Tuesday, 29 December 2015

My End of 2015 Top Ten of Top Tens for the End of 2015

Well, it's the end of the year, and with that comes a lull in game coverage as everyone winds down for the holidays. Fear not, though, game publications around the world have the big guns ready for one last salvo of click bait to get people ploughing through their site with a mix of curiosity, a desire for confirmation bias, and a big sack of righteous indignation just waiting for a greenlight. That's right folks it's time for gaming sites to slap up their top ten lists where they give us their picks for the best of the best in 2015.

It's all bullshit. You know it. I know it. The people writing these things sure as hell know it. So, instead of complaining about the ultimately meaningless yearly ritual, and the worrying zeal and lack of perspective consistently displayed by people who care way too much about them I've decided to make my own top ten list...of everyone else's top ten lists. This list will aim to rank the best of the best in year end top ten lists, taking subjective rankings and placing them under one massive umbrella of subjective ranks. One list to rule them all, etc.

10. Patrick Klepek's Top 10 Games 2015 [Kotaku]

The reason Patrick's list is here has nothing to do with the games he listed. He's here because his top ten list made it to the first page when I started searching Google for "End of 2015 Game Top Ten". So, while I don't really care about his taste in games, I think we should all applaud him for winning the SEO derby against his fellow Kotaku writers and making the first page of Google search results. That's no mean feat in the cutthroat world of search engine optimization. Everyone else at the outlet should take this as a wake-up call to step up their game in 2016.

9. The 25 Best Games of 2015 [The Guardian]

As much as I'd like to rank them higher, I just can't bring myself to do so. The Guardian got greedy and they need to be punished for that. If a publication insists on breaking an age old tradition of top ten lists and pumps something out at 2.5X the accepted norm, it's important that we collectively put our foot down and tell them this isn't okay. There are only two reasons that they're still on this list. First, they awarded Bloodborne their top spot, something seemingly every other site has avoided. Second, they ranked The Witcher 3 higher than both Metal Gear Solid V and Fallout 4. A bold move in the face of all of the love those two games got this year.

8. The 10 best games of 2015 and GamesBeat’s Game of the Year [Venture Beat]

Sometimes it's fun to watch fanboys get angry. Just look for a contrarian opinion on something game-related and watch as forums and comment sections explode with people complaining, launching adhominem attacks, and taking to social media to let the world know how wrong this author was. I have to assume that the folks at Venture Beat really do get a kick out of this stuff, as not only did they make some unexpected choices like including Rise of the Tomb Raider on their list, but they did so at the expense of games such as Fallout 4 and Bloodborne. As you might imagine, there were some unhappy people in the comments section, but with that they managed to land a respectable 8th place in this top ten and earn a cheeky, "Oh, you!" from this writer.

7. Best Android games: what you should be playing in 2015 [Android Pit]

This one is here for the sake of being well-rounded. I heard an analyst once say that mobile gaming is the wave of the future, so it must be true. Just don't say that to the Hardcore Gaming set. They'll get mad at you. I'm already skating on thin ice even daring to mention mobile here. I've no idea if any of the games the author mentioned are actually good or not, but the images look pretty and I like the Incredible Hulk, so he's okay in my book. Really, the only thing holding this back from ranking higher is the lack of gatcha style games on his list.

6. The Top 10 Videogames of 2015 [WIRED]

The middle part of a top ten list is always the hardest. The stuff in the top three or four you'll have a pretty good idea of what will go there, and same with the eight through ten spots. It's usually sorting out five, six, and seven where things can falter. Arbitrarily placing games in the meh-est section in a list your really starting to wish was a top five can suck the life out of a writer. If anything, you want a nice, easy solution to this conundrum. Thankfully, WIRED has that base covered. They had the wherewithall to make a slide show instead of a more traditional top ten inundated with words and logic. Well, this list did have words under the slides, but I didn't read any of them. I just said, "Slides? Fuck, yeah!' and knew my work was done. Congratulations on sixth place, gang.

5. Greg Miller's Top 10 Games of 2015 [Giant Bomb]

Clocking in at about the safest list I've bothered to skim before saying, "Good enough" and adding it to this list is Greg Miller, not really of Giant Bomb anymore, but doing a top ten for them anyway because reasons. With choices like Fallout 4, State of Decay, Tomb Raider, MGSV, and Batman, there aren't many large fan bases for releases this year that have a reason to break out the pitchforks. Sure, The Witcher 3 isn't there, but it's gotten a good deal of love from other outlets, and I'm pretty sure most Bloodborne fans have given up on the concept of top ten lists...at least till next year when they may or may not being doing the same thing with Dark Souls 3 come December.

4. The 35 Best New Board Games [Popular Mechanic]

I don't play board games, as my misanthropic tendencies tend to get in the way of such activities, but still applaud the fact that they exist and appreciate that there are a growing number of people out there that are really into this stuff. So much so do I feel this way, that I'm willing to look the other way regarding the fact that there are 35 games on this list. That's ten more than the Guardian. Nonetheless, the onslaught of images featuring fancy box covers, plastic pieces, and important-looking cards were enough to win me over. This does not mean that I'm going to start playing board games, however.

3. Pip’s Games Of The Year Those Other Guys Missed [Rock Paper Shotgun]

It's hard not to have mixed feelings when coming across some unexpected, low key surprises in a top ten list. Part of you is happy to see it there, and another part wishes more of these unsung heroes would get some recognition, maybe even a list of their own. As luck would have it, Pip from RPS did just that. There aren't ten games in it, but she did make the effort to draw attention to a number of games that came out this year, were pretty darn good, and may have slipped under people's radar. Just the fact that Crypt of the Necrodancer is there makes it one of the most important lists of the year.

2. TotalBiscuit's Arbitrary Video Game Awards - 2015

As someone who has on several occasions mentioned the silly, arbitrary nature of top ten lists, it's always nice when TotalBiscuit does his arbitrary awards show with a cornucopia of vaguely video game related categories. Sure, upon closer inspection the awards do make a fair bit of sense, but it's more fun to just leave the veneer or randomness in place. The video does come in at a whopping two hours, so breaks for bum and leg messages will be necessary. We've lost too many good people to long video game award video-induced deep vein thrombosis already, and really, the potentially life threatening nature of this award show is the only thing holding it back from number one on this list.

1. Top Ten Shittiest Games of 2015 [The Jimquisition]

And with that, here we are at this year's top spot on my end of 2015 top ten of top tens for the end of 2015. For quite some time now, Jim Sterling has been fighting the good fight, subjecting himself to some of the worst games the industry has to offer and telling us about them. It's one thing for someone to make a list of all the most amazing game experiences that they've had over the last twelve months, but quite another to go back to some dark places and give us a comprehensive list of the dreckiest dreck to crawl out of places like the inexplicably still existing Steam Greenlight. Sterling could have dedicated the whole video to reminding us how terrible Batman was on PC, but he went the extra mile, with such revelations as an Alone in the Dark game having come out this year and that somehow Topware Interactive still exists.

So there you have it. 2015 was a fine year for end of 2015 top ten lists. I'd like to extend my hearty congratulations to all of the winners and look forward to doing this again next year, assuming I remember to do it again next year and don't get sidetracked by something else.

Sunday, 27 December 2015

Bardbarian: Protecting Your Village Through the Power of Song (and Expendable Underlings)

Tower defense and shoot 'em ups aren't exactly two genres that I instinctively put together. Both have their charms, but they occupy distinctly different realms in my mind. However, some folks actually decided to squish them together into a single game: Bardbarian. (The name seemed familiar, as I'd seen in on Android before, but I didn't actually decide to take the plunge until it came to PC.) While the idea works surprisingly well in the early game, due to the ability to gather gold and buy upgrades, later on difficulty becomes trivialized as you run around with a team of elite, overpowered minions that lay waste to pretty much everything the game throws at them.

