Project Diva F: My Rhythm Game Savior

Hey, guys. You like rhythm games?

Not that plastic guitar bullshit that got tired after Rock Band 3 and Guitar Hero 87. I mean actual rhythm games that have some fucking imagination in their presentation and design. Ouendan, Gitaroo Man, crazy shit like that.

Did that previous paragraph cause you offense? Sorry, but I'm just venting. After Activision and Harmonix flooded the market with plastic crap, I really, honestly wondered if I'd ever see the sorts of rhythm games I really enjoy again. Not herping and derping across terribly laid note highways (like every post Harmonix Guitar Hero) or Kinect bullshit (which Harmonix has become obsessed with ever since ditching the plastic instruments).

Wait, I'm still venting.

OK, I'm done.

Well, this past week, Sega came to my rescue with the domestic release of Hatsune Miku: Project Diva F. And it's such a breath of fresh air from the guitars and the Kinect nonsense. It's actually the latest in a series of games that have been coming out in Japan for the past few years, but Sega decided it was worth giving one of them a shot over here (seemingly at the expense of the domestic release of Phantasy Star Online 2. (Seriously, what happened there?)

Anyway, yes, the game is entirely Vocaloid driven. If you're one of those people that don't find them entertaining in any way, this game will drive you up the wall. But if you're willing to give it a chance, you're in for a treat. There are thirty-eight songs, each set to a music video starring the singing Vocaloid(s) that plays as background to the true action. Similar to a game like Ouendan, marks appear on the screen, and you have to hit them in time with the music. The trick here is that the marks are for the most part shaped like the icons on the PS controller face buttonjs (so square, circle, triangle, and X), with some marks also requiring directional input on the d-pad, and special star marks that are hit by tilting one of the analogue sticks. The marks appear in patterns around the screen and you have to be really fast in determining which button to press and the timing it needs.

And it's not easy, either. The first song on Normal kicked my ass so hard that I went straight to easy, where the only inputs used are Circle and the analogue sticks. And now that I have a better grasp on how the game works, I can go back to Normal and...maybe not get destroyed so easily this time. But damn if it isn't addictive. Like Ouendan, I see this as being the sort of game I'll play incessantly. Maybe I'll never get to a point where I can clear all of the stages on Extreme (because god damn):

But it's a great mountain for me to climb. Sadly, Project Diva F is likely too niche to truly succeed domestically, particularly given the brutal onslaught of releases this and next month. Still, if you have a desire for a fun rhythm game with some challenge, this might be what you're looking for.

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Get your jerkface on again with Pikmin 3.

So Pikmin 3 is out in North America this week. Another opportunity for us to find little plant dudes and get their help in collecting random stuff and fighting off giant monster things before blasting back off into space. And those graphics! The Pikmin sure are a cute, whimsical bunch, are they?

Just look at the whimsy in his eyes.

The series even has its own theme song of sorts with lyrics and everything called Ai no Uta. Also known as Song of Love for the English-speaking crowd. And it sure sounds adorable. And then you actually understand what the lyrics mean and OH GOD.

What horribly depressing lives these little guys lead. They follow your sorry ass around without question only to get horribly murdered because they're led by a callous, uncaring asshole. They work for the boss from hell; working until death claims them, and they put up with it because they are utterly devoted to a horrible, abusive boss.

Well, I could point the finger at Olimar, but the real culprit?

That would be you. Finding whimsical enjoyment in slave-driving Pikmin to their deaths for the sake of Duracell batteries? You motherfucking piece of shit.

But no, really. Enjoy Pikmin 3! Go ahead! You monster.

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Why I Love Dynasty Warriors, and Why That's Not Weird

That's "Tsao Tsao", damn it!

Dynasty Warriors. Any time a new game in this series is released, you can count on a few things:

  • A staff member making a Yellow Turban Rebellion or "Cow Cow" quip.
  • Bafflement on the part of the staff as to how and why anyone could possibly enjoy these games.
  • People doing a poor job at explaining how and why they enjoy Dynasty Warriors.
  • Me shaking my head at it all before diving into the latest release head-first.

With this in mind, and with Dynasty Warriors 8 fresh on my brain, I thought I'd take the time to outline why it is that I enjoy the series in what I hope is the clearest manner possible. I can't speak for all fans of the series, but this is why I enjoy returning to ancient China again and again for the mass slaughtering of lots and lots of dudes. So please, @jeff, if you take the time to read this, I hope this will increase your understanding at least somewhat.

Reason #1: The Gameplay

Dynasty Warriors is not a complex game. It never has been. But it doesn't really need to be, either. People make fun of the basic move lists and combos, typically a string of normal attacks followed by one or two strong strikes, but that simplicity also makes it easily accessible, and it's no more simple than constantly pressing Left Trigger/Right Trigger in Call of Duty every year. But that simplicity is also key for another reason; the large casts of characters that make up the roster of each installment.

The Dynasty Warriors combo system, or charge system, is easy to adapt across a roster of seventy-odd characters. And rather than craft massive, independent move lists akin to Ninja Gaiden or Devil May Cry for each character, the variety comes in how each character plays against the standardized controls. There are slow characters, fast characters, characters that excel with short range or long range weapons. Some characters have musou attacks (essentially, supers) that deal greater damage to a small group of enemies while others are geared more toward a wider, less centralized area.

There's a rhythmic elegance in the apparent simplicity.

