People on here often wonder why the video game industry takes strides to follow and show great deference to the movie industry, despite how well the former is doing compared to the latter - though I might've wanted to wait a few weeks after Transformers 3 and Deathly Hallows Part Deux stopped making mad ducats before throwing out unfounded factoids like that. The reason for this is because video games are inspired by movies. Almost entirely, in fact.*
Occasionally a video game will base itself on the original comic or book when a movie adaptation rolls around, as if to take some manner of literary high ground, but it's only because of that movie adaptation that the game exists at all more often than not. I might one day cover video games that are only inspired by literary sources, like Legend Entertainment's Xanth or Death Gate adventure games, but that sounds both interesting and a lot of hard work - hardly germane for this blog writer guy - so instead I threw something together about games that liberally borrow from Ridley Scott's sci-fi horror masterpiece Alien, because there's a lot of those and it was easy. *Cough*.
Rules: (Because I like rules? Back latent OCD tendencies, back I say!) The game has to be set in a claustrophobic, quite filthy and run-down spaceship. With a hostile alien on board. That part's important. I'm also focusing on games that use the horror beats, without too much in the way of gun-packed action scenes (because that's more Aliens. If I did games that borrow elements from Aliens we'll be here all week.) I'm also excluding all those games which are actually based on the Alien franchise, especially those where they fight their old friends the Predator. So no predatory aliens fighting alien predators, at least no famous ones. I'm also not going to do Dead Space. That game is taking a whole different "zombies but in space" direction and attempting to distance itself from the audacious Alien parroting that the original was happy enough to embrace. In fact, I'm just going to avoid games anyone has ever heard of. How about them apples?
* For an interesting take on this, and why video game storytelling in general is still kind of jank, listen to IT Crowd/Black Books creator Graham Linehan's theory on it.
The Orion Conspiracy
The Orion Conspiracy is an adventure game from small British development studio Divide By Zero, in a time where homegrown adventure games were the exception rather than the rule (Telltale Games, Wadjet Eye Games and the many other adventure game makers of today are hardly major studios and happy to carve out their own niche on Steam and other similar venues.) Divide By Zero are also responsible for the Gene Machine and the Innocent Until Caught games, which are quite a deal better than the Orion Conspiracy. As you might surmise from that last statement, this isn't a fantastic game.
No awful Mento puns in the title this week - I'm on the road to recovery. It's been a long road, as Rorie might say (or soulfully belt out). But that's neither here nor there, as what matters is that it's been a long time and my time is finally near to write a Level-5 retrospective.
Level-5 is a prestigious developer of (chiefly) JRPGs. Like all the best smaller JRPG studios (like Quintet), it's had a strong relationship with Enix, creating two well-received iterations of Enix's flagship Dragon Quest series. Along the way, it's also developed several respectable IPs of its own, such as everyone's favorite dapper puzzle solver Professor Layton, the deep Dark Cloud duology, the expansive Rogue Galaxy and the sort of disappointing White Knight Chronicles. I'll be reminiscing about several Level-5 games I've played since 2001, when the first Dark Cloud hit Western shores.
Dark Cloud is Level-5's first title, and is very much a game that hints at the greater hits to come. While plagued with the usual myriad of minor issues that are inescapable with any studio's debut, what mattered to fans (like myself) was how different it felt to everything else on the market. While the combat was classic action RPG, the dungeons generated on the fly like any familiar Diablo/roguelike and the characters more or less JRPG archetypes with little personality, the balance between its generic yet colorful and fun dungeon-delving and the thoughtful, sophisticated Georama puzzle/sim system is really what stood out. Like Pikmin, another IP debut with a lot of weight on its adorable shoulders, it had so much charm and innovation that the shortcomings could be easily forgiven. And like Pikmin, it was fated to receive a sequel that would completely shadow the original.
Personally, it was the first game that made me glad I had a PS2. After almost half a year of ownership. Slow start, but we all know how amazing the PS2's library would eventually become.
Dark Cloud 2 is fantastic. I love it to pieces. It's hard to write about it objectively, which is why this is a retrospective and not some attempt at me being some kind of professional game-writing-about kinda guy (perish the thought). It deepens both sides of the Dark Cloud equation: The combat has a stronger focus on elemental traits, and the balance between your ranged weapon (useful for fast, flying enemies), your melee weapon (useful for everything else) and the RidePod mecha (useful for bosses). The Georama is far more in-depth too, as you're no longer given entire pre-built houses and features but are rather given the blueprints and left to your own devices to gather the resources needed to make them. There's also the closely related photography and invention additions, the Spheda "mini golf with a difference" side-quest, the fishing side-quest, the weapon upgrade system (mostly intact from the original), and so on and so forth. It's hard to name a game that offers more for the player to be getting on with. But I sure do go on about Dark Cloud 2, and so we move onto..
Dragon Quest VIII was Level-5's big break. DQ has always rivaled Final Fantasy in its native territory for sheer fan numbers, and perhaps surpasses it. Everyone's aware at this point of how releases are timed to coincide with national holidays and weekends so Japan's entire economy doesn't seize up with everyone taking sickies to go play it. In an unprecedented turn, DQ8 was actually localized and released almost globally for the first time ever for the franchise. Usually, the States was lucky to get every other DQ title and Europe none at all. So not only was DQ8 the third ever game made by Level-5 and the first time they were ever given the IP of an outside organization, but it was also the most important JRPG release (or Japanese game in general, perhaps) of the year worldwide. A lot of pressure, then.
Needless to say, they nailed it. The huge 3D world, though mostly filled with dead space, was as colorful and bright as DQ has always been, and every other aspect (the Akira Toriyama design, the humor, the music) matched blow-for-blow Enix's consistently high standards for their flagship franchise. They kind of needed the boost after the dreck they've been producing as part of Square-Enix.
