What JRPGs should learn from Final Fantasy IV

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For anyone who has read my recently posted review of Dragon Ball Fusions, you’ll note that I closed out my piece with a little tangent about how I disliked modern JRPGs. I’m not sorry I wrote that, as I feel it helps one understand my frustrations with Fusions. The game does literally nothing to break the typical mold of JRPGs and it suffers for that.

One thing that seems to be misunderstood is my attitude towards the genre, as a whole. I don’t dislike every JRPG ever made, just most of them after Chrono Trigger. As a matter of fact, I’m going to now explain why Final Fantasy IV’s remake is one of the best examples of the genre and how Fusions and Bandai Namco could (and should) learn a thing or two from Square Enix’s past.

The opening of Final Fantasy IV immediately breaks the stereotypes of the genre. You aren’t playing some prophesized hero on a quest to save the world from an ancient evil; you’re a man who begins to question the morality of the orders he is being given. That insecurity leads to you being stripped of your position and sent on a tedious (and ultimately terrible) mission.

After falling from grace and hitting rock bottom, Cecil (the main character) vows to travel the world and help others in need. This goal thrusts him into an adventure that has a few twists and turns and introduces an incredible cast of characters along with some innovative and thrilling combat mechanics.

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With age, I’ve grown to understand why people enjoy turn based RPGs. Having that layer of strategy and tactics play out in a manner with which you are given limited control is an extra challenge on top of any difficulty selection (with which the remake of Final Fantasy IV offers two options). You can’t predict the future with 100% accuracy and any mistakes lead to emergent gameplay in the style of damage control. Failure to come back from the brink of death leads to a game over, but succeeding brings an incredible sense of accomplishment.

The thing is, most modern JRPGs do very little to distinguish each of their battles. Dragon Ball Fusions, as a matter of fact, is basically the same exact game for 90% of its playtime. You can approach every single battle with the same team of people and never even come close to losing. Some side quests offer up variety, but holding victory to different stipulations shouldn’t be relegated to optional content. A game should be challenging the player every step of the way.

Final Fantasy IV does exactly this. The default difficulty definitely makes things easy, but you are constantly faced with enemies that have weaknesses to different magic attacks or require you to play defense with certain characters. A lot of the bosses are resistant to magic or physical attacks and the rotation of your party members help switch up tactics without lecturing the player with dialog boxes.

Even the animations of the enemies can clue you in as to what needs to be done. One of the main bosses, Rubicante, will move his cape and that lets the player know physical attacks are now diminished in effectiveness. Of course, the only way to discover this is by trying things out, but the game gives players the freedom to learn these nuances on their own instead of throwing an utterly baffling amount of information at the player and then hiding important details in a “tips” menu.

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Then there is the active time battle system, which forces you to think on your feet. Sure, the characters won’t be moving on their own and everyone goes in a turn, but failing to select an option within a reasonable time limit will grant the enemy a chance to retaliate. You can’t just sit around and think forever, something that modern JRPGs have regressed back to.

One of the coolest additions to the remake (and even the PSP port) is the auto battle option. Grinding was worked into the design of older JRPGs because of the lack of technology powering them. Making a long and meaningful game on the NES was an arduous task without raising the difficulty. While removing grinding would have been preferable, having the auto battle for easier encounters removes a tremendous amount of tedium.

Let’s say you don’t gel with the combat or find it tedious; that can be understandable with the length of a lot of JRPGs. Final Fantasy IV’s story moves at such a brisk pace that I was able to complete in 20 hours while undertaking numerous side quests. I was never bored, I constantly felt the severity of the situation at hand and I had concern for the characters in my party. When certain events would strip me of some of my party members, I got legitimately sad.

Newer JRPGs don’t do this often. Most of the time, you have a group of people who never face any consequences. They don’t die, never get called away or come under ailment; they are basically terminators. Everything that happens in battle doesn’t matter, because they will always be there for you. I usually get pissed off because the party size is arbitrarily limited and I can’t use them all at once.

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Final Fantasy IV may be a bit too happy about shifting around the dynamic of your group, but at least you never feel like anyone is being wasted. This is also putting aside how some events in the plot permanently remove members from the game, even if they still exist in the story. I’d really hate falling in love with Tellah, for example.

Still, the constant drive to keep the plot moving and have you seeing new things is refreshing. A lot of big budget games, let alone JRPGs, pad the length of their runtimes with meaningless content to justify a higher price point. Reaching the finish line feels like busy work instead of having the game motivate you to complete it.

Now are there any examples of modern JRPGs I enjoy? Sure, quite a few. I’ve always been into Kingdom Hearts, but that is possibly the best example of mixing wonder and joy together with two gigantic corporations collaborating. Having Disney’s dream filled worlds collide with the battle systems of Final Fantasy is so crazy and extreme that it balances out into fun. The combat also reminds me a lot of Diablo, in some bizarre manner.

Xenoblade Chronicles is also one of my favorite Wii titles, even if that deviates incredibly from the typical JRPG mold. It borrows heavily from World of Warcraft or even Final Fantasy XII, but it has an ever expanding world that is densely populated with believable characters. Maybe the sidequests are totally pointless, but the game doesn’t offer harsh punishments for failure to save or prepare; you’re allowed to make some mistakes and keep going.

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Tales of Vesperia was a game I bought on a whim after conversing with an old friend. He was a huge fan of the series and I loved the presentation aspect, but it left me feeling indifferent. The combat is pretty awesome, almost mimicking Street Fighter with combos and special moves, but the characters and elongated plot don’t do the game favors. Instead of being concise and giving the player forward momentum, the game has a tremendous amount of detours for characters to doubt themselves, almost once an hour. It really drags at the end.

Lost Odyssey is also great, but it suffers from the limitations of the Xbox 360. Being one of the first “next-gen” RPGs, the game utilizes the Unreal engine to push HD graphics. That requires a lot of disc spinning, so the load times are absolutely horrendous. Random battles take about 20-25 seconds to load and most of the game is waiting around for things to start. The combat is great and the story is incredibly deep, but even it falters with Disc three being worthless. Why are children so hard to write?

