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Insert another credit, because it’s time for your weekly video game news and you’ve just hit the Game Overview screen.
When I was a kid I became saddled with the unfortunate notion that Japan did pretty much everything better than the United States. I don’t think I would have gone so far as to call myself a Japanophile, but it was definitely close. Their video games were all sweet (FF VI and Chrono Trigger!) and their cartoons sure beat the heck out of the asinine stuff I was sometimes watching on the Disney Afternoon. This may have had something to do with the fact that I was watching Bubblegum Crisis and Ranma at a time when the best cartoon I could watch was Timon and Pumbaa, but it would be foolish to think that the allure of the unknown didn’t factor into it too.
This persisted up until I got to high school and I realized, “Hey, I’m never gonna get laid if I keep this up…” Your mileage may vary with that statement, but at my school the anime crowd consisted of one fat lesbian and a bunch of greasy, socially maladjusted dudes. Clearly a situation not conducive to meeting the ladies. So what did I do? Push a lot of it to the hidden background and pretend like I played video games and watched anime a lot less than I did.
Here I digress for a few moments about the absurdity of anime culture in the states compared to Japan. We grow up rationalizing that the obsessive, smelly, cosplaying kids we see on this side of the the Pacific would fit right in the Land of the Rising Sun, but the truth is otaku is almost a dirty word in Nippon. The most hardcore devolve into hikikomori and become paralyzed with social anxieties preventing them from even leaving the apartment. Yes, I know it’s naïve to associate the hikikomori exclusively with anime, but it’s also totally fair to say that a good degree of them do obsessively collect or exhibit some sort of obsessive otaku behaviors. Meanwhile, the term is romanticized in the West as a badge of pride. My brother uses DJOtaku as a handle online and even to actually DJ. It’s bizarre in the way that the Japanese attach firmly Western ideas like Christianity or Western names to their anime characters. It kind of fits, but then you realize that this nun-training school is part of a hentai dating sim and it leaves you scratching your head.
And so my love-affair with Japanese media remains mostly a secret, but even I have become disillusioned with it. The over-reliance on moe, the bizarre obsession with girls who look like they are eight (I realize this is part of moe, but this is creepy enough to warrant its own entry), same-y plots, and damn-near interchangeable characters make the whole thing feel kind of like a waste of time. Among all of this unoriginal crap that was flooding my brain, I managed to run into Azumanga Daioh. Guess what: this is the most realistic, if you can call slapstick realistic, seeming representation of Japanese high school life. It’s also entirely incomprehensible to anyone who just doesn’t get Japanese humor. Aside from all the insanity, what did I learn? Japanese high school sucks.
Let’s start right from the entrance requirements: Japanese high schools are not compulsory. Here in the States the local governments provide school for us knuckleheaded Americans to attend as required by law (unless we decide to stop going at age 16). The Japanese, on the other hand, have to test into their high schools, rather like some of us do for private schools. Then they suffer through three years of rote memorization all while stressing out over college entrance exams, attending school on SATURDAY(!), spending time obsessively devoted to their clubs, and, if they’re trying to get into a sweet university and they’re not brilliant, attending cram school to help study for those entrance exams. Meanwhile I coasted through public school, hit on girls as often as I could, and spent my afternoons swimming, hanging out with my friends, playing video games, and maybe doing some homework. One seems clearly better than the other, but then again, who am I to judge? Plenty of Americans probably can’t find Japan on the map much less remember the quadratic equation. I counter that we also don’t deny raping and pillaging China and Korea, so I’ll call us even for now.
So now you see that if you weren’t in a private boarding school with super-strict academics, your life was probably a lot easier-seeming than your counterparts out East. Enter the Persona series, which for the past two iterations has, yes, simmed having to attend JAPANESE high school. Persona 3 has you attending high school in an urban Tokyo-analog. Then you move onto Persona 4 which takes place in rural Japan where everyone is quick to tell the protagonist, heretofore referred to as Dan, since that’s what I named him, that “Boy is life gonna be boring now that you’re out here with us country bumpkins after living the high life in the city.”
I say all this to point out that Persona 4 comes at the non-Japanophile from an unexpected angle. It is an unapologetically Japanese 80+ hour RPG about going to school in the countryside. Yet, as I write this, I am listening to Vinny Caravella and Jeff Gerstmann comment on the game, MSTK 3000-style, in one of Giant Bomb‘s most successful video features, the Persona 4 Endurance Run. So not only did I play this game, I take about 20-60 minutes each day, on average, to listen to people play the same game I spent 80 hours on and crack jokes about it.
Persona 4 is good because it, rather like Azumanga Daioh, represents high school in rural Japan pretty darn well. I say this, of course, as a man who has never attended high school in rural Japan. In fact, my most legitimate experience with Japan comes from working in Okinawa, so take from that what you will. In my mind, it does a pretty good job, abstractions aside. As a student who also has to grapple with the forces of evil, Dan also must balance his social life, do his schoolwork, and work a part-time job, which mirrored my high school experience in America, minus the forces of evil. The plot boils down to this, Dan shows up in Inaba, Japan right before a series of bizarre murders begin to happen on a fairly regular basis. Dan, being the mostly conscientious type, doesn’t really jive with murders, so he and his buddies decide to bring the murderer to justice.
