The year in games, 2009

Ryan Davis recently wrote on Twitter that he found complaining about awards useless.  I'd be inclined to agree, although in some cases I find game awards themselves a bit frivolous.  That's why I appreciate the route Giant Bomb goes with their joke awards like the Soulja Boy Award or best use of ramps.
 
In light of that, and the fact that I have a grand total of four followers on Giant Bomb, here are my "awards" for my games of the "year".
 
Best Only Game I Played Released in 2009:

Winner: A Boy and His Blob (Wii)
 
While I haven't yet finished A Boy and His Blob, if we conform to the rules of what a "Game of the Year" is, as the only video game released in 2009 I played, it wins by default.  Luckily, it's a pretty fun puzzle game and incredibly cutesy, but a bit frustrating because I have to use a Wii Remote and Nunchuck to play.  I really have nothing else to say about it.

Best Role-playing Game:

Winner: Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 (PS2)
Runner-up: Final Fantasy X (PS2)
 
Nostalgia is getting to me.  As time passes, my memories of Persona 3 become fonder and fonder, although I seem to be this way with most things I do.  The glasses through which I view past experiences become more and more rose-tinted.  So was it a good game?  Yes.  In fact, it was an excellent game, if I may pull one word to describe it from a sea of qualitative adjectives.  Is it as good as its successor, the subject of a certain video series which inspired me to pick up Persona 3?  Probably not.  But, it still stands on its own.
 
Keeping with the nostalgia theme, the more I see of Persona 3 Portable, the more I think to myself this isn't "the way its meant to be played."  The improvements to the battle system, Social Links, and nearly everything else comes at the cost of presentation.  I just don't like the way in-engine cutscenes work (even if they have voice acting), or that the anime cutscenes, however stupid and "avant-garde", were ditched.  On top of that, I may have some subconscious elitism about the ways Persona 3 Portable is being streamlined to appeal to fans of Persona 4P3 requires a higher apprehension for RPGs, and for those who entered the series with P4 (or with the Endurance Run) can find it hard to go back.
 
It's as if I'm saying to those playing Persona 3 for the first time with P3P: "You dang hipsters!  Back in my day, Tartarus was boring and dangerous, Social Links took five seconds apiece, and there was no fast travel!  We hiked from the dorm to school uphill both ways, and we liked it!"  But that's absurd.  Of course, I should be happy that I could revisit a Persona 3 reinvented, and I certainly am, assuming it is translated into English.
 
People like to say they were there first, they liked it when before it was cool, or they were there when it meant something.  By which I mean, look at all the ways Blizzard is "dumbing down" World of Warcraft: while I don't play anymore, reading all the ways they're making the game easier for new players elicits all kinds of "back in my day" thoughts, and not just from me.  Mounts are cheap, and you get them twenty levels sooner.  Good gear is easy to get.  The list goes on.

My current pipe dream is that Atlus ports P3P back to the PlayStation 2, and releases Persona 3 Plus.  There's already precedent for it with Lumines Plus and Tokobot Plus, two PSP-to-PS2 conversions.
 
As a sidenote, I'd consider Persona 3 my favorite game played in 2009.  It's my "Game of the Year".  That includes FES, although The Answer is dumb and boring.

And then Final Fantasy X... I'll just reprint what I wrote on the Final Fantasy XIII forum: "My problem is I that I like Final Fantasy X more than it deserves, with its awkward in-engine cutscenes, usually stupid characters, and, of course, its use of monster hallways and random encounters.  The combat, and especially the boss fights, were my favorite parts of that game."  That about sums it up.  Great game, although I had to "cheat" to finish it.  I used Trio of 9999 to beat BFA (hopefully you know what either of those things are), since I had played this game two years ago and got stuck on that guy.  So when I played it again from the beginning I knew I had to finish it this time.  And I did.  I'd like to see Square Enix go back to pure turn-based, but the FF series seems to be on a path to being more and more real-time.
 
Best Role-playing Game I Didn't Finish:

Winner: Wild ARMs 4 (PS2)
Runner-up: Persona 2: Eternal Punishment (PS1)
 
This summer I assembled a stack of five turn-based, Japanese role-playing games to burn through.  I finished P3 and FFX, played a combined 20-odd hours of Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne and Persona 2: Eternal Punishment, and nearly finished Wild ARMSs 4.  If I recall, I stopped playing when I lost all my money after fleeing a random encounter and hadn't saved in thirty minutes.  I suppose I can't hold it against the game.  I should go back to it someday.
 