In Bardbarian you play as Brad. He used to be a barbarian who was responsible for defending his village from the hordes of goblins, orcs, and demons that attacked with all too much frequency. One day, he felt that the axe just wasn't doing it for him anymore and decided to follow a new calling, that of the bard. So, with a song in his heart, he slapped some strings on his axe, started plucking away, and inspired the other defenders in town to do the fighting for him.

Brad's sole responsibility is to defend the big, glowing crystal in town from the waves of attacks. There's a vaguely tower defense feel here, except without the towers. Enemies still spawn from three points on the map and march along until they get within striking distance of the crystal where they will proceed to wail on it.

In order to fend these things off, you'll have Brad run around, playing songs to summon different units that will follow him around and do the actual fighting, as well as a few ditties that act as buffs to enhance offense, defense, and movement speed. The whole thing feels almost like a bullet hell shooter, especially on later levels, since most of your units as well as the enemies specialize in projectile weapons. I'm a sucker for this sort of thing, so quite enjoyed all of the juking and dodging. It gets even more complicated if you find yourself getting overrun and need to fall back to protect the crystal because you'll still need to dodge these bullets, but sometimes actually have to run in front of them to protect the crystal. So, this leaves the player deciding whether or not to sacrifice one of their minions or a bit of Brad's health as the situation is getting dire.

For a good while, hitting this level of intensity can be quite fun. However, killing enemies rewards Brad with gold and over time you really start grinding this out to spend on various upgrades. These include improving structures in the town, enhancing Brad's own stats and abilities, and, most importantly, leveling up the various units available. This becomes a problem when everything gets maxed out because then players find themselves in a situation where much of what they have at their disposal is rather overpowered. What once was a grueling test of skill suddenly becomes a pushover. It's kind of a drag, as it takes the wind out of the sails for the game to an extent.

There are a couple of other game modes that do remain challenging simply because they don't incorporate any of the enhancements that one can find in the shop. One is an escape mode, where Brad runs from a wall of demons trying to achieve the greatest distance possible, all the while dodging pits, monsters, and projectiles. It's not a bad mode, and serves as a bit of a time waster. If anything, it feels like something one would expect to find in the realm of mobile gaming. The other way to go is survival mode where Brad runs around the arena, picking up minions to help him, while trying to stay alive for as long as possible. This mode actually does push the player surprisingly hard, especially when you consider how boss spawning works, as it's on a timer. So, if you're taking too long to kill one boss, you could well find yourself in a situation where suddenly you have two bosses to deal with since another just spawned. This is the mode that feels the most interesting in the long haul, as it actually manages to maintain a decent level of challenge.

It's a shame that Bardbarian becomes so easy once players have unlocked a bunch of the stuff in the shop. For much of the game, it provides a decent challenge and manages to be enjoyable, but once your minions start getting overpowered the fun really takes a nosedive. Even the tongue-in-cheek silliness isn't enough to make up for this. The game was originally released on iOS and Android, so I could see the game being harder there where one has to tap to move Brad around as opposed to using more traditional controls, but that just isn't the case on PC.  The combination of genres and attempts at humor should have made this game pretty good, but the lack of difficulty later on makes it feel like a waste of time in the end.

Thursday, 24 December 2015

Mini Metro: The Strangely Appealing World of Connecting the Dots

After being in Early Access for quite some time, Mini Metro was finally let out into the wild on Steam this year. It's a game where you build subway / light rail systems with what seems like a simple goal: serve as many passengers as possible and last as many days as you possibly can. There's only one thing that you must never ever do, and that's let your stations start to get overcrowded. If you do, it's game over.

See, it sounds simple enough, but after a couple of weeks of your subways being a success, everyone in town will start wanting to use the thing and suddenly you've got a whole lot of busy stations on your hands. What started as a nice, relaxing experience then turns into a frantic race against time to build new stations, add more trains and carriages to busy lines, and a quick prayer to the gods of RNG that the game will award you that one thing you really need to save your entire subway system from certain doom. Translation: you'll never get tunnels when you really need them. "I can't need that many tunnels," you said.

There is a pretty interesting mix of cities featured in the game. While we do get some no-brainers like London, Paris, and New York, we also get to play around in places like St. Petersburg, Sao Paulo, and Cairo. One thing that I noticed very quickly regardless of the level is that you'll invariably have to deal with bodies of water, be it a river (like the Thames in London) or small islands / reclaimed land (Osaka has a lot of these). So, right off the bat, players need to think about how they'll make use of limited resources, be it tunnels / bridges for crossing the water, or whether to have multiple lines cross the rivers, or just leave one to deal with as much of the bridgework as possible.

If anything, this is the big thing that players need to keep an eye on while laying out their subway networks. How many extra lines do they have? Any extra trains available? Tunnels? Wouldn't it be nice to have an interchange for increasing capacity at a station. Will I get an extra carriage next week to help take some of the strain off of the blue line? Once things get rolling it always feels like you have barely or not quite enough tools on hand to accommodate all of the people trying to get around town, which pours on the pressure as stations start flashing and making beeping noises warning you of overcrowding and an imminent game over if you don't do something about it soon.

Of course, the question is how do you do this, because there are a lot of options. You can add another train to the line, and even then you have to decide if it will go in the same or opposite direction of existing trains already on it. Alternately, you could toss another carriage on a train, or, if you're lucky and have one in your inventory, upgrade a particularly busy station to hold more passengers via an interchange. Then again it may make more sense to add a new line that runs parallel to parts of a busy line to help take off some of the strain while at the same time servicing other far flung areas. Decisions, decisions.

With all of this going on, the game's simplistic, almost soothing presentation provides a sharp contrast. The screen looks like a map you would expect to find in a subway with colored lines representing the various train routes and little symbols for the stations. Meanwhile, it's hard to call the music "music" because it's more or less a series of pleasing tons that radiate from the speakers, adding new layers with each additional line, train and station. For all of the chaos that builds up in the game as stations begin to swell with passengers, the very basic approach to aesthetic does its best to provide a bit of a calming oasis.

At first, I was tempted to look at Mini Metro as a straightforward casual sort of game to whittle away the waning moments of an evening with before going to bed, but the more I play it, the more I appreciate just how much it will challenge the player by steadily ratcheting up the pressure. This is something one could spend a lot of time on if they let the game suck them in, especially if you're the sort who loves leaderboards. The game lulls people into a false sense of security with its minimalist presentation, then starts sinking its claws in one map at a time. I'd say it's something worth looking into for people who want a strategy game that's tries to do something other than the usual turn-based / real time, campaign-heavy approach that the genre is known for. Sometimes getting commuters around town is ten times more stressful than fighting off an army of tanks.

Friday, 18 December 2015

World of Final Fantasy Trailer

Square-Enix announced that they were working on World of Final Fantasy at this year's E3, discussing how it will be aimed at younger players to introduce them to the series. It'll have a chibi art style to the main characters with quite a lot of monster collecting, as they will help the party fight in battle. It's planned for both the PS4 and Vita with cross play support to help with the monster collecting.

All things considered, it sounds like a pretty safe way of going about things. Adopt a cute, inviting visual style with simplified battles and toss in some vaguely Pokemon-esque monster hunting, and it seems like a good way to try and get the young'uns interested in the series.

With Jump Festa 2016 underway, the company has now released a lengthy trailer for the game. So far it looks pretty good in terms of environment and character designs. Now it's a matter of speculating what the full roster of characters and monsters will be. Square-Enix tends to be quite thorough with games that span the entire Final Fantasy series, so I expect quite a lot of popular choices will make the cut as well as some more unexpected ones.

