RPG's That Belong On The Vita

People often ask me how I like my Vita. More people don’t ask me what I think of my Vita. I find however, that whether or not someone asks me for my opinion on the Playstation Vita, I am giving my opinion of it. I love my Vita. I think it is a fantastic system with a library that is small on its own, but is actually really large if you take into account the extras. It plays PSP games, it plays PS1 games, and it has a lot of great games on its own. What I think gets you the most value in this system though, is the types of games you see in the available library. My PSP got a lot of play not because of the short, quirky games; which were fun, don’t get me wrong. The Japanese-style RPG’s are where the real value is on Sony handhelds. My PSP was a JRPG machine, and my Vita has quickly turned into that as well. Between the PS1 Classics, which include Final Fantasy V, VI, VII, VIII, IX, as well as other venerable series such as Breath of Fire, and the PSP library, which has things like Final Fantasy Tactics: War of the Lions and Persona 3 Portable, the Vita has thousands of gaming hours available in the back catalog alone, often times for cheap.

Despite the massive amount of gaming choices available for the intrepid RPG gamer on the Vita, there are some glaring holes in what is otherwise a stellar library, especially from the PS2 era. While a few of these games are old titles that really have no reason to not be available on the Vita, some are more modern titles that while great on their native systems, would feel a lot better on Sony’s powerful portable. I know at times there would be a great deal of work needed to even think of getting the game on the Vita, but I don’t care. This is a wish-list.

Lost Odyssey: This beast of a game came out in 2007 on the Xbox 360. One of the first attempts on the Microsoft system to woo Japanese gamers, this game came by way of Mistwalker Studios, headed by Final Fantasy creator, Hironobu Sakaguchi. Coming in at 4 discs and featuring the first 1080p graphics for a RPG on the system, Lost Odyssey was probably the best Final Fantasy game of the generation, despite not coming from Square Enix. It felt a lot more like a Final Fantasy than the garbage featuring Lightning. The hurdles of getting this game to the Vita are most likely too numerous for this title to ever be given serious thought. First of all, I am pretty sure Microsoft helped Mistwalker make parts of the game, which makes it unlikely it would cross over. Also, the game is huge, at 4 discs, there are probably a ton of art and sound assets that would need to be downscaled to a large degree to give this game a prayer of working on a handheld. It’s a shame too, because this would probably be the perfect game for the Vita. It still looks great today, sounds great, and reminds you why Final Fantasy was so good in the SNES and PS1 era.

Dragon Quest VIII: This game is coming out on iOS. Frankly that gives it no excuse as to why it couldn’t be ported over to the Vita. This long, pitch-perfect adventure came out in 2004 on the PS2 and really took hold in North America in a way Enix had never seen previously. If you’re ready for a 60-hour anime RPG, then this game is amazing. Akira Toryama’s art really popped on the PS2, basically making the game look like a swords and sorcery version of Dragonball Z, complete with spiky-hair super-transformations. The powerful and sharp screen of the Vita would be a perfect fit for this game, and being on the PS2, file size honestly would not be much of a concern. Also this game was a PS2-exclusive until only recently. Compared to Lost Odyssey, Dragon Quest VIII is a title that really shouldn’t have many hurdles in coming to the Vita.

Shadow Hearts: It is not often a Japanese RPG takes place in Europe right before the first World War kicks off. But then again, not all games are Shadow Hearts. Featuring a great combat system that keeps the player engaged with active button timing, and a story that was off the walls bonkers with demons, looming war, and general Japanese insanity, this is a game that blazed its own path back in 2001. Spawning a couple of sequels, these games have a dedicated following to this day that will probably continue to be nothing but saddened by the handling of the IP. Chances of this game are basically nil, with the developer Sacnoth (eventually Nautilus) going under, and the rights now in the hands of Aruze Gaming. Aruze has absolutely no interest in the property, with no mention of it anywhere on its website, presumably because it is not a neon slot machine. This is a real shame, because in our HD era, people deserve to see this great gem.

Suikoden III, IV,V: Every day, I am becoming more and more sure that Konami secretly hates its fans. The first Suikoden came out on PSN very quickly, and then nothing. It seems like there may be a glimmer of hope on the horizon with Suikoden II, as it was recently reviewed for classification by the ESRB. However, it doesn't mean the downtrodden fans of Konami’s hidden gem should rest on their laurels. Suikoden III was an amazing game in its own right; featuring great visuals, and three well-developed protagonists. Suikoden IV tried some new stuff and was hit and miss, but had a great setting that allowed the series a little freedom from its past for a bit. Suikoden V was a sprawling adventure that featured so many callbacks to games past, it felt like a big thank you from Konami to those of us who had stuck with the series since the PS1. However, that thank you was quickly followed with a fuck you, with the only Suikoden game coming out since then was the terrible DS title, and then nothing but silence. I cannot help but feel that the only reason these games could not come to the Vita is Konami’s stupid insistence to forget these games were ever even made. They were all on the PS2, and could probably come out as a collection similar to the FFX HD on the Vita; one title on the cart, and the other two get downloaded through PSN. Or sell them individually for ten dollars each, it would be nice to see this series get the love it deserves.

