Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Assassin's Creed: Revelations Thoughts

Another year, another Assassin's Creed game. Except somehow it seems that I'm perpetually 2 years behind the curve here. Last year I played Brotherhood, and now a year later I've finally gotten around to playing Revelations. I guess the thing is, I have something of a love/hate relationship with Assassin's Creed. I love climbing about historical settings hitting up all the little icons on my map. However Assassin's Creed games always seem to know just how to frustrate the bejesus out of me. It seems to be the trend that, by the time I'm done with one game I'm frustrated enough that I wait a whole year to play the next one. And of course by that point, the latest title will have come out, thus perpetuating the 2 game backlog. At any rate, I knew going into Revelations that it had not been quite as well received as it's brethren. Now that I have completed the game, here are my own thoughts on the matter.

At first, I was actually pretty pleased with Revelations. One of my biggest complaints with Brotherhood was how restrictive it was. It felt like invisible walls were erected at seemingly random places all over the world. On the other hand, Revelations gives you unfettered access to pretty much the entire map and it's activities within the first hour or so of gameplay. However after playing the game, I feel like Revelations actually went too far the other way, at least for my taste. Personally I feel that the answer is somewhere in the middle. The player should have access to side missions, but they should also be encouraged to progress the story. Rather than throwing all the side content at you at once, I would prefer it be broken up a little bit. In this way it feels like your "reward" for completing all the side quests is moving on with the story, and unlocking the next area of the map. With that said, I actually feel like Brotherhood got the free roaming more right than Revelations, despite my issues with it. I just wish that divisions on the map had been more logical and better communicated.

As far as Revelations' gameplay goes, it is, unsurprisingly, pretty much identical to Brotherhood. At least on the surface. The two big additions are the hook blade and bombs. The hook blade creates some mildly interesting additions to how climbing works, but much of it seems cosmetic. The biggest difference comes in the form of being able to ride ziplines. Ziplines are certainly cool, but they really don't come up very often. Outside story missions, I only used them once or twice. As far as bombs, they seem like a fairly interesting addition, but I honestly just couldn't be bothered. The issue is that the bomb system was just too complicated to be worth it to me. It comes with an entire crafting system, three different categories of bombs, and customized bombs composed of three different parts. It's not wildly complex, I just never felt compelled to play with the system. I would use the odd bomb, but most of the time I felt that I would just rather stick with the mechanics that I had been using for the last 2-3 games.

This issue with the bombs is really indicative of a larger issue with the game on the whole, too. One thing I rather liked about Brotherhood was the way it encouraged you to use a wider array of tools to get the job done. Synchronization goals would have you experiment with different tools, and after exposing you to them the game would later give you situations where said tool would be ideal to use. In contrast, Revelations felt like I could just brute force my way through everything. I don't think I used poison more than once, and I'm pretty sure I never used the smoke bomb, both of which were staples in Brotherhood. I never really saw the need. It felt like I could play through the entire game using nothing but the wrist blade and throwing knives. On top of this, I never hired a single group of Thieves, Mercenaries or Romani. They were there, but they didn't really seem to serve a real purpose. It's like all these things are still in the game just because it doesn't make sense to remove functionality, but they didn't take the time to create situations where they would actually be useful.

This is kind of indicative of my feeling on the game as a whole. It feels like it was rushed. It feels like the shell of a game, like Ubisoft just took the engine from Brotherhood, modeled a new town, and shipped it. It's a good example of how important level design is. Good mechanics are great, but without a world that provides you with the proper challenges, they feel superfluous. That's not to say that Constantinople itself is poorly made, because it's a nice city. It just feels like everything about Revelations is lacking the spirit the previous games had. This is not Ezio's swan song so much as a placeholder to finish Altair's story and hold people over until Assassin's Creed III. This chapter of the story could have been skipped altogether and I don't feel like you would miss it. If anything, after the ending of Brotherhood Revelations is pretty anti-climactic. That's not to say Revelations is a bad game, it's just decent.

Thursday, 5 December 2013

4 Reasons A Link Between Worlds is the Best Zelda Yet

Back when Nintendo was just pushing the 3DS onto an unsuspecting world, there was a lot of talk about where the Zelda franchise was going. Skyward Sword had been in the works for a long time, and now Ocarina of Time was getting a pretty major facelift in the form of Ocarina of Time 3D. So naturally people started to wonder, if Ocarina of Time was getting remade, what was next? Many people have rallied long and hard for Majora's Mask, though unfortunately that has not yet come to fruition. However, it didn't take long before Shigeru Miyamoto himself piped up saying he would love to remake A Link to the Past

Now I don't know if you know this, but I love me some Link to the Past, so I was pretty hyped about the possibility of a remake of my favorite Zelda game. Then along comes word that A Link Between Worlds was coming, and was a direct sequel to A Link to the Past. I was instantly interested in the game. I didn't even make the connection at the time, that this was our HD remake. We probably aren't going to get an HD Link to the Past. At first this realization made me kind of sad, but I think it's for the best. A Link Between Worlds is probably a better game than an HD Link to the Past could have been. A Link Between Worlds is probably the best Zelda game to date, in fact. Here are some reasons why:

1) The Controls

It wasn't that long ago that I talked a bit about the importance of good controls. They matter a lot. You can tell a game is going to be fun if you pick it up and just controlling your character feels good even without goals or challenges to overcome. A Link Between Worlds has this feel. From minute one you can tell just how responsive Link is to your slightest nudge on the circle pad. He rockets around Hyrule at what seems like a blistering pace, and yet it never feels like he is out of control. He goes where you want, when you want. It seems simple, but it goes a long way when you can't blame stupid deaths on bad controls.

Of course a lot of this precision comes from the simple fact that the 3DS uses the circle pad to control Link's movement. If you think about it, just about every 2D Zelda game has always used the d-pad for character movement. This of course comes with the inherent disadvantage of only being able to handle 8 different directional inputs. So it's not really a big surprise that given the 360 degree movement of the circle pad, A Link Between Worlds feels like a breath of fresh air. Granted there was Four Swords Adventures on the GameCube, and it's controls never really felt quite so awe-inspiring. But we won't talk about that.

2) The "Magic" Meter

One of the things that A Link Between Worlds does best is making little changes that challenge the Zelda norm. Zelda has been around forever, and there are so many mechanics that have just existed from game to game, virtually unchanged in 20+ years. One of the biggest, but subtlest things A Link Between Worlds changes is the way it handles items, and more to the point, ammunition. You don't have to collect bombs or arrows or magic. Every item in the game uses the same resource; a "magic" meter which regenerates at a pretty rapid pace.

This actually has a pretty profound effect on gameplay. At first I was a little dubious, because it means for example, I can only shoot x arrows in y period of time. But gradually I realized that because this meter always refills itself, I had so much more freedom to use items. There is no saving your magic so you can use the Fire Rod to solve puzzles, or holding on to arrows to use them on the boss. You can throw bombs at random enemies all day and it's all good. It makes combat seem a lot more free to be done how you see fit, rather than relying on your sword to do everything. It cleans up the UI nicely, too. It's interesting, because I noticed a similar effect with the more freeform magic system in the Adventure of Link, but for the past 25 years the series has steered away from that.

