The end of Drakengard 3 - beautiful and broken

Zero, the "hero" of the game.

NOTE: I will be talking extensively about the very end of Drakengard 3. I won’t get into too many of the greater story details, but the final sequence will be discussed at length. If you want to be surprised by it (and it can be quite surprising), you may not want to read any further. Also, be wary of the images used on this post, as I have included a few from this sequence.

I really enjoyed Drakengard 3. While it had some repetitive gameplay and quite a bit of jank, it also featured a very unique story, one that felt very much like it came from that team behind Nier. It wasn’t so much the story beats, although those had their moments, but the characters that made it great. Zero is a fantastic character, maybe one of the best female characters I’ve seen, who feels very realistic and beholden to only her own desires and demands. The rest of the cast is delightfully quirky, with some dialogue that may make those with Puritan sensibilities cringe in distaste. This quirkiness can seem a bit crass at times, but it also manages to be exceptionally funny from top to bottom. It all comes together to make a game that is truly unlike anything else I’ve played.

Drakengard 3 is also capped off with a singular experience, a last-minute shift in gameplay style that is unlike anything I’ve seen before. The final chapter changes from a character-action game, complete with combo trees and lots of murdering, to what is essentially a rhythm-based minigame. You play as Mikhail, Zero’s dragon, and have to time button presses to music in order to succeed, essentially shielding him from attacks by a giant creature. The section quickly builds in intensity, requiring quicker button presses and better timing, until it reaches a crescendo and ends with the final cutscene.

A typical section with Mikhail, not at all like the end game sequence.

This sequence is the most striking thing I’ve seen in a game this year. The color palette shifts to a gorgeous black-and-white, the camera maneuvers wildly to capture the intriguing imagery, and the fantastic music begins to play over it all. It’s a heavy tonal shift from the intense action and alternating mature/immature antics of the characters found in the rest of the game. I was immediately reminded of Nier, particularly the way that everything had a very dream-like and ethereal feel that made it almost seem like it wasn’t really happening. I don’t have nearly the writing skill to describe this in the detail it deserve, so I highly recommend tracking down a video and seeing it for yourself (or playing it for yourself, of course). What is truly interesting about this sequence, however, is the way it drops the player in.

The player is given very little warning as to what he/she is expected to do, if anything. The chapter selection screen, which usually labels sections as “Cutscene” or “Game,” doesn’t provide any help to the player--it labels this chapter as “Game?,” giving only the smallest hint that something different is coming. Music begins to play, the camera zooms in on Mikhail, and the timed rings fly towards him; failure to hit a button, or at the correct time, will result in a harsh noise and a game over screen. The one concession the developers made for this sequence is that nearly any button on the controller will work, giving those who fumble at their controllers in blind panic a chance of figuring things out on the first try. Most players, however, will likely mess up a few times before understanding what exactly is going on. Part of me really loves this concept--there is something brilliant about throwing a player into new gameplay without giving them any idea what they’re expected to do first.

Unfortunately, this mysterious feeling of not knowing what’s to come also makes this section quite frustrating. While it is immediately striking and unique, it also does very little to prepare players for what is to come, something that will likely annoy modern gamers who have come to expect tutorials and waypoint arrows telling them exactly what to do. I can’t really blame them in this case: being expected to figure out how to play a game, especially an endgame section that mixes things up at the last possible moment, is crazy to comprehend in a modern video game. To be fair, however, this isn’t really that big of a deal--a few attempts will probably be enough for most people to figure it out and eliminate all traces of the unknown from this part of the game.

It gets worse.

Images don't really do this scene justice.

This section also features some very particular timing, timing that almost seems to mimic original Playstation-era rhythm games in its strict windows for hitting a note. This rigidity is bad enough, but there also seems to be a bit of inconsistency in the timing, making it even harder to predict when the button needs to be pressed. There are visual cues along with the musical cues, which can aid players, but the timing of these can be tricky as well--the button has to be pressed right before the ring hits Mikhail instead of as it hits him. Furthermore, these cues are quickly stripped away as the sequence becomes crazier. The developers also enjoy fucking with the player, moving the camera in some really deceptive ways that basically force players to rely on the music itself to succeed. Combine this with the inconsistent feeling of the timing and you are already looking at a hair-pulling section.

It gets worse.

The final level is about seven minutes long. Any single mistake sends you back to the beginning. There is roughly a minute’s worth of slow setup before the playable portion begins, setup you are forced to watch without skipping each time you fail before getting back to business. The beginning of the song is actually quite easy, but you’ll still see it dozens of times as you mess up later on and are forced to replay the whole thing. I can’t even describe the despair and frustration I felt when I made a mistake five minutes in--for the twentieth time, mind you--and had to do the whole thing AGAIN. It is a massive exercise in patience, making even a simple error in timing extremely punishing..

