Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Like A Boss

I love the video montage at the beginning of each Yakuza games. No matter how many times I have seen it, I rarely ever press to skip especially if I like the theme music too. It reminds of those Hong Kong TVB series where you also have a video montage before each episode.

When you first play the game, those video montage offers a glimpse of the story that lies ahead. As you progress through the game, the montage turns into a mixture of scenes you have seen and those you have not. These montages are carefully mixed so there are no big spoilers but just enough teasers to entice you to play on and on. I loved picking out the scenes to come and predicting how the story will unfold based on those scenes.

It really does feel like a TV serial and in a lot of ways, the Yakuza series is actually more like a TV serial than a summer blockbuster. The cutscenes are usually grounded on human drama with most of the action occurring during the game play. That's probably one of the reason why the series have difficulty breaking out of Japan in terms of mainstream success. For all its criminal undertones, it's more about the characters themselves rather than the shady stuff that yakuzas do.

Casual observers often compared the Yakuza games with Grand Theft Auto which is such a poor comparisons. You hardly ever do any criminal activity in the Yakuza games, just regular badass stuff that makes you feel like the boss.

Badass stuff like this following video montage

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Good Old Fashioned Fun

Satoru Iwata, the beloved CEO of Nintendo has sadly passed away last weekend. It's hard to understate the impact of his passing because he was such a public figure for Nintendo. Having possessed all the Nintendo systems released during Iwata's reign, I do feel the desire to talk about what makes them great, or even superior to their peers.

I loved how Nintendo games has no difficulty class. This may create a perception that the games are easy but personally, attaining 100% in any one of these games is probably harder than any platinum trophy I have earned. The lack of difficulty class puts everyone on the same page, how far you decide to take it is up to you. In some ways, Nintendo is teaching you to let go of your elitism and all just co-exist as one. There are no casual or hardcore gamers, just the love for the game. Playing games is not an entitlement, I can play anything I choose without someone making a funny comment.

I also loved how Nintendo games speaks to their audience in a way other games just don't. Most games treat you as a dumb ass who can't remember what you learn in the first 5 hours and are content to hold your hand all the way by spoon feeding you. Metroid and Zelda teaches you the basic tools and expect you to apply them throughout the game. When you get stuck in the game, there are no hints to help bail you out that will just magically appear. It can be frustrating at times but the feeling of finding your own way out is unlike anything. It also speaks of the level of confidence Nintendo have to deliver a game and expect gamers to "get it". Like a masterful filmmaker who doesn't do unnecessary frequent flashbacks because all the cues are there.

I didn't have many Nintendo systems when I was younger due to strict parenting. I did get a Gameboy but have always long for a Super NES during my childhood. While modern games strive to be cinematic and forget gameplay, Nintendo never loses sight of what's important. Some may find that old fashioned but sometimes we just need a little old fashion. Right, agent Coulson?

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Sexual Awakening

Here's my perspective of the Fire Emblem series as a relative outsider - it only became popular after IS incorporated dating sim elements into the game. This proves that nothing sells a product better than a little sex appeal. Of course, it may not be true but ever since Awakening made the series a mainstream success, every time it make headlines is concerning sexual elements like censored images and gay marriages.

I wanted to play the Fire Emblem series as I developed a fondness for SRPG on handheld systems. I'm still pretty noob when it comes to RPG so real-time combat in RPG is always daunting to me. In SRPG, you take turns to fight and move the players around on the grid a bit like a chess game.

To prepare myself for Awakening, I played the last Fire Emblem game on the Wii system - Radiant Dawn. It's pretty hardcore and old school, I was playing for hours and made little progress since the early chapters as I keep failing to survive. I would love to finish that game but I'm not sure if I can without resorting to Casual mode.

When I downloaded the demo for Awakening, I was immediately  blown away by the production value of the game. Radiant Dawn on the Wii wasn't a very good looking game by any means, in fact it looked like a Gamecube game (Hello Star Fox Zero!). Speaking of the Gamecube, its amazing how games these days still get referred to as Gamecube standards, shows you how ahead of the curve that system was at the time. Anyway back to Awakening, it's hard to believe Radiant Dawn and Awakening were released back to back on two vastly different system.

IS went all out when making Awakening as they realised the series was slowly declining and that this might very well be the last Fire Emblem game. They certainly didn't held back on the production value from what I seen from the demo so far. Now if only I can finish PxZ so I can get started on this now that my copy has arrived.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Greatness in Half

Bayonetta 2 is a game that nearly never got made and you have to wonder why Sega felt lukewarm about publishing the sequel. It does feel like a lower budget game than the first game for sure, clocking in about two-thirds the length of the first Bayonetta. You could make the case that the first game was a little too long but the way Bayonetta 2 ended left me feeling like THAT WAS IT? Ok the ending was nice and wrapped the story up nicely leading to the events of the first game even if it's way too similar to DMC3 ending.

