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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PAX Prime 2012: Days 2 & 3

Always be hydrated.

PAX is over once again, but it was a lot of fun, as were the friends that accompanied me this year. This was their first PAX, and with the exception of one of them falling ill from dehydration in the evening of the second day, it all went smoothly. And everyone made it through day three with no ill health!

Games, Games, Games!

NintendoLand

I could see this getting a lot of play in a party setting.

I know that everyone gave this game shit when it was unveiled at E3, but I'd be lying if I said I didn't have fun with the games I tried out. The first was the Legend of Zelda game, in which one player, using the Wii U gamepad, is an archer and the other players, using Wii Remotes, are swordsmen. The swoirdsmen move along a guided path, hacking and slashing their way through guys, while the archer shoots dudes from afar. There are also light puzzle elements; at one point in the demo, we were each stopped by an orb. To progress, the swordsmen had to strike their orbs, and before a timer counted down, the archer had to strike theirs as well. The game is purely cooperative and ends if any of the swordsmen go down.

The second was the Luigi's Mansion game, which, despite its Pac-Man Vs. similarities, was pretty hilarious in its own right. When I played, I had the Wii U controller, and so I was playing the ghost tried to kill the other players, who were trying to find me and shine a flashlight in my direction to damage me. I didn't quite win; there was a point where I had killed two players, but they can be revived if the remaining survivors are quick enough, and I eventually just got corralled and finished off.

Minigame collection? Yes. Fun? Also, yes. I'm honestly interested to see what the rest of the games are like.

PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale

No. Just...no.

I have been heavily critical of this game for some time now. The time I spent with PlayStation All-Stars at PAX did nothing to change my mind. In fact, I'd say it just confirmed what I felt when watching things like the Giant Bomb Quick Look. The game desperately wants to be Smash Bros., but it's too slow, the UI does nothing to inform the players as to who's winning and losing until the match is over, and divvying points based purely on hitting with supers is a terrible, terrible idea. I was playing a fairly decent game, not particularly good or bad, when the player using Kratos busted out his Level 3 super near the very end, which basically lets him run around the arena with an instant kill weapon. It's less a trump card or comeback mechanic and more an "I Win" button.

I should note that, even though I was standing in the middle of the Sony booth at the show surrounded by other people playing this game, I didn't hear that much praise for it from anyone. Maybe the Sony fans just weren't out in force at that moment, but the reception to the game, as far as I could measure, was lukewarm at the very best.

The Vita

Yes. Just yes.

During my time at the various Vita stations, I tried my hand at Zen Pinball, Little Big Planet, and Retro City Rampage. While my time with LBP did little more than remind me that I can't stand LBP platforming, Zen Pinball and Retro City Rampage were a lot of fun. The only problem is that neither is a Vita exclusive and I could get versions of both elsewhere.

But they did have Persona 4: Golden on display as well, and while the demo wasn't anything elaborate (the game was just started and left to run, so it was still in the opening, exposition-heavy hours), I did get to hear a fair amount of Chie's new voice, and she does a good job. I'm fairly certain that Golden is and will remain my sole reason to own a Vita for some time to come.

Tomb Raider

A more human Lara makes for a more captivating game.

The demo of Tomb Raider on display was an old build; probably the same one shown off at E3. It's early game exploration and bow-hunting elements, and despite the occasional bug (at one point, Lara would just float across the ground with her left arm outstretched to the side whenever I ran forward), it's looking very, very sharp. I've never really been a fan of Tomb Raider, but the presentation and the feel of the gameplay make this very likely the first Lara Croft adventure I actually spend money on.

Epic Mickey: Power of Illusion

This is my friends Game of the Show, right here.

The 3DS Epic Mickey title that serves as an ode to the old Genesis game Castle of Illusion is another game that's looking sharp. This was an extra-fun stop especially for one of my friends, who is a huge Disney fan. She had the chance to talk with the rep handling the demo, who also happens to be a graphic artist on Epic Mickey 2. Really, that part of the show made her PAX, and this game is now at the top of her list of upcoming games she wants. And you know? The platforming and the use of the paint and thinner mechanic in the 2D setting really does work well. She'll have a blast when it comes out; I'm sure of that.

The Panels

I went to three panels this year; one on Friday, one on Saturday, and one today. The first panel, which I neglected to mention in my Day 1 blog, was on the depiction of religion and religious content in games.

It was terrible.

The primary problem stemmed from the fact that all three panelists had a very narrow view of religious content and context in games. All of their favorite examples came from either the Dragon Age series or the Mass Effect trilogy, and in general, it felt more like a Bioware love-fest than any sort of discussion on religion in general. This is possibly a predictable outcome, since one of the panelists is a QA Lead at EA Canada. Despite a fleeting reference to El Shaddai, they didn't have much of interest to say on the topic that didn't devolve into "Bioware is awesome!"

Saturday's panel was on sex in games, particularly in relation to tabletop RPGs, though some video game discussion came up during the Q&A. For me personally, as well as the friend I attended it with, it was very entertaining and informative, particularly since we both have experience dealing with a DM that could learn a few things (well, everything, really) on how to depict such in the game, but also on how to prevent "bleed." (i.e.: "Her character wants to shag my character, so that must mean she wants to shag me!")