It gets worse.

The final few notes actually come after the screen fades to black and players assume they are finished. In fact, the final cutscene dialogue begins to play right before the final note, further tricking players into thinking they are done. Those who don’t know these notes are coming, which is probably the vast majority of players who go into this sight unseen, can expect a massive amount of rage when they seemingly fail out of nowhere. The final note is the most egregious of all. It is a very slow note, with nearly ten seconds between it starting and the need to hit the button. Without the visual cues, as players are then looking at a black screen, it can be nearly impossible to time without practice--practice which takes a full seven minutes of prior gameplay to obtain.

It took me nearly five hours of attempts on this sequence before I finally managed to overcome it. Even spending that much time, I never felt like I had the timing or the rhythm down. Instead of persevering (or going mad--whichever came first), I eventually went online for some assistance and found a Youtube video that helped. It has you line up the game to the video and provides Rock Band-esque note markers to help with the timing. Even with this video, it still took me several attempts to correctly line up the audio and deal with the inconsistent timing of when the game wanted my button presses.

A screencap of that Youtube video. The flowers go right to left and indicate when to hit the button.

It’s certainly possible that many players could attempt this section and have no trouble with it whatsoever. It feels like one of those things that some people will have a lot of difficulty getting perfect and others do easily in just a few attempts. I will note, however, that I have spent a lot of time with rhythm games in the past and have some decent skill timing things like this (I know how pretentious this sounds, but I needed to relate my relative skill to give you some idea here). Even with all that previous experience, this section of Drakengard 3 still gave me a ridiculous amount of trouble. There is very little to do with reflexes or quick button presses--it all comes down to the timing of the notes, something that always felt extremely hit-or-miss for me. For that reason, I feel like this is a rather flawed section of an otherwise...well, flawed game.

I could easily see this section being the end of the line for many people, those who just can’t finish it for anything. Sadly, this sequence is right before the very last cutscene of the game. Those who have put the (roughly) 20 hours into Drakengard 3 to get to this point, including grinding out weapons to unlock the bonus chapters, may not get the closure they deserve depending on their skill with an entirely different kind of game. This is a huge bummer, but I can at least say that that final cutscene is more of a fun extra. It doesn’t really divulge any extra information about the world and is instead a goofy and inadequate reward for the difficult section preceding it. It would be easy to avoid the hassle of this section and instead just watch the scene on Youtube, if one were so inclined.

With this post, I really just wanted to talk about this end sequence of Drakengard 3 at length, especially considering not many people have probably seen it. I don’t know where my feelings actually come out on this section. On one hand, I really think it is one of the coolest and most unique sections in a game this year: it is visually striking, features a breathtaking (but now somewhat traumatizing to hear) song, and is shocking in its nonchalant change of gameplay genre. On the other hand, it can become unbearably frustrating and is somewhat archaic in its timing windows on the notes. It’s a bit of a mess, a section that feels like more time was given to making it look amazing then making it play well. Even with all its problems, I still think this part of Drakengard 3 is worth seeing--just don’t try and play it yourself, okay?

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Why don't all dubbed Japanese games credit the English voice actors?

Lightning Returns is a recent game that credits its English voice cast.

Japanese games are some of my favorites, time and time again. Many of them feature kooky characters, creative storylines, and clunky yet interesting gameplay mechanics. This year alone has brought Lightning Returns and Drakengard 3, two games I enjoyed immensely for their unique worlds and bold experimentation within their respective genres. As such a big fan, I spend a lot of time with these games and come to understand some of the commonalities they share. One such commonality that constantly confuses me is a simple question: why is the English voice cast so often left out of the credits in these games?

From what I’ve noticed, there are three potential outcomes for Japanese games translated into English. First are the games like Persona 4, games that are entirely in English, yet still don’t bother to credit the English voice actors. Second, there are games such as Drakengard 3 that do have both vocal tracks (in Drakengard 3’s case, the Japanese track is DLC) but only include the Japanese voice cast in the credits. For both these types of games, the developer only credits the voice actors who aren’t even present in that version of the game, a mind-boggling fact that still shocks the hell out of me.

There are some games which actually do give proper credit to the English voice cast, such as the aforementioned Lightning Returns--all the credited VAs are replaced with their English counterparts. From my experience, it does seem like this third case is the most common with Japanese games, just not by much. I really don’t understand why so many translated games neglect to include the English voice cast. What possible value is there in noting actors from other versions of the game when you could instead credit the actual voice actor for that version? This is something that really irks me.