3) Truly 3D 2D

Link Between Worlds occupies this intriguing space wherein it's a game which is fully rendered in 3D, but it plays like a 2D game, but requires you to think in three dimensions. It's kind of amazing really, that with 3D games having existed for over 15 years, it's a game masquerading as 2D which nails the third dimensional game play better than most "proper" 3D games. Never does a puzzle say " look up, there's a switch on the ceiling you can't see, LOL 3D". Instead it just takes advantage of the fact that in 3D you can so easily render multiple elevations, change perspectives, transition to the backside of a wall, whatever.

The top down view means you can always see exactly what the designers want you to be able to see, but it's still a world where you can merge with and walk around on the walls and smoothly transition between different elevations. I mean sure, we've been pushing blocks onto lower floors for a long time now, but A Link Between Worlds forces you to look at every room in an entirely different way. Every wall has the potential to be a road. The only other game I can think of that has a similar feel to it is Portal. And I think we all know that comparing anything to Portal is pretty glowing praise.

4) The Nostalgia Dance

Let's be real here for a second. I was always going to love a Link Between Worlds. My body is physically unable to dislike a sequel to A Link to the Past just because of my history with the game. So as you can probably imagine, a Link Between Worlds is nostalgia overload for me. The sounds enemies make when you die or when you pick up rupees made me happy. The orchestrated songs from Link to the Past delighted me. The almost identical overworld map gave me all the feels. How many times have I made the journey between Kakariko Village and the Eastern Palace? This time felt little different from when I was 6. It feels like every nook and cranny of A Link Between Worlds was constructed with a nod to fans of A Link to the Past.

What's more impressive though, is that underneath all the similarities, A Link Between Worlds is it's own game. Every iota of this game perfectly maintains the feel of it's predecessor, but it's a brand new experience. The motto of this game may as well be "the same, but different" because it's stamped all over the place. Despite the similarities it still delivers on substance for returning players, and it's still hugely enjoyable for those who are not. The game is great with or without the nostalgia factor, and the fact that Nintendo has managed to strike such a great balance is pretty impressive. Although with that said, I'll never forgive them for changing the way the tempered sword sounds.

Monday, 4 November 2013

Character Controls That "Feel" Good

Today I'm going to tell you the secret to making a good video game (or at least, one that isn't text/menu based). The trick is to make a game that feels good to play. The story isn't that big a deal, the mechanics are trivial, the graphics and audio are on the sidelines somewhere. Everything else plays second fiddle to having a game with good controls. Many people don't realize it, but subtle nuances in the way a character responds to inputs can make a huge difference on just about every aspect of a game. You've probably played at least one game wherein as soon as you picked up the controller, your character felt sluggish and cluncky and just wrong. From minute 1 you lose most if not all interest in the game. Even when a game does have good controls, subtle decisions as to how those controls work can change a lot about how the player will play that game.

I mention all of this because over the past couple days I've run into two games that are perfect examples of the effect that small control nuances can have. Specifically, the games I am referring to are Castelvania: Circle of the Moon and Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance. Both games star whip-wielding members of the Belmont Clain, who have almost identical ability sets. Both are games on the Gameboy Advance, and thus have the same buttons available to them. What's most interesting though is that while both games have control issues, they are almost opposites in where those issues lie. In short, Circle of the Moon controls a lot more like the older Castlevania games - it's very slow and forces you to be a bit more premeditated about how you attack. Harmony of Dissonance on the other hand feels a lot more like controlling Alucard from Symphony of the Night - it's much faster, but the actual whip control is only so-so.

When it comes to controlling a character who wields a short ranged weapon, I am of the opinion that having precise control over your character is very important. Being locked into a jump arc sucks, especially when you are plunging headlong into the bad guy because you can't shoot him from the other side of the screen. Circle of the Moon manages whip controls pretty much perfectly. The whip is a little slow coming out, but this is a conscious choice that existed in all previous games in the series as well. It forces the player to be a bit more careful, and adds a bit of skill to whip use. Harmony of Dissonance adjusts the delay to the end of the attack, opting for a whip that's faster out of the gate, but doesn't feel anywhere near as satisfying to score hits with. More importantly however is that Harmony of Dissonance affords the player absolutely no mid-air control after your whip has been used. This means that if the enemy alters course after you jump or you realize your jump arc has you bumping into the baddie's big toe, you have no choice but to eat some damage. This one fact annoyed me more than anything else in the game, from start to completion. 

Another interesting comparison lies in the way dashing a jumping works. When it comes to dashing, Harmony of Dissonance is a hands down winner. Circle of the Moon requires the player to double tap left or right in order to dash, meaning that you frequently find yourself walking when you really need to run. This further means that you often will not jump as far or as high as you expected, as dashing increases the distance of both of these. On the other hand, Harmony of Dissonance has movement controls working quite well. At any time the player can hit R or L to dash right or left respectively, making it very easy to quickly move in and out of range of an enemy. What's more, you can dash in the same direction in very quick succession, making basic movement feel significantly faster, more involved and just all around fun. However, Harmony of Dissonance does not allow you to dash-jump, which is very strange and somewhat jarring. When jumping, you go the exact same speed through the air regardless of whether you were dashing or walking previously. This feels really strange when you spend some time dashing, immediately slow down when airborne, and then resume dashing when touching the ground. You lose all sense of momentum, and it feels like jumps don't go as far as they should.

Ultimately, the two games are profoundly different in a lot of ways, I just found these control differences really interesting. Circle of the Moon is significantly harder and contains many enemies and areas that feel downright unfair, and yet it's whip combat feels much better simply because you can better control your movement through the air. Running around Dracula's castle is significantly less bothersome and more fun because of how dashing works in Harmony of Dissonance, and yet as soon as your feet leave the ground things start to feel kind of gross and weird. In terms of skill set, Nathan Graves and Juste Belmont are almost identical, and yet controlling them feels almost completely different.

Sunday, 6 October 2013

The Ever Ecletic Saints Row IV

Around this time last year, I played through Saints Row the Third, a game with some strokes of brilliance, and some less than ideal aspects. SR3 was something of a flagship that took the series from being a cult hit, to a wild and ridiculous mainstream success. People decided they were a fan of a Grand Theft Auto style game that didn't take itself seriously at all. Then came the DLC. Then the game's published THQ went bankrupt. Placed in a decidedly strange situation wherin you have a wildly successful franchise, but a publisher who has gone broke, Saints Row developers Volition were put in a pretty awkward place. The result is that what was once intended to be a huge DLC expansion ended up being the standalone Saints Row IV. Some people were thrilled, some people were skeptical. Most just wanted more Professor Genki. As ever though, the question is, is the game any good?

