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.

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.

yakuza_2

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.

yakuza_1

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.”

Resolutions – Broadening My Horizons

I can’t begin to tell you how many games I finished this year. Yakuza 3, Demon’s Souls, the entire Zelda series; this year has been one of the most productive for me in terms of finishing virtual tasks. As I’m literally a few hours away from completing Unreal 2, I believe I’ll end 2011 with a grand total of 65 games finished.

Yet, there are things I didn’t do this year; I didn’t play a single JRPG, Racing game or Sports title. I’ve also neglected my own social life. If there is any resolution I plan to make for next year, it will be to broaden my horizons.

This past week was a very pleasant one for me. At long last, I was able to meet fellow blogger VenusInFurs. We walked around the Union Square area of New York and had a wonderful afternoon getting to know each other better. We talked about whatever came to mind and nearly froze to death from the colossal winds.

That kind of thing is what I need to do more of next year. I don’t necessarily mean meeting other DToid members, but I do need to focus more on expanding myself to other people. I’ve only recently begun friendships at work, so why not take the extra step?

My trips to bars have even been a bit more fruitful recently. I was hanging out with my DJ friend and some girl walked up to me and told me her friend thought I was cute. Well, I strolled right on over and spoke to her. I even got her number (regardless of how that later failed). That’s something.

Gaming wise, I think I’ll finally tackle Command & Conquer 3 next year. A game I had wanted when I was in college (in 2007), I bought it on a Steam sale and have neglected playing it. As a matter of fact, I haven’t even touched Shogun 2: Total War either.

In an effort to bond with some of my fellow co-workers, I may also buy my first Madden game in 12 years. I know nothing of sports, but NBA Jam is just too awesome, so maybe I can dig the NFL.


THAT’S SOME FOOTBALL!

One thing I neglected this year was my love of cinema. I’ve always had a penchant for films, but I only managed to catch about four movies. Three of them I didn’t even care for, but I’ll happily say “Winnie The Pooh” was the best thing I saw this year; hands down.

Since everyone talks about the mega blockbusters and mainstream cinema, maybe I’ll just force myself to go. I have no problem plowing through games I dislike, so cinema should be a lot easier to digest. At least I could converse a bit more with others.

I loved that I saw a bunch of concerts this year and they weren’t all in the same genre. I didn’t think I’d ever get to see “The Big 4,” but that is now something I can check off my bucket list. I also caught Mastodon and Deadmau5, so I think for next year, I’ll focus more on classic rock and indie/local bands.

Regardless of what I do, though, I know that next year is going to be about exploring areas I haven’t dared before. I can’t promise that I’ll kiss someone, but I have a good feeling. If anything, I have enough cash saved now that I can buy a girl a drink and not regret it.

I also plan on finishing the test for my motorcycle license. I’ve come so far and the damn DMV is not going to stop me (regardless of how asinine their tests and policies are). I can finally bust out my Chuck Greene jacket and feel bad ass.


Maybe I’ll get the paddle going, too…

So look out 2012! If everything goes well, I’m going to kick your ass thoroughly! Don’t come crying to me, either! I’ll be too happy to notice your sadness.

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!

Aamaazing: Japan Hasn’t Lost it’s Touch

While gaming is my oldest past time and I’ve become very passionate about it, not many games have drawn me in during our current generation. I’m not sure if it’s the graphical prowess that’s off putting or the gritty, dark and brown worlds, but there are few games that have really gotten me exceptionally involved.

Cue in Sega and their localization of Yakuza 3 for the PS3. Gosh damn, did I feel like a child playing this game. I don’t think I’ve had as much fun with any game in the past 5 years, other than Street Fighter of course.

Takes parts of Shenmue, Streets of Rage, and Virtua Fighter and you’ve got the basic groundwork of the entire Yakuza series (known as Ryu Ga Gotoku in Japan). The basic setup goes cutscene, dialog, fist fight, cutscene and repeat until done.

My first experience with Yakuza 3 came from the demo on the Playstation Network last February. I was finally able to dig into my PS3 for once, so I figured I’d try something out and see how it went. I only tinkered around with the original Yakuza back in 2006, but I wasn’t really impressed with it.

Low and behold, when I was able to run down the street and drop kick some idiot in the face, I was sold. I had no idea what I was getting into, but it felt intense and immensely enjoyable. I immediately began talking about the game to my friends, though no one cared enough to listen.


A nice kick to the face might work.

That is except for my best friend/brother, Jim. Our argument essentially went like this:

“Buy Yakuza 3.
I don’t really know. What is the game?
Buy Yakuza 3.
No.
Buy Yakuza 3!
No!
Buy the game, dammit!
Alright!”

It’s a decision he didn’t regret. Even he was blown away by it. The HEAT action system is probably the best part of the combat. Once you build up a meter to the degree where your character is glowing in flame, you can press triangle and proceed to provide a gruesome beat down to your opponents.

Like this:

My favorite has to be when you’re drunk and you land a flying scissor spin on the opponent. What the fuck?!

Our favorite experience with this system was a battle near a small bridge in Okinawa. I asked my friend, “Can you throw that guy off the bridge?” Sure enough, we saw a body get lunged into the air and our laughter couldn’t be contained.

I, myself, didn’t play the game until this past February, however. I finally decided enough was enough and I moved my PS3 to a different room and borrowed the game from my friend. I was completely blown away by the proceedings.

I know story telling may be overly dramatic in Japan, but they certainly know how to build strong enemies and exceptional protagonists. Kazuma Kiryu is one of the coolest and most bad ass dudes in gaming and his villains are all kinds of scum.

The first boss, Goro Majima, is such an insane psycho that you can’t help but love him. He refers to you as Kazzy, his laugh is overdone and his eye patch is just ridiculous. It’s incredible when you battle him and the guy seems to be like a more rough and gruff version of the Joker.

