Monday, 29 February 2016

Project X Zone 2: Better Than the First

Battle Sakura Taisen
Back when the first Project X Zone came out, I was really looking forward to it. Having been a fan of Super Robot Taisen OG Saga Endless Frontier, I'd already gotten a taste of the juggling combat and the story was fun, so the prospect of a new game in that vein with the added bonus of a cavalcade of popular video game characters was quite enticing. Unfortunately, the original X Zone only delivered on half of this. The combat I knew and loved was there with some interesting tweaks. However, the story, that was a mess. When there are a lot of cameos in a game, movie, or whatever, the narrative can get really bogged down introducing everyone impacting the pace and diluting the story as a whole. A sizable chunk of the first X Zone felt like some drawn out version of the fight scenes from the Anchorman movies. Hours were spent introducing one character after the next with the story not going anywhere and after a time the whole thing got boring. Thankfully, with Project X Zone 2 this has been remedied since we have a lot of the same characters, so they already know each other, saving us a lot of time, and new characters are introduced a lot more quickly, as the developers seem to have learned their lesson from the last game.

With this game, the writers made a point of centering the plot more around one person, in this case Ryo from the Shenmue games. M. Bison and Saya are up to no good and part of their plan involves steeling a family heirloom from Ryo, so a short ways into the game he meets up with Chun Li and Xiaoyu who agree to help him out and before long he's joined the full group led by Reiji and Xiaomu as they muster a bigger and bigger force to deal with both the forces of Shadaloo and Ouma (not to mention any random evildoers they come across). Keeping the plot on track like this is much better than the first game and it's nice not having to spend so much time being introduced to all of the characters. That being said, story is still the weakest part of the game. It's not going to turn any heads, and it's only been elevated from paper thin to something on par with corrugated cardboard, but at least this time it manages to be entertaining. It should be said that this is a standalone story, so people who haven't played the first game can hope right in and won't feel lost here.

Summon Night and ninja characters
While the story itself is only so-so, one of the fun things to do is watching how the characters interact with one another. Since your little army is divided into smaller groups where you'll have a frontline assault force with a support unit attached for help, these people get along differently depending on who is matched with who. The things someone like Ryo will say while paired with Chun Li and Xiaoyu will be quite different than if you stick him with Morrigan and Demitri. Then there's Segata Sanshiro, who is fun to try matching with just about anyone.

Combat-wise, at this point I think one needs to be a fan of this type of battle system to enjoy it. If you've tried the previous game before or possibly OG Saga and didn't care for the combat, this game isn't suddenly going to change your mind. There are some minor changes to the combat here, but it's still all about the tactical elements as one places units on the map, then hopping into battles where the goal is to keep enemies airborne as much as possible, ideally only executing new attacks at the last possible moment in order to trigger critical hits. Doing this while calling in support units that trigger Cross Attacks where both groups are pummeling an enemy simultaneously is very satisfying. I'm a sucker for watching numbers flying by on-screen as a battle ensues with stuff flashing and fancy little animated scenes, so, for me, these battles are great.

Resident Evil characters
I've never been terribly enamored with the aesthetic of these games, though. They have a very functional approach with simplistic maps and character designs while slapping up some anime-styled character art when people are talking. It gets the job done but isn't anything special. However, there's something about the use of music in this game that really tugs at my heart strings. Whenever a unit is selected a theme from the game that the people are from plays and this really cranks up the nostalgia. On more than a few occasions I was really tempted to stop what I was doing so that I could fire up something like Streets of Rage or Strider because music from those games started to play.

At this point, Project X Zone 2 is what it is. The combat is interesting, but you'll need to have a taste for it. If you weren't fond of the combat in the first game, you won't enjoy it any more in this one. However, if you are craving a JRPG with a different sort of battle system, then this is one to consider. Now that the story is borderline tolerable, X Zone 2 makes for an enjoyable experience with a fun mix of popular game characters from a bunch of different series, this time managing not to get bogged down by introductions.

Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Five Fighting Games that Need to Come Back

With all of the ballyhoo over the release of Street Fighter V, it got me reminiscing about many of the old fighting game series that have disappeared over the years. There was a time when the genre was the king of the hill with publishers constantly pumping out new titles to top one another / cash in on the craze. As the waves of nostalgia rolled over me, a few series in particular kept springing to mind. Unfortunately, the likelihood of any of them making a triumphant return soon is not very good seeing as the studios that made them have either gone under, changed their focus, or the key individuals in creating them have moved on. Nonetheless, it would be nice to see some of these franchises come back. So, with that, let's take a look at some of the fighting game series that are no longer with us and dream of a world where they could actually be brought back.

Bushido Blade

This came along in an interesting period in Squaresoft's game development history. During the mid to late 90s, they got quite adventurous in the sorts of games that they were putting out. They stuck to their RPG roots much of the time, but we did see the company venture into other genres during this time, like fighting games.

Bushido Blade was a very different beast from many of its counterparts. The most notable thing about the game was instant deaths, as it went for a more realistic attitude toward combat. Characters had a variety of swords that they could use and were actually able to kill an opponent in one well placed hit. There were no health meters in these games. It was all about learning the stances, transitioning one attack into the next, learning to block, and being punished mercilessly for mistakes.

Despite the potential for brutally quick deaths, a lot of people really enjoyed the games. Hardcore folk ate up the depth of the combat while casuals giggled as they hobbled around the battlefield trying to finish one another off.

Unfortunately, as Squaresoft's popularity soared in the late 90s thanks to the games that they were putting out, so too did their hubris resulting in Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within which just about bankrupted the studio, forcing Enix to step in and save them. Since then, they've never quite been the same, gravitating more toward safer franchises while leaving games like Bushido Blade in the past.

Nonetheless, it's hard not to look back at the game and its sequel with fond memories and wish that somehow it could come back in the modern era.

Virtua Fighter

When Virtua Fighter first appeared in arcades, it raised a lot of eyebrows. Fighting games were already well on their way, enjoying a meteoric rise in popularity, but the genre was a vast sea of 2D sprite-based games up to this point. When Sega stepped onto the scene with Virtua Fighter, one couldn't help but notice the polygons.