For the rest of my experiences with games, I just see the same kind of crap. Infinite Undiscovery was a borderline embarrassing waste of potential and Final Fantasy XIII is the worst example of that particular series. The newer Star Ocean titles also play things incredibly save and do nothing to push their settings; they just expect space to be awe-inspiring by itself.

That loss of wonder and excitement is what makes something like Dragon Ball Fusions feel so disappointing. It may not be a bad game and has some pretty complex battle mechanics, but it doesn’t really respect the players time and input. The game tasks you with suffering through the same encounters and plot points until it ends and gives you nothing in return.

Maybe I’m comparing apples and oranges here, but I just want my playtime to feel like it mattered. I know that is getting caught up in an arbitrary definition, but older games usually put more of an emphasis on world building and player involvement. I just want to see that return to JRPGs, instead of the influx of bloated games with little originality.

Series I Love – Super Mario Bros

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One cold, snowy day in 1992, my father decided to let me and my sister try out his NES. My mother had gotten the console as a first Christmas gift for my father and he liked to hide it away so we kids wouldn’t break it. Little did I realize, but his choice to let us touch that console would change my future.

I remember him going behind the television and fiddling with the coaxial cable. We had the RF/switch for our NES, so connecting it was as easy as pulling teeth (almost literally). After that, he switched the television to channel 4, dialed the nob and we were set.

Well, not just yet. The console didn’t display properly, so he had to remove the cartridge and blow into it. I never thought to question why at such a young age. I just took all of these steps as gospel. After “cleaning” the cartridge, my father put it back into the NES and we were golden.

He gave me the controller and tried to explain how Super Mario Bros. worked. I was 4 years old at the time, so needless to say, his words went completely over me. I saw the bright colors and a funny looking guy and proceeded to press some buttons. He walked to the right and the screen moved, so I just assumed that was it.

I walked into the first thing I saw. I can’t tell you what I was thinking, but I clearly had no perception of what an enemy was. My father then took the controller away from me, assuming I was an idiot (not in reality, I just got sad). I cried a bit, but I didn’t give up. I was entranced with this game.

24 years later, I’m still fond of Super Mario Bros. The fat, little, Italian plumber and I have basically grown up together. I’ve played all of the main Mario titles and a majority of the spin-offs. Seeing his face and hearing his voice is like comfort food to me.

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Some of the happiest memories I have are from Super Mario Bros. 3.My sister and I would trade turns for hours on end. The game seemed so incredibly massive and creative. Each world had something different about its design and the ability to store power-ups made challenging areas less painful.

Not only was the design more refined than previous entries, but having Luigi tag along and help progress just felt right. The original game basically mimicked an arcade machine by having each player make individual progress. Super Mario Bros. 3 felt like the first time cooperation was put into a game.

A few years after first picking up a controller, the Nintendo 64 was unleashed on the world. Being 8 years old at the time, I was completely floored. I couldn’t believe that we were moving into the third dimension so fast.

Nintendo was always the king of promo videos (their adds for Donkey Kong Country and StarFox 64 are ingrained in my mind), so I remember watching the Toys’R’Us video for Super Mario 64 about 100 times. I hung on every word the developers were mentioning. Mario was becoming more like a stuntman and a fighter. His moveset was expanding.

Not only his repertoire of attacks, but the world he was traversing was growing. Levels were becoming more vertically inclined. Mario could wall jump, ground pound and long jump; he felt like the crazy kid that I was. I was always loaded with energy, so I used to pretend I was Mario and jump around my backyard.

The wait for Christmas in 1996 was excruciating. Since I already figured out Santa wasn’t real, I knew my mother had the console in her bedroom. She hid that thing better than a drug lord dumps a corpse. I never even caught a glimpse of the box, despite her concealing it for 3 months.

When I did eventually get my hands on Super Mario 64, I felt like my life had changed. I was mesmerized by what I was playing. I couldn’t get my head around how such a game was made, let alone conceived. It felt like my world and video games were becoming one.

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The last time I felt such a way about Mario was with the release of Super Mario Galaxy. I wasn’t too big on Sunshine, but I played it and New Super Mario Bros. I had begun to gravitate more towards the spin-off games like Paper Mario and Mario Tennis, yet I had a feeling that Nintendo was slowly running out of ideas.

Super Mario Galaxy came out during my sophomore year of college. I went to school in Florida, away from my home in Connecticut and my Nintendo Wii, so I felt the sting of disappointment. I had to wait months to even try out the game, so I felt a bit empty. It didn’t help that my friends at school were jerks; I couldn’t seek comfort in the guy who had been with me my whole life.

There was a glimmer of hope, though! An online friend of mine who lived in Florida had just bought the game. He was willing to pick me up and have me stay the weekend. I was ecstatic. Not only did I get to hang out with one of my best friends, but I would finally get my hands on Super Mario Galaxy.

The opening cutscene that set up the story of Rosalina and the Lumas brought me to tears. It felt like Nintendo realized how cherished and special their mascot was. It was like they recognized the power this juggernaut of gaming had over the imagination.

The game was also thoroughly in love with Super Mario Bros. 3, something I attribute to Galaxy being the third 3D Mario game. I was sold; this felt like what I had been missing all those years. Platformers never really died down, but no one had made as creative and joyful a game as Nintendo did with Super Mario 64.

Galaxy pushed the limits of what could be done with 3D level design. It even utilized the Wii Remote in a method that didn’t feel so gimmicky. It had some challenge, an unlockable character (in the form of rising star, Luigi) and a truly incredible soundtrack.

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Since that day, Mario has been in some mediocre games and a few truly amazing ones. Nintendo just loves banking on nostalgia, a design philosophy that may potentially hold them back. When Nintendo EAD Tokyo is given the reigns, Mario is unlike anything else. The other teams kind of phone it in.