Rogue Galaxy was Level-5 coming back to the drawing board for a big new IP, something to rival Dark Cloud with the lessons they learned with DQ8 (and to a lesser extent their first portable: Jeanne d'Arc, a small but competent SPRG). Rogue Galaxy is, for appearance's sake, a sci-fi Dark Cloud - one that focuses again on the dungeon-delving and massive amounts of sanity-testing side-projects. However, for the strides it makes in characterization and story, it still lacks much of the depth of Dark Cloud that so enamoured the first wave of fans (or the Level-5 hipsters, I suppose, if JRPG fans can be called such a thing). It's a fine game, far surpassing most of their competition, but it still felt kinda slight. Besides a non-too-captivating bug raising and battling side-quest (which probably appealed way more to the Pokemon crowd) and an interesting Pipe Mania-esque factory simulator for creating new technology, it seemed like a step down in the amount of content it offered. Still, the different worlds you visit are amazing to look at and the giant bosses are well thought-out, so maybe they simply decided to strengthen the parts I perhaps didn't care so much about.
Great, but not the next trailblazer I was hoping for. Maybe I'm just picky.
And thus we come to present day, and the last Level-5 game I played. The Professor Layton series, now three-strong in Europe and the US and five-strong in its home turf, is undoubtedly the thing people think of when they think of Level-5 (that is, if they're the type to be aware of developers). It's their most famous and most popular IP at this point, and depicts the episodic adventures of a Victorian-era (though the occasional anachronism suggest it's some alternate history instead) professor and his apprentice as they solve puzzles to unriddle larger mysteries. Most of these puzzles have nothing to do with the mystery plot, and simply exhibit the sometimes inexplicable puzzle-loving nature of the duo and everyone they meet. Lushly animated and drawn in a storybook format, each new adventure is a treasure, though understandably after so many sliding block puzzles or chess piece conundrums, a little goes a long way. It's why I won't be playing Unwound Future until next year at the earliest.
The past three years were also Level-5's busiest, with a new Dragon Quest for DS (highly regarded, though I have yet to play it), bizarre soccer RPG Inazuma Eleven finally seeing a European release (but not the US, presumably because Europe's a huge fan of soccer?) and the aforementioned White Knight Chronicles, which again takes another step back from Dark Cloud 2's amazing diversity and simply focuses on dull MMO-type action RPG gameplay. WKC 2 is available to rent where I am, but I'm still kind of reluctant to try it. It's kind of a shame.
Level-5 is perhaps still my favorite developer, all things considered. It's a company I've been keen to follow over the years, unlike FromSoftware (the subject of my last ten-year retrospective) where my familiarity with their games turned out to be largely incidental. They're a little too recent to have been my motivation for pursuing game design as a career (my stint in university actually began before Dark Cloud came out) but if I were a little younger and had played Dark Cloud 2 during my formative years, it would've no doubt had the same effect. Here's hoping for a Dark Cloud 3!
Just a bunch of little things today. Why, it almost resembles a real blog. Scandalous!
So this is what I've been mostly doing all weekend and the days after the weekend, which I guess would be the weekstart. I don't mind admitting I've bought several of the items on my wishlist as they appear in the Daily Deals. Because why wouldn't I mind admitting that? I guess I should specify that what's actually been swallowing my time are the meta-achievements for free prize tickets. Apparently Steam doesn't have a skeeball simulator it can use. Put down your pirated Tower Defense Generator software and get on it, Indie developers. Anyway, here's what tickets I got so far and what advice I can condescendingly offer those still struggling:
Join that one group. - I guess you just join that one group. Good luck?
Link profile to Facebook. - To get this ticket you may need: A Facebook profile.
Post on a friend's profile. - Yeah, you tell that random duder you met on the internet who's boss.
Okay, I'm cutting this sorry exercise short. Bottom line is that a lot of them are really easy to get, so go get. Don't buy any games you don't want unless you think a horribly derivative $15 Tower Defense game is worth a pair of goddamn sunglasses. Still being condescending, sorry. Moving on.
Community Starlet? Moi?
Well that title suddenly got a whole lot less awe-inspiring.
Playing "Shadows of the Damned"
New Achievement System?
Well look at this guy, putting on designer airs. So this is an idea, or sequence of ideas, about a new and improved achievement system for a hypothetical future games console or some such piece of electronics. Maybe toasters? We don't know what the future holds. Essentially, this system simplifies achievements for the convenience of developers working on games (who could probably do well to just concentrate on the games themselves) while also making them more representative of the gamers that earn them.
As always, the name was the hardest part. Apparently I have a reputation with horrible names now. I was originally going to call these Mentokens, but that sounded a bit... Cho-Aniki. Then I thought Achievementos, but then I realized I should probably get out of the habit of creating terrible portmanteaus with my own name in them. So instead they're Lucky Charms. That's not going to get me into any legal issues down the road, probably. Here's how it goes down:
Each game gets 50 Charms to give away, not including the special three (see below). The developers choose which of the following three categories those 50 go into: Either focus on one, or spread them out across all three - this would obviously depend on the game they're making. The categories are, with randomly chosen icons representing them:
Hourglass - ENDURANCE
Endurance Charms are given to players that fulfill challenges that require a lot of time (such as time-trials or playing the game X hours) or a lot of repetitive work (killing X enemies, use a gun X times etc.) Each task rewards a number of Endurance Charms based on difficulty, or in this case zero difficulty and a lot of time spent. I know developers make these horrible achievements on purpose, so here's a category for them all to live in.
Bag of Gold - COLLECTIBLES
Collectible Charms are given to players who fulfill scavenger hunts or find all items in a level or sandbox-type environ. They reward careful exploration and, once again, dole out more Charms based on the difficulty of the task (or the number of stuff found).
Diamond - SKILL
Skill Charms are given to players who fulfill difficulty-based challenges, such as performing a trick shot or climbing the tallest structure or completing stunts. They reward player skill, which should be self-evident by the name. Knew I called it that for a reason.
Heart - GAME BEATEN
This is a single (per game) Charm given to players who beat the game on any difficulty with any ending. It simply states that the player has completed a runthrough of this game. Anyone viewing your Charm collection can see how many of these you have and know instantly how many games (and what games) you've bothered to beat.
Rainbow - GAME MASTERED
This is basically the Platinum Trophy equivalent, but it doesn't require the player achieve all the other Charms first. It's rewarded for any player that has:
Reached 100% Completion on the in-game progress indicator.
