Game of the Year 2012

2012 was a year of surprises. Games I was expecting to love, I was disappointed by. Games I wrote off or didn't ever pay attention to turned out to be my favorite experiences of the year. As I look back on 2012, it may not have been the strongest year on the whole, but it has some very high high points.

Honorable Mentions: There are a few games this year that missed my list for one reason or another that I feel the need to call out. There are a lot of amazing games that still deserve some recognition.

HM1: Persona 4 The Golden:

It's Persona 4. Even after all these years, it's still one of the greatest gaming experiences I've had. Golden gave me an excuse to go back and play it again, and for that I'm grateful. The additions Golden makes aren't all amazing, unfortunately. The tweaks to the battle and fusion systems are needed and feel like a good step forward for the series. Some of them can make the game a bit too easy, though. The story additions are less amazing. They range from insubstantial fun to almost offensive. There's one scene in particular that really betrays the spirit of the story (I'm thinking of a particular bathhouse scene). The game is still the wonderful, heartwarming experience as the original. It's certainly my "real" game of the year, but it's the stuff that's from the original that makes that so. Given that, I feel it has to be disqualified from this year's list.

HM2: FTL:Faster than Light:

FTL is a game I just got off the latest steam sale, and it seems pretty amazing. The problem is, I don't feel I've spent enough time to really justify it on my list. If it keeps being this good, I imagine it'll show up for Game of the Year next year in some capacity.

HM3: Halo 4:

I've been coming less and less impressed with the first-person shooter genre as the years go on. It's just stopped being fun for me. I don't like the super fast, death filled pace of most Call of Duty style games. That's why my love of Halo 4 really surprised me. It's got one of the most expertly crafted campaigns I've seen in quite some time. The plot as a whole may not be so amazing, but I really enjoyed the way 343 humanized Chief and Cortana. 343 made a very Halo game, and that's just what I needed/

HM4: Xenoblade Chronicles:

It's a crime it took as much work to bring Xenoblade to the west as it did. It was one of the most refreshing JRPG experiences I've had in quite some time. The world and gameplay are fresh and fun. It delivered the new style of experience that I used to expect from Final Fantasy games. Sadly, the game has a number of small problems that drag down the overall experience. The armor designs are mostly awful. It wouldn't be so bad if it didn't carry over into the cutscenes as well. I had to judge armor more on aesthetics than stats. It's sad since the game is pretty stunning overall. It's amazing since it's running on such dated hardware. The game's offline-MMO style also hurts more than it helps. It's easier to tolerate boring, tedious sidequests when you're with your friends. Here they severely disturb the game's pace. Overall, despite the flaws, it was an experience I thoroughly enjoyed.

The Real List

Number 10: Pokemon White 2:

Going into the year, I could not be less excited about Pokemon Black and White 2. While I enjoyed the original, they still didn't capture the love of the series I had that peeked with Ruby and Sapphire. The fact that appeared to be just another refinement game didn't bode well for it either. Emerald, Platinum and Crystal all didn't really do anything for me. Luckily, the game is much more than just a minor refinement. The things Game Freak did in Black and White 2 are significant and really aid the overall experience. The pacing is much improved over the original. You are given a greater variety of Pokemon to catch right from the get go and XP is much more readily available. They make the deeper systems like EV training and breeding much quicker and less tedious as well. I don't go to the Pokemon games for story, but the fact that it's a real sequel makes the story here a ton of fun. The fusion forms of Kyurem is one of the most interesting ideas Pokemon has had in some times. If Game Freak learns from all the things they did right here, Pokemon's future is much brighter than I expected.

Number 9: Analogue:A Hate Story:

Calling Analogue a visual novel isn't exactly a correct characterization. It's much closer to an old school text adventure. The way you interact with the game world as if through a computer terminal actually adds to the experience. As you sleuth through files and learn the game's history, it becomes one of the most interesting stories I've seen this year. Without any dialogue, the game still manages to be absolutely riveting. It's not a game I would exactly call fun, but it's one of the most interesting experiences I've had this year. That alone gave it a spot on this list.

Number 8: Spec Ops:The Line:

Spec Ops doesn't exactly make a wonderful first impression. It seems generic and, frankly, a bit boring. As it goes deeper the game slowly reveals its true colors. At around the half way point, the game really gets crazy. The game gives you just enough choice to make the insanity really feel like your fault. It mixes gameplay and story in a really interesting way. Sure, the game isn't perfect. The gunplay is a bit weak and some of the story twists don't really work. What it has going for it is ambition. It's something the genre really lacks, and that makes it a great experience.

