Thursday, June 30, 2011

Fight For Your JRPGs!

I've always been one that when you tell me, "no," I'm just going to come back at you that much harder. In the end, I want to make sure I never stopped at nothing to achieve what I want or let something slip by because it seemed futile. And that's exactly how I feel about this Nintendo of America situation. For those of you who don't know, there has been some serious campaigning going on to get some JRPGs released on the Wii. The targets are three big-name titles: Xenoblade, The Last Story, and Pandora's Tower. Fans are coming together for what they call "Operation Rainfall," and the support from the community has been high. While it's a struggle as we hope to see these titles localized, I love times like these, because as gamers, we unite and ignite our passion all in the love of our hobby. As RPG fans, this has been especially important, as fewer Japanese RPGs have found their way to our home consoles. So we've been starved - very starved - we're longing to play these games, and Nintendo is underestimating us. They decided yesterday to make an announcement that there are no current plans to bring any of these titles stateside, despite the overwhelming response from passionate fans. They broke hearts, dashed hopes, and left many devastated. I could see the hurt all over my twitter feed, and so I tweeted at Nintendo that I understood not bringing all three, but why not try one to test the waters? This would make sense as Xenoblade's already translated due to a release in Europe.

And this is what is really bothersome about the situation, fans have expressed there is a market for these games. The Wii has just been dying more and more as each month goes by without any solid releases. Core Wii owners are starting to feel the sting, and this is especially an important time for Nintendo to step up with Wii U coming. Fans want to know they can depend on NoA to bring over the titles they want, and what we have here is Nintendo's unwilliness to throw their fans even one bone - to make a statement that they care. The worst part is the lack of an explanation; all Nintendo was willing to do was throw in a tweet about it, not stating what is at stake. Nintendo has the rights to these games, but they could easily pass them off to a third party publisher. The problem? This is Nintendo we're talking about here, they aren't exactly known to do this. As consumers, though, we do play a vital role in cementing what there is a market for, and I really don't want Nintendo's resistance to ever make fans feel like they aren't heard. Nintendo's acknowledgement of the Operation Rainfall campaign is a great step for them for public relations.

As an RPG lover, I'm here to tell you all don't stop fighting for the genre. I've been watching the Japanese portion of the market wither the past couple of years, and that's unfortunate. The problem is the economy - no publisher wants to take a chance unless the market is there. So what are we to do? Keep proving that market exists and have hope about it. We're going to eventually come into a new generation of consoles, and it's best we start paving the way for the genre to flourish again. Let this localization fiasco inspire you, and don't ever let the love die. Even in the end, if we can't convince Nintendo, we've at least voiced there's a market for these games. I'm sure other publishers are taking notice, and I can only hope this brings them more confidence about the JRPG. I don't think this battle will be in vain, I'm extremely optimistic that it's sent a strong message. Consider this blog me endorsing Operation Rainfall's efforts. If anything, this whole thing has reminded me why I fell in love with the genre in the first place, it's how much love these games can truly foster within us all.

"When on the brink of complete discouragement, success is discerning that... the line between failure and success is so fine that often a single extra effort is all that is needed to bring victory out of defeat." - Elbert Green Hubbard

Operation Rainfall's Twitter: https://twitter.com/#!/OpRainfall Blog: http://oprainfall.blogspot.com/ Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/op.rainfall

Monday, June 27, 2011

Should Endings Feel So Incomplete?

I don't think any movie, TV show, or video game can ever truly have complete closure - aspects will always be left up to interpretation. This isn't a bad thing, as it leaves the audience room to ponder; however, some endings can just feel so unfulfilling, especially in video games. One reason I love to play games is to get swept up in stories that take me to an entirely different place. For me, the gameplay is always second fiddle, something to complement the journey, the struggle. The problem with video games is that they can be a significant time investment. Many games near the 20-50 hour mark, so it's especially essential to make the player feel like they've spent their time well. It's one thing to have fun with the gameplay, it's a whole other to stay glued to the controller because you can't wait to see where the story will take you. Yet, there are so many times I get to the end of the game and I find myself unsatisfied. I don't set my expectations sky high, but I want something that makes me walk away from the experience feeling good about it.

Recently, I finished up Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood. I was surprised just how addicted I became to the game, because the story wasn't really drawing me in as much as I had hoped. Once I reached the ending, though, it started to matter to me - because what I walked away with was sheer anger and disappointment. The game ends on a cliffhanger because they're trying to lead into Revelations, but something about it felt so incomplete. First off, there is a huge dramatic moment in the end that is impossible to see coming (I will keep this spoiler-free, I promise). I liked the unpredictability, but the build up and pacing up to this particular moment wasn't dramatic enough. It didn't feel like there was enough at stake - it happened very quickly, without any foreshadowing or subtle hints. One could argue that this added to the moment, but it didn't feel planned, just abrupt. In fact, this is a key character development complaint I have: the game didn't feel the need to illustrate the importance of the characters and this moment. I was shocked, sure, but I didn't feel much of anything, except for a big, "Brotherhood, how could you?!" It seemed far too easy to end it that way than provide further setup. I know whenever there are multiple entries in a series, the endings of each game up to the finale should keep people wanting to know more for the next game, but I still believe there should at least be some resolution in it all. This is especially essential, because in this economy there are no guarantees that a series will make it to their desired destination. Disappointingly, Brotherhood's ending just felt like a cheap trick to get me to buy Revelations - giving no importance to the steps I'd taken to reach this point.

It's funny that this entry on the importance of endings is appearing after I finished L.A. Noire, a game that I found lacking in many areas. The ending, however, was extremely intense, unpredictable, and said something about the standards we hold for characters. What did Brotherhood's ending do? Nothing except shock and establish a cliff-hanger that could have been so much more than it was. It's hard for me to write more specifics without spoiling, so this entry has to remain rather cryptic. But Brotherhood got me thinking about endings - how many actually meet our expectations? Does there always need to be a grand finale? Just how incomplete should an ending be when leading up to a sequel? I'll admit, I like a little ambiguity, but I also want to feel like the entire journey was worth that monumental last moment. It should not only keep you wanting more, but also leave you with a sense of contentment with where the story has taken you. I think most endings aren't going to get the message across entirely as they should, but they must give the player something to hold on to - otherwise the experience was all for naught.

Friday, June 24, 2011

L.A. Noire - Genius or Pretentious?

Sigh, I know what you're thinking: Kimberley, how could you call such an avant-garde piece of visual storytelling pretentious? Oh gosh, did I just lose cool points? Sorry, but I must be honest here: L.A. Noire was one of my biggest disappointments this year. It's a game that I didn't wait on a price-drop for - I bought it on release day, because everything I had read was indicating that it was an experience I couldn't miss. I thought it was so suited for me, I'm a big fan of games where you have to play detectives and piece things together yourself, but something about L.A. Noire didn't make me feel very detective-like.

In fact, the game pretty much abandoned the logic it initially taught you to tell if someone was being truthful, doubtful, or lying to your face. You're supposed to watch for visual cues and use your brain to piece together what's actually going on. However, the visual cues get tossed aside as the game goes on. I even double checked this after completing the main game, when I played a case that took place earlier in the timeline that I received for free DLC. It was so much easier to figure out the right line of questioning people here. Was L.A. Noire just trying to be sneaky? Yes, it's somewhat realistic, as you're not always going to know perfectly how to read everyone. I'm not sure there, but what I do know is that the gameplay is severely flawed, but I'm supposed to ignore that because the storytelling going on is standout?