Beaten the hardest difficulty mode.
Defeated a very (or most) difficult challenge. (In case the first two don't apply, e.g. sports games)
Like the Heart Charms, there's only one per game and players can use them to instantly tell which games they've mastered.
??? - UNIQUE
This is a single Charm that's unique for each game, and shaped to be something befitting for the game it comes from. It can be awarded for anything (developers' discretion, and dependent on the game) and is considered the game's "souvenir". Like the Heart and Rainbow, it's considered a prestigious award and worth pursuing to make your profile all the more varied.
As gamers unlock these Charms and they start piling up on their public profile pages, other gamers (and advertisers? dun dun dun) can see what kind of games appeal to them based on the category of Charms they most favor. A predominantly Skill Charm gamer is one that relishes arcade-style challenges and pushing their reflexes and hand-eye-coordination, predominant Collectible gamers are those who enjoy taking their time and exploring, and the Endurance gamer is a very dedicated crazy person that could be recruited into your army of insane zealots and/or (or?) MMO guild. With this system achievements are no longer an arbitrary number of points or shiny things, but more like little scout badges that tell people where your strengths and inclinations lie. Plus I think it'd be handy to just have a way to tell if you've beaten a game or not without hunting for some eccentrically-named "beat game" achievement.
Start the Conversation
Yeah... that name's not sounding any better in my head. Plus, a top ten list is kind of a crutch for dudes who can't think of proper blog articles to write. Pro-Tip: It's always a great idea to start a blog on a severely negative note.
Chase bosses! I once stated in a prior blog that I hated those unbeatable bosses that trounce your ass for dramatic emphasis, generally because of how badly handled those unwinnable battles tend to be. But this particular vein of unbeatable boss, where they will chase you across a certain distance and creep the hell out of you with music stings whenever they show up, tend to be a very effective narrative tool for a game to drop into their world. They're anathema to taking your time to explore, which I generally prefer doing, but I still love how the designers play around the concept regardless. I checked GB and we don't really have a specific concept page here for it that I can find, but there's one over on TVTropesif you want more examples.
10. The Executioner (Alice: Madness Returns)
Once again, this is a blog that was inspired by something I've played recently, in this case Alice: Madness Returns. As you're making your way across the creepy dilapidated castle of the previous game's antagonist (and generally the antagonist of any adaptation of Alice in Wonderland) the Queen of Hearts, you're frequently beset by what I can only describe as playing card zombies. The worst of which being the imposing Executioner, who towers over Alice and is completely invulnerable. This usually leads to a chase before Alice is able to escape his grasp. Of course, she does eventually get the upper hand...
While the execution (so to speak) is nothing new, this is pretty much the archetype of what I'm talking about with this kind of boss. I'm introducing the article still!
9. Linda the Lungfish (Psychonauts)
Psychonauts starts out slow, as you gradually learn the ropes of psychonautin' with a few tutorial levels set in the minds of your camp counselors Sasha Nein and Milla Vodello and explore the environs of Whispering Rock Psychic Summer Camp. The game really picks up when you start following the disappearances and subsequent brainless reappearances of fellow campers and bump into this large, scaly customer above. Linda is, of course, a misunderstood and unwilling accomplice to the true masterminds, but that doesn't stop the sequence where she chases you across the seabed (with her perspective no less) sort of thrilling. If only it was the scariest thing waiting in the deep waters for Raz.
8. SA-X (Metroid Fusion)
When Samus Aran is overcome by a new creature, an airborne virus known as the X Parasite found on the Metroid's home planet, she almost dies on the operating table of the space station who kindly answers her distress call. She gets cut out of her old power armor and with a last second discovery is given Metroid DNA to fight the X Parasite's influence. However, the virus has taken over her old suit, killed everyone on board and goes after her when she awakes. Thus begins the terror of Metroid Fusion's SA-X. While Fusion is often maligned for whatever reason (I kind of think it can be forgiven for the Adam narration shit considering how much worse Other M messed that up), the SA-X is an awesome concept, as an unknown alien creature walks around in your suit, with all your strengths (especially the ice beam, which is now deadly to the Metroid-fied Samus). If you're going to throw out the old "Samus loses all her abilities" trope, it's a wonderful twist to have all those abilities stolen by an enemy that then comes after your weakened ass. Sure beats dopey old Dark Samus.
7. Kusabi (Fatal Frame 2: Crimson Butterfly)
Fatal Frame is the king of this kind of scenario. While most ghosts politely submit to the ghost-busting powers of the mystical Camera Obscura, there are a rude few that simply ignore its effects and make a beeline for your throat (they're big on throttling, Japanese ghosts.) While this is true for every major antagonist of the series, who traditionally can only be defeated towards the end of the game, it's also applicable to the "Kusabi" or Rope Ghost who shows up in Fatal Frame 2. This is a guy, an outsider usually, who had been tortured for days and thrown into a pit that leads directly to hell in order to quiet the malevolence down there. His ghost is, let's say, rather displeased with how shit went down. It's the only ghost that can instantly kill you if it gets close and it's the only one that has ceased to resemble a human being because it got cut up so badly before dying. The game doesn't even need to tell you to run like the dickens when you see this thing.
6. X-ATM092 (Final Fantasy VIII)
An early sequence of Final Fantasy 8 has the SeeD mercenaries-in-training complete their final exam, which is apparently to re-enact the Normandy landings where the Nazis are replaced with giant metal spider robots, like the X-ATM092 seen here. Because you're on the clock, when you finally complete the objective and the goonish recurring bosses set this giant bugbot on your tail, you need to intelligently consider your options: Fighting it is not a good option. Running is better. However, the reason this guy on the list is because of those options. You could fight the thing, but it's incredibly difficult to overcome its rapid regeneration unless you've overleveled yourself. You could hide and let it pass you by, but you'd be downgraded on the exam for cowardice. You can also scare a stray dog away so it won't get trampled for bonus compassion points. If you're able to make it back to the beach for extraction, you get a neat and slightly fetishistic cutscene of the hot librarian character gunning it down for you with the extraction ship's huge chaingun. It's just a fun early sequence all round, in a game that gets progressively dumber and harder to follow as it goes on.
