Survived By Video Games

When news broke earlier this week that Satoru Iwata had passed, I assume most thought it was a cruel prank at first. I mean, I was there laughing it off until I saw the official notice from Nintendo.

It’s strange to feel some connection to somebody you’ve never met and now will never meet. It’s depressing to say the least, especially to me who has always wanted to at least have a conversation with Iwata-san.

Now, there has already been a million words written and even more spoken about Iwata-san and his accomplishments. It would serve me no purpose to just regurgitate what they’ve said. Some of the best stuff written can be found over at GamesRadar and GamesIndustry – I highly encourage you to check them out.

Instead, I want to address something I’ve been thinking about the past few days. In essence, the games industry just had its first Steve Jobs moment. As in, the industry, now mostly mature, has lost its first great voice and proponent. You can argue until you’re blue in the face that Iwata was a thousand times the man Jobs was, but that’s irrelevant. What’s important here is that the games industry has matured to the point of feeling widespread pain over the loss of one of our own.

I don’t mean to sound insensitive to the countless game developers who have passed before this point. There have been many and a lot of them were important. Nintendo even lost an important voice when Gunpei Yokoi tragically died in a car accident in 1997.

With Iwata, it’s different. The industry has changed since he became president of Nintendo in 2002. He oversaw the launch of the Wii and DS. He changed how games were made and played. He and his team at Nintendo literally changed the definition of a video game with the DS.

Much like Jobs, Iwata was the kind of visionary who understood the industry he was in and how to bring in those who previously thought it was inaccessible. The iPhone and iPad changed computing by simplifying the previously inaccessible Windows and OS X operating systems and reducing them to a few simple taps and swipes.

Likewise, Iwata reduced the complicated nature of video gaming to either a tap on a touch screen or a flick of the wrist. Much like its previous namesake, it was a Revolution despite contemporary core gaming critics lambasting the Wii for forgetting gaming’s primary audience.

If it wasn’t for Iwata and Nintendo taking that gamble, I doubt video games would be the vibrant and increasingly more inclusive medium it is today. In that sense, he made video games for everyone again. Even Apple’s own AppStore wouldn’t have been as wildly successful as it is without developers and players both cutting their teeth on the touch screen play offered by the DS a few years prior.

Men die – it’s inevitable. The great men and women in games today won’t be around tomorrow. That’s why it’s all the more important to cultivate tomorrow’s talent to pick up the reins when the game makers of today pass on the torch. Ideas and passion can only live on so long after its progenitor is gone. That’s why it’s all the more important for those wanting to make games study the lives of men like Iwata to see what they can do to meet and exceed the bar set by him.

Iwata may have died, but he is survived by video games. As long as game creators and players carry his passion, wit and ingenuity, video games will survive us all.

They Grow Up So Fast

For almost 20 years, the Tales of franchise has been entertaining JRPG fanatics worldwide through a combination of stellar action-based combat and fun characters. In fact, I’d argue that the series’ greatest strength lies in each game’s cast. The over-arcing stories may never be that great, but the games do a great job of building up relationships between the characters.

With all that being said, I would say that the Tales series has never really been all that “mature.”

Wait, what? Why are we bringing out the “M” word? Mature is a disgusting word in gaming. It’s used as a over-hyped and self-important signal to designate whether or not a game has overcome the childish and toy-like origins of the hobby. RPGs, especially those of the Western variety, like to throw around the M word. BioWare games have sex so they’re mature. Let’s ignore all the content that’s actually elevating the medium in those games and focus on how getting some digital pootang makes a game mature.

But I digress, I’d argue that Tales of Xillia 2 is the first entry in the franchise that truly deserves the M word.

You see, Tales of Xillia 2 doesn’t believe in a world where everybody wins. In past Tales games, the protagonist always looked for a way to save everybody and everything. They were not all successful, but they were unwavering in their commitment to this ideal world.


Ahem… It’s naive to think that everybody wins in this world. Tales protagonists, with maybe the exception of Yuri from Tales of Vesperia, never really understand this. They stick to their guns, fight fate and end up with the world they wanted without any real sacrifice on their part.

