Apparently GiantBomb is down, or something. In-fact, apparently everything is crashing and burning right now. PSN may have, or may not, have been hacked by Anonymous. I'm curious to see if it was Anonymous, I don't think they realize the level of back-lash they will receive, if it turns out they thought people would be rallying with them while they kick consumers from legitimately playing games online. I've watched even the most staunch supporters turn in the last few hours, like an infuriated mob. For the record: I'm not exactly happy with how Sony handled the GeoHot situation, and I feel that it's quite clear the conversation over what I actually own, when I purchase a $300 machine from Sony is going to be a big deal debate in the near future. It's going to be very interesting to watch.
Or, Sony is messing with everybody and this is a big giant conspiracy. I'm interested in their next press-statement, because nobody just proclaims that there are "out-side forces" , that have stopped their online network from functioning, and then just leave it at that. Or maybe they will? There's so little information trickling out right now it's hard to pin-point what exactly is going on. One thing is for sure though: Somebody royally fuc****-up.
While were on the topic of PSN, I'm really intrigued about future Steam-support with PSN. I picked up Portal 2 for PS3 and have been deeply impressed with the Steam integration. I love the idea of having a free PC version alongside with it, and I really enjoy the idea of having Playstation trophies linked to Steam Achievements. I wished it worked the other-way around, but seeing how fragile PSN is at the moment, I can understand the reluctance of pursuing that. What really impressed me was playing it on Co-Op. I would play on my PS3 and fellow GB user Tiwi would boot it up on his PC, and we would play together virtually without a hitch. I know perhaps from a technical standpoint it might not be the most elaborate combination, but for me, this this feels like the first time cross-platform play between a PC and a console has seemed...Genuine.
I just realized how many other Microsoft Word doc's of unfinished blogs I've written over the past few years. I have periods of compulsive writing sometimes, I have a bunch of unfinished concepts and ideas that never made it. Some are blog entries that go on for pages that I've finished writing, but I would re-read them later and decide they're not worth sharing.
Kinda like this one. This one has no reason to be uploaded or shared. There's not even a concrete subject for it. I haven't even gotten to the part of me listing what I did during Giantbomb's down-time. I should probably do that at some-point, I wrote that as the title, I don't think it's very controversial to follow through with writing on the title of the blog you are advertising.
So I went to GiantBomb and I saw this:
Usually when site's go down they have a tendency of not communicating with their users with the specifics of what is happening. Not only did GiantBomb get the message across over what was happening, they had some pretty entertaining things to watch. There was a small time-period where people were probably wondering what madness had befallen everyone, but this was quickly rectified.
I don't like to close internet windows that much, so I actually had GiantBomb open before it shut-down. Yesterday I accidentally saw the window open and inappropriately believed that the website was back up.
Then I cried. Then I went outside, and continued on with my life.
I like Tron: Legacy. I picked it up on BluRay, but I finally got around to watching the entire thing in one sitting. I saw it in 3D in the theaters and really enjoyed it. Even without the 3D, it's still a fantastic film to just look at. You can pause it at anytime, and just stare at a single frame, it's that visually inviting. It might have a weak script, but I really enjoy the directing that's on display. I hope the same director is still around for the obvious sequel.
Does anyone have Sonic 2 for 360? I need the one required multiplayer achievement for an S-Rank. I went back and played through Sonic 3, and I honestly forgot how elaborate some of those stages can get. Sonic & Knuckles is next, and it should be noted that a bunch of old Sega games are dirt cheap on Xbox Live Marketplace.
I picked up Limbo on sale, I haven't gotten that far into it. I skipped over it when it was initially released because of the price, and I'm excited to get more into it. I also picked up Undead Nightmare finally, probably talk about that soon.
I played through the final Mass Effect 2 DLC and walked away kinda disappointed. Big things happen during the final DLC, but the amount of interest and urgency seems...Muted...Held-back...In comparison to other DLC packs. Lair of the Shadow Broker, was still my favorite DLC pack out of the torrent of DLC available for Mass Effect 2, this seemed awkwardly indifferent in comparison. It's not bad, and it's still light-years better regarding other game's DLC, but it just comes off with less of a bang that I wanted. It goes through motions you have seen before a million times over, and the big choice that you get the impression you are going to make at the end is removed from your hands. It seems like a counter-statement to the entire mentality of the Mass Effect series, I applaud it. Hopefully, there will be a big reason for such a shift in storytelling concepts that will be apparent in the third game.
So I guess everything is back to normal now. I have a stockpile of weapons I need to get rid-of, seeing how the robot apocalypse is not going to happen. That's kinda depressing 21 Comments
Notice: The following S-Rank was a platinum trophy obtained on the Playstation 3 version of Final Fantasy XIII. It is not associated to my official S-Rank list on GiantBomb. Here's hoping that Sony will figure out that people like sharing their trophy information, outside of their own official site. Like every other achievement system in existence.
It's not that it's difficult to go back writing about Final Fantasy XIII, just uncomfortable. It's a great game, but there are so many skewed issues within the game's main design that it's difficult to go back talking about it. There are tons of other JRPG's that have been released this generation, that are dwarfed by the quality of Final Fantasy XIII.
But were not here to talk about the actual game, per-say. No, this is all about the achievements!
So were over half-a-decade into the HD generation, and a Final Fantasy game was finally released to capitalize on the big scary modern gaming machines. It should be noted that this is not the first Final Fantasy to incorporate an achievement system. The previous entry, Final Fantasy XII had an in-game menu that mirrored an achievement system. It wasn't that big of a deal, and there's a good chance that me bringing this up now, will inevitable make you hunt down your copy, in order to make sure I'm not making this up: But it was there. Defeating certain sub-bosses like Yiazmat, netted you a neat little icon in your in-game menu.
(I beat Yiazmat...I'm not...*sigh*...Go look it up...I have no interest in sharing that experience.)
So technically, Final Fantasy XIII was the first real attempt to bring achievements officially into the franchise. When I think back on the franchise, my imagination takes hold and I can see the possibilities. I know I'm not alone, thinking of concepts like getting an achievement for getting the gold chocobo in Final Fantasy VII. Perhaps an achievement for marching through the first Final Fantasy with all mages?
So how does Final Fantasy XIII capitalize on our new-fangeled modern achievement system? Is getting an S-Rank capitalize on something that you can proudly share? Or does it run down a lengthy corridor, and fall flat on it's face?
See what I did there? Get it? Because it's linear. People didn't like that. That it was linear. I used that as a seg-way to the actual article.It was also a joke. Pretty funny huh? You can laugh, it's okay.
...Let's move on.
Sadly, Final Fantasy XIII's achievements are painfully uninspired. When it come's to JRPG's this generation, we truly don't get many lists that seem to advertise some form of established middle-ground, or center. They are usually on opposite ends of the spectrum, either "challenges" that were made by disgruntled medicated employees, or developers that don't really care and just spoon-feed you achievements because they are now required too.
