Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Stop Slapping Me, Nintendo! (Metaphorically Speaking)

A popular rebuttal to any criticism toward Nintendo is that they "March to the beat of their own drum." When Nintendo states that they will not support online play so that they can keep local co-op a priority, and that they will not allow the 'Binding of Issac' on 3DS because of its content, and that when they finally release 'Earthbound' on Virtual Console they omit it from the Wii's VC, gamers who've learned better than to expect anything good for the consumer or modern from Nintendo simply shrug their shoulders and get to mentioning that metaphorical drum again.
But what I can't understand is how Nintendo, the company who are self-entitled paragons of family-entertainment, and who allegedly are all about keeping entertainment and social values present in videogames, can get away with making so many of us, gamers and prospective consumers, feel like total shit all of the time.
My Grandma is Dead, and My Friends Don't Play Videogames Neither
Nintendo's focus on keeping local co-op a standard in videogames is one I'm all about. Playing a game with a group of friends is always a terrific time, and anytime I reflect on those moments it was always a Nintendo title that we were playing, whether Mario Party, Super Smash Bros, or Goldeneye.
Thing is though, those reflections are from more than a decade ago, and while they're still warm and inspire me to recreate them it's a borderline impossibility at this point. As a mid-twenties guy with mid-twenties friends, we're all at the point in our lives where we're either finishing up the last and hardest years of college, working full-time jobs, or have simply grown out of videogames. And yes, my grandma is dead, and even if she wasn't I don't think she could be bothered learning what a videogame is now anymore than when she was alive. Let alone me being interested in playing a videogame with her.
Nintendo's aversion to online in favor of its traditionalist values is not as damaging as it is for a game to ignore local play for online; it's worse.While I recognize that I'm not a kid, and that it is children who are the ones most able to put local gaming to good use, I can't help but think of that reality as a gigantic middle finger. Kid's aren't the ones opening their wallets for these games; I, and fellow persons of working age, are. No matter that videogames once were a hobby deemed exclusive to children that is simply not the case anymore; adults play videogames and they aren't being chastised about it any longer (well, in terms of social-etiquette at least). And as it's adults who are the ones paying for these games the thought of crippling one's actual buyer's product-satisfaction for that of a conservative ideal of the past is not only ridiculous but self-destructive as well. Adults live complicated and stressful lives, and most of the time having anyone over the house is pretty much a chore anyway. Playing online serves the need of not only protecting your genuine consumer's interests but allowing them the space that they clearly want. If this generation has proved anything it's that online-gaming is a beloved addition, if not an endeared standard.
While it be nice to get the best of both worlds, a game retaining both local and online co-op, for whatever reason that's something far too rare anymore. But facing subjection of either one or the other, online holds 100% the more reasonable and satisfying inclusion. But Nintendo instead chooses to remind me how much it sucks being an adult.


Stop Acting Like My Dad, Nintendo: You're Just an Entertainment Provider
This one doesn't even need explanation, but for the short-minded here's two examples of why banning products for the sake of image is total bullshit.
James Joyce's Ulysses was widely banned for its controversial content (toilet humor and sex): it is now one of the most favored and well-regarded pieces of literature of all time.
Cannibal Corpse, the film, was banned for being extremely realistic looking: it is now of the most sought-after horror films for its honest conveyor of true terror and instigator of sincere emotion.
And on and on and on. And even when the banned product turns out to be a real stinker, the only thing that matters here is that the product does not represent anything about the person viewing it. Looking back at any historical time of severe censorship, the modern consensus widely goes, "Well this censored item isn't so bad," or that "It's a very intriguing piece."
No matter that violent or criminal images may inspire someone to commit a crime or doubt their ideology, there is no blame to be placed on the product: individuals are responsible for themselves and what they allow influence themselves.
And in the case of children, which is what Nintendo's banning of Binding of Issac is clearly motivated from--- did they forget how their own handhelds work? It has Parental Lock on it, which means that no matter how crushing Issac is towards the Christian religion (which it absolutely is not, at all, in any way, shape or form) it doesn't matter because the product is only available to those with access to it. Parent's are responsible for monitoring their kids: not Nintendo, a faceless provider of electronic entertainment.
And again, like the above argument, the banning of titles for that of adult, complex, or R-rated content is a total "F' You!" to their adult consumers, the people that these adult-rated titles are exclusively available to anyway. And if this generation has proved anything, it's that mature and complicated themes are greatly admired and sought for in modern videogames: Nintendo choosing to not only neglect but censor such content--- I mean, is any further explanation needed?



Nintendo Doesn't Have to Imitate, but That Doesn't Make Them Less Dickish
I'm always a little bit shocked at the comment sections on gaming websites. Whether it's a Sony, Microsoft, or Nintendo article there erupts somewhere in the comments this rash, idiotic war-repertoire of corporation-fanboys who seemingly believe with all their heart that these multi-billion-dollar companies genuinely care about them and their preferential entertainment habits.
They don't. They only care that somewhere in your spending habits a chunk is going towards their products, and that is the full extent of their interest in you.
But it's nice to pretend they care about the consumer, and while these companies really don't the various policies and interactions they make towards the consumer can go a long way in at least kindling that delusional belief that your Playstation has a face and gives you high-fives when you unlock more trophies. Sometimes it's really not that great a meeting-ground, such as Microsoft's lackluster Games With Gold in comparison to that of Playstation Plus, but othertimes it's one hell of a response in the form of Microsoft fully accepting consumer responses to the original policies of the Xbox One and their nixing most every policy that consumers disagreed with.
But Nintendo really hasn't done anything to interact with their consumers, and the rabid devotion that Nintendo fans exhibit is an appreciation thoroughly void of reasoning. With region-locking on all of their modern systems despite constant criticism, shoddy online implementation, and constant moves of consumer-betraying nature as in the form of excluding Earthbound from the Wii VC in hopes it will inspire Wii owners to buy a Wii U (which is not going to happen when your dickishness is blatantly obvious, Nintendo), whatever it is that Nintendo fans are injecting themselves with to retain their loyalty is something I suspect they get from a sketchy guy beneath a bridge, because if they're not hallucinating then they're being plain foolish.
Videogames are a disgustingly costly affair, and being suspect to consumer demands the only way for videogames to go is towards greater and greater cost with more expensive systems, standards, and just about everything. All of this is marking a bottle-neck effect, and for every gamer lost to another system there is a very real negative applied to the losing companies. Sony and Microsoft recognize that they need to work with their customers and to offer what they can to retain them, and while it's a business ploy I still don't hear anyone complaining about receiving free games. And while getting things free isn't necessarily expected from Nintendo, what I really want to know is what the heck Nintendo has done for a single one of their customers ever? Far as I remember that's a flat nothing, and in this market where companies are willing to work with their customers and strive to maintain healthy relations between one-another, Nintendo's absence indicates not their own independence and self-worth, but their utter ridiculous and out-of-date view of their market.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Splatterhouse (PS3/360) - Review: Objectively Mediocre, but Really It's Pretty Awesome