Not only was it a graphical marvel for its time, the feel and mentality of the fighting was so different. It was a somewhat slower, plodding approach to fighting. Sure, part of this was due to the polygonal nature of the game, where games that dared go this route still felt a tiny bit clunky in the early 90s. However, Sega took this and ran with it. First, characters moves were nowhere near as over the top as Street Fighter II and games of that ilk. It was a methodical sort of combat where players steadily punched and kicked, stringing one move into the next giving a sense of momentum and oomph that was quite different to what one experienced in 2D fighters. Moreover, the moves were much more grounded in reality, emphasizing punches, kicks, throws, and knockdowns. Virtua Fighter took place in the land that fireballs forgot. It even made us brutally aware of the world of ring outs as players teetered out of the ring with a shocked and slightly disappointed, "Ah!"

As the years wore on, one sequel after the next came along as Sega refined the series, honing it into one of the most technical fighting games of all time where timing is of the utmost importance. It introduced us to a cast of characters that many Sega fans still have fond memories of to this day, and we even saw the series get some spin offs like Virtua Fighter Kids and Virtua Quest.

Unfortunately, a lot of doubt hangs over whether we'll see a Virtua Fighter 6. The fifth installment in the series came out nine years ago during the early days of the last console generation. Since then, there's not been a peep from Sega about a new game. We get the occasional reminder that the series was a thing with its characters making cameos in other games (like Akira and Kage in Project X Zone games, or some of its characters appearing in Dead or Alive 5 Ultimate), but we're still waiting to see a proper new Virtua Fighter game.


When I first started brainstorming this article, I didn't expect two Squaresoft games to be on it but here we are. It was another early 3D fighter with its fair share of quirks. The visuals were relatively stripped down while everything marched along at 60 frames per second. Characters were designed by Akira Toriyama while a small army of composers contributed to the soundtrack.

One of the most memorable aspects of the Tobal games was all of the different modes it had, especially quest mode where players went on an adventure as they explore a dungeon while gathering items to help them, all the while hoping they don't die, being forced to start over. It was a mode that people weren't expecting but were certainly happy to see.

It's been years since the two Tobal games came out, but it's still missed by many. Maybe with the Final Fantasy VII remake coming along Square-Enix can throw us a bone and make a new Tobal game that they can pack a demo of FFVII in for old times sake.

Bloody Roar

Who doesn't like a good transformation sequence in an anime every now and then? Very bad people, that's who. They probably don't like Bloody Roar then either, which makes them even worse. For shame. For the rest of us who do have fond memories of them, we savored these sequences in all of their glory as we got ready to unload on our opponents.

Bloody Roar took a somewhat more over the top approach to 3D fighting games with this more beastly tone. It opened up the door to super moves and allowed players to regain some health so there was good reason to make use of it. On top of this, the game was easy to get into. Basic combos could be done with relative ease and people who weren't even all that well versed in fighting games could have a good time.

Unfortunately, while the series did muster its fair share of fans, we haven't seen a new installment since 2003. Moreover, its publisher was Hudson Soft which is now owned by Konami, a company that hasn't even tried to hide its disdain for video games in recent years. So, it's looking like nothing short of a miracle will bring Bloody Roar back from the grave and even if it did return, knowing Konami it would be as a pachinko machine.

The Last Blade

There have been plenty of 2D weapon-based fighting games to come along over the years, but I've always had a special place in my heart for The Last Blade, so it's going on the list. It's an SNK game that a lot of people have forgotten about, overshadowed by the likes of King of Fighters and even the series that it was a spiritual successor of, Samurai Shodown.

Nevertheless, it is a solid 2D fighter in its own right. First and foremost, the games were absolutely gorgeous. The people that did the art for this series deserve a metal for their sprite work. The Last Blade stands as an amazing example of what one can do with the medium. Very few 2D fighting games of the time can stand toe-to-toe with this series in terms of visual splendor.

Not only did it look good, it was fun too. There was a sizable cast of characters to choose from with a lot of variety as to their combat styles. Combat was very interesting as the game had some very big combos that players could do while taking advantage of the game's buffering system, which allowed one to enter moves well in advance while preparing these chains. Also, there was a "repel" ability that was very interesting, as it knocked back opponents as a means to try and create some space so that you could go in after and get a combo started or just creating some breathing room. As tempting as it may be to write off The Last Blade as a Samurai Shodown clone given its aesthetic and the people who made it, these games had a feel of their own.

It would be nice if SNK brought the series back, even if just as a classics compilation for new generations of players to enjoy. Obviously, the lion's share of their attention is on King of Fighters now, but if they could find a way to revive The Last Blade in any way, shape, or form, I for one would be very happy indeed.

Honorable Mention:


The reason this series isn't in the main list above is because we did get Darkstalkers Resurrection not too long ago. It was a mini classics compilation and digital only, but the release was a sign that Capcom actually remembers that there are quite a few people who still love the series. Will the company take the logical next step and make a full-blown new entry in the series? Only time will tell.

Rival Schools

Another Capcom series and one that showed the publisher could put out some decent 3D fighters, and not just its bread and butter 2D affairs. It had a fun mix of characters, interesting moves, and for its time, the games looked quite pretty, garnering the series a decent number of fans. It's a long shot that we'll ever see Rival Schools revived, but no one would complain if it were to happen.

Monday, 22 February 2016

The Importance of Casuals

Over the last week we've seen a bit of fallout with the release of Street Fighter V. There are quite a few people who feel that at its core, SFV is a solid game: good mechanics, works great. However, it is severely lacking in features, especially play modes. For the hardcore fighting game fan, this isn't really an issue. As it stands, the game has what they want already: a decent-sized roster of characters and an online versus mode. Be that as it may, a lot of people are upset by this, ie. everyone else who isn't hardcore aficionados of the genre. There are quite a lot of people that get these games with little to no intent of ever playing against another human being. They want a story, cool characters, maybe some other interesting modes tossed in, and if they can successfully pull off most of the moves along the way, so much the better.