Number 7: Asura's Wrath:

No other game gave me the "just one more" feeling this year like Asura's Wrath did. The game takes full advantage of its episodic structure. Like a good TV show, after an episode ends you want to dive right into the next. Every time you think the game can't get any more insane, it takes its story in a completely different direction. It even makes QTEs somehow fun. The use of "From the New World" in the moon battle is the best use of any pre-exisiting music track this year. Bar none. Even with the shady business of selling the True Ending as DLC, Asura's Wrath is some of the purest fun I've had with a game this year. Given its low sales, it's unlikely to get a real sequel. Still, I'd love to see CyberConnect 2 or another developer tackle another game with this format. It has a lot of potential.

Number 6: The Walking Dead:

The Walking Dead is a game I expected to put much higher. It's one of the most amazing, emotional stories told this year. Still, far too many things bother me about it to put it in my top 5. While I don't mind the fact that choice in the game is an illusion, the fact the developers continually rub the "your choices matter" idea in your face really bothers me. You can't have it both ways. The action scenes are down right bad most of the time. The game is rife with technical issues that needed up making me replay the first 2 episodes something like 3 times. Even with all that, The Walking Dead is an amazing experiences. It manipulates your emotions in a way most games could never dream of doing. It has characters that behave like real people for the most part. I love The Walking Dead, I really do. It's too bad it just has far too many problems that hold it back from perfection.

Number 5: Mark of the Ninja:

No game has such a mastery of its mechanics this year like Mark of the Ninja. Everything feels so finally tuned to squeeze the maximum amount of fun possible. I don't love Klei's character art and I think the cutscenes look really cheap. The actual environments,though, are great looking and just fun to run around. The game gives you an astounding amount of options on how to tackle any situation. Klei has gone from a boring, B-tiered developer to one of the most interesting downloadable game makers over the course of a single year. It's quite a rise and I hope they can make good on it.

Number 4: XCOM: Enemy Unknown:

The best turn-based strategy game maker making a game in one of the most renowned series of the genre. How could this go wrong at all? What's most surprising, is just how right it went. XCOM is the perfect mix of tactics and the larger metagame. Every piece feels expertly crafted. The way the game plays with a controller is a real feat as well. Firaxis knew just what they were doing here, and it really shows.

Number 3: The Last Story:

I wasn't expecting much going into The Last Story. Sakaguchi's recent games have all been pretty flawed experiences. The trailers painted it as just another generic fantasy JRPG. What a pleasant surprise when I found out it was so much more than that. Don't get me wrong, the base story is still fairly generic fantasy, but it's got a bit of a twist. The Last Story deals with some pretty dark themes of war and genocide. It makes your characters do some pretty awful stuff. Where The Last Story really shines, though, is pacing and gameplay. The battle system is fun and really quite innovative. The mix and match system really makes feel battles tactical. Yet it's still just frantic enough to feel fun. My favorite aspect is the pacing. The Last Story clocks in at just over 20 hours. Every aspect of the game feels tight and chopped to perfection. There's little unnecessary padding you associate with a JRPG. You level after virtually every battle. You might think that would make it feel a bit cheap, but it actually works. The tight pacing is something I'd love to see more JRPGs adapt. Not every one needs to be a sprawling 100 hour experience. It's OK to have a smaller game, and it just works so well here. Not to mention it has the best music this year.

Number 2: Journey:

I liked Flower. I did not love Flower. Journey looked like more typical That Game Company fare. Still, I was excited to check it out. Even more when a bud of mine got it for me as a gift. I'm so glad he did. Journey turned out to be one of the most amazing, different experiences I've had this year. The world does just enough to feel huge and expansive. The art is beautiful. The part thats really special is the non-verbal multiplayer. You really become attached to the people you play with, even if they're not the typical person you imagine liking online. It's a bit surreal when you see the usernames of your buddies at the very end. None of this would work if the game wasn't mechanically sound, and it is. The game is simple, but it does a lot with it. That whole package makes Journey worth checking out for anyone remotely open to it.

