"How Sweet The Rain Falls"

How Sweet the Rain Falls

How sweet the rain falls

When nature comes to sing

With light darkness is falling

And everything becomes spring

Oh how this song gives

From its soul of airy waves

And with each seed lives

Bringing life and others saves

On earth that secret lies

With raindrops peaceful calls

The hour of life's rise

A running stream to river

The water with its flow

That vigor shall soon deliver

In futures bright to go

How sweet this hour comes

To give us so much

With beauty it strums

Each stone soothingly touch

Oh love is sometimes true

How it goes here about

When it comes so very new

Without a declining doubt

Feelings the ways are calling

When nature comes to sing

With light darkness is falling

And everything becomes spring

Oh how this song gives

From its soul of airy waves

And with each seed lives

Bringing life and others saves

Peter S. Quinn

It is difficult to define certain experiences people might have with games and more importantly, telling others about those experiences in hopes that they agree with you. That’s why personally credit those who not only present certain passions for the games they played, but present that enthusiasm in a way that makes others see what is being described. I will never be able to fully express my love for these three games in this form, but I hope everything I write here will not only be a positive piece reflecting on why these games are significant, especially when the “next-generation” of consoles is rapidly approaching, but as a thank you to everyone involved in bringing these games to North America and giving me a chance to play something I never thought I would have as deep of an experience with and enjoyed every minute of it.

Xenoblade Chronicles

What can be said about this game that hasn’t already been said?It easily stands as one of the Wii’s greatest games and one that, for me, really represents what Nintendo should be supporting and defining themselves as. What I mean by this is how the consensus surrounding Nintendo consoles (Dating back to the N64…I think?) was that it didn’t matter whether or not third party developers made games for their consoles, just as long as Nintendo supports their own console enough to give it justification for gamers who bought it. This dependency to me feels unfair only because developers who actually try and make something unique and interesting for that console evidently becomes overlooked behind a new Mario, Zelda, or any other first party game from Nintendo that releases before and or after it. Xenoblade Chronicles was a game that seemed to follow this “social stigma” and at first I didn’t care about it, but looking at the original initiative by “Operation Rainfall” and seeing the people vouch for this game in a passionate way made me want to try it out. Upon putting it in my Wii and started to play it did I finally realize why this was credited and respected by as many people as it had throughout the initiative. From the morning I went to pick it up and began playing it did I realized I had spent the entire day playing it.

If I could sum up Xenoblade Chronicles gameplay structure then it would practically be a singular player open world Japanese role-playing game with an MMO combat system. At first glance, many could see this as a complete chore to deal with (given the MMO aspects of it) and follow the same contrivances that is associated with JRPG’s, but what makes Xenoblade Chronicles is how it breaks these conventions and show’s something truly unique within the RPG genre while still being reflective as a Japanese RPG. For example, when players are active in combat, a “power bar” is present showing special abilities that the player can execute on an enemy. What makes it special in this game is the range of attributes it can have not only on the character your choosing, but how these actions buff and heal other party members you recruit throughout the story. It is a small addition they incorporate from MMO’s that makes the gameplay addictive and enjoyable to play. Another great addition they add to influence the gameplay was the “friendship’s and relationship’s” mechanic. Again, not an original mechanic for the genre, but when utilized alongside the core gameplay really gives incentive to players to pair up with certain characters and test out effective teams when tackling some of the games greater challenges. Throughout the story and as player’s progress to newer area’s and towns, there will be specific spots where certain characters can have a conversation at a specific time of the day. I can agree that this mechanic should have been more flexible and lessen the harsh restrictions that it asks before doing. Even with this annoyance, I found incredibly interesting not only from a story perspective, but the abilities unlocked for these characters are so impactful and pairing these characters up makes harder bosses equal challenge, giving you a change to conquer it. Across these gameplay mechanics and the furthering of it with gem-slotting for customizing weapons and armor, character attributes and buffs from leveling and story beats and the expansive combat options from relationships and equipment, Xenoblade Chronicles gameplay options are absolutely vast and detailed. Moreover, these gameplay mechanics could have been a negative simply if these vast options were just given upfront and making a negative experience for some players, but the game’s ability to slowly ease players into its options and opening up to these possibilities without restricting the player from the world, becomes one of the game’s greatest feats and something to be commended. Many gamer’s hate to be “parented” about how to play, or finding unique ways to solve a puzzle or combat scenario, which give series like Deus Ex, Elder Scrolls and Thief legitimate praise for allowing the gamer to “play how they want to play” for as weird of a saying to say, but one that is meaningful and has significance for games. Xenoblade adopts this philosophy and absolutely runs with it, resulting in a game that was a complete blast to play and a playing experience that was the best I had all through 2012.

