem with the track is that it’s short, which was a problem with many of VF3’s.



 

Not to say there aren’t any lengthy tracks in the game, though. Take “Gostroptosis ‘In the Cave’” from Fumio Ito, for instance, which is nearly three minutes in length. Though it’s admittedly yet another example of a track that doesn’t quite fit the stage it’s used for, but can be excused because it’s that good. It is, in fact, my favorite track on the entire soundtrack. When I listen to it, I like to close my eyes and think of a busy-yet-peaceful metropolitan environment that’s either well lit by nighttime lights or amidst sunset. But you’re more likely to have your own nostalgic associations upon listening to it. It honestly sounds like the kind of mellow track you’d find in an Outrun game, but it fits VF too.

 

Sega’s soundtracks, like many, are a product of the time they were produced in. They have a distinct sound where anyone who’s been playing games for a good amount of time -- and spent a good portion of their free time doing so -- is capable of pinpointing what era a particular piece of video game music is from by simply listening to it. VF3 released in arcades in 1996, a time where Sega was in their prime -- especially in Japan, since the Saturn wasn’t very successful outside of that territory. Its soundtrack was yet another sign of their uniformity in terms of the music their internal composers created, in that it was uniformly excellent material.

Batman: Arkham City -- The Real Crazy Town

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Sometimes, the worst kinds of sequels are ones that expose flaws in the original iteration; the kind fans never realized or criticized before. It happens when the developers found faults in their work. Uncharted 2 is a good example of this, but in this particular case, Rocksteady Studios can be forgiven. Batman: Arkham Asylum was the team’s first project, one that successfully established them as a viable development house. It was a licensed game in a series with very few good adaptations and plenty of bad ones. Somehow, they managed to churn out the best Batman game ever, and one of the best licensed games around.

 

After AA’s success, Rocksteady started development on the sequel: Batman: Arkham City. We already knew they already had plans for the game, the premise of which was given via Easter Eggs in the previous game. After finishing AA, it didn’t really seem like it showed evidence of wasted potential after playing it, but this game proves that Rocksteady wanted to dip a little further into the Batman universe to create a more, well, Batman-like authentic experience. The result is an open world game that has you, as Batman, travelling around the city to thwart the plans of anyone with nefarious purposes.


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This part is authentic too!


The Easter Egg hidden within AA was a secret room within Warden Quincy Sharp’s office. Sharp was amidst of a mayoral run, and within the room contained blueprints to turn Arkham Asylum into a full-blown city for criminals to inhabit, with Sharp claiming the island of Blackgate Penitentiary wasn’t enough to confine a high volume of criminals. Needless to say, Sharp was successful with his campaign. His popularity skyrocketed after he took all the credit for stopping the inmate uprising in AA, even though he was powerless to stop it. A shame Batman isn’t the type to show off his victories.

 

You’ll begin the game as…Catwoman!? One of the game’s biggest new features involves players going through parts of the storyline as Catwoman; well, if you redeemed the Online Pass included with new copies of the game, which quickly became a fetish for big publishers after they saw how much money EA made from them. The theory went that Catwoman’s gameplay sections were stripped from the main game and made DLC by Warner during the game’s development, but that only feels true for the first section. The rest of Catwoman’s quests are almost entirely unrelated to Batman’s aside from a few short scenes. That’s not defending the inanity of this practice, of course.


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Fanservice? Absolutely.


You could likely predict the differences between Catwoman and Batman’s maneuverability. Catwoman’s quicker on her feet and can attach to certain ceilings to make navigating around tighter rooms stealthily easier. That’s especially useful if they’re full of armed enemies. However, she doesn’t come equipped with a utility belt, meaning she doesn’t have as many options at her disposal. Her whip isn’t as useful as Batman’s grappling hook, so she’ll take longer to travel around Arkham City. She also has lower defense; if she’s spotted by numerous armed guards, you’d better hope you can get away from them quick, because they can take her down quickly. All of those flaws relegate her to the status of a good secondary character, but she’s no replacement for Batman.

 

Though the previous game featured the guest appearances of a few villains, the game’s big focus was on The Joker. The second game has a mostly similar approach, but it uses its collection of villains more effectively. The Joker is, again, the overarching villain of this tale, but both Batman and Catwoman will contend with the likes of The Penguin, Two-Face, and many others. It’s as if they tried to shove everyone they could into this game, as long as they fit in. This game, like AA, also features cameo appearances from other heroes and villains from the Batman universe.

 

One of the most commonly stated problems players have had with AC is that it’s not as tightly knit as AA because of its open world structure. If you’re the type that likes to wander from one path to the other quickly as the game designers have planned, then it’s a legitimate complaint. AC is similar to AA in the sense that you don’t have to pursue the plot immediately and can busy yourself with side quests, but saying this in that context really undermines how many side quests AC has. It almost feels like there are too many. They range from saving random people (which are sometimes seemingly random) to encountering villains Rocksteady couldn’t fit into the story but wanted to insert into the world in some semi-significant manner. It may not feel as “tightly knit,” but it sure does a better job in making you feel like Batman. And that’s OK.


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You'll run into plenty of instances like these.


Every playable character in the game (that’s including the challenge maps) have to contend with bigger crowds of enemies in AC, a design decision to balance the a plethora of new melee attacks AC has given to them. For instance, if three enemies begin to attack simultaneously, they can all be taken down by hitting the counter button three times. It’s a better alternative to countering one and hoping the punches coming from the other guys just happen to miss, or trying to dodge the attack to narrowly miss it -- the latter of which is much easier for Catwoman to perform. Batman also has an arsenal of tools to deal with enemies, much more than any other playable character. Not that you should be surprised to hear that.

 

The music is a big step up from the last game. It’s tough to measure up to the work of someone whose compositions were as great as the late Shirley Walker’s, but both Nick Arundel and Ron Fish -- returning from the first game -- composed music that sounds like a fusion between the material from Batman: The Animated Series and the Christopher Nolan-directed Batman films. That’s fitting considering what the game’s tone is inspired by, especially in the case of the former with mainstay comic book writer Paul Dini wrote the stories for both games.


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Yikes! Someone doesn't look too good.


AC features a number of well known voice actors. The twist, however, is that they’re featured in roles where most players won’t know them. Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamil return as Bruce Wayne/Batman and The Joker (despite the latter’s initial reluctance to reprise the role), though Arleen Sorkin apparently wasn’t available to reprise the role of Harley Quinn. But that’s OK since the venerable Tara Strong does a great job mimicking her tone. Meanwhile, would you have known that Nolan North -- aka Nathan Drake or Desmond Miles or plenty of others -- was the voice of The Penguin unless someone told you? Probably not. To a lesser extent, there’s also Troy Baker’s performance as Two-Face, though you can still tell it’s him if you listen very closely.

 

Arkham City might seem more drawn out because of each objective being further from the other, but getting to them is part of the fun. It’s not quite as authentic as having Batman go around Gotham City and saving a number of innocent civilians who tend to populate most areas, but it’s not as if Rocksteady would have had time to develop that. What the dev team did was make their best attempt at crafting an authentic experience, one very evidently made with love for the franchise. They already made the best Batman game around with Arkham Asylum, and they somehow managed to top themselves. Hopefully, they can do this again with Arkham World.

 

 Nah, just kidding. That doesn’t exist. Not to say there won’t be a sequel, of course.

CSI: Fatal Conspiracy -- Eminence Front

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With one episode left before the character leaves the television show for good, Catherine Willows finds herself struggling to stay alive!  A fatal conspiracy seems out to get her, to kill her in order to keep what she knows about them a secret!  As the tension mounts and the body count rises, will she survive her final episode or will she leave the way Warrick Brown did, shot to death in her final moments?  I can’t help you with that question, I’m just here to review the games.

Fatal Conspiracy was the last of three Xbox 360 games based on the CSI franchise, so I suppose this was the end of the trilogy, if you could consider it one.

Unlike the complete upgrade Deadly Intent received, not a lot changed between it and Fatal Conspiracy.  In fact, the only real upgrades that Fatal Conspiracy received were in the writing of the game and the functionality of the graphics.  Remember last week, when I mentioned that Deadly Intent seemed broken?  Evidence was supposed to do a floaty, spinny thing on the screen but it didn’t?  They fixed that when they made Fatal Conspiracy.  Everything worked the way it’s supposed to, so although Fatal Conspiracy recycled a lot of what was developed for Deadly Intent, it felt much more polished.

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Come on, join the party
Dress to kill


I think what I got a kick out of the most in Fatal Conspiracy was the voice acting.  While playing, I had developed a habit of interacting with the characters.  If they said something, I said something out loud in response that roughly corresponded to the dialogue I was about to select next during a witness interview or a suspect interrogation, then the character responded.  Anyone listening to me play must’ve thought that I was having a conversation with the characters.  Sure, voice acting is nothing new in a video game, but it’s something that I liked about this one.

It helped that in Fatal Conspiracy (and the previous two games as well), the actual actors from the show (with few exceptions) reprised their roles.  They didn’t sound wooden either, as can sometimes happen when lines are read into a microphone rather than acted out in person with other actors.  But that was not surprising, they’d had years of portraying their characters and they knew exactly how they would say their lines on the show.  I’ve heard of video games based on movies whose voice acting sounds forced despite the same actors having portrayed their characters in front of a camera, and I wonder if it’s caused by a lack of direction or a lack of familiarity with the character.  In the case of the CSI games, most of the actors already spent years with their characters and it showed.

Not only did I feel like I was working with the characters from the show to solve each crime, I felt like I was actually in CSI’s version of Las Vegas.  Each crime scene was rendered well and shown in all its glory.  From the cabin in the wilderness (where I could see for miles) to the burned out day spa, no matter where I went, I could easily have been on an actual set piece from the show.

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That big wheel spins, the hair thins
People forget

It also felt like I was playing something with an actual plot to it.  Fatal Conspiracy was written by some of the same people who contribute to the television show.  As a result, the writing was a marked improvement over the previous two games.  Rather than retain the “crime of the week” format where each crime could’ve been filmed for the show and used as filler to fulfill the network’s order, each case in Fatal Conspiracy was specifically designed to be played in a proper order.  An ongoing storyline weaved its way through the first four cases and then took the spotlight for the fifth and final case of the game.  Also, unusual for a game like this, it ended in a cliffhanger.  I know that not all cases were solved neatly and tightly on the show, but they eventually got their perps.  If a villain was featured in more than one episode on the show, he or she eventually got caught and paid for their crime.  So with that in mind, I fully expect another Xbox 360 CSI game to come out.  I just don’t know when.

You see, Laurence Fishburne, who played Dr. Raymond Langston, decided not to renew his contract on the show and so this year he was replaced by a new character played by Ted Danson.  I already mentioned that Marg Helgenberger’s character, Catherine Willows, is also leaving the show as of this coming Wednesday.  She is being replaced in February by a new character played by Elisabeth Shue.  If Ubisoft were developing another CSI game for the Xbox 360 right after Fatal Conspiracy, they’d have to completely rewrite their scripts now, create two new character models (three if they want to include the other new girl, played by Elisabeth Harnois), all the while trying to complete the game and publish it before any more actors leave the show.  I don’t think that’s really going to be a problem, since the actors love what they do and they seem to have become quite a family.

Still, the past year has seen two major departures from the show and I’m beginning to wonder if the series is going to continue or not.  I suppose they could go the Law & Order route and just keep creating new characters for the series as necessity requires.  As long as the actors enjoy it and the audience is there, it shouldn’t be a problem.

But still, how will Ubisoft make more CSI games if the cast keeps changing?


All images borrowed from xbox.com

Evil Has Many Residents (Updated)

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A few days ago, someone came upon a website called “No Hope Left,” a site laden with creepy photos and videos. Both are from numerous locations and tell various stories, but the most noteworthy ones were the pictures of Hong Kong and the video of a woman speaking Mandarin. There was a rumor that Resident Evil 6 takes place in China a little over a month ago, whose source was a voice actress’ resume that listed she was playing a Chinese Villager/Zombie. This could be the moment of its announcement! But it could have been for something else too.

 

But it was indeed for Resident Evil 6, though the official announcement was leaked when a Gamestop employee to a picture of a flyer and sent it to IGN. The press release and trailer went live at 5:00 PM EST.  As bizarre as Capcom has been in the last year or so, you have to hand it to them for how they revealed this. It was both unusual and welcome to see a game revealed with a definitive release date -- which is 11/20/12 -- and a substantial amount of gameplay. The fact that this is an unusual practice is sad, especially in the latter’s case. You’d think that would be mandatory considering the entertainment medium this is.


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The trailer shows a diversity of action, starting with Resident Evil 4-lead Leon Kennedy involved in a disaster that’s strikingly similar to the Raccoon City incident. The environments look reminiscent of, well, Raccoon City in Resident Evil 2 and 3, the former of which involved Leon. The gameplay looks like it has the environments from an older RE combined with gameplay enhanced from RE4’s. This game will again rely on giving you a partner to travel with, and from the presentation in Japan we now know the name of Leon’s partner: Helena Harper. Helena was previously an agent in the president’s secret military agency before he became a zombie, a result of a bioterror incident. Fortunately, Leon was a bad enough dude to shoot him (or was he!?). A later part in the trailer shows Leon performing a sliding dash to dodge enemies, similar to Sam Gideon in Vanquish. Sadly, it sounds like Paul Mercier isn’t voicing Leon this time around, but I’m not sure.

 

The second part involves Chris Redfield and the BSAA infiltrating China on a bioterror case. It’s incredibly action heavy, complete with Gears of War style cover shooting. Resident Evil 5 had that as well, but this looks even more shooter-focused. He’s travelling with a yet to be named male partner. Chris himself looks a little less buff than he did in RE5 too, which is welcome -- though he might have a tougher time roughhousing with boulders now. There’s a noticeably big contrast in terms of gameplay and atmosphere between this section and the aforementioned one with Leon.

 

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The third part has some incredibly over-the-top action involving a currently unknown bald guy who performs some of Wesker’s melee techniques in battle, meaning it could be Alex Wesker. He’s a “man who’s told to save the world” who’s travelling with a woman who looks and sounds a lot like Ashley Graham from RE4. Is it her? Capcom isn’t saying who it is, but it’s likely her. And if you listened to possibly-Alex Wesker’s voice, Troy Baker is playing yet another lead role. But that’s OK.

 

The sections in the trailer show that RE6 will have three different gameplay styles, meaning they want to appeal to everyone here. But there are some fans who wish the game’s entire approach was survival/horror, similar to what the older games provided. I’ll admit that this was my initial reaction to seeing the trailer, especially after seeing Chris taking on a bunch of armed opposition and driving a tank. Seeing maybe-Alex taking on his opposition with some quick martial arts-style moves was different from anything we’ve seen in RE before too. The franchise has truly left its roots now.


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I hope you didn’t believe that, because it’s a lie. Resident Evil Revelations for 3DS (which releases next week in Japan and Europe, and two weeks from Tuesday in America) exists for this very reason. It’s a game whose intention is to embrace the franchise’s roots and combine them with RE4-style gameplay, meaning it’s more of a fusion of old and new than even RE6 is shaping up to be. Of course, some people are going to ignore it simply because it’s on a handheld, and that’s a damned shame. It seems like Capcom realizes that more people want the survival/action that the newer games offer, which was the signal they received after RE5 was sold 5.6 million copies worldwide. There aren’t as many fans who want the survival/horror related material, but apparently a team within Capcom wanted to make it. It looks like they’ll keep the survival/action titles on consoles, while the survival/horror titles will be on handhelds.

 

Oh, and there’s also Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City, which is an online squad shooter developed by Slant Six releasing in March. My theory is that the RE6 cards passed around during the time of the San Diego Comic-Con were real, but the reveal was rescheduled due to ORC being delayed from its originally-planned holiday season release. This game was barely acknowledged at the press conference, but Capcom also realizes Japan isn’t the primary audience for it.

 

So yes, there are a lot of Resident Evil games releasing this year, and that’s not including the Resident Evil Chronicles HD Collection, which is a compilation of Wii titles Umbrella Chronicles and Darkside Chronicles for PS3 with Move-only controls. Announcing RE6 before the other two games they’ve been marketing release is a risky move due to the possibility of it killing hype for them-- especially for ORC, since we’re on the advent of Revelations’ release. On the other hand, there’s the chance that it could revitalize interest in the franchise as a whole and benefit those releases. Capcom may handle many of their franchises poorly these days (especially one that starts with “Mega” and ends with “Man”), but they sure are handling this one fine.

 

Though that’s not to say there’s no chance of them milking it to the point of stagnation.


Update: According to IGN's "sources," the blonde woman travelling around with possibly-Alex Wesker is not Ashley Graham but, uh, Sherry Birkin. There's no telling whether IGN's sources are correct, but that would be a shocker if it's true. Also, the BSAA operative accompanying Chris is apparently Beards Nevence from the RE manga adaptation. You shouldn't take any of these as confirmation until Capcom says this officially, though they're likely true.

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Over the holidays, I watched some of Jackie Evancho's videos on YouTube for the first time.  And I think it's a sad commentary on the times when my first thought isn't about what an incredible talent she is.  Instead, my first thought was, "I hope she doesn't ruin herself like every other young celebrity like her eventually does."

You see, the sad fact of celebrity life is that there are many temptations.  With nothing to do except look fabulous and occasionally show off your talent, many celebrities resort to indulging themselves in the party scene.  This leads to high profile celebrity rehab stories, like the ones that surfaced in 2007 regarding Lindsay Lohan.  Everyone also remembers what happened to Britney Spears in 2007 and 2008.  And this isn't even a new problem.  Andy Gibb died in 1988 after struggling with cocaine addiction throughout the 80s.

What makes Amy Winehouse's recent death from alcohol poisoning even more tragic is that, for the most part, a celebrity going through a rough addiction is at least aware that they have a problem but feels powerless to stop it.  Winehouse was so adamant that she didn't have a drinking problem that she wrote a song about it and it ended up being her first hit.  Apparently, the anti-rehab sentiment hits a cord with an audience who also doesn't want to own up to their personal problems, or something.  Point is, she defiantly told the world that she simply won't go and deal with her need to drink all the time, and in the end it killed her.

The worst of it is, she only has herself to blame.  She's the one who drank, she's the one who refused to deal with it, and now she's the one who is dead.  Her fans will probably disagree with me, but the only person to blame for her death is herself.  I mean, sure, my body is a temple, but it seemed like she went out of her way to make her body a wine house.  Well, vodka.  A vodka house, according to the police report.

It's a pattern that has repeated itself many, many times.  Fun fact: there's a show on VH1 called Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew.  This is apparently another reality show where we get to gawk at celebrities at their worst and serves only to re-enforce our long-standing beliefs of them being coke-heads and heavy boozers.  Most of the people featured on the show are currently, or had at one point, been successful.  For one reason or another, they have fallen into the same trap most celebrities fall into.  Pretty much the only person who has appeared on the show who I feel has a legitimate reason to drink is Rodney King.  Yes, that Rodney King.  Sure, he had a love of the drink before, but I doubt that getting beaten up by the people you're supposed to trust to keep you safe helped matters.

Jackie Evancho is currently 11 years old.  She probably has at least a few years to go before she'll be exposed to this aspect of celebrity life, but I hope she never finds herself on the wrong end of a hangover at 5 in the morning lying in an alley somewhere feeling sorry for herself.  She's too good to go ruining herself with a bottle of beer.  She doesn't deserve that kind of life.



Today's Playlist
Bee Gees - Alone
Bee Gees - Still Waters Run Deep
Bee Gees - One
Bee Gees - It's My Neighborhood
Bee Gees - Paying The Price of Love
They tried to make me listen to "Rehab", I said "No, no, no"

Has Imageepoch Saved JRPGs Yet?

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It was a little over a year ago when Imageepoch, who was making the leap into self publishing their titles, promised to revitalize interest in the Japanese RPG genre. They realized it had fallen out of favor, and pledged to do it with two new PSP games: Final Promise Story and Black Rock Shooter. At this point, you don’t need me to tell you that they’ve failed in their endeavors thus far. FPS (haw haw) sold OK, but reader reviews from Japanese players were not positive. And word has it that BRS is a good game, but not a great one. Those are hardly game changers.


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Enter Tokitowa -- literally translated as Time and Eternity -- a new JPRG announced in Famitsu this week for PS3. Imageepoch is developing the game, making it their first HD console title. It’s being co-developed by Japanese animation studio Satelight, but Imageepoch isn’t handling the publishing duties for this one. It’s being published, and possibly funded, by Namco Bandai. Even if it does end up being a massive contributor in saving the JRPG genre from its supposed ruin, Imageepoch can’t take all  the credit. This game is being called the world’s first HD animation RPG, meaning they’re making yet another grandiose claim. Man, these guys.

