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Jet lag is always a bit difficult to overcome, but when you’ve flown to the other side of the world, the body really doesn’t know what to do with itself. So it came to pass that I wrote the whole second half of Part II of this travelogue at 0600 after a half hour of tossing and turning, despite being on almost no sleep. This third part comes straight from my exhausted fingers to you, starting before the first Giants game and continuing after getting back to the hotel.
Our bright morning begins at 0830 for a quick pre-trip briefing. Dave and I quickly learn that we are most definitely the youngest members of the group. There are maybe four or five people on the tour younger than 30 and certainly none in their early twenties like us. Bob thankfully runs a rather loose ship, allowing us to mostly do what we want throughout the day instead of being forced to do one thing at all times. We meet up for trains and ballgames and that’s about it. Once the main tour departs, I won’t even have that, since Bob and Mayumi plan to head off on their own.
Mayumi offered to head to Sensō-ji Temple, the oldest temple in Tokyo, and Dave and I decided to go along. Our hotel is near private railway lines and the Tokyo Metro, so we hopped aboard, allowing me to experience the metro firsthand. It most resembles the DC Metro, since it requires you to pay a fare based on how far you travel, which is rather unfortunate, but the trains arrive almost 800 times faster and more regularly, so the comparison clearly only goes so far.
Sensō-ji’s main features are the iconic giant lanterns that adorn the center of each of the gates of the temple. In between the two gates, the area is packed to the gills with vendors and stalls selling food, typical Japanese souvenirs, toys, clothes, and video games. The temple itself is a rather loose compound with shops flanking it on all sides along with a Shinto shrine. Dave and I explored the area a bit, but decided not to get souvenirs right away since it was still early in the trip. The temple was also fully populated with hordes of schoolchildren, all in uniform visiting the shrine on class trips. Even very small children were on trips to the temple, carried by hilarious carts like children on hand-pushed buses. Apparently they do this in other big cities in America, but I’d never seen it before so Dave and I quickly took to accusing the cart pushers of kidnapping all the kids in the carts.
The outer gate has a huge lantern
After our temple visit, we had free time until the game, so Dave and I decided to go eat lunch and hit up Akihabara again. Since CoCo Curry is on the way to Akihabara and it’s so good, Dave and I had yet another lunch there that I thoroughly enjoyed. Since we were visiting in the daytime, Akihabara looked a lot more like it should complete with alleys bursting with electronic components. In the distance I spotted Pac-Man ghosts chasing an 8-bit Mario and assumed that it had to be some sort of retro-game store. Since I was looking for a copy of Mother 3 to validate a translated ROM, Dave and I headed toward it to check it out.
If this doesn't scream retro game shop, I don't know what does.
Once we got closer, it became immediately obvious that we were standing at the door of a Super Potato, Japan’s most famous video game collectors store. The interior is divided up loosely chronologically, with early systems like the Famicom, MSX, and PC Engine situated on the first floor of the shop, Super Famicom and Mega Drive on the second floor of the shop, and Playstation, Nintendo 64, Sega Saturn, GB and GBA at the top of the games sections (game soundtracks also lived on this floor). The topmost floor was a retro-game arcade that had some seriously old arcade cabinets and some seriously awesome decorations and all of the floors had collectibles and toys from famous franchises.
My hunt for Mother 3 did not go so well at first, mostly because it seemed that there were no used copies sitting around the shelves. I walked up to the counter on that floor, said “Mother 3″ in the most inquisitive way possible, and just looked confused. At first I didn’t think they understood what I meant, but they helped me look a bit and didn’t find it. Before I could get too dejected, the other guy behind the counter pulled out a new cartridge in the Japanese-style GBA box. My wallet was lightened by about ¥3600, but I was now the owner of a brand new Mother 3 cart. Mission Complete! S-Rank!
I was able to find a new copy of Mother 3 at the Super Potato
I can’t forget to mention that we also found a pretty sweet capsule machine that sold keychains that made noises from the Mario series. I got a coin keychain for ¥200. Dave became less enthused by my antics by the end of the day, but that coin sound is just spot on and super fun. BONUS FACT: I believe they use one of these during the 4-Minute Warning section of Listen Up! on 1up.com.
Our quest for games satisfied, we decided to go into a music store next. My goal was to find the one Sambomaster CD I couldn’t import into the states. Unfortunately, the Japanese system of organization eluded me. We thought that maybe they adopted a Roman ordering based on sounds because we seemed to see bands with English names clustered around each other if they had the same letters, but our theory was quickly dashed and we were left wandering the store confused. My next idea was to walk up to a sales clerk, show her the entry for Sambomaster on my iPod (it’s written in kanji or katakana, I don’t know which), and pray that she could lead us to it. It turned out that the Sambomaster section was literally right behind us on the shelf and they also had the album I was looking for. Another successful mission.
