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.

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Never Give Up

The holiday season is a tiring time for many. Constant searching for the perfect gift while still keeping up with work can cause people to lose their minds. You never know if the deal you just got was a rip-off and your unintentional “neglect” of family tends to send rifts between your loved ones.

Sadly, I seem to have lost this holiday season. In an effort to get some extra cash to continue my job search, I went to Craigslist to sell a laptop. Long story short, the check I was given was fraudulent and my bank account is now overdrawn. I currently have -$1300; just in time for Christmas!

The whole situation has tarnished my perception of reality. Not only am I ashamed that I was taken advantage of, but I can’t believe that someone would scam another person over a laptop. Is that really worth it?

I’ve been recovering from depression for a few years now and this really set me back. I’m not suicidal, but I’ve lost a lot of trust for humanity that I had built up. I go out to the gym and my mind is filled with vicious thoughts of how self-righteous everyone is. No one cares that I even exist, let alone that I’m in a troubling predicament.

Where nobody knows your name…

With all of this negativity, it would make sense if you assumed I have given up. Short term answer, I have a little. Long term answer, not at all. In the face of hard times, the choices you make are what define your character. I’m choosing to focus more on helping myself above others for a short while.

My “dream” is to become a Personal Trainer. While the whole umbrella of the dream is to help people, Personal Trainer is the reality of the skills I have been given. I’m not a smart person, a good looking person or an extremely outgoing guy. I am very dedicated, willing to help and incredibly active.

From a young age I’ve had an abundance of energy. While that is currently low (due to the aforementioned situation), I usually perk up when something interests me. I can go from near comatose to flat out sprinting in seconds. To say that Personal Training is a field I don’t fit in is a complete lie.

I may have hit the biggest hurdle in my life up to this point, but I’m not backing down. I cannot; there is still too much left for me to accomplish in this lifetime. Much like the heroes of the Yakuza series, I have a passion burning in me that cannot be squashed out.

Yakuza 5 was recently released in the West and it’s biggest theme is “Dreams”. Each character is fighting to attain their ideal life. For series mainstay Kazuma Kiryu, his dream is to help his orphanage grow and protect abandoned children.

By any means necessary.

Kiryu’s adopted daughter, Haruka, has a similar dream. Her talents have led her into the path of stardom. She is competing in a fictionalized version of American Idol called the “Princess League.” She hopes to become the top J-Pop idol so that she can help her home (the orphanage).

The other playable characters are also fighting for their dreams. Each may not be typical for what we consider the “American Dream,” but this is the happiness they want. They are willing to lay their lives on the line to achieve the goals they set forth.

To see that kind of persistence and give up would be criminal. If nothing else, the Yakuza series has taught me that I have the power within me. My goals may not be lofty, but they are my goals. The path I want is all I need to be happy with life.

Sure, things are pretty bleak at the moment. I may even have to live on the streets for a few months, but I will pull through. I’ve been to hell and back and I’m not going to stay there.

I will never give up. That much I can guarantee you.

It’s a Fashion Statement!

For all the progress gaming has made in becoming more open to different demographics, the industry still has a silly trend of objectifying female characters. Be it from skimpy outfits, games made purely to sell off sex appeal or women being treated as literal rewards, it’s safe to say we have a long way to go before being accepting of the opposite gender.

While I understand that, in real life, some women enjoy the attention that their bodies grant them, a lot of women don’t derive that same feeling. For some, they wish that their thoughts and personalities would be the attention grabbers instead of their “assets.”

When it was recently revealed that Nintendo had “censored” costumes in the recently released Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water and the upcoming Xenoblade Chronicles X,, people were upset. How could Nintendo of America be so ignorant of artistic intent? Why don’t they just let us Westerners have the same content?

While I get that choice is a big part of freedom and freedom is important in fostering creativity, I just don’t see the purpose of the original “uncensored” costumes. For starters, why would you ever wear skimpy clothes into battle? Second, why do the women look like whores when the men look like they are doing a load of laundry?

There isn’t the same kind of representation going on between the two genders. This may come down to me being heterosexual, but I don’t see any of the male costumes inXenoblade Chronicles X as being particularly sexual. The female ones, on the other hand, make the characters look like high class hookers.

The changes in Fatal Frame make more sense as the replacement costumes actually represent some of Nintendo’s franchises. The original costumes are wildly out of place in a horror game, but being able to play a game on a Nintendo console as a Nintendo character fits pretty well. Samus even explores areas similar in tone to Fatal Frame, so that is a double win.

It just plain makes more sense.

The biggest thing we need to look at is whether or not this constitutes censoring. If the developers of the original content have no problem with the change, then no one else should be complaining. I’m fairly certain that Nintendo of America is checking with the respective developers before giving the okay to dramatic changes, but I could be wrong.