 

The main character is a prince in Kamuza Kingdom, an 18-year-old man who’s already married but has yet to receive his first kiss (what?). The character doesn’t have a canon name, but will be named by the player. He’s married to a princess named Toki, who is 16 years old. Toki herself always keeps a little blue-colored dragon pet named Drake at her side. The character designs are from Taiwanese illustrator VOfan, who’s provided work for anime titles like Bakemonogatari. Also, the venerable Yuzo Koshiro is handling the soundtrack.


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The game will combine 2D anime-style artwork with 3D backgrounds, as seen in the screen shot above. The development team wanted to make this game looks as if the player is playing an anime. This is an interesting combination, and hopefully it’s not a jarring one to see in motion. There were plenty of PSOne games that combined the use of sprites with polygonal backgrounds, Star Ocean: The Second Story being a good example. The results of those efforts were iffy at best, so hopefully this will turn out differently. The official website went up not too long ago, and Imageepoch’s blog (conspicuously at the url jrpg.jp) mentioned that the first trailer is coming next Wednesday.

 

If you notice something that’s missing in this post, it’s details about how the game plays. That’s because they haven’t shared them yet. For some reason, they’re only distributed two screens, but the scans from Famitsu magazine show a game that appears to be your usual JRPG. But expect there to be a few twists along the way in order to diversify it. Keep in mind this is all speculation, so my assumptions could be entirely wrong here. I’d like to think we’ll see the first gameplay footage when the trailer comes next week, but it’s not like we haven’t had plenty of trailers totally bereft of gameplay before; or with so little that it’s impossible to tell what kind of game it is.

 

Famitsu, who loves their percentage completion rates, said the game is 45% complete. Tokitowa is due for release in Japan sometime this year. As to whether it will leave Japan: if Namco Bandai doesn’t localize it, it’s likely that NIS America could pick it up. NISA has (had?) a publishing deal with Gust, which is why they were able to localize the Ar Tonelico games despite Namco Bandai publishing them in Japan. We know they also have a similar deal with Imageepoch, making them the best candidate for an eventual localization.


Those images belong to Famitsu.com. Please do not delete this website.

Adventures of a Canadian Gamer #36 -- The White Collar Criminal

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By the time any of you see this, Wikipedia will probably be back up and running.  But in case you missed it, Wikipedia (among other sites) chose today (Wednesday, January 18) to black out or otherwise augment their websites to protest against the upcoming SOPA (and the related PIPA) legislation currently being considered in the United States.  Originally, today was to be the date that the SOPA hearings would resume, until they cancelled it.

I wasn't even going to acknowledge it.  I had a different article in mind for today, but then something was said in a blog that pissed me off.  Go ahead, take a look.  I can wait.

Can you believe the gall?  It's not enough that the MPAA pretends to care about the Internet when it's clear that all they care about is their own bottom line (and even then, I doubt that they're really hurting economically, despite the recession).  But then to claim that these companies, the ones that staged blackouts to raise awareness of the controversial bill, are unwilling to come to the table and talk about it?  Bullshit!  They wanted to come to the fucking table, and weren't even allowed to set foot in the room!  Figuratively speaking, I mean.  From the sounds of it, they might've been allowed to show up, but you can bet that none of them were allowed to speak up.  I guess the MPAA's idea of "meaningful efforts to combat piracy" is for us to roll over and take it up the ass from SOPA.

I think what angered me the most about this post were the words "foreign criminals".  I, being Canadian, wonder if I'm one of those "foreign criminals" they're talking about.  I mean, I am a foreigner.  And I like television made in the United States and broadcast in the United States.  But there are Canadian re-broadcasters who pick up most of the good stuff so that I can watch it.  And most Canadian cable companies also offer the major US networks on basic cable.  The local one does, at least.  And there are even premium Canadian channels that re-broadcast content from premium US networks.

So if I want to watch a recent episode of White Collar on demand, I can always just go to the USA Network's website to watch it th- wait, no, it only streams to the United States.  Okay, Hulu's got some episodes too.  Ulp, no, not allowed to access it either.  Oh, but I can watch their archive of Super Bowl commercials just fine.  Hey, Hulu?  Thanks for advertising stuff to me.  Now give me the damn shows that those ads pay for, okay?  And while we're on the subject, your line about being committed to bringing your content to international users is also bullshit.  Your site's been saying that for years.  If you were really trying to navigate the international copyright hurdles, there'd be more progress than just cornering the Japanese market by now, wouldn't you think?

Okay, maybe I should try Amazon.com for the episodes... except that the last time I purchased a DVD that came with a limited on-line streaming option, I was not allowed to watch the on-line stream.  This despite having purchased the DVD.  But because I'm in Canada, apparently I'm allowed to watch the DVD but not an on-line stream of the exact same damn movie.  In fact, it's right there in the terms of service that they only let Americans purchase and watch streaming content, even though a hard copy of that content can be purchased by Canadians.

You can see I'm running out of options.  I mean, I suppose there's also iTunes, but I can't even access their store to see what they are willing to sell to Canadians without downloading special software onto my computer first, and I imagine it works best if I also already have an iPod.

Well, at least there are Canadian re-broadcasters, right?  And White Collar is a pretty popular show for USA, so surely someone in Canada is willing to show it?  Nope.  After season one only partially aired on Bravo, it was dropped like a sack of bricks and no one else in Canada has aired it since.

In other words, the only option that I, as a Canadian, has to watch a recent episode of White Collar is to pirate it.  Pirate Bay, here I come!  And so I guess I am a "foreign criminal" after all.  But don't you think that this situation is a little ridiculous?  I mean, Americans have access to plenty of legal and legitimate options that are either free or come with a price, to access shows like White Collar.  But if you live across some imaginary line someone drew on a map, you're suddenly not allowed to even sniff in the same direction as the show you want to watch.  It's impossible to watch it on television here, and it's illegal to "steal" a copy on-line... you might as well just pass the It's Illegal To Be A Canadian And Watch Our Television bill.

Of course, I could instead wait up to a full year in order to purchase the DVDs, which (miracle of miracles) I'm allowed to buy.  Or I could also wait to see if maybe another Canadian re-broadcaster does eventually decide out of the kindness of their hearts to pick up White Collar from the beginning.  Because I'll confess, I've only legally seen one episode of the show.  And there's little comfort in knowing that, if no one picks up the show in your country, your only two options are to wait an unspecified amount of time at the whims of some corporate executive controlling the flow of DVDs, or to pirate the episodes shortly after they're broadcast.

Major shows like CSI: New York and Bones, which are re-broadcast in Canada, are also available for a short time on the websites of the Canadian re-broadcasters.  If I miss one of those shows, I at least still have options.  But it's not a perfect solution.  I still cannot purchase these shows legally until the DVDs come out, and might never have legal access to the digital copies unless I were to move to the United States.

I don't blame the MPAA for thinking that foreigners are criminals.  But foreigners aren't exactly being given any alternate options here.  Show me that I am allowed to purchase the recent episodes of the aforementioned White Collar without having to wait for the DVDs, and I'll concede my point, which is that I am forced to pirate the show if I want to see it in a timely manner.  There are shows that I would pay money for if I was allowed to do so!  It's like they've denied us access to the ticket gate for a major concert, and then made it illegal to hear what's going on from the outside.  Or better yet, we're not allowed to purchase an air license, and they can't understand why we still are illegally breathing all the time.  We'd pay for the air, but you're not letting us.

The bill is effectively handing over the entire Internet to a couple United States corporations and the court system that serves them.  They will own it whether we like it or not, and I'm not sure I want the Internet to fall under the jurisdiction of a country who knows how to finish other people's fights, but doesn't know how to pick their own.  And yet I believe that this isn't what SOPA is really designed to do.

I just know that the first thing that they're going to do once they have SOPA (or something very similar) in place is to remove access to any anti-SOPA website and article on the Internet.  The bill is designed to make it relatively simple to do this.  Once any and all anti-SOPA sentiment is removed from public consciousness, the next thing they'll do is black any website they deem disadvantageous to themselves.  Opponents to the RIAA?  Gone.  Someone who posts, say, a poor review of the latest big budget blockbuster?  Gone.  Anyone who tries to raise awareness that this is happening?  Gone.

Yes, that last paragraph is alarmist, but you have to admit that the possibility is scary but real.  Maybe it doesn't sound realistic, but I'd rather not take the chance.  Better to believe such a future is possible but the bill fails, than for it to succeed and find out for sure.

Video of the Week

None this week.  For I severely doubt that there'd be a YouTube left if SOPA passes.

Currently Playing: White Knight Chronicles (PS3)

Is it just me, or did Level-5 have their optimistic pants on when they created this game?  I mean, I've played games like Final Fantasy XII and Ragnarok DS that are little more than MMORPGs without the on-line element to them.  But White Knight Chronicles was designed to be an MMORPG disguised as an off-line game with on-line elements.  In order to raise your Guild Rank, for instance, you either have to buff up your custom character well beyond the recommended minimum level for even the lowest ranked quests, or join other players and co-op the quests.  An elevated guild level is required to expand your Georama beyond its fifth level, and a fully expanded Georama is required if you want to do anything truly meaningful with the feature.  Plus, many items you can use in the Georama are available for purchase as DLC!  I wonder how many people actually bought these items.

Sure, you can solo the quests, but it's suicide unless your custom character is built like a tank.  The very first quest you can take ends with two boss monsters fighting you at once, and they can literally tag team you if you're not careful.  Attacks have the potential to knock you down in White Knight Chronicles, which disrupts your ability to take your turn.  Plus, it takes more than a few seconds to get back up again.  So one of the two boss monsters hits you with an attack that knocks you down, and then when you're almost back up to try to land your attack, the other creature hits you with the same attack and down you go again.  Then the first one is ready for another go and as soon as you're almost back on your feet, he'll hit you with the same technique.  Rinse and repeat until even a character at full strength is dead.

Running away doesn't help either.  The game takes great pains to inform you when you're out of range of the enemy.  You practically have to be right on top of it, but your enemy has no such limit.  I've been well away from enemies that have still managed to land melee hits on me.

I am playing the original version, not the remade version that shipped with the sequel.  For all I know, it could be improved quite a bit over this version, but I don't know that I have much incentive to purchase the sequel when the first one wasn't all that great to begin with.  It doesn't help that they don't have an official English website that they could be using to promote it.

Atlus' New Game Has a Lanser

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And it’s a Growlanser! Good news, Growlanser fans, because Growlanser IV was indeed the game Atlus USA was teasing.


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But it’s a pity for them that the game was leaked before they could play with their fan base a little more through mind games. Though videogameplus.ca is currently the newest victim crippled by the recent string of websites being hacked, someone surfing the site noticed they had a game called Growlanser: Wayfarer of Time listed. It was subsequently spotted on EB Games and Gamestop’s website. Atlus realized the cat was out of the bag and officially confirmed the PSP version of Growlanser IV was making its way over.

 

Growlanser IV: Wayfarer of Time originally released on PS2 back in December 2003 in Japan, but it received an enhanced port for PSP in Japan in August 2011 under the name Growlanser IV: Over Reloaded. Atlus USA decided to use the PS2 version’s subtitle because they actually have a clue, and it actually makes some sense. The “IV” was dropped because it’s been so long since we’ve received a game in the franchise. The PSP version adds new event scenes and story routes, a bunch of new characters, and includes over 40 endings. There’s also a mode where you can see precisely how many endings you’ve obtained. You could say that it’s “Over Reloaded” with new features!

 

Interestingly, this is also the fourth Growlanser game to release outside of Japan, following II and III from Working Designs (their last games before folding), and Growlanser (V): Heritage of War from Atlus USA (which reportedly had disastrous sales). The commonality among those games is that they’re all regarded as the least impressive games in the franchise, especially V. Unfortunately, the first Growlanser game has missed our shores twice, on PSX and PSP. Considering how the PSP is doing in the current market, and how much text this game has -- as in, it has one of the biggest scripts from a game in Atlus USA’s localization history -- this is a pretty huge risk. It’s a much bigger one than Gungnir, in fact.


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But Atlus realizes this, which is why they had to make some concessions. Despite a good portion of the Japanese version having voice acting throughout the game, the English version will only have that in the anime cut scenes. And no, there’s no choice of Japanese voice acting due to licensing issues. This is a shame, but it was this or nothing at all, especially if they wanted to sell it at $30.

 

Some of the previous Growlanser games have been full on strategy/RPGs, but Wayfarer of Time is a little different in that it’s a traditional JRPG that allows for free movement through towns and dungeons, but with SRPG-style battles. If there’s a game it could be closely compared to, it’s The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky.  When it eventually releases, it will be the best game in the franchise to be localized. Well, unless fans are wrong, but they’re likely right.

 

Growlanser: Wayfarer of Time releases on July 24th, 2012, and its localization proves that when localization companies compete with each other, we end up winning.

Street Fighter x Tekken Gets Some Familiar Characters

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It’s been a good while since we’ve had a collection of character unveils for Street Fighter x Tekken; since its showing at Tokyo Game Show in mid-September, in fact. After saying nothing for a good while, some began suspecting that Capcom was done with reveals and decided to hold some character back to sell as DLC shortly after the game released. No one would be surprised if that was the case considering their overall business plans these days, but today confirmed that this isn’t quite the case.

 

(“Quite the case” meaning they still had some characters left to reveal, not that there won’t be any post-game DLC characters. It would be a shock if there weren’t.)

 

Though Capcom refrained from revealing too many new characters for four months aside from Rufus and Asuka Kazama, it turns out they were saving these for, well, some incidental day in mid-January. It’s a rather peculiar turn of events. The itinerary today was to not only show worthwhile gameplay footage for the two aforementioned characters, but to reveal a whooping six more. For the Street Fighter side, the game’s adding Balrog, Vega and Juri -- all of which are right out of the Street Fighter IV games, making for easy asset reuse. Balrog and Vega don’t look too different from the limited gameplay footage shown of them in the trailer, but Juri looks slightly retooled. That’s good, because she’s an endearingly hammy villain, but her potential in battle was limited in the SFIV games.

 

Meanwhile, the Tekken side gets Paul Phoenix, Marshall Law, and Ling Xiaoyu.  All of them look better than other Tekken characters that made a bizarre transition into SFIV’s art style (especially Nina Williams). Paul has his unblockable attack from the Tekken games as his super here, which makes sense. Law has a few moves that are reminiscent of Fei Long’s, who is rumored not to be in this game. That means you’re not going to get one of your dream matches, which is criminal. Considering how popular they are, the fact that Paul and Law haven’t been shown until now is pretty amazing. Meanwhile, there isn’t a substantial amount of Xiaoyu shown, but her character model looks similar to her Tekken counterpart. They’ll probably show more when they reveal her partner.


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The question as to who Xiaoyu and Juri’s partners are has probably already been answered in this pretty beautiful CG video that, in addition to the two ladies, features Jin and M. Bison. This is actually one of the best CG videos they’ve put out for this game, and it, shockingly enough, doesn’t entirely consist of Tekken characters mopping the floor with Street Fighters. Though it’ similar to the other SFxTK CG videos in that the music choice leaves something to be desired. They’re holding off the gameplay for Jin and Bison until sometime in the future, though the latter will likely play just like his SFIV counterpart.

 

Also, if you watched the gameplay video until the end, it very likely confirmed the rumor that Pac-Man and Mega Man will be playable characters in this game. Unfortunately for some of you, it’s apparently bad box art Mega Man. He was to make his gameplay debut in Mega Man Universe, but that was before Capcom’s execs decided they hated Mega Man and cancelled every game he was in. You can take the inclusion of his oft-mocked iteration as another troll from Capcom to the franchise’s fans.

 

Meanwhile, if you didn’t lose interest after the truly outrageous Gems fiasco, the game is still due for release on March 6th. Unfortunately for you and Capcom (depending on your perspective), every publisher plans on releasing something on that day, for some silly reason. Capcom has their work cut out for them in terms of marketing.

PSP in 2012: The Final Options (Update: One More Option)

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No, the title you see above isn’t a lie: there are still PSP games releasing in 2012. Four of us may have taken part in a feature describing out favorite games on the platform, but it’s not quite over yet. We’re at the point where even some niche gamers, who have stuck with the system throughout its tumultuous “dying” period outside Japan, have written off the platform. But that doesn’t mean every western publisher has followed suit; PSP software still makes a modicum of cash for some smaller publishers, though some of them are admittedly taking sizable risks.


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Hakuouki: Demon of the Fleeting Blossom | Aksys Games | February 14th

 

Publisher Aksys Games posted a survey to gauge interest in otome games  in the middle of 2010 -- games that fall within the visual novel genre that involve a female protagonist romancing guys. Hakuouki: Demon of the Fleeting Blossom’s localization was the result of that, a text-heavy game Aksys believes is a worthy risk for a good cause. Hakuouki takes place near the end of Japan’s Edo period, a time where an honorable samurai organization known as the Shinsengumi rose to prominence. The main character of the game is Chizuru Yukimura, who comes to Kyoto in search of her father. However, she finds herself involved in peril, leading the Sinsengumi (who shares a similar goal with Chizuru) to place her under protection. So yes, she’ll be pursuing one of them as a love interest.

 

If that sounds interesting to you, it’s releasing right on Valentine’s Day with in both standard and limited edition forms for $29.99 and $39.99, respectively.


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Grand Knights History | Vanillaware/XSeed Games | (probably not) February 21st

 

 For a while, things looked bleak for anyone hoping Vanillaware’s traditional PSP RPG would receive a professional English translation. XSeed, however, saved it from languishing only in Japan.

 

Grand Knights History lets players fight for one of three kingdoms (seemingly without the romance), and you’re allowed to create four characters from the ground up from three different classes (knight, mage, and archer). Skills your characters learn are the result of decisions you make throughout the game. The story is advanced after the player takes on quests available throughout the game’s world. As more are completed, more parts of the world reveal themselves. It also has an online mode where players can represent one kingdom to take on another faction.

 

Amazon.com has it down for February 21st (the day before the Vita launch), but XSeed hasn’t confirmed that date themselves. Given how close we are to that date, it probably won’t launch on that day. The rest of the Trails in the Sky trilogy might be a lost cause, but you have to appreciate when a company takes a risk like this.


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Black Rock Shooter | Imageepoch/NIS America | Sometime in the future

 

Despite NIS America president Haru Akenaga previously saying the company had no intention of bringing over any Imageepoch-developed PSP game, they went against their word and announced Black Rock Shooter for western territories. Here we have a turn-based JRPG that occurs in an alternate universe to the anime OVA. The protagonist is named, er, Black Rock Shooter, an android tasked with saving the Earth. But she awakes in the year 2032, when only twelve humans are left on the planet. The game shares the same development team within Imageepoch as Last Ranker, which was co-developed and published by Capcom Japan; and their western establishments couldn’t be bothered to localize it.

 

NIS announced this game a good while ago, but they haven’t said anything about since a poll was held to bring the limited edition from Japan to America. It’s probably still coming, so stay tuned.


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Gungnir | Sting/Atlus USA | June 12th

 

At the tail end of last year, Atlus USA began the very sadistic tease of an SRPG for PSP. Many guessed Gungnir, but some were holding out hope for Growlanser IV. Turns out it was Gungnir after all! And Growlanser fans wept.

 

Anyway, Gungnir is the fourth title in the Department Heaven series from developer Sting. It’s a traditional SRPG that’s notable for being, well, a traditional SRPG; this is Sting really working against the grain, as they’re a company accustomed to adding a plethora of mechanics and subsystems to many games they develop. This game doesn’t have much of that, which could make it approachable. It could also make the game feel rudimentary, but we’ll see soon enough.

 

It should be noted that Atlus USA is teasing another game whose name begins with “G.” They said they would tease it again in “2012,” which could be December 2012 for all we know.


Update: But wait! There's more!


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Major League Baseball 2K12 | Visual Concepts/2K Games | March 6th


Major League Baseball 2K12 may be hitting the big HD consoles, but the baseball "hit" is also being ported to PSP. How does the PSP version differ? Is it even being done internally at Visual Concepts? Well, who knows. We'll just have to wait and see what the, oh, three potential customers for this version think of the port. My guess is that it will be a port of the Wii version, just like the PS2 version. It also has the high probability of being a bad port. Meanwhile, Sony themselves isn't even bothering with MLB: The Show on PSP this year, since the franchise is making its debut on Vita.

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Growlanser: Wayfarer of Time | Career Soft/Atlus | July 24th

In a shocking twist, it turned out everyone who figured Atlus USA was teasing both Gungnir and Growlanser IV for PSP during their first "game" was correct. Though they clearly weren't planning on revealing it yet, their hand was forced when some retailers leaked its existence. Though they had to make a few compromises to get the game over here, it's worth it due to the system's status and its pretty lengthy script. Hopefully it sells better than Heritage of War did on PS2.

