Archive for March, 2014

Mario

Holding a Special Place in our Hearts: Ratchet & Clank, Mario, de Blob, Kirby, Fox McCloud, Pit, Wander, Pac-Man, Chris Redfield

God of War8. (tie) Kratos (God of War)
The God of War series may be, at its heart, a hack’n slash, but the story of Kratos is pretty gut wrenching. He vows to serve Ares if he and his men are spared during a losing battle, but is later betrayed by Ares and tricked into killing his own wife and child. This leads to Kratos not only battling Ares, but also taking on the Gods of Mt. Olympus as well as the Titans, neither of which being an easy task. While Kratos is ultimately successful in these battles, he sacrifices himself for mankind, leaving his fate currently unknown.

Solid Snake8. (tie) Solid Snake (Metal Gear)
Despite not being a fan of the Metal Gear games after the original Metal Gear Solid, I have to include Solid Snake on this list. Snake is a genetically modified soldier and part of a secret cloning program. From his time as a rookie until his final mission, which finds him aging rapidly due to his genetic tampering, Snake is constantly facing incredibly long odds and is almost always on his own, though he does get radio and remote support from a cast of other characters. Despite his incredible fighting skills, the key to Snake’s success often lies in stealth and knowing when to engage the enemy and when to avoid them.

Raziel7. Raziel (Legacy of Kain)
Raziel’s history is a bit complex. When first introduced, he was the top lieutenant of the vampire ruler Kain, but was thrown to his death when his powers eclipsed his master’s. Saved by the Elder God, Raziel goes on a quest for vengeance, including defeating his vampiric brothers and traveling through time in an effort to confront his former master. During his quest, Raziel learns that he was once a member of the Sarafan, a vampire hunting brotherhood, and that his spirit would ultimately inhabit the Reaver, which had been broken when Kain attacked him with it. He also discovers upon defeating Kain that his choices will determine the fate of the land of Nosgoth and that the Elder God has hardly been his ally.

Adol6. Adol Christin (Ys)
What seperates Adol from most heroes on this list is that instead of finding himself in a situation that calls for battle or for him to be “the hero,” Adol searches out adventure. He’s rarely called to action, he finds the action and jumps in. In that regard, his timing is uncanny as the lands he visits usually have some intrigue or conflict going on that Adol is happy to insert himself into. The thing is, Adol is also really great at resolving the conflicts at hand. While he seeks out adventure, he also has the abilities to take on whatever and whomever he comes across. Just an aside here, but these games are also very hard, so bonus points to Adol for facing some seriously intimidating beasts.

Simon5. Simon Belmont (Castlevania)
I really could have picked any Belmont here, but Ultimately went with Simon since he has had three starring roles and dealt with Dracula the most during his lifetime, including dispelling a curse placed on him that forced him to intentionally resurrect Dracula only to battle and defeat him once more. Simon uses the Vampire Killer as his primary weapon in his battles, but also has access to supplemental weapons such as throwing axes, holy water, and the always useful boomerang cross. Simon, like his ancestors and descendants, battles hordes of Dracula’s followers, all the while traversing dangerous terrain to bring down the Vampire and preserve the peace for his home land.

Isaac Clarke4. Isaac Clarke (Dead Space)
Isaac Clarke really can’t get a break. An engineer, he is heading to a spaceship for work and to see his girlfriend. Upon arriving, he and his crew are attacked by necromorphs, with Isaac barely surviving and finding himself all alone against the threat, with the surviving members of his team tasking him with getting them all off the ship. Isaac uses his skills as an engineer to do so, learning how to use new weapons on the fly. After escaping the ship, Isaac is placed in a psych ward on the Sprawl (located on Titan), which is then infested by necromorphs as well, meaning Isaac must once again battle these monsters before escaping the sprawl, only to find himself in yet another situation on an icy planet. While only an engineer, Isaac uses his intelligence to overcome the situations that seem to find him each time. To top all of this, his girlfriend was killed long before he made it to the ship. That’s a bad few days.

Leon3. Leon Kennedy (Resident Evil)
Much like Isaac Clarke, Leon Kennedy has trouble find him. On his first day as a police officer in Raccoon City, Leon finds himself alone against the Zombie outbreak. He does eventually escape Raccoon City and is promoted over time to the President’s security detail. It is at this point that he is tasked with rescuing the president’s daughter from a rural European village, that happens to be the home to Las Plagas, a parasite that is controlling the visitors and driving them to kill Leon. After defeating their leader, Lord Saddler, Leon saves Ashley, the daughter, and returns to the US where, once again, a zombie outbreak occurs, including the infection of his good friend, the President. It is Leon’s training and skills that make him such a force in each game and lead to him triumphing in each situation.

Mega Man X2. Mega Man/Mega Man X (Mega Man/Mega Man X)
I’ve included both incarnations of Mega Man here because it would be impossible to pick between them. As a helper robot, Rock volunteers to be transformed into Mega Man by Dr. Light after Dr. Wily hi-jacks Light’s other robots to attack civilization. After each defeat, Mega Man was able to use that robot master’s weapon. His battles with Dr. Wily would continue through nine more sequels, with Mega Man triumphing over Wily’s creations each time. Towards the end of his life, Dr. Light also creates Mega Man X and puts him in stasis in case he is needed at some point in the future. Oddly enough, it is his discovery by Dr. Cain, and Cain’s attempts to replicate X that lead to X having to do battle with other robots that have gone Maverick and are threatening mankind. Both Mega Man and Mega Man X seem outmatched, but both always answer the call and defeat the enemies facing them.

