Mini review/rant about this game

This should’ve been a match made in heaven. And in some ways, it really is. The story winds up being undeniably fascinating, and even though I wasn’t fully on board with its initial premise of witches and magic, I became a believer by the end. Unfortunately, the story doesn’t salvage the rest of the game, which feels like something that was a bit haphazardly thrown together without any real thought or imagination.

The reason I say this is because rather than feeling like one whole cohesive experience that smartly meshes the best aspects of both Phoenix Wright and Professor Layton, the entire experiences feels like you’re playing two separate games. During certain sections, you’re playing as Phoenix in the courtroom, doing battle by cross examining witnesses and presenting evidence. And during the other sections, you’re playing as Professor Layton, scouring the environments for clues and solving puzzles along the way. Basically, you’re doing exactly same things you’ve done in all of the other Phoenix Wright and Professor Layton games. But when a crossover like this comes, I was expecting more ingenuity in terms of how these great franchises can mix.

Even something as simple as solving a puzzle to understand the true meaning behind a piece of evidence is only utilized once in the entire game. Yes, only once in the entire game does puzzle and courtroom cross, and it happens in the final case. In a game that’s about Phoenix Wright and Professor Layton, how can you only use that gameplay mechanic once? Doesn’t that seem like one of the most obvious things to do? And of course, the one time it’s used, it’s actually pretty damn interesting, and it leads to memorable revelation.

I’m also going to rant about Professor Layton for a bit. He’s a bad character. Not in terms of morals or villainy, but just a poorly designed one. Layton is a genius-level detective with an even keel attitude and a penchant to help others in need. Basically, he’s perfect. And that makes him boring. Near the end of the game (don’t worry this isn’t much of a spoiler), Layton drones on and on, basically revealing the truth by himself because of course he’s figured it all out. On the other hand, Phoenix is interesting as a character because he seems realistic: he makes mistakes, and is constantly trying to turn things around in his favor when the odds are stacked against him. Obviously, he always ends up winning because it’s a video game story, but it at least humanizes him in a way that makes him more compelling.

All that being said, I feel like the ending is really good, and it makes me mad that the first 80% of the game was so uninspiring. Neither Layton or Phoenix really had a chance to shine in this crossover. All of the Layton puzzles are way too easy (I ended up using only one hint), and Phoenix’s courtroom shenanigans feel half-baked because you can only hold a max of 8 pieces of evidence in your Court Record, whereas in other Phoenix Wright games you were often holding a dozen or more.

You know what Level 5 and Capcom should’ve done to make the gameplay more interesting? This:

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My Top 10 Games of 2013

There are way too many games that I couldn't get to in 2013, but of the games that I played this year, here are 10 that I enjoyed the most.

10. Divekick

I love fighting games, but I’ll be the first to admit that I’m absolutely terrible at them. Honing my combos and pulling off one frame links is something I’ll never be able to do, so the two button pleasure that is Divekick was my calling card. At first blush, Divekick is a laughably straightforward 2-D fighter, making it easy for newcomers to pick up and play. But after digging in a little, it becomes apparent that the diverse roster and the different properties of the characters give Divekick a level of complexity that you wouldn’t expect from a two button fighting game.

9. Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag

I didn’t hate Assassin’s Creed III as much as everybody else, but I can clearly see why so many people fell off the franchise after the third installment. Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, on the other hand, is a swashbuckling good time, fixing the most glaring problems with AC III while offering an expansive setting filled with treasures to plunder and shanties to sing. I loved traversing the world so much that before every story mission, I would explore all of the islands that were available and get every single collectible until I hit a boundary that would only be removed after I progress further in the story. And when I wasn’t terrorizing British frigates inside the animus, I was grinning ear to ear outside the animus, as those first person segments working at Abstergo Entertainment were just meta and goofy enough to make them supremely enjoyable.

8. Gone Home

If Gone Home isn’t a game, then celery isn’t a vegetable. Okay, I might’ve lifted that joke straight off of Tim Rogers, but that’s beside the point. Gone Home does such an exceptional job in its storytelling that it doesn’t really matter if it’s a game, movie, or vegetable. The seemingly normal items you would find in any household are created with such an incredible amount of detail, with textures so pristine and handwriting so neatly done. The references to the 90’s were great as well, as my daily life often requires me to remember what Chun-Li’s move list was in Street Fighter II. The short and sweet story may be simple in nature, but it’s a narrative so rarely told in video games that it deserves commendation.

7. Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons

Even if I didn’t have an older brother, Brothers would’ve been an emotional gut punch. But the fact that my older brother and I are extremely close made Brothers an emotional haymaker that left me dazed. It’s astounding how the game conveys the personalities of the two brothers without any spoken language, and the fairy tale locales the game presents to you are stunning to look at. I felt as through the control scheme was built in service of the last gameplay puzzle, where the gameplay and story align in such a way that left an indelible mark on me.