With that, does it make me a bad person to be looking forward to this more than Final Fantasy XV or the Final Fantasy VII remake?

Monday, 14 December 2015

Musou Games: Things That Make Me Go "Weeeeeee!"

A sizable number of the games that Tecmo Koei have ported to PC have turned out pretty terrible. One exception to this is Dynasty Warriors 8 Xtreme Legends, which is actually quite good. I've been playing it of late, as RWBY had whet my appetite for more games like this, and the game has reminded me of two things. First, these musou (aka Warriors) games pitting players against hundreds upon hundreds of enemies to hack and slash their way through are surprisingly fun for something so simple. Second, the practice of removing the first "E" from "extreme" is something that really should just be left in the 90s.

Now, I'm not one of those people who religiously goes out and gets every single iteration of Dynasty Warriors that hits the market. I've never been able to justify that, and ditto for similar series like Samurai Warriors or Dynasty Warriors: Gundam. However, I do like to keep abreast of them and grab something new every few years, at least once per generation cycle.

Dynasty Warriors: Gundam
There is something so very appealing about hearing the crunch of your weapon tearing through a dozen or so enemy troops and watching them go flying as your character does his moves, doing combos, building meter, and unloading special attacks. Add on top of this that there are so many different characters with their own weapon types plus various factions to play as, and then you have a whole lot of replay value on your hands.

Some folks are quick to dismiss these games as being mindless. Sure, they aren't on the same level as Bayonetta, the Devil May Cry series, or God Hand, but they aren't trying to be. The beauty of series like Dynasty Warriors is that it taps into a primal joy while playing them. It's an environment where you can turn off your brain, run around a map, smash, slash, and bash all of the things, and love every minute of it as the flashes, combo counts, and KOs mount up. As much as the word gets overused these days, it really is a wonderfully visceral experience playing these games.

Hyrule Warriors
Even better, they've been branching out over time. At one point, it was nothing but Dynasty Warriors if you wanted to play something like this. Then we started to see other games doing this like Samurai Warriors. Now we even have licenses. Want some musou Gundam? Go for it. Fancy a bit of Dragon Quest musou? Try out Dragon Quest Heroes. Want to fight hordes and hordes of baddies in Hyrule? Go get Hyrule Warriors.

It's early days yet, but I could see this trend continuing. There's certainly an appetite for it. What will we see next in the world of musou? Persona? Final Fantasy? Obviously, a Star Wars musou would be amazing. There's a lot of potential for these sorts of games still. They're simple, but can really pull a person in as they run around slashing up everything, shouting, "Weeeeeee!" all the while.

Thursday, 10 December 2015

Lunar and Grandia Possibly Coming to Steam?

SteamDB is becoming quite the tasty place to spot games that may be coming to Steam in the future. We had a big batch of Arc System Works stuff spotted there a little while ago, and already Guilty Gear Xrd is up with the developer confirming a slew of other titles (Melty Blood! ♥).

Now a couple more interesting morsels have been spotted there: Lunar and Grandia. It certainly seems like a realistic possibility. Grandia II is already there, and Gung Ho tweeted about the sighting on the database themselves in a cheekily non-committal sort of way. Then again, they did have a survey not so long ago asking people what games from their library they'd like to see and folks screamed for both of these, so maybe they're listening and hooking us up.

Maybe this is a sign that Game Arts games are coming to PC on mass at some point. I certainly wouldn't complain. Grandia was an amazing series. Now, if we see Alisia Dragoon come along, I may just lose my mind.

The only problem I have is that there are so many RPGs coming out these days and so little time to play them. I want to be greedy and play everything but don't have a chamber that allows me to exist outside of time, so am forced to make choices. I hate that.

How to Make a Better Walking Simulator

Every so often there's a game, genre, or design trend that gets people into an uproar decrying its existence. In recent years, one such example of this has been the pejoratively christened "Walking Simulator". Games like Dear Esther, Gone Home, and others have fallen under the basilisk gaze of this group of people as they pour down their scorn upon them. "This isn't a real game!" "All I'm doing is walking around!" "I'm so angry about this that I am going to buy this game on Steam specifically so that I can give it a bad user review!" (Wut?) They're not a large group of people, but they are a vocal one and they want other aficionados of the medium to understand the depths of their disdain.

To these people, I say, "Not so fast!" As tempting as it may seem to think otherwise, your much abhorred sub genre could contain such massive veins of untapped potential that should someone come along and find a way to properly utilize them Walking Simulators could be catapulted to the forefront of gaming. I plan to prove this with three examples of games that could make the genre something that could stand toe-to-toe with the likes of Grand Theft Auto, Minecraft, and Call of Duty. While they may not exist now, all it takes is someone with a dream and a can-do attitude, and one day Walking Simulators will rule all of our hearts.

You Are: That Guy...

There's no denying that mobile phones have changed society forever. The way they help people stay in touch, the plethora of apps, texting, maps, visiting random sites during the commute, they really are a wonder of technology. Unfortunately, there is one major drawback to the devices: sometimes they're almost too engaging for some. So enthralled are they that these people are compelled to continue texting, updating their Facebook status, and so forth even while walking down the street, inevitably bumping into people, almost causing an accident, and miraculously not falling into open manholes. In this game you are that guy. That's right. You. Jerk.

In That Guy, about 80% of the screen will be used for the cell phone with the top 20% for seeing the actual world around you. Players will be expected to reply to texts in a timely manner, update their social media, double check the start times for movies, make reservations at restaurants, watch videos of cats that their friends send them, and all of the usual stuff people do on their phones. All the while, you must still be acutely aware of your surroundings. Look out, here comes a dog that's off it's leash, get away but don't forget to email Sarah. Be sure to check your map so you can find that bar your meeting your friends at, but also try not to trip over that woman that just went into labour in front of you.

There would even be opportunities for moral choices that significantly change the direction that the game goes in. Do you text back your clingy, needy significant other, or do a solid for the guy who just had a heart attack next to you and call him an ambulance? Do you let that senior borrow your phone so she can wish her grandson a happy birthday or pretend to not notice her while you hammer out a few more levels on your mobile RPG and listen to some music? These are the sort of important decisions you'll be faced with while playing That Guy.

If there was any justice, this game would leap to the top of the charts. More importantly, it would help teach people to at least be better at walking around with their faces buried in their phones without bumping into people in real life. In time it would grow beyond simply being a game but also a learning tool.

Gentleman Walker

Games that take place in a Victorian England setting have been pretty popular for the last few years. Top hats, monocles, walking sticks, haberdasheries, what's not to like? Something where you walk around the streets of London as an English Gentleman during the 1880s seems like a no-brainer.

Obviously, it would be open world with players deciding where they would like to walk and exude their gentlemanly je ne sais quoi. (Well, don't put it like that. You'll be docked points for saying something suspiciously French, an act that your English counterparts simply won't tolerate.) Will you strut through the theater district? Perhaps see the sights at Piccadilly Circus? If you go to Victoria Station you can give people directions while using your walking stick for big points and a possible new high score, as one of the most challenging things in the game is to combine these with a gracious, gentlemanly saunter.

Of course, there will be obstacles in the way of being the most respectable of walkers. You'll need to be wary of people riding the old time bicycles with the big front wheel, checking your watch to make sure you're punctual for engagements, avoiding the press gangs, and then there are the street urchins. So many street urchins. What will you do with these wretches? Shoo them away with your cane? Give them a good kick? Hire them for your textile factory? Maybe slip them a shilling when your friends aren't looking? It's entirely up to you.

