Tuesday, December 28, 2010

We need more tough RPG gals!

I've been playing Nier lately, and I just absolutely adore Kaine. She's tough and doesn't need any man to save her. She's the one stepping into battles helping save the other characters' asses when it's all about to go downhill. She's not afraid to be crude, but mostly, what's so admirable about her is that she's true to her heart.

I'm tried of characters like Alfina from Grandia III, Shirley from Tales of Legendia, or for a more recent example: Ryfia from Arc Rise Fantasia. They play the role of the girl who needs to be saved - these gals just don't seem equal to their male counterparts. They're never the sharpest crayons in the box either. And seriously, what's with them always being the healer? And don't you just love how their attacks always register weak hits. Well, screw that. They should take a note from my girl, Kaine, who doesn't need to be a healer; she's tough, loud and in your face. She's a "I'm going to mess you up and then some" type of girl. And what I loved so much about Nier is that she was actually helping the main character along the way through his terrible crisis. It wasn't one of these games where the girl is in trouble and desperately needs the man's help to get by. In fact, from the first time you meet Kaine, she flat out says she doesn't need or want any help. She's not looking to burden you with her problems. She wants to take down the bad guys all by herself. It's admirable. Too many times, and mostly in JRPGs, we have a girl who the entire of crisis of the game is centered around. I guess, maybe we can blame Super Mario Bros. for that. It did tell us that the Princess always needs to be saved and is painfully never in the castle you want her to be in.

So, I propose, let's have more strong female leads. Let's not only make them be the source of drama. I know drama is something commonly associated with women, but women have also been more independent these days than ever. And my other point, we all need saving every once and awhile, so if a man needed to be saved by the girl, it wouldn't be any less realistic or valid for a plot. And although men will deny that they indulge in any drama, they do. I'm just looking for girl characters who are more than a damsel in distress. It's just so much more satisfying to hear a girl like Kaine straight up tell you to get your head out of your ass. Oh yeah, she's that fierce. And I do realize that there have been some strong female leads in video games, but my point is, if I'm this excited about Kaine - they don't come nearly enough.

*****Spoilers******:

I am aware of Kaine's condition. Despite the ambiguity, I am looking at Kaine as a positive female character. Maybe Kaine represents more than we think. I think it's safe to say, gender shouldn't define someone. I'd just like for games to stop clinging to gender stereotypes. It's almost 2011, we should be past the majority of that.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Rune Factory Oceans...Hells Yeah!

I apologize for this blog entry being a little late, but this is something I couldn't not blog about...when I read about Rune Factory Oceans I jumped for joy! I was delighted, screamed, and cried a tears of joy on the inside. I'll be honest for me the Harvest Moon series has become a little stale, but the Rune Factory games have kept me hanging on. To be more exact, it was Rune Factory Frontier that completely revived my love and zest to farm (along with the whole monster killing). Rune Factory Frontier was my Game of the Year last year and it was an easy game to sink over 100 hours into if you wanted to, and the thing was you actually did. The game had an excellent cast of characters - versatile, eclectic, quirky - they made you want to leave your farm and socialize every day. Not to mention, the discoveries you had to uncover on your own. I felt like I was my own Sherlock Holmes constantly investigating every aspect of the land and uncovering new secrets all the time. So, if Rune Factory Oceans turns out to be even better than Rune Factory Frontier - I am going to be one happy camper.

Here's what's cool: exploring the game's oceans...there's a lot that they can do here and I'm interested to see how it will pan out. Details are still scarce, but it really makes me wonder if I'm going to have battles on the sea and whatnot, will I be exploring the ocean as far dungeons go? Another cool thing is exploring the game's ocean takes place on the back of a giant! Um, say what? Is the giant acting as your boat? Is he my pirate ship? It's just *that* crazy and quirky and I absolutely love it! The Rune Factory series isn't afraid to go big and do crazy things that are outside of the box, so I'm interested to see how this will pan out exactly. I mean, the giant can even move islands around. We all know how fond I am about being a pirate and this game just might combine enough of my favorite things to be a total win in my book!

So far, it's looking like there are a lot of possibilities with this game. I'm also happy to hear it will not only be on the Wii, but also on the PlayStation 3, which will support Move. I'm really tempted to try it for the PS3, just to get a different flavor. I don't own Move yet, but I'm guessing by the time this reaches the US I will. So the question is...are you as excited as I am? Do you think this will measure up to Rune Factory Frontier? I think Rune Factory Oceans will be a step up and I can't wait to see what it will bring!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Where has all the respect gone? A mini rant!

Gaming competitively is sure to bring out the worst in a lot of people. People just can't stand to lose, especially when it's to an actual person. I love playing against people online because it makes me a better player. At the same time, others have ruined my experience gaming online. I rarely bring my headset into gaming, because people can't accept others being better than them. Suddenly if I get a kill - I'm the "stupid" one. I've learned to play the game the correct way and I'm sorry if I did something right and killed you - isn't that the point of the game?

However, there is one type of gamer that grinds my gears the most of all. And that would be those who take cheap shots and exploit certain features in games. This sentiment especially extends to those who play the game in ways that they aren't meant to be played. Sports games are notorious for this and I know I seem to bring NHL 11 into a lot of blogs, but I have to here. How many of you have had somebody dive across ice in ways that you know in real hockey would never be deemed acceptable? It's the sore losers - the ones who can't stand that you're winning who usually resort to this move of desperation. But you know what really kills me? It's when I'm actually getting my butt kicked. And by the way, if you are beating me by a large sum, no matter how tempted - I will not quit on you. You got me, fair and square, but I digress. When you're kicking my ass and you still use cheap tactics to win - what's the point? Can't you beat me on your own merit, you know, playing the game the way it was meant to be played? I don't scream at the TV too much during online matches, although, the occasional: "what the hell that was totally a penalty" does escape my mouth, I know people get really heated and intense. Have you ever wondered what is going on with the person on the other end of the screen you're playing against? I also can't help but wonder what happened to playing the game for the fun of it, to get better, to just enjoy playing...when did it become about being the best? When was winning the most important thing about playing other online? Online record? I really don't care. I'm concerned about being a better player. If you score on me because you have mad skills, I will applaud you. If I make a mistake defensively and you exploit that, props to you, I need to do better. In all this I've looked to get better, which is why it upsets me that others don't seem to do the same - it's more about the win than if you're gaining any experience.