It's gotten better over the years, but it's still depressing to read an achievement list like Final Fantasy XIII's. To be fair, it's probably one of the most balanced achievement lists for JRPG's this generation. That being said, when it comes to the more complicated achievements, the most errigous flaws with Final Fantasy XIII come out in full-force.
Is getting an S-Rank in Final Fantasy XIII worth getting? Let's find out shall we:
Grinding: No purpose.
L'Cie Paragon // Commando's Seal // Ravager's Seal // Sentinel's Seal // Saboteur's Seal //Synergist's Seal // Medic's Seal
There are 7 achievements out of 35 that are dedicated to grinding CP level's to max every character. Going after each of the character specific roles should unlock naturally, although raising each character's CP level to max will take more time.
Let's get one thing out of the way first: The grinding in Final Fantasy XIII is quite possibly the worst I have ever seen in a game. "But, vidiot!" You stammer back at me, ignoring the fact you are referring to me out-loud by my internet handle. "Surely, the time and effort is not as much as some other games you have played! You have S-Ranks in both Lost Odyssey and Resonance of Fate! I heard that the grinding involved in Resonance of Fate, makes unborn children cry!"...
...Slowly sitting into my armchair, I adjust my monocle in an over-exaggerated manner. "You are most wise and studios in presenting your counter-point, Mr. Pumpernickel, but what you forget yourself on what the true purpose of subjecting your-self to such a monotonous task!" "Well, when one does the act of grinding, it usually is during the act of procreation..." "Not the grinding I was referring to Mr. Pumpernickel! You forget yourself!" I quickly cut you off in vain as our conversation turns to you wanting to talk about sex for the next hour. Near the end of our debate you finally ask why the hell I'm calling you "Mr. Pumpernickel" . You are unsatisfied with my answer.
I'm getting side-tracked. Regardless of my moment of insanity, I personally find that grinding in JRPG's is not necessarily a dated, or unnecessary design concept. It gives the player the feeling of becoming stronger over-time, for die-hard fans of the JRPG series there is quite a bit of fun to beef-up on smaller foes: Only too then crush larger foes after a long session of "training".
Final Fantasy XIII has the usual JRPG completionist set of achievement points, designated to grinding. The problem is that Final Fantasy XIII's core design isn't geared toward grinding at all. In order to curb excessive grinding, there are caps throughout the main character development system known as "The Crystarium". Unlike other JRPG's that use level caps, like Lost Odyssey, there's not much room for similar moments of choice character development. This way each chapter can end with a boss fight, that the player is equally prepared for.
The amount of CP ("Crystarium Points") required to max each of your characters seems unnecessarily ridiculous. To make matter's worse, obtaining big chunks of CP is actually somewhat of a debatable concept between different guides. There are many idea's of what qualifies as an exploit. To make matters worse even at high CP level's, don't expect to be able to destroy certain high-level enemies in-order to gain more CP. Farming strong enemies like the Adamantoises for CP, seems to be more of a crap-shoot and even at max-levels it's quite easy to be wiped-out immediately. It feels like the game really doesn't give you the proper means to max your characters, because the game is focused on not grinding.
What's even more absurd, is that we haven't even gotten to the worst part of Final Fantasy XIII's grinding. Were actually not done yet with this subject, and were going to get to the real big problem in just a second.
Originality: Missed Opportunity.
Gysahl Wreath // Superstar // Limit Breaker // Exorcist Keeping with the trend that Final Fantasy XIII's achievement's highlight the game's worst qualities, don't expect to see anything really imaginative here. Final Fantasy XIII's more "ambitious" achievements don't do enough, and some are confusing regarding their concept. Let's get one thing out of the way: If you thought there wasn't a whole lot to do out-side the beaten path in this game, if you're going to be going after an S-Rank, get ready to notice it a whole lot more.
To put it simply: Just about every side-achievement is dedicated to the 64 monster hunts that are in this game. There's only two combat specific achievement (Limit Breaker and Superstar) involving inflicting over 100,000 points of damage, and the other beating the final boss under a certain time-limit. That's it.
Other achievements are somewhat laughable in context of the limited design of the game. Case in point, my "favorite" is Exorcist, a bizarre achievement that's awarded for beating all the undead hunts. Why undead? Are there people who are just going after the undead hunts? If all the other achievements are making you eventually completing all the hunts, then what's the emphasis on getting just awarded for only beating the undead hunts?
The rest are what you would expect. There's one for getting items on a Chocobo (Gysahl Wreath) and beside from a few grind-specific achievements, there's not a whole lot here.
Point Value: Strange...
Loremaster Grinding everyone's CP levels to maximum, is apparently less of a challenge than scanning 100 different enemies, something you will have to do regardless of incentive. Also, it feels like a large majority of Final Fantasy XIII's achievements are unlocked when playing Final Fantasy XIII's side-content.
Missable Achievement: Yup.
Were going to get to this achievement in just a second. Suffice to say: It's actually easy to miss if you don't know what steps to take in order to prevent it.
Hooray! Something positive!
Even though Final Fantasy XIII's achievements are limited in scope, when it comes to the actual fights and difficulty regarding some of the later bosses: It all check's out. Sadly, there's too many instances of developers getting confused over the idea that difficulty, equates to bosses with HP amounts that dwarf entire franchises. Overall though, I never felt that a majority of Final Fantasy XIII's achievements were skewed. The hunt's usually give a good challenge.
New Game+: Poorly implemented
With so many achievements focused on after-game activities (hunts) it's confusing where to classify Final Fantasy XIII's New Game+, or if any of the achievements properly exploit it. You can't go back and play previous chapters, there could have been some room there for more achievements. The only achievement that exploits replaying a portion of the game involves fighting the final boss during a specific time-period, and you'll most likely breeze through it.
One Stupid Achievement: "F*** You."
Treasure Hunter is an unfocused challenge, that is poorly implemented, and to top it off: A huge waste of time.
I touched about CP grinding above, but nothing beat's the big noticeable turd in what's been so far a slightly disappointing S-Rank. Treasure hunter involves you obtaining every weapon, for every character in the game. There is no in-game check-list, so you will probably have to print out your own.
That's right: Instead of maxing characters to god-like levels, (That you will never feel that's on-par to other entries in the series) or beating ever hunt with a Five-Star rating, the vast majority of my time getting this S-Rank, involved running between a certain set of enemies, that dropped certain items that I then sold for a premium. To reiterate: The big end-game grind sessions in Final Fantasy XIII, involves grinding for cash.
The achievement doesn't feel natural to the rest of the achievements either. It's also completely missable, given the fact that some very specific items are required in-order to upgrade your weapons. If you don't know this fact, and are looking for an S-Rank, you're screwed. Don't sell anything until after the main story is finished. This is especially disturbing, given the fact the game encourages you to sell things, considering how having tons of cash is such an uncommon situation in the game. ...And you will need tons of cash to get this thing.