Dragon Force: I thought this was the longshot of my initial list, until I did some reading aboutShadow Hearts. A mainstay of my Ebay search history, this game came out for the Sega Saturn in 1996, and was nothing short of a revelation for me. Featuring deep, “Rock-Paper-Scissors” gameplay hidden behind colorful, engaging army battles, and the absolutely perfect localization job of Working Designs, this game is something that was experienced by far too few people. This is a long, but highly replayable game that would be perfect for a portable system, especially the Vita’s snappy suspend function. Sega seems to own this game outright, so I really don’t see anything that would stop it from coming out on PSN, or even as a full-fledged re-release. Maybe the localization would have to be redone, since Working Designs is no longer around. XSEED did a great job on the PSP Lunar though. So maybe in my dreams, Sega could contact them, and I wouldn’t have to buy a Saturn, and a 100 dollar copy of this game on Ebay? That would be nice.

I have a few other JRPGs I would love to add to this list, but they will have to wait for another time. However, I have to say, if even half the games from this list made the jump to the PS Vita, I would say it was the definitive machine for games in this genre. It may in fact already have that title, but as always there is room for improvement, and I hope to see it. Until next time.

-Ray Grohosky

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Will I Go To PAX East Again? I Don't Know

The last few weeks have been stressful ones to me. I have been trying to figure out a few things that have been weighing heavily on me. Mainly next steps in my life, because right now, things are not going to well. For a long time now I haven’t been doing the right thing when it comes to actually starting my life. I am almost 30 years old and I still live with my parents for instance. I get it, the economy is hard, tons of people are moving back with their parents. But still, I always fashioned myself a smart guy, who should be able to do something with all of this. But unfortunately for most of my life, I have also been lazy. I wasn’t willing to put much work into anything. Well for a while now, I have been working to turn that all around, and I kept on being told that a good fit for me would be law school. So I went, took the LSAT’s, did well, and even got accepted into a local law school last week. They even offered me an eighty percent scholarship to go. It seems like despite the work I put in to get to that point though, I am going to walk away from that money, from that acceptance, and find something else.

That life, the life of a lawyer is not something for me. I don’t want to work 90-hour weeks, and sacrifice my free time to writing briefs. I would be good at it, but I would hate myself for it. Much the way I did when I worked in car insurance. So I am weighing other options now in the job front, trying to see what’s right for me. What can get me a stable living in this uncertain time? I wish it was writing about games. I love to do so, and I think I need to start doing this again, regularly, stop being lazy, start pushing content, not just written. But can I count on this to be a stable job? Maybe one day in the future, when I have taught myself a lot more and paid a lot more dues.

But until that day comes, I am looking at other options that will allow me to provide for a future. I don’t want to be rich, I have no need for expensive cars, or clothes. I just want to be able to do a job, then come home, and live my personal life. But yeah, stressful times lately.

Stressful. Every year, I do something that normally alleviates that stress. It’s a busy time, but ultimately fulfilling and totally worth the trip and expense. But this year it was not the same. PAX East was exceedingly busy, cramped, full of hassle and frankly boring. First off, my biggest gripe. Lines are a part of any convention. I expect that. But the way lines are handled is really what defines the quality of a large event. If you’re in a line, you’re ready to wait, especially if you show up early for a big event. Like I did. It did not go well.

The Giant Bomb panel for PAX East, easily the highlight of my PAX experience, started at 9pm on Saturday. I got there insanely early, at about 5pm, to ensure I would have a good spot on line. However, there were other panels for the same theater first and those obviously needed to be lined up and shown in. That’s no problem, that is the way it should work. However, it was obvious I was not the only one willing to wait hours for the Giant Bomb panel. In my immediate vicinity there were about 50 people also waiting patiently, wanting a good spot in the auditorium. We were not in a line, because well…we tried to form a line, but the Enforcers said we could not form a line yet. So instead we simply mulled about in the general area, which kept on getting pushed back to a different area. This was annoying, but a few of us were joking about it, happy that we were at least early enough to get to the front of the line.

Then…we got moved again, down the hallway, to a place where there was apparently another line that we were not told about. And we got put in the back of this line. Really? I get these people had been waiting too, but who had decided this was the official line? In the end, we got alright seats, as the line then got repeatedly folded in on itself, and a mob was formed, which allowed those who were willing to get a better place in line by just repeatedly jostling forward.

While the panel itself was great, that really isn’t the point of this. Anyone presenting at PAX East this year did a great job, as they always do. The main failure of the convention was how it was setup. It felt stupidly busy, the Enforcers were not particularly helpful this year, especially compared to years past. They had no leadership, which led to several Enforcers giving conflicting information for the same thing. They also need to plan better for the better panels, like Giant Bomb, like the PA panels.

On top of this, the convention staff itself was handling things horribly. I know the city is being careful after the horrible events of last year, but designating so many doors as exit only is extremely frustrating. Doing this created way too many choke points with way too many slow bag checks. All this lack of communication, and lack of convenience killed the event for me. It made everything feel very tiring and pointless. It made me not want to track down cosplayers, it made me not even want to bother waiting for panels. And the floor was too choked, and honestly not even as impressive as years past.

It was not the relaxing event I go to every year. I don’t know if it because I am just older, or if the show has truly lost a step in its execution over this last year. I know the PAX team has a lot on their plate right now with Australia, and now San Antonio, and it is possible they’re simply overextending themselves. Honestly, there is a strong possibility I will still go next year, but it will be with less enthusiasm, and I honestly won’t be too broken up if it doesn’t happen.