5. Galcian (Skies of Arcadia)
Galcian is the military commander of the Valuan Fleet and the main antagonist of Skies of Arcadia. While the player does eventually get to face him in a regular boss battle, there are two instances where you're simply told he's too powerful and must make a break for it. The first of these is a sequence that perfectly highlights how scarily determined this man is: He calmly and silently stalks you on top of a moving train while you desperately run to the end to escape. The second has a major character sacrifice himself to give you a moment to escape; though this character is clearly no slouch in combat, it's a forlorn hope that he'll have any chance against Galcian and indeed is depicted dead in the very next scene, with Galcian admiring his courage. Similar to how overwhelming the mythos of Sephiroth becomes (who I feel is generally overrated at this point, but a definite contender for Badass of the Month back then), the game effectively builds a scary reputation - based on observations the player is both privy to and ignorant of - around this character and what they're capable of. Ramirez, in comparison, is just some punk who kills you a few times in those annoying unwinnable boss battles. Screw that guy.
4. ...Something (Silent Hill 3)
Silent Hill 3 treads familiar ground for most of its run. Though not as absurdly formulaic as future non-numerical entries would become, most of the scares and thrills in Heather Mason's journey to find her connection to Silent Hill had been covered by those taken by James Sunderland and her foster father Harry Mason (who perhaps began the whole Mason surname trend for video game protagonists) in the two previous games. Silent Hill 3 does have a few surprises in store though: One being the infamous "mirror" room and the scenes in the otherwise harmless Borley Haunted Mansion attraction in Silent Hill's theme park. Upon exiting the attraction, Heather is relentlessly pursued through a gauntlet of narrow corridors by the most enigmatic danger the town has ever presented: A fast-moving red mist that leaves footprints, an industrial whining and the distant echoed laughter of children. Silent Hill has been creepier and bloodier, but rarely has it matched this level of sheer what-the-fuck terror.
3. The Dahaka (Prince of Persia: The Warrior Within)
The Dahaka, like the Executioner, is a device used by the game (in this case, Prince of Persia: The Warrior Within) to occasionally test the acrobatic platforming prowess of both the protagonist and the player controlling them; An inability to stay one step ahead of this unbeatable menace would mean your death. So while this hardly elevates most chase bosses from, say, an ever-advancing wall of spikes or lava or thousands of spiders, the Dahaka is a special exception for being such a terrifying prospect for a player to deal with: It's no mere demon or sand monster but an incorporeal entity created by the space-time continuum to sort out uppity princes that decide to disrupt said continuum to save themselves. It is nothing short of a force of nature, and thus utterly unstoppable... at least until the game decides it's allergic to water for some reason. Because that plot development certainly made for a satisfying conclusion to Signs didn't it? The water thing does allow a temporary reprieve whenever a chase starts, but it's still such a disappointing cop-out. Still, the Dahaka is not to be trifled with - It already murdered a tiny dog with glasses, two weirdos in a Delorean and a couple of surfers in a phone booth long before it ever met the prince.
2. The Waterwraith (Pikmin 2)
I might just be letting my love of Pikmin 2 cloud my judgement putting this guy so high up on the list, but the Waterwraith created an interesting persistent puzzle for the Submerged Castle dungeon. Should Olimar and the Pikmin spend too long on any one floor of this oddly bathroom-tiled underground labyrinth this crazy music would start playing, the Waterwraith would drop out of the sky somewhere close and then start rolling towards you, with the intent to squish Olimar flat. While you could avoid him to an extent by keeping to the smaller niches and passageways, this omnipresent threat would stay with you until you were finally able to defeat him once and for all on the final floor after procuring a handful of Purple Pikmin. Most chase bosses are simply there to test your reflexes, or build some mystique around the character or world in which they appear, but the Waterwraith was a game-changer that forced you to reconsider your exploration strategy from "find garbage" to "stay the hell alive."
1. Baron Von Blubba (Bubble Bobble)
Blame nostalgia for this one if you'd like, as the Baron certainly doesn't look as visually impressive as the others on this list. But speaking for everyone who played Bubble Bobble as a tyke on the home consoles of the day, this little guy creeped the hell out of us. His very presence is the result of spending too long on any one stage; dawdling when there should be bubble bursting to be done. The invincible Baron von Blubba will simply chase you across the screen and kill you as soon as he appears out of the ether, with little recourse for the player than to hurry the fuck up and beat the stage. He's the ghost of a whale if you were wondering. He even has his ominous little tune, which goes to show how sophisticated games were back then: A little tune plays, everyone is eaten by ghost whales. No messing around.
Fortunately, that isn't actually a real thing. Nor will it ever, if HBO's usual aversion to merchandizing holds out. As the first season of the adaptation of George RR Martin's A Song of Ice & Fire series bows out for some nine months or so, I decided to peruse the grand archives of video gamerology for analogues of that franchise that the great gaming public can entertain themselves with while they wait for season two. This blog post kind of assumes you have some familiarity with either the TV show or the first book (there's no spoilers for the other books, nor do I want to see anything of the like in the comments. Pretty please?)
What I'm looking for specifically in these examples is a deeply layered high fantasy world, where political intrigue and civil wars of succession cause as much consternation and terror to the general populace as the wild monsters, bandits and vaguely supernatural horrors lurking in the periphery of their medieval-esque kingdom. Turns out that sort of thing is a more common staple than one might think.
It seems obvious now, in retrospect, that the world of Thedas is as heavily influenced by A Song of Ice & Fire as it is the usual granddaddy of fantasy: Tolkien's Middle Earth.
We have a loose coalition of baronies and territories, ruled by "Lords" and "Sers", that band together in only the most dire of cases (such as the semi-regular invasion of legions of boogeymen) and spend the rest of the time squabbling over perceived slights and inane political minutiae. The only constant, reliable defense against the darkness is an increasingly understaffed color-based (gray, not black) brotherhood of overly-serious warriors who swear lifelong vows to protect the rest of the ungrateful kingdom from the very worst that the vast, untamed wilderness has to hide.
