With Thanksgiving around the corner in the United States, I wanted to share a couple of things I have much appreciation for this year. Many of the items I'll discuss upon have helped me get through some of the tough times I'm going through this year, particularly my constant battles against myself (unhappiness/depression?) and the stress stemming from working longer hours at my job this year. So thanks to the following...
Giant Bomb Staff and Community
Giant Bomb lost a great person with Ryan Davis' passing over the summer. Though he many no longer be with us, his immense presence still resonates over us to this day. In the wake of the tragic news, the rest of the crew has definitely stepped up and continues to provide awesome content for the community with a steady stream of Quick Looks, Bombcasts, Bombin' in the Morning, and Unprofressional Fridays, along with Load Our Last Souls, the 49-hour Extra Life marathon stream, and the recent new console Launch Day streams. I'm not an avid consumer of all things Giant Bomb (I catch what I can), but their resiliency on continuing to produce globs of content for us is pretty awesome to witness. Continue being awesome Jeff, Vinny, Drew, Brad, Rorie, Patrick, and Alex!
The Giant Bomb community is also pretty awesome for the most part. Yes, there'll always be a couple of bad apples that have make us look bad here and there, but for the most part the community's been pretty positive and supportive. What I love most from the community is the content produced and the events organized in the site. Most blogs written by the Giant Bomb community are well-written and thought-out, which are a pleasure to read what a member has to say what they are saying. Other members has showcased their artistic skills by producing some incredible looking Giant Bomb art, which the Giant Bomb staff has definitely embraced in some way. Along with the blogs and art, there are events and lists to participate and enjoy gaming with fellow duders. I had a great time participating in FluxWaveZ's Persona 4 Arena tournaments and MikeFightNight's Casual Fight Nights even though I'm terrible in fighting games. Thanks for allowing me to play despite not posing much of a challenge.
The GB P4A IRC Room and MFN Skype Groups
In part of participating in both the Persona 4 Arena tournaments and the Casual Fight Nights, I befriended a bunch of duders and ending up hanging out with their in their respective internet chat rooms. It's nice to read the various banter that both groups have. I don't get involved in conversation too much because I don't have much to discuss/share with the folks in both groups, but I'm glad that they've allowed me to stick around despite my non-presence in both groups for days.
I haven't completed many games that were released this year, but out of the few that I did play to its finale, were three platformers that I really enjoyed with my time with them.
Bit Trip Runner 2: I was a fan of the first runner game, with the music syncing with the obstacles to either jump over, slide under, or block. Runner 2 smooths over the Runner 1's difficulty by providing three difficulty levels and easing some of the really tricky obstacle/jumping sections that were very frustrating to navigate numerous times over in the first game. The checkpoint system is a welcome and needed addition, the new moves and obstacles are fun to navigate, a lot of stages to play, and a nice slew of secrets to discover (different paths, retro) to add some replay value to a fun platformer.
Puppeteer: This game surprised me not by its gameplay, which is pretty fun in its own right, but by the slightly dark and humorous take on a typical fairy tale along with strong voice acting by all major characters involved. You have the witch, pirate, bratty girl teenager, villain, and other tropes, but they are all well written into the story and executed wonderfully by the writers and the voice actors. The gameplay is fun with solid platforming, creative level design, and many surprises with the head usage at many points of the game.
Rayman Legends: But the platformer that I have enjoyed the most so far goes to Rayman Legends. I was a big fan of Origins, but was a bit skeptical on how Ubisoft can improve upon it. Turns out, they can still do much more. The levels scream with more personality with specific themes played in the game's five worlds. The music stage at the end of each world are my favorite stages in the game on how the level syncs with the music. The invasion levels provide a nice challenge on already finished levels along with the daily and weekly randomly generated levels. Plus many of the Origin levels are revisited here with the Legends additions. The inclusion of Murray adds some new spice, revisiting levels to rescue all teensies and earning lucky tickets and creatures just add more to an already impressive package.
Arc System Works
Thanks to MikeFightNight's casual fight night sessions, I've gained a much better appreciation of all fighting games. Now I'm eager to play any type of fighting game, even though I'm terrible at all of them. However, there are a group of games from one developer that stands out to me from the rest. Their games are wonderfully produced with beautiful art, characters with personality and unique fighting styles, and gameplay that is slightly more accessible to get into (in my opinion) compared to the others out there. The bottom line for me, is that I'm having the most fun and attaining the most "success" with Arc System Work's fighting games than the rest of fighting game crop. Here's a quick run-through of Arc's three fighting game franchises that I really like from them.
Persona 4 Arena: Rekindled interest and gained better appreciation of fighting games. Accessible fighting gameplay with simplified special and super moves and easy to link combos/strings. I was able to slowly build upon my skillset with new strings/slightly more difficult combos/properly learning character's playstyle. Solid netcode.
BlazBlue (Continuum Shift Extend/Chrono Phantasma): Beautiful background stages. Character "drive" mechanic. Slower, but more chess-match like fighting in knowing strings/overheads and expecting throws. Most comfortable out of the three playing on a fight stick. CP seems like it has balanced the roster, until Kokonoe was released and UNLEASHED HELL UPON ALL OF BLAZBLUE.