Link1. Link (The Legend of Zelda)
While I recognize that most Zelda games feature a new Link, it is the hero’s spirit that embodies them and fate that leads to them saving Hyrule (usually). Link is the quintessential hero. He isn’t necessarily the quickest or the strongest and the foes he faces always seem to have the advantage, but Link always uses his skills and the tools and weapons at his disposal to claim victory. Also, despite not being a soldier or a fighter, he takes the situations that fate hands him and just does what has to be done, even when it seems that doing so is almost suicidal. It is his bravery and unflinching courage that define him and guide him in each adventure. For always being the hero, Link is #1.

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Oculus Rift

As much as I’ve tried to ignore this, it appears that, for better or worse, virtual reality is going to become a “thing.” It appears that no less than four virtual reality devices are heading our way with the Oculus Rift, as well as projects from Sony, Microsoft, and Valve. While the hype certainly exists, I’m just not sure that virtual reality is destined to be as popular as that hype would suggest.

Though I'll admit that a game like this might sell me on VR.

Though I’ll admit that a game like this might sell me on VR.

The key question is, where is the hype coming from? If it’s coming almost exclusively from consumers, then that’s one thing. Remember the hype the Wii created? That was almost entirely consumer based. The industry wasn’t sure how the Wii would be received, so there was very little excitement there (that’s not a fanboy complaint, industry insiders usually hedge their bets on new consoles). In this case though, I’m not sure if that’s really where the excitement is coming from. Instead, this situation seems to me to be one created by the developers. Mark Walton of GameSpot says it best:

Today’s VR is very impressive. Developers love it too. But how do we know the public at large will? The majority of interest in VR has come from the industry, not from consumers. It’s impossible to really know the demand for such a device before it goes on sale; even the hugely successful Oculus Rift Kickstarter was backed only by a few thousand people.

See, while it’s obviously only my (and his) opinion and speculation, I agree with the sentiment of this statement. The demand just doesn’t seem to exist naturally, which could be a problem.

Virtual Reality tech actually reminds me of the 3-D fads we’ve gone through. It was the “next big thing” in the 80’s…and the 50’s…and the 60’s…and now. While I’ll admit to it doing better now, I think it’s just a byproduct of popular movies being made in 3-D. When I saw Iron Man 3, 3-D was my main option, so I went with it. I’d have been just as happy seeing it normally. My point here being that 3-D isn’t necessarily successful because it’s 3-D, but because it has attached itself to something that’s already popular. Virtual Reality can’t do that. These headsets are their own creation, not something that can just be included with future games, the way 3-D is with movies. That means a larger outlay of cash by the consumers. Remember when Sony and Microsoft did their own Motion Devices to compete with the Wii? Move was essentially a failure for Sony. Kinect, as I’ve written in the past, was more successful, but never approached the success of the Wii. The same Wii that included the new idea with every system instead of making it it’s own entity (which is a positive for the Xbox One, despite driving up the console price).

Of course, any mention of Virtual Reality headsets means we have to discuss the elephant in the room.

I just don't see why this wasn't successful.

I just don’t see why this wasn’t successful.

Yes, Nintendo’s Virtual Boy. Look, I realize that we’ve come a long way from red and black graphics, but it really is the best comparison we have, and it failed miserably. It was bulky, it created headaches, and people generally weren’t fans of strapping a machine onto their head. Even with the massive advancements in technology since then, I would still approach the virtual reality idea with a ton of caution, if for no other reason than the failure that was the Virtual Boy. I just don’t see this caution being exercised yet, possibly because no one wants to be caught flat footed. Companies see their competitors dabbling in something new, so they launch into that same area. They can’t allow their competition to be the only game in town.

As I said early on, this is all my opinion, but this whole venture gives me the same vibe I’ve gotten from other short-lived fads. Ultimately, I do hope I’m wrong here. Competition and technological advancements could ultimately make for better gaming and more immersive experiences. I can get behind the idea of exploring Rapture or Mars or a planet in the Metroid universe in this kind of set-up, but I’m just not yet sure that we’re at the point yet where that can be done in a way that is affordable and doesn’t require uncomfortable peripherals of some kind. I also need to confess my bias here as someone that wears glasses. Having to wear a second set of 3-D glasses is bad enough. I can’t even imagine how annoying hoisting one of these headsets on my head would be.

ET

For this list, I’m using some flexible rules. Basically, I’m allowing games that are based directly on a Movie or TV show as well as games that only use those licenses. Some of these also originated as comics, but I’ve allowed them so long as the games are pulled from a Movie or Television adaptation or if the comic came after the film or show.

Not on the Podium: Little Nemo: The Dream Master, The Goonies 2, Aladdin, Spider-Man, X-Men: Mutant Apocalypse, The Lion King

Simpsons8. The Simpsons: Hit & Run (PS2/Xbox/GCN)
I haven’t spent much time with a GTA game, but my understanding is that this is basically GTA: Simpsons Edition, and that is fine with me. Featuring a story by the show’s writers and voice talent from the show as well, Hit & Run finds you in the shoes of the Simpsons as you walk and drive your way around different sections of Springfield. While I’ve staled on the show in recent years, I still found that this game really felt like you were in the show and wandering around Springfield. While there is a plot to follow, I had my most fun simply exploring the area and finding all of the hidden collectibles, essentially only completing each Chapter when I had to, not because the story was weak, but because I found exploring this game just to be that much fun.

Robo vs Terminator7. Robocop versus the Terminator (SNES/Sega Genesis)
Based on two movie stalwarts (and a comic book series), Robocop versus the Terminator places you in the shoes of Robocop as you investigate a person out to kill you and why the Terminators want that person dead and you, as Robocop, to stay alive. The story takes you from the familiar streets of Detroit to an apocalyptic future ruled by the machines, which you, as Robocop, unwittingly helped create and make sentient. This game features multiple weapons to use as well level variety. Also, this game can get extremely hard, but is rarely unfair. Bonus points for the humorous credits that run if you know the code to enter…assuming you can get to the credits.