To make matters even worse: It's all dependent on enemy drop-rates. You can equip accessories to increase these drop-rates, but some the more rarer items that are required to obtain, are, to put it nicely: Have drop rates that are fu***** ludicrous. Case in point:Trapezohedron's are very important items and are required for weapon upgrades. Even with the most powerful accessories equipped that allow for higher drop-rates: Expect to only get them roughly 5% of the time.
Other Positive Categories
Stacking: No difficulty achievements!
Estimated Time: 90-100 hours / 1+ Playthrough
As a critic, there's a part of me that wished for achievements that had more emphasis on certain aspects of the game, versus general completion. Load up a good podcast for this one, because the amount of time waiting for certain items to appear after a fight will drain you. Printing out item lists is not something new for JRPG enthusiasts, but the lack of in-game direction for the achievement like Treasure Trove really hurts the overall experience.
People ask me how I'm capable in pulling succeeding such a monotonous task: "Don't you have a life?! The hell is wrong with you!" My secret is not very exciting, and is simply obtainable given my current set-up: My monitor plugs into my game consoles and my PC, in the same room is another TV. Loading up Final Fantasy XIII while watching late night television is probably the only way I was able to complete such a task. It's depressing that a slight majority of my time spent trying to complete this game, was because of one achievement that specifically expands on just about all of the faults of this game. It's depressing that the pay-off of getting each character to maximum level's, doesn't seem as substantial as previous entries. It's depressing that almost 50% of the achievements outside of completing the game, just involve completing the hunts.
That being said, Final Fantasy XIII's uninspired achievements, probably are more reflective of developers having difficulty finding things for you in the actual game itself. To be fair: A lot of the Hunt missions are actually quite fair in terms of difficulty. Some of the more elaborate fights, will impress you in terms of how much tactics are involved.
Final Fantasy XIII is not a difficult S-Rank. It just takes time and planning. Once you have the plan nailed down, all that's left is lot's of very boring grind-fest's that have pay-offs that are nowhere near as good as they should be. For those who want an S-Rank in Final Fantasy XIII, it's difficult for me to recommend that such a challenge is worth it.
That being said, I think this is a good start. If you look at other achievements that debuted on other franchises this generation, Final Fantasy XIII isn't that bad in retrospect.
If you have the 360 version, it is possible to hack your gamesave. I'm not supposed to recommend doing this, but given the lack of difficulty and general monotony with Treasure Hunter: I trust you can make your own decisions.
Welcome to my new blog series concerning achievements.
This thing, at least conceptually, has been on my mind for about a year now. One of the many reasons why GiantBomb is fantastic, aside from it's super-secret free hamburger dispenser for those who have been members since this site's launch, has been it's achievement tracking system.
I love achievements. I've stated many reasons for my interest in them for a long time now, but nothing really that substantially examines them. Before Microsoft thought it was cool to slap on some haphazard "100% retail complete list", there was this site, and the very simple and sufficient: S-Rank.
End of story, no other questions necessary. You read "S-Rank" and you know what such a feat entails. Before I knew it, I had accumulated quite a few. For me, the S-Rank quest-set were some of the first to magically unlock when the Quest system was rolled out here. Congrats to Giantbomb, for creating and contributing a new form of vernacular for the OCD portion of the gaming population.
Over the course of amassing now 40 recorded S-Ranks, (Not including my Platinum trophies) my opinions on what works...and what doesn't...has become more precise over the years. Suffice to say: There's a lot of crap to avoid, and there's a lot games that get it either half right, or have no concept of what achievements are.
I've had a lot of people ask me what game should qualify as a "good S-Rank". I don't think it's that simple. I think that the range of achievements and trophies for games, regarding what they are for that game differs so much for each game, it's hard to get a finite hold or a standard of what qualifies as a "good S-Rank".
That being said, there are those that confuse challenge for grinding. Games that have glitches and are technically incompetent for the achievements they have. Consider this the catalyst of achievement judgment. The smoldering refuge of sanity, after the madness strikes.
Let's break a hole in the logic wall of the internet: Let's give achievements....TO ACHIEVEMENTS.
Beyond Good and Evil was originally released way back in 2003, alongside Prince of Persia: Sands of Time. One of those two franchises spear-headed by Ubisoft, went on and established a multi-kagillion dollar series, that incorporated a complete trilogy, a reboot, and a side-game to the original trilogy. Oh, and they also made a movie.
The other, went on to receive tons of critical praise, and then get subsequently forgotten.
To be fair, if you take the concept of Beyond Good & Evil at face-value, it's a bit easy to see how it was forgotten. Trying to advertise a Zelda inspired quasi-fantasy/sci-fi adventure game, where you play as a female photojournalist trying to start revolution against a evil space-fascist propaganda, is a bittricky to advertise. Beyond Good & Evil had virtually no advertising to speak of, and even with it's critical awards and praise was forgotten that holiday season by the likes of such stellar titles as Enter The Matrix.
With a sequel in limbo, this HD re-release is fantastic for a number of reasons.
The original game in incompatible on the 360.
It's a damn good game.
One can nit-pick around Beyond Good & Evil, but at the end of the day the most severe grievances against the game can be attributed as just that: Nit-picks, or justifiable issues concerning the fact the game is old. That later "issue" has difficulty finding stable ground to stand on, because Beyond Good & Evil has aged phenomenally. Sure, there are out-of-place stealth sections, and it's short. At the same time, there are also a series of forward thinking design choices, and a game-world that is oozing with it's own identity at every turn.
If you're considering wanting to check out something new, do yourself a favor and download this old game.
Achievements help Beyond Good & Evil, from an almost core-structural design perspective.
One of Beyond Good & Evil's biggest complaints back then, and now was it's length. It's quite short, and those that want to go straight through without stopping and checking everything out will do so probably under ten hours. Achievements here focus on 100% completion, increasing the length of the game conceptually for several more hours. My final play-time with Beyond Good & Evil HD, dwarfed original playtime with Beyond Good & Evil.
Even better, Beyond Good & Evil's original design seems tailored made for achievements. Collectible items are easily trackable via an in-game menu, and before you, I'm 99% positive you cannot "miss" anything the achievements.
So let's break everything down.
Big Heart // Data Manager // Wildlife Photographer // MoneyBags Four of Beyond Good & Evil HD's achievements is dedicated to collectibles. These achievements are quite easy, with the most challenging one involving taking pictures of all the wild-life in the game world (Wildlife Photographer). Certain bosses require you to take their pictures, but even their corpses after you have defeated them works regarding obtaining this goal. Everything can be tracked via the game's in-game menu's.
Use a guide, if you must for pearl collecting. (MoneyBags) For people who have played this game, you might remember that collecting 80 Pearls, is a bit of a lie. The game dispenses tons of pearls to you at certain points. For those thinking that the pearls are the equivalent of something more complicated, fear not. Most are obtained after missions, and some of the side-area's are so blatantly obvious it's difficult to miss. Same goes for collecting the many MDisks.
