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Video Games of 2012 [GO]
Jan 4th, 2013 by Dan

Miami Marlins at Pittsburgh Pirates - PNC Park 21 Jul 2012

Even the Pittsburgh Pirates played video games this year.

Knock on wood, you guys, but I managed to get through 2012 without having all my video games stolen from my house while I was sleeping [EDITOR’S NOTE: It’s 2013 now, you dummy. You don’t need to knock on wood]. Should that even be an achievement?

2012 seems to be a shift in the status quo. Perhaps it’s because the new console generation hasn’t yet kicked off, but I feel like fewer and fewer AAA, big budget titles have been grabbing my attention lately. Of the 56 games on this list I feel like very few (about 12) were big, huge landmark games. Maybe that’s not all that different, but it feels different…

Also, like last year I do count games on this list that did not launch in 2012, but that I played, started, or beat in 2012.

JANUARY

Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective – The weirdest thing about my time with this game was that I chose to play it in Spanish. It was fine practice and, off the top of my head, it taught me two Spanish words I had no use for before playing it (sotano and cachorro, meaning basement and puppy/cub/kitten, respectively), but it also featured very funny writing by Phoenix Wright’s creator and a bizarrely complicated story for such a slight-looking game. In fact, 2012 was kind of a year of interactive fiction, as you’ll see, so it’s appropriate to see GT get top billing. It’s also worth mentioning that the animation in this game is spectacular.

Rayman: Origins – Also known as the game where Min and I attained Super Saiyan level for the first time. No lie, guys, the treasure chest levels and the final Level of the Dead or whatever it was called was a zen-like achievement for the pair of us. If New Super Mario Bros. isn’t your bag, but you think you might still love platformers then you absolutely need to try this game out.

Chrono Trigger DS – Yeah, I played this in the 90s. Yep, it was my first RPG. The DS port added some marginal sections, including an epilogue that sets up for Chrono Cross in the most depressing way possible, but it also came with a new translation that I thought was interesting and brought some freshness to an otherwise “solved” game for me.

Earthbound – I wish I’d spent more time trying to replay Earthbound, but I just didn’t. Heck, I don’t think I got too far past meeting Buzz Buzz…Still love this game.

Cave Story + – How I long for dynamic difficulty level changing! Cave Story + is a fantastic Metroidvania-style pixel shooter, but my hubris determined I would play on the hardest difficulty, which means I’m stuck on Monster X until I can get my skills down pat.

FEBRUARY

Final Fantasy XIII-2 – Remember how everyone’s favorite character in FF XIII was Lightning’s sister and some guy no one ever saw in FF XIII? Wait…those weren’t your favorite characters? You don’t want to play another 40 hours as those chuckleheads and watch Snow, Hope, and Sazh from afar while playing a nearly incomprehensible story? Too bad!

Saints Row: The Third – I feel bad for you if you’ve never played Saints Row: The Third. I felt bad for myself for not having played it sooner than I did. For maximum awesomeness be sure to give your boss the Latina voice. It’s priceless. Seriously though, this game is the best open world game I have ever played. Period. It’s absurd, ridiculous, and nonsensical, but it’s winking every step of the way and I’m right there with it.

Rhythm Heaven Fever – When I first started writing this list I forgot that this little gem came out in 2012. Can you believe it?! Min, I know you don’t understand the appeal here, but this is honestly among my favorite game of this year. Did I spend $80 importing the soundtrack from Japan? You betcha. Goddammit this game is so good. It’s a must play for anyone with a Wii (or a Wii U). Seriously, go buy it. It’s incredible.

Devil Survivor 2 – Man, the Megrez fight is so stupid and I’m not properly equipped, demon-wise, to tackle it, which is why I never beat this game. It’s better than DS1, mechanically, but I just need to sit down and grind my way out of this and I really don’t want to have to do that…Bonus points for also pretty much being Evangelion

MARCH

Mass Effect 3 – Hoo boy…What a shitshow this game’s release was…I wish I’d beaten it faster than I had because by the time I reached the ending, well, the internet had practically exploded with criticism. I spent more time wading in comments sections and forums defending the artistic integrity of a game that I honestly didn’t find that impressive compared to the rest of the year’s releases, but it just rubbed me the wrong way to see the fanboys demand changes from Bioware. I mean, whine all you want, but so long as Bioware doesn’t cave– What’s that? You say they did cave? They did change the ending as a response to fan whining? My respect for Bioware and this game flew out the window the second that happened. As far as I’m concerned, I played the real Mass Effect 3, but I never got the chance to enjoy it. Now that the doctors are gone from Bioware and the company is soliciting advice on what direction to take Dragon Age III, I find myself thinking, “Man, what happened to Bioware?” It’s a real shame because Mass Effect 3 was actually quite good.

APRIL

Shadow Complex – Way late to the party on this one, but I was feeling that Metroidvania itch and, well, this game kind of scratches it. I hate the third dimension they added to the gun because it makes aiming a pain. Other than that it’s fine. Serviceable, really, but it also gets credit for being the first “autolog” type game that I can think of.

Jamestown – I don’t play a lot of vertical/horizontal shooters. Jamestown just happened to be out in a lull and I owned it from a Humble Bundle. It’s enjoyable enough and I dig playing it with multiple people, but it’s not going to set the world on fire. Playing the story in “funny” mode is fun too because the alternative is almost obnoxiously self-serious.

Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP – Cool music and a cool aesthetic, but it controls weird on the PC. I wish I had an iPad for stuff like this and that I put more time into this game.