Despite common beliefs about the series in that every game is the same, the combat system has undergone a variety of changes over the years. In the PS2 era, particularly in the earlier entries, enemy soldiers were harder to take down, even on the normal difficulty setting. The act of wracking up a thousand kills in a stage was a greater challenge, but that was in part due to the limitations of the hardware the games ran on. Dozens of enemies couldn't appear on the screen of a PS2 game without the framerate slowing to a crawl. This changed with the PS3 and 360, and as the hardware has become more capable, the gameplay has adjusted as a result. Mook soldiers are much easier at the default, and it's far easier to wrack of in excess of a thousand kills in a given stage. But when a stage becomes too easy, there's always the option to crank up the difficulty and return to a stage with enemies that can give and take a much greater amount of damage.

Seriously, where did you get so many guys to chase after me?

So where does the satisfaction come in, when it's so easy to mow enemies down? Dynasty Warriors is a very cathartic game, and it's satisfying to clear out swarms of enemies, seeing that K.O. count roll to over a thousand, or two thousand, or more. And it definitely has its share of tense moments. A miscalculation can suddenly leave you with a sliver of health, running for your life as three officers are all giving chase among a crowd of enemy mooks. One wrong move and suddenly it's game over. One of my favorite memories of Dynasty Warriors, or really any game in general, was in Dynasty Warriors 4. The way that the Nanman Campaign stage was set up in that game, it was very easy to be put at a disadvantage very quickly, as allied morale would drop like a rock. Enemies swarmed the stage to the point that the minimap was completely red, and it was a tense battle just trying to get myself to the enemy leader Meng Huo, much less beat him. It's rare that the time limit in a normal Dynasty Warriors stage will come into actual play, but there I was, with only a few minute left on the clock and constantly in need of health and musou energy, until I finally managed to best Meng Huo and clear the stage. It was exhilarating.

The latter games, with their easier mooks, are not lacking for tense moments of their own. Just a few days ago in Dynasty Warriors 8 came a crazy moment where, mere seconds into the start of battle, I found myself surrounded by roughly five officers and countless mooks. Before I knew it, I had only a sliver of health left and I was left running for my life, hoping and praying that I could get enough musou energy to stage a comeback. Complicating matters, Dynasty Warriors 8 introduced a rock-paper-scissors element system in its weapons, and so all the while, I was swapping back and forth, trying to maintain the advantage over the officers right there in front of me while avoiding those that had the advantage over me. And this was on the normal difficulty setting.

Reason #2: The Source Material

Baller Time Reading

When I first started playing Dynasty Warriors, beginning with Dynasty Warriors 3, I was not familiar with Romance of the Three Kingdoms. I hadn't read it, and I wasn't a student of Chinese history or literature. But one of the common elements included in the series is an encyclopedia of characters and a high-level synopsis of the era's events as chronicled in the novel. Rather than brush it aside, I ate it up. Over time, I read through every single character bio, from the major playable characters to the myriad "generic" officers, each with their own history, however brief they were summarized. That in turn spawned an interest in the period and its figures to the point that I began to do my own external reading on the figures and events that I found most interesting. And then, a few years ago, I finally sat down and read the novel.

Romance of the Three Kingdoms is a truly fascinating read. The numerous figures that come and go, the fighting and scheming, the mysticism, and just the sheer volume of it all is amazing. In finally reading the novel, I was able to gain an appreciation and understanding of the characters and events as they're portrayed in Dynasty Warriors for which I hadn't previously had the background. Even more so when Dynasty Warriors 7 was released with a revised story structure that, in its own arcade-like way, held truer to the narrative of the novel than the games that came before it.

Reason #3: The Characters

Zhang Chunhua, a new roster edition in Dynasty Warriors 8, quickly became a favorite of mine with the way her personality and relationships are portrayed. (And she's a looker, not gonna lie.)

The cast of Dynasty Warriors has grown larger and larger with nearly every installment, and each time it's grown, the developer has, at least in my opinion, made the roster only better. Romance of the Three Kingdoms is rife with characters, both figures from history and those that are purely fictional. Beyond the most famous figures of the age like Cao Cao, Liu Bei, and Guan Yu, it has to be a difficult task in not only choosing who to include, but how to portray them. Dynasty Warriors takes some pretty hefty liberties with the cast, and with the narrative as a result. Particularly in cases like Zhang He (depicted as a less a far less sociopathic and far more fabulous Vega from Street Fighter), or most of the female characters (the vast majority of whom were not actually all that warrior-like). Yet it's in this large, crazy mix that there are characters that could appeal to most anyone. Manly men, pretty boys, feminine ladies, and amazons, there's a full spectrum of character types on display. And though many of them fall into archetypes or stereotypes in their flanderized personalities, these simple traits make them stand out more, creating an entertaining mix of actors on display.

Reason #4: Understanding of What's Been Done Right and Wrong

It should be noted that as fans of Dynasty Warriors, we don't just lap up anything thrown to us. Case in point: Dynasty Warriors 6. The first entry in the franchise of the current console generation, it tried to reinvent Dynasty Warriors from the ground up. Some of what it brought to the table was OK, such as the greater options in maneuvering around maps (swimming, climbing ladders and such were finally implemented for the first time in this game). But the roster was dramatically cut back, ditching a large number of figures that had built up fanbases over the course of the PS2 era. I was particularly disappointed in the loss of Daqiao, one of my go-tos. They also completely changed the nature of how some characters played, with cloned combat styles and the loss of various signature weapons. Zhenji unable to fight with a flute, no matter how ridiculous as that may sound, was another major disappointment for me.

