Over the past few months, I've been splitting my time between a few different games. FIrst and foremost has been Xenoblade Chronicles, which I bought at the U.S. launch back in April and have only sunk some ninety hours into so far. (Yes, "only.") If this had come out a few years ago, I probably would have beaten it in less than three months, but my life has more responsibilities these days, and I can only devote so much time to my gaming habits, particularly when there are so many games that I want to play. That being said, Xenoblade Chronicles is easily one of the best RPGs I've played in years. And I have a Xenogears/Xenosaga fan of a friend that is not only soaking in every minute of the game herself and doing everything she can within the game's world but is also having a blast recognizing a lot of the tropes and references to Xenogears that I just flat out would not get.
There are a lot of reasons that I enjoy Xenoblade. There's the way the game plays, which is in some ways comparable to Final Fantasy XII. There's its massive, enormous, humongous, gigantic (have I used enough adjectives?) world, where all manner of hidden nooks and surprises await those willing to explore off the beaten path. There are the characters, who while filling obvious tropes and archetypes are genuinely likeable, and sometimes surprising. There's the story that starts off simple and takes some surprising twists and turns, and is always entertaining thanks to a fantastic localization. Even NPCs I've come across have caught my eye and tugged at my heart despite what limited time their stories are given.
In all honesty, I can't think of a single thing that I don't like about the game. I'm even loving the fact that I feel like I can take my time with it, and not have to rush to the end. It's not a game that I really want to see end at this point because it's just been so enjoyable.
Another game I've been playing, and which I've put far less time into thus far, is Pokemon Conquest. I've never really enjoyed the core Pokemon games. I can understand why a lot of people do, but every time I've tried to play one, it's never been able to hold my interest for more than a little while, and I've never even come close to completing one. But Conquest looks like it's going to break that trend for me.
Some of you are already aware of this, but Pokemon Conquest is actually a crossover game with Koei's Nobunaga's Ambition strategy game series. And after putting maybe six or so hours in, those influences are numerous and obvious. Not just in the inclusion of Japanese historical figures as warlords bonding with, training, and engaging in combat with Pokemon, but in the general elements of the game outside of battle. The way that officers have to be managed, their stats and abilities play just as important a role in the game as the Pokemon do.
But make no mistake, because this is still a Pokemon game at heart. This means capturing new Pokemon, evolution, getting familiar with each types strengths and weaknesses, and everything else. Master those points, and so long as Pokemon are properly trained, the game doesn't seem that challenging (which is fair, given the audience the game is targeted at), but man, there is a lot going on here. And there's apparently a range of secondary campaigns focused on the historical officers to play through once the primary campaign is cleared, so there's really no shortage of content, either.
Finally, there's Theatrhythm. This is a game that has, in no uncertain terms, made me feel good about rhythm games again. Really, it's the first rhythm game I've enjoyed since Guitar Hero II and Rocks the '80s. Once the plastic instrument boom phase of the genre escalated and both Activision and Harmonix (with Rock Band) got stupid with the number of plastic instrument bundles, and Neversoft took a giant dump on the genre by creating large swaths of note highways that were little more than note spam, I just could not take it anymore.
In any event, the rhythm games I preferred were always the more esoteric of the bunch; games like Ouendan and Space Channel 5 that married their gameplay, which have little or nothing to do with instrument, real or plastic, to premises that are both outlandish and charming. To me, these aspects were lost to a great degree during the Activision/Harmonx arms race. And when I learned that iNiS, the creators of such great games as Ouendan and Gitaroo Man, was reduced to making a fucking Black Eyed Peas video game, I felt as though the genre had hit its nadir and lost its heart.
And then Theatrhythm came along, with its ridiculous premise, classic track list, and a mix of gameplay styles that's one part Ouendan mixed with new concepts ranging from the basic gameplay to the ability to outfit and customize a party and actually have it affect gameplay, and I am hooked. I mean, make no mistake; I am a big Final Fantasy fan, and the track list has a lot to do with my appeal toward the game, but it's also due to the mix of odd rhythm gameplay and style that permeate it. And I cannot tell you how happy I am to see someone make a rhythm game of this type. No plastic instruments, no need for a Kinect and ten feet of open floor space, and no Fergie. I don't know who had the idea to make this game, but whoever it was, it was goddamn brilliant.