My Top 5 Games of 2014 (that didn't actually come out in 2014)

I played a lot of games in 2014. My intent was to make a dent in my massive backlog, tackling game after game in hopes of bringing the list down to a more manageable size. As a result, I finished over 80 games (most of them in the first half of the year, even) and dabbled in nearly twice that. While I wrote reviews for some of these completed games, I didn’t have the time to say my piece on all of them, even though a few were some of my favorite gaming experiences of the year. So, I thought I’d do so here. I’m going to highlight my 5 favorite games I played in 2014 that didn’t originally release in 2014 (and were therefore exempt from my Top 10 list) and let you know why you should give them a shot. Maybe you’ll enjoy them as much as I did.

Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective (finished on April 7)

Screenshots really don't do this game's animation justice.

I missed the original fervor that followed in the wake of Ghost Trick’s release. It seemed like a neat game, based off the Quick Look for it, but it wasn’t something that grabbed my interest enough for a purchase. It sat on my to-play list for years before I received it as a gift at Christmas 2013. I didn’t get around to playing it until next April, but it was well worth the 8-10 hours it took me to finish. Ghost Trick is a puzzle game that revolves around shifting between objects in the environment and “tricking” to manipulate them in a variety of ways. You maneuver between and affect these items in hopes of preventing the untimely death of one of the game’s characters in each level. This usually means puzzling out, and enacting, a Rube Goldberg-esque sequence of events that finally pushes that person out of the way of harm or drops something on an impending murderer. These puzzles are a great deal of fun to figure out, tasking you to test each of the objects in the environment and how they interact with one another before finding the optimal path to a key item.

Later on, Ghost Trick introduces another entity that you can switch to with different types of powers, making the puzzles that much trickier. The brainteasers managed to never get old and always stumped me just long enough that I felt smart and not frustrated; it’s a master class in puzzle design. All of this gameplay is paired with a dense, twisting story that goes to some crazy places you likely won’t anticipate. The game is quite a looker as well, with gorgeous high-detail art and rotoscoped animation that is so smooth it has to be seen to be believed. Ghost Trick is a fantastic package, mixing sharp puzzles and amazing graphics to create something unexpected. Thankfully, it’s been available on iOS for some time, making it easy to experience now!

I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream (finished on May 5)

Ellen must confront her fears, just as everyone in this story does.

I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream was one of those games that I almost felt ashamed to have missed out on for so long. Once it was out on GoG, and once I owned it, I really had no excuse to hesitate any longer. Last May, I decided enough was enough. I installed the game, grabbed a glass of water, and sat down to get started. It only took me two (lengthy, admittedly) sittings to play through the entire thing--I was transfixed. The level of thought and care poured into the story and characters is astounding, an accomplishment that can be attributed to the producers of the game, which includes the writer of the original short story, Harlan Ellison. Each of the five main characters’ individual stories revolves around a huge character flaw that he or she has, giving humanity-hating supercomputer AM the fuel it needs to drain the last drops of resolve from those characters.

What makes these stories even more impressive is how mature the themes they deal with are. Ellen must come to terms with memories of her rapist in order to fight back against AM, repulsed by the yellow he wore that seems to hang from every wall. Ted struggles through a castle filled with untrustworthy characters that fuel his paranoia at every turn. Nimdok, an elderly Nazi scientist, lives his past again and again in a seemingly pointless quest designed only to remind him of his transgressions. It’s some of the best writing--and voice acting--I’ve seen in a game in quite some time, packed with moral reflection and responsibility that still aren’t commonplace in mature games today. If you haven’t experienced I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream yet, you owe it to yourself to check it out.

Miasmata (finished on May 17)

I also really love the in-world menu design.

I’ll let you in on a little secret: Miasmata was the impetus behind this entire post. No game surprised me as much as Miasmata did last year, a unique experience that was shockingly enjoyable. I had been intrigued ever since seeing it on the Quick Look, but I wasn’t exactly excited to start playing it. In fact, I used a random number generator to pick this game by chance; what a lucky happenstance that was! Miasmata’s gameplay revolves around two major gameplay elements: exploration and cartography. You come to an island looking for a cure to the disease running inside your veins. Originally, a group of researchers established outposts on the island with the hopes of creating a cure to the same disease. You spend most of the game walking around the sizeable landmass, looking for the various outposts and the journals they contain, complete with clues on what is needed to synthesize a cure for your illness. That illness often leaves you weak and prone to injury.