Warning: From this point on, there will be some significant spoilers related to the plot of Tales of Xillia 2. You’ve been warned.

The core plot of Tales of Xillia 2 revolves around alternate dimensions where a major divergence has occurred that separates it from the Prime Dimension. For example, a person who is dead in the Prime Dimension never died in the alternate dimension, etc. This type of set up is often used in JRPGs, but it’s also often really stupid. It’s never used to really explore relationships that could have been. It’s also never really used to torture the main cast.

Tales of Xillia 2 doesn’t like to pull any punches. In one scenario, Alvin’s fiance, was still alive and actually about to marry the Alvin of the alternate dimension. The Alvin of the fractured dimension ends up killing his fiance while trying to fight the Prime Alvin. Poor Alvin has to witness his fiance die in front of him twice, and it came from his own hands this time.

In another, Elize has to deal with a fractured dimension where the man who killed her parents is now her adoptive father. Let’s just say things don’t turn out super well.

None of this can compare to the main plot, however, that has our two main characters – Ludger and Elle – dealing with a world that’s on the verge of collapse thanks to these fractured dimensions. Both Ludger and Elle belong to a bloodline that fights each other and across dimensions to have one wish granted.

At the end of the game, Ludger can either wish to have the fractured dimensions eliminated or to save Elle who is transforming into a divergence catalyst (a.k.a. big scary monster). For the true end, Ludger wishes to have the fractured dimensions eliminated while advancing his own transformation into a divergence catalyst to become the last one and therefore halting Elle’s own transformation. In this end, Ludger dies and Elle is free to live her life. In the normal end, Ludger asks to have Elle healed, but Elle stops him. She instead wishes for the elimination of the fractured dimensions and ends up dying herself.

I have simplified a lot here, but I would like to point out how incredibly fucked up both of those endings are. Sure, it may not seem that radical for some, but it’s incredibly radical for a franchise that has made a name for itself by crafting stories where everyone wins. In Xillia 2, the characters actively sacrifice themselves so that others may live.

That’s incredible!

I have this weird love of Christ figures in media. I love the idea of those who give their lives to save others. It doesn’t happen often enough in JRPGs because it fucks with the defined narrative of leave no man behind. That’s one reason why Final Fantasy VII is such a powerful game – the narrative isn’t afraid to kill a central character so that the world may live. Tales of Xillia 2 does the same and the genre is better off for it.

I’m sure that Tales of Zestiria will return to the old Tales games, but so did Final Fantasy. It’s not a problem to have starry eyed heroes saving the world without any real consequence. I just wanted to point how appreciative I am that Tales of Xillia 2 took a chance with its narrative. It’s an incredibly ballsy move in a genre that’s defined by tradition rather than evolution.

So, here’s to you, Tales of Xillia 2. I love you.

Dat Crown Be So Sunk

Dark Souls II.

Did that get your attention? It better have because it’s still the best game of 2014 by far.

As you are already aware, the game got its first DLC expansion this past week with the Crown of the Sunken King. It’s the first of three parts that has players scouring old kingdom looking for the crowns of past monarchs.

So, what did I think? In a few words, it’s really good! In a few more words, it’s almost as good as Artorias of the Abyss.

Oh, did you want to see even more words? Well, okay then, if you insist, but you asked for it.

Crown of the Sunken King is an interesting expansion. It almost feels like From directly addressed many of the complaints lobbed against the original game.

“Dark Souls II is too linear!”

“Dark Souls II is too easy!”

“Dark Souls II is stupid!”

I can say with confidence that Crown of the Sunken King addresses the first two complaints. As for the third, the DLC expansion is even stupider than the main game. Why? Well, it’s complex and hard. If you think the Souls series is dumb, you’re not going to find anything less dumb here.

That’s a good thing. So, you might want to go look elsewhere to get your gaming fix. Crown of the Sunken King is full of even more stupid stuff that Souls junkies love.

