Monday, September 29, 2008

Blasphemy, Heresy, and Apostacy

Killing God (or the applicable god-like being) has been a staple of the JRPG genre since the 16-bit days, if not earlier. A couple of my favorite instances are (spoiler alert?) Xenogears and Final Fantasy Tactics. Chains of Promathia was pretty awesome, too.

I find the more deicide-centered JPRG plots to be some of the more interesting ones out there. On a related note, I read the book of Revelation as a pre-teen, more for the horror than anything, and I thought it was awesome as an apocalyptic fantasy. Thus, I became interested in Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne when I heard the plot's conceit: Tokyo is rent from the rest of the world and rolled up as the the inside of a sphere, it's own little "Vortex World" in a new dimension, with its physical and spritual natural laws still undetermined.

Demons of various types, along with a handful of human survivors, and many souls of the newly-dead, roam the new landscape, and the main character is young man chosen by a mysteriously Luciferian young boy become a half-demon steward of this new world, helping by his actions to determine its future. It appears to go from here toward a multi-partisan conflict between 3 main ethos that the main character can act in concert with, or ignore altogether, and reshape the world accordingly. I read there are six possible endings to the game, and Devil May Cry's Dante guest stars.

The central gameplay device seems to consist of recruiting wandering demons (mostly those encountered in random battles) into the main character's party, leveling them up, fusing them, and using their affinities to exploit enemies' weaknesses. It's close to your typical turn-based RPG gameplay, with a little bit Pokemon flavor in the demon recruitment and management.

It's pretty decent so far, but I do have to knock the environments; the overworld is a total classic RPG throw-back, which isn't terrible, but it has a laughably bad blue peg-looking thing as the party icon that you slide around to go places. The towns and dungeons and such are better, explorable in full 3-D, but they're sparsely populated and can be very bland (when they're not twisted and cool), reminiscent of Crisis Core on PSP and games like Shinobi and Maken X (another Atlus game), among other Japanese PS2/Dreamcast games. However, the demons and other creatures around, the character designs by Kaneko Kazuma, are extremely inventive and cool.

I wonder, though, if even an RPG as promising as this one is really worth the time investment. Would a better way of exploring the three themes in the title of this post just be to read a book? I'm sure there are plenty of philosophy books out there raising these questions, and even some good fiction based around them. Maybe my friends reading this could even recommend some?

Narrative in games has always been a major attraction for me, but these days I have a lot less time to devote, and a lot broader tastes in gaming. I find myself more concerned with a game's central play mechanic in addition to the narrative as a means to satisfy that itch that sends me to my consoles in the first place. Hence the reason I have jumped back into Halo multiplayer some this week, and have played a lot of action-y (especially 2-D) titles and Diablo lately.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

You Can Never Go Home (Mega Man 9)

The NES Mega Man games, especially 2 through 4, were an extremely large part of my early days as a gamer.  My friend and I would create and illustrate our own robot masters on 3x5" index cards in the sixth grade.

That said,  I've been watching a few YouTube videos of these games that I haven't played in almost 15 years, stages I'd totally and completely forgotten about, and nothing about it all makes me want to go back and revisit that in the slightest.  Hype nonexistent.  I'd say I envy others their own, but it's just not true.  Classic Mega Man doesn't do it for me anymore.

Strange, considering that last month I went back and played through (and completed) of Mega Man X for the second time ever--the last time being in front of our giant in-cabinet, on-the-floor CRT TV on the living room floor as a 12 or 13 year old kid.  Maybe that leap from 8 to 16-bit was larger than I remembered....

Saturday, September 20, 2008

WTF are they smoking? Assassin's Creed rocks!

I was up until like 1:00 a.m. last night with Ass Creed, because I just couldn't stop playing it. I turned it on around 7:00 or so in the evening intending to monkey around with it for maybe an hour or so before dinner, but I ended up coming back for more afterward and just kept going until the wee hours. It was a case of just one more little thing, oh I'll just go over here and then save and quit, well I'll just grab that flag I saw over there, oh now here's a guy I can eavesdrop on, well I might as well finish up the next couple of investigations so I can just kill the guy next time I play, oh well I may as well just kill the guy now, etc. etc. etc.

It's not a perfect game by any means, but somehow it just rubs me the right way. If you reduce it down to its basics, it's basically a big stealthy collect-athon, but the world is incredibly well-realized. The visuals are among the best I've ever seen, just slick as hell, and the cities in this game are both humungous and full of tiny details. I could do with some more variety in the citizens, and especially in their voice acting. I could also do with more variety in the sub-mission "investigations" Altair has to do before the Assassin's guild gives him permission to execute his mission. Speaking of Altair, why is he such a dick? I don't know if I've ever played as a character I didn't care for as a person. No matter, he does what I want him to, and that's what's important.