To make matters worse, you have to be careful navigating the world due to Miasmata’s momentum-based movement: one step too many can give your character kinetic energy that easily carries him over an incline and sends him tumbling head-over-heels, nearly dead from the exertion. It’s a tricky system to manage, making even a simple walk down a steep slope a dangerous endeavor, but it also lends an enjoyable puzzle-like element to simple navigation of the environment. To keep track of your progress, you are expected to engage in some basic cartography. This system has you marking down big visual landmarks from two separate locations in order to cross-reference your position and expand your map. You need to do this constantly to keep from getting painfully lost, as the map does not update automatically. The cartography is a bit finicky, with certain landmarks refusing to trigger, but it adds the same level of responsibility to your exploration as the movement; without some leg-work, you will have a hard time finding out where to go or even keeping track of where you are. Together, these systems make for gameplay that is somehow rewarding and fun despite being little other than exploration. Miasmata is a singular vision from a team of just two brothers, content to be what it is and unashamed of its flaws borne from ambition.

Freedom Fighters (finished on June 18)

The invading Soviets are a bit gaudy, aren't they?

Freedom Fighters is another one of those games I really wish I had played sooner. Time and time again, I heard people mention it as one of the great PS2/Xbox/GC era games, melding shooting and squad mechanics skillfully together. Now that I’ve finally played it, I have to agree. The shooting mechanics haven’t held up well over the last decade, using an awkward scheme with a strange button configuration and loose aiming controls. If Freedom Fighters only had its shooting, it would be nearly unplayable today. Thankfully, it also has some of the slickest squad mechanics I’ve seen in a game outside of an RTS. You recruit several soldiers to your cause (with the number of maximum soldiers increasing as you progress) and command them to hold positions, attack targets, and essentially be bullet shields for your weak player character. By the time you reach the end of the game, nearly all of your fighting will be done through these proxy AI characters, leaving you to strategize each encounter instead of struggling to kill a handful of enemies yourself.

The mission structure is surprisingly open, giving you multiple levels with targets to attack and offering a choice in which order to take them out. Tired of that pesky air support hounding you? Go to the helipad and bomb the helicopters. Too many soldiers defending an important base? Take the barracks and limit the number of potential reinforcements. This level of freedom still isn’t commonly found in games today, making Freedom Fighters that much more impressive. I won’t say I wasn’t frustrated with the game on numerous occasions, as a mass of your own soldiers and some trial-and-error are almost required in order to claim victory in later levels, but the gameplay ideas here are a lot of fun. Now, I’m lending my voice to those who demand a sequel: just imagine what it could be on current-gen consoles!

Final Fantasy XII (finished on July 12)

Final Fantasy XII also looks remarkably sharp for coming out in 2006.

2014 was a sort of vision quest for me, in regards to Final Fantasy. Since I was already trying my hardest to knock out some backlog games, I figured I should also fill out some of the gaps in my knowledge and at least attempt to play each Final Fantasy game I had never tried. This led to me playing, and finishing, 5 (!) entire Final Fantasy games in 2014, ending with Final Fantasy XII in July. XII is an odd Final Fantasy game, coming out at a time when MMO games were newly popular (thanks to World of Warcraft). As such, the developers crafted a combat system that feels like a melding between a traditional FF system and MMO combat. The result is a largely automated game that revolves around Gambits, predetermined if-then statements that you setup on each of your characters. These allow you to tell the computer to do things like attack the nearest enemy, cast Cure when an ally is weak, and use specific types of magic on enemies that are weak to them. It’s like programming your party to fight for you, sitting back and watching the fights happen on their own.

While this combat system has been demonized by many fans of the series for its hands-off nature, I absolutely loved it. Similar to XIII’s Paradigm system, it shifts the focus of combat from rote menu navigation through pointless battle after pointless battle to active strategizing and adaptation to the creatures of an area. Once I set up my Gambits for a new zone, I could simply walk from group to group and let the AI handle the boring parts of random encounters. When I wanted to grind, a few adjustments to my Gambits made it fun, something I can’t say about grinding in many other games. I can certainly understand those who criticize the autonomous nature of XII’s combat, as it can feel as if the game is playing itself at times, but it’s such a clever system that I couldn’t help but be impressed. Furthermore, it keeps the combat from turning into endless chains of hammering on the confirm button, only relying on the player to move from encounter to encounter once the proper Gambits have been established. As someone who often finds combat to be the most tedious and annoying part of any JRPG, I found the ability to simplify the ordeal incredibly smart. There are certainly things to hate about Final Fantasy XII--namely the boring story filled with awful characters--but it has become one of my top 3 in the series. Now, if Square would only bring out the IZJS (International Zodiac Job System) in the US...


October - A month of (mostly) survival horror

In the month of October, I decided to play a bunch of horror games: what better way to celebrate the spookiest month of the year, after all? My mix included both games I’ve finished previously and a sizable number of games I’ve never played before. Since I got the chance to experience so many new games, I figured I would put together this blog detailing my thoughts on each to give other people a chance to learn about games they might not have ever heard of. What follows is a “brief” summarization of each game and how I liked or disliked it. Sorry about the length!

Clock Tower (PS1)

The Scissorman in all his pixelated glory. Not too frightening to look at but still quite menacing.