When it comes to WA4, I really only care about the gameplay.  The characters are unlikeable, stupid, and at worse, precocious, and the story involves "coming-of-age" and not liking war or something.  It's like, man, all these adults don't know what they're doing!  War isn't the answer!  What makes WA4 great is its combat, which manages to make both random encounters and boss battles engaging.  The Hex system is an interesting halfway between grid-based strategy and a standard-issue turn-based game.

Best MMO I Played During January and February:

Winner: World of Warcraft (PC)

A few weeks ago Blizzard emailed me a free week of WoW, both in celebration of the game's fifth anniversary and in an attempt to get me back into the game.  To be sure, it was tempting, but I haven't had time.  The last time I played WoW was February of last year.  I was healing Heroics, I was doing some light 10-man raiding, and I was into it, but I just fell off.  I didn't play one day, and then didn't play for two weeks, and then my card expired, and that was it.  I never looked back.

Occasionally threads pop up along the lines of "do you play WoW?" or "am I the only person who hasn't played WoW?".  People want to go out of their way to declare they don't like something popular, like Final Fantasy, or World of Warcraft.  Come on, guys; most of you play Modern Warfare 2, and that's a pretty popular game.  I haven't played any major game from 2009, or from 2008, probably.  I'm not out there saying that I dare to not play popular shooters.  Instead of parading the fact that I haven't played popular game x, I parade the fact that I don't parade the fact that I haven't played popular game x.  Wrap your head around that!

I suppose I quit because the gear hunt couldn't sustain my interest.  It was certainly fun while it lasted, though. (I played a Tauren Restoration Druid on Onyxia US)  I'll probably start up again when Catyclysm comes out, like I did when Wrath of the Lich King came out.  Of course, considering I'll be in college by the time the new expansion comes out, do I really want to be that guy?

Best Game I Didn't Actually Play:

Winner: Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4 (PS2)

Persona 4 is an excellent game.  If you think my opinion is invalid because I've never played the game, let me ask you this, as a reader of Giant Bomb and probably a former Endurance Run watcher: do you disagree?  Consider this: in a game that is entirely menu-based, is heavily story-driven, and requires little to no motor skills (in a video game context), it's easy to see how great this game is just by watching it.  Atlus took Persona 3, a great game in its own right,* and improved the story, made the characters more fleshed-out, wrote longer Social Links, added more in-game events, created varied and visually interesting dungeons, crafted a different but interesting rural setting, and streamlined a number of annoying things like travel.  It's pretty obvious even to an observer like myself that this game is worthy of praise, even if people around here have been on a bit of a Persona 4 high, over a year after it's North American release.

Oh, and this category has no runner-up.  I've watched bits and pieces of games on YouTube (thanks, dudes like omegaevolution and MasterLL!), but no game did I watch more than Persona 4.
 
* Grammar alert: I don't know if I used this phrase properly.

Start the Conversation

P3 finished: impressions + The Answer

Completion Stats:

Level: 80
Completion: 84 hours
Money: Over 8,000,000 yen
Compendium: 55% complete
Social Links: 17 of 22 maxed

The Journey

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: great game. Actually, I don't know what adjective to use. It's one of those game review cliches, what synonym for "good" to use. Fantastic? Outstanding? Spectacular? It's certainly a 5-star game, and a 9/10 on that scale. But we don't need to get into numbers.

Besides the fact that P3 sits very clearly inside it's sequel's shadow, my main problem with the game was the amount of combat, and the somewhat uninspired nature of the combat. I don't really know what I want out of my randomly-generated hallways, other than for them to maybe be not randomly-generated, and to maybe have some design to them.

(spoilers now for The Journey of Persona 3)

The team I used to clear Nyx was Aigis, Ken, and Mitsuru. A slightly non-standard party, to be sure, but I wanted a weird group. I like Ken more than Yukari, so I picked him as my main healer. And, as much as I hate Mitsuru's battle dialogue (and, well, her mannerisms in general), she was probably the best choice for nuker.

To get everyone's skills required me spending extra time leveling, until my whole party was in the high-70's. It's not like me to overpower content in RPGs, but I ended up doing it on accident, as the final boss caused me little to no trouble. And I was so prepared! I burned through all my gems to stock up on Sutras, Balms of Life, and Homonoculii (?!), most of which wern't needed.

The ending was satisfactory, even if the Bad Ending and the Good Ending share that initial dialogue exchange. I was afraid everybody was going to forget what had happened! But, luckily, Mitsuru remembered her past just in time to leap in slow-motion off the school auditorium's stage and make a dramatic exit with the other members of SEES.