But it's not. I solved many cases during my time with L.A. Noire, more than 20, and you know what? So many of those cases felt like filler content, I didn't care what happened as I finished them. What emotion did get gleaned was frustration; I was particularly infuriated by the lack of closure in many of them. People run from you, you catch them, you get a small blurb at the end. I'm sorry, but when I'm helping out a preteen girl who has been victimized, I want to see my detective make sure she gets back on her feet alright. Perhaps it would have provided deeper characterization, because while Phelps rises in the ranks after several humdrum cases, his character is mostly stagnant. While you could argue not every case will be exciting, if Phelps is supposed to be the protagonist, at the very least, missions should improve him. Instead, while playing L.A. Noire, I was bored, forcing myself to play through it because I wanted to see where the game would end up. I guess I'm an optimist in the end, because I wanted the game to prove me wrong. And maybe it did save itself with the ending, but did the ride up it to have to be so lackluster, so unfulfilling?

See, the game doesn't pick up until you're on the last couple cases, which initially feel just as empty as their predecessors. However, the repetition stops, and we get some answers. This last part of the game is where the story wins, because it tries to do something different, both in what we're expecting and in how it tells its story. I'm keeping this blog entry entirely spoiler-free, but it felt like even in the end, I had mixed emotions - it felt genius, but still very pretentious. Somebody asked me if I was expecting a nice, tidy, happy go lucky ending. Actually no, with a game named L.A. Noire you really don't, but as I watched the credits roll, I could see the magic of what the game had been doing as I went along - building up these grandiose ideas regarding the main character. I'll give the game credit for making use of multi-dimensional characters along the way, as plenty of the characters walked the line of morality many times in the game. For this I give kudos, but something just felt off for me about L.A. Noire, as if they game was sensationalizing itself along the way. Being a detective, you encounter sad cases and corruption, but sometimes it felt it was throwing in some sickening, over the top element to place characters in a dark light, and it just felt unnecessary.

I've never been quite so angry and conflicted about a game at the same time; it's riling me up, so maybe that's a good thing. However, I think the anger stems at a place of seeing a great idea for a game poorly executed. At first, when I loaded up L.A. Noire, I was in awe of the world Team Bondi created - they captured the time period perfectly. I really thought the gameplay was going to follow suit and be extremely intellectually stimulating, but that wasn't the case. I know people will stand by this game, because I think it's one of those you want to love. How often do we get a new IP that tries to change the way we play video games? Not often. And so we want to give credit where credit its due, and I can see some of the great things that were done here. But, in the end, L.A. Noire is probably one of the most frustrating games I have ever played. I don't even want to buy any of the download content, because this game lacked the action that was necessary to truly capture the player.

In the beginning, when I saw others write negatively about L.A. Noire, I thought they just weren't getting what Team Bondi was trying to do. But as I played it, I began to see the love I found initially turn to hate. A great ending can only pan into so much when the rest of the game is less than stellar - a walking contradiction within its gameplay mechanics. Somebody said somewhere that L.A. Noire could have been a movie, and maybe that's what it should have been, because it would probably cast aside all the boring, filler cases. Team Bondi did get something right, the title really did look like a movie; I've never seen such realistic looking character models, where the expressions were highly accurate. In the end, I think the project lost sight of being a game, and what it takes to keep players invested the whole way through.

I'm sad to say it, but L.A. Noire was a dirty trick. A game that promised so much - and failed to achieve everything that it set out to do.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

My Own Private E3 Wrap-Up

The majority of what knocked my socks off at E3 (especially when it comes to RPGs) can be found at RPGFan's Wrap-Up. I'm pretty E3ed out at this point, but thought I'd give one final post on the event I spend the other 362 days of the year pining for. It was interesting this E3, it didn't feel as exciting as last year. Noticeably absent was handheld RPGs, and maybe after all the years we have been showered with handhelds, it was due time for the console games to shine. There are some big console games hitting us, notably: Final Fantasy XIII-2, Deus Ex. Human Revolution, Dark Souls, Rune Factory: Tides of Destiny, Skyrim, etc.

One game I didn't spotlight that I wish I had more a chance to was Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning. The game not only looks gorgeous, but it has so much to partake in. From the four playable races to the six faction quests and more than a 100 sidequests - Amalur will keep people busy. I think what I liked most about it was it seemed to have the right type of balance. It's there for the hardcore and also the more casual fan, something Dragon Age 2 failed to create as noted by John McCarroll who wrote the preview for RPGFan. In the midst of all of this, there's some fast-paced combat in the vein of God of War - fun and furious. Sometimes, I'll jot notes down about how I felt during a presentation - in my notebook, I have a big "WOW" underlined three times and, no, it's not in reference to World of Warcraft. That was a game I had little interest in, but now it has won me over, and I can definitely see me devoting some hours into it with my boyfriend, who I'll be the first to admit these games are more geared towards.

I was also quite impressed with the direction of Risen 2: Dark Waters. I can always respect developers who really look at feedback from others and try to make a more stand-out game. Of course, I love the pirate theme they're going for, and the effort going in to make the experience authentic. If anything, I think it will blow the first game out of the water, pirate style!

Other than those two, Star Wars: The Old Republic really caught my eye - so much I made it number one on my list for RPGFan. I'm not a Star Wars fan, nor an MMO fan, and this managed to capture my heart. Why? I think it brought what I love about BioWare games into an MMO, so it's not doing anything revolutionary combat-wise. Honestly, when companies try to go off the WoW model, it rarely ever works, where the Old Republic is going that's different is making choice the big draw. That's amazing to me as it's something that's such a personal venture, and it's being implemented into an MMO. This is totally the first MMO I will devote my life to, I'll let you know when it's out if it's everything I hoped it would be.

Catherine was another game that lured me in, and I'll be honest, I was on the fence about it since I generally dislike puzzle games. I like how the game is trying to take a stance about relationships by drawing on the answers you provide them throughout the game. While the puzzle part still isn't winning me over, I really think I can bear it for the awesome places this game is going. I'm officially sold.

Also, while I tried by best to stay away from Silent Hill: Downpour, in order to not hype myself for the survival horror experience I've been craving, I couldn't resist. So far, I like the direction of the game, it feels like the real Silent Hill experience. Not to mention, having a convict as a main character slowly blurs the morality lines. I'm trying not to over-hype myself, as some of the gameplay seemed a little too "the answer is obvious," which I'm guessing is just because I had a short demo that I'm sure was from the beginning of the game.

Mass Effect 3 was by far the best demo of the show, because I'm still thinking about it more than a week after. For more information, check out my preview. If a demo can get me that invested and emotional, just imagine how mesmerizing the entire game will be. Although it's a little bittersweet as this will be the last entry, but I think BioWare will make it one hell of a ride, and not an easy one at that. The demo foreshadowed that for me in more ways than one. I turned to my fellow staff member, Liz, and I go, "Am I just tired or did that make you teary-eyed, too?" It was an I-thought-I-was-the-only-one moment, and later I found even more people confessing the same. Why does March have to be so far away?

Besides those games, I suppose my greatest disappointment came in what wasn't shown. Unfortunately, Innocent Sin wasn't there, but it was too difficult to transport a dev-kit to show it off. Plus, Atlus had Devil Survivor Overclocked and Devil Survivor 2 that more than made up for it. However, the Tales series was nowhere to be found. I was most looking forward to that for resurrecting the JRPG love, especially Graces f for consoles. The Tales of Abyss 3DS remake is looking at an October release, so this was especially surprising.