So let's start at the beginning. The story of the last 3 Saints Row games follows the growth of the Third Street Saints from a down and out street gang, to somehow becoming a mainstream media empire. In SR4's opening sequences you become President of the United States, witness Earth be destroyed, get placed into a Matrix-like simulation, acquire super powers, and plot the downfall of the alien overlord Zinyak. And yet, this is all done as a tutorial. Sure, it makes sense to introduce the plot through gameplay, but this stuff should be epic. How do you make defending The White House from aliens boring? Make it a tutorial that doesn't have much to do with the game at all. How do we introduce an open world game? Clearly with a hallway shooter segment. Oh by the way, about that shooting? This game is about super powers, so don't sweat it too much. Now here, have a boring, needlessly protracted turret segment.

Unfortunately, that's really the story of Saints Row IV. It inherits everything from Saints Row the Third, and the new is constantly at odds with the old. Saints Row the Third was about jacking cars, driving in the oncoming lane, shooting rival gangs with ridiculous missions, and doing silly activities. All of that is still in Saints Row IV, but what's the point? Why use guns when you can throw fireballs? Why steal cars when you can run faster on foot? That's cute, you can vault over fences... or you could jump 500 feet in the air, dive into the ground and nuke the fence into oblivion. Don't get me wrong, the super powers are definitely fun, there's no doubt., but being tacked onto an existing engine makes them feel significantly more clunky than in say, inFamous. At least until they throw you into a mission where you are without them. It's like they needed to do that occasionally just to justify guns even existing. At least they are pretty good about providing you with crazy vehicles or power armor to use part way through these segments so you don't miss your powers too much.

As far as the game flow, things feel a lot less coherent than Saints Row the Third, too. You can cruise around Cyber Steelport and do many of the same or similar activities as in real Steelport. Except now there is this whole quest system. Many of the games' quests involve exiting the simulation and talking to a crew member on your ship in the real world. Which seems to me like it doesn't really accomplish much aside from adding travel and loading time to your task. Sure there's a story/atmosphere/otherlameexcuse reason to do it, but let's be real here. Saints Row IV's story is not trying very hard, it's barely there. This game is about being the super powered president. I guess you could say it's making some kind of statement about escapism, but I really don't care. It's just another example of the world with super powers being at odds with the world without. I want to stay in the simulation and run up buildings, don't make me work so hard to get to the fun parts. It seems an odd thing to do, considering a big part of Saints Row the Third's appeal was always making the player feel like they are doing something worthwhile with their time.

As for the non-story quests, most of them simply involve doing the various activities strewn about Cyber Steelport. On one hand, this is pretty cool, because it means you have a little extra incentive/reward for doing said activities. Except I completed most of them before even getting the respective quests. As a result, the activities felt kind of soulless and unrewarding. Then I got a bit farther in the story, and unlocked a slew of rewards all at once. It just seems to me that the way the game is paced out is all over the place. You start out in a painfully linear/lengthy tutorial, pining for the open world. Then you get it, and are given a world with a million tasks and no incentives. Then you go back to the real world to do some story missions, and are rewarded with incentives in the cyber world. Surely at the very least, they should have restricted what activities you can do at the start a little more, and let the player narrow their focus a little. 

What I will say about Saints Row IV though, is that when it get it right, it does it in style. The game is absolutely littered with delicious nerdy references. They feel out of place in a franchise that started as a gritty GTA clone, but I'll not say no to a tongue-in-cheek Metal Gear Solid segment. What's more, Volition once again flex's it's ability to create moments that are absolutely perfect for certain 80's songs. Those moments where you can just rock out and be awesome to a song that fits the moment perfectly.. Well they are absolutely stunning. Really, that's what this game is all about. It's about being awesome, being silly, being nerdy and being ridiculous. Saints Row IV definitely does all of this, but I would personally argue that Saints Row the Third did it better. I think it comes down to expectations. Saints Row the Third has tons of crazy in it, but it has a lot of the typical stuff, too. In contrast, Saints Row IV is thoroughly ridiculous from start to finish, and when everything is crazy, nothing is. The absurdity is still amusing, but not as much as it could have been.

So I suppose this is a long winded way of saying that Saints Row IV is a decent game, but has a lot of issues. I would say that while Saints Row the Third was a consistently good game, Saints Row IV consistently rocks back and forth between being amazing and being pretty mediocre. Considering the rocky publisher issues Volition experienced during development, it's not entirely surprising that it would end up being a little spotty in places. After all, this was a game that was never intended to be a sequel. I kind of wonder if it shouldn't have stayed as an expansion, it seems to me that a lot of complaints would evaporate had that been the case. In the end of the day though, I did have an overall good time with the game, and I will look forward to any future Saints Row IP. The next time I want to play with super powers though, I'm definitely going to play a game that was built from the ground up with them in mind.

Friday, 23 August 2013

Impressions of Shin Megami Tensei IV

Atlus has some pretty big shoes to fill these days. Over the past decade or so, public opinion of the Final Fantasy franchise (and Square Enix as a whole) as steadily declined. In a time where the JRPG titan can't seem to do anything right, a lot of people are turning to Atlus' Shin Megami Tensei series as the new Messiah. This, combined with a special offer from Nintendo meant Shin Megami Tensei 4 was always going to sell pretty well. However the question is, was Atlus able to perform with all eyes on them? With everyone expecting another legendary masterpiece like Persona 4 (or at least a game to fill the void of good Final Fantasy games) could SMT IV really hit it out of the park? Well, I've played the game for about 25 hours so far, and with that experience I am going to try and answer said question.

Now before I get into my actual analysis of the game, I want to talk a little bit about my experience with the franchise so far. I've played a few hours of Persona 3, but never really sat down and played it consistently. I've also played through Devil survivor, parts of which I really liked, other parts of which I really didn't. The reason I mention these things is because when I first played Devil Survivor, I thought things like the demon fusion, the game's difficulty, earning extra turns etc. were interesting or unique, when in reality they are staples of the entire Shin Megami Tensei franchise. Well, these things are all present in Shin Megami Tensei IV as well, and my opinion on them has not really changed much. Demon fusion is a pretty awesome mechanic, extra turns are really neat (when you get them), and the difficulty is a giant thorn in my side.

So let me talk on the combat/difficulty first, then. SMT games are pretty well known for being hard, and while I don't have a lot of games to compare, SMT IV seems to be no different. Now, I'm all for challenging RPGs, games that require strategy and planning, but there is a very fine line between challenging and frustrating. I would personally say that SMT IV has at least one foot over that line. I think it all comes down to the bonus turn mechanic. Basically, if you hit an enemy's elemental weakness, get a critical hit, etc. you earn a bonus turn, and same goes for the enemies. If you miss, hit an enemy's resistance etc, you lose 2 turns. On one hand, it's super satisfying to assemble a team of ice damage dealers to take out that boss that's weak to ice. You will probably decimate him. On the other hand, if you don't have that team of ice damage dealers, you will probably fail miserably. Heck, if you get unlucky and miss once or twice, you will fail miserably. 

