Etrian Odyssey Untold: The Millennium Girl Demo Review

I'm a fan of the original Etrian Odyssey, but for some reason I never got around to playing the other games (probably because other games took up my time, heh). One of my favourite features in EO games is the ability to draw your own maps. It was something that was more than a novelty because you could write notes for yourself, plot out paths, and more; you had to do these things if you wanted to survive.

EOU continues the tradition of manual map-making, but does so in a way that encourages writing good maps, and at the same time reducing the time spent making them. One issue with the original Etrian Odyssey was pacing; typically, you would move a few steps, and then pause to draw out your map, and repeat this process throughout the entire game. EOU now allows you to have the map's walls (and not just the floors) be drawn automatically for you, so you only have to worry about marking doors, stairs, points of interest, etc.

The ability to have walls be drawn automatically is a significant change to map-making.
The ability to have walls be drawn automatically is a significant change to map-making.

Such a small addition turns out to be a huge improvement in terms of pacing, but if you happen to like drawing walls, you can still do that manually. Another great improvement that helps with the game's pacing is the dash ability. Now, you can hold down the B button (or toggle the ability) to move faster in dungeons. The best addition, however, is the ability to fast travel between floors. If you've covered a good amount of a given floor and find the stairs to the next floor, you will be granted the privilege of warping to the stairs anytime you revisit the floor. So you can reach a new floor, warp back to town to save and resupply your party, and then quickly resume your adventure, skipping all the random battles and FOEs in between.

This FOE was in the original game, so naturally it'll be in EOU.
This FOE was in the original game, so naturally it'll be in EOU.

In Etrian Odyssey games, you would usually create your own party and begin the game from there. In EOU, your party is predetermined, and the characters who join you are not blank slates. Each character has a distinct personality, and some of the dialogue is spoken through voice acting. For better or worse, the player is not able to choose their own class; they play as the Highlander, a brand-new (player-only?) class in EOU whose weapon of choice is the spear. The player's preference will vary as to whether they want full control of their party or if they like having a little personality in their characters at the expense of some customization.

Perhaps the addition of grimoire stones are meant to offset any potential disdain for EOU's focus on fixed parties. Grimoire stones allow you to use the skills of another character class; Simon, for example, is a medic, but his stone allows him to use landskencht skills. Of course, he doesn't have the power to match the skill, but the point is that these stones allow the player to customize their party. Even better, you can learn enemy skills and synthesize stones, so your options increase even further.

EOU's new additions to map making and general dungeon-crawling are a welcome change, and they serve to improve the pacing in a sub-genre that's slow-paced to begin with. Some players may balk at the apparent loss of the ability to have custom parties and classes, but grimoire stones are a nice trade-off, especially if there are a ton of skills to work with. The demo's generous amount of content lasts several hours, so one can imagine how much time they'll be spending with the full game!

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A Couple of Rants About Fighting Games

Fighting games have been around for decades. We all know that the genre's popularity surged after the release of Street Fighter II, and we also know that a hugely successful game usually results in a flood of clones riding on said game's success. After a somewhat dry period, fighting games returned in a big way with the release of Street Fighter IV, and other fighting games soon followed.

OK, so you know all this, right? Yet, for some reason, I can't shake this feeling I have towards the genre and the community that I love so much. There's always something exciting happening in the fighting game community (FGC) around the world, yet I can't just walk up to a random gamer and talk about strategies because chances are they haven't played the game I'm talking about. Basically, I want more people to play fighting games and enjoy them for what they are. Many people are just content to mash buttons (or use the dreaded “play for fun” excuse—more on that later), and that's sad.

What follows next is just some rants I wanted to get off my chest.

This is Why Fighting Games Are So Hard To Commit To

Like any competitive game, you must put in a considerable amount of time in fighting games to be decent at them against human opponents. Fighting games are supposed to epitomize “easy to learn, hard to master,” yet the “easy to learn” part still evades most developers. To me, the solution always seemed straightforward: just teach the player how to play and how to utilize the combat mechanics. However, most developers are still content to give you the standard fend-for-yourself training mode and maybe a mission mode where you must perform strict, difficult combos that might not really be efficient in real matches. Even worse, there might be special control settings that don't do anything except insult the player's intelligence or limit the player's options.