Indiana Jones6. Lego Indiana Jones: The Original Adventures (Xbox 360/PS3/Wii)
For anyone that prefers Star Wars, you could probably replace this title with Star Wars and it would still work. I’m an Indiana Jones fan, and this title just edges out the Greatest Adventures SNES game as my favorite Jones game. Combining the charm of the Lego games with scenarios from all three of the original movies, Lego Indiana Jones is both familiar and new at the same time. As with all Lego games, there are many secrets and unlockables which work to provide quite a bit of replay value. I will admit my bias and say that the main draw for me to this game was the licensed property, but it does speak very highly of the game that it reminds me so much of the films. It treats its source material with respect and adapts it perfectly to the Lego World.

Addams Family Values5. Addams’ Family Values (SNES/Sega Genesis)
I’d wager that this is the least known game on this list, and I can understand why. Just based on seeing it in store, I’d ignore it too, but a Nintendo Power feature lead me to pick this game up, and I’m extremely glad I did. Addams’ Family Values puts you in control of Uncle Fester, who has a lightening attack, in a top down perspective as you roam the Addams’ estate in search of Debbie and Pubert. The game plays quite a bit like a Legend of Zelda title, having you explore different lands and dungeons while gathering new items that aid you in different ways. The game is open world and does have you back track to explore new areas. The only knock I have against this game is the save system. It is password based, but you must find Grandmama who is not in a convenient area to reach. Other than that though, this game is quite the hidden gem.

DuckTales4. DuckTales (NES)
Do I really need to even say why this game is here? It’s an extremely well designed platformer based on a beloved cartoon & comic series. This is another game given to us via an agreement between Disney and Capcom that lead to some very good licensed games. Of those games, I consider this one to be the best. You take control of Uncle Scrooge as he explores five different land areas, chosen Mega Man style, in search of valuable treasures, and with each having a boss at the end. Each land you visit is a bit open world, offering up multiple paths for you to explore, as well as many hidden treasures to be found, some hidden quite well. I also have to take this time to give special notice to the music of this game, some of the best you’ll find on the NES.

TMNT II3. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Arcade Game (NES)
Based mostly on the cartoon (itself pulled from the original comics), I’m basing this ranking on the NES port. A beat ’em up in the vein of Double Dragon, TMNT II is one of the highlights of the original NES. The character models are surprisingly detailed for the NES, matching their cartoon animations quite well. The gameplay, while like most “defeat enemies, move on” games, manages to stay fresh with varying enemies and hazards for you to deal with. The levels help keep this freshness by taking you through different locales and, in one level, putting you on a motorized skateboard while you fend off enemies. For anyone that loved the cartoon, this title was about as close as you could get to taking control of those characters.

Ghostbusters2. Ghostbusters: The Video Game (Xbox 360/PS3/Wii/PS2)
This might has well of been called Ghostbusters 3. Written by Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis and featuring nearly the entire cast of the original two movies, this game is worth playing for the story alone. That said, the gameplay is extremely well done and a ton of fun. The game uses a traditional third person shooter set-up, except you are attempting to wrangle ghosts instead of killing human enemies. Surprisingly, this game also has some scary moments. You’ll find yourself alone, separated from the other members of the team, facing some spooky stuff and it can be a bit intimidating. It would have been easy to slap Ghostbusters on the box and attempt to sell something shoddy off of the name, but it is nice to see that the developers made a game they can be very proud to stand behind and one that more than lives up to its namesake.

Goldeneye1. Goldeneye (N64)
As with Ghostbusters, it would have been easy to phone this in on the power of the name, but instead, Rare crafted an FPS title that still stands strong today, and worked as a pioneer for future console FPS titles. Goldeneye takes you through the movies main areas, giving you a main goal, but also giving you supplemental requirements to be completed based upon your chosen difficulty. The game played so well that it almost managed to make an escort mission enjoyable, which in the realm of escort missions, is a major win. Complimenting the very strong single player campaign was a robust multiplayer mode allowing up to four players to fight one another via split screen and using weapons and characters not only from Goldeneye but also from past Bond films. For both the high quality of the game as well as what it did for future console FPS titles, Goldeneye is #1.

Amazon

The fact that Amazon is launching a set-top box offering streaming video services is hardly a surprise. Much like Netflix, Amazon has dabbled in original series and who can blame them for wanting to have a service that means you can only get that content straight from Amazon on their device. So, as expected as this might have been, what has been a surprise is that Amazon also seems intent on jumping into the gaming market with this device.

The rumors are that Amazon will offer streaming video games and will compete with Apple and Roku, but Amazon has done something that makes me wonder exactly how far they want to take their foray into the gaming market.

Amazon has increased its gaming-related hiring of late and even acquired Killer Instinct and Strider developer Double Helix Games for an undisclosed sum last month. 

This reeks of more than just mild interest. Granted, that’s only one studio, and is rather old news, but I expect this to be the first of a few purchases for them. My feeling is that they are looking for original content in terms of both television shows (that terms is quickly becoming outdated) and video games.

Backing up the rumors of game content was the release of a supposed controller last week.

Controller

Well, I think it’s pretty fugly, but it does the job I suppose. Seems very Android based to me.

The big question about Amazon’s actions are how this thing will be received. Even though the Gamespot story states Apple TV and Roku as the primary competition, once you enter into the gaming market in this way (purchasing a publisher with a few recent titles in Killer Instinct and Strider), you also have to consider the current generation of consoles as competition as well, especially given how media ready these devices are. Between the PS4, Xbox One, and WiiU, you can access Netflix, Hulu, Youtube, and Amazon for your viewing needs, just to name a few. These devices are also dedicated gaming consoles, receiving acclaimed games that I just can’t imagine an Amazon console receiving (I mean, most of these aren’t even hitting the WiiU).