 

This will be the final year for PSP in all territories. Though there aren’t any big titles left, there are quite a few smaller ones that we’ll likely never see. The majority of teams that worked on PSP games are in the midst of migrating too…well, it’s looking like they’re going to 3DS. That’s not good for the PSP’s successor. Though the current narrative is “Vita is to PSP as PS3 was to PS2” (i.e. an in-name-only sequel), you never know what could happen.


PSP: Remember the Contender -- Joseph's Choices

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For a while, it looked like no one could break Nintendo's hold on the handheld market.  Other companies had tried and failed, often with superior hardware; Nintendo had superior software, superior battery life, and often a superior price point as well.  The Nintendo Game Boy was launched at half the price the Atari Lynx was, for example.  It's not hard to see why Nintendo constantly won.

Companies like Nokia came along and figured that if a straight game device wouldn't fly, maybe a few bells and whistles would help.  However, no one wanted a cell phone that also played games.  Not until Apple entered the market.

Along came Sony, a veteran at upsetting the gaming market in one way or another, to try to pull another upset on Nintendo by dethroning their Game Boy line.  If anyone could do it, it was Sony.  Of course, they would need good hardware and software in order to have a chance at this.  While their hardware wasn't perfect, their software line-up was solid.  Titles like:

Brave Story cover.jpgBrave Story: New Traveler
Developer: Game Republic
Publisher: XSEED Games
Genre: Traditional RPG
Release Year: 2007


Okay, the game starts a little silly, and tries to make you care for a character that only shows up for about two minutes on screen.  However, once it gets going, it's a very rewarding experience.

The game tells the story of an ordinary boy, supposedly from the real world but you don't really get a good sense of that either.  He finds himself drawn into a world of fantasy and he must embark on a quest in the fantasy world to restore his best friend's health in the real world.  Sure, it feels and plays like a generic turn-based RPG, but the game's whole is far greater than the sum of its parts.  Although you could probably get the same experience from any number of turn-based RPGs available on the market, Brave Story is well worth a try.  With endearing characters, an environment that makes full use of the PSP's colour palette, and music that is better than many of the DS's RPGs I've played, it's not surprising that this is my favourite game on the system.


Jeanne dArc cover.jpgJeanne d'Arc
Developer: Level-5
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Genre: Tactical RPG
Release Year: 2007


One of the earliest tactical RPGs for the PSP, Jeanne d'Arc takes inspiration from actual events that occurred in France in the 15th Century.  But inspiration was all the game took.  While actual names and events were referenced, the developer chose to craft a fantasy-style story where demons took over the British, furries helped the French, and Joan of Arc's voice of guidance was a tree rather than God.

Although Level-5 is largely a hit-and-miss company, they had a hit on their hands with Jeanne d'Arc.  More details can be found in my review.


Harvey Birdman PSP cover.jpgHarvey Birdman: Attorney At Law
Developer: High Voltage Software
Publisher: Capcom
Genre: Adventure, Visual Novel
Release Year: 2008


Given what I've been posting to the blog lately, you've probably noticed that I like this kind of game.  Games like this are pretty much one part point-and-click adventure, one part mystery novel and one part Law & Order.

This game was Capcom's attempt to take the formula from their successful Ace Attorney series and use it to bring the popular Adult Swim show to home consoles and to the PSP.  It was arguably much easier to play than Phoenix Wright, but unfortunately for Ace Attorney fans, it wasn't released on the DS.  Sadly, it also didn't light sales charts on fire.  However, given that it's basically Phoenix Wright with a Harvey Birdman skin on it, the game should amuse fans of the Ace Attorney series who don't mind playing it on a PSP.


Sega Genesis Collection cover.jpgSega Genesis Collection
Developer: Digital Eclipse Software
Publisher: Sega
Genre: Compilation
Release Year: 2006


Admit it: you like the idea of taking your favourite Genesis games with you on the go, and if Sony wasn't so adamantly against homebrew, you'd have loaded up an emulator along with a bunch of Sega ROMs on your PSP a long time ago.  Fortunately, Sega came to the rescue with a collection of some of the biggest non-Nintendo games from the late 80's and early 90's.  It's only fitting that Nintendo's biggest competitor in the Game Boy days would release a collection of their best games for Nintendo's biggest competitor in the DS days.  In fact, some of the games in this collection are not available for any handheld device except the PSP.

Sadly, the PSP version resembles more of a market test than an actual software collection.  The home console version was released on the PS3 and the Xbox 360 a little over two years later and contained about 20 more games than the PSP version.  It even included Sonic the Hedgehog 3, which is widely considered the best of the original trilogy.  The PSP version only included the first two.  Still, it's not a bad collection, and with Sega constantly repackaging their games in various bundles and on various platforms, desperately trying to relive their glory days in the process, maybe the PS Vita will receive an expanded collection like the PS3 and Xbox 360 did.


Fifth game?

You know, I'm not sure I can come up with a fifth title.  Counting my list, there are 21 games being hailed as awesome.  But here's the thing: a lot of the titles listed today are remakes, and a couple of titles listed are imports.  Where was all the original software that should've come out for the system?

Part of the problem with the PSP was that, since it didn't defeat the Nintendo DS, it was written off as a failure.  The PSP Go certainly didn't help matters either.  I can't count how much otherwise decent PSP software didn't get released in North America.  At least the system wasn't region locked, so software could be imported.  Games like Breath of Fire III were amazing on the PS1, but PSP users in North America had to buy the port from a European seller who was willing to ship the game over the Atlantic.

Sure, the reasons North America didn't get Breath of Fire III were due to Sony's internal policies on ports, but when big name games don't get released in a major market, people start to wonder why.  It's hard to say if this was the first nail in the coffin for the PSP, considering the DS did fine in North America without Mother 3, but you still have to admit that up until then, it felt like the PSP was doing fine.

Last year, I began to notice an anti-PSP attitude was adopted by some stores (including the one I work at) that used to carry the system.  As if it was an overnight decision, they were suddenly unwilling to stock any more PSP software or hardware.  Not long after, I began to notice a feeling among gamers that the PSP was dead, and this despite the fact that there was still good software being released for the system.  Trouble is, I can't tell if the retailers' wrong-headed decision that the PSP was dead influenced gamers' thoughts about the system, or if the gamers' attitude towards the PSP came first and retailers followed suit.  Yes, GameStop continued to stock the games, but they're the store that keeps their displays full of last generation titles in order to milk as much money out of the used game market as they can.  Of course they won't take down their PSP displays just yet.  However, if you don't have a local GameStop, then you're kinda screwed unless you're willing to shop on-line for your video game fix when your local small retailer refuses to bring something in..

It doesn't matter how successful the PSP was, it seemed like the device was punished severely for not defeating Nintendo.  Even though gamers initially supported it, they eventually treated the device as if it was an N-Gage and shunned it.  Smaller retailers stubbornly refused to acknowledge its existence, hoping it would go away if they ignored it long enough.  And Sony threw their hands up in defeat and designed a new one.  As a result, many games that would've been brought over from Japan weren't.  Even Square-Enix has hesitated regarding their latest portable Final Fantasy game, and this is a series that usually does well in North America.  There is still no release date for us for Type-0 on the PSP, despite the Vita coming out in a little over a month.

I've always maintained that gamers go where the games are, yet the PSP was flung aside like a used condom.  In the end, I cannot compile a full list of games for a system that did not have a full life. Since the PSP was prematurely killed by so-called popular opinion, I am killing my article without providing a fifth example of a good PSP game.

PSP: Remember the Contender

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When the PSP was launched in 2004 in Japan and in 2005 for the West Sony seemed well poised to challenge Nintendo’s longtime domination of the handheld market. After all, Sony was in its prime with strong sales of the PS2. With near PS2-quality graphics on the go the PSP was unstoppable after launch. Sadly, it wasn’t long before reality set in. Marred by a lack of interesting games shortly after launch, software piracy, a lack of new and interesting IP compared to the sheer number of PS1 and PS2 ports and a lack of interest from the majority of Western gamers a few years after launch the PSP certainly didn’t dethrone Nintendo’s hold on the handheld market. In recent years the PSP has found strong footing in Japan while it languished in other territories. Even so, with over 70 million units sold worldwide Sony’s first shot at a handheld was a major success. Here are five games I really enjoyed and recommend.



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Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 Portable

Developer: Atlus | Publisher: Atlus | Genre: Traditional RPG | Release Year: 2010

In 2007 Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 was released on the PS2 and is considered to be one of the best late RPGs of the system. This SMT turn-based RPG dungeon crawler/high school simulator breathed new life into the Persona series. Persona 3 proved to be so popular among fans that an expanded version of the game was released in 2008 and a PSP port was released in 2010. Persona 3 Portable is easily one of the best RPGs on the handheld. Even with Atlus being forced to reduce the high school simulation portion of the game to a visual novel, P3P has just as much depth as the original. Persona 3 Portable gave players the long requested option to choose a gender in an SMT title. Playing as a girl gives the social links and story events an interesting new twist. While it isn’t quite like experiencing a new story the female MC does add value to the overall plot. It doesn’t matter if you already played all or part of the original Persona 3 or the game is completely new to you, Persona 3 Portable is still a fantastic PSP game to own.



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Bleach: Heat the Soul 4
Developer: Eighting | Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment (Japan-only) | Genre: Fighting | Release Year: 2007

Bleach: Shattered Blade
left a lot to be desired when it was released in North America for the Wii in 2007. Fortunately, Bleach: Heat the Soul 4 on the PSP was released in the same year, albeit for Japan-only. Tight controls, well-balanced characters, a variety of fighting styles and flashy special and super attacks are all found in the PSP-only Heat the Soul series. The forth game in this series continued Heat the Soul 3’s tradition of using helper characters. I.e., the ability to select character abilities to aid a fighter in battle. This allowed players to augment their fighter’s abilities with skills they normally didn’t possess. Did you ever wish Ichigo Kurosaki had the ability to heal himself in battle and could cast magic spells as well? No problem! Just select a helper capable of healing and one capable of casting magic and you’re all set! Only two helper characters could be taken into battle but if the two were compatible they could team up for a devastating super attack. A good chunk of Heat the Soul 4’s 51 character cast were only helpers but the combination of different abilities ensured the game never got boring.



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Bleach: Heat the Soul 6
Developer: Eighting | Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment (Japan-only) | Genre: Fighting | Release Year: 2009

Heat the Soul 5 eschewed the tradition of helper characters in favor of a full character tag system akin to Marvel vs. Capcom. Another big change was the mid-battle character transformations instead of selecting a character’s second form before a fight. This means that in addition to tagging out characters players could also use transformations (if a character had them) during fights. Like in Heat the Soul 4 if two characters were compatible with one another they could team up for a special super attack. Bleach: Heat the Soul 6 brought in 74 playable characters and refined the system laid down by the fifth game. The sixth game also brought in highly customizable loadouts options for each character and a tournament mode for players not interested in the game’s story mode. Heat the Soul 6 is a definite must for any fan of BLEACH, even if the game is made more difficult due to the language barrier.



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Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII
Developer: Square Enix | Publisher: Square Enix | Genre: Action RPG | Release Year: 2008

Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII was one of the games I was looking forward to playing on my PSP in 2008. Unlike previous releases in the Final Fantasy VII Compilation, Crisis Core was not a strange sequel in the form of a movie (Advent Children) or an underwhelming third person shooter (Dirge of Cerberus). Instead, the Compilation would play it safe in the form of a prequel covering the exploits of Zack Fair, the man Cloud Strife claimed to be for a good chunk of Final Fantasy VII. FFVII’s materia system returned however it was based around the mechanics of a single character action RPG instead of a full party turn-based game. The materia could be used to augment Zack’s abilities in interesting ways and the DMW (or "Digital Mind Wave") system also added to the soldier’s overall abilities. Missions helped to give players a break from the story, although they could become both difficult and repetitive. As a bonus Crisis Core is still one of the best looking PSP games on the system. Although the Final Fantasy brand has become rather diluted in recent years Crisis Core is still a must for any fan of FFVII.



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Lunar: Silver Star Harmony
Developer: Game Arts, Studio Alex | Publisher: Xseed Games | Genre: Traditional RPG | Release Year: 2010

Since its original release on the Sega Saturn Lunar: The Silver Star has been ported numerous times. In 1998  it was ported to the PS1 under the title Lunar: Silver Star Story. The “Complete” part of the title wouldn’t be added until it was released in North America in 1999 by Working Designs. In 2009 Game Arts ported Silver Star Story to the PSP and it was released by Xseed for North America as Lunar: Silver Star Harmony in 2010. The port featured a playable section from the original five heroes' story, new anime cutscenes, an updated translation and greatly improved voice acting. With the exception a refreshing lack of random battles the game still suffers from many of the game design pitfalls that tend to plague many PS1 RPGs. Ardent fans of new game design may find Lunar’s pacing, the length of the battles (even if they aren’t random) and now overdone plot to be a deal breaker. However, there is plenty for fans of the original game and gamers who don’t mind older style game design to enjoy here. If you love old JRPGs or you’re a fan of Lunar shame on you if you don’t already own Silver Star Harmony.



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Special Mentions: Shin Megami Tensei: Persona and Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 2: Innocent Sin
Developer: Atlus | Publisher: Atlus | Genre: Traditional RPG | Release Year(s): 2009, 2011

I said I was going write about five PSP games (so I lied) but I couldn’t resist writing briefly about the other two Persona ports. I do prefer Persona 3 Portable over both Shin Megami Tensei Persona and Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 2: Innocent Sin as a favorite for the PSP. The latter two games are excellent ports of the PS1 RPGs but the extremely high encounter rates, lack of distraction from constant dungeon crawling, individual battles that drag on for far too long and long load times distract from otherwise fascinating stories and solid traditional turn-based combat. Annoying flaws aside, these PSP releases are easily accessible ways for fans to delve into Persona's past. Just beware, unlike the PS2 Persona games there are no social links or high school simulation sections to be found in the PS1 Persona games. If you’re into the Persona series or you like SMT titles in general I highly recommend these two ports-- for the most part.


The PSP was more or less trounced by the DS in terms of units sold but Sony’s first handheld still had an excellent run. Let’s just hope the PS Vita is just as, if not more successful than its predecessor. Nevertheless, no one will or should forget Sony’s first foray into handheld gaming.

PSP: Remember the contender

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There's been a lot of hating on the PSP. It's considered by many to be an abject failure. All its iterations have been outsold by those of the Nintendo DS by nearly a two-to-one margin. It's even outsold by the original Game Boy family and the Game Boy Advance family. That being said, there's more than 70 million PSPs out there, an installed base that beats the strongest also rans Game Gear by 6.9:1, Lynx by 14:1 and the NeoGeo Pockets by 35:1 (no lifetime sales data available for the WonderSwans). It also beat the lifetime sales of every console ever except the PS2 and the Wii. So yes, the PSP might be the latest in a long line of second-fiddle-to-Nintendo handhelds... but being down 2 to 1 is far and away the best fight anybody has ever put up against the Big N, who, until now, always outsold the competition by at least an order of magnitude.

I know, you don't want me to evaluate the system by sales figures. Well then, how about by great games? All of us here at Damage Control have five of them for you.


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Castlevania: Dracula X Chronicles

Developer: Konami | Publisher: Konami | Genre: Action / Metroidvania | Release year: 2007

There was a bit of discussion amongst the Damage Control writers about whether to allow ports on our lists. The consensus was most of the PSP's ports were so extensively remade, they might as well be new games.

DXC's front and center attraction: A complete rebuilding of Rondo of Blood. And it's amazing. This is worth the price of admission alone. The missing link between classic-style Castlevania and Symphony of the Night that was denied to the world outside of Japan. And even today, it's still one of the best games of the series.

The remastered music is easily the best of all Castlevania games. The backgrounds are beautiful and the polygon models and animations are impressive.

... Not to mention the unlocakable bonuses of the original Rondo and its sequel Symphony of the Night. Symphony is slightly reworked with a retouched script, new voice acting, and the restoration of items removed from the original North American release.


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Final Fantasy Tactics: War of the Lions

Developer: TOSE / Square Enix | Publisher: Square Enix | Genre: Tactical RPG | Release year: 2007

It's Final Fantasy Tactics with Balthier. 'nuff said.

...FINE.

The Lion's War makes Final Fantasy Tactics the game it always should have been. Not to say FFT isn't one of my favorite games of all time as-is. But this remake adds so many extra little things, like spelling. A masterwork retranslation from scratch makes the story sing like never before. Leading Men from other Ivalice Alliance games make cameos as extra party members. Animated cutscenes appear throughout the story. Some new classes with new skills also appear. The game also supports multiplayer for special challenge missions that will require you to use all the overpowered characters you can muster to survive.

I gleefully sold off my PlayStation copy of FFT after playing The Lion's War. That's the way you do a remake: Make the original totally obsolete beyond the ability of nostalgia to save it. This is the way!


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Final Fantsy Dissidia: Duodecim

Developer: Square Enix 1st Production Department | Publisher: Square Enix | Genre: Fighting | Release year: 2011

The first Dissidia was my PSP equivalent to Dragon Quest IX. I felt it was an amazing take on the fighting genre: The fight was settled in a single bout, but that bout was much longer. The controls looked odd on the tin, but proved to be pretty slick in the heat of battle. Each of the 22 characters managed to play differently, a very important goal most first-time fighting games fall short of.

Dissidia Duodecim is essentially an expansion pack for the first game. All the old characters, costumes, arenas, music and story are still here. Added to the mix are Lighting, Vann, Yuna, Tifa, Laguna, Kain and Gilgamesh and Prishe (from FF XI), their costumes, music and arenas. The story is doubled in length (but sadly is still the weak link). And a new world map is added to boost the Final Fantasy-ness of the gameplay.

New winkles to fighting are also added, but they are as natural to use as the original controls.

Dissidia remains a unique and very good fighting game experience. If you can suffer through the extra story, Duodecim is its ultimate version. This is a rare instance when the first game of a series becomes completely unnecessary. A new game in the series is likely for the Vita, but with Duodecim's sharp drop in North American sales from the first version, it might not see the light of translation.


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What Did I Do to Deserve This, My Lord? 2

Developer: Acquire | Publisher: Nippon Ichi Software | Genre: Simulation | Release year: 2009

The series formerly known as Holy Invasion of Privacy, Badman! is my most quirky pick. A dark lord looking to kill off dungeon diving heroes employes the player to dig a labyrinth and populate it with monsters. It's easier said than done.

Skill and precision are needed to build the monster ecosystem and replenish it after every battle. You continue to use the same dungeon to fend off several hero attacks in a row. If you are not careful, your nutrients and food chain will be too disrupted to last through each endurance rush. Adding to the trouble are your limited supply of "digs" which are used to carve paths, spawn monsters and upgrade said minions. They are only partially replenished each round, and the amount of replenishment depends on your performance defending the dungeon.

The game has many nuanced interactions, as well as new tricks to spring on you the further you go. It will take many tries to clear it, but that's the point of simulation games. Steady improvement and perseverance are the order of the day. Refine your technique like you would in Sim City. If you need something a tad less complex to cut your teeth on, the first game is included on the UMD.

Like all of NIS's games, What Did I Do to Deserve This, My Lord? features tons of snarky jokes about fantasy and RPG tropes. Be sure to check the monster almanac for even more one-liners.


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Half-Minute Hero

Developer: Marvelous Entertainment | Publisher: XSEED Games | Genre: Action RPG | Release year: 2009

Half-Minute Hero is one of the best games I beat this year.

It tells (5) funny tales while skillfully reducing the traditional RPG formula to its fast-paced essentials. The key is it piles so many different 30-second RPGS (and shooters and RTSes and so on), finally culminating in a 300-second grand finale bringing all the characters from various modes together.

The old-school sprite graphics fit the farcical nature of the game well. The two-dimensional perspective adds to the speed of the game.

It can be difficult to describe the whole process clearly, so here's me embracing the lazy by posting a gameplay video:

PSP: Remember the Contender -- Geoff's Choices

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The PSP lied within the DS’ shadow throughout its time on the market, especially outside of Japan. It’s why the title “the contender” is apt; despite the plethora of potential that lied within undoubtedly more powerful hardware, Sony never amassed the number of first or third-party support that Nintendo provided, especially the former. But that doesn’t undermine the fact that the PSP provided an excellent lineup of games. It earned its place as one of the best non-Nintendo handhelds to ever grace the market, an honor only the Neo Geo Pocket Color came within distance of. It may have had plenty of ports and remakes (putting the “port” in “Portable”), but they shouldn’t be discounted as good games.

 

Though it remains alive in Japan amidst Sony slowly making the attempt to transfer its developers and userbase to Playstation Vita, it hasn’t been in good shape in the west since early 2009. That means you might have missed some games, if you’re reading this.