The other disappointing part of E3 was that a lot was behind closed doors, and because I'm with a site that covers only RPGs, I didn't have access to all the games I wanted to see. Most heartbreaking was Bioshock Infinite , which I've heard nothing but great things about from just about everyone. I even heard the demo left quite an impression. On the upside, I did find out that the game will feature a gay character, who is struggling being true to himself. I love when games capture more than one audience, and I truly hope this will be a great gay character. For more info on this, Gay Gamer did an excellent interview about the character.

All-in-all, I think E3 is such a tease. You see all these great games and then you have to wait months until they can be in your hands. Until then, we'll just have to make use of the numerous previews that this event produced. Feel free to leave me a comment about some of your favorite titles from the show!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Why So Pessimistic?

I have to be honest, a lot of gaming is filled with negativity, for reasons I'll never understand. I've always looked at gaming as something positive - something to get us by, a fun way to spend some hours of our lives. I remember being a child and the wide-eyed glow I'd get whenever I loaded up the NES. There was always a world awaiting me, something new to find. Even games that were pretty horrible, I found something to love, because they always took me to a new special place.

As you get older, you start to get jaded. There's no way to avoid it - reality sets in - and suddenly you're aware of all the flaws. And the majority of the time, flaws can completely ruin games for us. So who is really at fault? Is it us for expecting too much because we forgot to see the magic in everything like we did as a child? Is it the developers that are really failing us? To be honest, I'd say it's a little bit of both. I've seen people complain about all kinds of nit picky faults to a game, and they totally let it ruin their experience. I understand if the flaws are serious, but some things are so minuscule that they aren't worth stopping to get off the ride.

Being a game journalist has especially opened my eyes to a lot of the negativity. So many times I open up my twitter feed to a list full of complaints and shortcomings of games. I wish I could say that happened as often to games that are actually wonderful. It was truly amazing to see all the positive remarks surrounding Child of Eden this week; I want more days full of this. In general in life, we are often more likely to share disappointment than we are to share the things that grab us to that addictive "I can't stop playing," level.

And so many times, we're also afraid to acknowledge the positive. Recently, I wrote a hands-on preview for Final Fantasy XIII-2. I stated my honest opinion: the game is looking better than I ever thought - I'm hopeful about where it's going. It was an utter surprise for me, as I had no interest in the game, since I greatly disliked Final Fantasy XIII. I walked out of that appointment happy with the direction that the game was going in, so I wrote that preview to reflect it. However, many were immediately skeptical. Now don't get me wrong, I understand XIII promised so much and let a great deal of people down. But here's the thing, I heard from more than one person that I was over-hyping myself for the game; simply being positive and hopeful for its future wasn't the way to go into XIII-2. I'll be honest, when I go to E3, I see a lot of games, and it's really obvious to me which ones stand out from the pack. It's strange, though, even games people are highly anticipating are filled with doubt from fans. Is it because it's easier to pessimistic? That way if you're letdown, it doesn't burn as much? Are we truly afraid that being positive and hopeful will only set us up for disappointment?

In the end, I think we have to find the child in us, who truly embraced games and let them into our hearts without second guessing. You know, the child who didn't immediately go to the negative, but instead stayed optimistic throughout the journey. It's much too easy to surrender to the negative, let's fight to see the positive. It's okay to be hopeful and see the lighter side to things every now and then. Who knows? It just may change the way you experience games.

P.S. I hope this post gets the message across, since by writing it, I had to bump my favorite entry yet off the front page.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

E3 Excitement!

I'm about to depart for E3 tomorrow, and I felt it was blog-worthy to discuss what I'm most anticipating. These posts are tough for me to write, because I always feel like I'm forgetting something. Mostly, I look at E3 as a time to write and get my gaming adrenaline on. Here's what I think will spark me most!

Mass Effect 3 - I'm hoping the demo will prove to me that this trilogy is going to go out with a bang! It'll be sad to see the series end, but if they can do Shepard's story justice and leave it ending on a high note, it'll keep me happy. Much like the second game, I really want to know what decisions we made in the first two games will come back to haunt us and carry weight in the final entry. Yes, I want my Kaidan-Shepard-Garrus love triangle to play out in all its dramatic glory.

Silent Hill Downpour - I've stayed away from reading much up on Downpour because I'm worried about getting myself over-hyped. As my previous blog entry stated, I really feel like the survival horror genre died this generation, and Silent Hill has been the only series to really live on. I enjoyed Shattered Memories' psychological elements, but it wasn't a scary game; it definitely left much to be desired. I'm really hoping Downpour can keep my enthusiasm alive for the genre, and maybe prove to developers that there is still a market for these games.

Rune Factory: Tides of Destiny - I remember when I first read details of this game - I just knew I had to play it. Rune Factory Frontier, the only other Rune Factory game to hit a console, was one of my favorite games to date. The world was just so mesmerizing, the characters wildly offbeat and fresh, and every day when I ventured off my farm I felt like I was putting together pieces of an amazing puzzle. Tides of Destiny's whole premise is already looking quite grand, and Rune Factory never fails to disappoint me in the quirky character department. I've been craving a console game like this ever since Frontier, and I can't wait to see how it's shaping up.

Tales of Graces f - I'm not sure if this will be at Namco Bandai's booth, but I definitely hope I get to see some of it. I've been dying to play a quality JRPG on the big screen, plus I'm a huge Tales fan. There's always something about the characters and their interactions that make the journey worthwhile. And, when all is said and done, I really do have fun with the gameplay. The last game that I played that was even close to a Tales game was Arc Rise Fantasia, and I immensely enjoyed that, but it's been close to a year now since that game was released. I need me some real Tales! I should also note that I'm stoked for Tales of the Abyss 3DS, mainly because that's my favorite Tales game, hands down. Tear, Jade, Guy...that game just killed it with its characters! Let's see if Graces' characters can captivate me like Abyss' did.

Tomb Raider Reboot - I've missed my girls who can kick ass and take names, so I'm super stoked for the new Tomb Raider game. What's even more promising is that the developer promised there would be more effort going into making Lara Croft a realistic female. They don't just want her to be a sex icon with no depth, and this is a nice change of pace. I've always supported Lara from the beginning because she was always very gutsy and headstrong, but the new title should give layers, and truly make her a stronger, well-rounded character. You bet I'm stoked!

Persona 2: Innocent Sin - The Persona party has been kicking for quite some time now. All it took was the release of Persona 3 to get everybody back on the bandwagon. Since then, people have wondered about the part of Persona 2 that North American fans never got to experience. Thanks to Atlus finally confirming its plans to release the game in the fall, I couldn't be more excited, and that includes me. Although I found the original Persona remake to be a bit archaic, I'm hoping the second game feels more modern. The news that the JP version of the Innocent Sin remake has its own quest creator entices me even more. It's clear this might go above and beyond what you'd normally expect from a handheld title, but I shouldn't expect anything less from Persona.

NHL 12 - There's no game I pour more hours into than the EA iterations of NHL. I always find a part of the game to lose myself in, and each year EA makes it more and more realistic, feeling like you're actually playing hockey. NHL 11's big lure was the advanced checking physics, sticks breaking, and its first ever Ultimate Hockey League. From what I've read, NHL 12 is making the goalies matter - with new goalie interference calls being implemented into the game. It's just one of the touches to make the game feel real, and I'm really stoked to see how it will pan out. And, of course, we can always count on EA for improving just about everything they can from the previous iteration. Call me optimistic, but I don't think anybody else will ever have a hockey series quite this well done and addictive. With 2K calling quits on the hockey front, I think I'm not the only one with this mindset. :-)

Bioshock Infinite - I'll be honest here, what's keeping me intrigued for Infinite is all the praise I've been hearing in the press. I think anytime you have a beloved series, it's hard to meet expectations. If you are doing such a good job that you blow people away with a demo, you've got something great on your hands - something that will probably be award-worthy. Time will only tell if all the fuss is really justified.