Game of the Year 2012: Virtue's Last Reward:

When I first sat down to write this list, I had only 2 games I was certain of. I knew Pokemon White 2 would be number 10 and Virtue's Last Reward would be my Game of the Year. No other game surprised me more. Coming off of 999, I was doubtful lightning could strike twice. I didn't know where you could go with that series. There was no clear path. It seemed almost impossible to top the insanity that is the final twist in that game. Yet, here we are. They did it. They didn't just top it once, either. They did it over and over again. Virtue's Last Reward is an amazing refinement on 999's core formula. The puzzles are better, it's easier to get through different story paths, the text scrolls faster. All of the mechanical improvements you'd want are there. What's so amazing is how they top 999 from a story standpoint. There is twist after twist in Virtue's Last Reward, yet they are all earned. They use obvious twists, say the identity of a certain character, to distract you from more important ones It's all expertly crafted. It's an amazing experience I won't soon forget and cannot wait to see where they go from here.


2009-A Year in Review:Dubious Honors

I'm not a huge fan of game of the year awards. I find it really difficult to compare two completely different experiences and say definitively, this one is better. I much prefer category awards. That said, if my readers want me to give out a game of the year award, I will. Just leave me a comment telling me that you guys want it, and I'll oblige.This first Games of the Year post is dedicated to the worst this year has to offer. 

Worst Company of the Year:

It's been a really popular thing to hate on Activision this year and I hate to appear as if I'm jumping on the bandwagon, but they really deserve this. This company really exemplifies all the negative aspects of a large gaming publisher. They abuse the properties they have, they stifle creativity and they treat their consumers like crap. I hate to say I'm happy about a game failing, but I'm so glad Tony Hawk:Ride did not perform as well as hoped.Now if only they'll stop pushing plastic crap on us every year, they might begin the road to recovery.

Runners-up: Sony (PSP Go! Pricing), Bethesda (For their lack-luster debut as a publisher)

Most Disappointing Game Released this Year:

Let's be clear here, this is for single-player only. I fully realize this is unequivocally the multiplayer game of the year. The single-player portion, though, was really underdeveloped. IW really didn't know what they wanted to do. They didn't know if they wanted a serious commentary about war or a fun gung-ho badass action game. You really can't try to do both a succeed at either. It left the game feeling really schizophrenic and empty. It's really sad too, as it didn't have to end up like this.

Runners-up: Brutal Legend. Scribblenauts.

Worst Game of the Year:

There are many ways to approach this category. I chose to go with the game I had the least fun with. To me, there is nothing worse than a mediocre game. If a game is really bad, you can at leas garner some enjoyment in it's inadequacies. Sure, Prototype isn't bad on a technical level, but it's just so boring and heartless. I rarely stop playing a game, but after a couple rounds of Prototype, I had to send it back to GameFly. It's boring, heartless and repetitive and that's why it's my worst game of 2009.

Runners-Up:Rogue Warrior. Tony Hawk:Ride.

Worst Trend of 2009:

Paying to unlock content you can unlock by playing the game.

I really hate this. Games that let you download unlock-able car parts or weapons or artificially increase your level really cheapen the experience for those of us who take the time to actually accomplish that task. If I need to purchase extra levels to avoid hours of boring grinding, it's a sign that you've failed to correctly balance your game.

Runners-Up:Different pre-order bonuses for different stores, Delaying the PC version of a game to promote console sales and stem piracy.

That's it for the dubious honors, next time I'll get into the actual positive gaming experiences of 2009.


Games, Dammit!

  I'm not a huge fan of Top 10 lists. Anyone can throw together a top 10 list and post it. It doesn't take much time or thought, so I'm going to be structuring this list a tad bit differently. Also, expect to see a Games of the  Year post coming. I still have 3 more games that might qualify for an award to play, Zelda Spirit Tracks, Mario and Luigi, and Ratchet and Clank: A Crack in Time. I hope to pick these up within the month so expect to see a post late-December, early-January.

Most Hopefully Optimistic Game :

I really want to be excited for this, I really do. I just don't know how I can trust a different team with such a well realized world. Heck, I don't even know if I want a BioShock Sequel from the same team. I'm not sure what they can add to the world. I'm still optimistic, though. The team working on it are saying all the right things and the fact that the multiplayer is being done by another team instead of wasting the single-player resources are at least very hopeful.