Given the bare bones state of Street Fighter V's launch, these casual fans of fighters are a bit miffed. It doesn't matter if there's more content coming down the line. They plunked down $60 and they aren't finding a whole lot that they want to do with the game. The worrying, and not entirely unexpected, thing about all of this is how a vocal quadrant of hardcore community lashed out at the casuals voicing their concerns about the state of the game. It really goes to show that there are some impressively narrow-minded, myopic individuals who are utterly lacking in foresight.

The diehards of any given hobby are always comprised of a very small, vocal minority. They have very specific things that they want and they'll make a bunch of noise until they get it. This isn't just the case with Street Fighter. We can see it in most genres. Look at the last 10-15 years of MMORPGs. There was a time when raiders, another small, noisy group of people, would shout and stomp their feet on a game's message boards until they got what they want. The problem was that there were a lot of other people playing the game, quietly enjoying regular dungeons, leveling alts, dressing up their characters, or being silly with friends in a hub town. As the tiny group of raiders were increasingly catered to, everyone else was feeling left out when it came to new content. Sure they could raid, but if they're generally uninterested in such activities, it seemed silly to force one's self to. So, over time, as the casual set was increasingly left behind, they let out a collective, "Okay, bye, I guess..." and quit these games. This resulted in a sizable loss in customers for these games, and their publishers began to worry, scrambling to find ways to win back these people who unbenounced to them, were actually a larger source of revenue than the smaller, noisier group of "hardcore" players.

This could be translated to one genre after the next. How many people love competitive Starcraft? A decent amount, sure, but how many more view stuff like custom maps and clicking on units repeatedly so that they say silly things as highlights of the game? A lot more. This is one of the things that is nice about the game. Hardcore folks get their ladder and off they go while the casual crowd can just go off and do as they like in these custom modes or just enjoying the story. The game stays accessible to new players and those that have no interest in playing at a high level while also being good to go for the more competitive crowd.

There are some folks that shout on the internet about how they play competitively and think everyone else should as well, and it's turned into a bit of an echo chamber where these people get together and start thinking it's the natural order of things without stopping to think that there are quite a few people out there that don't feel the same. Whether it's hardcore members of the fighting game community, MOBA players arguing about normal matches vs. ranked, or MMO raiders, they just start talking among themselves, earnestly agreeing with one another while shouting down descent.

For a time, it may well seem like what they're doing is working, but often as the months and years pass we see less and less casuals entering into these games because they just don't want to deal with any of that and the games don't offer features or game modes that they're interested in. Moreover, this leaves a limited pool of hardcore folk, and that cohort of people inevitably shrinks as its members get older, their priorities / life circumstances change, and they find themselves leaving the scene. Then what happens to these games? Their publishers are businesses, not charities. If they aren't making enough money to support their product or they think future games in the genre won't sell well, the suits that make all of the big, money-related decisions at the company may not greenlight future projects.

So, hardcore gamers need to think long and hard whether they want to put these walls around the games that they love so much. If they can support them financially on their own, great. However, if that isn't the case, casuals are an absolute necessity for many games to continue to exist, never mind flourish. Shouting at the "filthy casuals" may score brownie points in their little circles, but it may well actually kill off the games these people love if they aren't careful.

Sunday, 21 February 2016

Fairy Fencer F: A Surprisingly Good B Tier RPG

Fairized Fang
Back in the days of the PlayStation 2 there was a much greater range in pricing of games. We had the obvious super high-end stuff that would go for $50 (boy do I miss those days as we continue to see prices rise first to $60 and now $70), and there was the lower end of the spectrum where quality would often become questionable as the price dipped lower and lower below the $30 mark for a new release. Then we had the mid-tier stuff. It would usually cost about $40 and people would go into them knowing that they weren't going to necessarily be on par with the games at the higher price point, but they also wouldn't be on a level of the cheaper, generally badly made games. They'd provide a solid experience, usually with some interesting quirks along the way.

Fairy Fencer F very reminds me of those days. It's by no means the best of JRPGs but neither is it a bad game. What we have is a reasonably priced title with an interesting battle system and straightforward, humorous story. Most people will likely get through it in about 25-30 hours feeling entertained, glad that they made some time for the game.

This is another in the growing tidal wave of Vita games that have been getting ported over to the PC over the last few years, and that's the version that I played. With that, one shouldn't expect too many fancy features in terms of settings. It's a down and dirty port, but gets the job done. People who absolutely insist on a vast array of graphic settings maybe be disappointed, but the keyboard controls are okay-ish, or at least not as god awful as some other ports of Japanese games to come along in recent years. I can't comment on them too much, though, as I stuck with an Xbox 360 controller for the majority of my playthrough.

Tiara vs a giant robot
From the get go it becomes apparent that the story is very traditional fair. In the distant past, a goddess and demon fought for control of the world, but in the end it was a stalemate as their attacks forced each other into suspended animation. This in mind, the game becomes a race between the forces of good who want to reawaken the goddess and the forces of evil who would like to bring back the demon. It doesn't get much more cliched than this. With that, we follow the adventures of Fang, a young, rather selfish lad, who accidentally gets swept up in all of this when he pulls a sword out of the ground, becoming it's owner and being teamed with a fairy, Eryn, that resides within it. This makes Fang into a Fencer, a person who wields a fairy-imbued weapon. There are all sorts of weapons like this scattered through the land and they can be used to release the goddess or demon, so Fang, Eryn, and a growing group of friends set out to find them all before the evil Dorfa Corporation can do the same for the vile god.

What makes the heavily trodden story palatable is the cast of characters, as their interactions can often be pretty funny. Pippin is by far my favorite of all the people I encountered with his self-important, yet friendly demeanor. Others had their moments too, like Glados' budding bro-mance for Fang, and Harley's overzealous desire to learn more about fairies. There are also a few moments of obnoxious fan service. I'm not a fan of that sort of stuff, so tend to get annoyed by it, but thankfully they're far and few between. It is also possible to recruit two optional characters into the party if certain conditions are met. They aren't necessary, but are fun additions to the group making them worthwhile to pursue.