The Walking Dead – I thought about separating this out into episodes across the series, but it seems cleaner to talk about this game in one fell swoop even though I started it in April and finished it in November. I know I said that Rhythm Heaven Fever was the best game of this year, but The Walking Dead is actually the best thing to have come out this year. I’ll grant you that it’s more interactive fiction than game, but even that’s not that important, really. I mean, would putting more puzzles in this adventure game make it any better? Of course not! The Walking Dead is the success it is because it’s a character-driven story of the likes we haven’t seen before. Lee Everett may not be making the galaxy-defining choices that Commander Shepard makes on a daily basis, but the stakes always seem higher as he does his best to shepherd young Clementine through a world that only gets worse and worse for everyone. That last scene in the jewelry store as Lee coaches Clem to safety…It touched me (and I’m sure most anyone who played it) in a way that nothing else this year could. I’m not being hyperbolic when I say that everyone should play this game. It’s brilliant.

Fez – Speaking of brilliant, Fez has that in spades. We’re talking about a game where every detail feels deliberate and mysterious. That’s not an exaggeration either. With maybe one exception, there’s not a single puzzle in Fez that you couldn’t necessarily figure out in some way from clues in the world. They might be obscure, difficult to interpret clues, but they’re there. Add in a soundtrack that is hauntingly beautiful and a rotating mechanic that is as fun as anything else you’ve ever done and you’ve got the most interesting experience of 2012. I can still pull up intense memories of the empty solitude of some of the screens and the fitting music that made me feel isolated, alone, a little scared, and a little excited to discover a cube or an anticube. Fez was awesome, guys.

MAY

Diablo 3 – I’ve had this talk with Min so many times, but maybe I didn’t understand what Diablo was before I played D3. I’d only ever played D2 with my brother or a few friends. It was a small-scale endeavor and Torchlight, its closest analogue for me, was a single-player affair. There was no Auction House there to circumvent loot drops or other players to set up trades with on forums. There was the purity of the RNG and the thrill of the hunt. Diablo 3 awakened that feeling inside me that activates when I feel like I’ve been cheated. It was like I took the red pill and I saw the Matrix of the game for the first time when I realized what I’d have to do to beat the game on Inferno. I’ve never felt like a game’s systems were so transparently evil before (I don’t play Facebook games) and Diablo 3 soured me on Blizzard as a developer. Maybe next year you’ll see an entry about Heart of the Swarm, but as of right now, thanks to Diablo 3, I plan on never spending another cent on a Blizzard game (unless a new Warcraft RTS comes out. I actually like those).

Tropico 4 – Min likes to tease me about being an evil dictator when I play this game, but it’s much more complicated for me. When I play Tropico I don’t exercise my ability to rig elections or execute citizens at will. I do my best to be a benevolent leader and resist the control/interference of the US or USSR. I do my best to make the tropical paradise that I feel my people have been denied. It’s a deeply (and weirdly) personal experience for me. Plus the music is pretty sweet.

JUNE

The Binding of Isaac: Wrath of the Lamb – Yeah, yeah, expansion pack for a game that I played relentlessly last year. I don’t care, guys, it was almost a new game with how much it added. If you read my blog and you tried/enjoyed FTL, you really should check this out.

No More Heroes: Paradise – I think I’m at assassin #7 or #6? It’s got its purposefully tedious parts in it and it’s so stylized that it’s hilarious, but it lost some steam with me and I never finished it. Whoops.

JULY

Spelunky – Forget what that other guy said about the best game of this year because Spelunky is awesome. It’s so sharp in the way that it plays. Die and it’s almost 100% your fault. Brutally difficult, endearingly fun and funny, and tightly controlled. I only wish I had more friends to play local multiplayer with.

Penny Arcade 2 – Not as funny as PA1 and not as fun as PA3

Penny Arcade 3 – PA goes 16-bit RPG. The combat is frighteningly difficult, but the game is tons of fun because of it. These new classes are super neat. It’s like they figured out all the boundaries to RPG combat and sharpened them to a knife’s edge. Really interesting, but easy to bone yourself with bad class selection.

Sins of a Solar Empire: Rebellion – Each game takes forever, but playing a few matches with Min was tons of fun.

Greed Corp – Did not like. Sorry, Eric.

Puzzle Agent – Tried this before I went down the Professor Layton rabbit’s hole. Surprisingly funny and surprisingly well-written. I’m fairly certain that these didn’t sell well enough to keep making them, but I really enjoyed the setting and the story. Very cute.

Max Payne 3 – I’m the guy who’s never played a Max Payne game before so when I play this grimy, glitzy, greasy shooter I’m unburdened by Payne’s history. There’s no comparison to the way it used to be or the way I wanted a sequel to be. It’s just an awesome shooter with a dumb, but neat story. Brazil is here to stay as a setting and even though Rockstar characters are all deplorable assholes who I hate, I had a soft spot for Max and Giovanna. Pretty solid shooter.

Sonic Generations – Modern Sonic games suck. All of them. Everyone who thinks Generations is “not that bad” or “good” is wrong. You’re wrong.

BIT.TRIP.RUNNER – A rhythm game! I didn’t realize it before I tried it. The first boss fight sucks and I stopped playing after it. I hear that was a mistake.

AUGUST

Persona 4 Arena – I got a little bogged down by being forced to play other perspectives before finishing the main narrative, but the continuation of the Persona story was solid enough to make me interested in the game, even if I didn’t really care for the fighting mechanic. Guys, who knew a fighting game could have a sweet story?

Driver: San Francisco – Didn’t get enough in to say anything definitive, but I don’t really like the car mechanics.

Trine 2 – I don’t think either of these Trine games are for me, but I’ve only ever played 5 hours of a Trine game ever. It’s the physics model. I don’t like the imprecision in a platformer. I had the same issue with Little Big Planet.

Iron Brigade – The most frustrating networking experience of 2012. It’s a shame too because Min, Lee, and I should have loved playing this.