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Bravely Default's Demo Is What Demos Should Be

Bravely Default feels less like a demo, and more like a game made as proof of concept. Now this is not to say the game feels unpolished, quite the opposite actually. It isn't like that video Squaresoft made way back when showing Final Fantasy VI characters on the technology of the N64; it is an oddly complete package that shows in full the promise of the systems contained over a longer narrative. What is even more impressive about this package is that while the systems are (from what I am guessing) abbreviated, they are by no means anything short and easy. This is a demo that requires genuine effort to get through (which in RPG terms usually means grinding), and from what I can tell, gives the player an accurate prediction of what the final product will be, while not giving any of the plot away.

That is really the key here for the Bravely Default demo; it is not a piece of the game cut up and given for free for people to try. From what the demo says at the start, and from what I have read elsewhere; the fine people at Square-Enix and Silicon Studio crafted a unique adventure for the demo. This adventure comes complete with its own story; which is a little shallow, but gets the point across. This also allows the experience to remain entirely self-contained, spoiling nothing in future play. It also has its own system of upgrades and leveling that keep the demo tightly contained. While in most longer JRPG's, going from a Long Sword to a Mythril Sword isn't often a big deal (it happens usually very quickly in most Final Fantasy games), this small, 6 hour adventure made me feel like a badass when I finally got access to those Mythril weapons. The combination of the equipment and Job Class leveling loops allows the demo to keep expectations right where they should be in terms of scale, and time reward for time invested. While I have no doubt the proper game will have an expanded loop of equipment and skills to gain, the demo does a good job of giving us just enough items and new abilities to make the time sink of grinding and using the social features worth it.

Speaking of the social features, allowing a large number of the Streetpass bonuses to carry over to the main game is probably the best reward this demo offers. It seems like the optional quest to rebuild this town to access extra supplies will be one of the more time-consuming things Bravely Default has to offer. This is especially compounded if you aren't able to amass Streetpass friends to help cut the time requirements down. By allowing us to start building a decent construction team of at most 20 going into the game when it comes out, Square is allowing us to get a big head start on the beginning of Bravely Default, which is honestly a very nice reward.

Everything about this demo can be easily summed up by a very simple statement: This demo, and the game by extension was crafted by a team of RPG veterans who have seen what works, and what doesn't over their careers. Everything in Bravely Default's very long and satisfying demo is tightly controlled and is there to show the players exactly what they will be doing, on a far larger scale when the came finally comes out in North America. More companies should take notice of what Square-Enix has done here and think about how they present demos to their players. While I am sure this isn't the first of its kind, it is the one that has resonated with me, as it seems to have for gamers everywhere. The combination of free, extra content, decent story and long-term rewards is a very enticing carrot that was dangled in front of 3DS owners. It was a great 6 hours of my time, and I hope Square remembers how fun this demo was when it comes time to make future RPG's.

-Ray Grohosky

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I didn't think today would be like this

I love video games. Ever since I was a kid, and I first got the hang of Super Mario Bros on the NES, I was hooked on video games. I was a much different person back then; I was athletic, played a ton of sports, and was very outgoing, on top of me playing Mario, Captain Skyhawk, Kirby and other titles that make up some of my fondest childhood memories. I memorized all the puzzles in Concentration, so I could actually guess the puzzle often by just taking away two tiles.

As I got older though, I changed a lot. My teenage years saw me playing more and more games, especially once I got a job, and my own income. Then I was able to purchase titles myself. I started hanging out with more people who also liked games like I did; more than the curiosity most saw them with back then, more than a child’s toy my parents, and no doubt countless other parents saw them as. We saw games as a passion, as something, even as we entered a sort of proto-adulthood, started worrying about college, dating, starting to drive, we came back to games.

I watched my friends, twins play Final Fantasy V long before it came to America. They had this translation guide, it was this fucking huge binder, that they would use to get what was going on, and what the menus meant. I got emotional when Aerith died in Final Fantasy VII, I sweat bullets while getting the hell out of Raccoon City in Resident Evil 2. Back then, games were just games, as much as my passion for them kept going. I never thought to do anything more with them, not hold them up as art, not design any, nor write about them, at least in a way for others to read.

College came and went, and I realized I would rather be in my dorm, playing Suikoden V then going to class, so often that’s what I did. I ended up limping through my degree, with a Bachelor’s in History that I didn’t even want to use anymore. Suikoden V may have contributed to that.

Now let’s fast forward to more recent times. I still play video games. I have since started writing on this blog, and blogs before, trying to get people to see and for some reason take in the idiotic words I write. For as much as I loved video games, and loved to write about video games, I had never taken the whole culture of video game journalism as seriously as I should have.

I read a few sites, followed a bunch of comics, but never actively searched out more. I always should have, but I was always lazy, with this thing I supposedly loved, pretty much par for the course with me. I only stuck to a few sites I knew, and sometimes new ones would catch my attention and I would read those.

Well it’s taken 500 words, but let’s get to something resembling the point. I only started reading Giant Bomb recently. Maybe a year ago, maybe less. Pretty much the second I read their writing and listened to the podcast, I was immediately full of regret for not doing this earlier. Not getting in on the ground floor. Of course I knew Jeff Gerstmann got fired from Gamespot, everyone who liked games knew that.

What I regret is missing out on some of the most honest, not-caring about outside factors games journalism out there. That crew would never be afraid to say a high-profile game sucks, nor were they afraid to make friends in the industry, getting tight to a point where other journalism outlets would be uncomfortable. But at the heart of it all is that amazing group of people who write words and talk, and put up videos for the great site. Giant Bomb, since the inception has seemed to have incredibly little turnover. No one has really left, even those who moved away like Alex Navarro and Patrick Klepick still work for Giant Bomb, they simply alter their normal work-life accordingly.