I personally feel that one of the big differences that makes this mechanic interesting in Devil Survivor but terrible in SMT IV is simply the information given to the player. In Devil Survor, you know before you even engage an enemy what their teams strengths and weaknesses are. In SMT IV this is definitely not the case. The first time you encounter an enemy you can only guess what their elemental properties are, and if you guess wrong the entire flow of battle turns against you. If it's a normal enemy then you can probably manage, though there's a good chance you will suffer enough damage to necessitate heading back to base to heal up. But a single wrong move against a boss will likely spell your doom. The only reliable way to beat bosses is to fight them once, use as many elements against them as you can to determine their weaknesses, then immediately reset and go put together a team to counter said boss. That isn't particularly strategic gameplay to me. There are just so many ways for your group to die that are outside of your control, and they are not limited to boss fights. It almost never feels like a death is because you messed up so much as you got unlucky or the enemy was cheap.

Beyond issues with the battle system, the game has plenty of other weaknesses as well. In short: The story moves slower than any other game I can think of. It took ~10 hours for anything of note to happen, many full games aren't even that long. Money is pretty hard to get your hands on, and yet doesn't seem to offer a whole lot besides convenience. I'd rather spend money to summon a demon that I could catch for free than buy a new sword that makes no perceivable difference in battle. You can only have one active quest at a time? Really? Navigating the "world map" is very awkward and usually involves visiting every location to find the one you are actually looking for. Once you leave the starting area, the game barely even tries to direct you any more. Leveling up feels kind of useless, as stat increases don't really make a noticeable difference in battle. The characters are pretty uninteresting and you'r "party members" seem completely superfluous. And that's all that I can honestly think about at the moment.

The game is definitely not all bad though. There are a lot of neat little things about it that kept me playing as long as I have. The demon fusion system is as interesting as ever, and I find it pretty enjoyable planning out the ultimate demon team (including reserves to swap in if one dies, or to heal outside of battle). SMT IV also has a system where demons can teach your avatar abilities, but if the avatar already knows the ability in question, it just gets stronger. I find it really satisfying to plan out demon fusions in order to get the most powerful demons, but also give the avatar +8 in the abilities I want. The app system is interesting, allowing the player to choose which bonuses they value most (extra skill slots, more demon reserves, regen mp while walking, convince demons to give you money, etc). Limiting the number of each type of consumable item the player can hold is a great idea in a dungeon crawler game. Any time you die you can return exactly to where you were (although, resetting the game seems to be faster). Furthermore, another interesting part of dieing is that you can pay to be revived with money, or you can use the 3DS' play coins, making SMT IV the first game I have personally seen to actually use play coins (though again, resetting is free). And finally, what little plot I have seen is fairly interesting.

All in all Shin Megami Tensei IV is a game that I want desperately to love, but so far haven't really managed to. There are periods where I have really enjoyed the game, but far more times where I was frustrated or lost or bored. At this point I have essentially stopped playing because I find I'm not particularly interested in wandering about trying to find where I'm supposed to go, dieing horribly, and then spending the next 3 hours grinding. Chances are I would find the game a lot more enjoyable if I were to drop the difficulty down, but the fact remains that "normal" mode doesn't on the whole feel like a particularly enjoyable game to me. I don't want to drop the difficulty because I find it too hard, I want to drop the difficulty because it feels abusive and punishing and unbalanced. But this is assuming I ever go back to it. On that matter, only time will tell.

Monday, 22 July 2013

Radiant Historia Thoughts

It's no secret that the JRPG genre isn't exactly flourishing as it once did. Not outside of Japan anyways. Yet while the well dries up and the big franchises flounder, a little company called Atlus has our backs. It's thanks to them that we have games like the Shin Megami Tensei and Etrian Odyssey series. They were the ones who published the likes of Ogre Battle and Growlanser. The were even responsible for bringing Demon's Souls and Disgaea to the north, where they were wildly successful. In recent years Atlus has become the west's biggest and best source of the JRPGs that AAA studios won't make any more. So when I was told that they had made a superb Chrono Trigger inspired JRPG for the DS, I knew I had to play it. In fact, the game was so popular that Atlus had to do a second run of production because it was so in demand once people knew it existed. I've finally managed to find the time to devote to the game, and so I thought I would give my impressions, having beaten it in it's entirety.

Radiant Historia is a game about timelines, and as such evokes a lot of comparisons to Chrono Trigger. The basic idea is that the game is split into two timelines, and the player has the ability to jump to any key event experienced in either timeline. The idea is that if you play a single timeline, you end up running into roadblocks, and to progress you much either go back in time or spend some time in the other timeline in order to acquire a new ability or change a key event. The idea is that the world is quickly charging towards it's end, and before the game has even begun the world has been doomed several times. It up to the protagonist, Stocke, to manipulate events and lead the world down a different path. Interestingly enough, this leads to a lot of interesting situations where the decision that keeps the world alive isn't necessarily the decision that is best in a given situation. Many choices you can make will lead to a scenario where the world ends, resulting in a "game over" ending. 

What's interesting about these endings is that none of them are all bad. They all give the impression that your decision had a positive impact, but in the end it did not divert the world's path to destruction. You won the battle, but the war was ultimately won. Then you simply go back in time and pick the other option, and unfortunately this is where the game's cracks begin to show. As intriguing as the time traveling system is, it's both incredibly repetitive and surprisingly linear. The game may seem wide open at first, but you quickly find that the way forward is always to play one path until you hit a dead end, then switch paths until you hit another one, and repeat. Similarly, because you spend so much time jumping between key events, you end up covering the same ground over and over again. There are many points where you cannot avoid the intermediary events between key points, and all the scene skipping in the world doesn't mean you won't be running through Lazvil Hills and the Gran Plains a dozen times over. 

This goes doubly for the side quests, unfortunately. Side quests tend to be a lot more interesting, and a lot more fulfilling, but also a lot more frustrating. Many quests will require you to progress much further into the timeline before you can complete them, and some even require you to skip between timelines. When you stumble across an object and think "oh hey, that guy back in that place at that time needed this thing", it's very satisfying to make that connection. But for every time that happens, there's two where you completely forget who wanted the object, where they are located and what exact time window you need to be in to talk to them. What's more, after jumping back and forth in time so much it becomes very easy to forget what happened in what timeline, what you need to actually do to progress from event A to event B etc. Actually completing all of the sidequests without a walkthrough is an extremely monumental task, but it really didn't have to be if the game just had a proper quest log and a better indication of how to progress along a timeline you've long since forgotten about.

But enough about timelines and all that jazz. One of the most interesting parts of Radiant Historia is that it has one of the most interesting takes on turn based combat I have personally witnessed. It goes a bit like this: Your team of three faces off against opponents who are arranged on a 3x3 grid. Some enemies take up 2 or 4 or 6 or even all 9 enemies, but most only take a single spot. Among your arsenal of abilities are skills which can knock enemies about, allowing you to position them in opportune locations for killing expedience. Knock an enemy on top of another one, and subsequent attacks will hit both enemies. Further, you can also do things like knock them into the air, onto traps, out of buff tiles on the ground, etc. Adding to this is the fact that every party member has the ability to switch places in the turn order with any combatant. This can be used to switch the order your guys attack in, or you can swap with enemies in order to try and bunch all your allies' turns together for big combos. It's a novel system that in many cases feels as much like a puzzle as anything else. What's the best way to group up the most enemies as you can? Or is it faster to burn one down at a time? Which character has the best abilities for this situation? Will you need buffs more than movement abilities? etc.

