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Even the Pittsburgh Pirates played video games this year.
Knock on wood, you guys, but I managed to get through 2012 without having all my video games stolen from my house while I was sleeping [EDITOR’S NOTE: It’s 2013 now, you dummy. You don’t need to knock on wood]. Should that even be an achievement?
2012 seems to be a shift in the status quo. Perhaps it’s because the new console generation hasn’t yet kicked off, but I feel like fewer and fewer AAA, big budget titles have been grabbing my attention lately. Of the 56 games on this list I feel like very few (about 12) were big, huge landmark games. Maybe that’s not all that different, but it feels different…
Also, like last year I do count games on this list that did not launch in 2012, but that I played, started, or beat in 2012.
Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective – The weirdest thing about my time with this game was that I chose to play it in Spanish. It was fine practice and, off the top of my head, it taught me two Spanish words I had no use for before playing it (sotano and cachorro, meaning basement and puppy/cub/kitten, respectively), but it also featured very funny writing by Phoenix Wright’s creator and a bizarrely complicated story for such a slight-looking game. In fact, 2012 was kind of a year of interactive fiction, as you’ll see, so it’s appropriate to see GT get top billing. It’s also worth mentioning that the animation in this game is spectacular.
Rayman: Origins – Also known as the game where Min and I attained Super Saiyan level for the first time. No lie, guys, the treasure chest levels and the final Level of the Dead or whatever it was called was a zen-like achievement for the pair of us. If New Super Mario Bros. isn’t your bag, but you think you might still love platformers then you absolutely need to try this game out.
Chrono Trigger DS – Yeah, I played this in the 90s. Yep, it was my first RPG. The DS port added some marginal sections, including an epilogue that sets up for Chrono Cross in the most depressing way possible, but it also came with a new translation that I thought was interesting and brought some freshness to an otherwise “solved” game for me.
Earthbound – I wish I’d spent more time trying to replay Earthbound, but I just didn’t. Heck, I don’t think I got too far past meeting Buzz Buzz…Still love this game.
Cave Story + – How I long for dynamic difficulty level changing! Cave Story + is a fantastic Metroidvania-style pixel shooter, but my hubris determined I would play on the hardest difficulty, which means I’m stuck on Monster X until I can get my skills down pat.
Final Fantasy XIII-2 – Remember how everyone’s favorite character in FF XIII was Lightning’s sister and some guy no one ever saw in FF XIII? Wait…those weren’t your favorite characters? You don’t want to play another 40 hours as those chuckleheads and watch Snow, Hope, and Sazh from afar while playing a nearly incomprehensible story? Too bad!
Saints Row: The Third – I feel bad for you if you’ve never played Saints Row: The Third. I felt bad for myself for not having played it sooner than I did. For maximum awesomeness be sure to give your boss the Latina voice. It’s priceless. Seriously though, this game is the best open world game I have ever played. Period. It’s absurd, ridiculous, and nonsensical, but it’s winking every step of the way and I’m right there with it.
Rhythm Heaven Fever – When I first started writing this list I forgot that this little gem came out in 2012. Can you believe it?! Min, I know you don’t understand the appeal here, but this is honestly among my favorite game of this year. Did I spend $80 importing the soundtrack from Japan? You betcha. Goddammit this game is so good. It’s a must play for anyone with a Wii (or a Wii U). Seriously, go buy it. It’s incredible.
Devil Survivor 2 – Man, the Megrez fight is so stupid and I’m not properly equipped, demon-wise, to tackle it, which is why I never beat this game. It’s better than DS1, mechanically, but I just need to sit down and grind my way out of this and I really don’t want to have to do that…Bonus points for also pretty much being Evangelion
Mass Effect 3 – Hoo boy…What a shitshow this game’s release was…I wish I’d beaten it faster than I had because by the time I reached the ending, well, the internet had practically exploded with criticism. I spent more time wading in comments sections and forums defending the artistic integrity of a game that I honestly didn’t find that impressive compared to the rest of the year’s releases, but it just rubbed me the wrong way to see the fanboys demand changes from Bioware. I mean, whine all you want, but so long as Bioware doesn’t cave– What’s that? You say they did cave? They did change the ending as a response to fan whining? My respect for Bioware and this game flew out the window the second that happened. As far as I’m concerned, I played the real Mass Effect 3, but I never got the chance to enjoy it. Now that the doctors are gone from Bioware and the company is soliciting advice on what direction to take Dragon Age III, I find myself thinking, “Man, what happened to Bioware?” It’s a real shame because Mass Effect 3 was actually quite good.
Shadow Complex – Way late to the party on this one, but I was feeling that Metroidvania itch and, well, this game kind of scratches it. I hate the third dimension they added to the gun because it makes aiming a pain. Other than that it’s fine. Serviceable, really, but it also gets credit for being the first “autolog” type game that I can think of.
Jamestown – I don’t play a lot of vertical/horizontal shooters. Jamestown just happened to be out in a lull and I owned it from a Humble Bundle. It’s enjoyable enough and I dig playing it with multiple people, but it’s not going to set the world on fire. Playing the story in “funny” mode is fun too because the alternative is almost obnoxiously self-serious.
Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP – Cool music and a cool aesthetic, but it controls weird on the PC. I wish I had an iPad for stuff like this and that I put more time into this game.
The Walking Dead – I thought about separating this out into episodes across the series, but it seems cleaner to talk about this game in one fell swoop even though I started it in April and finished it in November. I know I said that Rhythm Heaven Fever was the best game of this year, but The Walking Dead is actually the best thing to have come out this year. I’ll grant you that it’s more interactive fiction than game, but even that’s not that important, really. I mean, would putting more puzzles in this adventure game make it any better? Of course not! The Walking Dead is the success it is because it’s a character-driven story of the likes we haven’t seen before. Lee Everett may not be making the galaxy-defining choices that Commander Shepard makes on a daily basis, but the stakes always seem higher as he does his best to shepherd young Clementine through a world that only gets worse and worse for everyone. That last scene in the jewelry store as Lee coaches Clem to safety…It touched me (and I’m sure most anyone who played it) in a way that nothing else this year could. I’m not being hyperbolic when I say that everyone should play this game. It’s brilliant.
Fez – Speaking of brilliant, Fez has that in spades. We’re talking about a game where every detail feels deliberate and mysterious. That’s not an exaggeration either. With maybe one exception, there’s not a single puzzle in Fez that you couldn’t necessarily figure out in some way from clues in the world. They might be obscure, difficult to interpret clues, but they’re there. Add in a soundtrack that is hauntingly beautiful and a rotating mechanic that is as fun as anything else you’ve ever done and you’ve got the most interesting experience of 2012. I can still pull up intense memories of the empty solitude of some of the screens and the fitting music that made me feel isolated, alone, a little scared, and a little excited to discover a cube or an anticube. Fez was awesome, guys.
Diablo 3 – I’ve had this talk with Min so many times, but maybe I didn’t understand what Diablo was before I played D3. I’d only ever played D2 with my brother or a few friends. It was a small-scale endeavor and Torchlight, its closest analogue for me, was a single-player affair. There was no Auction House there to circumvent loot drops or other players to set up trades with on forums. There was the purity of the RNG and the thrill of the hunt. Diablo 3 awakened that feeling inside me that activates when I feel like I’ve been cheated. It was like I took the red pill and I saw the Matrix of the game for the first time when I realized what I’d have to do to beat the game on Inferno. I’ve never felt like a game’s systems were so transparently evil before (I don’t play Facebook games) and Diablo 3 soured me on Blizzard as a developer. Maybe next year you’ll see an entry about Heart of the Swarm, but as of right now, thanks to Diablo 3, I plan on never spending another cent on a Blizzard game (unless a new Warcraft RTS comes out. I actually like those).