Yeah, bleed is a bad thing when it escalates to that level.

The final panel we attended was another table-top/card game panel in which a number of creators of humorous tabletop games talked about how to insert humor into games. It was a very funny panel with a lot of self-depreciation (one of the panelists, a friend of a friend, was even dressed in a goofy cow costume he was using to promote his latest game, which he is putting together with Kickstarter help). It can be an odd thing, where some games succeed because they contain the right amount of inherent humor, whereas in other games, the humor is mostly there because of the way the players create it themselves.

As one particularly colorful anecdote, one of the panelists had also done writing work on a Marvel MMO title that happened to be on display at PAX, and mentioned how he'd be assigned particular characters, and for the most part, they're not difficult to write for. And then he was given Deadpool. He constantly missed his deadlines for Deadpool because it takes so much more effort to write him, particularly when all of the dialogue needs to be that Deadpool sort of funny.

Freeplay

Every year, I try to get in a little bit of the Console Freeplay area at PAX and play something I don't normally have the opportunity to try. This year was slightly different.

Yeah, I bought a 360 for this. I don't regret it one bit.

I used to own a 360, though I finally go sick of it after having repeated hardware issues that caused constant crashes and scratched game discs. On the list of freeplay games, I decided to spend a little bit of time with the game that I originally bought a 360 in order to play, when the console honeymoon was in full effect and before the rather nasty divorce. And that game was Ninety-Nine Nights.

Yep. What, did you expect me to say Oblivion or Halo or something?

OK, so N3 had its problems, but my time with it in Console Freeplay was enough to remind me that my fondness for that game isn't merely rose-tinted. I really do enjoy it.

The Swag and the Purchases

My wallet cries for mercy before the end of every PAX I attend, and this was no exception. The main reason being that I bought some furniture while I was there. Gaming furniture company Geek Chic was on display once again, and for the second PAX in three years, I ordered furniture from them. The first time, it was a coffee table. This time, it was their Alexandria Codex; a shelving/drawer unit that should be perfect for storing my games and DVDs. My collection has grown unwieldy, and if I'm going to get it under control, then I might as well do it in style.

On the faaaaaaaar less expensive end of the spectrum, I stopped in at the Pink Gorilla Games booth and bought a number of cool things. My favorite among them being the Final Fantasy Trading Arts Yuna figurines; the package comes with Yuna in her FFX outfit and her X-2 Gunner garb, and they are adorable. I also got some Samurai Warriors 3 trading figures.

I also picked up a few old PS2 games. A few I bought because I played them many years ago, and for one reason or another, carry fondness for them: Dead or Alive 2: Hardcore I played a lot in college. Dynasty Warriors 3 got me into the Dynasty Warriors series, and I logged more time in Romance of the Three Kingdoms VIII than should be considered healthy.

And then there are the other games I got. Namely, Chaos Legion, which I bought mainly because of an old Penny Arcade joke from eons ago, and Bujingai, which is just hilarious for the fact that it stars Gackt in the role of the protagonist. Really, it's just impossible to take seriously. And if you don't know what a Gackt is, Google is your friend.

The Conclusion

PAX Prime 2012 was a rousing success all around. Certain health issues aside, my friends and I all had fun, and we all came away with things we enjoyed and are looking forward to. It's difficult to really name a game of the show simply because there was so much on display that really grabbed me. Though Tomb Raider certainly gets a lot of props, as does what Nintendo had on display for the Wii U. I didn't even have a chance to demo games like Pikmin 3 or Project P-100, but that time I spent with the new controller was well worth it.

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PAX Prime 2012: Day One

The first day of PAX Prime 2012 had its definite highs and lows. One of the highs was that this was the first PAX I've attended as part of a group, rather than going by myself. It's a lot more fun being able to enjoy it with friends than it is to go alone and maybe stumble across people I know. But then, that could also be said for a lot of things. In any case, it was a blast, and I'm sure that the next two days will be much the same.

Before I go on, however, I should note the biggest low of the day. Traditionally, before each day at PAX starts, tables are set up in the queue room where people could pick up their lanyards, programs, and a complimentary swag bag. However, this year, apparently after some snafu at the last PAX East, the decision was made to hold off on handing out the bags until later in the morning (around 11:30). Also, for whatever reason, rather than having the bags pre-stuffed, people were to stuff them themselves as they went down a line.

This turned out to be a disastrous decision. What should have been a simple grab-and-go somehow turned into a long line that took multiple hours to clear. A lot of StreetPassing was done while waiting ('sup, !), and I saw some cool cosplay and footage of the League of Legends tournament on the big screens, but otherwise, holy shit, what a mess. The only real upside was that Robert Khoo of Penny Arcade showed up to personally apologize to people coming through the line and promised that this error would not be repeated.

My condolences to anyone with a single-day pass that had their time wasted in that line.

Now, on to better things.