Most Exciting Gaming Platform:

Just as last year belonged to the Xbox 360 and this year the PS3, next year looks to be an amazing year to be a Wii owner. With games like Metroid: Other M, Super Mario Galazy 2, a possible new Zelda game and No More Heroes 2, I think my Wii is going to get more use than it has in a very long time. Nintendo looks like they may have even more great games to show off at E3.

Game with the most to live up to:

With Forza being so strong this year, as well as the game's super long development cycle, Gran Turismo 5 has a lot of pressure to perform. The game will sell, there's no doubt about that, but will it succeed to successfully compete with Forza from a features stand point. I don't think it can. We'll see, though. It's very possible that Polyphony might hit it out of the park. 

Most Anticipated Handheld Game:

Golden Sun is one of the most underrated RPG series of all time. I can't begin to describe my excitement when Nintendo announced the game back at E3. We still don't know too much about it, but given the series roots, I have no doubt that this will be a very high quality game.

Most exciting growing trend:

The iPhone became a major gaming platform just over the corse of this year and I don't expect this to slow down. Developers are really learning to take advantage of the platform's strengths and I can't wait to see what they come up with.

Game I didn't expect to be excited about:

This game came out swinging at this year's E3. With it's Lost-style narrative and interesting combat, I cant wait to actually get my hands on this. This game stole the show for me at las year's E3, and I really hope it can live up to that little slice.

Most Anticipated Announcement:

Persona 5. This game has to get announced next year. I really, really want this game to come out. I can't wait to see what Atlus can do with a next-gen platform. I know we won't actually get the game next year, but I really hope to at least start seeing media from it.

Game I'm currently most hyped for:

I'm not a huge Final Fantasy fan, but this game has me really, really pumped. It looks like the shot in the arm turn-based RPG battle systems need. After seeing Jeremy Perish's preview, and hearing that the battle system is very SMT-style but with a lot more action has me more excited right now than I've been for any other Final Fantasy game.

Honorable Mentions: 

Mass Effect 2, Halo: Reach, Dead Space 2

These 3 games are all exciting in their own way, but I either know too little about them, Halo: Reach, Dead Space 2, or I'm on media black-out to prevent spoilers, Mass Effect 2. I can't wait to see more of these, but they aren't on the top of my must-play list right now.


Dragon Age:My latest addiction

  The past few weeks for me have been horrible in terms of getting anything productive done. I've gone from playing through Assassin's Creed II, 100%, in one week to instantly being sucked into Dragon Age. I was planning on picking the game up for a while, but I just couldn't find the time to play such a huge RPG. I finally picked up the Digital Deluxe, as well as Plants vs Zombies and Osmos, during the recent Steam Black Friday sale. I'm not afraid to say that this is my best Steam purchase yet. It doesn't quite beat Assassin's Creed II for game of the year, but I certainly can't wait to keep playing.

I've never played this type of RPG before. I was young at the time the  Balder's Gate games came out and have never been a DnD fan. I guess that's why I approached Dragon Age with a lot of skepticism. The game more than lived up to the hype. This is Bioware in their natural environment. Everything about the game feels well built and refined. The characters feel like subtle twists on fantasy tropes. They're different enough to have personality, but still fulfill their intended role. The character models also feel like the best Bioware has done yet. It's a shame the game doesn't look that good overall. The graphics are the only sticking point about the game. It looks old. Despite that, the game still manages to pull off some spectacular set pieces. The large scale battles and enemy encounters can look fantastic at times.I remember the first large battle I saw. Soon after joining the Grey Wardens, the game gives you a great large battle scene. The best part is the vantage point. You're on top of a bridge and you see this absolutely massive battle playing out below. It's absolutely breathtaking. That was the point the game changed for me from simply quite good to amazing.

The game does have some fundamental issues besides the graphics. The difficulty can be quite punishing at times. I'd say this may be the most difficult RPG I've played in a while. I can't imagine playing this on a console as the tactical view feels like the only way to properly manage the battle field. The character animations still feel quite stunted. The characters still do that odd turn after a conversation that's been in pretty much every post-KotOR game. I've had quite a few odd little PC bugs and unexplained crashes as well and, in my experience, the DLC downloading system sucks. It seems to get stuck, drop the connection, and take a lot longer than it should on the PC.