It can be argued that to make a gameplay system within a game meaningful, then there needs to be a story to help propel the player into wanting to play it and learn the story and its conclusion. I can’t argue for Xenoblade having one of the best stories, but I will say the universe it inhabits makes this story interesting and notable. Two giants: Bionis and Mechois who became frozen after a battle between themselves, periods following this conflict, life on certain limbs and parts began fostering and unique races were made on each. I found this choice in setting not only refreshing, but can tell an interesting story with characters contributing from each faction towards a unified narrative, and this is exactly what MonolithSoft does. Shulk’s beginnings as a character who suffers amnesia (albeit a common JRPS trope that becomes more a negative than a positive for telling a story…I know), but how the story moves with each character he interacts with make’s Shulk’s progression as a character more about the space he inhabits and the roles from each character he has in his party. This drive becomes a powerful thing when discovering certain ambitions from each character and has them asking “who they are in this space” (even Rikki who would be seen simply as a comic relief character at first glance). All of this helps propel the narrative to key moments where certain revelations are made and you realize specific fates for the characters you have been around for multiple hours and have had conversations with. It is a strong feeling that made me changing my team to figure out more about each of them and know more about their race and themselves as characters. Similarly to Mass Effect 2’s “loyalty missions”, except these quests are tied to the main narrative and affect everyone around that specific character. It is immensely gratifying and a trend I hope continues across future JRPG’s.

Both the gameplay and story have significant weight behind them, but what brings them all together is Xenoblade’s presentation. Normally when people say certain games “look good for a Wii game” is disheartening to me simply because it puts a negative on the entire game based on graphics alone. Xenoblade isn’t just one of the best looking games on the Wii, but one I will argue as one of the best looking games this generation. It’s a game that succeeds in all its ambitions it sets and the fact that it is a Wii game only exemplifies these ambitions. The soundtrack is one of gaming’s most memorable and the British voice-acting really gives a unique identity to the characters and the universe altogether. The fact that this game barely experiences any gameplay slow down under hectic moments of gameplay is a testament to Xenoblade’s collective presentation across gameplay, graphics and sound. Xenoblade Chronicles will always have meaning for me not only being the game that got me to turn my Wii back on, but for being a game I can confidently say was…complete. It was my GOTY for 2012 for these reasons and more, but the fact that it was a Wii game, released at the last year of the consoles life, and having to be petitioned to get it released in North America, ultimately says a lot about how special this game was to a lot of people…and they were not wrong about any of it. To which then puts a lot of interest on MonolithSoft’s next “X” game slated to be released for the WiiU. Will it be as memorable as Xenoblade? We will never know until it arrives, but until that day, Xenoblade Chronicles, to me, defines “next-generation” on a console that many saw as “last-generation”. I think this says a lot in of itself.

The Last Story

Hironobu Sakaguchi will go down as one the influential minds in gaming as well as one of the most respected and celebrated developers who helped both popularize and establish the JRPG genre. His works spanned across the earliest Final Fantasy games of the 8 bit era, to the establishment of Mistwalker and games such as “Lost Odyssey”, “Blue Dragon” and now “The Last Story”. Accompanied by one of the greatest in music direction Nobuo Uematsu, These games became memorable and are touted as some of the greatest in the genre. So what makes their most recent game “The Last Story” so enjoyable? Well, I can answer this question by illustrating three distinct features that I found as the game’s greatest successes: The characters, the combat system and the music. These three facets help make “The Last Story” one of my favorite gaming experiences from last year.

I have always respected Sakaguchi’s ability to narrate his character so well in a story that wasn’t as appealing. Such is the case with this game as the characters alone help propel an overall middling story. I don’t mean this to be a negative, but telling a story centered on a troubling aristocracy and Calista’s pursuit for a life outside her isolated life within her role and rank within this society is a narrative I didn’t care for. What saved this overall story for me evidently became your band of mercenaries and their unique identities for being. Their trials and tribulations all come across as a conflict of identity, and a theme that I have always appreciated when telling a good story. You play as Zael, a stoic individual who pursues a dream of becoming a knight while along the way, takes up arms for hire as a mercenary. He is accompanied by many other characters that affect and challenge his ambitions with the reality this group faces and what each character thinks and acts individually. A character like Dagram, who acts with a determined vigor to exemplify a representative nature, becomes countered by a character like Lowell who embraces his identity as a mercenary and enjoys the freedom it gives to his collective. These challenges around certain characters help Zael define him throughout the story and provide a personal debate on how he sees himself. I absolutely loved these characters and they become more memorable, to me, than the overall story. This narrative ultimately culminates between Zael and Calista who eventually turn this story into one of love, a personal love that evidently affects this band of mercenaries and their place within this society. These themes are what make playing the game more enjoyable, because I was able to see these very singular characters at first, change and evolve through Zaels actions, becoming mulch-fastened by the end really bring a sense of uniqueness that madethe game more memorable in the end. Another contributing factor to the character development is the ability to have everyone in your band fight together, allowing your party to level and narrative feel like a group facing individual issues which was another great concept.