The Wii U

Nintendo has playable Wii U stations at PAX, and I had the chance to get in on one of them to try out Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor's Edge. Despite the poor reviews of the original version, Razor's Edge is looking pretty sharp (no pun intended). Dismemberment is back, the short demo obattle was pretty fun, and possibly most important of all, that crazy controller is actually very easy to hold. Yes, it's a bit large, but it's also thin, light, and comfortable. I hope to try out more of the demos in the next two days, but even that short time was enough to increase my hopes for the final product.

Epic Mickey 2

The demo for Epic Mickey 2 was pretty fun, and covered the tutorial portion of the game. The game still retains the basic mechanics of the original, but now has things like voice acting and an overall better presentation (judging from the first few minutes), and most important of all, a better camera. The camera is now fixed to the critical path, so you always know where to go, but you can still make manual adjustments to go exploring. I didn't have a chance to try the multiplayer (that was reserved to other demo stations), but if you liked Epic Mickey, you'll probably like this game. And if you didn't like Epic Mickey, there's a better chance you'll like this one.

Hitman: Absolution

I had never played a Hitman game before. But the few minutes I spent with the Hitman: Absolution demo were pretty eye-opening and demonstrated my hilariously poor skill. As in, bashing a guy over the head while surrounded by cops, and then trying again, waiting until he's alone, get spotted anyway, kill the target, run, get hurt, hide in a dumpster, climb out, get found again, and get killed.

Yeah, I'm not very good. But the demo was still pretty entertaining.

Final Fantasy

Square Enix held a separate, non-PAX Final Fantasy museum event at a different venue today, and I actually skipped the Giant Bomb panel in order to attend it. It was actually pretty awesome. There were TVs running all of the Final Fantasy entries from the original through XIII and XIII-2, and each TV was appropriate to the era that the games were released. So the earlier games were played on CRTs of various makes and models, while the more recent were on HDTVs. The Japan-only releases of FFII, III, and V were also playable and on display...in Japanese of course. I played a bit of the original FFIII, and it was pretty fun. Someone had set the save file up so that one of the characters was a Level 99 warrior, so I was steamrolling over dudes in the part of the game I found myself.

The museum was also sort of like a nightclub, with drinks at a bar, as well as a DJ playing nightclub appropriate music. Finally, a bit-screen played the Japanese presentations on Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn and Lightnings Returns: Final Fantasy XIII.

I want Lightnings Returns. I don't care how many people are disinterested or would rather see the XIII series die by now, I want this game.

EDIT: Also, I am a a derp and keep reading Lightning Returns as Lightning's Return. I have corrected this error, but I am still a derp.

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The Long, Strange Road of Final Fantasy Versus XIII

Final Fantasy Versus XIII may have been a case of ability unable to match ambition.

Depending on your point of view, the recent rumors regarding the cancellation of Final Fantasy Versus XIII has likely elicited any number of responses. For those that were looking forward to the game a great deal, there’s disappointment, shock and dismay, or possibly even anger. For those that weren’t as heavily invested, there’s indifference, or possibly even relief, either for the fact that a seemingly tumultuous development has been brought to a merciful end, or for the fact that the people involved in its development may now be at work on other projects like the long-awaited Kingdom Hearts III. And of course, for those more malicious malcontents, a sense of glee.

I myself am somewhere between the first two. If it’s true that Versus XIII is cancelled, then I’m not too disappointed because, well, not much of the game was ever shown, so I couldn’t ever judge whether it was going to turn out well or not. On the other hand, given the people involved, I could hazard a guess at least that the game would be of my taste, and there were obviously a lot of people that had spent years working on it for no apparent avail, and so I’m disappointed as well. But I can’t say I’m angry; bad things unfortunately can happen to well-intentioned projects.

Square Enix will apparently make an announcement regarding the direction of Final Fantasy XIII in the near future; most likely on how the company intends to conclude Lightning’s story, which was left with a major, dangling cliffhanger at the conclusion of Final Fantasy XIII-2. If Wikipedia’s page on the game is to be believed, such an announcement will come on August 31.

Final Fantasy XIV was a major embarrassment for Square Enix, but they're trying to make amends.

This, of course, says nothing regarding the fate of Versus; sources that have leaked the news of the cancellation suggest that Square Enix will just leave the cancellation as quiet as it can in order to prevent disruptions related to stock prices and shareholders. And I can’t really blame them, if that’s their intent. Shareholders can be a fickle crowd, and if they’re invested purely for financial reasons and hear that a much-anticipated game has been canned, it can cause trouble. I doubt that such a cancellation would cause as much trouble as the launch of Final Fantasy XIV, which not only got hammered critically on release, but was so poor that Square Enix President Yoichi Wada felt it necessary to make a public apology. The game’s failure led to a financial wash, and the company is only spending more money in an effort to right the ship. They’re still in the process of overhauling the game for its 2.0 relaunch.

And in that sense, if Versus XIII was truly troubled, then it may have been better that it was cancelled. If it launched to scathing reviews, then that would be that. Unlike an MMO, there’s no way for a single-player RPG to receive a design overhaul after the fact. It’s just not the type of game that gets a mulligan.

