Hailinel's Magical PAX Prime 2013 Adventure: Day 4

I sit here before my keyboard, exhausted and halfway brain-dead after all four days of PAX Prime 2013. It was a long, eventful day, but I'll try to run through the big events as much as I can while my brain still has the capacity to use a keyboard (I am already failing). One of my friends expressed interest in a panel that started at 10:00AM that sounded cool, so I decided to tag along. Unfortunately, things didn't quite work out. I got to there not long before the line was capped, so I could get in, but my friend couldn't. So I gave her my spot in line and waited outside for the hour. So what did I do to wait? I stood in line for something else

The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD

Yup. Raven Theater, the location of the panel, was on the same level of the convention center and withing sneezing distance of Nintendo's Zelda demos. I waited most of the hour in the line for Wind Waker HD and ended up playing a demo version of the game's opening bits, from first starting out to finding Tetra in the forest. (The other demo was a boss battle.) I never played Wind Waker on the GameCube beyond a few store kiosk minutes, but the HD version is pretty fun. The graphics do indeed look beautiful, and the demo also featured bits of the new Wii U functionality; inventory management can be done entirely on the touch screen, with items equipping to buttons by simply dragging and dropping. The telescope (and the bow in the boss battle demo) could be aimed with the gyroscopic controls in the Gamepad, or by standard controls (whichever suits you). There were even a couple of message bottles on the shore as a sign of the game's new Miiverse functions, though I didn't check their contents.

Basically, it's Wind Waker, but bigger, better, and fancier, as far as I can tell.

Adventure Time: Explore the Dungeon Because I DON'T KNOW!

This was actually something I played a couple of days ago but forgot to mention because brain fart, so I'm putting it here before I forget again. That's nothing against the game, mind you. The demo we played was definitely a work-in-progress build, but it's a pretty silly game for four players. Imagine Gauntlet redone with Adventure TIme characters and you've got a pretty good idea of what this game is: an over-head dungeon crawler four up to four players, with each a different character. It's a silly game, but it strangely works.

The Sony Booth

Toward the end of the day, we decided to finally brave the Sony booth, and the crowd was entirely manageable. We only tried a couple of game demos, but they both seemed very interesting.

Rain

Rain is a sort of puzzle-action game. You're a boy that is invisible on the run from invisible monsters. However, there's a constant, driving rain, and when standing in it, your visible (or at least, you're shape is). So it becomes a game of finding brightly lit areas where you don't appear and careful maneuvering to avoid the monsters. Pretty cool.

Contrast

Contrast was also on display at the Indie Mega Booth in trailer form, but they also had it in playable demo form at the Sony booth on the PS4. This game, set in a very stylistic 1920s-ish era, sees you cast as a woman that is capable of turning into a shadow when in brightly lit spaces, and then interacting with the shadows of other objects as though they're platforms and the like. Very cool concept and well executed. Unfortunately, the demo became stuck when I collected an item and the character suddenly became frozen in a T-pose. (Prerelease code always carries this risk.)

The PS4 Controller

I spent enough time with Contrast to know that the new PS4 controller is at least comfortable to hold and the buttons are just fine. What I didn't get a chance to try was the touch pad, so I have no idea what it's like in actual practice. Otherwise, it's a controller, so you probably know what to expect.

The Panel I Did Attend

In the mid-afternoon, we attended a panel called Three Decades of Video Game Music. This turned out to be less an overview of the history of game music, and more a talk on the influences of the four musician panelists in attendance; Grant Kirkhope (GoldenEye, Perfect Dark, a bunch of other games), Danny Baranowsky (Super Meat Boy, Binding of Isaac), Jimmy Hinson (Black Ops 2), and Daniel Rosenfield (Minecraft). It was really entertaining watching them joke around with each other. The whole panel was very light and fun with some insight into how each of them went about their work and what influences them. So while the panel wasn't what I had expected, it was still worth attending.

#SWAG

One last day at PAX meant one last day for shopping at PAX, and I came away with some more board and card games. Specifically:

  • Cards Against Humanity Expansions 1&2
  • The board game Takenoko
  • The deck-building game Miskatonic School for Girls

I really need to organize a board game night at some point.

StreetPassing

I've finally done it. I have collected every piece to every panel released thus far; a state I have never been in before today. It leaves me feeling accomplished, yet empty. I like collecting panel pieces and it kind of blows that I have to wait until new ones are released to feed that hunger again. But oh well. I still have plenty of work to do in the other StreetPass games.