6. The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds

Although I’ve never played A Link to the Past on the SNES (I’m sorry!), Link’s Awakening on the Game Boy is one of my all time favorite games, so playing this new 2-D Zelda was simultaneously a nostalgic and fresh experience. But even without the nostalgia factor, A Link Between Worlds is an amazing game on its own. The game takes some big steps in altering the standard Zelda formula, like letting you tackle the dungeons in any order you want and making all the items available from the very beginning. But make no mistake--this is a Zelda game through and through, all the way from its ingenious puzzles to its beautiful soundtrack.

5. Fire Emblem Awakening

I don’t consider myself a strategy savant, but after playing and loving XCOM: Enemy Unknown, I knew that I had to give Fire Emblem Awakening a try, and I’m glad I did. The only Fire Emblem experience I had was with the very first game on GBA, and I remember I couldn’t finish it because I wasn’t able to beat one specific chapter. Fortunately for me, Awakening makes great strides in helping newer players learn the ropes while keeping the in-depth strategy intact for longtime fans. But my favorite aspect of the game had to be building relationships through support conversations. This might not be very manly for me to say, but I had way too much fun playing cupid and debating which spouse was a best fit for each of the characters. Being able to recruit your children into your party was an awesome moment as well. Wait, I could marry my best friend's daughter and have children with her?! Now that is seriously messed up.

4. Bioshock Infinite

Leave it to the creators of Rapture to craft another wondrous, mysterious, and ultimately sinister world that is Columbia. Right off the bat, it’s obvious that this beautiful land in the sky hides a plethora of secrets waiting to be unearthed, and the process of discovering the true nature of Columbia was a fantastic adventure. Although the ending may suffer from a bit from the Chrono Cross syndrome (when a game has a massive information dump at the end), I thought the totality of the conclusion was really well done. Oddly enough, I also vastly enjoyed doing research and reading up on theories after I beat the game. Many lamented the shooting and gameplay, but I thought the assortment of different powers spiced up the combat, as I often cycled through powers depending on the situation at hand.

3. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Dual Destinies

The Ace Attorney franchise is one of my all time favorite series, and I'm pleased to say that Dual Destinies successfully continues the series' tradition of meshing together a charming setting with profound, heartfelt moments. The gameplay formula isn’t all that different from previous games, but there are plenty of seemingly minor, but intelligent tweaks to streamline the courtroom and investigation procedures. The excellent writing is a huge reason why the story is so effective, as in an adventure game like this, the crux of the game lies in its narrative and characters. And the final case, with its unexpected plot twists and insane revelations, might be one of my favorite cases in the entire series.

2. Grand Theft Auto V

The ridiculous amount of detail that Rockstar packed into Los Santos is mind boggling. As a Los Angeles resident, I’d rather avoid the horrific, real life traffic and stay home to simulate cruising the streets at my leisure. Whether it’s Grove Street, Little Seoul, or even the boonies of Sandy Shores, the city of Los Santos is truly a marvel. The crime fueled story involving Michael, Trevor, and Franklin is engaging as well, and the heists that you’re pulling off by the end of the game were some of the most exciting gaming moments of the year. Actually, Lamar Davis alone guarantees GTA V a spot on this list.

1. The Last of Us

It’s fitting that one of the best games of the generation came out the year that new consoles were released. The Last of Us manages to tell a superb narrative utilizing one of the most worn out tropes in media, the zombie apocalypse. Joel and Ellie’s intensely personal story hits an emotional mark that most stories in games have never even come close to approaching, and the way Naughty Dog shows the evolution of their personalities as well as the justification of their actions is simply exquisite. The stealth based gameplay was extremely satisfying as well, encouraging a variety of different play styles. From top to bottom, this is a transcendent game that I wish I can erase from my memory so I can experience it again for the first time.

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On fighting games, League of Legends, and e-sports...

I like e-sports. Yeah, I said it. I like all of it too, and I'm not partial to just one game. I love watching fighting games, League of Legends, StarCraft II, or whatever it may be. But as I was watching NorCal Regionals this past weekend (which was an amazing tournament), I had a revelation. The fighting game community is analogous to the WWE, while the League of Legends/StarCraft II community is analogous to professional sports.

ChrisG listening to advice from his main lady.

This epiphany hit me during Chris G's UMvC3 matches with Apology Man. ChrisG has been consistently dominating UMvC3 since last EVO 2012, almost winning every single tournament he has entered. As a result, he's always being singled out and gunned for by other players. It also helps that his PR skills aren't really the best, and has developed a “heel” persona.

Whenever ChrisG would be in the middle of a combo against Apology Man, the crowd would start chanting "PS3!", referencing the fact that ChrisG actually blamed the slight lag on the PS3 console for losing an earlier match against a relatively unknown player from SoCal named Senor Ass Taxi. And as soon as ChrisG fumbled up the combo, the crowd went into a roaring frenzy.

Yes, his handle is actually Senor Ass Taxi. And Chris Redfield is his point character.