Then again, no one outside the company knows precisely why Versus was cancelled, if the cancellation did indeed happen. The game was meant to be part of a collection of titles that revolved around the universe of Final Fantasy XIII, which the company had branded Fabula Nova Crystallis. It was supposed to comprise Final Fantasy XIII, Versus XIII, and another game called Agito XIII. For those that don’t remember, Agito XIII was a PSP title that Square Enix was mostly quiet on, until the day that it was announced that they decided to drop the FFXIII connection and turn it into its own thing called Final Fantasy Type-0.

Final Fantasy Agito XIII, one of the original projects in Fabula Nova Crystallis, is now its own thing.

This was at about the same time that the company also announced that they were developing the previously unannounced Final Fantasy XIII-2; a direct sequel to the original game. And it could just be that about the time that XIII-2’s development was decided upon that the company’s plans for Fabula Nova Crystallis were cracking at the seams.

So how did that happen? Well, Final Fantasy XIII was by no means a failure. It sold millions of copies around the world. Despite what some might suggest, it was far from being any sort of flop. I’d also argue that the combat system in the game was excellent and the characters and story were, while not among the best of the series, far from the worst. What shot the game in the foot, at least perception-wise, was an overly linear world design, and the mechanics were rolled out over a pace that resulted in the player not having full control over their party until around the twenty hour mark.

And so, hearing these criticisms, Final Fantasy XIII-2 was made. The game still uses the same basic concepts of the Final Fantasy XIII combat system, with a few tweaks, and it features far less linear terrain. Really, it addresses just about all of the legitimate complaints that were levied at the original game, and tied it all together with the presence of a highly memorable villain. The one major knock against the game compared to the first is that, as I said before, it ends on a major cliffhanger. It also introduced some oddball DLC choices, like Mass Effect N7 armor costume sets, which were mostly just tacky and out of place.

But all of that aside, with Agito no longer what it once was and XIII-2 produced to address fan criticism of the original game, we’re left with Versus; a game that has been shrouded in secrecy for most of its development and has only rarely been shown in any form publicly. The music track used for the game’s trailer was even released as DLC for Theatrhythm last week. A lot of fan expectation had been built around a game that Square Enix has rarely said much about, and many of those that weren’t interested in it just wanted it done so that the team could get to work on KH3.

That is a public relations nightmare of an obstacle course to traverse, if there ever was one. Yikes.

And then there’s the rumored fate of what’s actually become of Versus. Was the project entirely abandoned? Were any of its assets merged into the development of Final Fantasy XV? Did they just up and change the game’s name to Final Fantasy XV? It’s impossible to say, and depending on the truth of the matter, we might never find out.

Final Fantasy XIII-2 showed that Square Enix is not averse to addressing criticism that could have been ignored.

As for my own personal take on this, if Versus XIII was canned, my sympathies go to the team behind it. The expectations for the game from some corners were just too much, and whatever led to the game’s cancellation, I hope it doesn’t impede their work going forward. It’s fun to think that, perhaps, the game is being retooled into the next main Final Fantasy game, but I suspect that’s probably not the case. And to those of you tap-dancing to this news, thinking that means that KH3 is just around the corner, shame on you.

But as for the future of Final Fantasy XIII and whatever its shattered crystallis holds, I’m ready to take it. Lightning is actually one of my favorite protagonists in the series, and I’d like to see her story brought to a proper conclusion. That, and a proper resolution to what Final Fantasy XIII-2 set in motion. XIII-2 showed that Square Enix is willing to learn from its mistakes and adapt. Whether the next phase is a DLC cap to XIII-2, or a XIII-3, I’m willing to play it. And if Versus XIII reappears down the line in some form, I’ll play that, too.

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I Delight in These Games Eating My Soul

Xenobladin'

Over the past few months, I've been splitting my time between a few different games. FIrst and foremost has been Xenoblade Chronicles, which I bought at the U.S. launch back in April and have only sunk some ninety hours into so far. (Yes, "only.") If this had come out a few years ago, I probably would have beaten it in less than three months, but my life has more responsibilities these days, and I can only devote so much time to my gaming habits, particularly when there are so many games that I want to play. That being said, Xenoblade Chronicles is easily one of the best RPGs I've played in years. And I have a Xenogears/Xenosaga fan of a friend that is not only soaking in every minute of the game herself and doing everything she can within the game's world but is also having a blast recognizing a lot of the tropes and references to Xenogears that I just flat out would not get.

Behold. For he is Riki, destroyer of worlds.

There are a lot of reasons that I enjoy Xenoblade. There's the way the game plays, which is in some ways comparable to Final Fantasy XII. There's its massive, enormous, humongous, gigantic (have I used enough adjectives?) world, where all manner of hidden nooks and surprises await those willing to explore off the beaten path. There are the characters, who while filling obvious tropes and archetypes are genuinely likeable, and sometimes surprising. There's the story that starts off simple and takes some surprising twists and turns, and is always entertaining thanks to a fantastic localization. Even NPCs I've come across have caught my eye and tugged at my heart despite what limited time their stories are given.

In all honesty, I can't think of a single thing that I don't like about the game. I'm even loving the fact that I feel like I can take my time with it, and not have to rush to the end. It's not a game that I really want to see end at this point because it's just been so enjoyable.