I can't see how this game wouldn't be a hit, especially with online competitive multiplayer to see who is the gentlemanliest gentleman in all the boroughs. There could even be expansions like Gentleman Walker Goes to Belgium (But They Seem So French!), Gentleman Walker Meets an American, and Gentleman Walker vs. The Kaiser. Really, that such a game does not yet exist seems almost criminal.

Gotta Go!

At one point or another in our lives most of us have probably been in this situation. You're just out and about doing your errands for the day, maybe doing some shopping, or heading to the library when all of a sudden your stomach gives a little gurgle and you know that you need to find yourself a bathroom. Fast.

This is the premise of Gotta Go!. Mother nature has given you a call and you simply have to accept the charges, and you'd better hurry. Now, the tempting thing here is to assume that this is actually a running game and not a Walking Simulator, but the key to winning in this game is maintain a sense of decorum. You can't have people see you sprinting, hands on your bottom. The first thing they're going to think is, "Boy! That guy really needs to take a shit!" Points in game will be docked for stuff like this.

There would be multiple maps in urban settings and points would be awarded depending on how nonchalant the player is, how quickly they find a bathroom, and how luxurious it is. If you casually walk into the Savoy in under five minutes to do your business, expect to get a very high score. However, should you sprint to the closest gas station, you're score will be significantly less.

Players will be faced with countless obstacles such as red lights at crosswalks, line ups at the washroom, representatives from charity groups asking for a moment of your time, tourists in need of directions, and so much more that will try to get between you and sweet relief. The Gotta Go! Meter is flashing red so you better hurry, but don't run. You've already used your three Super Clenches for this stage, so that meter isn't going to wait much longer before it's game over. Sure, you could try and explore the level to find more clenches hidden through the area but that's going to be risky.

Over time, map packs could be released for fans to try their luck in new locales. Visit all of your favorite cities from around the world: The Big Apple, romantic Paris, exotic Japan, and so much more. You won't have time to take in the painstakingly detailed environments given the circumstances, but this game's going international. It makes things even more tense when visiting a part of the world where you can't even ask directions because you don't speak the language. I see no reason why Gotta Go! couldn't be the game that everyone's gotta get.

So there you have it, folks. Three excellent examples of how Walking Simulators could work. Don't be so hasty to dismiss these things. They've still got a ton of potential. It's just a matter of finding people who want to make these ideas a reality.

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Early Thoughts on RWBY: Grimm Eclipse

Not too long ago, a game based on the RWBY series made its way onto Steam's early access doodad and I was kind of curious about it so decided to give the thing a try. The developers say that they're going for something along the lines of Dynasty Warrior and that is very apparent as the game throws tons of enemies at players in big groups to hacked and slashed through. There are only a couple of levels to try out so far, but it's about an hour of content so you're looking at around four hours if you want to get through everything once with each of the four characters.

Everyone does play fairly differently from each other. Ruby has her scythe and tends to swing it around in big arcs, making her more adept at taking down large packs of enemies herself. Weiss uses a rapier and attacks much quicker than the others. Blake has her sword but feels much better at focusing down single targets like bosses. Yang uses her fist weapons to punch everyone and can lock onto targets pretty easily.

Each character also has some sort of integrated gun in their weapon but I've not found much use for these things yet. There was one enemy type in the mines where it made a lot more sense to shoot at them from far away since they radiated a weird green goop and damaged for a lot on death, but other than that all the rest of the baddies needed to be dealt with up close.

The girls each have three special moves that consume bars from a meter at the bottom right of the screen. They're some sort of assortment of single-target and area of affect abilities with the different characters leaning a little bit one way or the other depending on the person. The meter itself most often gets refilled by either leveling up for a full recharge or by landing a certain number of attacks in a row without being hit by enemies for a trickle of recharges. There are a few other instances for this like when being revived by a team mate and from a few of the options in the talent tree, but these don't happen nearly as often.

Combat itself is very fast-paced as one would expect from a musou game. It's fluid with large packs of enemies to fight. There's about 10 different types of baddies so far ranging from weaker fodder that attacks in swarms to stronger ones that have much larger hit point pools, can defend themselves, and have special attacks. The levels themselves are fairly linear corridors so enemy encounters tend to be around certain areas where trouble breaks out and the girls have to fend off the creatures, or there will be an area that they get stuck in for a period of time and have to fight against several waves of enemies. There was also an escort mission trying to get a bomb on a mine cart to fall into a pit, which was surprisingly entertain considering how dull escort missions in games can often be,

This is all done in a straight up multiplayer environment where up to four people can play together. One person will be the host while everyone else hops on board. The game scales its difficulty on the fly as people join and leave the session, usually by adjusting the number of enemies spawning as best as I can tell. You can theoretically be in a situation where you're playing by yourself if you host your own game and no one joins, but I've found quite a few people playing and not run into this myself. It's actually a lot of fun playing with others in RWBY anyway. Also, more than one person can play the same character, as they don't get locked out as someone selects them. So, if you happen to really want to play as Ruby, for example, and someone else has her already, don't sweat it, you can play her as well.

One minor, annoying issue with the multiplayer is that if the host leaves for whatever reason the game will reset to the last checkpoint as it assigns someone else in the group to hosting duties. This results in having to redo some of a level, which is a bit of a drag.

Redoing content is also a thing if your whole group gets incapacitated, making it a must to try and help fallen allies back up by running up to them and holding down E until they're back on their feet. Interestingly, you can still fight while doing this and just need to focus on staying close enough to the person who is down while holding the E, which is nice when compared to other games where you might be forced out of combat to help the downed teammate. Also, there is an ability in the talent tree that significantly speeds up your ability to raise others that is totally worth unlocking.

Speaking of talent trees, there is a very simple one here. Each session, players start at level one on their character and gain experience points by defeating enemies, completing certain objectives, and finding little artifacts hidden throughout the levels. Once the character reaches a new level, they'll get a point that they can spend in the tree, which is divided into four sections, one for each of the girl in question's special moves, and another which is like a general quality of life section for stuff like health regeneration, the size of your special ability meter, defenses, and so forth. It's not much right now, but does give a little bit more customization options to the player, which is nice.

I should note that with the way experience points are awarded, it does seem as though it goes to whoever lands the killing blow on an enemy from what I could see while playing. There were cases where I'd be using a more single-target focused character like Blake and be tearing into a boss, do 60% of the damage but still not get any experience despite doing the lion's share of the work, then on another session I'd be on Ruby, dive into a pack of mobs that the rest of the group were on and gobble up a ton of experience from landing a bunch of killing blows. I'm not absolutely certain this is going on because it can be tough to see the little note that you got some XP, but it certainly seems that way.

So far, the game is looking pretty good. There are only two missions in this build of the game, one in a forest, the other spanning an abandoned city and some mines, but the environments look nice. The characters too look quite good. The show is a sort of CG anime, so it translates quite well to a game. I have noticed that the frame rate is a bit iffy right now and had to make sure my drivers were up to date in order for the game to run smoothly. It is in Early Access, so this doesn't really surprise me.

The voice acting is actually decent as well thus far, but they are just getting the voice actors from the show, so this probably shouldn't come as a surprise. The girls don't actually say very much right now, though, other than some quick comments when they kill monsters, find goodies, or enter new areas. Much of the talking is done by whoever the person overseeing a particular mission happens to be.

With that, this little bit of RWBY that is available thus far in Early Access is pretty fun. The combat is fast, the characters are varied, and the aesthetic is nice, While there isn't a lot of meat on the game's bones just yet, it is making a good first impression. Often times when I grab something on Early Access, I get it, play it for a while, then forget about it. With Grimm Eclipse, I actually find myself looking forward to future updates with more content being released so that I can try it as soon as possible.

