PAX Prime 2014 in over 3,000 Words

Buckle up! It's show time!

I sit here at home, fresh off of four days of PAX Prime 2014, thankfully free of the PAX Pox but still sore as all hell. This was my sixth PAX in as many years, and it gets both harder and easier every year. Harder, in that the demand for passes only intensifies with each show; passes sold out in about half an hour when they went on sale this year. And easier, in that once you’ve been to PAX enough times, you tend to become familiar with much of the layout; repeat vendors typically have their booths in the same general spot, and the more prominent panelists and panels make their return appearances.

Queue Room on Friday morning.

But there’s also something new every year, whether it be a new game on display, a new panel or a returning panel I hadn’t seen before. Even after six years, I still come away with some good memories of the show. Also, exhaustion, pain, and possible illness, but that’s all par for the course. Anyway, here are some of the highlights of my time at PAX Prime 2014:

The Panels!

Note: These are not all of the panels that I attended (it was actually a very panel-heavy PAX for me this year), but these were the more prominent ones I attended.

Hironobu Sakaguchi

Final Fantasy creator Hironobu Sakaguchi held a panel on Friday evening. It was the only panel of the show that I attended in the main theater, Benaroya Hall. Over the course of an hour, he spoke through his translator on topics ranging from why he feels Final Fantasy IV and VI have remained largely the most compelling games in the series for many folks, how well Final Fantasy VII has aged and the constant demand for an HD remake, and spoke a bit about other games like Chrono Trigger, Blue Dragon, Lost Odyssey and The Last Story. The last fifteen minutes or so were then dedicated to talking about his current project, Terra Battle, which is a free-to-play tactical RPG for mobile.

Hironobu Sakaguchi, with moderator and translator. This is as zoomed in as the camera on my phone could get.

It was an entertaining hour; my favorite panel of the show by far. Sakaguchi is humble, funny (when asked what Final Fantasy class he most closely relates to, he responded “Dancer”!), and shed some light on his time in the industry that hadn’t been shared before. He revealed that, many years ago, after the completion of Chrono Trigger that the team had wanted to make a proper Chrono Trigger 2, and he fought with the higher ups at Square to let them make it, but obviously didn’t win that fight. He didn’t go into the specifics of why, but it was interesting to hear nonetheless.

Sakaguchi is also a big fan of Akira Toriyama, and one of the highlights of his career was being able to work with him on Chrono Trigger, and much more directly on Blue Dragon. He shared a photo of himself with the Blue Dragon team:

Photo of a projection of a photo of Sakaguchi posing with the Blue Dragon development team.

That guy in red in the front next to Sakaguchi? That’s Akira Toriyama.

As for Terra Battle, it looks like an interesting game. It is, as I said before, free-to-play, so it has some of the trappings that come with mobile games of that nature. On the other hand, the game will be receiving content through what they’re calling a “Download Starter”. Basically, the more people download the game, the more things will be added, including additional music from Nobuo Uematsu, new characters from various designers, a new scenario from Yasumi Matsuno, the release of the game’s soundtrack, and so on. And if two million people download the game, Mistwalker will start working on a proper console version of Terra Battle.

As for some of his other answers, when the moderator asked him about seeing a sequel to The Last Story, he gave a very Hideki Kamiya-style answer, in English: “Talk to Nintendo.” He’s actually interested in doing follow-ups to all of the big RPGs he’s developed at Mistwalker, but the opportunities to do so simply haven’t presented themselves.

And when asked if he had played Dark Souls (because obligatory Dark Souls question), he said nope, he hadn’t played it. Simple as that!

Sakaguchi is a man responsible for some of my favorite games of all time, a number of which had a strong influence on me as I was growing up. To hear him reflect on his career in person is easily the highlight of the show for me, and I’m beyond happy he put on this panel.

Cards Against Humanity

This year was the first year I had attended the Cards Against Humanity panel. It was about what I had expected. The CAH crew came on stage and shared a couple of videos, including a prank from last year that fell flat. Apparently they had started the panel last year by pretending to be running late, and so a group of Morris dancers. Obviously talented people, which was probably the downfall of the prank. They were legitimately talented; not something to laugh at.

So after introductions and the sharing of the videos, they got down to business of soliciting card ideas from the audience. However, there was a twist this year. The CAH booth was set up with a card printer, and everyone that attended the panel could go to the booth later and pick up a custom pack of cards made up of the best suggestions of the night.

Best panel attendance bonus ever.

Speaking of the printing machine, the CAH booth also offered a special this year, free of charge. People that lined up at the booth could meet the CAH crew and give a suggestion for a personal custom card, which would then be taken to the printer and picked up later. I and a friend that attended the show with me went through the line and had our own cards made. Behold, my masterpiece:

Hard times were fallen upon after Pluto's planetary status was revoked.

Markiplier

Yes, yes, Youtube personality that screams at horror games a lot. He’s actually a pretty amusing guy, and one of my friends that came with me is very into his videos. She actually finds his brand of suffering for our amusement a pleasant thing when she’s feeling stressed or down. He’s also, to quote my friend, a human muppet. The panel, which was also the first panel he had ever done, was entirely Q&A, and he and his friend Wade would field questions, often running into the audience. There was wordplay, physical comedy, a Five Nights at Freddy’s cosplayer in the audience, and just an absurd, good time.

The energy he brought to his panel just by running around answering questions was pretty awesome.

The Episodic Games Panel (Not the official name)

Another panel I attended was on episodic games, their ups, their downs, and the things that people need to be aware of to make them successful. It was hosted by two people from Telltale Games, Matt Gilgenbach, the creator of Neverending Nightmares, and Swery, still hard at work on D4. Ryan Payton, currently working on Republique, served as moderator and as Swery’s translator. Also, I got to sit in the front row for this one!

Swery and friends!

It was a pretty interesting panel to hear just because of the diverse viewpoints. The Telltale guys have obviously been doing episodic games for years now, Neverending Nightmares is being released episodically as part of the Kickstarter development process and will be released as a full game when it’s done, and D4, while episodic, is still in development and the first episode has yet to be released.

The biggest thing I took away from the panel is that there’s no real secret ingredient in terms of how many episodes an episodic game should be. What’s more important is maintaining the cadence of release. The Telltale guys alluded to this somewhat when they talked about the unusual time gap between the first and second episodes of The Wolf Among Us. It’s also important to be aware of your resources; Neverending Nightmares was originally intended to be a twelve-episode game, but various realities (read: the budget) meant that it had to be cut down, leading to a nine-episode game instead. This, of course, also meant communicating this to the Kickstarter backers, who were apparently and thankfully understanding.

Surviving the Internet

This was the panel that Patrick hosted on Sunday night along with Samantha Kalman, Trin Garritano, and Shawn Allen. And I almost didn’t go to it. It was 7:00 on the third day of PAX and I was ready to hop on a bus and go home. Then, when I was at the bus stop, I checked Twitter on my phone and oh.

Of course, the tweet was a joke, but I figured maybe going wouldn’t hurt. So I went, and it was an interesting panel, all things considered. Some great viewpoints from all of the participants. I can’t say that I personally got much new out of it, as a lot of what was discussed were things that I was largely already aware of or agreed with. So I found myself nodding along a lot, but it was not a bad panel by any means. Definitely well done and thought out.

OK, the lighting and maxed zoom range make it look like a panel of Slenderman's relatives, but trust me on this one.

Also, I introduced myself to Patrick afterward, which was a nice moment. He also knows my face now, so he can picture me in his mind when he shakes his fist at me.

The Games!

So…many…games. Too many to count or keep track of. But here are the highlights for me. Starting with the obvious.

Hyrule Warriors

OH SHIT THIS GAME IS AWESOME.

*Ahem*

Nintendo had stations set up for some of their games on the second and third levels of the convention center, away from the hustle and bustle of the main show floor, where their space was almost entirely dedicated to Super Smash Bros. They did have one Hyrule Warriors station in the exhibition hall, but on day one, I got in line to play the demo on the third floor, where there were more stations. (And a hilarious number of people). It took somewhere between an hour and a half to two hours to get through the line.

The main exhibit hall had only one station. More were located one level down. (Not pictured: So many Smash Bros. stations. So many...)