While playing Fairy Fencer F, people familiar with some of Compile Hearts' other recent RPGs will notice a lot of similarities, especially if you've played some of the Neptunia games. Things bounce between a hub city where one picks up new quests, buys items at shops, and talks to locals, and a world map where one moves an icon around, selecting specific locations to visit. It's a stripped down method that very much limits opportunities to explore, but adds a certain amount of brevity to getting around. It is also possible to modify any given region if you use the correct fairy. This will change the types of monsters that spawn there, which becomes necessary when doing side quests handed out at the local tavern.

Good ol Pippin

Battles while hunting these monsters (and pretty much everyone else) are the strong point of the game. Combat is turn-based on a fairly large field where enemies and your party can more around, trying to get into range of one another and unload with various attacks. There's the expected abilities like special attacks and spells which consume energy, but what is really fun is developing combos. These are actually cobbled together outside of combat in the game menu. For this, players assign different attacks to different buttons, many of which play into one another. Then, when combat begins, if you bring a character within attack range and begin, instead of simply doing a normal attack you can string it from one into the next, selecting what you want to do as you go. This is useful when trying to exploit an enemy's weakness. Since everyone in your party are Fencers, their weapons can actually morph on the fly from swords to scythes to bows to guns and so forth which plays into the combo system since you can then select which attack to do next and go with something that will do the most damage to enemies. Early on, there isn't much one can do with combos, but as you spend ability points to improve characters stats and unlock new abilities it becomes possible to add new strings of attacks to a combo.

As fancy as the combo system is, combat is actually quite easy much of the game. For the first 10 hours, battles were extremely easy as my party steamrolled everything in their path. After this, there was a mild difficulty spike but this was more a matter of fights taking longer than becoming insurmountable. I did wind up unlocking Apollonius, which required grinding up to level 40, and this can make some areas of the game easier as well, so that is something to keep in mind. The only area that came off as truly challenging was Shukesoo's Tower, which is optional content anyway. The ease of battles doesn't really take anything away from the game, as they're still enjoyable trying to find the best combos and spells to unload and see if you can outdo yourself with the amount of damage your group can dish out in a single turn. People expecting tough, unforgiving battles, though, just won't find that here.

Goddess and vile god
The game isn't exactly a looker either. A lot of the areas, art, and backgrounds have a fairly standard anime-inspired look to them. Apparently Yoshitaka Amano and Nobou Uematsu contributed to the game, but I had trouble identifying where they may have had a hand in that. I'd have to imagine the former designed some of the monsters, as some of them looked quite unconventional. However, I'm still scratching my head trying to figure out which parts of the score may have been done by Uematsu. The music as a whole is decent, though the tunes that plays when characters Fairize (ie. take on a more powerful form) is pretty cheesy and gets stuck in my head more than I'd like.

Shortcomings aside, I still enjoyed going on this little adventure with Fang and the gang. Fairy Fencer F by no means tries to reinvent the wheel. It simply provides a fun story with some enjoyable characters and a good battle system. The game's publisher was also smart enough to give the game a price that reflects this, so I didn't feel at all out of pocket for the experience I had. People with a hankering for a pleasant, straightforward JRPG should give some serious consideration to this game.

Thursday, 18 February 2016

Digital Distribution and the Quest for Competition

Over the last week there's been a lot of talk about Microsoft bringing Quantum Break to PC but being exclusive to their new digital distribution system that they are working on for Windows 10. With that, there has been a huge uproar with the usual "If it's not on Steam, I'm not buying it!" argument making the rounds. This got me thinking about competition in the digital space for PC gaming, how publishers are approaching it, and how consumers are absorbing it.

For all of the different companies trying their hand at digital store fronts there isn't a whole lot of tangible competition. It's more about various publishers at the very least wanting to reap 100% of the money from digital sales of their own games, so they make something like Origin or Uplay and either move all new releases to their distribution platform or make it a requirement to actually run their games. Instead of entering with the idea of making a brilliant storefront that people will want to flock to for pretty much anything that is available there, they take the shortsighted view that since they have some multi million selling hits, why not just sell the games themselves and cut out the middleman, aka Steam.

Origin has been around for almost five years now and the only good thing I can think of that they've ever done with their store is introduce a refund policy. They introduced it in the summer of 2013, which was surprising as they were beating a lot of other services to the punch, even GOG, which is usually ahead of the curve on this sort of thing. It was an important move too because in time other places started implementing similar policies. GOG started offering refunds by the end of 2013 and last year Steam began doing the same.

This is how competition is supposed to work. In a marketplace one company in an industry will start doing something, then others in the sector will catch whiff of it, and if it's a genuinely good idea they will begin doing something similar. Unfortunately, one is hard pressed to find much else that either Electronic Arts or Ubisoft have brought to the table that has positively impacted digital distribution in PC gaming. Granted, EA does have their subscription service for Origin getting underway, which could have some potential, but it's still early days so we'll have to give it some time to do its thing first.

With that, it's hard not to get cynical about Microsoft's impending return to PC gaming for the umpteenth time, with an earnest expression on their face that this time, this time, they're serious about it. First, we're already at the Fooled Me Once part of their foray into digital distribution with Games for Windows, so the company is already skating on thin ice. Second, it's quite obvious that this will be no different than UPlay or Origin in terms of what they want to do: make a storefront to sell their own stuff. And that's exactly what is going to happen. At best, people will go there to get games like Quantum Break and other first party titles (muttering under there breath about needing to make yet another username and password for yet another digital service) then proceeding to march right back to Steam, GOG, Green Man Gaming, and the like for everything else because these big studios haven't figured out how to make an actual storefront for the medium as a whole, but rather a vehicle for strong arming people into buying their own games on their own platform.

As obnoxious as Steam fanboyism can be at times, it isn't without good cause. Valve didn't just cobble together a mechanism for selling Team Fortress, Half Life, Counter Strike, and the like. They made a service that has features people like and want to use, adding more and more each year. This is why people like them so much and continue to flock there. Electronic Arts and Ubisoft haven't given us good enough of a reason to switch to them.