I'm probably missing something here, but off the top of my head these are the games I'm most excited to see. E3 is always a tease like that, it gets you invested in games that you have to wait for in agony for months. It only adds to the anticipation, but what I truly love about E3 is that I always find a couple games that I never really thought much of to add to my radar. I'm sure I'll report here when I get back about what I feel is shaping up for the better and what I feel is just missing the mark. Either way, we're in a great age for gaming, and I can't wait for the E3 madness to begin!

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Where Have All the Survival Horror Games Gone...

One of my favorite genres next to my beloved RPGs are survival horror games. The PlayStation 2 had such a flavor and variety of these games going beyond just the Silent Hill name - Fatal Frame, Haunting Ground, Rule of Rose, just to name a few. I suppose my biggest disappointment next to the lack of console RPGs has been the diminishing number of survival horror games this generation. The Silent Hill name has trudged on, but even the titles we've received, Homecoming and Shattered Memories, just weren't hitting me as hard as the earlier titles in the series. So when Konami announced plans to release an HD collection that contained Silent Hill 2 and 3, I was super stoked, because I've had a craving for good old fashioned survival horror goodness lately. It's a craving I've had a hard time keeping under control, and I’ve tried to remedy it. To do so, I poured some hours into Alan Wake, which is more psychological thriller than true survival horror. And while I enjoyed a lot of the paranormal elements, it just didn't have the ability to terrify me. The game was trying more to get in my head than anything else, but it was doing so by keeping me from guessing what was going on rather than keeping me boxed in with scare tactics. So while Alan Wake filled some part of the void, it wasn't my saving grace. I enjoyed my time with it for the most part, though some parts dragged a little and the game didn't have enough variety in my opinion. My lack of enthusiasm for these scares got me thinking about some of my favorite survival horror games and how they really did terrify me.

Haunting Ground is one game that managed to scare me in the best way possible. I was on the edge of my seat, complete heart racing, thinking, "Oh my god, this creepy guy is going to find me under the bed if he looks here.” In most cases I am just waiting for something to jump out at me, take me by surprise, and force me to think on my feet about how to run my ass off from it. Haunting Ground didn’t take that route, and it was stronger for it. Rule of Rose was another game that really got in my head, mainly because of the demented portions of the story; I don't know if I could go back to play it again. It has moments you want to erase from your mind, but you'll never be completely able to. I should mention that I was brought up on horror movies. My family loves them, but I've never taken a great liking to them - give me a romantic comedy any day of the week over a horror flick. While I can’t get into the movies, there's something about the survival horror genre that just pulls me in. I think it's just that I just love the unpredictable, fast thinking strategy you have to employ to be successful. I suppose what I'm most worried is that the survival horror genre is kinda dying. Besides Silent Hill we haven't seen much, and while I have hope for Downpour, I still wish other new IPs would give it a go. Perhaps, it's just that making games on a home console is an extremely costly investment, and most publishers aren't willing to take that chance. Maybe it's just hard to be unpredictable at this point in the game; I fear maybe from all my experience with the genre, it would be hard to actually get in my head and scare me like I reveled in in the past. I have this yearning and I'm starting to fear the the genre is disappearing before our eyes. Hell, I'm still mad Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse never came over to the US.

So what happened to a genre that once had such a love and following? Did we all invest ourselves in other games and forget the lure? Did we as fans stop pressuring for the genre to survive? I don't really know the answer. It just pains me to see the thrill I once found in the genre may possibly be vanishing. If anything, I'm hoping the next generation consoles hold games that make this genre matter again. Because right now, it appears not to be a top priority for reasons we will never fully understand or know.

Monday, May 23, 2011

That Accessibility Complaint

I see it time and time again where hardcode fans complain when developers try to make a game more accessible to others. I often think we forget that accessibility can actually be beneficial; however, I'm not going to say that it's always worth it. For instance, take niche games like Hyperdimension Neptunia that are created for such a select crowd that even marketing them to the mainstream would be utterly useless. But here's the thing, the companies making those niche games are on a much lower budget, so it makes sense just to target that one specific fanbase and cater to them. Now here's where I draw the line, a lot of complaints have surfaced over Dragon Age II. BioWare has expanded as a company; it's clear even with the Mass Effect series, they are no longer making their games for one type of audience or gamer. Honestly, I don't see this as a bad thing, since the more people that play BioWare's games - the better - and that's not just in a business sense. It's the fact that they are acknowledging they no longer have one audience or player in mind. It was like when there were complaints at the option for a gay romance in their games. The keyword there is "option," and it's not an invalid one to include in a game at that. As a society, we are one big melting pot, full of different personalities and preferences, but you know what's great? How games can bring together so many different people across one medium. What does this offer? A wider variety of perspectives, passion, and overall support and dedication to a particular game or series.

I think, in any game, it's important not to consider just one type of audience or player (unless it is clearly the point of the game, see games like Demon's Souls). There's a danger of isolating prospective players in any shape or form. For years, as a female gamer, I've accepted I'm not the target audience of the majority of games. It's like asking for admission into the secret club, they'll let you in as long as you play by the rules. And for years I've done it out of my share love of games. The problem now? That more females than ever are gaming. You'd think there would be more attempts to include them in the process, and yet, I just don't see as much effort as I'd like. Brink is the latest example of a game to isolate more than one audience. For the purpose of this post, I'll just state the obvious: not having an option for subtitles in a game is completely unacceptable. There are people out there who are hard of hearing; heck, there are people out there who are deaf, and I know for a fact a great deal of them play games. So why exclude them in this day and age?

I'll end this post with acknowledging that I do see a great deal of flaws in Dragon Age II, but I also see a lot to admire. I'll also attest it's a better game and more fun to play than half of what is on the market today. To compare it to a game that had a ten year development cycle just doesn't make sense. The majority of companies do take criticism seriously. They want to sell their games; they make to keep their fans happy and invested. There's no doubt in my mind that BioWare will address the overused landscape ordeal. I'm also confident to those hardcore fans who were expecting something more along the lines of Origins, will at least get something more balanced toward your tastes. However, I just don't support the elitist mindset of "these are my games, how dare any player less experienced try to find enjoyment in them or have a chance to be let into my world." BioWare opened doors in Dragon Age II, and maybe they did close some as well in that process, but I'm going to predict that in the third game there will be less closing and even more opening. So, let's just not berate them before they even finish the project.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Mass Effect 2 - You've Won Me Over

I've always been a little resistant to WRPGs, not because of where they come from, but I've pretty much been swept up in JRPGs for as long as I can remember. I never had a reason to look elsewhere. However, when the PS2 era ended, the JRPGs weren't coming in waves like they used to - well for consoles anyway - and lately I have found the ones we have received to be less than stellar; not to mention, the stories and characters aren't stepping outside of the box. See my recent editorial on RPGFan if that's a topic that interests you. Anyway, so back to my journey into Mass Effect. I had been looking for something to captivate me - a game I didn't want to end, because it had me so swept up in everything it had to offer. I have always been resistant to Mass Effect, mainly, because I'm not a huge sci-fi fan, which is funny considering I love the Xenosaga series. Well, I started with the first game, and it didn't entirely hold me. There were things I liked about it, but I am all about my characters, and while they were interesting, I never felt attached to them. Enter Mass Effect 2 - and that's the moment where it all changed.