Ferelden represents the North of Martin's world of Westeros: A group of dirty, stern canophiles with beards and broadswords and a fatalistic focus on the honor and duty of protecting the land from horrors untold. Orlais, meanwhile, depicts the sort of wealthy, decadent and willfully ignorant "civilized" capital of King's Landing, just as dangerous as the unlawful countryside but in a far more subtle and deceitful manner. Though more French.
FFT is notorious for its byzantine plot of a pair of pretenders for the throne of Ivalice, tangentially related to a massive supernatural conspiracy perpetuated by a clan of long-dead demons that once ruled the world.
Moreso than in any other video game, which generally make their characters into broad archetypes, there are various characters that attempt to hold onto their morals and values at the cost of their honor and public image. Ramza especially, as the protagonist, makes several decisions that at first estranges him from his noble knight heritage and then brands him a heretical traitor and terrorist, all from following his moral compass and protecting his friends. His common-born childhood buddy Delita, however, goes from strength to strength by deftly manipulating events to his advantage, with complete disregard for the hurt he's causing. This sort of "noble hero fails" paradigm was used to great effect in Game of Thrones also, in the downfall of poor Eddard Stark, as well as being a persistent theme throughout. Neither Ivalice nor Westeros is a world where heroes prosper.
While the other two games I've highlighted allow you to play from a character's perspective in a Game of Thrones type world, Birthright: The Gorgon's Alliance is a game that allows you to play as an actual state. Birthright is an obscure, older D&D module set around a massive war of succession for something called the Iron Throne (sound familiar?), with each pretender nation's leader using their ancestral bloodline as proof of their worth to rule. Because this is a fantasy world, these bloodlines actually date back to the time of the Gods, whom wiped themselves out in a massive war against their evil counterpart and passed on all their godly powers to the bravest and most suitable mortal combatants that fought alongside them. The descendents of these god-juiced mortals are the ones fighting between themselves now, with those backing the evil god (similarly boosted, though much more horrifically) becoming the ever-present supernatural threat.
The game itself isn't too great, as it spreads itself too thin with a lackluster first-person RPG "adventure" mode and an interesting-but-underdeveloped war strategy sim, but it's as close as you're going to get to controlling your own faction in a Game of Thrones' overarching civil war, feuding against rivals and demons both.
So there's your best three bets for getting your virtual Game of Thrones on. Unless.. wait, there actually is a Game of Thrones game? Holy shit, why?
So.. do I just delete this thing then? Which button does that.. this one?
..Really? Wha.. why do I come up with names like that? Some kind of self-sabotaging personality disorder? I mean what the fu-
Oh hey! I didn't see you there. So here's a new feature. Not just new for me, neither, but new for the internet or indeed any form of written article that discusses popular media: A list of ten items, written in a descending hierarchical fashion on an arbitrary "best" to "worst" axis. Because there's so many superpowers and superheroes in comics and movies, I've only chosen to showcase those exclusive to video games. (For the pedants: I'm sure several comic book characters have some of these powers too, but the video game characters they're associated with are far more well-known.)
Omnipotence, the power to control all things, is nothing new in video games. More than a couple games have you play as a God - though, admittedly, one that has limited amounts of power initially. Just basic old mountain moving and flood summoning, usually. If you're going to have a list of powers that the average human is unable to perform, you might as well start with all of them. Right?
Powers: Everything. Usually more limited than that, but the ones you have are so awe-inspiring that people will believe you capable of anything. Game (Character): Katamari Damacy ( The King of All Cosmos, when he feels like it), Populous (Protagonist), Black & White (Protagonist), ActRaiser (The Master.) Numerous other God-Sim games, where you reap in devout worship and all the puny mortals look like ants. This is especially true with SimAnt.
#2 The Slayer Within
From Gods to Demigods, the Slayer is the alternate form of the protagonist (and, theoretically, of any other Bhaalspawn) of the core Baldur's Gate series. The Slayer is an insanely strong physical attacker that's almost impervious to harm. It is, however, uncontrollable and rather not worth letting out for specific narrative reasons. To a lesser extent, this applies to dudes who change into werewolves, dudes who turn into dragons and dudes who simply go berserk. And the Hulk. Wait, I said no comic books. IGNORE THAT BIT.
Sucker Punch's non-procyonid wall-climber Cole MacGrath is perhaps the best-known example of a video game exclusive superhero. His electricity powers, though not completely novel, have been designed from scratch to match the sandbox environment and combat engine of the game he stars in. Powers act like a familiar mixture of guns and incendiaries, making acclimatization easy for those more used to firearms in games, complete with plethora of convenient distance-covering powers and some interesting weaknesses to water, blackouts and a consistent voice. If you hadn't guessed, me playing inFamous 2 is this week's blog idea source. So thank it.
Viewed as both a gift and a curse, immortality is the inability to die. In a very technical sense, pretty much every video game protagonist is immortal. Or at least an incredibly fortunate random time-traveler. But there's only a handful of video game characters where the immortality is a major plot point, chief of which is Black Isle's excellent but text-heavy adventure-RPG Planescape: Torment, where you solve a mystery that spans multiple dimensions. Sort of. It's an odd game.
The state of being Viewtiful. Essentially, you have a considerable amount of super-strength, super-speed and super-skill with acrobatics and the martial arts as long as you look good while fighting crime. Though the more naturally stylish have nothing to fear, those who are slightly more physically awkward might have trouble getting any use out of this ability. Still, if you have a series of bizarre supervillains to fight through in a highly-referential comedic world influenced by pop culture, and you aren't Michael Cera, it's probably best you don't look a gift V-Watch in the mouth. Or on the wrist. I.. you know what I mean.
Powers: Various superpowers, the effectiveness of which is conditional on your showboating. Game (Character): Viewtiful Joe ( Viewtiful Joe.)
#6 Holding One's Breath For Ten Minutes
Hey, that's a long-ass time. If you can't solve a series of mind-bending puzzles, each more fiendish than the last, within 600 seconds then perhaps you have no business being a mighty pirate. Just sayin'.