It should also be noted that at one point during the game you receive an item that virtually sticks the exact locations of animals and pearls on your map. Even without achievements, Beyond Good & Evil supports you attempting to hunt and find everything.
On a personal note: I love how the collectibles are handled in this game. There was so much time and effort put into the sheer amount of different fictional species of animals to take pictures of it's ridiculous. I never once stopped and noticed that something was a color-swap of something else. I would love to see more of that type of effort, regarding something that is essentially a collectible in future games.
Kicking *** // Gambler King 2 Beyond Good & Evil is not held back with obscure situational achievements. There are no repetitive tasks to do, everything is focused on overall game-completion, which is perfect for an old game like this. Initiating stealth-kills (Kicking ***) on certain soldiers is the most situational-aware concept that you are required to accomplish, but even this unlocks as you play the game naturally.
One achievement regarding beating another character at a mini-game (Gambler King 2) almost altered some of my final opinions. It's the closest thing you will see akin to unnecessary grinding, although there is an easy to access save right next to the game, and while the A.I. does seem to cheat, you should obtain the prize after a few turns. It's so minor though, that I couldn't bring myself to proclaiming that it's a fault.
Missable Achievement: None!
One can argue that several achievements can be considered missable, the problem of accepting this claim is that there is a very large and pronounced moment of "No-Return" which is a subtle as a knife in it's presentation.
You will hit a point in which it's very obvious you are about to leave the game world...Literally. At that point, I have full-faith that you guys have a functioning frontal-lobe capable of understanding that you are in the final chapter.
Glitches: Your Shit Is Broken.
Those of us who have experienced glitched trophies and achievements, understand the annoyance and pain of fulfilling a requirement, and not getting anything out of it. My glitched achievement policy is harsh: Even if I don't experience it myself, if I hear that others have had less than stable experiences, I must complain.
Apparently the problem crops up if you discover a certain story specific element, before experiencing something else.
Discovering your space-ship early apparently glitches the Pearl achievement. Specifics regarding this achievement are murky, keep it safe and hold off doing that sequence until later.
Difficulty: Not Difficult
One of the reasons why I decided to do this game first, is that I get a lot of comments that follow this very lose train-of-thought: "I like it when I unlock achievements while I'm playing and completing the game!"
Beyond Good & Evil exhibits this mentality. It's not that it's "easy", the achievement list is appropriate for the game. It's an S-Rank you can obtain, while playing through a fantastic game. Exploring every nook-and-cranny on Hillys is a joy.
Other Positive Categories
Point value: Understandable
Stacking: No difficulty achievements.
New Game+: No New Game+ is offered.
One Stupid Achievement: None!
Estimated Time: 15 hours / 1 play-through
Beyond Good & Evil is a great S-Rank, for those who are scared of accomplishing S-Ranks. It is a rare situation where I believe that an old game is actually made better, simply by giving a more lucrative incentive. There is only one point that one might consider the actions you are partaking as unnecessarily "grindy", but outside of that: You are awarded by playing the game. Perhaps there could have been more interesting choices of user actions to accomplish, but I don't think it would have worked within the game's original design. You could say that it "play's it safe", but at the same time if the achievements were a bit more "adventurous", it could have been a complete disaster.
Be careful for the possibility of running into glitches, and use guides if needed.
Ever since it broke roughly last year, my concern for my PS3 has rose higher than my 360. I'm on my 3rd 360, but I don't get the impression that it's going to be breaking anytime soon. Say what you will about Microsoft for selling us garbage hardware, but at least the system they have in place for getting it fixed hasn't failed me yet.
(If it has failed you, I do not care, you are not important.) O_O
I've noticed the fan on my 60 gig seems to go loud over a certain amount of play-time. A few days ago, the highest fan setting seemed to kick-in: That scared me. Terrified that my PS3 is actually louder than my 360, I quickly cleaned it with compressed air. A more thorough study of the placement of my PS3 created more "discoveries". Apparently, I wasn't aware that a heat vent was pumping hot air into the corner where my PS3 was residing. I always thought my PS3 had enough ventilation, but another cleaning and moving the system out of the corner proved otherwise. The fan still was kicking in at inappropriate times though, so I followed more advice online and cut styrofoam blocks for each corner of the system to sit on. Sometimes a higher fan setting kicks-in, but it quickly dissipates.
I'm concerned about YLOD. I've been uploading my saves on the cloud server after each play-session. Before you ask, yes, I am a PS+ Subscriber, and I enjoy my multiple free titles that Sony seems hell-bent on giving me.
Regardless, I kinda feel like I'm in a pickle. I know Sony, if they had the opportunity, would cut-off support for the early models at the drop of a hat. I've heard about disassembling the PS3 and cleaning it, but I don't feel confident with voiding my warranty.
The magazine stand, was something akin to a strange "hang-out" center for me as a kid. It was during a time period when gaming print was butting heads with the ease of gaming articles and publications on the internet. I've had gaming magazines for years, most came from this one magazine stand that I would loiter by. I would grab a magazine, and then plead with my parents that I wanted one. This one caught my eye. Amongst the cornucopia of magazines for specific platforms, was a magazine for PC Gamer. On the cover was Max Payne, fully decked out ready to kick ass. The first Max Payne game was about to be unleashed, and the PC gaming community was getting ready to show off the powers of their super-rigs. Hard-boiled cop ready to go gun's blazing, a homage to John Woo films, a technical wonder ready to make eye's bleed hopefully in a metaphorical context. What was not to like?!
At the same time there was an article that resided in the magazine that made me feel a bit bothered. I'm not sure if the same magazine that displayed Max on the cover, was the same that had this article, but the time period is defiantly a match. Counter-Strike was having it's collective impact. Other game's were attempting to rival Counter-Strike's thunder, not much success was happening at the time, but that didn't stop PC Gamer from running an article that during the context of it's time, felt fairly reasonable to ask:
"THE DEATH OF SINGLE-PLAYER."
Absolute language like this is great for getting across a message, but is completely unpractical if you take the time to think the statement through. Single-player gaming didn't die ten years ago. (HOLY SHIT, I FEEL OLD) Instead, I am given a reminder that to be weary regarding certain proclamations.
...Has this damn annoying unreasonableness to repeat itself on every turn. Trying to find patterns usually only happens until the actual issue has transpired. We can use our past as a guideline to make equally unreasonable claims concerning future events.
It's at this point that my own synapses fire-off uncontrollably, frequently, and without much concern for stopping and bothering to make-out every facet of my immediate reaction and deduction. Who is the instigator to throw the switch? The person to make my own concerns and proclamations bubble-up without any simmering?
You probably know David Cage by his work regarding the SNES movie tie-in, for the Jean-Claude Van Damme classic: Time Cop. You probably couldn't immediately attach that name to Time Cop, because he worked under the pseudonym (This is actually real.) "De Gruttola" for a good majority of his early credited work.