However, as with the timeline mechanic, this battle system is definitely not all roses either. First and foremost is the fact that the game seems to have rather poor battle pacing. Each area contains a TON of enemies, and especially considering how much time you spend walking back and forth through the same old areas, the fights can get old fast. While you have the ability to avoid most enemies on the area map, towards the end of the game you start to need experience quite dearly. Couple that with quite low availability for some of the party members, and it becomes a question of, "grind now or grind later?". Now if you had told me this in the first 15 hours of the game, I wouldn't have minded. The battle system is pretty fun. But eventually around the half way mark through the game, battles just get very grueling. The average number of enemies you fight goes up to about 5, and weird things start happening with the turn order. All of a sudden it becomes apparent that how fast your characters are doesn't matter as much as how close their speed is to eachother (so they can build proper combos). When enemies ambush you, you start seeing battles where you can't even attack until you've hopefully survived all 5 enemies attacking 2-3 times. The result is battles just get less desirable, you want to avoid them more, but bosses actually start getting pretty hard. Thus the aforementioned grinding conundrum.

As far as the plot is concerned, the game presents a pretty compelling story. As I mentioned earlier, the idea is that you have to try and nudge the world's destiny on a path that doesn't lead to destruction. Unsurprisingly this involves all the tropes of an evil empire, beast tribes that hate humans, people misusing mana etc etc etc. Unfortunately there isn't a whole lot I can actually say without spoiling it. What I will say though is that as the game went on, I was very interested to see where each plot line would lead, and how they would inevitably join back up again. Around the 1/3 way mark things start to get really interesting and it really motivated me to push on through the lul that comes soon after. However the plot, too, is not without issue. Once again we come back to the repetition the time mechanic brings. Because you have two separate timelines that advance in parallel, things often seem like they are going at a snails pace. Until you near the end of the game, it's often really hard to see how things are relevant in the big picture, especially when you start mixing up the history of each line in your head. In the end of the day the payoff is pretty good though. I found the ending to be very touching, in a way that very few games ever are.

I guess ultimately what I'm trying to say here is that I'm very conflicted on my final opinion of Radiant Historia. It's chock full of really interesting ideas. At times those ideas are very well executed. At other times the game drags like nobody's business. There was a stretch of about 8 hours within the game where I went from loving it, to hating it to loving it again. In the end of the day I would probably conclude that Radiant Historia would be amazing if it was about 25-30 hours long rather than 40. I think the truth behind Radiant Historia though is that, judging by the lack of advertising and the limited initial run, Atlus probably just had some crazy ideas they wanted to play with. I doubt it was ever intended to be more than a fun little experiment, and I suppose in that regard it succeeded. Whatever the case may be, I would still recommend that any avid JRPG fan give it a go. If you are willing to overlook some of the issues I outlined above, then it could easily classify as one of the best JRPGs released in the last 5 years. Even if you can't see past the flaws, it's a one-of-a-kind experience. It truly has the makings of something great. Whether you think it achieved that or not may well vary from my own opinion.

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Wind Water and Making Travel Fun

As any fan of the Zelda series likely knows, an HD remake of the game is coming to the Wii U this October. This announcement sparked a bunch of discussion among people I know, and as with most Wind Waker discussions, this eventually lead to a conversation about traversing the open ocean. It's a pretty notorious and ill-loved aspect of Wind Waker, and a direct source of a lot of hate on the game. So after some discussion and some thinking, I thought I would spend some time talking about this aspect of Wind Waker, and travel time in video games in general.

So at it's root, the issue here is pretty obvious. Travelling for large amounts of time is typically uneventful and boring. This isn't always the case, some games manage to make it interesting, but I'll talk about that more later. Essentially what it comes down to, is that there needs to be something to occupy your mind continually while travelling. Sometimes this can be as simple as having something really pretty to look at. Travelling can in itself occupy some brain power too, especially if navigating something like a city, which would also them have traffic and such. However if you are crossing a distance large enough for it to be labelled as "travelling", then chances are the points in time where you need to wonder "which way do I go now?" are far enough apart that there is plenty of time for boredom to creep in. And yet, other times you may be travelling by air or by sea. In which case, you are likely moving in a straight line and navigation isn't even a worry. 

So let me give you another example of a game that does travel time poorly. You may have heard of Just Cause 2. It's an open world game with a massive world which focuses on blowing up property and doing silly things with the grappling hook. However it also so happens that the world is so large, getting from one point to another can take an agonizingly long time. To make matters worse, being set in the fairly rural island nation of Panau, the roads are fairly unoccupied, and more to the point it's almost always better to fly places anyways. Flying awesome jets is cool and all, but soaring through the skies in a straight line for 5 minutes at a time is pretty dull. It's to the point that, dying is really only annoying because it means you are going to need to make that journey again. The only times that travelling is fun, is when you discover a secret of some description (which only exist on the ground), or you are grappling hook jumping (which is slower than most vehicles). I've personally never dreaded travel more than in this game.

With that said, let's now move on to the other end of the scale. I've never not dreaded travelling as much as in Saints Row the Third. The game does 2 main things to keep travelling fun. First off, it's entire city is designed to be dense rather than vast. It never really takes that long to get from one place to your destination. The other, is that it offers constant opportunities for rewards along the way. Going on foot? Might as well go streaking at the same time. Going by car? Drive in the opposite lane and dodge cars. Going by air? Fly close to the buildings, barely missing. All these things reward the player with Respect points, and this means that you always have something to do no matter where you are going. What's more, it adds challenge to travel - it's certainly harder to drive against incoming traffic, but if you are rewarded for doing so why would you ever not do it?

So the question then becomes, where does Wind Waker play into all this? Personally I feel like it depends a lot on how you play the game, but for the average player it probably lands closer to the Just Cause side of things. The Great Ocean is doubtlessly vast and mostly empty, but It's not devoid of distractions. To me, being something of a completionist, I never found the ocean that boring. It was always enough to always be on the lookout for baddies, treasure and the splash of fish in the distance. There aren't always a lot of active things to do, but for those that care about them, there are plenty of things to be on the lookout for. By the time you start to feed all the fish and find all the treasure, you start getting warp spells to aid in your travelling. For someone who maybe doesn't care about dredging up every sunken treasure or  feeding all the fish to uncover the map, I definitely see why this seafaring would be dreadfully boring though.

In the end of the day, the only reason Wind Waker's ocean was ever so big was really because of the technical limitations of the Gamecube. The game's engine needed enough time to make sure nearby islands were properly loaded before the player came in range, and increasing their travel time was the way to do it. The HD remake will have improvements in place to make the experience more painless, and it's unquestionably for the best. I think we all know that the game's real bugbear was that money grubbing &*$% Tingle anyways.