You might not think there's anything quite as epically lame as Captain Planet's youngest planeteer Ma-Ti's notorious power of "Heart", when all the older kids from more established continents got badass elemental powers, but as the show was so quick to point out - human empathy and love is perhaps the most powerful force in the universe. Only it kind of isn't. If you find yourself in some kind of lying children's cartoon or teenage angst anime (or a combination thereof, as is the case with Sora over here), your best bet is try to nurture some meaningful relationships with your cohorts because apparently that's boss killer material right there. Sigh. A cat would never lose to a mouse in real life either. And Santa? Let's just say I have serious doubts about that guy.
Powers: Nebulous. Usually it's just enough to shoot a rainbow beam of light and destroy the evil dark force forever. But that's all. Game (Character): Seriously any youth-oriented video game where the power of friendship card is played. They all have them.
As well as honoring the release of inFamous 2 by discussing superheroes, we're also honoring the long-due release of Duke Nukem Forever by discussing puerile humor only a 12 year old would appreciate. Boogerman is a fairly solid platformer, as platformers in the 16-bit era went, with an unfortunate emphasis on bodily excretions. Boys will be boys, I suppose. Boogerman's superpower is boogers and throwing the boogers so they hit bad guys and the bad guys get all grossed out and they die. Frank Miller did some interesting stuff with the license back in the 80s, but the video game neglected the grisly murders and crack whore subplots for more levels with boogers.
#9 Instinctively Being Able To Identify The Contents of Pizza Boxes Without Looking (But Only Pizza Boxes)
Slightly obscure PC superhero games are a perfect thing to drop in the middle of one's article if one feels they aren't being elitist enough. While the adventure game and RPG mechanics have become fairly dated (though still a fairly novel intermingling of the two), the humor and intelligence of this game has stayed fairly pristine. I guess. I suppose it doesn't shine quite as brightly in a world where oddball superheroes with not-particularly-useful and incredibly specialized abilities is a slightly more mainstream concept (thanks in part to Mystery Men), but there's still a profusion of amusingly bizarre superpowers in this game. Including the one outlined above, as used by one Madame Pepperoni. Protip: It actually comes in useful, but not often.
Powers: Instinctively being able to.. aw hell, just read the name. It's that. Soon as I figure out how to Copy-C and Copy-V, you guys are going to be sorry. Game (Character): The Superhero League of Hoboken (Madame Pepperoni.)
Having the "superpower" of diabetes is how Captain Novolin is able to suit up and spread awareness of the life-debilitating disease. While I can't knock the creators of Captain Novolin for wanting to spread awareness of a fairly common yet dangerous ailment to the kids of America and beyond, I can knock their vessel of choice for said message. Captain Novolin is a notoriously bad platformer that you all have no doubt seen mocked many times in internet articles and blogs funnier than this one. To actually make diabetes his superpower, though, is kind of stretching the limits of taste. To anything but "sweet". Sorry. Because of its poor quality, these days a copy of Captain Novolin is so rare that it costs a hand and a foot. Seriously, again, I'm so sorry.
So how about you dudes? Any video game specific superpowers that you know of that might be more deserving of acclaim? Want to talk about your experiences with inFamous or its sequel? Notice how I'm steering the discussion towards the article's content and not its name? That, my friends, is out of necessity and loathing.
Oh, I can be very stubborn. Tomorrow's attempt to distance myself from E3 2011 as far as possible: A list of consoles with awesome names.
Let it never be said that I won't deign to take my sarcastic replies and turn them into real blogs. Real stupid blogs.
Super Nintendo- It's like your Nintendo, but SUPERfied. More buttons, more colours (two whole shades of purple if you're American!), more bits! Remember when people cared about bits? Well, this thing has a lot of bits! It does what Nintendon't, but Super Nintendoes! Righteous!
Mega Drive - Hell yeah! We're going to mega drive this shit right into the ocean with sheer awesome! Plus, all your favorites like Shining in the Dark, Shining Force, The Shining: The Game of the Movie, Shines of Rage and Shiny the Shinehog! Best of all, compared to NES or SMS all the graphics are super shiny! Blast Processing! SEGA!
Intellivision - You want a TV that will use its considerable intellect to grow resentful of the meatbags that abuse it so and plot to murder your family in your sleep? Intellivision, duder! You want to see rectangles fight some squares in deep space, or play a sport where a bunch of Lego fight over a box made of smaller boxes, or even make Ryan wince in a Pavlovian response to the very sound of your console's name? INTELLIVISION!
Magnavox Odyssey - You wanna take an odyssey to the groovy universe of barely playable silent Pong variants? MAGNAVOX that shit! STRAP IT ON!
Commodore 64- Are you ready for something more gnarly than a Captain 32, but less mind-exploding than a Rear Admiral 256?! The Commodore will see you now! Games on magnetic tape that take ten minutes to load are the way of the future, dudes! Gag me with a spoon!
Game Boy - You want to fiddle around with a boy that's game? Then Nintendo has the console for you! And also the phone number for the police! Bogus! Megan's Law! Turbografx-16 - Oh fuuuuuck this shit just went TURBO! How tubular is that? Radical! "Graphics"? Snooze city! Too many letters! GRAFX is where it's at! HUDSONSOFT!
Sega Saturn - Named after a motherfucking planet! A planet with rings! You know who else loves rings? 360 owners! I mean, Shiny the Shinehog! See him save a bunch of birds in his most excellent adventure yet! Hope you like $300 Fighter games from Japan! Released in secret before anyone had a chance to promote it, because it was too awesome to contain! It eventually killed Sega as a console developer! SEGA!
PlayStation - Play in a station! Get hit by a locomotive! Totally bodacious!
Xbox - DAT HAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAALLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLO!
Man, I don't even know any more. I'm going to lie down.
So, first of all I want to say that I need to stop starting sentences with "So,".
So, today we'll move onto the next not-at-all-related-to-that-whole-convention-doohickey topic of dead things. Of the many eclectic groups, settings and concepts that people choose to build video games around, dead things rank as one of the most popular. Unfortunately, the dead things in these cases are almost always zombies. I'm going to create a list of other types of dead things, and the video games that choose to base themselves around them instead of zombies. If no such game has yet to be created, I'll make something up. Hooray for dead things, everyone!