But back to the "investigations"--before taking out your mark, you have to hunt around the city for clues as to where they are, what they're doing, who their allies and enemies are, and other general intelligence. You only have a few choices: pick-pocketing someone with some kind of important document, listening in on an important conversation, following one of the mark's subordinates into an alley or other secluded place and "interrogating" them, or finding an Assassin's guild informant and doing whatever errand they ask in exchange for info. There might be one or two more methods I'm forgetting, but the point is that each assassination requires you to do two or more of these, and there are 9 assassinations in all, so you do the math. That's a lot of repetition of these little sub-missions. I've done 4 of the 9 marks so far, and I'm not bored yet, but your mileage my vary.

The other thing this game does a lot, for better or worse, is the collect-em-all thing. Each area in the game has 20 - 100 flags scattered around, and even though as far as I can tell there is no great reward (besides Achivement points) for finding them, I still can't stop looking around for them and going out of my way to pick them up when they're in such out-of-the-way spots as the top of an extremely tall church steeple in Jerusalem. There are also 60 Knights Templar scattered around the game world for you to find and kill (the Templars and the Assassin's are sworn enemies apparently), and lots of viewpoints to find and climb, as well. It's all fun and classic gameplay, but again lacking in variety. If you add up all the, lets call them widgets collectively, there are something like 500 widgets to track down in the game, if you are so inclined. But not much else to do, besides the killing of course. Again, fine for me (for one play-through, anyway), but your mileage my vary.

Let's talk about the combat for a minute. In the last Ubisoft action-adventure I played (Prince of Persia: Sands of Time), I hated the combat sequences, because the were interminable, innumerable, and broke up the good part of the game, which was the environment puzzle navigating. Combat in Ass Creed (a term of endearment if ever there was one) isn't the drag it was in that game. It's a good bit snappier here, and often completely optional. You're not required to rescue those citizens and fight all those guards, nor are you required to kill any guards who give pursuit upon recognizing you as an Assassin. You probably will end up doing it anyway, though, because the combat is pretty fun, and not hard to manage even if the typical scuffle is 4 of them to one of you. Altair has a decent set of moves, and a handful of weapons to choose from to break up the monotony--something the prince lacked.

So yeah, I went into this game not expecting much based on reviews and forum poster's accounts, but I've found it pretty enjoyable so far, and pretty impressive in terms of presentation. Check it out.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

GTFO, Fable

I'm done with this game. It's not that it's a bad game, per se, it's just kind of cumbersome in a lot of ways, so that it's been only barely holding my interest with it's middlingly cool combat. The plot is unremarkable to this point, and a lot of the voice acting is shit. I don't like the linearity of the world, either. It's all these tiny zones with narrow paths through them that you are totally unable to stray from. It reminds me of FFX or that LotR 'B-team' RPG they came out with that totally aped FFX. Plus, the game just locked up on my 360, costing me an hour and a half or so of time that I'm not willing to put back into it. I guess the moral of this story is that you had to be there at the time.

I wish Rock Band was getting the new Metallica album instead of Guitar Hero III. They shred pretty well this time around.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Diablo is a Demon

And by that I mean a total and complete pain in the ass. I must have died ten times trying to take his sulfurous ass down. I lost all of my accumulated gold rez-ing my rogue hireling and in death penalties, plus buying potions. Finally I just had to send my shadow warrior in to get one-shotted so I could sneak around the demon's backside and light his ass up with my claws and kicks. In the end he was destroyed at last, and dropped some weak-ass shit that I immediately went and vendored. So, I finished Diablo II proper, and from here it's on to the expansion Lord of Destruction, and act V. Well, my assassin is an expansion class anyway, so in a sense I've already been playing it...

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Retrograde Motion

Gaming as a contemporary experience--being perpetually "in the now"--moves along at quite a fast clip, and it's just about impossible to keep current if your tastes extend to more than one genre. Every now and then you just have to ignore the new for a while and take a closer look at things already past their retail "sell by" date.

Which is what I'm attempting to do now. One look over at the sidebars of this blog will tell you just how many games I have laying around unfinished, and in many cases, unopened. It's entertainment in the bank, and what I find I'd like more of at the present is more money in the bank, which provides a nice secondary motivation for this endeavor.

To this end, I wrapped up New Super Mario Bros. this evening. That only took two and a half years! What is there to say about this game? It's the latest in a legendary series of 2D platformers, the core platforming series in all of game-dom. It's about what you'd expect if you'e ever played SMB 3 or Super Mario World, which is to say it's a rock-solid fun experience.

I don't really know what came over me yesterday, but I wanted to jump into something new. I thought to finally start the borrowed copy of Assassin's Creed sitting on my TV stand, but instead I jumped into a couple of things.