What kind of stupid stuff, you ask? Well, the opening area is full of switches that lower and raise platforms. It’s a little maze-like as you try to figure out the best way to traverse the area by using these platforms. People have been saying it feels like a Zelda game and that’s not a bad comparison. It’s just that this area has enemies that far exceed what Zelda games usually offer up.

In Dark Souls II, a lot of the enemies can be staggered if you have a strong enough weapon. The enemies in Crown of the Sunken King aren’t going to put up with any of that shit. You can’t destroy their poise and they will laugh in your face as they continue to stab you with spears or slam your face in with a club.

Oh, did I mention that their weapons are poisoned and some even exude poison. It’s great!

As you progress past this area, you come upon the inner sanctum. It’s here that the real challenge begins. The puzzles stop and the gauntlet begins. The floor is covered in spikes. There are hex throwing assholes left and right. To top it off, there are phantom enemies that can’t be hurt through normal means.

Let’s talk about these phantoms for a bit, shall we?

When you first come upon them, you see two phantoms standing in front of glowing suits of armor. Unlike Dark Souls, ghosts aren’t much of a problem in Dark Souls II. They can be hurt by normal weapons and you don’t have to be cursed. These phantoms don’t play by your wussy rules though. They are immune to all physical attacks, and magic attacks do little to no damage to them.

How do you conquer these dangerous foes? Remember those glowing suits of armor? You have to destroy them and the phantoms suddenly become corporeal. The first two are a cinch as their armor is in the same room as them, but the later phantoms aren’t so easy. I won’t spoil where the armor is, but you’re going to have to do a little work to actually get to the rest of the armor.

As you progress deeper into the sanctum, you come upon a new area called Dragon’s Rest. It’s here that you fight the first boss of the area – Elana, Squalid Queen. She is essentially a reskin of Nashandra, but far more interesting. She hits harder, has more hexes up her sleeve and even summons enemies to help her out. For the sake of spoilers, I won’t say who she summons, but it’s a hilarious surprise.

After Elana, you face off against Sinh, the Slumbering Dragon. HOLY SHIT! It’s easily one of the best boss fights in Souls history as Sinh isn’t going to take any of your shit. He’s incredibly aggressive, has a wide range of attacks and most of those attacks leave behind poison clouds. To make it even better, the arena you fight him in is enormous destructible environment arena.

To recap, Crown of the Sunken King is pretty much everything you could want from a DLC expansion. It’s harder, it’s more complex and is even a little reminiscent of the first game. If the next two DLC expansions are as good as this one, Dark Souls fans have a lot to look forward to.

I for one am hype as hell for whatever From can throw at us next. I’m ready to face off against whatever the Old Iron King had before he became a giant lava monster.


Excuuuuussssseeeeee me, Samus.

Going by my previous post, you all know that I’m making my way through the Metroid Prime games again. It’s been over a decade since I last played the first Metroid Prime and it’s still an excellent experience from start to finish.

After finishing the first game, I jumped right into Metroid Prime 2: Echoes. I have a lot of good memories with this particular game. In 2004, all I had was a Gamecube and I was still hyped up from E3 when Reggie infamously came on stage and promised to kick ass. Part of that new philosophy of kicking ass was Metroid Prime 2: Echoes – a game that was set to go up against Halo 2 and Half-Life 2 during the holiday season. 

As a die hard Metroid and Nintendo fan, Echoes could do no wrong when I was 15-years-old. It was everything that I wanted out of a Metroid Prime sequel. It was bigger, prettier and far more challenging. 

Like Metroid Prime before it, I only played Metroid Prime 2: Echoes once. It’s been almost a decade since it came out and I have some new thoughts on it, especially with me coming right off of Metroid Prime. 

First and foremost, my memories of Metroid Prime 2: Echoes are still pretty solid. I’ve just beaten the first major boss and restored power to the first temple. It’s more complex than the first game thanks to the light/dark world mechanic and it’s definitely harder than the first game thanks to the dark world’s life sapping effect when Samus ventures outside of protective light bubbles. 