NB: I haven't lost a pet and gone into shock or anything, though your concern is touching. Just been playing more Dead Nation is all.
Ghosts are spooky, right? They tend to play around with our fear of the unknown, rather than our fear of being eaten by zombies. Unlike zombies. That's why ghosts are better. The other awesome thing about ghosts is that there aren't really any hard rules on how a ghost works, or how they can be killed, or even if they can be killed. Most ghost stories either end with the ghost as an invincible menace that just kills everyone, or as a redemptive arc where the ghost's reason for unlife is discovered and resolved and the ghost floats off happily into the.. post-ghost world. Aww.
Revenants are usually depicted as skeletal undead, but have slightly more to them than your regular animated skeleton (which are too similar to zombies for the purposes of this blog.) The edge these guys have, is that they're basically undead Terminators. They absolutely will not stop until their chosen target is dead. This means regenerating tissue, hideously powerful combat prowess and the sheer fucking willpower to drag themselves out of the grave to take down the one that wronged 'em. Therefore they tend to be the bodies of once-powerful heroes brought down before their prime. If you see one coming, just let them pass, since they only attack their target and those in their way. Unless you are their target. In which case you're going to need Kyle Reese or an industrial crusher or something. Good luck!
Games: Well, there's the eponymous Revenant. He's just a resurrected dude, though. Revenants appear in both Dragon Age (both as extremely powerful undead, usually from the corpses of powerful adventurers) and Baldur's Gate 2 (as a dude who really wanted his knife back.) Really, though, anything where you play a dude come back to life to kill your killers counts. Including The Crow. That was a fun movie. This is now a Screened blog.
Mummies are really just zombies in wrapping paper. But the whole Egypt mythology kind of elevates them as something slightly more powerful and sinister. They are deceased Pharaohs that lived millennia ago, especially embalmed to survive as long as possible, which makes them rather durable zombies if nothing else. If you believe those wacky Mummy movies, they have a few magical tricks up their considerable sleeves as well.
Games: Well, the stand-out would have to be Sphinx & The Cursed Mummy, where you play as both generic sword-wielding demigod hero Sphinx and as the Cursed Mummy, who is actually an unfortunate (once)-mortal prince. The Mummy sections are by far the best and most inventive, as you use the Mummy's immortality to repeatedly set off fatal traps to solve Tomb Raider type puzzles. Mummies, of course, have been regular enemies in many a D&D-esque adventure. Tip: If all else fails use fire.
Liches, though traditionally another synonym for walking corpses, have been upgraded by the D&D system to be ultra-powerful mages that have discovered the secret of eternal life if you're not too bothered about skin retention or appearances. Liches tend to be very determined individuals who have chosen to live forever for a specific purpose, and it's usually not something that will benefit those that are still living. If you're a regular RPG hero, this is the one undead thing you probably don't want to bump into. Except maybe a Dracoliches, because there's nothing that can't be made scarier by turning them into a dragon.
Games: While most games won't let you play as a Lich, since they're kind of incorrigibly evil, there are a couple. If you're playing as a Necromancer, (as, say, in Might & Magic VII) becoming a Lich is often the highest priority for your character. Strategy games that let you play as the nefarious side of an epic good vs evil struggle will often have a Lich commander too.
So while all the E3 nuts are going cuckoo for the Wii U, we're back to this refreshing alternative that has nothing to do with a major electronics convention happening around this point in time.
Today, I'm going to discuss the Diablo clones I've played and if anything can be salvaged from these many brazen imitators released in the 15 years since the first Diablo graced our CD-ROMs (Really? 15 years? Why do I keep doing this to myself...) Once again, this is inspired by a recent game I've played (that would be the complementary Dead Nation for PSN users, which I shouldn't really be disparaging since it was a freebie.) Obviously, one could make the case that these games are actually borrowing the far older Roguelike formula and adapting it for an age where all games have amazing non-ASCII graphics ( Dwarf Fortress notwithstanding of course) and gameplay engine capabilities, and just so happen to all play in an isometric top-down format with large mobs and randomized magical loot. I mean, you could make that case. If you were stupid.
Revenant is actually a lot like the Dreamcast Record of Lodoss War game, as you begin as a resurrected warrior with no backstory. You're summoned because the realm has run out of warriors that can handle the encroaching darkness, and has decided to fight necromancy with necromancy. As you explore and slay things in a traditional isometric format, memories of your original life start to seep in.
As Diablo clones go, it's not too awful. There's some variation in the combat, as you can choose between specific types of attacks to suit the enemy you're facing, as well as a slightly more in-depth magic system than clicking the "yo, this one does fireballs" icon. Overall, it's certainly one of the better copycats. Honestly, given how the game industry tends to work, there's nothing wrong with stealing another game's gameplay if you do something interesting and different with it. My usual issue with these games is how they're advertised, as "You liked DIablo? We got something like that but even cooler: You play a corpse!" is unfortunately the direction they tend to go with.
Darkstone is a little more overt with their take on the Diablo dungeon-crawler. It more or less lifts the premise wholesale, with the player arriving in some non-descript town full of NPCs prepared to sell you shit or send you off on a series of errands. It all has this perfectly functional and uncharacteristic feel to it, like you're playing the game's working beta to make sure it's operational before the designers stick all the personality in.
It does have its own house band though, singing something about a dark stone shining. So I guess that's where the name comes from. You also get quests from a giant hologram head, so if you ever wanted to play a medieval-esque Fantasy Diablo-clone with elements of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers thrown in, this is your chance. While Darkstone was predominantly a PC product, I believe there was a PS1 version that probably looks a hell of a lot worse. Go nuts, console fans.
Nox mixes things up a little by making the hero an Earth teleportee. While this plot element is nothing new as far as fiction in general goes (I don't really count a plot hook as captivating if its adopted by half of the cartoons made in the 1980s), it's pretty new for a Diablo clone.