As crowd was going nuts, I was just laughing my ass off. I mean, how can you not get excited for something like that? And that was the moment when I realized the FGC is in the same vein of WWE. I’m not saying that fighting games are scripted or fake (although there have been some recent controversies), I’m saying that the personalities of the fighting game community are sometimes the best parts of any fighting game tournament. The tournament simply wouldn’t have been as hype if ChrisG was just some average guy devoid of any personality.

When you compare fighting game tournaments to something like the LCS, the differences are immediately apparent. Riot Games has taken a much more traditional approach in their broadcasting. The LCS is treated just like sports you can watch on ESPN, with post game interviews and analysts slowing down and replaying team fights. Of course, this is part and parcel with the incredible amount of money that Riot Games has put into the LCS, but I have the strange feeling that even if the FGC had access to those kinds of funds, it still would be similar to the way it is now.

Just like any person can enjoy both professional sports and the WWE, I too enjoy both the FGC and League of Legends. Both offer different kinds of entertainment, and both are totally viable. I know there’s a subset of people trying to get the FGC to be more “professional” like the LoL scene, but I think that’s just as ridiculous as trying to make the WWE more like the UFC or boxing. They’re two different entities that both carved out their own niches.

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Ranking all the Ace Attorney games... And a whole bunch more.

For those who haven’t played the Ace Attorney games, there will be spoilers. You have been warned! Oh yeah, and just in case some folks haven’t seen it, there are also spoilers for The Prestige. Kinda random, but it will be explained in due time. Anyways, onto the lists!

Best Games

1. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Trials and Tribulations

2. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney

3. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Justice for All

4. Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney

5. Ace Attorney Investigations: Miles Edgeworth

I like your game dude. Just stop using your stupid catchphrases.

Let me get this out of the way upfront: I like Apollo Justice. Really, I do. I didn’t mind Phoenix Wright taking a backseat and embracing his mentor-like role. (Although I might even argue that Phoenix is a more vital part of the story than Apollo even is, but that’s a story for another day.) The updated graphics are nice, and the new gameplay features are interesting to partake in the few occasions they show up. But the biggest flaw about Apollo Justice is that there is no mention of what happened to Maya, Pearl, Edgeworth, etc. These are characters that have been established throughout the course of 3 full games that are given no mention or follow up. I would have been fine if Apollo Justice had a brand spankin’ new set of characters and created a fresh plot line. But the fact that Phoenix Wright and his back story are incorporated so heavily into the story had me wondering where the hell Maya and the rest of crew went. The Kurain spirit channeling stuff was so essential in making the original 3 games so great. The relationship between Mia, Maya, and Pearl was really the crux of the Phoenix story, and why it made it so emotionally riveting. To ignore what was the most important part of Phoenix Wright in Apollo Justice just put a damper into the entire experience.

The Miles Edgeworth game was pretty fun too. Hopefully the second one eventually comes out in English, although I really can't see that happening. The Phoenix Wright games were already for a niche audience, so I can only imagine how a Edgeworth game probably wouldn't be worth the time and effort to localize it. The sequel looks way more intriguing than the first one, with cases that seem to divulge more information about Edgeworth's father and Manfred von Karma.

Best Cases

1. Bridge to the Turnabout (Case 3-5)

2. Turnabout Goodbyes (Case 1-4)

3. Farewell, my Turnabout (Case 2-4)

4. Turnabout Beginnings (Case 3-4)

5. Turnabout Succession (Case 4-4)

If you look at my list of best games, you’ll see a correlation. The final cases are usually what defines a Phoenix Wright game, and Trials and Tribulation’s ultimate case was by far the best of the lot. It’s long, involved, full of twists and turns… really the list goes on and on. And the moment you understand Godot’s true back story and motivation is a pretty emotional moment. Cases 3-1 and 3-4 are basically stepping stones to the culmination of the grand finale that is Bridge to the Turnabout. And seriously, Maya as the final witness to the final case of the final game in the Phoenix Wright trilogy? Amazing, amazing case.

Minor gripe: Iris and Dahlia are twins? Really? Incorporating the twin trope just seemed lame to me. But whatever, it’s better than The Prestige. Ugh.

Best Songs

1. Turnabout Sisters’ Theme (Both the regular and the ballad version)

2. Godot’s Theme – The Fragrance of Dark Coffee

3. Congratulations Everybody

4. Investigation – Cornered (Variation)

5. Police Cell – Jailer’s Elegy

The Phoenix Wright games had some great music. I believe the music had a large impact on why the game can at one moment be so charming and kooky, but then one moment be emotional and profound. There's so much good stuff to choose from that I'm sure if you ask me on another day, I would have a different top 5.

The ballad version of the Turnabout Sisters’ Theme always seems to play at exactly the right moment. It’s used sparingly, but when that song starts going, it is damn effective.