Tropico 4 – Min likes to tease me about being an evil dictator when I play this game, but it’s much more complicated for me. When I play Tropico I don’t exercise my ability to rig elections or execute citizens at will. I do my best to be a benevolent leader and resist the control/interference of the US or USSR. I do my best to make the tropical paradise that I feel my people have been denied. It’s a deeply (and weirdly) personal experience for me. Plus the music is pretty sweet.
The Binding of Isaac: Wrath of the Lamb – Yeah, yeah, expansion pack for a game that I played relentlessly last year. I don’t care, guys, it was almost a new game with how much it added. If you read my blog and you tried/enjoyed FTL, you really should check this out.
No More Heroes: Paradise – I think I’m at assassin #7 or #6? It’s got its purposefully tedious parts in it and it’s so stylized that it’s hilarious, but it lost some steam with me and I never finished it. Whoops.
Spelunky – Forget what that other guy said about the best game of this year because Spelunky is awesome. It’s so sharp in the way that it plays. Die and it’s almost 100% your fault. Brutally difficult, endearingly fun and funny, and tightly controlled. I only wish I had more friends to play local multiplayer with.
Penny Arcade 2 – Not as funny as PA1 and not as fun as PA3
Penny Arcade 3 – PA goes 16-bit RPG. The combat is frighteningly difficult, but the game is tons of fun because of it. These new classes are super neat. It’s like they figured out all the boundaries to RPG combat and sharpened them to a knife’s edge. Really interesting, but easy to bone yourself with bad class selection.
Sins of a Solar Empire: Rebellion – Each game takes forever, but playing a few matches with Min was tons of fun.
Greed Corp – Did not like. Sorry, Eric.
Puzzle Agent – Tried this before I went down the Professor Layton rabbit’s hole. Surprisingly funny and surprisingly well-written. I’m fairly certain that these didn’t sell well enough to keep making them, but I really enjoyed the setting and the story. Very cute.
Max Payne 3 – I’m the guy who’s never played a Max Payne game before so when I play this grimy, glitzy, greasy shooter I’m unburdened by Payne’s history. There’s no comparison to the way it used to be or the way I wanted a sequel to be. It’s just an awesome shooter with a dumb, but neat story. Brazil is here to stay as a setting and even though Rockstar characters are all deplorable assholes who I hate, I had a soft spot for Max and Giovanna. Pretty solid shooter.
Sonic Generations – Modern Sonic games suck. All of them. Everyone who thinks Generations is “not that bad” or “good” is wrong. You’re wrong.
BIT.TRIP.RUNNER – A rhythm game! I didn’t realize it before I tried it. The first boss fight sucks and I stopped playing after it. I hear that was a mistake.
Persona 4 Arena – I got a little bogged down by being forced to play other perspectives before finishing the main narrative, but the continuation of the Persona story was solid enough to make me interested in the game, even if I didn’t really care for the fighting mechanic. Guys, who knew a fighting game could have a sweet story?
Driver: San Francisco – Didn’t get enough in to say anything definitive, but I don’t really like the car mechanics.
Trine 2 – I don’t think either of these Trine games are for me, but I’ve only ever played 5 hours of a Trine game ever. It’s the physics model. I don’t like the imprecision in a platformer. I had the same issue with Little Big Planet.
Iron Brigade – The most frustrating networking experience of 2012. It’s a shame too because Min, Lee, and I should have loved playing this.
Counter-Strike: Global Offensive – Goddammit I love me some Counter-Strike. I didn’t put that many hours into this, but playing it with Simon and some of the old War Cry guys was awesome. If you have any interest in shooters, but you don’t play this…well I don’t understand you.
Orcs Must Die 2 – Not the best tower defense game, but I think I’m under 10 hrs with it so maybe it picks up?
The Last Story – Got so bogged down writing about this with David (remember that feature?) that I never continued it. Lots of promise there with characters that seem deeper than your usual anime bullshit, but I need to give it another 20 hours to be sure.
Mark of the Ninja – The tightest stealth game (mechanics-wise) you will ever play. Seriously, man. It’s pretty boss. The story is fairly dumb, but playing it is so much fun that you can’t help but smile. A solid win in my book.
FTL: Faster Than Light – I’ve recorded 31.5 hours of me playing this game as of when I write this sentence. A game that has such tight mechanics that you can’t help but love it. This was the year of roguelikes for me. FTL plays like the space sim you always wish you had. I don’t see myself getting bored of this game until I unlock all the ships. That won’t be for a while because I’m somewhat terrible with some of the ships, but I do love me this game.
New Super Mario Bros. 2 – More Mario platforming. Not the most inspired Mario game, but it has its moments. Not gonna set the world on fire and, like the first one, not my favorite Mario game.
Torchlight 2 – I can’t really claim to have played this game since the first day was a clusterfuck and I didn’t get past the menu screen. Had tons of fun chatting with Min and his cousin though.
Borderlands 2 – Until the very end of December I was the only one of my close video gaming friends who had this game. As a solo affair (and even as a group affair), the early parts of this game are pretty terrible/boring/tedious. In a group I’ve enjoyed playing this tons more. It’s just fun to have three friends rolling around Pandora with you. I hope we keep playing.
Theatrhythm: Final Fantasy – I love rhythm games. I love Final Fantasy music. This game is beautiful and perfect and could only be made better with more FF VI music.
Kirby’s Dream Collection – Picked it up to own Kirby Super Star. Played a bit of that with Min. Lots of fun, but not gonna set the world on fire.
Professor Layton and the Last Specter – Played it for a few minutes because it was the only sequel I could find in the store. Based on those few minutes I bought the rest of the franchise.
Pokemon White Version 2 – I wish I hadn’t pushed Min and David to get Black and White because the Version 2s are so much better. There has never been a better put together Pokemon game. I’ve sunk over a hundred hours into this game playing it Nuzlocke style and I still have yet to defeat the Elite Four or Team Plasma. I’m not kidding, guys, this is the closest you can come to a perfect Pokemon game.
XCOM: Enemy Unknown – Ok, for realsies now, guys. This is the best game of the year. Just so much fun to play in Classic Ironman mode where every mistake is locked in place and humanity hangs in the balance. Tactical, turn-based combat has never been better implemented and every system works well. My only gripe is that you “can’t fail” the final mission in the sense that losing it sends you to the start. Losing an Ironman run in the final mission would be brilliant (and sadistic), wouldn’t it?
Professor Layton and the Curious Village – It has a fairly ridiculous plot twist that almost makes zero sense and doesn’t hit with any oomph, but you’re supposed to be here for the puzzles anyway. They’re fun and the characters are charming enough that I’m more than happy to spend hours upon hours just completing brain teasers.
Need for Speed: Most Wanted – I wish this was more Burnout Paradise instead. I don’t like the way the “campaign” is laid out with the unlocks for all the cars. I hate how I have to earn nitro every time I swap cars. It’s just not as good as the Burnout stuff. I’m sorry. That said, it’s so much fun to race at top speed in real-world automobiles. Super fun.
Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask – The 365 puzzles (one a day) and the fact that I bought it digitally are what keeps me coming back to this game over and over again since I haven’t yet beaten the previous iterations. Solid puzzle work and a great 3DS package, but I can’t wait to actually see the narrative.
Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box – More Layton, but on a train!
To the Moon – The Walking Dead kind of ruined this game for me. Everyone was lauding it as this grand, mature narrative, but then The Walking Dead goes and does something truly spectacular while To the Moon failed to really hit with me. The twist was neat and I dug the story, but I didn’t find it to be as amazing as I’d heard. It’s solid storytelling in a mediocre engine package, but it’s worth checking out for sure.
Hotline Miami – Certainly the game that’s inspired the most cackling laughter in me. Just brutal, ugly, sleazy, and weird. Hotline Miami has a kickass soundtrack and relentless gameplay. The bosses are kind of obnoxious, but it plays fairly sharply and I’d recommend it to almost anyone.