Counter-Strike: Global Offensive – Goddammit I love me some Counter-Strike. I didn’t put that many hours into this, but playing it with Simon and some of the old War Cry guys was awesome. If you have any interest in shooters, but you don’t play this…well I don’t understand you.

Orcs Must Die 2 – Not the best tower defense game, but I think I’m under 10 hrs with it so maybe it picks up?

The Last Story – Got so bogged down writing about this with David (remember that feature?) that I never continued it. Lots of promise there with characters that seem deeper than your usual anime bullshit, but I need to give it another 20 hours to be sure.

SEPTEMBER

Mark of the Ninja – The tightest stealth game (mechanics-wise) you will ever play. Seriously, man. It’s pretty boss. The story is fairly dumb, but playing it is so much fun that you can’t help but smile. A solid win in my book.

FTL: Faster Than Light – I’ve recorded 31.5 hours of me playing this game as of when I write this sentence. A game that has such tight mechanics that you can’t help but love it. This was the year of roguelikes for me. FTL plays like the space sim you always wish you had. I don’t see myself getting bored of this game until I unlock all the ships. That won’t be for a while because I’m somewhat terrible with some of the ships, but I do love me this game.

New Super Mario Bros. 2
– More Mario platforming. Not the most inspired Mario game, but it has its moments. Not gonna set the world on fire and, like the first one, not my favorite Mario game.

Torchlight 2 – I can’t really claim to have played this game since the first day was a clusterfuck and I didn’t get past the menu screen. Had tons of fun chatting with Min and his cousin though.

Borderlands 2 – Until the very end of December I was the only one of my close video gaming friends who had this game. As a solo affair (and even as a group affair), the early parts of this game are pretty terrible/boring/tedious. In a group I’ve enjoyed playing this tons more. It’s just fun to have three friends rolling around Pandora with you. I hope we keep playing.

Theatrhythm: Final Fantasy – I love rhythm games. I love Final Fantasy music. This game is beautiful and perfect and could only be made better with more FF VI music.

Kirby’s Dream Collection – Picked it up to own Kirby Super Star. Played a bit of that with Min. Lots of fun, but not gonna set the world on fire.

OCTOBER

Professor Layton and the Last Specter – Played it for a few minutes because it was the only sequel I could find in the store. Based on those few minutes I bought the rest of the franchise.

Pokemon White Version 2 – I wish I hadn’t pushed Min and David to get Black and White because the Version 2s are so much better. There has never been a better put together Pokemon game. I’ve sunk over a hundred hours into this game playing it Nuzlocke style and I still have yet to defeat the Elite Four or Team Plasma. I’m not kidding, guys, this is the closest you can come to a perfect Pokemon game.

XCOM: Enemy Unknown – Ok, for realsies now, guys. This is the best game of the year. Just so much fun to play in Classic Ironman mode where every mistake is locked in place and humanity hangs in the balance. Tactical, turn-based combat has never been better implemented and every system works well. My only gripe is that you “can’t fail” the final mission in the sense that losing it sends you to the start. Losing an Ironman run in the final mission would be brilliant (and sadistic), wouldn’t it?

Professor Layton and the Curious Village – It has a fairly ridiculous plot twist that almost makes zero sense and doesn’t hit with any oomph, but you’re supposed to be here for the puzzles anyway. They’re fun and the characters are charming enough that I’m more than happy to spend hours upon hours just completing brain teasers.

Need for Speed: Most Wanted – I wish this was more Burnout Paradise instead. I don’t like the way the “campaign” is laid out with the unlocks for all the cars. I hate how I have to earn nitro every time I swap cars. It’s just not as good as the Burnout stuff. I’m sorry. That said, it’s so much fun to race at top speed in real-world automobiles. Super fun.

Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask – The 365 puzzles (one a day) and the fact that I bought it digitally are what keeps me coming back to this game over and over again since I haven’t yet beaten the previous iterations. Solid puzzle work and a great 3DS package, but I can’t wait to actually see the narrative.

Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box – More Layton, but on a train!

To the Moon – The Walking Dead kind of ruined this game for me. Everyone was lauding it as this grand, mature narrative, but then The Walking Dead goes and does something truly spectacular while To the Moon failed to really hit with me. The twist was neat and I dug the story, but I didn’t find it to be as amazing as I’d heard. It’s solid storytelling in a mediocre engine package, but it’s worth checking out for sure.

NOVEMBER

Hotline Miami – Certainly the game that’s inspired the most cackling laughter in me. Just brutal, ugly, sleazy, and weird. Hotline Miami has a kickass soundtrack and relentless gameplay. The bosses are kind of obnoxious, but it plays fairly sharply and I’d recommend it to almost anyone.

Nintendo Land – Fantastic in group settings, but somewhat lacking as a solo endeavor. I’m happy to own it and I think asynchronous information/capabilities makes for way more interesting games than the same old stuff we’re used to, but without a group to play this it can get a little boring.

New Super Mario Bros. U – Haven’t put a lot of time in it, but the course design is definitely superior to the DS version. Can’t wait to beat this with Min, but I’m not breaking down any doors to play it.

Donkey Kong Country Returns – I’m only two worlds in, but it feels slighter/weaker than the old DKCs. We’ll see how it pans out, I guess.

DECEMBER

Sleeping Dogs – I’m getting open world fatigue pretty early in this one. Unlike Saints Row: The Third, this is more serious and I feel like not being ridiculous is to its detriment. Sleeping Dogs’ dating system is ridiculous and the cop story is fairly predictable, but I’m in love with the Hong Kong setting and the fact that this is a game not taking place in LA, NY, or Miami. Also really nice to see non-white protagonists. The Batman fighting style is neat, but, like I said, already hitting open world fatigue.