Best Characters

1. Godot

2. Godot

3. Godot

4. Godot

5. Maya

Remeber, this is just one man's opinion. Just know that my opinions are usually right.
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Wumbo Wonders: Part 4 (Chrono Cross)

Wumbo Wonders is series of blog posts in which I talk about my feelings and general thoughts about a video game I’ve recently completed. These are just random musings about the game, so I may be jumping all over the place. There will definitely be spoilers so read at your own risk!

I think my earliest memory of Chrono Cross was watching my brother fight the final boss of the game. I distinctly remember Crono, Lucca, and Marle at the beach and thinking to myself, “Who are these people?” Another thing I remember was the hubbub over GameSpot giving Chrono Cross a 10, when only two games before it received a perfect score. Even in 2012, Chrono Cross is surprisingly playable and I can confidently say that I thoroughly enjoyed my time with this heady RPG.

Although it may go a little wild at the end, the story of Serge, Kid, and Lynx enraptured me from start to finish.

I feel like ambitious is the perfect word that describes Chrono Cross. It starts off as a relatively simple adventure, but the tale it is trying to spin eventually spirals out of control, for better and for worse. Near the end of the game, the story advances far too quickly and presents the player with way too many confusing concepts. Even after finishing the game and consulting a dedicated Chrono Cross wiki page, I was unable to make heads or tails of this convoluted story. What I did get out of it though, was that the developers really wanted to convey a meaningful message. Most people that are making games today have no significant thing to say, but are merely trying to entertain. Chrono Cross attempts to articulate something important without managing to be hokey. Whether or not that came or across to every player I really don’t know, but to me it was refreshing to see a developer go outside of the usual video game comfort zone.

Another defining feature of Chrono Cross is simply the ridiculous amount of party members you have at your disposal. There are approximately 45 playable characters you can recruit, although many will require going out of the main path and completing side quests. Having the ability to choose from such a wide range of characters to bring into your party was definitely cool, but it ends up being a double edged sword. A huge selection of party members ends up diluting how meaningful they actually are to the main story. If there were only a handful of characters, then they would have been more carefully fleshed out and integrated into the fiction. Many times you end up stumbling across some random dude/dudette in the world, and then they gleefully join your party for a weak and uninteresting reason. Of course, some party members were properly characterized and given legitimate motivation. There were just 30 others that weren’t.

Was I the only one who thought the path to getting the good ending was completely random and weird?

Trying to explain how the gameplay works in text is almost impossible. Although there are a lot of systems that are functioning during the battles, the fighting becomes second nature once you get the hang of it. Elements, stamina, managing your percentages… all of it becomes intuitive, even when the encounters begin to get harder and longer. Huge props must be given to the Chrono Cross team for making a totally unique combat system that is not only layered with a number of mechanics, but also something that doesn’t become utterly complex.

It’s kind of disappointing that when people reminisce about the Chrono franchise, Trigger seems to get the bulk of the love while Cross shies away in a dark corner. Although I believe that Trigger is the better game, Cross is definitely a game where you can see that the developers had a specific vision and went on to try to fulfill that vision as best as possible. The possibility of having a third game seems almost nonexistent at this point, and that disappoints me mightily. The Chrono games had some great, innovative ideas and I would like to think that they would push the boundaries as well if they made a new game. I’m only speaking for myself here, but JRPG’s on the current generation of consoles, like Final Fantasy XIII and Lost Odyssey, did absolutely nothing for me. But a third entry in the Chrono series can be the spark that I believe the genre desperately needs.

And one more thing. The soundtrack is downright beautiful. They just don't make 'em like they used to.

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L.A. Noire v. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney... A Landmark Case

Two things happened semi-recently that motivated me to replay games that I’ve loved - a sale on the season pass of L.A. Noire and the announcement of Ace Attorney 5. As a result, I went back to my shelf to pull out L.A. Noire and the first Ace Attorney game to see if I would enjoy them as much as I did when I played them when they were released.

L.A. Noire

L.A. Noire was easily in my top 10 games of last year. The facial animations were astounding, and as a fan of games that involve sleuthing, I was glad it was more of an adventure/detective game, rather than the shooter that Rockstar tried to portray in the TV commercials I would often see. With the season pass going on sale on the XBLM, I thought that this would be a perfect time to go back and revisit 1950’s Los Angeles.

With the season pass came four cases: A Slip of the Tongue on the Traffic desk, Reefer Madness and The Naked City on Vice, and Nicholson Electroplating on Arson. Personally, I thought The Naked City was by far the best in the DLC. It was long, involved, and provided enough twists and turns to keep me enraptured in suspense. On the other hand, Nicholson Electroplating was severely disappointing. While the others were extra cases added that didn’t need any context of the entire story, Nicholson Electroplating starts off by referencing what happened in the previous case, and because I completed the game over a year ago, I was extremely confused with what Cole and his partner were discussing in the beginning. Although this case starts off with a literal bang (hah!), it has an extremely abrupt ending. You don’t end up even solving the case, and the whole thing is left completely hanging. The best part of each case in L.A. Noire is doing the investigating and interrogating so you’re able to catch the criminal, and without that satisfaction, Nicholson Electroplating falls flat on its face.