Nintendo Land – Fantastic in group settings, but somewhat lacking as a solo endeavor. I’m happy to own it and I think asynchronous information/capabilities makes for way more interesting games than the same old stuff we’re used to, but without a group to play this it can get a little boring.
New Super Mario Bros. U – Haven’t put a lot of time in it, but the course design is definitely superior to the DS version. Can’t wait to beat this with Min, but I’m not breaking down any doors to play it.
Donkey Kong Country Returns – I’m only two worlds in, but it feels slighter/weaker than the old DKCs. We’ll see how it pans out, I guess.
Sleeping Dogs – I’m getting open world fatigue pretty early in this one. Unlike Saints Row: The Third, this is more serious and I feel like not being ridiculous is to its detriment. Sleeping Dogs’ dating system is ridiculous and the cop story is fairly predictable, but I’m in love with the Hong Kong setting and the fact that this is a game not taking place in LA, NY, or Miami. Also really nice to see non-white protagonists. The Batman fighting style is neat, but, like I said, already hitting open world fatigue.
999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors – I’m glad I played and finished this before the end of the year because it’s absolutely brilliant. Any game that uses the mechanics of the system its on is an instant plus for me and the final puzzle/revelation is brilliant. How many games make you think about morphic resonance and information transfer like this one? Just the fact that I found myself thinking about philosophical questions like Locke’s Socks/The Ship of Theseus and that it ALL MADE SENSE was really brilliant. Look, visual novels are divisive, but you shouldn’t let that get in your way. 999 has one of the neatest stories of the year (2010) and it’s easily one of my favorite games this year.
The enjoyable paradigm system returns for the sequel. (Photo courtesy 289chjl)
Man, oh man…If I asked you which Final Fantasy game you were most hoping for a sequel to, would you have said XIII? No, of course not. I wrote quite the lengthy post about how Squeenix should have allowed the complete destruction of mankind in the ending of XIII and I also gave them far more credit than most did as to the story and themes of the game. Since they didn’t kill everyone, they had the chance to make a sequel and…I’m not annoyed by it. I like the way that the story is handling time travel, even if it seems disconnected and/or sometimes characters say contradicting things in back-to-back lines.
Like it or not, I’m invested in the silly world they built for FF XIII and I like seeing how it changes from present to future. The overarching story makes zero sense, mind you, mostly because the plot coupons make no sense. We need artefacts (their spelling, not mine. I know it’s spelled wrong) to travel through time, but the artefacts have no real connection to anything. They’re just hunks of crystal. Shouldn’t they be anachronistic items that make sense instead of anachronistic hunks of rock?
Anyway, my impressions are below. I need to get those out before I get too crazy about the lore of XIII-2. Typing that sentence made my head hurt…
- Show, don’t tell! You have the most advanced cinematics ever seen with photo-realistic faces and you have to tell us that Lightning is confused or wondering “What’s he up to?” SHOW! Anyone who actually talked during battle as much as she does would be insanely annoying.
- Was anyone saying, “You know what FF XIII was missing? Quick Time Events!” I’m pretty sure they were saying that the interface is insanely cluttered already and adding in button prompts on top of the in-engine visuals will make them hard to see. People are prescient like that. Seriously though, we didn’t need these. They don’t add anything to the game.
- I still like the paradigm system, but I wish I didn’t have to start from scratch. Luckily it gets to speed relatively quickly.
- I like the “Here’s what you missed on FF XIII-2″ segments when you load a game. Helps catch you up when your story is ridiculous/makes no sense.
- Noel looks too much like Sora for me to take him seriously
Exhibit A (Photo courtesy Pendragon94)
Exhibit B (Photo courtesy MaidenKari)
- I said it before, but it bears repeating. The spelling of artefact is obnoxious
- The Mog voice is terrible and sounds like it doesn’t fit in the mix.
- The in-engine camera angles are stupid. They don’t properly frame anything. I feel like my laziness in setting up shots before I talk to people makes for ugly scenes where a person is occupying the corner and a wall is occupying the rest of the shot. It looks bad.
- I know I said I kind of like this game, but I’m not really highlighting anything other than the paradigm system. Seeing all the old characters get old(er) has been pretty cool.
-I’m also interested in seeing how this resolves. Time travel stories are, like, my thing, haha. I want to know more about this Valhalla place and how one gets there. Finding out how it ties in with the l’Cie narrative would be neat too, considering how perfect a metaphor for video games and their characters it is.
- The way that the Pulse fal’Cie are ambivalent gods is my favorite part of them. They’re so arbitrary and mean. It’s brutal the way they manipulate humanity
- Tied in with that, the running narrative about human independence is pretty neat.
- Restricting the game to a two-person narrative shows incredible restraint. It’s a story best told with only two people, for sure.
- The monster system is ok. Not sure I dig it yet.
The Joker looks pretty gnarly in this game. (Picture used courtesy gamesweasel)
There may be spoilers ahead. Tread carefully.
Growing up in Florida confers all kinds of benefits to the aquatic athlete that you almost take for granted. Outdoor swimming, for one. I never swam indoors once during my years as a high school swimmer. Sure, things got cold in the winter, but we just heated our pools up a little and tried not to hang out on the pool deck.
We also had the ability to have practice on the beach once a month. Our beach swims were tiring slogs and I really loathed them. We’d start at one point of the beach, Coach would yell (she always yelled) out a stopping point about a mile up the shore, and we’d get swimming and run back. The change of pace was always lost on me. I only dug it for the volleyball game afterward, really. It all just seemed muddled and unfocused and like a waste of a Saturday morning. In the pool we had lanes, regimented practice sets, and direction. I may not have had as much fun watching the same landmark go by for two hours, but I always felt like I was getting something out of it.
I’m sure you can see where I’m going here…
Why does the myth of the open world game persist? Diluting your narrative does not make it sharper or more impactful. Arkham City was swinging for the fences with its story. I don’t see how you can refute that, given how it ends, but the path to get there is just…not as fun.
Rocksteady Studios had a certifiably great game on their hands with Arkham Asylum. Reviewers familiar with the comics loved the game because it allowed players to feel like they were Batman. Does futzing around the city completing side quests unrelated to the main story make you feel more or less than Batman? I like the sidequests, but they were so disconnected and brief feeling that I actually didn’t like doing them. Does that make sense? The way they’re not integrated detracts from their execution.
I’m gonna tie in the beginning: It’s like swimming in the ocean versus swimming in a pool. I may have more freedom, but the bucking waves and the looseness of the experience means I derive less use from it. The very fact that I preferred the volleyball game, our sidequest, so to speak, to the practice itself further strengthens the metaphor. The main story is not as satisfying as it could be.
Batman is focused and doesn’t fuck around. He gets things done. He wrecks fools who get in his way. Batman doesn’t futz around looking for Riddler trophies when helicopters are destroying the city. It’s that annoying ludonarrative dissonance thing rearing its ugly head again. In fact, I was just talking about this in the comments section of a blog post on Ambient Challenge about Red Dead Redemption. What it came down to was that I think the only modern game to be intelligent about this while reveling in its stupidity is Dead Rising.
How reviled was the clock of Dead Rising? I’ll tell you what, I loved it. I never bucked against it. You know what a time limit creates? Tension. It also limits freedom. I bet that’s what people were griping about. In Dead Rising things happen at certain times. If you’re not there, you miss it and the story is over. In Arkham City you have X hours until Protocol 10 is enacted. I’m 99% sure that you can just bullshit around until those X hours are done and nothing happens. Hours don’t “pass” until you hit certain story markers. By trying to be everything to every player, Arkham City loses out on the immediacy of Arkham Asylum. You could just hang out in AA and look for Riddler trophies, but the sense of momentum remained. In between story missions in AC momentum dies.