But, perhaps, this is society in general. We hate to lose. I'll admit I'm so much more excited when I win matches than when I lose, but I don't let it dictate my life. I also sure as hell won't let it upset me so much that I let it compromise my gaming morals and resort to cheap tactics. And with all the naming calling and cheap shots, I still enter online matches. There's still something more satisfying about beating a real person than the computer. I know for a fact I become a better player when I player against others - I am always adjusting my strategy. And, maybe, I just have to be OK with those who feel the need to do anything for a win. Aren't those the gamers who are the most fun to beat? Bring it!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Ways to Keep Gaming Fresh

As a Gamer there's no denying that there will be times that you will hit a wall - a slump if you will. Games that you've grown to love just won't do it for you like they've had in the past. Your worst fears have come true - you're burnt out. Don't worry it happens to us all. I'm no exception, especially as someone who reviews games, it seems there is always a month or so where I feel so burnt out. And it sucks, because at the same time I want to play games - I just can't find anything to captivate me. I figured I'd share with you all some of the things I've found that have helped me when I feel my fire starting to dim.

Naturally, I feel like the birth of the internet and online capabilities of our consoles are such a bonus to gaming. It adds so much to a hobby that was once so solitary. For instance, I play NHL 11 like it's my job. Honestly, if I got paid to play I'd be making one hefty salary. My favorite mode is be a GM mode, but I play all the games myself instead of sim them, because I want to feel like I'm the driving force behind my players' successes and failures. However, sometimes playing season through season, I start to get a little burnt out, so then I start to play online matches against other players. Oh man, adding a little friendly competition into the mix definitely adds a spark inside me that makes me get addicted to NHL 11 all over again. I think it's because it's forcing me to play the game differently - adjusting to other people's play styles and it's more satisfying beating a real person opposed to the computer. Since a real person actually picks up on how you play and adjusts to your play style and then you have adjust your strategy all over again. And don't even get me started on playing fighters online competitively, if that doesn't get you into a game, I don't know what will.

Another good thing about the internet is that you're able to game with others (not only against them). Whenever I'm feeling burnt out on gaming on my own, I get a group of friends together and we hit Xbox Live, usually playing L4D. It's just fun to game with somebody you know and this can no doubt revive any drought you may be feeling in the gaming department. I'm not sure exactly why (although I can probably think of a few reasons), but having the social interactions breed life into gaming. Grab a friend or significant other and suddenly a game can become fresh and new - it's just fun to have a buddy to laugh at things in the game with or when you die in a absolutely stupid way (something I'll admit I've done more times than I can count).

If the social thing isn't for you, I've also found that if I go back to an old favorite game - something nostalgic - this, too, can bring me back. Maybe games now can be too complicated for their own good. Sometimes it's nice to go back to something more simple and familiar. The VC, PSN, and XBLA all are great resources for connecting to old favorites. In fact, right now I'm playing Kirby's Adventure and loving every minute of it. Now, if Maniac Mansion would just get a VC release..but back on topic - sometimes it's nice to break from these more complex, 50 hour long games - to something that you can beat in under 10 hours.

Going back to old favorites isn't for everyone, sometimes the games are too archaic, and for this, I have another suggestion: going completely out of your element and trying something new. For years, RPGs and racing games like Mario Kart are all that I would touch. I always stood clear of shooters, because I was never that great at them. Well, when this generation's consoles first came out, RPGs weren't coming out in large numbers, heck, they still aren't and I wasn't about to give up gaming, so I bit my tongue, and stepped out of my element and tried some FPS' and now I play a whole lot of them. L4D is one of my favorite games. I'll admit I'm still not the best at them, but you know what? It was refreshing to actually try something different. The more options we give ourselves of different games to play the better off we are in the long run of not getting burnt out. Stepping out of our comfort zone with games into something a different genre is one of the best ways to keep gaming fresh. It's also one of the best ways to challenge yourself. So, you're not experienced with the genre and it may take time to get used to - that's even more of a reason to give it a try! Hey, believe it or not, I was actually not the best - at first - at NHL. NHL was also something that I picked up that was out of my comfort zone, but I kept playing it because it challenged me, and you all know what happened there - it became an addiction that will never stop!

Anyway, getting burnt out here and there is only natural. These are some ways I try to combat the fizzle. Feel free to share with me some of your ways, I'd love to hear them. In the end, we're all just trying to keep the gaming love alive.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

A week that needs discussing: Parasite Eve The 3rd Birthday, NHL 11, Alundra!

Since I've been away, I have a lot to jam into one post. Let's start with my biggest disappointment of the week: seeing actual gameplay footage of Parasite Eve The 3rd Birthday. I was delighted to see the footage via 1up, click to see for yourself. While I like the look of the game and it is visually impressive for a PSP game, how generic and bland does that gameplay look? Talk about a boss battle that just feels stale. I never let myself get too excited for The 3rd Birthday because I was worried about this. I do appreciate the old school shooter feel, but I can't help but think that the game could have been pushed to another level while still making it feel old school. I dunno, sometimes things are better left off in your memories, keep the nostalgia, and let the series live on that way. The problem when it has been a good amount of years since we've seen an entry is that developers get caught in trying to make the game feel like it did years ago to fans, while still making it feel fresh. It's a tough situation, but as it stands it looks like The 3rd Birthday will play out rather generic and I'm hoping that boss battle isn't the highlight of the game.