Seeing Hugo (my character) cozied up with the robot was disconcerting to the say the least, but then again, you just look at Hugo, and you know he would be the type to fall asleep in the lap of a female android that's totally falling for him. He's just chill about it.

The Answer

(After my first night playing the Persona 3's epilogue, my thoughts on it spilled into a jumbled mess of words, replicated below. After that you can find some slightly more sound writing, although I've only played the game another hour and a half since. Spoilers in this as well, obviously.)

Maybe it's because he was near death. I'm not sure if you know your character is dead at the end of the main game or the start of the epilogue. In any case, I'll keep that tidbit of information down here. I was spoiled anyway by a review of P3:FES, not that I cared that much. (I have little issue with being spoiled in games)

That was last night, and tonight I started up The Answer, the epilogue to Persona 3 added in the FES re-release. (in case, you know, you haven't played P3 and are reading this anyway) I was just excited to be watching more of this story unfold; granted, P3's story wasn't that interesting, at least to me. It at least went beyond "we need to destroy the ambiguous evil in the world."

Plus, because The Answer is purportedly a 30-hour game, I figured maybe it would be more heavy on story and not follow the exact gameplay patterns of Persona 3. Hey, I might be wrong already!

Within 30 minutes you're set loose to go fight. I form my party, descend into the Abyss of Time, open the first door, and what do I find? More winding hallways filled with monsters! Huzzah! I cleared one floor and quit, my hopes for this epilogue a little dampered*.

I'm sure it will be a good time, but seeing the amount of assets recycled was a little disappointing. Everyone's wearing the same clothes (except Aigis, who's new robo-gear freaks me out), the battle dialogue is all the same, and the gameplay seems to be the same. Heck, I'll be fusing Personas in the Velvet Room like always! Maybe I was expecting too much, but I thought at least they would have thought up something cool for the combat, other than "it's harder," as explained to me before starting the game.

The Answer seems to be a new story wrapped around the same game, which I probably should have been expecting. Maybe something changes; after all, I never reached that second floor behind the first door. It's possible that everything changes there.

I probably just wasn't in the mood tonight. Oh, and hearing "I need your help!" every few seconds is sure to be tons of fun. At least they recorded her saying the names of all 170 Personas. Isn't that something.

* While a "damper" can be put on something, the act of putting said damper on something can not be referred to as "dampering." I used the word regardless.

Updated impressions

Mitsuru pointed out that the dungeon hub that is the Desert of Doors is "exactly like Tartarus." Everyone is expressing their exhaustion at having to fight again. Frankly, I feel the same way.

Maybe I was expecting to much out of this game; I just figured The Answer would be more about the story and would give you some new gameplay mechanics and a new way to look at the game. Ultimately, being a condensed experience, this isn't the same Persona. There are more dungeons to burn through, more characters to interact with, but there's no Social Linking, and the fusion system feels gimped to me.

Part of my problem with The Answer is probably a larger issue, dealing with the nature of dungeon-crawling in general. RPG dungeons, especially this game's, feel very detached from the story itself. You don't even get Persona 4's clever, thematic dungeons; these are just a jumble of hallways, baddies, and chests, the only difference between each block of Tartarus being the walls and the Shadows.

In theory, SEES was "unlocking" the "mysteries" of the tower, but there's actually a very simple explanation for its exsistence: it's a big podium on which Nyx will stand when she needs to bring about the end of the world.

Really, if the crux of Persona 3's story was supposed to be Tartarus, and Shadows, and Nyx, and The Fall, then whatever that story was, I didn't care that much. At the start of the game, I was worried that P3's plot would be nothing more than "bad things pose a vague threat to all mankind." At some point, the story did go in a few directions, with the relationships between characters being the more interesting things to me.

The marriage of gameplay and story has evolved over the years. Games still have cutscenes, but there's the growing crowd of indie forward-thinking-types who want to do away with cutscenes and go for the Half-Life method of all scripted events. I like the Valve approach, but I'm not entirely against cutscenes; I mean, I'm playing a Japanese RPG. This is nothing but riding the rails and seeing what happens.

I really don't know what can be done to dungeon-crawling to better meld it into a game's world; I just know that P3 is, in my mind, a bad example of dungeon-crawling. The concept is terrifying in and of itself, and is reminiscent of old-school trends: one, big dungeon, with over 250 near-identical floors. Barely anything story-driven happens here, at least while you're leveling.

As Jeff Gerstmann once put it, "this is why I don't make games, because I don't really know what they should be doing." There are a lot of creative people out there, but maybe the JRPG scene isn't the most creative. Atlas at least seems a bit more foreward-thinking; the high school-sim/dungeon-crawling genre is something all their own, but even something as interesting and fresh as Persona is steeped in the traditions of old, good and bad.

