Saturday, August 15, 2015

Last Hurrah for Chivalry

Yakuza Zero is really impressive, I can't remember any recent prequel game that is this good. I think Studio RGG is simply incapable of making a bad Yakuza game.

Each time a major female character is introduced in these games, something magical happens for the series.
These stories usually revolves around honour and loyalty but having a female character brings some good old chivalry and romance plot into the mixture. It's no coincidence that Yakuza 2 and 4 are the best games in the series.

I was very happy that Kiryu is back as the main lead character when studio RGG decided to cut back on the number of playable characters.I was a little skeptic about having Majima drive the story of the game because his character is used quite sparingly in the older games. Overexposing him in this game could potentially diminishes the greatness of the Majima character. Thankfully I was wrong and I could definitely see Majima heading future Yakuza games all by himself.

There is a real sense of threat and urgency in this game, the story is a lot darker than the recent games. Studio RGG has a habit of saving lame characters from dying so they could use them again in future games. Maybe because of the prequel nature, a lot of characters die in this game and these are very good characters.

Finally we get to switch the fighting styles of the characters which I have been longing for since the PSP spin-off games. Changing the fighting styles on the fly makes the whole gameplay feels fresh again. Some say the series is suffering from fatigue but I feel it's been re-invigorated by this game.

Thanks to Salty Yen for his video translations. It's nice to play the games alongside with him and I don't think I could enjoy the game this much without him.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Zombie On The Go

Mercenaries 3D gathered quite a bad rap upon release that people barely remember anything else about this game. Bad enough that Capcom decided to charge for what used to be a free mini-game but then they went ahead and locked the save file too. Preventing owners from re-selling the 3DS game which Capcom later acknowledged was a bad move and left Revelations alone.

I purchased the digital copy of this game when it was on sale during Halloween. I wasn't really planning on getting it so I never made any attempt to look for the retail copy. This Mercenaries is more of a greatest hits compilation of all the stages and characters from RE 4 and RE 5. There is barely any new content until very late into the game where you get some nice new stages. 

On the surface, the game looks better than Revelations because of all the re-used assets from old RE games. However play it long enough and you will realise this is certainly not the case. A lot of the character animations have been simplified which becomes apparent when you perform melee attacks. The reused stages are also cut down in size compared with the original. At least the game performance is pretty steady even with the 3D effects on, thanks to all these graphical shortcuts.

As much as I hated RE6, I still had a pretty good time with the game's Mercenaries Mode. Of course, Capcom decided to ruin a good thing by making most of those stages DLC. This prevents most gamers from enjoying the complete Mercenaries Mode on RE6 which is a shame. Looking at the current state, the Mercenaries 3D is still the only way to enjoy the mini-game on the go. Maybe it's not too absurd now to think why Capcom would charge money for this game after all. 

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