Final Thoughts

Brain...fading...fast. Must...finish...conclusion...

This was my fifth PAX, and so I've come to a point where I know my way around it pretty well and a lot of it has become old hat. Yet there's always something new, whether it be a panel, or a particular demo experience, or just something else completely out of the ordinary that helps keep it fresh. This is also the second year that I've skipped the Giant Bomb panel; they're certainly a fun ride, but it's no big deal to me that I didn't attend. I find that PAX is a more enjoyable experience if you don't bank the show on one singular desire.

As for the highlight and lowlight of the show, you can probably just refer to my previous write-up on my panel experiences from Day 3. Hideki Kamiya's panel on The Wonderful 101 was funny, charming, informative and enlightening. All of the things that I could have wanted out of that panel, I received, short of StreetPassing with Kamiya (as some lucky audience members were able to do). But that Final Fantasy panel...I just don't know what. I mean, there's only so many times I can call it a shit show without becoming obnoxiously repetitive, but that's what it was (and obnoxious repetition sort of describes Jason Schreier's role in that mess, anyway).

All in all, PAX Prime was a blast this year. I just hope I have the speed to snag passes again next year. It gets harder and harder with each go-round, but it's never not rewarding in the end.

And now, I shall crash. Because four days of PAX is really exhausting you guys. Oh my god.

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Hailinel's Magical PAX Prime 2013 Adventure: Day 3

This was a heck of a day. Super-high level: saw some panels, played demos, bought swag. But as for the details...

The Games!

Hate Plus

I'll admit to not having gotten around to trying any of Christine Love's well-regarded visual novels, but she's at PAX Prime this year as part of the Indie Mega Booth with a playable demo of Hate Plus. I didn't play very much of it; enough to start the game and read various logs, but it was more than I needed to tell me that I really, really do need to give her games a try. She also had "swag" in the form of QR codes for Animal Crossing: New Leaf costumes based on outfits in Hate Plus, which one of my friends quickly took advantage of.

Tengami

Tengami is a game coming to iOS and Wii U; an entirely touch-based adventure game set within a pop-up book resembling traditional Japanese art. You can pull tabs and and other pieces of the environment to interact and cause items to appear or vanish. The look is very well done, and it seems to play well, but I sadly got stuck on an early puzzle and had to put it down.

Castle of Illusion

Sega's new Castle of Illusion was on display in an alpha form, so it still needs a lot of work. But it definitely has promise. The controls felt precise, and the graphics look great. Mickey can hop on enemies to defeat them or throw candles he collects to deal damage. there's also a lot of platforming (naturally) and it looks like there will be collectables of some sort. Still way too early to say anything else, though. The game wasn't even running on a console; just a 360 controller plugged into a development machine.

Sony and Microsoft?

Ha ha, no. The lines were just too insane when we walked by them. Maybe tomorrow, but at this rate, I'll probably end up skipping them both.

Panels!

I went to two panels tonight, both of which coincidentally were in the same theater, with one ending half an hour before the other started. And they seriously couldn't have been more different in terms of their quality. Fortunately, the better one came second. But first:

The Good, The Bad, and the Moogles: Final Fantasy Funtime Geekout

I don't want to be blunt, but man. What a shit show.

This was a panel hosted by Jason Schreier of Kotaku, Alexa Ray Corriea of Polygon, Adam Rippon (a game designer at Muteki) and Dale North of Destructoid. The panel was billed as a "Funtime geekout," but it felt more like a Final Fantasy forum bitch thread in verbal form. It started off with some good humor, but quickly descended into basically a constant stream of complaints, jokes, and attacks on Final Fantasy XIII that were less intelligently thought out and more just a lot of whining from fans of the older games about the direction the series has gone. Schreier was particularly insufferable, shutting down any other panelist's attempt to defend XIII in any way despite numerous openings to talk about things he liked about the series and his preferred games like Final Fantasy VI. So it was less a "geekout" and more a "bitch fest." It didn't help that the panelists felt the need to return to the well on the same complaints over and over again, much less when they continued going back to the subject of Lightning's breasts every three minutes.