GOG is about the closest thing to a service that offers any form of competition to Steam, and even then it is much, much smaller. Their DRM-free games area a big draw for people who appreciate that sort of thing (like me!), but at the same time that is probably one of the biggest things holding them back from expanding their library more rapidly, as I wouldn't be surprised if some publishers withhold there games from GOG specifically because of this. In the end, though, at least it's an example of a company trying to make a store where people come because it's a good store, not because it's the only place where a certain game can be purchased.

Until places like EA, Ubisoft, and now Microsoft start doing this as well, instead of it being a greedy way to maximize profits on their own games, true competition in PC gaming digital distribution will remain thin on the ground. Companies need to convince people to use their services, not coerce them.

Monday, 15 February 2016

Akame ga Kill: Fun Ride, But Could Be Better

Tatsumi vs Ogre
Here's a series that I wish that I could like more than I did. While it had great action sequences and some nice art with a premise that should have worked well, the whole thing got mired in how the story didn't spend enough time developing its characters while lining them up like bowling pins to be killed off. It's too bad because if it had put a little more effort into that, Akame ga Kill could have been a much better show.

It starts off well enough with the main character, Tatsumi, arriving in the capital hoping to find a way to help his poor village on the outskirts of the kingdom. Before long, he discovers that the place is actually quite corrupt with very bad people in high places. When taken in for the night by a noble family that turn out to be complete sadists with a taste for torture, he meets the members of Night Raid, a team of assassins with the Revolutionary Army who are tasked with hunting down particularly evil government officials and killing them. Once Tatsumi sees the nobles for the monsters they are he understands that the empire in which he lives is actually rotten, and with that joins the assassins.

From here we follow Tatsumi and Night Raid as they do their part to bring down the empire, killing off corrupt officials and potential threats as the military enlists specialists of their own to deal with the assassins. What makes this fun to watch are the weapons used by the team members and high ranking members of the empire's military called Imperial Arms. They were made 1,000 years earlier and much of the knowledge to create them has been lost, but they are very powerful. Each one is different with its own special power, so we see people running around with rifles with enough oomph to shoot down spacefaring battleships, incredibly powerful armor, teleportation devices, ice attacks, sentient organic Arms, et cetera. This leads to several huge battles as people clash, which is the high point of the show.

Akame, Main, and Leone
Unfortunately, this leads to a lot of the main characters, both heroes and villains, dying. A lot. The problem with this is that Akame ga Kill doesn't spend enough time developing its characters for the viewer to really get hit hard when one of them dies. We'll get a few minutes one episode explaining their past and an episode or two later they'll be dead. The first death or two does have a bit of shock value as the show makes it clear that this will be a thing, but after that it never gets to the point where viewers genuinely worry about who will be next to go, instead developing more of a morbid curiosity as to who will get killed off. As such, there isn't much power to the deaths. It's spectacle and little more. The only person I was sad to see go was Tatsumi since he was built up over the entire series, while everyone else to go was just cannon fodder. Bols is the only other character I feel got barely enough development to deserve some sympathy when he died. By the end of the series, there's pretty much a mountain of corpses seeing as so many characters got killed off and mostly I found myself trying to remember why I should care about them in the first place. If the show had spent more time developing people and being more selective as to who would die, it would have had a much stronger impact than going the route that it did with this.

At least the show looked pretty and had a decent soundtrack. The characters were reasonably well designed with some over the top aesthetics from time to time. Seryu stood out here with her prosthetic limbs that could be replaced with ridiculous artillery. Susanoo when he was transformed looked pretty bad ass. Esdeath got the military dominatrix thing down and I look forward to the day when someone can truly pull off some solid cosplay of her. The animation of the battles also had a nice sense of speed and seemed to get the gore to a good level with just the right amount of gratuity to match the depravity of the empire. I also liked how people's faces contorted when they let their inner demons get the better of them. Music too was well done. There's not much to say about it, but the tunes worked well with the show.

Lady Esdeath

On the whole, I don't regret the time I spent watching Akame ga Kill. The action made for a fun ride and it was nice to see the empire get its comeuppance, but the way in which the show took the axe to so many of its characters felt like killing for the sake of killing and it became easy to get numb to it. This show could have been a lot more interesting if its characters were better developed. At least then, I'd care more when someone died off. As it stands, the show feels like something to watch on a stream when one has a hankering for a lot of combat with liberal amounts of gore and a relatively straightforward "fight the power" story line, which isn't all together bad, but at the same time it's hard not to feel that Akame ga Kill could have been more than that.

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Anime That Would Make for a Good Video Game

Every year, the usual suspects of super popular anime release a few games out into the wild, be it Dragonball, Naruto, One Piece, or something else of that ilk, but there are a ton of other very good series out there that are sadly overlooked, and would work quite well as a game. They're either ignored, or, worse still, receive a half-baked cash grab of a mobile game. It's an unfortunate state of affairs, but sometimes it can be fun to day dream of a time when a developer comes along and actually does some of these anime just and puts together a genuinely good game for them. Of course, this list will be an incredibly self-indulgent selection of anime that would make good games. If you don't like it, make your own list. \(^_^)/

Seirei no Moribito

Sporting an interesting fantasy world with an Asian flare, making for a refreshing departure from the usual European, Tolkien-inspired realms that the genre usually favours, Seirei no Moribito was a very good anime that flew past a lot of people's radar. The cast of characters were well developed, and it had one of the best female leads ever. By the end, it was sad to see the series end, even more so because it's based on a series of books in Japan, most of which have never been translated into English. With that, the anime and books make for a massive world filled with interesting people that would make for a very good game. Some sort of action RPG in the tradition of Elder Scrolls or The Witcher would be a good fit here, allowing players to wander the land as they see fit bouncing between the main quest line and optional side quests.


A game about arms dealers just makes sense. It would be gritty, violent, and with just a touch of quirky charm. The closest thing we've ever gotten to a Jormungand game was a cross promotion with Black Ops II, but a proper standalone would be so much better. Make the thing mission-based with the team going on hunts, there could be other times where Koko has to work her negotiation skills, and even times to appropriate weapons from other gun runners. There's a lot of places that a game based on this series could go.