There is one thing I also don’t remember being a part of high school: I don’t remember my posse constantly reminding me of the exact same thing, over and over, using different wording. There’s a disturbing trend in modern games where the player is treated as something of an imbecile. I can’t say I mind the Zelda-esque bold letters to denote something important is being said, but could that possibly be because I find the rest of the dialogue so full of repeated nonsense that my brain starts to shut down from exposure to stupidity? At least I know when to pay attention, right? I would blame the localization staff, but I realize that all the redundancy is actually a problem with the way the game was originally made. They’re just aping all of that empty, redundant dialogue with their translation. It’s also not a case of “Japan thinks the West is stupid,” because this game was clearly meant for Japanese audiences. No, this is what modern game designers do. You can’t trust the player to read the manual any more, that I get. Besides, video games are a visual AND a kinetic medium, as I’m sure you’ve heard me say before (just like you’ve heard me say games are too easy), but it doesn’t mean that you have to talk down to us. The Persona games, 3 more than 4, are way hard when it comes to the battle mechanics, but the storylines and dialogue are at about middle school level.
Don’t even get me started on the dubbing work…I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again, if you’re bringing a game over from Japan, leave the Japanese vocal track on there. I don’t care how much money you spent trying to localize and dub it, it just sounds bad. Japanese vocal actors, seiyū, are big business in Japan. Consequently, they’re way better at their jobs. Even if they’re not, I have no idea what poor Japanese acting sounds like, but I’m infinitely familiar with poor English acting (hint: I’ve got experience listening to every thing I’ve ever heard with English dubs). So here’s the pro-tip I’m sure they didn’t even ask for, don’t stick me with just a dub of your game. It makes me mute the volume when they speak. I know Atlus knows better too, because they do leave it on sometimes.
The folks at Atlus do respect gamers when it comes to their battle system. Persona 4 is joyously hard in an era where few games challenge me. I’m not a masochist, I just don’t want my game session to be so simple I can sleep through it. I get that Pokémon is a game for children, but why can I battle, listen to music, and play another video game entirely and NOT LOSE. There is a point, after you’ve finished the quest where Pokémon turns around, takes off its belt, and says “So you think your Pikachu is cute? You think that belief in the heart of your pokémon is going to tump my belief in cold, hard statistics?” and promptly starts beating down the weak, but this is after 60 hours of questing.
No, Persona paces itself brutally. You think you can get away with not having a social life? Your party will be weaker along with the Persona you summon. Think you can have a social life, but not worry about raising your personal statistics like courage, knowledge, or understanding? Guess what, you can’t raise your social links without certain statistical prerequisites met. This results in a game that forces you to do everything it asks of you and to do them at least kind of well, if you kind of want to survive. Grinding got you plenty far in Persona 3. You could buy SP (the MP-analog) recovery items at will. In Persona 4, SP is a commodity. There are three main ways to restore it: 1. Blind luck, 2. SP recovery items (now available through chests as a random drop or as a reward for helping people out), and 3. One of your social links. It seems like the third option would be beneficial, except that social link needs to be damn near maxed out for the cost of SP recovery to be manageable (oh yes, he’s your friend, but he don’t heal for free. Nope, daddy’s gotta eat too). So this SP system manages just how long you can survive in the dungeon because the monsters are pretty tough and won’t go down with physical damage alone, not without a strong fight. In fact, some are even immune to physical damage. You could try picking on weaker enemies in earlier dungeons, but their EXP yield eventually drops to drops in the ocean the further you get away from them in level.
I like Perona 4 because of its hard, no-nonsense battle systems. I like it because its story, embarrassing as it might be in front of girls you want to impress, because it deals with social anxiety, isolation, angst, and belonging, a little less than Persona 3, but you get what you can. I like it because it looks at Final Fantasy’s huge budget and beautiful CG graphics, flips it the bird, releases on PS2 when the PS3 has been out for two years, and uses a heavily stylized interface with anime style graphics and anime cutscenes. I also like it because I like being called Mesa-senpai and Mesa-kun. Not in real life, mind you, but it’s funny in-game.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to go watch some Naruto while eating curry and Pocky and building my Ichigo Kurosaki costume for Otakon.
There was a day, back in my youth, when I abhorred first-person shooters. Sure, I played some Goldeneye here and there with my friends, but I was never a Doom, Unreal, or Halo fan.
Then something spectacular happened: a company that I’d heard of, but avoided their games because of my fps ambivalence released one of the greatest games I’d ever played: Half-Life 2. It revolutionized my understanding of FPS games and instilled in me blind trust in Valve. I loved Counterstrike: Source, Team Fortress 2, and Portal.