Sometimes, I really enjoy a particular voice performance and would love to look up more of that voice actor’s work. If the credits don’t actually say who did that performance, it can be quite difficult to figure it out, depending on how skilled the voice actor is at changing his/her voice and how prolific the actor is in the industry. Visit a forum for a newly-released game with no English voice credits and I guarantee you’ll find a topic or two where a bunch of people try to guess who the actors are. It’s distressing to think that such guesswork has to be employed instead of just being able to read the damn credits.

Naoto: a fantastic voice performance that is still uncredited (or at least credit has been unconfirmed) to this day.

A rather prominent example of this is the voice actor/actress for Naoto in both Persona 4 games (a different voice actress is used for the anime series and Arena). To my knowledge, we still don’t actually know who voices this character, due to no credit for her voice actor. Similarly, a large chunk of the voice cast in Drakengard 3 is unknown, aside from a few well-known actors who are easy to recognize (Tara Platt as Zero, Yuri Lowenthal as Dito, etc.). Even characters who sound like prominent voice actors may not actually be those voice actors, due to a bit of vocal homogenization in this type of game. How could we know for sure, after all, since these games don’t give proper credit to those actors? It’s absolutely absurd.

In any other medium, this would be grounds for complete outrage. Why isn’t this the case for these games!? We just wave off the lack of a properly-credited English voice cast, not worrying that we may never know who voiced some of our favorite characters. Is it because these games are so niche? They really aren’t anymore, to be honest. Dozens, if not hundreds, of games get brought over from Japan by companies like XSeed and NiS every year, many of which feature new voiceover and many of which fail to credit the new cast. This is something we NEED to get angry about--but who is to blame?

The localization team is the group who changes the credits and works with the new voice cast. It can’t be that they don't have the resources or time to change the names to the correct ones. They are already translating the entirety of the credits from kanji to Roman characters AND usually inserting the names of the localization team; how much more work could it be to just edit a few extra lines of text? I can only think of one reason why these companies may leave out the English voice actors: the new voice actors just don’t have the authority to get their names into the credits. This is really only educated guesswork on my part, but I can’t think of any other reason why so many of these games would disregard the actual voice actors.

You may not know this (I didn’t until just recently) but video game voice actors are commonly represented by the Screen Actors Guild. SAG rules state that a member cannot work on any project that is not in agreement with the guild first and that members must be given standard working conditions and proper credit on the project. Furthermore, looking at the SAG website reveals that quite a few hoops must be jumped through in order to work with SAG voice actors, including loads of paperwork and verification needed to move forward with the project. Also, any non-SAG members also working on the project are required to be noted in separate paperwork.

This all sounds like a major pain in the neck. If this is the reason why many smaller localization teams instead choose to work with non-SAG voice actors, I can understand why they do so. In addition, I’m willing to bet that these SAG actors cost a good deal more money to hire, due to their standardized expectations of pay. It’s likely that most games which neglect to credit their voice cast are using these non-SAG actors (or SAG actors using a pseudonym). Since credit isn’t necessarily required to be given, many of these localization teams just don’t do so when it comes time to make the credits for a particular game.

Danganronpa: another game with no credited English cast. In fact, the Wikipedia entry is filled with footnotes of people having to ask the voice actors personally on Twitter if a role was theirs.

I don’t agree with this. Even if the voice actors are perfectly happy not being credited for their work, they should appear in the game’s credits. What harm does it do to the final project? It’s not like actors earn residuals for simply appearing in the game’s credits--it is merely an acknowledgment of their time and effort spent on the game, just like any other member of the team. It takes a measly few seconds to change the name from the Japanese VA to the English VA. There is no logical reason I can see that explains why these hardworking individuals don’t deserve to get credit--SAG status or not.

No matter the reasons, all games that record new English voiceover for an American/Europe release should credit the new voice actors. This is a trend in gaming that needs to change NOW. It feels very slimy on the part of the companies who omit the English voice actors and completely ignores the point of what credits are supposed to do: credit the damn people who worked on the game. While it’s true that these companies aren’t legally doing anything wrong by not crediting those who aren’t a part of SAG projects, it is still a despicable and shady practice. As fans of a game, we shouldn’t have to be left wondering who actually voiced a particular character.

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Chapter 0: Mirabelle's Arrival in Ul'dah - One FFXIV Character's Journal

This is something I'm trying, a journal from the viewpoint of my character during her explorations in Final Fantasy XIV. If reception seems to be poor, I won't bother to do another. Note that I took a few creative liberties here and there with what actually happens in-game and what my character experiences.

***

Hi! I'm Mirabelle!