For the first time in a long time, I didn't want my journey to end; I could sit there and play the game for hours, and not only get lost in the world, but the well-developed characters. There were some I disliked, but there was always a reason for why they were the way they were, and BioWare did an excellent job about making that known. Well, except Zaeed, I hated him all through the game and felt he was one of the weakest additions to the game. Miranda was a close second, but her loyalty mission shed some light for me. In all of this, where it most succeeds is that the suicide mission mattered, and like hell it did. I cared about all the characters (except Zaeed) so much that I felt it was my duty to bring them all back alive, and I did after my second attempt. But the point is, I haven't cared so much about a game in quite a while, and it was extremely refreshing. I also loved all the choices throughout the game whether it be dialogue or strategy, it all mattered, and KimShep is one tough Paragon cookie.

So what does this mean? It means I'm so stoked for the third game, which will also be the last one. I'm a little conflicted because the conclusion marks an end to my KimShep's story. I have no doubt BioWare will put their intelligence and creativity toward another, hopefully new IP, but damn, the person I've been through my KimShep, I'm going to miss that. I can only hope that in the midst of the large final mission that the characters don't take a backseat like the first game - they were the most endearing part of Mass Effect 2. My standouts were my romance partner, Garrus, Mordin, and Thane. I also hope the weight of your decisions in the second game carry over to the third. And what am I most hoping for? My Kaidan and Garrus love triangle to pan out - they better fight for KimShep's affection.

Anyway, for all those years I spent trying to avoid Mass Effect because I thought it was too "sci-fi" for me, I deeply regret it. This has been a lesson to myself as a gamer and journalist, don't judge games for what they appear to be on the surface, and don't worry that hype and praise will influence your enjoyment of them. If anything, I've learned I have to step outside my comfort zone or I'm never going to experience these precious little gems of awesome. Furthermore, JRPGs, I still have mad love for you - you can start coming out of hiding now, I'd like to find love in you all over again.

Friday, April 29, 2011

We're All in This Together...

Have you ever had an idea or written something that felt like it was bigger than just your own feelings? That's how I felt with the latest feature for RPGFan, The Best (And Worst) Female RPG Characters. Most people would think this list was about ranking babes, but what I've created, with the help of other staff members, is something preaching against that. First off, I decided not to rank these females. I do not want to diminish their role or do a disservice by putting a number on them. Women have been ranked for years, and that's unfortunate. I also decided to make the feature about their positivity in the gaming world. For some time I've received criticism about fighting for stronger female characters, and this is me fighting back with something positive. The feature encompasses the well-written female. I can only hope more of these magnificent ladies and their stories come to the surface. But why is this so important to me? I'm just going to let it all out...

It's no secret that I have been growing more and more passionate about the writing in RPGs, female characters, in particular. There are more girls gaming today than ever before - and I want ladies for us to admire, and for the younger girls to look up to. Call me crazy, but I'm still seeing a step backwards in a lot of games. I want characters full of passion and depth, ones that have a story worth telling. Perhaps it was growing up in the whole "the princess is another castle" era. It perpetuated the classic gender role, but you can't really blame that on Nintendo. That gender role has existed for centuries and we've accepted it for the most part. Why? I think it's hard, because we don't want to bring gender into the equation, but here's the thing: we can't deny a big part of who we are. It was like in one of my previous entries when I came to terms with my health condition, it's always going to be there, and to deny a part of yourself - that's no way to live.

It's strange; for months I have agonized and felt like I had to keep silent over what I found to be female characters not being done justice. One of my favorite journalists happens to be a feminist, and if you don't know her name, get on it: Gloria Steinem. She's a big part of the Women's Liberation Movement. She has passion, zest, intelligence, and fought to give females more opportunities than they ever thought possible - denying Steinem's influence on me is next to impossible. The woman had substance and drive, but she also came with words of wisdom that I can still apply to my life today. I keep thinking of her famous words, "Any woman who chooses to behave like a full human being should be warned that the armies of the status-quo will treat her as something of a dirty joke. That's their natural and first weapon. She will need her sisterhood."

How odd is it that we're in 2011, and I can still apply that to the resistance I've faced being a female game journalist? But look at that last line "She will need her sisterhood," I wholeheartedly believe that all of females in the industry need to stick together, only we can know the same struggles and offer guidance to get over the hurdles. And if I sat here and kept quiet, because I was afraid of being faced with any negativity, then I'm turning my back on all the women who fought for me to have that opportunity - that voice. I also have a social responsibility - I'm going to choose my battles and how I perceive things. Stronger writing of females characters in our games is something that's worth fighting for, call it silly, because to some "it's just a game," but we all know if it was "just a game" we wouldn't get as wound up over them as we do. These characters matter, they've helped many get through darker times, they've brought many joy, and have etched long-lasting memories.

I'm not saying it's all bad. We've made great strides as females, and I'm not denying that. However, we're still experiencing some resistance, and I'd like to change that. It's hard for anybody regardless of gender speaking their mind. Even as a reviewer, I've come a long way to find my true voice, and not put so much stock into the negativity that follows. There also are some great female characters out there, to be honest, doing the feature put a lot in perspective for me. Originally, we thought we wouldn't be able to fill the list, and then there was an outpouring of suggestions, and we even had to debate. I'd be happy to do a part two of this feature to showcase some of the ladies that just missed the cut, they're there, and I'm thankful for every one of them. If we can keep them coming on a more consistent basis, I think we're getting somewhere, but to keep our mouths shut when they are done poorly - that's not going to make anything better.

I should end this with saying, I've never been one to take up a cause or crusade, and I hate segregation of any sort. I'm not trying to say the writing issue is all black and white, because it isn't. I'm also not trying to say males probably don't have some of the same issues that I do with writing. I'm just trying to say, a little sisterhood every now and then never hurt, and it's definitely a throwback to all those women who fought the good fight.

Before I end this post, I just want to highlight a great podcast I've recently started listening to called GameDames, an all female podcast, that's more than refreshing to hear. They don't entirely focus on gender, which is great. But what they do offer is a way to get a female perspective, and maybe not feel so alone. Just remember we're all in this together, and as Gloria once said, "We need to remember across generations that there is as much to learn as there is to teach."

If anybody wants to get in touch with me to discuss anything I've listed above or just needs someone who knows what they are going through, feel free to contact me: kim@rpgfan.com

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Appreciating the Non-Linear Things in Life...

I'll admit for years I've enjoyed games with a more linear path. Sure, I'd stop and do the odd sidequest now and then, because I felt somewhat obligated to. It's hard to explain, I have this completionist mindset, but not enough time to give it everything I've got. I used to detest meaningless sidequests, and I still do to some point, but as long as the sidequest itself is fun I can look past that. I've been playing Red Dead Redemption, and I've noticed so much that the game does right with its side content. Mainly that, it's never forced upon you, you always have a choice if you want to complete it, and they make it part of the environment, where it feels real. So many times, I ran into a poor girl getting robbed, and I'd fire my gun to free her to safety. The sad part is, in all of this, there's also a sense of realism to it. If you saw someone getting robbed or beaten across the street from you, would you just ignore it? It plays on your mind and feelings, as though, if you neglect these people, you'll have to live with yourself in the long run. We've talked about how attached I get to my choices in games, always wanting to be "good," but Red Dead Redemption was the first game that toyed with me.