 

To commemorate the good software it’s provided, here are five of my favorite games on the system.


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1. Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together

 

Someone within Square Enix had the idea of bringing the old Quest team back to make a definitive version of the first Tactics Ogre title, a game commonly referred to as the spiritual predecessor to Final Fantasy Tactics. Though some staffers switched positions -- notably Yasumi Matsuno, who had departed Square Enix after the Final Fantasy XII fiasco -- the game turned out to be one of the best remakes not only released in 2011, but one of the best period.

 

It’s a game whose development entailed not changing anything that didn’t need fixing, along with updating some old school systems to modern day standards. It’s more accessible, though it’s still a game that requires thinking and patience to persevere. It added a feature known as “The World,” which let players experience the story differences in every path without replaying it multiple times. That’s good, because it includes one of the best politically-fueled stories in any game around, all accompanied by a translation from the always-excellent Kajiya Productions. It may not be a brand new game, but I couldn’t let that stop me from listing it as one of my favorites on the system.


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2. Ys Seven

 

The second game on this list was a toss-up between Ys Seven or Ys: The Oath in Felghana. Oath is slightly better, but the former was a brand new title built from the ground up for PSP, making it the winner.

 

The game itself also qualifies as a winner, as I haven’t played a better original action/RPG on the system. Ys Seven pits commonplace protagonist Adol Christin against more mysterious forces, but Seven lets him always depend on help from his comrades due to a three-party system. You can switch between three members at any time, many of which have different weapons and attributes. Hopefully you can forgive the game for being too wordy at times, or you’d be missing out on the enjoyable dungeons, tough bosses, fantastic music, and a beautiful color palette.

 

Yes, I was also trying to say that you should play Oath, too.


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3. Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker

 

Metal Gear Solid 4 was disappointing enough to burn a lot of fans on the franchise. Hideo Kojima fortunately realized this, which led to the development of Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker. Kojima Productions decided to make a follow up to the fan favorite of the franchise, Metal Gear Solid 3. It was a sequel much more substantial than one that was barely a sequel like Portable Ops.

 

Though Peace Walker didn’t have a number attached to it, it was still a mainline game. It was also nearly as enjoyable as MGS3, despite having a different approach than most MGS games before it. The game had a mission-based structure to make it more portable friendly. The soldier recruitment from PO returned, but was made into less of a tedious exercise. The story, which chronicled Naked Snake’s rise to the man we know as Big Boss, may not have been averse to some of Kojima’s trademark silliness, but it was far better than what MGS4 offered.

 

The PSP, however, didn’t have the best controls for the game. These days, you’re more likely to spring for the HD version so you can use the second analog stick. But the game came into existence on PSP, so it fits this feature.


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4. Star Ocean: Second Evolution

 

The PSP version of the second Star Ocean game has a few similarities to the aforementioned Tactics Ogre. Though the original development team wasn’t behind it -- heck, Tri-Ace wasn’t even involved with it -- it utilizes the same sprites as the original PSOne game (Star Ocean: The Second Story), and contains enough new features that it blurs the line between “port” and “remake.” I have fond memories of the PSOne version, and the PSP version made them fonder.

 

The western version is notable for fixing the numerous, glaring text translation issues from Sony’s inept PSOne localization, along with excising the terrible voice acting to replace them with talented individuals. Good thing, too, since nearly the entire game is voice acted. The game also has an enhanced battle system that makes some of the original version’s abrupt difficulty spikes easier to deal with. Given the plethora of options available to the player, it’s easily recommended for fans of JRPGs.


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5. Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep

 

Despite looking splendid, it was uncertain as to how Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep was going to be received among critics and gamers. It was, after all, developed by a team full of members new to both Kingdom Hearts and game development in Square Enix Osaka. It’s on this list, so you probably already know the result. Though it’s not quite on Ys Seven’s level in terms of superlative action/RPGs developed from the ground up for PSP, BbS is second best. It’s also the best KH game in the franchise.

 

BbS shows how everything began in the KH universe, featuring the original three Keyblade masters as its protagonists. No longer does KH’s gameplay degenerate into a mindless button masher, as this game’s battles force you to use more strategy to defeat enemies. More options are also given to the character you control, since this game has no party members. The game also takes place before a time when the story got way out of hand. You may not understand exactly everything that’s going on if it’s your first KH game, but most gamers who have played every game thus far don’t either.

 

The PSP has been one of the last bastions for niche Japanese gaming for quite a few years now, and they’ve made titles that by all means should be played by everyone who owns the system. Though it’s faded from relevancy in the west, there are still good games releasing for it in 2012. It won’t continue for much longer, but it was good while it lasted. The Playstation Vita is going to have a rough start in every territory, and it’s likely that its lineup will never come to match the PSPs.

CSI: Deadly Intent -- (Too Much) Magic Bus

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And then the other shoe dropped.

I suppose it was too much to ask that all of Ubisoft’s own developed games are good, because that’s not the case.  Sometimes, though, I don’t really blame them.  When you’re making a video game based on an on-going franchise, I imagine sometimes a game ends up being rushed out the door, warts and all.

Starting with season eight of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, some of the regular cast members have started to leave the show, and they’re losing another one in less than a month.  I wonder if there’s something they know that I don’t.

At any rate, you can imagine a fluid, changing cast list can make the development of CSI games even harder than the development of another Assassin’s Creed game.  It might explain why there’s only one CSI: Miami game: the show turned into a revolving door of cast members at the start of season 3 with the death of Tim Speedle.  And although CSI: New York has had a more stable cast list, there’s only one game based on that show, too.

So how good is Deadly Intent, anyway?  I suppose if you like CSI games, you’ll probably like this one, but it seemed to me like there was something missing.  Something... like it didn’t have that CSI spark to it; it just didn’t feel like it was quite up to the standards of the television show.

And yet everything that was wrong about the previous game, this game corrected.  For once, you could use the D-pad to select items on the screen.  You still had to move the cursor over the screen to search for clues, but dialogue options during interrogations and witness interviews could finally be selected via D-pad, and the cursor would automatically jump to each one.  It only really saved a second or two over the previous system, but it helped to make the game feel like it had better controls.

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I'm so nervous, I just sit and smile

The changed dialogue interface was but one thing that got a complete overhaul.  In fact, it’s like Deadly Intent rebuilt everything from the ground up.  Character models were more detailed and resembled the actual actors a lot closer than in Hard Evidence.  But the biggest change to the game was the lab, which was completely remodelled and split into two.

Starting with Deadly Intent, the Materials Lab handled everything from DNA to chemical analysis, from the microscopic to the macroscopic.  Everything tangible could be worked with.  Not only that, but material analysis actually brought with it a sense of interactivity.  Instead of the game handing you everything, you had to work with the evidence even after it was analyzed.  For example, when analyzing chemicals, the computer offered different substances after showing you the chemical’s spectral analysis, and you had to choose which substances combined to form the chemical, and then the computer told you if you were correct.

I mentioned two halves to the lab.  Everything involving databases was made available in the Data Lab.  If you needed to analyze a fingerprint, or if you had an audio or video file that needed checking, that happened in the Data Lab.  And speaking of, even the fingerprint search was improved.  If you had a partial fingerprint, instead of just searching and having the computer do all the work, you had to prepare the fingerprint first by selecting five interesting areas on the print, called “minutiae”.  After selecting up to five unique parts of the fingerprint which might help narrow the search for a match in the database, the computer would return a few results.  Then, the partial needed to be matched with a full fingerprint if possible.  That and other such enhancements to evidence analysis made Deadly Intent much more interactive than Hard Evidence.

Along with the extra emphasis on lab work, the game featured a new rating system which graded you based on your performance in three areas: your skill in using the lab (if you made a mistake, your rating decreased, but fortunately you didn’t destroy evidence in the process), your thoroughness in exploring the scene of the crime and any areas related to the investigation, and your cunning when using evidence to acquire warrants and prove guilt.  You see, it was not enough to have Captain Brass automatically notice that there was enough evidence for a warrant anymore.  In Deadly Intent, you had to show him what you had and if he agreed that it was enough, you could bring a suspect in or search their property.

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You'll be an inspector, have no fear

Despite that there was a higher degree of interactivity in Deadly Intent, I still got the impression that it was an inferior game when compared to Hard Evidence.  I don’t know why.  Maybe the crimes weren’t as... well written?  I don’t know.  Maybe I was disappointed that the only link that the fifth case had to the first four was that a major character in the fifth case was seen for a moment or two in an earlier case.

I should probably mention that I’ve played all three of the Xbox 360 CSI games, and so I am aware that there was something this game tried to do and failed.  During the game, when you found a piece of evidence on the field, it was supposed to show up for a moment in the centre of the screen accompanied by a sound effect, as if the game was acknowledging that you found some evidence and that it was sent to the lab.  However, all you got most of the time was a momentary flash on the screen along with the sound effect.  The game froze up for a moment while the evidence was supposed to show itself off and disappear, and then you regained control.

I don’t know.  Maybe it was the aesthetics.  Maybe it was the writing.  I just... this game was superior to Hard Evidence in control and in gameplay, and yet I didn’t like it as much.  Sure, there was a lack of polish, but I can’t otherwise explain why I didn’t like it.


All images borrowed from xbox.com

The Real XCOM

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Fans of XCOM and turn-based strategy titles in general had something to rejoice about last week, especially those who were still miffed about the first-person shooter reboot. Though they already had Xenonauts to cheer about (which, sadly, didn’t make its originally promised 2011 release date), the original franchise is getting a new installment in XCOM: Enemy Unknown for PC, Xbox 360, and Playstation 3. There aren’t many details known publically at the moment (well, not that I could talk about without violating some copyright ethic) since it’s the cover feature for February’s Game Informer, but we do know that it’s being developed by Firaxis of Sid Meier’s Civilization Revolution. Given how that game turned out and sold, this is a good combination.

 

But there’s a cause for concern here. The head of 2K Games’ consumer division, who heavily defended the FPS reboot (and with some silly acronyms to boot), said it happened because he doesn’t think a turn-based strategy game will sell in the current market. The problem is, it might be true. We’re in a market that’s continuously changing, one that’s remarkably different even from one we saw even in 2008 (when Civilization Revolution released). But there’s something about statements like the aforementioned one that by all means should rub people who like variety the wrong way, so hopefully this game’s success proves him wrong. If it’s successful.

 

(We can also define “successful” as outselling the FPS reboot. A lot of fans would be happy about that.)


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There are also people who saw screens and immediately assumed it was an Xbox Live Arcade game because of its lacking graphical fidelity. This is an unfortunate attitude to see, but it’s an all-too-common one among a specific subset of the gaming audience. The majority of strategy games you see these days are either released digitally or at retail for dedicated handhelds -- and even that’s starting to change. But there’s the chance that the dearth of turn-based strategy titles on consoles could work in this game’s favor. If it’s not successful on consoles, though, there’s always a good chance that it will do fine on PC. Most fans of the old games are PC gamers, after all.

 

If there is one concern fans legitimately have, it’s that the screen shots don’t depict a harrowing atmosphere akin to what was seen in the older games. Some of the screens in the GI issue might depict this, but it’s a little tough to tell with how small some of them are. We’ll be able to tell when more full resolution screens are distributed in a matter of weeks. It does have fog of war, though, which you Advance Wars and Fire Emblem fans should love. And it’s possible it might be harrowing anyway due to it being more difficult than many other strategy games, if the developers are to be believed.

 

If this game does well on the market, it will be certifiable proof that there are fans of turn-based strategy games on consoles -- one that could be an untapped niche at the moment. And hopefully that’s precisely what happens, because good lord do we need more variety on the market, especially on HD consoles. The game is due for release sometime this fall, and hopefully it doesn’t release during one of the more crowded months of the holiday season.


Anyway, make sure you see more at Game Informer website.

Final Fantasy XIII-2 Demo Impressions: Dynamic Action

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Hearing that a Final Fantasy XIII-2 demo was on the way made me happy that I’d get to try out a game I’m looking forward to early, enthusiasm that soon dissipated upon realizing how good RPG demos tend to be (i.e. not very good). Given the polarizing reception to Final Fantasy XIII -- something concretely reflected through XIII-2’s Japanese sales a few weeks ago -- a XIII-2 demo could be the last hope for sales from people who weren’t fans of it. Whether you’ll like it depends on what you liked and didn’t like about XIII, but the demo shows how the development team has listened to the criticism they received.

 

Upon starting it, you’ll notice NPCs scattered around Bresha Ruins you can actually initiate a conversation with now. These are denoted by speech bubbles above their heads, meaning some will still speak what’s on their mind as you stroll by them or carry on conversations with someone else. The areas themselves are also far more open, meaning the game overall should have a less on-rails feel, if it’s a representation of the entire game (and this seems to be the case). Throughout the demo, you’ll hear dialogue from a girl named Alyssa, whose comments are mostly innocuous.

 

The battle system is the same, but there are a few changes surrounding the approach to them. Random battles return, but shortly before engaging a group of enemies, you’ll have the opportunity attack for a preemptive strike. Manual strikes work much better than XIII’s approach, where it was a hit or miss depending on the precise angle your character was in when running headfirst into the intended opponent. Your most common third member of the party will be a monster, some of which you can add to the battle team after you defeat them for different Paradigms. The demo isn’t robust enough to say whether I prefer them over having a concrete third member (nor should it be), so I’ll wait until the main game releases to judge.


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You’re also free to mess with the Crystarium to level up Noel, Serah, and the monsters you’ve obtained. Noel and Serah are leveled up like the characters in XIII, albeit with a Crystarium system is far more streamlined and easier to use. Leveling up monsters requires special items that can either be obtained in battle or purchased from the store. Also, it’s nice that you have someone talk to you while shopping around instead of it being a rather soulless, though your eerily-ubiquitous merchant, Chocolina, is a tad too high strung for her own good.

 

Some battle sequences and cut scenes will lead to “Dynamic Action” sequences, which is a pretty way of referring to QTE sequences. They’re not bad because they fit more in a JRPG than an action game. They’re also, hilariously, require far more player interaction than what’s in QTEs: The Game Asura’s Wrath’s demo, which you wouldn’t think would be the case with how QTE-intensive it is. Special attacks from monsters also require this, which require quicker inputs than the aforementioned ones.

 

There’s also a small taste of the music here, which is pretty good. If anyone listened to Crazy Chocobo and immediately assume that’s what the entire soundtrack is like should be at ease here. Of course, they also could have been at ease if they just listened to a few other tracks. This makes you wonder if these are the same people that freaked out when they heard Final Fantasy X-2’s pop themes. Speaking of that, Square Enix apparently composed remixed tracks bereft of lyrics for the western equivalents of some themes, if the demo is any indication. Some are better off without them, but they better not have touched the lyrics to the tracks Origa performs in, they will pay.

 

Square Enix did the best they could with the demo, meaning they gave the player enough content to determine whether they would like the final game or not. The final game releases on January 31st.

Asura's Wrath Demo Impressions: "My, Aren't You a QTE?"

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I wanted to give the Asura’s Wrath demo the benefit of the doubt. Really.

 

Since E3, most who write impressions like this for a living said the “game,” as it was shaping up, was far too heavy on QTEs. Asura’s Wrath appeared to be Japan’s take (well, developer CyberConnect2’s take, specifically) on God of War, substituting an even more fantastical approach Greek mythology for story and characters that wouldn’t look out of place within the pages of Shonen Jump. (Well, some expected a more over-the-top God Hand, but they were kidding themselves.) The GoW games are also heavy on QTEs, to the chagrin of quite a few. They didn’t bother me too much, though, so my assumption was that anyone who disliked them here disliked them there too.

 

My assumption was horribly misguided.

 

Never has the criticism “this whole game is QTEs” been more accurate, because that’s nearly what this is. The demo contains two chapters: 5 and 11. There’s no context here, meaning you’ll have no idea of what’s going on outside of seeing your character, Asura, and the opponent screaming and grunting while they fling and land gigantic attacks on each other. It’s akin to your first episode of Dragon Ball Z being a bout between Super Saiyan Goku vs. Frieza .

 

In fact, that’s an incredibly precise description of what Asura’s Wrath is, if the demo is a good indication. You’ll spend most of the time watching the characters execute hilariously over-the-top techniques, with you pressing a button to edge Asura on. But there is some real gameplay here. Chapter 5 has Asura automatically running toward the opponent, while you press the triangle button to shoot fireballs. There’s also a section where you’ll have to shoot multiple smaller beams at a giant ship. You’ll do sountil the red bar on the upper part of the screen is full; when it is, Asura is ready to “BURST,” which is triggered by pressing R2. Pressing it triggers…you guessed it, a QTE fest.


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Chapter 11 has some (but not much) of the gameplay people wanted to see: brawling action you can control. You can chain light and heavy physical attacks, combined with projectile attacks. Part of the battle also involves jumping and dodging long range attacks -- unless it’s a huge one, which can be deflected with, yes, a QTE. Why, this is what I was hoping the whole game would be like! A pity it ends when it’s time to “BURST,” which will launch you into…well, you know by now.

 

CC2’s Naruto: Ultimate Ninja games have quite a few QTEs, but this takes that concept up to eleven. I’m sincerely hoping this isn’t an accurate representation of the final game. If it’s not, then whoever chose these particular chapters for the demo should be seriously reprimanded, because it killed the interest of the already-small number of gamers intrigued by its concept. If it is an accurate representation, then I hope everyone going into it has prepared themselves for the shonen anime-style equivalent of Dragon’s Lair rather than God of War. When I play a game as gleefully crazy as this one, I want to feel like I’m the one performing these attacks. Occasionally pressing a button while they’re done automatically is the most unsatisfying thing ever, which is why I hesitated to refer to this as a “game.”

 

If you’re still interested, Asura’s Wrath releases on February 21st.

 

P.S. Also, if it really is an accurate representation, then I honestly wish CC2 put these development resources toward a new .hack game instead.

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I know why music videos suck, and it took a repeat viewing of Fantasia to help me figure it out.

First, take a look at this music video.


You can see that it sucks, yes?  But can you tell me why it sucks, other than "It was 1977, what did you expect?  Barely three paragraphs in and you're already being unfair."  Well, I suppose if you've also seen Fantasia recently, then you probably already know the answer I'm about to give.  There are many more reasons why the video sucks, but that's beside the point.

In Fantasia, they talk about three different kinds of music.  Music that tells a definite story, music that paints images, and music that exists for its own sake.  And yet, while "Toccata and Fugue" was given the third label, it still inspired a visual interpretation.  Wouldn't that put it in the second category?

The ability to interpret music has existed in all of us from the moment we first listened to music from within our crib (this is, of course, assuming we all slept in cribs).  A music box or wind-up toy we may have received as a gift, our first actual music player (mine was a small record player that could play 45s and I used to listen to the Pinocchio and Lady and the Tramp 45s I had so much that my parents got sick of them), or even the family stereo system.  We learn to form ideas in our minds as we listen and associate images with songs we hear.  Well, that's not quite true.  It's an instinct, kind of an automatic reaction.  It's not something we can turn off, not at first.

Unfortunately, some of us seem to be able to turn it off, for not all of us continue to use our imagination as we grow up.  Maybe our brains are predisposed towards a certain kind of thinking.  Or perhaps not all music we like can be easily interpreted.  I'm sure you've run into a song or two that just defies explanation.  Why would someone write a piece of trash like that, right?

For the most part, I'm going to assume that if it exists as a song, it can be interpreted.  Going back to the three kinds of music as presented in Fantasia, music videos these days sometimes fall into one of these three categories.  Not all of them do, but as technology comes down in price and more people can afford the kind of special effects they used in, say, 1995, more videos can look like works of art and less like a director said, "Okay, let's see how far we can stretch $10000 with this handheld camera".

For instance, the video for "LoveStoned/I Think She Knows" by Justin Timberlake paints images that fit with the music very well.  It's almost like watching a modern pop version of Fantasia.


And the video for Coldplay's "Paradise" tells a story that somehow fits the lyrics without actually being about the lyrics.  You just have to see for yourself.


On the opposite side of the coin are the music videos that suck.  Looking back at our first example above, it wasn't trying to tell a story, nor was it presenting a series of images directly inspired by the music.  Maybe, like I said before, it was 1977 and they might not have been able to afford anything better.

So let's take a look at something a little newer.  The music video for Music video for Mus... wait, sorry.  I just experienced the banana problem.  I know how to spell it, but I don't know when to stop.  Blame Madonna for naming a song "Music".

Anyway, the video tries to be artistic but in the end it just screams "jumbled mess".  It starts out live action, being about Madonna and her party-hopping group of friends, then suddenly switches to an animated superhero adventure starring Madonna that turns increasingly crack-fuelled as it continues.  When neither of these ideas can carry the video, one character pauses the song to give everyone a breather, and then turns it back on and Madonna and her friends return to live action party hopping.  (Forgive the video for being inverted on the Y-axis.  That's how it was uploaded.  I assure you, it's equally bad if you can read the words on the screen.)