Black Lagoon

Here's another example of a group of unsavory yet lovable criminals who deserve their own game. Revy and the gang could take up all sorts of contracts whether it's smuggling contraband, stealing weapons, or taking down rival gangs. Given that it's Black Lagoon that we're talking about here, guns would play a big part with no lack of opportunity to shoot all of the things and all of the people. With a lot of the show taking place on out of the way Pacific islands, boats could also play a role, maybe something akin to a combination of Hydro Thunder but with your vessel armed to the teeth.

Rokka: Braves of the Six Flowers

It's been a few months since the first, and probably only season of Rokka: Braves of the Six Flowers ended with a big cliffhanger that will only be resolved by trawling the internet in search of a fan translation for the light novel. Nonetheless, what the show had looked every bit like something that would work well as a game.

The obvious way that such a game could go would be for over the top action. The characters in the show have their own unique abilities that would make them stand out in terms of combat. A quick, easy way to go would be a fighting game similar in spirit to the stuff we've seen centered around Naruto, Dragonball, Saint Seiya, and the like. Maybe be a little more daring and make something that feels more like Powerstone. Then again, the show did have a have a heavily cerebral element with the locked room mystery, which would be something interesting to implement into the game, but it's a very big contrast to the action elements. Perhaps coming up with a way to make a Zero Escape with an action game could be doable, but making such distinct ideas work together may prove a challenge.

Fooly Cooly

After revisiting Jet Set Radio, I got in the mood for some stylish gaming. This got me thinking about Fooly Cooly, which was quite the stylish anime, and I wondered how well would this work as a game. The show can feel borderline surrealist with some of the stuff going on in it, which would lend well to going for a more unique visual presentation. It wouldn't have to be anything terribly complicated gameplay-wise. Have some combat elements, toss in areas where riding on a scooter is a must, and Haruko should have plenty of opportunity to wreck havoc.

Log Horizon

There has actually been a half-baked mobile game to come out and cash in on Log Horizon, but nothing proper, let alone good. It wouldn't take much to make something respectable based on the show. Developers could go all-in and make a full-on MMORPG set in the same world; however, I could see that being both expensive and risky in an environment where the genre is struggling to turn a profit outside of a handful of games. What would make more sense is a single-player JRPG with a lot of MMORPG elements. It would be a hell of a lot easier to develop without depending on subscriptions or hoping people take a liking to your in-game shop. The game could be something in the spirit of .Hack with various quality of life updates to bring it in line with modern games in the genre. Log Horizon is the first anime based on an MMORPG in a while that has turned out pretty good. Seeing a concerted effort to make a good game based on it would be great.

Outlaw Star

To this day, it boggles my mind that one of the best anime series of the 90s never got a game based on it. In the very least, I'd have expected the typical rush job as some publisher tried to turn a quick buck on a popular show of the time. There were no lack of anime-based games doing this then, but somehow Outlaw Star slipped through the cracks. It's probably for the best, but since such a game was never made, it tends to bring up the question, "What if?"

It's not like the show is lacking material to make a decent game. It has an interesting ensemble cast, plenty of adventuring around the cosmos, and nifty enemies too. Outlaw Star has a ton of content to draw upon. Realistically, it's probably too late to bother making a game based on the show since most of the people who actually remember it are old fogies like me, but that doesn't change the fact that it could still make for an entertaining experience.

No Game, No Life

The whole premise of the show is siblings who are amazing at any game they play. It wouldn't be that far of a leap to make an actual game of them doing this. The only major challenge would be keeping it interesting and the games challenging since they would be so varied. There's the risk of it feeling like a bunch of rushed mini games lacking any real depth. If that could be overcome, though, there'd be a lot of potential here. From a story perspective, the show / manga are quite funny with plenty of parody moments in them, so the game would have that going for it as well.


This show has a huge gaming / anime nerd as the main character who also just so happens to be in the special forces of Japan's military. It basically has a modern army going on various adventures in a fantasy world full of wizards, elves, and dragons. That in mind, there's gotta be a way to make this into a decent game. Give players the option to play as Itami, Rory, Lelei, and Tuka, either going for a JRPG or an action game. There's a lot of directions one could go here.

Friday, 5 February 2016

On Truck Simulators and Romanticism

It's interesting to me reading other people's experiences when playing Euro Truck Simulator 2 and now American Truck Simulator. The way they let their imagination enhance everything and how their preconceived notions color the way they look at a particular part of the world is fascinating. Whether it's North Americans in Europe or Europeans in America, there's something about their perception of the world around them that is adorable, and I find myself doing the same thing.

We all grow up somewhere and our surroundings are largely what we view as simply being "the way things are". The streets, neighborhoods, buildings, nature, it's all there and we go about our daily routines in this environment all the time without giving it much thought. There isn't any mystique surrounding hopping in the car and going to the park, commuting to work, or getting groceries. We've been down those streets so many times that it's just going through the motions for the most part.

However, while far away countries have streets, neighborhoods, buildings, and even nature, we don't see them every day, so we have to fill in the nuanced gaps with our own ideas of those places. The shops will be different, possibly in another language, they have makes and models of cars there that we don't, there may even be completely different laws governing how one drives. We're fuzzy on the details but the whole thing sounds so exciting!

This really started to hit home for me when I was driving around in American Truck Simulator. Having lived my whole life in this part of the world, I found myself having a different take on the experience compared to that of Europeans who were sharing their thoughts on the game. They seemed to be blissfully embarking on their own personal Jack Kerouac-inspired road trip across the US of A. Kudos to them for having that connection with the game, but my thoughts hovered around how brown the experience was and the legions of classic 50s cars on the road. Do the developers genuinely believe that there are so many mint condition mid-50s Mercuries cruising America's highways? After a while, every time I saw one of these things the only thought that crossed my mind was that this game needs more Camrys.

There is still a lot of fun to be had. The game is very good. However, I couldn't get this romanticized je ne sais quoi while hauling across California. It was neat driving into Los Angeles for the first time, and the scenery can be pretty when in more lush, green parts of the state, but at the end I wonder if I'm just too close to all of this. Having seen these roads and many more just like them all of my life there isn't this wistful, dream-like state of mind that sets in while soaking up the ambience.