If the Mario series truly were to end, I wouldn’t mind capping it off with Super Mario Maker. Having the tools to create a brand new Mario adventure in my hands is something my younger self would have killed for. To have the kind of vibrancy and joy that my 8 year old self had would be overwhelming.

I’ve grown a bit cynical over the years, but Mario has always been there to bring the happiness back. He still has a zest for jumping and bouncing, even if his “love”, Princess Peach, is an airhead. How many times can one person really be captured?

Regardless, Nintendo isn’t going to let their mascot bow out. I won’t turn away from him, either. Until I can no longer physically hold a controller, Mario will always be a part of my life. To remove him would be like asking me to kill my childhood.

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Here’s to another 30 years!

Link Play

People love to claim that the Legend of Zelda series is basically the same game over and over again. While this is failing to take into account all of the handheld titles, even the main console entries have enough differences to differentiate themselves.

Still, Nintendo must have really taken that criticism to heart as the Legend of Zelda: Triforce Heroes is completely different from the classic Zelda mold. The game is more akin to Four Swords and not it’s Gamecube sequel.

While I enjoyed the game, I think it was mostly due to me being a die-hard Zelda fan. The singleplayer mode is hot trash and the weird requirement of three players kind of ruins local multiplayer with just a single buddy. Download Play is very generous, so at least you don’t have to have friends with copies of the game.

I can’t quite put my finger on why I may consider this the weakest Zelda game in the series. That isn’t to say anything is particularly bad about it, save for it’s netcode; I’m mostly just saying that nothing is quite original about it.

Since the game bears a huge resemblance to Four Swords, it’s easy to compare the two games. For starters, you progress through areas that are basically small rooms. There isn’t an overworld or any kind of dungeon exploration; you are placed in an area with some items and small puzzles.

“Puzzles”

Successfully completing the puzzle gets you to the next room and so on until a boss fight. It is fun, but it becomes pretty routine in a very short time. There are stylish touches like some graphical effects, 3D and great music, but without the costume changing mechanic, the game would be a bit dull.

Costumes are what define this Zelda experience. Changing to and fro makes for some great times. Having Link cross dress or putting on a replica of Marth’s outfit is well and good, but unlocking some of the more badass costumes (like Sword Master or Fierce Deity) can make replays and challenges trivial.

Four Swords was incredibly rudimentary in design. While having three friends help you through puzzles was a blast, all of it’s dungeons are randomly generated. At some point, you begin to see repeat room designs and immediately know the solution. I guess that takes awhile, but it also leads to a game that has no distinct or memorable moments.

That game got it’s fun out of being novel. The DSi re-release added some much needed content to spruce up the endgame, but it’s original state is a bit of a throwaway gimmick. Can Zelda multiplayer work? Four Swords said yes.

The sequel, Four Swords Adventures really went to town with the whole concept. You were required to have Gameboy Advance link cables for multiplayer, but each person could be exploring a small room on their own. Main puzzles had players taking divergent paths to find items and culminate in some grand solution.

Or a daring escape!

Everyone emerged from their GBAs and provided the steps necessary; Triforce Heroes doesn’t really have that. I can accept the lack of 4 players, but often times you can beat an entire room by yourself. It makes the concept of multiplayer feel like it was forced upon a different execution of the Zelda formula.

While online play should make up for lacking friends or having differing schedules, Triforce Heroes has some really unstable netcode. Seemingly perfect games can end suddenly for no reason and most people have no idea how to setup a WiFi connection; I’ve had lag so bad that my sword wouldn’t swing for 5 seconds after pressing the attack button.

At least with Four Swords and Four Swords Adventures, you had to be in the same room. It might have limited the chances most people had to play the game (not to mention the outlandish price required for such a feat), but the game worked at all times. Triforce Heroes sometimes fails at multiplayer while simultaneously failing at singleplayer.

The original Four Swords never even had a singleplayer component, but Four Swords Adventures allowed players to summon the extra Link’s in different formations. That kind of gameplay feels akin to some classic Bioware RPGs like Icewind Dale or Baldur’s Gate. Why the same type of mechanic wasn’t utilized in Triforce Heroes is beyond my comprehension.

Singleplayer has you tapping the bottom screen to switch between dopples of yourself. It makes for tedious progression; every time you get somewhere with one Link, you need to completely stop and redo it for another. The totem mechanic almost seems to come from frustration in solo play rather than any genuine multiplayer advantage.

There is also a rather limited method of communication for online play. You get emoticons that you can press which are supposed to tell other players what to do. They rarely work. There are no icons for “Do not use item” or “Stop”. You just have a generic “NO!!!” to warn players of anything wrong.

Where is the “Stop Dying” button?!

Trying to specify what needs to be done in a given situation to a totally clueless player is an exercise in frustration. You wouldn’t even believe how many times I ended up yelling at my 3DS when a solution came to me in seconds. To watch others shrug and bumble around like a doofus is maddening.

When everything does click into place, Triforce Heroes is fast and fun. I like that there is actual puzzle solving instead of just murdering enemies like in Four Swords. This feels like a compromise between the two previous multiplayer Zelda titles. It also has a vibe similar to Skyward Sword’s upgrades.

I also can’t stay mad at a Zelda game that calls back to the 2D gameplay from yesteryear. People love to worry about how Nintendo has basically forgotten “classic” Zelda, but they still make these games for us to enjoy. They never buried that tried and true game system.

If anything, I think Triforce Heroes has shown me that I just prefer to take my Zelda alone. To me (and a lot of people), Zelda has been about exploring a new world and conquering it’s many dungeons. It’s been about guiding Link through treacherous paths and perilous situations.

Traveling “literally” anywhere.

Sure, sharing that fun is great, but the real joy comes from figuring out a solution and putting it into action. Without the ability to verbalize that to a friend (or get them to read your mind), the game becomes an exercise in patience and insanity.

Having like minded players makes all the difference. With friends who actually understand Zelda (or being in the same room), you can accomplish what is being thrown at you. Local multiplayer saves the day yet again.