Now on to the reason this blog hasn't been updated: NHL 11 has taken over my life. I was a big fan of NHL 10 and it's no secret about my love for hockey and all things Blackhawks, but, damn, I'm really impressed with all the improvements: better graphics, the physics engine (checking has never been so fun!), sticks breaking, goal reviews, just to name a few additions. The game has actually managed to make it feel like you're playing real hockey - the goals aren't as easy and clear cut like they were in '10. Each check feels different and deflections are a mixed bag - you never know if they're going to be a good thing for you or not. I enjoy how far they even went as to make the goaltending feel so real. Every puck bounces off the goalie differently and the goalie tries different tactics every time to make a save. It never gets dull or boring. I'm a big fan of the Be a GM mode and the growth of players and trading just works so much better. In NHL 10, if you had a veteran he had no trade value or worth, in '11 it gives props to the old guys and although they will depreciate at a faster rate - there still is value about having them on your team (just like in real life). Players also don't become All-Stars overnight like they did in NHL 10. The game isn't predictable and I like that. The other mode that tries something completely new is the EA Ultimate Hockey League. You get card packs randomly (you can earn cards by playing or purchase them), with these packs you create your team, play games, earn experience, distribute stat increases, extend contracts. The cards really are luck of the draw. It's fun and it brings in a strategic card game element to it. Plus, there are tournaments and you can play online against others. The only thing is people can abuse the system by purchasing their packs, but other than that it's an addition I more than welcome.

And last, but not least, I am so stoked to hear the Alundra is making its way to the PSN in North America! AHHHHHHHH! That is one of my favorite games - I'm very nostalgic about it. I remember back when there were FuncoLands and I just saw this RPG on on the demo PSone to play. I started playing and I couldn't stop. Lost in a ship storm and you wake up lost. It was one of those games from the PSone that stands out for me. I remember those hard as hell puzzles and being a little tot frantically trying to figure them out. I'm excited to see if being older and playing through it again via the PSN will ease some of those tough puzzles. Now if only I'd see a VC release of Earthbound I'd be a happy girl, but I'm not holding my breath. I think instead I'll put all my hope into seeing Suikoden II, Vagrant Story, or Xenogears hit the PSN.

Until next time, folks!

Friday, September 3, 2010

RPGFan Feature - The Top 20 RPGs of the Last Decade

So, I recently participated in RPGFan's Top 20 of the Last Decade feature - check it out: here. It was one of the most interesting and debatable features we've done, in my opinion. We all submitted a Top 10 list and from there our top 20 was constructed. The results? Took everyone a bit by surprise. The JRPG and SMT dominated. At first there was discussion to alter the list - make it more balanced. To be honest, I thought about it, but just couldn't see why we'd change the results. No list will ever be 100% perfect and everything is debatable, what it all comes down to is opinion. People tend to proclaim that journalists should try to be as objective as possible, but I think when you're mapping out some of your favorite and best games that's entirely impossible to do. And it'd be a disservice to yourself to simply put a game on there because everybody else thought it was great, but it wasn't your cup of tea or there were other games you played that you felt did more.

This is where I love RPGFan. When we all did our top 10 lists, I don't think anybody put a game on there just because they thought others would look at their lists and comment why wasn't ____ game on there. For instance, Dragon Age is very a well liked game by many, but I've tried to play that game time and time again, and while I see its strong points (dialogue and options galore!) - I can't sit here and say it should be on my list because it didn't grab me or draw me in. Does that mean it's not a great game? No. It just means it would never make my list. And believe me, I've tried the game time and time again because I want to like the game. Honestly, I feel like I should. <--- and that right there is what is wrong. So many times we go along with the masses and are afraid to go against the grain and do something out of the ordinary. Well, with our feature - we didn't do what was typical. We decided not to alter the list the present it as it was. If we put every game that was expected to be on there on it, well what fun would that be? There were curve balls. Hell, there are games on there, that I don't like, but in the end, we have something different.

I guess, what I like most about the list and it didn't really dawn on me until the results were shown was how SMT dominated the last decade. All their games are held in such high regard. Look at the individual staffers, you can't escape that at least one SMT game made each of their lists. And some even had SMT games on there that didn't make the site top 20 list. SMT was the package, the quality RPG experience of the last decade. Will it continue to dominate? Who knows. I sure hope so, as the SMT games are some of the most fun I've had with games, but the future is never predictable. SMT always went against the grain, always changed things up, tried something unique - I'd like to say our list takes a cue from SMT by trying something unique and giving SMT games the props they deserve. People can argue the list is slanted and unbalanced. I'm sorry, would you prefer us to water it down and try to detract from SMT's influence over the last decade? We're not here to please everybody. This is how the cards fell and I absolutely love it.

Another note that can be made is the lack of WRPGs. However, if you go past the top ten, you do find plenty of WRPGs. People have to remember we are taking an entire decade here. And let's face it, the WRPG didn't start its domination until later in the decade. Sure, there were some stand out games: Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic and Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn, but when you think of the last decade - what crosses your mind? The dominance of the JRPG.

The PS2 was a JRPG machine. I don't think we'll ever see a console so dominant again nor do I think the JRPG will ever be a clear winner in the JRPG vs WRPG match. I think now it is becoming more about the WRPG and less about the JRPG. WRPGs are dominating the consoles more, where the JRPG has really found its home on handhelds. So, while the JRPG isn't dead, we aren't seeing them control the massive console games. I think our list represents well that the last decade had a JRPG dominance that can't be denied and that as the decade went on the WRPG started giving it a run for the money.

So, in the end, no body will agree with any list. I'm happy that we tried something different. We presented to you how the cards fell without compromising anything. The trends in the list are actually quite interesting and maybe if we got you talking then that's all we can ask. As a journalist, I'd rather have you debating my opinion than simply having something boring that is predictable and doesn't spark you at all. We've definitely ignited a spark - let the fire spread!

Monday, August 23, 2010

Simulation Games - They suck me in...

I believe it all started when I was in middle school and stumbled upon a game called Harvest Moon in the video store. I had no idea what I was getting myself into, but as soon as I popped it in - I couldn't put it down. I could choose a significant other? And to top it off, I had to not only woo them, but also win over? AWESOME. I had to run my own farm and be productive, so I could get cool upgrades? I'll confess watching my farm grow was one of my favorite things to do. I beat the game multiple times just to see how different scenarios and potential romantic interests played out.