The Sign of the Beast.

But the biggest strike against the game was the core of the combat system, which had been completely torn out and replaced with something called the Renbu system. A system that made it far, far too easy to launch into infinite combos, basically allowing the player to slash across the stage with ease and removing the strategies (yes, there are strategies) present in the charge system. It was so reviled that Omega Force ditched Renbu and returned to the previous combat system, finding new ways to build upon it in DW7 and 8. The full roster and many of the signature weapons also made their returns, and the end result is two entries that I feel rank among the very best that the franchise has to offer.

Are You Not Entertained?

Well, you don't have to be. Like any game, Dynasty Warriors is bound to have its fans and its detractors. But it's at least been my experience that the detractors don't bother making the effort to understand why the fans enjoy these games so much. Even in the comments section of the Dynasty Warriors 8 quick look, people made the same old, thoughtless quips that it looked and played like an Xbox or PS2 game, or that it hadn't changed and was just pressing X or square over and over. I'm not asking you to like Dynasty Warriors, but I am hopeful that, if you've taken the time to read this, that you have a better understanding of why at least I enjoy the games as I do.

I hope you've enjoyed the song of my people.

And I'm totally up for answering any questions you might have.

126 Comments

Farewell, Ryan Davis

It's really hard to find the right words to say in this situation. I first became familiar with Ryan and his work while he was still at Gamespot, and ended up following him here to Giant Bomb following the great forum exodus. Consequently, his contributions to the site have been a small part of my life over the past five years. I can't say I really know him, though from the Bombcasts and following him on Twitter, I felt like I got a good picture of him. It's strange to think of him as having passed away; I'm only a couple of years younger than he is, and when something like this happens, it always reinforces the fact that we'll all be following along at some point.

But rather than dwell on all of that, I'd like to remember the few times I've been able to interact with Ryan directly.

The most direct time was a chance encounter at PAX Prime several years ago. It was the morning after the Bombcast panel and I was headed into the convention center when I saw Ryan moving along the same path. So I introduced myself and we had a quick chat. Nothing particularly major, but as it has unfortunately turned out to be my one and only chance to talk with him, I'm glad I took the opportunity when I had the chance.

The second, less direct interaction (really, barely an interaction at all) came through Twitter. Ryan had started a goofy game where people tweeted him ridiculous concepts for Seinfeld episodes set against the backdrop of the Occupy Wall Street protest. He ended up retweeting the one I submitted. Again, nothing special (though I did manage to avoid his itchy blocking finger, so there's that). Really, Ryan's Twitter account was one of the most consistently entertaining feeds I've followed. He was a man that seemed very well aware of his audience, even when he donned hummingbird masks or related his experiences at a sleep clinic.

And the third interaction, really more just me getting a reaction out of him, was when Patrick opened the mailbag I sent in. As Patrick read my letter, in which I offered up Romance of the Three Kingdoms to any of the guys that wanted it (yes, that was me that sent it), Ryan, behind the camera, chimed in with a "Not it!" That gave me a good chuckle.

This is a lot of rambling and talking mostly about nothing, so I suppose I should cut it off here before I drag on for too long. Rest in peace, Ryan. You've been a major part of this site from the very start, and if the response on Giant Bomb, Twitter and elsewhere is any indication, you've touched a lot of people in a lot of ways, big and small.

I hope that wherever you are, they have D-Box seats.

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Injustice story impressions

Earlier this week, after a bizarre exchange with a Gamestop clerk, I bought the Wii U version of Injustice: Gods Among Us. As someone that prefers fighting games with stories rather than being some hardcore tournament guy that lives only for TEH FIGHT, I was drawn in by the Mortal Kombat-like story mode. However, as much as I liked MK9's story mode, I thought it was lacking in a couple of key points:

  1. No chapter selection feature.
  2. The final boss was aggravating bullshit.

Injustice fixes both of these issues very handily. The aid of a chapter selection feature is pretty self-explanatory. One of the main reasons why I'm hesitant to play MK9's story mode again is because I couldn't just jump in wherever I wanted after beating the game. But that complaint was minor compared to facing Shao Kahn at the end of MK9. A stupidly designed fight built on the foundation of old arcade fighting games designed to eat quarters, it simply wasn't any fun, and it took me so many tries to beat him that it almost ruined the enjoyment of the story.

Fortunately, the story mode in Injustice is much better balanced and doesn't throw nigh-invincible bullshit bosses in out of any sense of misplaced nostalgia (as if anyone could be nostalgic about fighting MK3 Shao Kahn?) So the mode is relatively easy to get through, though it doesn't feel particularly long, either. It also relied way too much on Batman with two separate Batman chapters, plus a little extra thrown in near the end. I understand that it would probably be too much to expect that every member of the cast get a playable chapter of their own given the size of the roster. But that being said, some of the characters definitely get overplayed, and others are relegated almost to afterthoughts.

Otherwise, the story is pretty basic. Superman gets driven insane, becomes dictator of Earth, and the other heroes ally with him while the usual villains and some heroes from another dimension try to stop him. It's pretty typical comic book stuff, really. There's a hint at what might be for a possible sequel at the end, but the story doesn't really offer any true surprises, instead relying on "Superman is crazy and evil, you guys!" to drive the plot from start to finish. It doesn't really have that "event" feel that the writers were perhaps going for and seems pretty by the numbers.