"If you don't stop lying, I will throw you in the slammer! ... Thank you very much for the information sir."

Revisiting this game also opened my eyes to some stuff. I was so in love with how there was a great game about police and detective work that I gave the benefit of the doubt to some of the aspects that were awkward. Now, after having distanced myself from this game for more than a year, some quirks definitely caught my eye negatively. The loudest complaint that people had with the game was the change of emotion Cole would exhibit during the interrogations. Before, I thought this was a rather minor fault to an otherwise excellent game. But after playing through the DLC cases, that reversal of tone was really jarring. One moment Cole is yelling at a suspect to tell him the goddamn truth, and the next moment he’s calmly asking a question in a normal voice. I’m not sure if this became so apparent for me this time around because I’ve heard the public mention that grievance ad nauseum, but the fact remains that I noticed it now. Regardless, this is a finely designed game, with the still ridiculously good facial animations and the ingenious sound cues.

Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney

Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney, on the other hand, felt like it was better a second time around. This game is just so gosh darn charming. Without giving away story details, it's hard for me to articulate why I adore this game so much. Suffice it to say that this game simply warms my heart with endless joy. Enough time has passed since I completed it, so it felt like I was experiencing it again for the first time. My favorite part of each case would probably be the ridiculous animation the suspect would perform once he or she is finally caught.

Why do I have this feeling this franchise is under appreciated? More people need to play these games!

Phoenix Wright is by no means a perfect game however. I still vastly prefer the court sessions over the investigative portions of the game. Cross-examining and trying to find the contradiction is much more engaging to me than scouring each item at the crime scene. Also, the game would only progress once you've explored each option that the game wants you to explore, so if you forgot to examine a minor detail, then the game wouldn't progress the story. It was a bummer when it occasionally felt like a pixel hunt. In addition, you would sometimes have to present specific pieces of evidence to certain individuals during the investigative phase to move forward, and sometimes the object you would have to show felt real arbitrary.

Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney was originally a GBA game that came out for Japan in 2001. The DS version was released in the US in 2005, and it came with an extra case, Rise From The Ashes. Because this was a brand new case Capcom developed for the DS version specifically, there are new features implemented in this case only that involved the DS in more unique ways. However, because the first 4 cases were all developed at once for one game, they are all tenuously correlated, and I enjoyed that there was a feeling of continuation from each case. It also doesn't help that my favorite character was absent in the fifth case…

I saved the best part of Phoenix Wright for last: the soundtrack. Each song perfectly captures what you’re feeling at that moment, whether you’re cornering some lying bastard (every time this song would start, I would be pumping my fist in the air… in my head, of course), or having a heartfelt moment with Maya. And without further ado, here is my favorite song in the entire game:

At their cores, L.A. Noire and Phoenix Wright are both games of the same vein; they’re detective/interrogative/investigative games that you have playing the role of someone actively looking for the truth. However, the setting they present cannot be more different. In one, you’re working for a crooked police force in a glamorous city with a dirty underside, and in another you’re in a goofy world filled with charming characters that doesn't take itself too seriously. L.A. Noire is aiming for intense realism, while Phoenix Wright is light-hearted all around. Regardless of these radical differences, if you’re someone who has any sort of passing interest in these types of games, both L.A. Noire and Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney are superb games that fit the bill perfectly.

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Wumbo Wonders: Part 3 (Saints Row: The Third)

Wumbo Wonders is series of blog posts in which I talk about my feelings and general thoughts about a video game I’ve recently completed. These are just random musings about the game, so I may be jumping all over the place. There will definitely be spoilers so read at your own risk!

Expectations are almost always a bad thing. Go into anything assuming too much, and no matter what, those prospects will certainly be almost impossible to live up to. Saints Row: The Third probably captured that feeling more than any other game I’ve played this year. After hearing Giant Bomb discussing Saints Row: The Third as a potential winner for 2011’s Game of the Year, I came into Saints Row with sky-high expectations. And how could I not? It was being mentioned in the same breath with games like Portal 2, Batman: Arkham City, and Bastion. Those games I just listed were among my favorite games of last year, and seeing Saints Row intermingle with those upper echelon titles made me place it on an unreasonably high pedestal that no game should ever be on. As a result, I came away from Saints Row: The Third feeling a tad bit disappointed.

Performing random wrestling moves on innocent bystanders was one of my favorite things to do on the streets of Steelport.

Saints Row: The Third is a fantastic game. There, I’ve said it. I’ll say it now so that my primary opinion toward the game is out there. Its insanity has been discussed many times over, and all the accolades it received for said absurdity is well deserved. Saints Row: The Third had its strongest moments at the beginning and at the end. The bank robbery mission with the stupid oversized Johnny Gat head and the leap through a commercial airliner tumbling out of the sky both set the stage for the hysteria that Saints Row: The Third was going to throw at the player. The missions near the end of the game are some of the most fun missions I’ve played in a while, with http://deckers.die taking the cake. The wrestling match against Killbane was also ridiculously enjoyable, and throughout both of those levels, I either had a dumb grin on my face or was laughing out loud. And the Sublime sing-along? As a kid born in the 90s, it was oddly touching and heartfelt.