Then Theme Park took over my life. I just don't know what the pull is, but managing my own park was as delicious as chocolate to me. It's quite hilarious because in the real world, I'd dread doing all this work. And yet, when you put it into a game where not everything is on the line it becomes fun.

There's no denying the Sims has probably played an ultimate part in my simulation addiction. Let's have a family and see how the babies look - heck, I could marry whoever I wanted. And I'll confess, I usually made myself marry Colin Farrell - this was pre-boyfriend, I love you, John! But being able to pick my career out of the newspaper and get the job and then climb the corporate ladder was fun. I liked putting the effort in to getting my sim the knowledge she needed to succeed. And do you know what I think the pull is? We can have the life we want with a click of a button. If only in the real world it was as simple - instead you can work your butt off and still not advance in your career. And sometimes, you're not even working in the career path you desire. Maybe you are ready for kids in your life, but financial obligations always get in the way. Somehow, in the Sims, having children just seems so much simpler and cheaper. I think this is what keeps me playing: I can create the ultimate "me" in the Sims. I can have the money, the family, I can be a hot selling writer in the Sim world. If only the real world was as simple.

I think this is the draw of simulation games, whether you're farming, managing a theme park, or creating the ultimate you via a sim, you get to experience a different life for awhile or maybe get a peek into the one you always wanted. Sure, reality always creeps in and you have to face the harsh fact that none of what you are doing is real. And of course, people will say you're investing your time in nothing really - working hard at a life that isn't yours - wasting your life when you could be doing something productive. Hey, maybe we all need a break from reality - a look into a different life, something to give us a look into what could be. Maybe it takes away from the boredom of the nonstop robotic work schedule most of us have. And maybe it gives me hope that one day I can have everything that I've made my sim have. Maybe it won't be as easy, but it shows what could be. And maybe that's enough of a reason for me to keep playing - it helps me keep my zest for life and dreams alive and kicking. And perhaps having a break, by being a farmer for a day, isn't bad for the mind. I must say, it keeps me sane on many days.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

I'm getting tired of sequels and remakes....

Everything lately feels like it has been a sequel or remake. I understand both reasons for making them - if something catches on you don't want to abandon it, thus a sequel is born, and as for remakes, it gives those with nostalgia or those who haven't played the games a chance to experience them. However, lately, we just haven't seen much outside of these two areas. And I don't blame developers - creating games are expensive these days, especially for consoles. They don't want to waste their time and money making something that could potentially flop. But I miss the days of creativity, of trying something unique and new, and finding a new unexpected gem. It seems instead of trying anything new - developers just want to give us more of the same. They're afraid to break the mold and go against the grain...they're afraid to fail in this market.

I think the most difficult part of making a game these days is having it catch on. In this economy, gamers fear even more spending their hard earned dollars on the unknown. Like developers, I think we are afraid to take the chance. It can also be argued that whenever we do get something different, sales still tend to be down, despite how great the game is, and it makes developers feel like they wasted the effort. Well, I'd just like to say if I have to hear one more 2nd, 3rd, 4th, or 5th in a series, I may need to scream. After a while, it all begins to feel the same - doesn't it? No matter how epic the first few games in a series seems to be, it does lose its appeal after awhile. And unless developers are able to spice things up, and even then you can only try to use so much spice to the same recipe, because sooner or later the flavor will be unappealing.

I guess, I want to be excited about a new game - one that isn't a sequel or a remake. I want something entirely novel. You know what game is looking pretty cool? Ghost Trick. I'm down with changing people's fates and having a presence even if I am ghost. Heavy Rain was also one of the most unique and intense experiences I've had with a game this year. My point is - these games are so far and few compared to the world of sequels and remakes. Honestly, I blame the economy. Developers and gamers just aren't able to shell out the cash like they used to on something isn't a "sure thing." Until things improve, I still see the future of gaming filled with a bunch of sequels and remakes. I'll yawn, but I'll play on secretly hoping I find more games that have the guts to do something new. I bet in another post, I could address how many pointless sequels and remakes, we've seen. I'll leave that for another post, but I bet you would all like that. Sorry this is a shorter post, I've been very busy lately reviewing (I'm not spoiling anything!), but wanted you to all know I did have some stuff that I needed to blog off of my mind. :-)

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Namco Bandai - Bring Us the Tales Games We Deserve

I've always been a fan of the Tales series. Call it a guilty pleasure of mine, but there is just something oh-so-addicting about the series. I've had games I literally couldn't put down come from the Tales series. Heck, I had to have a friend of mine hide Abyss from me during finals week of college. Now, on to my point, since the PS2/Gamecube era (and even then that's when the trouble was starting), what have we seen from the Tales series? Poor choices.

I guess many will argue it started with Legendia. Now, I didn't find Legendia as horrid as most people (if you got past the whole Shirley crap, there were interesting characters that had a lot of charm), but it definitely wasn't the best Tales game. The whole Senel in love with his *annoying* "sister", probably wasn't the best plot point to release into the American market. Needless to say, Tales of Rebirth would have been the better choice over Legendia. We're all pretty bitter about missing out on Rebirth. There's no doubt in my mind, that almost any Tales fan who had the choice would gladly have taken Rebirth over Legendia if given the choice. Between this and not getting Symphonia on the PS2, the trouble started brewing.

Now since then we've seen Tales of Vesperia, which is a decent game, but by no means my favorite Tales game. It didn't have the ability to captivate me and the charm that comes with most Tales games was absent. And don't get me started on Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World, which was more than cringe-worthy. Symphonia is such a loved Tales game and that's the follow up we get? And while, Radiant Mythology had its fun moments, it won't win any awards.

So, what the heck happened? Sigh...More poor choices.

Let's talk more about Vesperia. It was at least decent and while Japan saw a PS3 release of it, it was absent from other regions on the PS3. Why don't you just stake the Tales series in the heart and not give PS3 owners a chance to play it? I know there are other games that never made it past Japan (mainly all of the DS releases - grrr), I'd really like to play Tales of Hearts. Namco Bandai, seriously? In this market, especially for RPGs, handhelds are where it's at. What missed opportunities. Fans want to play Tales games, but how can we stand by when we are constantly getting the worst of the Tales games or getting nothing at all?