But I don't know. I'm not an avid comic book reader, so maybe people that are more into these characters are getting more out of it than I am. I'd be interested to hear your thoughts on it.

22 Comments

Fun with Three 3DS RPGs

Do you like RPGs? Do you have a 3DS? If the answer to both is "yes," then holy shit, this has been a good spring to you. Between Fire Emblem: Awakening, Etrian Odyssey IV, and now Devil Summoner: Soul Hackers, some high quality titles have come our way in the past few months, and it looks like there's more to come in Project X Zone and Shin Megami Tensei IV. It's a cornucopia, except with out all of the nonsense like tributes and girls named Katniss. (That will be the only Hunger Games reference I consciously make here.)

Fire Emblem: Awakening

This is my wife. If you know anything about this woman, you know that I must either be crazy, masochistic, or under a hex. Or possibly all of the above.

I'm a pretty big fan of Fire Emblem. Maybe not as insanely hardcore as some people I could mention, but but pretty damn core, at least And just this past weekend, I finished the story of Fire Emblem: Awakening the first time after logging over seventy-five hours on it. And there are still plenty of things I want to do in it. So it's pretty easy to say that I've really enjoyed it. The story isn't my favorite, but the characters are all really enjoyable, and they made some really fun tweaks to the gameplay this time around with the ability to pair up units and bringing back marriage.

And while the DLC is steep (six bucks a pop for map packs containing three maps each), they're still pretty fun for being able to revisit characters and maps from past games. And also watch long-time western fans writhe at some of the name localizations given to the previously Japan-only portion of the roster. And then you go further down the rabbit hole into all of the location names that have proper localizations now and you realize that cleaning up all of the Fire Emblem-related wiki pages on Giant Bomb is going to be a major pain. And that's on top of cleaning up the ones that were poorly written to begin with. There are some real doozies out there that are like staring into the abyss of death while trying to untangle. (Warning: Wall of text.)

But not to get off track, I'm keeping up with the DLC, even if they've gotten to a point where I am routinely being destroyed, seeing as I haven't even begun to abuse stat growths through re-classing my characters yet. I also need to go back and play the maps that were released as SpotPass DLC to see how they are. But like I said, I still have plenty I want to do.

Etrian Odyssey IV

Forging weapons gets her reeeeally excited.

After capping the story in Fire Emblem, I finally got around to starting up Etrian Odyssey IV, which had been sitting on my shelf since its release. I hadn't had much experience with the series before, aside from a few minutes of Etrian Odyssey III, but I had a pretty good idea of what to expect coming in. A hardcore dungeon crawler light on plot and heavy on the cartography. It took me a few hours to really get into a groove as I learned how the game plays, got a sense of upgrading my characters, avoiding F.O.E.s and drawing good maps, and of course leveling up and equipping weapons and armor so that my party could take on something stronger than a light breeze.

And so far, I'm really liking it. Roaming around labyrinths, charting the landscape and knocking the lights out of a F.O.E. for the first time is pretty exhilarating. And even though the story is light, the localization is filled with color. And colorful language. (I'm pretty sure this is the first game I've ever played where a character referred to her "lady boner" in any context.) I'm still really early on in the game, but it' something that could easily occupy my time for quite a while.

Devil Summoner: Soul Hackers

Stalkers? Check. Lady boners? Uh, check? What am I missing? Oh, right. A girlfriend that gets possessed by a demon. Of course! Hitomi and Nemissa better get cozy with each other.

I just picked up Soul Hackers tonight and took it for a spin. Like most people here, I never played the original version that was released back in the Saturn era. It's also hard to really get a good grip on how the game is from what little I've played so far; a large chunk of the first hour or so is exposition, some basic exploration, and a little combat before things really take off. A remake of a MegaTen game bordering on the days of yore, it's a first-person dungeon crawler, but it feels like it's aged well, and certainly has been improved on since the original release. It also has a pretty unique feel when compared to other games in the wider franchise that have seen western release with its cyberpunk feel. The game is really it's own thing and a nice way to step back into the franchise before Shin Megami Tensei IV comes out this year.

And Other Stuff

It's been a busy week for releases, actually. In addition to Soul Hackers, today was also the release date for Pandora's Tower and Injustice: Gods Among Us. I have my copy of Pandora's Tower secured; it's crazy to think that a fan campaign that asked for three games that seemed to have no chance at U.S. release are suddenly all domestic releases now. I'm really looking forward to having some time to put into it. Even if I don't end up enjoying it as much as Xenoblade Chronicles or The Last Story, the game still has an interesting hook, and I've heard plenty of good things about it. So it should at least be interesting.

And then there's Injustice, I'll also get around to at some point. I can't really say anything about it since I have yet to try it, but before I sign off, I should share my experience in buying it, as it did result in one of my more unusual encounters with a Gamestop clerk. After he found my copy of Soul Hackers and asked if I wanted anything else:

Me: "Do you have Injustice for the Wii U?"

Clerk: "Uh..." *Looks at wall display and games on counter.* "I don't think that's out for a couple of months."

Me: "...Its release date is today."

Clerk: *Begins searching computer as he speaks to another clerk.* "Do we have Injustice for Wii U?"

Clerk 2: *Cocks eyebrow and opens a drawer lined with blue game cases.*

Clerk: "Oh." *Pulls out a copy and shows it to me, then puts it back in the drawer."