Monday, 1 July 2013

Thoughts on Penny Arcade's on the Rainslick Precipice of Darkness 4

Over the past couple of years there have been few games that I've looked forward to more than those put out by Zeboyd Games, the 2 man crew responsible for Breath of Death VII, Cthulhu Saves the World, and now episodes 3 and 4 of Penny Arcade's series of games. Their work just contains a certain quality to them that few games do -  a quality that says that the people making these games love JRPGs as much as I do. So having beat Rainslick 4, and knowing that Zeboyd is looking for feedback, I thought that I should compile my thoughts on their most recent game in one place.

Easily the biggest thing that I enjoyed about Rainslick 4 is all the different ways to approach a battle. As someone looking for that depth of gameplay, I really appreciated coming up to a battle, losing, adjusting my strategy and switching some equipment, and then winning. It's like a puzzle, but not the annoying kind, it's a puzzle that involves doing the things I actually enjoy. Solving the puzzle can be very satisfying, although I do wish it was a little easier to switch out accessories once you've seen what you are up against in a given battle. 
However on this note I feel I should also mention that, by the end of the game there were actually too many different permutations of party members and equipment. With 20 or so party members, all with unique abilities, it get's really hard to keep track of who can do what, how you have their equipment set up etc. Not to mention that the game's UI really doesn't work when dealing with that many characters.

On a similar (though somewhat ironic) note, I was not a fan of the way the party was separated in 2 until the end. It really messes with the pacing when you jump back and forth between the two. It works well narratively to say "ok this group is stuck doing this for a bit, let's see what the other group is doing". It's frustrating in terms of gameplay though. Every time you switch you are going from a stronger group to a weaker one with a totally different set of abilities, plus it makes managing your equipment fairly awkward at times. However where the irony comes in is that, I actually felt like this part of the game before the two parties merge was the best. Reason being, the game felt a lot tighter and more coherent when dealing with groups of 6-8 monsters. There are lots of options without being overwhelming. When all is said and done, I ultimately prefer the Rainslick 3 model better over all. Having a larger degree of customization on a smaller number of characters get's rid of a lot of the issues facing the system. It's a lot easier to keep track of what each class / person has available to them, it's a lot easier to build UI for, and I think it just builds a better narrative.

Beyond all this, I also felt like the game's pacing in general was a bit off, and it could have done with being a few hours shorter. Zeboyd has always done a good job of keeping the pace up in their games, with snappy combat systems. In Rainslick 4 it just felt like the variety of gameplay was very thin, and in some places it really started to wear thin (most notably, the back to back battlefield and Q'atra dungeons). It just feels like 95% of the game is spent in combat or exposition, which is odd because objectively that's been the case in all Zeboyd games, but I never really felt it before. Not to mention that there is more exploration and secrets to find in Rainslick 4 than any of their other games. I think what it comes down to a few things. In previous titles you could spend more time examining objects and such which makes the environments more interesting and gives you something else to do (As much as I'm sure it was a giant pain writing and coding text for every gravestone). I also felt like the areas in Rainslick 4 were just less interesting in general. They looked and sounded amazing, but there just felt like a lot less variety and creativity. As a result it feels more like a really pretty funnel to the next point of interest.

Aside from that I only really have 3 other, smaller complaints. The first is that I felt like the rewards from optional end-game content were gravely insufficient. It was really rewarding to me personally to complete these challenges, but it seemed like each of these areas gave very little exp (understandable, given the game's balance philosophy). I never ended up using the ultimate shoe weapon, the "secret" monster or the "secret" monster trainer. The only reward that really felt substantial was the ability to face Fish Force again, and steal their mascot. This leads me to the second complaint. The game is way to focused on magic. Which is fine to a degree, magic has a tendency to be more interesting, and is somewhat balanced in that magic users tend to be more squishy. It just feels wrong that once the groups meet up, there doesn't seem to be much use to strength types. And the final complaint: the game's writing took an odd turn in this title, though being as that wasn't really Zeboyd's role in this game I won't expound on it.

Ultimately, Rainslick 4 just wasn't quite as awesome as I was ultimately hoping. It has amazing art, amazing music, a lot of really funny moments, tons of cool secrets and very good core gameplay. It's held back by a fair number of things here and there though. Many of them are small issues that are kind of niggling things that are hard to put your finger on. Many of them are quite possibly just personal preference. In the end of the day though, I would not hesitate to give Rainslick 4 a hardy recommendation to anyone who enjoys RPGs the way they were meant to be made.

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Vandal Hearts: Flames of Judgement Thoughts

I am a big fan of Strategy RPGs, in fact my favorite game just so happens to be one. SRPGs just seem to have a way of offering me all the things that I want. I get a lot of joy out of creating a fighting force that is customized to my specifications. Creating a long term plan for what I want my team to look like and then gradually seeing that come to fruition is really fun to me. So when I heard about Vandal Hearts: Flames of Judgement, a game that was suggested to me because ever character's stats and proficiencies are directly tied to your actions, I was instantly interested. Of course it's a $15 game from 3 years ago, but I just recently got around to playing through it. Having beaten the game, I thought it was worth taking a look at what it did right and... everything else.

So what does it get right? The first thing that comes to mind is that the battles are all pretty varied. There are a fair number of them for such a cheap game, and very few of them feature the simplistic "kill all enemies / the boss" objective. Even the missions that do have you simply murdering all the baddies almost always have something else to spice things up, often some object on the map that can be interacted with. This can mean a boulder you have to push down a hill, or a flaming brazier you can shove over to block off a path, or a variety of other things. Between those, and all of the treasures scattered across each map, every battle stays pretty fresh. Beyond that, the only other positive thing I can really say about the game is that it's stat system really is quite extensive, offering a ton of potential customization to each character. However... it's not so simple as that.

The unfortunate fact of the matter is that Flames of Judgement is a game with a list of issues a mile long, a list that I couldn't possibly sum up in this post. But ultimately, most of the big issues end up relating back to the stat system in some way. Which is unfortunate, because I've always really liked the whole "your stats grow based on your actions" kind of systems. I think the issue Vandal Hearts: Flames of Judgement faces however is that it just went way overboard. At a guess, I would say that each of your 6 characters have something like 45-50 stats. These include your core stats, your combat stats, your weapon proficiencies and your magic proficiencies. Many of them make perfect sense and are no surprise. Sure, you get better at using swords the more you use them, and melee attacks while your at it. Sure, your MP and magic stats go up the more you cast spells. The combat stats are just silly though. Why do we need a stat the indicates how much damage you do when you move more than 3 squares before attacking? Or when attacking from a higher elevation? More to the point, why do we need to care about these stats increasing?