Recently, three new Tales games were announced: Tales of Graces PS3, an untitled new Tales game for PS3, and Radiant Mythology 3 for PSP. And while part of me was happy to hear the series was still releasing new games, I can't get excited. Why? I'm not sure we'll see any of these games outside of Japan. Radiant Mythology 3 is a definite no - we never saw two and I also agree that this isn't quite the series that needs to be brought over. The two games I most want from this list is the two PS3 games. If I don't see either one, I will be pissed. I want both, but I know how this works: we all get excited at new games being announced and then we never see them. Namco Bandai, do your fans a favor and mend the wounds of your past mistakes and give us the games we deserve. It's so sad that I can't get my hopes up about this announcement. It's sad that your fans just know not to put any faith or stock into you bringing over these games. You can either revive the Tales series or just continue to let it flounder until fans finally just accept that it's sunk and move on to a new series.

For those Tales fans needing something to play in the mean time - I suggest Arc Rise Fantasia. It may not be a Tales game, but it feels like one, a fun addictive JRPG, that will begin to remind you that we need to hold the Tales series to a higher standard.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

How to Get Me Interested in a Game: Offer Naval Exploration

I dunno what it is about feeling like a pirate. But any time, I get the opportunity to explore the sea in a boat, I'm giddy like a little kid. Skies of Arcadia is one of my favorite games. I really like it, because not only was I on a ship, but I was using the sky as my sea. It's beyond what Barney Stinson would deem "AWESOME" when games offer you the ability to fly or take a boat to your next destination, Skies of Arcadia always gets points from me because it combined both.

Let's be serious for a second: all the walking we do with our characters gets boring. Plus, our poor party's feet are probably killing them. We want them to fight and then walk it off? I dunno, seems a little a cruel. Let's make it a tad realistic and give them a means of transportation. The Dragon Quest series has always done this well. I loved Dragon Quest VIII, mainly because I had this open world to explore as I pleased. Want to sail across the sea? It's yours for the taking. Want to hop on an animal to get across the plains faster? Dragon Quest VIII did it, and it was great for the open world that was before you. Even more cool was Dragon Quest IV where you could use a hot air balloon to get over mountains <3. The point is things need to be spiced up. I think any time you add in a cool feature like controlling a ship, a plane, an animal, etc, you're giving the player more to do than just walk around. It also makes it far more convenient for the player as well - waking is so slow, it takes F-O-R-E-V-E-R (yes, Sandlot, reference). RPGs can get repetitive, I love them to death, but this is not a surprise to anyone who has played them. So, adding in a little something extra to do on our epic journey - where we're in control, it's just icing on the cake. In all honesty, I wish more games did it. Instead of putting my character on a ship or plane, let my character control it via me. I want to dodge other air crafts, fire a cannon to sink a ship, jump abroad an enemy vehicle and steal their treasures, ohhh I want to capture enemies and make them work for me mwahaha. I just want this extra aspect in the games I play.

Anyway, on to Etrian Odyssey III: The Drowned City. Today, Atlus posted a video of the naval exploration. We've seen naval exploration before, but I'll say this does look like it's going to be a fun time. The game is throwing in some strategy by having unexpected traps pop up all over the sea. And I know it has been in game after game, but I just love battling enemy ships on the sea. I'm hopeful on this and I think it was a great addition to the game. I also like that I can fish, maybe it's because I play Harvest Moon games like it's my job (well, it kinda is, hehe), but I enjoy reeling in fish. I'm curious to see if there's any strategic element into catching them. I'm going to be bummed if it's merely going into an area and the game deeming I've caught a fish. We'll see how it all pans out when it's released in September. But, I'll just say, any time I can ride the sea like a pirate, I'm happy. This is the spice to my chicken I've been longing for. All games need to keep it coming - I've watched my characters walk and walk over a decade now and it's making me tired just thinking about it.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Adventures in Reviewing: Episode 1

I hit a wall with my last review: Blue Dragon: Awakened Shadow. I actually quite enjoyed the game for the most part, but I don't feel like that shined through in my review, because while the game was more than adequate - it just wasn't gushworthy. The hardest reviews to write are those where you don't have a strong opinion either way. If I'm not shouting my love from the mountain tops or ripping a games' shortcomings to shreds, it's hard to make my review pop. That's exactly what happened with Blue Dragon: Awakened Shadow. Here I went into the game not expecting much - the Blue Dragon games have been mostly average at best and I was pleasantly surprised by this one. When you go and change up a battle system for the third time in a series, it's hard to say how it will pan out. Here it did quite well. Also, to create a dungeon crawler JRPG in a dominate WRPG market for them and succeed, bravo! And while, I'll still stand here and defend that the game was a fun experience, it just didn't grab me to the extent where I had a strong opinion or huge entertaining antidote to share about my experience playing it. This is a shame because I feel like I should have had something great to say, but the words - they just weren't there.

For those who haven't read my work, I work really hard on writing catchy intros, I want to grab you from the start of my review, urge you to keep reading, and ignore the score for a second and focus on the content I've worked so hard to write. Anyway, I should have known when I couldn't for the life of me think of how to start my Blue Dragon: Awakened Shadow review that I was in trouble. Usually, I can think up an intro as I'm playing the game. Heck, sometimes I'll have it in my mind or written down a good amount of time before I'm even set to write the review. I was grasping at straws with this one and kept putting the review on hold, because for some reason, I can't write until that intro is locked in. Not wanting to delay the review further, I went in and did a very standard intro. It got me going and once it did the rest came naturally to me. But perhaps it was the lack of that highly opinionated voice that didn't make this one of my strongest reviews. I went back and reread the review a countless times and the content is just fine in my eyes, but I can see where my voice just feels absent or like it toned itself down ten notches for this one. I'll always be my toughest critic and I always put a 100% into my reviews, so when others pointed out that it wasn't my strongest work to date - I did feel like I somehow failed.