Me: "...I wanted to buy it?"

Clerk: "You did?"

Me: "Yes."

Clerk: *Pulls game back out, hesitant as though he's unsure of how this transaction is supposed to go.*

It was like buying a game from a body snatcher. What the hell?

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My Best and Worst of 2012

In terms of gaming, 2012 was a long, strange year. A year in which the game I spent the most time in was a game that originally came out in Japan two years ago. OK, maybe that's not so strange in my case, but regardless, this year we were introduced to a new console while developers are preparing for two more (presumably coming next year). Kickstarter came along, shook things up, created rumblings that it would create a new industry paradigm, and then proceeded to annoy the hell out of people with an influx of projects asking for funding that may or may not succeed.

So no, it's not been the usual sort of year. But for all of the oddities that this year has brought, there have been a lot of good and bad as well. Here are my best and worst of 2012!

Biggest Disappointment: Games Journalism

In lieu of posting the overplayed Geoff Keighley photo, here's a picture of Missile instead.

There area lot of things that I could have declared the, er, "winner" of this category. The insanity, reactions, and counter-reactions to Mass Effect 3's ending (and subsequent rewrite of those endings. The Cross Assault sexism fiasco. The debate over sexism in games in general. The questionable behavior of game journalists in their relations with publishers.

What it comes down to, however, and what all of these items (and others this year that I may have failed to list) have in common is one thing. The complete and utter bungling behavior of the games press. Now, my expectations for games journalism has never been particularly high, though I'd wish that more in the press would aspire to do better. But if this year didn't showcase a complete and utter joke of what the press was, is, and may always will be, I don't know what else possibly could.

I should not that this award is not specifically for the staff of Giant Bomb, though they certainly share some of the blame for what a mess this year has been in their industry. No, this blame also goes to other major and minor outlets at both the reporter and executive levels. For those looking for some examples of what went wrong:

  • The discussion behind Mass Effect 3's ending: Regardless of your own stance on the ending, and regardless of how insane the Retake Mass Effect movement may have been, members of the press consistently missed the forest for the trees, focusing on the notion that fans just wanted a happy ending and ignored the more reasoned critical analyses. By constantly shifting blame and pegging the debate as a whole as the ravings of idiot fanboys, they failed to recognize the debate for what it was at the time and some still do.
  • Aris and Cross Assault: Man, was this ever a disaster. After the sexist idiocy that Aris put on display at Cross Assault, the event meant to promote Street Fighter X Tekken, there was an attempt at digging into the fighting game scene to determine how deeply entrenched this behavior was. When the fighting game community as a whole elected to turtle and shut out the press, well, that was that. Investigative journalism at its finest.
  • SEXISM IS BAD YOU GUYS: Man, if this wasn't a ridiculous debate. Let me state point blank that yes, there is sexism in the industry, and you're either ignorant or an idiot if you can't recognize that. But the way that the press took up the debate this year in particular by focusing on an ill-worded quote from a Tomb Raider developer about protecting Lara Croft turned it what could have been intelligent discourse into a sideshow, right up until Square Enix revealed that a woman was responsible fro writing the script, at which point all discussion was dropped until attention was clumsily brought to an otherwise well-intentioned Twitter campaign that could have led to more intelligent discourse if journalists hadn't fumbled the ball again.
  • Doritosgate: I'm not going to get into this one too much, other than to say that Eurogamer shouldn't have edited the column that sparked that fire. It was the one bright, shining moment this year when games journalists were forced to take a look at themselves, but that moment seems to have more or less passed in a cloud of razzing tongues and fart noises.
  • Jason Rubin is an asshole and wants to destroy Saints Row!: Except he doesn't. People only thought he did because Brian Crescente couldn't be arsed to write up an interview with him without putting words in Rubin's mouth that led to that confusion in the first place.
  • Medal of Honor trivializes war!: Tom McShea's on-camera interview with a Medal of Honor: Warfighter developer served as my introduction to Tom McShea. It also gave me a staunch reason to stop listening to him as he belligerently and immaturely forced the developer into a circular argument and more or less showing why he isn't qualified to give on-camera interviews. Any salient points that McShea might have had were sabotaged by his own inability to conduct himself in an intelligent, professional manner.

And for as disappointing as this year as been, I just don't see it getting any better. Part of the problem being that even the biggest sites (and some of the smaller ones) are staffed by people that lack even basic backgrounds in journalism. Hell, just look at Giant Bomb; Jeff comes from a time and place where, as far as I can tell, the only reason he's in the position he's in today is because he happened to be a guy that loved writing about video games living in northern California circa 1996, putting him in the perfect place to be hired by a video game website that just happened to be based in the region. This appeared to be the hiring pattern for years, and many of those faces are still active in the profession today, whether they've improved at their craft to a meaningful degree or not. At all levels of the press, from the biggest sites to the smallest, the majority of the people writing about game news aren't journalists; they're people that like games and are capable of stringing sentences together to form coherent thoughts. Are you roughly twenty-four years old, love video games, and can write with a modicum of skill? Congratulations! You too, have the qualifications to work at mid-'90s Gamespot, so long as you can work in an office and conduct yourself in a manner appropriate to the environment. (Oh, also, you have to live in the Bay Area. Tough noogies if you live anywhere else since that's where all the big outlets are located.)

