By dankempster 5 Comments
It's been a long while since I last did one of these blog thing-a-ma-jiggies. I haven't scrolled back to check, but I think the two-month gap between my last blog and this one might make for my longest Giant Bomb blogging hiatus. There's no good reason for this, unless of course you count a profound lack of desire to blog as a valid excuse. I just haven't really wanted to write about video games of late. That's not to say I haven't been playing anything, though. In fact, since my last blog post, I've wrapped up a respectable seven games, taking my total for the year so far up to twenty-eight titles. I'll try to say a little bit about everything I've played in the following post. It probably won't be very cohesive or coherent, as I'm very out of practice when it comes to putting these things together. If you promise to be understanding, I'll do my best to make this at least semi-readable.
Gotta Play 'Em All
I knew that my most-commented blog on this site would come back to haunt me eventually. A little over two years after loudly and unashamedly proclaiming that Pokémon isn't for you (or me) any more, I've found myself caught up in a whirlwind of Poké-mania this summer. It all started with a run through LeafGreen, which was primarily intended just to scratch a nostalgic itch (I grew up playing Pokémon Blue, and decided to pick up this re-imagining for its graphical and mechanical improvements). I loved revisiting the Kanto region, catching and training a bunch of monsters to take on the gym leaders and Elite Four. The prettier presentation, deeper mechanics and expanded post-game content all helped breathe new life into an old experience - I'd definitely call LeafGreen one of the best examples I've seen of a remake done right.
After finishing up LeafGreen, I found myself still hungry for more of the catchable critters. The logical next step was to pick up a copy of one of its Gen IV remake sequels. I opted for SoulSilver over HeartGold for reasons I'm not entirely sure of myself (as a kid, Silver always felt like it should be paired with Blue, and Gold with Red, so maybe that's why). What started as a noncommittal excursion into the Johto region ended up turning into an epic 140-hour time-sink. It was awesome to see so many of the things I liked about Pokémon Diamond present in SoulSilver, and the amount of content on offer on the tiny cartridge is simply staggering - it's not often you find a game where the amount of post-game content actually exceeds the main game itself. Having put so much time into my playthrough, I feel confident saying that SoulSilver is my favourite Pokémon game to date.
At some point during my time with SoulSilver, I made a subconscious commitment to journey through every region in the main series of Pokémon games and catch as many different types as possible. The most recent leg of that journey took me to the Hoenn region for the first time ever, in the form of Pokémon Emerald. I'm not sure if it's because of the regressive nature of moving from a DS title to a GBA one, or if it's because I have no nostalgic attachment to the third generation of Pokémon games, or even if I'm simply just burned out on the series' formula at this point, but I didn't enjoy Emerald as much as I did the other two games. It's still a great Pokémon game, and the tussle between the two evil Teams and the history of the trio of legendary Pokémon go a long way towards making the story somewhat interesting, but nothing about it really pulled me in the same way that LeafGreen and SoulSilver did.
Right now, having transferred all my caught Pokémon from LeafGreen and Emerald into SoulSilver, my Pokédex total stands at 254 different types caught. Presently I'm on a break from Pokémon, mainly to give myself a reprieve from the series' formula before the release of X and Y in a couple of weeks time. A few friends and I have all picked up 3DSes (a little more on that in a moment), with a view to trying to re-capture our childhood in a flurry of trading and battling when the new games come out. Part of me still stands by what I said in that unexpectedly controversial blog in 2011 - Pokémon isn't intended for me any more, and no matter how hard I try, none of these games will replicate that feeling I had as a nine-year-old kid playing Pokémon Blue. But in pursuing this new goal, I've found something else in the series to love, and I can't wait to experience more of that when I continue my journey through Y, Platinum, White and White 2 in the coming months.
As I mentioned above, a couple of weeks back I chose to expand my collection of games consoles by picking up a Nintendo 3DS. A big part of that was down to the upcoming release of Pokémon X and Y, but there are also a few other reasons for the purchase. I'd really like to try out some of the strategy RPGs available for it - most notably Fire Emblem: Awakening, which fellow Giant Bombers @Sparky_Buzzsaw, @ArbitraryWater and @Video_Game_King have heaped praise upon, and Crimson Shroud, the latest brainchild of Japanese developer Yasumi Matsuno, which has been on my radar for some time now. Add to that the usual barrage of first-party titles under the umbrellas of Mario and Zelda, and it was pretty hard for me not to drop some of this month's salary on a nice shiny cosmic black 3DS.
Early impressions of the hardware have been very positive. I opted for the regular model over the XL (mainly because larger screens aren't an extravagance worth £35, in my eyes), and the shape, size and weight of it all feel 'right'. I know some people think the whole 'user-account-tied-to-the-console' concept is a little retrograde, but in the case of a handheld I think it makes sense. It's a little thing, but I really like the fact it has a built-in pedometer (I'm on a bit of a health kick at the moment, so being able to see how many steps I've taken is a nice affirmation that I'm heading in the right direction). Then there's the 3D aspect touted in the console's name. Anybody who knows me will know that I'm in fairly strong opposition of 3D - I'll invariably choose to see 2D versions of movies over their 3D counterparts - but the 3D effect on the 3DS's top screen doesn't really bother me that much. Maybe it's because I don't need to wear a stupid pair of glasses to appreciate it.