As I said, the overwhelming depth of this system ends up causing several issues. For me though, I think what really killed it for me was the fact that, each character has so many stats it's hard to get a good impression of how strong they currently are, and how they are progressing. There is no one screen you can look at and see "oh, he has 12 strength, that's pretty good". In fact, each character has a strength, mentality and agility stat, but as far as I can tell they don't actually do anything but indicate the suggested route the player should guide that character along. These stats never change, and within a couple hours of starting the game the character with the second lowest strength was my best physical attacker. Now this may seem like a small issue, but I believe that in a game such as Vandal Hearts, progression is everything. If you can't get a good idea where your characters stand, then your system has failed. These systems work when you have a good idea where you want your character to go, how to get there, and how far along that path you currently are. Vandal Hearts: Flames of Judgement fails to varying degrees in all three areas.

The other big issue to me was simply the game's usability and just the general feel of it. Just about every aspect of the game feels obtuse and lackluster in some way. Sure, I can understand if a $15 title uses still images for it's story scenes. But I don't understand why it takes as long to load some static images as other games take to load entire 3D cities. Why is it that the only time I can save is when in camp, but I have no ability to enter the camp menu myself? Do I really have to fight and win a battle just to save the game? Easily the worst offender in this regard is the game's inventory menu. It's understandable to some degree that it's hard to display so many stats, but it really wouldn't have been that hard to make a more usable menu system. To do just about anything requires you to scroll to a tab within a tab within a tab, then scroll all the way down a menu. Heck, I didn't even know how to equip items until 1/3 of the way into the game because the equipment screen requires you to scroll down to a second screen, but offers no indication that you can do so.

In the end of the day, Vandal Hearts: Flames of Judgement is a game that exudes mediocrity from every pore. I could spend all day typing and still not list every minor issue I take with the game. You'll notice I didn't even mention the game's plot or it's characters, but I've detailed the most offensive issues here. Ultimately it's a game that is at it's best mildly interesting, and at it's worst an obtuse sack of annoying. Much of that is forgivable in a $15 title, but the most grievous issues plaguing the game are as a result of bad decisions and bad design, not because of a lack of budget. I'm glad that I did play the game, however. It's games like Flames of Judgement that we learn the most from - games with a few interesting ideas followed by a massive list of things not to do. With that said though, I wouldn't recommend it if you are looking to y'know, have fun with your video game.

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

E3 2013, Sony Microsoft and Nintendo Impressions

So, E3 is going on, and as always the big news is in the form of the Big 3's conferences. Of course, Nintendo  didn't hold an actual conference, instead opting instead to do another Nintendo Direct, but we will include them anyways. This year's E3 is extra special, because it's the period of hype for the next generation. Information on the next round of consoles (sans the ailing Wii U of course) is just coming to light, people are forming their allegiances, and Microsoft and Sony are fighting tooth and nail to earn said allegiances. It's an exciting time to be a gamer, to be sure. So in honor of E3, I thought I would discuss my thoughts on the the big 3's E3 presence, and my thoughts going forward with the next generation.


If you've been following the information pertaining to the Xbox One, then you know that Microsoft had nothing to lose and everything to gain from E3. Their focus on non-gaming media and their stance on used games and internet requirements turned a lot of people off, at least among the vocal minority. On the whole I would say Microsoft put on a pretty good conference, though. People wanted to see games out of Microsoft, and they got them. Of course many of the games on display were in fact titles that will be available on PC and/or PS4, but people seemed pretty excited for the most part. I can't really claim that anything really caught my attention aside from Project Spark and Titanfall in terms of games, though I'm a fan of the in-built streaming capabilities. We know the PS4 has similar, but I would certainly prefer stream to Twitch (partnered with Microsoft) than Ustream (partnered with Sont). Oh, and there was a rape joke, that was fun.

When all was said and done, I don't really feel that Microsoft came out of their conference too much better of than they were, though. People said they wanted to see games, they saw games, and yet all they were talking about was the elephant who remains in the room, and the $499 price point. I feel like Microsoft tried to just sweep the talk of DRM under the rug and hope games would make people forget, but it doesn't seem to have worked. I think the better approach would have been to subtly show how the online requirements and DRM can work to the player's advantage. Obviously they aren't going to get on stage and discuss all the features everyone is up in arms about, they are there to build hype not draw attention to their detractors. Yet, if I had seen a good reason for an Xbone to be constantly online, then maybe my opinion on the console would change. Instead, we got Smart Glass awkwardly and aggressively shoved in our faces.

I think Microsoft has managed to seal their own fate on this one. As soon as they announced the price point that was all anyone was going to take out of that conference, and it's a doozy. What confuses me the most about the Xbone continues to be the question of demographic. Who is supposed to buy this thing? Microsoft has touted this thing as the one device that will take over your living room, seemingly aimed at everyone. Yet, between used game restrictions, online requirements and a $500 price tag, it seems to me they have managed to alienate every demographic in some way. Sure, it's understandable that packaging a kinect with it will drive the price up, but casual or non-gamers aren't going to buy this thing at that cost. The same is true of college students, whom I assumed was the primary demographic.

I don't know what Microsoft does going forward. It seems to me their only options are to back pedal, and hope they regain enough good will to not be a total disaster. Perhaps the more likely course of action is that they simply stick to their guns and try to stay lean and economical. No doubt regardless of whatever missteps the Xbone will still sell many, many units. If they can maximize their income from every unit, then maybe they can hang on. Either way, it would certainly seem Microsoft has thrown away any chance at the top spot in this generation.


In truth, Sony didn't need to do much. The advantage was theirs to throw away. All they had to do was show up, not murder any puppies, and be heralded as the great prophets of gen 8. Sony basically did just that, and then some. There were several games on show, including Final Fantasy Versus XIII (rebranded as FFXV) and Kingdom Hearts III, and indie titles like Transistor and Octodad. In truth the games were kind of secondary in this conference, to me any ways. It was predictably a bunch of trailers that didn't say much about the games in question. I will say that I was very impressed that Sony managed to get live demos of both Assassin's Creed IV and Watch Dogs, despite Ubisoft not doing a live demo of said games in their own freaking conference. There was also a first look at gameplay from Bungie's Destiny, which at first didn't do it for me, but as it went on and the RPG features came to light, my interest was piqued.

I think the biggest thing about this conference was the subtle things like the language they used. It seemed to me like every word in Sony's presentation was chosen very carefully, and it went a long way. I loved the referential humor that they knew the people watching the show would get. More to the point though, Sony clearly had been paying extremely close attention to what Microsoft's detractors were saying. Almost point for point, Sony had something to say about every one of the Xbone's weaknesses. Oh, you are obstructive to indie's? Here's 20 minutes of indie games on PS4. You restrict used games? Yea, we don't. They may have well have been shouting "PS4 does what Xbone don't", but instead they were just taking subtle jabs there weren't off-putting, but reassuring.