Rocksteady should be justifiably happy with their gliding mechanics. They’re truly brilliant and lots of fun. If you told me that the developers weren’t thinking about Super Mario World when they created the “dive bomb into gliding” mechanic, I would call you a liar. There’s no way that’s not true. It just works and I can see why they’d want to show off just flying around the city looking for stuff. I just wish (for Arkham Asylum too) that they left the side mission stuff off until after the game.
“Batman, you’ve saved the day!”
“Thanks, I’m gonna go home and take a –”
“Oh no! Batman, there are side quests and Riddler trophies to find! Go back into the city!”
Much better. What it doesn’t do is keep you playing the “main mission” long enough to prevent selling the game used the same week. If you’re distracted, it takes longer, I guess, but with the new DLC paradigm, do developers really have to keep trying to shoehorn in sidequests when there are pressing matters to attend to! They might claim that gamers resent being corralled down a narrow path and told what to do. I made this point in my FF XIII review, but choice is an illusion in 99% of the games out there. Many of them are far more linear than you care to believe. Instead of trying to have everything and executing to a passable degree on all fronts, why not segregate a game like I’m advocating? I think it makes more sense if you want a cohesive experience.
Arkham City remains much better executed when it comes to their combat mechanics. Just like the last game, fighting as Batman feels like controlling a superhero. He bounces between targets, has an almost psychic notion of who’s attacking him from where, and, when executed well, he never gets touched. Completing a fight like that makes you feel like a real man. It’s all crunch contact and smooth transition. Batman is a dream to control.
Well, almost. I can’t say I understand why they still feel the need to have a button dedicated to running. We have analog sticks, for Christ’s sake! When we want to run, we will hold said stick in the furthest possible position. Devoting a button to running is a 16-bit contrivance. I hate having Batman move like he’s on a determined, if not leisurely stroll if I’m not holding a button down. It’s downright ridiculous.
If it sounds like I don’t love Arkham City it’s because, well, I don’t love Arkham City. The game itself should be an absolute joy to play. Instead it’s just fun. Now, fun is fine, mind you, but fun is not greatness. I like playing Arkham City, I just wish it stuck to its lanes a little more.
In their last show as a band, the Sex Pistols played one song and left the stage. Before leaving the stage, Johnny Rotten quipped, “Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?”
The thing is, I don’t feel this way for the reasons everyone else might think I might. I suppose we’ll go after the biggest point of contention first.
“Final Fantasy XIII is The Worst Final Fantasy Ever (TM) because all the dungeons are straight lines and there are no towns.” Guess what. The non-linearity of those Final Fantasy games you all hold so dear is an illusion. Final Fantasy XIII draws so much ire because it has the gall to tell you what you already know.
I mean, really, you might be able to wander around the world man, but that doesn’t mean you get to pick what you do. The plot only advances when you go to specific places in a particular sequence (also known as a linear progression) and locations on the map are artificially locked from transit by story gates.
In fact, non-linearity is a joke across almost every video game. The main fun of any GTA game may not stem from following the story, but when you do decide to start on it, you will never be able to sequence break or do anything but follow it linearly to its conclusion. You might be able to pick which order you complete mission paths, but, with the exception of GTA IV, every event has a pre-determined outcome. If that’s not linearity, I don’t know what is.
I applaud a game that doesn’t try to conceal its story behind a veneer of faux choice. Final Fantasy games have only ever allowed choices once: The World of Ruin in FF VI. There are countless story details and sidequests to experience, but once you get Setzer, Edgar, and Sabin, you don’t have to see any of them. You’re free to grind and face Kefka at any point.
Bonus points really should be awarded to FF XIII for having the guts to let its story carry the momentum, but they are immediately lost on their failed attempt to make anything remotely interesting happen.
Foremost in my annoyance with the game is Hope’s subplot. In the first hour or so of gameplay, Snow, a big, earnest, stupid guy in the tradition of anime big, earnest, stupid guys, manages to get most of his ragtag squad killed, including Hope’s mother, standing up against the world’s government. Naturally, this infuriates Hope, who now desires revenge.
Hypothetical: A man seems directly responsible for the death of your mother. Do you:
1. Stutter and stammer every time you see him
2. Stew silently while enjoying revenge fantasies every time you see him
3. Figure out some way to confront him (in rage or otherwise) the first chance you get.
Maybe I’m being presumptuous here, but unless you’ve got some sort of emotional disorder, option three seems like the healthiest and most logical choice. Hope is all about the first two options because he is a gigantic pain in the ass.
I don’t think this is the result of some kind of cultural difference. I mean, hey, I’m not the most emotionally open person. I don’t really go around sharing my feelings with everyone I know, but I’m pretty sure that if a man were responsible for killing my mom, he’d know about it ASAP. It’s got to be a contrivance (and an annoying one). Why are characters in media so unable to just open their mouths and talk? If writers think this is an effective way to build narrative tension, then I’ve got news for them. As a rule, if your characters are forced to behave like they’ve never interacted with another human being for your plot devices to work, said devices are cripplingly contrived.
Honestly, it’s just lazy writing and it removes me from the narrative. Maybe Hope has a Deep Dark Secret that makes him act so stupidly, but we never learn about it. The game goes out of its way to say that Hope has father issues to hand-wave away his social idiocy, but when we meet Papa Hope, we’re confronted with a loving father who seems to care very deeply about his son. Did I miss something somewhere? Someone seems to have dropped the ball.
You know what, I think I know why this happened. Somewhere along the way the story gurus at Square Enix decided that many young men, their prime and target demographic, seem to have issues with their domineering fathers. Some of them wrote this detail on his character sheet. Somewhere else the scenario writers were coming up with how half of the player characters would unite and escape. They decided they’d meet at Hope’s mansion and Hope’s awesome dad would help them out. When you’ve got a game this massive and important, you’d think that these two teams would discuss these idiosyncrasies, right? How does such a glaring contradiction make it into the final build?
One of my other big “WTF?” moments comes at the end of a sequence at an amusement park. Sazh struggles with whether or not to kill the traveling companion who has betrayed him. Pretty soon after that starts, the physical manifestation of his emotional conflict attacks him. For most characters, fighting their eidolons, as they are called, brings them emotional peace allowing them to understand their path. In this case in results in Sazh deciding to commit suicide. What. The. Fuck.
Repeating this same emotional pattern six times (one for each main character!) seems like it would get old fast. It does. Suicide does not freshen the experience. It makes no sense. We all know he’s not really dead because we just unlocked his summon!
It’s a shame to see so many missteps in such a promising premise. Roll with me here. In the world of FF XIII there are two primary sentient beings: Humans and Fal’Cie (ignore the stupid name of the second species (typical Squeenix pretentious nonsense)). The FC, as I will now call them, are magical creatures specializing in producing food, power, or other more advanced functions. Unfortunately, the FC are split into two warring factions, Cocoon and Pulse. FC also have the terrifying ability to brand humans, saddling them with cryptic quests. Failing to complete these quests turns the human into a mindless monster cursed to wander the earth slowly solidifying until he finally petrifies and can no longer move. If they magage to succeed in their quest, they are transformed into crystals for eternity. Those in “crystal sleep” are not dead, but they are also not alive.
It’s the perfect deconstruction of video game protagonists. Each character has a singular purpose. Failing will result in a fate worse than death and succeeding will result in the end of the narrative, dooming the characters to non-existence. The much maligned linear nature of the game represents their inability to turn away, especially when you learn that the antagonists have been helping you the whole time. The big bad wants the characters to kill him. For once the game realizes that its point is to be defeated by the player.
If Squeenix hadn’t gone and relied on a deus ex machina ending like they had, the world would have ended with mankind and the FC extinct. It would have been brilliant.
Here’s another idea for the writers out there. If we have no idea (and no hint) a character can do something until you dramatically reveal it in the penultimate cutscene, it will feel cheap when you make the ending rely on that skill. Not to mention, of course, that the physics of arresting the momentum of a giant biome falling thousands of feet through the atmosphere would probably result in the deaths of nearly every inhabitant.