Ryan Davis however, was there since the start. I have gone back to the archive of Giant Bomb, listened to the old Arrow Pointing Down podcasts, and when the name Bombcast was first coined. He was this energy drink-swilling guy who despite leaving a company in protest for the shitty treatment of one of their employees, still obviously loved his field, his job and what he reported on.

I never had the pleasure of meeting him personally, only seeing him in person at the PAX East 2013 Giant Bomb panel. But it was obvious from hearing his constant enthusiasm, his common-place laughter, and seeing what he brought to the site that he was a man, who despite seeing the worst his field had to offer, loved his job, and loved video games. That is the part that gets me. All too often, I find myself getting burned out, even in this amateur space, thinking I have to play something, or I should be doing this or that.

Ryan was a professional who it seems lived the maxim, “If you love what you do, you never work a day in your life.” No matter how tiring or hectic things got, he participated in content, kept everyone focused, and helped ensure a great time was had by all, both people participating in whatever was happening, and people viewing/listening to it. His death, at the incredibly young age of 34 is truly a shocking blow to a field of journalism I have come to love very dearly, and this field as a whole will never fully recover from losing such a great contributor. All the more saddening, even more than his age, is the fact Ryan was recently married, mere days before his death. I cannot imagine the hurt his new wife feels at his passing, nor the rest of his family. All I can do though, as someone who writes about video games in this very amateur sense, is try to take some lessons from the type of person Ryan Davis was when it came to his work.

We never know when we are going to go. Our time on this planet, this great, beautiful, scary, hectic and wonderful place where our family and friends reside is very limited. For some, much more limited than others. However, in the time we have, we truly owe it to ourselves to do what it is we want to do, whatever it may be. For the people reading this, the vast majority no doubt find some sort of fun, love and/or comfort in playing video games. Others, like me, playing and writing about them, or shooting video, whatever. However, and others may have this problem; I am lazy, and get down on myself, and get burnt out on what I think I should be doing. I don’t want to do that anymore. Even if I am not a professional like Ryan was, I still want to be able to exhibit joy in what I do, in what I plan on doing, and be constantly proud of what comes of that desire. Ryan has been there with Jeff on Giant Bomb since the start, and I hope that everything that led him to his final moments, he was able to be proud of. A recently married man, who was able to make his living by actually doing something he loved, with great people all around him. That is a life to truly aspire to, and while he was taken from this Earth way too early, I hope we can all take a lesson from a guy who drank anonymous breast milk for two hundred dollars on a stage in Boston.

-Ray Grohosky

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Visual Novels, RPG's and Fighting Games

Months ago, Gamestop had some weird-ass random sale where they were selling Persona 4: Arena for 20 dollars. Why not go pick it up? I had recently completed Persona 4: Golden, which ended up as my favorite game ever, and I heard that this…fighting game was somehow a worthy follow-up to the story that had forced me to stare at my PS Vita for over 100 hours. Sure, why not. I had heard about this game long before I even played Persona 4, and even then I knew it was a bit of an odd-duck. An Arc Systems fighting game, with all those insane bells and whistles; paired with the story depth of an Atlus RPG? On the face of it all, sounds like it’s going to be a mess. A horrible…pile of crap. Much to my surprise though, it’s not. It’s not the perfect distillation of a Persona style story, but it is more than competent. While this sounds like the start to a traditional review, I am not even going to bother with this game. While I do like it, and right now would rate it pretty high, that is because I bought it for one reason: the Story Mode. Maybe one day I would throw myself into actually learning the various systems, and playing online. After all, I do have some history with Guilty Gear, before the time of ubiquitous online play. But that is besides the point.

For the reason I bought Persona 4: Arena, I ended up not buying a fighting game, but a visual novel, with some sequences where I press the square button a lot. This is something of a rarity in American games. From what I can tell, in Japan, visual novels are a very common type of game, and sell well. However, here in the west, visual novel games tend to be extremely niche titles that you see on something like the Nintendo DS, that are never expected to sell in large numbers. They tend to be critical darlings often enough, but cannot hold the more action-oriented attention spans of Western audiences.

So…what if a visual novel was packed-in with a game that does well not only in Japan, but also in the West? What if…a deep Blaz Blue-type fighter came out, attached to a relatively popular JRPG franchise, that had a sequel to the last two games in visual novel form?! I don’t know what drug and booze-fueled meetings led to this choice being made, but I think it is a fairly genius idea. It is a way of sneaking in a game that would never be released on consoles out west normally. It allows for good production values to be put into such a game as well, making sure the quality stays on par with the source material.

Let’s be honest as well about Arc System fighters. People will buy them no matter what. They have their audience of very passionate fans who learn their games to a degree most other fighters wouldn’t even think of asking. It does help that their games have such a high level of polish in their systems. The depth typically provided allows for people playing their games to really sink their teeth in it, as no two characters are ever truly the same. Thankfully Persona 4: Arena keeps up this tradition, and what little I have played of the actual fighter provides a game as deep as any Guilty Gear title.

Now let’s combine the great fighting with Persona. The idea of throwing a well-known franchise into their game gets a whole new audience looking at their games, and the fighter fans looking at this RPG franchise. So in a great world, both sets of fans would then come to like what was initially the unfamiliar franchise. However, Persona 4: Arena takes it all one step further. In a perfect world, not only would this game turn Arc System fans into Persona fans, and vice versa; but it would also turn everyone who came to this title onto well-made visual novels. Boom. That is the plan with Persona 4: Arena come full circle; include everyone, even people who had no friggin clue what they were being included in, like me. I have to say I am happy I was included though. Good on you Atlus and Arc Systems. Let’s try and make this a normal thing, let’s sneak those visual novels into everything we can.