All in all, Triforce Heroes isn’t bad. I rather enjoy it. I just don’t know if I’d ever see myself playing through it again.Four Swords exists mostly as a way to kill time on long flights and Four Swords Adventures is an epic journey with friends.

Triforce Heroes kind of feels like a short trip to an amusement park. It’s fun while it lasts, but you really want to get home after you’ve had your fun. It also sucks to have to deal with people who lack common sense.

Yearning For The Past

Nintendo has made a habit of banking on nostalgia. For the past few years, nearly every single one of their games is firmly rooted in the past. Mario has been refining Super Mario Bros 3 since the New series launched on Wii and Super Smash Bros. is basically a celebration of everything old.

Yoshi’s Woolly World is, essentially, a touched up version of the classic Yoshi’s Island on SNES. Instead of falling head over heals, though, I find myself indifferent. Every chance I get to play the game, I end up bored after 8 levels.

That isn’t to say the game is bad; far from it, actually. It’s a well crafted and hyper polished adventure, but it lacks creativity. It lacks soul; there is no passion and the game coasts along at a lethargic pace.

Is that a bad thing? Honestly, I cannot answer that. For some, the deliberate speed of the game is what makes it enjoyable. My sister finds the game very captivating, despite being easy for her. She loves that nothing is thrown at the player that requires dexterity or mastery of the game mechanics.

As for me, I only seem to find entertainment in the graphics. The game is a sight to behold. Nintendo have truly gotten a grasp on HD graphics and I’m curious to see what the NX might bring to the table. That doesn’t dismiss how humdrum Woolly World is.

It sure is nice looking, though.

All of the cool concepts you remember from Island are in this game, minus Baby Mario. While a lot of people would call that a plus, it’s a huge detractor in my book. Baby Mario was annoying, sure, but he served a purpose; it gave you a goal.

You didn’t want Baby Mario crying because it would drive you up the wall. With him not being a factor, you tend to recklessly fly through the game with no concern for death. Yoshi changes from cautious guardian to senseless traveler.

It really doesn’t help that each boss encounter is phoned in. I haven’t seen a collection of enemies so meaningless in some time, but not a single boss battle in Woolly World is even remotely interesting. They all follow the well established 3-hit formula to a tee. Even the bosses with a cool theme (a shy guy frozen in ice) end up being boring slogs.

Mostly, I end up feeling sad. If I don’t like a game, I tend to get angry and a little rash, but Woolly World just makes me depressed. I want to enjoy it’s cute exterior and finely tuned mechanics, but I can’t sustain interest.

Level 5-6, titled “Up Shuttlethread Pass“, is what really brought this full circle. It’s theme song is immediately nostalgic and evocative while being entirely new. It sounds almost like it is being played on an old phonograph player; I basically picture the entire scene in black and white.

It makes me yearn for my youth. I remember powering up Yoshi’s Island for the first time in 1st grade, sitting in front of my 27-inch RCA CRT and being blown away at how different the game was from Super Mario World.

What was with SNES and sports themed enemies?

There once was a time when Nintendo was willing to take risks with their franchises. Nintendo EAD could have easily churned out another average Mario game and called it a day, but they decided to focus on his new sidekick.

In turn, the entire dynamic of the game changed. No longer was everything based on physicality and secrets; Yoshi had the ability to stock ammo and explore his world without a time limit.

Not wanting to entirely ditch power-ups, Nintendo created a whole new way to experience Mario’s various abilities; transformations. Yoshi was able to become a helicopter and a mole and see a completely unique aspect of the levels.

In addition to that, there were also puzzles involving rolling blocks, hidden coins, soft dirt platforms and fuzzy seeds that intoxicated Yoshi (somehow). It was unlike any game ever released at that point. It’s art style was also wonderfully realized and brought to life with imaginative music.

For a child 7 years old, it was fundamentally like looking into a new world. It grabbed me with it’s cartoony style and kept me hooked with it’s innovation. It expanded my mind to different gameplay; I now didn’t expect the same thing from Mario with each iteration.

Sadly, it seems Nintendo never fully realized what made Yoshi’s Island so special. Each new game has tried mixing up the visual style instead of expanding the mechanics. The closest we’ve ever gotten to a truly progressive sequel was Yoshi’s Island DS. That game worked because it kept the original foundation and tinkered with some changes.

The game feels weird on Wii U. I can’t understand the screens side by side.

Every other title, from the disappointing Yoshi’s Story right up to Yoshi’s New Island, have gone backwards in terms of progression. Instead of trying to find a new way for Yoshi to interact with his surroundings, Nintendo has relied on gimmicks. In New Island, Yoshi has giant eggs; in Woolly World, everything is made of yarn, etc.

Maybe the whole problem with the Yoshi series is that our youth keeps reminding us of how great the idea can be. When given something so different and so well done, it’s hard to ever repeat that success.

Mario has maintained popularity over the years for being so boldly different with each game, up until the New series started coming along. Now, Nintendo could only inject new life into the franchise by handing it over to the players (Super Mario Maker is awesome).

Could Yoshi be saved by the same gamble? I don’t believe so. Yoshi’s Island felt handcrafted and thought-out; not a single level repeats a mechanic to the same extent. Each new element may come out of nowhere, but doesn’t appear out of place stacked next to Yoshi’s repertoire of moves. Level design wasn’t the only aspect that made Yoshi’s Island, unlike how a Mario game can function solely from it’s arenas.

Whatever the cause, I just cannot enjoy Yoshi’s Woolly World. I may love my amiibos to death, but the game doesn’t do anything for me. Well, it does make me sad, but that’s not the best thing to say about a game.

Meaningful Content

In the last generation, we saw games getting bigger and bigger and budgets ballooning out of control. As publishers were looking to get as much return as possible, games became bloated with side-quests that had little to no relevance to the main story mode.