Another facet that deserves notice is the gameplay system and the utilization of RPG elements in a third person “cover-based” action game. Although this game isn’t built around the emphasized use of cover, it attributes gained for being in cover surprisingly help when dealing with enemy archers from ledges or casting buffs from long range. The allowance to send out buffs and magic attacks in the form of, what I like to call “circles of influence”, really adds tactics to a gameplay system that could have been generic and otherwise uninteresting. The ability to backflip off wall into attacks was also a great feature that I enjoyed a lot. The overall gameplay system was enjoyable simply for the way it utilizes RPG elements of leveling and loot into a predominately oriented third person action game. Moreover, placing spots on the ground for specific magic attacks and character buffs help make the gameplay solid and allow for significant customization as to what attributes you want to use in what ways in order to guarantee success throughout the story. The inclusion of online multiplayer and coop was a nice added feature for those who enjoyed the combat enough to play it with others, but I never found it appealing and therefore, didn’t care for it, but it’s still an interesting addition nevertheless.

Wrapping all this together is the music and presentation of “The Last Story” which probably surprised me the most, especially after playing a significant amount of Xenoblade Chronicles. The way Nobuo Uematsu moves the music to facilitate key moments of the story and character interactions bring a unique sense of life that I appreciated throughout my time playing it. From intense battle themes to melodic themes of character regress, it fits so well and gave me a strong respect for a man whose works I have never heard anywhere else. Its graphics are no slouch either, looking and performing seamlessly and doing everything it set out to do. Furthermore, it also serves in debunking the “looks good for a Wii game” idea that seems to permeate across gaming communities and journalists who cover games. “The Last Story” stands on its own as a game that many who appreciate either Hironobu Sakaguchi or Nobuo Uematsu’s work, for they succeeded in doing something I thought I would never find myself saying, which is the appreciation for a genre I never cared about and openly made fun of in my past. With this, I now have a deep respect for the sub-genre of JRG’s for because they had a great lineage and influence, but instead for an interesting future it has through games like “The Last Story”.

Hopes and Thanks

With Pandora’s Tower releasing tomorrow and completing the “Operation Rainfall Trilogy”, I’ve come to realize something that I have never thought of thinking about in the years of playing games: the perceptions of genres. Across gaming as a cultural activity, there have always been types of games, which spawned “sub-genre” with their own innate qualities to differentiate it from the original. These classifications bothered me for many years, which than resulted in ridicule towards those who enjoyed the genres that I didn’t know anything about saying such things like: “Why would you play these games?” and “You really think this is a great game?” and oddly enough “Why do you abuse yourself with these games”? After playing and completing both Xenoblade Chronicles and The Last Story, I finally realize why such an individual would play these games and enjoy them as much as they do. To ultimately appreciate something, there needs to be a time investment in them. Much like a car, we appreciate it the more we drive it, and as such the case for RPG’s and ultimately JRPG’s. The time put to your character or their attributes give a sense of satisfaction to the player having invested their time in it. I never had that because I stayed primarily in genre’s I felt happy playing, never diverging off the beaten path to might experience something different. On a GiantBomb related point, hearing Patrick Klepek explore the “Turn-Based strategy” through Fire Emblem (another fantastic series) and the“Monster Hunter” genres did I gain an appropriate respect for him because he did exactly what I did and what I hope, many others do as well. To go “outside” your comfort zones of genres and explore others that you might have never realized had great, unique qualities to them to discover. This is what gaming should be, and I am absolutely ecstatic knowing what I know now than what I previously did.

How sweet the rain falls, to see certain things in a new light and embrace them for the unique things they do in a space that may be seen as crowded and unimpressed. Where a group of people I would have made fun of and laughed at, vouch for two of three games I would embrace as some of the best in this generation of consoles. Where a sub-genre that was predominately oriented to a particular region’s culture and traditions could begin to adapt other mechanics and philosophies in order to tell their interesting stories more effectively. Finally, where a single individual who have remained skeptical and ignorant towards a genre if it wasn’t for groups fighting to give them a chance to enjoy something different and “see what they see” so to speak. I was such an individual, and I want to send the deepest of thanks to both the people around Operation Rainfall for giving me a new found respect for a genre/sub-genre i never had from the beginning and to XSeed for allowing me to support these games and help spread the importance of trying something new. Hell, you might come to love it.

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Good Day GB.

Hello Everyone,

After the many years of enjoying the content on Giant Bomb, I felt I was obligated to finally give something back for their hard work and commitment to ridiculous excellence. I have always loved playing and conversing about video games throughout my life, and I hope this already awesome community will contribute their individual perspectives for the medium, and make it a more enjoyable experience for not only myself, but for those who are new to gaming as a whole.

I am an avid appreciator for nature and have always found the tranquil experiences of simply being present when walking through any park, forest reserve, or even a simple garden. This fascination and enjoyment from nature was one I have always loved ever since I was a child, and I continue to make time out of my busy life to still reconnect to these experiences, and feeling of true peacefulness. I am an overly peaceful individual and will not rage, or get angry over things like video games. Even with avenues that give opportunities for individuals to blindly rage over certain issues beyond the gaming industry, not only is this childish, but it represents a negative image for our community as a whole. I hope that those who do it would take a couple steps back and see how they carry themselves and learn from their actions even in a space of anonymousness.

I look forward to being apart of the Giant bomb community, posting and writing about upcoming games i am most excited for and interacting with other users about their experiences. Thank you all for your time, and i hope you have a great day.

"Warts in all, Embrace the community"

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