Monday, 7 December 2015

Final Fantasy VII Remake Going Episodic

It looks like people interested in snapping up the Final Fantasy VII remake will be doing so in bits and morsels, as Square-Enix is saying that it will now be a series. While I've raised an eyebrow at the decisions that the company has made regarding the game up to this point, I accepted it as a means of modernizing it for the present day while making it more appealing to a new audience that was too young to play the original FFVII when it first came out.

Tempting as it is for me to transform into some kind of hard-lined traditionalist demanding stuff like a turn-based battle system, I understand that now, almost 20 years on, that sort of thing is getting to be old hat. As someone who grew up on console RPGs in the 80s and 90s, that sort of thing was with me for over a decade, so I'll think nothing of it. People who grew up with later games had a lot more to choose from with much more robust, and not necessarily turn-based combat in their experience. If the FFVII remake was a by the numbers recreation of the original just with better graphics, that old battle system would be a kick in the teeth for many.

However, this new announcement that the remake will be a series, ie. episodic instead of one complete game, is something else entirely. This does feel like Square-Enix is taking the piss here a bit, going for a wee bit of a money grab. How many parts is this going to be and how much will it cost? These are questions that have yet to be answered, and makes me wonder if it'll wind up being much more expensive than a regular game in the long term.

Episodic content is a lot easier to swallow when it was designed as such from the onset. Telltale Games' various series are a good example of this. We know that this is how they do things, so people are far more ready to accept this business model from them. With the FFVII remake, though, we also know full well that the original was a single game, and it's going to get a lot of people questioning why it's being chopped into separately released chapters now instead. I'm sure PR folks will try to spin it, but the move sure seems slimy.

I can't help but wonder if they're doing this to rush it out the door faster and cash in on hype. Sure, they could do it all in one self-contained game, but that would take longer to release, and as I suggested already, it could wind up selling for less since it would be a single title at what would probably be a fairly traditional price point, say $50-$60. Now, since they're going episodic, they can belt out chapter one all that much quicker and worry about the rest of the development later. This is the company that decided to milk Final Fantasy XIII, giving us not one but three games with Lightning in it, so fear of similar shenanigans filtering into an episodic Final Fantasy V remake aren't completely unwarranted.

Just a cursory jaunt around the internet shows that this is causing quite a bit of heated discussion. Will folks be okay with this and buy the remake in droves, or will the switch to making FFVII a series put people off and negatively impact sales. Only time will tell, but in the meantime it is interesting to see this development split the community so much. There could be potential for this to be a good thing with staggered content that gets really fleshed out with side quests and the like, but this is Square-Enix after all, so a healthy dose of cynicism is a must.

If you haven't seen it already, here's the trailer for the remake.

Sunday, 6 December 2015

Interesting Leaks from the Steam Help Desk (FFX / FFX-2 HD, Guilty Gear Xrd -SIGN-, Half Life 3)

Some folks have managed to get their mitts on some interesting data from Steam's Help Desk, suggesting a number of titles that may be coming to the platform in the not so distant future. Some of the more interesting games to appear on it include the HD remakes of Final Fantasy X and X-2, Guilty Gear Xrd - SIGN -, and Ty the Tasmanian Tiger 1-3. Both Danganronpa games also appear to be getting ports to PC.

Of course, the big stand out was data suggesting Half Life 3, but this just makes me question the validity of the whole leak. It just sounds too good to be true with this on it. Who hasn't wanted a new Half Life for the better part of forever as we patiently wait and watch Valve seemingly work on anything and everything but this. It's like the old poster Agent Mulder had in his office that read "I want to believe" except we replace the UFOs with Gordon Freeman.

Still, I'll at least raise an eyebrow and watch to see what happens here. Most of the other stuff sounds completely plausible. Square-Enix haven't been squeamish about bringing all of their Final Fantasy games to Steam, and I've been wondering when Guilty Gear Xrd would come along (Battle Fantasia is on Steam now for crying out loud), Danganronpa would make sense when one considers how many Vita ports have hit Steam of late, and Ty the Tasmanian Tiger, while unexpected, certainly doesn't seem like an unusual title to transition over.

The only big question mark is Half Life 3. So, all we can do is take a wait and see approach, watching whether any of these games really do appear on Steam or if it was all just a poorly informed rumor.

Friday, 4 December 2015

The Ultimate Troll Gift is Coming to Steam in 2016

It's always nice to have a bit of a cheeky giggle buying friends horrible games as gifts during a Steam sale. Login, slap down a few bucks on something ridiculous, send it their way, wait for the inevitable, "Thanks a lot, jerk!" reply, and having a good laugh after. Choosing just the right game is often a challenge. What will it be? How about that one where you raise unicorns? Hatoful Boyfriend is always good for a chuckle. Decisions, decisions.

Now making up your mind about what terrible game you want to send to a friend so that you can laugh at them and all of his or her other friends can judge them harshly has become a whole lot easier because Monster Monpiece is coming to Steam in 2016.

That's right. That game that helped the Vita make the leap from "Another failed Sony handheld" to "What kind of fucked up, sexual deviants make up this system's user base?" in the gaming sphere's collective mind share is making its way to PC, uncensored apparently.

I'm not going into too much detail about the game here, but one of the main mechanics on the Vita version was to aggressively rub the image of scantily clad anime girls (Wikipedia link here if you really do want to learn more). It's creepy as fuck, and just by looking at the animated GIF I've included with this article, it should give you an idea of the horrific rabbit hole that the game is leaping down, not to mention you'll probably have to register as a sex offender in some states just for looking at that horrible thing.

So, get those credit cards ready to put some friendships to the test! A new age in Steam gift trolling is almost upon us.

Thursday, 3 December 2015

Revisiting Romancing SaGa (PS2 Version): Dancing to a Better Tomorrow

Romancing Saga Artwork

There are a couple of JRPG franchises that I really wish did better in the West. One of them is Phantasy Star and the other is Squaresoft's SaGa games. It wasn't for a lack of trying. Square did make an effort to bring these games across the Pacific a few times. Unfortunately, not enough people showed interest in them.

It's a shame, because SaGa games have done a lot of things differently from your run of the mill JRPG, standing out as a very unique oasis in the sub-genre. The series did quite well in Japan, but its style of play never really caught on here. There are more RPGs that do what SaGa did now, however, so I am left wondering if maybe the series was a little ahead of its time for when entries came to the West, especially the non-linear storytelling.

With that, I've been having a hankering to revisit the series for the last while. It was a toss up between SaGa Frontier and my PS2 version of Romancing Saga. Both have their charms, but in the end I opted for the latter, as I do like some of the changes they made to the game when updating it from the Super Famicom version.

It's been 10 years since the remake came out and almost that long since I last played it, and consequently forgotten much about the game. I remember playing as Hawke, the pirate, but after that a lot of things get very fuzzy, very fast.

Romancing Saga Screenshot 1
Found this alter early on. It's in a pentagram. It must be
So, I've decided to play through the game once more, and as a different character. That's one of the things that's nice about the SaGa games, as a lot of them have multiple characters to choose from, each with their own goals. For this go around, I went with Barbara. She's an entertainer in a travelling troupe of dancers and the like. It's always been a dream of mine to save the world through the power of dance and this will finally allow me to do so vicariously through her.

I'm not entirely sure what her motivations are in the game. It never really said. Some of the characters have clear goals as to what they want from life, others not so much. So, I'm left to take her and her friend Herman as they wander around, talking with folks, and generally making the world a better place...well, hopefully anyway.