Splatterhouse, which released in 2010 for the PS3/360, arrived beside some critically negative press. As a game with lengthy load times, repeated animations and sounds, various technical glitches, and a lackluster ending that does not conclude anything the player has done, Splatterhouse genuinely earned it's Metacritic score of 59/100, and is, objectively speaking, a truly mediocre title.
But that doesn't take into account the fact that Splatterhouse is simply solid entertainment, and is a straight delight to actually play. Most refreshing about Splatterhouse is that it isn't trying to be anything other than its core content: it's a game based on gore, and never loses sight that gameplay involving gore is what is most important here. Furthermore, for all of those things Splatterhouse gets wrong it makes up for with well-crafted upgrades and unlockables that expand the overall content in meaningful ways.
Splatterhouse would have benefited by some additional efforts in technical polish and animation/voice variety, but for what it is Splatterhouse is still a lot of fun.
The strongest portion of Splatterhouse is that the focus is 100% on gameplay. Game-pausing cinematics are few and far between, and story is told through dialogue and gramophones that do not interrupt the gameplay. Splatterhouse is interested only in keeping the player active, and while this may seem an obvious inclusion the amount of games that have ignored that this generation far out-number those that have heeded it.
Most important to understanding how Splatterhouse is successful is cutting out the idea of it being an Action game, because it's not. Splatterhouse is a Brawler that is about pound-for-pound carnage while painting everything and anything in blood and body parts. There are combos and a small requirement for strategy, but mostly Splatterhouse is all about punching demons into pulp while building up Necro (special-attack cost) and then unleashing either super-powered attacks or transforming into a super-powered hulk. The end result is always the same though: everyone but you (but sometimes you also) is shredded into bits, the floor is ankle-deep with blood, and you move on to kill some more.
It's simple, but it doesn't become repetitive. Splatterhouse works with very little; basic brawler mechanics, macabre art-direction, and a heavy-metal soundtrack. But with that minimalism Splatterhouse becomes a game that, while not innovative, maximizes upon its included elements and delivers a fluent, active title that has just the right incline of difficulty alongside an addictive upgrade system to keep you satisfied.
Also in Splatterhouse's favor is that despite its brevity in both complexity and length (campaign is about 5 hours on normal) the additional elements all expand upon the game in addictive and rewarding ways. Character upgrades, which include new combos, abilities, and stat boosters, all exemplify a growth in your character. While not all upgrades have a significant use-factor, once obtaining the upgrade you can still notice the overall enhancement, and your masochistic, murdering avatar becomes just a little bit more of a psychopathic hero. Because most upgrades are also very affordable via Blood (the in-game currency you amass by the bucket-load) they quickly become addictive in a "Collect 'Em All" style.
A relevant criticism to Splatterhouse is that the game's ending is downright terrible in that it doesn't wrap anything up. This is unfortunately true, but at the same time the story prior to its clumsy ending is one investing and enjoyable. Again, though, Splatterhouse keeps its grindhouse roots front-and-center, and while the story is well told it is also very simple, existing as an addition and not a priority. Without spoiling anything the story has two focus': a college couple and their relationship, and a mad scientist with apocalyptic pursuits. Surprisingly, by the end of Splatterhouse I was genuinely invested in the overall histories and motivations of both stories, and both of the games two collectibles (photographs of the girlfriend, and pages from the mad scientist's journal) addition to the stories with fully-voiced, well-written dialogues and memories. If the story is not your thing than the collectibles will be just that, but I think it's more fair to attribute that the team behind Splatterhouse recognized that having players collect things without there being any reason to beyond trophies/achievements was meaningless, and seeing that extra effort put out to expand the game in a divisive, significant manner is one deserving of kudos.
The unfortunate reality of Splatterhouse is that it released at a time that both journalists and gamers were fully enveloped in a new style of gaming antithetical to simple and solid entertainment as found in Splatterhouse. 2010 was a year of very involved, expensive, and emotive gaming experiences such as Red Dead Redemption, Mass Effect 2, Heavy Rain, and Bioshock 2, and with the surging rise of valuing games as an "artistic expression," something that is still completely and totally undefined, something like Splatterhouse, a game that thrives on exploitative entertainment-values and is interested solely in gameplay, was a title that everybody viewed as a "backwards step," a videogame that was too much of a videogame.
It's really a shame, because in my eyes Splatterhouse delivers just about everything I could ever want from a videogame. Enjoyable, approachable gameplay with addictive qualities and yes, gory violence and fantastical creativity. While Splatterhouse is not necessarily a quality videogame because of the faults mentioned at the beginning of this review, that isn't to say that Splatterhouse isn't a fun videogame, which it thoroughly is. And, in my opinion, that's the most important thing in any videogame, and so despite its fault Splatterhouse is a title I'd wholly recommend to anyone looking for what it is that makes videogames, well, videogames: solid, enjoyable gameplay and a creative art-direction that inspires one's own imagination. You'll find just that here in Splatterhouse, and you won't be disappointed when you do.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Soliti Horse (3DS) - Impressions

Gamefreak's Latest is an Odd Combination

Gamefreak, the company behind the Pokemon games, have an interestingly limited history in regards to games outside of the Catch 'Em All franchise, although it's a history mostly solid. Whether it's Genesis' Pulseman, a fast-paced, stylish action-platformer, or GBA's Drill Dozer, a numbingly charming puzzle-platformer ingeniously simple and rewarding, Gamefreak's select offerings beyond Pokemon are approachable titles that retain focus on applying mostly to a younger audience in complexity, but are able to hold adults' attention as well.
Which is why Soliti Horse, a Japanese E-Shop exclusive for the 3DS, is such a bizarre title to see release by Gamefreak. With a focus on iconographic gambling, its core features being horse-track racing and playing-cards, the fact that Gamefreak went ahead and published this one on their own, and not from big-dog Nintendo, is no surprise. Even with the usual body-slam adorableness that models every of their titles, images of real-life horse-racing, with the crack of a whip across the tender side of a horse, broken men crying as they've gambled the last of their family's savings, and bookies chintzing dirty fingers, surface immediately. It's not too far-fetched to think Gamefreak may be asking a bit much in terms of suspension-of-disbelief here.
Strange as the whole package is though, the only thing that matters is whether or not the game is any fun. And fortunately it is, but it is also bizarrely complex to the point that I have an extreme little to actually say.
The first thing that confused me with Soliti Horse is the amount of tutorial, explanation, and dialogue there is. This is no exaggeration; the first four races have a degree of text parallel to the most critical plot sequence in a Final Fantasy title. It's borderline endless, and before getting to play the game on your own you're stuck dealing with upwards of a 20 minute tutorial spread throughout some four or five races. After this every race concludes with a dialogue between the jockey (you) and the trainer, which I'm sure adds some nice incentive to keep playing (although heck if I know).
But once that's done you're good to go--- except I, of course, was absolutely not. Not understanding Japanese, following the lengthy tutorial I was left only with my shattered preconceptions concerning Soliti Horse, which was that it involves playing solitaire and steering a horse. Which actually is true, and is the foundation of the game, but there are just so many variables within the overall design that there's much more actually going on.
I'll say it now; if you don't know Japanese, then stay away. While it's totally possible to "play" the game, missing the several variables and rules really kills the experience.
I'm not going to try to kid anyone here, so I'll just say what little I am certain of. At it's core, Soliti Horse is solitaire and steering your horse. Essentially the game plays out in two ways; before manging your horse on the track, steering him and picking up abilities/boosters along the track via stylus control, you play a round of solitaire. Using the stylus is nice, and although it is just solitaire the sounds and colors of the cards are delightful to play with, and Solitaire is as fun now as when you slack off at your job/computer class. Depending on how you do affects at least the amount of distance you can run in the following segment, as well as the overall "mood" of your horse which I think affects speed.
---and that's about all I'm certain of, and while that is the core of everything the variables outside of this are simply extravagant to the point I'm not even going to bother hypothesizing over them.

***
Sorry for this awful write-up, readers, but really this is one of those games that I just cannot wrap my head around no matter how much I try.
An additional thing to note, and the reason why I am stuck writing this garbage blog, is that Soliti Horse strangely does not support furigana script, and so those hundreds of kanji explaining everything are just one great big mystery.  If you've got your kanji radicals down than who knows; maybe you'll be able to decipher the inner-workings of Soliti Horse eventually. But I don't, and this is one title that I'd really like to keep playing, but honestly cannot.
Fingers crossed for a localization, but after experiencing all of that text Gamefreak might seriously need to hire someone like Xseed or Atlus to handle this game, which seems highly unlikely for a $5 downloadable title.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Import Reviews - Speed Round Vol.1

A not-too-long ago post I did was Import Impossible, which was a hasty write-up about a couple of import exclusives that I'd played but never wrote about. In that blog the reason why was because the Language-Barrier defeated me; when you can only play the first hour or so of a game there's very little to say meaningfully or fairly about a game, and so I never did.
But that isn't always the case, and while recently failing to write about a title (which is #1 on this list) I remembered that there were many more imports I had played completely through but never wrote about. As it is, I'm going to throw them into this Speed Round because either A) I played through the game a long time ago and have since sold it off, or B) I just really don't care to play through them again so that I can write a more adequate review. For the most part, every game within this speed round is 100% playable without knowing Japanese (#4 is available in English, mind you), but whether or not they're worth your time is where the writing comes in.