This is all stacked upon the naive and bullheaded solution that our heroes come up with to counter the manipulative FC. Get this, their plan is to just keep going along the path hoping that something will save them from dooming themselves (ok, so it does, but that’s because of narrative bullshit). It makes my brain hurt in ways I cannot fathom. It’s idiotic.
Now we’re going to take a moment for a quick aside into my personal life that will invariably lead back into the game.
I don’t know what university was like for non-math-type majors, but for my ECE degree I was forced to read and watch tons of mathematical proofs. Invariably (math pun! (so lonely)) we’d reach a point where the professor would skip to the end of the proof and tell us students “I’ll leave the rest of this proof as an academic exercise for you students”. When you’re the professor, you don’t have to waste your time doing the grunt work.
That was quick, back to the game:
Why are we forced to load the battle engine against enemies who are drastically weaker than the player’s party? What’s the point of that? The only time I’ve ever seen this problem intelligently avoided was when I played Earthbound. Once Ness is sufficiently more powerful than a given enemy, enemy encounters result in an instant KO. The battle engine isn’t loaded and XP and items are awarded as appropriate. The game surrenders a battle whose result is a foregone conclusion, saving you from wasting unnecessary time.
Shouldn’t more games do this? Why do I have to load up the battle engine to complete a fight that lasts five to ten seconds? What does the game gain by forcing me to sit through this? It’s not like we’re strategically managing resources in this game (unlike, say, a Persona or Shin Megami Tensei game); the entire party is fully healed after every battle. So why not? Does Squeenix think that if we don’t sit through a five second battle while pushing ‘X’ once we will be livid that the game is playing itself?
Of course, this makes even less sense when you think about the way the battle system works in FF XIII. There are two ways that you can fight: Auto-Attack and Abilities. If you select Auto, the AI will select a series of commands faster than you could based on the knowledge it has about the enemy you are facing. All you have to do is set the roles (Tank, DPS, Healer, Buffer/Debuffer) and the game will pick the most prudent course of action. It’s also streamlined to such a degree that if you die, all you’ve got to do is pick retry and you are respawned just outside the battle you just lost. It’s that easy.
Final Fantasy XIII wants so badly to be a well-oiled machine, like a Disney ride pushing you toward the goal, that these time sinks become way more pronounced. Fighting with auto, like almost every player does, with your only responsibility being character roles can still be strategic and fun, but at a certain point I start to think, “Why do I have to select auto every single round? Why can’t I just toggle it off when I need to change my tactics?” It’s like the game asks me every turn if I still want it to play the game for me.
Don’t get me wrong here, XIII is not a bad game…or maybe it is. Perhaps FF XIII is a better experience than it is a game. You’ve got stunning cutscenes and top-notch voice acting combined with a game that mostly plays itself along a straight line. Almost sounds like a movie to me.
Super Potato in Akihabara
As is typical of me, I played a ton of video games this year. Here’s a listing of what I played along with a few short (or long) words on each game. For the most part, this list is restricted to games released in 2010 unless I did not play them until this year. It’s also mostly in chronological order, with some skips here and there.
Mother 3: Definitely did not come out in 2010. I reviewed it already, but let me say that there is significant beauty to this game. Affecting and heartwrenching, this is easily among the best games I played this year. Do not play this on an emulator because the music-timing of the battles is deliciously fun and the time lag of emulation makes that impossible to experience.
Mass Effect 2: The first AAA game of the year. My review trended toward disappointing, mostly due to the way that story was handled in this iteration compared to part 1. Still, an undeniably great game whose heist-story mechanics and plot are unique and interesting in the gaming landscape. I can’t wait for part three in November.
Heavy Rain: Almost as exciting as actually doing the chores your imaginary wife forces you to do in real life. The execution just missed with this one and its plot twist was asinine and felt cheap. If you’re allowed to hear the thoughts of the protagonists, but you fail to provide a logical reason as to why that person is lying to us (himself?), you’ve lost me.
Pro Yakyu Spirits 2010 (Professional Baseball Spirits 2010): My baseball game of the year. I love taking the Carp to the Japan Series each year. I spent countless hours developing my franchise. This game was worth every dollar I spent importing it.
Final Fantasy XIII: Thoroughly disappointing. Expect more from me on this (edits from the future!), but SqueEnix really dropped the ball something fierce here. A game that suffered from complete lack of creative direction. Final Fantasy XIII is the head of the snake eating its own tail that has become SqueEnix.
Yakuza (1, 2, )3: Did not put that much time into this one, but I did play its prequels to completion. Fiercely Japanese in design, I just haven’t found the time to get deep into this gem. I’m sure it’s actually pretty great.
Mega Man 10: It lacked some of MM9′s magic (partially by being easier), but still a razor sharp example of why the Blue Bomber captured our hearts in the first place. Pump Man’s power, while heavily reminiscent of Leaf Man, is deliciously fun to play with. Using it again Solar Man was also tons of fun for me.
Pokémon HeartGold and SoulSilve: It was fun to go back to the best two games in the series. The Pokewalker was stupid, but I have high hopes for Black & White. These games are easily dismissed as rehashes, but they’re still white-hot proof that JRPG design doesn’t have to be needlessly complex to be addictive and elegant.
Alien Swarm: Valve gave me this game for free. I played it maybe twice. Decent fun, but I’d rather play Left 4 Dead 2.
Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey: Never beat this game. SMT continues to be ridiculously tough and legitimately mature in their presentation of mankind’s eternal struggles against its darker tendencies. Maybe it’s the first-person dungeon crawling, but something about this game prevents me from ever picking it up most days.
Sam & Max: The Devil’s Playhouse: I’m lumping all five episodes into one entity. I find TellTale adventure games to be workmanlike in quality. With the exception of the last two or three episodes of Tales of Monkey Island, they lack the extra oomph that could make them truly great. That said, The Devil’s Playhouse was the most hilarious Sam & Max iteration yet. From Sam & Max’s insistence on pronouncing General Skun’kape as skunk-ape to their episode-wide fight over what to call the menacing Sam clones (Samulacra or Doggleganger?), these games were absolute riots. Now if only TellTale could figure out how to make them great games as well…
Monster Hunter Tri: One gaming session. The sword swipes pack so much friction it’s beautiful. Despite this, never picked it up again. Got a sick black classic controller out of it. Now if only I played Wii more often…
Super Street Fighter IV: Played the hell out of last year’s iteration. Opted to play other games since it was structurally similar to vanilla Street Fighter IV. Kind of wish I’d played it a lot more this year.
Green Day: Rock Band: Played it once, exported the tracks to Rock Band 2/3, never felt the need to boot it up again. Despite only 1 hour of playtime, unlocked an achievement. Fixing the ‘D’ rank that came as a result on Giant Bomb is the only reason I will ever boot this up again.
Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies: Practically perfect in almost every way that a JRPG should be. I understand why the story was left more generic than years past, but the lack of an interesting narrative is what kept me from finishing.
DeathSpank: Played the demo once. Bought it on PC to support Ron Gilbert. Might actually play it one day. It seemed funny.
Comic Jumper: Hilarious in a juvenile way, I slogged through the repetitive, mediocre gameplay just to see more of this game. I think Min “played” this the right way. He watched me beat it and got to enjoy the presentation without having to touch a controller.
StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty: Am I the only person who hates what they did at the end of this story? Sure, it has legitimately far-reaching consequences for the sequel, but I think they’re also legitimately less interesting. Still, as perfectly constructed a game as they come. I fell out of playing it, but it definitely feels like I could pick it up at any time and have fun with it.
