Archive for March, 2010

The only anime you need to watch this year.

March 31, 2010

Parts 2 and 3 are also in the tube, english subs as well. The dvds are out in Japan already. Now this is politics i can follow.

An adventure is not always a great adventure.

March 29, 2010

For the two of you that read this blog, and myself included, it’s safe to say that we are not kids anymore. We have long pass those times of carefree days, we are older, and certainly not as excited about the world we live in as we might have been when we were younger. We are more aware of the uglyness of the world we live in, not to mention the one that habits in a lot of people in that very same world.

Japanese rpgs, as well as many books and movies, have a fixation with stories about kids, not even 15 year olds, but even younger than that. Kids going out to the world and explore it, getting into quests that will change the fate of their world, and all that jazz. It makes sense that these stories will appeal to anyone around that age group, but what happens when we get older? When we are certainly more aware that going out in a “big adventure” wouldn’t be a walk in the park, not to mention that is just not easy to sympathize with a lead character that is still facing puberty, and can’t think of anything else beyond “GEE IM GONNA BECOME A GREAT EXPLORER/PIRATE/ADVENTURER!”.

I can see why japanese rpgs love to tell this kind of stories, and have been using them as their template for such a long time, who wouldn’t like to be on a long adventure, exploring exotic locations, meeting colorful characters? I can also see the emphasis in using young characters in these kind of stories, but again, it’s no the what but the why that makes the difference. You may have the locations, the adventures and what not, but if you’re not making any of this interesting at all, what’s the point? Where’s the excitement in the adventure?

The first Grandia is a game that follows the “kid on a big adventure” template step by step, we have our lead character, a young kid called Justin that wants to be an adventurer just like his dad. His mind is on one track the entire time “i’m having an adventure and that’s all that matters” and hardly changes at all during the course of the game. Going along for the ride is Sue, a little girl who was written in full “kid with an attitude” mode. She’s energetic and always with a sharp comment towards anything, and she fancies herself as some sort of beauty. There are other characters coming along the ride, but these two are the main focus of the game. The story revolves around another ancient forgotten civilization, an empire/army trying to exploit the resources/tools of said civilization, and a magical stone that Justin has which belonged to his father. The stone has something to do with this ancient people and thus the reason he begins his journey.

All that sounds fairly average stuff, and the game just plays it all by the numbers. There’s a race of humanoid/animal people that are “in contact with earth”, there’s a good looking-with-honor villain, a girl adventurer/love interest for Justin and other stuff you come to expect if you had played enough rpgs in your life. Not a problem with this, but once you have seen the same thing so many times it’s hard to get excited, or that interested, in another story of more of the same, just with a different moustache. Justin is as one dimensional as it gets, he talks about nothing else besides “the adventure”. Talking about the adventure, considering that he has never gone outside his hometown and faced real danger the story is never interested in showing Justing struggling in any possible way with his quest. He does everything not like the amateur explorer he is, but like a seasoned one that never gets anything wrong. There’s no struggling involved, no learning curve for him. All that could had added a bit of texture to the story, it doesn’t have to be nerve-wracking story, but some actual sense of danger could actually make things more engaging. The rest of the cast is no more different, and overall there’s no real strong character anywhere to be found. Maybe Justin’s mom, but she gets very little to do or say.

The gameplay is certainly the real meat of this game, thanks to it’s dynamic pacing the battles deman plenty of attention from the player. It’s a rough sketch of what would become the more polished combat system of Grandia 2, but it has aged quite well neverless. Both your characters and the enemies share the same bar of actions, once it gets to a certain spot is the turn of either your party of the enemy. Deciding which course of action to take is vital, because everyone is moving on the battlefield, and trying to attack an enemy way too far from you can be a fatal decision. You have either two type of meele attacks to choose from, critical, or combo, apply the right one at the right moment and you can cancel the action of your enemy. Each character also have their own special attacks, as well as magic attacks. If there is anything that is a bit dated is the inventory, each character can carry an specific number of items, anything else needs to get stashed in a box that you can access near save spots, just like the old Resident Evil games.