Just this year, we have been given three games that do away with such fluff. Bloodborne, The Witcher 3 and Metal Gear Solid V. In each game, every bit of content feels just. You never waste your time in areas that plaster up invisible walls or grant absolutely no benefit; if you undertake a side-quest, the reward is readily apparent.

Take MGS V for example. At the very beginning of the game, you are unable to understand the soldiers in Afghanistan. This pretty much makes getting information a pointless endeavor. After finishing the first mission, you are informed of translators in the area that can be rescued. Doing so grants you the ability to understand the language in that area.

It’s an immediate payoff that gives the player a sense of accomplishment. Instead of including an activity because it’s cool, the developers thought to award some palpable sense of achievement within the game itself.

The Witcher basically has stronger plot points in the side missions then the main quest itself. One very early side quest has you tackling the mystery of a man’s wife who has gone disappearing. You get to be a detective and figure out what occurred and the impact this has had on the man’s life.

Did you take her?

It is supremely rewarding to dig into such a rich story. Most side quests can be boiled down to a few simple points; the game needs to be longer and the player can skip these. Since developers don’t want the player to “miss” any important content, one can reasonably skip the side stuff and still get the entire story.

Even before Wild Hunt, The Witcher 2 had an entirely different second act based on some decisions you made at the end of the first. It was a radical departure from what mainstream, triple A gaming was doing. That is getting a bit side tracked from my point, though.

With Bloodborne, while the world may not be entirely open as in Witcher and MGS, you can tackle most of the boss creatures in an order of your choosing. There are even a great few that you can entirely skip. A lot of the work in getting to them is shrouded in obscurity and requires one to think outside the box.

This leads to optional areas that are just as thrilling, frightening and meticulously detailed as the main game. More so, with the narrative being ambiguous and vague, the game encourages you to seek out as much information as possible. Without being told to, you are actively pushed to see the full picture.

This subtlety to approaching story in a game makes Bloodborne utterly captivating. Coupled with the brutal combat mechanics and steep difficulty and Bloodborne becomes a game that can consume your life for a good month or two.

Ah, yes, a good month or two….where is my cranberry juice?

I do remember games being like this in my heyday. Games on the NES, SNES and even PS1 were more about creating experiences that rewarded player skill and investment. Not every game was supremely long, but every bit of content was worthwhile.

I can’t think of a Mario game where I would want to skip levels (other then 8-3 in the original being a bitch). Shooters like Quake were so morbid, dark and terrifying that I was compelled to press on to see the corridors that lie ahead.

Then you look back at the last few years of gaming and you see pointless padding. Watch_Dogs, Assassin’s Creed, Grand Theft Auto, Tomb Raider; newer entries in these series had so much pointless content that gamers gave up caring. Why do I want to climb towers in every city just to spot “important” locations? What benefit does collecting feathers or journals or hidden packages have for me?

I was amazed when playing Sleeping Dogs and found out that a lot of the side quests have a tangible benefit to the player. Finding the hidden shrines would increase your maximum health. Getting all of the statues in the story missions unlocked extra finishing moves for your combos. It was wild to think that side content could actually mean something in the modern era.

Then you look at inFamous: Second Son and all of the side stuff does basically nothing. Sure, you can level up your skills, but the game is so easy that nothing else over your starting arsenal is really required.

It seems that for as big as we can make game worlds, there is some nagging need to include as much stuff as possible. It’s as if the game isn’t engaging enough, so developers have a desire to distract you from how mediocre it is.

“You’re right! I don’t even care!”

There are some complaints that MGS V is devoid of life (something lobbied at Ocarina of Time as well), but that doesn’t even hold water. When I actively want to explore the game world, I don’t care if hundreds of things are crawling around. I like exploring landscapes and seeing nature in a natural state.

Taking a hike through a forest doesn’t bring you to a lost tribe or hidden tomb (unless you happen to be lucky); one takes a walk through nature to escape the fast paced nature of their lives. It’s a form of escapism that brings you back to reality and the purity of nature.

It’s also not a waste of time. Even though you aren’t technically accomplishing anything, you are freeing your mind of the bullshit from your daily life. Your problems disappear for a few hours in a safe, fun and refreshing manner.

Where are all the damn side quests?

When a video game so perfectly encapsulates that (such as MGS V), why am I going to complain about a lack of visible life? I don’t want more stuff in my games, I want my games to feel more complete.

I just wonder why it took so long for developers to finally get around to making completely worthwhile experiences. I think that, in the years coming up, we’ll see more and more games that cut out all of the trappings and stick to gameplay and extra missions that actually matter.

That, or we can just look at Super Mario Maker and make our own stuff. I wish Project Spark were as open-ended as Mario Maker, because I would love to get in on manipulating my childhood memories.

Bankable Nostalgia (Short Blog)

With the recent release of Puzzle and Dragons Z + Super Mario Bros Edition, I’ve come to a few realizations; Nintendo really isn’t afraid to take risks and nostalgia seems to be their entire M.O. As a matter of fact, the media world, in general, seems obsessed with nostalgia.

Mad Max: Fury Road recently came out. While the film is quite good, I can’t help but feel that releasing 25 years later was the plan all along. I know that can’t be 100% true, but it just seems way too convenient for this film to just now get made, especially after being in development hell for a decent chunk of time.

It seems that we’ve come into an era of “bankable nostalgia”:. Hollywood action films are milking our comic heritage for everything its worth; musicians that should have retired 20 years ago are bringing out new material; game developers (be it indie or triple A) are focusing their talents on re-creating the past.

I’m not sure how long this type of cycle can sustain itself. This clearly isn’t a new idea, but will nostalgia ever run out? For people in my age bracket (21-34), nostalgia is basically what keeps us ticking with tired ideas. Aren’t we a bit young to be feeling such longing for our wonder years?

When does that well run dry? Will we get to a point where a brand new, totally original Mario game will garner a collective shrug because Mario is old hat? How about when Captain America 4 comes out and we’ve just given up on the whole idea?

