Archive for July, 2014

Zelda WiiU (Bow)

There has been quite a bit of buzz regarding Nintendo’s next Legend of Zelda game, coming to the WiiU in 2015, since this year’s E3 trailer gave us a first look at the title.

After the trailer debuted, Eiji Aonuma made it a point to refer to the size and scope of the game, referring to it as an open world game, in which you could “gallop over to the mountains in the distance if you so desired.” That’s a quite a bit of promise, and something never before seen in a Legend of Zelda title. Oh, make no mistake, there have been very sizable adventures, but natural boundaries have always prevented something such as that which Aonuma was speaking of.

Earlier this month, however, Shigeru Myamoto seemed to contradict those remarks a bit, stating that he would “prefer not to use the generally used term “open world” when developing software, but [they] used this term [at E3] in order to make it easier for consumers to understand. This term means that there is a large world in which players can do numerous things daily.” It’s not a true contradiction, but it does make you wonder exactly what we’ll get with the next title in what is easily Nintendo’s biggest announced 2015 title for the WiiU.

While virtually all entries in the Zelda franchise have been widely praised and sold well (no, we don’t count the CDi “games”), it’s also true that by and large, there has been a formula that each entry follows. It’s similar in many ways to the Metroid mechanic. You begin the game virtually powerless, amass stronger items via exploration, thereby unlocking more areas to explore. With Zelda, this is done via dungeon exploration. In some way, your actions in one dungeon will then allow you to advance to the next dungeon, so on and so forth. Now, understand that I’m breaking this down to the very bare bones of a formula. The layers that are painted over that bare formula offer many unique aspects that differentiate each title. I just want to point out that, for the most part, there is still a formula to how these titles work.

Not that a formula makes them less fun.

Not that a formula makes them less fun.

Or, at least that was the case until this past year when Nintendo released A Link Between Worlds, the sequel to the masterful Link to the Past. For the first time that I can recall, Nintendo turned expectations on their head. Yes, there were still dungeons to explore along with items to collect and an overworld with numerous secrets. This time, however, it was almost like Nintendo took a page from the Mega Man template and allowed you to tackle the dungeons in any order you wished. The items needed could be rented for a price (and eventually purchased outright), instead of having to be found in dungeons. While there were a few negatives to this, such as the game seeming a bit easier than usual, which I attribute to the designers not knowing how much health and such you would have from one dungeon to the next, overall the game felt very much like a breath of fresh air to me (you can read all about my thoughts on it here).

The question now is, was that game a one and done, or was it an indication of where Nintendo may take the series on the WiiU. I’m firmly convinced that it is the latter, and I believe that statements made in the stories above back that up. I give Nintendo credit here, they’re aware that, despite the Legend of Zelda’s popularity, there is a growing sentiment that it is becoming a new layer of paint in a room we’ve all seen before, hence the changes seen in A Link Between Worlds.

Link Between Worlds

Revisiting the quote from Miyamoto above, it seems that the idea may be to combine Zelda with some elements of a game like Animal Crossing. They seem to be hinting of a game where life carries on whether or not you are in the game, much in the way that Skyrim operates. There is a main narrative and plot that you will need to take certain actions to advance, but at some points, you can step away from that and take on side-quests from NPC’s or just explore the land for a while. I also wonder if they’ll revisit the “Choose Your Own Adventure” style of exploration they used in A Link Between Worlds. While they may very well go that route, there is another dynamic I, personally, would rather see in the next entry.

Two of my favorite moments from the more recent Zelda titles both occurred in Twilight Princess. Both were dungeons, Arbiter’s Grounds and Snowpeak Ruins. I’m assuming that many people just took these as regular dungeons, interesting, fun and such, but still just dungeons. What impressed me the most though, is that in both cases, I didn’t even realize I was completing a dungeon until I was already about 50% each of them. The game pointed me in the right direction, but I never realized that I was actually in a dungeon, hunting for items and getting closer to a boss. It was a very organic experience, and when I realized that, it gave me a bit of joy at having been fooled by the seamless nature of those dungeons. It’s that dynamic that I’m curious about in the next title. While I did love what A Link Between Worlds did with the dungeons, I prefer what Twilight Princess managed to accomplish and would like to see that further implemented in some way in the WiiU entry. What better way to shake up the formula than to fool the player into entering a dungeon without ever realizing they’re in the dungeon.

Arbiter's Grounds also contains one of my personal favorite boss fights.

Arbiter’s Grounds also contains one of my personal favorite boss fights.