I admire what Amazon is hoping to do, and I do expect them to be moderately successful, but I just can’t see them making any kind of true inroads with the gaming community. We’ve already put out funds for something that gives us gaming as well as access to multiple choices of media streaming, be it for free or via a monthly fee (looking at you here Microsoft). Still, Amazon’s actions seem to indicate that they hope to wade into the deep waters with the big three, and if they do try that, I fully expect them to be completely devoured.

SONY DSC

In case you haven’t noticed, this current game generation seems to be big on requiring peripherals that alter how you would normally interface with your game console. Now, this did start last generation with the Wii, but that’s arguably more of a non-standard take on the traditional controller with added motion functionality. A fine line, but I’m willing to toe it, and wouldn’t argue back if you disagreed with me.

First up was the WiiU. Yes, it is current generation, so stop rolling your eyes. As we all know, the key selling point of the WiiU was the Gamepad, a controller with a decent sized touch screen included. This was going to change how we played and looked at games. I’m not sure how, but that was the claim. Along with allowing for additional information to be displayed while you play in-game, the Gamepad could be used for off TV play, essentially turning the WiiU into a portable device of sorts. It is 100% required for the WiiU, according to Nintendo.

Simply revolutionary

Simply revolutionary

Next up, let’s hear it for the Xbox One! Microsoft loved the Kinect so much for the Xbox 360, that it became an integral part of the Xbox One. Now, full disclosure, I have a Kinect for my 360 and really enjoy it. It’s not the perfect peripheral, but I never expected it to be either. The Kinect for the One is a more advanced model though. It allows for the motion and waving actions to be read, takes pics and videos, takes voice commands, etc… It’s fairly advanced…and is 100% required for the Xbox One, according to Microsoft.

What fun!

What fun!

Finally, the PS4. Sony has integrated their handheld system, the Vita, into the PS4 console, meaning that it works in much the same way as the WiiU gamepad. There is off TV play for it (download play, essentially) as well as other features. This is still in its infancy so full use probably hasn’t been seen yet. What’s important to remember is that it’s 100% required for the PS4, according to Sony.

No…wait. My mistake. It’s 100% NOT required for the PS4, according to Sony. On a totally unrelated note, let’s check in on which system has sold the most as of the end of February.

NPD February: PS4 still top of US retail chart
-Actual Headline

Okay, so I’m not going to suggest that the PS4 is ruling the roost solely because it doesn’t come packaged with a peripheral that changes how you control the games on the system. I don’t believe that at all. I also have to point out that the PS Vita is an entirely separate system that has to be purchased whereas the Gamepad and Kinect are part of your purchase of the console. Still, while both of those statements are true, I do believe that it has had an impact on sales. Of the three current generation consoles, the PS4 is the only one that hasn’t wedged new control schemes into their games in an effort to justify a packaged peripheral.

If only it was a more traditional controller.

If only it was a more traditional controller

See, I think that’s one of the key issues here. With the WiiU and Xbox One, both Nintendo and Microsoft are trying to sell more than just a console, they’re also selling a new, more advanced way of playing. Therefore, when they release games for their systems, or work with third parties, they’re going to want to have at least some focus on that aspect. The problem is, even if both work fine and are generally good ideas (theoretically!), you can’t just wedge new interfaces into every game. For every Pikmin game where a new control scheme seems like a stroke of genius, there is a Batman: Arkham City where the controls seem to detract from the game rather than add (speaking of the WiiU version).

Even as a diehard Nintendo fan, I will admit that game controls don’t always need an overhaul. The gamepad is at its best in a game like Darksiders 2 (inventory) or Lego City Undercover (map & video calls) where it’s supplemental to the game. It doesn’t force you to change your play style, it just gives you additional information and saves you some time in pause menus, similar to the use of the screen in the Castlevania DS games (map display = simple, yet brilliant). The same is true of Kinect use, though I don’t believe it to be as intrusive…so far.

Both Nintendo and Microsoft have stated that their systems will not be sold without their respective control methods, but not everyone is sold that this is the case.

“Don isn’t there anymore. You have a new boss over the Xbox division, who has no skin in the Kinect game,” Pachter said.

“Sure they’re gonna unbundle. Not in 2014. They will not change the SKU that dramatically in the first full year. It’s a 2015 event.

That would be Michael Pachter, video game analysis and frequent target of fanboys everywhere. He doesn’t address the WiiU, but I’ve seen similar chatter suggesting that Nintendo would do well to ditch the gamepad. The reasoning here goes beyond intrusions on gameplay however, and is the second key point about these peripherals. See, neither the Kinect or Gamepad are included for free. Each is an expensive peripheral that drives up the price of the system. The WiiU is already fairly cheap, comparatively, but would go even cheaper should the Gamepad be jettisoned. For the Xbox One, dropping the Kinect at some point may allow Microsoft to price match Sony’s PS4, which is currently ahead in the console race by about two million units. As I’ve written earlier, after four months of being on the market, two million units is a sizable number to be behind by.

Microsoft, hearing that Sony is ahead in the console race

Microsoft, hearing that Sony is ahead in the console race

Now, none of this is meant to disparage either the Gamepad or Kinect. I happen to like both, but can also see where it may help both Nintendo and Microsoft if they found a way to not require one for each system. Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze may be an indicator that Nintendo is moving in that direction. When playing on TV, the gamepad goes dark. The only use for it is for off TV play. This is a second party Nintendo title not using the Gamepad in any way. I can’t help but feel that that could be a bit of a hint about Nintendo’s plans for the WiiU Gamepad in the future. For Microsoft, as stated above, it would put them in a more competitive position with the PS4 with a reduced price. Both the Xbox One and WiiU find themselves behind the PS4 currently, and while I don’t believe that dropping the non-traditional inputs is the answer to catching Sony (especially for the WiiU…ouch), I have to admit that, despite enjoying both inputs, it would probably help.