And this is one of the things that I like so much about Romancing SaGa: it's non-linear, a rarity in JRPGs. If anything, I think this is one of the things that scared away a lot of Westerners when Square tried to bring SaGa games out over here. They had expectations of a much more linear experience where adventures would go on rails from points A to B to C with NPCs explicitly telling the player what to do. Romancing SaGa doesn't have this. There's a lot more figuring things out for yourself.

You'll need to visit towns and talk to everyone to take in the local color and figure out what the situation is in a given region. Is there a conflict in the area? Is someone in town missing? How are the local deities doing? Are there any points of interest near this village? Your characters are travels in this world and they may know a bit about some of the major cities, but that's about it. They need to learn all of these things in order to have a better idea of what is going on in a given region. How are they supposed to know there's a monster-infested cave just outside of town? Of course they'll have no idea it exists. They don't live in that city. Only by talking to the locals and learning this themselves can they go there.

Romancing Saga Screenshot 2
Shooting the breeze with townfolk.
Even after getting all of this information, there's still the question of what they plan to do with it? Will they check out those ruins, cross that desert, or explore that cave? Maybe. It's up to the player. Even the big bad guy that players will have to deal with is only hinted at early on. There's a forest inhabited by fairies early in the game that hints at them, and a travelling minstrel that you'll cross paths with many times tells a story about them. Players learn about them, and at the back of one's mind the thought, "I should probably do something about that..." comes into play.

Sometimes you don't even need to do anything about problems some town folks are having. For example, there's one village where a mother is panicking because her son has gone missing in a nearby cave crawling with monsters. I popped in there and took a look around, but noticed some of the monsters were to strong for me, so I left thinking I'd come back later. However, when later came along the kid was already back home as he'd figured out a way to escape on his own. So, to an extent it feels like a real, living, breathing world.

That's what I've been doing up to this point, just wandering the land meeting people, helping them with their problems (or not). I can have up to five people in my party and I actually managed to find Hawke, and decided to bring him along for old times sake. He has some nifty moves in his repertoire, and an entertainer and a pirate seem like a match made in heaven, or at least a seedy bar by the docks. I even managed to find his helmsman, Guella Ha, who has some pretty great stats and is an expert at pokie-pointy-stick type weapons. For a time, even the minstrel that hangs out at all of the local pubs and volunteers to boot people I don't want in my party anymore asked to join me for a bit. He actually hit quite hard, but then the guy got bored and buggered off after when we rolled into town. I have been on the search for a mage and finally found one in North Estamir. Her name is Myriam and she likes to burn stuff.

Romancing Saga Screenshot 3
The game likes tossing much stronger enemies at players out
of the blue sometimes.
Helping my party grow is pretty neat because Romancing SaGa doesn't use a traditional leveling system. Instead, individual abilities improve after each battle, and depending on the person certain things will get better faster than others. It's usually pretty intuitive with stats that accentuate the characters play style going up much faster than others. However, enemies seem to scale with the party's strength to some extent, so these gains are quickly offset.

I've largely been making the party stronger in a more viable way by leveling their skill sets (aka professions) with trainers in town. Getting a bunch of strength or vitality pales in comparison to hitting up a trainer, spending some jewels, and getting martial arts training up an entire level, for example. That's how you get big results. Unfortunately, jewels come slowly early in the game, so getting a skill set past level two will take some time while saving these up.

You can also buy new gear for everyone, which yields big improvements very quickly. The best way to do this is by raiding treasure chests as you find them. Enemies drop a bit depending what you run into, but chests are much better. Of course, completing quests is better still. Suiting everyone up in nice equipment makes a huge difference, and it improves your standing with the various merchant associations in the game. Doing business at item or weapon shops boosts your reputation with their affiliated association and as your levels go up with them the better deals they'll have for you and the more of an item that they'll have in stock at a given time. Loyalty does have its rewards.

Romancing Saga Screenshot 4
We even helped a grave robber.
So, there is definitely a bit of a grind in order to get jewels for leveling skill sets and to get enough gold to buy all of the goodies, but the thing that makes it feel worth it is the glimmer system. This is something that was introduced in later SaGa games and not in the original Romancing SaGa, but since this is a remake the developers decided to toss it in. This is a system where characters are struck by a moment of clarity and suddenly learn a new ability during battle. A little light bulb blinks over their head, and bam, they do the new thing. This comes from repeated use of a specific weapon type or school of magic making it feel like they're constantly learning something new. It's really satisfying to see them discover these abilities while grinding, and then you even get to figure out combos where two or more characters' special abilities synergize for an even more powerful attack. These attacks are a little bit RNG in when they get used, but if they do whip them out it usually helps a ton.

And with that, I still have no idea what I want to do next. From what I can tell, there's a demon of some sort imprisoned somewhere and some not-so-nice people are trying to free it. That's probably the big bad, and what I'll probably have to get around to eventually. There's no rush, though. I've yet to see much of this world and there's a lot of other stuff going on. For now, I'll just take Barbara and the gang for a merry romp around the world exploring everything, soaking in the sights, getting to know the local townsfolk, and maybe do some vaguely heroic stuff along the way. It really is nice to spend time with such an open-ended JRPG and I don't want to rush things.

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Is Onimusha Coming Back?

Looks like someone has spotted Capcom getting itself a new trademark for Onimusha and it doesn't appear to be the usual trademark renewal that companies use to protect their IPs. With this it looks likely that Capcom wants to do something with the samurai franchise.

This just leaves me wondering what it might be. As much as I want to believe that it'll be something in the same vein as the other games in the series, it's hard not to get cynical and assume that we'll wind up with an Onimusha pachinko machine or mobile game.

Capcom already got our hopes up once when word got out that a new Breath of Fire was in the works, only for people to have their hopes dashed when they found out that it was a very generic mobile game.

So, as much as I really would like to be excited, for now I'll temper it with a cold dose of reality and assume that it's just one more series that I really enjoyed in the past that will likely get mutilated into some sort of money grab based on a reasonably popular franchise. That being said, I certainly wouldn't complain if I was proven wrong here.

Monday, 30 November 2015

Gocco of War: If You Like PSO, You Need to Try This

If there's one online, lobby-based game that will always hold a special place in my heart it's Phantasy Star Online and all of the subsequent follow ups that it got. I just loved logging into the hub cities, picking up a quest, finding some people to do it with, then heading out to smack around monsters, get items and materials, then find ways to improve existing equipment or get new gear. It's a simple process, but very enjoyable.

Sadly, nowadays Sega doesn't seem to think Westerners want to play PSO games, so we're stuck patching PSO2 so that it's in English since it looks like the game will never get an official release in this region. Sega's gonna Sega, so we're left fending for ourselves.

Recently, however, an interesting little game just showed up on Steam called Gocco of War, and it hits all of the right buttons for fans of Phantasy Star Online. It's a lobby-based co-op game where players pick-up a quest, then warp to the zone its in, shoot / stab all of the baddies, complete mission objectives, and get various materials from chests strewn throughout the area. When the quest is completed, you'll get some bonus gold, some badges, and get plopped back in the hub city.

From there it's a question of hopping right into the next quest, going to the shop to buy stuff, or depositing the materials at the crafting vendor where you can combine them to either make rarer materials, articles of clothing and so forth, or consuming them to upgrade weapons. These all cost gold as well, but the basic gist is that players get to craft quite a lot of stuff through trial and error between missions. A lot of it is aesthetic, but it's fun nonetheless.

Clothing is pretty much just there for looks as far as I can tell. The only things that affect combat are upgrading weapons and equipping badges that are rewarded at the end of the quests. Badges actually help a fair bit and players can have more than one on at a time. It's a bit of a grind to get them all (something that I'm nowhere near doing yet), as there are 1,600 of them and they are rewarded somewhat randomly after finishing a quest based on performance and the difficulty setting selected when at the quest giver.