The whole plot line with Kazuma’s orphanage even allows for great exposition to fill you in on Kazuma’s past. Most modern Western games don’t allow you to really engage with your character, either foregoing development in favor of more gameplay or simply giving a paper thin plot and allowing the mechanics to speak for themselves.

Yakuza has a few low points, but they truly amp you up for the amazing massacres you lay on people at the end. No man should have to see his orphanage in waste, but the feelings and emotions that the kids pour out really make you want to crack some heads.

Crack heads you will. Even when the game is repetitive (and believe me, it is), the awesome music and hugely cinematic battles make up for it. Kazuma literally smacks down around 100 people in one chapter and that’s before the boss battle.

All the while, I’m sitting there believing I’m 12 again. Games used to be ludicrous amounts of fun and work within their limits. Yeah, you don’t get an in-depth combo system or insanely overpowered enemies, but the pure visual aspect of combat makes up for it.

Hell, even all of the shitty extra minigames are hilarious time wasters. Just try playing Karaoke without laughing. You cannot. My sister and I were clapping along and crying in laughter when Kazuma belted out his cheers of, “Oi, Oi, Oi!”

Yakuza 3 is such a great game that I’ve beaten it twice now and wasted around 68 hours and I really don’t mind. This is exactly what I used to do as a child and I couldn’t be happier.

Also, for the record, I really don’t care that Sega cut content from the US release. Yakuza 4 has all the hostess clubs intact and they are ridiculously pointless in a videogame.

Demo Impressions – Dragon Age 2 & Yakuza 4

Dragon Age: Origins was a troublesome game for me. I’m a big fan of BioWare and I’ve always had a blast with their games (well, excluding MDK2. That game aggravated me), but nothing about Dragon Age drew me in. I think I ended my playthrough after 7 hours and I was only in the first town (where you have to pay a toll or kill the bastards at the bridge to get in).

I’m not quite sure what turned me off, but I think it was the lack of polish or the awfully generic storyline (which I hear has a satisfying conclusion). Nothing seemed very new to me and the technology powering the game was terrible to look at. Yeah, it had a grand scale, but it looked worse than Neverwinter Nights (a game that launched seven years prior!).

Still, there were certain aspects that I enjoyed and wished to see fleshed out in an expansion or sequel. When I heard BioWare wasn’t keen on letting their new IP die, I did get excited for the possibilities. Maybe some more action, a better art style, less filler.

While I can’t answer if 2 has any filler or not, I can say that my first few complaints have been rectified. The demo for Dragon Age 2 definitely showcases a much more action packed and engaging opening. The story is still a bit dull, but the demo begins with a bang and keeps going for a good half an hour without losing any intensity.

Much like the PC version of Mass Effect 2, Dragon Age 2 is better optimized on the platform. The menus are slick, if a bit console oriented, and the inventory/skill tree screens are nicely done. While I’m not a fan of the black backgrounds, I do like the text displays and important information being available all at once.

The biggest change is the pacing, though. Combat was a bit boring in the original, but the skill trees seem a bit more thought out this game. I had chosen a generic barbarian type character and his attacks made sense. Shield Bash, Whirlwind and Smash were all accounted for and helped clear out more than one enemy at a time.


All action, all the time!

Switching between characters was simple and worked without much of a hitch. Simply pressing F1, 2, 3 or 4 changed between available party members and the transition wasn’t as jarring as in the first game. The camera quickly focused on the party member and the skill bar updated without a problem.
The only thing I will note is that the lack of the overhead, Icewind Dale style view does make me a little sad. I enjoyed exploring the environments with an old school style, but I suppose it doesn’t matter as far as gameplay is concerned.

The art direction does deserve some commendation. It’s a lot more bright and colorful this time around. The level that the demo gives you is a bit generic in terms of location, but it does feel a lot like the opening to “Fellowship of the Ring,” and recreating something like that is impressive. It’s also a hell of a lot of fun to rip through orcs and grunts.

As for plot, I’m not too sure what to think. The voice acting has improved marginally, but the game is still a bit bland for my tastes. We’ve all heard tales of some mystical and powerful evil invading some secluded land and it still doesn’t feel any more compelling this time. I will admit that I skipped most of the cutscenes after the first, though.

To sum it up, though, Dragon Age 2 is shaping up nicely. I may force myself to finish the first just so I can fully enjoy the sequel, but I’d say that those kinds of measures aren’t required for most gamers. The sequel has definitely been improved in all the right categories to let new fans jump in and feel welcome.

In more console related news, I was going to write a nice blog about the demo for Yakuza 4, but Sega didn’t see fit to really make much of a demo. So my thoughts on that will be limited to a paragraph or two. Yakuza 4 is the continuation of the Yakuza series and follows the plot of not just one character, but four!

As for what the game is about, I have no idea. The demo boots up and you’re given the option to start, which puts you directly in the shoes of the first character and makes you fight. After you finish the battle, you change to the next character and continue until you’re finished with Kazuma Kiryu’s battle (Kazuma being the main character of the previous three games).

It’s nice that the different characters have different styles, but I’m not exactly sure what I’m supposed to take out of this demo. I already loved the battles from the third game and I was eager to get some insight as to what the story might be about. Hell, I would have even liked to see some of the changes to the game’s fictionalized Tokyo.

As it stands, if you haven’t been introduced to the Yakuza series, don’t bother giving this demo a try. It will do nothing for you as it literally does nothing. It lasts about 10 minutes and just occupies 650 mb on your PS3. If you want a real taste of what Yakuza is about, give the demo for 3 a try. That gives you some story and a few substories to complete, as well as letting you walk around a small portion of Tokyo.


Until next time…