999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors – I’m glad I played and finished this before the end of the year because it’s absolutely brilliant. Any game that uses the mechanics of the system its on is an instant plus for me and the final puzzle/revelation is brilliant. How many games make you think about morphic resonance and information transfer like this one? Just the fact that I found myself thinking about philosophical questions like Locke’s Socks/The Ship of Theseus and that it ALL MADE SENSE was really brilliant. Look, visual novels are divisive, but you shouldn’t let that get in your way. 999 has one of the neatest stories of the year (2010) and it’s easily one of my favorite games this year.

Dan and Dave Play: The Last Story Chapter 2 [GO]
Sep 6th, 2012 by David

The most enduring video game memories that David and I have involve sitting next to each other and playing RPGs. We spent countless hours with Squaresoft RPGs, in particular, so when we heard that The Last Story, by Hironobu Sakaguchi, the father of Final Fantasy, was getting a US release we knew that we had to play it and had to talk about it. Here are our ramblings.

Chapter 2

Spoiler Alert, so read with your eyes closed if you don’t wanna see them

David: I felt that Chapter 1 was short, but Chapter 2 is even shorter! I think it took me somewhere around 8 minutes to complete Chapter 2. Regardless, I still feel that there’s a decent amount to say about the 8 minutes.

Dan: Yeah, when you initially told me the number of chapters I thought they’d be longer. Turns out you were wrong about that number and I bet they’ll all be pretty short.

David: Ya, I had read somewhere that it was 12, which was totally wrong. I looked it up again and it looks like there’s 44 chapters.

Dan: I think it’ll be good to have everything split out into smaller chunks. We’ll be able to really analyze what’s going on that way.

David: Ya, I think so too. So, where did Chapter 1 leave us off? Our band of merry mercenaries just got out of the Reptid Cave. We were in there because the Count of Lazulis asked us to clear it out, right?

Dan: Yep. That’s the job they were hired for. The chapter starts with them exiting that cave and Syrenne drops a line about needing to have a drink because her hands are shaking. I suppose it’s supposed to be funny, but I’m starting to get the feeling that Syrenne has a serious problem.

David: I kinda like how they added that in. Normally alcoholics are only inserted into games for comedy, but we see here a negative side to alcoholism as well as the comical.

Dan: We’ll see if they actually develop it, but if it’s meant to be a joke it fell really flat for me.

David: Ya, we’ll see. So, our gang comes out of the caves and then we see a ton of villagers running scared and screaming for help. This happened, right? I feel like it was so long ago since I played the chapter.

Dan: Yeah, see, Siegfried and Roy were in town and their tiger escaped. Some kids were trapped by the evil, violent tiger and everyone was fleeing the scene.

David: AH! Right. The tiger is referred to as “Forest Beast”, how descriptive. I liked this part of the game. So the next thing we had to do was intentionally run around with the Gathering power on to buy time so Yurick can take the kids to safety one by one. It was a good mechanic for solidifying the lesson on Diving and dodging attacks. I had forgotten about Diving, so I lost my first life.

Dan: I needed the reminders too, but it turns out I’m a bad Diver. I lost two lives during this fight, I think, mostly from bad dives, but also from forgetting to block. Also there was a great line where Syrenne was all, “Trust the scary eyepatch man,” to the kids and he responded with some snarky lines. I wonder if that’s meant to be banter or if they actually don’t like each other.

David: I think it’s both. Yurick comes off as a pretentious dick to me and I guess that Syrenne has a thing against people who think they’re better.

Dan: Watch them be a couple by the end of the game.

David: So after Yurick gets the kids to safety, they tell you that it’s time to let loose on this guy. At this point I had turned off my Gathering ability. So the tiger started attacking my allies. He pretty much wasted them quickly, so I needed to turn Gathering back on and fight him with it.

Dan: Other than Dagran, the rest of the team seems pretty fragile. I’m having a hard time seeing when it wouldn’t be prudent to have Gathering on, at least at this early stage.

David: Ya, I agree. The fight ended with the tiger running. I assume this is important because the tiger is on some picture I saw of the game.

Dan: Is he? I totally missed that. I knew it was important because he had that weird blue aura and he didn’t die. It’s completely unexplained so far.

David: Ya, I think he has to do with the girl on the cover, but we don’t know too much about her yet either. So, tell us about the “thanks” we get after the fight.

Dan: Well, it’s not really much. Apparently mercenaries have a terrible rep in this area. We just saved a bunch of kids, y’all, but no respect!

David: The villagers initially mistook us for Knights and were very grateful. After learning we’re mercenaries, the villagers were scared of us and got away as quickly as possible. So we’ve got a pretty black and white understanding so far on how people see knights and mercenaries. Knights are noble, great, and help the people. Mercenaries seems to be viewed as low class, dangerous, and collateral damage.

Dan: What’s a guy gotta do to turn his rep around? Maybe if we save the city…

David: I bet that’s exactly what it takes! So around here, we also get a pretty haunting flashback.

Dan: More insight into the way mercs are treated and Zael’s past. There’s a line in there from Dagran about “Losing another one,” that I presume has to do with a merc dying, but when they come to turn in their objective, the guy who hired them won’t see them out of fear. We then get a significant shot of the gold on the floor. Payment for a job in which a man’s life was lost. The worth of a merc’s life and more evidence that Zael is actually pretty terrible at protecting his buddies.

David: The part where they were on the battlefield with the injured merc and they heard someone scream in pain, that stuck with me. Also, Zael’s reaction. You could see a little more depth in his desire to have the power to protect those close to him. He hasn’t only lost his mom, but also his friends.

Dan: With that insight in place, our merry band of mercs approaches the city and we get a cutscene that ends on a rather gigantic cannon and a title drop. Checkov’s Gun, hermano. That cannon will be fired by the end of the story.