There is also the discussion of what is being changed. Having a 13 year old parading around in a thong and bra is a bit strange, regardless of what culture you exist in. Even in Japan, which everyone mistakenly believes is pro-sex, that kind of imagery is looked down on.

There exists a sub-culture of people in Japan called otakus. I don’t believe I need to explain what that is to anyone on this site, but regular citizens don’t accept otakus. They are seen as socially awkward, gross and repulsive. A lot of “artists” manufacture content to manipulate these otakus.

It’s similar to the English term, “trainspotting.” It also blends with “hikikomori,” which is a Japanese term for a social recluse. These people retreat from society for an extended period of time, often living with their parents and taking an extreme obsession with a hobby. That hobby usually ends up being anime and gaming.

Why go outside when my life is all in this room?

The types of costumes that are being “censored” are targeted at these people. It’s preying on the weak to make a quick buck. It’s pretty despicable, if you ask me. It also doesn’t have anything to do with creative freedom or expression.

Another reason for such sexualized costumes deals with Japan’s birth rate. For years now, Japanese citizens have been shunning marriage and dating. Their lifestyles place perfection and job performance above all else. Not being affluent and not attaining the best possible life earn you disappointment and condemnation from your elders.

Japanese citizens don’t have time for silly concepts like marriage and children. As such, the birth rate has been falling. Just last year, the mortality rate in Japan surpassed the birth rate. If the trend continues, the Japanese will become a nation of only adults.

Anime artists and game developers include hypersexualized content to spur arousal in their consumers. While it may inadvertently reinforce negative stereotypes of body image, it’s being done in the hope of boosting birth rates. I’m pretty sure most nations don’t look forward to the day of their extinction.

That’s what we’ll call it!

So the debate about this censorship isn’t black and white. I feel strongly that such costumes should be removed from games like Xenoblade Chronicles X as they serve no narrative intent. If it were Xenoblade Swimsuit Chronicles X(XX), then we’d have a different story.

The same goes for Fatal Frame; those costumes have no purpose being in a horror game. When you go to investigate a scary mansion in the cold wilderness, you tend to dress in layers. I would imagine donning a bikini and frilly skirt wouldn’t retain heat.

Is there ever going to be a correct answer to this question? Not really. Many people hold different values on what constitutes negative or damaging imagery versus playful extras, but we need to get our facts straight. Japan isn’t a sex loving, orgy induced frenzy of a nation.

There is also some reason behind a lot of the content in anime and gaming. Along with that, the hobbies that a lot of us love aren’t necessarily seen in a positive light by a majority of the Japanese.

Whether or not you agree with me in my thought that the removal of these costumes is good, you shouldn’t walk into a discussion without knowing all the details. It’s time to stop spreading false information and getting down to the real core of this topic.

I WANT YAKUZA 5!!

E3 has come and gone. There were incredible highs and some hilarious, technical lows, but I am just not satisfied. Sega had a presence at E3 and did nothing to announce a localization of Yakuza 5 or the HD remasters of Yakuza 1+2. My question is simple: WHERE IS YAKUZA,SEGA?

This past generation hasn’t seen me latch on to a lot of games. I used to fall in love at almost every turn, but I have become extremely cynical. I really dislike seeing recycled games or iterative franchises and even a few decent ideas from this gen (Assassin’s Creed) have become trash in short measure.

When I played the demo for Yakuza 3 back in 2010, my mind was blown. Sega clearly understood that people liked the idea of Shenmue and wanted more. Develop a robust fighting system that feels like a mix between Streets of Rage and Ninja Gaiden and couple that with a dramatic story filled with amazing characters and there was no way I could resist.

Kazuma Kiryu is a legend to me. His face, stoic demeanor, physical prowess and caring personality make him a man I wish I could be. No one scares him and he can destroy everything in his path. He doesn’t enjoy mutilating people, but will do so to protect the ones he loves. The man even runs an orphanage, because children are our future!

He is just fantastic. His moveset includes some incredible feats of martial arts and I love it. I am an avid fan of Hong Kong cinema and love kung fu and chopsocky films like you wouldn’t believe. Finally getting the chance to actively play in one was a dream come true. Not only that, but the Yakuza games have great, tactile feel, so they don’t even appeal to one specific audience.

I can ramble on forever about individual levels or specific moments from the story, but I mainly want to bring an idea to Sega’s mind. Take a page from XSEED and Capcom and localize Yakuza 5 as a PSN download.

When the newest Ace Attorney game was announced for the 3DS, fans weren’t holding out much hope for a stateside release. Capcom failed to make back any kind of money on the Miles Edgeworth game and didn’t even bother localizing its sequel.