On the other hand, the middle of the game felt a little lackluster. With a bulk of the missions simply being an introduction to the activities that help you expand your empire throughout Steelport, they felt like random tasks that really have no bearing on the overall game. One minute you’re throwing yourself into traffic, and the next you’re driving next to a ferocious tiger scratching your face off. What? It does fit in well in the seemingly stream of consciousness theme of the game, and maybe that was the overarching intent of Volition. But it doesn’t help matters that some of these activities were flat out dull. Although a handful activities are exciting and satisfying (the tank one comes to mind), the majority of them did nothing for me. It’s not like the escort or turret sequences were hard, but you can only blow up so many vehicles until the excitement of seeing another explosion wears away.

Probably would've been way better had I not known about it.

Another reason why maybe I didn’t enjoy Saints Row: The Third as much was because I had too much prior knowledge. When people talk about why Saints Row: The Third is great, it’s usually because of certain moments. I already knew about Burt Reynolds, Vitol jets, that a guy has a constantly auto tuned voice, and some other preposterous moments. So when those encounters happened, I was like “Huh. That is pretty funny.” Granted, I did not know about the specific situation or the details of each set-piece, but I think simply the shock factor of a ludicrous moment is a large part of what makes it memorable, especially in Saints Row. Those situations didn’t surprise me as much because in the back of my head, I was expecting them. When you ask somebody why a game is great and they scream out a list of 10 crazy moments, those specific events have already been ruined for you. But when they say a game is great because of a deep and interesting story, or because of solid and fun gameplay, then that experience of the story or gameplay will always be fresh for a new player.

If I came into Saints Row: The Third last year when it was still new and exciting for the public, I know I would have enjoyed it a lot more. The dips and valleys of the game would be easily overlooked in favor of its wild lunacy. Games like Portal 2 and Bastion consistently offered the highest quality throughout, and in my opinion, Saints Row: The Third had too many fluctuations in its overall experience to be compared to those gems. With that being said, the game is still an excellent one. The voice acting is superb, the characters are hilarious, and the weapons are a literal blast to use (level 4 pistols are amazing). On top of all that, all the insane moments are done with a sense of self-awareness that makes the stupidity seem… intelligent. I think the best way to summarize Saints Row: The Third is from a piece of dialogue that’s from Saints Row: The Third. In the very first mission of the game, Josh Birk states, “You’re robbing a bank dressed like yourselves? Ultra post-modernism. I love it.”

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Wumbo Wonders: Part 2 (Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 FES)

Wumbo Wonders is series of blog posts in which I talk about my feelings and general thoughts about a video game I’ve recently completed. These are just random musings about the game, so I may be jumping all over the place. There will definitely be spoilers so read at your own risk!

I was first introduced to the world of Shin Megami Tensei by Jeff and Vinny’s Persona 4 Endurance Run. When I finished all those videos back in 2009, I really wanted to play Persona 3. I knew that Persona 3 and 4 were both pretty similar, so I knew I would have a great time with the third installment in the franchise. However, back in 2009, I didn’t have a PS3, and I really didn’t want to have to drag my PS2 out of my closet, so I never got around to playing it. But finally, I eventually got a PS3 and Persona 3: FES arrived on PSN. After nearly 90 hours, I am confident in saying Persona 3 is an amazing game that changes the way I will look at JRPGS from now on.

It’s the characters and story that make the Persona games so unique and fresh. I don’t consider myself some JRPG nut, but I’ve played enough of them to know that I’m sick to death of princesses (aka manic pixie dream girls), castles, weird hair and clothing, and protagonists that have no parents and whine constantly. Actually, both main characters of Persona 3 and 4 are orphans, but you catch my drift. Persona 3 completely breaks that mold and puts you in setting that’s somewhat believable. You’re not searching the world for light crystals; you’re simply a high school student living in modern day Japan. And having a JRPG break that convention really goes a long way for me. The biggest contribution to the great premise is the voice acting. Persona 4 had fantastic English dubs, and Persona 3 again nails it. The humor also would not be so effective if not for the superb voice actors. Humor is difficult to execute in video games, but Persona games always manage to make me laugh, mainly through the use of putting the player in hilariously awkward situations.

NO DON'T CAST TENTARAFOO

The combat, however, is not really up to par with the rest of the game. After watching 99 hours and 59 minutes of Jeff and Vinny storm through Persona 4, it was a little weird playing through Persona 3. Little things are absent, such as pressing square to be able to go anywhere you want, or not having a full map of a level in a dungeon. But the AI controlled party members was definitely the most jarring change. The tactics option does a sufficient job in dictating your team’s choices, but not having that micro management really bummed me out. This inability to choose your party’s actions really sucked every time Mitsuru would cast Bufu instead of Mabufu. At the end of the day, it’s not really a huge deal because there are plenty of SP recovery items, but it’s just something that bugged me constantly. These annoyances probably would not have been as apparent and bothersome if you played the Persona games sequentially, but for me personally, these are things that I noticed. Also, every time Mitsuru cast Marin Karin, I died a little inside.