The “first” Clock Tower is actually the second for non-Japanese gamers, a sequel to the original SNES Clock Tower that never released outside its home country. The main character of that game, Jennifer, returns a shaken person after her experiences with the terrifying Scissorman. She is finally learn to cope with things when he appears again, cutting down victims left and right. All the players in the story desperately try to understand what the Scissorman really is and how to stop him. The story is simple and predictable but does enough to keep you going from stage to stage, learning the mystery of the Scissorman. You can actually play as one of two characters, Jennifer or her guardian Helen, and each character has a very different path through the game with different levels. The endings also differ, with a shocking five per character that are all surprisingly different. It gives great incentive to go back and try for another.

Gameplay-wise, Clock Tower is also quite intriguing. It most resembles an adventure game from the 90s, with controls and that work shockingly well on a gamepad and a well-designed UI. You click to move your characters around, grab objects from the environment, or use things from your inventory. When Scissorman starts his hunt, you can’t really fight him; your only options are to either hide or use an environmental object to stun him temporarily. For this reason, there is a decent amount of tension from his sudden appearances, particularly when all you can hear are those clanging scissors of his. In certain areas, where you don’t know the hiding spots yet, it can be quite intense to try and get away before he catches you. I was extremely impressed with Scissorman’s effectiveness, although the few times he is portrayed as silly did hurt my impressions of him a bit. All in all, I recommend this game highly--it still plays quite well for its age.

Clock Tower 3 (PS2)

The "reimagined" idea of the Scissorman. I have no idea what the hell the art team was thinking.

Clock Tower 3 features a complete tonal shift from its predecessor, although maybe not intentionally. You play as Alyssa, a girl who just returned home after a long absence to find her mother missing, and must travel through time (I’m not shitting you) to learn the truth behind her disappearance. You also find out later that Alyssa is a Rooder, essentially a “magical girl” who can fight the evil creatures that she encounters throughout time. The story is pretty absurd, as you can probably tell, but the cutscenes are by far the weirdest part of the game. They have this frantic energy to them, characters running about in a panic and bumping into each other/anything in the area, that feels just so damn ridiculously slapstick. I could not take it seriously for this reason, laughing my ass off every time a cutscene played and the characters went berserk. Furthermore, it has some very strange ideas of what makes a spooky character, including reimagining Scissorman as a pair of Oriental twins with bizarre accents, something I wouldn’t have believed if I hadn’t seen it for myself. These scenes have to be seen to be believed.

Gameplay is quite different from the original as well. It takes a heavy note from games like Resident Evil and Silent Hill with that third-person exploration style (minus the fixed camera angles). You wander about, finding items that are used to solve puzzles or help you deal with enemies. The chase elements of prior games also factor in here, forcing you to run and hide to avoid death. I really like the idea here, with your health instead being represented by a panic meter that forces you into a blind run, tripping all over your feet and having a hard time getting away, if it depletes. It feels a bit clunky in certain areas, particularly those where you don’t have enough room to get away and hide safely before the enemy gets you, but is still quite interesting. There is a second part to the gameplay, however, and this is where things get really bad. These are forced combat sections (already a no-no, in my mind) that are unlike anything I’ve ever seen in the genre. You have a bow and are forced to charge shots that will snare your foe, allowing you to pepper him with further shots or eventually use a huge power shot. These sections are tedious, lengthy, and frustrating--particularly the final boss fight. For as much as I enjoyed the main gameplay portions, these fight sequences ruined the experience for me. Not worth a play, but I advise you check out some of these ridiculous cutscenes for yourself--they are the “best” part of Clock Tower 3.

Neverending Nightmares (PC)

Just one of several truly fucked up visual images in the game. They only get worse from here.

Neverending Nightmares was one of the two newer games I played for October (the other being Alien: Isolation, discussed below) and easily the most atmospheric. The setup is extremely simple: you play a guy who keeps waking up from a nightmare, slowly sinking deeper and deeper into his psychosis. The thing that Neverending Nightmares absolutely nails is the presentation. The handdrawn artstyle is striking and unlike anything else I’ve ever seen, giving the whole thing a very eerie feeling right off the bat. Combine that with some very unsettling imagery--including a few moments that had my stomach turning quite literally--and an ominous soundtrack that sets the mood and I could not play this game for more than 20-30 minutes at a time without wanting to rip my headphones off and turn on a light. It’s a great experience to just sit back and let sink in, even though you may not actually want to let it do so.

Unfortunately, it really flounders in the gameplay department. You spend the entirety of your time wandering about these creepy locales, trying to figure out the way forward. There are some very light puzzles, like needing a candle to progress through a dark area or learning how to avoid certain enemies, but you mostly just tread forward for minutes on end. Things do happen on a regular basis, creeping you out, but there was never enough happening in most of the sections to keep me from feeling at least a bit of tedium. Add in a short length and some reused design (understandable but still annoying) and it can be a bit hard to recommend Neverending Nightmares for most people; it’s a fantastic realization of the developer’s nightmares, but it’s likely that the eeriness or the tedious design will get to you before you can finish it.