It was a foregone conclusion that I would then get Left 4 Dead, which I’ve come to see as one of the greatest multiplayer experiences I’ve ever played. Here’s the basic premise, if you haven’t picked it up from my other posts: you have four survivors from the zombie apocalypse whose aim in each level is to make it from the starting point to the next safe room. At the end of each movie (the name for each of the four campaigns) you have to fight off the zombie hordes while awaiting a rescue vehicle of some sort.
The real power of the game is that it requires you to play cooperatively. With each survivor that you lose, you will find the game that much harder. Letting teammates fall behind or leaving them behind yourself will always result in trouble. You also strongly rely on your teammates if you get incapacitated or knocked off a ledge. The icing on the cake is that Valve encourages even more teamwork with their achievement system. Unfortunately, Valve also seriously hates you and proves their enmity with the AI Director.
The AI Director will sometimes have pity on you and give you a lull so that you can revive your teammates or heal up, but that pity is just the AI taking pity on our organic weakness. Just wait until the inevitable evolution of the AI Director into Skynet. I’m just saying, it hates humanity that much.
Versus mode is plenty of fun, allowing survivors and special infected to all be controlled by rival human teams. It’s almost too unbalanced though, as a moderately well-organized zombie team will always be able to destroy a mediocre survivor team. I’m curious to see how balanced expert teams of both would be, since special infected die from a few hits and it’s kind of easy to overwhelm the survivors.
In any case, expect Valve to keep on updating L4D and continue bringing us a stellar multiplayer experience. I wholeheartedly recommend L4D so long as you have a good internet connection. If you’re playing without the net or you’re expecting a deep single-player experience, avoid it for now.
I hope that those of you who read my blog could tell from the get go that Death Race would be a stinker. I mean, it’s a movie about a prison race to the death to earn your freedom, not to mention that Jason Statham, who never refuses a buck, is in it.
It’s hard to even justify writing a full-blown review on this movie. I only went because my friends asked me to and we hit up a bar to pregame before it. The movie is a stinker with brutal automotive violence being its only draw. If you REALLY like car movies and don’t mind stupid action movies, go see it, otherwise it’s a rental AT BEST, but should otherwise be avoided.
It’s the most random and hilarious plot I’ve ever heard of in recent history and I got to see it a couple of weeks ago. Tropic Thunder features a stellar comedic cast and absolutely no need to be serious at all with their subject matter.
Ben Stiller directed this movie and he also stars in it alongside big stars Jack Black and Robert Downey, Jr., each of them actors playing soldiers in this crazy movie. The plot happens to be about these actors who are starring in the movie Tropic Thunder, inspired by the war memoirs of a Vietnam veteran. They’re having a real problem finding proper motivation and so the director decides to take the advice of the veteran who wrote the book and put them in a “real” war situation to milk real performances out of them. They do actually end up in a real war situation and comedy ensues.
The show is absolutely stolen by Downey, Jr. in this movie, mainly due to his character. Downey’s character is an extreme method actor who doesn’t break character until a project has been fully completed, so in order to play this black man from the book, he has his skin dyed black and he spends most of the movie speaking in a stereotypical 60′s black man accent and style.
Other characters are moderately funny, but not as memorable nor interesting as Downey, Jr., especially Ben Stiller’s character who has really one key, classic moment involving a panda. I must take exception to the memorable comment though, since Tom Cruise has a character in the movie that will absolutely floor you with laughter, he’s so awesome.
Is Tropic Thunder worth seeing? It’s funny and the funny kind of grows the after you’ve seen the movie, but it’s ultimately pretty shallow (no kidding…it’s a comedy) and perhaps not worth paying full movie price to go see. Wait for the rental or go if someone else is offering to pay.
You’ve probably heard the saying that hindsight is 20/20 on Monday morning, so just imagine how well I can call ‘em two days later on Wednesday. That’s right, it’s time for Wednesday Morning Quarterback, your weekly sports round-up.
Hey sports fans, it’s been a while for the blog, but we’re officially back in business! The sports world has had quite a few great and exciting stories since then between the Olympics, Favre, injuries on the Rays, and surprising stability in the standings on the AL and NL East.
I love the Olympics. As I often tell people, I feel like it’s the last real way for modern, civilized countries to wage war against each other in the modern world. Thanks to economics, you’d never see China and the US fighting each other in the foreseeable future (God I hope so!), but the Olympics allow the full competitive expression of Team USA and Team China without involving the seven million strong People’s Liberation Army.
Anyway, the overall main competition between the US and China involves medal count, which I can happily say the USA is currently winning with 29 medals to China’s 27, but China is also gunning for most golds, which is is leading with 17 golds to the ten that Team USA hold.