Dave and I decided to try to head into a Sofmap again and climbed our way to the top floor to check out some video games. The selection was pretty enormous, complete with Xbox 360, PS2 and PS3, PSP, Wii, and DS games. Some of the DS games had way cooler boxart than the ones we’re used to. The worst part about the music store was seeing the games I most want to come out in the states, the Powapuro series, sitting in the store mocking me. Both the NPB edition and MLB Power Pros 2009 were sitting right there. I will be investigating ways to play Japanese games at home while I’m out here, since I know I can manage to play a Japanese baseball game with no knowledge of the language.
Please come to the states!
Our walk back to the hotel passed by a Shinto shrine, which housed a much smaller, single shop just outside. At this shrine I did not drink any water, but I did wash my hands and I took a picture of the board with all the ema. On our way out we noticed a tanuki statue. Not sure if you readers are aware, but tanuki in folklore have famously large testicles in Japan. It’s insane.
He's got large...tracts of land?
We got back to the hotel room and noticed that the “Do not clean” sign we put up was gone and the room was clean. I wonder why we even bothered…
It was in and out time for our first baseball game. The matchup was the Yomiuri Giants vs. the Yakult Swallows in the Tokyo Dome. The Dome itself is located in a giant entertainment complex in Tokyo with an amusement park and a mall right across the street. Bob took us to the top of a nearby building to get a good view of the surroundings and then set us loose until game time. We had about an hour to kill and Dave and I noticed that there was a roller coaster that spiraled through and around the buildings that composed the amusement park. We decided to investigate, along with our new travel buddy Susan.
You can see the coaster crossing through the ferris wheel here. Great thrill or accident waiting to happen? You decide!
When we got to the coaster, heretofore known as Thunder Dolphin, we saw that it cost ¥1000 (~$10) to ride, but we weren’t going to let that discourage us. Susan opted not to ride, but we barreled up the steps, hoped we bought admission (the machine was in Japanese), and queued up. The coaster had lockers on the other side for passengers to pack their belongings in, so we headed over and emptied out and got on the coaster. If you check Dave’s pictures, you know by now that this coaster was built with extreme in mind. The first drop is at a 72° angle, for heaven’s sake, and everything is very tight and compressed since it’s in the city. It’s an intense roller coaster that was tons of fun! I just wish we could have gone on it again for free.
What is a Thunder Dolphin anyway?
The coaster put us at just the right time to enter the Dome, which, unlike other ballparks in the states, had restaurants and shops on the outside. We queued at our gate, got to the rotating glass doors, and awaited the attendant-allowed opportunity to walk through the doors. Turns out, they keep the dome tightly sealed, because our ears all popped upon entering the dome, which is also kept at a Tokyo-warm 77-80°F, but there we were, within the Tokyo Dome, home of the most famous baseball team in Japan.
The outside of the dome is Giants-themed.
It’s said that the Giants are rather like the Yankees of Japan and I can kind of see that. The ballpark has a stateliness to it and their team has a low-frills, dignified approach that does away with too much craziness. Their mascots, for some odd reason, are rabbits from space, but we’ll let that slide. Even before the game, a steady stream of concession stand girls were wandering all the aisles, offering coke to the fans. Once the game started, they were joined by the famous beer girls. I once confused the tanks they carried on their backs for hot water for noodles, but the reality is that they’re tasked with roaming their sections all game with a heavy tank of beer strapped to their backs. As they empty out, they head back to their HQ and refill the tanks to go at it again. It’s impressive, considering the size of these girls.
Getting ready to pour us some "bieru"
Also immediately obvious were the ōendan (cheer) squads that sit in the outfield bleachers representing both teams. I learned from other members of the tour that admission into those sections is strictly limited by membership in the fan club. To gain membership, you must be willing to travel with the team on a set number of games, know every fight song, know every player-related cheer, and be spirited. They are intense. They started cheering before the game and they continued to cheer with the same intensity to the bitter end (which Dave and I missed…more on that soon).
The dome is a nice primer on Japanese baseball, but why does it have to be so hot inside?
The ballgame began and after a half-inning of awe at how the Swallows cheer section was going nuts, the Giants were set to come up. We quickly learned that the aura of “bad-assery” that most ballplayers in the states cultivate doesn’t seem to be as necessary out here in Japan, especially since some of the players were coming up to bat to bubbly J-Pop or slow, Japanese ballads. It was bizarre, especially when a foreign, Hispanic player came up to bat and it was not salsa, merengue, or reggaeton.
The game itself is played with small ball in mind a lot more than in the states. We still saw a home run that night, but most of the players were shooting for base hits. Baltimore chops were a common sight to ensure safe baserunner advancement and they bunted freely. Very rarely did they swing for the fences and if they did, it was probably an American player doing it.
The cheerleaders and the fans doing their routine.
In the 7th inning I learned that there is no stretch out here, just a communal rendition of the Giants fight song along with dancing mascots. The balloon thing was strangely absent, so I have no footage of that either.