Hello to whoever may be reading this! I’ve decided to keep a journal of my new adventures out into the world of Eorzea. Living in my small village wasn’t enough for me anymore, so I decided to hop on a traveling wagon and head for the city of Ul’dah. After saying goodbye to my family, I gathered my small amount of gil and belongings and climbed aboard the wagon—with a little help from the grizzled Hyur man already inside—and waved goodbye as we slowly made our way down the path. I thought I would feel sad, but truth be told, I was actually excited. Finally, I would get to see the wonders of the realm that I had only heard about from those few travelers who made their way to our humble village!

For the most part, the ride was uneventful. The man who had helped me fell asleep almost immediately and the other pair along for the ride didn’t seem to want to talk. I spent most of the trip with my head stuck out over the wagon, gasping and smiling at the various sights. I knew I wasn’t seeing much, sticking to path like that, but it was still unlike anything I had ever seen. Other travelers occasionally passed us by, a wide variety of races that I had never seen up close before. A few of them were even riding chocobos! I ached to reach out and touch one as they passed, but I didn’t want to offend anyone.

When the city was just coming into sight, the man finally woke up with a loud yawn. He grinned at me when he noticed me watching him. I blushed nervously until he laughed and introduced himself as Brendt. I told him my name and said it was nice to meet him. We heard loud voices suddenly, coming from some passing guards. They checked our supplies and started to get very angry at my new friend, saying he had illegal materials in the wagon. I tried not to panic as they talked about fines—I didn’t have enough gil to give away! Just then, an arrow struck the floor of the wagon, startling everyone. I peered out over the wagon and saw strange beast men, huge (especially compared to me!) with thick black hides. The guard cursed under his breath and sprinted into combat, shouting at the wagon driver to head towards the city. I watched in fear as the guards fought the giant creatures until the wagon turned a corner in the path and I couldn’t see them anymore.

Brendt must have seen me trembling because he asked if I was alright. I took some deep breaths and nodded. “What were those things,” I asked. He told me they were called “Amalj’aa,” a form of wildkin that was causing tremendous grief to those in Ul’dah. He took this opportunity to ask where I had come from and where I was going. I told him a little about my village, and my hopes of becoming a great adventurer and exploring the land I found so fascinating. He smiled knowingly and told me how he had done the same at a younger age. I asked him if I could find work in Ul’dah, and he replied with “Plenty, if you’re willing to do some things others won’t.” Kindly, he also gave me a brief history of the city and a description of what I could expect to find within. With a chuckle, he also added that I would still be surprised by just how vast it was.

The gates of Ul'dah

My head spun with the possibilities. How would I possibly figure out what to do? Brendt seemed to notice I looked quite lost, so he noted that I should visit the Quicksand first. It was a quality inn with fair prices, and the proprietor, a fellow Lallafell named Momodi, was very kind and welcoming to new adventurers. She could set me up with a room, some food, and maybe even a few pointers on where to first acquire work. I wanted to hug this strange man for helping a random Lalafell like me, but I wasn’t sure how he would respond. Instead, I took his hand and shook it vigorously. This made him laugh quite hard, accepting my repeated thanks with grace. I couldn’t help but like him.

We pulled into the front gate and everyone hopped out. I gaped at the vast city that stretched before me, walls that stood hundreds of yalms tall and throngs of people making their way about their business. The pair had already vanished, but Brendt stayed behind a second and pointed me in the direction of the Quicksand. I thanked him again, and he told me where to find him in the city if I needed anything else. I won’t lie; I was nervous when we parted ways. However, I knew that I needed to do things on my own. I did my best to stay out of everyone’s way, especially those giant Ro men and women, and made my way up the nearby stairs and into the Quicksand.

The Quicksand

The Quicksand was filled with a wide variety of people from all races, all talking with one another to form a cacophony that I could barely hear myself think in. I could smell tasty delicacies cooking behind one of the far doors, and my stomach growled in appreciation. I slowly made my way through the crowds and over to the front desk. A Lallafell who I assumed to be Momodi was there, talking with some Hyur. I waited patiently for them to finish and approached the tall counter. I heard a voice say, “Go ahead and hop up on one of those stools, honey.” I jumped up and was face-to-face with Momodi. She smiled at me and gestured in a warm, welcoming manner. “Always nice to see a fellow Lallafell. I’m Momodi, owner of the fabulous Quicksand.”

I introduced myself and she promptly shook my hand. “You’re a new adventurer, I’m guessing? You’ve come to the right place! I run the local Adventurer’s Guild. She slid a large book at me and handed me a quill. “Sign your name here to register. That will let me start getting you some basic work.”