You might also know him for being that guy you saw talking to you during the beginning of Indigo Prophecy. Also, he had something to do with Heavy Rain. I think he hand-placed each game into each box or something. Regardless of specifics, his recent proclamations during GDC reverberated with the subtlety of a nuke. While talking to The Guardian he elaborated on the points he shared:
"Developers are fed up – they want to talk about their families, politics, whatever – why not in a game? Why not?! There is no reason."
"...Don't write about being a rookie soldier in WWII, because you don't have a clue what that's like. Talk about yourself, your life, your emotions, the people around you, what you like, what you hate – this is how the industry will make a huge step forwards. I'm fed up with space marines."
He went on to praise the storytelling qualities of Heavy Rain. Of course, immediate gut-reaction to Cage giving himself loads of praise, while complaining about more "mainstream games" might sound a tad hypocritical. A torrent of comments and replies to Cage's statements, usually deal with forum users bitching about the multiple plot-holes that Heavy Rain contained. How Cage's games are essentially B-movie versions, of B-movies that don't focus on gun-combat.
While trying to separate speaker to statement might be difficult for a lot of us, the statements he gave still fester in my mind. Sure, Cage might be a bit egotistical, he did decide to have himself rendered in the opening of one of his games, but the statement does not sound fanciful. It's understandable, even easily obtainable. Perhaps he is not the correct arbiter for such a movement, that doesn't make his statement less reasonable.
Space Marine Fatigue
I'm curious to eventually play through Crysis 2, and yet at the same time, I already have a feeling of what to expect. I see aliens, I see New York, I see a dude in an awesome suit running around and shooting things. Instead of a Sci-Fi blockbuster impression, I'm reminded of films from The Asylum.
It just...I don't know...Looks tired.
I don't think this is an issue between getting fed-up with "Military / Sci-Fi shooters!" I've been a fan of Bungie games since the original Marathon, I just see a serious lack of cosmetic innovation.
It's a delicate balance, because as some immature turd online would reply that me that "We play games BECAUSE THEY ARE GAMES", and then proceed to inject copious amounts of heroin while running out the door after he hits the post button.
...What I'm trying to say, is that I get the feeling that certain aspects such as narrative, theme and setting, might have a far more important role in the future of our singleplayer experiences, specifically in shooters. That I perceive a day, that similar to what has happened to both the point-and-click adventure game genre and JRPG's, where reviewers begin paying more attention to certain unchanging aspects, in conjunction with the rest of the game.
Perhaps you can state that it's already happening, but I get the feeling that the days of a gaming publication praising the "narrative" quality of the likes of Modern Warfare 2 before the hype has dissipated and reality has sunk in, becoming a thing of the past. I don't think we are exactly there yet though. Crysis 2 is getting pretty good reviews, but none of the complaints in these reviews regarding the game's generic plot and setting seem to be reflective in the game's score. For those of us who don't play multiplayer every day, who are primarily play through a single-player campaign a few times, is there anything worthwhile there?
Or perhaps not. Reading Cage's comments reminded me of that PC Gamer article. What if he's wrong? What if ten years from now, we will be playing Modern Warfare 6, and it takes place on Mars against Killzone's generic Space Nazi's? Is that a good thing?
For all the possibilities and limitless potential that I perceive gaming going, there's a part of me that completely understands the idea of getting "Fed-Up with Space Marines". There's a part of me that want's more variety over the basic face-value of "shooting all the bad dudes cause they're bad." At the same time there's the somber reality concerning gaming budgets and lack of risk. As the people who make games get older, and the people who play games get older, can it be sage to say that in-itself will have an impact over how publishers do business?
I don't have a definitive answer. I'm not here to state that we need to immediately change now, or that our lack of having games without bald space marines is GOING TO KILL SINGLE-PLAYER GAMING!!!, or that David Cage is a genius who's shit can be used as a vaccine for cancer.
I will say, that I'm concerned if nothing happens, that is something I think we can all agree on. I also personally feel that there is a large overarching cycle, regarding our acceptance of certain gaming conventions and how they dissipate as we, and the industry get older.
Also, that the guy who ran the magazine stand when I was a kid was a dick, because he would get pissed about how I would just stand around and read the magazines.
I haven't done a blog in a while. I'm just gonna write a bunch and you're going to read it. Sound good? It shouldn't. You are reading, we are not having a audible conversation.
My lack of updates is actually a good thing, I've been appropriately busy regarding a plethora of different personal activities. One of which, I hope to be announcing in earnest very soon. The last few months since losing my job have been filled with anxiety, and for the first time since December I am beginning to feel relatively normal again.
Normal enough for vidiot at least. Did I just refer to myself in third-person? Maybe?
I cannot express my emotions into words regarding to what is happening right now in Japan. I've tried. There is not a word that can combine the full-range of sadness I am experiencing for the country where I was born.
But Vid, are you not whiter than a ghost?! Yes stupid. That's not how that works!
My parents were both students at Sophia during the 80's, and they subsequently lived there for almost a decade. Japanese culture has always been at the forefront of my life for as long as I can remember. There is...Hard to find a word that will fit here...We are moving into bizarre personal territory...A (???)strangeness (????)...Regarding being raised by two parents who can dive fluently into Japanese with a drop of a hat.
Fun political fact: Ask me what I think of the "birther's movement", regarding proclaiming president Obama is not our president, because of his supposed questionable place of birth. Just be prepared for a multitude of F-Bomb's being directed to you.
I'm getting off-topic here: I'm happy to know that my families friends living in Japan seem all-right, but the situation over-there is affecting my family immensely. During the 24/7 depression-thon known as CNN: There was a conversation that happened I found hilarious. An immediate family member, who has done translation work for years, boisterously yelling at CNN's anchors wondering why the fuck they didn't have anyone who could accurately translate a press-release was quite possibly one of the funniest things I've heard all week, for all the wrong reasons.
The recent nuclear activity has everyone on edge. I feel absolutely powerless regarding a situation like this, and it's increasingly frustrating.
Beyond Good and Evil
Changing gears here completely: Stop making excuses, and go download this gem of a game.
Predicting how a game is going to age is usually a crap-shoot. Beyond Good And Evil is one of those rare games, that actually is far better than how you would remember it. Most of it's lack of showing it's age is probably due to it's superb art style. The locations have a hint of The Longest Journey, juxtaposed with characters that give off a hint of Disney. You could nit-pick it's length, and certain sneaky sections that seem unnecessary, but these feel exactly what they are: Nit-Picks.
What's always surprised me, and this is still intact with the HD Re-Release: Is how the game's world is structurally supposed to be claustrophobic. It exhibits open-world design, but the environments are very starkly attached to one-another. I never feel any form of claustrophobia. The world of Beyond Good And Evil is alive and well, thanks to an engaging game world that other developers would only kill to have.