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World: The Game: A loving tribute to River City Ransom wrapped up in a franchise that I really enjoy. Sounds like a recipe for success to me. Loads of fun, but, like most middling brawlers, starts to wear on you toward the end as there’s not enough variety introduced in later levels.
Worms: Reloaded: Love Worms. Loaded this up once and never did it again. I’ve hated all Worms interfaces since Worms 2, mostly because they obfuscate and hide customization options more and more as they transition toward console friendliness. I wish they’d put more effort into their PC version.
Dead Rising 2: Case Zero, Dead Rising 2, and Dead Rising 2: Case West: I’ll lump these all together since they are mostly the same game spread out into chunks. The prologue and epilogue (Zero and West, respectively) are just small and feature-gimped enough that they lack the oomph of the full retail release. Dead Rising 2 itself was everything I wanted it to be. A more robust co-op system would be all it needed to be top tier, but I still had loads of fun with it. As a bonus, Min and Dead Rising 2 taught me how to play Texas Hold ‘Em this year.
Civilization V: You probably saw my review where I hated on the terrible AI. I haven’t played since they patched/fixed it, but if they did it right, this game could totally fall back within my good graces. I do sincerely love this game, it’s just not what I hoped it would be and, in its present form, not as good as IV.
Rock Band 3: Harmonix went and made a perfect Rock Band game. Now all I’ve got to do is get my hands on a pro-guitar and I might actually learn something practical from a game that lets me indulge in all my favorite music.
Recettear: An Item Shop’s Tale: Ever wanted to run a JRPG item shop? This indie game translated from Japan is charming and fun, but I haven’t had the time to devote myself to it yet in 2010.
Enslaved: Odyssey to the West: So good until the end. Can a stupid ending mar an otherwise good game? Yeah, kinda. I still loved it for the great acting (weird to say, right?), but stupid ending + sub-Uncharted 2 traversal-style gameplay mires this one in the mediocre bin. The fighting system could also have used a little less frame-lock in its animations (is that what this is called?). Can’t count how many times I died because I was stuck in a seconds-long super attack aimed at the air.
Kirby’s Epic Yarn: Unparalleled artistic vision ties this game together. I haven’t put too much time in, but it seems super easy. I want to play with a friend to get the most out of this. What do you say, Min?
Super Meat Boy: Juxtaposing Kirby and Super Meat Boy is wrong on so many levels. One is like chamber music. Beautiful, complex, but not so complex it’s tough to listen to. The other is kick-you-in-the-teeth, bite off a squirrel head, make you a man heavy metal. Super Meat Boy is so deliciously crunchy in every way that it might be the best game game on this list. Where Starcraft II is perfect with a Beatles-type polish, Super Meat Boy is The Clash; unabashedly punk rock. I love this game. It’s so addictive and fun.
Pac-Man Championship Edition DX: Did I say Super Meat Boy was perfect? Pac-Man CE DX (PMCEDX) is video gaming distilled to its primal essence. Eat a whole train of 30 ghosts and I dare you not to feel primitive fun stir deep within you. Words cannot express how great this game is in bite-sized chunks.
Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge: Is it cheating to count a re-release? This is probably the greatest adventure game ever now with a commentary track recorded by the big three: Ron Gilbert, Dave Grossman, and Tim Schafer.
Poker Night at the Inventory: Strong Bad is unbelievably annoying, but banter between Max, Heavy Weapons Guy, and Tycho are always a joy. The second half of this year’s poker lessons were learned here. Now if only I could get straight flush and four-of-a-kind hands so that I can 100% the achievements in this game!
Back to the Future: The Game: The voice acting and atmosphere in this game are both spot on. Unfortunately I hit a game breaking bug and had to start over. That sucked.
Limbo: First played this on 31 December, so it still counts. Deeply atmospheric, but darkly disturbing and difficult for me to stomach more than once a day. I want to go more into that in another post. Unfortunately for the game, I think the controls are a touch floaty, which I mostly find frustrating because I need to beat it dying fewer than 5 times for an achievement.
And that was 2010 in video games (for me). I missed some huge ones (Super Mario Galaxy 2, Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood, Call of Duty: Black Ops), but I think I got a good spread in there. Here’s to another great year in gaming for 2011.
Most impressive ensemble goes to the gaggle of Doctor Whos, but this was definitely my favorite Otakon cosplay ensemble.
The USA’s second largest anime convention came and went and I took pictures of it. Yes, Otakon 2010 happened, but, no, I didn’t want to actually pay admission to go in since I don’t watch as much anime anymore and I didn’t know any of the artists that were appearing, so I freeloaded along with my brother and took pictures of the cosplayers who were coming into or leaving the convention center on Saturday.
As long as there are anime conventions there will be Dragonball Z and Sailor Moon cosplay.
I’d only ever been to one similar convention before, MegaCon in Orlando, but I was thoroughly impressed by the degree of cosplay on display. Maybe it’s because it’s an anime convention and not a general comics convention, but it seemed like the majority of the attendees were in costume rather than just shlubbing it like I did back in the day.
I refused to leave until I saw some Phoneix Wright cosplay.
We spent two hours or so just hanging around the front and side doors (we weren’t allowed inside without badges) snapping pictures of cosplayers who didn’t mind the attention, marveling at all the costumes. I don’t have much more to say beyond that, so here’s a gallery of my favorite costumes from Otakon 2010 (sorry dialup users!).
Good to see such faithful Bebop cosplay is still going strong
I have no idea what anime this is from, but this girl is quite good looking, so I snapped a shot. For bonus points, check out the old man behind her looking at her ass. EDIT: It appears to be a Disgaea 3 Gunner costume.
"I can't get over how FAST they all are, it's not even fair. I'm calling zombie bullshit on that, you know? They're not...ALLOWED to be so fast." Plenty of L4D cosplay, which makes me a very happy Dan.
The Tenant Doctor Who on the right was actually a fairly good looking lady. Great costume, too.
Anyone who visits this blog knows I love Pikachu cosplay.
A crew of servbots! Not super complicated, but it works. Makes me want to play Dead Rising...
One of the most impressive costumes of the show. This is an amazing Ashitaka from Princess Mononoke.
A MUCH more elaborate servbot cosplay.
All he was missing was a chocobo in his 'fro, but he had the L'Cie brand on his chest and an accurate magicite thing (I forgot what they were called!)
Very accurate gun and costume for Gurren Lagann.
I love all Ace Attorney cosplay! We need to see more Apollo Justice too!
Fantastic Burton Alice in Wonderland Mad Hatter
It's a shame this girl had the huge Buster Sword with her becasue this shot is so far away from her elaborate costume and ridiculously blue eyes (HAD to be contacts)
Great Red-Haired Shanks cosplay.
Bayonetta. Her heels aren't guns, but still a good costume.
Nick's got a bile jar!
The most fearsome pirate on the seven seas, Buggy the Clown
Mihawk cosplay. Nice sword and costume!
A great cast shot of One Piece. I took this one mostly because I noticed Water 7 Nami in there.
I could never pass up Rockman X cosplay.
SUPER SAIYAN! I love the level of dedication to make blond eyebrows too
Mugiwara (Straw Hat) no Luffy. He asked me if I wanted him to pose. I said "Of course!"
The heroes of Code Geass
I was wondering why she didn't move out of the shot until I realized she was Namine. Great cosplay pair.
Doctors Who throughout the ages.
BONK! Great Scout costumes!
Better Scout Cosplay
I love that she's even got herself a turret!
Another convention staple, Yuffie the ninja.
"I think I hear a hunter!"
A fantastic Lucario costume that is crazy detailed. Too bad the Internet ruined such things for me by making me immediately think furry.
I also photographed a sniper. Wait a second! It's a spy disguised as a sniper!
Dark Sora? Elaborate and awesome all the same.
Amazing attention to detail with the full L'Cie brand there too. Wow.
Growing out those sideburns takes real dedication.
Not cosplay, but my favorite part of the convention. So cute!