In further defense of the Kinect, it did give us this.

Comic

Runner-ups: Princess Peach, Bayonetta, Sonya Blade, Vela, Sheva Alomar, Mrs. Pac-Man, Joanna Dark, Claire Redfield, The Boss, Celes Chere

Okami8. Amaterasu (Okami)
Nowhere did I say that the female had to be human. Loophole! Amaterasu (Ammie) is literally a Goddess. Goddess of the Sun to be specific. After the demon Orochi is released, Ammie must travel the lands restoring life to the areas she visits while defeating dangerous demons, ultimately engaging the ruler of the demons in a fierce battle. While Ammie’s gender never truly comes into play during the game, it is stated very definitively many times that Ammie is female and a Goddess. She overcomes incredible odds to defeat a very powerful evil and save the land of Nippon. Ammie has also turned up in a couple of Street Fighter versus Capcom entries.

Shanoa7. Shanoa (Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia)
Castlevania has seen a few female protagonists over the years, but Shanoa sticks out for a few reasons. Her source of power comes from glyphs on her body. Three can be used at one time. Aside from these glyphs, she has no weapons at all, so she truly enters battle unarmed. She was also forced to overcome what she thought was a betrayal, but turned out not to be, then a betrayal that she didn’t realize was a betrayal. And, if you really want to turn this into a male versus female thing, she had to best three different men, two from her own Order that trained her, to set things right. All of this also earned her a role in the underrated (as I see it) Castlevania: Judgment Wii game.

Street Fighter 4 video game image Chun-Li6. Chun-Li (Street Fighter)
Fighting game characters are rarely admired for any kind of story, but Chun-Li’s is worth pointing out. She has been trained in multiple martial arts styles from an early age, and has been instilled with a strong moral code and sense of justice. After her father’s death at the hands of M. Bison, she goes undercover to bring him down. When not in the street fighting circuit, she is a police officer and/or teaches children martial arts. She is also the first female character in the Street Fighter series and a major force in-game.

NIER5. Kaine (NIER)
Kaine is an interesting character, and probably the most surprising one on this list for most people. First of all, Kaine isn’t controllable in game, but is a member of your party for virtually the entire game, therefore, I feel including her is proper here. There’s also the fact that Kaine is intersex, a fact hinted at in the game and stated outright in supplemental reading. Kaine is a tragic character, having lost her parents as a child and having been ostracized for that and her gender. As an adult, she carries that anger with her and it seems to serve as a driving force. She is also partially possessed by a shade, a death sentence for most people, but she co-exists with said shade. Ultimately, while being a tragic character, she overcomes all of the set-backs to be a valuable party member and exceptionally strong person.

Lara Croft4. Lara Croft (Tomb Raider)
Though #4 on my list, I think of Lara Croft as being second in influence in regards to female protagonists (behind my #1). She ranks a bit lower because she ultimately chose her lifestyle instead of being thrown into it (hey, this is my choice). While being raised as a wealthy child, Lara found herself stranded in the Himalayas after a plane crash…or on an island after a ship wreck, depending on which storyline we’re going with. Regardless, Lara rose to the demands of each, taking care of herself and overcoming the obstacles in her way. In her original timeline (Himalayas), this lead to her seeking out adventure, much like a more acrobatic Indiana Jones. While also helping pioneer the female role in games, Lara was the first real video game sex symbol. I’m still not sure if this was a positive or a negative for women in games.

Resident Evil3. Jill Valentine (Resident Evil)
Jill has truly been through the ringer. She helped take down a tyrant in the initial outbreak in Raccoon City, then had to survive the city itself while being stalked by the Nemesis Tyrant, only barely escaping the city before its destruction. After helping found the BSAA, she is kidnapped by Albert Wesker and put under his control for a decent chunk of time, finally being freed by Chris Redfield during Resident Evil 5. Jill is extremely resourceful and a constant force to be reckoned with, as her continued survival in the face of overwhelming odds show. She has also had roles in the Street Fighter versus Capcom games as well as Project X Zone.

Terra Branford2. Terra Branford (Final Fantasy VI)
The daughter of a human mother and Esper father, Terra begins her in-game story as a slave to the empire, as she is supremely powerful with natural magical abilities thanks to her Esper heritage. After finally being freed of her slave crown by the “Returners,” also known as the “good guys,” Terra becomes the primary heroine of the game, and the person the story most revolves around. During the second half of the game, she does lose her fighting spirit, choosing to instead watch over a group of orphaned children, but regains it and decides to fight against those threatening them. Terra’s magical abilities are a major force in game and she is a major asset in any battle. Terra also shows up in the Dissidia mash-up game and has a cool cameo in Secret of Evermore.

Samus Aran1. Samus Aran (Metroid)
Yes, I’m predictable, though I prefer to call myself consistent. Samus Aran is the original strong female protagonist. She saw her family slaughtered by space pirates, surviving the attack, and was cared for by the bird like Chozo race. Under their tutelage, she was trained and given equipment that allowed her to obliterate the space pirates, and their commander, Ridley, at every turn, as well as managing to completely eradicate the Metroid species the pirates were attempting to weaponize. She does this completely solo as well, relying on no back-up or support from Space Marines or anyone else. Even if I wasn’t the fan of Metroid that I am, Samus would still almost have to be in this spot just because I feel she paved the way for every other female protagonist in games. Samus Aran, female trailblazer.