Conquestin'

Another game I've been playing, and which I've put far less time into thus far, is Pokemon Conquest. I've never really enjoyed the core Pokemon games. I can understand why a lot of people do, but every time I've tried to play one, it's never been able to hold my interest for more than a little while, and I've never even come close to completing one. But Conquest looks like it's going to break that trend for me.

Ginchiyo is still awesome, even when paired with a Pokemon.

Some of you are already aware of this, but Pokemon Conquest is actually a crossover game with Koei's Nobunaga's Ambition strategy game series. And after putting maybe six or so hours in, those influences are numerous and obvious. Not just in the inclusion of Japanese historical figures as warlords bonding with, training, and engaging in combat with Pokemon, but in the general elements of the game outside of battle. The way that officers have to be managed, their stats and abilities play just as important a role in the game as the Pokemon do.

But make no mistake, because this is still a Pokemon game at heart. This means capturing new Pokemon, evolution, getting familiar with each types strengths and weaknesses, and everything else. Master those points, and so long as Pokemon are properly trained, the game doesn't seem that challenging (which is fair, given the audience the game is targeted at), but man, there is a lot going on here. And there's apparently a range of secondary campaigns focused on the historical officers to play through once the primary campaign is cleared, so there's really no shortage of content, either.

Theatrhythmin'

Finally, there's Theatrhythm. This is a game that has, in no uncertain terms, made me feel good about rhythm games again. Really, it's the first rhythm game I've enjoyed since Guitar Hero II and Rocks the '80s. Once the plastic instrument boom phase of the genre escalated and both Activision and Harmonix (with Rock Band) got stupid with the number of plastic instrument bundles, and Neversoft took a giant dump on the genre by creating large swaths of note highways that were little more than note spam, I just could not take it anymore.

This game is pure joy, even when its Dark Notes become nightmarish in their challenge.

In any event, the rhythm games I preferred were always the more esoteric of the bunch; games like Ouendan and Space Channel 5 that married their gameplay, which have little or nothing to do with instrument, real or plastic, to premises that are both outlandish and charming. To me, these aspects were lost to a great degree during the Activision/Harmonx arms race. And when I learned that iNiS, the creators of such great games as Ouendan and Gitaroo Man, was reduced to making a fucking Black Eyed Peas video game, I felt as though the genre had hit its nadir and lost its heart.

And then Theatrhythm came along, with its ridiculous premise, classic track list, and a mix of gameplay styles that's one part Ouendan mixed with new concepts ranging from the basic gameplay to the ability to outfit and customize a party and actually have it affect gameplay, and I am hooked. I mean, make no mistake; I am a big Final Fantasy fan, and the track list has a lot to do with my appeal toward the game, but it's also due to the mix of odd rhythm gameplay and style that permeate it. And I cannot tell you how happy I am to see someone make a rhythm game of this type. No plastic instruments, no need for a Kinect and ten feet of open floor space, and no Fergie. I don't know who had the idea to make this game, but whoever it was, it was goddamn brilliant.

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End Boss Month #30: Super Mario & Kid Icarus: Uprising

Here we are, folks. The final day of End Boss Month is upon us. As I noted yesterday, thinking of the proper subject to bring an end to end this month-long series was among the most difficult tasks I’ve had in writing it. But now that we’re here, I’ve decided that once more, we’ll look at not one, but two very special final bosses. One that has been around since Nintendo’s earliest console days, and one of their most recent creations.

No discussion of final bosses is truly complete without the One Koopa to rule them all; Bowser, the fire-breathing turtle-esque villain of Super Mario Bros. and so many others.

The one and only.

Bowser has the simplest of desires. He’d like nothing more than to take Princess Peach hostage and conquer the Mushroom Kingdom. Though to be honest, the kingdom has always seemed to be a very distant second in Bowser’s wish list. And what does Bowser want with Peach? Well, if the Paper Mario series is to be believed, he’d just like to marry her. He’s love struck, and he goes about it in all the wrong ways.

Of course, Bowser’s kidnappings are fairly routine at this point. He shows up, goes “Bwa ha ha,” ensnares Peach in his scaly clutches, takes her back to his castle, and then is summarily trounced by Mario. And you know, for as old hat as the scheme is, would we really want it any other way? I mean, kidnapping Peach is really the thing that Bowser knows best, so why should we demand anything different from him? He’s the one villain in the entire world that can still pull off that trope without making it look tired.

Bowser is like that old friend that, no matter what changes, you can always count on to be the same as ever. He’s overcome repeated failures, a horrific, ruffle-headed portrayal by Dennis Hopper, the indignity of having to team up with his enemy after a freakin’ evil anvil took over his castle and the most amazing indigestion medical science has ever witnessed. And yet, no matter what, he’s right back at it, chasing after that cute blonde in the pink dress. He doesn’t settle for easier targets and he doesn’t let the constant thwarting of his plans get to him.