Speaking of DLC, even with those problems, I think the most exciting thing about the game is Bioware's promise to keep up DLC support well into the future. I want more content for this game. I want to be able to pick the game up every month or two until Dragon Age 2 and play a few hours. I love the world and the characters and I'd love to keep playing it.

Seeing what Bioware is doing in Mass Effect 2 is getting me really excited to see all those things integrated into the next Dragon Age. The dynamic camera in dialog scenes is something Bioware's needed to do for a long time. I'm glad to see they finally figured out how to do it. I'm just sad the first Dragon Age couldn't take advantage. With both of these original franchises, Bioware's future is quite promising. They now have control of what may be my 2 favorite Western RPGs, Mass Effect and now Dragon Age, and they show no signs of letting either franchise die off any time soon.


My thoughts on Assassin's Creed II

  The blog's been on hiatus lately, and I'm sorry for that. Between the beginning of the semester wrap-up at school and Assassin's Creed II, I haven't had enough time to compose that previously promised Persona 3 themes post. Rest assured, it's still coming. I've been doing quite a bit of research on the Greek and Judeo-Christian myths that go along with the character's personas. I really want to knock that post out of the park.

Today, exactly 1 week after I started it, I finally finished Assassin's Creed II, with all 1000 achievement points. This is only the 4th game I've gone out of my way to accomplish this. This review will be spoiler free beyond talk of basic things like collectables. 

This is my game of the year, hands down. I'm not afraid to say that. The changes they've made to the formula make this my favorite open world game up to this point. It's really quite astounding how some relatively minor changes in the gameplay can completely change a game from good to amazing.

I liked the first Assassin's Creed. It has it's flaws,but it was still a good game at the time. This game completely makes the first one irrelevant. I can't imagine going back to it at this point. The world feels so bland and empty compared to the vast, open and colorful vistas of Italy. They've even managed to improve the amazing crowd AI of the first game. These cities feel even more full of life. 

The climbing and combat have even received some minor improvements. The combat is still rhythm and counter based, but it feels more fluid and violent than the first. You do have a few more options, but the only one I really used on a regular basis was the disarm move. I loved seeing enemies weapons taken from them and used against them. It's quite an awesome feeling. The dual blades and pistol are also great additions. Overall, if you didn't like the combat of the first, you still won't like it here. For those of us who did enjoy it, though, it's a nice twist on first.

The way the game tells its story has seen a substantial overhaul as well. Ezio is an actual character. He grows and develops. He's not just some static badass like Altair. The game takes it self much less serious as well, which is a nice change. It doesn't feel like it's trying to shove an overwrought, far too serious historical tale down your throat. It knows what it is and is happy to accept that. The game rarely pulls you out of the Animus, as well. This really helps the game tell a much more coherent story. 

Perhaps the best improvement to the game is what they've done with the collectables. They actually have some purpose this time. The crypts are amazing. They help break up the pace and the armor they give you is well worth the effort. The glyphs are a nice touch, and what they add to the story is quite substantial. I quickly grew addicted to collecting all the paintings and renovating my Villa. The weakest collectable was the feathers. They aren't that horrible, but much more boring to track down than the other collectables. All this breaks up what could be a monotonous and repetitive experience. 

Overall the game os just about perfect. I honestly have no major complaints. It seems Ubisoft actually looked at the criticism of the first game and fixed it this time around. I can't wait to see what they come up with for Assassin's Creed III. It's hard to imagine how they are going to improve on this one.