Console Wars

Just a quickie this morning. I read an article this morning asking if the Xbox One was in trouble. I didn’t realize that this was an issue, so I did a check in on current sales of the PS4, WiiU, and Xbox One:

– PS4: 5.85 million consoles
– Xbox One: 3.54 million consoles
– WiiU: 5.78 million consoles
Data from http://www.vgchartz.com/analysis/platform_totals/

And PS4 is the early leader. Pretty sure I called that one a few months ago…but then, who didn’t?

Anyway, with 3.5 million consoles moved, I wouldn’t think the Xbox One is in trouble, but I did some more digging and found this:

– WiiU: 3.06 million consoles as of 12/31/2012

The WiiU launched in November of 2012 in most regions, so that’s about a month and a half of sales. We all know the story since. Hype and freshness will move consoles out of the gate, it’s what happens once that wears off that tells the real story. In the three months following that WiiU figure, it only moved around .4 million. Notice the decimal point there. Hype wore off kind of fast, I guess.

At the end of 2013, Microsoft had moved approximately 3 million consoles since launch. Nothing to sneeze at. In late January, the number was up to 3.9 million (calling into question either the age of the data I started with or Microsoft’s number rounding abilities). Assuming the .9 million figure is accurate for January, that’s not bad, except that the PS4 was reportedly at 5.3 million consoles sold just a couple of weeks later. By most estimates, as of right now, the PS4 has a 2 million console sales lead. It is still very early in this generation, but that’s quite a lead to have.

Still, is the Xbox One in trouble? I think it’s far too early to be making that claim. It’s still quickly gaining on the WiiU (come on Mario Kart!) and is definitely keeping itself in the game with sales. On top of that, the much hyped Titanfall will be launching this week. Granted, Infamous: Second Son is coming right on its heels for the PS4, but regardless of that, Titanfall will move some consoles quickly, if what I’m reading is to be believed. Also, don’t forget that third parties will be putting their games on both the PS4 and Xbox One most of the time, so they will be on equal footing in that regard (and something that will continue to plague the WiiU).

Titanfall

The bottom line as I see it is that PS4 was always going to win this generation. It was put into motion at the Xbox One reveal and cemented at Sony’s E3 Press Conference. Microsoft peed in their own cereal and are paying for it now. I want to keep Nintendo in this conversation, but we all know the story there. Mario Kart and Smash Brothers will write their story in a few months. So, is the Xbox One in trouble? No, not at all. But if the PS4 continues to outpace them, they could be. At the current prices, owning both isn’t a true option for most consumers, so they have to really push back. Not only against the PS4, but against their own missteps that, while old news, are still fresh in everyone’s memories.

Arkham Knight

Earlier this week, Rocksteady announced their next title as Batman: Arkham Knight. This game will, according to Rocksteady, conclude their Arkham Trilogy (interesting that they chose to ignore Arkham Origins in that statement). A friend of mine has already touched on this game , and I urge you to check that blog out, but, shyster that I am, I figured why not do a blog as well.

Story wise, it appears that Scarecrow will be the “big bad” in Arkham Knight. Acting upon his threat to release a fear toxin, Gotham City has been evacuated, leaving only the thugs and villains for Batman to encounter. Scarecrow has also recruited other major players in Batman’s rogue gallery in order to not only enact his plan, but finally take down the Dark Knight. I like the enhanced role of Scarecrow. He’s always been one of my favorite villains and while his stages in past Arkham games were well done, placing him as the primary antagonist (so far as we know) is an intriguing idea considering his fighting style (using drugs to cause hallucinations).

Scarecrow

Arkham Knight will be bigger than Arkham City, encompassing an evacuated Gotham City. How big, exactly, isn’t know yet, but since the Batmobile will be drivable in-game, I would guess we’re talking a city on the scale of something from Grand Theft Auto. This is cool for two reasons. Firstly, it means that finding everything and checking the nooks & crannies of Gotham will be much deeper than in past games, in which it was already quite deep. Secondly though, it means that gliding will be that much more glorious. Flying from one end of Arkham City to the other was just so much fun, and having an even larger city to fly around is like a dream.

Batmobile

All that said, the most interesting aspect of this announcement that I’ve seen is that the game will be PS4/Xbox One/PC exclusive. So far, the past generation has co-existed with the current generation for the most part. Sure, there have been a few exclusives, but those have been primarily first party games. This is the first big AAA third party title that I can recall that isn’t also coming to the past generation (or the WiiU).

In my mind, this has two meanings. To begin with, it seems obvious that Rocksteady used all of the power they could get out of the PS4 and Xbox One to make this title. By choosing to do that, they created a game that would have to be down-graded quite a bit to work on the PS3/360/WiiU. I think this is a bit risky, as they’re cutting out a massive install base, but also admirable because it shows a respect for the hardware and faith in their product. I think also that this will be the measuring stick for other third party developers. As I said, so far developers have hedged their bets when it comes to bringing their games to all consoles, or even ignoring next gen in the case of something like Fable Anniversary or Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2. This game will be the one that first really tests the waters of a next generation exclusive for both the PS4 and Xbox One. It could very well lead to other third parties following a similar route more quickly than they might other wise have done. Yes, I realize that this was a sure eventuality, I just honestly didn’t expect it this quickly. I would have bet money on another Arkham game hitting both generations.

Gotham

I thoroughly enjoyed both Arkham Asylum and Arkham City and will surely play through Arkham Origins soon enough. I don’t have a PS4 or an Xbox One yet. Honestly, I just don’t think the library of games is strong enough for me to even consider getting one. The best compliment I can give Rocksteady is that this game announcement is the first one that’s made me think about starting to slowly save up my money and take that plunge. I think the Arkham games have been that strong. Ultimately, if this game can sway me to jump in, I’m sure it will do the same with other consumers that have been holding off to date. Kudos to Rocksteady on that front. They’ve taken a calculated risk by choosing to go exclusively with the next generation, and I think that’s going to pay off for them.