So far my experience with software has been limited. The first game I picked up for my 3DS was Animal Crossing: New Leaf (an interesting mirroring of my decision to pick up Wild World with my original DS, now that I think about it). I'm putting a little bit of time into it each day, and it's proving to be a great way to unwind after a long day at work. I've also made a few purchases from the eShop, including Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate (which was half price last weekend), and a bunch of Virtual Console games including three Legend of Zelda titles from the Game Boy Color, which I never got to experience as a kid. All of those should keep me pretty busy in the coming months, and at least I won't be short of anything to play on my lunch breaks in future. If anybody's interested, my friend code is 0490-5718-6398 - feel free to add me and send me your code if you'd like to be friends.
Open World Shenanigans
When I haven't been playing Pokémon or getting to grips with my 3DS in my game time, I've been losing myself in open world games on consoles instead. In my last blog I mentioned that I was playing through Saints Row 2, which I ended up finishing late in July. I had a really fun time with it - although it's clearly a bit rough around the edges and nowhere near as impressive as its contemporary Grand Theft Auto IV, it is a lot of fun to play and most of its story missions are both varied and well structured. My biggest disappointment with the game was that it didn't go to great lengths to expand on the original Saints Row, to the point where it almost felt like a DLC mission pack than a full-fledged sequel, but considering I picked it up or a tenner I can't really complain too much. I intend to play Saints Row: The Third at some point over the winter, to see how the series continued to develop beyond its gangster trappings.
Not long after finishing Saints Row 2 I leapt into a decidedly more retro take on sandbox rampaging. No, not Retro City Rampage (although I am planning to play that soon) - I'm talking about Grand Theft Auto: London 1969, a mission expansion pack for the original Grand Theft Auto. Being a mission pack, most of what I said about the original game last year still stands - it's a product of its time, a fun distraction that becomes instantly less fun when you try to play it properly. One advantage it does have over its source material is that its missions are much less combat-oriented, focusing instead on lots and lots of driving. It means less mission variety, but it makes the experience less frustrating, and provides more of what I liked about playing the original - navigating the top-down city, referring to paper maps, and memorising important locations for later reference, all of which add up to a rewarding feeling of 'knowing' the game world. I can't really call it better or worse than the original Grand Theft Auto (it's essentially the same game), but the more lenient mission structure meant I had a lot more fun (or perhaps that should read 'a lot less frustration') playing London 1969.
Completing the trifecta of open world action was my most recent sandbox session - the recently released Grand Theft Auto V. I thought about saving this for a blog of its own, and I may yet choose to do that, but having finished the main story missions yesterday, I feel almost obliged to weigh in on it briefly here. I really, really like the core story of GTA V. The narrative, and the three central characters that drive it, are probably my favourite in the series to date. I found Michael in particular to be a fascinating character, his disillusioned outlook on modern life providing an interesting twist on the 'reluctant-criminal-forced-out-of-retirement' archetype that developers Rockstar have become so well known for showcasing. The game addresses the complaints about GTA IV's stale mission design with some truly diverse and memorable missions making up GTA V's core experience. The heist missions in particular, including their set-ups, are fantastic - I echo Jeff's sentiment that it's a shame there weren't more of them, and I hope that any DLC we see in GTA V's future provides us with a few more spectacular scores.
It's a shame that throughout my time with GTA V, the game's narrative felt so distinctly at odds with the world in which it was set. I don't mean the physical world of Los Santos and Blaine County, which I personally found gorgeous to observe, thrilling to navigate and rewarding to explore. I'm referring to the cultural world that the GTA series has built up over the years - this satirical slant on Western democratic capitalism that parodies commercialism and juxtaposes societal commentary with knob gags. I can't quite put my finger on why, but that side of the game just didn't work for me this time around. Maybe I've just outgrown that phase of life where replacing another number with '69' is funny. It's a minor complaint, but I was also really disappointed by the classic rock radio station this time around. GTA IV's Liberty Rock Radio was always going to be a tough act to follow, especially after the attitude injection it received from The Lost & Damned's extra tracks, but it doesn't seem like GTA V's Los Santos Rock Radio was even trying. I still really enjoyed my time with GTA V, to the point where it'll almost certainly be in my Top Ten list for the end of the year, but these two things did sour the experience a little.
So that's what I've been up to for the last two months or so. I'm hoping that from here on out I'll be able to maintain a more consistent blogging schedule here on Giant Bomb. I have every intention of putting together the last few episodes of Enduring Final Fantasy VII in the next few weeks, so expect to see those appearing in this space shortly. That aforementioned deeper look at GTA V might also materialise, if I can find a way of articulating what I feel that says anything more than what I already have above. There will no doubt be some thoughts on Pokémon X and Y next month, once my friends and I have had some hands-on time with them. In the meantime, I think I'm going to check up on the residents of my town in New Leaf, then dive back into Los Santos and do a few more side missions. Thanks for reading guys, and I'll see you around.
Currently playing - Animal Crossing: New Leaf (3DS)