Worth it!

Yeah, the game comes out in less than a month, but I really, really wanted to try it out. And I did. And it was hilarious. Standing in line, I’d watch other people play the demo and see them sort of disprove the notion that Warriors games are entirely mindless. I’d probably still be in line if there wasn’t a time limit on the demo. So I walk up to the station when it’s my turn and let the rep explain the controls (which are actually different than the standard Warriors game). I then pretty much proceeded to blitz what was a truncated version of the first stage using Zelda, bombing King Dodongo like it was going out of style.

Nintendo held a separate Hyrule Warriors event as a PAX after-party on Saturday. My friends and I tried queueing for it, though we were too late to be guaranteed entry. We stuck around in the room, partially to wait and see if we might get in, and partially because that queue room was quiet and cool, which is just what we all needed after two days of PAX. And most people that were with us were the same way. Though there was the one guy that, upon learning he probably wouldn’t get in, stormed out in an amazing tantrum in which he chided everyone still present for just sitting around collecting puzzle pieces in StreetPass.

Uh, dude. Chill. Hyrule Warriors has me hyped, but there was never any guarantee I’d get into the event. It’s best not to put your eggs in one basket. (Is that even the right analogy for this situation? I dunno.) Anyway, this is also largely why I wasn’t at the Giant Bomb panel on Saturday evening.

Also, holy shit, that hotel carpet.

Holy 1970s, Batman! That is some serious Overlook Hotel carpet, there.

Super Smash Bros.

I actually didn’t try Smash Bros. until the last day of the show, as every time we walked by the Nintendo area of the show floor it appeared to be madness. But the lines were actually very quick, as the 3DS stations were largely one go at Smash Run, and the demos of the Wii U version were four players playing two two-minute matches each. So it was actually easy to get in, play, and get out. Also, I got a sweet towel out of it, which is very handy to have on a convention floor filled with humanity.

Perfect for getting rid of the convention sweats.

You guys know what Smash Bros. is? Then I probably don’t need to talk about it too much. What I can say is that Smash Run on the 3DS is fun, and on the Wii U, I’m good with Zero Suit Samus and terrible, absolutely terrible, with Rosalina & Luma. Also, this is the cutest thing I have ever seen in all my years of PAX:

I dare you to find something that tops this. I dare you.

Project Diva F 2nd

Yes, I imported the Japanese version. But I had to try the localized demo. And yes. YES. It’s another one of those games where I don’t need to demo because I know how it plays and I already want to get it, but the demo was there, it was convenient to try with a small line, and it was fun. They were handing out Project Diva F 2nd lanyards to people that tried the game, but I didn’t need it, as earlier in the show, I had bought a Hatsune Miku lanyard from one of the vendors on the show floor:

Cute!
Adorable!

This is the greatest lanyard in the history of lanyards. I WILL BROOK NO ARGUMENTS IT IS A FACT.

Super Meat Boy Forever

Oh. Oh god. Oh god, what a mess this was.

Super Meat Boy Forever is a touch-based runner follow-up to Super Meat Boy. From the brief time I played it, I can only say this:

Wait for it. Wait for it...

It’s fucking terrible.

Part of this may be the demo station I was at, which used a large touch-screen monitor rather than, say, an iPad. But the touches simply weren’t responsive enough, which is agonizing in a game that requires as much precision as Super Meat Boy. Worse, the levels are randomly generated, and it kept throwing different obstacles at me, eliminating the ability to practice through trial and error.

I just…what? Maybe the finished game will be better, and on a device more conducive to the experience they’re going for. But just god damn was this an atrocious demo.

Skullduggery!

Skullduggery! is one of the games that was on display at the PAX 10 this year. It’s a touch-screen based game that’s sort of like taking the core concept behind Angry Birds and making a better game out of it. You play as a skull, and to get around, you pull back on a piece of the skull, stretching his elastic brain, adjusting your launch angle, and then letting loose. This is done to get through levels, avoid obstacles, defeat enemies, and collect treasures. All while being met with silly pun after goofy joke all the while. It’s really cool.

Stikbold!

Another PAX 10 game, Stikbold! is a game for up to four players in local multiplayer that is essentially a hilariously violent game of dodgeball with an aesthetic that dresses everyone up in ridiculous 1970s athletic wear and hairstyles. It’s very simple: You get the ball, you throw the ball at other people and try to brutalize them with spheroid rubber. Or maybe distract them with bees, or an overenthusiastic fan, or maybe take them down with a floor waxer.

It’s a ridiculous game in the good way.

Mushroom 11

Mushroom 11, yet another PAX 10 game, is also uniquely bizarre. You control an amorphous fungus, and to get from one end of the stage to the other, you need to shave, trim and cut it so that it can move with the physics and regrow to fill in necessary gaps. It’s intense just watching someone else play, particularly when taking on a boss, which can require some particularly precarious shaving, scaling, and getting things to land just right.

And again, you play as an amorphous fungus.

Wander

I’m really not sure what to make of this game.

Guardians of the Galaxy 1.0: I Am (Not) Groot!

Wander casts the player as a walking tree, essentially, and there’s a narrative to follow by exploring the wilderness and finding items that push the story forward. It’s also possible to team up with other players and give information on where to find these items. The whole game has been designed with a pacifist mindset; there’s no combat or conflict in the game. You just wander around and explore. In a sense, it’s sort of like Myst in that fashion. But in the time I had to demo it, I couldn’t really do much more than wander through the wilderness without aim, unsure of where to go or what to do.

The Moon is Dying & So Will You

This game, which is only about three weeks old and still super-early in development, was actually available for demoing in the Cards Against Humanity booth. It’s a very simple premise, in that you control a character with the left stick and a life preserver with the right stick, and both with the right stick when the character is in the preserver. The goal is to collect as many blue triangles around the environment as possible before dying. Or at least, that’s as much of a goal as there is right now in this super-early, impossible to judge build. It is interesting to play though, I’ll give it that. The team making it will be launching a Kickstarter in the near future for it.

And oh goodness, there are just too many other games to list.

#SWAG

I may have set a new personal record for the amount of money I’ve spent on convention swag and other goodies this year. Or if not, at least close to it. Totally worth it, though. Through various vendors and channels, I came away with:

  • A Play Arts Kai Cammy figure.
  • A Kotobukiya Bishoujo Cammy figure.
  • A Play Arts Kai Snow Villiers figure.
  • Two sets of Street Fighter X Sanrio figures.
  • A Poison T-shirt.
  • A Hatsune Miku T-shirt.
  • Analogue: A Hate Story and Hate Plus (Physical releases.)
  • Cards Against Humanity expansions 3, 4, and 5 and the 90s Nostalgia pack.
  • The tabletop game Eldritch Horror.
  • A poster depicting fan-drawn schematics of the Epoch from Chrono Trigger.
  • 4 Vocaloid-related art books
  • An Ys art book
  • Not for me, but for a friend: Two Udon-published manga-style volumes that are adaptations of Les Miserable and Pride and Prejudice. (Huh?!)

Dramatic Conclusion

Overall, it was a blast at PAX this year. I’d like to do it again next year, though who knows how possible that will be given the rate at which passes sell out now. Still, I’ll give it a shot. The show is pretty old hat, and a lot of the shiny allure of earlier PAX shows has definitely worn away as I’ve gotten more used to it and the show has gotten bigger. But it’s still worth going despite that and I’d easily do it again.

Also, Nintendo, please release more puzzles! I finished all of them already!

Relaxin' and StreetPassin' as PAX Prime 2014 winds down.

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About Linkle.

A curious thing happened earlier this week. It was discovered that a Japanese art book for Hyrule Warriors features concept art of Link as a girl. Roughly transliterated, this female equivalent is apparently named Linkle. I already posted a thread regarding this here. What I’m more interested in discussing now, however, isn’t the artwork, but the reaction that the artwork received, which was at times baffling.

For reference, here is the artwork again:

Who'd have thought one piece of concept art could stir up so much derision?

Hyrule Warriors Link, for comparison.