Franchises

Passed Over, but not Forgotten: Lego Series, Rock Band, Resident Evil, Age of Empires, Bioshock, Dead Space, Donkey Kong Country, Batman Arkham Series

FFXII8. Final Fantasy
I love the story and name inspiration behind the original Final Fantasy on the NES. There is surely no way the developers could have imagined that the game they assumed would be their last would spawn a series of games spanning six generations of consoles and regularly sell in the millions of copies. The fact that there are regular debates over the best in the series and countless lists ranking each one is testament to the passion that still exists among the fan base. It is also unique that each entry is tucked inside it’s own universe, allowing the developers to explore new themes without restrictions, while also making sequels to a particular entry if they so desire.

R&C7. Ratchet & Clank
By the time I tried my first Ratchet & Clank game, three entries had already been released. While I had missed three amazing games, this meant that once I did find out just how great this series was, I had multiple games to keep me occupied. Ratchet & Clank combines third person shooter mechanics with clever platforming to produce both a unique and wonderfully fun game to play. In addition to spot on level design, the multiple weapons at your disposal means there is almost always something new to try out. Finishing the package is the writing. Ratchet & Clank has some of the funniest dialog I’ve ever encountered in a game, spoken by a cast of characters that I dare anyone not to laugh at. I only hope I can secure a PS3 soon so I can discover the sequels there that I’ve yet to play.

Mega Man6. Mega Man/Mega Man X
Initially, I was going to separate these two franchises, but I feel that the play style and mechanics were so similar that it made no sense to split them up. The original Mega Man series on the NES defined tight platforming and challenging, yet fair, level design. Both the ability to choose your next level and take the power of a defeated boss were groundbreaking when introduced. With the X series, Capcom advanced the plot and introduced a new Mega Man capable of more fluid and quick movements, while staying true to the roots of the franchise with the ability to pick your next foe as well as take their power upon their defeat. While the X series made Mega Man X easier to control in many ways, the levels were also designed accordingly, meaning that the challenge and tightness remained, combined perfectly with X’s new move set.

Pokemon5. Pokemon
Maybe it’s the slight touch of OCD I suspect I have, but Pokemon pulled me in after only a few minutes of play in Pokemon Red. The premise is amazingly simple. Capture wild monsters, then use them to fight other wild monsters, all the while exploiting a rock/paper/scissors weakness cycle based on each Pokemon type. Yet, that simple set-up is extremely deep once you advance further into the game. Attempting to “Catch ’em all” is only part of the appeal. Building the perfect team and taking on the Elite Four (no easy task) becomes quite a challenge in and of itself. There is a reason that this series still moves millions and can be counted on to move systems, and that reason is a simple premise combined with exceedingly deep gameplay.

Mario World4. Super Mario
I think that, as more Mario titles are released, it’s easy to forget just how well each of these games are made. Even the original, while dated, is still playable and fun today. The same can be said of each entry that has spanned Nintendo’s consoles. From Super Mario Brothers 3 to Super Mario World to Super Mario Galaxy, the Super Mario series can always be counted on to be at the peak of platforming games. Each game starts out easy enough, with levels best described as a cakewalk, but soon enough throw clever gameplay twists and tricky level design at you on a regular basis. Whether you’re playing the relatively open levels of Super Mario Galaxy, the left to right design of New Super Mario Brothers U, or the linear 3D designed levels of Super Mario 3D World, each game has its own quirks and feel while still managing to maintain a sense of familiarity from past games. No easy task considering how many excellent Mario games Nintendo has produced since that first entry so many years ago.

Twilight Princess3. The Legend of Zelda
There’s not much left to say about The Legend of Zelda that hasn’t already been said. I can think of no other franchise that consistently delivers the extreme high quality that Nintendo delivers with this series. Whether it’s the first two games on the NES system or the more recent Wii entry, whose story sets the beginning of the land of Hyrule as well as series antagonist, Ganon, each game stays true to the series while also telling its own story with its own unique mechanics and attributes. I can also think of no other franchise in gaming that creates such anticipation and rumors regarding its next entry, be it the art style (realistic or cel shaded), the story, or what will set it apart from previous entries. The reason for such anticipation is simple, the series has yet to disappoint or fail to deliver. Until that time happens (and I doubt it ever will), we’ll take each new Zelda title with joy and immediately begin anticipating what will come next.

Castlevania2. Castlevania
I’m hard pressed to say what it is about the Castlevania series that so appeals to me, but when I was compiling this list I had no question about placing it this high. Much like the Zelda series above, Castlevania consistently delivers high quality with each new game. While the game style has evolved over time from level based platformers to open world exploration titles to 3D environments, each game continues the tale of the Belmonts and their allies always working to take down Dracula and his minions. This story, while sometimes a bit convoluted, has always been one of my favorite aspects of Castlevania. Taken as a whole, it chronicles multiple generations of the same family working to continue their ancestors work. While I’m sure that Konami didn’t have this entire story mapped out from the beginning, they have done well to connect and continue the narrative with each successive entry. Along with the story, the core gameplay and combat are stellar as well, and have remained mostly unchanged as time has passed. Whether it be with a whip, sword, or magic, taking down Dracula feels just as good now as it did in the very first Castlevania.