-Ray Grohosky

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Where the Holy Hell Have I been?

Lying around mostly. Playing games. Playing way too much Persona 4 Golden. Though really there is never too much Persona 4. I know I did a review of it, where I gave it a glowing recommendation, but really after playing through it again, I can only say better things about it. It is the best RPG ever created, Japanese or Western. The great characters, story, music, battle system; it all comes together to create something truly special. It’s definitely a slow-burn going in, but totally worth it. So much so that when I decided I was finally done with the game, I immediately hopped on my PSN account and bought Persona 3: Portable for the PSP. Bought it digitally mind you, so I could play it on my Vita. While I love my PSP and have a ton of games for it, the Vita has such a lovely screen, and feels just the right size in my hands.

So all with all this Persona playing, I wanted to talk about the Playstation Vita. I have had this handheld for a few months now and really I can safely say it is the system I have done the majority of my game playing on. I was a guy who loved the PSP a lot more than most, and own a ton of games on it. As such, the Vita seemed like the thing that I really wanted, it really seemed like for the most part, the nest possible evolution. A portable with a second analog stick, responsive buttons, big screen and truly console quality graphics. Granted, the system is expensive, and it also suffers from a lack of games, at least compared to something like the DS, or even now the 3DS. But I find the games that are available on it are for the most part very good. However, a caveat there is that a lot of the games are in some way a remake, a port, or re-release. Persona 4 is a very enhanced remake, Jet Set Radio HD is a port, Disgaea 3 is a port. However, these are all games that translate well to a portable system, and often in these cases, the portable versions come with enhancements that make the game worth playing again.

On top of that, the library has been recently enhanced by adding the ability to play PSP and PS1 titles downloaded through PSN. This is allowing me to go through a library of games that I played a lot of, and either replay old favorites, as well as picking up the years old slack I had when it came to some great games. For instance, right now on my Vita, I have Persona 3: Portable for the PSP downloaded, as well as the PS1 game Wild Arms 2. I also have some other games on there that are great and require no cart. Plants vs Zombies, Retro City Rampage, and a lot more available to me thanks to being a member of PS Plus.

While I love the system, it is by no means perfect. As I mentioned, the thing is expensive. While the 3G model is a joke, the Wi-Fi model still comes in at a bit too much, especially after the 3DS dropped their prices. The Vita bundles usually clock in at $250. While yes you do get a game with it, none of the best games have a bundle it seems. I got the Assassin’s Creed Liberation bundle, which compared to the god-awful CoD and Madden bundles, is by far the best choice to make. Also, the system has one really big design issue I don’t get the need for. The Vita has a touch-screen on the front, which is fine. It also oddly has one on the back. This has led to several gimmicky things in games that I hate, as well as something that no doubt raised the price of the system as a whole. It is not needed, and usually in games I am scrambling for ways to turn it off as quickly as possible.

Really the only extreme knock I would apply to the PS Vita is the memory card situation. Sony continued in their normal bull-crap in making proprietary memory cards that don’t hold a lot of data for insane prices. I have stuck with the 4GB card my Assassin’s Creed bundle came with, and while I have not ran into a problem yet, I know I will get frustrated with the need to often delete and put games on the system. Sony could have so easily made the Vita run on dirt-cheap SD or SD micro cards and this would have been an amazing way of doing it. Instead I get locked into serving the Sony master in my data needs. If Sony ends up making a handheld after the Vita, they need to drop their status as memory card gatekeeper.

Really this system appeals to me in a big way because it seems like it is going to fill a niche I really liked to fill with the PSP, Japanese RPGs. Since Playing Persona 4 Golden, my interest in Japanese games has been majorly rekindled. While this system is more than capable of playing games that look great, and move like western games like Assassin’s Creed, I really feel like I am going to be using a ton of God-killing swords and talking to cute women with oddly-sized chests more often than not on the Vita. I think there is enough there for most, but the JRPG crowd is going to be served very well it seems.

I had other stuff I wanted to talk about, but I just looked down at my screen and noticed I wrote close to 1000 words about the PS Vita. That’s actually a good thing, as it has been a while since writing something came naturally to me. But expect some update soon about PAX East 2013, iOS fun…for once and indie games I have been playing.

-Ray Grohosky

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New Year, New Start

Now note: I don’t typically use this blog to talk about things outside of my gaming knowledge. I hate getting personal online, especially transmitting it out there to whoever, but what I want to talk about actually affects this blog, my goals for it, and what I plan on doing going forward. This isn’t one of those things where an author promises something then cannot deliver due to laziness. This is more me kind of opening my eyes to what I have to do to make myself a better writer, maybe one day make this more than a hobby. I know that it’s a tough road that I have to walk in order to make any want of this site being good a reality. Or the possibility of me moving on, writing for some sort of publication someday; be it online or print, maybe both.

The year 2012 was not a good one for me. It started bright, with a new relationship that quickly showed itself to be less than awesome. That was then coupled with a job situation that unfortunately did not work out at the end of the year. It was a stressful year; it was one where I found myself sick a lot, happy very little of the time, and doing nothing to better myself as a person. As a result, the writing fell off, my passion died. I played some video games that I didn’t write about, played too much WoW while not getting anything accomplished.