Also, it's a really easy S-Rank.
Before you ask: You have no idea how great it was to see no Mini-Game Master trophy anywhere on the game's trophy list.
When I went to Pax last year, I remember asking the guy running the Yakuza 4 demo about what the deal was with the trophies in Yakuza 3: His response pretty much was that the developers didn't really understand what they were doing. The mini-game trophies are exactly as they should be: Rewarding you just playing them, versus grinding over-and-over again against a difficulty that has a chance of making you hate what you are playing.
What's funny is how hilariously easy certain mini-games are to me. A trophy for getting a bulls-eye three times while playing darts? Done. Dart throwing in Yakuza game's have been mentally attached to my psychosis. If I need to hit a number: I hit it.
As for the actual game, I'm only up till chapter 3 but I'm enjoying the hell out of it so far. Everything seems far more focused than before, and the pace is defiantly light-years over part three. I was concerned I wouldn't enjoy a main character out-side of Kiryu, but Akiyama defiantly ranks so far as one of my favorite game characters of all time: And were only at the third chapter. Few early pointers:
You get items if you have a Yakuza 3 save at the beginning of the game.
Taunt. Buy the "Grab taunt" technique early on, and go to town with Heat actions.
To the northeast in the Champions district, there is a man inside one of the bars that will keep you informed over any sub-stories that need to be completed.
It's going to be really interesting how the reviews for Yakuza 4 are going to play out. I predict they are going to be all-over-the-place. For the very first time ever in the series, we have an entry that we can objectively look at, without thinking about Sega's piss-poor over-sea's bugling. I can already tell you that this review is wrong, although some very finite aspects of some of the complaints are ones that I share. It's true that this is a sequel that seems virtually built over the previous game. Although this game get's yearly releases per-year, and the it's obvious that reusing art-assets is not sacrilegious given the context.
If you liked Yakuza 3, you are going to like Yakuza 4. Unless something completely mind-blowing happens, I doubt that statement will change. Complaining about things that you praised only a year earlier is also kinda silly. Such critical taste makes me wonder why critic's aren't exhausted by FPS.
That being said, I feel like this series has plateaued. I get the impression that this game is a cultivation of the series so far, and the dramatic change into Of The End personifies this mentality. Whatever shape or form Yakuza 5 will take, I perceive it will be dramatically different from previous games in the series.
HomeFront and Dragon Age 2
I'm sick of HomeFront and I haven't even played it yet. Actually, I was sick of HomeFront before the game was actually released.
THQ these days seem to be in the news a lot, for very bad reasons. They're over-drive of marketing personifies almost a sick sense of desperation. At the same time, it's hard for me to blame them for trying this hard. The seriousness that is shown in the ad's, rival on almost self-parody.
I'm dreadfully sorry if you are a fan of HomeFront: I cannot take seriously a booming voice proclaiming that it's time for the "Second American Revolutionary War!" Unless the British are invading again, and it's not a music band, I'll consider myself out.
What's funny is that what I've seen of HomeFront's single-player, the snips of gameplay among the live action FMV ad's does interest me. Perhaps years from now there will be a Steam sale, and I'll check it out. THQ apparently is in a fuss regarding the average MetaCritic reviews.
Speaking of MetaCritic reviews: What the hell is up with Dragon Age 2?! This goes beyond the MetaCritic user-review debacle, there are a litany of uncountable forum posts and threads regarding Dragon Age 2's quality. Usually when high-profile game's are released, there is an influx of negative comments: But my god, this game should win an award for making people sing praises and making people shout blasphemy. No middle ground people?
I'm sure the game is fine, but I cannot objectively ignore that it's defiantly rubbed people the wrong-way. I'm fascinated by what shape-and-form the next entry will take. Bioware's own response has been less than...uh..."good". Unless you think setting a precedent by banning someone from the product that they legally bought after they said something very tame in the context of the internet. While a majority of the MetaCritic reviews are probably complete horse-shit, is it right for the highest rated user review be done by one of the developers? Bioware seems determined to run on a tight-rope regarding making me feel any form of sympathy for them.
Donate or die! Seriously. I am coming to your house. I have a weapon.
To end this on a serious note, if you want to help the current situation in Japan you might want to check out the Red Cross or Doctors Without Borders. I was surprised by the large amount of negative responses to people posting charities for the Hati earthquake, and while I acknowledge that how some of these charities can be less than "stellar" in terms of distributing your money, there isn't a whole lot that an average person can do in a situation like this.
The final death-toll is going to huge, and it's clear these survivors need any aid they can. Let's put it this way: If an unemployed asshole like me, can donate a few extra dollars, I have high hopes you can do the same. I'm not directing you to donate money, just something to think about if you're apprehensive.
Passive aggressiveness FTW! I'll let you be now. :P
Be safe, and have a happy St. Patrick's day fellow duders.
An "actual blog" will probably be posted this weekend. Still working out the kinks on the subject matter, and there's also my new top-secret blog series that I'll be debuting soon, but I'm getting ahead of myself. In the meantime, hope everyone is having an alright day today.
The new Yakuza demo for Of The End was released recently on Japanese PSN. A couple day's ago I dived onto my Justin.TV page and played through the entire demo, while talking to GB members in chat. ( Pepsiman doing on-the-fly translation!)
The demo is surprisingly comprehensive, and it pretty much solidified for me at least what conceptually this game is going to be about. It's easy to say that it's "Yakuza with zombies!" Although that statement is obviously quite loaded, and give impressions of a completely altered game both thematically and from a base design standpoint.
Instead what immediately drew my attention was how similar this game was to past entries. Perhaps too much. This is not a numbered entry into the series for a reason, and while it might chronologically take place after Yakzua 4, it is not Yakuza 5. Instead "Of The End" is a side-game that is similar to that of Yakuza's other side-game " Kenzan!" although "Of The End" clearly aspires for something far more specific than period piece Yakuza shenanigans. In previous games gun combat has been regulated to a quick power-up, something to quickly turn the tide of combat. Not so with OTE, which focuses primarily on gun combat exclusively. It's quite clear that this is OTE real intent: Bringing gun mechanics to the Yakuza series. What better way to incorporate gun combat with the same insane intensity of previous Yakuza combat? You guessed it: Zombies.
The gameplay flow is pretty straightforward: Populated sections similar to a traditional Yakuza game, then it switches over to a straight-up third person shooter for linear sections, specifically: It's Yakuza meet's Resident Evil 4/5. Complete with over-the-shoulder aiming and a mission clear screen that rates you. It's pretty fun when you get the basics down.
At the same time it's easy to write-off OTE for it's decision to use zombies. Even though the demo gave me a better idea of what Sega is trying to accomplish with this title, the zombie fad is beginning to over-stay it's welcome for me personally. At the same-time, I see room for improvement for the core-shooting mechanics.
I promised video, here we go:
Original broadcast can be found here. Although Justin.TV will be deleting it soon I assume. Thanks to those who watched this.