David: I felt like the cutscene was meant to confuse us a bit. Like intentionally overwhelm us with the business of a city. We saw a lot of things that we know nothing about and what looked like significant people that we haven’t meant. When I was entering the city, I felt confused from the cutscene and downtrodden from the villager’s reactions towards us.

Dan: You’re definitely right. The idea is that our mercs are a tiny part of this bustling organism, Lazulis City. We’re insignificant and unwanted, but we’re also good for it (since we saved those kids).

David: It’s like Chapter 1 really built up what we were doing. Showed the romantic side to being a mercenary. Boom! We’re helping people, fighting with friends, discovering new and exciting things. In Chapter 2, BOOM! We saved children’s lives! And then RIGHT before we enter the city, and we’re put right back in our place. It’s like when a kid goes and plays outside with his imagination and thinks he’s the king of the world, and then has to come back to the house where his older brothers are picking on him. We’re just mercenaries, not knights.

Dan: Combined with Ch. 1, that’s our full intro/setup, minus a character or three. All the groundwork has been laid.

David: And at the end of the cutscene, we finally get the title and logo telling us that this is The Last Story, are you now ready to start playing?

Dan: Oh, I’m ready!

David: That’s great!…… but that’s the end of Chapter 2.

Dan: Will Siegfried and Roy get their tiger back? Will Zael let another friend die? How bad are Syrenne’s delerium tremens? Find out in The Last Story Ch. 3!

Dan and Dave Play: The Last Story Chapter 1 [GO]
Aug 27th, 2012 by David

The most enduring video game memories that David and I have involve sitting next to each other and playing RPGs. We spent countless hours with Squaresoft RPGs, in particular, so when we heard that The Last Story, by Hironobu Sakaguchi, the father of Final Fantasy, was getting a US release we knew that we had to play it and had to talk about it. Here are our ramblings.

Chapter 1

Spoiler Alert! Read with your eyes closed if you don’t wanna see them

David: Alright! Let’s do this. This is our conversation/rambling for Chapter 1 of Last Story. This is the first time I’ve appeared on your blog, Dan, so thanks for the opportunity.

Dan: Happy to have you, hermano.

David: I’m really excited about playing through another Sakaguchi/Uematsu production. I think the last one I played was 2 years ago. It was Blue Dragon on the Xbox. It was a pretty good game, but nothing special or memorable. What sort of expectation do you have for Last Story?

Dan: It’s kind of funny how you and I have played the opposite Mistwalker releases. My last Sakaguchi/Uematsu game was Lost Odyssey. That was definitely a Final Fantasy-style game, but I’m expecting something pretty different for The Last Story. I mean, for one thing, it’s an action RPG and, from what I hear, this isn’t a globe-spanning story. It focuses on a single city.

David: I think the only thing I’m going to miss from the globe-spanning story style is zooming around in an airship. I’m getting nostalgic memories now of us flying around the World of Ruin in FFVI when we were kids.

Dan: Perhaps it’ll be good to see Sakaguchi break the mold a little bit, you know? The confined story thing worked out fantastically for Dragon Age 2. That game gets a lot of flack, but, trust me, it’s miles better than Origins mostly because of its smaller scale and tighter focus.

David: Games are getting a lot more complicated and require a lot more detail now. Trying to make a huge world it a big trade off. At least with one city, they are able to focus on making that city alive.

***

David: So we’ve booted up the game and first thing it shows is a very simple and beautiful title screen. Just pure white and the Last Story logo.

Dan: I think it’s weird that you push ‘A’ to go from an all white title screen to a cave background that requires yet another button press to get to the main menu.

David: Ya, I think it was odd too that you go from a title screen to another title screen. I wonder what’s the significance of it. It’d be interesting to see if it changes during the progress of your game.

Dan: That would make a lot of sense since it seemed like the second title screen was on the Reptid cave.

David: I’m also a really big fan of the opening song. The loop on it is a bit short, but the simple violin piece is beautiful and its simplicity goes well with the title screen.

Dan: I like it too. It’s got that Uematsu touch without being so reminiscent of the Prelude theme. Very soothing and welcoming. “This is a JRPG, guys. Come on in.”

David: I think one of the reasons the Last Story Prelude sounds so different than the FF Prelude is because Last Story started off on the Wii. The FF Prelude started on the NES where they had to work with 8-bit hardware. As the hardware got better, they were able to add more definition to the Prelude, but only to a certain extent because it needed to be similar to the FFI Prelude on the NES to keep the series feel. I think that starting from scratch on a new game gives Uematsu a chance for creative freedom. On Last Story, he doesn’t have follow a set formula for coming up with the music or themes. In fact, I think it was Sakaguchi’s intention to make the whole game feel different from other games he’s produced, or in this case, directed.

Dan: You have to figure that Sakaguchi is poking fun at Square Enix with everything he’s doing here. He built the foundation that they’re slowly wrecking. I don’t know of any other way to read a title like The Last Story and not think, “Oh man, he’s making fun of Final Fantasy.”

David: I haven’t checked it out yet, but the game came with a mini soundtrack of the game. I need to give it a listen sometime.

Dan: I’ve listened to a few tracks. It’s definitely something new. Fantasy-style with a little more oomph. None of the tunes have stood out as instant classics for me yet, but I have slight issues with the way modern fantasy game music starts to sound generic. It’s just me, though. We don’t have to get into it. The action tracks remind me a bunch of Metal Gear Solid music.

***

David: The game also game with a 44 page Art Gallery. I flipped through it. Have you?

Dan: Just a cursory glance. I like the paper stock, but I haven’t had time to really sit down and flip through it. Funny thing is, this is the first game in a while that’s inspired me to bring the instruction manual to work to browse.