Team USA has been doing pretty well overall, but I’d say my favorite moment is that Men’s 4×100 (which I cannot find a good Youtube video for) was that monstrous win over the braggadocios French (.08 seconds!). Other than that, the Micheal Phelps gold medal count is the next biggest story as he becomes the greatest Olympian in history. The one problem I have with him winning is that I know some of his times are suit-dependent, but sports technology is so ubiquitous that you can’t really discount athleticism because of it.
Brett Favre has FINALLY found himself a home: the New York Jets. Man am I glad that at least some of this nonsense has been resolved so I don’t have to watch him all over SportsCenter, although now I’m stuck hearing about Aaron Rodgers all day.
What does this mean for Green Bay now? Well, aside from Rodgers’ decent performance in that pre-season game, they can’t possibly have as good of a starting quarterback with Aaron at the helm, but their season still needs to be pretty solid. If they don’t make the playoffs, you can bet there will be hell to pay in Green Bay.
Brett Favre and the Jets have it slightly easier. Favre still has to do well, but I think there’s a lot less pressure on a man whose career has already been proven. All he’s really gotta do is not get hurt and keep the Jets competitive and he’ll be fine. If he outperforms Rodgers (this will be endlessly compared), then he’ll be a super success out in NY.
As the post season approaches, the MLB standing races continue to really heat up, particularly in the AL Central and NL West as the Twins/White Sox and Dodgers/Diamondbacks, but you all know that I’m a junkie for the Eastern divisions and none of them disappoint with their respective drama.
The Tampa Bay Rays still sit in first place in the AL East three games up on the Red Sox and eight up on the Yankees. The Yankees, in particular, are in a stunningly low position for a traditionally powerful second half team, but that’s the way the new East has been going. Tampa’s mind blowing arrival as a competitive team has baffled everyone and changed the nature of the East. What’s keeping the East dramatic is how Boston won’t fall back from three games back and the recent injuries of Carl Crawford and Evan Longoria on the Rays. Both are clutch players, but the long loss of Evan Longoria (speculated to be until 1 Sept) can only hurt the team since he is their prime offensive performance. Hopefully the Rays can hold on to their first place spot until then.
NL East continues to be as close as ever with the Phillies still leading, the Mets one game back, and the Marlins 1.5 games back. The Phillies have a tough series they’re in the middle of against the Dodgers, the Mets are coasting against the Nats, and the Marlins are playing a tough one against the Cards.
Shea Stadium Review
Got to see a game at Shea on Sunday and I’ll have to say I really enjoyed it. Even though the stadium is about to be torn down, it’s still got a heck of a lot more of a baseball feel than Dolphin Stadium. The concourses have an open feel, but very narrow. In fact, the park itself just feels very cramped, but this may be because of its location (NYC) forcing the stadium to take up a limited amount of space and also because the new Shea is being constructed literally right next to the old stadium.
Fans are pretty into the game and they show it with loud cheering. The park is huge, but not so big that it looks empty like Dolphin Stadium. Also cool is the big apple that comes up after a home team home run. I didn’t get a chance to see it, but it was pretty cool.
Shea is a decent ballpark, but I would say it’s a great thing that they are making a new stadium. There’s a bit of that old school design to it with spartan corridors and bland aesthetics, but it’s still a solid place for baseball with great fans.
It’s been a while since you’ve last heard from me about the Marlins, but it’s funny how things haven’t changed much since then. The Fish remain 1.5 games back from the Phillies as of today and are, once again, in a series that will challenge the very fabric of their team.
The next few games pit the Marlins against the Phillies and Mets, the teams directly above and below them in the standings. I’ll be fortunate to definitely attend a game against the Mets at Shea and I might even go to Citizens Bank Park for the Phils game this Thursday. My goal of attending a ball game at every major league ballpark isn’t going to achieve itself, is it?
I’ll be crossing my fingers to move the Marlins into first over the Phils. They’ve already achieved quite a feat by beating Jamie Moyer last night. The Marlins were 0-10 against Moyer up until last night when they broke the Moyer hex. Hopefully the win streak begins and remains against him for the future.
Tampa Bay Rays
In Rays news, Tampa remains in first place a full three games ahead of Boston (QUICK ASIDE: Manny Ramirez to the Dodgers! WTF is Boston thinking??) and are holding strong in a series against the bane of their existence, the Cleveland Indians. At this point all that remains for the Rays to do is continue their strong performances and stay in first in the AL East.
Tropicana Field Review
This Sunday I got a chance to see another baseball game at Tropicana Field and boy was I surprised to see a new, reinvigorated ballpark. My tickets were pretty sweet, thanks to my younger brother getting them from the company he’s interning at, located in right field just past first base about 30 rows up from the field, so I feel like I got a good chance to evaluate the stadium.
When I was last in the Trop, back in 2004, the stadium was pretty different with different screens and, more importantly, a different color scheme due to the uniform and name change this year. Formerly a green and purple colored team, the renamed Rays are now a dark blue and light blue team and the new stadium looks very nice in the new color scheme.