It being the first full day out in Tokyo, Dave and I didn’t do so well at staying up through the game. By the 8th inning, we found ourselves sleeping through most of the at-bats and the cheers. Only the roar of the crowd at a great play would rouse us, only to return us unconscious. With the Giants down 3-1 in the top of the 9th, we went back to the hotel to sleep, but it turns out that we made a mistake there. The Giants caught up that inning and tied up the game. Two hours later, the game ended in a tie in the 12th and both teams were pooped. By the way, Japan baseball ends after 12 innings, no matter what. They allow ties.
So that was our first day of baseball. We are headed for Kyoto next and we will use the bullet train to get there and to the Orix Buffaloes game in Kobe. I’ve got to pass out now, I’m dying of exhaustion.
Deep from the trenches, it’s time for your Monday video feature: Embedded Reporter.
Remember when games were hard? Incredible Crisis was one of those quirky Japanese Playstation games that managed to make it stateside. Not only is it very Japanese, it’s also got brutal timing at some points and it’s pretty funny too. Watch Ryan Davis and Vinny Caravella tackle the first few stages.
Kids are stupid. It’s really not their fault, how can they know anything about the important things in life without any real-life experience. Take my music-habits as a kid as a prime example. It’s not like I was listening to The Wiggles or anything so terrible, but among the real musical gems that I was listening to (The Beatles, The Rolling Stones) on Majic 102.7 (WMXJ) was some questionable material. Sure, Alvin & the Chipmunks singing country music (Urban Chipmunk, lovingly referred to as “a piece of shit” by Rolling Stone magazine), Bugs and Friends Sing the Beatles, and Kermit Unpigged may have featured music by legitimate artists or actual classics in their genres, but, did you notice that it’s all marketing trash?
That was what I spent most of my time listening to, laughing like an idiot and thinking they were the greatest thing ever. Little did I know that I was far closer to musical perfection than I realized by another way I wasted my time. Of course, I apply that phrase liberally, because we all know that spending hours playing video games certainly seems like a waste of time, but is 100% legit. The year was 199X and I was manning the controller to save the world from Dr. Wily’s Robot Masters as they threatened humanity in the year 200X. Did you know that, with an easy gap of a decade between when I last played Mega Man and back in January of this year I can still remember and point out tunes from that game? Wait, did Dan just go and say that the soundtrack to Mega Man 2 is equivalent to great rock music? Just roll with me on this one, I’m making a point (a correct one).
It’s been said that necessity breeds innovation and nowhere was necessity more evident than the 8-bit sound processors encased within the video game systems of old. Ok, it was more evident in the previous generation of sound processors, but I wasn’t alive then and I don’t really care. Necessity bred one of the most kickass soundtracks ever to grace the 8-bit era. Takashi Tateishi, Manami Matsumae, Yoshihiro Sakaguchi made the Nintendo sing. Sure, they’re not quite as iconic as the works of Koji Kondo or Nobuo Uematsu, but they were really catchy, hip, and cool tracks.
That spirit of innovation was a requirement during the days of the NES and SNES, but by the time the Playstation hit most developers had moved onto Red Book audio and if they weren’t shelling out for full orchestras they were using MIDI synthesizers and the like. The art of what would eventually come to be called chiptunes was no longer necessary. We were better for it, right?
Last year I remember listening to an episode of Retronauts and the subject of video game music came up. The hypothesis was posited that in-game music had actually declined in quality and had become somewhat same-y. Iconic tunes were a thing of the past. There are a lot of things that could really affect this, I mean, do we ever really think that new media we come across as better than what we discovered in the past? For most people the rose-colored glasses of nostalgia prevent new, quality media from being better than what we used to watch/listen to/read in our youth. Things just aren’t the same anymore. To tell you the truth, that argument doesn’t even really matter in the context of this post, so we’ll move on.
All I was trying to say is that we, the video game-consuming public, have strong feelings of nostalgia with respect to chiptunes. So much so that musicians began to voluntarily restrict themselves just to see what they could musically produce. The chiptunes scene was born, social networking allowed it to grow, and we’ve arrived at Anamanaguchi.
Let’s face it though, just how much can a genre of music that involves 8-bit chirps, bleeps, and bloops penetrate the mainstream? I love video games and video game music, so something that sounds like it is naturally going to be attractive to me. Anamanaguchi can’t get around the fact that there are 8-bit samples in their music, but what they can do is try to broaden their sound by adding in real drums, guitar and bass. It’s brilliant. Limiting yourself to 8-bit samples will keep the audience equally limited.
There are definitely two names mentioned far too often on this blog, but I’m going to still mention Leigh Alexander of Sexy Videogameland, Kotaku, and Gamasutra fame, because her SVGL and Kotaku articles are the ones that alerted me to this band rising in the Brooklyn indie music scene. Her article mentions that the band has been listed as an up-and-coming band and not just among other chiptunes (or bitpop) artists. They cite their influences as real rockers, not 8 Bit Weapon, and it shows.
Of course, it’s still on the awkward side to share with random individuals who you can’t be sure will jive with chippy music. I picked up the albums this weekend hot off of watching a video, but I balked at exposing my visiting friends to it and opted to play it quietly in the background, but all that did was let the occasional muddled chirp sound through. Definitely not what I wanted anyway, so I just put on some FOB when I got tired of quiet bitpop.