Anatomy of an Epilogue: The Answer

I want to begin by saying thanks to all the people who've continued to read my blog. It's really nice to know I have an audience for this and I'm not just doing this for my own sake. Thanks so much everyone! Observant people may have already caught a glimpse of the next game I've set my sights on, Assassin's Creed II. I should receive my copy from GameFly tomorrow and I hope to have my review of the game up fairly soon, so look for that. Now, onto the bulk of what I'm here to write about.   
My recent completion of Persona 3 FES' The Answer has made me think about video game epilogues. The epilogue seems to be something more and more games are adopting, and I'm not sure I'm comfortable that. With the advent of paid DLC, it's easy for game companies to add content to the single player adventure. It's a great way to expand on the story, add some cool side mission, or maybe clear up some confusion with the story. It can also be used to 'expand' on the conclusion of the game. Two recent examples I can think of are Fallout 3 and the most recent Prince of Persia game.  
I want my games to be complete right out of the box. I don't want to have to purchase some extra content to understand the end of the game. DLC seems to be one way developers are trying to combat the rampant trading-in of games. Fallout 3's ending was an example of how not to end an open world game, yet I don't think how they 'fixed' it worked any better. In fact, I think they made the ending worse. The content was good at least and, in that case, that's what mattered. What scares me, though, is the idea that a developer may leave a game without an ending on purpose in the future, just so they can sell you DLC. I really hope this never happens, but I wouldn't put it passed a company like Activision. Game publishers seem to be getting more and more greedy, and I'm not sure where this is going to end. I'm tired of being nickel and dimed with my games. I guess I'm part of the problem, because I have a GameFly account, but that's better than trading in my games to GameStop each time, right? It's the only way I can actually afford to play all the games that come up. Games are just too expensive. I love concise games, but I can't justify paying $60 for something that might end up being a 4-6 hour experience. I do still buy games, though. If I love a franchise or developer, or if it's a game I know I'll spend 20+ hours on, I'll pick it up. 
I suppose I should talk about what brought this post on, Persona 3:The Answer. I went into The Answer with great trepidation. I was afraid that all the emotional impact of the original ending would be ruined. A lot of what made Persona 3 in amazing in the first place is missing in this installment. Their are no daily events and no social links. It's a much more straightforward experience. You have a lengthy intro and you proceed to grind and fight until you reach the next cutscene. Repeat until the end. The strength of the characters did carry me through the grind-filled 25 hours. Aigis' sister, Metis, is the only new addition to the cast. Though she starts annoying, I found her to be an amazing addition to the cast, both in battle and part of the story. She's as well thought out as all the other characters and, honestly, may be my favorite part of The Answer. 
  Was the epilogue really necessary? No, but it does a lot to help expand on the ending of the game. Persona 3's ending was very abstract, and I can see people having problems with that. Even for those that fully understood what happened, The Answer does really add a lot. it gives closure to all the other characters in the story that didn't really get it in Persona 3. The story does an amazing job of showing all the characters going through the grieving process in their own way. It's really a tale that could only be told as an epilogue. I really respect the job the writers did with the story. They did a great job making sure the people that remained were given a happy ending, without ruining the emotional impact of the main character's story. They didn't take the easy way out and try to reverse the slightly unpopular ending they had with Persona 3, and I respect them for that.


Persona 3 FES Retrospective: The Journey

We all have favorite game series we really want to write about and discuss. Persona is that series for me. I finally feel like I'm in a place where I can discuss Persona 3. This is the first of of about 3-4 planned blog posts on Persona 3. 

I've been spending the last week or so trying to figure out what made Persona 4 work better than P3. All the elements are there that should make the game amazing. The story is arguably better than 4's, it's certainly darker, the characters are just as unique and endearing, and the gameplay itself hasn't changed all that much, but it's a combination of a larger variety of refinements to the formula that make P4 nearly perfect. Persona 3 id just a really amazing experience and just barely fails to reach the heights of it's successor, which is what you should expect. I expect a game's sequel to improve on the original.

So what's wrong? The first issue I have is the game's length. The game took me about 10 hours longer to finish than P4, not even including the around 27 hour long epilogue. I clocked in at a final play time of just over 85 hours. It isn't so much how long the game is, but how the game structures the narrative. The game feels really 'front loaded'. It starts really slow and when the story starts picking up, the game ends. The game is so slow to get started, by the end I was starting to get really tired of playing. If it weren't for the great story, I don't think I could have kept playing. 

Persona 3's dark tone turns out to be both a blessing and a curse. The game can feel hopeless and even suffocating at times. I would come away from a few hours of game time feeling very melancholy. I would deliberately avoid playing the game on bad days knowing I'd come away even more depressed than when I started. The dungeon design only adds to this. Sure the game varies the different Blocks of Tartarus look, but your still coming back to the same dungeon and that dungeon is very claustrophobic and drab. The fact that many of the social links are much more lighthearted can at times create drastic, sudden changes in tone that really can pull you out of the experience. I would go from a fun time out with a friend to one of my characters getting shot in a short period of time. That drastic of a tonal shift can be really distracting.