It was so bad that people were actively walking out of the theater before the Q&A had even started and continued to file out during. Of course, it didn't help matters that the panelists left Final Fantasy music constantly playing over the sound system, drowning their voices out and making them all difficult to hear from the rear of the theater. (The panel was in Pegasus, which is one of the theaters in the Sheraton hotel, so there was a lot of seating. And also a shocking number of empty seats, given that it was a Final Fantasy panel. The theater wasn't even half-full.

Eventually, my friends and I just said fuck it and left; there was still half an hour to go in the panel but it was just a terrible, disorganized, unprofessional stream of whining. Not that I should expect any better from a panel headed by a Kotaku writer.

"Nintendo Panel"

The mysterious "Nintendo Panel," as it was called in the printed program and in the schedule app, had no official name or description up until a couple of hours before the panel actually was scheduled to start, nor did it indicate who would speak or allude to the topic at hand in any way. But there were hints about what to expect via NOA's Twitter feed, and when it received its official name, it became known as:

Inside The Wonderful 101 with Hideki Kamiya

Holy shit, guys. This panel was fantastic, and it was everything that the Final Fantasy panel was not; organized, professional, intelligent, informative, and entertaining throughout. The three men on the panel were an NOA rep that asked questions to Kamiya, Kamiya's translator, and Kamiya himself. And it was all about the design process and philosophy that he and Platinum Games used to create The Wonderful 101. Kamiya had a lot of great things to share, like some of his influences, early design sketches of the characters, two early gameplay videos of the game from different stages of development, and a sampling of the story's script as laid out in spreadsheet format used during development. He also showed character profiles that were used as guides for casting the voice talent, and they went over some of the casting decisions that they made. For example, J.B. Blanc, the voice of Wonder Yellow (some of you might recognize him from Persona 4 as Dojima) was a last-minute addition because the original actor fell ill just before recording was to begin.

One of my favorite bits was Kamiya's description of how the game came to be. Originally, he was asked by his boss at Platinum to design a "NIntendo All-Stars" game, and Kamiya came up with an idea that was basically Wonderful 101, but with all of the big Nintendo characters. He did it this way for reasons such as to avoid creating stages devoted to specific characters or do anything that might have players feel as though their personal favorites were being slighted. But the idea was immediately shot down when presented to NIntendo because they showed art of one of the game's unite forms; a bridge, that depicted Peach, Luigi, and Yoshi all forming a bridge across a gap that Mario walked across. Just a bit problematic.

So Kamiya went back to the drawing board and decided to make a game with new, original heroes, which is how we eventually wound up with the Wonderful 101 cast.

The panel was seriously a blast. There were elements that were obviously rehearsed because of how organized it was, but that didn't really matter because it was such a relaxed atmosphere, and Kamiya was very frank about what went into creating the game. This will likely be the highlight of PAX Prime 2013 for me and for many others that attended.

#SWAG

After giving my wallet a break yesterday, I was back in a buying mood today, and came home with:

  • The core Cards Against Humanity set (courtesy of the CAH booth)
  • The card game Story War, also sold at the CAH booth.
  • SMB3: Brick by Brick, a book on Super Mario Bros. 3 by Bob Chipman
  • Chronotorious, an album of fan remixes of Chrono Trigger music

Odds and Ends

  • After leaving PAX for the evening, we went down to a bar near Pike Place Market to eat, and despite the distance from the convention center, still managed to sit next to some other PAX goers that also attended the Final Fantasy panel. Their opinion pretty much matched ours. (Seriously, guys, it was sooooooo fucking bad.)
  • While waiting for the bus home, another bus passed by with an ad plastered on the side for Hatsune Miku: Project Diva F. Totally not a place I expected to see Sega advertise the game (hell, I'm surprised it's being advertised at all), but also strangely awesome.

Tomorrow is the fourth and final day of PAX Prime. What madness will ensue? What will I scramble to play? What will I be willing to throw money at this time? Stay tuned to find out!

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Hailinel's Magical PAX Prime 2013 Adventure: Day 2

Day two of PAX Prime 2013 has come and gone, and it was quite a bit different than yesterday. Far lighter on my wallet, for one, as I avoided making any big purchases today. I also didn't attend any panels. (No, not even the Giant Bomb panel. I was eating dinner with friends while the room was starting to fill.) What I did have time for though was more actual playing of game demos. And it was a lot of awesome stuff.

Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII

Our first stop was once again the Square Enix booth, where I finally had the chance to play Lightning Returns. And it's shaping up to be the game I'm hoping it is. The demo drops the player into a sequence in which you have to chase down Snow and gives a pretty good taste of the combat flow. While Lightning is the sole player character, she can swap between different classes on the fly, and each one has different commands tied to the face buttons that eat ATB gauge (with each class having its own gauge). The idea of staggering the enemy is still present, but has changed a little bit, in that it denotes staggering process a bit differently, and Lightning now has an overdrive technique that can power her up and do serious damage, particularly to a staggered enemy. Not much to say on the story front, but the chase ended in a huge boss fight (of course) that was a good test of everything that the game had just taught me.

Divekick

I'll admit, I've given Divekick a fair bit of shit. And I'm willing to eat my words. I played the game a bit with a friend, and we both had a lot of fun with it. They even had those goofy two-button controllers to play with, but the station we were on had PS3 DualShocks. You dive, you kick, you get a couple of headshots, you laugh. That's about it, really.

Though I will say that prerelease marketing really didn't do much to dispel the notion that the game is a dumb joke.

Clicktraption

Another indie game I tried was a game from a small Australian developer Cardboard Keep called Clicktraption. It's a ridiculous little two-player game that's part platformer, part friendship tester. Basically, one player, using the arrow keys on the keyboard, runs and jumps through an obstacle-filled screen to hit switches and then escape the room. The other player, using the mouse, tries to kill Player 1 by clicking trap mechanisms like missile launchers to make them activate. As the platformer guy, I never escaped the room. In my defense, I'm left-handed and was trying to use the arrow keys with my right.

Avalanche 2: Super Avalanche

The only PAX 10 game I could touch today without fear of being crushed to death in the swarm of people at the PAX 10 display, Super Avalanche is a randomly generated plaformer in which blocks and other items fall from the sky and your objective is to try to climb as high as you possibly can before getting either crushed to death, fall into the ever-rising lava below, or get murdered by a wandering enemy. It's a lot of fun, actually, and I did fairly well. I actually had the daily record on my last run (for all of five seconds when the guy next to me beat my score).

Pokemon X/Y

I didn't actually play Pokemon X or Y, but watched my Pokemaniac friends go at it. It is easily, easily, by far the prettiest Pokemon game that's ever been made. The graphics are a major step up from the Black/White titles and the Pokemon and trainer models look fantastic, with a great deal of personality. Other than that, what more need I say? It's Pokemon!

Bayonetta 2

Bayonetta 2 was the last game I played today, and wow. The demo is about fifteen minutes long, but before that, I had to brave the two-hour wait in line. And it was late enough in the day that about half an hour after I got there, they stopped letting people in line because it would have been too long for the time that remained in the day. And I kinda had to use the restroom the whole time I was waiting. Once I did get to play the demo, though, it was great.

The Bayonetta 2 demo offered a couple of options. I could play using either the standard or touch controls (I chose standard) and either Easy or Normal difficulty (I went with Easy, because I never played the first Bayonetta and had no idea how geared Normal would be toward kicking my ass). As it turned out, I probably could have played on Normal without any problem, as Easy appeared to be below my skill level. I didn't have any headphones to hear what was going on in the game, but the visuals are the sort of madness you'd expect from Bayonetta, and the action is wild. The rep on hand explained some of what was new (I wouldn't have been able to tell since I never played the first), but there's a new Umbral Climax that you can trigger after filling a gauge that boosts Bayonetta's attack for a short bit and lets her restore some of her health. I guess the first game also didn't allow you to fire Bayonetta's guns by holding punch or kick, but it's in there now and is a pretty good combo-stopper.

The demo goes through a lot of demon fighting, Jeanne, who is assisting Bayonetta, gets hit so hard that her soul flies right out of her body and gets captured by demons, and then Bayonetta fights a giant demon climbing around a skyscraper. It all looks really great, plays awesome, and I'm really looking forward to playing it next year. Playing Bayonetta 2 also earned me my one bit of swag for the day in a T-shirt. Which, while yes, it is a T-shirt, I can also wear tomorrow to signify that I had the time and patience to stand in line for two hours.

What the third day of PAX bring? The early plan that my friends and I have concocted involves checking out more of the indie games. Beyond that, there really aren't any solid plans, though there are a couple of panels were interested in taking in. We'll see.