Once I had some privacy and the ability to listen in depth, I found a great punk sound that totally blew me away. There are two small albums available on Amazon.com: Dawn Metropolis and Power Supply EP, with the former being the more recent release. At their website, Anamanaguchi.com, you can listen to all of Dawn Metropolis and you can also check out an interpretive video that plays in the background of their shows at this site. The little videos show an interesting mini-epic that the music is trying to convey and are pretty cool and trippy.
The best tracks to check out on each album are:
Power Supply EP
- “Video Challenge”
- “Helix Nebula”
- “Air Base”
- “Jetpack Blues, Sunset Hues”
- “Tempest, Teamwork, Triumph (at Sea)”
There’s just a great sound to these discs and I think it would be a definite challenge to keep your toes from tapping to these beats.
Below are some videos, one of “Jetpack Blues, Sunset Hues” and another from Blip Festival 2007
Anamanaguchi – Jet Pack Blues, Sunset Hues from Dr. Limelight on Vimeo.
Anamanaguchi // Blip Festival 2007: The Videos from 2 Player Productions on Vimeo.
Insert another credit, because it’s time for your weekly video game news and you’ve just hit the Game Overview screen.
With every Final Fantasy game there exists great (and not so great) teams of heroes bent on saving the world from some sort of evil force. While we could take a look at those heroes, let’s instead take a look at the evils that motivate these heroes to do what they do.
It should be noted that this feature will be full of spoilers.
Week 1 – Garland
Week 2 – Emperor Mateus of Palamecia
Week 3 – The Cloud of Darkness
Week 4 – Zeromus
Week 5 – Exdeath
Week 6 – Kefka
Week 7 – Sephiroth
Week 8 – Ultimecia
Now that we’ve moved past my least favorite Final Fantasy, we can talk about Sakaguchi’s swan song. Final Fantasy IX was a return to roots: a story about crystals, medieval technology, and cartoony characters. Unfortunately, the nostalgia-fest was not quite a return to SNES days of glory. The story was pretty unfocused and not all that interesting and if you didn’t play the first three of four Final Fantasy games, most of the jokes and references were totally lost on you.
Then there are the villains in the game. You have Kuja, a villain who subscribes to the Squall school of acting, Garland, a clear FF I reference, and the final boss Necron, basically a force of evil you’ve never seen before, kind of like the Cloud of Darkness.
So what can I even say about it?
The concept art is kind of cool…
Images and Video:
Sweet Concept Art
Ok, so I know I’ve been in and out so often these past three weeks, but what am I supposed to do? I’ve been travelling around the country and sick to boot, so unable to get ahead on my posts. So you won’t worry too much and so you’ll stick around, how about a little taste of some stories that will be coming up soon?
Continuing next Friday will be the regular Villains of FF that you’ve no doubt been waiting so long to see concluded. FF IX doesn’t have the most riveting final boss, but it’s kind of a nice blast from the past.
Tonight’s the big BCS game and it would be ridiculous of you to assume that I wouldn’t blog about it. Since I’ve got people coming over to watch it, don’t expect me to blog during the game, but do expect a post with my thoughts some time next week (could it be Wednesday?). Until then, GO GATORS!
I’ve been llistening to a few podcasts with people talking about Game of the Year choices and I thought, “Did I not also play video games this year? Am I not also qualified to have my own GotY opinion?” So expect a special GO with my pick for the year.
And finally, did you know that I’m a contributing writer on a blossoming webcomic? Check out I’m Not Mad to see what my brother and I have been cooking up. It’s still in its early stages, but I think we’re doing alright.
Week 1 – Garland
Week 2 – Emperor Mateus of Palamecia
Week 3 – The Cloud of Darkness
Week 4 – Zeromus
Week 5 – Exdeath
Week 6 – Kefka
Week 7 – Sephiroth
If you look up the word narrative disaster in the dictionary, guess what you’ll see a picture of? Yeah, Final Fantasy VIII.
Following the previously unrivaled success of Final Fantasy VII in the States, Square decided to keep a lot of the same quasi-futuristic and more realistic atmosphere in place for their next epic endeavor. The cartoony/anime-like character models were scrapped for more anatomically correct (hands instead of blocks!) and realistic looking character models and the storyline became a love story…or tried to become one…
If you thought I hated Cloud Strife, wait until you hear what I think of Squall. He’s a vapid, empty shell of a character whose catchphrase could arguably be “…” and whose emo-whining takes up every other opportunity he has to talk, yet, for some strange reason, Rinoa is strongly drawn to him. I’m gonna go out on a limb and compare it to the awkward, unbelievable romance portrayed in that mess of a movie, Twilight.
So we have a marionette of a main character, what should we do with the villain? Make her even less interesting and more of a motivation-less villain than Sephiroth was.