I don’t want that for this new year. I do not normally indulge in making resolutions, as it seems odd one makes these promises that it seems okay not to keep. However, this year I made a few. Most of them normal, lose weight, get healthier, etc. But one did not go up where my normal friends will see it, mostly because they do not all play video games. This year I want to be able to improve my writing. To what degree? I really have no idea, but I know I want this space, or any space I plan on writing on a regular basis to be more than just a passing fancy.

As such I need to become something approaching a professional about my writing. How does this get done? First write like a pro, no more cursing in my reviews and articles. Cursing often packs a punch in writing; but at the same time it feels like a cheap cop-out. Also I need to write more, as in every day. Even if I am not writing for this site, writing is something that requires practice to maintain and excel in. So really it’s all about being more regular in content generation, which if I am writing more will be a natural offshoot.

I also want to play more video games. More, and get myself playing games of genres I normally wouldn’t play. Maybe buy a racing game, there seem to be great ones out there. Hell, I don’t normally play games like Trials, but I downloaded the new one this year and completely loved it. As a by-product of this want to play more games, I need to quit World of Warcraft. For good. Erase my credit card history from Blizzard’s mind and leave those characters to rot. It’s been a great run for me, but has been petering out for a long time now. I think I keep coming back to it because it’s there, familiar and so easy to jump into. However it is an enormous time sink without end. It has kept me from playing countless other games, probably keeping me from new, more fun experiences. Right after this article goes live, I am canceling my account and I hope to whatever is out there that I never re-activate it.

Those are my blog resolutions for 2013. Writing resolutions really. This place matters to me, and I need to show it more love. I want people to see my writing, enjoy it and talk about it with me. As I said before, it is time I take what has been a fancy and turn it into real passion. I love doing this and 2013 needs to showcase that. Now time to go cancel my WoW account. Oh also, expect some reviews soon for that Vita I got for Xmas. I honestly love the thing.

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The Lonely Treadmill

Yes…this is a WoW post. I am sorry, but it was something I was thinking of earlier. I was trying to figure out what to do with my day, and when I do this, WoW is always one of the first options that comes to mind. However, only a fraction of the time do I actually logon, let alone stay on for any length of time. Lately when I sign onto WoW it’s just to do the daily Inscription cooldown. Then I quickly sign back out and do something else. This used to not be the case. I used to sign onto this game and stay on…for way too long, doing a variety of things, often on a variety of characters. So what the hell happened? Has the game gotten less fun? Has it changed so much that I no longer want to play it? Really none of that is the case, it is something a lot more subtle; the treadmill is lonely. Let’s talk more about this treadmill. Join me, won’t you?

WoW, despite being about the swords, sorcery and loot, is a social game. I know this term has come to be associated with the landfill of fucking terrible social media based games. Facebook unfortunately has taken a monopoly out on this term, and that is really a shame, as these games are almost universally bad, and more chores than games. I have enough chores to do, I don’t also need Facebook to present me with more. However I digress; I am not here to talk about those garbage games. At least not now.

So yeah, social game. While World of Warcraft is a totally competent game on its own merits, it is a game without end. While most video games have a termination point to its story, WoW is meant to continue going on, with the same base mechanics. Obviously there are 1-player games that stand the test of time very well and have people playing them decades after they come out, putting in tons of hours. However, the amount of time one will spend on such a game is still tiny compared to what the average WoW player would put in. Sometimes when I want to make myself my depressed I will hit the /played command on my main. Throughout this time though, I played this competent game, and had fun; but it was not so much the game that kept me coming back, it was the social aspect.

While going through the treadmill of leveling alt after alt, and going through the loot treadmill, I typically had a group of people in a guild, or chat channel to talk to, ease the grind through socializing. We also did a lot together; running dungeons, raids, dailies. While things were often done alone, it didn’t feel like it. I had that group, those people to constantly talk through, either through those chats, over ventrillo, it was great. It felt like the game was complete. All the elements set forth in front of me were coming together in that way that made WoW a staple of my life for years.

Unfortunately that’s not the case anymore. Those friends left WoW, went onto other things; either in the game world, or they got a life. Whatever. As a result, the game got a lot lonelier. Of course while playing I didn’t always have people around to talk to, but this was a totally different case for me. The game, despite its millions of players, felt like a ghost town. LFG was always a silent affair, and raiding was done in the idiotic LFR, where any talking was not worth seeing. This left me to climb these treadmills alone, no one to talk to as I collected 10 bear pelts. This changed how the game felt to me right down to its very core. Might as well have hacked out things like dungeons, so important to the core was this social function. It was since then I have waffled with playing WoW, leaving and coming back; but the game never feeling as truly complete as it once was.

That is not to say every day since that core group of friends left that this game has been nothing but lonely. I have joined other guilds, and met some nice people. However, nothing really clicks in the way that got me so into the game. I have felt no revival of my spirits in Azeroth, which as such is making it harder to log on. I have stopped tending the farm, I have tried switching mains; I have tried all the little tricks that get you back into the game. However, this was simply putting a band-aid on the gaping hole that appeared when the social perfection was taken away. Honestly I don’t know how much longer my subscription will be staying up for World of Warcraft. I know I keep on saying that, and going back on it; diving back in after a few weeks.