And Bowser is always on the lookout for new and creative methods of bringing Mario’s destruction. Breathing fire? Raining mechanized death from a clown-copter chariot? Just turning the tables and jumping on him? His plans may always end in failure, but he has a very busy drawing board. Just look at some of his greatest hits.

Really, more villains could stand to learn from Bowser.

One villain that certainly doesn’t need lessons, however, is the final boss of Nintendo’s Kid Icarus: Uprising. Going into the game, I thought that things were going to be pretty cut and dried. The marketing made it very clear that Medusa, the final boss of the original NES game, was making a return appearance. And appear she did. I fought and defeated her at the end of chapter nine.

Of a twenty-five chapter game. Wait, what?

Well, no sooner is Medusa defeated than the real villain revealed. It’s none other than the true ruler of the underworld, Hades. Yes, Hades, who had resurrected Medusa to unwittingly do his bidding. And his sudden appearance transforms what had previously been a fairly straight-forward story into something with multiple, surprising twists and turns. Like the other characters in the game, he’s also incredibly, hilariously chatty. He has no qualms with being evil. It’s pretty much his lifestyle. Even when the plot takes a turn that sees the gods all working together, he still finds ways to impede Pit and sling some zingers in the process.

Not pictured: Nipple Cannons

What I am saying is that he is a dick. Which really shouldn’t surprise anyone. I mean, he’s the ruler of the underworld. And yet, despite his wisecracks, penchant for hitting on goddesses, and all of his fun-time loving, he is seriously, maliciously evil. As in, he creates servants by harvesting and destroying the souls of countless mortals and throws the cycle of reincarnation into a chaotic mess. And he does it all pretty much just because he can.

To make matters worse, he’s powerful enough that, the first time Pit faces him, he destroys the three sacred treasures the angel had used to fight Medusa. Even when Pit returns for the final battle, which encompasses the entirety of the game’s last stage, equipped with a heavily armed transforming armor, Hades still manages to destroy it, leaving Pit defenseless on the ground.

And then, a special set piece kicks in; the player must help Pit keep his focus on Hades while a mysterious force heads straight for the underworld king. Is it friendly? No one knows. But just when Hades is about to blast Pit into oblivion...

Medusa comes back.

Even though she was rendered into an unwitting second banana, almost an afterthought with her defeat so early in the game, Medusa charges in and shows Hades who’s really boss by punching his head clean off. It doesn’t quite kill him, and he takes Medusa down soon after, but there’s a sort of poetry to the way it all happens, letting the final boss of the original get in her shot at the usurper, and leaving him open for a final blow.

Unlike Bowser, Hades will probably never be back. Well, not for a while, anyway, if at all. But even so, he leaves a mark, not just for his remarkable wit, but for his incredible evil. The game he’s from is only a few months old at this point, but for everything he says, does, and represents, I’d say that, years from now, there’s a good chance that a lot of people will fondly remember him for being so deliciously vile.

Ugh. Why did the best Youtube video I could find of the battle have to come with a giant-size watermark and no touch screen shenanigans? Oh well. But in the spirit of Uprising, let's give Medusa some due of her own, just as a bonus.

Man, the 1980s sure did love giant, stationary final bosses.

Ladies and gentlemen, it has been fun writing this series, but like all great games with final bosses, it’s time to bring it to an end. I hope you’ve all enjoyed my month of rambling as much as I’ve enjoyed the actual act of rambling. And once again, I apologize if I just didn’t get to a boss that you really would have liked to see me cover. There’s just an insurmountable number of possibilities out there. But that doesn’t meant that you can’t talk about your favorites yourself.

So, as I close things out, I ask you this? Who are your favorite bosses? Your least favorite? Are there any that just struck that special something in you? End Boss Month may be over, but the discussion doesn’t have to end here.

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End Boss Month #29: Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne

In previous installments of this series, we’ve taken looks at bosses with a range of villainous motivations, from instinctual hunger to nihilistic psychopathy. But what about a final boss that isn’t the villain? No evil intent, thirst for destruction or hunger for pretty, pretty princesses? Such is the case in the third and final of Atlus’s games we’ll be examining in End Boss Month; Kagutsuchi of Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne.

In all of his bath-tile glory.

What exactly is Kagutsuchi? He is, like Izanami and Izanagi, an ancient Japanese god. In fact, he is the fire god responsible for Izanami’s death; he burned his own mother as she gave birth to him, and upon her death, Izanagi took his revenge by cutting Kagutsuchi to pieces. These pieces in turn resulted in the creation of yet more gods.

Though Kagutsuchi’s mythological existence was short and painful, his role in Nocturne is central to the entire game. After a cultist performs a ritual to bring the world to an end, or more accurately, unmakes the world into a fetal, unborn state, Kagutsuchi appears in the center of this Vortex World. In terms of gameplay, the god acts as the moon does in other Megami Tensei titles, going through different phases as the game progresses and affecting the moods of the demons that inhabit the wasteland.

But Kagutsuchi’s most important role is that which he plays in the creation of the next world. When a human has succeeded in creating a Reason, the natural laws that shall govern a new world, it must be presented to him. The god then tests the will of the Reason bearer in a battle that shall determine if the chosen philosophy shall become the seed of the world’s rebirth.