Jojo's Bizarre Adventure: All-Star Battle (PS3/360)
This is the title that inspired me to catch up with all these titles. Originally I begun writing what I called a "Not-So-Review," but in the end I just couldn't muster writing anymore. The issue is that Jojo, while a 100% playable Japanese Import and a downright excellent game, is also a very "special" game. While only the 3rd portion of the Jojo's Bizarre Adventure manga has been localized in English (Stardust Creators), there is readily apparent in All-Star Battle a supremely affectionate and careful recreation of the more than thousand-chapter manga that is the commercial powerhouse Jojo. Each of the many characters are immediately unique from one another, from cosmetic to their in-game animations/atmosphere, and there's so much variety in the form of stage gimmicks, special-moves, taunts, recreation moments, and unlockables that All-Star Battle exists not solely as a downright awesome game, but as a refresher and introduction of the Jojo series as a whole.
The largest reason I couldn't write about this game is that it reminded me a lot of when Dragonball Z: Budokai released. As a kid Dragonball Z was my Jojo, and I remember playing Budokai for months not as a fighting game, but as a way to recreate all my favorite moments from the show. It was a very special game to me, and one that was special because I was able to experience everything it had to offer.
While Jojo is not as recognizable as a Dragonball in the west, All-Star Battle is looking to change that. As far as the game goes, I think All-Star Battle has absolutely earned that directive, and that anybody looking to experience this game truly should wait for the version that supports their native language releases. There's so much good stuff here, from the surplus of unlockables through its over-the-top, flamboyant, utterly fascinating cast, and I believe that All-Star Battle is going to do for many as it did for me, which was inspire me to get involved with this long-running series. Without knowing the language it's a bit of a hassle though, and because of that I say wait for the English release. There's plenty of story sequences and unlockable chapter/character bios, and, again, All-Star Battle exists as much as an introduction of the series as it does a love-letter.
Just wait. The game is amazing, but it'll be even stronger when understood.

Gal*Gun (PS3/360)
I didn't really play all of Gal*Gun, although I could have. Reason I didn't though is because I just didn't find the game to be any fun, and a big portion of why is because I don't know Japanese.
Gal*Gun looks like an On-Rails Shooter, but really that's only half of it. The other side of Gal*Gun is that it's a dating-simulator, and a pretty invasive one at that. Most missions both begin and conclude with your partaking in a lengthy conversation with either your intended love (which you've four girls to choose from), or the Cupid that is the catalyst for the entire game (she accidentally lights you up with love arrows; that's why every girl at school wants your bod). There are also four various stats that indicate what your personality is currently like, which ultimately reflects your conclusion with your intended love.
Obviously I couldn't comprehend any of that, and so I can solely critique the On-Rails segment--- which is awful. You mash one button, occasionally trigger a lengthy Bomb sequence that involves you performing a close-up with a girl, blasting her ticklish parts and watching her blush/shy and other ecchi stuff like that, and--- well, that's it. You mash one button, shoot the same ten types of girls over and over, and eventually the level ends. It just wasn't any fun, and without knowing Japanese and being an appreciator of dating-simulators there is genuinely very little game here. While Gal*Gun is a cosmetically fascinating game, it's ultimately a hybrid take on Dating-Simulation; whether or not the simulator segment is worthwhile I don't know, but if you're getting into this game for the Rail-Shooter then you're going to be severely disappointed.

Senran Kagura: Shinovi Versus (Vita)
Senran Kagura is a series about girl's stripping each other and the player being able to molest the big-breasted characters in a locker room. Allegedly there's a story involving rival ninja schools, but it's pretty weak. If plot is your goal then hopefully that means tits and ass; otherwise, you'll be disappointed. For that matter, the same applies to gameplay also; unless you dig sexy virtual girls, there's very little to experience here.
Shinovi Versus (Shinovi), the 3rd entry in the Senran Kagura series, is a "Musou" game (Dynasty Warriors, Samurai Warriors, etc), a genre that has remained niche in the west following its initial debut. A common critique of this genre is that combat is ultimately shallow, there is mind-numbing repetition throughout, and reward is little. All of that is apparent here in Shinovi, and to a greater degree as well. With little more than, if not less than, 10 combos per character (with the strongest being mashing Square for all of them anyway), only a handful of levels that lack any sort of interactivity, and an abrupt brevity that is welcomed solely for it ending the repetitive trudge, Shinovi embodies just about everything wrong with the musou formula. If you've played a game like Dynasty Warriors and found it tiresome and dull, then that's certain to be the case here.
That said, I'd be lying to say I didn't have some fun with Shinovi. While the game is extremely basic and repetitive, the 20 available characters are its saving grace. Each of the well-endowed, moe-infused, hyper-ecchi girls are independent from one another, and no matter each obliging the same combo routines they all perform them differently. Technically it's all the same, but cosmetically they vary significantly from one another, and experiencing each character's animations and special-moves is a real treat. And of course, blasting a sexy teenager into jiggling nudity is, however shameful, a powerful motivation to keep playing.
Shinovi is not a good game, but it's an interesting one. I'd suggest it for fans of anime, hentai, or musou games, but otherwise you're truthfully not missing out on much.

Inazuma Eleven Strikers (Wii) *European/English Import*
Ask anyone who has played the Inazuma Eleven DS titles (also a European/English exclusive) and they're almost sure to tell you that it's one of the strongest series available for the platform. With phenomenal writing, meaningful characters, and a radical touch-based gameplay system expertly crafted, Inazuma Eleven is yet another model series from company Level-5, and as of this blog the series has crossed over a dozen titles and multiple animes in Japan with a bright future still ahead.
All that said, Inazuma Eleven Strikers, the series debut console entry, is an extremely poor entry for so rich a series. Essentially, Strikers strips everything the series succeeds by, eliminates even the remotest similarity to realistic football, and offers a gameplay system far too typical of other anime sports titles equally as dull for their obscurity. Strikers reminded me of Eyeshield 21 in all of its worst ways, and in the end only a slightly greater involvement of the player separates Strikers for the mildly better.
The most shocking thing about Strikers is how minimal it is. No matter that the core of Inazuma titles has been interacting with your team on a more intimate scale, in Strikers you solely use them. There's no dialogue, no cutscenes, no involvement; it's just a football game, and while that maybe could have been acceptable Strikers nullifies that quickly. A'la most anime titles, Strikers is fixated on Special Moves to the point that you're not actually playing anything but a game where you perform Special Moves (which makes them significantly less special, you see). In Strikers, a football game, you can't score unless it's a special move, and not only that but it's a broken system as well. A special move can be used from anywhere on the map and it has an equal chance of going in. The only way a special can be disrupted is in the off-chance a defender has a special for defending, but of the dozen teams I only spotted one that had such defenders. What this means is that you can idle all the way back with your keeper until your special meter charges, use a special shot from across the entire field, score, and then repeat.
It's not broken, because you don't have to play like that, and can instead focus on trying to imitate real soccer as best you can--- but that's your fantasy. Strikers isn't a realistic football game, but is instead yet another anime title a little too caught up in trying to hit the Thrill-buttons of its kid audience with flashy special moves while minimizing its source to something arbitrary and dull. It's a bad game all around, and why Level-5 decided it was passable with their brilliant history of games is beyond me. Just stick with the DS titles; they are far superior.