So that's one of the reasons why I think some people don't really play fighting games for a long period of time. Another reason is that some people play the games for single player content, but I really think that's not a good enough reason to play a fighting game, and I'll explain why. The main component of a fighting game is the combat, and nothing else. For that reason, good developers focus on player retention, and won't sacrifice versus play to satisfy those who aren't going to stick around long enough to appreciate the combat system to its fullest. That's why most fighting games based on popular manga aren't very good; they're made for fans of the property before they're made for fans of fighting games. While that makes sense on paper, in the end such developers are only doing themselves a disservice by making a substandard game (this could also be the result of executive meddling, but that's another issue). There are some exceptions, such as Dragon Ball Z Budokai 3, and Bleach: Dark Souls. Good fighting games are built to be played potentially for years; very few are played for decades. I love good single-player content, but I don't want it to come at the expense of solid combat mechanics, especially in a genre where the whole point is competitive play.

Playing For Fun,” and “Fighting With Honour”

I have some advice for those of you who like to use that “I play for fun” excuse when they lose to a better player: don't. You want to know an undeniable truth? Those guys you keep losing to? They're playing for fun too! I'm not sure how many people have realized this, but we are often unwilling competitors in the game called life. We must compete at everything, against an opponent that's always changing. When you're job-hunting, you're competing against invisible people who want the same job as you. When you're catching a train, you're competing against the clock. I like to view fighting games as a less harsh version of life, where a loss doesn't result in something terrible. Maybe missing that train would result in you losing your job, thus being unable to pay your rent or feed your family. Fighting games don't have such consequences, which is one of the reasons why they're fun to play. Knowing that, I don't understand the attitudes of some online players (and only online players, it should be noted), and how they use “I play for fun” both as an excuse and as a way to insult the player they lost to. That kind defeatist attitude is often used when a player can't overcome an obstacle. I also like those players who claim that the winner has no “honour.” Well, did the winner cheat? The moment you start making up excuses, the opponent is no longer the guy who beat you, but yourself.

I'll be honest here. As a Virtua Fighter player, I hate Jacky players who abuse his somersault. It does huge damage on a counterhit and it's easy to perform. Although I hate the move, it's also easy to defeat since it's very unsafe, allowing a free combo. See the difference in attitude? You might dislike a strategy that's often used, but it's on you to find a way to beat it, not for the opponent to stop using it because you keep losing to it. The player's objective in a competitive game is to win. The time you take to complain about a strategy could be better spent looking up how to defeat it.

These Kids Are Playing, So We Must Be Doing Something Right

The players who complain about “unbeatable” tactics look even more foolish when you consider that the FGC has young kids competing in tournaments. You might have heard about Noah, the eight-year-old player who quickly gained popularity at Evolution 2011 for competing in Street Fighter IV and Marvel vs. Capcom 3 at an early age. Noah competed in NorCal Regionals 2013 that took place this past weekend. One of his opponents was someone who was a similar age. Over in Europe, there's a player named Wawa, a 10-year old who defeated several players in King of Fighters XIII. There are probably even more up-and-coming young players that we don't know about. We probably played—and lost to--some of them online.

I love the FGC, and hope that it continues to grow despite the grievances I and many other people have about the community or the games. The online players and the “stream monsters” are by no means indicative of the community as a whole, and becoming a member is extremely easy. Simply show up to local events, or contribute something like combo videos or guides. That's all there is to it. It's so easy, even a kid can do it! In fact, they what's your excuse?


Give EA a Break.

The infamous publisher we know as Electronic Arts has (unsurprisingly) made headlines again, for all the wrong reasons. EA has been hated for so long, it's getting harder to remember that they used to be a respectable company. Despite our various grievances, however, I say leave them alone.

Before you start sending angry comments, hear me out. From birth, most humans are taught to learn from their mistakes. Making mistakes is how we grow and shape our character, and the lessons we learn can be passed on to the next generation. The same can be said of EA, except other companies need to learn from EA's missteps, and avoid those pitfalls lest they too want to be reviled. Here is what I think we can learn from EA's past and present mistakes:

1. Don't get too big.

From what I've observed of current publishers, the bigger you get, the more unrecognizable you become. Kind of an ironic statement, don't you think? Traditionally, having a large business is seen as a sign of progress, but the reality is that when you become a multinational corporation, you identify with your consumers less and less. Employees become more expendable. The business becomes more about pleasing the shareholders rather than creating great products.