Ultimecia is some sort of time traveling witch from the future seeking to collapse time into one point. She posesses the body of the Sorceress Edea to accomplish this. Ultimecia hates SeeDs for some random reason. End of characterization.
There’s more to it than that, I think, but not much more. She’s just evil so that the good guys can have something to fight. Way to go Square, you guys really worked hard to make this one seem worth fighting…
She looks mean and hates us, but why?
Hotter than Kefka? In fact, the first female antagonist, if I’m not mistaken, so she gets brownie points for that.
Final Battle: Phase 1
Final Battle: Final Form
Week 1 – Garland
Week 2 – Emperor Mateus of Palamecia
Week 3 – The Cloud of Darkness
Week 4 – Zeromus
Week 5 – Exdeath
Week 6 – Kefka
Final Fantasy VII…
At the risk of looking like a snobbish, elite jerk, I don’t like FF VII mainly because it’s the game that everyone likes. I know, I know…it’s lame, but it stems from my love of FF VI, trust me!
The game was the first to penetrate the North American RPG market. It was a daring, risky move by Squaresoft to widen its appeal. No more swords and sorcery (so you think, it comes back a little later) and a departure from past innocence.
It does lack in many places where VI excels. Cloud Strife is a douche. He’s a jerk, he’s a moron, he’s not as cool as everyone makes him out to be. The rest of the cast is also asinine aside from Cid and Tifa.
Then there’s Sephiroth.
I will never understand the gamer obsession with Sephiroth. Ok, so he kills Aeris (there’s a statute of limitation on these things, sorry if this was a spoiler, but you were warned) and that sucks. Did I tear up about it? Naw, I liked Tifa more. It sucked cause I had just wasted time training her up to get what was apparently her final limit break. I wasn’t happy about that…
Sure, he wipes out a village or two, but how evil is he really? Kefka reshaped the entire planet. Sephiroth has mommy issues, is ambiguously male, and is all-around not that satisfying an enemy. He truly believes in what he’s doing. He’s not lusting for power or just trying to destroy existence like Kefka.
Maybe one day the world will realize Sephiroth isn’t that awesome? Who am I kidding…
Burned down a city. Killed Aeris, wiping out my progress on her character. Wanted to destroy the world. :yawn:
No. Sword is too long, hair is too long, looks too much like a girl.
Character art from FF VII
Kingdom Hearts II:
Week 1 – Garland
Week 2 – Emperor Mateus of Palamecia
Week 3 – The Cloud of Darkness
Week 4 – Zeromus
Week 5 – Exdeath
It’s no secret that I love everything about Final Fantasy VI. The game was my second best 16-bit game, if you remember that old feature. In fact, this feature was inspired almost completely by the antagonist of the greatest Final Fantasy villain to ever grace the screen: Kefka.
Heading away from the job system and small parties, Square did something they’d never done before by creating a large, mostly de-centralized cast of protagonists. The main character is, ostensibly, Terra, but pretty even attention is given to at least four or five other characters, you can spend quite a bit of time without Terra in your party, and you don’t even have to re-add her to your party once you’ve reached the World of Ruin.
Then we have the main evil man of the series, Kefka. Talk about an odd one. The guy looks like a clown, both in his sprite and his Amano-inspired portrait. It turns out (and I don’t think this was that clear in the original translation, the GBA one is clearer) that he is not a jester of any sort, he’s the court mage of the Empire and one of the Emperor’s big four general-types among Leo, Celes, and the magic soldier Terra.
So he’s an evil henchman, so what? I bet there’s some ancient evil that secretly steals the scene and becomes the true villain, right? No…not even close. Kefka is truly evil, and a nihilist to boot, with actions that are truly deplorable. Edgar and Figaro won’t cooperate and hand over Terra? He sets Castle Figaro on fire. Assault on Doma taking too long and Imperial losses getting to be too much? Poison the city’s water supply, murdering women, children, captured Imperial soldiers, and everyone else.
It gets even worse. He brutally massacres a bunch of espers, throws the balance of magic off in the entire world, and causes the apocalypse. After becoming a god, he brutally unleashes his wrath against people, seeking to end life on the planet, because he can. All this unparalleled evil, yet in most every battle with the player, Kefka just runs away at the completion.
Here’s to the most evil, human villain Final Fantasy has ever seen.
War criminal, bringer of the apocalypse, brutal murderer, slaver. An all around bastard embodying the worst of humanity. He also looks like a clown :shudder:
Pure evil, mage, jerk, first speaking part in a Final Fantasy game, but also has a penchant for running away from battles that he can’t win. He also looks like a clown.
Dissidia Concept Art
If you read my 8-bit All-Stars feature you know I love me some Mega Man 2. There was just something sublimely perfect about that game with its polished level design and great boss battles.
It’s been a long time since we’ve seen a real sequel to a Mega Man game. The last canonical MM game was MM 8 for the PSX in 1997, with the X series taking over with about eight installments that have also stopped coming out.