You can do this for any music video.  If you have a channel you can flip to that actually plays them, try watching it for an hour.  As you're watching, see if the video captures the song well or just seems forced.  What does the video do to try to mimic the feel of the song?  Do the lyrics come into play?  Is a story attempted or does the video just present a series of images that represent the music?

For homework (disclaimer: this is not actually homework; next week I plan on talking about something else, probably the Amy Winehouse article I wanted to do months ago), here's the very first music video I ever saw.  See if you can determine whether it's a good or a bad music video, and explain why you feel it is so.

Today's Playlist
U2 - Kite (Live)
Spider Robinson - The Drunkard's Song
The Juliana Theory - The Closest Thing
The Hellecasters - Passion
Tiktak - Heilutaan
And many more examples of the three kinds of music

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Alternate title: So You Think You Can Ride This Chocobo?

"You know, if I play any more games that are this good and that took less than a year to make, I'm going to start feeling spoilt and wonder why more people can't make good games so quickly.  I'm going to start expecting Square-Enix to be able to do this.  Once upon a time, they were able to.  Maybe they can again.  How's about it, S-E? 
Final Fantasy XIII-2 in less than a year.  Think you're up to the task?" -Joseph Daniels

So I spent some time recently with the Final Fantasy XIII-2 demo after waiting three hours for it to download (I'm sure Drew can sympathize).  I wish it didn't take so damn long, because in the time it took to download the demo, I could've played it twice through.

But then that's the problem with the current generation of console games.  Something that looks awesome tends to be quite large, and believe me, Final Fantasy XIII-2 looks awesome.  In fact, I think it looks just a little bit better than the original game.  Of course, this is to be expected with Square-Enix.  Their first few games on a system look decent enough, but it's when a console enters the latter stages of its life that they manage to pull out all the stops and deliver a very shiny product.  But enough with the graphics.  It's time to peek under the hood.

The battle system is probably where most people spend the majority of an RPG.  XIII-2's battle system is pretty much the same as before, with one major change: the Feral Link system.  It doesn't actually change the dynamic of the battle much for me to have a monster in my party instead of a third, controllable member.  It's what Dragon Quest sometimes does, so I'm already used to having that kind of help.  Plus, the game automatically assigns a class to the monster and you're allowed to have three of them active and ready to participate in battle at any time.  If you want, you can still have a Paradigm consisting of three medics if you're that desperate for healing.  However, your mileage may vary: the monster can never be party leader.  Not that I really tried to make it the party leader, but every time I swapped leaders, the game switched me between Noel and Serah and didn't think to let me control the monster.

The very fact that the game switches between characters whenever one of them falls in battle is a much needed improvement to the game.  It strikes me as dumb that Lightning was always able to use Phoenix Down on her party members, but they couldn't return the favour.  Fortunately, XIII-2 gives you the opportunity to use them on your fallen party members if necessary no matter who dies.

Gil was so hard to come by in Final Fantasy XIII that for all intents and purposes, it might as well have not existed at all, but in the XIII-2 demo it's far easier to acquire.  You actually receive a quantity of it after each battle.  Occasionally, you also acquire items after battle, and it's some of these items that can level up your monsters.  Just like in the original game, there are no experience points in XIII-2, although you do gain CP that you can spend in the Crystarium.  However, the Crystarium has experienced an extreme makeover, and for some reason, I kind of like the new Crystarium better than the old one.  The first version seemed too rigid, too limited.  Like you couldn't do much with it in the first place, and it took too much effort in the latter stages of the game to do anything with it.  Crystarium 2.0 brings with it an air of freedom, something that I haven't felt since Final Fantasy X's Sphere Grid.  Even the License Board from Final Fantasy XII was too limited for my taste.

And speaking of freedom, although there's only one playable area in the Final Fantasy XIII-2 demo, it's more open for exploration than most of the original game's narrow winding paths.  Whether this is a good sign or just a clever ploy by Square-Enix to make us buy the sequel, I don't know.  I'm sure we'll find out when the game lands on our shores at the end of the month.  And despite that my first impressions of the music were not pleasant (thanks, YouTube), I loved what little I heard of the soundtrack in the game proper.  Despite the one or two tracks in the full game that I'll probably hate with the anger of a thousand suns, I'm glad I've got the special edition pre-ordered.  I want that soundtrack.

A year ago, I playfully challenged Square-Enix to bring me Final Fantasy XIII-2 within a year.  Barely a day or two later, they announced the game with timing so fortuitous, it seemed like they were sending me a message.  "Challenge accepted, oh resplendent Canadian gamer."  Okay, so they only released the demo so far, but I didn't say that I had to be playing the final version of the game.  Or indeed, that I had to be playing it at all.  All I really said was "XIII-2 in less than a year".  The total number of days between my issuing the challenge and my sitting down with a controller in hand to play a small sampling of Final Fantasy XIII-2: 359 days (damn, off by one!).  Well done, Square-Enix.  Well done.

Video of the Week

At this point, I'm reconsidering my preference for Delta.  If this is the kind of fun that people who fly Southwest get to have, I'm flying with them!



Currently Playing: Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney: Trials and Tribulations (DS)


Any more punctuation in that line above and I'll come down with colon cancer.

I've only played the first case so far, which unfortunately seems to be the only case starring Mia.  It was refreshing to get to play as a lawyer who is much more confident of herself, able to put the prosecuting attorney on the defensive (then again, Winston Payne does tend to be a kind of a wimp; it's easy to put him on the defensive), and I'd really like to do it again.  I do wonder what a game set in the past and starring Mia would be like.  I would give it a shot.

Eternally waiting for the PS3

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Were you wondering what my first gripe of the year was going to be about? Your wait is over!

...but mine sure isn't.

I'm an avid video game player (in my own little world, that definition does not include Madden or Call of Duty. If yours does, too bad).

However, I'm constantly behind the times as a financial necessity. My NES was a christmas present in 1993 (8 years late). I threw down on a Game Boy in 1995 (6 years), a SNES followed in 1996 (5 years), a PlayStation in 1997 (2 years), a Sega Genesis in 1998 (9 years) and a Game Boy Color in 1999 (1 year).

Several of those models (the NES, SNES and Genesis ... and later my PS2 and PS3) were revised models with significant price drops. It eventually became my stated rule that no system or game will be bought by me at full price. This continued through the ages.

The First Wait

The Playstation 3 launched in North America in November of 2006. It was suggested that I should take a second job to afford the $599 behemoth. It's kind of funny; the arrogant tone insisting something is wrong with me for not having a 3DS sounds so much like it. ...It now occurs to me that the reason the jobs were so hard to come by starting in 2007 might be because so many people wanted to buy that PS3.

Last year (5 years) I had a big scheme on finally joining the HD generation of gaming. The key to it all was Black Friday, of course.

As several of you might recall, nearly every retailer had a special PlayStation 3 bundle for Black Friday sales: A 160GB system with Little Big Planet 2 (special edition) and Ratchet & Clank: All 4 One for $199.

Sadly, the necessity of a new set of tires in October gutted my discretionary savings. By the time Black Friday rolled around, that $199 would be all I had to my name, with nothing left to do early Christmas shopping.

Then, I discovered K-Mart's unique offer: They did not exclude Black Friday sale items from layaway. I'm honestly surprised this didn't buttress holiday sales. I could put the holiday PS3 on layaway and snag Best Buy's $80 24" HDTV (as I saw little point in playing a PS3 in SD), I would still have $100 left to spend on presents.

The Second Wait

Getting the PS3 from K-Mart at 5 a.m. was simply easy.

Getting the PS3-enabling HDTV from Best Buy was simply Hellish.

For the past several years, I have ventured out and about on Black Friday for specific items. Seeing as I'm a night-owl anyway, it was never much of an effort for me to be on the hunt all night. In years gone by, the crowds have been very manageable. I never had to go to a store more than an hour in advance in order to get everything I wanted to pick up there.

But 2011... was different. Nearly every store, desperate for a sales shot in the arm, opened on the stroke of midnight (in Maine, blue laws keep them from opening any earlier, like Walmart's 10 p.m. plan elsewhere). While not many people think they can manage a 2 or 3 a.m. sale, most can stay up until midnight. As a result, every store was mobbed with lines an order of magnitude longer than the lines of 2010.

I scouted the line at my local Best Buy on the way home from my sister's Thanksgiving meal. I'm glad I did; the line had already wrapped around the building at 4 in the afternoon! Based on this, I oped to arrive at 7 p.m. instead of 9.

And I waited.

Best Buy started issuing reservation tickets at 10 p.m. Of the 50 cheepo HTDVs available at my local store, I got my mitts on ticket #39. I don't think I could have arrived much later if I wanted anything at all. The ticket was good until 4 a.m., but having waited more than 3 hours for it, I decided I'd just sit tight until midnight, get in and get out.

Let me tell you, the only thing worse than waiting outside Best Buy for 5 hours, is waiting inside for 2. A definite miscalculation on my part, as I knew the store had few registers to check out the hundreds of customers.

Shortly after 2 a.m. I was sung inside my car with the loot. I was tired and sore, but I thought that was nothing a energy drink and a breakfast sandwich couldn't fix while I kicked back until it was time to line up at K-Mart. Everybody else thought that too, it seems, as there was another hour wait to place an order at Tim Hortons. But I got a chair in the warm inside, put some food and caffeine in me, and I was ready for K-Mart and the PS3 layaway gambit.

This part, fortunately, passed without incident.

The Third Wait

This, of course, refers to the four payments to layaway. This part also passed without incident, so I'll just move on to...

What? A Fourth!? But I already have it!

At long last, I close out 2011 with a PS3 (thanks to some unexpected Christmas cash helping me make an extra payment).

Oddly enough, the first thing I want to do is to see if my ISP connection is cool enough to do HD streaming of Netflix.

"In order to use this feature you must download software."

OK

"In order to download this software you must sign onto the PlayStation Network."

Sign in

"In order to sign onto the PlayStation Network, you must update your firmware to the latest version"

Download, install, reboot

"In order to use this feature you must download software."

OK

Download, install

"An update for this software is available."

Hold the phone. I JUST downloaded the software. Did Netflix push an update in the last five minutes or something? If they had not, why don't you offer the fully patched version as a download?

So I download the magic update, install that too, re-sign into the PSN, sign into Netflix and finally I can DO something.

And this was no isolated incident, either. I went to the PSN and downloaded a dozen demos. EACH ONE needed to be patched AFTER downloading them. It boggles the mind.

Then I start trying to play REAL games.

I was never big on Ratchet & Clank but I decided I might as well try the pack-in game. The game, naturally, needed to be patched. After downloading and installing the patch, the disc loads. It plays a short and amusing opening cinematic before telling me it must dump a gigabyte of code on my hard drive or I can't play it.

The worst offender by far was Little Big Planet: Game of the Year Edition which took more than 3 hours to update and install. What the hell kind of developer thinks this is permissible? THREE HOURS. What a load!

And while we're on the subject of download/install stupidity, I'm calling out the music export feature of the Rock Band series. The music is on the disc. Why can't we use the code do download a program that exports the music directly from the disc? Why do I have to download all the music off the PSN?

It seems this Fourth Wait I shall experience time and time again for as long as I use the thing.

After installing and updating a small collection of PS3 games (and a few more that Gamefly dropped in my mailbox), the demos, the Rock Band tracks and some themes and wallpapers, my 160GB PS3's drive had only 89GB left. I filled nearly half the hard drive in two days.

It occured to me those poor souls who cling to their launch 20 or 60 GB models for the backwards compatibility. That compatibility seems to be about all those models are good for unless their owners enjoy uninstalling and reinstalling every game they want to play. I'm glad my PS2 still works.

Over the past two years, I have bought more than a dozen PS3 games I had tried and enjoyed whenever I found a very good deal. Of those games I snagged in expectation of this console, all have experienced the Fourth Wait save for two: Eternal Sonata and Final Fantasy XIII I could just put in and PLAY. That I like. No updates, no installs, just me playing the damn game. Like I've been able to do for the past six console generations.

...though I find it odd that the only games that don't take what seems like an RPG sidequest chain to play are the RPGs.

Status report

"Just" started: Corpse Party (PSP), Game Dev. Story, Monster Tale, Professor Layton and the Last Specter,Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery, Tatsunoko vs. Capcom

Still Playing: Dragon Quest IX, Super Smash Bros. Brawl, Torchlight

Lagging behind: Final Fantasy IV: The After Years, The Incident, Infinity Blade, Metroid: Other M, Persona 3: FES, Starcraft: Brood War, Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 4, Wii Sports Resort

"Just" Finished: Corpse Party (PSP), Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy's Kong Quest, Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective, Half-Minute Hero, New Super Mario Bros. Wii, Secret of Mana, X-Men Legends II: Rise of Apocalypse

Up Next? Conker's Bad Fur Day, Cubivore, Dissidia Duodecim, Dragon Quest IV, Fragile Dreams: Farewell Ruins of the Moon, Holy Invasion of Privacy, Badman: What Did I Do to Deserve This? 2, Jumping Flash 2, Kingdom Hearts, Mega Man 9, Okami, Persona, Sam & Max: Season One, Scourge, Secret of Evermore, Snuggle Truck, Star Ocean: The First Departure, Trine, Zach & Wiki

Assassin's Creed: Revelations -- The Final Ordeal

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At this point, it’s tough not to acknowledge the fact that Ubisoft is milking the Assassin’s Creed franchise, which is par the course for them at this point. If they find a series they can potentially milk the hell out of on an annual basis, they’ll squeeze the udder until it’s bone dry. The concept for Assassin’s Creed: Revelations was originally planned for a 3DS game, apparently forgetting they don’t take handheld gaming seriously (Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars notwithstanding). The 3DS game was cancelled, and its concept was made into the console game being reviewed here.

 

Despite the not-so-thinly-veiled contempt prevalent in the last paragraph, making this into a console title was actually a good idea. Assassin’s Creed II was an excellent leap forward for the franchise, one that realized the potential its predecessor almost completely squandered. Brotherhood didn’t do much new, but further enhanced the formula that II executed so well, along with adding features like taking back certain parts of cities from the opposition and having Ezio form his own brotherhood to assist with his job. Revelations does the same, but it’s a game that gives off the feeling that it’s relying too heavily on what the previous games established. Also, some of its new features don’t add much.


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Do you want to carefully explore the innards of this place? Well you can't! And that's a shame.


 Revelations takes protagonist Ezio Auditore to Masyaf in order to discover the true purpose of the Assassins, secrets progenitor Altair left behind in his library. Upon making it there, Ezio discovers that Masyaf is under heavy guard by the Templars, who make it a vow to kill him upon capturing him. He manages to escape capture in the most stylish fashion, and heads to the library to find what he was looking for. However, he discovers that it’s locked, and five large, rotund keys are required to enter. The Templars have one, but the rest are spread throughout Constantinople.

 

Meanwhile, following the events of Brotherhood, Desmond Miles finds his world literally shattered. That’s, of course, referring to the world that exists within his mind while inside the Animus, while his real world self has slipped into a coma. Desmond awakes within the digital realm of Animus Island, where he meets the consciousness of Subject Sixteen -- who, as a human male, previously remained in the Animus so long that he was driven insane. Sixteen tells Desmond that he awoke on Animus Island because his mind is fragmenting, and the only way he can repair it is to experience the memories of Ezio.

 

It’s here that you realize that “Revelations” lives up to its name. The itinerary is to reveal precisely what happened with Altair after the events of Assassin’s Creed. It also serves its purpose in closing the story on Altair and mostly finishes Ezio’s tale -- if you want complete closure for his story, you’ll have to see the animated tale: Assassin’s Creed: Embers. It comes free if you purchased the Collector’s Edition, but if you didn’t you’ll have to buy it separately from Xbox Live or Playstation Network for $2.99 (or 240 Microsoft Points). That’s pretty ridiculous, especially since the ending for Ezio’s tale, while mostly well done, ends awfully abruptly. It would have been nice if it was concluded in the game, especially if it was playable. Heck, they could have made it DLC down the line, and it still would have been a better alternative.


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But you can explore Constantinople, though. Now you feel better, right?


The ending leaves what lies next for Desmond mysterious, though there are a few not-so-subtle hints about what lies next. With the story they’re leading up to with Desmond, it makes sense that his tale will be concluded within the story of 2012’s game -- especially considering the fables surrounding that year. Plenty of fans are going to argue that this game closes the story on everyone except the person fans wanted to be done with. That’s certainly a viable assessment, however, as the material involving the assassins is far more interesting.

 

Ezio meets a man named Yusuf, who recognizes him upon his entry into Constantinople -- though how he already knows him is a mystery. Yusuf gives him a base of operations within the country, along with an item known as the hookblade. The hookblade makes scaling large buildings much easier and quicker, a big assistance if you thought it was too time consuming before. It can be hooked on a zipline too, which makes going from one rooftop to another atop select buildings much quicker. If you happen to be over an enemy at the time, Ezio can leap off and perform an air assassination. You’ll want to keep a lookout for enemies with guns, though, which are situated on many rooftops.


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Yeah, this never gets old.


The hookblade isn’t the only way where the combat has been enhanced. It would have been fine if the development team left that aspect alone, but they seemingly weren’t content with that idea. If you time your strikes correctly, both Ezio and Altair can perform subsequent lethal strikes with their melee weapons after one is executed. This doesn’t work against every enemy however. Like Brotherhood, though, you can still call on the assassins you’ve recruited throughout the game.  This game introduces bombs, which have numerous uses, which make crowds of enemies easier to deal with. If you’re the kind of person playing through the game as non-lethally as possible, there are, for instance, bombs that can either distract a group of guards with a gunshot-like bang, stun them, or ones that distribute splinters to hinder their movement. Of course, you can take the easy route and make the usual bombs that explode and kill every enemy in the vicinity.

 

Hopefully no one wanted to really explore the entirety of Masyaf in this game, because you’ll spend the vast majority of your time roaming around Constantinople. While it’s a beautiful city, as partly shown by some of the screen shots (as in, they don’t show the large amount of people you’ll interact with), Revelations has the smallest overall world of any game in the franchise. This is a crippling disappointment, and displays one of the biggest problems with doing annual sequels for a franchise like this. Brotherhood managed to still have a big world because parts of it consisted of material scrapped from II, but nearly the entirety of this game’s world can be explored within the first few Sequences (the franchise’s equivalent of chapters). Since the world is so small, there are no horses this time around.

 

With each Masyaf Key you find, Ezio views what happened in the past with Altair, after the conclusion of the first game. This is where you’ll get to control him again, but only for five rather short sequences. There’s a reason why he resides in the background of most pieces of artwork.


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You can play Altair again! But only for short periods.


As stated before, you can still trust the assassins you recruit to help you in battle upon calling them. In Brotherhood, you recruited them after saving them from an attack from guards within cities, but they’ve changed them up here. You’ll still recruit some that way, but some you’ll get via other activities, like racing or fighting them. That’s neat, but what’s not so neat is that there are a predetermined set of assassins available for recruitment. That’s a departure from Brotherhood, which gave you a choice of many assassins around the game’s world to recruit. There’s less freedom to choose here, though that’s probably because, again, the world isn’t as big.

 

Another one of this game’s new features is a den defense mode, which you can use instead Ezio of going to dens themselves and assassinating the captain like in Brotherhood. It feels very much like a mode whose sole purpose was an attempt to diversify this installment from the previous games, regardless of whether it worked well. It’s a pretty boring, ill-fitting mode that’s not even half as deep as games that are solely den defense titles. Fortunately, it’s an option, meaning you can still have Ezio run into the dens themselves. And that’s the preferable option.

 

Aside from the Sequences involving Ezio, you can also play Desmond through some of his own. His parts feel like a completely different game, which is a Portal-esque first-person puzzle game. They’re best described as “an utterly mundane poor man’s Portal,” as the puzzles themselves are dull and, worst of all, simply not fun. The most interesting aspects involve him mulling over his experiences in life, and what’s gotten him this far. Thankfully, you don’t have to do them.


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How Yusuf already knows Ezio before meeting him is a mystery for the ages.


If there’s anything as good as it was in the previous games, it’s the music. Revelations welcomes Lorne Balfe, who previously composed some trailer music for Brotherhood, to the main crew in composing tracks for the cut scenes. His material is good, but not quite up there with series mainstay Jesper Kyd’s stuff, who does the music for the gameplay sections. The voice acting is as good too, with mostly everyone reprising their roles from the previous games. Unfortunately, Cam Clarke didn’t return to voice as Subject Sixteen, with Graham Cuthbertson taking his place. But this game does welcome the ever-reliable Steve Blum as Leandros.