But all that is really a minor gripe in what is a fantastic game. The Persona series is quickly becoming one of my favorite franchises, and the wait for Persona 5 is slowly picking away at my brain. I know Jeff has often mentioned that he loves the setting and characters of the world of Persona 4 and would love to see a Persona 4-2 rather than a Persona 5, but with Atlus’ creativity and ingenuity, I am more excited for what new stories and characters they can conjure up.

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My favorite gaming introductions.

First impressions make lasting impressions. Sounds corny, but it’s usually true. Not only does this apply for people, but for games as well. For me personally, introductions for games are vital because they not only set up the tone for the rest of the game, but also offer a glimpse into what the player can expect for the entire experience. Here is a list of some of my favorite gaming intros. As a note, introductions don’t necessarily have to be a cut scene. It can be a segment of starting missions or a chunk of gameplay.

Resident Evil 4

In the very first scene, you see Leon Kennedy in a car with two local police officers. You find out that Leon is looking for the president’s daughter. Standard action game stuff. The very enemy you meet is a dude who’s taking tending a fireplace in a house. Leon asks him a question, dude turns around to attack him, Leon shoots him in the face. More standard action game stuff. At this point, you’re thinking, “They’ll probably start off with one or two enemies at a time and gradually ramp up the intensity of the fights.” But as soon as you think that, you stumble across a village.

Probably your first death.

Leon looks through his binoculars to scan the village, only to see the same two police officers he was just with burning at the stake. At this moment, the player knows that something is wrong. With no other choice to move forward and investigate the village, the player is swarmed with crazed villagers armed with knives and pitchforks. With nothing but a dinky pistol for defense, you’re forced to go into the houses and scavenge for ammo. Once you start searching for anything to help you, you come across a shotgun. With a shotgun in hand, you believe that the rest of this should be cake. Then you hear a chainsaw rev.

The beauty of this introductory sequence is the way Capcom leads the player to expect one thing, only to pull a massive U-turn and jump kick the player in the face. Another aspect that makes it so memorable is the difficulty. For me personally, the intro was one of the hardest parts in the entire game. Due to the fact that developers want people to ease into the experience, games are usually astoundingly easy during the beginning. But Capcom says forget all that and proceeds to dunk the player’s face into what is one of the most heart-pounding and exciting introductions of all time. Another reason this portion of the game is amazing is the fact that Leon only dons that sweet jacket during this section. Also, late title card.

Grand Theft Auto IV

Although this introduction is short, it’s done in such a cool and sleek fashion that it deserves recognition. I love the way the camera moves and the style in which the credits are placed on the screen. And as Rockstar is wont to do, there is no short of the humor and sarcasm, even in the beginning cut scene. The player is introduced to Niko and his aspirations to live in the great country of America. He talks to another person on the boat about his cousin Roman, and how Roman has hit the big time in the USA and is swimming in the dough. The moment the player hears that, there is already a twinge of doubt and speculation if Roman really is that successful. You question Roman’s personality and already have a preconception of what he’s really like. And when you finally meet him, he lives up to your expectations and more.

Roman drives up in a car that isn’t indicative of his so-called wealth and already you know something’s fishy. And even though when Roman opens his mouth he sounds like an arrogant and obnoxious slob, the fact that he seems genuinely ecstatic to see his cousin shows that he values family. In the first cut scene alone, the player is shown the intricacies of each personality of the two most important characters in the game.

Another aspect that I really like about this intro is the part when the cook places a diamond in a vat of food. For those who haven’t played the two expansions, this may seem like a worthless scene, but in the DLC, it is a pretty significant story beat. Putting an important plot point of the DLC into the GTA IV initial cut scene is a cool wink and a nod to those who have beaten the expansions.

Bioshock

This intro is simply haunting. The atmosphere, lighting, and music all contribute into what makes the revelation of Rapture an awe inspiring moment. The plane crash and the subsequent swim to land are done superbly. But once you’re walking in that building and the door slowly slams shut, is when the first sense of dread is instilled into the player. As you’re descending in the elevator and listening to what Andrew Ryan has to say, you hear the music swell up and finally see Rapture in all of its glory.

The execution and attention to detail is why I remember this introduction. The precise lighting is sublime and helps set a mood of terror. The instant you see the dystopia that is Rapture is when the music really hits its stride…the exact timing of it all is done supremely well.

This image will forever be burned into my brain.