David: I feel a bit conflicted about the character design. It looks very JRPG, which is to be expected from a JRPG. And what I mean about that, I had to play a bit of a guessing game to figure out the gender of some of the characters. I think I was just crossing my fingers that since Sakaguchi lives in Hawaii now, he might have strayed away from this look.

Dan: At the same time I don’t think you can say it’s as bad as the Tetsuya Nomura-dominated designs of FFVII and forward. I mean, much fewer belt buckles, for one. Not to mention that if you couldn’t tell that Syrenne was a lady…well…I dunno, man. It’s definitely got a case of the anime cosplay thing where it feels like these characters are overdone, but then again, just go back and look at the Amano art. Just because we couldn’t tell how detailed and crazy our old sprites actually looked doesn’t mean that their designs weren’t just as androgynous and overdone.

David: That’s very true, but I did have a lot of problems trying to figure out if Yurick is a guy or a girl. I’m trying to think back to Amano’s art. I don’t think I’ve seen a huge amount, but it was at least easy to tell the gender from the clothing of the character alone. Most of Amano’s work was set in medieval times, so the clothing defined it for you. You know, one of these days, I wanna play a JRPG where the protagonist has a normal haircut, one belt, a shirt, and a beer belly. And as he progresses through the game and levels up, he starts getting toned. His stomach goes down and turns to abs, his arms get bigger. It’d be a nice change I think. It’s just ridiculous how, for example, Vaan in FFXII was an androgynous young teenage character and the only reason you knew he was a guy was because he had a six pack. What I’m picturing is some washed up guy who rises to the need of the world and saves them from evil. Like a Bruce Willis RPG.

Dan: I’d play a dudebro RPG like that. It’s not like we don’t get radical character design changes in RPGs, right? Look at FF IV. Halfway through Cecil goes from Dark Knight to Paladin.

David: That’s actually a pretty good example, ya.

Dan: All that aside, I do agree that the character designs aren’t exactly impressive, but the cool thing is that the equipped armor can change the way a character looks. Beyond that, you can dye almost anything they’re wearing. In my game, Zael and Dagran have pink shorts and a pink undershirt, respectively.

David: Haha, that’s great. It seems like the whole concept of customizing your appearance is becoming more and more popular. I understand how difficult it must be for programmers to make cutscenes where for one player, Zael looks normal, but for you he’ll be all decked out in pink. I played a little bit of Final Fantasy Crystal Bearers on the Wii. In that game, you can change the emblem on the back of your jacket. To complete the emblem, you need to provide materials and each material adds a different stat to your emblem. It’s a cool concept.

Dan: I think they have a similar thing with dyes that need unlocking in this game, but I don’t know enough about that yet.

David: So you’re going to have a band of pink mercenaries. I think I’ll deck mine out in Orange and Blue to support the Florida Gators. But I don’t think we’ll have to worry about that for a bit. So let’s start the game.

Dan: What’s the first thing you do as soon as you get control of a character in any game? I pretty much always open the options menu and go through everything.

David: I guess I never thought about it. I think I run in a few circles and play with the camera to get the feel of the game. But Last Story didn’t let me dilly dally. It opened with Dagran and Syrenne and felt like I didn’t have time to just run in circles because Syrenne kept running off ahead of me and yakking away about how she was going to kill more monsters than me. And I just had to make sure I beat her.

Dan: So I bet you didn’t find the hidden treasure that was right behind where you started? If you would have just run backwards there was a wall to kick down and a chest containing a Heart of the Outsider.

David: Are you serious?!?!?

Dan: Oh yeah, dude. Right there right behind where you start. Where are your JRPG instincts?

David: I never thought they’d do something like that RIGHT off the bat. What does the Heart of the Outsider do?

Dan: I think its description says it’s for item upgrades? I’m not really sure yet. I bet you can’t get the ultimate weapon now.

David: You’re killing me Sakaguchi!!! I might have to restart and go get it.

Dan: I doubt it’s that vital a treasure, but who knows?! There are generally two styles to introducing your characters and story. There’s the FF VII way where you’re a stranger like Cloud and you’re just getting introduced to everyone and their dynamics. Then there’s the way that The Last Story chooses to do things. Everyone already knows each other and has pre-determined relationships that you’re experiencing in media res, so to speak.

David: I think the FFVII way is the easiest for the story teller. Since you’re an outsider, everything needs to be explained to you. So explaining the game and the dynamics is natural.

Dan: Very true. I admit to being very confused upon first meeting this mercenary group. I didn’t know who I was, who all the players were, or what was going on. It was jarring, but I felt like I caught up fairly quickly. The establishing cutscene that showed after the first battle helped to flesh out the relationships. From my brief time with the game, here’s what I think about the characters:

Dagran – Cool as a cucumber. The almost chilly leader type we’ve all seen in anime.
Syrenne – Your typical brash, unrefined lady. She’s not there to talk pretty or mince words
Yurick – I honestly didn’t get much of his characterization in Chapter 1. He’s the mage.
Zael – Skipping ahead a little bit, he’s the guy who always has to protect everyone due to his inability to protect a certain loved one.

The fact that I could understand who most of these guys were in 30 minutes is both good and kind of worrisome for me. A lot of anime/JRPGs nowadays rarely get much deeper than, “This is the moody one.” What do you think of how cliched some of the characters to already be?

David: I did recognize a few anime/JRPG cliches. After the first battle, the game shows us a flashback of the group in a tavern and Dagran is explaining the job from Count Arganan. The flashback showed some girl in a jacket whose collar comes pretty high. She seemed like a really quiet and shy character and I instantly thought, oh, she’s just like Hinata Hyuga from Naruto.

Dan: I’m pretty sure she’ll end up being your usual quiet, emotionless girl to counter the loud Syrenne.

David: 20 bucks says she also has a crush on Zael.