Yet, even more embarrassingly, even those with actual journalism experience aren't necessarily people to look toward, either. The aforementioned Brian Crescente was once a journalist at the Rocky Mountain News, which was an actual newspaper in Colorado. Then he became editor-in-chief of one of the worst game news sites on the internet (Kotaku) before becoming part of the Polygon team, which elected to introduce themselves to the world via a hilariously overwrought documentary series that more or less proclaimed them the saviors of the games press. (Insert Nelson Laugh here.)

We are fucking doomed. Every last one of us is doomed. And I say this as someone that this past year has taken my own stab at the whole games journalism thing. From the inside looking out, I implore you to heed me when I say that we all have a long way to go if games journalism is going to ever be worth more than a bottle of Mountain Dew.

OK, rant over. Moving on!

Worst Game of the Year: Dream Trigger 3D

I have no idea what the fuck is going on.

I haven't really played any bad games this year. At least, none of the games I've played that came out this year have left me clawing at my eyes and screaming for the horrid banshees within the game to take my soul and be done with the torment. The absolute worst game I played this year was actually something that came out last year. Dream Trigger 3D is an example of an early 3DS game that, as far as I can tell, tried to get by on it being in 3D and little else. I say this because there's nothing else for this game to get by on. While it's at least technically competent to the point that it won't crash upon booting up, its abstract graphics are nearly impossible to decipher, leading to numerous quick and early deaths that are almost unavoidable. Despite playing through the tutorial, I honestly couldn't tell you what in the flying hell is going on in that game because it does such a poor job of explaining itself, other than the fact that it's thematically wrapped in the same philosophical dream butterfly motif that defines the Persona series. Only with absolutely no clear reason that I can find other than an excuse to put "Dream" in the game's title.

I bought this game used at a discount because I was both curious and stupid. It was too much, and I have since paid my penance.

Best New Hardware: The Wii U

It has a silly name, sure. And the Wii U's raw power will probably be leapfrogged by whatever it is that Sony and Microsoft are cooking up right now. But none of that detracts from the simple fact that the console's central conceit, a controller with a big touch-screen in the middle, is actually sound and works as advertised. And while the games that make truly innovative use of the touch screen capabilities may be further off, it's no slouch, either, as games like ZombiU do a lot to demonstrate using the touch screen in tandem with the TV.

It also helps that the console's internet functions are enough to make one easily forget the days of having to exchange friend codes. The new Nintendo Network ID system, friends lists, and the Miiverse all stand in stark contrast to the overly simplistic (if far more secure) exchange of alphanumeric codes. There's still room for improvement, that much is certain, but in terms of features and functionality, there's no question that Nintendo has learned their lessons well and have taken steps to implement systems and services that wider audiences can appreciate. Will the quality games follow? Time will tell, but I can certainly see myself playing games on the device for years to come.

Best New Character: Labrys/Best Fighting Game: Persona 4 Arena

Take a bow, Labrys. You deserve it.

This has been a hell of a year for fighting games with seemingly something for everyone. But the best of the year is also the most unlikely; a fighting game set as a sequel to an RPG. But Arc System Works and Atlus pulled through big-time on this one, with elements of ASW's experience working on BlazBlue and incorporating gameplay and aesthetics that perfectly evoke Persona 4. Even more impressive is the way that Persona 4 Arena manages player expectations; there's depth for those tournament-savvy players that want it, but for anyone that just wants to play the game because they're a fan of the RPG and not necessarily a fighting game fan, there are perfectly viable options for them, as well. These elements really come together to make it the best fighting game of the year.

But a major appeal of the game, particularly for Persona fans, is its story mode. And while the game features a number of returning characters from Persona 3 and Persona 4 in its narrative and roster, their importance to the proceedings takes a back seat to Labrys; a mysterious android that serves as the heart and soul of the narrative. And her particular story in the game's story mode is easily the most enthralling of them all, despite the fact that the player is only ever asked to fight once in its entire duration. She's sympathetic, fits in with the existing cast, and is well-written and acted, from her early days as an emotionless test prototype and on through her evolution into an emotive, expressive, sensitive being that has to come to terms with who and what she is even though the truth is agonizing. She's easily the best new character of the year, and just happens to star in the best fighting game of the year, only making it better with her presence.

Best Revived Characters: Pit, Palutena, and Medusa

Kid Icarus: Uprising reintroduces Pit and makes him a full-fledged character.

The core cast of Kid Icarus, the heroic angel Pit, the goddess Palutena, and the villainous Medusa, had not been heard from in a long, long while. Over twenty years had passed since the last Kid Icarus game, and aside from Pit's (and to a lesser extent, Palutena's) appearance in Super Smash Bros. Brawl, not much had been done with them in the meantime. These are characters without much personality, and no history other than being relics from the nearly forgotten depths of Nintendo's NES and Game Boy era.

And then something crazy happened. Masahiro Sakurai pulled them all out of storage, dusted them off, gave them a new game to star in in Kid Icarus: Uprising, and then wrote a fantastic script that defines them as characters, as personalities. It gave them full spectra of emotions with a surprising amount of depth. They evolve beyond jokes about the NES game and into complete personalities that don't need to lean on the olden days as a crutch. And the stellar localization and English voice acting go a long way in bringing them to life, from Pit's goofy, innocent charm to Palutena's trollish sense of humor to Medusa being an equally sharp-tongued antagonist. And that's all before the game really kicks into high gear.

Best Story: Kid Icarus: Uprising

No, I'm not joking.

Uprising's story is by far longer, deeper, and better than I imagined it could be.