These video's were blocked by Sega almost seconds after uploading them. After disputing the copyright claims, I am now allowed to share them. I respect Sega's intellectual property and I did not mean to offend anyone with this demo playthrough. Thanks.
You can watch the entire video off my LiveStream page that is linked in the banner above. As well as the Justin.TV link that I posted above.
Each time I booted Nier, a large booming voice inside of me screamed the following:
"Nier is not a good game!"
Perhaps my critical side is over-exerting itself. It's a statement that is not contrarian, the game has issues. Normally the following would be a review, but the greater whole of Nier demands a far more finite examination, versus some-form of quick write-up.
For those uninitiated to this game, take up a chair and get comfy. For those that know Nier backwards and forwards: You're probably going to get a kick out of my feeble attempt to make sense of this game. I've been dreading to write about Nier almost immediately after booting the game. Without any context or exposition, almost immediately after the logo's of both Square-Enix and developer Cavia expire from the screen, your ears are brought to full attention of a woman screaming the following:
The black screen evaporates and we are shown a goofy fantasy language, coupled with a typical opening video montage anyone would normally see in the beginning of a JRPG. The tone though, has been completely altered. The opening screaming diatribe still rings in your ears. You try and make sense of the almost non-sequitur nature of what has transpired. Desperately you try and make sense of it. Sadly the more you think about it, the more your face begins to contort in mannerisms and spasms comparable to having nerve damage.
That's pretty much Nier in a nut-shell. It's not good... ...At the same time it's the most creative game to come out of Square in the last decade.
Did that previous statement make you exclaim some form of confused verbal regurgitation? What if I told you, that after playing, and beating the game twice: That's probably my most expert explanation of what Nier is?.
One step forward, ten steps...No...Ten leaps, not forward, nor backward. Instead off to the side, into some nether-region that any concrete explanation becomes void. Every facet in Nier is subject to this bizarre truth: From it's core mechanics and design, to it's presentation that unravels into whirlwind of for better or worse: "What were they thinking?!". This storm of conflicting concepts creates hands-down: The strangest experience I have played in years.
I hope you get the impression by now why I've been dreading writing this.
Even though Final Fantasy XIII was the fastest selling game in the franchise's history, this has not been a good year for Square at all. Their online venture, Final Fantasy XIV was dead on arrival. According to interviews, there are concerns internally at Square that Final Fantasy has lost it's solid base of sales for future releases. (To be taken with a grain of salt for sure.) Future releases in the series have been delayed. It's western developed releases are not fairing any better: Kane and Lynch 2 was received kinda all over-the-place from everyone, and to top it off: Deus Ex: Human Revolution was delayed this year.
Out-side of their core franchises: New Sqaure IP's have been a joke for the most part. While MindJack is already being forgotten, by everyone, Nier shared a similar fate last year when it was a released very haphazardly.
My knowledge of the title prior to playing was that it, was that it was Square's half-baked attempt to appeal to the high combat hack-and-slash franchises, primarily God of War. This miss-conception was not primarily my own fault, Square's own pre-advertising was a mirage of just straight-up confusion. Early trailer's were laden with blood, and copious amounts of rock-epic music. The whole production looked like an over-the-top attempt to appeal to some demographic out-side of Japan that doesn't exist...Or did ten years ago. When the game was released, there was an influx of internet discussion regarding the amount of cursing in the game. Reading certain comments, and my knowledge of what I previously knew immediately turned off any interest I would have had. The cursing deal really slammed the coffin shut. Don't get me wrong, I love a good four letter-salute, but it has to be natural.
I hate cursing for the sake of cursing. I remember trying to find the mute button while playing Killzone 2 a year ago, unnatural cursing is absolutely grating. Nothing is more annoying when another country makes a videogame, and proceeds to inject it copious amounts of four-letter words. Why another country? Because nine times out of ten, it's never natural. Playing Killzone 2 was a grating experience, listening to a space Marines cough up another forced four-letter exaggeration bomb every five minutes eroded my suspension of disbelief. The intent is on display: That's what those kinds in North America like! That's how Marines talk, all the time, right?! The initial information about Nier for me, felt and followed this example.
The pre-buzz information about Nier game the general impression of something akin to a "B movie, out of touch" palpable mound of annoyance. So when Nier promptly came out, received stellar score like this, I passed it up and never looked back. I remember reading an article on Kotaku about something regarding fishing. Strange. The game left my memory.
My interest faintly returned when a friend of mine sent me a youtube link regarding Nier's soundtrack. I loved it.
When I was putting together my 2010 best soundtrack list, I felt bad once again, I wasn't giving Jesper Kyd a proper shout-out. My rule is that if I haven't played the game yet, the game doesn't get on the list. Assassins Creed 2 and Assassins Creed: Brotherhood were strangely both games I received for Christmas, not enough time to play and write about it. So when I do those lists, I really want user participation because there are so many game soundtracks and composers that go under the radar. One that kept pooping up on that thread was Nier. I received a few more PM's regarding my lack of putting Nier on that list. Every new iota from the soundtrack was shared made my ears explode in interest.
I had to hunt-down a copy at an obscure GameStop that I seldom drive-by. They didn't have the game on the shelves, thus resulting in what was probably the strangest beginning of a conversation concerning the whereabouts of a game I've ever had: "I'm looking for a terrible game called Nier."
How poorly did Nier sell? It came out this year, and I bought it new for $15.
So, what is Nier
Nier is an action adventure game that borrows design elements from a myriad of different genre's, but never seems to capitalizes on any of them.
It incorporates an open-world town and dungeon design comparable to Zelda...Yet, it only has a small percentage of towns and dungeons, and it's open-world flow feels strangely claustrophobic.
It incorporates what...seems...to be something akin to God of War combat mechanics, yet it never capitalizes on anything outside of hitting one button over and over again. Combo meters? What for? The "Y" button does another style of attack...But why do I need to use it, if I can beat everything by hitting "X"?
It incorporates RPG style leveling...Bah, you won't notice it.
Nier is filled to the brim with undercooked mechanics and design choices. None of which are bad, just barely fitting together. It's like the game's mechanics are wrapped in tape, barely holding together, ready to fall apart at the drop of a hat. Everything works, as in it functions, but anything more than that is wishful thinking.
It's essentially an RPG at heart, but outside of the roughly ten hour linear plot, is a cornucopia of fetch-quests. Now in theory, these can be fun if the game-world is lush interesting place... ... ...
Nier probably has one of the ugliest game worlds every made. I am not someone who put's visuals over a functioning game. I loathe internet comments made by the immature, who proclaim that a titles graphics look: "LIKEZ A PS2 GAME!!!" Without any description why a game that runs on Unreal 3, somehow looks as if though it was made on hardware that couldn't technically run the fu%^@#* engine! ... ...We've all seen comments online akin to that, which is why Nier upsets me again. It's crazy, because if I were to describe what the visuals of Nier, a quick point to the previous generation would probably be the most effective way of describing them. Let's put it this way: I could not look away as my eye's first noticed the main Library in the middle of the first village, with it's one texture.