Dan: We shall see!

***

David: So I think it was after the first battle that I went into the options menu and switched my fighting style to manual. Since you immediately switched to manual, let me tell you what I observed in normal. The way you attacked the enemy was just by running at them. And when you get close enough, Dagran would do his attacks and even combos. For me, switching to manual makes it a lot more fun and challenging. I’m not even sure yet how to do combos.

Dan: The combo issue is actually why I swapped back for now. Normal mode seemed to have little cinematic accents that I couldn’t recreate with buttons just yet. I swapped back and forth a few times during Ch. 1 and I don’t know where I’ll end up, but I’m set back to Normal mode now.

David: So after the battle and the cutscene, we’ve got control of Zael and androgynous Yurick, right? Any super rare items here? I didn’t see any.

Dan: I didn’t run into any other secret chambers along the way. I think at about this point they also introduce the Seek system or something like that. It lets you target certain things/objects/special points to complete a tactical action. In this case you had to choose how to handle some snipers. Destroy the bridge with magic or take them out yourself.

David: I chose magic, how about you?

Dan: The same. Seemed the most expedient solution. What do you think of this system layered on top of the battle system? Too much? I know when I had arrows and seek points and all of that it felt a little overwhelming.

David: I like it, but I keep forgetting about it too. When I enter seek mode, I’m immediately in sniper mindset and I want to snipe. I had a few issues where I was trying to snipe and the best decision was magic. Made me a little sad to give Yurick all the fun. I do like the system as a way of controlling your team members though.

Dan: I also really appreciated the tactical overview view that preceded battles from then on. Everything feels very tactical. Your party members are always hiding behind cover as they advance and they set up a flanking maneuver right off the bat. It still feels a little chaotic to me, but it’s also not out of control.

David: I did like how it felt when we’re running through the corridors and my teammates were jumping from cover to cover. It made me feel like an idiot just running straight through. I tried hiding from cover to cover, but it was just taking too long. So the first real tactical battle you see is the one after the first mini boss, where there’s a healing mage, a fire mage, and a couple of melee guys, right?

Dan: Yeah. Your instructions are to flank the group and shoot the mages with Wizard Arrows.

David: This point of the game really made me feel like the game was a mix between Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six: Vegas 2 and something like Phantsy Star On-line: a hack and slash RPG, but you sneak around and breach the perimeter. It felt really cool. I did the suggested route where I sniped the healing mage in the head with the Wizard Slayer arrows. Did you do the same?

Dan: Yep, I was all over that. Flipping over as many blocks by running at them with block up. It was pretty epic.

David: I like that blocking only reduces the amount of damage taken. It really encourages the Dive feature. After taking out the mage, I started hacking at the melee guys. While doing so, I took notice of the fire mage’s casting counter and I just barely made it to him in time to hit him. In this game, hitting someone mid cast restarts their counter. I think this is also a neat feature. It also works both ways, so you need to protect Yurick while he/she is casting his/her spells.

Dan: Oh man, I did the exact same thing! I only saw one mage in the tactical view so I had no idea there was another guy lurking!

David: Did you notice how you can also display information about units with the “+” button?

Dan: Yeah, weaknesses and other info.

David: It’s useful, but in a real time fight, I’m having to focus between reading the info and dodging attacks. It makes me anxious, but I like that they make you feel anxious during a battle. In addition to trying to focus on these things, sometimes our party members start chatting away and that’s also distracting. I love it.

***

Dan: The story continues after the battle with the always stellar decision to split up. Naturally the bone piles reanimate forcing Zael and Syrenne to flee to a dead end where she is ignobly shot through the heart (and you’re too late!)

David: That’s why splitting up is NEVER a good idea. I just can’t take the whole splitting up idea. This scene where Syrenne is shot is very interesting actually. It had me wondering a lot how Sakaguchi would deal with the concept of death in the game. FFVII gets a lot of crap because throughout the whole game a party member can die in battle and you can just use a phoenix down to revive them, until… well, you know.

Dan: I’m so glad you went straight to FF VII, Dave, because the first thing I thought was, “Oh, is Sakaguchi trying to have an Aerith moment here?” and it’s just so, so perfect because I’m pretty sure he decided to make fun of FF VII by having Zael immediately gain the power to revive her and then DO JUST THAT! We’re not playing a Final Fantasy game, guys!

David: What does bother me is this: Some weird stuff happens that no one but Zael is there for. But then the gang shows up, your arm is all weird, you’re using strange light powers, and you bring Syrenne from the dead, and they don’t take a moment to ask “Wait, what just happened Zael?” They just kinda accept it and from then on just turn to you and say ‘Use that new power thing you’ve got’

Dan: “You only just got this thing and none of us understand what it is, but we know exactly what it can do without having to figure it out. Use your Gathering powers, dude!” I mean, it’s not exactly that bad, but it’s pretty bad. What worried me more was the flashback to the death of his mother and Zael’s inability to protect her. I guess this is the “big motivation” for our protagonist, but, man, it’s kind of been done…a bunch.

David: The use of the flashbacks is pretty cool so far. I’m expecting down the road we’ll see a lot more flashbacks, especially of Zael’s mom. Whenever you get around to flipping through the Art Gallery that came with the game, you’ll see there’s some designs on Zael’s mom, as well as Zael and Dragan as kids. I’m expecting some chapter of the game being dedicated to them as kids. I also guess that Dragan and Zael are childhood friends. We don’t know too much yet about their dynamics, but that’s my guess. Speaking of which, I want to start a group mutiny. Dragan appears to be the leader, but people listen to me in battle and I have cool powers, I think Zael should take over. First thing I’d do is make Yurick choose a gender and put Syrenne in rehab.