From a basic analysis, the artwork definitely appears to be a female Link. She wears a feminine cut of Link’s tunic, a looser-fitting cap, and taller boots, but it is, in general, Link’s traditional garb. The specific aspects of the design, such as the shade of green in the tunic, the blonde color of Link’s hair, and the texture of the gloves and boots, all indicate that Linkle is, more or less, a female design of the Hyrule Warriors Link, minus the scarf. This makes sense given the source material and the people responsible.

What I find off-putting are those that seemed to be more reductive in their own analysis. The idea that it doesn’t take much to make Link a woman, that he’s already feminine enough that you could just put breasts on him and call him a her, is absurd. There’s no question that in games such as Ocarina of Time, Twilight Princess, and Skyward Sword that Link’s designs skew away from the rugged and more toward the pretty concept of masculine beauty. But having features that could be described as androgynous doesn’t mean that Link is one or two steps away from being a girl. Nor does it mean that it takes zero effort to draw a female Link, as though ideas like proportion, body and facial shape are meaningless and easily exchanged. I have artist friends that have little to no trouble drawing women, but ask them to draw a man and the task suddenly grows more difficult for them. From an artistic standpoint, masculine and feminine physiques simply are not one in the same.

Equally absurd were responses directed at Linkle’s attire. In particular, criticism was directed toward her boots, with suggestions that it was out of character for her; a concept that is largely meaningless, as Linkle’s personality is undefined and who’s to say that she wouldn’t wear them? Other arguments were targeted more at the notion that the boots are impractical and the ensemble as a whole leaves her thighs unguarded. But these arguments tend to ignore the history of Link’s designs almost entirely.

A Link to the Past
Ocarina of Time
Twilight Princess

Each of the above designs are Link from Zelda games of different eras, and each variation of his design feature some significant weakpoints in his garb. Some provide no real defense to his legs at all, leaving them bare, or at best clad in tights. And while some of his later designs include a chainmail shirt under his tunic, most of his designs lack such protection. In some ways, Linkle’s boots provide more protection than Link’s average leg-wear.

And then there are the comments that dismiss the notion of a female Link entirely. What’s the point, they ask, if Link never had any personality to begin with? It is a dismissal of basic character, presenting an assumption that Link could be replaced with a cactus and it wouldn’t affect the game at all. It is an argument that ignores the backgrounds and relationships of each Link that has come and gone. While Link has historically been a silent protagonist and each incarnation shares certain heroic qualities and traits, it is his connection to the world and its characters that define him. The Link of Skyward Sword is not the same person as the Link of Wind Waker, or A Link to the Past, or Ocarina of Time. Each has their own aspects and relationships that define them as characters and individuals in their own right. Take, for example, how the silent Link reacts to revelations in this scene from Skyward Sword:

This is what really sets Link apart as a character so ripe for this treatment. Each Link is different, so who’s to say that at least one of the destined heroes in Hyrule’s long history isn’t a heroine? No matter what the reasoning behind Linkle’s design was, whether it had been mere amusement on a part of the character designer or part of an actual consideration as game content, it was obviously on the minds of some of the developers. The idea was also brought to the mind of Zelda producer Eiji Aonuma when he learned people were confused regarding the gender and identity of the figure that is Link in the Zelda Wii U teaser trailer. To say nothing of the countless pieces of fanart produced over the years that have genderbent Link for one reason or another.

Including easy jokes.

The larger point I’m making is that the idea of a female Link isn’t an absurd notion that’s worth immediate dismissal. The character as a concept is ripe for it, developers are intrigued by it, and fans have expressed varying degrees of interest and desire for it. Or I guess I should say her. Even if it were just for one game, it’s an idea that could put some fun twists on ideas of who Link(le) is and what (s)he represents.

If a future Zelda title featured Linkle instead of Link, whether she appear as designed in the art book illustration or in some other guise, how would you feel about that? Is it something you’d have interest in? Would it make you more interested in the game than usual? Less? Would you just not care? But more importantly, why do you feel that way?

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School Days: Lessons in Bad Endings Through Anime Adaptation

This is a party to which I’m about seven years late, I know. But this weekend, I finally watched School Days, an anime series from 2007 that was based on an adult visual novel of the same name from two years earlier. Some of you may have already seen it. Others of you may only be familiar with the show through a meme that spawned from footage aired in the original time slot of its delayed final episode.

This meme, specifically.

The content of the show’s ending is what in part led to the delay of its airing, and to the meme. But another event unrelated to the show itself, specifically a real life murder that was prominently in Japanese headlines at the time, was what resulted in the delayed broadcast. Ancient internet memes aren’t what I’m here to talk about, though.

Having watched the full twelve episodes myself, there’s actually a lot more to the show than just an internet joke or an ending shocker, and it’s actually had me thinking quite a bit. Not just about the show itself or the visual novel that spawned it, but about games in general, and what they could learn from it. School Days is a show that’s known mostly for how it ends, but the path it takes to get there is just as important as the final few minutes.

(Major spoilers for School Days follow.)

Introduction

The basic premise of the game, and the anime, follows Makoto Itou, a high school student that develops feelings for fellow student Kotonoha Katsura. His classmate Sekai Saionji helps introduce the two and encourages their relationship, despite the fact that she has hidden feelings for Makoto herself.

From this set-up, the game has over twenty endings; most of them are good, some of them are bad. But what makes the game somewhat notorious is that the bad endings take things to the extreme, with one or more of the characters meeting their end in death. And the producers of the anime took this fact to heart.

The Plot

The intro to the anime used in most episodes is deceptively placid.

On the surface, School Days feels similar to other anime series that are romantic comedy-dramas set in high school. The opening credit animation hints at the love triangle that serves as the core, but is otherwise seemingly innocuous. The series is also not above going to some of the most worn clichés of its genre, with an entire episode set at a water park and all of the girls in swimsuits, the school festival serving as the setting of major events later in the story, and numerous gratuitous shots of breasts and panties. And yet, in retrospect, it feels as though these tropes are only present to instill familiarity and to keep the viewer watching as the real story plays out.

The series begins with an indecisive, inexperienced Makoto pining for the demure and quiet Kotonoha, going so far as to be on a first-name basis with her as they finally start to date and forge a relationship. But Makoto is entirely dependent on his classmate Sekai, who constantly feeds him advice on how to advance the relationship and not screw things up. She even encourages him to practice his advances with her, though she has her own interests in mind as much as if not more than Kotonoha’s.

But just as Makoto makes real headway in his relationship with Kotonoha, having been invited to her home and entering a comfortable first-name basis with her, he grows tired of her. He prefers to spend more time with Sekai, abandoning the pretense of “practice” for a more truly physical relationship. And though he feels like Sekai is more and more the girl he prefers, he refuses to officially break things off with Kotonoha.

Makoto Itou: Generic anime protagonist on the outside, epic-level shithead on the inside.

What follows in the plot plays out as if someone played a visual novel and constantly made poor decisions. Though Makoto starts off as sympathetic and somewhat likeable despite his indecision and mistakes, he becomes worse and worse as a person as time goes on. Makoto eventually starts falling for other girls. Just as he leaves Kotonoha hanging as he cheats on her with Sekai, he cheats on Sekai with another girl, and then others. It becomes clear that he has no interest in the needs of those he’s with, more concerned with momentary pleasure than forging relationships.

This sense of betrayal is best exemplified by Kotonoha’s plight. She’s bullied by her classmates, whom all assume that Makoto had broken up with her (despite his never telling her), and as Makoto spends more and more time away from her, she grows more despondent. The strain on her emotions, and her concern over whether she did something wrong, eventually causes her to crack. Sekai, too, is devastated by the betrayals, taking a long absence from school after she falls into a severe depression. And when she starts feeling ill, and possibly gaining weight, she fears that she’s pregnant.

Eventually, everything comes crashing down, as Sekai tells Makoto the news and chastises him to take responsibility. Word spreads through the whole school, and soon no one is willing to speak with him or return his calls. But true to form, Makoto refuses to take responsibility for his actions. Instead, he’s frustrated with Sekai for ruining his life. He by chance stumbles across Kotonoha, who despite his treating so poorly is blissfully ready to accept him as though nothing happened.

But Makoto makes one bad decision too many. He continues to treat Sekai poorly, and she snaps, stabbing him to death in his apartment, only for Kotonoha to arrive later and find his body. Kotonoha in turn arranges a meeting with Sekai using Makoto’s phone, and with one last twist of the literal knife, kills Sekai and cuts her open to see if she were truly pregnant. (She was not.)