 

Assassin’s Creed: Revelations is still a great game, despite its flaws; it’s well worth playing for anyone who enjoyed the previous titles. Upon playing through it, though, you’ll realize that most of the best parts were gameplay features already established in said previous titles. There’s a reliable rumor going around saying the team that did II has been working on Assassin’s Creed III since that game finished in 2009. We already know that we’re getting a full-fledged sequel this year, so it’s possible this is true -- and we’ll find out in a few months. The hope is that Ubisoft will avoid yearly sequels like this, but given the way it sold, that’s unlikely to happen.

CSI: Hard Evidence -- I Can See For Miles

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I don’t know why I bother with Ubisoft games any more.  It’s obvious from past experience that I just don’t like this company.  Before I write them completely off, I’ll probably give their Assassin’s Creed games a go, but I’m sick of trying the JRPGs they translate.  I mean, I don’t know of any other company that regularly brings over the worst of the worst and then does such a poor job translating them.  You can’t say that Lunar: Dragon Song is any good and yet at least one person has tried already to convince me of this.  Also, the quality of the English script was so bad that I constantly checked the calendar on my wall to make sure it wasn’t 1997 again.

Lost Magic was my introduction to the real-time strategy genre, however unremarkable it was.  The translation was better, and by better I mean that they actually used a spell checker.  And I gave Astonishia Story a try last year.  You all know how well that worked out.

I actually liked Scott Pilgrim vs. The World: The Game; still, that’s a 1 in 4 track record, and that’s not good.  If I were to spend money on four pieces of software and the only good one is the cheapest of the bunch, then why am I spending money on expensive games that suck?  I didn’t even spend money on Scott Pilgrim, I played the game at Angela’s place.

Whatever possessed me to try out the CSI video games, I don’t know.  Maybe I felt that there was no way Ubisoft could mess up the franchise any more than CSI: Miami does every Sunday.  Maybe I figured that they take more care with games they develop rather than games they import.  Maybe I just wanted to buy more games and they were the first ones I saw on Amazon.  Whatever the case, here’s Hard Evidence, the first of three Xbox 360 games in the CSI: Crime Scene Investigation franchise.

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You're gonna lose that smile

Now, Ubisoft wasn’t new to the CSI series.  They’d already made CSI games for the PC and even one for the PlayStation 2.  Sadly, Hard Evidence plays like a PC game rather than an Xbox 360 game.  The cursor on the screen is moved around like a mouse with your controller’s direction pad and you select everything with it, including your dialogue options.  In fact, interviewing suspects might’ve gone a little smoother if I were able to select the dialogue options with a mouse.  Still, it doesn’t take more than an extra second or two to maneuver the cursor around during interviews, not enough to inconvenience anyone.

The worst part about this method of control is that it sometimes makes it hard to find clues at the crime scene.  There’s one clue, for instance, in case 4 which you have to search for along a window.  It’s a tiny little scratch that’s easy to miss, especially at the angle required to find it, and you could comb the screen with the cursor over and over without success.

And while we’re pointing out problems with the game, I ran into some audio issues as well.  Sometimes the first few seconds or even the last few seconds of spoken dialogue during a scene was cut off and didn’t play.  Also, after selecting a dialogue option during interrogation, the game hung for a few seconds while the Xbox 360 searched for the appropriate audio file.  It’s like the team who worked on the game did not know how to properly program for a home console.

On top of the gameplay issues, product placement brought down my enjoyment of the game even further.  Visa must have paid Ubisoft a lot of money, for they were featured in every case in some manner.  Most of the time, their logo is present in the background of the scene of the crime, but during the fourth case, Captain Jim Brass of the LVPD (one of the regulars on the TV show) interrupts the flow of the game to talk about how wonderful the company is when all you want to know is if a suspect actually did commit fraud or not.  One wonders how the actor was able to deliver the lines in character without choking on them.

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You thought that I would need a crystal ball to see right through the haze

But enough picking at the little things, let’s discuss the game’s story.  Just like Phoenix Wright, there are five cases you help solve, but I use the term loosely.  Although you’re expected to find the clues yourself, the game will automatically fill in the blanks and let one conclusion lead to another once you actually have all the evidence.  It’s this that differentiates the game from Phoenix Wright.  The only real way to lose points in Hard Evidence is to ask for hints, but it’s rarely necessary to do so.  As long as you pay attention to what the characters are saying, you should have no problem figuring out what to do next.

The cases are exactly what you might see on the show.  There’s a crime and you’re called in to solve it with science.  In one, a cab driver is torched in his car and it’s up to the CSIs to determine what happened.  The setting and the crime are both classic CSI and it felt like I was playing a game set in the early seasons of the series.  But just like the series, you’re not really trying to solve the case along with the characters.  No, you’re mostly just along for the ride.  You see, on the show, the bad guy could be any of the suspects you’ve brought in for questioning, and it isn’t until that one last crucial piece of evidence is found before the guilty party comes clean.  With that last clue, the writers finally reveal that it’s Professor Plum in the library with the wrench, and they bet you never saw that coming.  CSI is not so much a fair play whodunit as it is just a standard crime drama, more Law & Order than Miss Marple.

During the game, you work with five of the CSIs from the show, one per case.  Over the course of each case, you’re expected to investigate the crime scene and any related areas, bring the evidence back to the lab, and work with it to figure out what happened at the crime scene.  Considering that there is no skill involved in the lab work, these cases might as well have been episodes of the show.  You tell the computer to process a suspect’s DNA and then choose from possible matches; it’s always obvious which ones are matches and which ones aren’t.  You tell the computer to process substances, and the computer tells you the chemical make-up right away.  Et cetera for everything else.  I think the only part of lab work that requires skill is when you have to piece together broken objects, and even then it’s pretty easy and rarely necessary to do so.

All the main characters from that point in the series are there.  Gil Grissom grades your performance as if you were a rookie (which you are, according to the game’s story).  Catherine Willows, Greg Sanders and Warrick Brown join you at crime scenes.  Nick Stokes also joins you at a crime scene, but it’s hard to tell it’s him; he looks like he got up on the wrong side of the uncanny valley.  His in-game avatar looks nothing like his character in the series; even during episodes where his head was very closely shaved, he’s still had more hair than he does in the game, and his face looks more like Odo from Star Trek.

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If you think that I don't know about the little tricks you've played
And never see you when deliberately you put things in my way


The bottom line is that I... liked this game.  It’s a miracle, I purchased an Ubisoft game that I didn’t hate!  Everyone go outside and check: the world might be ending!

All joking aside, I would probably recommend this game to people who enjoy the Phoenix Wright series, but want to step out of the courtroom for a change and experience in about twenty hours on a console what you’d normally experience in five on CBS (about three and three quarter hours without Visa commercials).


All images borrowed from xbox.com

Franchise Reboots Entry #32: Shinobi (PS2)

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Franchise Reboots is back! I have officially run out of choices for reboots in this generation of consoles (for now), so I'm venturing back into last gen starting today.


If you were a frequent gamer back in the early 90s, chances are you’ve had some exposure with Shinobi. It’s one of Sega’s most highly respected classic franchises due to the tough, frenetic action the games delivered. Its aesthetics contributed to that as well, starring a ninja patrolling through locations ranging from city landscapes to military complexes to the feudal Japan-influenced countryside. It’s wildly different locales may seem jarringly disparate when merely listed like in the last sentence, but the transition from one to the other is handled well in almost all of the games.

 

So it’s a shame the series fell from relevance after the 16-bit era. Shinobi Legions for Saturn was a well intentioned but thoroughly misguided project of its time, one of many that tried to capitalize on the then-popular fad of incorporating live action cut scenes in games. The game itself didn’t turn out all that hot either. It was such a departure in terms of style and quality that Sega of America decided to take a pass on releasing the game here, despite their European arm picking it up (it still made it to America via Vic Tokai). After its failure, it seemed that it was time for Shinobi to rest.


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You’re likely aware of the recent Griptonite Games-developed reboot for 3DS, but there was one before that. This one was developed by Sega’s Overworks studio for PS2 and released back in 2002, and was also simply known as Shinobi. This game stars Hotsuma, the leader of the Oboro Clan, with the task of stopping a resurrected sorcerer named Hiruko. Hiruko has taken refuge in the Golden Palace, which ravaged parts of Tokyo during its erection. The hellspawn that came from the palace completely decimated the Oboro Clan, and Hotsuma, the last ninja in the clan, vows revenge and heads toward the Golden Palace. It won’t be an easy quest.

 

And it certainly wasn’t an easy quest for the player. Shinobi actually had a lot in common with arcade games of yore. Hotsuma always had to advance forward, with few options for branching paths along the way. To help prevent the chance of being overwhelmed by numerous, furiously-attacking enemies, Hotsuma had an incredibly useful dash (which he can do in the air) and the ability to throw shurikens to stun enemies for a very short time. Despite how maneuverable he is, though, along with the plethora of fighting options at his disposal, it’s a maddeningly difficult game. Aptly put, this game hates you with a burning passion. The levels weren’t exactly short, but there are no checkpoints during them; so if you die, it’s back to the beginning of the level with you. Yeah, that can get a little frustrating.


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Despite its unforgiving nature, there’s a really solid, fluid action game in here provided you had enough patience to become acclimated to the controls (which took a long time). Even so, the game’s still unfairly difficult in more than a few occasions, especially with the boss battles. Shinobi released in America first, but the eventual release in Japan and Europe included an “Easy” difficulty option. Word from gamers who tinkered with both “Easy” and “Normal” is that it didn’t make much of a difference. Despite some critics and gamers finding the game way too hard, it was a commercial success. That was likely assisted by its commercial, which focused on Hotsuma’s stylish and well animated scarf -- also notable for featuring Masi Oka before he was Hiro Nakamura on Heroes.


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Its success led to the creation of a pseudo-sequel: Kunoichi, which was localized under the bizarrely-titled Nightshade. This time, Sega wanted to go slightly on the fanservice route, by making the title character a female ninja named Hibana (hence a “kunoichi”) who wore a very tight white outfit. But their other mission was making the game a little easier to deal with. And you want to put emphasis on the “little” there, as the main game was nearly as difficult as its predecessor, but at least the levels have checkpoints this time around. They’re a little more spread out as well, to make them feel less constrictive. It didn’t sell anywhere near as well since Sega chose not to play up its connection to Shinobi.

 

Nightshade’s failure seemingly led to the franchise being put into hibernation for a while, until the 3DS game released late last year. Given the lack of buzz and sales of that particular game, it will probably go back into hibernation again. Well, unless Sega has some serious plans for a revival.

Rodea of the Missing Sky

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Do you remember Rodea: The Sky Soldier? It’s possible you may not, so let’s get you up to speed.


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Rodea was a game in development by Prope, a company established by ex-Sega game designer Yuji Naka (of Sonic the Hedgehog and Nights). It was unveiled early last year, with the intent of being published sometime during 2011 for Wii and 3DS by Kadokawa Games. It’s been nearly a year since the game’s reveal in Famitsu magazine (and subsequent post about it here), and we’ve received absolutely nothing since then. No further information on how the game plays, or even a release date. A rather suspicious development considering the game looked mostly finished, and Wii third-party sales aren’t getting any better.

 

So what happened? Siliconera interviewed Naka about it, where he said the game was done. For some strange reason, Kadokawa has been sitting on it, and refuses to give it a release date. During the interview, he sounded confident that the game would release eventually, and that a western release would follow. This was posted in mid-September, but we don’t know any more now than we did then concerning it. It would be unlike a publisher to refrain from releasing something that’s 100% complete, so perhaps they’re waiting for a good reason.

 

The first thing that popped into your mind there could have been Wii U, and that might be a better alternative with the Wii market these days. Naka, however, commented that they didn’t have any plans of doing a Wii U version. He said the experience wouldn’t be the same with a tablet controller, and that it was built around using the pointer controls -- which makes you wonder how in the heck the 3DS version will control. If that version works well without pointer controls, it could still work well with a Wii U tablet. If not, Wii U is supposed to be compatible with the Wii’s control methods, so that could be an option.

 

Gamers took interest in Rodea because it looked like the kind of game Sega would have released sometime between the late ‘90s and/or early ‘00s. If you couldn’t tell it came from the mind of an ex-Sega designer, you would have gotten the impression from its look. It’s why it would be a real crime if it never came out, and it would also be bad if it released and tanked at retail. It’s tough to gauge whether Kadokawa is in the right here, if they’re actually holding it back for good business reasons.

 

So hopefully the worst doesn’t come to pass. If you’re wondering what else Naka has been up to in the interim between departing Sega and establishing Prope, he and his team recently completed Fishing Resort for Wii, which XSEED published in North America with the fishing rod peripheral. (Namco Bandai published it in Japan). Between that and Ivy the Kiwi (which released for Wii and DS, and was also release in America from XSeed), it seems he intends to stick to Nintendo systems. Hopefully Rodea resurfaces someday soon, and you’ll hear about it here if it does.

The Next Shining

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Shining Blade may very well be the best “Shining” game from Sega since the glory days of the Shining Force franchise, a time where Camelot was still integral to the development of every game in the franchise. Most fans haven’t really paid attention to it since then, and these days Sega’s western offices find it easy to pass on localizing them. Sometimes that has to do with the system they’re on, but there’s also the concern of them being in a genre that’s sadly become more and more niche outside of its home territory. In the case of Shining Blade, it’s both, especially since it’s on PSP.

 

And that’s a shame, too, considering its use of gameplay systems that are inspired by the likes of Valkyria Chronicles and Sakura Taisen. The name of the battle system is “Concerto,” which is evolved from the former’s BLiTZ system and the latter’s ARMS system. Many were hoping SRPGs would take hints from VC after it became popular, but only the developers themselves wanted to explore it further.

 

The story is your usual generic hodgepodge for any RPG, despite this one gravitating slightly towards the strategy side. It’s about the nefarious Dragonia Empire, which has taken the spirit power from the land; dragons also seem to prowl the world as a result. It’s up to some red-haired dude named Reiji to stop them, and in his quest he meets an elf named Alita and a wolf warrior named Fenrill. Reiji is a “Soul Blader” and, of course, wields a weapon called the “Soul Blade.” And before you say “hey, wait a second,” keep in mind that Soul Blade was known as Soul Edge in Japan, but was changed because of this guy and his crazy company.


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It’s a certain kind of medieval/fantasy, in terms of its art style. Just like 2010’s Shining Hearts, the character designs are once again being handled by Tony Taka, whose work is definitely an acquired taste (I’m not a fan of it, honestly). Also like that game, Hiroki Kikuta is doing the music. You might know that name from him composing soundtracks for Squaresoft in the early-to-mid 90s, notably his music for Secret of Mana. That, or you know him through his…”other” work, which he also teamed up with Tony Taka for. It’s nice to see him composing for a slightly wider gaming market again, though.

 

Though it was announced shortly after the Tokyo Game Show in October, its existence was actually leaked way back in May. Some marketing materials showed up on various Japanese blogs, and some of them immediately dismissed them as fake. Others, however, acknowledged that they looked like legit marketing materials. Turns out they were real.

 

You have to hate the number of interesting games that have little to no chance of getting localized because they’re on PSP in 2012. This had to be how Sega Saturn owners felt after early 1998, a system the PSP resembles in the “popular only in Japan” sense. Famitsu listed a Vita version when they originally uploaded some details to their website, which was likely a mistake. Or perhaps they spilled details on it too early! But that’s unlikely. Shining Blade hits Japan on March 15th. Here’s the trailer.

Cognition Dissemination: Where Will Final Fantasy Go?

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After Final Fantasy XIII-2 failed to set Japanese charts on fire, quite a few fans think the entire franchise is now in disarray. That’s a legit observation, but in reality, it’s actually been in disarray for quite a while now. Each installment has been selling less and less over time despite the budgets with each iteration rising, which isn’t a good trend. It took until now for people to realize this, along with the fear that Square Enix is accelerating it as of late.

 

But why is this happening, and what can be done about it? It’s still worth saving, especially in Square Enix’s case, when you consider that the Japanese side doesn’t have anything else in terms of a franchise capable of selling millions worldwide. They’re going to have to take some steps they never thought they’d have to take, but they should have thought things through in the first place.

 

Fear not! For I have some suggestions that could put the franchise back on track.

 

1. Final Fantasy XV, whenever it releases, should have a completely different art style and gameplay approach. In other words, it should be as far away from Final Fantasy XIII as possible. This would be somewhat of a reboot, though it’s not catering to the small subset of silly fans saying the entire franchise should be rebooted -- we’re talking about a franchise that practically reboots itself with each iteration here. The next installment should give Tetsuya Nomura a break as character designer -- perhaps to focus on Kingdom Hearts III after Final Fantasy Versus XIII releases (if if releases). They have plenty of others to use, like Akihiko Yoshida, Yusuke Naora, Airi Yoshioka, and more. As for the development team, it would be nice if they could get the leftover Final Fantasy XII team to work on it after they’re finished with trying to save Final Fantasy XIV from the flames of oblivion.

 

There also seems to be a small contingent of fans saying Square Enix should can Nomura, and I’m not sure what this would accomplish. He usually only contributes character (and assorted other) designs, and the only FF games he was intimately involved with were Crisis Core and Dissidia. If anything, Square Enix should be questioning the talents of Motomu Toriyama and Daisuke Watanabe.


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2. There are too many Final Fantasy games coming out. Up until the awkwardly-named Bravely Default: Flying Fairy was announced, and before The 3rd Birthday was released, Square Enix’s Japanese studios didn’t have any games without the names “Final Fantasy,”  “Dragon Quest,” or “Kingdom Hearts” in their upcoming lineup. Having too many games release in a certain franchise is a very easy way to dilute the brand, and it’s contributed to the lower sales of the mainline titles.

 

In fact, this is likely the reason why the name “Bravely Default” came about, because it was obviously being developed as a spiritual sequel to Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light (though they made sure to keep “FF” in the game’s initials). It’s also why they’ve recently started plans to develop two original IPs using Unreal Engine 3. They apparently already realize this, but it would have been nice if this didn’t happen in the first place. Not to mention that no one knows how long it will take to develop these games. Rapidity isn’t exactly a trait Square Enix, along with most Japanese game developers, possesses with HD game development.


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3. Quality Assurance is important. It’s not just that they’re releasing too many games, but they haven’t been maintaining a consistent sense of quality across all installments. This wasn’t much of a problem in the last generation of consoles, where they only game that was generally regarded as not good was Dirge of Cerberus. This generation, we’ve had startlingly divisive games like FFXIII and FF4HoL, along with generally-not-well-received titles like FFXIV and the worst selling game with the name “Final Fantasy” on it in history: Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: The Crystal Bearers. Maintaining a sense of quality from now on will help with this, but it’s going to take some time to regain the goodwill they’ve lost.

 

There are already signs that Square Enix is taking some steps to fix the problems, so hopefully they follow through with a plan that’s either exactly or similar to this one. That, or they’re in some seriously deep trouble.

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I experienced some of my first experiences with gaming culture shock in 2011.  First, a little background.

I've been into RPGs for quite a while.  They've been my comfort zone for gaming.  If it didn't have stats and a growth system, I was rarely interested.  It wasn't that I hated other genres, it was just that I was pretty sure I was rubbish at them.  Early attempts to play games like Super Mario World and Kirby's Dream Land didn't yield very favourable results, so I stuck with the RPG genre.  It helped that many of the RPGs I played were massive.  Final Fantasy VIII was my first PlayStation RPG, and it took me upwards of a hundred hours to get to the final boss and defeat her.  Games such as Final Fantasy X and Dragon Quest IX and Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 all took me over a hundred hours, closer to a hundred and fifty each.  Even the most recent Final Fantasy clocked in at around the same amount of time it took me to beat the eighth one.

But far be it from me to not at least try other things.  I've been heavily into the puzzle game genre for a few years now thanks to PopCap and their excellent games.  I ended up trying out the hidden object sub-genre of puzzle games in 2011, as well as some other independent ideas in the puzzle genre (none of which I've reviewed yet).  And when I sat down to play Okami (something which I'd already tried before, but this time I aimed to beat the game), I found that it was not only a very good game (review forthcoming), but also that maybe I wouldn't suck at action games whose sole RPG element was the ability to increase your health and your capacity for magic.  It was also epic, and I clocked enough hours in Okami that I probably spent more time with it than with all but the most lengthy RPGs I've played.

My first reviewed game on this blog was Star Wars: The Force Unleashed, but the only reason I purchased it was because we had a bad customer walk into our store, and it's a long story anyway.  I did manage to get through the game, but I figured it was just a fluke and other than the sequel, I never bothered picking up anything else that wasn't an RPG or a puzzle game.