The game is slightly more linear and less "back and forth from a hub world" than most Diablo games of its time, and it actually looks kind of good. Also, unlike most Diablo clones, the dungeons are the same each playthrough and you're really just chasing the story through cutscenes delivered in a manner similar to the Infinity Ward games. However, it's still highly derivative of the Diablo format, especially with its real-time click-click-clickety-click combat.
I was going to separate these, but since they're functionally identical I think I'll just double-up. There's a sequel for both as well, so that's a full quartet of PS2 hack n' slash dungeon crawlers. Honestly, if you wanted the console Diablo experience in the last decade, these games were your best bet despite being the furthest thing from trailblazers for the genre. It is a little egregious that they felt they needed to use the Baldur's Gate name too (I couldn't care less about the EverQuest name being dragged through the mud, sorry Marino) if only because of how it's an ideal example of the chasm in complexity that exists between PC gaming and console gaming. Especially when that's mostly imagined by the PC gamers. They didn't need the extra snark fuel is what I'm saying.
I was all prepared to be sarcastic about this series too but, hey, if Uwe Boll made a movie about your video game, it's gotta be pretty amazing am I right?
Dungeon Siege's primary and perhaps only contribution to the Diablo clone army is the addition of a pack mule, which uses up a slot you could use for another hireling. It's an interesting dilemma: Do you want an additional fighter for the many extra opportunities it gives you when formulating a strategy for combat? Or do you want more space to carry shit between shop visits? Because who even cares about all that combat and gameplay nonsense, really?
I try to sound like I'm above this game but then I bought Space Siege. So by all means take everything here with a pinch of stupid.
Honestly, I have no idea what to say about this game. It's an XBLA Diablo clone before Torchlight came along and made it completely redundant. It's still a lot cheaper if you don't particularly care either way though.
Honestly, it's not like I can tell the difference between a Diablo clone made by an Indie team for five bucks or a richly-layered PC Diablo clone port made by a full development team for 15 bucks. You kill things and steal their shit. Sometimes there's secret walls. Help me out here, someone?
Guess I should mention Torchlight too. It's probably the best Diablo clone on the market, if you're into that sort of thing. And if you are, you already own it. I'm sort of wasting my time bringing it up, huh? I will remark how combining the pack mule and an extra fighter into one versatile pet was a nice way to eliminate your closest competitors by making them look stupid.
A pretty crappy alternative, mind, but we all do what we must. I've never liked E3, but I'm aware I'm in the minority. Everyone loves hyping themselves up for games that are still months away, and who am I to stop them? Some guy writing blogs about anything but E3, that's who.
So how is everyone today? Play any new games? There's a few out, though not many good ones if the reception Hunted and First Templar are getting (two surprisingly similar games about pairs of wisecracking adventurers taking down evil in a heavily action-based, only slightly RPG-based manner.) Still, inFamous 2 is out momentarily and I can be pretty psyched about that at least. Game of Thrones is picking up too, though it ends in a fortnight with cliffhangers that won't be resolved for years. Overall, as Summer entertainment goes, there's been a surprisingly decent amount of it so far.
For the rest of this blog, I'm going to be snippy about a series of features from a fairly mediocre JRPG I just beat (Tales of Innocence, since I'll be mentioning it a few times), and talk about how happy I'd be to never see them again:
Airships - Airships are cool, yes, but totally impractical. You need a lot of helium for one thing (and that shit has the unfortunate tendency to float off into space), and quite a considerable degree of technology to create something that can stay aloft and yet produce a lot of power for propulsion. What's worse is how often games will simply allow just anyone to pilot the damn things. In Tales of Innocence's case, it's Ricardo the Sniper Merc a.k.a. Solid Snake with a goatee. He's particularly good at shooting people and has limited skill with anything else. But, no, we'll just throw him the keys and let him get on with it. I mean who cares, right? We have places to fly to.
Guild "Missions" - By "missions" they mean "random repetitive tasks." ToI has these in spades but they're not so integral to the plot to be as annoying as they could be. However, there are games (like the Tales crossover series Radiant Mythology in fact) that base their entirety on this pointless exercise. Of course, a large amount of the game's inventory, monsters and hidden scenes are hiding in these randomized pits either way, so that's 100% out of reach for those who care until you've spent hours doing pointless work that does nothing for the story or one's ability to enjoy life.
Dungeons Without Maps - I guess we're supposed to just follow the left hand wall, then? Fine, okay. Just so we're clear here, I'm not talking about FFXIII type dungeons - I'm talking about dungeons with path deviation. Forks and crossroads and the like. As in, the type that could really use some sort of map system. Preferably. If it's cool.
Random Encounters - Couple this with the last one and it's tons of fun. Of course, ToI doesn't have random encounters, because you can see the enemies on the map just as they spawn directly in front of you and sprint at you at the speed of thought. So the battles are clearly optional in that particular game's case. Roll my eyes.
Make the Hero Someone Not Awesome - Tales isn't actually too bad at this. At least compared with a certain other long-running JRPG series. Stahn, Reid, Cless and Lloyd were all well-meaning (but kind of dumb) heroes who could legitimately kick some ass. Ruca/Luca (ToI) and Emil (Symphonia 2) are the biggest wusses this side of a Kingdom Hearts game. Do not go to that place, Namco Bandai. You do yourselves a mischief.
Recurring Bosses - Man, I hate these. But I guess that's the point? Oops. Let's skip over this one. Just assume there's a reason they've grown vastly stronger each time you meet them.
Undefeatable Bosses - Okay, I guess I prefer the recurring ones to these guys. Unless they're a recurring undefeatable boss. Holy shit, I hate you Beatrix. Best way to design a boss fight like this? Have the boss kill you IMMEDIATELY. You want to build up a "holy shit, this dude is serious" atmosphere with your eventual end-game boss? Just have them instantly win. Bam, down, one move - we're all done for. Don't string it out with the "cat and mouse" bit with weak attacks and allow us to use all our items first.
To recap: I'll be doing one of these blogs, about any old thing I can think of, every day this week. It'll be just like the E3 live feed, where I'll talk about old games and Braid for half an hour instead of E3! Fun times for all.
The next ones might be less churlish and sarcastic.