Also great in Tropicana Field are some of the new fan traditions. Taking inspiration from the SNL skit, fans are encouraged to bring cowbells to the stadium and use them in cheers, specifically when opposing batters have two strikes on the count.
Unfortunately, the Trop is plagued by a few problems as a consequence of its dome. Sure, being indoors in the Tampa Bay sun is a good idea, however, their climate control system is not as effective as it should be, creating a kind of stale, stuffy environment that doesn’t make for a comfortable sit during the game. The dome itself is a bit of an issue too, with the low rafters in the outfield affecting high fly balls and, in general, the non-retractable nature of the dome being an issue. Sure, in the super-hot summer complete with ridiculous rains, why would you want to have the dome open unless you’re me and love the hot weather, but on cooler days or nice days, not having the option really does affect your ability to enjoy the game.
Tropicana Field is an average stadium to see a game in. You could do worse for a baseball field :cough: Dolphin Stadium :cough:, but it still doesn’t even come close to my favorite (so far), Oriole Park at Camden Yards.
It’s time for a blast to the past today with a Hitchcock classic, North by Northwest (hereafter abbreviated as NNW). #40 on the AFI’s 100 Years…100 Movies top movie list, it’s held in high regard as one of Alfred Hitchcock’s best and also is credited with being “the first James Bond film,” by some due to its spy plot, dashing leading man, and daring (at the time) action sequences. Now, I may be a bit more critical of this movie after having recently seen Casino Royale and the trailer for Quantum of Solace, but that’s mainly because I feel this movie would be much better served if it were created in the modern day instead of limited by the constraints of late 1950s film.
The plot revolves around a advertising executive, Roger Thornhill, who is accidentally mistaken for another man, George Kaplan, in one of those classic Hitchcockian moments that always set these sorts of things up. Naturally, the bad guys kidnap Thornhill, intending to interrogate him and kill him, since this Kaplan bloke appears to be a spy. Since Thornhill doesn’t have the slightest idea what they’re talking about, they decide to kill him in one of the lamest movie assassinations ever: they make him drink a bottle of bourbon, put him in a car, and intend to drive it off a California escarpment to cover their tracks. What follows instead is one of the most interetsing things I’ve ever seen: a car chase where one of the drivers was drunk. Like I said before, this would be that much cooler if this were a modern movie, since the canned scrolling backgrounds really fail to capture the urgency and difficulty of this chase where modern movie effects could have made it seem a bit more dangerous.
Thornhill clearly survives, but is taken in by the police for driving while intoxicated. He tries to clear his name, but a return to the house where he was kidnapped to just makes him look even more stupid and a trip to Kaplan’s hotel room finds it sans Kaplan and, more suspiciously, none of the staff have ever seen this George Kaplan fellow. Desperate to clear his name, Thornhill heads to the U.N. to look for the man who force-fed him bourbon, but finds out that he was using a fake name. Worse, the man who shares his name is murdered with a knife to the back by Thornhill, who is caught in a picture holding the knife before he flees. So begins the NNW travel that is echoed in the title as Thornhill chases Kaplan to Chicago, meets a beautiful woman (pretty good looking by modern standards too), beds her (he’s just like James Bond), and arrives in Chicago hoping to find Kaplan.
What Thornhill doesn’t see is the scene after the murder in some government intelligence agency where the fact that George Kaplan does not exist is revealed. He is a fake man meant to confound targets into chasing him while the real agents and operatives do their work. Thornhill is on a wild goose chase. When one of the agents asks “Should we help him?” the rest of the agency says nope, he’ll either be shot by the police or the bad guys, but that’s not our problem, it will only help us.
So continues the movie, with the famous plane attack scene and more spy-like maneuvering until Thornhill is eventually recruited by the agency and eventually has to save the girl in a daring chase down Mt. Rushmore. It ends, as these movies typically do, with the guy getting the girl and, we suppose, him returning to his life as an ad executive exonerated of all charges.
NNW is actually a pretty strong movie in terms of its themes of mistaken identity which been duplicated in modern times with movies like Enemy of the State. It does, however, suffer from kind of slow pacing (not as bad as other old movies) and awkward dialogue (a relic of the past as well) that may turn you off to the movie if you aren’t really into older flicks. I’d say its definitely worth watching if you like Hitchcock or old movies, but should probably be avoided otherwise.
It’s time for the moment many of you have been waiting for: my review of Hideo Kojima’s epic masterpiece: Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots.
SPOILER ALERT: This review may contain story spoilers. Read at your own risk!
Operating mostly on the basis of a promised beautiful, cinematic, amazing future of games, the PS3 launched back in November of 2006 with many of its purchasers anxiously awaiting the arrival of one specific game: Metal Gear Solid 4. Arriving quite some time later, is this the game to finally make the PS3 a worthwhile purchase? Let’s have a look.