The Suffering (PS2)

Just one of the many thematic creature designs, this one representing prisoners killed by lethal injection.

The Suffering was a huge surprise for me. I had heard about it for years but never actually seen it for myself. I knew it was revered when it came out in 2004, but I didn’t think it would hold up. For the most part, I was right; however, in the atmosphere and design department, it is still an astoundingly good game. You play as Torque, a man on death row for killing his ex-wife and children. As soon as he arrives, things go insane and creatures begin killing everyone in sight. These creatures are fantastically designed, reflecting the ways that they were executed in grotesque manners that reminded me instantly of Silent Hill design. There’s a great sense of atmosphere here too, with eerie sound effects, clever jump scares, smart twists on classic horror cliches, and the (now played out, but still well-executed) idea that maybe this is all in the protagonist’s head. If the rest of the game were as sharp as the story and creature design, I would have been hooked.

Unfortunately, the gameplay just didn’t hold up. This was the first game of the month that I didn’t actually play through, stopping after just a few hours. The gameplay is your typical third-person melee + shooter game from the era, complete with annoying level design, hunting for keys, and awful platforming. After just a short time, I couldn’t stand actually playing it anymore, the design much too dated for my tastes. It would have been a hell of a slog to make it through, likely requiring me to consult a FAQ to avoid losing my sanity--thematic for the game in question, but not practical or time well spent. Since I had so many other games to play, I opted to stop and keep my initial strong opinion of it alive.. Give it a try if you think you can handle the old-fashioned gameplay; there’s a lot to like here, especially for fans of psychological horror.

Silent Hill 4: The Room (PS2)

Sure, I'll crawl into this creepy hole. What could go wrong?

This was the last Silent Hill game I hadn’t played to completion, so I made sure to include it on my list for this year. What I found was a very interesting, if flawed, game that was hard to compare favorably to amazing classics like SH2 and Shattered Memories. Big surprise, I’m sure. You play as Henry Townshend, a man who has been trapped in his apartment for several days. That all changes when a mysterious hole appears in his bathroom wall. He crawls through it, hoping to escape, and finds himself trapped in strange alternate dimensions where his fellow captives keep dying. He must solve the mystery in order to finally escape and return to his life. I was rather underwhelmed with the story at first and thought it just got worse as it went. Like Silent Hill 3 before it, it relies too much on trying to tell a story about an old serial killer and a ritual to end the world instead of focusing more on the nature of its characters, something that has never been the series’ strength. There are some good moments, particularly when the game fucks with you in the assumed “safe” place of the apartment, but I thought it was quite rough overall.

The gameplay is much what you would expect if you’ve played other games in the series, particularly SH3 which this game is most like. You wander around various creepy environments, fighting enemies and finding key items for puzzles, before fighting the boss for the area and returning to your apartment. The only major changes come in the combat, which includes charged attacks for more damage and certain unkillable enemies that must be impaled with special swords to truly “kill;” otherwise, it is nearly identical to past games in the series. As I noted briefly above, the apartment stuff is some of the most interesting stuff in the game, transitioning to first-person and slowly trying to mess with player expectations later on. I never felt like it went far enough, but it was certainly a great twist that should be utilized in more horror games. In the end, I’m glad I played it and filled out the rest of my SH knowledgebase, but I would much rather suggest/play another SH game over this one if given the choice.

Project Zero 2: Wii Edition (Wii)

Many of the models look higher-res but also different. This version of the twins looks TERRIBLE, if you ask me.

As a huge fan of the Fatal Frame series, I also wanted to poke around the games I hadn’t played there: the never-released-in-the-U.S. Wii version of FF2 and Fatal Frame 3 (which I talk about in greater detail below). For those of you who are unfamiliar with Fatal Frame 2 (or Project Zero 2 in Europe), it features two twin Japanese girls who find themselves trapped in a haunted Japanese village. In this village, twins were tasked with a certain horrible ritual (which I don’t want to spoil here) in order to appease an evil spirit. One of these rituals went horribly wrong and forever changed the village, trapping anyone who wandered past its gates. You play as one of the twins, Mio, as you try to save your sister Mayu and escape the village. To this day, many people still hold this game as one of the scariest games they’ve ever played. I personally don’t think the creepiness holds up, as I can easily play it now with no fear, but it still commits to its intense themes in a way that few horror games manage to do. There’s plenty to find creepy here--spirit stones featuring fairly well done imitations of the fear and terror various people felt when they died, recounting of the horrible things that happened in the village’s past, a GREAT section that forces you to explore without your camera to fight back--but I guess I’m just too familiar with it now (having finished it three times) to be scared by it anymore. Even the new visuals don’t do much to help in that regard. If you haven’t played it, however, you should definitely give it a shot.