However, the excitement for the game as I keep coming back is dissipating quicker and quicker. It seems eventually that this will be truly hung up for me, despite my liking of what Mists of Pandaria has brought to the table. Unfortunately, no matter how much good Mists has brought to the table, that critical component is missing for me. As a result who knows how much longer I am willing to stay on that treadmill. I haven’t played now for about a week, and feel no compunction to throw myself back on. Maybe I have already stepped off, and just have not seen that yet.

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Weapons I Remember: Part Two

Way back in March, I wrote an article about some weapons that I always remembered in video games. These weapons always stuck with me for varying reasons, but all were worth remembering, at least for me. I have long wanted to throw out a second batch of weapons to talk about, so why not today? Right here, right now. Let’s fucking do it.

Fire Flower (Super Mario Brothers series): Only Mario could turn a pretty flower (with a face) into an evil mushroom immolation machine. This power-up has been around since the start, appearing in I think every core 2-D Mario game, with the only exception being the US version of Mario 2. If I am wrong, tell me, but I think I am correct in saying that. This power-up is really the only true projectile launcher in the series, and is typically used with game-easing results. Changing Mario to white overalls (bright freakin red and orange in Mario 3), this weapon allows Mario to basically make any boss mechanic trivial. Where the other power-ups still require you to pay attention and make sure to avoid the bosses, the Fire Flower allows Mario to stand there, while the player spams B and watch the enemy die. This has especially been the case in the New Super Mario Bros. series, where the focus has left more insane jumps and environment traversal; and has since become more of a enemy placement based game. Think of how good the Fire Flower is in any water stage in an older Mario, and apply that philosophy of enemy placement to every type of level.

The real variety of how to tackle this level design comes in how the Fire Flower itself has evolved. By last count, there are now three versions of this flower. We have the Ice Flower, which came about in New Super Mario Bros. Wii I believe. It’s kind of cool (Ha, get it? Get it?!), allowing you to turn enemies into blocks of ice, which can serve as weapons or platforms. The other flower is so freakin stupid. The Golden Fire Flower in New Super Mario Bros. 2 on the 3DS just nets you a ton of coins while doing the same thing as the old Fire Flower from Mario’s past. This shiny version exists alongside the standard flower in the game, and feeds into the pointless coin collecting mechanic. Really though, how can any game enthusiast not remember the Fire Flower? Mario is the godfather of console games, and his weaponry should be known to all.

The Penetrator (Saints Row: The Third): Let’s move now from a storied and long-running relic of video game history, and talk about a baseball bat that is also a sex toy. The absurdity of this game was basically an eighteen out of ten, with this weapon being; at least to me, the sum total of the insanity distilled into a single weapon. Fashioned as a massive purple dildo, the Penetrator replaces the standard baseball bat. The weapon is insanely well animated, with the shaft of the bat swinging to and fro while you run with it. The balls of the dildo…yes the balls are even animated separately from the rest of the weapon, flopping out in a fashion that is best described as…disturbingly realistic.

This fake phallus is also pretty damn powerful. I have destroyed entire cars with nothing but the Penetrator, which usually sets me on fire. So here is a man with a British accent, yelling as he is on fire, near the burnt out husk of a car while holding a giant purple cock/baseball bat. Honestly that sums up the game pretty well. Also it is pretty awesome to running around beating the stupid out of the elderly and the Steelport Police Dept. Awesome weapon in a truly amazing game.

Any Sword Auron Uses (Final Fantasy X): In my last “Weapons I Remember” article, I wrote about Tidus’ sword, the Brotherhood. It is a great looking weapon, even today. Pretty much everything in Final Fantasy X holds up today in the graphics department, at least from what I have seen. One thing that I always loved in the game was the varied attack animations. Characters actually moving different from each other in battle was a practice started in Final Fantasy VII, with things finally being in 3-D. However, the now-established tradition of unique character animations would reach its zenith in Final Fantasy X, with the character Auron.

It’s not that his attacks are especially heroic, it is really the laid back attitude Auron takes to killing. Rather than swinging his over-sized sword as if he was trying to go yard on every attack (think Cloud from FFVII), he just drops the fucking thing. No matter what nation-sized cleaver Auron has in his Sixth Sense ghost-like hands, he simply drops on every enemy with such casual disregard, it cannot be anything but funny. Tidus is hopping all over the place with the frenetic energy a teenager could only have, where Auron basically looks bored the entire time, but still does the majority of physical damage early on. Seriously, go load up this game, and laugh.

The Auto Shotgun (Goldeneye): This weapon is something I have come to love more as I got older. Occasionally I will get the chance to play some Goldeneye with friends, with a popular weapon set always being Power Weapons. When we were younger, everyone would flock to the automatic weapon, the RCP-90, which is a great gun. However, now that I understand shooters a little better, and saw how Goldeneye kind of adheres to shooter mechanics, I have found the Auto Shotgun is clearly the better weapon. Really this is because it tears right the hell through Body Armor, which is usually overpowered in multiplayer games of Goldeneye. Also like the double-barreled shotgun in DOOM2, everything about this shotgun is so satisfying. Here, let’s see if we can find a video of this weapon in all its glory.

Nope, no video. Shame. I figured the internet was good for everything I need. Better yet, anyone with a N64; go pop in Goldeneye and play around with this gun. Find some friends and relive some great split-screen Goldeneye moments. Trust me, there will be plenty. Anyway, I already spoke a bunch about the weapons presented here, so I am going to hold off on the next few for another post. In the meantime, seriously, go play some god damn Goldeneye.

