By dankempster 6 Comments
It's been a while since I last typed up anything for my Giant Bomb blog - just over a month, to be precise. The truth is I've been incredibly busy throughout April working on what will hopefully be the last batch of academic essays I'll ever have to write. My University lecturers, being the kind bunch of souls that they are, managed to squeeze all four of my final essay deadlines within a week of each other. To say I'm glad to see the back of them is an understatement - they've been a millstone around my neck for far too long, although I really enjoyed working on the creative writing assignments. This morning I wandered onto campus and handed in the last of those essays, meaning I am now free from academic commitments. Well, until the exams roll round, at least. So with nothing left to fret over, I've snapped open an ice cold can of cider and dusted off my blogging cap. Ladies and gentlemen, Dan is back.
A lot has happened in the gaming world over the last six weeks. Portal 2 was released to critical acclaim. Rockstar have got the hype train rolling for L.A. Noire with all manner of teaser trailers and previews. The PlayStation Network has been hit hard by hackers, resulting in nearly 80 million users of the service unable to play games online. Oh, and apparently Skyrim has dragons in it? To tell the truth, a lot of April's game-related news went over my head. I've still been checking Giant Bomb and posting sporadically during my blogging hiatus, but I've skipped a lot of the editorial content. That started to change over the last week or so, though. I'm very happy to see Patrick Klepek on board as the site's News Editor. His written style fits right in here on the Bomb. I'm looking forward to catching up with all the industry's recent goings-on that I've missed. First, though, I should probably fill you all in on what I've been playing for the last month or so.
What I've Been Playing...
Yep, that's right. I've still managed to find time to play a fair few games in spite of my heavy workload. To be honest, I probably played more than I should have done, but between academic work and paid work, it's been pretty much my only vice for the last month and a half (true story - the Strongbow I'm currently drinking is the first alcoholic beverage that has passed my lips since the end of March). I've spent most of my time with three games, as well as a bit of time flirting with a fourth.
It was a little while ago now, but does anyone remember that blog I wrote about Pokémon not being for us anymore? It turned out to be pretty controversial, as well as my most-commented blog post to date. Anyway, going completely against my better judgement, I ended up buying a second-hand DS along with a brand new copy of Pokémon White in mid-March. That's right, folks - I am nothing if not a hypocrite.
After spending the second half of March powering through the main story and beating the Elite Four, I think it's safe for me to say that Pokémon White is very much another Pokémon game, cut from the same cloth as its predecessors. I also think the point I made in that blog still holds true - Pokémon isn't being made for us anymore. I had a great time with the game, and definitely appreciated the graphical improvements and gameplay refinements it brought to the table, but the whole time I couldn't shake that feeling that I'd done all this before. In terms of where it sits compared to other generations, I'd say it's probably my least favourite, although not by far. I felt like it took as many steps back from Diamond/Pearl as it did steps forward. All in all though, it's yet another great Pokémon experience from Game Freak that any fan of the franchise is sure to enjoy in spite of its shortcomings. If nothing else, it's made me want to go back to my copy of Diamond and replay that.
Dragon Quest IV: Chapters of the Chosen
After beating the Elite Four in Pokémon White, I felt like I'd seen all I wanted to see of the game for now, and began hankering for another handheld experience to get some use out of my (sort-of) new DS. The game I ended up turning to was this - an old-school RPG that I'd bought back when I had my old DS, but never managed to play after the handheld was stolen a couple of years ago.
Dragon Quest IV (and to some extent, Pokémon White) has served to remind me why I fell in love the JRPG genre. The story is epic in scope, but simplistic in its telling and not ruined by melodrama. It's light-hearted, full of humour and never takes itself too seriously. The characters may be stereotypical cookie-cutter JRPG protagonists, but they're pulled off with such charm that it's easy to look past. The gameplay is just as simple as the storytelling, stripping away any and all convoluted mechanics in favour of a straight-forward, turn-based battle system and a well-designed world map that intuitively funnels the player in the right direction as well as rewarding exploration. To date, I think the only current-gen JRPG I've played that comes close to replicating the feel of Dragon Quest IV is Lost Odyssey. Titles like DQIV have a lot to teach Japanese developers about the basics of great game design - a foundation that, if built on in the right way, I think could definitely bring the JRPG genre back into the public eye in a big way.
Pro Evolution Soccer 2010
Being the walking contradiction that I am, I love football (Americans read: 'soccer') games in spite of detesting the professional sport itself. While back at my parents' place for a while over the Easter vacation, I ended up playing a lot of Pro Evo with a friend and decided to pick up a more recent instalment in the franchise. Having been disappointed by Konami's current-gen soccer offerings, would this title change that? Certainly seems that way.
PES2010 feels like a marked improvement in all the right places. On-the-pitch the action is more fluid, players are less sluggish and its no longer a chore to string together combinations of passes. If anything, it seems a little too easy - after an outrageous 7-0 win a few games into my rediscovery of PES, I ended up cranking up the difficulty, and it feels much more appropriately balanced now. In spite of all these steps forward, though, PES2010 feels like an unfinished product in places. Take, for instance, the Become a Legend mode, which adopts the revamped seasonal structure of Master League mode, but for some reason still clings onto archaic 'PES Points' instead of using real currency. The on-the-pitch action is what really counts, though, and in this respect, the franchise finally seems to be finding its feet on multiple next-generation platforms.
Enslaved: Odyssey to the West
I can't really say a lot about Enslaved, which is the game that my girlfriend ended up choosing as a replacement for our shared run-through of Dead Space 2. I can say that I really like what I've played, and I wish I'd played more. Unfortunately my girlfriend doesn't seem quite so keen to see more of the game, and as a consequence, we're working our way through it very slowly. In a lot of respects the game reminds me of Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, splashed with the colour palette of the original Jak & Daxter. It's a very refreshing change of pace from first-person shooters and JRPGs, and I hope that I'll get to see more of this exciting adventure in the coming days.
So what does the near future hold for this intrepid blogger? Probably yet more academia. My end-of-year exams are about a month away, so it won't be long before I'll have to start preparing for those. Even so, I don't expect my revision to have as much of an impact on my Giant Bomb activity as the essays did. In terms of gaming activity, I have a copy of Portal 2 on its way in the post, which I'm planning to start just as soon as I've wrapped up my adventuring in Dragon Quest IV. I'm also looking forward to having more free time to do the other things that I love - specifically creative writing, reading, and just spending quality time with my friends and girlfriend. Anyway, thanks very much for sticking with me. It's great to be back. I'm sure I'll see you around. In the meantime, I've got a lot of followed blogs to catch up on...
Currently playing - Dragon Quest IV: Chapters of the Chosen (DS)