If there is something that the game is doing as good as the battle system is the presentation, the towns are very detailed, and the dungeons well designed. There’s not much to do in terms of side-quests, or any particular secrets to discover within the towns, that said, the NPC’s have some humours talk to offer, and give the towns plenty of life. The overall flow of the game is just the right one, neither too fast or too slow. The soundtrack is ok without being particulary memorable, a bit generic at times, but nothing that could bother you, unless you’re really very picky with the music.

All this in consideration, Grandia is not a bad adventure, but it just feels like a rather “tame” adventure, a “been there, done that” type of game. I don’t mind a more of the same if it’s actually well done, and really trying to have an identity of it’s own. We are talking here about a 13 year old game, but there were other rpgs already out at the time with far more ambitious stories. It is safe to say that, thankfully, japanese rpgs have progressed more from what many give them credit for. With the Shin Megami Tensei series raising the bar for both writting and gameplay the genre, the genre is far from staying in a swamp of conformism. As for what it is, Grandia stands as game of it’s time, both for it’s good and bad reasons. If you can get hooked with the combat then you will be fine with this, but it’s not a must have, and if you are curious about trying this franchise, just go straight for the second game.

That’s not fair.

March 26, 2010

That’s the first word that came to my mind the other day while playing Resident Evil 5: Lost in the Nightmares. The dlc where you can visit the spencer mansion once more and see what was going on before the events of the game. There’s a boss fight at the end, and the game throws you a couple of QTE (quick time events) where you barely have a second to react at them. Take too much time and the boss will hurt you and drain your energy badly.

All right, no prob, that’s fine, it’s an action game and it makes sense that the game wants to test your reflects. It is cheap, but i can live with it. Then i started to play Riviera: The Promised Land. Turns out that every time you open a chest with a trap you have to enter a quicktime event code of sorts, press a bunch of buttons the screen shows you in a certain time or you get hit by the trap. Mind you, the game does give you more time to react, but still, some of them can be quick enough to end before you finished pressing the sequence.

Is this really the “ultimate” form of interaction videogames can reach? The best one? The most proper one? A lot of people should think so, because there is a good ammount of games with this kind of gameplay these days. Remember all those lousy sega cd/3do games that made you press buttons in a certain moment in order to advance in the game? Their legacy lives, now is just more shiny and good looking, and with less bad live-action sequences.

Actually, the game responsible for this explosion of “press (x) or die” games is Yu Suzuki’s brainchild Shenmue, the term “Quick Time Event” was coined with that game, and many other games have wasted no time in following this path. Some have done it well, but most of them seem to try to integrate this in the lousiest ways possible. The most infamous example for me, and is a recent one, had to be a game i love and enjoy a lot, Bayonetta. There aren’t many of these sequences, and not all of them are anything to make a big fuss, but there’s a couple that you will surely going to remember for a long time. Some of them are designed following verbatim the “press this or die” mechanism, this wouldn’t be bad per se if the game at least gave you a warning that they are coming, the problem is that some come right out of nowhere, giving the player no time at all to give a proper reaction. Thankfully this doesn’t break the game at all, but it does create a very annoying beginners trap, and is sure to give you the first continue “skull” in your screen, and quite early on.

Why is this happening? Who keeps saying yes to this awful gameplay decisions? Yeah, my post is more of  visceral reaction than a proper reflexion of this kind of gameplay mechanic, but to this day i still fail to see why is there such an obsession with making us behave like trained monkeys that need to press buttons at certain moments, or else we get an electric shock as punishment. They eventually become a memorization thing, not a reflex test, and that just breaks completely their reason to exist, unless game programmers are expecting me to read their minds. Even there some games will throw you a curve ball and keep changing the buttons to press just to keep teasing you. In essence a lot of games depend of memorization, be of enemy patterns, command input or other related actions, all that said i just wonder, what’s the point of forcing me learn when to press a certain button over and over ? Where’s the skill there?  Call me old or slow, but i’m tired of seeing such little imagination in developers when trying to implement this. I’m no damn monkey (who are very intelligent creatures by the way forced to do some stupid stuff)  i’m  just somebody trying to have fun with my games.

Where are they right now, and what are they doing?