Instead of leaving the US in the cold, Capcom figured that putting the game on the 3DS eShop would be a wiser decision. Not only would it not have to waste funds on finding a publisher, but the revenue gained would justify any kind of cost from Nintendo.

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XSEED also did this for Acquire’s Way of the Samurai 4. The previous game only managed to sell around 170,000 copies in the US and didn’t even break half a million worldwide. People enjoy that series, though, so why not cater to them?

Tecmo Koei has taken this route with their Dynasty Warriors games for PS3 and Wii U. I’m not quite sure why the 360 versions have discs, but PS3 and Wii U owners are able to play these games without having to scour around for them.

Releasing niche, Japanese titles digitally saves a lot of cash for the developer. Not only that, but without having to share shelf space with gigantic releases at retail, these lesser-known games have a better chance of getting sold.

That might sound contradictory, but can you even find a copy of Katamari Damacy anymore? How about Onimusha: Dawn of Dreams? Those games have practically disappeared from any brick and mortar store and it’s all because they never really sold well.

Placing your game on a digital marketplace will ensure that it will be available for a long time. I suppose if Sega or Capcom or whomever didn’t renew its licensing that the game would disappear, but even getting five years at full price can’t be seen as a negative.

So I implore Sega to consider releasing Yakuza 5 as a digital title. I really and truly want to experience the game. The small demo on the Japanese PSN barely whet my appetite, but I need more. I need more Kazuma in my life.

If I never get to play another Yakuza game, I’m not quite sure how I would view Sega. They teased us by releasing the mediocre Yakuza: Dead Souls in the states. Why end the series stateside run with something so unremarkable?

Do right by us, Sega. Regain your lost image and become a beacon of hope for niche titles in the future. Please.

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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.

Cinematic Narratives

As gaming evolves and budgets become larger, there seems to be a trend going on: lavish cutscenes. You’d be hard pressed to find a modern, mainstream, triple A title that doesn’t feature cutscenes in some significant way. Be it “Metal Gear Solid” or “Alan Wake,” games just push their narratives onto us through the use of cinematic cuts.

I’ve seen this trend bemoaned as the death of gaming. I’ve heard critics lambaste titles that rely too much on scripted events and FMVs. I’ve read complaints from fans that most games are more movies now than they are game. Is this really a bad thing?

I just recently finished “Binary Domain.” The game was created by the producer of the Yakuza series by Sega. If anyone has played any entry in the Yakuza series, they will tell you that the cutscenes are long and plentiful. Still, the narrative set-up by those scenes is leaps and bounds ahead of most games in the modern climate.

Regardless, as gaming grows and matures as a medium, why is it so bad to include cutscenes in your game? Much like a musician who seeks to tell a story through the use of a concept album, can a video game not decide to display its narrative ideals through cutscene?

I suppose there is a point where enough is enough. The Atlus RPG Classic, “Persona 4” starts off with a 2 hour prologue that is text-based with limited interaction. Capcom’s brawler/adventure hybrid, “Asura’s Wrath,” is composed of 80% cutscenes. Hell, “Yakuza 4,” one of my favorites, includes over 5 hours of non-interactive FMVs. Isn’t that just too much?

I say no. Much like every movie isn’t about broken cops or drug lords and every book isn’t a fantasy novel in the vein of J.R.R. Tolkein, video games do not have a single mold with which they can convey their message. If a developer sees fit to include 6 hours of cinematics, why is anyone even complaining?

This is pretty damn close to “Lord of the Rings,” though…

Maybe the ability to skip said cinematics should be included in every title? Well, I just finished “Shadows of the Damned” three times for the Platinum trophy and I was able to deal with the cutscenes each and every time. They even took on new meanings during my third playthrough as I focused on other elements to the game design, namely Akira Yamaoka’s glorious soundtrack.

I suppose gaming just provides a radically dissimilar interaction than movies, which is why people are sick of seeing so many FMVs. Instead of having control ripped away, most gamers want to keep going. I like getting breaks from the action, though.

The Uncharted series, for as generic and unoriginal in gameplay as it may be, has some very well done cutscenes. Extraordinary motion capture and superb acting combine to make the cut aways something you seek out. While I enjoy popping soldiers in the head, I’m more eager to see Drake’s interactions with Sully and Elena. It gives me a nice chance to catch my breath.

“Max Payne 3” was an exceptional case for having more cutscenes in games. The transitions Rockstar employed to make game and cinematic blend are so ahead of the competition that I barely knew when to stop playing and hardly ever wanted to. I blitzed through the title because I was sucked in by fierce opposition and tight controls and compelled forward through wonderful acting and supreme direction.