Dan: More importantly, like you said before, Dagran appears to be keeping secrets from the group. He seemed to know that there would be more to the Count’s mission than to just kill Reptids in the cave.

David: I almost forgot about that. He does some muttering here and there that makes you think that he knows more than you. It’s also never explained why the Count cares to have this area cleared, is it?

Dan: Not that I know of.

***

David: So what do you think of Zael’s newly acquired Gathering ability? It seems like the spirit gave it to him just because they both feel lonely, or something like that.

Dan: It lacks subtlety, but I’m absolutely in favor of mechanics as metaphor in games. Zael’s got those mommy issues that make him want to protect everyone and now he’s got a power that will enable him to sacrifice himself as much as his body will bear it. It lets him revive his friends too.

David: In a sense, that’s exactly what this power does. It’s really him taking all the aggro, all the damage onto himself. Both physically and emotionally. I like that you can only resurrect people a finite amount of times too. It definitely helps too when you’re trying to help Yurick cast his/her spells.

Dan: It’s the perfect ability for the party leader to have since it allows you to control enemy aggression. I like the mechanic.

David: That’s right Dagran! Step up to the plate! You’re slacking as a leader. Vote Zael for the 2012 elections!

Dan: What did you think of the first boss? I was still getting used to Gathering and I lost one of my five lives as Zael. How did you do?

David: Did you really? I was wondering something about that. Do the lives reset after every encounter? I had an idea of what I was supposed to do for the battle, and I was Gathering and running around for Yurick to use her/his magic. But it wasn’t until after a couple of spells that I realized nothing was really happening. I had forgotten to use the Seek ability to find his weakness. Surprise! It was the head. Once I got that, the rest was really simple, and really, scripted. I was curious about how Zael got back across the bridge after it was destroyed.

Dan: I think lives reset between encounters, so I’m interested in seeing just how hard this game can get. I think that my party lost maybe three lives over the entire chapter, but never in the same fight, so I dunno. As for the bridge question, I was wondering that too. One second he’s stranded across a chasm, the next, well, the next is Chapter 2.

David: We almost forgot to mention the summoning circle right before the boss. Did you use it? I used it once. It seems like you can use it multiple times to level up, but I’m not sure how many.

Dan: I think that The Last Story is supposed to be very scripted with limited battles as you move on through. That works out for a game that is meticulously tuned, but without any difficulty level options you’re pretty much stuck with what you’ve got…unless you can grind somehow. I think that’s what these circles are for. I want to try to not use them, but we’ll see. I used it once too.

David: I’m not one to turn down help. Thanks for the option Sakaguchi!

Dan: I think that’s about it for Chapter 1. Tune back in for Chapter 2. Will Syrenne get the help she desperately needs? Will Zael’s coup d’etat begin? How does Yurick accurately hit anything with only one eye?

David: Will Yurick get the money he/she needs for her/his sex change? Find out next time!

“Soy un sobreviviente” – What I’ve Been Doing 27 Aug 2012 [FB/IB/F/BT/GO]
Aug 27th, 2012 by Dan

Imagen de 'Juan de los muertos'

The zombie apocalypse in Cuba (Picture courtesy Casa de América)

Busy week of prepping to move and moving, but that didn’t stop me from getting some media in…

Movies

Juan de los muertos – It’s not the greatest movie in the world, but it’s pretty damn awesome. I don’t get to see a lot of movies about Cuba or set in Cuba and this was a real pleasure. I mean, now that I don’t live in Miami, how often do I get to hear people speak Spanish the way I’m used to hearing it? I loved this movie and I’d recommend it to anyone who digs a zombie comedy.

TV

Workaholics – I’d heard good things about this comedy somewhere, but I was left feeling a little lukewarm. It’s not bad, but I don’t enjoy it as much as, say, The League. I do dig the unlovable leads, at least.

30 for 30: Unguarded – ESPN’s documentary series is pretty awesome, guys. A ton of them are on Netflix now too. I mean, I really don’t like basketball, but this documentary about Chris Herren’s struggles with drugs was very interesting. The story’s not groundbreaking, but it’s heartfelt and done well.

Top Gear – Jeremy races the other two across Japan in a sports car while they take Japanese public transportation. Very funny competition. I love it when they do challenges on this show.

Community – My S3 box set came in this week so I watched the first episode. Man do I love these guys. Can’t wait for their S4 return!

Breaking Bad – Bob Odenkirk’s debut was perfectly timed and this show is really on a roll in S2. His line, “Right now you’re Fredo,” was amazing and pretty chilling. I’m way back in.

Pretty Little Liars – Gotta pay your dues. Saw the first ever episode with Tiffany (she hadn’t seen it either). Not as terrible as you might think, but still a show that’s clearly not for me.

Music

B.O.B.’s dropped a new record recently. These two tracks (one with Andre 3000 and the other with Nicki Minaj) are pretty hot. I’m pretty sure they’ll end up on my tumblr in a few weeks, but enjoy them for now.

Books

Another week where I let my brain rot.

Video Games

Team Fortress 2 – It feels like ages ago since I first started playing Mann vs. Machine, but I love this mode. Can’t wait to get some more time in this week, but the move is gonna get in the way.

Iron Brigade – Only played a map or two, but Lee, Min, and I will save the world from the TV menace!

Orcs Must Die 2 – Decent tower defense game. Hope to play with Lee or Yin too since they seem to be pros.

The Last Story – Just started playing this and discussing it with David. Expect more in this space soon. Very interesting so far.

Persona 4 Arena – Finally starting to finish stories. Still one more big mystery to uncover.

Trine 2 – Finally started playing some with Min. I like the co-op and I really like the weirdness of the physics engine. Ninja rope for life!

Spelunky – Made it to Hell for the first time! I got a few levels in before I died too! Brutal, brutal stuff.

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