Even if it's not quite as good as Persona 4, P3 is still an amazing JRPG. It mixes a traditional turn based battle system with an unconventional setting and story telling methods. If you boil down the story to it's basest elements, it still tells a traditional  JRPG tale, but it doesn't feel that way. I would go as far as to say Persona 3 is the first truly innovative JRPG I've seen in a very long time. If some one told me a couple years ago that I'd actually want dating sim elements into my RPG, I wouldn't have believed them. It really is what makes the game for me, though. Without it, Persona would just be another JRPG about teenagers saving the world. The game uses the Social Links as a way to attach you to the characters. I almost feel like I become close friends with the characters by the end. It uses every day events a a way to endear you to all the side characters and make you actually care about what happens to them. It shows you that the characters have lives outside of saving the world, and I think that really helps set the story apart from other JRPGs.

Now, about that battle system. This was the hardest thing to adjust to coming from P4. The AI is alright and most of the time will do what you would have done anyway, but I still would have liked direct control over my secondary characters. Also, the game does a terrible time explaining the Battle System to new players. If I hadn't played any other Persona game, I wouldn't have understood so much of the basic stuff needed to play. Just simple things like Agi=Fire or Almighty spells can't be reflected. The fusion system is still nearly impenetrable for anyone who doesn't already know how it works. Also, I hate weaknesses and resistances for enemies feel almost random. If an enemy looks to be an ice type, it should be weak to ice. Persona's battle system, both in 3 and 4, seems to be just an arbitrary way to force you to scan an enemy at least once.

The game is amazing, end of story. Is it perfect? No. Does it have a lot of fairly major flaws? Yes, but I still love it. The characters are much less human than those in P4, but it's still far ahead of many other JRPGs on so many levels. I can't wait to see how they manage to make P5 better given all the power of a current generation console. Even if it's just as much of an improvement over 4 as 4 was over 3, it will still beat 99% of RPGs out there. 


Favorite Games FINAL:BioShock

  So this is it for my first blog series, for now at least. Two reasons this blog has taken so long. First, I've been trying to figure out what I should be writing about. Second, I've been spending a lot of time working on finishing the answer for my next series. I'm happy to say, I have finished it today. To give you an idea of my planned schedule, here is my next few planned posts. Persona 3 FES Retrospective: The Journey (My Review of 'The Journey' section of the game), Anatomy of an Epilogue, and an analysis of the themes of P3. Now onto another game with a lot of depth to it's story, BioShock.

I played BioShock when it first came out a couple years ago, and it really left an impression on me. It made me realize that you actually tell a deep, adult story in a way that couldn't have been done by film or literature. It was also the first game I actually obtained the full 1000 points in. I played it through twice in just a couple of weekends. 

What made BioShock's story so compelling and unique? First, the setting. It's completely original and just feels so full of history. The environment has a history, and it shows. It's enhanced by the audio logs you find lying around. The Audio Logs are an amazing way to tell the history of Rapture and finding each one was a treat. Another thing that makes BioShock's tale unique is the way it tells its story. The game feels so cinematic, yet it does things no film could ever do. It is really one of the first stories completely unique to gaming. It doesn't make the mistake so many other games do, it doesn't try to explain everything. It doesn't have a random character tell you Big Daddies are dangerous, it shows you. There are so few interactions with other characters in the game that the story is really about a man trying to survive in a bad situation. The story gradually grows and grows until the tension reaches a fever pitch, and then the game throws the most surprising game twists I've ever seen. 

Than the game keeps going. This is the problem Sure, becoming a Big Daddy was awesome, but it didn't really feel necessary to the story and the game then moves on to one of the least satisfying final boss fights in game history before wrapping up with a fairly bland ending. This is really the games only fault, though. I love the enemy design. They manage to do a lot with very little. They never over power your character, though. Even at the end of the game, fighting a Big Daddy is still a tense experience. It's a lot easier than before, but one wrong move and you still could be in real trouble. Overall, it's the game's environment and story that make it unique and amazing and what make it one of the most fun games I've played this generation. I'm interested to see how they continue to make Rapture a mysterious place in BiShock 2. If they can't pull that off, I think they'll have a hell of a time living up to the original.


Post a Day Project: Favorite Games Part 3

This is one I think is going to surprise people, my favorite Zelda game is Wind Waker. I'll admit, I have't finished EVERY Zelda. I've still yet to finish Zelda 2 or track down Link's Awakening, but I doubt those would top Wind Waker in my book. Why do I like Wind Waker so much? One word, style. The game exudes it in every way. It makes the best out of what it's given, and I think that thought really shows. 