Once again, I went back and kept rereading it. I thought of reconstructing it, maybe reworking the intro - and yet I couldn't. Because while the game was good - it didn't leave a strong enough impression on me to write anything better than what I did and if I sat here and tried to reconstruct something it just wouldn't represent how I feel. This is how the game left me: liking it, knowing it's one of the better dungeon crawlers on the DS, fully confident that this was one of the better Blue Dragon entries, but the question remains: is there any thing gushworthy about Blue Dragon: Awakened Shadow? Alas, no, and that is what made this review one of my biggest struggles. But, I do get those three points across in my review and I should be happy that I succeeded in getting those words down, and maybe, for my readers, it says something when I can't fully get excited to write about a game. Hands down, the games that just make the cut and are alright, average or slightly above, are the most difficult to write about. So, maybe not every review can be my strongest or best, but as long as I get my points across and offer a commentary that exemplifies my experience with the game, I should feel OK. And maybe one day I will, but the perfectionist in me will still go back and reread and try to think where I went wrong, so it doesn't happen again. I don't think the perfectionist in me will ever let it go. I'm quoting a Felicity episode here: "The hardest part about moving forward is not looking back." I have to put this one behind me.

But I'll do one last thing for Blue Dragon: Awakened Shadow, do it some justice if you will: does every game you play leave a strong impression on you? If it doesn't, does that make it a bad game? My answer to all those questions is: No (here's to hoping yours is too, otherwise my point is lost). Blue Dragon: Awakened Shadow was addicting - just ask my boyfriend I stayed up many nights into the wee hours of the morning unable to put it down. I just had to beat these gosh darn hard bosses just to be able to prove to myself I could surpass the challenge. Maybe there's no strong overbearing impressions for you to take away from my review, but at the end of the day, I think many of you will like what you find in this game. A lot of us play games for various reasons - some for the challenge, some to pass the time, some to escape reality - whatever it may be, this game is worthy of that free time. Not every game has to be this earth shattering "game" altering experience - sometimes just being decent and slightly breaking the mold is enough. Most of us play for entertainment, Blue Dragon: Awakened Shadow will entertain you enough and I don't think there's anything wrong with making a "decent" impression on a reviewer. It may not make the review the most entertaining one, but I don't think that's entirely a bad thing.

Look, I'm supporting this choice because I kinda feel connected now to Blue Dragon: Awakened Shadow. We're alike in the sense that we don't always try to make waves, go for the spotlight, or try the whole bad press is good press angle, at the end of the day - we just try to make a decent impression, we just want to be liked. We don't want to overshadow others, and we also don't want to simply stand out because we've done something so poorly people can't help but talk. Oh, gosh, Blue Dragon: Awakened Shadow is like my experience in high school all over again. Naturally, I think this is where this blog entry should end.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

We Need a KH3, Not More Entries that Feel Like Cash-ins!

I sit here sad about writing this topic. I love the Kingdom Hearts series so dearly - to the extent that I have quite the collection of Kingdom Hearts t-shirts, I even own a KH snuggie. But, here I sit frustrated with the series. I have supported all the entries that have been released, but lately I've found myself yearning for something new. So, imagine my frustration when re:coded was announced. I know I should be happy that I'm getting the chance to play the game, but at the same time, I'm just not excited for it. I felt the entries that have been released since KH2 have all been to tie us over until KH3, and yet, here we are around four entries later and we're still waiting for the game to just be announced. And once it is, how much longer will I have to wait to play it? I'm guessing...sigh...years.

Naturally, I'm a little miffed because I was a huge supporter of 358/2 Days. Many people started the whole cash-in label of the series (I'm talking fans, not those who initially dubbed it a cash in from the beginning) when 358/2 Days was released.
Many weren't too impressed with it - critics and fans alike, but I genuinely loved that game. There was something addicting about it, and the time I had on my train rides commuting to and from work would just melt away while I played it. I thought for a handheld it succeeded, and for those who were hard on it, I simply thought they were holding their expectations too high - expecting a KH3 or something close to a game made for a console and not looking at it as a handheld release. Plus, I supported fleshing out Roxas' story. I know a big argument from people was that the maps were all the same from previous KH games, but I let it slide. I still found it to be entertaining. And to this day, I still think it succeeds as a handheld. Now that Birth By Sleep is heading our way in September, I'm really hoping it surpasses 358/2 Days. I played it at E3 and was impressed, but something was lacking - it just didn't wow me like I thought it would. Here's to hoping when I finally do play it my impressions change, because I am just too distraught after still patiently waiting for a KH3 announcement.

So, when I heard about re:coded, I really thought: great, this is like Chain of Memories being released for the PS2 all over again. Don't get me wrong, I think it's great to give people the opportunity who missed out on these games to play them, but if they aren't anything mindblowing, I'm not sure they warrant a release. Today I viewed footage of re:coded and was largely unimpressed. I was reminded the scenery will be all the same and it will be the same old maps all over again. Something about seeing Sora on the screen just didn't get me giddy like it used to - I think with all the releases I've really had my fill of getting excited over something I've seen him experience and do before in a game.

What would get me excited? Seeing Sora in a new adventure with new areas, maps, and an answer to the questions that lingered at the end of KH2. Let's add some new Disney levels in there while we're at it. Too much time has been spent on games that are putting together the pieces and filling the gaps in Sora and Co.'s story. Now it's time to continue his story, to advance it, to make it lead somewhere bigger and better than we ever imagined. KH3, where are you? The releases of JRPGs just haven't been great for consoles lately and we could really use you. Plus, teasing us at the end of KH2 like you did, lingering that a 3rd entry would be in the cards, is just plain cruel if you don't plan to follow through. Now is the time. Give me a KH3 and then I'll be excited. For a while I bought into having these other releases to tie me over while KH3 got sorted out, but now they just aren't making me happy. They've lost their luster, which means too much time has passed without another main entry in the series. Need some motivation? KH3 you could help save the JRPG, you could be the one that gets the JRPG started for consoles. Be the spark! And most importantly, don't let your diehard fans down.