The poor thing about this version of Fatal Frame 2 is all the gameplay changes made for the Wii version, which I noticed easily having played the original directly before playing this. I hate pretty much of all of these changes and had to stop playing after just an hour as a result. Let’s note the big ones to show what I mean. The map features objective markers and very clear pointers as to where you need to go, removing much of the exploration and freedom I enjoyed in the original version. Picking up items requires you to hold now a button for a set period of time, during which time ghost hands may suddenly grab at you and force you to let go or take damage. The dialogue is all re-recorded by British voice actors, which I just couldn’t take seriously in this context. Admittedly, this won’t be something that bothers everyone. Finally, and most egregious of all, are the AWFUL controls this version has. Instead of using the Wiimote to just point a cursor around the screen for aiming, it instead uses tilt of the controller. This feels extremely inaccurate and I could never get used to it, getting my ass BEAT by even early enemies like the Drowned Woman. All of this comes together to make a version of Fatal Frame 2 that looks better but is inferior in every other way. Considering that the original is available on PSN as a Classic for just $10, you have no excuse for playing this version.

Rule of Rose (PS2)

One of the many storybook elements of Rule of Rose. This one demonstrates the proper way to curtsy, complete with angles.

Rule of Rose is a fairly obscure PS2 horror release, likely due to the fact that it wouldn’t have even come out here if not for Atlus picking it up and publishing it after Sony declined to do so. It is one of the rarer horror games of this era; as such, I didn’t know much about it and knew I had to play it. Rule of Rose has an interesting storybook style, textually narrating bits of the story as if they have happened in the past. The actual plot deals with a young woman named Jennifer who somehow finds herself on a strange airship run by a group of devious young girls who have made their own club called the Red Crayon Aristocrats. The story has a very Lord of the Flies feel, where kids have created their own idea of adult society, complete with class warfare and forced service. It’s unlike anything I’ve seen in a game, focusing on the terrible things children might do without adult supervision. Your character, even though she is much older than the children, still gets bullied and jerked around by the younger girl characters. It’s a shockingly dark game at times, especially if you read between the lines and understand what is actually going on, with some very potent imagery and plot points to explore. It’s one of those games I want to play again just to get a deeper understanding of the intricacies of the story, something I wouldn’t have expected from this game I’ve never heard anyone talk about..

Where it falls apart, as horror games so often do, is in the gameplay. There are some interesting ideas here, such as having any dropped items immediately return to your item box to be retrieved later. The most notable of these ideas is your dog companion named Brown (complete with some adorable voice samples of your character calling his name) who can sniff any item in your inventory and find items related to it. This is the crux of the exploration gameplay, letting you follow Brown as he finds the next important story item. Unfortunately, this also makes the game very easy to progress through and extremely repetitive, following what is essentially a waypoint on your screen for minutes at a time. The truly awful part, however, is the poor combat system. It is extremely simplistic, hard to control, tedious, and frustrating as hell. There isn’t much of it, but when the game forces it on you, it’s hard not to want to shut the game off in frustration. The “boss” fights are pretty bad too, such as one in particular that took me nearly fifteen minutes of wondering if I was doing something wrong before I completed it. Sadly, these gameplay quirks hinder what is otherwise a fantastically creepy story, one I would still recommend seeing even with these gameplay hindrances. Good luck tracking down a cheap copy, though.

Haunting Ground (PS2)

This is an actual thing that gets said. Note that this man resembles the main character's father as well and shudder.

Haunting Ground is another relatively unknown survival horror game from the same late-PS2 era (2005-2006) as Rule of Rose. In this game, you play as Fiona, a young woman who last remembers a car accident that killed her parents. She wakes trapped in a cell in a strange place and quickly escapes, barely clothed, to find a strange mansion inhabited by even stranger characters. She explores the mansion, slowly piecing together the mystery of her accident and why she has been brought here. The story in Haunting Ground is all over the place, with each individual character having his or her own motivations that barely relate to the others’. Some of these motivations are truly fucked up, such as a man who looks like Fiona’s father and wishes to use her womb in some ritual to be reborn as a powerful entity, while others are just nonsensical or ridiculous. There were multiple characters I wanted to know more about and others that just felt like a waste of time, with the game focusing inconsistently on all of them and not really explaining anything. On the whole, the story is quite forgettable with only a few standout moments.