The majority of the times when I did help out, I was met with a group of thieves that were far more than I could take, and thus, I'd get the DEAD screen, reminding me of my poor choice. This succeeds most in reminding us that just because we want to be hero, doesn't mean we'll always come out of it alive. Did it ever stop be from trying to save people? I can only think of two or three times, where I was so fixated on getting to a quest that I didn't do my good deed of the day. There's always a risk when you're putting your life on the line to save someone else, but where this most succeeds is when you do, you're rewarded. Sometimes with cash, sometimes with increasing your honor or fame, and sometimes just keeping your own peace of mind that you didn't walk away while someone else was being killed.

I remember in psychology studying this one study where people all thought someone else was calling the cops, while this poor woman was getting killed. Neighbors heard, but they depended on others to play the good citizen card. The end result? A woman died while all her neighbors ignored her pleas. Ever since, I've learn of this, I've been unable to let anyone in harm or danger just sit there. Yes, even in video games, because if the shoe was on the other foot, would you want someone else to just assume somebody else was going to help? My guess is no, and so I always try to look deeper, and come out of it knowing I at least tried to do the right thing.

An interesting conversation came up today, while our cable guy was installing our equipment. He told me how much he detested open world games, such as Red Dead Redemption and Grand Theft Auto; I looked at him a little puzzled. I know they can be overwhelming, heck, it took me a while before I got over my Fallout 3 open world fears, but I honestly think people forget that it's up to you - how much you wish to devote. These games never force on you that you have to do everything, so I find it disappointing that people will write off games for this reason, and not embrace that they are representing something very real - a changing world, with endless options for you to lose yourself in. It never hurts to have a game make you feel and ponder your actions. An open world means you can decide where you want the game to take you, maybe it'll take you to numerous different places, or maybe you'll only stop at a couple. The point is, the option is there for you to choose how far you want to go, and I can't see that as a bad thing. If anything, it's showing how much the gaming world has grown; the technology involved in developing these open worlds is quite extensive and astonishing. So, a question back to all of you is: How far will you let a game take you?

P.S. I know I'll never top my previous post, and I appreciate all the outpouring of support. I've never been happier than reading those comments! You all make me smile. Okay, love-fest, done! Go play Red Dead Redemption if you haven't yet!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Gaming as My Way of Dealing...

I'm going to let you in on a little secret, it's something I've tried to hide, because I don't want people to see it as a weakness. I suffer from fibromyalgia. You're probably going fibro-what? I don't blame you, the disease was first coined in 1981, and it came at a time of complete confusion. Fibromyalgia is a disease where people suffer from extreme long-term, wide-spread body pain. Suffers also experience various tender points that range from their joints, muscles, tendons, and other soft tissues. I deal with chronic pain on a daily basis, and every day is a battle I have to fight. It's never not there, and there are few answers. Medications take a bit of the edge off, but there is no magic pill to make this go away. My sleep is also greatly disturbed by it, and for a long time, I've had a hard time getting over how this has impacted my quality of life.

There's nights I sit awake because I'm in a momentous amount of pain. Do you know what has helped me get through all those trying times? It's video games. I sit there, game, and try not to focus on the pain. As much as video games get flack, I don't think they always get credit for the good things that they do. For a brief moment, a game can take you to another place - lead you to a different path. It's an escape from reality, but it's also a chance to experience a character that sometimes we identify with and sometimes we don't: you can be a version of yourself or somebody different entirely. I mentioned in my previous post that BioWare does in excellent job of letting you experience a journey through a character you create with decisions that say a lot about you. This has been a fantastic way for me to experience an alternate life for a while. Suffering through chronic pain, I've seen the positives that can come from gaming. Sometimes, I'm not sure how else I would focus myself away from the pain if I didn't have it.

For those still reading, don't pity me here. Life throws a lot at everyone, and I'm sure you're dealing with some hardships yourself. People may think me suggesting to game through troubles is simply promoting escapism. But, so what? I think sometimes in life we need to be taken away from ourselves. That's why I love games; I can get lost in another world, a different reality. I could sit here and say more on how gaming has been my saving grace to fibromyalgia, but I don't want to bore you. I will say that having any type of illness or disease is not a weakness. If anything, I think people who go through these feats and come out on top are among some of the strongest people out there. It also teaches you to appreciate the little things.

For now, I'm hoping to be a positive person for people with fibromyalgia to look up to, it's what drives me to be the best game journalist I can be. I hope to keep up my work, and maybe, one day, I can take my talent to newer and even more exciting heights. I don't want it to destroy me or take away my dreams. We all must fight our own hardships, and I think gaming is a great way to keep it all in check - a great balance for the negative we often face in life. In the end, we really have only one life, I don't want to sit here and say I gave into the pain and stopped pursuing everything I want out of life, and you shouldn't either. And if you need to game to get through it? There's nothing to feel ashamed of...nobody said any of this was easy.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Dragon Age II - Lady Hawke Arrives!

I'll start this off with being honest. I've only put about 10-15 hours into Dragon Age: Origins. It didn't click with me as much as I thought it would, especially after hearing everybody's praise. There was this barrier between Dragon Age: Origins and me; I'm not sure the reasoning. My experience with WRPGs is very limited, I've been a JRPG girl at heart. Lately, though, I've been looking for something different. I always appreciate choice in games, so I can't believe I haven't been able to get totally invested in a BioWare game sooner. Well, Dragon Age II broke the trend. It hooked me and kept me playing. I'll confess the beginning of the game isn't the strongest; you complete a wealth of quests and not much of the story shines through. Thankfully, as you go on more in the game, the narrative picks up, and there's great character development.

Where Dragon Age II succeeds most is in its ability to make you care. I'm just not experiencing many games that allow me to be emotionally invested in them. The decisions also weren't always that easy. There were some I agonized about; I also didn't want to hurt anybody's feelings. Yes, I'm still struggling to be anything but good or sarcastic in these games. I just can't be mean. I think in the end where the game is most impressive is its multidimensional characters. These characters were all endearing, but also had major flaws. I got fed up with a few a couple of times, but I never wanted to turn my back on them. Oh, man, one of the final scenes in Fenris' quest, literally broke my heart; it's this one line and how he says it. And this is exactly where Dragon Age II wins me over, I have lasting memories - scenes I remember with such preciseness.

One character I'm a little upset they didn't explore more was Bethany. I don't have a sister, but when I played the game, I really enjoyed the sister dynamic between Lady Hawke and Bethany. Bethany plays a larger role in the beginning of the game and then disappears for the majority of it. It's unfortunate; it was a character with wasted potential. Also, oh gosh, the scene with the mother (those who played it know what I'm talking about), it tore me up inside. I liked the family focus in this game; it really added some realism to it.

As for my romance options, sigh, I couldn't decide who to romance, and by the time I had settled on Fenris, it was too late in the game. This shows all too well my lack of experience with these games, but I wanted to be true and not lead on the wrong character. In the end, all I was left with was being alone. My favorite character in the game was Varric, and I'm really disappointed that he wasn't a romance option. The comical banter that he added during the journey was great comic relief for all the difficult decisions and burdens the game was tossing at you.

From what I played of Origins, I know the journey was grander and the story was deeper than what Dragon Age II offered. Dragon Age II also didn't have ten years of development time, and I can truly appreciate the game for what it was. I had fun, enjoyed the journey, and sometimes that's all you need in a game. This game is still better and more thought-provoking than half of what is on the market right now. Dragon Age II was obviously more accessible than the first one, and I don't think that's a bad thing. I think what BioWare needs to focus on is making it more balanced between the casual and hardcore fans. What I always admire about BioWare is that they don't make their games for one person or audience, they try to target a little bit of everybody with their games. That's remarkable and it's refreshing to see their zest to have a product that appeals for such a wide audience.