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Weapons I Remember

I have no idea what the statistics are, but I feel most video games out there have in some way, used a weapon of some kind. From the earliest games of Joust to the modern deluge of cover-based shooting games, it seems weaponry has been at the forefront of the hours we spend in virtual worlds. It is the most common way to defeat an enemy, or overcome an obstacle. Most of the games out there that sell well, at least well enough to see sequels often feature weapon combat at some core aspect of the gameplay. I was sitting at work today, trying to keep myself mentally busy, lest I stab myself in the eye socket with my pen, and I got to thinking about this, weapons in video games.

I have played many video games in my time, shot, cut, eviscerated and dismembered a lot of enemies all in the pursuit of...something. Over the years though, certain weapons have stuck with me. These weapons to me are special, for differing reasons. Some appear in many games, some are the exemplar of a series, and some are just fucking cool. I spent the day jotting down some ideas, and some reminders for the weapons that meant a lot to me in video games. Let's go over some of those. As always, no particular order, as I am too lazy to actually think of an order to things, postulate the actual worth the weapons have to me in order. Really, that's way too much work.

Mega Buster (Mega Man 4-8): The Mega Buster came about in a weird way, at least to me. Mega Man 2 and 3 both have added small additions to the core gameplay that were really tiny, but game changing. The additions really never needed much in the way of explanation, instantly able to be used to their fullest extent and allowed Capcom to make more compelling games each time. Really though those older changes were never anything that got you to the killing faster. Mega Man 4 changed that. Dr. Cossak needed some quick killing, or at least the first boss and the large majority of the normal baddies I always blew up anyway.

Enter: the Mega Buster. Mega Man 4 introduced a charge shot that essentially mixed the three shots that Mega Man could always fire in rapid succession. This actually ended up being a boon, as for many enemies, and always the bosses would have a set of invincibility frames after being hit by the first shot, making that whole rapid shot Mega Man could do typically useless. So instead of firing off at the boss a few times, you simply held down the shot button and let loose with a powered Buster shot that honestly, always looked cool. Every game had a different look for the shot, and Mega Man would glow with a differing color pattern in each title. I am not entirely sure why they got rid of the Mega Buster for Mega Man 9 and 10, I guess going for that really old school feel. It's a shame though, I feel it really became a part of Mega Man very fast and was always a great weapon in the absence of Metal Blade.

The Double-Barreled Shotgun (DOOM2): This weapon is all about two things. First of all, it punches a fucking hole through demons. And aliens. Alien demons. It tears through ammo like nothing else, using two shells per shot, but damn it gets the job done. Really more than the damage this device can wreak though is the animation of the gun. This weapon always stuck with me because of the meticulous animation that went into reloading the thing. It just looks like you're getting ready to resume murdering everything in your path. Check it out.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O819Gyg37p8&w=420&h=315]

Star Dragon Sword (Suikoden 1 and 2): This weapon I will always remember. In part because it's a snarky bastard. Many games have had sentient weapons, but most are either outright evil, or amazingly helpful. The Star Dragon Sword wielded by Viktor in both Suikoden 1 and 2 is just a dick. The name kind of sucks, and I actually believe it is called something different in Japan (Zodiac Sword maybe?).

Regardless of needlessly dumb names, the sword is always awesome due to how much it powers up the already badass character Viktor. On top of this, the sword is tied to the vampire Neclord, being used both times to get rid of him. These fights were always some of the best in any PS1 RPG, and featured great music. So really, not only was this weapon great on its own, but it always featured a full side-story of its own with a great conflict.

Brotherhood (Final Fantasy X): This; for people who do not remember what this sword is, is the sword Tidus is holding on the boxart of FFX. This weapon, as opposed to the great story woven into the last weapon, is remembered by me purely for an aesthetic reason. The sword has a story, related to Wakka and his dumb brother, but it really doesn't matter. The sword creates bubbles from the blade in combat, that is what really matters.

Brotherhood always seemed like a little bit of Square showing off what it could do with the PlayStation 2 technology, as it was also a highly reflective sheen of blue. It had a great ocean vibe to it, which thematically always worked well with Tidus, who routinely kicked a ball into the face of his fellow man under water. Unfortunately this pretty death dealer got replaced quickly and often, so it while it was something that represented the character well, you didn't get to stick with it for very long. But if I remember right, you could mod some weapons to look like this one once again.

The Calamity Cannon (Bastion): Rounding out the first five weapons I decided to talk about is the Calamity Cannon from what was my favorite game of 2011, Bastion. The game as a whole had some fantastic fucking weapons, all of which are unique and work totally differently. However the final weapon you get is a death-launcher bazooka thing. It deals a crap load of damage from the outset, before any upgrades. But then you do upgrade it and things get silly. You get awesome choices, things like larger explosion radii, pools of black death that stay after a hit lands, or my favorite, homing missiles. Granted, you end up hurting yourself if you try using it at close range, but it is typically so worth it for the insta-kills it delivers.

However, one of my favorite parts of the weapon is the story behind it. Super Giant took care to give Rucks a reason to talk about anything and everything, and the Calamity Cannon is no exception. Engineered as a miniature version of the man-made catastrophe that causes the state of affairs in the first place, the weapon is able to deliver pain. Also Rucks says to you he was making this, just like he helped engineer the weapon that caused the Calamity. It's the care a game by no means has to have in order to be amazing, but is made all the more amazing when it is present.

Alright, well that was the first five weapons I wanted to talk about, at least in this first segment talking about video game weapons. I have more that list I made while at work, and I am sure I will think of more as I go on. Really talking about these weapons has been fun, and I am looking forward to round two.

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