Rebuild of Evangelion: 3nd Impact (PSP)
This was a weird title for me, particularly because I know nothing about Evangelion and have never watched a single of its episodes or films (I'm aware this needs to change though). But one week I was really into Grasshopper videogames and so--- expensive import because of thoughtless spending habits.
Rebuild of Evangelion: 3nd Impact is a conservative rhythm game that has some interesting cosmetics and ideas but ultimately is a much too brief and shallow experience. With 30 levels of often repeated tracks, 3nd Impact differs from other rhythm games in that it has four different gameplay styles within. None of them come near to being above the grade or genuinely unique though, and oftentimes I found them downright bad.
Quite simply there was nothing within 3nd Impact's offerings that "did" anything for me, and while this could be because I'm unfamiliar with the Evangelion series that still does not excuse the game being exclusive to those who are, although even then I question whether die-hards would enjoy it.
It just isn't any fun. For the few songs that support background videos they are impossible to witness due to the middle-of-screen gameplay design, and the music is, while thoughtfully composed, not the type of music that is really too engaging for a rhythm title. When a level actually has real music to it it tends to be moody, sad orchestra music--- perhaps its just me, but 30-second tracks of that isn't how I'd like to pass the time enjoyably speaking.
For fans of Evangelion I'd suggest researching some gameplay videos before jumping; just remember that this is a very limited game that was seemingly built to apologetically rip the money out of Evangelion fans hands before they wise up enough to look at a review. For those who aren't familiar with Evangelion, keep walking. There's truly nothing but a license-game cash-in here.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Persona 5 in Winter 2014, and More Persona than You Can Handle

This weekend Atlus confirmed the long-awaited Persona 5, with a release date of Winter 2014 for the PS3. Atlus weren't okay with watching fans scream their gleeful heads off with that news alone though, and announced a slew of additional Persona-related projects as well.

Persona 5 - Trailer
Winter 2014, PS3
The big announcement that needs no explanation, Persona 5 is finally announced. For better or worse, the trailer shows neither gameplay nor characters, and so how closely Persona 5 is going to uphold the series' consistencies as in a teenage/highschool setting and demon fusions is yet to be seen.

Persona 4: The Ultimax Ultra Suplex Hold - Trailer
Summer 2014, PS3

Sequel to the critically praised Persona 4: Arena, The Ultimax Ultra Suplex Hold continues the cross-generation story that involves both the P4 and P3 rosters further. Beyond adding Junpei Iori and Yukari Takeba (both from P3) to the playable character list, as well as an unspecified amount of "Shadow" versions of characters, there is little known about how different Ultimax will be from P4:Arena, nor what the overall story revolves around.

Persona 4: Dancing All Night - Trailer
Autumn 2014, Vita
If I learned one thing from the fresh styles incorporated into Persona 4: The Golden, it's that the cast of Persona 4 really love to dance apparently. And what better way to exemplify that than with an idol-dancing-center-stage Rhythm game!
As seen from the bits of gameplay revealed in the trailer, there seems to be a great likeness to the overall game-design of Project Diva here, which is no surprise seeing as Dingo, developers for Diva, are co-developing P4:D. Although beats don't shoot across the screen they do uphold the overall enclosing-circle style that indicates when to press their corresponding inputs, which is also in the Project Diva games. No matter how similar P4:D may end up being to Project Diva, at least it isn't afraid to say exactly where its inspirations may come from.
Still though, there is an extreme little shown in that trailer, and exactly how P4:D plays out, as well as what overall content it carries, is still yet to be seen.

Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth - Trailer
June 5th, 2014, 3DS
Arguably the most enticing of the announcements, Persona Q seems to be inserting Persona and its subsequent elements into the Etrian Oddysey mold, a much overlooked, super-hardcore RPG series from Atlus that begun on the Nintendo DS. While the trailer neglects to attribute whether or not the game will be 1st-person, the overall cutesy art-style and animation designs have been used so frequently with fellow (3)DS hardcore RPGs that it seems only reasonable that P:Q be of a like breed.

Fingers crossed these titles make it to the western shores not long after their Japanese releases. And while all of these may seem like an obvious shoe-in as Atlus is amongst the utmost respected kings of localization, there must be remembered that following the collapse of Atlus' prior parent company, Index inc., SEGA bought Atlus. Sega, responsible for not localizing the 7th Dragon series, Phantasy Star Online 2, and of course Valkyria Chronicles 3, make this entirely awesome announcement somewhat doubtful and worrisome.
If you're like me and want these titles, it's already time to start flooding the official SEGA forums with localization requests. If this gen of gaming has showed anything it's that publishers are more than willing to step off the toes of consumers if they are reacting negatively to their habits and plans. So let them know, people! Persona rocks, Atlus rocks, and every single one of these titles look downright dynamite; don't allow SEGA even a second to consider crippling the downright excellent Atlus studios!


***Opinion on "Persona 4" Focus***
While Persona 4 is either the face of, or at least a critical portion of, all of the additional titles, to say any of these titles look like cash-cows a'la Gree's Persona 4: The Card Game seems unwarranted, as each of these games certainly appear to be much more than a temporary mobile application. And while I'm of the crew that does feel the cast of P4 is a bit worn out, the overall weirdness of these titles appear focused not so much on riding the coattails of P4's success, but utilizing it in a way to exemplify some unique, refreshing game-design from P-Studio. Far as I see, 2011's Catherine and Radiant Historia express more than adamantly that the P-Studio hold some incredibly rich and original ideas in both game-design and content, and that they've no issue creating equally superb content entirely separate from the formulas found in the Persona and Shin Megami Tensei titles. If they still aren't finished working with the world of Persona 4, or have utilized Persona 4 as a way to justify making these eclectic titles, I don't think it really matters; in the end it will depend on the gameplay of these titles, and that's something that I truly believe no one has to worry about when it comes to P-Studio.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Megpoid the Music# (PSP) - Review


The Hipster's Alternative for Japanese Rhythm Games
A pet-peeve of mine is when I come across a review that compares one game to another. Oftentimes games are compared to another solely because they share the same genre, and no matter their individual styles and offerings being different the review ultimately depends upon drawing a better/worse-than conclusion. It's unfair, if not offensive, to the game being reviewed---
Unfortunately, there is absolutely no way I can avoid doing just that with Megpoid the Music# (Megpoid), the first game from studio ParaPhray, and Sega's Project Diva series. There is no other way to look at Megpoid other than it being a clone of the Project Diva games, as just about everything in Megpoid is unashamedly modeled to an exact after the content found in Diva titles. From the visual focus on an Idol performing, through that of the in-game shop and it's various offerings, all the way through having a "Room" where the player can interact with the game character on a more social scale, there is nothing that separates Megpoid from Project Diva outside of variously small differences.
The summary of those small differences though is that everything that separates Megpoid from Diva is ultimately for the worse.
Bite-Sized, from Platform through Content
Megpoid has a sizable music selection; boasting 30 songs, the expectation would be that Megpoid delivers in form of content. But it's a trick; of those songs, there are few any longer than a minute, and even then just barely. And while I'm not familiar with these songs and did not research all of them, the few I did all turned out to be longer, fully-fleshed songs.
Megpoid's soundtrack is a sampler, and while what is applicable in-game is mostly fast-paced, exciting and enjoyable pop-music, it is ultimately shallow, lacking the impact of music as an expression because what is offered is only a blatant commercial slice from the most thrilling moment in a song. It's sort-of like a kid being told he's off to the toy store, but then arriving after the store has already closed; the emotion and vision were there for a moment, but in the end there's only a cold, shallow hollowness.
Outside of the music there is, as mentioned above, other staples from the Project Diva games. Outside of the room where you can interact with Gumi (the main character), there's also a shop where you can buy costumes and ornaments/toys for the room as well as a ranking system to keep you coming back (another painfully obvious rip, using English words like "Excellent" and "Wonderful"). Unique to Megpoid is that it supports up to four-players at the same time, but exactly how this plays out or whether or not it accentuates the experience is outside of my knowledge (New Jersey is not a prime location for finding Megpoid players).
Mostly, Megpoid is strictly a rhythm game, one that wants the player to boogie with its fast-paced selection and chow down incrementally with what is offered. This is fine, except Megpoid's uninspired gameplay design provides little more than bore and even hurt.
Right-to-Left, and Again and Again and Again
Megpoid separates itself from Diva in gameplay design, but it's certainly inefficient in comparison. In Megpoid beats scroll from right to left, and oblige a neat little four-stack attributable to the D-Pad/Face-Buttons. On the two basic difficulties the gameplay works well enough, as there are only two variables and you can manage to peek ahead to see what beats are coming without messing up. But once you tackle a higher difficulty it's here that Megpoid reminds why the right-to-left set-up has only worked once.
There are two other Japanese PSP rhythm games that utilize the right-to-left; the Taiko no Tatsujin series, and a licensed anime game called K-On! Houkago Live!!, the former representing it done right and the latter wrong. In Taiko, there is only one bar, and everything inside of that bar is very large, crisp, colorful, and clear; your eyes can notice what they need to without straining, and as the series is still active to this day it's clearly a proven formula. But in K-On!, as well as in Megpoid, the fact that the games try to stack upwards of four variables inside of the tiny PSP screen just doesn't work. The beats become too small, and scanning from right to left on the more intense difficulties proves to be downright painful on the eyes. Even with Megpoid using the entire screen (in K-On! only the bottom was used) there is still too much obscurity in the notes, and attaching a need to squint alongside racing your eyes from right-to-left again and again there really doesn't take long before a genuine need to shut the game off becomes apparent.
Another issue with the right-to-left is that it absolutely gets in the way of the background videos, although in Megpoid you're not missing much anyway. Instead of the videos telling a story or expressing something unique, in Megpoid there is solely Gumi dancing away. Not only are dance-moves frequently reused, but so also are the stages, and it doesn't help that the game is under-par graphically as well.
Boogie on Out of Here
As an entry title from studio ParaPhray, Megpoid isn't that awful of a game, and truthfully if this released around the time of the first Project Diva back in '09 it very well may have been more warmly received. But as it is, Megpoid is clearly a poser of the well beloved Diva games, and like anything too attached to its inspiration it ultimately fails to achieve alike its source, instead slipping as it chases and dirtying itself  before getting where it needs to. Having limited content would have been excusable if the music had been more than a sampler, and for a game so chameleonic why Megpoid uses a gameplay-design that has already shown itself not to work, and not instead use the same one as found in its clear-cut idol is simply beyond me. Megpoid wants to be Project Diva, but everywhere it divides itself there appears empty, dull game design. In the end, you can't help but think that not only is Megpoid a bad videogame, but a completely unnecessary one as well.