Friday, July 9, 2010

The Last Story - I'm Getting My Hopes Up

I usually don't let myself get hyped for games, because it always seems to backfire on me. *Cough* *Cough* Fragile Dreams or how about White Knight Chronicles? I could only muster to play an hour of it before never touching it again. Maybe one day I will again, after all, I did even go as far to buy the guide, but all that is wasted on something that just didn't live up to what I thought it would be. Often in life we take the approach of not to expect much, therefore we won't be disappointed i.e. pessimism. I decided to take that approach with JRPGs as soon as this generation's consoles weren't providing me with anything that was gush-worthy. But, then this trailer came along for The Last Story, and I threw all my rules out the window.

If you haven't checked it out yet, please do: click here.

Tell me those environments don't look badass. But what has me hooked here is the combat. Combing some many different elements into one battle system - this is one battle system that flat out says, "I refuse to become stale!" It also looks like this will be a really strategic game. That's another +1 in the awesome column. I also think it looks great for the Wii. People tend to forget that the Wii just doesn't have the manpower to match the 360 or PS3 in terms of graphics, so maybe it's not up to par with those systems, but I still think for what the Wii can do it looks pretty damn good. From a trailer, obviously much can't be determined in terms of story, but I will say the characters do look pretty damn cool. I'm hoping we have an epic journey here where the characters are just as great as the journey.

So, maybe The Last Story is the JRPG I've been waiting for. Time will only tell really. For now, I'm keeping my eye on it and hoping it matches the awesome that I see in this trailer. I'm sure we'll hear more of a verdict when it comes out in Japan. All I have to say is - Mistwalker, please don't let me down. I'm being optimistic here, please don't give me a reason to go back to my pessimistic ways. I also have one last hope: The Last Story better see a NA release. If the game is as awesome as it looks and I don't get to see it in NA, I will cry. I need a JRPG to gush about it. It has been far too long since I've been able to do that.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

My Weekend in Gaming Wrap Up 7-2 - 7-5

So, I started off my weekend dusting off my copy of Prince of Persia for the PS3. Mind you, I got this game on release day, and it is still in the wrapper. What did I like about? Easy trophies, you can't die, and a game that makes it impossible for you to not know what to do next. This should make it a walk in the park and if you know my personality, I should appreciate not wasting my time figuring out how to get past a certain jump or dying and having to do areas over. However, the challenge is gone. Am I just sitting there controlling my way through a Prince of Persia cartoon? Because that's what it felt like. I really enjoyed the artwork in the game, but other than that I don't know if taking out all the challenge and hard stuff really did benefit the game. Sure, you can battle, but even then I tend to get suggestions on what attacks to use and when to block. I don't need my hand held quite as much or as tightly as Prince of Persia does. I promise, I'm a big girl and can figure things out on my own.

I decided to also pack some hours into Sakura Wars ~ So Long, My Love. There's definitely a love hate relationship going on with me and this game. There are parts I roll my eyes at and think the cheese factor is a little too high, and yet I can't stop myself from playing. I like the challenge of winning over the friendships of the girls and learning about what makes each one tick. But, at the same time, that's all I'm enjoying. The battle system leaves much to be desired. I'll admit, I thought it was going to be mega cool to suit up and operate mechs. It's fun at first, but the battles just move way too slow for my liking. I'm also not a fan of the controls in this game, they are wonky, especially for mini games. When I switched to my Wii classic controller, it did make things easier, but still pulling off the motions on time was difficult. There's some irony in this game - everything is fast paced in your choices. You don't have time to contemplate your dialogue and must respond quickly. (Hey, sorta realistic) Also, when you randomly end up in a mini game you better get in gear and move as fast as you can - hesitate and all is lost. Back to the irony part, it's about NY, a fast paced city, so I thought that was interesting. But the game does make it realistic enough by placing these time constraints on you. I can't tell you how many times I chose a dialogue option and then went back and thought maybe I should have said something else instead. If that's not close to real life I don't know what is (i.e. saying the wrong thing at the wrong time and wishing you had said something different later).

Anyway, those are the two games I sunk my teeth into the most this weekend. I started playing Ghostbusters, which if you are a fan of the movies, you'll no doubt enjoy, but as I was mid-battle in a long-winded level, my 360 decided to freeze on me. I gave up and maybe I'll go back to it another time and post more of my impressions, but the controls in this game were not really my cup of tea - a little wonky - a little too much to do something so simple. Catching a ghost is a pain in the butt. I don't want any realism in Ghostbusters. :-P

Monday, July 5, 2010

Do we judge a game differently just because it's niche?

So after another reviewer wrote a review for the game Trinity Universe, some debate sparked, because it's a "niche" game. People seem to think he should have held the game to different standards when reviewing it. It seems rather silly that just because a game is niche, different rules should apply. I think it's necessary in a review to write that a game is an acquired taste and it will only apply to a certain fanbase. Obviously, when the game was in development, it was targeted to that demographic. If the game succeeds for the fanbase it targets, does that mean a reviewer should score it based on that or the fact that the game would ultimately fail for anybody else who played it?

I think, as a reviewer, to be objective and fair, it's important to make it known that you're dealing with a game that will appeal to a certain fanbase. Do I think the game's flaws should be overlooked because of that, however? No. Am I writing my reviews purely for a niche fanbase? No. My goal as a reviewer is for anybody who reads my review to get an idea of the game and see if it's their cup of tea. A review being purely objective is impossible, because it's my opinion, and I can write very darn well what I please on a game. (Obviously, I'm still reeling from the July 4th celebration - freedom!) At the same time, I explain to people exactly what I didn't like about certain aspects of a game. I do this on purpose. For instance, I straight up admit many times in reviews that I am not patient, and therefore, if you are similar, you will dislike this part of the game. However, I'm saying this because I fully know there are patient people out there willing to put up with this flaw.