Analysis

Overall, the plot of the show is like one long tear-down of the very genre it’s adapting. Makoto goes from immature, inexperienced, and indecisive to being a callous, promiscuous idiot. His attitude destroys his relationships one at a time until only the highly unstable love triangle is left. And then, well, I already explained how it ends. Badly.

The entire series builds toward the events that immediately follow Makoto receiving this text message.

And it’s not as though the ending comes from out of nowhere. There are hints, some subtle, some not so much. The first and last episodes begin with their title cards shattering like glass. Kotonoha’s descent into obsession and madness is highlighted with moments such as a prolonged shot of a knife beside her in the kitchen, or her “correcting a mistake” in her knitting by calmly unraveling the entire project. Sekai and others refer to Makoto early on as an idiot. At one point, in a rare moment of meta-commentary. Makoto himself derides the protagonist of a video game in what could have otherwise been a throwaway line of dialogue. From the very start, the show is geared toward taking its characters, and its audience, to the worst possible conclusion, but hides its intent behind standard elements of the genre and humorous moments that play counter to the nature of how the story ends.

Though the show may be remembered in the long run for its ending and for a “nice boat,” it’s also inspired. It goes in directions that most video game adaptations would never go. That the production staff made the conscious decision to adapt a bad ending path and to take it as far as they did, is in some ways worthy of applause on its own. The show isn’t perfect, by any means, but it stands out by taking one of the most formulaic of anime formulas and turning it on its head.

What Games Could Learn

School Days is hardly the only visual novel out there to feature bad endings that are as bad as they are. But the fact that such endings are possible, and even the fact that its anime adaptation went that route itself, is something that I feel more games and even their adaptations could learn from. Video games that offer the player choice, particularly moral choice, rarely deliver true punishment for making poor decisions.

Yes, some games do penalize the player for making certain choices. In Dragon Age: Origins, Alistair will straight-up leave the party if you take it easy on his arch-enemy Loghain and conscript him into the Grey Wardens. In Persona 4, the game ends in a premature bad ending if you fail to give the proper responses to calm your other party members down. But in the former, you’re essentially exchanging one character for another of the same basic class, and in the latter, it’s easy enough to try again from the last save point. The penalties they present are minor and easy to recover from.

So what if Persona 4 were structured somewhat differently? What if the relationships formed had a more meaningful impact in the party and in the world? Intentionally or not, Yu Narukami comes off as a playboy capable of romancing multiple girls at once, and what little penalty there is easy to recover from. What if the player could only be locked into one specifically romantic relationship, and being caught cheating resulted in more dramatic, drastic effects? I’m not saying that Yukiko should fly into a murderous rage at seeing Yu cheat on her with her best friend…

"Don't cry, Chie. There's enough of him left for both of us."

…but what if the penalties were more severe, both in terms of the gameplay and in terms of the story? What if cheating on Yukiko led her to become distrustful of Yu and abandon the Investigation Team? You lose her Social Link and the Personae associated with it, as well as her abilities as a party member. And what if losing her in turn made it more difficult to rank up in the Social Links with Chie and other characters?

Imagine if your every bad decision meant repercussions so severe you never have the chance to meet this guy.

Or as another example, what about the Mass Effect series? Imagine for a moment the possibility that every bad decision and self-serving action that Commander Shepard makes over the course of the first two and two-thirds of the trilogy come back to bite him in the final third of Mass Effect 3. What if the ultimate ending weren’t based on the Crucible choice and certain relationship options, but on how Shepard’s actions had shaped the galaxy to that point, for good or for ill? What if being a colossal space asshole actually had ramifications that stripped you of the possibility of even having the chance at saving the galaxy? Three games of selfish actions and poor choices, all building to a finale that doesn’t reward you, but instead informs you of how unworthy you are as both a potential galactic savior and as a human being.

I understand the realities of game development. The more complex the design, the more difficult and time-consuming it is to implement. But if games wish to present moral choice and relationships with a sense of actual complexity, then the poor decisions the player makes should be properly accounted for, up to and including the negation of a possible "good" ending. What if Yu was a two-timing jerk and his actions were seen as a horrible betrayal? What if Shepard went too far and alienated everyone he depended on to fight the Reapers? What if Yu and Shepard’s worst enemies were the player’s inability to make choices that take the needs and feelings of others into account?

What if recovery isn't as easy as simply reloading from the last save point and trying again?

In Conclusion

It’s in this sense that visual novels, with their simpler designs, seem apparently able to take more risks with their choices and narratives than a standard big budget title. School Days is a simple premise that grow wildly out of the protagonist’s control to his own detriment, and it’s in that direction that both the game and anime are more recognized for. If other games from different genres that offered player choice had the means to send the player into an unrecoverable downward spiral of their own creation, then that would actually be an improvement, as paradoxical as that sounds.

Though it’s only an adaptation of a game, the School Days TV series is a clinic on how making poor player choices in games can be taken to their extreme. Throughout the series, every decision Makoto makes is terrible. He hurts those that love him without thinking about it, takes advantage of others for his own physical pleasure, and though it could be argued that he didn’t deserve to die, he pays for every last poor decision he makes with his life. And the only one that cares for him in the end is hugging his severed head while sailing on a nice boat.

Into the sunset!

46 Comments

Liking, Disliking, and Avoiding the Dunce Cap

Some recent topics and conversations I've read and participated in on the forums and in some PMs has gotten me thinking. Thinking about thinking, or rather, expressing thoughts on the internet. Particularly when it comes to negative commentary and critique. It's easy to be a pessimistic jerk that rains on the parades of others, and I know I've fallen into that trap on more than one occasion; something I'm not proud of, and sometimes it can be difficult to apologize for. It's a concept that's true everywhere on the internet where discussion and commentary are allowed, when it comes to discussion about video games, and Giant Bomb's forums more specifically, I've noticed it manifest in some ways that I'd hope could improve. I mean, how often have we seen so-called arguments that could be boiled down to this age-old gem?

Dickery

I know I've been guilty of this. I've even been called out on it before. I was one of those jackasses that was dismissive toward Divekick (It's a flash game, it's simplistic, etc.) for...really no reason at all. For the record, I've actually tried Divekick since being called out, and while I can't say that it entralled me to the point that I'd buy it myself, I can understand why other people enjoy it. More importantly, I don't be a dick about it when it comes to other people discussing what they like about it.

This game ain't bad. Not my cup of tea, but not bad.

That said, I can still be a dick, and it's something I've really needed to work on for a long while now. I've gotten better about watching what I say, though I still slip up. So believe me when I say that nothing I'm saying here comes from a high-horse position of any sort. I need to work on this just as much as anyone else.

Which leads me back to the subject of that image macro. Some of you reading this are probably familiar with my tastes concerning certain games, and they don't really tend to be the most popular choices among the staff, or even the community at large. The internet is such that, if I have an opinion on a game, particularly a positive one, that runs counter to the supposed majority, then my taste is judged as bad and my opinion is null, just out of general principle. Even using the avatar I do can make me a target; I don't know how many times I've seen people's opinions derided simply because they have anime-themed avatars, and it's a specific phenomenon I don't believe I've ever seen in any other community I've frequented, past or present.

It's OK to disagree on things; no rational person is going to, well, disagree on that. Opinions differ, and even when one side is an obvious majority, that doesn't mean that the other side's views should be derided or considered invalid. On the other hand, the minority shouldn't use that minority status as fuel for a persecution complex. These aren't things that I need to say, but when discussing things on the internet, with relative anonymity and a lack of immediate physical proximity shielding us, it can be easy to shoot off a pithy comment ("This game is bad and you should feel bad!"), and somehow consider that a proper contribution to a conversation.

Expound! Expand! Extrapolate!