When on missions, combat can be toggled between ranged and melee. Personally, I prefer to stick with guns so to keep enemies at a safe distance, and only go melee when I'm getting swarmed and using my sword is the only viable option. Melee does hit for more damage all things being equal, but there is more risk involved.

The nice thing is that this is totally co-op, though, with both an online and offline mode. When online you select a lobby to go to, each capping at 32 players, then when on a quest a total of four players can go together. When in the quest, you get to share rewards, so there isn't any bickering about who gets what. Just hop in, blast stuff, have a good time, and call it a day afterward. If you want to play offline for whatever reason, that's perfectly viable as well. When doing these quests, you'll often find NPCs that will come along and help, so you can still get some wingmen for the mission. It's very carefree and enjoyable regardless of playing online with others or going offline by one's self.

Aesthetically, it's a very cute game with characters sporting a decidedly chibi look, bright colors, and monsters that look almost like plush toys. The music compliments this as well with bouncy, happy tunes playing in the background. It reminds me of something that I'd expect to see during the height of the PlayStation 2's popularity in this regard, and given that it's one of my favorite consoles, I'm just fine with that. My only qualm right now with the visuals is that the frame rate needs work. As it stands, it's a little choppy. The developers are constantly making tweaks to the game, and they've said that 60FPS is on the to-do list, so I'm hopeful this will be addressed soon, as it's about the only thing in Gocca of War that bothers me at the moment.

In the end, though, I'm quite impressed with this game from what time I've spent with it. As someone who really, really likes PSO, this game is a welcome entry on Steam. It's nice that the developers are continuing to support it and there's even plans to add new quests and zones in the future, so there could be even more to do. For now, though, I'm content to enjoy the co-op experience while farming materials to doll out my character. If you consider yourself a fan of Phantasy Star Online, it's well worth trying out Gocco of War. It's the closest thing to a spiritual successor to PSO that I've seen in years.

Sunday, 29 November 2015

Some Thoughts: Age of Ishtaria (Android / iOS)

It looks like it's happened. I may have become a bit of a filthy casual. Earlier in the year, I'd picked up a small tablet on the cheap and hadn't been doing much with it besides streaming anime while playing Final Fantasy XIV on my laptop. A couple of weeks ago, though, I got curious about the games I could play on the thing so went and installed a bunch. Mostly RPGs and strategy games, mostly of the gatcha variety, and mostly with a suspiciously anime-inspired artistic motif.

There were a few that managed to hold my attention. Terra Battle is neat, Chain Chronicle has its moments, and Dragon Blaze seems alright, but the majority of my time up until now has been spent playing Age of Ishtaria. Surprisingly, it's by the same studio that developed Bravely Default Flying Fairy. I wasn't aware that they were doing mobile games since it's a realm of gaming that I've not paid much attention to before now.

Not surprisingly, it's a very simple game where one collects cards which act as the player's party characters and one embarks on a very simplified RPG. You go through one dungeon after the next which is just a straight line with a few points along the way marketed as a circle where players fight a group of monsters. Dungeon maps actually look more like subway maps because of this. So far the majority of dungeons I've been through have been ones with five encounters before completing them, but now that I'm hitting somewhat higher levels the places are capping around six or seven.

I think the main reason I keep playing this game is for the part where I can get new cards and the anticipation to see what the game gives me. Cards are divided into seven ranks, 1-star to 7-star, where 1 is the weakest and 7 is the strongest. So, seeing what one gets can be pretty exciting. Will I get something with five or so stars or a bunch of duds? More than likely you won't get much about a five, but the fun of getting new cards is still there. It actually reminds me of the only thing I like about Hearthstone: opening new packs. There's something about the process that taps into people's basic pleasure centers for getting shiny new things.

The cards themselves can be leveled up and enhanced in various ways, but it can get pretty grindy. For leveling, this is done by picking the card that you want to level up, then choosing other cards that will be sacrificed as XP toward said card. The game also gives various grimoires that can be used for the same purpose. You'll be doing this a lot throughout the game, pouring trash cards that you receive in dungeons toward leveling others that are actually valuable. Cards can also be enhanced by combining two of the same card, which raises it to a new tier, making it more powerful.

This is all well and good, but the problem comes in trying to get multiples of the six and seven star cards. It's hard enough to get one. Getting a second or third requires the stars to align just so. Up until now, I've managed to get one of each and I have a feeling that it's only because there was a thing going on where there was a special promotion going on that allegedly bumps up the likelihood of getting one of these by about 10X. Even then, I did this twice and on only one of these occasions did I get anything good. The really fancy cards don't exactly grow on trees in Age of Ishtaria. The publisher does throw players a bone occasionally, having recently given everyone a seven star card to celebrate two million downloads of the game, as well as another high rank card for signing in for a certain amount of days but this isn't terribly common.

They don't feel absolutely necessary from what I've played, though, and going into a dungeon with a well put together deck of 5-star characters is very doable, especially if you level them up a fair bit. Nonetheless, the higher end cards are nice to have and once they get going they can hit like a truck.

The things' designs definitely go the titillation route as most of the characters are of the well-endowed anime girl variety with the occasional lolita complex jail bait tossed in. There are a few male characters as well but they don't come up often and seem to have a thing for wearing glasses. I almost feel compelled to hold on to those cards just to make sure that there's at least a couple of guys amidst the legions of comely lasses that the game keeps throwing at me.

When it comes to the actual combat, things are very simple. All one needs to do is decide what combination to have the party members attack in.  They'll be divided into three classes and the order in which they strike will impact the enemies in different ways doing things like making them lighter for better juggling, reducing their defenses for a turn, or making them attack for less. With this it becomes a race to take down the monsters as fast as one can, as they have a clock icon with a number next to it indicating how many turns until they attack. In some cases, if they aren't dealt with quickly, this could lead to powerful enemies really putting a dent in a party's hit points. So, it's all about efficiency during battles.

Occasionally, characters will use special abilities that make this a lot easier but they are by and large RNG and you don't have much control as to when they're unleashed. Each character has one special that actually can be used when their portrait begins to glow, but even the glowing is RNG so there's no way to completely escape it. Still, the abilities get used with a reasonable amount of frequency once a character learns it, so they are still quite useful.

What surprised me is how much all of this sucked me in. It's so simple, but I do enjoy firing the game up for a little bit each night so that I can stomp through some dungeons, level up my party to support more / better cards, level up said card, and earn points to get new cards. The whole thing just taps right into a very primal element of my psyche all while being conveniently ensconced in an anime veneer. It just makes for a nice time waster when I'm too tired to do anything else at the end of the night. Now I'm left wondering if this will just turn into a slippery slope where I start really diving down the rabbit whole that is Japanese gatcha games.

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Golden Time Anime Review

It's one of those things that have plagued anime and JRPGs for years: a cast of characters in their teens. Sure, it makes them into people that a sizable proportion of viewers can project themselves into, but given the frequency with which it happens I can't blame people for angrily looking at the phenomenon as being a bit trope-like. These days there are so many shows that take place in high schools. We have magic schools, mech pilot schools, zombie schools, normal schools, you name it, all littered with 15-18 year olds going about their business. The saturation is pretty bad.

This is a big reason why I decided to check out Golden Time, as it takes place in university. No robots, aliens, or anything like that, just a contemporary post secondary institution with some 20 somethings becoming adults. It was a very nice change of pace with its combination of being a slice of life and romantic comedy, although the first half of the series was definitely much better than the second, but not enough to ruin the show. The characters kept my attention throughout and the humour was fairly well done, making me overlook the shows foray into the supernatural.