I guess everything is fine if the creations are all quality. It can never hurt to have an abundance of things you enjoy. I just worry that our favorite hobbies will become insufferable after a litany of similar releases come out.

Mario can only put up with Bowser’s nonsense so many times before calling it quits. This is similar to how all the Resident Evil protagonists can be frightened of zombies for a few games before going guns-blazing at everyone.

Eventually, you need to grow as a character. To mirror humanity, stagnation breeds complacency and complacency breeds contempt. Without creative flair, we may be doomed to walking away from this medium and never looking back.

Then again, I know a few people who have never played a video game or watched a film and still manage to find joy in life. To them, there are other avenues of passion that capture their imaginations. There is even a man in Japan whose sole purpose in life is to make sushi.

I may just be noticing this due to the recent surge of past ideas resurfacing, but I just don’t want to see this wonderful medium turn to dust. I’d also really hate for music to become completely absent from my world. I want new things to happen and original voices to be heard.

Hopefully this “bankable nostalgia” is simply a craze that will fade away. 3D Gaming seemed to die down, so I guess we just need to be patient.

On Nintendo and “Artificial Scarcity”

When the Nintendo Wii launched in 2006, you were lucky if you got one. The system was one of the fastest selling consoles, at the time, and ended up being the biggest success Nintendo has had with a home console. For years after release, the Wii was barely seen at stores.

Many a parent confronted this situation in 2006.

Flash forward to the present and we’re seeing a similar pattern. Amiibos are scarce and the “New” 3DS is basically a myth to most people. Along with that, Nintendo has produced a scant few copies of their “limited edition” releases that have enraged fans who were unable to be at a computer when they were announced.

While I love Nintendo, I honestly cannot defend these types of situations. The fact that small plastic figures are selling on eBay for close to $100 is just ludicrous. Nintendo is sitting on a literal gold mine (as shown by the sales numbers) and is, essentially, throwing away the chance for extra profit.

This seems to be a trend with the company. Certain items are available for a short time and then vanish. Four Swords for the DSi was given away in a free promotion and then left the DSi Shop (it did resurface for four days, but it happened three years later).

There are even special events that Nintendo runs for PokeMon that end up with impossible to catch creatures being absent from the digital worlds. Unless you were lucky enough to know to visit the Tokyo PokeMon center (or if you were even alive), you basically  missed out on Celebi and Arceus.

Nintendo of America seems to be the worst of the bunch. With both Mario Kart 8 and Hyrule Warriors, the only collector’s editions in the entire United States were at Nintendo World in New York City. While I was able to get the Mario Kart 8 bundle, I missed out completely on Hyrule Warriors.

Stupid Sigy; This doesn’t actually exist.

I got to New York City at 7 am. The store opens at 8 am. My friend and I waited for an entire hour in line, only to find out at precisely 8 that they had sold out around 4 am. Why this information wasn’t posted on Twitter or Facebook or even mentioned to people lining up is beyond me.

What else really stings is that Nintendo reportedly only made around 300-500 copies of the collector’s edition. I suppose if I really want it, I could shell out the $1,400 that the item typically runs on eBay, but now we’re talking stupidity.

Factor in another Wii U title, Smash Bros, and you’ll be surprised to know that the Gamecube controller adapter (which only works with Smash, mind you) is virtually impossible to find. You can get plenty of the newer Gamecube controllers, but good luck using them with anything Smash Bros 4 related.

This brings me to the current Majora’s Mask situation. With the re-release of the game on 3DS, Nintendo issued a collector’s edition (thankfully away from their one US based store) and a limited “New” 3DS. Do you think anyone who has a day job was able to get these?

I somehow got my hands on the console. In a fervor with me in the bathroom, I ended up rushing through my “business” and jumping on my computer in seconds. While I think it was insane what I did, the fact that Nintendo is playing these kinds of games with retailers is just beyond unreasonable.

This is the only Triforce I need!

Nintendo, listen to me: You have products that people want. Fans of your games and creations are willing to pay good money to get “special” editions and collectibles. Instead of allowing scalpers to make a killing, why not release a higher quantity that matches demand?

Better yet, why not announce what your future plans are? Instead of saying things are going well on the sales front, how about you give your consumers a concrete idea for finding these supposed rare items. Don’t give us an excuse based on trade limitations.

While I can’t get behind Nintendo’s artificial scarcity, I will at least say that each item is pretty special. Maybe it is because of how exceptionally rare these items are, but I cherish my “New” 3DS and am proud to say that I was able to get that stupid blue shell from Mario Kart 8. I just wish a few more people had the chance to do so.

You’ve got nothing on a double Link assault!

Nintendo Preview: E3 Comes Home

E3 has increasingly become less relevant to the common gamer. The show was fantastic when the general public was allowed to attend, but now times are different. While gamers appreciate that journalists write back about their experiences, nothing beats getting hands-on time with a game.

Nintendo wanted to be different this year. Not only did it not hold a press conference, but it partnered with Best Buy to give the regular old gamers a taste of the E3 goodness. While my state isn’t exactly a sprawling metropolis, I still had to wait two hours in line to get my hands on these demos.

I can say this Nintendo experience is the closest I’ve been to an E3-like crowd. The people were friendly and genuinely excited to see Super Mario 3D World. We all cheered when someone succeeded and cried when others failed. It was fantastic.

This also gave me an opportunity to shed some of the doubt I saw from the Nintendo Direct stream. While I knew I’d be getting Mario regardless (stupid blind Nintendo fanboyism) when I wasn’t very optimistic from the videos.

Well, since this is a preview, why don’t I explain what I played?

Super Mario 3D World

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While I can’t claim this is the 3D Mario game we were all dreaming of, 3D World is very fun. The co-op is frustrating, but I suppose that is to be expected. The bubble mechanic from the New Super Mario Bros. games makes an appearance and you can now pop it yourself, so I guess co-op could be easier.