In the end, my Lady Hawke was respectable, moral, and not afraid to stand up for what's right. I admired the person I was able to be through her. I wish more games had this effect on me. I've been looking for games that make me feel something, I felt in Dragon Age II, and I walked away from it with fond memories - characters that touched me. I think it's safe to say this won't be my last WRPG. Dragon Age II got it right for me, and since they're hinting at a third game, I can't wait to see what they'll bring to the table. Hopefully, more depth and passion. You can never go wrong with either.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Oh Dang, My Morality Extends to Games

Recently, I was playing Fable III, and of course, I made a ton of promises that financially I couldn't keep. Well, I could have if I was smart enough to start banking money from the time I started the game. Let's face it, for some of us, that's just too much work. I don't have time to spend hitting buttons in a correct timed sequence over and over again to net me cash money. I wish I did, but I barely get to play half of the games I want ever since I graduated into adulthood along with being a reviewer under some crazy deadlines. Fable III is an example of one of those games I didn't get around to until recently, but it made me think - why am I always striving to be a good person in video games? Isn't this supposed to be an alternate world devoid of reality where your conscience shouldn't play into your choices? And yet, for some reason I always do the "right" thing. I've been good in Infamous, Mass Effect, Fable, Dragon Age, etc. These are my opportunities to be someone else and I still always stay aligned with my morals. And mind you, I could easily go to the bad side and not feel like anybody is judging me; nobody is watching me play these games. They're not real, but I think where I've hit the nail on the head with this is that they feel real.

We've come so far with graphics and technology that I find it hard to separate myself from my character. For instance, if I'm killing somebody for no reason in a game other than for my own selfish reasons, it feels wrong. But here's the thing - some games have it so realistic now where you see the blood and hear the cries and screams. Being evil is sometimes on a whole new violent level and even though these people aren't real, these games are giving me an experience that mimics something real. This is both good and bad.

I'll start with the good. For me to play games I must be compelled to play on, the easiest way to wrap me into that is by giving me a story and world that I can get wrapped up in. I've saved the worlds 100 times now in video games, but as long as you give me a good enough reason to keep saving it, I will always continue. Interestingly enough, even years ago, when games had blood splatters like Mortal Kombat - something about it never felt real to me. The visuals did nothing that ever made me feel bad about any of it. Lately, though, with our graphical advancements and games now having realistic voiced dialogue, it's impossible to deny that it feels more real than ever. And that's why I still stick to being the nice girl.

People always tell me, it's more fun to be bad - be a different person from who you are in real life. I'm sure that's true; however, I sleep better at night knowing I'm not torturing characters who look me in the eye, plead for their life, and resemble everyday people I see on the street.

I'll end this post with noting - not all games have evoked this sense of realism in me. I think it's interesting to ponder. For instance, in the Call of Duty games, I have yet to feel bad for any of kills. Honestly, I think this is because I'm so removed from knowing what war is like and the stories never invest me even close to the other games I listed earlier. Also, in CoD, it's shoot or be shot, so if it's to save my life...well then the rules change. But maybe it's because I don't play the CoD games for the same deep experience that I do other games, therefore, it doesn't hit me on the morality meter. I think we've all been desensitized by the media to some degree, and if a video game can get me that riled up about my choices where I'm facing a moral dilemma, well then they must be doing their job well. For now, I'll stay good, I don't need to taste the evil side to know it's just not for me. In the end, it all just feels too real for comfort.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

"The dread of criticism is the death of genius..."

My biggest challenge recently came as a reviewer. I had to give one of those dreaded negative reviews. This is always tough, because you know you're about to go up against a dedicated fanbase...you really don't want to let them down. People think that, as a reviewer, I like giving these types of reviews. I hate them; I feel like I'm crushing people and it never feels good. Here's the thing, I LOVE games, in a perfect world, everything I play would be great and I'd praise it - but as we know that is unrealistic. As a fan, can you remember the worst entry of your favorite series? Maybe it just didn't click with you, maybe you thought it would have been better, maybe the game let you down. This is how I felt recently with Ar tonelico Qoga.

Before you judge, hear me out...

I LOVED Ar tonelico: Melody of Elemia - it is one of my favorite PlayStation 2 games. I remember not expecting the journey I got from it, but I was pleasantly surprised. It was a series that wasn't afraid to use a traditional battle system and it was fun. Not to mention, the cosmospheres made me feel a connection to characters like I never felt before in a game. They were new, intense, and never predictable. There was also a deep history about a world where.. "everyone has forgotten how to sing." That phrase still sticks with me to this day. In the first game, when I first saw the tower appropriately called Ar tonelico, I knew the journey was going to be grand, and it definitely was. The game had a lot of depth to it and while there was a sexual flavor to the game, it was so hidden that you got the references,and it never felt forced upon you. The next game, Ar tonelico II: Melody of Metafalica, was a worthy entry in the series, but the localization left much to be desired. In addition, the immaturity of the sexual jokes started to become all the more apparent. Despite that flaw, the series still shined in its ability to make the battle system feel fresh - it took its traditional battle system and made it way more interactive. Naturally, I wanted to see where the series was going after this entry, and so when Ar tonelico Qoga was announced, I was psyched to play it; I especially wanted to see what the final entry would offer.

And that's where it all went wrong. Save for the cosmospheres and interesting character relationships, what I got was not the series I held so dear to my heart. To start with, the sexual content was heightened to such a degree - it was impossible to ignore. The battle system was about stripping clothes off your Reyvateil, and it took away the traditional battle system and exchanged it with a poorly implemented action battle system. Sexual content aside, this game had some serious problems. I really like to see series improve upon each entry, and I felt that Qoga - being the final game - should have been the series' best effort, but it fell flat in many areas. Recycled content (trust me, when you get to this one maze-like dungeon that you revisit at least five times, you'll get what I'm talking about), an action battle system that prolongs battles instead of making them go faster, weak graphics compared to other 3D RPGs on the PS3, a story that never fully captivated me, and typical JRPG characters in every way. I'm sorry, I love this series so much that I know it's capable of better than this. As a fan and knowing this was the final entry, I was mad. I felt like I got cheated.

I'm also always going to push for stronger female characters in RPGs. I'm tired of the weak, dumb girls I'm constantly seeing. We've advanced past these stereotypes in society, so why can't we in our games? Why aren't we valuing independence? When it comes to male characters, why do these girls have to be so needy? I'm sorry, but Reyvateils are powerhouses in battles, so why does their personality make them seem like anything but?

As far as the conclusion to the story goes, it was acceptable, but as the credits rolled for the true ending (oh dear god, please go for the true ending - the normal and bad endings are so sad), I felt like I deserved more than I got. It was a feeling where you just felt letdown...the inner voice in your head screaming, "that's it?" I invested a lot of time in this game. I wanted to like it so bad, but the gameplay really was more chore-like than anything. Also, for a series so invested in its musical score, why was I left feeling like this one didn't live up to the magic of the past two games? There were too many changes in Qoga and very few felt like they were for the better.

All this aside, I dreaded writing my review. This was not going to be easy. Qoga is such a step back for the series; there was no way I could say otherwise. I want people to know I try to be brutally honest in my reviews. I don't want to sugarcoat things - if something strikes me passionately, you're going to know about it. As a fan, I wanted people to know we deserved better than what we got with Qoga. I also agonized about how to write the review many times. There were parts of the game that were decent, it was just the bad far outweighed the redeeming qualities.