Once the game gets through its requisite NES jokes and its first nine chapters, the high gear is kicked in and a new antagonist is revealed. The story grows more complex as new conflicts arise, new characters are introduced, and the plot takes some genuinely surprising, heart-wrenching twists. There's a moment in the game that I like to call the mindfuck, where my expectations were kicked in the head and left bleeding on the curb as the game threw its best curve ball. I was so genuinely stunned and so amazed by this turn that I absolutely couldn't put the game down until I had beaten it. It took me the rest of the evening and into the night. I had to plug my 3DS into the wall as the battery wore down, even as I kept the Circle Pad Pro plugged in, because after that moment, I absolutely had to see that things were set right. And when the game was finally beaten and he credits started to roll, I knew that I had played through one of the best game stories I had quite possibly ever experienced. It was absolutely beautiful, pitched perfectly from start to finish.

Best Graphics: Asura's Wrath

That's a giant finger coming down at him HOLY SHIT.

Vibrant, otherworldly, colorful, and insane. Asura's Wrath explores a wide range of environments from a mundane, yet still fantastic Earth to the war-torn depths of space. Its characters are beautifully designed and perfectly encapsulate their roles in the story, from Asura himself to his mentor Augus to his daughter Mithra. The fact that the game is running on the Unreal Engine 3, which has often been criminally underused to produce bland game world after bland game world, is put to excellent use here. The cinematic nature of the game's presentation, structured just like a televised, episodic anime complete with commercial bumpers, further emphasizes the artistic work on display, whether it be during one of the game's quieter moments or when Asura is in a full-blown rage.

Best Original Soundtrack: Xenoblade Chronicles

There is no contest here. Xenoblade Chronicles has an absolutely massive soundtrack, and every song is golden. Its pumping battle tracks, its environmental themes (each area in the game has their own individual daytime and nighttime themes), and its cinematic music are all beautifully done and perfectly evoke the mood, whether it be a battle against a mechon enemy, exploring a massive field or city, or doing just about anything else. Even the fanfare that plays when discovering a hidden location is awesome enough to make me raise my fists in triumph when I hear it.

While Xenoblade's graphics may not be as stellar as a game like Asura's Wrath because of the hardware limitations, being on the Wii does nothing to stunt the abilities of the soundtrack's composers and musicians.

Best Game of 2012: Xenoblade Chronicles

The massive scale of the game world is absolutely breathtaking.

There is a lot of game in Xenoblade Chronicles. I mean, really. You can spend over a hundred hours in it and still not be done, just because there's so much to see an do. More importantly, however, is that the game is absolutely fun and well designed in its every aspect, from simple-to-understand gameplay systems and an easy-to-manage quest log to its strategic combat aspects and the different gameplay styles of the primary party members. It might be easy to lean on Shulk for the bulk of the game with his control of the Monado, but there were large sections of the game where I was having fun being in control of the magic-wielding Melia or the goofy fuzzball of death, Riki.

The story and world behind the game are nothing to sneeze at, either. If you're a fan of Tetsuya Takahashi's other Xeno-titles, Xenogears and the Xenosaga trilogy, you should be right at home here. While Xenoblade Chronicles has nothing to do with his previous games in a narrative sense, it does feature a very rich world and an interesting story that are steeped in gnostic inspirations and influences, as well as characters and events that likewise take inspiration from those earlier games. A friend of mine that considers Xenogears one of her all-time favorites absolutely ate Xenoblade up, and could certainly do more to talk about these influences than I ever could, so don't go asking me for deep analysis (my relative knowledge of gnosticism is amateurish, at best), but if you have the interest, it's there.

But all talk of influences aside, the story and characters are well worth playing the game to see, as well. The story is entertaining, spanning the world (a world comprised of two gigantic titans!) and full of mystery. The characters the game follows are an entertaining bunch, and sometimes throw the old JRPG character tropes for a loop in some surprising ways. They're a group that's well worth journeying with, traveling across and exploring the vast reaches as their adventure takes them further than they could ever possibly dreamed.

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Hailinel's Top 10 of 2012: Another GOTY List Post

The List of the Ten Games That I Enjoyed the Most This Year and is Sure to Get a Lot of Dislike Votes Like My Other GOTY Lists (Fuck You Guys)

This is my Game of the Year list for 2012. DEAL WITH IT.

OK, snark out of the way, these are the ten games that I got the most out of this year, for one reason or another. In putting this list together, I wasn't particularly thorough in my explanations, but this list was slowly cobbled together over the past year as it went along. A few games were on the list, and then got moved off as better games took their place, but after all was said and done, this is what it came down to. If you want to discuss these entries further or accuse me of being an unrepentant Japanophile (as happens without fail at least once every time I make a GOTY list), then we can chat about these further.

Because debates are fun.

1. Xenoblade Chronicles

It took far too long to reach North America, but the wait was worth it. It's easily the best game I've played all year and the best RPG I've played in a very long time.

2. Kid Icarus: Uprising

A fun game with an excellent story and wonderful characters that does the original NES game more justice than it could have possibly deserved.

3. Persona 4 Arena

Who would have thought that a fighting game sequel to an RPG would feature such an amazing story and such a fun fighting system?

4. Theatrhythm Final Fantasy

A Final Fantasy rhythm game with classic tracks and beautiful design.

5. The Last Story

The last major Wii release in North America turned out to be one of the console's best.