Or, perhaps not. In addition to the three Reasons that the Demi-Fiend may choose to present, the player can choose to subvert the process. If the Demi-Fiend plays his cards right, he can fight Kagutsuchi with no Reason, thus allowing the world to be returned to its prior state. Or, if the player should go through the amazingly challenging steps required to ally with Lucifer, the Demi-Fiend will fight Kagutsuchi to prevent the birth of a new world, effectively becoming a villain himself.

Or, if the player does things wrong, Kagutsuchi will recognize the Demi-Fiend as a colossal screw-up and not even give him the chance to fight. Adios! No final boss for you, loser. Enjoy your wasteland, devoid of natural laws and reason.

He’s the supernatural force behind the creation of the next world, but he’s a supernatural force with standards.

So really, Kagutsuchi isn’t the bad guy here. Potentially, you are. And if you aren’t, well, Chiaki is there to run away with the crown. And she will sprint gleefully away, wearing it atop her head while callously murdering anyone she comes across.

(She’s not the final boss, but you fight her pretty damn close to the end. So, there’s that.)

As for fighting Kagutsuchi, you better be ready. Like all things Nocturne, he’s not exactly a pushover. Not by any means. And he has two forms. One is a giant disco ball. The other is a face that conjures up memories of YHVH, the final boss of Megami Tensei II and Shin Megami Tensei II. It is only with Kagutsuchi’s defeat that the fate of the world will be determined. But in that regard, he’s only doing his job.

And with that, ladies and gentlemen, I bring to a close the penultimate entry of End Boss Month. Tomorrow shall be my final write-up of this series. There are a lot of bosses that I’ve wanted to highlight for this feature. Picking out the roster was the toughest thing about this, and figuring out which boss to end the feature on was one of the toughest tasks. Because frankly, people are going to be disappointed no matter who or what I pick. But check back in tomorrow as I bring End Boss Month to its conclusion.

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End Boss Month #28: Chrono Trigger

I apologize that this entry is a day late. I normally have written this entries after returning home from work in the evening, but I had a social engagement last night that kept me out for the whole evening. But to make for that, both yesterday’s and today’s entries will be posted today. We’re almost at the end, folks. I’m not about to skip an entry now.

Priorities, ladies and gentlemen. Opportunities like this don't come every day.

But as for this belated entry, I’m sure that a lot of people here will likely be familiar with the subject. It was, after all, the entity at the core of the myriad shenanigans in Giant Bomb’s most recent Endurance Run. Today, we’re looking at Chrono Trigger’s very own Lavos.

Let's do the Time Warp again!

In basic terms, Lavos isn’t particularly complex. It’s hard to say of it’s even truly sentient. A being from space that crashed into the planet in the prehistoric era of the game’s world, it sleeps for eons until a fateful day in 1999 A.D., when it finally awakens, causing mass destruction and robbing the planet of the majority of its life. Afterward, it presumably takes a hike, in search of the next luckless world on which to feed like a spiny Galactus.

And if that wasn’t bad enough, it causes more trouble during 12,000 B.C.; an age that is otherwise dominated by a stark class division between “enlightened,” magic-using humans that live in the floating kingdom of Zeal, and their magic-less brethren, forced to live in squalor in earthbound caves. The reach of Lavos’s essence corrupts the mind of Zeal’s ruler, turning her into a lunatic bent on seeing Lavos’s awakening. When our heroes briefly face off with Lavos in this era, things end badly; the game’s protagonist Crono is killed; annihilated by Lavos’s power. (But he can get better.)

So in general, bad things happen when Lavos is involved, and it’s up to the player’s party to undo the damage. And with the power of time travel, there are plenty of options available when it comes to confronting Lavos. The player can confront it directly by traveling to 1999 through either the Epoch or the End of Time, and take it on as he awakens, or by completing a run through the Black Omen; the floating dungeon of darkness and doom that Queen Zeal summons from the ocean’s depths after her nation is destroyed.

Whatever path is decided on, however, fighting Lavos is a test of endurance. First, there’s its hard candy shell, which mimics the forms and attacks of bosses fought throughout the game. And then inside, where Lavos’s creamy center resides, there’s two more forms. And its final form is particularly deceptive. Throughout the game, the player encounters bosses accompanied by two assistants, or giant hands, or other assisting pairs. Kill the core, and the assistants follow. In Lavos’s case, however, the central figure of its final form is not the actual core. It’s one of is “assisting” bits. And before I figured this out, my first battles with Lavos really dragged on. In my defense, I was young and naive.

Still, with Lavos’s defeat, the timeline remains safe from harm. On the other hand, the DS version of the game offers up an extra ending in which Lavos isn’t the final boss, but rather just part of the final boss. Combined with Schala, this being, the Dream Devourer, is meant to better connect the game to Chrono Cross. But frankly, I personally loathe Chrono Cross, and will therefore choose to not discuss this particular incarnation beyond a clumsily inserted, fleeting reference near the end of this entry.

Once again, my apologies for missing the chance to post this yesterday. But as I said, End Boss Month will continue with a second entry posted later tonight. Until then, however, I imagine that I’ll be getting a lot of hate over that Chrono Cross crack.