One of the main questions on everyone’s mind when MGS4′s launch neared was whether or not the game would be able to wrap up the multitude of sometimes downright ridiculous plot points laid out by the six or so canonical games that have come out over the last twenty years. I’ll tell you outright that they definitely did manage to get it all figured out in a mostly satisfying way and with a pretty great premise that relates rather well to the previous games in the series. Unfortunately we lack some of the major themes of the typical MGS game, which is quite unfortunate, since the game is now more about Snake getting revenge and, to borrow a marketing blurb from Halo, finishing the fight.
The premise behind this new game is as complex as any other Metal Gear game. “War has changed,” as Snake tells us right from the get-go. The world economy revolves around war instead of oil with major private military corporations handling military operations in lieu of the more typical government-handled warfare of the 20th and 21st centuries. Snake’s major antagonist, Liquid Ocelot, happens to control the five major PMCs and is about to stage a revolt. Colonel Campbell will have none of that, so he’s sending in Snake to put an end to Liquid once and for all.
If you’ve ever seen a clip or footage of old Metal Gear Solid games, you’re no doubt wondering why Snake looks so old in this game. Simple answer, Snake, being a clone of the great Big Boss, is actually suffering from rapid cellular degeneration as a direct result of his cloned nature. So begins the tale of the living legend as he pursues Liquid across the globe. I’ll leave the synopsis at that, since the rest is best experienced in person.
The Metal Gear Solid series has always suffered from rather obscure control decisions, resulting in a finger-twisting control scheme that was definitely frustrating. For the last game of Snake’s career, Kojima teamed up with Ryan Payton to try and “Westernize” the controls of MGS to streamline the obscure decisions that have been a hallmark of the past ten years of Metal Gear. By making these controls work better in the post-discovery, action-oriented parts of MGS4, Kojima also inadvertently made it much easier to NOT play MGS as “Tactical Stealth Espionage” game. Really, what is Metal Gear without the stealth? The game was punishing when you messed up because you weren’t supposed to get caught. Your gameplay should be much more deliberate, slow and controlled than a straight-up action game because this is NOT an action game. That disappointment aside, the reworked controls do make the experience that much smoother and help to bring modern game design to the classic series.
Extra Spoiler Alert
Also new to the mix is the way that the levels are laid out. The first zone, the Middle East, has you more or less in the middle of a battle between the PMCs and militia insurgents. While these two factions are battling it out, you can choose to sneak, stealthily, around the fighting, help the militia take out the PMCs, gaining their trust and making them allies on the battlefield, or kill/stun both PMC and militia alike, making enemies of both. This first section on the game also hapens to be one of the best done sections, with the interesting dynamic of warring factions, tension resulting from battlefield sneaking, and a overall cool locale.
Act two takes place in South America, in a throwback type situation to MGS3. It doesn’t quite take place in the jungle, but its got a similar aesthetic to it and is the second most fun zone in the game. There is one area of complaint, the part where you have to “track” Naomi’s footprints to get to where she’s being kept in S. America. it’s just not as fun as the game thinks it is to look for footprints. This section also features some of the militia/PMC fighting of the desert.
The third act is the weakest of the bunch, taking place in Europe, you mainly follow a member of the resistance in an attempt to locate the headquarters of said resistance and “Big Mama.” It’s just plain not as fn as other parts of the game, even if it forces a bit more the stealth aspect of MGS that I love so much.
Act IV has the third best section of the game, as you return to Shadow Moses Island hunting Liquid Ocelot. The act starts with a dream sequence that pops you back to the PSX Metal Gear Solid making you play the approach into the Shadow Moses Island base. after that bit of nostalgia, you bust into the base itself, hearing bits of nostalgic moments that took place int he island as you pass through familiar locations. The enemies in this section are far less interesting, as they are mostly robotic. and not as fun to sneak by. This act does also contain a very sweet section where you pilot the Metal Gear REX, the model you fought in Metal Gear Solid and a Metal Gear on Metal Gear battle as you spar with the Metal Gear RAY model from Metal Gear Solid 2.
The final act brings you face to face with the Outer Heaven, Liquid’s main battleship and the location he intends to launch his revolution from. The shortest section in the game, it does feature a great boss battle against a foe similar to Psycho Mantis as well as one of the best cinematic and nostalgic gameplay sections as the final boss battle.
No real review can get away without mentioning Metal Gear Solid Online. This game, I feel, suffers from the fact that stealth is not rewarded as it is in the main game. Why would you want to play MGO like any other third-person shooter? I mainly have my fun by refusing to kill any other players, but when I do manage to stun another player, one of my teammates inevitably comes around and shoots him in the head on the floor. Can’t win ‘em all, I guess.
Meet the best looking PS3 game currently on the market. Every ounce of processing power available to Konami and Kojima Productions was expertly utilized to create a beautiful experience that will wow most any naysayer of the PS3′s graphical capabilities. The desert makes you thirsty, jungle makes you sweaty from humidity, Europe feels cool, Shadow Moses Island is appropriately haunted-seeming, and Outer Heaven’s cinematic beauty makes for a great end to a fine game.