What are the odds of two survival horror games on the same platform both having a dog partner with special mechanics? Haunting Ground also features a dog (named Hewie, with similarly adorable voice samples for calling him) but entirely different mechanics. The right stick essentially operates as a command stick for Hewie, telling him to attack or look for items in certain sequences or to follow or hide in others. He’s also the best weapon to use against the various pursuers you encounter, as he can slow them down to give you time to hide. Unfortunately, Hewie is extremely unreliable at first, as the developers put in a trust mechanic, where you praise him for doing good things and scold him for doing bad things, that they probably thought was amazing but is just frustrating. It takes nearly half the game before he learns to do things reliably and even then, his AI gets stuck quite often. Considering you need his help to progress several times in the game, this is unfortunate. Those pursuers I mentioned above are also immensely frustrating throughout the game for one main reason--they never leave you the fuck alone. Once one appears, you are forced to hide and wait for them to leave, as you cannot do any puzzles or major story beats until you are alone. The ridiculous thing is that it can sometimes take several minutes (10+) for them to finally get tired of looking for you and actually walk away. The game tries to fool you and make you think they are gone, having them leave the room when instead they just come right back and prolong things even further. This part of the game made an otherwise decent Silent Hill/Resident Evil clone (in terms of gameplay) extremely frustrating and tedious. For these reasons, I suggest reading about some of the story of Haunting Ground and not actually playing it.

Alien: Isolation (PS4)

These moments, hiding in plain sight while the Xenomorph walks by, are truly terrifying.

Many of you might actually be familiar with this title, considering it released in the month of October. I wasn’t originally planning to play it, expecting nothing special to come of another Alien game. Boy, was I wrong. For those of you who don’t know, Alien: Isolation places you into the shoes of Ripley’s daughter, Amanda, as she tries to discover what happens to her mother. The flight recorder of the Nostromo, the ship from the original Alien film, has been recovered and she tags along to find out what it says about her mother’s disappearance. As you might expect, this leads to another Xenomorph outbreak on the station that contains the flight recorder and all hell breaks loose. The story is extremely basic, mostly serving to get Ripley to the station with the creature, and doesn’t do much throughout the game’s length. It also ends in one of the worst endings I’ve seen in a game in quite some time, feeling like something the developers tacked on the day before shipping the disc out to consumers. It doesn’t really matter that the story is so hackneyed, however, as it nails the atmosphere of the Alien universe. The game really feels like the 70s view of science fiction, complete with big CRT monitors and dot-matrix displays everywhere. This alone makes the game worth seeing.

Gameplay-wise, Alien: Isolation is shockingly strong as well. It is very much a stealth game of the trial-and-error variety, as Ripley is very weak and not well-armed. You get the iconic motion detector to help you track enemy movements, hiding in vents and lockers to avoid contact with your foes. This kicks into high-gear once the Xenomorph comes into play and creates some of the best horror tension I’ve ever seen in a video game. Stealth with the other enemies is rewarding as well, but it feels much more rote and standard when compared to sneaking around the titular Alien. The developers nailed the feel of the creature, making it menacing and unpredictable in ways that feel unfair but necessarily so. Some of these sections, lengthy and without a save point in the middle, took me nearly 30 minutes due to a mixture of fear for the creature and not wanting to make a mistake and start over. It’s fantastic but definitely not for everyone, particularly those who don’t have patience for replaying sections over and over to find the correct way through. It’s also worth noting the variety of minigames to open doors and hack terminals, featuring a great physicality that I would assume such actions would require. My one complaint with the game was with its extreme length (15-20 hours), including a few sections that were very frustrating and/or poorly explained (but I can’t note without spoiling something). Still, this is easily the best Alien game to date and is worth playing for any fans of tense horror games.

Fatal Frame III: The Tormented (PS2)

This game really nails the creepy faces for ghosts as they attack you. This was the best one I could find (and there are MUCH better examples in the game).

Fatal Frame III is the last of the series to come to the U.S. and Europe (at least, at the time of this writing). I decided to play it to fill out my knowledge of the series, having completed both I and II previously. Fatal Frame III puts players in the role of Rei, a woman whose fiance was killed in a car accident. She is still trying to get over his death and takes a job (as a photographer, fittingly) at a creepy old manor. During this trip, she sees what she think is her dead fiance and experiences a vision. That night, she has a dream about the infamous Manor of Sleep and is touched by a tattooed woman, branding her with that same tattoo in real life. Every night, the tattoo spreads, threatening to overtake both her body and her sanity. The story here is much deeper than it was in past games, even referencing events and characters from both of those previous games. It’s as creepy as I and II, at least I didn’t think so, but it still manages to pack in a lot of eerie moments and messed-up ideas. There’s also an interesting theme of survivor’s guilt running throughout, with several characters losing themselves in their loss and longing for dead relatives and loved ones. I wish they had focused on this more, as it could have given the story more of an thematic impact. If you’ve played a Fatal Frame game before, you likely know where the story will end up, but there’s still a lot to find interesting about this game’s interweaved events.