Imagine the world’s surprise when Mega Man 9 all of a sudden showed up on an ESRB classification website. Could the beloved franchise be making a return in all of the splendor of the current generation’s technological advances? And then we saw the first screenshots and trailer…
Cue some controversy. I’d say that a large number of dedicated MM fanatics were happy with this new direction, but many were perplexed by Capcom’s choice to go way old school with this new installment. Personally, I’m a fan of the new direction. When you look at the disappointments that have been the more recent MM games, it seems clear that a conscious effort to get back to the roots is just what the series NEEDS. Not to mention the fact that old school, 8-bit Mega Man music is great.
It’s not exactly a straight NES-style game though, it does have some technological advances. If you look closely you’ll see that the game does have some fancy-pants effects that weren’t possible on the NES. Personally, I’ll be happy if the game manages to not drop framerate when a bunch of enemies appear onscreen.
Another neat little change in the Mega Man conventions is that MM 9 will feature the first female robot. Splash Woman is the first non Man robot in series history. Some purists are very anti-Splash Woman, but I’m pro-female evil robot rights.
If I’m not mistaken, Mega Man 9 is slated for a Fall release on WiiWare, Xbox Live, and PSN.
Due to some poor life decisions, I find myself stranded for five weeks without any video games. What’s a guy to do, right? Well, rather than just giving you some of the headlines from the week’s video game news in lieu of what I was planning to be gameplay impressions, reviews, and the like, I’ve instead started a five week “All-Stars” feature. Each week we’re going to look at a video game era and spotlight my top three games from that era. Each of these games will also receive a place setting at the prestigious “Table of Honor” feature that I’m working on. Here’s the weekly plan:
Week 1: 8-bit Console Era
Week 2: 16-bit Console Era
Week 3: Post-16-bit Console Era, Pre-Current Generation
Week 4: Pre-Current Generation PC Games
Week 5: Current Generation
Yeah, the categories are broad, particularly weeks three and four, but it’s how I want to do them, so get off my back!
The 16-bit era may have refined the gameplay of each generation prior to it, true modern game design didn’t officially begin until the release of the post-16-bit consoles with their 3-D capable processors. We’ll just pretend that Star Fox didn’t exist on the SNES for the sake of this point, but even if we do allow it, the 3-D effects in Star Fox, or on any system prior to the SNES, were primitive at best. The first real 3-D game with any influence on modern 3-D games was the launch title of the Nintendo 64, Super Mario 64. Everything from camera control to hub world design has been more or less ripped from this first, pioneering game to just about any other 3-D platformer and the conventions set forth by SM64 were even adopted by genres as distinctly different as RPGs.
Also debuting with the Nintendo 64 was analog control on the home console. Mario was able to walk or run dynamically based on how much pressure was applied to the control stick, and other companies took notice. Within a year or so, the Sony Playstation had its own dual analog stick control (two makes it better!), which initially seemed like a rip off, but was brilliant in conception as the second control stick allowed for the natural progression of the camera buttons into the camera stick. Dual analog controls led to the current incarnations of the console first-person shooter and the genre’s best attempt at mimicking the pinpoint precision of mouse and keyboard FPS control. Voice acting became prominent as developers moved away from cartridge media (some more begrudgingly than others :cough: Nintendo :cough:) onto the more spacious disc-based CDs and DVDs. In fact, games and gaming matured into the more cinematic experience we now enjoy based on the power increases this generation.
Surprisingly enough, the company that had been synonymous with the video game, Nintendo, faded into virtual obscurity with the Playstation replacing it as the industry leader. Late in this time period, we saw also saw the launch of the Microsoft Xbox and as we laughed at the bulky design, gigantic controllers, and relative lack of games available, save Halo (which I will go on record as saying I don’t really care for), Microsoft cooly and stealthy maneuvered into first place in terms of HD systems with its next console launch.
We’re getting ahead of ourselves with that last point, so let’s get back to the list. Our third place game takes place a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…you meatbag. A blast from the past in taking place a whole 4,000 years before A New Hope, it’s Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic.
#3 Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic
Lucasarts knows one thing is constant about its fanbase: they will consume just about any piece of Star Wars-related media that they throw out there and that attention to detail is commonly expressed through the many mediocre video games that the company puts out. While the series has actually enjoyed a number of stellar titles, the prequel video game blitz had been taking its toll on consumers as the property was overexposed and not with a bevy of AAA titles.
Enter BioWare, a company you wouldn’t typically associate with the sci-fi genre (back then). They were best know, at this point, for Neverwinter Nights, a D&D-based dungeon crawling RPG, and Baldur’s Gate, another D&D based fantasy RPG. These are very highly regarded titles to this date, as old as they are, but I know many of us couldn’t help but wonder about how Knights of the Old Republic would turn out.