Meanwhile, I couldn't drive two blocks in Euro Truck Simulator 2 without being swept away by something distinctly not North American. "Is that a roundabout?!?" *swoon* "Look, flags! We're crossing the border again!" "Wow, England sure has an awful lot of speed cameras!" "Right-side drive really is the best thing ever."

These are the sort of things that I think about when playing ETS2. Europeans would probably look at me strangely and ask, "Don't you guys have these things?" No, not really. Side streets around my place started having things that look vaguely like roundabouts a few years ago to stop people from speeding, but we have nothing of the size and majesty of European ones, never mind having any sort of hope to get a big rig around them.

The point is that these are things that I have a basic concept of floating around in my brain, but since I don't see them everyday they seem far off and different. Driving around virtual Europe in my virtual, right-side drive big rig is like going to Narnia for me, while hopping in a Peterbuilt and taking some cheese to Sacramento feels like just another day of doing chores. The romance is gone. With that, I don't just look at games like ETS2 and ATS as simply being simulations, but rather an escape into a world we have a basic understanding of while dolling them up with our own biases, making what would normally be mundane somehow strangely magical.

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Is Peter Molyneux's Reputation Irreparably Tarnished?

This morning, while perusing through what was new on Steam, I noticed a game called Godus Wars in the Early Access section. It got me thinking, "Godus? Where have I heard that name before? Wait a minute...I smell a Molyneux." Seeing this game lurking on Steam actually surprised me. After the disastrous mess that was normal Godus, the hype surrounding it, the game's complete inability to live up to it, and the grilling Peter Molyneux got from Rock, Paper, Shotgun after, I just assumed this was the last that we'd be hearing of both the game and the man behind it.

Now, this game comes out of nowhere, and it looks like Molyneux is trying to make another comeback. However, one has to wonder how long this will last. Judging by the screens, Godus Wars looks a little more Populus-esque, so that's something, I guess. Look a little more closely at the Steam page, though, and one quickly notices that only hours after going live the game is already getting trashed in the user reviews section.

I haven't tried the game myself, so can't comment on its quality, but no matter how you look at it this does not bode well for 22cans or Peter Molyneux. This means that either the game is poorly made in some way, in which case one simply has to boggle that the company hasn't learned anything from past mistakes, or PC gamers have lost so much good will that they're going out of their way to down vote this game. If it's the latter, it suggests that some people are going so far as to plunk down fifteen bucks for the opportunity to dog pile on Molyneux. That's a pretty impressive level of hate right there.

After years of over promising and under delivering, Molyneux was already skating on thin ice going into Godus. Even with the pedigree of games that he made in the 80s and 90s, there's only so much of this that people will put up with before they become fed up. If anything, in the current environment of internet outrage that gamers are capable of when a developer falls short of expectations, Molyneux and his company still got a lot more goodwill and benefit of the doubt over the years than many other companies would have were they to have suffered similar missteps.

When he did his interview with RPS, many thought this was it for him, and Molyneux would simply walk away from the industry. He seemed so utterly defeated and, more than anything, angry and disappointed with himself. It would have been a sad exit from game development, but coming back with what appears to be a re-branded Godus seems utter madness.

Usually it takes a few days for a game to fall into "Mostly Negative" territory when it comes to Steam reviews, but Godus Wars has managed this in hours. At this point, it doesn't even feel like this is a matter of gamers running out of patience with Molyneux, but more of a message that can be read, "Just stop already!" Really, it's hard to see there being much left that the man can do. This bizarre attempt at a comeback already appears to be dead on arrival. It seems only a matter of time before he retires for real at this point.

Monday, 1 February 2016

Dragon's Dogma: Dark Arisen - Final Thoughts

After gushing about this game in a preliminary article a short while ago, it felt a good time to come back with some closing thoughts on Dragon's Dogma: Dark Arisen's PC port now that I've finished the game. Long story short, it's quite a good game, and the effort that Capcom put into this port is commendable, but it isn't without its flaws. On the one hand, environments, monsters, and characters look amazing, the pawn system is interesting, combat is solid, and fights against larger foes genuinely deserve the adjective "epic". However, the world doesn't feel truly alive, much of what happens in the story is seriously lacking in context, and after a time players will notice that they are retreading the same paths again and again.

Just spending a few minutes gazing at the screen with settings turned up, it's hard not to feel that Dark Arisen is a very pretty game, even with it being a few years old now. Climbing to any high vantage point then taking a look at whatever vistas are in the area are always impressive. It's some mighty fine eye candy and if there's anything of interest in sight, a sudden urge to go there begins to swell. Characters look very good as well, and they have quite a lot of customization options thanks to all of the different gear that they can wear, not to mention the insanely detailed character creator. Unfortunately, there isn't an option for an aesthetic set of gear to display while your actual equipment is underneath. Still, there is a lot of stuff to wear and at higher levels you'll be hard pressed not to look like a badass while gallivanting around the countryside.

The real standouts are the larger enemies, though. Run-ins with ogres, cyclops, griffons, hydras, cockatrices, dragons, and the like feel like something out Shadow of the Colossus. A lot of detail has been poured into their designs and animations. Cyclops lumber around slowly, lugging their club around. Dragons soar above the canopy of trees as you make your way to this or that destination, only to swoop down in front of you. Just seeing one of these big monsters in the distance while exploring the over world can either give pause as you ponder whether or not to engage it or a sense of elation, throwing danger to the wind and dive headlong into battle.

These monsters have their own unique weaknesses and strategies for taking them down. Moreover, they can all be climbed, so you may need to scale up the tale of a griffon or dragon and be taken for a ride, or scoot up the back of a cyclops in order to poke it in the eye. While the comparison to Shadow of the Colossus is certainly a fair one, it should be said that these fights are simpler on the whole. Regardless, locking horns with these creatures is a highlight of Dark Arisen.