I do as she asks and slide the book back. “I look forward to working with you, Mirabelle. If you ever need any advice, just come ask me—well, as long as it isn’t for something as simple as stubbing your toe! "Course, I do enjoy hearin' a lady muse on the many manhoods of her acquaintance from time to time..."

Momodi

My face turns bright red. “Just a joke. Well, unless you’re willing to share. Anyways, welcome to the Adventurer’s Guild. What can I do for you tonight?

I told her needed a place to stay, some food, and work. She grinned. “Well, I can help you with the room and food tonight. You look about ready to collapse, so how about we talk about the work tomorrow?”

I thought about it and realized just how tired I was. With a small giggle, I agreed and followed her instructions over to the counter where I was given a delicious bowl of rice and meat—portioned perfectly for someone of my race—and then led up to a rather modest inn room. I handed over the coins required, a fair but surprisingly high number. I slid out of the feeble armor I had, putting my cherished weapon nearby, and hopped up into the bed. The sun was just going down, but I was already exhausted. I snuggled under the covers and passed out in seconds. Too much excitement for one day!

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The emotional impact of Papers, Please

An example of the game's full-body scanner

NOTE: I originally wrote this for my own site, so it's probably a little more broad than necessary for a gaming site like this one.

Recently, I’ve been playing a decent amount of Papers, Please (3-ish hours, according to Steam). If you haven’t heard of it, it’s a game where you sit at a border checkpoint and must check entrants’ documents for a variety of things to decide whether or not they are allowed into your country. As the game progresses, the rules change to match recent events and new protocols get added on a regular basis. It eventually becomes a crazy mental checklist of a variety of different variables including appearance, expiration dates, and tons of other things in order to verify whether or not someone is allowed through. It’s a great deal of fun for emulating such a menial task and I highly recommend it.

There are several points where the game is obviously trying to have some sort of message or moral quandary. Do you refuse a woman’s entry because her papers are wrong even though her husband just went through ahead of her? Is a direly-needed bribe, one that could buy food for your own family, enough to get you to break the rules just once? Possibly the most depressing moment, however, is when you get access to an X-ray scanner. This scanner takes full-body pictures of the entrant and shows you their completely nude form in shockingly clear detail. The usual intended purpose is to check for contraband or weapons, usually taped somewhere to the body, but there is one other reason for it as well.

Sometimes, the gender on the entrant’s passport and the gender of their character model don’t seem to match up. You are supposed to prod the person on this and scan him or her to check their gender for correctness. At first, I just saw this procedure as an attempt to catch those entrants who were using some sort of fake passport and posing as another gender Their unwillingness to answer the question “Are you a man or a woman?” was due to fear of being caught and possibly detained. It was just another bullet point to check on my list of things-to-do.

However, I soon started wondering if this was the case. What if the creator, Lucas Pope, instead wanted these particular entrants to be seen as trans people trying to outwardly project the gender they want to be? What if the the wrong gender on the person’s passport was just the rigid rules of society forcing his or her true gender to be displayed on the passport, even though he or she ached to be seen as otherwise? When this thought occurred to me, I started to feel very disgusted with myself every time I was forced to scan a person to confirm their gender; it was as if I was outing his or her’s closest-guarded secret, something one should never do to a person EVER. That question “Are you a man or a woman?” took on another meaning. I was asking that person something he or she most likely heard on a regular basis, a depressing question that reminded him or her that gender is seen as binary by society. It was almost enough to get me to stop playing entirely, for fear of outing yet another hidden.

I wasn’t expecting these feelings when I started playing Papers, Please. The X-ray scanner and stark, nude photos were something I had seen before in earlier coverage of the game, and they had elicited different feelings of disgust; I knew that I was seeing someone naked without their permission, something that the other person didn’t even seem to realize I could see (that’s the way the game makes it seem, at least). The idea of outing trans people is even worse than that to me, having the knowledge that I’m seeing such a conflicted, personal part of their lives. My interpretation of these particular entrants may be incorrect, as it’s possible that Pope never intended them to be seen as trans, but I stand by it. I also feel it gives the game even more impact emotionally. It may be horrible to allow a person through whom a woman begs you to deny, saying that he will kill her if he gets through, but I still think that outing a trans person’s biggest secret will weigh most heavily on my mind from my time with the game.

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My Quest to Finally Play A Fighting Game Online - Chapter 2

(Warning: long post ahead)

Yes, I am back for the third installment of this feature. Most of you who were following this (all three of you) probably figured I had given up on this or forgotten about it. Actually, it was a combination of things. Schoolwork starting to pile up. Other games taking my attention, like XCOM and Mists of Pandaria. And yes, a crippling fear every time I even looked at my PS3. I finally managed to overcome this fear and got in some matches online. Let’s talk about how it went.