I realize that no matter what I say here, it'll probably fall on a lot of deaf ears, and who the heck am I to recommend how others interact on the internet? But if there's one thing that I could recommend, one improvement to discourse that I could request, it would be this: Please back up your arguments, whether they be positive or negative. There are a lot of forum threads that pop up asking questions like, "What's the most disappointing game you've ever played?" or "Name a game you like that other people hate," or "What's your favorite/least favorite game from Series X?" And then people just respond with simplistic answers that list the name of the game and little more. There's no conversation to be had, and when the questions are negative (i.e.: What's your least favorite/most disappointing/worst whatever?), a lot of responses just come out as empty. Someone answers with a the name of a game, or a character, or what have you, and then fails to explain why that's their answer.

Would it be to much to ask for elaboration? Not every response to a forum thread needs a doctoral thesis, but it would certainly go a long way toward helping spur conversation if more people were willing to take the time to explain why and how rather than leave people to fill in the blanks. Again, I've been guilty of the same thing; I've responded to such threads without presenting the whys, and it's something that I need to get better at. But if someone says that their favorite game of all time is The Adventures of Bayou Billy, well, I'd like to know why. Even if the reasoning is completely foreign to me, context to latch on to can help provide a better understanding of my peers here.

But more importantly, whether or not someone does provide the reason for why they like something, don't use that as a platform to belittle their sensibilities. Telling someone that they are wrong because they are wrong is...well, wrong. Being part of a supposed majority doesn't provide some innate upper hand in an argument, particularly when it comes to matters that are entirely subjective opinion. I may not like Call of Duty, but it's a better use of my time and anyone else's that would care to read what I have to say if I can present my dissenting views in a manner that is both informed and doesn't treat the person I'm responding to like they are an imbecile simply for holding a different opinion. That only makes me look like the imbecile.

Me, circa last year, discussing Divekick. Also, I apparently lost my glasses and was approximately ten years old.

Where am I going with any of this?

Good question. I wish I had a solid answer to that. It's not really my place to tell people how to act. But I can at least hope to promote some idea on how to make general discourse better. For better or worse, it's a topic of conversation that's become heavily discussed around here as of late. But this writing was partially born out of recent discussions, both on the forums and in PMs, that made me reflect on my own personal frustrations with the discourse in the forums, whether those frustrations were of my own making or not. I also understand that in all likelihood, anything I've said in this post will not change anything, and some will probably just see it as self-flagellation and little else.

But I can at least try, right? I guess the point is, there are ways that the discourse on the forums in general could be better. And if more people took a more thoughtful approach to what they say more often, tangible improvements could be made. Not every forum post has to compete to become the Citizen Kane of forum posts, but as long as the general rule of "don't be a dick" still holds, we could all benefit from putting more thought into what we have to say. And in some cases, refraining from saying anything at all. The first and easiest step that people as a whole could take is just being better about accepting the fact that not everyone shares the same tastes, and then not go looking for a fight.

It's something I want to continue improving on, and if you're aware you have the same problem, hopefully you do, too.

Also, seriously, theoretical guy above. Why is The Adventures of Bayou Billy your favorite game? I'm curious.

25 Comments

Insane in the MIND Brain: MIND=0 Impressions

Between work kicking my ass for the past several months and my propensity to play long games (and in some cases, multiple times), I haven't had much opportunity to try out some of the newer releases as of late. Now that I have some free time on my hands (all hail the staycation), I'm prodding at my backlog a bit and checking some of these games out. Tonight, I finally turned on my Vita for the first time since...sometime last year, I guess. My copy of Dragon's Crown was still in it.

I guess as a quick aside, I should just state some thoughts on the Vita in general. I really, really don't get nearly as much use out of it as I feel I should. I have games for it and the desire to play them, but when it comes to the actual Vita itself, I just find so much about the thing just offputting. I don't really like the combination of the touch screen and touch pad on the back (which has more to do with the fact that I have yet to play a game that uses the touch pad in a way I find meaningful), I'm not a fan of the UI design and structure, and between this and the PS4, just feel that Mark Cerny should never be allowed to oversee the design of a user interface ever again. I am pretty sure that he is actually a robot and I would be willing to cite Knack in this argument. But anyway.

Tonight, I started playing MIND=0, which some of you may recognize as that RPG that at first glance looks like an off-brand Persona. Obvious inspirations aside, that really isn't giving the game enough credit; at least from the couple of hours that I've played so far. I've just completed the first actual dungeon and have gotten through a lot of expository story bits, and the game has just opened up to give me more options on where to go and what to do.

But first things first. How Persona-esque is this game? Well, strictly speaking, each party member has a MIND; a sort of spiritual creature that's bonded with them. But there's no fusion or collection element, and the main character Kei isn't a wild card that can swap between them at will. From the way it appears, at least early on, the MINDs the characters get when they first awaken are the MINDs they stick with. In battle, when a MIND is summoned, it can attack and perform various skills, but any damage that the character takes is inflicted on the MIND, draining MP rather than LP (Life Points). If MP is taken to zero by an enemy attack, the MIND is knocked out for a minimum of two turns. When the MIND isn't summoned, the human character can still attack, but can also charge MP by defending. So, from what I've been able to experience in my limited combat so far, battles are heavily focused on knowing when to summon your MIND and when to dismiss them to recharge, or determining if keeping them out is worth experiencing a MIND Break (as the human characters do not suffer LP drain from enemy attacks when MINDs are in play).

Dungeon exploration is more akin to the original Persona than any of the sequels. Exploration is in first-person, and the mini-map fills in as you explore more. The dungeons in this game take place in an alternate dimension space called the Inner World (the normal human world being the Outer World). At the point in the story where I'm at, the party is still pretty much clueless as to what the Inner World is, what MINDs are, or why any of this insanity is happening in general. The police, meanwhile, have an interest in hunting down MIND users, with a couple of police officer characters that will probably play into the story more as it goes on.

The only real explanation that the party has gotten is from the Undertaker. No, not the WWE wrestler. This lady:

The Undertaker is the proprietor of a special "shop" that the characters wind up in when they're attacked by a MIND for the first time (although there are other methods that allow entry). And rather than Philemon going "'Sup!" an imparting Persona abilities or signing a contract with Igor, the members of the party get their MIND by choosing their weapon from among the shop's large selection. And this choice is essentially like Indiana Jones picking out the Holy Grail in The Last Crusade. Pick wisely, and you live. Pick wrong, and you die. And when you pick the right weapon, a MIND bonds with you. These MINDs (and the weapons themselves) are invisible to most people, save other MIND users and some select special individuals.

Where all of this is going, I have no idea. Again, the characters are completely clueless as to what's going on. But the party members I've acquired so far are an entetaining bunch. Kei, the protagonist, is pretty serious and sullen. He's also a voiced character with dialogue like everyone else. Sana is an athletic tomboy and was the first of the group to awaken to her MIND. And then there's Leo, who's...actually kind of a shithead, believing in the power of "As seen on TV" ghost hunting toys and getting caught up in the excitement. He also manages to fuck up his weapon selection a bit. He doesn't die, but his arm becomes demonic. Oops.

Like I said, I'm still really early in, and there's not much of the overarching story I can really talk about at this point because I really don't know what's going to happen. Still, it's been entertaining enough that I'll probably stick with it. Goodness knows my Vita would probably appreciate the attention for once.

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A Day at the Seattle Retro Gaming Expo

Life has been pretty draining for me as of late. I spent the past several months at work crunching and doing my part to get a project done. Toward the end, it was beyond stressful. Two weeks ago, I actually woke up at 5AM due to a nightmare/auditory hallucination (I can't really tell if it was either or, but at that point I don't think it really matters) induced by the stress I was under. It had been far too long since I had proper time off to myself, but as of the end of work yesterday, I am on vacation and actually have time to relax, blow off steam, and generally not worry about work. It was by coincidence that, earlier this week, a coworker alerted me to the fact that a video game convention was taking place right here in Seattle this very weekend.

No, not PAX. That's not for another couple of months. This particular show, the Seattle Retro Gaming Expo, is a much smaller, much more local event. However, it is being held at the Washington State Convention Center, also the home of PAX Prime, which does offer some ample opportunities for comparisons in terms of general size. Though before I even get that far, the expo is easily small enough that, with only a few days notice and pre-registration long since closed, I was easily able to walk up to the door and buy a two-day pass (the full length of the show) for twenty-five bucks. Compare that to the madhouse that is buying a PAX Prime pass for any day let alone the entire show, and that's not a bad deal.