Following the quote above, Miyamoto further stated: “In the traditional “The Legend of Zelda” series, the player would play one dungeon at a time. For example, if there are eight dungeons, at the fourth dungeon, some players may think, “I’m already halfway through the game,” while other players may think, “I still have half of the game to play.” We are trying to gradually break down such mechanism and develop a game style in which you can enjoy “The Legend of Zelda” freely in a vast world, whenever you find the time to do so.” That’s sort of what I’m speaking of above. Traditionally in this game, and most others, the world only exists when you’re present in it. What I suspect Nintendo is going for with this entry is to create a world that exists whether or not you’re present to see it exist. Hence my Skyrim and Animal Crossing comparisons. It sounds like an MMORPG, only without the MMO portion of it (as far as we know, anyway…). I suppose I could even add in a Fable comparison here. At least Nintendo is taking ideas from some great games, assuming this is what they’re attempting to create.

All of this said, I do still expect this to be a Legend of Zelda title. You will have a horse (as seen in the trailer), you will have a bow and arrow, you will fight enemies with a sword, and, at some point, you will be overjoyed to lay a bomb and blow a wall up. These are the elements of Zelda that we know and love. I don’t think anyone wants Nintendo to blow the franchise up, I just think that fans of the series would like to see a few more changes than what we’ve been given in recent entries. That doesn’t mean that those of are that are fans didn’t enjoy those games, it’s just that we want Nintendo to step outside of the box and surprise us again. Make us feel the way we did the first time we warped to the Dark World in A Link to the Past, or emerged from the Temple of Time as an adult in a ruined world in Ocarina of Time. Again, to their credit, I think Nintendo is listening to the fans. Nintendo has realized that their premier franchise has grown a bit dusty over time, and they’re in the process of blowing that dust off and putting on a new coat of paint. I’m excited to see what colors they pick out.

Zelda WiiU (Head Image)

Father & Son - Video Games

Let’s face it. There is still a large group of people, possibly even the majority of people, that, when hearing that we as adults still play and enjoy video games, dismiss us as if we are being infantile or childish in our interests. Despite the vast adult audience that exists now, many having grown up alongside gaming as a medium, it’s an activity that is dismissed as shallow. An activity that is the lowest form of entertainment. A pastime that lacks any meaning or any redeeming quality. It’s easy to let that prevailing thought get to you, but then you find something like this, left innocently enough in the comments section of a YouTube Video:

Well, when i was 4, my dad bought a trusty XBox. you know, the first, ruggedy, blocky one from 2001. we had tons and tons and tons of fun playing all kinds of games together – until he died, when i was just 6.

i couldnt touch that console for 10 years.

but once i did, i noticed something.

we used to play a racing game, Rally Sports Challenge. actually pretty awesome for the time it came.

and once i started meddling around… i found a GHOST.

literaly.

you know, when a time race happens, that the fastest lap so far gets recorded as a ghost driver? yep, you guessed it – his ghost still rolls around the track today.

and so i played and played, and played, untill i was almost able to beat the ghost. until one day i got ahead of it, i surpassed it, and…

i stopped right in front of the finish line, just to ensure i wouldnt delete it.

Bliss.

You know what, I’ll admit to being a softy, especially when it comes to fathers and sons. This story hit me hard. I don’t know how true it is. I can’t imagine someone making it up. I see no motivation in doing so. Even if it’s not true, it still hits me hard, because it taps into another side of playing video games. It’s not childish. It’s not infantile. It’s not a pastime to be dismissed. It’s another way of making memories. Of times you’ll look back on and smile some day.

Video games were not my dad’s bag, by any stretch of the imagination. I remember the one time he actually played one though. It was the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles game on the NES. He played for about 10 minutes. To the best of my knowledge, he’s never touched a controller again. Still, I remember that one time he tried it. I also remember my mom playing Super Mario Brothers 3 with my brother and I. Beating Bowser only to play through again with an inventory full of P-wings. I can still recall our competitions in Kirby’s Avalanche, including one particular versus match that went on for nearly a half an hour (most matches only lasted about 5 minutes).

And we played through ever world. We were old school.

And we played through every world. We were old school.