So you walk into a Boss Room, and your six dudes are there, talking about how “You can’t do this to us!” “Let’s get him!” “Yeah, let’s do it!” And then the fight starts: and you’re just the three dudes you had picked previously on the menu. Then the battle ends, and there’s all six characters, some of them wounded, others just winded. “We did it!” Uh, okay. What were the other three characters doing during the fight? Were they fighting some other boss that the artists didn’t care to draw? (They were probably off in the corner smoking a bowl and talking about what it’d be like to get a blow job in space.)
So you walk into a Boss Room, and your six dudes are there, talking about how “You can’t do this to us!” “Let’s get him!” “Yeah, let’s do it!” And then the fight starts: and you’re just the three dudes you had picked previously on the menu. Then the battle ends, and there’s all six characters, some of them wounded, others just winded. “We did it!” Uh, okay. What were the other three characters doing during the fight? Were they fighting some other boss that the artists didn’t care to draw? (They were probably off in the corner smoking a bowl and talking about what it’d be like to get a blow job in space.)
Quoted for truth. I’m not gonna get into it right now, but there’s a problem with hyper-realism and this degree of story/mechanics dissonance.
Dragon Quest is inexorably tied to the Japanese video game space. The series was the first big hit RPG and its core qualities, simplicity, relative ease, and lightheartedness touched that first generation and continue to bring the same degree of fondness with each installment. It is unquestionably the premiere mega-franchise of Japan. Somehow it just never caught on in the states. In the states we play Final Fantasy.
Until Chrono Trigger, I’d never played an RPG with Enix’s stamp on it. The difference is unmistakable. Final Fantasy’s most iconic figure is an angsty blond teen with a huge sword. Dragon Quest’s most famous character is a smiling ball of slime. The difference speaks volumes. I think the most hilarious part about it is that Dragon Quest V, for all its puns and lighthearted humor, feels way more mature than any self-serious Final Fantasy I’ve ever played.
There was a period of time shortly after I left home for university that I had a somewhat contentious relationship with my family. Like many 18-year-old kids, I needed my independence and I went about grabbing it in the most contentious, painful way possible. I’m not proud of it, but it happened and it left a hole in my relationship with my parents that needed patching. The inflection point came, not coincidentally, as I started to mature and grow as an adult. Over the course of the four years I was at school and the few after I started to realize that I needed my family more than I cared to admit and I did my best to begin repairing the damage I had done.
I grew up in a family that valued family. It’s not out of the ordinary for a movie or game to awaken the memories of my upbringing and cause me to get emotional. Both Secondhand Lions and Mother 3 made me want to call my brothers. Dragon Quest V made me call my dad and tell him how much he meant to me. Sure, it feels a little silly to say that playing a video game caused me to feel guilt about my stupid actions as a kid, but that’s exactly the point. What I’d done was stupid and immature. This game, with its smiling slimes and stupid puns, recognizes the truth about family. It knows that there is nothing more important than the bonds we make with each other. It knows that life is beautiful and fun. It also knows that life is cruel, random, and unfair.
The angsty, loner teens with huge swords may learn by the end of the game that they need their friends, but the Hero knows that he needs his family from the moment the game is turned on. Everything about Dragon Quest’s systems point to family building. There’s more maturity in this one game than the entire Final Fantasy series combined (save one or two of the thirteen). I don’t mean to bash Final Fantasy here; I just want to emphasize that Yuji Horii is doing something different here.
Shigesato Itoi started the Mother series because of Dragon Quest. Mother games carry the unmistakable sign of Itoi’s authorship. The games are highly personal to him and every detail, from the dialog to the art, is a reflection of one man’s vision. I would be seriously shocked if Itoi ever consulted a focus group to help him design even one character in his games. I have a strong belief that Yuji Horii has similar creative control over his Dragon Quest games (or at least over V). Recent Final Fantasy games reek of audience pandering. Everyone loved Cloud, so Nomura has been designing endless rehashes of the same idea since then. Squall, Tidus, and Lightning are all iterations on the same theme. Every other cast member is expressly designed to cover some kind of anime trope. It seems like their designs are festooned with endless amounts of nonsense for the express purpose of selling replica jewelry.
Maybe I’m getting a little too conspiracy theory here, but it feels too purposeful. It feels like they are trying too hard. It feels like they are creating sequels to make sales rather than to tell new stories. I sound like a hippie artist and I realize that. Square Enix’s job is to make money, not write the next Homeric epic. For some reason, Dragon Quest just feels beyond that. I need more experience with the series, but I wonder if the merger will bring a tonal shift in the series.
It’s hard to not talk about Final Fantasy when I talk about Dragon Quest, especially since I just beat XIII last night, but I’m going to do my best for the rest of this post. Dragon Quest V did more than I ever expected an 18-year-old game to do. It was equal parts touching, funny, and gut-wrenchingly depressing and I enjoyed every minute of it that I played. I’m looking forward to experiencing more games in the series.
Despite Ian’s claims that I’m insane for doing so, Final Fantasy XIII lays almost untouched on my coffee table each night as I’ve been spending the past week playing Mega Man 9, 10, and Yakuza. Here are a few more words on the Mega Man games and a few on Yakuza:
Mega Man 9 & 10
I still stand by my assertion that Mega Man 10 is just too easy compared to 9. It makes me seem like a masochist to claim that I had less fun with it because it was easier, but that’s part of the fun of Mega Man. There were definitely some frustrating moments in 10, but I never got angry like I did with 9. It was much simpler to beat. I’ll have to play it some more so that I can beat my friend Lee to more trophies.
Why am I playing a 2005 game when I’ve got the 2010, beautiful CG epic FF XIII sitting around? The Yakuza series has been touted as fantastic for years, but I’d never gotten around to sitting down and beating any. That’s about to change over the rest of March. So far the game is pretty good with plenty of fighting and Japan-ness to it, which was precisely why I wanted to play it. It’s almost like being in Tokyo again, except that I stayed far away from the Yakuza strongholds when I was there. Nothing worse than getting in trouble with organized crime in a country whose language you definitely don’t understand. I hope to have this beat by next week and I might give a more complete rundown then.
The famous and super-busy scramble crosswalk at Shibuya.
Here we are on the last (full) day of the Main Tour. It would be the last day that Dave and I were together in Japan, so we decided to hit up all our Tokyo loose ends. That mostly meant wandering around getting the last of our souvenirs and checking out some of the famous districts within Tokyo.
Our first mission of the day was to head to the NHK building, home of Domo-kun. Other tourgoers told us that the building was in Shibuya, so we hopped aboard the subway and arrived at Shibuya Station, only the fourth-busiest station in Japan with 2.4 million passengers a day, and made our way outside to witness something we hadn’t seen before: a crowded Tokyo. At each end of the scramble crosswalk you can see above, there was a full compliment of tourists and businessmen going about their business throughout Shibuya. Finally, I thought, I’ll have some pictures to prove that Tokyo isn’t the ghost town that Eric thinks it is.
These horns are pretty famous. I've seen them in videogames.
The NHK building wasn’t as close as we were led to believe, but as we wandered around we ran into some cool storefronts, like the one below.
The second most elaborate entrance to a Disney Store that I've ever seen.
After a long walk, we finally saw the NHK building in the distance. Our morning’s journey would finally come to a close and we’d experience the awesomeness that is Domo-kun!
I don't know what the other NHK mascot's name is, but Domo is the only important one.
It turns out that Domo-kun and the NHK gift shop cater almost exclusively to small children in Japan. All that walking and our hilarious attempts to try and bridge the language barrier to get to what we were seeking was for naught. I still love Domo, but this was a seriously disappointing start to the morning.
What Dan doesn't know is that the smile on his face will be wiped off immediately after entering the gift shop and finding no cool Domo-kun merch.