Language Barrier
Megpoid is 90% playable without knowing any Japanese. Alike Project Diva, the only place that someone may face trouble is in the room and shop segment. For the room grasping the tools and interaction requires only some brief trial-and-error, and for the shop one can look at their blind purchases of Room items as exploratory rather than frustrating.
But other than those two trivial segments, actually playing Megpoid is a 1-2-3 affair, and requires zero language skill to perform. 

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The Hero... Just Because!

Recently I picked up Gyrozetter for the Nintendo 3DS, which is a multi-media project from Square-Enix that has, alongside the 3DS title, an arcade game, an anime, and a manga series. I chose Gyrozetter solely because of it being multi-media. As someone who is constantly playing games in a language I don't understand, I thought it'd be nice to actually be able to know the story for a change. And so, prior to starting the game, I've begun watching the anime series--- which has resurfaced a doubt I've still yet to answer.
"I'm the Hero! ---Just because!"
In the first episode, protagonist Kakeru Todoroki performs two actions that are applicable to the beginning of many Japanese videogames. In Gyrozetter, the theme is cars; it takes place in a futuristic city built around advanced roadway systems, and here children are also allowed to drive cars (for some reason or another). The series opens up with all the children practicing parallel parking; one girl does it properly, and another girl botches it. When Kakeru's turn comes up, he boosts his car to max speed, spins the car multiple times, and lands in the specified spot perfectly; for whatever reason, this boy is supernaturally skilled at stunt-driving. He then gets out of the car and says, for the first of many times to come, "I'm the hero!"
It's later revealed that he really is the hero. The school is also a secret military base that is looking to pick out super drivers to pilot cars that also morph into combat-robots. There's a token prophecy behind all of this as well that literally spells out that this fifth-grade boy is "the one" and that he is destined to become the bees-knees and set forth on a life of adventure, excitement, and everything that normal people might just end up killing themselves over because they'll never have such experiences.
--and I believe it. No matter how many times I've come across this in anime and videogames, the sudden "Hero-Because" set-up always wraps me in. And while I don't think there's anything wrong with this design, what bothers me is that each time I've tried to analyze this set-up critically, or to study the way it is implemented in media, it appears both extremely transparent and utterly void of character. What bothers me is that there is nothing less interesting than a character who is simply handed fate and excitement on a silver platter--- except there is so much material in the form of successful videogames and anime that proves this wrong that I'm not quite sure what to believe in terms of what is quality, and what is negligent, story-telling.
How Fortunate for You...
To be fair, this form of story-telling is not exclusive to Japanese videogames. As pictured above, the propulsion of Secret of Mana's beginning is of course rooted in King Arthur legend, and the story of "Alice in Wonderland" uses the very same Hero-Because set-up as well; she is sitting on a bank, sees something fantastical, follows it into a hole, and begins her adventure (all on a single page). But whether it's King Arthur, Alice, or Kakeru, what is apparent is that these people have not really earned anything that justifies their glorious adventure. They are people who just so happen to have a skill, whether it's royal bloodline, otherworldly imagination, or a keen understanding of how to drift properly; it's something beyond learning. These are abilities and talents that are outside of reach for a normal human-being, an innate understanding bestowed by lineage, genealogy, or, most damning of all, fate.
What I wonder is: Why on Earth do we root for these fortunate do-gooders? What exactly is it that makes so borderline supernaturally-gifted people the hero? Is it truly because they are moral, that they reflect what is the established good? Rather, how can something so simple as being moral, something that most of us strive to achieve in some fashion or another anyway, be the sole conduit of making a person that is, quite simply, better than you and me, a person to admire and respect? Perhaps my own vision of humanity is skewed, but from what I've gathered is that man's goal, outside of his biological ticks like survival and reproduction, is to achieve greatness. As man being conscious is the catalyst for his utmost fear of dying, is not the most consistent feature amongst human-beings the desire to be great, to achieve something that will ensure memory of one's own legacy and actions long after their death?
But if the hero is someone who doesn't need to do anything but continue to exist and receive the bounties that come their way, to be entitled immortality solely for following the path so favorably bestowed them, isn't that the very antithesis of being an admirable human-being? Is not real greatness the struggle to reach the point of success? To dictate and command one's own journey, and to battle against the fates and societal pressures prescribed them? Why then do these characters, who have never considered the pursuit of greatness but instead were simply delivered the end-result in form of their adventure begun, receive our attention and love?
Vaati is compelled by both personality and reasoning. Link--- just because.
As is often the case, a well-handled villain embodies far more human and intriguing characteristics than the hero, namely in flaws and inventiveness. In the case of Vaati in "The Legend of Zelda: Minish Cap" there is delivered probable reason in the form of his motivating history. Vaati's own pursuit of wisdom leads him to recognize the darkness in humanity, and how it is not monsters that are the greatest evil, but human-beings. By setting out to obtain greatest power so that he may cleanse the world of its true darkness, Vaati upholds a far more sturdy rationale than the hero Link, who sets out to stop Vaati because--- well, just because.
The obvious reason why villains are not the protagonist is that they must express a bias that will ultimately alienate their audience, be them readers, gamers, etc:. Even in the case of Vaati, a fan-favorite amongst Zelda fans, the idea of having him as the "hero," with the goal of achieving supreme power so that you may eventually commit mass-genocide, doesn't necessarily sit too comfortable as motivation to "win."
Amnesia: Formula for Moral Perfection
But is the alternative truly the plain-faced moralist who hasn't any reasoning? Rather, that isn't allowed reasoning? As is expressed with villains, it takes only a single bias, a subtle crook in the way one views the world, to obtain a direction that, while intrinsically human and probable, is also skewed and therefore dirtied, unfitting the golden-clad adventurer who strides solely ahead, never doubting nor faltering as his pursuit is at all times obliging the conduct of "goodness," the ideal of conventional structuring and societal order. No matter his manner-less disposition, the moral hero bathes in the support and favoritism by the many who fail to recognize his innate, real structure. While goodness, and reward for being good, may enlist some idea of reasoning, one need only look at the very heroes they are supporting more closely to see how false this truly is; dullards, the creatively drained, automatons in military-step painted the shade of a nation's flag, a religious cult, a consumer trend, etc:. The moral hero is a psychological trigger, a propaganda tool that obliges the same group-think idiocy that propels conventional morality to this very day.
Is not the established good questionable? In the famous quote "One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter," is not the same paradox applicable here? How are we, the audience, to understand that the moral hero is truly moral without greater recognition of the many universal elements surrounding their world? Rather, why do we accept the moral hero as being the paragon of justice? Perhaps the world has earned its apocalypse, or perhaps the comfortable kingdoms and societies within that world do deserve destruction. Hasn't the growth of societies throughout all time come by revolution and dismantling of the prior-established good over and over again? Why do we ignore these realities repeatedly just to follow a faceless dunce who hasn't even the ability to contemplate their own actions and the results that follow? There is no greater coward than the moral hero; they are the disease of reactionary thought.
---so why the heck do we, I, love them?