But back to the physical space. When PAX Prime is held, it uses the entirety of the convention center. Every level, every room is consumed to the point that external venues have to host some of the panel theaters and other events. SRGE, on the other hand, takes up a portion of the fourth floor. And once you get past registration, there are really only a few key spaces. There's the main hall/artist alley:

Apologies for the blurriness on this one, but holy shit. BREATHING ROOM.

Unlike PAX, which, once you're in the main space is a sea of humanity, SRGE is pretty easy-going. The blurry sign on the right of the picture is identifying the panel room. It's a small room, but the panels are generally well-attended. (Yes, that is "room" singular. If your sole game convention experience is PAX or one of the similarly gigantic conventions, this might all sound like a shock to you.) Off to the right, unpictured, is a small stage area where bands played for attendees for a Saturday evening concert which I did not attend because I did not buy that much-more-limited privilege with the pass.

Also like PAX, there are some gaming spaces. There's a console freeplay area, again smaller, but their selection of games runs the gamut from the classics to the not so much. I asked the guy at the check-out table to surprise me and he came back with Super Star Wars for the SNES. And yep. That game is still fucking impossible.

Not pictured: Me, cursing the shit out of the Tatooine wildlife. (Check out the Japanese arcade games in the far back there!)

There's also a second freeplay area dedicated to original Xbox system link games, and the largest Steel Battalion set-up I have ever seen. Ten Xbox consoles. Ten Steel Battalion controllers. That's a lot of mech action.

I really need to get in on some of that.

The largest space at the expo is the vendor hall. A lot of small retro game businesses dealing their wares, with plenty of gaming-themed arts and crafts businesses present for good measure. These are all businesses that I have never seen in the years I've attended PAX, and the smaller crowd makes it a lot easier to find really cool stuff before it gets claimed by someone else.

One angle.
Another angle.

As you can see, this was easily the busiest part of the show. But it's not really surprising, again because of the amount of diversity on display. A number of vendors were there selling games dating from the Atari 2600 to the the PS2/GameCube/Xbox era, with a few more modern games here and there. One vendor was there exclusively to deal in Intellivision. Others had random collectables and other items, ranging from old Super Mario Bros. Happy Meal toys to old console hardware circuit boards. That is something that you will never see at PAX, ever.

The one panel I attended today was hosted by John Hancock, a hardcore video game collector that's been collecting for decades and has, among numerous other collections, a complete collection of every NTSC NES game ever produced. I mean, all of them. He gave some good tips and advice for anyone looking to get into serious collecting while on a budget, including the nature of demand and how it causes prices to fluctuate, how each console goes through cycles where the prices are grossly inflated due to every collector hunting for specific items at once, and so on. Perhaps surprisingly, he says that currently, the easiest console to collect for is the original PlayStation, simply because of the plethora of games for it, and barring the RPG library, it's still largely affordable. It was really cool to sit in and listen.

And of course, I ended up buying a lot of stuff. Here's what I got:

Because yes.
WAIT, PAC-MAN, NO!

These are bead portraits that were made by some pretty talented artists. They had far more complex (and far more three-dimensional) ones up for sale as well, including diorama-style portraits of Final Fantasy VI and Street Fighter II characters. Really cool stuff!

Games...
...and something to play them on.

Easily my biggest prize of the expo. A top-loading NES, and a whole bunch of games, including a boxed copy of Dragon Warrior IV. The full list (for those that can't tell from the image above):

You may be asking yourself one question. Why in the fuck did I buy a Bugs Bunny game? Because nostalgia, that's why. It's one of the few NES games my entire family got hooked on. Me, my brother, Mom and Dad. And the only other console game Mom and Dad ever played was Tetris. Anyway, there were some other things I bought, including something I had been meaning to rectify for a long while now:

Best Final Fantasy!

A Game Boy Advance SP and Final Fantasy VI Advance. I haven't been able to play GBA games since I traded in my original DS for a 3DS. Problem solved. Also, an awesome game to boot!

And now, a mug shot:

Because fuck the all-digital future.

What the caption says.

And then there was this...

?!

Yes, that is a Donkey Kong-themed version of Jenga. They also had a Space Invaders version. How this varies from normal Jenga, I have no goddamn idea, but I'm willing to find out. Also seen but not purchased: There's a Metal Gear Solid 4 version of Risk, apparently. I just...what?

And finally...

Also, Crimson Sea 2, because I have been dying to try this forever. Or at least since the PS2 era. All hail Koei.

I'm planning to return for day two tomorrow. Based on my first day there, the Seattle Retro Gaming Expo may be a much smaller event than PAX, but in some ways, it's preferable. Less of a crowd, different sights to see, and generally much more subdued, yet still enthusiastic atmosphere.

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My Best and Worst of E3 2014

Goodness gracious, what an E3 this has been. As usual, a lot of new things were announced and shown off, previously announced games received status updates, and certain no-shows continued to be no-shows. And I'll be honest, most of what was shown this E3 did nothing for me. Microsoft continued to make me not care about their console, Sony's offerings were largely irrelevant to my interests, and both of their conferences leaned heavily on third-party titles that aren't even exclusive to their respective platforms. EA, meanwhile, continued to be EA, and Ubisoft, while offering some cool-looking games, took the brunt of the foot-in-mouth attention for something I'll talk about further down.

But on to more specific thoughts.

Presentation of the Show: Nintendo

Nintendo's constant and casually presented PR presence dominated E3 this week.

This isn't a "Who won E3" discussion. The idea of "winning" E3 is an absurd argument, but I would argue that, of the companies that put on large-scale PR events, Nintendo's was easily the best this year. Their pre-recorded digital event, at less than an hour long, was entertaining and provided some good information on a variety of their coming games. Its brevity was welcome after the marathon press conferences like Sony's, which dragged at points with an extended presentation on extraneous things like a Sony-produced TV show. It also managed to avoid cringe-worthy moments like an EA rep, in all seriousness, proclaiming "all the feels!" while talking about Dragon Age: Inquisition. That is a phrase that no one should ever say out loud, and if you do, it is a sure sign that you have been spending far too much time on the internet. Go outside.

But more than the pre-recorded event, Nintendo put on a PR clinic with their Nintendo Treehouse livestreams that ran the span of E3. Staff from the NOA localization team sitting in front of cameras, casually talking about the games that they're there to present, getting commentary from producers and development staff, and generally just being very open about what they had to show, whether it be something fairly complete, like Hyrule Warriors, or early concepts like Shigeru Miyamoto's Project Giant Robot. They streamed extended demos, offered interesting tidbits, and even occasionally cursed at each other while competing in Smash Bros. Never stiff or awkward, they were just there, talking about their games and being completely confident in them. And before that was even over, they took one more opportunity to reveal a brand new strategy RPG IP to the press in Code Name S.T.E.A.M.

It was a PR effort that frankly put everyone else at E3 to shame, regardless of what other companies had to show. Microsoft and Sony would be wise to learn from what Nintendo did this year.

Foot in Mouth of the Show: Ubisoft PR

OK, let me be upfront here. I don't believe that just because a game allows for custom, player created characters that having a gender selection option is or should be a requirement. There are some games where such just might not make sense.

That being said, Ubisoft's excuse for why there aren't any playable female options in the forthcoming Assassin's Creed: Unity come off as lazy and intellectually insulting. Blaming it on "realities of production" when, in the past, they have been able to create female assassin characters (including the protagonist of Liberation), and particularly when compared to other, much larger-scale games that feature gender selection as part of very robust character creation tools, is an absurdity. Especially for a company the size of Ubisoft.

It should be noted that in Xenoblade X you can be a female if you like. Monolith must have worked 35 years to make that work ;)

— Stealth (@Stealth___) June 12, 2014
Too much work, according to multinational AAA game developer and publisher Ubisoft Entertainment.

And then there is, of course, the historical precedent of Charlotte Corday, an actual, real-world assassin of Revolution-era France. And yet, the option to play as a female assassin during this same era, and in a game where assassination is depicted in a much more fantastic manner, is completely absent because Ubisoft couldn't be bothered to put in efforts that other developers take for granted. Or at the very least, if such an option isn't included, the absence isn't generally excused in such a ridiculous manner.