March 23, 2010

Team Silent

The staff behind the first 4 SH games that is. Yeah, Yamaoka is out of Konami, but what about the rest of the staff? Hiroyuki Owaku, Masahiro Ito? People that were key parts in giving the franchise life and shape. I would love to see a new game from them, no matter the genre, seems the odds are not good for that.

Yasumi Matsuno

Where is this man? I know, he wrote some stuff for platinum game’s Madworld, but that’s not enough. Matsuno needs to direct and write another full game, the industry is in desperate need of people like him. Hopefuly the whole FFXII thing didn’t slow him down that bad.

Treasure games

Yeah yeah, they did Sin and Punishment 2, but how about a new game and not a sequel? I remember reading a rumour about them working in a new shooter for the 360, but so far nothing.

Videogames are serious business.

March 18, 2010

Quick, name one thing in common with most high profile games being released these days. Here, let me help you:

Man, everybody is looking way too serious.

Comedy, where’s the comedy? Not in these games for sure, not to mention that this is something not exclusive to the current generation. Videogames seem to avoid comedy in one way or another, the output of comedy-oriented games and “serious” games is way out of proportion. Think about all the comedies that come to cinemas every weekend, to tv every new season, books and music devote plenty of time in making people laugh too. Yet videogames, an activity related to, you know, having fun, seems to step away from this area as much as possible. Why is that?

Well, making people laugh is no easy task, that’s for sure. Cultural differences can also play a vital rol in what things can make a certain audience laugh, not to mention that certain types of comedy could be offensive to some people, offensive enough to make them rally against the source of said offense. All those things into consideration, i can see why many game companies might have some reserves when trying to inject some humour into a situation. On the other hand, the nature of videogames orbits around the absurd, the realms of fantasy, the “everything is possible” approach. Making games shy away from being irreverent just doesn’t seem right at all.

Actually, i’m not being 100% accurate with those images i used there, take the Yakuza franchise for example,  games that, while tackling the shady side of japanese culture (crime syndicates and everything related to them) takes the time to throw a good mixture of humour in several missions, and even in the gameplay itself. This is after all a game where, in the case of Yakuza 3, the main character can learn new moves by watching the extravagant antics of several people on the streets. The hostess missions, the heat actions and several other moments bring a lot of color to the whole thing. The Final Fantasy games used to have a lighter nature to themselves, before turning into soapy melodramas. Neverless, these franchises, and specially God of War and Final Fantasy, are the last things you would think when trying to come up with games you would consider big on the laugh department.

This could be a universal thing, when something is not taken itself “seriously” in it’s presentation people tend to dismiss the whole package, this is quite unfair considering how comedy has been used to reflect about our society, about several issues in our world. The videogame media seems to disagree with this, and it’s quite common to see a game getting a bad review for “not taking itself seriously” for playing it for “laughs” and for being just too “campy”, which seems to be the word these days for “any type of humor i don’t get”.

I can think of two clear examples of getting the “serious business” boot, Bayonetta and God Hand, specially for the later. Here we have two games so willing to poke fun of all the cliches that populate over-saturated macho/geek power trips of invincible warriors fighting dozens of enemies, and the vg press just doesn’t like it. Both got the “camp” label, like a prisoner getting it’s number code printed on their skin. Sure, some oddball games might get a free ticket from time to time, Viewtful Joe didn’t got a lot of heat back in it’s day, not that i remember. But the rule prevails, and game fully devoted to it’s comedy is bound to get bad looks from many, to be dismissed in the shelves. These days when Capcom gives the world a turkish oil wrestling in Super Street Fighter IV (a real style of fighting, go look it in wikipedia) some fans complaint that they didn’t got another guy in a karate gi.

Videogames aiming for a more serious approach are perfectly fine too, if it wasn’t for the fact that very few games actually manag to have decent enough writting, and it’s hard to take them seriously as a work of hard-hitting narrative, or anything in that vein. Not to mention that many times a game so focused in being taked seriously could produce the exact opossite result, just take a look at many games with early use of voice actors, cutscenes and even real life performers working their magic on the screen. The results speak for themselves, and these days nobody is discussing the “gritty horror” that Night Trap evoked on them, people remember more the jill sandwiches, the miserable little piles of secrets and the likes.