It really should be said that the combat in this game is quite good. Movement is fluid and controls are intuitive. Both going with a controller or keyboard and mouse feel comfortable, so it's really up to the player what they go with. Personally, I liked using a controller when going with a straight-up brawler class like a warrior or fighter, then used a keyboard and mouse as an assassin so to have better fine control while aiming a bow as I'm just not used to controllers when it comes to that sort of thing. All the while, combat feels fast and fluid. Clunky is most certainly not a word that I would use to describe combat in this game. Zip around as a rogue-ish class, blast magic from afar as some kind of mage, or stand toe-to-toe with enemies as a warrior. Even classes like warriors and fighters, which wear the heaviest gear and wield the biggest weapons don't feel all that bogged down. If anything, there's a sense of momentum and power as they swing their weapons.

A nice thing about the game is that players can change classes when talking with certain NPCs. Tired of lugging around a sword and leading the life of a fighter? Why not try assassins and whip out the daggers and bows instead? Or maybe dawning the robes and staff of a mage seems more interesting? Players can bounce around between classes as they progress through the game. Each class awards different distributions of stats with every new level, so min-maxers will need to keep that in mind. Those who bounce around willy nilly will have a more generalist character at higher levels, and this is totally fine. You won't gimp yourself into a corner by doing this. However, if you really want to accentuate aspects of your character it's better to pick a side of the fence between magic users and non-magic users. Doing this will result in either a physical attack powerhouse, or the game's equivalent of Gandalf at high levels as your character's stats climb. Your primary pawn can also have it's stats changed by the same NPCs, so players can adjust its class as well when tweaking of party composition is necessary.

And this brings me to pawns. They're helpers that swear fealty to your character who, in the lore of the game, is referred to as the Arisen, someone who has been touched by the dragon (more on this later). Players will have one of their own and be able to recruit two more into their party. What's interesting here is that the other pawns that one recruits actually belong to other players and your own pawn can be used by others as well. Players earn a specific type of currency for renting out these pawns at a one-time fee and can release them whenever they like only to find a new one to take their spot. All you need to do is give some thought to what kind of party composition you would like and then grab pawns in the desired classes. They can be recruited by visiting a rift stone and being teleported to another realm where a number of pawns in your level range will present themselves for your consideration. If they aren't to your liking, there are more selection and search options in this plane to help find a pawn more up your alley. These beings can also be recruited while wandering the game world as they can be seen wandering the major roads and loitering in the cities. In this situation one can only recruit on a case-by-case basis, stumbling across pawns that seem interesting.

What's nice is that these guys are extremely useful in battle. While not perfect, they tend to make reasonably decent decisions, learning how to fight different monsters better, making good decisions on what spells to use, and even holding baddies down so that other party members can wail on them hassle-free. Even their pathfinding is pretty good. Watching these guys do their thing, I couldn't help but think of all the time that I had spent wandering Skyrim with my house carls, marveling at the seemingly non-stop cavalcade of bad decisions that they were capable of. These pawns by comparison are brilliant, and I hope other developers that insist on having NPC helpers take some cues from this game.

As much as it may seem that I'm gushing about Dark Arisen, one area of the game that consistently felt lacking was the story. Basically, your character starts as a simple villager by the sea and is then attacked by an ancient dragon that takes his heart and tells the protagonist to come find him if he wants it back. From there, you find yourself doing odd jobs for NPCs and slightly fancier ones for the Duke, who apparently runs the Duchy of Gransys. Eventually this leads to a showdown with the dragon, but all the while things keep happening and it's hard to understand why. The narrative in this game is seriously lacking in context. At one point, the main character is somehow involved in an affair with the Duke's wife without much explanation as to why. There's a strange cult running around that worships the dragon for reasons that are never really explained, and in the end the story becomes some sort of take on the circle of life. It's something that could have worked if the game did a better job of explaining why all of this was happening.

It's also a bit weird how the world doesn't feel alive. There are people wandering around doing their thing, but they come off as cardboard cutouts. I'll visit the capital and see the same kids running around day or night, and a lot of the stores there seem to never close. Since the only inhabited areas are Gran Sorem, Cassardis, and the keeps peppered throughout the land, it doesn't feel like a very fleshed out world. Players don't have the experience of being on a long journey and coming upon the welcoming lights of an inn or other small inhabited area while exploring Dragon's Dogma. You always know that those places are behind you and not in front since there are so few towns, which can make the game feel lonely at times.

Moreover, while running around doing random quests for everyone at first it's pretty mesmerizing wandering the countryside, taking in the sights and sounds of the game, figuring out where all of the holds, bandit hideouts, and chimera stomping grounds are. After a while, though, you start to notice that the game asks players to revisit these places quite a bit and many of them feel pretty samey. Even Skyrim, a game that some criticized for having overly similar architecture and locales, feels more varied than what Dragon's Dogma has on offer.

This is somewhat offset by Bitter Black Isle, an area that is unlocked not to far into the game, but isn't really worth visiting until after one has unlocked New Game Plus mode. It's a kind of Dark Souls Lite castle that players can explore at higher levels containing very powerful enemies and gear. Exploring this place seldom gets old. It's a very large zone with multiple areas and there's always a sense of foreboding while wandering its halls. It looks ancient and you never know when you'll run across something dangerous. Bosses here will get you thinking, "That's a lot of hit points!" and they take a fair bit more strategy than others in the game. An interesting feature here is that some bosses will randomly spawn, as they're attracted by the carrion that you create by killing the lesser enemies of the castle. This can be particularly troublesome should this happen while already fighting a standard boss. Farming gear here can take a while because the items are a bit randomized and the treasure chests only respawn every four days in-game, so players have to wait before hitting them up again. There are exploit strategies floating around the internet for those so inclined, however.

One the whole, Capcom's PC port of Dragon's Dogma: Dark Arisen is well worth a look for fans of series like Elder Scrolls, Risen, or The Witcher. It's an interesting take on these sorts of games from a Japanese developer. The combat is excellent, the game looks amazing, and the monsters are really well done. I just wish I better understood what's supposed to be going on story-wise half the time and that there were more towns to visit. That aside, this is definitely a game to look into for fans of open world fantasy RPGs.

Get This at Green Man Gaming ($29.99US last I checked)
Dragons Dogma: Dark Arisen