"Give Me Now!" of the Show: Hyrule Warriors

September 26th, 2014. That is the date that I must wait for in order to finally have Hyrule Warriors in my hands. It is a date that is both months away, and yet tantalizingly close. As a Warriors fan first and a Zelda fan second, I want to play this game. I want to see all of the insanity that Omega Force and Team Ninja could muster. I want to summon the Great Fairy from Ocarina of Time so that I too could smack a dragon out of the sky with the evil moon from Majora's Mask, because that is a thing that actually happens in this game. I want to play as Zelda and a whole host of characters from the series and cut down thousands of dudes.

PLAYABLE ZELDA.

I WANT THIS GAME, DAMN IT. WHY IS IT NOT SEPTEMBER YET?

Surprise of the Show: Devil's Third is Alive...and Wii U Exclusive?!

I honestly was not expecting this.

OK, so it's not necessarily a surprise that Devil's Third is alive. It's no secret that the game has had a rocky history given the troubles with the game's original publisher, the now-defunct THQ. And the game does look a bit rough in the footage that's been shown, but of course the game isn't finished yet, so who knows what sort of polish they intend to give it between now and release. But, really.

Tomonobu Itagaki teaming with Nintendo to bring an M-rated action game of his personal style to the Wii U? It makes for funny speculation, sure, but I wouldn't have guessed that it was reality. And well, it's reality!

I'll be honest in that, prior to this announcement, my general interest in Devil's Third was more curiosity than actual desire. Nothing much of the game had really ever been shown at all, even during its THQ days. I've learned more about the game in the past two days than I had in the past several years. And roughness acknowledged, the game looks bonkers enough for me to have actual, honest interest in it now.

Again, it's just bizarre. And yet, it's a bizarreness that I am totally cool with.

Ridiculous Debate of the Show: Zelda Wii U - Link's Identity

Come on, people. Did you really think that wasn't Link in the teaser?

I mean, really?

Not that it wouldn't be cool to play as Zelda (HYRULEWARRIORSHYRULEWARRIORSHYRULEWARRIORS) or another character, male or female, but there is such a thing as getting enmeshed in overanalysis to the point that the obvious is completely missed.

Game of the Show: Xenoblade Chronicles X

Holy Gnosis, this gamem is looking fantastic! Originally teased for over a year and a half under the simple code name "X", Xenoblade Chronicles X is looking like a bigger, more elaborate Xenoblade Chronicles, with new bits like a custom player-character and more combat customization options. Nintendo livestreamed a demo of the game's opening quests twice, going a good forty minutes, and it is just looking fantastic. Xenoblade Chronicles on the Wii is one of the best RPGs of the past generation, and X is looking just as good, if not better. It's projected to come out next year, and it's looking every bit worth the wait.

GOTY 2015

55 Comments

Figure Fanaticism: MAI WAIFU Edition

In the past, I've posted around these parts on a couple of occasions regarding another one of my hobbies/obsessions outside of video games. (Though tangentially related.) I speak, of course, of figure collecting. I originally started collecting them back in college, though it wasn't really much of a collection in those days. Mostly, it was one or two figures I bought at a local hobby shop to spruce up my dorm room. It wasn't until some years later that I really started getting into it, and as more time has passed, the bug has just bitten harder. Here's what my collection more or less looked like a few years ago:

Tepig gets all the ladies.

That's not the entire extent of my collection as it existed at the time (That's a tiny shelf, and I haven't exactly kept a well-maintained photographic archive), but yeah, not very big. Well, cut to a couple of years later, some bigger furniture, and...

Tepig, I think we really need to talk here.

And it's just gotten bigger. Anyway, I threw this blog together because I felt like sharing my most recent acquisitions. A Nendoroid mini-figure of the Vocaloid variant Haku Yowane:

My favorite variant character, by the way. (Poor girl. Low self-esteem and perpetual loser.)

Also, from Fire Emblem: Awakening, Tharja.

MAI WAIFU. (Thus, the blog title.)

That's some seriously nice work, by the way. Perfectly balanced and doesn't even need to be fastened to the base. Oh, and a size comparison.

As if Haku didn't feel inferior enough already.

And finally a picture of the current state of my collection:

Oh, crap, that's a blurry one. (Goddamn it, Tepig!)

Yikes. Well, maybe a couple more close-ups will do.

Uh-oh. Another blurry one. I hope this isn't a sign of a hex. Guys, if I should meet a violent end, please do not disrespect the figure of the sullen stalker versed in black magics. Just, you know, fair warning and all that.

Welp. I'm not a professional photographer, and it shows. Let's try one more.

There we go. Safe and sound next to Yukiko.

Anyone else here in to figure collecting? What sorts have you got? If there's a blurry one you want to see more of, I can definitely take more pictures (and try not to suck at holding steady focus).

315 Comments

A Long Time Coming: 200,000 Wiki Points

It's approaching six years since Giant Bomb's wiki opened for business, which is crazy to think about. It certainly doesn't feel like it's been that long, but here we are. The wiki has definitely had its ups and downs over that time, what with glitches, vandals, plagiarizers, spirited debates and ludicrous arguments over what is and isn't suitable wiki material. But it's morphed from the old days of the wild west of wikis into something that's more or less come into its own, even if I feel that the site's staff doesn't necessarily give it the attention it deserves.

But with that in mind, I hit a personal wiki milestone tonight. With my most recent submission to the page for Lightning, I have accrued over 200,000 wiki points. There are some duders out there with significantly more points than that. (Seriously, holy shit, @marino!) It may also be a value that's somewhat inaccurate, what with the various wiki glitches I alluded to above. But still, that's a lot of wiki points, even today. So I figured that I might as well look back on what have been my biggest contributions to date:

Looking Back at 200K: My Biggest Wiki Contributions as of 5/2/2014

1. Metroid: Other M3082 Points. Yes, this game gets a lot of hate. Yes, it has problems. But even as the years have passed, my contributions to this page remain the greatest in terms of wiki point calculation formulas over which I have no control.
2. Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII2914 Points. As was the case with Other M, my work on the page for Lightning Returns was motivated entirely out of both my interest in it prior to release and my enjoyment of it post release. This game is fantastic and I can't gush enough about it.
3. Fire Emblem2187 Points. Ah, Fire Emblem. This was a page that was in dire need of some work, and I gave it the work. Honestly, it could probably use a little more work. I forgot to include any sort of description about the Knight class. Whoops.
4. Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance1713 Points. Speaking of Fire Emblem, most of my work on the Path of Radiance page came during the era of Giant Bomb when point bounties were offered for completing wiki tasks overseen by the staff and moderators. In this particular case, the task was to rewrite a hefty chunk of the page that had been previously plagiarized from elsewhere. (Are we getting wiki tasks back any time soon? Yes? No? Maybe?)
5. Kid Icarus: Uprising1507 Points: My work on Kid Icarus: Uprising came mostly around the game's release, particularly while I was busy also adding and editing various pages related to it. Actually, this page could use some more work, as the story is surprisingly deep and touching for something that starts off so goofy and referential to the original NES game.
6. Samurai Warriors 31496 Points. As much of a Warriors fan as I am, this particular game has gotten more wiki love from me than any other. A lot of that has to do with how unique it is in a number of ways, not the least of which being the crazy mode based on an old Japan-exclusive Famicom title.
7. The Last Story1248 Points. The Last Story is arguably the weakest of the three games that Operation Rainfall campaigned for Nintendo to release in North America, but it was worth it to me.
8. Trauma Team1227 Points. Trauma Team's page is one that I did a lot of work on, but I feel I could have done a lot more. The crazy mix of gameplay styles, along with the story and characters, presents a lot of ground to cover that couldn't just be easily summarized as another Trauma Center game.
9. Crossover1074 Points. OK, my history with this page is kind of odd. Back in the day, I was the one that made the submission for the page's creation. I had also written a fair-sized article for it. And then one day, a WM staff member PMed me to say that he had accidentally wiped the page and asked if I could rewrite it, as he had apparently intended to use it as an example in a business presentation. Or something along those lines. My memories of that are foggy at this point. But I rewrote the page, and I got a nice little wiki point bonus tacked on for my efforts.
10. Labrys1045 Points. And at #10, we have Unit #031 herself, Labrys. I ended up writing a lot about her just because she is easily the best part of Persona 4 Arena's story mode.