The show centers around a guy named Tada Banri who is in his first year of university as he makes new friends, goes to classes and winds up encountering one Kouko Kaga who is stalking her childhood sweetheart, Mitsuo. He just so happens to be in Tada's law class and one of the first friends he makes at the school. Over time, Kouko finally takes the hint that Mitsuo isn't at all interested in her, but she hangs out with Tada a lot and the two become an item. However, we quickly learn that Tada suffered a serious head injury in his hometown after graduating high school, took a year off, has amnesia, and cannot remember anything about his past. While things are going well at university and with Kouko, there's a good chance that one of his other friends, Linda, may actually have been his girlfriend in high school before he lost his memory, though she's mentioned nothing of this to Tada. So, quickly, the story becomes a hybrid college slice of life drama with a love triangle thrown in.

Since Golden Time involves college students, it does make for a nice change of pace from the scores of other series that would likely tackle all of this in a high school setting. You do get the sense that everyone is enjoying their lives while going to university, as it is often the case in Japan. High school is a lot more focused on education to get into a good college, but once one gets there things relax considerably since it's viewed by many as a last hurrah before entering the work force where everything gets very serious and very busy very quickly. Banri, Kouko, et al do seem to be enjoying themselves and watching them do their thing is quite relaxing.

Kouko herself takes a little bit of getting used to as she comes off as very aggressive and obsessive, especially in the early episodes where she's still stalking Mitsuo. Once she gives up on him and starts getting closer to Banri, Kouko becomes far more tolerable. She winds up being a bit clingy with Banri too, but not to the point of her being annoying to the viewer, and it becomes clear that she has her own insecurities driving this to an extent which helps explain her behavior, making it more acceptable.

Meanwhile, Linda is very much a level-headed, down to earth woman. She's pretty much the polar opposite of Kouko. She tries to keep Banri at arms length so that he can sort out his amnesia on his own, but tends to show up whenever he's in trouble, especially during the second half of the series. As the show progresses and the love triangle between her, Kouko, and Banri develops, it's easy to see viewers starting to fall into pro-Linda and pro-Kouko camps.

We don't really see enough of the supporting cast to get to know them, though. Sure they're around and everyone does stuff together but they aren't all that developed. Mitsuo's around and is obviously one of Banri's buddies but we don't really learn much about him. The same goes for Chinami, 2D, and Nana. It would have been nice if these people were fleshed out more instead of the series focusing so much on Banri, Kouko, and Linda.

As mentioned earlier, the first half of Golden Time is much better than the second and this has a lot to do with Banri. For the first dozen episodes, he's treated like a typical college student getting on with his life, making friends, finding a girlfriend, and such. The amnesia is there and it's something he's dealing with, but one gets the sense he'll pull through eventually. However, when the second half of the series comes along we get Ghost Banri, which is just stupid.

Basically, he's supposed to be some sort of non-corporeal manifestation of Banri from before he lost his memories. He wants his life back and doesn't like the current Banri mucking things up, especially the fact that he's hanging out with Kouko instead of Linda. Ghost Banri becomes a mildly vengeful spirit and tries to find ways to interfere in Banri's life. He doesn't do anything huge but manages to give Banri a run of bad luck. It's a very silly plot element that didn't need to be there.

The first half of the series was shaping up nicely but this was tough to swallow. The last episode in particular was very confusing with the scene on the bridge. It was obvious that this was meant to tie everything up with Banri choosing someone and dealing with Ghost Banri but it came off as a convoluted mess leaving me thinking, "Okay, he chose someone, but I still don't quite know what's going on here."

Normally, this would have completely soured my opinion of an anime series, but the fact that the show was a slice of life series that didn't take place in a high school and seeing as how the first half of the series was quite entertaining, I'm not prepared to completely dismiss Golden Time. It is something that people who enjoy a slice of life anime should consider trying out. There are still good times to be had. Just keep in mind that the second half of the series isn't nearly as good as the first.

Sunday, 22 November 2015

Thinking About the SNES 25 Years On

On November 21, 1990, the Super Famicom was released in Japan and with that the system has just turned 25. I still remember all of the hype when it came out because the thing wasn't released in North America yet and magazines like EGM and GamePro were talking about it constantly with tiny images of Super Mario World, Pilotwings, and the like smattered across their pages, while kids were being bombarded with terms like "Mode 7" and "color palettes".

With the NES pretty much ruling the roost in my neck of the woods, it seemed natural that most people would want an SNES when it came out. I was certainly among them, but wound up waiting until 1993 to get mine. Other choices were made by me in the early 90s that resulted in a TurboGrafx-16 and a Sega Genesis being the center of my 16-bit console gaming. A rather ridiculous amount of time was spent on the likes of Streets of Rage, Phantasy Star II, Dungeon Explorer, Military Madness, and The Immortal.

These games kept me plenty occupied and also in the minority as most of the folks I hung around with in high school were much more in the SNES camp or weren't into games in the first place. As time wore on, though, more and more games showed up on Nintendo's 16-bit system and it became increasingly difficult for me to resist getting one myself.

From the beginning A Link to the Past caught my eye, and it was also becoming quite clear that if I wanted to continue playing Final Fantasy games I'd have to get an SNES. Then Street Fighter II came to the system and I capitulated, finally scrounging together enough birthday money, cash from odd jobs, and the like to get one second hand.

It was a glorious thing in all of its ugly gray and blue grandeur, feeling noticeably firmer than the Genesis. I only had two games on the system for quite some time: Super Mario World and Final Fantasy II (which was actually IV, but got renamed to this since II and III hadn't been released in the West and the publisher wanted to avoid confusion). I did want Street Fighter II as well, but was tapped out by then, so it would have to wait. Diving into Final Fantasy was more than enough to keep me happy for months, though. I marched around with Cecil and the gang, got them to level cap, and remember just beating the final boss repeatedly to hear the music during the 20 minute ending because it sounded so much like an orchestra compared to the beeps and bloops of my other systems' sound chips.

The console never completely pulled me into its camp, however. Even when the console wars were just emerging and kids were picking between Sega and Nintendo, I was decidedly agnostic about the whole thing. Both systems had stuff I liked, so why not enjoy all of it. This was a time when lots of people rented games, so one could partake in all sorts of experiences for relatively cheap if they at least had the systems to play the stuff on. One week I might take out Secret of Mana, another Kid Kameleon, and some other time Veigues Tactical Gladiator. There's plenty out there to explore, so why be partisan about it?

If anything, I'd say that my SNES library didn't really start to expand rapidly until 16-bit systems were being phased out to make space PlayStation and Saturn games at most shops. It was a good time to get things on the cheap. I remember getting stuff like Ninja Warriors, Lufia, and A Link to the Past for about 10 dollars each and playing the hell out of them.

Ultimately, the SNES primarily functioned as a Street Fighter II and RPG machine for me. RPGs were a bit touch and go in terms of what got released here during the 16-bit era, but the SNES had a lot of stuff that I was very interested in. Most of my time on the system was spent ploughing through Final Fantasies, 7th Saga, Paladin's Quest, Ogre Battle, Breaths of Fire, Lufias, Chrono Trigger, and the like.

In recent years, the system has seen quite a resurgence in popularity as people who grew up with it have been going on a spending spree buying up the games they couldn't afford as a kid at online auctions, consequently driving the prices up so that they're games they can't afford as adults, but it is nice to see renewed interest in the system nonetheless. I'm just left to wonder how many folks will still have fond memories of the SNES after another 25 years have past, or will the system be long forgotten as a new generation of 30-somethings wax nostalgic about "classic" mobile games like Angry Birds, Candy Crush, and Clash of Clans instead.