6. Asura's Wrath

While it may largely be a QTE-driven anime in video game form, that doesn't make Asura's Wrath any less entertaining in its own right. The game does what it sets out to do with aplomb.

7. Pokémon Conquest

Pokemon and Nobunaga's Ambition? Together? Who would have thought something so crazy could result in something so fun.

8. Warriors Orochi 3

Specifically the Wii U version. Easily one of the best Warriors games to date.

9. Double Dragon Neon

A fun, hilarious revival of the series with great music and a terrific villain. What more could I want out of it?

10. Hakuoki: Demon of the Fleeting Blossom

Visual Novels don't come to North America in an official capacity very often, but Hakuoki is a quality entry in the genre.

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My brief jaunt into Dragon Age II.

Well, I gave it a shot.

After Animasta asked me to at least try the game before criticizing it, I went out and bought a cheap copy of Dragon Age II on Saturday. That is, seventeen dollars cheap, at least. Even then, I think I paid too much for hit. But anyway, fair's fair, and I decided to at least give the game an honest try.

Hoo boy.

It's bad. I mean, really bad. The gameplay is decidedly Dragon Age (even though tthey apparently had to patch in the auto-attacking after release? What?), which is fine. I enjoyed the first Dragon Age. But god damn, I don't remember the fights in Origins being anywhere near this tedious. People seriously aren't kidding when enemies just fall out of the sky and come in waves. And too many fights are stretched out by too many waves. For fuck's sake, stop spawning, you assholes, I just want to do this quest!

And as for the quests, they range from the fairly interesting to menial tasks that shouldn't even qualify. Tracking down a murderer or hunting down a blood mage I can understand, but finding a random nicknack and turning it in to some random person in town for a pittance of a reward and a hilariously detached thanks? (Seriously, I just returned a woman's remains to you, dude. Why are you treating this as though I just returned your cheap-ass watch?) And this is pretty much all the first act is. Random quests that often mix together (I can't count the number of times I forgot which quest I was specifically on because so many involved either looking for someone or tracking something) until I have enough money to go on the Deep Roads expedition.

For the most part, I played the game on the standard difficulty, and in the rare times it wasn't brain-dead easy, it suddenly spiked into "fuck you" territory. Like a room in a cave filled with spiders, undead, and a lich, all suddenly swarming out of nowhere. After playing that battle maybe seven times, I finally got out of it by the skin of my teeth with only Varric left alive, running through the halls and desperately holding on to those last few precious hit points long enough to be allowed another healing potion.

And that rock demon at the end of the Deep Roads can suck it.

And then there's the faults in the story. I understand that this is all being told in flashback from the recollection of an unreliable narrator (which will make it easy for Bioware to retcon by saying Varric was making shit up), but it just gets weird, especially toward the end of the Deep Roads, when oh, wait, Bethany is dead because Darkspawn. And yes, this is just oen possible outcome of that scene, but just the way it's handled, where it cuts in after five days of hiking through the Deep Roads only to suddenly reveal she's ill. It almost feels like a DM somewhere just expelled Bethany's player from the group and killed the character out of spite.

The whole act is nothing more than an elaborate set-up comprised of uninteresting bullshit with a character death thrown in at the end, because I don't know. It's not even so much that Bethany dies as much as it is the manner her death is depicted. It felt clumsy.

Anyway, after that, I started in on the second act, got as far as Hawke's mansion, and pretty much had enough. I'm pretty sure I know what to expect at this point. Tedious bullshit quests, Hawke's mother gets murdered and turned into a zombie bride (is there a particular reason why Hawke's entire family has to be murdered as they are? I mean, holy shit, guys), and something major happens a the end that leads into Varric's next echange with the interrogator as a lead-in to the following act.

At this point, I've had enough. Maybe my interest is tempered by my knowledge of what's to come (Anders, Orsino, and Meredith all being colossal dipshits, blood mages fucking everywhere), but seriously, this game is just dumb. It's bad enough that I spent fourteen hours running around in the first act mostly doing a lot of nothing before story time in the Deep Roads, but if I have to fight one more wave of bandits falling from the sky, it'll be one too many. Seriously, seventeen bucks is too much for this game.

64 Comments

So, I'm a Games Journalist

Well, sort of.

I had been frequenting oprainfall.com for some time since the site made the transition from campaigning for North American releases of Xenoblade, The Last Story, and Pandora's Tower to becoming a volunteer-run news and review hub. And in my time there, I had also gotten into some rather heated...debates with certain staff members regarding their writing. I'm sure some of you can guess what a lot of those arguments revolved around.

Anyway, after a particular row with one of their writers (this time having nothing to do with anything Metroid-related), I was contacted by one of the site heads and offered me the chance to basically put my money where my mouth is by bringing me on as a member of the staff. I accepted.

So what am I doing, exactly? As a newcomer, I'm strictly assigned to writing news; editorials and reviews aren't within my jurisdiction. At least, not yet. You could say that I'm still in a trial period. Anyway, as a news writer, I'm not exactly Patrick. The work I'm doing is mostly researching story leads and writing short bits on them. Some of it's new aggregation, some of it's more original than that, but it gets content on the site.

But like I said, this is a volunteer position. I get no compensation, save the gratification of people reading what I wrote (and possibly bitching at me over the internet). And I don't know how long I'll stick with it and get the chance to write articles outside of basic news, but I'll see how things shake out.

(Obviously, this is not attached to the forums or any game pages because this could be construed as advertising.)

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