In terms of the gameplay, Fatal Frame III makes a lot of changes to the formula. Most notable are two big changes. You alternate between waking reality and the dream world, giving you a bit of downtime in between chapters. You can use this time to read books on events you encountered in the dream, have your assistant research various people and things, and develop special pictures you take while sleeping. The game also does a bit of the Silent Hill 4 trick where it later messes with you by introducing creepy things into the reality sections, a neat trick that is much better executed here. The other notable change is the three playable characters, each with their own strengths and skills. I have a few huge problems with this. One, the upgrades and items are separate for each character, meaning you must spread yourself quite thin to survive. Two, the paths through the house are blocked at random for different characters, forcing you to take longer, dangerous paths. This is just poor game design in my opinion, limiting the player’s ability to feel smart and clever for taking a good path. Three, and most egregious, one of the characters is AWFUL at fighting ghosts, easily taking three-four times longer for each encounter. To make things worse, he has some of the more combat-heavy chapters, which is so fucking frustrating that I nearly broke a controller. For this reason, I couldn’t ever see myself playing through this a second time. There are also some smaller changes to the gameplay, like the need to hold the camera over a ghost to charge a shot instead of just getting closer, that aren’t as noteworthy. In terms of the story and characters, I think this game nails it best out of the whole series. Sadly, it also bungles the gameplay so badly that I just can’t recommend it over the highly-enjoyable Fatal Frame 2.

Slender: The Arrival (PC)

These guys may not be Slenderman, but they're still pretty fucking terrifying when they sprint at you.

This was the final game I played, saving it for Halloween night. I wanted something quick, simple, and potent for the main event, and this game mostly delivered. Slender: The Arrival has you trying to track down a woman named Kate who is having strange nightmares and paranoid feelings about the Slenderman. You progress deeper and deeper into the wilderness, fleeing from the various horrors found there, in order to find Kate and save her. There isn’t much story here, probably intentionally, but it does a decent job of setting up the uneasy tension needed for the character of Slenderman. If you want to delve into the story, there is a small amount of putting pieces together that can be done, but I didn’t feel it was necessary to enjoy the game.

Slender: The Arrival is a pretty potent horror game. Every chapter has you fleeing from some type of creature, sometimes multiple types, in an attempt to either do a certain number of something or escape. It builds some good tension, features some great sound design (I love the Slenderman digital noise corruption--such a good harsh sound to make you jump), and some eerie atmosphere. I do think that some sections, particularly one in a house on a stormy night that has you closing all the windows and doors before fleeing back to your room, are extremely well-done, while others are just boring and poorly executed. The biggest knock I have against this game, though, is just how rough it looks. Proportionally, everything looks like it is either too big or too small. The models are a bit rough around the edges, and I think the game looks too washed-out in most of the sections. It was harder for me to get immersed in such a rough game; however, I guess it does deserve credit for still managing to get me so many times even with these issues. For a few bucks, Slender: The Arrival is a great jump-scare game. If you’re looking for anything else, go elsewhere.

I also want to make a few brief notes on the few horror games I replayed in the month of October. I highly recommend all three of these games.

  • Silent Hill 2: This replay has made me realize that this is definitely one of the greatest horror games to date. Its psychological story has so many levels to its characters and events that it must be one of the most analyzable video games to date. It features perfect atmosphere, excellent sound design and music, and great exploration. The combat is a bit janky, but serviceable and worth getting through for more story. Anyone who is a fan of horror, particularly psychological horror, NEEDS to play this.

  • Silent Hill 3: Not as strong as 2 but still a great game. For fans of the original Silent Hill, it ties up the storyline of Alessa and the cult worshipping their demonic God. The imagery is just as great as it is in 2, with memorable bits like the womb tunnel (no joke) and the haunted house section. Combat is a bit more refined and playable, although still annoying for the most part. Very enjoyable for fans of the Resident Evil exploration style, though..

  • Fatal Frame 2: Silent Hill 2 may have the best horror story in a game, but I may contend that Fatal Frame 2 is the best overall survival horror game to date. Everything about it, from the creepy story to the fantastic camera gameplay, is just a blast to experience. It has some great pacing, always keeping things moving. The voice performances are often rough but iconic and passionate. It also features what I feel are the best exploration bits of any survival horror game of this type. Top-to-bottom, Fatal Frame 2 is a treat, particularly for fans of the genre. I can’t wait to play it again.

Well, that’s everything horror-themed that I played in October. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about so many different games from a variety of eras in gaming. Please give some of them a shot and let me know if there’s anything I missed or if you agree/disagree with any of my thoughts on these games--I’d love to talk shop with fans of survival horror!


Drakengard 3's DLC - Should you buy it?

The new "pop-up" style for cutscenes--likely cheaper and easier to render than the other ones.

I’m here yet again to talk about Drakengard 3--is anyone tired of it yet? All humor aside, it’s a game I think has been tragically overlooked by many, even with its rough edges, and I can’t stop thinking about it for a variety of reasons. The most recent reason? Its DLC, which I bought a few months ago and just recently got around to finishing. Since this DLC is quite expensive ($30 for 6 new chapters), and since Drakengard 3 is already a game not too many people have “got around” to playing yet, I thought it would be useful to some if I did a little overview/review of what the DLC entails, to help all of you decide whether or not to purchase them.