Wind Waker is still the Zelda game I can return to nowadays between new releases. Twilight Princess looks dull to me now, and the recent handheld games only hold my attention through one play through. The variety the game has to offer in both visuals and game design really draws me in. For some reason, the treasure hunting in this game hooks me way more than the collectables in any other Zelda title. Having a map showing me where to go draws me into the game much better than just having to run around searching every corner for the next heart container, as in any other Zelda. The combat is simple, yet fluid and interesting. I don't mind having to cut through waves and waves of enemies, as I can parry and vary my tactics to make things more interesting. I also don't have the stress on my wrist Twilight Princess caused after a few hours of game time.

The next thing that ensures I can come back to the game in the foreseeable future is the art style. Art style is what can make a game age well or poorly, and Wind Waker still looks good because of it's cartoonish style. In fact, I'd wager Wind Waker will never look dated, from a visual standpoint, as you can't really improve the look with a higher fidelity graphics chip. Twilight Princess already looks dated to me now, but I can still play Wind Waker without the game feeling like it was from 6 years ago.

The game is not without its problems, though, and some of those problems are quite serious. Before you get the song that summons the tornado, travel between islands is hell. Even afterward you still have to find your way to your destination from wherever the whirlwind drops you up. Boating seems cool at first, but gets really monotonous quickly. I kind of wish they would have added an upgrade system for your boat to make things at least a tad bit more interesting. It wouldn't have fixed the problem completely, but it would have helped. The other problem I have is the stupid triforce fetch quest near the end of the game. That series of events is really arbitrary and just serves to artificially increase the game's length. I usually play up to that point before quitting. I don't really feel the need to get all the way to the end again. I still enjoy the journey up to that point so much, I can ignore the other flaws and I feel those flaws are much more minor than the flaws of some of the series other recent entries. 


Post a Day: Favorite Games Part 2

Let me start off by saying being sick stinks. It's nearly impossible to come up with a good post while sitting on your couch, coughing and sleeping. Luckily, I'm back up and running and I hope to be able to keep up with the "Post a Day" promise. I'll start off by announcing the next series will be about my favorite RPG series, Persona. I haven't nailed down the format for those yet, but I've got 3+ posts left in this series before I move on. Now onto the next game I'd like to talk about, Shadow of the Colossus.   
What drew me to SotC at first was the premise. The idea of a game made up of only boss fights was fascinating. The game fulfilled the premise in every single way. The visuals, the sound design, and the just the world were amazing, and still are. The games stylized visuals have ensured that the game still holds up far longer than other games of its time. Each individual colossus is original and different and the game is very much more of a puzzle game than a standard third person action adventure zelda-type game.  
What makes SotC so special? It's actually the same thing I loved about Persona 3, the world. Both games manage to accomplish the same thing, but in very different ways. While Persona concentrates on it's characters to fill out the world, SotC uses it's environment The world is a character in itself and is what is supposed to drive the player forward. The world is mostly barren and empty, but still has so much personality. I'd say the world has so much personality because it's so empty. There are no characters to distract the player, no complicated story to confuse, and no minor enemies to plow through.  
The other part of the equation is the colossi themselves. Each one is original and different. No two are the same. The game uses them as enemies you want to conquer, puzzles to solve, and majestic creatures you don't want to see die. You feel almost bad about killing them, and this feeling gets progressively stronger as time goes on. You feel less and less good about what your doing. Your character's clothing and body start to decay. Everything the game is showing you is telling you that you are not doing the right thing, yet you keep doing it. The game does the exact same thing with the horse.  
Now onto the few problems the game has. The first problem I had wasn't really that big a problem, it's on the short side. It doesn't have any filler to make it longer, so I guess it's a plus in the long time. The only real problems I had were with the controls and how it points you toward the next colossus. The game has a bit of a learning curve to it with the controls. The horse doesn't control exactly as you'd expect and the jump is really floaty. This didn't hamper my enjoyment , but it was a bit of an annoyance at first. The way you find the colossus, on the other hand, was a way bigger annoyance. It would constantly point me toward a wall I'd have to find my way around instead of just pointing me to where I needed to go. The fact that none of these hampered my overall enjoyment really speaks to the quality of the other parts of the game.

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