So there I was faced with the most challenging review of my life - for a series I had once loved and now felt let down by. And so, I lifted my fingers and began to type - all of my feelings hit the paper in that review. For those questioning why I didn't go more into the story and history, I had written a preview for the game a couple of weeks ago, where I went more in-depth, and I didn't feel right echoing it back to you. Also, I like to be very spoiler-free in my reviews. As for the length, a shorter review style is something I am working on - why? I have been getting feedback from readers that reviews are too long and they wanted more opinion than anything. Believe it or not, I do listen and care what you guys think. Therefore, I wrote one of my most opinionated reviews to date and my goal was to do it in 2,000 words. It was a challenge, but I feel like I focused on what mattered in the end.

I want everyone to know: I didn't have a vendetta against the game. However, as a fan of the series, I was just extremely disappointed. Why? Because I know the series is better than what Qoga gave me. Also, I don't think Qoga had to go as far with some of its sexual elements - people love this series and it's not just because it has innuendo. We want a deep experience with our characters that go beyond lust. If the sexual content was done in a more tasteful fashion, I would be totally fine with it. Persona 3 & 4 immediately come to mind, you knew your character was about to get some loving, but it was never screamed in your face. At the end of the day, my score was not a reflection of the overdone sexual content, it was over gameplay mechanics that didn't work, a story I thought could have been stronger, horrible design, and recycled content like you wouldn't believe.

I'm not going to apologize for my opinion or for the fact that I was disappointed by the game. Maybe because I did mention the sexual stuff, it made it hard to see past that into the other flaws. But, I stand by my opinion, that it's not as tastefully done as it has been in past games. In the end, I really hope fans find something in Qoga to love - there are some great character relationships that I think you'll enjoy. I really hope they don't feel as letdown as I did, because it's the worst feeling when you anticipate a game, and it just doesn't measure up. I don't want you guys to feel that. Criticism is tough to take, I'll admit that. I welcome disagreements and discussions as long as it is respectful. But for all the criticism I've endured about sharing my honest feelings about the game, don't you think as fans that it's equally difficult to take criticism about a beloved series? Think how passionate and fired up you felt about my negative review - that's how I felt after playing Qoga, so I know the feeling all too well.

Monday, February 14, 2011

It's not what is used to be...

I'm finally fessing up, sometimes I am clouded with nostalgia that I flat out forget a game's shortcomings. Thank you, PSN, for finally making me see the error of my ways. Ever since PSN has put up more and more PSone Classics, I've been like a giddy little school girl. OMGZ Final Fantasy VII, VIII, IX, I must buy. Alundra? Squeals in delight as I automatically press "purchase." Silent Hill? You bet. Wild Arms 2? Couldn't resist. Suikoden - Love at first sight, buying was a must. All of these purchases and more, I didn't need to second guess. To relive the experience of playing some of my favorite games on my PSP or PlayStation 3 was like one big nostalgic dream. So where did it all go wrong?

I've started actually playing these games and they're not as fun as they used to be. It's exciting to look back and reminisce, but it almost ruins your memories of your sacred RPG gems. Years later, the game is never as special or important as you remember it being. There's something always so archaic about these oldies. Even so, I still do miss the old school feel of these games.

Recently, I played Earthbound again, and I just forgot how menu based heavy the game was...now Earthbound was and still is one of my favorite games for the SNES along with Secret of Mana (we'll get to that later), but I've been so spoiled by the games of this decade that the menus started to bother me. Earthbound still has that sassy humor that nobody has ever managed to recreate in a game (and characters I'll never forget). But, the point is - playing these games now you have obstacles you never felt you had before. I wanted to show my boyfriend the awesomeness of Secret of Mana, so as soon as it hit the Virtual Console, it was an instant purchase. Naturally, I played it with him. What I found was not an experience where I could convince him of putting it down as his favorite game, because the whole battle system felt extremely archaic. This doesn't mean Secret of Mana still isn't a great game, it was for its time, but it hasn't aged well at all. That pains me so, because some of my fondest memories are attached to that game. A similar reaction happened when I played FFVII again, to this day, I claim that as one of my favorite Final Fantasy games, the problem? The game just hasn't aged well.

So, is it worth going back to these titles, will it ruin the memories/nostalgia you have about them? I think all these games and more are worth another run through, just don't expect the same experience you had playing it at a younger age. Now, it's a new adventure we should embrace, but not be scared of - maybe you'll realize something about the game wasn't as amazing as you remember...but you know what? You still have that strong memory of playing it for the first time and not being able to put it down for hours. I'll never forget standing under that godforsaken waterfall in Earthbound. But, I digress. Playing through these games again can't take your memories away from you. And who knows, maybe, giving these games a try at an older age you'll be able to see magic where you didn't. Maybe, now that you're older you're able to comprehend and experience it in a new way. I think it's like watching the Care Bears again, you'll remember certain parts and smile, but you'll also know you've outgrown them. You can't take away my childhood - these games are more than that - fond memories I will never part with, but I'll also remember things have changed now.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Is it all just a tease? (KH fanfare ahead!)

So, Nomura alluded to the fact that Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance will be a lead in to Kingdom Hearts 3.

His exact words: "The tenth anniversary for Kingdom Hearts is right before us, now the series is finally moving towards the last phase of the story. This story will be a prologue for the final battle, as with other titles many surprises await. This time, I took on a challenge and chose to use new hardware, the Nintendo 3DS, to present these surprises. A completely new system is being prepared, which will let you gaze at the vision of the future of Kingdom Hearts. I believe it will be bold and have even more exhilarating action. Please look forward to it."

Oh, Nomura, you're such a tease. Honestly, I know we'll get a Kingdom Hearts 3, my bigger issue is when? I'm also wondering if it will be a PS3 exclusive or do a FFXIII where it goes multi-platform. My money's on the fact that we'll get it for both the 360 and PS3. It's so difficult in this market to keep a game exclusive to one platform these days.

I'll also admit, I started to get sad at Normura's statement. I've had such a strong attachment to this series that I hate the thought of having it go to its final phase. My boyfriend reminded me though, how Square will keep a series going and create constant spin-offs. He really doubts KH 3 will be the last we see of the series. I'm not sure how I feel about that either. I felt both of the DS games weren't as high quality as they could be. For me, Birth By Sleep got it right, and if we had more games up to that caliber, I'd be fine. I just don't want the spin-offs to get ridiculous or the stories to become so far-fetched that it doesn't resemble what I fell in love with anymore. And then part of me is sitting here thinking Hey, they haven't done anything for the Wii, maybe they should try a game on there. Ahhh...mixed emotions! I don't want my series to end, but at the same time, I don't want the quality in the games to decline. Such a conundrum. I suppose, that's the point of this blog, when should a series end? Is it hard saying goodbye or are you okay with it ending as long as there is some resolution?

I tend to think a series should quit while its ahead before it turns it something it was never intended to be. We'll see what happens. All I know is that from the gameplay footage I've seen and the fact there are new Disney worlds to explore, Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance sure looks like a game I can't miss. Plus, playing as Riku will be interesting! I'm super excited and I hope it's worth the waiting. On another note, KH3 better be amazing when it does come, we've waited long enough. Even if they just made an official announcement that KH3 is in the works and have some far off release date, I'd feel better. Honestly, I think I'm just itching to play the series on the big screen again. There's no better way to enjoy Kingdom Hearts.