The story of Bayonetta 2 does not revolved around Cereza, her story arc was done in the first game and here she is just dragged into the thick of things. A bit like how Kiryu story was completed in the first Yakuza and every installment of Yakuza games is not really about Kiryu. I was playing Max Payne 3 recently and I didn't like how the story narrative shifts from the wealthy family Payne was protecting to human trafficking. Bayonetta 2 has the same type of narrative shift, first the story is about Cereza trying to rescue her friend Jeanne and then suddenly, it's about time travelling and trying to get to Fimbulventr. I supposed you can't expect much of a story when the game starts and ends with Bayonetta shopping in a high end district.

The fighting mechanic is very much the same as the first game except now you can use a widespread climax attack instead of one torture attack on a single enemy. It's useful when you are fighting in a big crowd especially if you don't want to waste the torture on the wrong enemy in the midst of the chaos.

Platinum Games are learning from their western counterparts, you can see them trying to create these cinematic interactive experience like the Uncharted games. When you fighting a boss sometimes the background shifts and your summoned is fighting the other summoned in the background. It's frantic and looks really good but having to juggle combos while being distracted by all this is sometimes a bit too much. Go back to the first game that is included in the packaging and you can appreciate some definite graphical improvement.

In the end this doesn't feel like a full fledged sequel to me more like, Bayonetta 1.5. All the players that made the first game great are back but constraints held this one back a bit.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Keep The Home Fires Burning

This mobile strap comes with first edition copies of Devil May Cry 3 JP Edition

The Devil and Bayo series shares this weird symbiotic relationship. They obviously have the same fanbase (me being one) but coincidentally the games never competed head on. 

The Devil series did their thing and faded away for a bit then the Bayo games came and kept the fires burning. I don't think it would be too far to say that if it wasn't for Bayonetta, DMC4SE would never have happened. 

One man that has a hand on both series is action director Yuji Shimomura. He crafted the cutscenes in both the series, making the games just as fun to watch as it is to play. Yuji started in this genre with DMC3 which is probably still his best work if you asked me. His work on the Bayonetta series has been less impressive perhaps because the Devil work were so outstanding.

I can't pick out a single impressive scene from Bayonetta 2. That creative energy that I expect from Yuji just isn't there, not sure if the story and characters just didn't suit his strengths. Bayonetta 2 felt like a lower budget game to me and considering how hard Platinum fought to make that game, I believe that to be the case. The cutscenes felt just as long as the first Bayo but less impactful, there isn't much scenes of showing off that you come to expect. 

DMC4SE new scenes looked very promising, I can't wait to see what Yuji has cooked up as it certainly looked like he found his vigor again. 

The inside of the strap has a different color depending on which character

This is for Vergil. There is also one for Dante and Lady

Sunday, June 14, 2015

The Waiting Game

These days, games get released not once, not twice.... you get the drill. Lebron knows what I'm saying.

I'm talking about Game of The Year Edition, never mind the remastered and HD edition this time. 

I waited a really long time for Red Dead Redemption GOTY edition almost to the point where I forget why I wanted the game at the first place. Looking back, I wasn't very eager about this game until the Undead Nightmare DLC came about. Being a fan of all things horror, I was probably more interested in the DLC than the actual game itself so it made sense to wait it out for a complete edition. Sure I could have gotten the standalone DLC first but I always find DLC pricing too absurd for my liking. For the record, I did actually play the original Red Dead first before getting into the Undead Nightmare. 

Most of the time it's almost impossible to wait for a Complete edition if you are really eager on the game since day one. Quality DLC takes time to develop, unless it's some cheap tactic employed by a publisher to withheld finished content to release down the line. Most of the good DLC like Left Behind and RE5 felt like genuine afterthought made due to positive feedback of the original game. By the time those DLC came out, the original games were aging in dog years by gamer's standards.

I had no idea that The Evil Within was going to have DLC story content when I picked up the original game. I don't keep track of every game out there to point where I even know about games I have no intention of playing. Thankfully the main game was satisfying and pretty meaty content for a single player game. Mikami isn't one to cut back, I always thought RE4 was probably a tad bit too long for its own good. The Evil Within never overstayed its welcome, it's long but never felt draggy. The DLC added more to what was already a pretty strong content for a survival horror game. Probably good enough for me to consider double-dipping on a complete edition for The Evil Within PS4/Xbone version.

It's nice to own the complete edition of a game, having all that content in one convenient package. However, there is something cool about owning the first edition of the game. You can denied that, it's almost like a badge of honour among your geek friends.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Playing for Fun

Playing games should always be about having fun. I remember reading that the worst thing a game can do is to make you feel like you wasted your time.

I totally agree with that but unfortunately that sometimes means achievements. Or in this case, trophies.

A game can be fun but in the end if I failed to make any progress during that time I would feel like I wasted my time. Like when I’m about to power down the console and realized I didn’t make a new save file, the feeling of wasted effort comes creeping in. It could be a brutally hard action game or an adventure game with a devilish puzzle (Cing).

It could also be a second play through when I need to locate every emblem (RE) or collectible (TLoU) in the game. By then, I would need the help of a guide because I obviously couldn’t locate every bit in my first play through. The problem is the more dependent I’m on the guide, the less fun the experience becomes. I don’t play by my normal instincts anymore and the constant need to check the guide breaks any mood the game creates.

In the end, I don’t feel like I wasted my time because I achieved something. Did I have fun? Probably not as much as I would like to.