There’s also the times with my brother. We’d take turns holding down the Right Arrow on controller 2 in Mega Man 3 to get the super jump and, eventually, invincibility. There were the sessions spent playing Separation Anxiety, racing against each other in Mario Kart 64 or Battle Cars. And no mention of this would be complete without throwing out our playthrough of Secret of Mana. If I remember correctly, he would always play as the Sprite Child. Of course, there’s also the time that I put him, my younger brother, who had at least a 6 inch and few pounds advantage on me, on the floor for turning off my Link to the Past game before I could save, because he was mad at me. You don’t screw with my game. Sh!t gets real when that happens.  😉

Games Memories

I hate this picture. Like it or not, memories actually can be made playing video games. It happens every day, and just because some people think it’s a waste of time, doesn’t mean that it is. Anything can be used to create memories between people. How many of us recall playing with friends through a Mario Party game, or Mortal Kombat, or Goldeneye (oh yeah…)? Just because those memories were made playing video games makes them no more or less valid than a good time had playing Monopoly, or maybe playing a family softball game. Time spent with those close to you cannot be dismissed simply because it was spent playing video games. That’s an extremely shallow and narrow minded view of people and how they choose to spend their time with friends and family.

I have a seven year old son, and there is no doubt in my mind that he’ll remember us playing frisbee or jumping on the trampoline when he’s older. But I firmly believe that he’ll also remember racing against me in Mario Kart Wii. He’ll remember the day he finally beat me, and it’ll mean something to him because he knows that I don’t just let him win. He’ll remember the time spent in Kirby’s Return to Dreamland, and all the times he had to come to me for advice while playing Ocarina of Time 3D. He’ll recall the wireless Pokemon battles, as well as the ones in Pokemon Stadium, the way he could usually best me in Super Smash Brothers Brawl and the time working together to finish the Subspace Emissary. Maybe he’ll even remember the times that, despite my hate of the game, I sat down and played coop Minecraft with him. Those thoughts will not be of how those were simply meaningless hours. They will be treasured memories of time spent with his dad, because in spite of what many people want to think, video games are so much more than just wasted time.

MKWii Hack

Mario Kart 8, for Nintendo’s WiiU, has reportedly been hacked.

….

Shit.

Okay, let’s back up just a bit. According to the linked story above, the game has been hacked in a very rudimentary fashion, not in a way that could be used to break online play. Also, according to the poster of the video featured in the article, he/she/they have no intention of releasing said hack or assisting others in cheating in online play. This is extremely important to note as it means that (1) I was a bit quick on the draw in my Tweet and (2) the online play in this game won’t, yet, turn into Mario Kart Wii.

I loved Mario Kart Wii. Some people didn’t, but I enjoyed it immensely, especially when racing online against people that had true skill with the game and were not rubber band assisted AI. That changed once the game and system were compromised and people started regularly playing online using mods that allowed them constant bullet bills, mushrooms, etc… It essentially destroyed random online matches. Nintendo attempted to ban those exploiting the hack(s), but there were so many that it was simply a lost cause right from the beginning. After a few attempts at an honest race and getting stuck with people that were exploiting compromises, I just gave up and raced only with friends. I’ve done a bit of racing online with Mario Kart 8, and don’t want to see it suffer the same fate.

It wasn’t just Mario Kart Wii though. The Conduit, another Wii game with online multiplayer suffered a similar fate, as do many online games (I think the Wii just must have been an easier crack, apparently). What I don’t get about this is what is the point? What joy is gained from giving yourself a Game Genie level advantage in a game against other people? This isn’t like picking Oddjob in Goldeneye on the Nintendo 64. That’s just annoying, but you can still succeed. This is essentially making yourself invincible. I just don’t get the point of that. Are online bragging rights against people you don’t know really that important? I enjoyed using the Gameshark or in-game cheats on Goldeneye as much as the next guy (making myself invisible was a personal favorite), but it was either blanket cheats for multiplayer or me playing through solo missions with cheats on just for kicks. What I didn’t, and wouldn’t, do is spoil the fun for everyone else involved, and that’s exactly what this subset of hacking does. It robs a game of the fun, and creates an aggravating and frustrating experience for most people.

Now, all of that said, it’s critical for me to clarify that I don’t believe that the majority of hackers/modders go in for this kind of thing. I completely believe that this is more of a few bad apples ruining the barrel…or however that saying goes. Just based on my reading and viewing YouTube videos (such as the one above), it’s usually a case of people taking on a challenge and seeing what they can do with it. Just as I enjoy playing games, they enjoy breaking into the code and seeing how the games can be manipulated. Then, once they’ve succeeded on some level, testing it out against friends who may or may not have done the same. It’s like a closed community. There’s no will or desire there to ruin anyone else’s experience with the game. I have no issue with that at all. If that’s something you enjoy doing, then my hat’s off to you. You are far more talented in that arena than I am.