Is my wish unrealistic? I don't know. All I know is Persona 3's approach to dungeon design is not something I'm in favor of. There are most definetly better ways to do it. That, along with the fact that there's no Social Linking, will probably make for a more bland Persona experience. At this point, the only carrot stringing me along is 10-20 minutes of dialogue between finishing blocks.

As I say at the end of most impressions, "we'll see." We'll see if The Answer can be more than a tedious revisiting of the Press Turn system. I think I'll try and finish it regardless. I was playing some this morning, even. The enemy was casting Ice, so I switched to a Persona immune to ice. Then it cast wind instead, which I was weak to, and I died. Fantastic!
Start the Conversation

So much failure...

There's so much grammatical failure on these Giant Bomb pages.  It makes me sad.

Examples:

  • Putting apostrephes at the end of plural noun's.
  • Randomly capitalizing Words.
  • Giving the wrong-phrases hyphens.
  • The general: improper use,of punctuation    and spacing

And I don't want to be dude what claims his grammar is perfect, but guys... try a little harder, mmkay?
Start the Conversation

Battle of the Band Games

It's 2 in the morning Eastern time, and I'm wide-awake, which means it's a perfect time to write about something I've wanted to for a while: the arms race between Activision and Harmonix that's hitting a next-gen landscape near you this September or so.

We all know the story at this point: Harmonix had this little game called Guitar Hero. At first it was just a rumor; supposedly there was this crazy guitar rythym game tucked away in the LACC's famous Kencha hall. The game was first seen at E3 2005 and was released that same year to universal acclaim. Guitar Hero pretty much made the modern music game a reality and a success.

Eventually the sequel came the next year. Then Harmonix gave the Guitar Hero franchise to Neversoft and Activision and said "See ya! We're off to make Rock Band, the greatest music game ever." Of course Rock Band was praised much more highly than Guitar Hero III, but how could it not be? While Guitar Hero III was essentially more of the same (how could it not be?), Rock Band gave us not only guitar, but drums and vocals, along with one of the best social multiplayer experiences of last year, and a steady stream of downloadable songs to boot.

I'm sure Activision felt like they had gotten the short end of the imaginary rythym game stick, so what's the only logical answer? Make your own band game! Guitar Hero: World Tour promises to have everything Rock Band has and more. Granted, they wouldn't put it to you like that.

It seems like an easy move to predict, considering Holiday 2007 established the new rivalry between Actiblizzard (?!?!) and Harmonix, at least for rythym games.

So here's where the problems start. There's going to be a Rock Band 2, despite all the "platform" stuff they were raving about before the game came out. To be fair, all current and future DLC from Harmonix will work in both games, so you don't have to upgrade to Rock Band 2 if you don't want to. But let's look at the facts:

-- 80-something new songs
-- Plenty of new modes, and improvements to old modes
-- New and improved instruments

So why would the avid Rock Band fan not want to purchase the sequel? You can go on playing your ghetto half-broken RB1 drumkit if you want, but the grass will be oh-so-much greener on the other side of the fence. (sidenote: the yellow pad on our drum kit is fully broken)

What am I worried about exactly? Let's look at the facts:

-- Rock Band and the "new" Guitar Hero may very well be yearly franchises now
-- Each new game for each series will have to top the competition's previous game and their own previous game in features
-- Each new game includes new intstruments that will probably be better than the last iteration
-- Each new game will carry the same hefty price tag that associates itself with a bundle

See where the problems start? Do music game players really want this? Just imagine what Guitar Hero and Rock Band would look like come one year from now. Every year will bring new music, new "better" instruments, and games bloated with even more features than before. Not to get all retro hippie here or something, but it's just not what it was in 2005: a simple music game.

Now we've got two companies (one known for running franchises dry) at war. The problem is, the war never ends, because each year will be a new iteration, better than the last, at least in theory. At what point do consumers get tired of having two (or even three?) band music games coming out a year?

Bah, I should go to bed.

Start the Conversation

Why hello thar

This seems to be a blog I can write in.  But can I disable the WYSIWYG editor?  I'd rather have raw HTML as it were.

Now to figure out what I should start working on... I used to do a lot of editing of game articles on Wikipeda, but I fell of that metaphorical horse a long time ago.  So I guess this is my chance to get back into doing that kind of thing, and on a site that's dedicated to video games, as opposed to an online encyclopedia filled with a community that sort of resents having video game articles.

Start the Conversation