So, on a whim, I rented Bayonetta.  And the first thing that struck me was that it was extremely difficult right from the start.  However, the great thing about Bayonetta was that although it was difficult, it was also fair.  At not a single point in the game did it seem like the enemy got a cheap shot in.  My biggest problem was with the instant death scenarios in the game.  But then, falling to your death either happens in a game or it doesn't, and it's either frustrating or unrealistic.  In games like Lufia: Curse of the Sinistrals, I took advantage of something the programmers chose to include.  I constantly jumped off cliffs and respawned rather than be hurt by a move where a boss swept his hand over the entire area.  Using a character with an immunity to damage from falling meant I was pretty much invincible against that boss.  Contrast that with Bayonetta, where falling from a black hole opened up by the final boss meant that no matter how much health the main character had, she would die instantly.

But I digress.  Bayonetta used a beat-em-up system to fight enemies with, rather than just the standard tactic of pressing the X button until all your enemies are lying down.  And despite the almost crippling difficulty of the so-called "normal" setting, I actually found myself getting better at the game until I found myself facing the final boss with no fear in my heart.  Bayonetta, in a sense, taught me how to play video games that aren't RPGs.

So naturally, I wanted to try more of them.  I rented a couple games over the last week of December.  Well, I was originally only going to rent one, but there was a special going on where you could rent a second one for free, so I ended up pick two games.  I figured that if I finished one of them, I could get started on the other before they were due back, and maybe I would rent the second game again if I needed to.  Nothing like getting a head start on a second game after paying for the first, right?

I beat them both within the one week rental period.

Getting back to Star Wars: The Force Unleashed, the first game felt epic.  It probably lasted for maybe only twenty hours, but it still seemed like it had some substance to it.  So when I played the sequel and found that it was barely ten or so hours, maybe twelve at the most, I felt a little cheated and a little surprised.  But I gave the benefit of the doubt.  Maybe they only had enough ideas for one more game, but wanted to make the series a trilogy, right?  Maybe they split the second game in two!  Or maybe it wasn't meant to be that short in the first place, but they couldn't think of anything else to put in the game.

Turns out it's not all that uncommon to run into a game you can beat in one sitting.  Dante's Inferno barely clocks in at ten hours itself, and although Alan Wake is longer, it's not by much.  I don't think I spent more than fifteen hours with it.  Maybe I just lucked out and rented the short ones.  But come on.  Portal 2 also lasted for about ten or so hours, unless you happen to know people you can team up with to play the co-op puzzles.  Is it just me or are games just not that long?

Having played games like Dragon Quest IX for almost a hundred and fifty hours, I've come to expect longer games in other genres.  Maybe I have that backwards.  Many RPGs use menu-based combat, so what if it's not that action games are too short?  What if it's that RPGs are too long?  I can relax when playing a turn-based RPG and strategically select from a menu what my next, best move should be.  That takes more time than pressing punch-punch-kick-kick-kick so you can and utterly annihilate your enemies with Wicked Weaves.  Maybe all the time I've spent in turn-based battle could be better spent just stepping up to an enemy and punching it in the face.  Look at how much time it takes to load up the battle screen in Final Fantasy IX.  I think a game like that could easily take at least ten or twenty less hours to play if it didn't take so damn long to fight your enemies.

Owling in my chair while watching the end credits scroll after finishing a game should be an accomplishment.  Instead, I end up slack-jawed, asking myself, "This is it?  And people paid full price for this when it released?"  Looking at it one way, a ten hour game shouldn't cost the same as a hundred hour game.  And yet comparing an RPG with a pure action game is like comparing apples and guns.  It just doesn't work.

I now understand how game critics can review as many games as they do.  They don't have to invest more than a couple days with them at the most.  Maybe Yahtzee only has to invest two or three afternoons before he's finished a game, and then he can work on his review.  Maybe he can get a jump on the next week's game, too.

But then it makes me realize how unfair it is to judge RPGs by the same standards as other games.  How can you spend time with a hundred hour epic RPG and properly review it in a timely fashion?  You can't.  But that's a rant for another time.

Thanks to Bayonetta, I know that I can tackle more action games without feeling as if I suck at them.  But, thanks to other games I've tried, I know that I shouldn't expect anything too epic.  If I want epic, I'll purchase an RPG.  If I want to stroll down the street to the diner while slaughtering busloads of enemies, I'll purchase an action game.

Video of the Week

I own an umbrella that, at first glance, looks like I could recreate it with 16th-18th century materials.  Plus, with a press of the button, it folds up neatly.  I call it my steampunk umbrella, even though it really isn't.  Why isn't it steampunk?  Here's why.



Currently Playing: Solatorobo (DS)

Speaking of games that aren't epic, I've heard this game described as an action RPG.  Yes, it's action, but I'd hesitate to call it an RPG.  Considering the only benefit to gaining experience points is to earn a little more health, I'd consider it no more an RPG than Okamiden... wait, that was called an RPG, too.  Ugh!  This is just like gluing gears on something and calling it steampunk.  You can't glue experience points on something and call it an RPG unless those experience points do something useful.  You might as well call Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 an RPG because of the experience points you can earn.  And the halos you can earn in Bayonetta can be used to increase the main character's health and magic, if you so choose.  Call it an RPG, too!

Just use some EXP and call it role play, that's the trendy buzzword of the crop.  A system of upgrades, but bare bones I'm afraid, will fetch a pretty penny at GameStop.

SoulCalibur V: Clothes? Who Needs Those?

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It’s coming down to the wire for Soulcalibur V, whose release is a mere four weeks away. Namco Bandai confirmed that the game has gone gold, meaning January 31st is definitely when it’s coming out. This should raise an eyebrow if you’ve been following the game, because the last time new characters were revealed it was noted that there were still around seven empty panels on the character select screen (though we still don’t know if Dampierre has a place on it). Hopefully they’ll be revealed soon, or the worst could come to pass, so to speak.

 

Anyway, we did get more character reveals recently. Two characters were revealed last week, though only their artwork was posted on Famitsu.com. The first was the incredibly hammy and much reviled big boss of SoulCalibur IV, Algol. Though he looks a little…different this time around.


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Apparently he decided that he’s too powerful and badass to wear any clothes! And here fans thought this game would have less fanservice. And from the screens, he appears to have the same move set as he did in the last game, and that’s only going to incite further rage from fans. And we’re talking meaningful rage here. His move set in IV was a little too projectile-heavy, which made his attacks tougher to dodge than those from other characters. And even if you were good at sidestepping, you could easily get hit by another attack from him. He (along with Hilde) was banned from a few tournaments, so hopefully he’s been seriously nerfed. Given that his look is channeling the spirits of Street Fighter III’s Gill and Urien (especially the former, who is complete B.S.), there’s probably little chance of that.

 

(But that’s just a coincidence, right?)


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SCV also marks the return of Edge Master, who hasn’t been seen since the original SoulCalibur. This game takes place around 20 years after the first game, and he doesn’t look a day older than he was in that game. He was a mimic character in the first game, and he’ll retain the same role here. Most fans are fine with him coming back, but wait until it hits them that he’s back while his old student (Kilik) isn’t.


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Joining this game as a guest character is none other than Tekken producer Katsuhiro Harada, complete with his trademark sunglasses, a turban, and Heihachi’s karate gi. He fittingly utilizes Devil Jin’s move set, so at least he’ll fit in better than Heihachi did in the PS2 version of SoulCalibur II -- which is also better than Algol.

 

Lastly, have you seen the ad being shown in Japanese magazines? If you have, it’s quite a sight to behold.


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When I said “fans thought this game would have less fanservice,” I wasn’t just talking about the guys!

 

If this is really the last character update before release, then it might be Namco Bandai’s desire to force players to fill the character select screen via DLC unlock keys, which would be a scummy decision. Having Dampierre reserved only for players that preorder the game at Best Buy is already bad enough. Releasing post game DLC characters that aren’t already on the game’s disc is fine if that’s their plan, though. We’ll find our answers soon enough.

2012: Year of the Fighting Game, Part II

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In the first part of this feature, I made a few references to some fans of the fighting game genre not having time for all of these games. This assumes that every fan paying attention either intends or once had plans to purchase all of these games. Mulling it over, this probably only refers to a very small subset of the fanbase, and it won’t be a problem for most of them.

 

But even if most customers aren’t getting every single one of these, there’s still way too many of them for any reasonable person to keep up with. So here are the games releasing in the second half of the year that you won’t have time to play.


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Virtua Fighter 5: Final Showdown (PS3, 360)

 

There’s no way Sega didn’t hear the fans that were constantly begging for another console iteration of Virtua Fighter 5. It’s mainly only popular among Japanese fighting game fans, but many western gamers thought another installment could be successful outside that territory. Sega turned a blind eye to them for a good while, but they finally decided to go through with it with a home console release of the latest version: Virtua Fighter 5: Final Showdown. Sega of Japan apparently wanted to do a retail release, but Sega of America pressured them to go digital. That’s probably a good idea, since it’s bound to be a cheaper option for all sides for a game whose potential success is uncertain.

 

What makes the Virtua Fighter games stand above the usual competition is its focus on gameplay fundamentals over admittedly innocuous features like story and presentation, and that’s precisely the impediment to its success in certain territories. Hopefully fans of the genre give this game a shot, especially if Sega packs this version with plenty of features. It’s due for a worldwide release sometime this summer.


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Persona 4: The Ultimate in Mayonaka Arena

 

Are you one of the people upset that Blazblue Continuum Shift Extend is so barren on new content? Send your venom in this game’s direction. Persona 4: The Ultimate in Mayonaka Arena is a fighting game adaptation of Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4 developed by Arc System Works’ Blazblue team. The game also has characters from Persona 3. It may have a small cast (the norm for 2D games with hand drawn sprites these days), but that should be fine since every character has a distinct fighting style. Even if it’s released as a broken mess like Fist of the North Star Arcade or Sengoku Basara X, it should still be a solid game. And it’s not like that can’t be patched.

 

That is, if those issues are still prevalent after its arcade release. The game releases in arcades first in Japan this spring, with a console release following in the summer. The real question here isn’t if it’s coming west (because no one’s silly enough to question that, right?), it’s when it will come. Previous Arc System Works games have seen worldwide releases, but that happens very rarely with Atlus releases. Hopefully this will be one of them.


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Dead or Alive 5

 

Dead or Alive’s future was left in uncertainty after Tomonobu Itagaki left Tecmo back in 2008 (since, you know, the female characters were his “daughters”), and was left in further uncertainty after Dead or Alive: Dimensions sold pretty badly on 3DS when it released in May 2011. But no! The new Team Ninja is indeed making a new one.

 

They haven’t shown much thus far, but at the moment we know that characters will have new techniques called “Power Blows,” and they’ve completely redone the character models so they don’t look like creepy porcelain dolls. We should learn more pretty soon, since a demo will be included with Ninja Gaiden 3 (which releases in March). DoA 5 hits sometime in the second half of this year.


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Tekken Tag Tournament 2

 

If you’re not counting on Street Fighter x Tekken to deliver your Tekken fix anymore, this is the game you should look forward to. After a semi-divided reaction to Tekken 6, Namco Bandai decided to go back and make a sequel to the game fans (and former fans) found the most addictive. It’s been in Japanese arcades for nearly four months now, and it’s apparently a solid game; perhaps better than the last few Tekken games. It includes everyone from Tekken 6, along with a few characters missing from those games like True Ogre and the heavily-requested Jun Kazama.

 

Unfortunately, it’s going to be quite a wait before we can play it at home. The console version was announced at Spike TV’s VGA show for a release sometime this fall. If you want a taste of it now, though, Tekken Hybrid includes a Prologue for players to get acclimated to TTT2’s new features (along with Tekken: Blood Vengeance and Tekken Tag Tournament HD).


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Meanwhile, if you own a 3DS, Tekken 3D: Prime Edition is releasing in the middle of February. It’s not an entirely new game, as it apparently includes every character in their Tekken 6 iterations; including Julia Chang as her usual self and not “Jaycee” (well, unless the cover art is lying). Heihachi has his TTT2 self, however -- probably to sill hammer home the fact that he’s not and will never again be voiced by the late Daisuke Gouri. The game apparently runs at 60fps in both 2D and 3D modes, and also includes the aforementioned Tekken: Blood Vengeance (in 3D!) as a bonus. It releases worldwide in mid-February.

 

Keep in mind this list of actually nine games only includes games we know about, and games I know will release in 2012. There could be a few surprises down the line, released physically or digitally (the latter would be more likely). That means an already insane list could possibly get worse. Yeah, look forward to that.

2012: Year of the Fighting Game, Part I

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Are you aware of how many fighting games are releasing in 2012? Regardless of your answer, here, have a feature covering precisely how many fighting game developers will be vying for your attention. There are enough that no sane person could possibly dedicate the time to learning the innards of all of them within a reasonable time frame.

 

The bigger fans of the genre are likely still occupying themselves with the likes of King of Fighters XIII and/or Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3, so it’s not as if they needed more to play at the moment. The fact that this is part one of the feature is proof of how unprecedented this is for the genre, especially in the era of mandatory online play. And really, that could be pretty bad in the case of some niche titles.


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SoulCalibur V (PS3, 360)

 

SoulCalibur V is sort of a semi-reboot, a sequel whose story occurs  17 years after the previous game and whose the cast has been given a Tekken 3-style revamp. Said revamp also means it’s OK to show older guys, but God forbid you age the female characters. Though in some instances, not even the males are immune to this.

 

On a more serious note: as good as SCV looks, Namco Bandai has plenty to prove to fans still skeptical how it will turn out after some disappointments in SoulCalibur IV. The game will very likely not be balanced very well upon its initial release due to its quick development time, but that’s nothing that can’t be fixed with a patch or two well down the line. SCIV’s online play was also laggy, which could also be fixed with a patch. The question is if they’ll patch the game, as they did no such thing for the important matters in IV despite it needing a few badly (they released a patch for a few glitches). We’ll see what happens soon, as this game will be the first one of these released. SCV releases at the end of this month or beginning of next month, depending on which territory you live in.


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Skullgirls (PS3, 360)

 

Skullgirls is very different from every other game featured on this list. Its development team at Reverge Labs was inspired by both old and new 2D fighting games, and wanted to make a game like it. It’s being made by a small team, but their passion for the genre is what drove them to make a hand-drawn title, something a lot of bigger companies aren’t willing to take a chance on something this risky. It also features an all female cast, and it’s incredibly fanservice-laden. But it’s also a creative one, with inspiration for them taken from multiple sources -- one of which from older western cartoons. They’re certainly more colorful (figuratively and literally) than ones from another game with an all female cast.

 

The game itself looks solid too, so here’s hoping the dev team makes their money back after having delayed it multiple times. It was originally intended for release last summer, but it’s currently planned to drop sometime in either February or March. It will cost you $15 when it releases.


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Blazblue Continuum Shift Extend (PS3, 360, Vita)

 

Including Blazblue Continuum Shift Extend here is cheating a little, and that’s not only because it released in Japan in mid-December. Really, it’s barely an extension (haw haw) of the previous game, provided you purchased all the DLC made available for it. Extend only has one new character (Relius Clover), includes the stories from the last two games (with certain characters now having their own scenarios), and balance upgrades. The game online play isn’t cross compatible with previous versions, so you’ll need this one to keep playing Blazblue. It sounds like a raw deal at $40, but if you’re still interested, it releases on February 14th for all three systems.


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Street Fighter x Tekken (PS3, 360, PC, Vita)

 

The supposed “dream” combo finally happened when Capcom began development on a game that pit Street Fighter characters against the fighters from Namco Bandai’s Tekken franchise. It’s the game most are already aware of on this list. The current question, of course, is whether those people are still interested in it after the introduction of Gems. Capcom seems to change some of the gameplay fundamentals every time they show it off too (usually for the worse), so it’s tough to talk about it at length until they finalize everything.

 

Meanwhile, that screen above is from the Xbox Live Marketplace, and shows portraits for superstar Street Fighter villain M. Bison and Ling Xiaoyu from Tekken. They definitely weren’t supposed to be shown yet, so consider this a leak. We should know all of the characters by the time it releases on March 6th (and 8th and 9th for Japan and Europe, respectively). It will release sometime later on PC and Vita.

 

This part only includes the fighters releasing in the first half of the year, meaning the next part will feature the last four. Who do they think is going to have time to play all of these? Apparently they’re for gamers who don’t play titles in other genres. And even then

Nintendo DS: Going Out on Top

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When Nintendo announced the DS in 2004 people weren’t sure what to make of it. Many longtime gamers wrote the dual screens off as a simple gimmick. With Sony’s PSP right around the corner Nintendo didn’t have a chance with its kiddie handheld. Seven years later the landscape around the DS looks very different. The DS will be remembered as one of the greatest handhelds of all time with one hell of a diverse library to match. And the success of the PSP compared to the DS? We'll save that for a different series of articles at a later time. For now, here are five of my favorite DS games I think everyone should try at least once:



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The World Ends With You
Developer: Square Enix, Jupiter | Publisher: Square Enix | Genre: Action RPG | Release Year: 2008

Longtime fans of Square Enix often lament how this developer rarely takes risks on new ideas outside of the core Final Fantasy series. New IP ideas are few and far between when compared to their SNES and PS1 days. When The World Ends With You came along in 2008 for the Nintendo DS the game caught RPG fans by surprise. This was a game that could only be done on the DS and showed how insanely fun touch controls could be. Gameplay incorporated both the top and bottom screens for fast and frenzied action during combat. Players found themselves furiously tapping, swiping, scratching and drawing on the bottom DS screen while being forced to fight enemies on the top screen with button commands via a Dance Dance Revolution-like interface. The entire premise sounds difficult but Square Enix actually does a good job of easing players into the combat system without excessive handholding. To sweeten the deal TWEWY had a unique story that revolved around musical themes, religion, fashion and friendship all while being set in modern day Shibuya. To this day TWEWY remains one of my favorite DS games of all time and is definitely one of my favorite RPGs.



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Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Trials and Tribulations
Developer: Capcom | Publisher: Capcom | Genre: Adventure, Visual Novel | Release Year: 2007

Trials and Tribulations is the third game in the Ace Attorney series and is by far my favorite game from the entire visual novel/adventure game series (subsequent sequels included). Ace Attorney 3’s 2007 release was a step up from Justice For All and featured one of Capcom’s best localizations for the series. The game is rife with hilarious puns, shout outs and jabs at American pop culture. AA 3’s story is extremely compelling and wraps up the back story of the previous two games quite well. Additionally, all of the main characters are easy to care about and the game’s new prosecutor Godot, is just too cool. Of course getting to play as three separate defense attorneys (Phoenix, Mia and I won’t spoil the last one for you) was also what made this game so much fun. If the Ace Attorney series had ended here it would have gone out on an extremely high note.



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Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney
Developer: Capcom | Publisher: Capcom | Genre: Adventure, Visual Novel | Release Year: 2008

Unfortunately for Phoenix Wright the Ace Attorney series didn’t end with Trials and Tribulations. The fourth Ace Attorney game begins seven years after Wright is disbarred from law. Apollo Justice makes his debut in this game when he has to defend Phoenix Wright from a murder charge that immediately sets a high bar for story intrigue. As the curtain falls on one lawyer and rises for another we get to see the kind of cunning man Wright has become since losing his defense attorney badge. Despite being built from the ground up for the DS, Apollo Justice’s gameplay is nearly identical to the previous games. The real excitement in this game lies with the intriguing story and the unique characters. As a bonus fans can still play as Phoenix Wright in certain sections of the game. Ace Attorney 4 left some promising plot threads unanswered but Capcom seems uninterested in Apollo. Since its 2008 release no word on a sequel has been announced. Instead, we got a Miles Edgeworth game in 2010 and a (Japan-only) sequel to that game earlier last year.



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Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey
Developer: Atlus | Publisher: Atlus | Genre: Traditional RPG | Release Year: 2010

No DS list would be complete without the mention of an Atlus game. The mainline Shin Megami Tensei series returned to its Nintendo roots with the 2010 release of Strange Journey. This traditional RPG (complete with a first person view) was a shockingly different departure from popular spin-off titles such as the Persona games. Instead of a story focusing on teenagers in modern day Japan, Strange Journey relies on a dark and engrossing plot about space marines fighting demons in a strange dimension, strong character development and a harsh critique of the trends and developments of the 20th and 21st centuries. Recruiting, training and fusing demons to create unique teams is another fun aspect of Strange Journey. However, the extremely long dungeons (floor traps and all) turned off a lot of players not up to the challenge. Personally, I couldn’t get enough of this 100-hour game even if some sections did kick my ass from time to time.