I started out trying to find a lobby that had the tag for beginners, but the only one of those wouldn’t let me join, no matter how many times I tried. After a few minutes of contemplating joining some random lobby, I instead opted to make my own and add all the beginner type tags I could. A few minutes later, I had my first player and my first match – against a Yu.

My heart was pounding in my chest and the sweat already began to pool in my palms. Not only was this my first online match but it was against Yu, probably my least favorite match up from Arcade due to his mix-ups. Crap.

The match went about as well as expected. He was pretty good with Yu and beat my ass back and forth across the arena. My fear mixed with panic and caused me to fumble simple commands and block at the wrong times. I maybe did a quarter bar worth of damage to him both rounds.

Surprisingly, after the match, I felt great. All the fear I had for that first match had faded and it was just a video game again. It was no different than losing a round of Halo. I had gotten absolutely crushed, sure, but at least I tried.

I stayed in this room for awhile. Another person joined and fought the Yu, just barely losing to him. At this point, the Yu left and I got to fight the Naoto. The first fight was a bit rough, latency-wise. Having never played a fighting game online, seeing how it feels when laggy is really odd. Nothing seemed to come out right. Something I will have to get used to. We played several matches against each other but he managed to beat me every time. My failing here was my execution. I wasn’t pulling off something as simple as a forward air dash and was being heavily punished for it.

After I said farewell to that room, I decided to choose a room at random. This proved to be a bad choice. I was surprised to find myself in a mirror match with another Yukiko. This player had a few thousand matches with her and most of those were wins. Yipes.

I got worked so bad in this fight. It was cuh-razy. Half the round, I was up in the air and had no control whatsoever. The only good thing about this match was I saw some neat combos that might be worth learning in the future (which is why I saved that replay). As soon as we returned to the lobby, I hightailed it out of there. Not the right place to be.

I made another lobby to do a few more fights before stopping for the night. I fought two players here. The first was another Yu, one who wasn’t quite as good as the last. The first match went decently but I still didn’t even come close to beating him. We fought another game immediately after the first and this one went much better. Enough so that I think he went a bit easy on me to give me a chance. Normally, I would despise pity but I am very deserving of it here. I got him close in both rounds before he finished me off. It was actually fun, instead of frustrating.

My final opponent joined in after the second match with Yu. For our first game, he chose Teddie. It was an extremely close match, back and forth right up until the end when he managed to pull ahead. This was easily the most entertaining match I had, close enough to be exciting without either of us being bored. I feel the reason I lost was mostly due to mistakes in execution on my part. Sound familiar?

At this point, I had played about seven or eight matches and lost them all. This was my final game. Teddie switched to Akihiko, a character he didn’t have as much experience with (according to his matches played). The match was again heated but this time in my favor. Against all odds, I managed to actually win both rounds. I even feel confident saying it wasn’t a thrown match and that I did in fact beat him. A great way to end the session.

What I really need to work on is my execution. That got me into trouble more times than I could count. I can’t really tell what was making me fail at is so hard - nerves or lag? I usually do fine offline but I flubbed so many simple things. It had been a week or so since my last playtime too so maybe that had an effect on it. Picking up a few more combos wouldn’t hurt either.

This was an interesting experience. Getting over that first match hump was extremely terrifying but I don’t think I will feel quite as nervous about playing online anymore. I enjoyed myself after that point except for one little thing – getting into a proper room. You can apparently restrict room access by NAT type and most of them would not let me in, including the beginner room. The only way I could find games was to open my own lobby and that brought people that were still leaps and bounds better than I was.

For my next post, I would love to write about some matches I had with fellow community members. Of course, to do this, I need your help! Anyone who would be willing to play some rounds with me and/or give me some pointers should send me a PM here or add me on PSN (wemibelec90). I would love to find some players that are my speed so I could work on getting a bit better.

Thanks!

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My Quest to Finally Play A Fighting Game Online - Chapter 1

It’s been a week and I’ve been practicing. Thought I’d outline the training process I went through and what my goals were.

I started with Challenge Mode. My intent was to see how far I could get with Yukiko, my chosen character. I was able to complete 22 of her challenges with relative ease, a few tricky ones taking me some extra tries. Some of the remaining challenges seem doable but didn’t seem like useful enough combos (especially for a newbie like myself) to bother learning. I wrote down the ones that seemed most useful like her bread-and-butter A,A,B,C,c.C, Agi combo. These combos were my focus when I moved on to Arcade mode.