After playing such a great game like that, I’m left pondering why I ever thought ridding games of cutscenes was a good idea. Still, I do understand that some people just cannot stomach their existence and want nothing to do with them. I appreciate that viewpoint.

But when did our medium ever conform to one idea? The amount of games I’ve played where there are no cinematics far outweighs the amount that do. You can fire up any number of indie games and get your old-school fix, but even titles like “Portal 2” and “Doom” do not feature any FMVs in sight.

So to any naysayers of cutscenes, all I have to say is just avoid the games that have them. I, on the other hand, am looking forward to the day where an entire game may just be one long cutscene (Hotel Dusk doesn’t count!). I’m all for a slightly interactive movie, as long as the plot isn’t as garbage as “Heavy Rain.”

East Vs West: Seriously, Japan Hasn’t Lost it’s Touch

A few months ago, I wrote a blog that detailed my love for the Yakuza series. I titled it, “Japan Hasn’t Lost its Touch,” but never really went on to explain that idea. I really couldn’t think of a title at the time and the whole Japanophile setting of Yakuza just made me think of Japan.

Now, we come to this week’s topic and all of the community members are tasked with debating which side of the hemispheres makes better games, East or West. Well, considering that I love Yakuza and my other favorite series are Zelda and Street Fighter, which side do you think I’ll be leaning towards?

This current console generation has shown me one thing; the Japanese totally understand game design. My most memorable moments come from games such as “Yakuza 3,” “Zelda: Twilight Princess” and “Super Street Fighter IV.” Sure, I’ve had my share of Western games in the form of “Oblivion” and “Assassin’s Creed,” but those games borrow heavily from what the Japanese have started.

My life has been shaped by the likes of Link and Mario and I can’t imagine what kind of a person I’d be without them. Both characters are so defined and yet ambiguous enough that it’s easy to attach yourself to them and understand that they are different from you. Link never speaks, so you do the speaking for him. Mario wishes to save the princess, and that is symbolic of something you want to save in your own life.


I wouldn’t even dream of fucking around with this guy.

Yakuza has made Kiryu Kazuma one of the most bad-ass and ruthless characters around, but he also has a heart of gold. He cares for orphans on a beach in Okinawa, for Christ’s sake! He relaxes by shooting pool or darts, playing some rounds of bowling or golf, or even frequents hostess clubs. He’s just like any of us, but on a souped-up level.

Hell, Kiryu is so incredible that my friend/brother, Jim, actually bought an import copy of “Ryu Ga Gotoku: Kenzan!” We have no idea what the plot is or what we’re actually doing, but we can’t stop playing because of how charismatic and powerful Kiryu is.

One of my favorite console exclusives from this generation is “Demon’s Souls” on PS3. Surprise, surprise, the game is made by “From Software,” a Japanese developer based in Tokyo. Souls is a throwback to the classic days of gaming where guides were limited and enemies were deadly. Everything is such a damn challenge that overcoming a single enemy feels like conquering an entire game. It’s something only Japan could create.


Such a bad-ass that even “Ninja Gaiden 2” can’t keep him down.

Last generation saw me latch onto “Ninja Gaiden” instead of “God of War,” and the reason was clear: I liked the gameplay more. Gaiden was much less forgiving, and the sense of style, flair, and character was just more engaging and hilarious. While everything may have been tongue-in-cheek or less than serious, Ryu Hayabusa is just a complete and utter bad-ass. The hell with Kratos!

Another series that I love to death is “Metal Gear Solid.” Kojima is a master of his craft and his titles, save for MGS2 and Zone of the Enders, are all fantastic. He takes the shooting mechanics of Western games and spins them into a Japanese soap-opera. I can have solid gunfights and get engaging drama — that’s just a win-win!

My youth was punctuated with frequent Japanese developers, too. “Mega Man” is a series I love and, other than recent newer versions, is 100% Japanese. The Ninja Turtle games, while based on an American property, were developed by Konami and exhibit some of the very best design in beat-em-ups. Hell, even “Final Fight” is pure Capcom and Japanese.

Sonic the Hedgehog” was a favorite back in the day, as well. I always loved his speed and attitude. His games took the Mario formula and spun them on their head. You no longer needed pin-point precision to pass levels; instead you had to figure out paths through the labyrinthine level design. That series sparked my love for puzzle games.

I could keep listing games all night and day, but one thing is clear: Japan just knows how to attach their fan-base to their IPs. Sure, Western developers might know how to make shooters better or they may champion strategy games, but Japan is the one who keeps my love going. I’m sure that a few other readers would agree with me, too.


Love Japan or Domo will get you!