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Gaist Crusher (3DS) - Demo Impressions

Capcom's upcoming title, Gaist Crusher, a multi-media series already dipped into anime and manga adaptations, has recently outfitted itself with a demo on the Japanese E-Shop. With a tutorial, three single-player missions, and a segment where gamers can try out their real-life "Gai-Metals" (think Skylander toys), there's a sizable degree of content in the Gaist Crusher demo, and provides a trial as intriguing as it is enjoyable.

*Note: I do not have any of the purchasable Gai-Metals, which can unlock an additional mission and Gaist Gears for this demo.*
Being touted as a "Monster Hunter for Kids," from what is gleamed in the demo is that Gaist Crusher isn't really that. Capcom's other 3DS (and PS3) entry, E.X. Troopers, offered a much closer likeness to an MH-Lite than what is seen from Gaist Crusher here. Instead, Gaist Crusher appears to be little more than a heavily stripped down action-game that obliges basic RPG-tropes like Elemental weakness'/strengths, a leveling system, and very little else (within this demo, remember). While the game boasts some very detailed and interesting settings, from the three available stages the player's sole interaction with the environment is to proceed from one checkpoint to the next. There aren't collectibles nor interactive options anywhere on the three maps; the player solely proceeds along the prescribed path, battling enemies after activating each checkpoint before eventually culminating into a boss battle. In terms of calling this a Monster-Hunter game, the lack of player-interactivity with the map mostly negates that similarity.
What Gaist Crusher does have going for it is that the graphics are excellent, and that the gameplay, while limited, works very well. While Gaist Crusher won't go breaking new-ground with it's spiky-haired heroes and elemental color-tonalities, it still hits the intended mark of being colorful and lively, independent in the meaningful places (particularly your characters costumes/weapons), and expressing an inspiring excitement as the player battles and proceeds. While the actions and attacks are animated terrifically, I think the success of the art-direction is expressed best when your character is venturing between checkpoints; the camera zooms in, and your characters speed increases just enough to summon wind-streaks. It's a small thing, sure, but it's one of those meaningful additions that so often turn an "Okay" game into one memorable.
The battle-system is very simple, but fortunately that simplicity is expertly applied. All Gaist Gears (combat outfits) have three forms, the first being a hand-to-hand brawler and the second being weapon-equipped. Both of these forms have only three attacks that may or may not be applicable to combos, and ultimately follow the weak/medium/heavy structure. What separates the two forms is that only in brawler form can the player guard against attacks, and only in weapon-form can the player dodge/evade. It's a small divide between the two, but in Gaist Crusher these seemingly arbitrary differences are what compose the experience. One of the bosses in the demo, an Electric Black Dragon, was absolutely devastating me. Realizing that evading was not working, I chose to take the fight more slowly in Brawler form so that I could guard against his unavoidable tail-spin attack. Sure enough, my swapping evade for guard, as well as speed for patience, was the very thing needed to conquer the boss. It's in the small decisions like this that Gaist Crusher takes on a Monster Hunter aesthetic; the bosses are as much a puzzle to be solved as they are a punching bag, and it's up to the player to discover and apply the strongest strategy per battle. It's a rewarding design that truly makes the player not only rejoice at having conquered a challenge, but also the fact that they used their own genuine human-intelligence to do it.
The third battle-form is as pictured above; throughout each level the player will build up power to perform either a special attack (a singular, super powerful attack), or to transform into Extreme Mode. Extreme Mode has the player become a mammoth creature for a brief period of time where they can simply devastate enemies and bosses alike. In the demo, the five available Gaist Gears each have an Extreme Mode applicable to animals, such as an electric shark or gigantic hippopotamus, but there are also two unlockable Gears that allow the player to become something non-animalistic. By clearing a level without dying, the player earns a "Gaist Chance," which is essentially a chest that the player beats open. From the two earned in the demo, both offer the player a new Gaist Gear whose extreme mode is the boss that they've defeated (a cloud-riding genie, and a wind dragon). While I didn't find playing as either boss much more exciting than the animals, I'm sure that Gaist Crusher will have a slew of boss characters that are sure to meet the fancy of each gamer, and getting the chance to play as them will be a nice incentive for striving toward a perfect level-run.
Gaist Crusher's demo leaves a lot of questions though. Each of the Gaist Gears have an attached "Level 10" to them, which would imply some style of leveling up. As none of the defeated-enemies conclude with experience points though, and that there aren't any materials found amongst the maps, exactly how Gaist Crusher handles its leveling system remains a daunting mystery. Furthermore, while the tutorial segment of Gaist Crusher has two side-characters speak to you, the single-player missions are solely gameplay. What the world is like outside of the linear levels is uncertain, and exactly what it offers to accentuate the experience is also unknown.
No less, from this gameplay-focused demo I am extremely excited to get my hands on the full product, little that I understand of the overall game despite. It's simple in all the ways that E.X. Troopers was, and alike E.X. Troopers also capitalizes on that simplicity with expert craftsmanship aimed solely at creating a downright fun experience. Despite this being yet another Capcom entry that leans heavily towards their hugely successful Monster Hunter design, it is looking to be yet another project that succeeds in all the places that its source-material simply cannot go toward, and will offer that unique, adaptive style of gameplay that Capcom does best.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Awful Videogame Ideas that Should Totally Happen

Final Fantasy 7: Shinra Kart Division (PS3/Vita)
Genre: Kart Racing

The Final Fantasy series is in disarray for the western world. For Square-Enix, who chose to not localize Type-0, the game Final Fantasy fans desired, and to make Final Fantasy 13 a trilogy, a game that fans were majority-wise unhappy about and wanted nothing more to do with beyond the original title, it is clear that something wonky is occurring in the Final Fantasy department, and that they're soon to lose even more fans for a once universally beloved series.
So let me ask this; what is the most efficient way to reground interest into a turbulent series? Don't answer; shut up; you're wrong. There is nothing better than Go-Karts!
It's clear that Final Fantasy 7 is the most well-regarded entry in the series. Whether it is the game that made gaming "important," or the game that exemplified "Over-rated-ness" to someone, it really doesn't matter; Final Fantasy 7 is the series' entry most played and known, and is the most logical choice for a Kart racer, a genre that doesn't really do much beside oblige a proven gameplay formula and greedily bathe in tapped nostalgia-pools.
But don't think about that! Instead, forget about those sixty bones you just dropped and gush as Cloud Strife side-swipes enemies with his buster-sword, or Turk-Version Vincent makes an emo-boy sob everytime he bounces. Of course, each power-up, that do the same things that they do in every kart-racer, is cosmetically applicable to Final Fantasy 7 as well. Stuck in last place? Well you've a much higher chance of earning Knights of the Round, where the many summoned warriors will race throughout the entire map and disrupt your opponents! Or maybe you'll earn the Mt. Coral Train-Set, which simply explodes the entire race and creates a draw!
Get excited, Final Fantasy fans; Square-Enix is ready to unleash yet another title that is wholly questionable in its delivery--- except this time you'll be too busy rekindling Aeris memories to bother rioting on the Internet about!