It's been a wild ride getting to 200,000. Who knows what this list will look like at 300,000?

What are some of your largest, proudest, and weirdest wiki contributions?

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Miku, Rikku, and Delsin: Recent Game Impressions

This spring has been nothing but good to me as far as game releases have gone. I've already written at length about my love of Lightning Returns, and since I wrote that blog, I actually went back and completed a New Game Plus run before moving on to other games. It's been a pretty diverse run of titles since then, and I figured that hey, why not do a big impressions dump blog post on a lazy Sunday morning? But first...

Lightning Returns: New Game Plus Thoughts

The second verse is as great as the first.

Playing through games of any significant length in their entirety on a second go immediately after beating them once is something I almost never do. The last time I can recall jumping into an RPG for a second go-around and playing all the way to the end shortly after beating it the first time was probably my first NG+ run in Chrono Trigger back in when I was a teenager in the '90s.

So it's been a while.

That being said, when I created the clear save file at the end of my second run through Lightning Returns, I had played the game for a total of 95 hours, 18 minutes, and 15 seconds. In other words, despite it being a NG+, in which I could have theoretically beaten the game in a much smaller span of time on the second go, I ended up spending almost as much time on my second playthrough as I had in my first. The speed at which I cleared all of the main quests was faster, sure, and I was able to race through most of the side quests at a much quicker pace, but then I started putting more effort into some of the side content that I hadn't finished on my first run. I exterminated most of the monsters in the game, cleared the bonus dungeon, and when it came to the end, fought a powered-up version of the final boss that, while my victory was scored a 0 out of 5 stars, I managed to beat on the first try.

And truth be told, I feel like I could play through it all again. Part of that is probably due to the fact that there are still a few things I've left undone. I have yet to beat the super-ultimate optional boss, and I have yet to finish up the quest to defeat every Last One monster in the game. Those stragglers in the endgame dungeon will have to wait for another playthrough, which means that I wouldn't be able to punch out on that quest and earn the reward until a fourth run. I can deal with that!

inFamous: Second Son

Look! The Space Needle! Welcome to Seattle, Delsin! (Uh...sort of.)

I've only played a few hours of inFamous: Second Son so far. I didn't not play either of the earlier games, so I'm coming into the series fresh, mostly owing to the fact that the game is set in the city I call home. And though I haven't played enough yet to unlock areas of the map outside of Seattle's downtown, I've gotten enough of a taste of what the game has to offer to say at least a couple of things.

One is that the gameplay is really fun, but it takes a lot of getting used to. Particularly when graffiti artist and beanie enthusiast Delsin Rowe hasn't been powered up yet and doesn't have a wide assortment of abilities. A lot of my fights have come down to entering restricted areas, blasting a few enemies, and then running the hell away so that my health could recharge and I could locate a smoke source to power back up. As Delsin has gotten stronger and more abilities have become available, these sorts of situations have become more manageable, though I have no idea what sort of obstacles the game will throw at me to keep the challenge up. The characters are also really entertaining, particularly in Delsin's interactions with his brother and Betty.

And then there's Seattle itself. I understand that Sucker Punch is based here, and don't get me wrong, it nails the general feel of the architectural style and feeling of Seattle in a lot of ways. But then the geography gets weird. Like when Delsin first arrives in Seattle just after the 520 Bridge sequence. Somehow, the first neighborhood he ends up in after getting off of the bridge is...Queen Anne?

Really? Because in real life, the first exists after the bridge lead into Montlake near the University District. You have to go further west to even approach Queen Anne. And then there's the weirdness like Belltown being in the northeast portion of downtown? And the International District doesn't exist, for whatever reason. You cut through the homeless camp in Pioneer Square (OK, that's unfortunately pretty accurate), and...water. No ID. No sports stadiums for that matter, either.

Go Seahawks?

Man, I can't even imagine what North Seattle must look like in this game. Then again, I'm also a bit flabbergasted by the notion that Seattle could be cut off by destroying the 520 Bridge. The city isn't an archipelago and there are more ways out of it than just that route. Hell, there are more ways to the east side of Lake Washington than just that bridge. (Congratulations, evil concrete lady, you just made a lot of commutes more inconvenient.)

What I am saying here is that the Seattle in this game, for all of its accuracies, is really damn goofy, and the ways it fails in that verisimilitude make it more of a curiosity for me than anything else. When I actually get to go north of Lake Union, is Fremont in this game? Is the Fremont Troll in this game, at least? Like I said, I still need to unlock the rest of the map, but man, this is weird.

Hatsune Miku: Project Diva F 2nd

I ordered the import version of Project Diva F 2nd days before Sega announced that the game was officially being localized. This means that I will buy the game twice. Possibly three times to get this goodness on both the PS3 and Vita in English. The biggest change to the gameplay is the addition of more scratch note mechanics that place star marks on continuous tracks and new star marks that require both analogue sticks to hit. And that's cool. It takes some getting used to, like anything, but it's not a bad addition.

The overall quality of the track list is arguably better than the first Project Diva F. (This is not to take anything away from the previous game, of course, because it has some fantastic music in it.) There's a mix of new songs as well as returning tracks from the earlier PSP entries that have been reworked with the new mechanics in mind, and the mix of styles on display also shows a great amount of diversity for the Vocaloid characters. The tracks that unlock in the final stretch of the game are also incredibly brutal, even on the Normal difficulty setting. The Intense Singing of Hatsune Miku (one of several rough translations the song goes by) alone is, well, just watch this Extreme difficulty setting play:

MY GOD. DEAR SWEET MOTHER OF GOD IN HEAVEN, WHY MUST YOU BE SO WONDERFUL AND YET SO CRUEL?!

Of course, the game also features some of my favorite Vocaloid tracks in it, as well that aren't as, well, intense.

OK, that one is still really intense, but you hopefully get the idea.

English release this fall. I AM SO THERE.

Final Fantasy X HD

It's been a long time, but I still hate this smug asshole.

Most recently, I've started playing through Final Fantasy X in the PS3 release of Final Fantasy X/X-2 HD Remaster. It's a game that I've played before, but not for many years, and as it turns out, my memory of the game had grown incredibly foggy over that time. Major plot points aside, there's a lot that I just straight-up forgot about. Just the amount of game that there is before the full party is together (I've already played for over ten hours, according to the save file timer) is surprising to me.

I really like the redone graphics, and the new versions of the old music tracks are growing on me. If there's one thing that really sticks out as "this is an old game," it's that a lot of the animations can be very jarring in how stiff they are. That's of course to be expected, and I've gotten used to it, as well, but it's definitely a bit of a shock compared to the rose-tinting on what memories of the game I had.

But what changes have been made on the surface level, Final Fantasy X is still a fun game to actually play. It's taken me a bit to get a few of the basics down again (relearning everyone's Overdrives has let to a few goof-ups), but the actual pace and flow of combat and the nature of the sphere grid have that good familiar feeling to them. One odd thing I've noticed is that thus far, I feel like I've been better at blitzball now than I ever was when I played the game all those years ago. Maybe I've just taken more time to pay attention to the tutorials and how the game is actually played, but in the few matches I've played so far, I have yet to actually lose. (Though my most recent match against the Ronso team ended in a tie and good lord, the stats on those guys.)

If you still judge the game in its entirety by this laughter and still don't understand it's intentionally goofy, there is no helping you.

One thing that is pretty funny in going back to Final Fantasy X is in being reintroduced to its linearity and the lack of world map. People gave Final Fantasy XIII a lot of criticism for being a linear RPG (and to be fair, the maps in that game are incredibly so for the majority of its length). But Final Fantasy X is also a very linear game, with the primary direction more or less being straight forward, even if the path occasionally bends and there are more nooks off to the side to explore. So it's no Final Fantasy XII, either.

Still, everything I enjoyed about Final Fantasy X is still present. Though the game has certainly aged, Square Enix did a fine job of putting some polish on it for the rerelease. If this is indicative of the quality that we might be able to expect for similar HD versions of other Final Fantasy games, I'd love to see what they do next.

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