What can I say? The guns sound good, voice acting is as superb as ever (boo to losing the British and Chinese accents of Naomni and Mei Ling, respectively), and the score by Harry Gregson-Williams and company evokes the properly patriotic and legendary aesthetic of Metal Gear.
Metal Gear Solid 4 is an amazing game, but I found myself just a wee bit disappointed with the epic. While the game does everything really well, I just found the story and, specifically, the acting of some of the characters (Naomi and Sunny) to be rather irritating. Compared to the sublime perfection of Metal Gear Solid 3, this game just needed a little more editing and a little less of the Japanese overacted melodrama. That being said, MGS4 is still one of the best PS3 games out there, gameplay-wise and should not be missed. A definite must-play.
Sakaguchi’s new company Mistwalker has had its share of problems. For very perplexing reasons they chose to chiefly develop for the Xbox 360 with side development on the Nintendo DS. As a result, nothing they make for the home console, no matter how good, will ever sell all that well in their home country. His first 360 game, Blue Dragon, sold 200,000 copies in Japan, which may sound good at first, but when you look at Final Fantasy XII’s two million sales in Japan, a whole order of magnitude more, it suddenly doesn’t seem like Sakaguchi is getting a fair shake. In fact, both Blue Dragon and Lost Odyssey are no better or worse than a typical Square Enix game, but their sales are typically much lower, with Lost Odyssey only selling around 100,000 in the Land of the Rising Sun.
So now that I’ve more or less made it clear that LO is about as good as any Final Fantasy game, lets delve a bit deeper into it, because there are some differentiating aspects that actually out-Final-Fantasy Final Fantasy.
Some of the greatest buzz about the release of Lost Odyssey revolved around the fact that its story was penned by the famed novelist Kiyoshi Shigematsu. You’d be correct to be skeptical about this, bringing in outside, famous talent does not make a great story by default. So, does it fall flat on its face? Yes and no. The actual, plot-driven story is nothing you haven’t seen before. It’s about as Final Fantasy, clichéd of a story as you can find with an evil retainer, sorcerer dude who takes over a country, blah blah blah. I was able to predict most of the twists, which was disappointing, but there the real allure to the story comes from two things: the permise and the short stories.
Let’s start with the premise:
The main character, Kaim, is an immortal. He’s been around, as of the start of the game, for a thousand years. This factors into gameplay in a rather neat way, but also makes Kaim and his fellow immortals very compelling characters (unfortunately the only ones of the bunch). Kaim also suffers from amnesia (ugh…RPG cliché #1), but this actually informs and enhances our brand new gameplay mechanic: short stories.
What happens when you have an author write your story? You end up with short stories in your game. Depending on what part of the game you are in and what part of the map you walk by, you will trigger one of Kaim’s lost memories. These play out as breaks in gameplay as you read these expertly written short stories illustrating the various themes of the game. This is basically hell for gamers like my buddy Phil who hate gameplay interruptions like cutscenes, but for me these great little stories really flesh out the characters that would otherwise be pretty generic.
Lost Odyssey succeeds because its storytelling methods are so innovative and far-reaching. While the plot itself and its resolution is more or less mundane, the idea that these characters have literally been around for a thousand years and bring with them maturity and characterization to go with it makes for a satisfying experience.
Something should be said about the non-immortal cast though. Aside from Jansen, the rogue-ish comic relief (in personality, not in class. He’s a black mage), the mortal characters range from lame to downright irritating. The wonder twins, clear ripoffs of Palom and Porom from Final Fantasy IV, are the spunky girl that we’ve seen way too often and the shy, quiet, ANNOYING boy that comes from anime. Tolten is the whiny, un-confident, whiny (it needs to be said twice) king-in-training and Sed is just the uninspired grizzled old guy, although he’s the best of the riffraff.
This isn’t anything that radically different from any other turn-based RPG. You have the usual spells and techniques, with two small wrinkles.
The first of these gameplay differences comes from equippable rings. These rings that you equip can add effects to your attacks, from added effectiveness to enemy types to elements or status effects. In order to activate these effects, you must hold a trigger and time the intersection of two rings. Perfect alignment leads to higher damage or more probable status effects.
Immortals make up the next significant gameplay change. Since none of the immortals can die, according to the story, none of them can really die in battle either. If an enemy manages to fell one of your immortal characters, they will go down for about two turns, then automatically resurrect with close to half of their health. If everyone in your party happens to be down at the same time, you do lose the battle, but it’s a pretty nice to know that if an immortal goes down you can just wait it out. Tied into the immortal system is the way that skills are allocated to immortals. Partying with mortals allows immortals to “Skill Link” and learn the specialty skills of the rest of their party. These skills can then be implemented by the immortals at any time once learned, even if the mortals aren’t in the battle with them.
Like I said earlier, everything else is what you’d expect from a turn-based RPG, no surprises there.