Not being a company to stray from what they do well, KotOR’s battle system is essentially a turn-based RPG based on, what do you know?, the third edition of Dungeons & Dragons. The interesting part about the engine is that it defaults to a game that is very much not turn-based. You can input commands for the character to carry out in their next “turn”, but the turns were relatively seamlessly hidden from the player, making it appear that the non-queued actions were being carried out on the fly. Couple this interesting and actually well-orchestrated battle mechanic with the ability to wield a one-handed or two-handed lightsaber or dual-wield one-handed lightsabers, throw in a couple of force powers, including that evil lightning thing that the Emperor does, and you had fanboys frothing at the mouth to get their hands on this game.
Which brings us to the story, which was, rather unlike the Lucas-penned prequels, nothing short of amazing. As mentioned before, our story begins 4,000 before A New Hope and two mega-powerful Sith Lords, Darth Revan and Darth Malak, were wreaking havoc on the Republic, as Sith Lords are wont to do. The Republic is able to decommission Revan, thanks to the powerful Jedi Knight Bastila Shan, but Malak was still out there terrorizing systems with vast resources at his disposal of a mysterious source.
So what does this have to do with you, the Player Character? First, you have to decide on a couple of things: your name, gender, appearance, you know, the basics, then you’re plopped right onto a Republic ship of some sort that Malak is assaulting to get his hands on Bastila. You meet up with Carh Onasi, Bastila escapes on to the surface somewhere, and you and Carth head down to the planet yourselves to look for her, starting your adventure. The greatest part about this narrative though is that you can partially control its direction. Many of the quests and sidequests have multiple solutions based on decisions that will affect your alignment. What’s this alignment deal? It’s the core of the Star Wars existence, Light Side and Dark Side. Basically, your decisions will net you Light or Dark points that will determine which force abilities your character eventually has available to him/her. Helping people out generally nets you Light points. Helping someone out, getting your reward, then killing all of the parties involved and looting their corpses usually nets you Dark side points. While the game lets you officially decide on your ending in a dialog tree near the finale, these actions that your character undertakes will affect the way your avatar is displayed on screen and the way that characters interact with the player character. Someone like the hilarious and very evil droid HK-47 will applaud the taking of innocent life, guilty life, uninvolved life, etc., but a goody two shoes like Bastila or Carth will be a quite the buzz kill as they criticize the mass murders you may choose to commit.
Speaking of characters, the batch in this game are about as good an ensemble cast as you can find. Sure, Mission Vao, T3-M4, and Juhani aren’t that interesting, but the rest of the cast delivers it strong, with HK-47′s performance making him the stand-out character in the entire Star Wars Universe for me (followed by the eminent Grand Admiral Thrawn (AKA Mitth’raw’nuruodo) and the super-cool Mara Jade and Talon Karrde (can you tell I love Zahn’s Expanded Universe books?)).
“Definition: Love is making a shot to the knees of a target 120 kilometers away using an Aratech sniper rifle with a tri-light scope…Love is knowing your target, putting them in your targeting reticule, and together, achieving a singular purpose against statistically long odds.”
Yeah, he’s that awesome.
All of this great characterization and gameplay would be for naught if BioWare hadn’t come up with an equally awesome plot for our beloved player character to run through. The tale relies very heavily on the plot twist that SPOILER ALERTyou are Darth Revan/SPOILER ALERT and that the battle where you were supposedly killed resulted in you simply being captured and the Jedi Order reprogramming your mind. This overarching story of the Star Forge combined with the mini-sagas taking place on each planet make for an excellent narrative structure that BioWare continues to implement in its other AAA sci-fi epic Mass Effect.
KotOR is probably the best Star Wars game I’ve ever played and among the top-notch RPGs I’ve ever played (rare for a Western RPG!). If you’ve never played it, you can pick it up for either the original Xbox or just play a slightly enhanced version for the PC or Mac. What are you waiting for? Go play it or I’ll send HK-47 after you!
Here’s some great HK-47 video, but beware, they contains spoilers (also, the second is from KotOR 2)
This next game will probably be the most controversial entry among all of the games I’ve elevated to this position. I’ll give you a few hints:
1. Its unveiling followed a proof of concept video shown at a prior trade show that was considered to be much cooler than the final product
2. Regardless of your opinion on this iteration in the series, it’s generally accepted that this game blows
3. The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker
See More The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker Various at IGN.com
#2 The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker
I’m sure a good chunk of the Zelda fans out there are wondering “Why Wind Waker? Doesn’t Twilight Princess qualify for this era?”
Yes, Twilight Princess does qualify for this era. Unfortunately, I think it’s uninspired and it suffers from lack of cohesive focus. When I played TP I felt like I was going through the motions to complete what was supposed to be an awesome game. It was definitely a more mature story and arguably slightly more interesting in execution, but it just felt lifeless and like Nintendo was just cranking out a mature LoZ title just to appease the fans after Wind Waker. Miyamoto genuinely thought that Wind Waker was a great game and I think he was seriously affected by the US fan backlash over what he felt was where the Zelda series should live. It kind of reminds me of Metal Gear Solid 2. Taken from a rather biased article written by Jeremy Parish of 1up.com, I found this quote:
“Kojima supposedly once said of Metal Gear Solid 2, ‘This is my Metal Gear. If it is to be destroyed, I will do it my way.’”