Guilty Gear (XX Accent Core Plus): Awesome soundtrack. An eccentric cast of characters with tons of personality. Pool stick with cue balls, anchor and dolphins and whales, a lighter sword, yo-yo, scalpel, ghosts and dogs, a huge key, guitars, etc. Fast, furious, in-your-face fighting. Sort of getting proficient on playing on a fight stick in Guilty Gear.
My ASW Femme Fatales: Chie / Litchi / Jam
I never thought that the platform I would play the most on would be with the Nintendo 3DS. After its known slow start, the 3DS has definitely stepped it up and now has a great batch of games under its belt. One of the strengths the 3DS has is its batch of JRPGs. I spent a ton of time grinding away Fire Emblem: Awakening, Etrian Odyssey IV, and just wrapped up Shin Megami Tensei IV. I still got Etrian Odyssey Untold, Mario & Luigi: Dream Team, Rune Factory 4, and SMT Devil Summoner: Soul Hackers to get through. I doubt I'll get to all of them, but I think I'll have fun with them (hopefully) if I get to them.
The 3DS has also been the platform where I've been getting my puzzle fill. I played a completed all the puzzles on Picross e to Picross e3, and got through most of the puzzles in Pushmo but I stalled/got frustrated over the last set of puzzles. I still got Crashmo and Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask on my backlog, and they'll probably still take a backseat to the JRPG games, but it's nice to have something else there for me to tackle.
My first Vertical manga, Sakuran, really shocked me on its mature and gritty story revolving around a geisha who is trying to escape the business. I wasn't surprised by the nudity, but highly surprised with its few strong violent scenes and its sad ending. But I didn't think much of Vertical until I purchased my second manga from them, Utsubora. Utsubora centers around a mysterious death of one girl who committed suicide, another girl who looks exactly like her and the protagonist that she somehow has a connection to. The mystery unfolds at a brisk pace, revealing key information at the right times, until it comes to an amazing conclusion on which girl did which and how much she affected the protagonist and those close to him. The manga's ending shocked me as well, as I didn't think the protagonist would take that path after the truth unfolded. After attending their panel at Otakon, I've been checking up on their catalog and reading their Tumblr page to see what they have in store as well as answering questions mostly regarding if its possible for them to license a certain manga.
Since then, I have purchased Helter Skelter, Tropic of the Sea, their three volumes of Paradise Kiss, and the first volume of Summer Wars. I plan on getting the second volume of Sakura Wars, along with Pink, and all six volumes of Limit. I'm looking forward to Insufficient Direction, Prophecy, and In the Clothes Named Fat next year, and looking into 7 Billion Needles from their back catalog. There's something about their manga licenses that feels like they are mostly going for manga that have strong, gritty stories with lively characters, though they do have a few oddball titles like Chi's Sweet Home and their recent license of Cardfight Vanguard. There are other publishers that I have enjoyed the manga that they bring over (Seven Seas and Yen Press in particular), but there's something out of from what I read in Vertical's catalog so far that just stick with me much more that what others have brought forward.
I'd probably wouldn't have enjoy some of the better moments I've experienced this year without my brother being his insistent self. The last year or so, we haven't done anything interesting, as he was busy searching for a job and studying for exams while my workload was starting to ramp up at my job. All we ever did over the weekends and holidays was chill out at home. But this year, my brother finally took the initiative and proclaimed, "LET'S DO SOMETHING DAMNIT!" And did something we did.
This year was the first time I went to multiple music concerts since I left college, and pretty much all of the concerts we went to were pretty entertaining. We also attended our first fighting game tournament in Summer Jam 7. But the best thing we ever done was go to Otakon this year. Despite the Baltimore Convention Center being packed like sardines in a crushed tin box, it was amazing to take in the entire convention over that weekend. I'd love to go next year if we're able.
My brother also surprised me in giving me a couple of birthday gifts this year. It was the first time I received any gifts on my birthday from anyone in quite some time. I tell my family not to bother me with anything and I usually just buy some items for myself. [This year, I purchased myself all manga volumes released so far for Black Lagoon and A Certain Scientific Railgun.] My brother got me The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D, Mario Kart 7, and Mario Tennis Open for the 3DS. [I recall those games being on sale at Best Buy that week, so it wasn't too bad on his wallet.] Those were nice. But the real surprise is when he bought me my PS3 fight stick! Sure, it's Hello Kitty, but it was nice of him to get one for me. He used the promotional code advertised during East Coast Throwdown to buy the stick at a nice price ($100 + S&H). I've been mashing on the stick on almost all of the fighting games I play now and do see some advantages of using the stick over a controller pad.
I definitely envy and admire my brother. We had our fair share of scuffles in our lives, but it's been a lot better as of late and it's cool that he took the initiative to drag me out and do all these things for me.
If you've gone this far, thank you for taking some of your time to read this blog!