I didn’t get to use the Gamepad at the demo booth, but the Wii Remote controls were decent. Running in a 3D space with a D-pad sucks, but everything is smooth. There isn’t any mandatory pointer action, either. Just running and jumping with a flick acting as a spin-attack.

Getting another game with Peach is fantastic to me. It was also adorable to see a five-year-old come up and practically beg for Peach.  All the characters handle like their Super Mario Bros. 2 counterparts. Luigi and Peach are the obvious choices as they can float. 3D World is a lot faster than the 3DS game, so anyone who thought that game was sluggish won’t have the same complaint this time.

The level I got to play (6-3) had the map converge to one point where the four players had to enter a clear tube. This tube sends you straight forward and around some bends, of which you can control by holding up, down, left or right. The players needed to cooperate to get some keys and unlock a box to proceed. This felt almost like a mini Zelda puzzle and it was fun to see the platforming not be solely running and jumping.

The graphics were very solid. The colors popped and the subtle textures on Mario’s and Luigi’s jeans looked nice. Nothing was too realistic, but the colors were so rich that it just appeared glorious. The camera was a bit wonky, though. There are no controls to change it, either.

Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze

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This was the game I was the most looking forward to. I love Donkey Kong Country Returns and thought it was one of the best platformers ever made. I guess striking lightning twice just wasn’t bound to happen.

I’m not sure if it was the graphics that did it, but nothing seemed entirely different. Obviously using the gamepad to control your characters is much nicer than the Wii Remote and waggle, but this game is eerily similar to the Wii game.

The animations are very smooth, though, and the game feels spot on. It runs smoothly and never drops in framerate. Your actions have immediate response and you can carry a few enemies, which leads to improved barrels to attack. Nothing screams HD, though, and I think this was a missed opportunity to sell the system on power.

You now have six hits until you die (other than in co-op where it is three per player). The Nintendo rep said he believes this to be a deliberate change in the game to make it slightly easier. I know the 3DS version had this as an option, so I think he may be confused.

The Nintendo rep did confirm to me that the game would have Wii U Pro Controller support along with the gamepad and Wii Remote control schemes. He wasn’t able to tell me if online co-op was available, but I wouldn’t hold my breath on that.

Mario Kart 8

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While I’ve enjoyed the Mario Kart series at different points in my life, the last two games did nothing for me. Mario Kart Wii is my second least favorite in the series and Mario Kart 7 is barely any better. I figured Nintendo had no gimmicks or creativity left for this series. It was also surprising when Sega nailed it with the Sonic racing games, making me question what could even come next.

Well, Mario Kart 8 plays very nicely. The gamepad can be tilted for steering or swapped on the fly to classic-style controls. There is also Wii U Pro Controller and Wii Remote schemes, so you never have to settle for any decided style of play.

The level designs are also very eye-catching. The zero-G sections look mindblowing with their bending of reality. The game flips upside down and you can ride on walls, all while tossing your weapons wherever you see fit.

Split-screen is also still an option and it works wonderfully in HD. Nintendo hasn’t packed the screen with a useless HUD or cluttered it with too many particle effects. The boxes are huge and offer plenty of real estate for players to see the action.

The graphics also run at an amazing 60 frames-per-second. This is on top of visual detail that looks like a storybook. I am genuinely surprised at how great-looking the game is and how well that translates to speed.

The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker HD

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My dream come true. I could honestly write that and that would be enough. Still, I will explain a bit.

In terms of game feel, nothing has changed. This plays pretty much like the GameCube version. The camera is a little weird, Link is very quick and the swordplay looks fantastic. The big draw is how the graphics have morphed and they look stunning.

The textures look even more cartoony than before. Link’s face is epic to behold in full HD. The particle effects mesmerize me now, almost to the point of distraction. The smoke clouds and dirt effects are beyond belief. I have no idea how Nintendo worked this kind of magic.

For some reason, though, I feel like the framerate is slower. I even mentioned this to the Nintendo rep, but he kept saying that it was running at 60 fps. I just don’t believe that. The game doesn’t have any laggy inputs, but it does appear to move slower.

The extra Wii U features didn’t really have time to shine in the demo. I noticed that the gamepad screen acts exactly like Ocarina of Time 3D did, so that is very awesome. Inventory is quick and easy to access and you can keep a constant map on the gamepad at all times.

As far was extra content goes, the Nintendo rep told me that everything is essentially the same. No new dungeons are going to be added and no dialog or music will be changed. You just get faster sailing and Miiverse integration directly in the game.

I couldn’t get the Nintendo Rep to confirm if Wii U Pro controller support was available or not. He just said that the demo only allowed for the gamepad, so I’m not sure what that could mean when the final build arrives.

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I love that Nintendo wasn’t content with just throwing up some videos online and expecting the general public to eat them up. Quite honestly, not getting hands-on time with Super Mario 3D World would have nearly dissuaded me from getting the game. This Best Buy experience was a wise decision for the Big N.

It also gave a poor guy like me a chance to feel like I was at E3. I’m always a bit jealous of the journalists who get to play these games and experience the glitz and glamour of the E3 floor. While Best Buy certainly isn’t as big, the Nintendo Experience was definitely very loud.

I urge anyone who is excited from this to get to Best Buy this Saturday. The store will be hosting the event from 1-5 PM. You can get a Luigi hat and flag for participating, too! Nothing beats free swag and early access.

I Love Nintedo!

I am a cold, angry, cynical man. Gaming has felt my wrath. I have outright refused to buy sequels due to a company’s anti-consumer ways and have bashed some of the most highly-regarded games this generation. Very few things make me remember the fun, happy kid I used to be.

Nintendo somehow manages to dodge a lot of my fury. While I can definitely complain about the company itself, its games still produce charm and bring a smile to my face. I love playing Nintendo games and have actual excitement when a new one is announced (even when it is a sequel).

This past weekend, Nintendo World in New York City hosted an Animal Crossing: New Leaf event. There were little events set up around the store that mimicked the things you could do in the game. Things like fishing, fossil-finding and bug-catching were all on display. My inner child came out.