Kirby: I'm Not a Conformist (3DS)
Genre: Word Game 
Kirby's never had his chance. His whole life has been spent trying to live up to the expectations of his creators, pursuing things that everyone else is doing, mimicking all the posers and looking cute and happy when, deep down, he's brimming with severe anxiety. But it's gotten to the point where his aspirin, which he tells everyone is actually Prozac, isn't working anymore. Kirby's simply had it inhaling all the conformist junk and is ready to stand up, read-aloud his unedited free-verse poems, and make the world realize that they totally don't understand him.
One of the things that hardcore gamers critique Nintendo about most is that their titles don't take advantage of using videogames as a more meaningful outlet beyond entertainment, and that Nintendo is in the most prime position to push videogames above the media-prescribed negative connotations but neglects to do so. Instead, Nintendo "plays it safe" by focusing on creating enjoyable pieces of entertainment rather than constructing titles boasting biased philosophies and 3D-rendered tear-stains.
But no more! In Kirby: I'm Not a Conformist! gamers will spend their time constructing poetry that furthers Kirby's pursuit of somewhat individuality and self-esteem by using the Nintendo 3DS touch-screen to write uber-dark poetry. But don't worry; no matter how radical I'm Not a Conformist! sounds, Nintendo knows better than to assume you are as independent as Kirby. Instead, the game offers upwards of two hundred stock phrases for the player to independently choose from; is your poem about "The cry of a sparrow," or the "Blood that Drips from a Fallen Phoenix?" Nintendo has you covered! Don't worry about having to come up with something skillful; the most important thing is obliging Kirby's wholly sincere fit for being recognized as a meaningful (although he will then say he is totally incomprehensible and beyond understanding) individual!


Around the World With: Nathan Drake (Vita)
Genre: Adventure/Education
I've always been confused by education games. As they are, indeed, videogames, and are games that have empirical, practical value beneficial to any person, and offer this practicality in delightful, fun games, you'd think they'd have reached a more successful zenith in the videogame market by now. But they haven't, and there's so obvious a reason why that it's borderline maddening some developer hasn't caught onto it yet:
There aren't any guns and explosions, bro!
In Around the World With: Nathan Drake, the title takes advantage of everything established in the Uncharted series except for Nathan Drake mass-murdering indigenous people of countries he doesn't understand beyond their ancient history. Don't worry, patriots: it isn't that we're "against" Nathan Drake being a pristine Freedom Fighter, but that to meet an ESRB applicable to kids we simply can't have Nathan gun-running entire nations he knows nothing about in his morally-reasonable pursuit of man-handling historically-spared areas.
"But if Nathan hasn't a gun," you ask, "Then how is this fun?" Well we're going to keep everything but Nathan with a gun. By being able to focus more on minimizing international cultures to war-obsessed territories rife with black-and-white personalities, we can create even more cinematics brimming with explosions, retain gorgeous graphics which are clearly the most important thing in a modern game, as well as enlist even more totally not blatantly scripted and meaningless platform sections that the player literally can't fail at; we all know how much gamers like "choice" in their videogames!
So how does this play? You control Nathan, traveling through war-zones inside gorgeous city environments, and manage your way from one education-area to the next. In these peaceful places, Nathan meets up with Sully who then propositions him with a series of challenges to uncover excessively biased culutral and historical facts concerning why whatever place in the world your at is nothing more than violent and irate. These facts are "discovered" by partaking in various puzzles that have you lift a crate from one side of the room to another, or maybe swing on a chandelier as you pick up the several torn pieces of a once cohesive and intelligent text and read only the applicable segments concerning what we decide is reasonable. Don't worry, parochial parents; we'll be sure to omit the part where most third-world dictatorships and violent repressions are financially backed by foreign superpowers with intentions of retaining sweatshop-levels of poverty and economic inferiority to uphold corporate backing; obviously your kids don't need to know about that stuff!!


Alan Wake: Origins (Xbox 360)
Genre: Action-Adventure
Did you know that Edgar Allen Poe was an alcoholic? And F. Scott Fitzgerald? And Charles Bukowski? And many, many more writers also? Of the several artistic fields, creative-writing tends to be the only one conductive of alcohol dependency, an imaginative process that is not consciously but unconsciously present, tapped into solely by degrading one's own brain with a surplus of booze before perceiving the many angles, worlds, and lives present in the imagination.
Enter Alan Wake: Origins. In this prologue, Alan Wake exists prior to his critical success as a mystery author, living day-by-day while working an overnight stocking job at a super-market and hammering out as much of his novel's 1st-draft he can before falling asleep. Every day he is tormented by the many emails of various literary magazines alerting him that his short-stories were "Well written, but unfortunately we cannot use them at this time." Living inside a cramped apartment stuffed on the second floor of a derelict-enthused inn/pub, Alan battles internally his need to construct a manuscript that will launch his career and dream of being a successful writer, and the savory, immediate pleasures present in the hedonistic bar right below his feet. He continues this battle without answer for some time, but eventually the demons of either side come to haunt him both mentally and physically.
In Origins you play as Alan Wake on his nocturnal weekends, which he christens by having three or seven beers with his Wheaties before stumbling out for a moonlit stroll. As a writer, Alan is obviously an introvert, and so instead of going to clubs or late-night coffee-shops Alan spends his time wandering pitch-black woods and shadowy lakes. It is here, in dark and desolate places, that Alan's inebriated fantasies come to life in the form of murderous and paranormal entities, leading him toward either the continuity of his craft as a writer, or into the negligent, forgettable slums as a drunk. No less, neither side has a definitive outcome; using a morality system equally as brilliant as Bioshock, it is up to the player to choose either outcome for Alan; will he pursue the refinement of his art, or drink more beer and pass out on a bench with a by-the-hour prostitute? There is no "good-or-bad;" it's up to the player to decide!


Capcom Carousal: Because We're Neglected! (PS3/3DS)
Genre: Mini-Game Collection
Alike Square-Enix, Capcom is also a company host to some seriously questionable decisions. Whether it's blaming fans for the downfall of a beloved series or proclaiming philosophies of focusing more on established series but then ignoring the ones that everybody loves, Capcom is certainly a confusing company, and one that will probably persist in awful decision-making for years to come.
So what about those amazing series? When will a modern Powerstone come out, or won't Onimusha ever get the continuation it certainly deserves? Can't we at least get an HD collection of Viewtiful Joe, or an online-enabled Project Justice? Do I even need to ask if Megaman is ever going to escape the moon?
Well forget about those questions, because the answer is finally here! Capcom Carousal: Because We're Neglected! answers each and every doubtful Capcom's fans worries, and all at the same time! By pitting the eclectic roster of Capcom's greatly neglected series together in a mini-game collection, fans of Capcom's quality series' can watch their favorite heroes compete for the hallucinatory title of "King Carousal," all the while catching up and learning about each character's present and future unhappiness! Each mini-game begins with the characters rolling a die; whatever number pops is the number of whiskey shots you're character has to take. Drink too much and your character might just start revealing what's been going on in their life and why their series flopped as they compete in totally meaningless mini-games of beach volley-ball and Simon Says. Get ready, Capcom fans; Megaman is sure to let you know how much of a cheap piece-of-s*** you are because it was obviously your fault the series ended, and Viewtiful Joe might just shed some viewtiful tears as he regrets being an action-game that did something different and enjoyable rather than what is commercially prominent.
Be excited, gamers; Capcom Carousal is a game created wholly by you!--- and your wallet habits.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Japanese Story-Telling: the Strange and the Meaningful

A videogame debate I've long cemented my own views on is "Story Vs Gameplay." The debate here is where how much story is appropriate for a game, and whether or not there is a line where story gets in the way of a more streamlined and active gameplay experience. There are solid points on each side, but my own conclusion is this; I don't play videogames for the story, and I don't play videogames for the cinematics; I play videogames for the gameplay. While I can appreciate a gripping plot and unique roster of characters as much as anyone else, it is not why I play videogames; for those things, that is why I read literature.
As much of what I write about on this blog is rather strictly Japanese-based, I feel it's thematic to make a literature list exclusive to Japanese authors. I don't mean to say that Japanese authors are "more" than Western authors or anything like that, but from the books I've read by Japanese authors there certainly is an artistic-separation in comparison to Western authors, no different than as in videogames. Even though literature, which obliges a goal of expressing something universally human, the way these stories do so I felt was just a bit different than from what I've typically read. Rather, that it was a bit Japanese from what I've normally read, and because of so was just a little bit more perplexing and, at times, a little more meaningful also.