Then there was the final nail in the coffin. They announced the $399 price point, and it was all over for Microsoft. Not only is the PS4 significantly less restrictive, more powerful, devoid of  major privacy concerns and just more gamer friendly in general, but it's $100 cheaper. That makes a big difference. That means more early adopters, which means more third party developers, which means more exclusives, which is ultimately all that it comes down to. The PS4 even has some small advantage in their Gaikai cloud streaming service, but what that ultimately ends up looking like has yet to be seen. On the whole, it would seem that the PS4 is in a decisive lead some 5 months before either console is released.


It's very strange to me that Nintendo seems so far removed from the competition of late. Ever since the last generation started it's felt like Sony and Microsoft have been duking it out, and Nintendo has been off in the corner doing their own thing. This has never been quite so apparent as with their approach to this year's E3. Sony and Microsoft are battling for supremacy, holding huge 2 hour conferences in E3. Meanwhile, Nintendo's console has been out for 7 months and they put together a 40 minute pre-recorded presentation from the empty 7th floor of their office in Japan. In truth, it really wasn't any different from every other Nintendo Direct that has been put out, except that it happens to have happened during E3.

In that light, I would say that on the whole, the presentation was pretty unsurprising. Every game that was shown was either an already announced (or, at least known to be existing) game, or a highly predictable one (zomg, who would have guessed! Mario Kart, ON THE WII U?!?!?!). Of course there isn't anything wrong with that. Nintendo has subsisted on their first party titles and handhelds for over a decade now. People love their Nintendo franchises. None the less, there is clearly a lot of excitement behind the announcement of the next Super Smash Bros (apparently entitled simply "Super Smash Bros" ?). With games like that, a closer look at Wind Waker HD, and another look at Platinum Games' Wonderful 101 and Bayonetta 2 it seems likely that Wii U sales will begin to pick up.

And then there was "X". The next game from Monolith Soft, the rumored Wii U successor to Xenoblade Chronicles. In truth, I think I'm more excited about this title than any other I have seen from E3 thus far. I mean it's like Xenoblade, but high def, with more awesome mechs, mechs which the player can ride, and it's a more proper RPG. It looks pretty amazing, and is the first Wii U title I have seen that really screams "you need this console. You cannot miss this game". Of course I was always going to grab a Wii U once Zelda games started being released, but X might finally be the first third part core game that really pushes the Wii U into peoples' homes.

Thursday, 6 June 2013

Fire Emblem and Player Choice

So I've been on a bit of a Fire Emblem kick for a while now. A couple of months ago I finally played through Path of Radiance, and following that I made my way through Awakening. More recently, I'm in the middle of re-playing plain old Fire Emblem, the GBA game from 2003. I've found it kind of interesting to look at how the series has evolved over the past 10 years. Of course the series didn't ever leave Japan until 2003, but since then it has picked up significantly more widespread appeal. I can't help but feel like several of the changes made to the series since then were made in the interest of appealing to the new fans rather than the old. So with that said, today I wanted to talk a bit about choosing characters, and why it was better back in the day.

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Xbox One Reveal

Several months ago Sony revealed their vision of the future with their announcement of the Playstation 4. They talked a lot about semi-interesting social features, weird and wacky things that most people probably won't care about, and how much easier it will be for developers of all kinds to make games for their system. They also showed a decent amount of gameplay footage, real gameplay that was not pre-rendered, including footage from a brand new IP. At the time reactions to Sony's conference was mixed. Some people were optimistic, many were unimpressed. The conclusion that I think a lot of people came to was that we will wait and see what this all means for games.

Today Microsoft held their own conference, and I wanted to talk about my immediate thoughts. Full disclosure: I've owned every Sony console ever released, and none of the Microsoft consoles. While I'm not the Sony fanboy I once was, it would be naive to claim I didn't still have some bias.

Firstly on a superficial level; Microsoft actually showed their console. So we are fully aware now how sleek it is, and how much room it will take up on your shelf next to the equally large Kinect 2.0. Also, it's called the Xbox One. Why? I know laughing at console names has kind of become the thing to do these days, but still... Playstation 4 is safe, it's unimaginative. Xbox One is confusing and doesn't really seem to be based on anything. So what do we call the original Xbox now? The original Xbox? Xbox fat? XLBox? For that matter, what snappy name do we use for this new console? XOne? XBO? XBone? Yea, let's go with XBone. Anyways, I digress.

On the whole, I would say Microsoft's console started out strong--ish. Very quickly I got the impression of a console which transforms your living room. It acts as the gateway to all the media you need, and in this capacity it seems like an intriguing device. However at the same time, it's an embodiment of the ADD society we live in. Being able to instantly flip between media with a voice command is undoubtedly cool. However pressing the input button on my remote isn't particularly troublesome. Being able to open up a secondary application on the side of the screen is quite nifty. However if I'm going to control it with my phone, why not just run said application on my phone to begin with? Not to mention, how do all these media features function if I don't have cable? Or I don't have Xbox live gold? Or Netflix? Or... INTERNET.

After that whole shebang was out of the gate, Microsoft's conference took a real nosedive though. From that point there was little to see other than how awesome sports are, unrelated interviews with Athletes, a Halo TV series, a partnership with the NFL, and gameplay footage of the next (multiplatform) Call of Duty, which wasn't actually gameplay footage. The talk of actual video games was surprisingly minimal, even more so than was the case in Sony's conference. As a result of all of this, a lot of people are decrying the console as nothing but a media box aimed at fratboys and casuals. What's more, it has been confirmed that there will be an activation fee for playing used games. Of course this also comes with the claim that users will be able to trade and sell games through the console, which is intriguing, but the used games thing seems to have caused enough rage that people don't read far enough to see the reselling games bit.

The immediate reaction to this reveal seems to be the internet freaking out, because their favorite console has turned into a media box aimed at frat boys. At first I was right there with this viewpoint, but I don't think I am any more. Sure, the demographic has changed so that I'm not a part of it any more. Dudebros and casuals probably make up the majority of the market these days, so it makes business sense to me. What does being a part of that demographic do for me, anyways? Why do I care if I'm being marketed towards? There will be video games right? Sure, we will certainly see what's up at E3. If anything the biggest problem here is that the demographic that watched this live presentation is likely the core gamers and not the dudebros. Now, the core gamers feel scorned. Sony's stock is apparently soaring, and a significant number of people are leaning towards the PS4 now.

In the end of the day, all I care about are the video games. Sure, Microsoft's presentation didn't do anything for me, but they have to sell their product. In today's market where virtually every title is multi-platform, it's exclusive titles that sell consoles, and I was promised 8 new exclusive IPs at E3. Features are cool. PS4 has features that are aimed at playing video games. XBone has features that are aimed at media consumption and general use. At this point we haven't an inkling as to which box will have the best library of games, and that is ultimately all I care about. Even in terms of usability and features, there is still a lot to be seen. Microsoft's conference was a small disaster, but this battle isn't done by a long shot. The internet just has to remember that the people watching the reveal live are not representative of the other billions of people on the planet.

I do have to admit though. It's incredibly disappointing that the most interesting part of the entire presentation, the segment they used to cap off the entire thing, was about Call of Duty. Which, beyond just being Call of Duty, is a multi-platform title.