Parish admits directly after the statement that this quotation is probably apocryphal, but the general idea is still there. In Japan Kojima didn’t bother to hide that Raiden was the main character because he knew they wouldn’t mind him so much. In the states, Raiden does not have a very good reputation and a lot of gamers were upset about being duped.
This bait-and-switch happened to a much lesser degree with Wind Waker. Back in Spaceworld 2000, the aforementioned proof-of-concept video was shown.
This is what people began to expect from the next Zelda game. Miyamoto, perhaps remembering that Zelda was based on his childhood adventures in the countryside, seemed to want to bring Zelda back to its more innocent roots. The art style of WW is strongly reminiscent of A Link to the Past and the atmosphere is much less serious at times than that of Ocarina of Time (which is also amazing, but just doesn’t make the list, I like this one more).
The moral of the story: don’t make Miyamoto do what he doesn’t want to do. Otherwise you end up with a soulless game like TP instead of WW.
Speaking of WW, the game starts off by tying back to the Ocarina of Time, but this is definitely not the Hyrule that you once knew. In fact, it’s not even really Hyrule at all. The people of this world live on islands within the Great Sea. After your sister is kidnapped for looking too much like Zelda, you set out with some pirates to save her. Along the way you get a boat, explore dungeons, etc. Typical Zelda fare.
The story does get good though, as you eventually discover that the pirate captain you’ve been gallivanting with on occasion is actually the reincarnation of Princess Zelda, holder of the Triforce of Wisdom! You, naturally are the reincarnation of Dan (what? I always rename Link), so you’ve got the Triforce of Courage. This leaves the Triforce of Power, which, as always, is in the possession of the evil Ganondorf. You discover your true identities underwater in the game’s surprise twist. It’s unclear precisely what happened, but at some point the threat of Ganondorf was so great that the only way to defeat him was to call forth the Great Sea to submerge Hyrule and Ganondorf once and for all. The King of Hyrule, AKA the ship you’ve been sailing around in the whole game, was still alive, but sealed beneath the waves while Ganondorf had mysteriously escaped. Once you fully recover the Triforce of Courage, you confront Ganondorf, who extracts the Triforces from Zelda, Dan, and himself, and claims that whomever touches the Triforce will get a wish granted, his being the restoration of Ganondorf-controlled Hyrule. Before he can make a wish, the King of Hyrule touches it and wishes that Hyrule and Ganondorf be washed away and for Link and Zelda to escape. Link and Zelda turn Ganondorf to stone to keep him from escaping, water pours into the previously sealed-off Hyrule, and the great kingdom is erased from history.
Aside from being my favorite LoZ game story, I think that the Great Sea is my favorite LoZ overworld. Sure, it’s a little dull sometimes to sail around the map with the whole vast expanse of blue, but it’s also calming and fun at the same time. You see, you set the wind direction and you just put up your sails and move. Every little quadrant of the map features at least one, but typically more secrets and challenges and the whole island design allowed pre-Mario Galaxy development because each island could be specifically tailored to challenge different aspects of your arsenal of equipment and moves.
Sailing is fun, the story is fun, the gameplay is fun (but WAY too easy) and, at the end of the day, isn’t that what really matters?
I remember seeing this sucker in the movie theaters:
This Japanese commercial emphasizes the stark contrast between how Zelda is marketed in the East and West. Our commercial has that dark and edgy look while the Japanese one is more whimsical in presentation:
The top game on my list for this era is one that I actually finished fairly recently. While some may argue that there might be bias because it’s the most recent of these games that I’ve played, those people are wrong. What is this game? Here’s the only hint you’ll get: within this game you will experience pain, fear, end, fury, sorrow, and joy. The one that doesn’t make much sense is probably the giveaway that I’m talking about Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater (Subsistence).
#1 Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater
I’ve already waxed quite poetically about the game and story of MGS3 in my review, so if you skipped that guy to avoid spoilers, don’t bother reading it now, but that’s a good chunk of the validation for why this game sits at the #1 spot.
Still, I figure I should expand a bit about what makes this game so great. More than any other Metal Gear game to date (that I’ve played), Metal Gear Solid 3 absolutely embodies the tagline of “Tactical Stealth Action.” As you slink through the Russian jungle to achieve your mission, you really do feel like this is how it would theoretically be done. Naked Snake is also a great character. He hasn’t seen as much action as Solid at this point in his life, so he’s more naive and pure. Seeing him develop into the persona of Big Boss is truly moving as you see why both Naked and Solid end up making the decisions they later make in life after growing tired of the endless manipulations of governments.
The game succeeds on all fronts and truly deserves to stand out as the best this era ever produced.
Here’s a parody video highlighting one of the other characters as the actual protagonist:
Yet another parody movie regarding the end of the game:
Oh man, what a great Japanese commercial:
So that’s that for the Post 16-bit, Pre-Current Gen top three. Keep tuning in this week to see what didn’t quite make the list, but was still awesome!