Now, people can argue that Trinity Universe succeeds because it is there to please the fanbase it targets. But here's the thing - as far as the rest of the gamers go, it won't please them. As a reviewer, it's my job to state that and not push somebody in the wrong direction. If I gave a higher score to a game just because it was niche, I would be steering others in the wrong direction. Have no fear niche fanbase, I've got you covered, I'd always straight out list whether or not you'll eat up the game. As far as Trinity Universe is concerned, I previewed the game. I played some hands on at E3, and I found it to have its charm. I also realized when playing through it that it was not a game I'd pick up and play on my own. The battles were a little too slow for my liking and, to add insult to injury, frequent. But I really enjoyed the characters from what I played, so I put up with it a little. I knew Trinity Universe would no doubt appeal to certain fans. I knew I was not the target for this game. However, the fact that it had charmed me a bit, I knew those the fans that the game was targeted at, would enjoy it. But that doesn't mean I would inflate my score. I'd make all of this known, however. Remember, earlier when I mentioned the battle system was too slow for my liking? I'd without a doubt take that into account when grading the battle system. The battle system would get points because it's more than button mashing, but, at the same time, a high encounter rate with long winded battles isn't going to get praise or points on that.

I've always been more for writing reviews than previews. I feel my personality can shine through more in a review than a preview. Trinity Universe is the first time I felt differently. I was glad I wrote the preview and not the review. In the hands-on preview, I was able to just list my impressions and what the game was about, and I didn't have to attach a score to it. Since there was no score attached to it, people read the content and judged themselves if what they read was for them. But as soon as we had a review go up where somebody scored it poorly (even though they stated this game was to target a specific group and said that the group will probably enjoy it) the internets went up in arms. I don't really invest all that much time into what others have to say about what I say when review a game. Honestly, certain people will defend games (even ones poorly received by almost everyone) until the end of time. If reviews piss you off that much and you're going to buy the game, regardless, what's the point in even reading them? It's OK by me if you don't invest in what I have to say. But what really pisses me off is when people try to take what I say and discredit it based on your own bias. People constantly complain about reviewers not being objective. Honestly, that's a fine line; a review is an opinion, so therefore it's impossible to have objectivity flowing through it the entire way. Secondly, the hardcore fans, who sit there and complain about the review, aren't objective themselves. Attack reviewers for not being objective, but then make arguments for why they are wrong without being objective yourself... this all seems quite silly to me. You're a fan of a niche game, of course, your own judgment will be just as clouded. My favorite is when people make assumptions and twist my words around to fit their opinion. So and so didn't play through the game, because they didn't list this part. No, I did. I just chose to word it that way not to give spoilers.

To finally sum up this long rambling, I just want to say that as a reviewer my job is to point out what a game does well and and what it does poorly. That is entirely what I do in my reviews. I think anybody can respect that and look at the flaws and good parts and judge if a game is for them. I really wish I didn't have to attach my score to a review, because it seems people are so hung up on that instead of the content. I'd rather you judge yourself since your tastes may be different from mine. But then people don't read it when there is no score attached, so it's impossible not to score something. We are obsessed with scores it seems. So, here's what I propose: next time I or any other reviewer give something a score you don't like, read for yourself why and make your own judgments on whether or not you'd like the game in question. We all have different opinions and different tastes - let's stop punishing others for those and be content with our own judgments.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Shin Megami Tensei Could Save the J-RPG

Now hear me out here - I've been playing P3P to review for RPGFan and I am instantly reminded of what's missing from this generation's console RPGs: a good game full of J-RPG goodness. I miss characters that I am instantly attracted to and want to know more about. I don't think anybody could deny when they picked up Persona 3 that Junpei was all kinds of awesome, whether you loved or hated him - he made an impression on you. Lately, I feel starved. I can't think of any characters who have left an impression on me at all and that makes me sad. We can all argue everything was becoming cookie cutter from the stories to characters toward the end of the PS2 RPG era, but the thing is, Persona 3 came along like a breath of fresh air and totally turned the tables. I dunno about you, but it changed the standards I held my RPGs to - suddenly I wanted the full package, which included interesting characters, a story that drew me in from the get go, and a battle system that didn't try to hard to be complicated, yet still provided a challenge. Persona 3 hit the nail on the head.

So, you probably think I'm sitting here begging for a Persona 5 on the PS3, but that's wrong. Persona 4 proved to me that maybe a Persona game came just a little too soon after Persona 3, and thus, the magic that I experienced playing the first was gone. Even though Persona 4 improved on everything that was missing from Persona 3, it just wasn't as addicting for me. Do I want a Persona 5? Hell yes, but I want it come years from now, because only then do I think I can fully enjoy it. Plus, it'd have to be more innovative than Persona 3 & 4, which I think is a tricky task. Here's what I think: a new SMT game is just what we need to salvage the J-RPG love that we've lost since we made the console jump from the PS2. I can always count on SMT to be innovative, and honestly, I want a completely new SMT series to sink my teeth into - I want that dark story with those gosh darn lovable characters who just make the journey of playing the game just that much more worth taking. I only trust SMT to resuscitate the J-RPG love and to do it right. So, c'mon on SMT, give me a shocking story, a novel game, a game that exceeds my expectations. Pleaseeee, Shin Megami Tensei, you're J-RPGs only hope. The future depends on you. You could turn around this drought of less than stellar games we've received on this generation's consoles. You made one thing apparent when P3 came out, you can totally change the standards that we hold our RPGs to, and I think that's what we need now more than ever.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Greetings!

Well, after my first E3, I caught the writing bug. It couldn't have come at a better point in my life. I feel like this is the perfect time to go after things and really try to pursue a career in video game journalism. With that said, I kept asking myself - why on earth don't I have a blog? Perhaps, I didn't want another addiction. After all, I am a gamer. :-) But, no, it's time to join the blogging community. I'm going to devote this nifty blog to writing what I'm playing currently and including impressions throughout it. So keep your eyes peeled, and hopefully I'll have also some updates for you on some writing I'm working on here and there. Shameless self promotion: head on over to www.rpgfan.com. I just finished up some E3 coverage on the latest RPGs to come your way. I still have one more story left to write and then I'll be busy writing some previews and reviews. E3 was definitely a blast, but after hitting up Disney afterward, I am one sleepy girl. Hopefully, once I rest some great writing will come your way. Until then keep rocking out for those achievements and trophies and don't lose that gaming fever!

-Kimberley