First off, let’s talk about what you get in the DLC chapters. There is one for each of the sisters, One through Five, and a new prologue chapter for Zero. Each of these chapters is four stages (with one of those being a dragon level) that take about an hour or so to complete in total. You play as Zero’s sisters for the first time, but this isn’t much more than a model swap with many of the same animations. Each of them also have their own weapon, one of the four types from the original game, with its own stats and attack patterns--these weapons also unlock for the main game after finishing each chapter. You can level up each sister but on a much smaller scale that caps at 10. There are a few cutscenes for each chapter, most of them in a new pop-up storybook style that works quite well if not appearing a bit cheaply made. Every chapter also has TONS of in-game VO fleshing out the sister in question and her relationship with her Disciple (including One’s “new” Disciple).

The DLC handily contrives a reason for dragon levels by having One's dragon, Gabriella, aid each sister.

The story of each of these chapters is obviously tailored to the sister it stars, exploring part of their life before the events of Drakengard 3 occurred. Because of this, the DLC does a much better job relating each of the sisters to the player than the main game ever did. Also, many of the questions you would probably want to know after playing the main game are answered in these chapters, either indirectly or during the actual events of the gameplay. The most interesting of these in my opinion are easily Two’s chapter, where you learn how she became catatonic in the events of the main game, and Zero’s prologue chapter, which details how she met her original dragon Mikhail. The rest vary in relevance, some focusing on humor instead of serious backstory, but they are all at least entertaining enough to experience once.

Furthering this backstory information are the Memoirs for each sister. These Memoirs are a series of relatively short journal entries from that chapter’s sister that unlock as you level up the sister in question. Many of these mimic the tone found in each sister’s chapter: for example, Five’s Memoirs are a series of orders she made to a speciality store for things like high-end cuisine, art she cares little about, and even a variety of sex toys. These journal entries pack some of the funniest bits of the entire DLC. Four’s journal, easily my favorite, contradicts her usual “holier-than-thou” tone of perfection with what essentially consists of a burn book towards everyone in her life, including herself. It’s unfortunate that this entertaining writing is stuck behind an arbitrary leveling process, one that forces you to replay the smallish amount of content multiple times, but the Memoirs are easy enough to find online if you’re curious.

Two's chapter is a tragic, yet well-told story of how she lost her mind.

The strength of each of these DLC chapters varies greatly from one to the next, for various reasons. You are locked into a certain weapon type for each sister, meaning that you may have to use spears or chakrams exclusively--even if you don’t much care for those types of weapons. Some of the chapters throw a lot of rather difficult enemies at you, demanding excellent execution or a lot of health items (which gratefully carry over from the main game). Most notably, however, is that some of the content just features poor design decisions. Three’s chapter is easily the worst in this regard: it packs in wave-based encounters in each level, has the most horribly tedious dragon level of the bunch, and features an end “boss” encounter that is poorly explained and frustrating. Sadly, her story is also one of the most terrifyingly fascinating, which made me gladly plow through to see how it ended.

There’s a few other problems I had with the DLC as a whole. First, it only reuses levels from the main game in each chapter. I wasn’t really expecting brand-new content, but it still makes the DLC a bit more tedious, especially considering how much the main game already recycled those same levels. Second, there isn’t much replay value to any of the chapters. Odds are, you won’t want to play through the levels more than once: unless you want those Memoirs, which force you to replay several levels to hit max rank and see them all, or a perfect set of Trophies. Finally, the DLC reuses a lot of the humor tricks used in the original--bleeping out lines, breaking the fourth wall, making jokes about platforming sections--and saps them of all their remaining humor. I know the dialog was written by the same people as the main game, but a bit more creativity and variety would have been nice--especially considering the price tag.

While I greatly enjoyed this content as a big fan of Drakengard 3, I do think it’s a bit overpriced for what you get--$30 for a bundle containing all the chapters or $6 a chapter (meaning don’t buy them all individually). In the end, I can only really recommend the DLC to those who loved the original game and want to see more of the humor, characters, or storytelling. The amount of content you get isn’t worth it otherwise, especially considering that the combat absolutely doesn’t hold up well for that much time. I also recommend that you only buy all of the DLC or none of it whatsoever, unless you just really want to know more about a particular sister. The DLC works better as a whole than as six individual pieces.

Hopefully, this closer look at the DLC of Drakengard 3 is enough to tell you whether or not it’s up your alley. For those of you reading this who haven’t even played the original game, give it a try! It’s still one of the funniest and most entertaining games I’ve played all year (link), even considering the often monotonous feel of the gameplay.


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?


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.


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..."


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.


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.



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!


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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