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End Boss Month #27: The World Ends With You

In The World Ends With You, there exists a very unique twist on the afterlife. Those that die are eligible to play what is known as the Reapers’ Game; a week-long contest in which the participants, those that have recently died, solve puzzles and battle monsters called Noise for the opportunity to return to the world of the living. The Reapers themselves are a highly structured organization with territories divided between different groups of that are themselves regimented by a strict rank structure. In Shibuya, the game’s setting, the Conductor is a Reaper named Megumi Kitaniji, who in the absence of his immediate superior, the Composer, runs the game.

And looks rather laid back while doing it.

But Kitaniji runs the game with an ulterior motive, and for most of the storyline, does his work from behind the scenes and with the aid of his lieutenants and Game Masters. He is the manipulative sort, constantly finding ways to keep Neku Sakuraba playing the game week after week despite the fact that normal entrants have only one shot at victory. It’s eventually revealed that he’s also kidnapped Shiki Misaki, the first week’s winner, under the false pretense of having restored her to life. Yet it’s his larger scheme that earns him credit in this feature.

Shibuya itself is a community of trends. Different people follow different fashions, genres, and styles. While it seems paradoxical, people seeking individuality through belonging to groups, individual choice and the will to follow what one desires are traits of free will. Yet, Kitaniji sees things differently; he sincerely believes that Shibuya will fall apart unless he can do something to save it. He makes a wager with the Composer that if given thirty days, he can save Shibuya. The Composer then leaves Kitaniji in charge of Shibuya for the duration, but not before the pair select Neku as their pawn in the games, as he is alternately used to not only further Kitaniji’s plan but also by the Composer as his primary obstacle to preventing Kitaniji's success.

And the crux of Kitaniji’s plan? The removal of all free will and individuality in Shibuya, from those that are still alive to the deceased players to the Reapers that serve under him. No trends, no desires. Only a singular, chilling mindset shared by all.

“To right the countless wrongs of our day, we shine this light of true redemption, that this place may become as paradise. What a wonderful world such would be...”

A wonderful world, indeed. In my own playthrough of this game, seeing these people possessed by Kitaniji’s red pins weirded me out something fierce, and I blazed through the final challenges ready to put a stop to him.

At the game’s end, Neku must fight Kitaniji three times. The first in order to free Shiki from his control. In the second battle, he takes his Reaper form. In the third, he captures Shiki, Beat, and Joshua (who is in fact be the Composer in disguise), and then goes full power to face Neku, who has to fight alone.

But it isn’t enough, and Kitaniji loses the battle, as well as his bet with the Composer. He is erased from existence, and Shibuya is freed from his control. And in the end, it truly is a wonderful world.

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End Boss Month #26: Super Smash Bros.

Coming up with a suitable boss to end a game is not an easy thing to do. Intentions of being grand can turn out looking hokey, as critics of Mass Effect 2’s Terminator Reaper might suggest. Or the difficulty of the encounter might not match up to expectations, or might simply be unfair, as was the case with Alpha-152. But what if the boss is an entity representing not a singular plot thread or universe? What if the game in question is something meant to be absurd, as was the case with Super Smash Bros.?

In a game and series that is known more for its eclectic cast of Nintendo characters past and present, what sort of foe would provide a proper match for everyone, from Mario to Captain Falcon? From Pikachu to Samus? The answer, apparently, is to throw a hand at them.

Tickle, tickle!

Master Hand has been the final boss of the standard single-player mode in every Smash Bros. game to date. A giant, disembodied hand, it awaits the player at the top of the arcade-style ladder. And if the right criteria are fulfilled, its left-handed (left-bodied?) companion Crazy Hand joins in on the fun. This is one pair that refuses to hold the applause until the end.

But really. Hands? You get to the end of the game, and you’re fighting the Hamburger Helper mascot? Well, yeah. I mean, Master Hand doesn’t endorse any dinner preparation kits, but it’s ready and waiting to slap fools off of the stage and into the stratosphere. And in a way, it makes sense, when you think about it. The Smash Bros. games are all about mixing it up between disparate video game characters for little other reason than the fun of it. Heck, the opening movie of the original Super Smash Bros. plays directly into the idea.

In a way, Master Hand and Crazy Hand are like the appendages of someone playing with their toys. It would be like sitting next to the coffee table and pretending that Cobra Commander, He-Man, Barbie and Leonardo are in a free-for-all, pulling off ridiculous karate moves as they send each other flying. And then, when only one is left, having the victor go up against their own fist.

So really, Master Hand is a child being abusive toward his or her own toys. Toys unwilling to put up with their master’s torment any longer. It’s like if Toy Story were crossed with Small Soldiers. (Man, there’s a reference I didn’t ever think I’d make.)

There’s little reason to doubt that Master and Crazy Hand will come back for the Wii U and 3DS incarnations of Smash Bros. Their slapping, punching, pounding, crushing and laser blasting are a part of what makes the games what they are. There aren’t many disembodied appendages that can say the same thing. Well, if they could say anything at all to begin with.

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