What can other companies learn from EA's mistake? Don't grow so large that your loyal fans don't know who you are anymore. Atlus has been around for decades, but because of how they do business, they've maintained a small-mid size. And thanks to that, they pay more attention to their tightly-knit fanbase. If they adopted EA's practices, they would cease to exist. They can't afford to make EA's mistakes.

2. Don't get bought out.

I'm cheating a bit here. It's not a mistake for EA to attempt to buy out a studio; it's a mistake if the studio accepts the offer. If you were an independent developer that made a string of hit games, ask yourself this: is it worthwhile to get bought out by someone like EA? Ask someone who worked at Westwood or Bullfrog for their opinion. Now, it is still possible for some studios to thrive under new ownership (Naughty Dog is a great example), but at the end of the day, you no longer have creative freedom, and the IPs you created are no longer yours. Even worse, those IPs you owned may never get used again. Or, they will, but not in a way you would approve of had you still been running the show.

Read this for some inspiring words from a studio that values their work and their ownership of said work.

3. Don't underestimate demand.

Many times, I've seen launches for persistent online games not go as planned due to server issues. Perhaps I'm just not knowledgable enough on the subject, but wouldn't it make sense to have redundant servers for the (often likely) event that the servers can't handle all the traffic? Diablo 3's launch was the same way; Blizzard should have anticipated that the demand for a game like D3 was going to be huge.

If you cook food for a bunch of guests, it's always better to make more food than necessary, rather than risk not making enough. Publishers and developers should be the same way with online games. If you think you have enough capacity, chances are you need more. Especially if your game is highly anticipated! Have a contingency plan in case things go sour.

The above points are just some examples of what we can learn from EA's blunders. While they're not the only company to make them, they are the ones putting out fires more than any other publisher. Hating on EA is a pastime that isn't going to fade away anytime soon, as long as they remain as they are. But I think we should let them be, and allow them to keep making the mistakes they've been making. EA serves as a great example of how not to operate if you want to be respected in this industry among your consumers, peers, and employees. EA has an important role to play--not a desirable one, mind you, but an important one all the same.


The Cease and Desist: Opportunity Killer?

Not too long ago, GameSpot had an article showcasing an unlikely fighting game called My Little Pony: Fighting is Magic. I knew about this game long before GameSpot featured it, but I thought that getting exposure from a major website was a huge boon.Who would have thought that a fighting game about ponies would make it on the front page of one of the biggest video game sites in the world?In the article, there's a quote from Mane6 team member Jay Wright: "Hasbro has been very supportive of the creativity in the fan community, in all aspects. Plus, I think it helps that we're developing a game that would otherwise not exist at all."

I discovered that Hasbro sent a cease & desist letter to Mane6.What happened to the support?

Let me set things straight before I continue: Hasbro is completely within their rights to stop any and all content that infringe on their IP, whether it was intentional, non-intentional, for profit, or for non-profit.I'm not writing to complain about the C&D.I'm writing to question whether a C&D is an appropriate response when there could be an opportunity to generate more interest towards a brand.

My Little Pony: Fighting is Magic
My Little Pony: Fighting is Magic

Fan-made games getting a C&D is nothing new.Highly anticipated games get shut down all the time.Let's look at two popular fan games that got shut down, and I'll try to explain why it was a missed opportunity for the IP owners.

Streets of Rage Remake

Streets of Rage Remake is a remake of the famous Sega Genesis brawler series.The game was created by Bomber Games, a team based in Spain.SORR keeps the same basic story, where the goal is to take down Mr. X and his empire. But the remake includes remixed music, branching paths, new cutscenes, the return of Adam, and various game modes, such as volleyball (complete with the first stage music from Super Adventure Island!).The game also let you change certain mechanics; so if you prefer, say, SOR3's combo system instead of SOR2's, the option is present.You can see for yourself how much work and content went into creating SORR.Soon after Bomber Games completed the project, Sega sent their C&D letter.The only way to experience SORR now is if someone downloaded the game before it got taken down.If you know someone with the game, please check it out because the team did some amazing things with the series.