The first was Fable. The original Xbox didn't have much of anything remarkable that couldn't be had on the PS2 eventually, but Fable was one of that handful of Xbox exclusive highlights. Back around the time of it's original release, the hype levels had risen so high that even I--in Japan, and way over my head into FFXI--took notice of the coming 'RPG revolution.'

Well, I think it's fair to say that Fable was hardly a revolution, and the game has apparently taken it's knocks in backlash since, but being an Xbox owner by virtue of backward compatibility (remember that shit, Sony?), I wanted to see what all of the fuss had been about. Also, this game can be had for like $7.99 these days if you know where to look. I've played it for about 5 hours or so this weekend, and I like it. The character models are kind of unsightly, and the menu system is not-so-pretty (though not terrible), and it kind of has that "last-gen-in-a-bad-kind-of-way" look to it overall, but the game is fun.

I like the battle and experience systems. So far I have kind of a jedi-like warrior-mage hybrid character who relies on his weapon primarily for damage but has a few 'force' tricks like shooting lightning, an area-of-effect force push with knock-back and damage, and a teleport to just behind the target so you can cut them down without being countered. So far my good/evil alignment is still around the middle, edging a bit more toward good. I find it hard to be an out and out asshole to people, but at the same time I'm not going to bend over backwards for everyone, like that guy who had been bitten by zombie werewolves and wanted to join my escort party through the swamps. Yeah, that's going to end well. Also, that mother who wants the remedy for her son who ate the magic mushroom can suck it. It would take way too much energy to track down the other mushrooms for that witch to make the remedy.

The other thing I threw in this weekend is Zelda: Twilight Princess for Wii. I basically just decided to sit down with it one good time before blindly trading it in for credit at Game Trader. I thought if anything I'd get the Gamecube version since it'd have a traditional control scheme. I've changed my mind. After about three hours with the game, it seems pretty damned good, Wii-mote and all, plus I read that the GC version isn't widescreen and only allows you to map two of your items to buttons rather than the 3 the Wii version allows. Other differences include the spin attack having to be charged on GC, whereas it's instant on Wii (which is handy), and interestingly, the games environments are all mirrored from one version to the other.

See, Link has always been a lefty, but Nintendo found that playtesters liked to use the nunchuck in their left hands and the Wii-mote (sword swings) in the right hand, and so they mirrored the entire game to retcon Link into a righty for the sake of soccer-moms and shogakusei everywhere. Whatever, I don't care, I just think it'd be cool to have the option to play the GC mirror image, since at places it apparently evokes environs from Ocarina of Time (although that game gets way too much worship anyway).

I'd like to plow through Fable kind of quickly and then pick up and continue Twilight Princess. Zelda's title demo really, really reminds me of Shadow of the Colossus, by the way. It's uncanny. Elsewise this week, I finished up Diablo II act III, killing the first of the Prime Evils, Mephisto. Bastard dropped a set piece that I already had. I had to create a Diablo mule, too, so I spent a few hours this week idling in the first act's rogue encampment to get the dude enough playtime so he wouldn't get deleted after 10 days. Good music there, but not as good as Diablo I's Tristram music. I also played some Castle Crashers online with my college buddy Jonathan, jzpeeps. Great game. Definitely better in co-op, though.

Monday, September 1, 2008

PAX 08 & August Digital Bonanza

We just got back from a Labor Day Weekend trip to Seattle, which included an afternoon spent at the Penny Arcade Expo. It was pretty cool, but a little smaller than I had expected (the booths were tiny). There wasn't anything completely new unveiled at the show, but there were plenty of upcoming games on display and playable, if you were willing to brave the lines. I wasn't. I did get to watch a few cool things being played, though: Left 4 Dead, Mirror's Edge, Fallout 3, Starcraft II, Gears of War 2, Rockband 2, Guitar Hero World Tour, Wii Music, Puzzle Quest: Galactrix, Yakuza 2, and a whole lot more.

This is me beside a V.A.T.S. (I think that's how it's written) from Fallout 3. I don't know what the acronym stands for, but I'm looking forward to find out!

This is one of the panels we went to (yes, I did drag my wife along--no, I don't think she was all that interested). Left to right: Perrin Kaplan, formerly of Nintendo, Jon Davison, former EGM/1-UP head honcho, Cheryl something or other, author of Grand Theft Childhood, and Newsweek's game writer N'gai Croal. This panel was on games' treatment of sex and violence, and how the industry should improve it, while also keeping parents well-informed of which games contain what content.

It was a good time, and I got to meet some cool folks, like Jon Davison there, and also Cheapy D of Cheap Ass Gamer and the CAG-cast, and Scott Benson, the host of Evil Avatar Radio (WACV), the game-related radio show/podcast. All very nice guys, and very generous, considering they provide me with hours and hours of entertainment each week for $0.00.

Below is my August gaming haul. No physical product! The revolution has come, and GameStop shall be first against the wall!