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.