It’s also very much worth noting that in many cases, hacks or mods can actually supplement a game, or even alter the game until it’s a new experience. This article from PCmag highlights a few of the better ones and I’m certain that many of you reading this have watched or attempted Super Mario Frustration (one of the funniest YouTube videos I’ve ever seen featured someone attempting that game). This is where hacking a game becomes fun for everyone, and is the exact opposite of the people that use it to break online gaming in some way. I’ve read of more than a few cases where people have hacked a game in such a way so as to add something that the gaming community wanted, but the developer never added. Again, this is almost completely a positive thing. This is also why it’s imperative that I ensure that I’m not painting everyone that attempts to break into the coding of a game, PC, or console with the same brush.

No problem at all...

No problem at all…

There are many more cases of people modding games to improve the experience without harming the experience of others than there are of the opposite, but just like with most negative news stories, it is the problem that gets the most attention, whether its fair or not. Ultimately, I’m not happy that this has happened because I know now that the clock is ticking down. At some point, this will spread to online play and slowly but surely finding a non-compromised race via wi-fi will be virtually impossible. But, while I’m not happy that the game has been compromised, I have to keep in mind that the people behind this mean no ill-will. Those people will come, but right now, these people are just doing something they enjoy, in the exact same way that I enjoy just playing the games.

Final Fantasy

When I found out that this is considered JRPGJuly, I knew that I had to do this Top 8 post, though I’m just considering RPGs as a whole, not the subset of JRPGs. The definition of an RPG varies from person to person. In the very broadest sense, Super Mario Brothers could be considered an RPG (you are playing a role, come on). For my purposes here, I’m arbitrarily defining an RPG as a game that includes both a leveling system and a magic system. For further reading on defining the RPG, I highly recommend this stellar piece by Ace Blogger and My Little Pony enthusiast, Jed Pressgrove.

Zelda 28. Zelda II: Adventure of Link (NES)
Zelda 2 is usually derided for being too different and for having a high level of difficulty. The criticisms are fair as this game is quite different from the original and can be very unforgiving. The overhead navigation is still present, but cave/town/temple exploration and all combat takes place on a 2-D plane. Unlike many people, I’ve always enjoyed the change-up from the first game and learned to deal with the difficulty curve years ago. What I like most about this game though, is that it has always felt like a true adventure to me. Hyrule is quite large in this game and contains multiple towns to visit and temples to conquer. There are also numerous caves containing story related items and health/magic increases to be found. As this Zelda title introduced experience, limited leveling abilities, and surprisingly useful magic spells, I feel that it is fair to include it here, given my parameters. I also maintain to this day that this game is underrated and is superior to the original Legend of Zelda.

Ys7. Ys: Ark of Napishtim (PS2)
The Ys series has always fascinated me, so I took a chance on this title and was rewarded with a deep and satisfying game experience. Ark of Napishtim features a vast land for your to explore, even if said exploration is a bit linear in where you can travel at any given time. Ark is also an action RPG, in which you attack enemies directly with your sword, a mechanic made more interesting with the inclusion of elementally charged swords that you’ll find yourself swapping out frequently to take advantage of an enemies weakness. This is very important as Ark is a very difficult game. Enemies and bosses pull no punches and if you do try to wander into a new area that you should not yet be in, you’ll find yourself being decimated by enemies that you can’t hope to combat yet. Still though, the difficulty curve never feels unfair. No boss feels impossible, it’s simply a matter of learning their attack patterns and recognizing telegraphed moves so you can dodge them before launching your own attacks. If you, like me, are a fan of the action RPG genre, I strongly suggest you pick up this title, as well as one of it’s sequels (Oath in Felghana is very similar in style to Ark).

Platinum6. Pokemon Platinum (NDS)
This was a close call, but I believe that Platinum is just a bit more well designed than the Black/White games. That said, it is another Pokemon game. I’m not sure how the same premise can still feel fresh, entry after entry, but Platinum (as well as the entries I’ve played since this title launched) pulls it off. There are a ton of Pokemon to catch, allowing you numerous choices in shaping your team, and the game region is a blast to explore. It’s a very well made Pokemon game that continues to deliver for the series. I have to say that I find it amazing that a series that truly lives on a very simple and repeatable premise still thrives as this one does. It is a testament to the designers that these titles still sell the way they do.