If you thought that Sakaguchi did some beautiful work on the PS2, you ain’t seen nothing yet. The second of his 360 RPGs and the first to feature more realistic characters (Blue Dragon’s characters were more anime-like, created by Akira Toriyama), Lost Odyssey is about the most gorgeous game I’ve ever seen. I just got a hold of a new, large, 1080p-capable television, and let me tell you, it looks fantastic. Let me also say that it’s not perfect, especially due to the Unreal engine that’s so in vogue nowadays.
As an Unreal engine game, Lost Odyssey suffers from most of the same shortcomings of other games of its type. Load times are long, framerates are far, FAR from stable. The game frequently stutters and is sometimes unstable. In my 60 to 70 hours of gameplay, I had the game freeze on me at least twice. The beauty and flexibility of the Unreal engine comes at a real price, but at least its not like the typical dark, drab, brown shooters mostly put on the Unreal engine, there are some genuinely bright and colorful vistas and locales.
A close friend of Sakaguchi, Nobuo Uematsu composed the themes and music of Lost Odyssey, but he doesn’t do anything super-special in the score for this game. In fact, it’s more or less a forgettable soundtrack that I mostly kept turned down in favor of listening to my own music. Everything else is pretty crisp and clear, but the English voice cast is pretty boring and annoying. Lucky for you and anyone in auditory range, you can elect to listen to the Japanese voice cast, but you end up with odd lip syncing and subtitling since they are aligned to the English vocal track, not the Japanese one. This is disappointing to be in both video games and anime, since it means the subs cater to the dubs, meaning they aren’t translations, but transcriptions. The difference is subtle, but, like I said, disappointing.
Final Fantasy XII was a pretty far departure from the typical Final Fantasy fare, with real-time combat, a different loot system, and a shift away from the more recent Final Fantasy narrative style. In a sense, Lost Odyssey is the true Final Fantasy XI. If that’s what you’re looking for, pick this game up. The concept and characterization of the immortals is spot on and the short stories really do flesh out the game’s story and make it stand apart. Lost Odyssey isn’t going to blow you away with its gameplay and story, it’s just gonna fill that RPG-shaped hole in your heart, especially if you only own an Xbox. While a bit lengthy for a rental, it’s more or less a one-playthrough event, so rent or buy used if this sounds appealing. It’s definitely a good game that’s worth playing if you can get your hands on it and love JRPGS.
Let’s start with three words: what the heck? Hopefully you can guess where this review is heading, so if you’re concerned about spoilers, just skip to the part after the spoiler tags where I tell you to save your money unless you absolutely love Indiana Jones or you thought that Temple of Doom was the pinnacle of the series. Everyone else is better off just waiting for the rental.
So Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (henceforth known as IJATKOFCS) starts innocently enough. It’s the 1950s, the world’s a different place, it’s the ATOMIC AGE! We’ve advanced so far in the world that we even need to use CG prairie dogs! A military convoy shows up at a secret base in Nevada or New Mexico (who cares?) and then the first sign that this movie is headed in a bad direction becomes apparent. The military guys who are secretly bad guys break into the secret base and turn out to be NAZ–COMMIES? Are you serious? They’re Russian Communists…COMMUNISTS! Do you know who Indiana Jones fights, no matter what year it is? NAZIS! I’m immediately disappointed that the bad guys are not Nazis, but at this point I’m still willing to see where this can possibly go. Lucky for me, it goes precisely where I don’t want it to go, no matter how much I’m desperately pleading with the screen to not do it: aliens.
So in the first 15 minutes I already think this movie is shit. I mean, Russians and aliens? The Ark of the Covenant, the Holy Grail, heck, even the goddamn Temple of Doom, while metaphysical, are definitely not sci-fi. Perhaps I’m being too picky, but Indiana Jones is not a sci-fi series at all and taking it in this direction is just a bad move. If this isn’t absolute evidence that someone needs to take any and all writing implements away from George Lucas, give him a severe knuckle-rapping, and forbid him from ever writing another word, I don’t know what is.
The plot plods along, introducing Shia LaBeouf, who everyone already knows is Indy’s son, but has to wait for the movie to introduce this fact, who does a barely passing job in a poorly written film (perhaps not his fault, plenty of more talented actors have faltered under George Lucas’ terrible writing. I’m not talking about Hayden. He’s just awful). The group ends up in South America, finds out clues, goes on the run, swings on vines (SO STUPID), and finally gets to this forbidden city. The alien skull is returned, the Russians all die, Indy escapes and gets married, happy ending.
The plot to this movie is just asinine and stupid, the acting is only passable most of the time, CG is way overused, and the whole thing just comes off as silly instead of cool or fun to watch. Seriously, like I said before, save your money and rent this one or you’ll want it back. To be fair, I know plenty of people who are huge Indy fans or who are immune to terrible movies who were able to enjoy this movie, but in general I’d recommend avoiding paying more than $5 or $6 to see this.