Arcade Mode is where I chose to do most of my training. I know that AI is a poor substitute for a fighting a real player but I figured it would let me get the basics down like blocking and poking. For the most part, I felt like it was good practice. The AI does seem quite aggressive, even on characters that seem more defensive like Naoto. It didn’t give me many chances to practice using my Persona combos where she flies out behind the opponent. I did practice my basic combos and started to get a better feel for the timings and ranges of my moves.

I steadily increased the difficulty when I was comfortable and pushed it all the way to the hardest difficulty, Hell. As I pushed up the difficulty, I started to see the intricacies of the different characters better. For example, Yu has some pretty decent high-low mixup with his jumping sword strikes and his electric dash along the ground. I had some trouble figuring this out at first, learning where to block at the right times.

It really surprised me how decent Arcade Mode felt as a training tool for playing online. I’m sure I’m not as prepared as I think but I am at least comfortable with the way the game plays, enough so that I feel I can finally try some online. This week, I plan to stick entirely to lobby matches and save the ranked stuff for later on. If you want to give me a hand in learning to play, feel free to add me as a friend or invite me to a lobby when I’m on. My PSN ID is the same as my username here. Please don’t just invite me so you can beat my ass; I would prefer friendly players that are near my skill level, if at all possible.

Wish me luck!

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My Quest to Finally Play A Fighting Game Online - Chapter 0

I have this intense fear of playing fighting games online. It’s an odd fear to have, especially since I’m fine playing things like shooters or PvP in MMOs against other players. With a fighting game, I usually don’t make it past the “Searching for players” menu before I quit out in a nervous fit. Something about a game that I don’t feel competent at makes it impossible for me to jump online against other human beings.

I know how to beat this fear. I shouldn’t be afraid to lose a few (hundred) matches against another human being. I shouldn’t worry about how I’m just going to mess up my moves or block at the wrong times. All I need to do is force myself online and just learn by doing. It’s the only way.

Persona 4 Arena is my game of choice, Yukiko my character. I plan to practice intensely for the next week offline. After that, the terrifying world of online play. Stay tuned for further updates.

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Are Video Game Characters Perfect?

Alan Wake.   Issac Clarke.   Nathan Drake.   What do these three characters have in common?   They are ordinary guys that are thrust into crazy situations in their games, crazy situations that they just happen to luck through time and time again.   They aren’t the only ones; dozens of video game characters, plenty of which are portrayed as average people who are thrown into a crazy predicament, people who seem to have a divine power watching over their every move.   They can’t die, at least not permanently.   They never fail to accomplish their goals.   They always win (by the end of the game/series).

Games are rather unique entertainment in that they allow the person playing them to manipulate things as they choose.   Unlike movies, television and books which have no interactivity, video games are entirely comprised of this interactivity.   Because of this, games have a bit of a different agenda.   They can’t just tell a story; they have to also be fun and challenging to play.  

For a lot of games, part of this challenge comes from the risk of dying and losing some of your progress, a holdover from the days of arcades and developers wanting as many quarters out of you as they could possibly get.   No matter how many times you die, at least in nearly every modern game, you get to come back within a few minutes of your death to try again.   It doesn’t make sense but if the game were to just end when you died, no one would ever have fun with it.   The Prince of Persia: Sands of Time excuse tends to work best, where the whole game is portrayed as someone recounting their story and saying “No, that isn’t how it went,” if the player happened die.   This is the exception, not the rule.   Most games just assume the player can suspend their disbelief and fill in the blanks themselves.   True failure is something that is never allowed in video games. 
 
L.A. Noire
is a game that came along and tried to change some of that.   Here was a game that allowed players to fail, at least in some aspects of the game, but still continue.   Players can miss key evidence, lose suspects during a chase, and even arrest the wrong person for a crime, yet the game will still continue onward.   Sure, the overall story of the game doesn’t change, just some small minutiae here and there, but it is a step in the right direction.   The characters are that much more believable because the game will let them fail, just like real life detectives that probably make mistakes every day. 
 
Failure in video games is a tricky beast, one I’m not quite convinced that can be solved.   On one end of the spectrum we have games with Hardcore modes like Diablo II and Dead Space 2 that end your game with one death, as if the character was truly real.   These modes tend to only be for masochists and achievement hunter.   On the other, we have the 2008 Prince of Persia where any death through combat or a misstep is immediately corrected by Elika’s magic.  This stripped the game of a lot of its momentum because there was never any penalty for making a mistake.   Until an acceptable middle ground can be found, we will continue to have game protagonists that are essentially godlike super soldiers who can never die or make a mistake, forever making us feel like inept human beings in comparison.