Assassin's Creed II

The gameplay missions during the intro aren’t really anything to get excited about. They’re basic tutorials that teach the player on how to move and run. The real effectiveness of the introductory sequence is the establishment of the main character, Ezio. He comes off as an immediately likable guy: confident, good with the ladies, and very funny. This may seem like a standard archetype (a suave and sarcastic lead male protagonist), but it’s done in such a jaunty and playful way that you can’t help but have an attraction towards him. But the defining moment for me is when Ezio and his brother are on top the tower, looking towards Firenze. The music that plays during this fits perfectly with the grand scale of it all, as you witness the massive scope of the city. Also, late title card.

Another fantastic aspect of the intro is that it sets up a too good to be true-kind of life for Ezio. As a player, you know that Ezio’s life is too ideal to last, and you expect something to go horribly wrong. And oh boy, does it go wrong.

Final Fantasy VI (or III)

This is one of my favorites mainly because of the music. Plain and simple. The starting text does an effective job at conveying the world in its current state, as well as telling the story about the war of magic, but the lasting impression is the music. The theme that plays when Terra and the two guards are walking through the snow in their robot suits is one of the best themes in video game history.

Remember, this is just one man's opinion. I would love to hear your thoughts on my choices, as well as some of your favorite video game introductions!

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Wumbo Wonders: Part 1 (Mass Effect 3)

Wumbo Wonders is series of blog posts in which I talk about my feelings and general thoughts about a video game I’ve recently completed. These are just random musings about the game, so I may be jumping all over the place. There will definitely be spoilers so read at your own risk!

I’ve played video games my entire life, and many of them have made me feel a variety of emotions. I’ve experienced happiness (Super Mario Galaxy), sadness (Assassin’s Creed II), vengeance (Red Dead Redemption), horror (Resident Evil 4), or sometimes just pure wonder (Journey). But rarely do I feel nostalgic. As I was saying my goodbyes to my squad mates in war torn London, waves of nostalgia began to course through my body. I couldn’t help it. These were characters that I’ve come to know and love throughout three games, and saying goodbye was tough. It’s a testament to BioWare on how they’ve been able to create such realistic and relatable characters, even if those characters aren’t even human. Yeah, you can call me nerdy and say “Oh, they’re just polygons. They’re not even real.” But take any sort of medium with a gripping story and interesting characters, and you’d be lying if you said that you weren’t emotionally invested in the fiction, whether it’s a video game, book, or movie.

I may be in the minority about this, but I think that the romance scenes can be somewhat cheesy. The animations and facial expressions sometimes look awkward in a love scene. However, if you romanced Liara like I did, you get a special scene with her when you talk to her in London. That scene is without a doubt one of my favorite moments in the entire trilogy. It was way better at conveying love and emotion than any of the romance scenes.

Bro for life.

I also need to give a special shout out to my boy Garrus Vakarian. That dude is my bro for life. Commander Shepard and Garrus rank up there with the greatest bro combinations of all time, jockeying for position with Mario and Luigi, Marcus and Dom, and even Gootecks and Mike Ross. He is also the most self aware character in the entire franchise, which makes him even more lovable. The part when Shepard and Garrus are up on top of the Citadel and he says, “I’m Garrus Vakarian and this is now my favorite spot on the Citadel,” totally cracked me up. And damn, who knew that he would get with Tali? Garrus Vakarian, I will miss you.

One of the main aspects that irked me about Mass Effect 3 was the absence of brand new characters. With the exception of James Vega and Javik (who is DLC), every single member of your team is someone that you’ve known before. I think the one of the greatest strengths of the first two Mass Effects was meeting and recruiting a wild menagerie of new characters. I love seeing old faces come back, but the lack of fresh faces in Mass Effect 3 severely disappointed me.

The ultimate machine of destruction represented by a boy? What?

And finally, I need to talk about the ending. Much has been made about the ending. Actually, “much” is a gross understatement on how divisive the conclusion has been. After hearing the brouhaha about it, I’m glad I was finally able to experience it for myself. For what it’s worth, I didn’t particularly like it. Seeing the Reapers, these machines of mass destruction that are able to wipe out all organic life, being symbolized by a small AI boy was weird. Also, having that boy asking pretty much ask you, “Which ending do you want?” was weird. In addition, having all three endings be pretty much the same was weird. Basically, the ending left my scratching my head because it was so…weird. But that doesn’t mean that people need to make petitions, have rallies, or throw a massive Internet tantrum. Tons of books and movies have terrible endings, but ultimately, that is the ending the creator wanted. This is the way that BioWare had envisioned the ending, so let the creators stick by their artistic decision, no matter how awful it may be. In my opinion, it should have ended when Shepard was lying next to Anderson, seeing the destruction of the Reapers. But that’s neither here nor there, and where I think it should have ended doesn’t really matter.

The first Mass Effect was janky as shit. Mass Effect 2 was a great game, but I personally do not think it is as revolutionary and amazing as others. Mass Effect 3 ended poorly. All three games have flaws and are not perfect. But when you take the franchise as a whole and look at the totality of what all three games have accomplished, it cannot be denied that Mass Effect is one of the greatest trilogies ever in video games.

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