During the nearly two-hour train ride, I concocted ideas in my head of how the store would look. Would there be small houses with animals around the store? Would the fossil hunt have the funny little star shape on the ground? Would I literally be able to dig?

It was probably inevitable that I would be disappointed when I entered the store, but then something dawned on me. I had become engulfed with a fever I haven’t felt since I was 10 years old. I wanted this to be larger than life and began to use my creativity to make the store explode with passion.

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Isn’t this just silly?!

Nintendo was able to make me feel like a child again and I hadn’t even had my hands on the game yet. So, even though I clearly had unrealistic expectations for what Nintendo World would look like, I was filled with childlike glee.

I can tell you that the three-hour wait in line outside the store drove me mad. I really wanted to get in the store and earn my buttons. Never have free trinkets meant so much to me. I don’t even plan on using them; I just “needed” to have them.

Now I’m filled with an Animal Crossing delirium again. I have been stricken with the bug to collect everything in the game. Best Buy is hosting some events for free items and I’m marking my calendar to grab them all. If I find out that Toys’R’Us is doing the same thing, I’ll enter another one of those stores for the first time in five years just to get some, too.

Nintendo somehow manages to bring joy to my heart all the time. I may have to wait an inordinate amount of time, but I am never disappointed. Even when I let the hype flow through my veins and dissolve into blunder, I still end up genuinely liking everything it does.

So I really do not care if New Super Luigi U is the same garbage or if the next Zelda is the worst of the series; I just love Nintendo. The company makes me believe I can be a happy kid again. It usually makes me behave like one, too.

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He’s a Nintendo manchild, too!

Below I have provide a few extra photos from my trip to Nintendo World. I hope these help show how awesome events like this can be.

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Batman is a Jerk…

Gaming has been host to plenty of superheroes. For the most part, their games have been either entertaining or mildly annoying. Batman has produced a couple of pretty good hits, but his big turnaround happened with the Batman: Arkham series. Traveler’s Tales, developers behind the Lego games, must have never got the memo.

When I started off with Lego Batman 2, I didn’t really know what to expect. I gave up the Lego games because they were all essentially the same. I gave this a shot because a friend of mine came over and urged me to play it. Well, not only is Lego Batman 2 a fairly mundane and annoying game, but the story ruins it.

For starters, Superman makes absolutely no sense in regards to the game. There are numerous puzzles where Batman and Robin will be trapped on the other side of a pit of fire, yet Superman cannot fly them across.

Traveler’s Tales has never been at the absolute cusp of quality, but its games have had charm to spare and plenty of low-pressure fun. Lego Batman 2, though, reverses that. Batman is portrayed as a headstrong blowhard and Superman is a bumbling idiot. Poor Robin has to deal with these people and you wonder why he hasn’t quit yet.

There is one instance early on in the game where Batman throws Robin off of a platform and jumps after him. They are pretty much dead at this point, but then Superman sweeps in. Batman has no regard for Robin’s wellbeing and ends up looking like a jerk.

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After that level, Batman learns that The Joker and Lex Luthor are planning on using Kryptonite to power some gun that disintegrates objects. Robin knows this is Superman’s weakness and tries to persuade Batman to tell him. Batman yells about how they aren’t calling Superman and ends up looking selfish. Some kind of hero, right?

To make matters worse, the rest of the Justice League are only present for two levels. Their role in the plotline is so contrived and ham-fisted that I wonder why Traveler’s Tales even bothered. I understand that having all these characters gives the game a greater longevity, but when their powers end up replacing all of Batman’s suits, you wonder why they weren’t called in sooner.

That’s my chief problem with this game: necessity. I fully understand that no game is ever a required part of being alive, but what exactly does Lego Batman 2 provide over its predecessor? A large, Lego-fied Gotham City isn’t enough to keep me going.

There are so many instances of lazy writing that I don’t even know where to begin. One of the very first levels has you building Robin’s helicopter so that you can chase Joker. You manage that and Batman ends up almost falling into the ocean. Well, he thankfully calls his own jet in at the last second. Wait, why didn’t he do that to begin with?

Later, Batman and Superman somehow trade places to fool Joker and Lex Luthor into revealing their plan. The plot works and the two heroes then give chase to the villains. But wait, The Joker used Kryptonite to weaken Superman, who ends up being crushed by an anvil when he’s Batman. Shouldn’t he be dead?

The final nail in the coffin is how the last boss is defeated. Batman calls down a laser from space with the help of the Justice League. A giant robot is rampaging throughout Gotham and Batman waits until the very last second to utilize his laser … which could have ended the conflict immediately … and was extremely easy to acquire.

Really, what does this all say about the actual gameplay segments? Well, with Superman in tow, why are there segments where he is arbitrarily disabled? Superman cannot walk through electricity. I guess it must be made of Kryptonite. Hell, the Man of Steel can’t even swim!

Then you have the Justice League member, Cyborg, who can use Superman’s laser eye technique. Well, that’s just wonderful. Why bother with Superman? Oh, he can fly. Well, so can Wonder Woman and Green Lantern!

Lego Batman 2 is so dedicated to stuffing the roster full of characters that it forgets that these heroes should have individuality. All the villains manage to have distinct battles, so why can’t the heroes have some form of differentiation?

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Then the floaty controls come into play and make you wonder why the entire thing couldn’t just be built around Superman. I know that an already easy game would be practically on auto-pilot at that point, but I’m so sick of backtracking with Robin’s stupid hamster ball thing when Superman can just pick him up.

I will say that the co-op works surprisingly well. For once, you aren’t locked to a single screen. The game has some weird split that tries to morph the screen based on a character’s position in the room, but it beats being confined to a small box. It also makes the other player envious that he can’t fly!

On the whole, I do not like Lego Batman 2. It tries very hard to provide a different world for a Lego game, but sticks to artificial puzzle challenge to lengthen the game. When the universe of the game contradicts the powers of its heroes, you know something is wrong.