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Radiant Historia
Developer: Atlus | Publisher: Atlus | Genre: Traditional RPG | Release Year: 2011

Radiant Historia
is a fantastic joint venture between former Tri-Ace staff members and part of the Atlus team responsible for the Shin Megami Tensei series. This RPG was released in 2011 but is reminiscent of the 1990s era of gaming while incorporating two decades of solid game design progress. Radiant Historia has a good story, an awesome protagonist who thankfully isn’t silent, likable supporting characters and fun time traveling mechanics. In fact, time traveling, playing out events within two parallel dimensions and redoing events within the storyline’s history are the entire crux of this game. A heavy emphasis is put on exploring all 236 event nodes even to the point where you’re encouraged (sometimes to hilarious results) to pursue a bad decision. A fast-paced battle system that revolves and pushing and pulling enemies around on a 3x3 grid also helps keep the game exciting. Finally, a fantastic score composed by Yoko Shimomura is one of the best I’ve heard all last year.

Nintendo DS: Going Out on Top

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When you get right down to it, the DS was to handhelds what the PS2 was to home consoles.  There's a staggeringly large library of software for the DS, so even if you're on a budget, you're still bound to come across a handful of decently priced, well made titles, at the very least.  Remakes, franchise instalments, even brand new titles flourished on the DS and sometimes spawned franchises of their own.  Considering how long development for the PS3 and the Xbox 360 has been taking lately (we still haven't seen hide nor hair of Final Fantasy Versus XIII, even in Japan), the DS came along at just the right time.  Games that otherwise wouldn't have been made have found a home on the little quirky handheld that could.  On the DS, I liked:


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It's hard to say that any publisher was loyal to one company during the last generation.  Kingdom Hearts saw releases on both the DS and PSP and Final Fantasy also had a healthy presence on both handhelds, but while Square-Enix was hit and miss on the DS, it was Atlus's Shin Megami Tensei franchise that shone on Nintendo's side of the fence.  While the PSP only received MegaTen remakes, Atlus developed new MegaTen games for the DS.  Devil Survivor took the MegaTen formula and incorporated it so well into a tactical RPG that not only has the game been remade for the 3DS, but there's a sequel landing on our shores later this year.  The story is your typical MegaTen story, but fortunately the struggle between law and chaos doesn't get old, and it's the quality of both the writing and the gameplay that continues to carry the franchise long after a company like Square-Enix might have ruined it.


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However, that is not to say that Square-Enix dropped the ball completely when it came to the DS.  While their Kingdom Hearts games left something to be desired, Square-Enix's remakes were king.  Front Mission has had a rather horrible localization history in North America, and when they brought the DS port over the Pacific, it seemed to show that such a trend was taking a turn for the better.  But then Square-Enix kept Front Mission 5 in Japan and killed the franchise completely with Front Mission Evolved.  Japan also kept the Front Mission 2089 games for themselves.

Still, the DS port stands as a good swan song for the series.  For a while, it was one of the more successful tactical RPG franchises in Japan, and it's easy to see why after playing the DS version.  Although Devil Survivor was darker in tone and in subject matter, Front Mission managed to paint a picture of war that was more than just the typical sunshine and roses version that you sometimes saw in gaming.  It was more like Suikoden rather than the first half of Final Fantasy VI.


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Front Mission wasn't the only good remake from Square-Enix on the DS.  I wasn't a gamer back in 1995 when Chrono Trigger came out, and until the DS remake was released, I could only experience the game if a) I got lucky and found a copy on eBay for cheap, along with a working SNES, b) I purchased the horrible PS1 port, or c) I pirated the SNES ROM file.

Fortunately for all involved, the game worked better on the DS than it did on the PS1.  The translation was also much improved, and served to end the rumours of a missing Schala sidequest once and for all.  The story remained unchanged and is still one of the better stories told in the medium of video games.  Boy meets girl, girl accidentally travels through time, boy rescues girl, boy and girl find out the world's doomed and resolve to change everyone's fate.  It's easy to see why many consider Chrono Trigger to be the best game ever.  The more jaded of gamers might consider the quality of games to have begun a steady decline after the mid 90's.


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Of course, if games have been growing steadily worse, that doesn't explain the quality of some of the new titles that graced the DS.  Sadly, Sega was one of those hit and miss companies during the DS's lifespan, but while Sonic Chronicles was a disappointment, I thoroughly enjoyed Sands of Destruction.  If you can see past the flaws, and trust me when I say there were a few, it was a decent enough game.  The story is a little fluffier than you might expect from the subject matter in question.  Ending the world has never sounded so heroic.  Picture Breath of Fire IV, except from the point of view of Fou-Lu.  Or better yet: the Tim Burton version of The Grinch.  Someday, I'll explain why I was hoping Jim Carrey's version of the title character succeeded in tossing the sleigh.


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Some of the new titles that graced the DS utilized the second screen very well.  Dungeon crawlers made an impressive step forward when Etrian Odyssey was released.  Here was a game that took the sole gameplay mechanic from titles such as Shining in the Darkness and made it easier to manage by using the second screen to display a map that could be used to record the layout of each floor in the massive forest.  You could keep track of the paths you took and make note of interesting landmarks.  Basically, everything that you used to do on paper, you could suddenly do on the DS.  Sure, the game was tough as nails and harder than many of the old dungeon crawlers, but considering that the game was able to handle map-making for you, it was a manageable difficulty and improved the game's accessibility to old and new fans alike.



Those are but five of my favourite DS titles.  Games such as Bowser's Inside Story and the Phoenix Wright series also rank among my favourites, and even with such a vast library of games on the DS, I haven't played all of the good ones.  Many of the games that Drew wrote about, for example, I haven't had the chance to experience.  I also haven't finished Radiant Historia, and I haven't even taken the shrink wrap off of Dragon Quest V yet.  I think, like what happened with my PS2 backlog in the PS3 years, I'll still be playing DS games long after the 3DS takes off, and there's nothing wrong with that.

Henry Hattsworth in the Puzzling Adventure

Puzzle Platformer, developed by EA Triburon, published by EA Games, 2009

This was going to be an "Overlooked/Underplayed," but consider this its due.

Henry, the top man of Tealand's Pretentious Adventurer's Club, is no stranger to treasure hunting (as in Indiana Jones, not Locke Cole) but his best days are behind him. One day he discovers a mysterious gold bowler hat in the jungle that restores his youth, but unleashes a legion of puzzle monsters on the world. By collecting the rest of The Gentleman's suit, he unlocks new moves and attacks and gains the power to reseal the Puzzle Realm... after hunting a few treasures first, of course.

Anybody looking for a hardcore platformer that could only be done on the DS need look no further. Henry Hattsworth makes superb use of the touch screen by including an entire second game on it. The top screen is the normal world, where some tough but fair (think Mega Man 9) old-school platforming happens. As needed, you can freeze time in the 'real' world and focus on the puzzle game below. It's a simple swap-blocks-to-match-three-by-color puzzle, but with big ramifications on the world "above." Every defeated enemy reappears as a block, where it must be cleared before it rises to the top screen to assault Henry anew as an invincible ghost. Stronger foes will form new blocks with more complex rules for clearing them. Any power-up Henry grabs will fall onto a block in the puzzle, where it can only be activated if its block is cleared. Every set of blocks cleared slowly fills a super meter which, when activated, results in one of the coolest things I've ever seen and done in a video game.

The real charm of this game comes from its thick slathering of every fuddy-duddy British stereotype ever. Henry is as boisterously haughty as his sidekick is cockney, the omnipresence of tea and the many scenes from England's mythological history empowering the Tea Time robo-transformation. As a connoisseur of British comedy, I can't help but appreciate all the effort the designers put into the (whatever you call racist for countries) theme.

 


 

Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective

Puzzle/Interactive novel, developed and published by Capcom, 2011

It's too bad we don't have more Phoenix Wright games, but I'm glad they gave us this instead; Ghost Trick could never have been a courtroom adventure. That being said, it inherits the Ace Attorney's sense of humor, sharp writing and strange preoccupation with people dying.

Ghost Trick is a murder mystery investigated by checking out (and preventing) the deaths of nearly every other character in the game. It takes some clever twists and turns along the way.

The gameplay involves your spirit jumping between objects and poltergeisting them to influence the outcome of events in the living world. Your ghostly power allows you to jump back to four minutes before a person's (or animal's) death. This time travel mechanic allows you as many chances as you need to figure out where to jump and when, and what to manipulate to reach your goal. Many times, you have to wait and see how a situation plays out to learn how to move your spirit between normally distant objects.

The story will grip you, the actual play is set up creatively and the graphics have silky-smooth animation. I also recommend seeing the movie Source Code while playing through this.

 


 

Retro Game Challenge

Puzzle/Shooter/Racing/RPG/Arcade/Platformer, developed by indieszero and published by XSEED, 2009

Game Center CX is one of my newer all-time favorite shows. But I never sought out an episode if I had not first played the game it spun off. Retro Game Challenge was ALSO going to be an "Overlooked/Underplayed." One whose fate I'm extremely disappointed in as we were denied its even-better sequel.

The premise is simple. Game Center CX star Shinya Arino sends you back in time to give his child-self a friend to play video games with. You and young Arino must complete the challenges set by future-Arino in a variety of games. Once a game's challenges are complete, its free-play mode is unlocked.

The nostalgia factor of Game Center CX is not lost on Retro Game Challenge. This is the closest thing video games have to a living history encampment. The game itself takes place over several years. New games come out periodically, and you watch them evolve from simple, 80s arcade-inspired games to more complex genres and NES-quality sequels.

The fake retro games cooked up for Retro Game Challenge look and play the part, and while a tad too polished for the day, would have none the less fit right in then.

But what really sells the feeling of history, what really brings our gaming childhoods out and laid bare before us, it everything else in the game. Periodically, young Arino will get a gaming magazine. Remember those? The magazines review the game's games as they come out, and even have previews of games to come later in the plot, including an article of the RPG's yearlong delay due to "chip shortages."

Add to that to the other revived relics from bygone days, the turbo controller and cheat codes, Retro Game Challenge hits every note and hits them with perfect pitch.

As much as you should play this game, you should also check out the series that birthed it. This episode is one of my favorites:

 


 

The Legend of Zelda: The Phantom Hourglass

Adventure, developed by Nintendo EAD and published by Nintendo, 2007

Surely, we're not still complaining about cel-shading so many years after everyone dropped a brick about Windwaker, right? Good.

Phantom Hourglass is one of the three games that steeled my resolve to own a DS — the others being New Super Mario Bros. and Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow. While these other two games were solid, they did not sell the DS's unique features at all; the extra screen and touch controls were barely used by both. It was Zelda that sold the DS to me, and sold it well.

Zelda proved the DS's gimmicks to me with the first of the game's two core strengths: Perfect touch controls. I was very apprehensive about moving Link around without the aid of a d-pad or analog stick, but he was very responsive and rarely, if ever, violated my marching orders. The touch implantation of items is clever and intuitive. Nintendo did what they needed to here. They didn't just make a Zelda game that must be played with the touch controls, they made a Zelda game that can ONLY be played with touch controls. The difference between those two is rooted in uniqueness and quality.

The second punch of Phantom Hourglass' one-two knockout was the best dungeon design I had ever seen in a Zelda game. At first glance the layouts look blocky, but there's nary a wasted room or path to be found. Each element exists for a reason, and the natural path through the dungeon as affected by the solutions to its puzzles and item efficiently takes you back to the dungeon entrance precisely when you need it to, with only seconds of walking needed to put you back to the fore of dungeon diving.

While returning to the central dungeon — even though your evolving satchel of equipment meant you never had to take the same path twice — became repetitive, finally having the power to wreck those Phantom Guardians was so very satisfying because it had been so long in coming. Sometimes I load up my old save, go back to the Temple of the Ocean King and beat them around out of spite. Don't tell me you don't.

 


 

Time Hollow

Interactive novel, developed by Tenky and published by Konami, 2008

Falling by the wayside of Cinq's Trace Memory and Hotel Dusk, Time Hollow deserved a revered spot on the list of great non-Capcom, non-Layton DS interactive novel adventures (whew). ...And, yes, this also also would have been an entry in "Overlooked, Underplayed."

Time Hollow follows a young man whose life was marked by tragedy right when he gains the tool to set that tragedy right. It takes time to realize the full potential of this tool, and the journey is marked with unintended consequences.

In time, our hero discovers that he is not the only person with this tool, and must set things right in his own life against the agenda of this antagonist. It results in a long, time-changing showdown.

This story was very clever and very gripping. I first played it as a rental from Gamefly. I was so entranced, I stayed up all night to finish it in one go... something neither Trace Memory nor Hotel Dusk encouraged (I did try the same with Ghost Trick, but it was just to long a game to manage such a feat). Then, despite having already played it to completion, I took advantage of the "keep it" offer to own Time Hollow. I already knew I'd love to read it again.

Nintendo DS: Going Out on Top

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Nintendo DS: Great system, or greatest system?

 

Answers to that question will be all around the place, but there’s no denying that Nintendo’s dual-screened handheld system delivered some of the best experiences around in its time on the market. Despite its incredibly rocky start, it ended up being in the right place at the right time as some of our game developing brethren in the east were looking to make their creative ideas work on a platform that allowed for risks. Some of them, however, looked to continue making games they wanted to make without any concern for sky-high budgets. Here, have five of them.


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1. Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow: The Metroidvania subcategory of Castlevania games moved over from Game Boy Advance to DS in Dawn of Sorrow. It contained an intricate soul system that allowed for experimentation -- and you know it’s fun when you can fastidiously farm for souls and items and don’t feel sick of it hours later. Additionally, the animated sprites fans had been hoping to see again since Symphony of the Night made their glorious return on a system where 2D games didn’t face any silly criticisms. It may not have been a game praised for its originality, but it was one of the best on the system in its genre.

 

2. 999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors: Aksys Games made a gutsy move in deciding to localize a Chunsoft-developed visual novel, but the reaction and sales it received proved the risk paid off. 999 has some of the best characters and one of the best stories ever seen in the medium, and achieves it better than its big brothers. It’s one of the few games where obtaining every ending is well worth the time, and it’s the kind of game that will stick with you long after you’ve finished it. We can only hope the sequel, Good People Die, can live up to even half of what it accomplished.

 

3. Dragon Quest V: Hand of the Heavenly Bride: Playing Dragon Quest V makes me wonder why many other Japanese RPGs haven’t looked to it for inspiration. To put it simply, it has the kind of “heart” that needs to be seen in more games these days. It’s the touching story of a protagonist coming of age, getting married, and having children of his own. It all happens in a world full of strife and villainy, meaning everyone involved has to deal with hardships no average person should have to tolerate. It’s not only one of the best games in the Dragon Quest franchise, but one of the best JRPGs period.


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4. Kirby Canvas Curse: The DS’ launch window period was rife with uncertainty for the platforms future, one where onlookers were sure that Nintendo had made an inexcusable gaffe and made the next Virtual Boy or N64. Enter Kirby Canvas Curse, the game that showed early purchasers that unique and innovative experiences could be made using the system’s touchscreen. It was also considerably more difficult than HAL Laboratory’s previous Kirby games, along with some high replay value if you wanted to collect everything. It may be tough to find these days, but it’s still worth playing.

 

5. Mario & Luigi: Bower’s Inside Story (Note: I did not write the review to this game, but that’s OK): The Mario RPGs give the player the kind of whimsical enjoyment many other games in the genre fail to provide, and Bowser’s Inside Story is no exception. This one featured the perfection of its reflex-intensive battle system, and gave players three characters that were always fun to play. Couple that with an excellent localization from Nintendo’s Treehouse, and you have one of the most downright fun RPGs on the system. Partners in Time may have been a lackluster (but still good) follow-up in Alpha Dream’s Mario & Luigi franchise, but Bower’s Inside Story realized the concept’s potential and managed to be the best game in the Mario RPG sub-franchise.

 

The DS provided some excellent software over a seven year period (with one more on the way), but now is the time to pass that torch to the 3DS. Though it’s unlikely that it will be quite as successful as the DS due to losing some of its audience to smartphone games, its overall lineup should be worthwhile if this year’s upcoming software lineup is any indication. Hopefully it is, and hopefully many of those good-looking games will be localized, unlike a few titles in the last 1/3 of the DS’ life.

Nintendo DS: Going out on top

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While the Wii has struggled to keep a steady stream of quality releases (not that it HAD to be that way, Reg), the DS has been getting buckets of great games right on through to the bitter end. Following the last round of instant classics (which included Okamiden, Ghost Trick, 999: 9 Hours 9 Persons 9 Doors and Radiant Historia) is this next handful of amazing games to cap off an amazing run for the plucky handheld system.

 

Monster Tale

"Metroidvania," developed by DreamRift and published by Majesco, 2011

It's been a long time since the last 2-D Castlevania game came out... and even longer since Metroid: Zero Mission hit two portable generations ago. I've been anxious about new "metroidvania" games, always wondering if we've seen the last of them with every drought (thank goodness for Cave Story). It's especially heartening to see more developers working in the genre.

Monster Tale is the story of a land of monsters that had been conquered by some bratty kids who had mysteriously been pulled into the realm one by one. Eventually, the plucky main character arrives and is granted something the other visitors were denied: the companionship of a rare, legendary creature and a bracelet, both with amazing abilities that can be unlocked. These give the girl the power to free the monsters' world from the other children, and perhaps more...

I'm willing to bet this game has developers in common with the team who brought us Henry Hatsworth in the Puzzling Adventure. The characters have the same sort of charm (even if they aren't British), the cutscenes have the same feel, and the ways combat integrates with the bottom screen make the game seem very familiar at times.

The music is wonderful, the artwork vibrant, the environments varied, the pacing of the powerups is spot-on, the mooks stay tough and no two bosses fight the same (nor have I taken one down in a single attempt).

The risks Majesco took to make this game happen, and happen so well deserve to be rewarded with your money. As this game was only released in North America, I strongly encourage you to send copies to your DS-having friends overseas. They'll thank you.

 

Aliens: Infestation

"Metroidvania"/Survival Horror, developed by WayForward and published by Sega, 2011

I'm glad I was complaining about the lack of Metroidvanias, because the game gods have sent TWO great ones to shut me up.

Where Monster Tale is tough, Aliens: Infestation is brutal. While you can heal up at save points and with the occasional med kit pickup, when a marine dies, they're dead for good. If you search off the beaten path you can find replacement marines, and you'll need every one; I have yet to beat a boss without my ranks being whittled down to a sole survivor.

Aliens: Invasion somehow manages to recapture the feeling of paranoid dread I felt playing as colonial space marines in Alien vs. Predator Gold all those years ago, despite taking away the first-person perspective (though nothing can ever replicate the fright of a first-person face-hugging).

 

Kirby Mass Attack

Platformer/RTS?, developed by HAL Laboratory and published by Nintendo, 2011

Shear, utter insanity.

Kirby has bounced back and forth between simple (yet satisfying) platforming experimental gameplay so many times it's difficult to say where the series is truly home. What the experiment makes in Mass Attack is a driven, uptempo game.

It would probably never have worked if the game's levels weren't carefully designed and riddled with all sorts of new do-do-dads to take calculated advantage of the game's core concept of a Kirby army.

I have but one (and only one) complaint about this game: When you have a lot of Kirbys, it's sometimes a pain to have to make them all jump individually on the occasion such action is called for. The game is at its best when it doesn't let you slow down, and this is more or less the thing that does slow you.

 

Professor Layton and the Last Specter

Puzzle, developed by Level 5 and Brownie Brown and published by Nintendo, 2011

I first tried the Professors Layton games with the Curious Village. While I liked the Professor, Luke and the puzzles, I just couldn't get into the story or the ancillary characters. I eventually gave it another shot with the Diabolical Box and I was properly hooked.

The Last Specter continues to deliver and improve on the Professor's winning formula. More puzzles (though I dread to see new iterations of peg solitaire), a gripping story and interesting new characters make it a delight.

There's a little something extra this time, though. After completing the game, London Life unlocks, a life-simulator RPG set in the Professor's version of jolly old England. There, you'll interact with characters from all the games in the series as you find work, improve your wardrobe, room and happiness while helping London's denizens in quests and storylines. It has all the addictiveness of a facebook game, but with much more charm and substance, and lots less harassing your friends and family members to click on things for you.

 

Honorable mention: Solatorobo: Red the Hunter

Adventure, developed by CyberConnect2 and published by XSEED Games, 2011

Not a bad game by any means, it simply doesn't stand quite as high as the rest. If you have room on your plate for a charming mecha action-adventure game, you can't go wrong with Solatorobo.

Half spiritual/half direct sequel to the original Playstation's Tail Concerto, Solatorobo is a bit lighter in tone and more polished in execution. Both games seem to conjure memories of the MegaMan Legends series in me for some reason (they aren't very similar, but there's just something about them...), but consider that a recommendation.

With all these to play, it would be easy to overlook Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor 2 sneaking in this February. It would be presumptuous to add it to the list before even trying it, but its presence in the pipeline is a good reminder that there will be at least one more gasp for the DS's release schedule.

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