Archive for 2012

Whirlwind updates

It’s been a few months since last posting, and a bunch of stuff has happened… so I’ll try to do a quick run-down.

I went to PAX East, and had the opportunity to show off Suikogaiden (sadly, just the publicly available demo) on real hardware to a good-sized group, including a couple of game journalism celebrities whose writing I thoroughly enjoy.  Met some really cool people, saw a good friend for the first time in 7 years, and played some generally underwhelming demos of upcoming games.  Although it was a great experience, I’m still not sure about PAX Prime (Seattle) this year.  Seattle has a great layout near the convention center, and the center itself is more navigable than Boston’s, but the PAX experience is pretty overwhelming for me and the panels and audience generally seem to be better at Boston.

Xenoblade came out that same weekend, and I’ve been gradually making my way through that (reasons to follow).  It is an incredibly beautiful game – much like Opoona, it thrives in spite of the hardware in large part due to its attention to detail.  Xenoblade allows the player to explore practically anywhere that can be seen, and the sheer spectacle of the game itself is enough to keep me playing.  It isn’t so much the variety of environments as the open space, the detailed background work, and the overall atmosphere.  The game itself (thus far) takes place on the surface of a giant ancient being called the Bionis, and the characters gradually work their way up it.  In the distance of most sections, one can see other limbs of the Bionis or those of its opposing also-ancient being, the Mechonis.

So in case it isn’t clear, I highly recommend Xenoblade.  It is mechanically solid (MMO-style mechanics, light action-RPG controls), has good music, great voice acting (the English is far superior to the original Japanese in my brief switching between the two) and plenty of content.  By the point I’ve reached, it has started to slow down a bit – potentially requiring the player to do some quests – but to me, the game is simply so enjoyable I can continue on regardless.

Also, the (North American) Demon’s Souls servers are going down on May 31st.  This means that next month is the final opportunity to enjoy Demon’s Souls as it is meant to be played – with the potential threat of Invasion from other players, as well as co-operation in most areas (less common than Dark Souls’) and the message/bloodstain mechanics.  I didn’t give Demon’s Souls much of a chance, but have finally started by creating two characters (one “Conan” build and one sorcerer build).  I’m about 2/3 of the way through the game, and I can definitely say that Dark Souls is the better game of the two.  Demon’s Souls takes a less structured approach to progress, with stages all branching out from a single hub.  Dark Souls is designed much more like a Castlevania or Metroid game, with clearly defined progression (and small pieces of non-linearity).  The bonfire mechanic is also a significant improvement, and stage design is considerably better as well.  The only things I’ve seen that Demon’s Souls do better are magic acquisition (trading boss drops for magic/miracles) and the harsh, unforgiving and hopeless tone of the Tower of Latria (to give an idea – the first stage is a prison filled with the no-longer-sane wailing of the convicted, patrolled by dark octopus-faced wardens who carry chimes and suck the life out of those who get in their way).

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Final Fantasy XIII-2: Fool me twice…

I’m feeling kind of ashamed right now, because I have to write another anti-review.

I call it an anti-review because I haven’t completed the game.  Even in the case of a game that I don’t enjoy – take Fragile Dreams for Wii, for instance – if I feel I must talk about it, I beat the game to get the full picture.  I cannot bear to continue playing FFXIII-2.

It’s not the battle system – at least, not exactly.  By itself, it’s reasonably fun.  Monster raising was a good addition, and adds much-needed variety.  The changes to the leveling system, though, give you a dichotomy: focus on a COM/RAV build, making all random battles a cakewalk, or diversify for boss battles, making random battles longer and less profitable.  Regardless, the vast majority of battles end up being “X to victory” once again, with paradigm shifts only occasionally being necessary.

Boring battle systems and poorly balanced leveling mechanics can be forgiven, if there is enough substance to the rest of the game.  I can think of plenty of simpler games I’ve played and enjoyed.  Unfortunately, Final Fantasy XIII-2 has no substance.  It has been forsaken entirely for style.

One need only look at the interactions between the characters for a perfect example: very short exchanges, with occasional dialogue choices.  The few interactions that take longer are usually punctuated with action, whether it’s the sudden appearance of unexpected enemies or the in-cutscene take-down of a large monster (with a Quick Time Event, usually).  It’s like playing the equivalent of a Michael Bay movie.  When the game is loaded, you get a little “The Story So Far” cutscene – just like in a bad anime or TV series (“In last night’s episode…”) – although I only played a subset of the game, The Story So Far was consistently filled with explosions, sword-swinging and very little, um, story.

The straw that broke the camel’s back may in fact have been the most clear-spoken character in the game: the mascot character, Mog.  Unfortunately, Mog is also unbearable conceptually; not only is he totally unexplained, but he’s also consistently a centerpiece of initial conversation (“oh my, do you have a toy moogle?!”) and a focus of exploration (necessary to find hidden items and advance to new areas).  He has no point whatsoever except to be cute, yet is a constant fixture in cutscenes, as if the designer wanted to kill suspension of disbelief every five minutes.

I’m not going to claim that the genre has been much better; but it’s certainly placed a greater emphasis on subtlety, simplicity, and quality.  If this is going to be a trend-setter for JRPGs, I think I’ll stick to older games.


The Banality of the Security Question

I don’t normally consider “slice of life” content for this blog, because it’s supposed to be about fun and interesting stuff.  Life is consistently both much of the time, but not in a way that I would expect yon reader of obscure blog about video games to enjoy reading about.

However, I had an experience today with a security question and answer that I initially enjoyed.  Soon afterward, I was shocked and dismayed.

I found myself unable to log into a website, having forgotten my username (and my password, though I was not as sure of that).  Said website did not allow me to rediscover my username – although there was the feature, it asked me to call a toll-free number to do so.

Being a dutiful customer, I obliged.  I had the following exchange when I got to a representative.

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7th Saga, Revisited

I find the vast majority of things that Toastyfrog/GameSpite comes up with to be well-written, comprehensive, and correct.  Parish & co., who I have much respect for, consistently create good publications that I spend actual money on – a rarity when the internet is full of people who will tell you their opinion on video games for free (prime example right here).

However, Journal #10’s 7th Saga segment, posted just today, has in my view wronged a game.  I do not protest the overall treatment; I agree fully with the overall premise that 7th Saga is bad.

However, since I played the game to completion for the first time just a few months ago, I feel obligated to point out some incorrect or overblown parts of Jake Alley’s article.

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2011 In Review

First off – 2011 was a banner year for video games.  I play a lot of old games – whether out of habit, desire for nostalgia, or the fact that they actually are good is debatable, but I found myself thoroughly enjoying the best 2011 had to offer, despite the relative dearth of console JRPGs and strategy games.

However, some games in particular deserve mention for being especially outstanding.  I managed to only write three articles at last year, so I guess I’ll have to branch out from those.

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