Metroid Prime1. Metroid
Part of the reason I love the more recent Castlevania titles is the fact that they have taken on the Metroid open world style of play. Still, as good as those games are, no game perfects the exploration aspect of a game the way that Metroid has. Seeing ledges and doors that you can’t yet get to with your current abilities only drives you harder to find the necessary upgrades to find out what lies in those inaccessible areas. Metroid has also perfected the feeling of being alone and out-numbered, yet never overwhelmed, on a strange, alien planet, or in a space station. I also think that of all the games I’ve listed, Metroid took the biggest risk by shifting from a side-scrolling style to an FPS layout, yet despite how wrong that could have gone, it resulted in one the best games ever developed in Metroid Prime, not to mention the two stellar sequels that followed. Like many other games, I can detail the aspects of Metroid that I enjoy, but I can’t put into words just how much joy I get from this franchise. I just know that even Other M, which I consider the weakest entry, can still give me enjoyment. So, for the reasons I’ve listed and others I can’t, Metroid is my #1 gaming franchise.

FFVII Title

I’ve made it no secret here or on Twitter that I am not a fan of the massively popular Final Fantasy VII. I will flatly state that I don’t like it and make jabs at the title to good naturedly (I hope) tweak other people. What I never do is explain exactly what it is about the game that turns me off.

See, I’ve given Final Fantasy VII at least a couple of chances to pull me in. I first purchased it, along with a guide, at Gamestop while I was in college. There was a deal on the guide when you bought the game, so I figured why not. Even then, I bought games before I intended to play them, so it took a back seat to some other games. Meanwhile, my brother played it up to the point where he got stuck trying to fight a serpent on the world map (he didn’t have a chocobo to avoid it), but wasn’t strong enough to beat it. Ultimately, he gave up instead of doing some level grinding.

I think it was this critter.

I think it was this critter.

By the time I got around to trying it myself, I had just recently finished playing Final Fantasy VI (from the PS collection, though I did play a good bit on a borrowed SNES cartridge), and moved right into VII. I never got out of Midgar. For those that don’t know, the game begins in a city called Midgar. You have to put in a few hours there before being allowed to move on to the world map. I never got to said world map.

See, first of all, I found the game to be very text heavy. Instead of doing a lot of battling, I was finding ways to dress Cloud up as a female. This didn’t appeal to me (not the cross-dressing part, the tedium of pulling these stunts off). It didn’t help that I found the world of Midgar to be quite ugly and dull.

Okay, ugly, but detailed...excepting the character designs.

Okay, ugly, but detailed…excepting the character designs.

That leads me into my second problem. This area of the game was just ugly to me. I’m on record as saying that games made the 3D jump a generation too soon, and that rings true here. I realize that the backgrounds were pre-rendered and I’ll admit that they looked pretty good, but when the characters and enemies were layered over those, the contrast was just staggering. Many times I’d find myself fighting an enemy that just seemed to be a pile of shapes. I hate to ever cite graphics as a negative, but in this case, they confounded me. Again, I was coming off of the sprite filled world of FFVI. The graphics may have been more simplistic, but they were detailed for what they were, and I never had to take on something that appeared to just be a pile of geometric shapes.

I still don't know what this thing is.

I still don’t know what this thing is.

I also think my first time through was tainted by RPG fatigue. FFVI is a long game, so moving straight into another RPG probably wasn’t the best idea. I almost always switch up genres when starting a new game for that very reason.

Anyway, I walked away from the game a few hours into the Midgar portion. It would be some time before I picked it up again, but I did pick it up again. This time, I finished Midgar and advanced about 15 hours into the game. I had the secret ninja lady character in my party and had managed to find out some of Sephiroth’s motivations, but neither of those things game me any real motivation to continue playing. I firmly believe that 15 hours is a good chunk of time to give a game. If it doesn’t do something for you by then, it’s probably never going to.

I think it was just after encountering a burning village or something (my memory is fuzzy) that I finally just gave up. Again, while the visuals outside of Midgar were better, I still found them to be very sloppy and lacking detail. I also didn’t like swapping characters in and out of my party at will. I was afraid that I’d wind up with a very under-powered character that would be crucial later on. Speaking of, it probably wasn’t a great idea on my part to be sure to keep Aerith in my party…

Spoiler Alert!

Spoiler Alert!

One thing I also noticed in my second attempt is that the I found the battle mechanics to be boring. Again, I still had FFVI in mind, and the sheer variety of what the characters in that game could do still impresses me today. In VII though, it seemed much more standard. The Materia element was a bit interesting, but really only served to remind me of how much I liked the Espers in VI.

Ultimately, I think part of my dislike of FFVII is the fact that my first true turn based RPG was FFVI and most people agree that it’s an amazing game. Combine that with it being my first, and it was going to be extremely tough for another game to impress me that much. VII never stood a chance in that regard. Make no mistake though, even though I poke at it to this day, I truly wanted to like VII. I forced myself to give it time in hopes that I would see what everyone else was apparently seeing, but it just never happened. Now, all that aside, there is also a part of me (a big part) that just didn’t think it was a great game, independent of what I played before or after it. Outside influences can only affect your opinion of a game so much and, after that, it really is just your raw perception. My raw perception of FFVII is that it just isn’t much fun and feels very bland.

So why do I rag on FFVII so much and avoid other games that are more universally derided? I think it’s because VII has proven to be very popular with many people. The more popular something is, the more you are forced to be aware of it, which, in my case at least, means a stronger opinion. I also believe that the more popular something is, the more divisive opinions about it become. Being someone that often reads and interacts with other fans of video games, FFVII often comes up. While I won’t be abjectly mean about the game, or make sincere insults at people that enjoy it, I will express my opinion on it, just like many others. It’s just important to remember that this is all opinion based and not let yourself believe that your opinion is more or less correct than anyone else’s. No matter how wrong they may be in liking Final Fantasy VII.

FFVII Funny