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A Different Look at Violence


Today, I want to talk about a particular game.   This game is something I appreciated for its artistic and gameplay merits when I first played it and more recently have come to appreciate for the amazing themes that run throughout its length.   The game I am talking about is Shadow of the Colossus, Team Ico’s second game for the Playstation 2 released in 2005.   I don’t want to discuss the gameplay, or the visual style, or even the unfortunate technical problems.   This post will focus entirely on the (what I feel it is, at least) main theme of the game.

In Shadow of the Colossus, you play as a character named Wander who has travelled to a forbidden land to revive his lover Mono, chasing a legend that proves to be entirely true.   A powerful being named Dormin inhabits the temple that he arrives at in the beginning of the game, a being that tells Wander he can return the soul to the one he loves.   Of course, nothing so against the laws of nature can be accomplished without a price and the being even warns the protagonist against performing the task this feat requires, not being specific but stressing the dangers nonetheless.

Like any other fool in love, Wander can’t help but immediately set out on the task: kill the sixteen Colossi that inhabit the strange land.   Several of these beings are entirely harmless, not attacking the player unless attacked first.   It is the player inhabiting Wander that is forced to initiate combat against these more passive Colossi, taking their lives to return another’s.   The game makes sure to show the player the results of their choice, making these moments sad and heart-wrenching when they should be feeling uplifted by the victory.  

As more and more Colossi fall to the player’s blade, Wander begins to change.   It is subtle at first but by the halfway point of the game, his hair and face grow darker as his skin gets paler.   By the end of the game, he becomes completely pale-skinned and sprouts two dark horns from the top of his head.   It is also at this point that Dormin explains the true meaning of the task the player has just undertaken; each Colossi was a piece of himself and by killing them all, Wander had absorbed the power into himself.   Dormin is now able to inhabit Wander’s body, transforming him into a malevolent force, the embodiment of all the violence he had just performed to save the one he loved.

No game (at least that I know of) treats violence in the way that this game does.   There are no fodder enemies for the player to mow down on their way to the bosses; there is nothing but the bosses.   Each kill in the game is immensely meaningful both to the story and to the player.   In any other video game, killing something has become a completely meaningless task, just another point or one step closer to the next level.   Shadow of the Colossus manages to put such emotion and importance into each of its sixteen kills that it gives me hope for a future where games invest in putting meaning into death instead of just trying to rack up the body count.

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On the 3DS Price Drop...


As you have probably heard on numerous gaming sites today, Nintendo plans to drop its Nintendo 3DS price from $249.99 to $169.99, a whopping 80 dollars, on the very close date of August 12. Additionally, early adopters of 3DS will receive a whopping 20 games (10 NES classics and 10 GBA games), half of which (the GBA games) supposedly won't be sold at a later date to others (I'm calling bull on this already). Why would Nintendo do something like this when it never has in the past?

It's simple, really - the 3DS wasn't really doing too hot. Nintendo also reported earnings for its last fiscal year and they confirmed that sales were abysmal, losing millions of (projected) dollars. How did this happen to a company like Nintendo, a company that released the Wii, the nearly impossible to find system for over a year? There are a few reasons floating around the Internet that stuck out to me in particular. 

The first idea floating around is the crappy marketing Nintendo did for its less-informed customers. Tell me, if you heard a new handheld called the 3DS was coming out with no other information, wouldn't you assume it was an add-on to the original DS? The other revisions to the original DS hardware all got fancy names - DS Lite, DSi, and the DSiXL - so why wouldn't the pattern hold? Nintendo barely even mentioned in its marketing that the system was actually a generational step up for the power of the handheld, only focusing on the new 3D elements in its ads. To them, the name was more important and they took a gamble on it, one that didn't exactly pay off.  

Most troubling is the eerie similarities to the way the Wii U has been handled so far. When showing the new system at E3, there were several people I saw that thought the new controller was the whole thing! Would you really blame them? Nintendo didn't really show much of the small box running the games in the background, focusing entirely on the new controller and its capabilities. Add in the very similar name (an identical name grab) and the system could run into the same problems. Hopefully Nintendo pays attention to the earlier mistakes and markets this thing right. 

The other, more obvious reason why the 3DS probably failed was the lack of quality games released for it in the four and a half months of its life so far. Other than a few stand-out games (Ocarina of Time and Street Fighter IV), most of the titles have been either terrible or inconsequential. Nintendo announced a very exciting lineup of games when they announced the date at E3 last year but have only delivered a few of those games so far. Most people I know who wanted a 3DS decided to wait for more games to come out before they got one, including me. A console won't sell without games to make it a worthwhile purchase and the 3DS's most promising title so far is a game that has been played to death already. 

This sudden price drop was a surprising move from Nintendo but one I feel will help them the most in the long run. By lowering the price right around the time when games start to come out in droves again, they may lure a lot more people in on the promise of a new shiny toy.

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