The Stories of Ibis - Hiroshi Yamamoto
Translated by Takami Nieda
To say The Stories of Ibis is a retelling of Issac Asimov's I, Robot wouldn't be doing the story justice, but in earnest The Stories of Ibis is exactly that. Rather though, where the two stories differ is on the degree of importance they place onto science-fiction, and humanity. With I, Robot, the core focus of the several short-stories was on revealing the overall growth of artificial-intelligence, how it begun as a purely mechanical series of operations but then evolved into a rapid-fire cognitive-processor that, through logic, hastily surpassed human intelligence. In I, Robot, the focus of the stories was presenting a rational prospect of how a man-made creation can surpass man itself.
Stories of Ibis does this also; the short-stories depicting the growth and rise of A.I. are told by a superior combat-robot to a young boy in a post-apocalyptic world where robots run not only the earth, but have expanded into the galaxy also. That said, what separates Ibis from I, Robot is that the stories are not so much about fixing a problem with an earlier robotic form (and thereby constructing a superior being), but expressing how human beings can cherish and rely on an artificial being no different than on a real-life person. What Ibis does in its short-stories is present an imperfect robot interacting with imperfect human-beings; each story climaxes not by "fixing" the early robotic-entity, but by sharing how human understanding and concern can also be the same as an artificial being's. In I, Robot, the overall conclusion is that robots probably would be better off without humans, but because they are built with the "Three Laws" that prevent them from harming humans they must instead create a life reasonable alongside humanity. In Ibis though, the conclusion is again that human-beings are, indeed, inferior to a logic-based species, but instead of being subjected to living alongside humans, the artificial-intelligence fosters and develops a reason why human-beings, in their imperfectness, are a significant, and beautiful, creature, one that is worth supporting, maintaining, and even learning from in their flawed pursuit of goodness.

Brave Story - Miyuke Miyabe 
Translated by Alexander O. Smith
Miyuke Miyabe is a writer with a diverse scope of works. While primarily a Mystery/Crime Thriller author (several of these works have been translated also; highly recommend All She Was Worth!), Miyabe has also expanded into Children's Fantasy. Beyond the phenomenal novelization of the videogame "Ico" in Ico: Castle of Mist, Miyabe also wrote Brave Story, a novel which won several awards, received an anime film-adaptation, and even went on to receive three different videogames adaptations and extensions ("Brave Story: New Traveler" (PSP) was localized in English).
So what is Brave Story? Outside of being an absolutely mammoth novel, Brave Story is a bizarrely dark, but immensely inspiring, fantasy-adventure that follows not the typical style of Fantasy literature as mastered by J.R. Tolkein, but the style found in retro Role-Playing games such as the classic "Final Fantasy" and "Tales" games. Without spoiling anything, the journey begins with fifth grader Wataru Mitani discovering that there are several very real, very mature problems in his parent's life, and that their issues are going to soon bring consequences irreparable and permanent amongst both themselves and Wataru. In a frantic attempt to prevent disaster, Wataru eventually finds himself in a fantastical world called Vision, a place rife with animalistic-persons, monsters whose innards are filled with gold, and a series of quests that ultimately bring Wataru closer to finding the Goddess, the person who can restore the equilibrium in his real life.
Brave Story is nothing short from an epic. At over a thousand pages, Brave Story's conclusion brings into focus highly prominent philosophies and arguments that span across destiny, good and evil, child-rearing, and much more. While an intimidating novel in size, the journey of Brave Story is one equally compelling and rewarding for the attention required in undertaking it, and holds significance for both young and adult readers alike.

Welcome to the NHK - Tatsuhiko Takimoto
Translated by Lindsey Akashi
If you're familiar with "Tragic Individual" novels such as The Catcher in the Rye or The Perks of Being a Wallflower, there's a similar story here in Welcome to the NHK. That said, NHK is straight-up crazy, and is a downright delight to read.
The story follows Satou, a hikikomori (Japanese term for "shut-in," or Agoraphobe) who has strictly given up on becoming a meaningful human-being. At the age of twenty-two he has spent the last four years of his life holed up in his studio-apartment, living off an allowance by his parents and spending it on drugs, alcohol and pornography to get through each day. As a college dropout without any skills or ambition, Satou is truly living up the negative connotations prescribed a hikikomori, and is in some bizarre way seemingly proud of it despite his constant wallowing of being such a person.
The plot kicks-off with a letter from Satou's mother stating that, in a month, his allowance is to be cut-off. In a desperate attempt to become a functional human-being, Satou manages to leave his apartment and go looking for a job, where he is then judged and acquired by a mysterious teenage girl named Misaki. Seeing through Satou, she gauges him a "worthless hikikomori" and decides to enlist him into a strange program of her own called "Escaping the Hikikomori Lifestyle." Essentially, the story follows a see-saw pattern where Satou attempts to trick Misaki into believing he is a "creator," someone professional and artistic, and Misaki gradually releases why it is exactly she is helping so pathetic a human-being.
It's a challenging story to create a synopsis over, but really this story is just hilarious, sad, and inspiring throughout, frequently all at the same time also. With its focus being on rather depressing realities of sex, disappointment, and angst, Welcome to the NHK tells a uncomfortably raw tale that returns to light the question of why "bad things" even exist, and why so many of us are tortured by things we've no control over.

Dark Water - Koji Suzuki 
Translated by Glynne Walley
You may not know it, but you're probably familiar with Koji Suzuki. This is the man who wrote the original Ringu novel, which was later made into the hugely successful horror film that placed Japanese Yurei ghosts into the Hollywood spotlight. As "The Ring" movie was terrific, so also is the original novel it is based upon; but, instead of targeting that, I'd rather mention Suzuki's lesser acclaimed short-story collection.
Dark Water is a short-story collection that inserts a same two elements throughout each of it's several stories; dark water, and ghosts. Every story orbits around this basis of water and spirit, and while it makes the gruesome stories somewhat predictable it also instills an oddly compelling layer of suspense. As these short-stories are indeed Horror, the moment water is mentioned you know that something bizarre, probably violent, and from beyond the grave is nearby, and exactly who and why the spirit exists is the thrilling mystery unraveled in each story.
While it's traditional for short-story collections to uphold a certain theme, I've never encountered one so determinedly unified. While at first I was rather confused and judgmental of the consistent two elements, by the end of the collection I was highly impressed; seeing how a sole two consistencies can create so many extensively independent tales from one another was almost as much a treat as the terrifying stories themselves.

After the Quake - Haruki Murakami
Translated by Jay Rubin
Haruki Murakami is a highly famous writer whose novels are actually more warmly received in the west than they are in Japan. Called the "Japanese Kafka," Murakami's stories nestle closely to Surrealism, and unwind into rather sentimental, artful conclusions that usually express either Nihilism, or just plain misery of being a human-being. While The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle and Norwegian Wood are the more famous of Murakami's works, like Dark Water above I'd rather mention one of Murakami's short-story collections; the range of character and creativity that exists in each story is of such magnitude that I have never come across a short-story collection I admire more.
after the quake's stories each take place within a distant proximity of the Kobe earthquake in Japan of 1995, a tragic event that took more than 6,000 lives and decimated hundreds of Kobe homes and offices. Despite each character not being directly affected from the earthquake, by being distant witness' to the scope of the destruction there tears open a hole in each character's own heart or values. Most of the stories don't appear to have any resolution at their conclusion, or even reveal what exactly it is that distorts each character. It's in the prose, though, that there exists a profound, suffocating sadness, and following the chain of somber events and words each character enacts while floating inside of the minimal and depressing tone there is formulated a strangely coherent understanding. It isn't so much about recognizing "why" things are awful, or what can be done to fix them, but rather that misery is as solid a reality as being successful; that all things are transitory, and how hope and belief is often no more than a futile delusional.
Attempting to condense any of the short-stories into brief examples of what makes them so significant would sincerely do them injustice; what I will say is that, the next time you're at the bookstore, grab this collection and read through the short story "all god's children can dance." Just trust this distant blogger; you won't be disappointed.