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Hailinel's Magical PAX Prime 2013 Adventure: Day 1

Oh, wow, I'm exhausted. Day 1 of PAX Prime 2013 was an early one for me. I arrived in downtown Seattle early enough to meet a friend and head for the queue room at 8:00. Why would we go there so early when the show doesn't start until 10:00? Because StreetPassing. StreetPassing every which way but loose. (Except without Clint Eastwood or a primate.) And like every PAX since the introduction of the 3DS, there was not shortage of StreetPasses to be had. Even passed with a number of people from last year's PAX. Pretty awesome.

Square Enix: Round One (?)

Though honestly, I didn't see much in the way of games today. Our first stop was the Square Enix booth. I briefly tried Deus Ex: Human Revolution Director's Cut on the Wii U, and it looks really good. I sucked at the demo because trying to get used to the controls in the heat of the moment on a show floor when stealth is the most preferable course of action is, well, kind of hard. (I had the same issue with Hitman: Absolution last year.)

One of my friends, who is a Kingdom Hearts fiend, tried the KH 1.5 demo, and she really enjoyed it. We also admired the new pretty graphics in Final Fantasy X HD, though we didn't play it. I want to try Lightning Returns, but didn't have the opportunity. That's something I intend to correct before the end of Monday.

Prepare for the Carnival of Pain

Otherwise, it was a lot of wandering around the show floor and getting our bearings on things. We stopped briefly at the various Nintendo areas (they have demos on three floors this year), and had a chance to play Summer Carnival '92: Recca. For those that don't know what this is, it's a Famicom game that was developed for a special event and was, to my knowledge, never released in any commercial capacity. It pushes the Famciom hardware to the absolute limit with the number of enemies on screen without slowdown, and it is hard. Balls hard. And awesome. The Nintendo rep at the station said that it should be coming out on the 3DS VC in the near future. Consider that a purchase. Just wow.

Maybe Later?

PlayStation and Xbox One, I didn't even attempt to visit today. I doubt I'll check out any of the Xbox One exhibits; I don't have enough interest in what Microsoft is cooking to spend time in line to see it. But PlayStation on the other hand should have some good stuff (hopefully better than the bland as hell PlayStation All-Stars demo they had last year).

The Indie section and PAX 10 are on the sixth floor of the convention center this year. We got there just as the expo hall was preparing to close for the night, however, so a greater tour of the area will have to wait. Should be fun!

Panel Time!

The one panel I went to today related to the history of Seattle's involvement in the video game industry. It was a pretty interesting talk, actually. The panelists talked about how Nintendo and Microsoft played roles (in addition to other companies) in shaping Seattle into a game development hub in the Pacific northwest. It was very much worth our time.

Geoff Keighley Would Be Proud

The most absurd thing about PAX this year is easily a contest being held as part of a sponsorship between Doritos, Mountain Dew, and Twitch TV. While we were in the queue room waiting for the doors to open, some Twitch TV personality got on the mic and SHOUTED REAL LOUD about the contest, while managing to somehow mention Doritos and Mountain Dew every fifteen seconds. What is this contest? Well, people can find and scan QR codes scattered about PAX and scan them to score points. After accumulating a certain number of points by a particular time, they become eligible to win not an Xbox One, but the opportunity to bid on an Xbox One. So the prize is the chance to compete for a console that you still have to pay for at a potentially higher price than what it actually sells for and you might not even win.

Huh?

All hail!

#SWAG

Day one also saw me spend a lot of cash on stuff and things. Nintendo has a store booth this year where you can buy, among other things, 3DS games, Wii Us, 3DSes, and (two weeks early) The Wonderful 101. I bought myself a copy of Wonderful 101, and then proceeded to spend more at the booth for the retro game shop Pink Gorilla, coming away with:

My wallet wept and it was barely after noon. And then I bought a commissioned sketch from an artist at the Udon booth of a character I like a lot.

Some people go on vacations to exotic locales around the globe. I take the bus to a video game convention downtown and buy video games and things related to video games. Though I don't think I'll buy any furniture this year.

Tomorrow, I hope to get more into game demos and perhaps take in more panels. (And probably end up hauling home yet more swag). What else awaits, only time will tell. Hopefully I'll still be cognizant enough to write about it when I get home. (I am going to crash now, thanks.)

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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.

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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.

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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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