Nier tries to....uh...hide, it's low production values by flooding the screen with some HDR lighting... ...Hah, no, I'm joking. It's a bloom effect you haven't seen since the first Fable. Shiny everything!
So to recap: Nier's graphical fidelity show's general inexperience and incompetence. It's core gameplay mechanics, and design, barely hold together.
So why is Nier the most creative game to come out of Square? More importantly, what does Nier show about current Japanese development?
My early negative impressions regarding Nier began to mutate and mature around roughly one-third into the game. Something that rarely happens with me. There was more going on here, that one simply could deduct within the first few minutes.
Let's stop and reiterate that this game was produced by Square: The same guys that made Final Fantasy XIII. The same guys that make some of the most visually stunning games this generation. While developer Cavia might not have a grasp on the technical side of things, I'm guessing Square's money more than makes up for the utter lack of visual polish, with what appears to be sweeping production values everywhere else:
Nier has the best original soundtrack of last year. Period. Nier has one of the best localizations, and excellent voice acting. Nier story is experimental, and reminds me of a time when Japan's core console games, all didn't seem to follow the same cookie-cutter plot arch. If anything, Nier practically bastardizes the core: "Save the child! Save the world" story-thread, in a manner that will freak you out during the end-game. Were getting ahead of ourselves, let's back-up and talk about the music.
Nier's soundtrack was composed by four people: Keiichi Okabe, Kakeru Ishihama, Keigo Hoashi and Takafumi Nishimura. Out of these four composers, I know one: Keiichi Okabe, who's past work includes primarily the Tekken series.
This soundtrack sounds nothing like Tekken, and is primarily composed of strong vocals and haunting chants. The vocals used are primarily a fictitious language, similar to "Panzerese" from the Panzer Dragoon series. Usually I get the impression that I can describe how an album sounds pretty well. In this case, I honestly feel that nothing written here will properly convey how fantastic this album is. Here's a quick sample.
The brilliance...Yet still very...very strangeness..
Nier's story takes place in your traditional post-apocalyptic future, where humanity is on the brink of extinction from an army or unknown creatures called "Shades". You play as Nier, a middle-aged father roughly in his late 40's, tending to his daughter who has been inflicted by a strange disease.
In a wired twist that has to take some-type of localization award of "general strangeness", in Japan the game's titular lead protagonist is not a middle-aged man. Instead he's been changed into a young man in his early twenty's, trying to protect his sister.
While changing the age...and relations...of the two lead characters for an over-sea's market might sound weird, it's probably the least strangest aspect of Nier.
The game's supporting cast includes Kaine, a scantly clad woman who wears lingerie and hunts shades. It's hinted throughout the game, so let's get the following out of the way: Kaine is a hermaphrodite. That's probably the least strangest thing about the character, as she's also possessed by a Shade who lives inside her. When you replay the game during it's robust New Game+ mode, you get to hear the Shade talking to her. Kaine curses quite a bit in the game, and it's great stuff. My early rallying against excessive unnatural swearing in part one, can be tossed out the window. Kaine's script plays with four letter words like an artist.
Trying not to smile with her proclamation, during a very broken boss fight, that enemy was a "shit-hog!" will make you smile. It's a combination of excellent voice acting, and an equally excellent localization. It's never forced or awkward, it's pure unadulterated: Fantastic cursing.
Kaine, like all the voice actors, is uncredited. She is played by Laura Bailey. You probably know her as Serah from Final Fantasy XIII, or Rise from Persona 4.
I'm not sure why all the main voice-actors seem uncredited. Perhaps they didn't enjoy the project? Perhaps it's some strange logistical thing regarding voice-acting that I'm ignorant about? Regardless, Laura's performance is fantastic, and the character she plays is probably one of the most mentally fractured heroines ever to grace a medium. She does the job phenomenally though, and the combined efforts with a really great script (fully-loaded with four letter treats) really turns into something really special. Consider myself a fan.
Then there's the second character in the party, Weiss: A floating talking book with a high-class British accent, who spews magic attacks on your enemies. Weird enough? Don't worry, he's also voiced by another uncredited actor: Liam O'Brien. You probably best know him this past year in gaming, as War in Darksiders.
While you collect the remainders of your brain from that previous statement, like Laura, Liam seems to be having a load of fun regarding the confines of his character. The best moments of Nier come from the back-and-forth dialog between Nier, Kaine, and Weiss. There develops a real form of commrodery between the characters, something that is pretty difficult to convey in writing.
Then there's the main character Nier.
There is something continually bizarre playing a character, that one has the knowledge that the real version of said character is not the version you are playing as. As stated before, the character of Nier was aged for the North American market, at the same time the main story of Nier is unchanged.
When Nier himself goes off the deep-end, talking about the power of friendship and being the general "good guy" in the villiage, his mannerisms and dialog seem only slightly altered from the original context. What's crazy is that it works . What is originally the same tired-and-true character persona that you've seen in a typical JRPG, becomes something generally new. You empathize more with the main character, and there's a general sadness regarding his situation.
The plot is generally sad. The game offers-up a robust NewGame+, feature that simply gives english subtitles to the enemy's you face. I don't want to get into much detail, but there is a philosophical aspect of this game that's just going to either annoy you or blow you away.
Finishing Nier for the second time, made me stop and think hard about the current state of Japanese game development.
I remember a time when developers and publishers took strange risks like this. Nier is clearly not at all some strange back-handed attempt to break into ground covered by others like I originally believed. Not all of Nier's plot and exposition are golden. There's a throw-away character named Emil who joins the party at a certain point. Outside of a few hiccups, there is a part of me that want's to nominate, at least the general intent of Nier to something greater than a poor hack-and-slash with a killer soundtrack and a story that's going to be stuck in your head for years.
I get the feeling that a better allocation of production dollars in certain key-area's could have made up for Nier's shortcomings. At the same time, I am understanding of developer Cavia's plight. I feel that my favorite games from Japan last year, Resonance of Fate and even Yakuza 3 were held back in several key-area's due to a lack of stable production values.
There's...A part of me that wants more games like Nier. Not games that have questionable mechanics, but games that push the envelope in aspects like plot with reckless abandon. I'm not suggesting that Japan at one point, had some golden age of "pushing the envelope regarding plot", but I feel these days that there is a general lack of trying to do something new or crazy like this. A lost mentality, perhaps due to the rising costs of game development. Something I see more in the indie-scene these days.
Sure, it's not commercially viable 100% of the time. Although, I get the feeling we forget that the staples of the industry, were at one time or another commercial risks. To see such genuine creativity, doing things like changing a 3rd-person hack-and-slash into a text adventure when you enter someone's dream, is something that should be applauded versus scorned.