Seriously…why can I buy cooler Domo-kun merchandise on the American Amazon.com page than in the NHK’s very own gift shop?
They lure you in with the giant Domo, but it's ultimately a disappointment to anyone over seven-years-old.
From the NHK building’s remote location in Shibuya, Dave and I wandered in search of a rail line to get back to the hotel and look up the location of our next hopeful spot, the Square Enix store. We wandered for another half hour or so and even came across a large contingent of teenage girls dressed like goth rockers queuing up outside a concert hall.
The concert hall in question. (Not pictured: hundreds of goth rocker teenage girls)
At some point we came across the shrine dedicated to Emperor Meiji and his wife, the Meiji Jingu. The shine was in a huge park, so David and I gave up on getting to the shrine (we had things to do!) and hightailed it to the nearest Metro station, which turned out to be Harajuku.
The most extreme fashion we saw at Harajuku. I assume it gets better on Sundays when school and work are out.
Unfortunately, it was a Tuesday afternoon, so the people who might have been here dressed up in bizarre fashions were all in class or working or just plain not here. That didn’t stop us from wandering around a bit and spotting the essential commandments of Harajuku.
I don't want to know what smorking is, but touting sounds even scarier since its picture does not match its definition in the slightest.
At this point we realized we had no idea where the Square Enix store was (turns out we were looking in the wrong part of Tokyo), so we decided to pop back to the room to do some research and then head back out again. Back to Shibuya we went!
Above David's head is the famous Shibuya 109 (BONUS: It looks like a taxi cab is about to drive into Dave's ear).
When we got back to Shibuya station we finally spotted a landmark we were desperately searching for, the statue of Hachikō. If you don’t know the story, Hachikō was the dog of a professor who took the train from Shibuya every day. Hachikō saw his master off every morning from his front door and met him at the station every evening when he got back from the University. One day, his master suffered a stroke and died at the university, but poor Hachikō could not know such things, for he was a dog. He went back to his master’s house repeatedly after being given away, but eventually realized that the preofessor was never coming back home. After that, Hachikō returned every evening at the appointed time to Shibuya station to search for his master for ten straight years until he died. He became a hero and a symbol of loyalty and affection for the Japanese and a statue was erected of him at the station where he awaited his master throughout the years.
Dave posing with the cutest, most loyal dog in Japan.
Quick research in the room showed us that we never found the Square Enix store because it was in Shinjuku, not Shibuya. We quickly set out again now that our maps were recalibrated. Since we only had time for that stop and little else before we had to be at the ballpark, this would be our last stop for the day. Lucky for us, it wasn’t that hard to find the Squeenix store, although we did manage to end up on the wrong side of the road and had to walk quite a ways before we found a crosswalk.
A picture of Lightening from the upcoming FF XIII. I thnk Dave's in the picture too.
The Square Enix store sits in a nondescript part of Shinjuku. There are no other stores immediately surrounding it, it has a fairly bland facade (the picture of Lightening and the logo above the shop are the only really standout things aside from the merch in the windows), and it is closed on Thursdays (a fact I would later regret not remembering), but the interior store is definitely cool, if not too small. Since Squeenix’s biggest recent release was Dragon Quest IX, a full half of the store was dedicated to DQ merchandise ranging from slime t-shirts and hats to figurines of iconic DQ monsters (including slimes) and Dragon Quest-themed DS accessories. Also available were plush figures from DQ and Final Fantasy, various Kingdom Hearts and Snoopy (random, I know) related merchandise, KH clothing, and even a section containing soundtracks from their various game franchises. It’s the back room that features the most iconic piece of art within the store.
I don't even want to think about all the uncontrollable fangirls who have licked the floor above Sephiroth's face.
A just-under-life-size Sephiroth lies encased within the “lifestream” in the back room that contains various pieces of overpriced Square Enix action figures and themed jewelry. Ever wanted a key chain in the shape of a keyblade? It’s here for ¥2000. A replica of the same pendant Squall wears throughout Final Fantasy VIII? Yours for a much less reasonable ¥19000. You can even buy ridiculously overpriced “materia” (read: marble on a chain) for ¥12000.
Beyond this point there be baseball talk.
Our mission accomplished, Dave and walked to the further (and free with our rail pass) JR station about 15 minutes away to head over to Meiji Jingu Stadium, home of the Tokyo Yakult Swallows. As Tokyo’s “second team,” the Swallows get about as much respect in Tokyo as the Mets do in New York City. While the Giants play in a nice dome in the heart of Tokyo that even has an amusement park associated with it, the Swallows play in a smaller, open-air ballpark owned by the Meiji Shrine.
One of the gates to Meiji Jingu Stadium. I forgot to mention in the article, but Dave went to the hotel to work on some homework at about this time.
The hallways within the stadium are narrow and dingy, but the food options are pretty neat. Dave and I ate at a curry place earlier in the day that featured a novel way to order your food. Instead of placing the order with a waitress and having her relay it to the chef, patrons simply select their meal based on text and a picture on what looks like a soda machine, put the money in, and give the ticket that comes out to the chef.
Put money in and tickets for curry come out!
Some of the food in the ballpark was like that and some was your typical ballpark fare, hotdogs, the occasional hamburger, and bento boxes.
I didn't think about it before, but this box of katsu was served at room temperature, which I don't find ideal for eating fried pork.
It took me until this ballpark to realize it, but it’s a very Japanese feature in most ballparks, even non-domes, to only have real dirt in the area immediately surrounding the bases and on the mound. The base paths and the rest of the infield is all artificial turf. Even more bizarre is that even outdoor stadiums like Meiji Jingu have artificial turf in their outfield too instead of real grass. It blows my mind, considering how much baseball players absolutely hate playing on artificial turf, that they’d do something so ridiculous in an outdoor ballpark.
It's hard to tell, but if you look closely you can see that the dirt around second base is differently colored than the artificial turf made to look like dirt surrounding it. The grass is fake too.
Other than my gripes about the field, Meiji Jingu Stadium is a decent ballpark with a pretty fervent fanbase. The Swallows have a unique tradition of raising umbrellas during their 7th inning stretch and whenever the team scores a run. Hearsay from the tour tells me that it’s a subtle jab at the Giants as a way of saying, “We don’t need a dome, we’ve got umbrellas.” If that’s true, it’s a little weak, but I might be saying that because I developed a strong anti-Swallows sentiment at this game.
It's not a bad ballpark at all once you get over the fake dirt.
My dislike for the Swallows stems from a few arbitrary reasons, but, really, since I’m not from Japan, my feelings about these teams can only come from arbitrary decisions made right on the spot. How else can you explain me becoming a Hiroshima Carp fan?
At about this point on the tour, I realized that my schedule had me seeing the Swallows four times on this tour!
Domo-kun shares my feeling about the Swallows.
One of the tourgoers, Ken, loves the Swallows (and the Lions). For some (evil) reason, this made me want to root against them. It’s thanks to him that I realized that the Swallows played on fake dirt and grass too.
These player intro slides were the only awesome thing about the Swallows.
The most important reason. They were playing my beloved Hiroshima Carp that day.
My favorite NPB player, Akihiro Higashide, hit his 1000th hit against the Carp the same night I was there! This is him accepting a bouquet in honor of the achievement.
The game turned out better than I could have hoped. Hiroshima creamed the Swallows, winning 9-0 and netting Akihiro Higashide’s 1000th hit just for us. It was a pretty special moment in a great game that I had a good time at.
The always cool Bob Bavasi striking a pose above the dry-eyed Leon.
After I got back to the hotel room, I grabbed Dave and we went out for karaoke again.
Dave making what I'm sure he thinks is a cool face for the picture.
I’d say the highlight of the night was the performance of “Love Shack” by the B-52s.
After a hard night of partying, it was finally time to hit the sack and say goodbye to Dave and most of the tour.
Domo-kun had a little too much to drink.