Streets of Rage Remake.An awesome game...if you can find it.
Streets of Rage Remake.An awesome game...if you can find it.

I wonder if there's anyone internally at Sega who played SORR in its entirety and thought "this is really good work!"When I learned of the C&D, I was baffled as to how a company can just shut something down without giving it a second thought.I'm no expert on law, but could Sega not have worked with Bomber Games to produce something official, instead of removing it from existence?I'm sure that Sega is aware that there are fans of their old IP; SORR is proof that, if Sega took the time, they might be able to turn interest into dollars. I would've paid for something like SORR, at least.

Chrono Resurrection

The termination of this game is well-known.I'm sure there are some people in a corner of the world who hate Square Enix to this day for handing out a C&D.I don't think I have to explain where Square Enix went wrong here.Oh wait...I just did.

Don't count on the current Square Enix to release a CT remake...or even a new Chrono game.
Don't count on the current Square Enix to release a CT remake...or even a new Chrono game.

Like I said, you have to wonder if anyone not from the legal department saw what fans were making and thought, "wow, this is some good work.I wonder if we could do something with this..."I feel that handing out a C&D isn't always appropriate, even though it's entirely a company's right to do so.Thankfully, there are some companies who let things slide; there are numerous Mario games that can be found if you look hard enough.One game in particular, Super Mario Bros. Crossover, is notable for having properties from multiple NES games, wide open for anyone to see.And then there's Mega Man, where you can practically stumble on a random 8-bit fan game.Actually, I'm glad I brought up Mega Man, because Capcom deserves mention for something they did that more companies should consider before handing out a C&D: endorsing a fan game.

Street Fighter x Mega Man: An Example Of An Alternative To The C&D

It's easy for a Mega Man fan like myself to get excited for a promising MM fan game, and SFxMM was no exception.But what surprised me was Capcom's active interest in the game.Normally, Capcom just turns a blind eye to the millions of MM fan games out there (I plan to make one myself!).I'd be surprised if they sent a C&D for any of them.But here we have a fan game that was endorsed by a company who could have easily shut down this game, but instead promoted it as part of their 25th Mega Man anniversary and released it as a free downloadable game.

We know they're watching us make these games...why not leverage the interest they generate?
We know they're watching us make these games...why not leverage the interest they generate?

Now, imagine what Sega or Square Enix could have done with the games that they shut down.They could have made a similar gesture and promoted SORR and Chrono Resurrection, giving their respective brands more awareness, and possibly generate active demand for a new game.That new demand would then turn into dollars.Capcom stressed that they wanted everyone to download SFxMM directly from their site instead of downloading it once and sharing the game with friends.Can you guess why?

Your Fans Love What You Do.Why Punish Their Expressions Of Love?

Going back to the MLP situation, it's kind of hard to believe now that Hasbro is supporting fan works when they decided to shut down Fighting is Magic.A common thread among C&Ds--and what bothers me most about them--is the timing in which they're sent.Hasbro knew about this game long before GameSpot featured it, so why did they wait until now to halt the project?I doubt they're planning on making a fighting game, but it's a safe bet that Fighting is Magic at least brought brand awareness to a community who would not have looked at MLP otherwise.Reports within the community suggest that Mane6 had a hit on their hands; even some of the show's voice actors played the game and were excited.Instead of running with the excitement (or "hype," as it's called in the fighting game community), Hasbro's legal team killed it.As I said before, I'm not a law expert, so maybe there's more to the issue than what I know, but from where I'm sitting, it doesn't make sense to stamp out potential gold mines, especially when there's no malicious intent.


It can only be a good thing.

I think it's great that we're getting a ton of fighting games this year.  The irony is that it was the Street Fighter series that, once again, made fighting games popular.  I don't think SF4 has made an impact as big as SF2 did back in the 90's, and that's because of the relative lack of an arcade scene (at least in North America).  However, I hope this resurgence means the return of certain franchises, like Rival Schools.