Fable 25. Fable 2 (Xbox 360)
No game could possibly live up to the hype that Molyneux created for the Fable games but, if you can look past that hype, Fable 2 is truly a great game. While the moral choices are fairly black and white, the story and gameplay are extremely well done and well implemented, allowing you to play through the game in a way that you are most comfortable with. The ability to purchase houses and buildings returns from the original Fable, as does the ability to take multiple wives and set them up in different villages. I may or may not have lived vicariously through my character in this regard… Few games have caused me to linger around in the game world, doing odd jobs and tasks, just to avoid finishing the game and being done with the experience. This is one of the games that did so, which may be the best compliment I can pay this title.

Secret of Evermore4. Secret of Evermore (Super NES)
My recent playthrough of this title only served to confirm to me that my love of it has nothing to do with nostalgia. It is just a damn good game. It is an action RPG in the vein of an overhead Zelda title, only with a leveling and magic system. Speaking of the magic system, I’ve always felt it was very creative. Each spell requires two ingredients which you either buy or find in your travels (your dog can sniff them out). It was an interesting twist on the MP system we normally see in such games. As for the gameplay/story, you control a young boy warped to the land of Evermore, where you’ll travel through the land searching for a way to get you and your dog home. Oddly enough, I prefer this game to Secret of Mana, a game that I consider this a spiritual sibling to, as they share very similar gameplay. I find that it is a tighter experience with a better story and improved gameplay.

NIER3. NIER (Xbox 360)
If you’ve been following this blog or my Twitter account, you already know of my love for this quirky title. While NIER may not excel at everything it attempts to do, its parts come together brilliantly. No other game I’ve played uses the variety of play styles that NIER does, ranging from straight forward combat to sequences that are reminiscent of bullet hell games to a full-on text adventure. Accompanying the gameplay is a story that grabs your heartstrings and refuses to let go, long after you’ve finished the game and seen all four of the available endings. No mention of this game would be complete without referencing a soundtrack that is easily among the best ever included in a video game (and my personal favorite). Rarely will I praise and recommend a game this heavily, but NIER is a game that needs to be played to be fully appreciated. What it has can’t be adequately appreciated by reading a review or watching a few YouTube videos.

FFVI2. Final Fantasy VI (Super NES)
This was the first Final Fantasy I ever played, but I don’t think that is what makes me adore it so much. This game still stands up today against newer RPG’s and holds its own easily. It is truly hard for me to find a negative. The story is as in-depth and involved as any game I’ve come across. The soundtrack is great, and includes the classic Final Fantasy victory theme. Also, for a game that features around 16 playable characters, they rotate in and out enough that being under-leveled is never an issue. Even on the occasions that you must grind a bit, there is a bonus to doing so on the Veldt where one character can leave with the enemies and come back having learned new special attacks from them. Finally, no mention of this game is complete without acknowledging that Kefka is one of (possibly number one here) the most devious and malevolent video game villains ever created. Oh, and he actually succeeds in his plans. That doesn’t happen often.

Xenoblade1. Xenoblade Chronicles (Wii)
For many years, I never thought that an RPG could top Final Fantasy VI in quality. Then Xenoblade Chronicles finally made its way to American shores. There is no way I couldn’t put this game at the top of my list. Xenoblade Chronicles is simply an amazing game. Xenoblade is an epic RPG that will run you around 60 hours if you sprint through it. Reaching the level cap and doing virtually everything in the game will extend it to about 130 hours. Personally, I spent 176 hours playing this game, a total unmatched by any story driven game (by which I mean a game that has an ending and isn’t sports based) simply because I enjoyed it so much that I didn’t want to finish it. Xenoblade tasks you with traveling over the Bionis, a dormant giant on which, along with the Mechonis, civilization lives, on a mission of vengeance. As you travel you will gather new party members that can be rotated in and out of your three person party (though all members will receive experience to avoid uneven leveling). Battles are not random as you can see your enemies and approach them to initiate a battle. Once a battle starts, your character will auto-attack while you freely move them about the battlefield, even running away to disengage if you wish. The auto-attacks are supported by special skills that you can select for the character you control (the other two are AI controlled). Along with what I found to be a unique battle system, the landscapes for this game are breathtaking and are some of the best, if not the best, you will see on the Wii. The aspect that completely pulled me into this game, and boosts it to this spot is the story. Once the actual story began (about four hours in), I was completely hooked and invested in these characters. The best way I can describe it is as a book that you read until 2:00 a.m. because you simply can’t bear to stop. I will go so far as to say this game has my favorite narrative of any game I’ve played. There are multiple twists to the story, some I expected and others that completely blindsided me. I do realize that I am a story-centric guy, but I can’t imagine anyone that takes the time to experience the story in this game coming away unimpressed. It is simply stellar.