That’s all well and good, but I couldn’t help feeling something was amiss in Metroid Prime 2 as I was playing it. 

Oh right, there are cutscenes now! 

You see, Metroid Prime 2 is trying to tell a story and it wants you to know that. It’s a stark contrast to the first game which didn’t really have any cutscenes dedicated to the narrative. Instead, the entire story was there for you to scan at your leisure as you read through Chozo Lore and Pirate Logs. 

Now, all of the scanning is still there in Metroid Prime 2 with a lot of the background information on Aether and its current ills coming from Luminoth Lore and Pirate Logs. The major plot arc of Samus saving a dying planet, however, gets the full cinematic experience minus voice acting. 

Now, this isn’t a bad thing. Narrative in games is often a good thing. I’m not one of those people who complain that games are too wordy. I don’t think Skyward Sword did anything wrong by having a strong narrative. The game itself was at fault and it could have offered so much more while still having a strong narrative. 

In Metroid Prime 2, the narrative gets in the way of the game. In the original game, the gameplay informed the narrative. In other words, the story was intertwined with the world through scan logs. It was an optional experience with progression determined by the acquisition of new items. 

In Metroid Prime 2, the narrative informs the gameplay. You can’t go places until you get permission from either the head Luminoth or one of his dead friends that live on as holograms. It’s no longer a matter of getting a specific item. It’s now a matter of listening to the story or else you can’t progress. 

While I don’t necessarily agree with everything, Egoraptor’s latest Sequilitis on The Legend of Zelda was spot on in this regard. When you attempt to ascend Death Mountain as young Link, you can’t get past a gate until you get permission. That permission is only granted when you advance the story and meet Princess Zelda. 

It’s the same in Metroid Prime 2. There’s no reason for you not to be able to advance except that the game really wants to tell you a story. That’s fine, but don’t make the one thing impeding your progress something as stupid as getting permission. 

In Ocarina of Time, a better solution would have been to let players ascend Death Mountain, but make it incredibly difficult unless they obtain a key item that helps players defend themselves from the many dangers on the mountain. The item could be obtained upon meeting Zelda and it would feel more authentic than just getting permission.

In Metroid Prime 2, the Luminoth should give you something more substantial than just permission to access new areas. It would help the narrative and progression a lot more if they gave Samus a new weapon or item that helped them traverse a deadly new area. In that way, the gameplay is informing the narrative and not the other way around. 

Anyway, that’s my rant for today. It probably doesn’t make much sense, and you probably think I’m a pretentious twat for thinking these things. 

Well, that’s the fun part about the Internet. We don’t necessarily have to agree. In fact, it would be awesome if you disagreed and argued your view in the comments. We could hash it down there to maybe come to a consensus or maybe even agree to disagree. 


Beam Me Up, Samus

As a child, I never really thought about game design. I never looked closely at why something was this way or that. Instead, I only cared whether or not the game was fun. 

In 2003, the game that gave me the most fun was Retro Studio’s Metroid Pime. At the time, I was enthralled by its exploration and simplified first-person combat. I was still new to first-person shooters at the time not having played games like Half-Life or Goldeneye. To be honest, I just wasn’t that interested. 

Now it’s 2014 and I finally snagged a copy of Metroid Prime Trilogy on the Wii. I’ve been making my way through the first Metroid Prime over the past few days. It’s been 10 years since I last played it. 

Over the last decade, I started to play more first person shooters. Hell, some of my favorite games are first-person shooters, like Metro 2033 and Dishonored. Among games, they’re the best at making you feel close to the world and those who inhabit it. 

In that vein, I feel that Metroid Prime succeeds as a first-person shooter. Of course, Nintendo would want to distance the franchise from that. It claims that the Metroid Prime series is more of a first-person adventure game as exploration takes precedence over combat. While there is plenty of exploration, I would have to disagree with the idea that the combat takes a backseat in any way. 

Over the last few days, I have become very familiar with how combat heavy Metroid Prime really is. Just like the Metroid games that came before it, rooms that were previously cleared of enemies become inhabited once again upon leaving said room. In that way, players are always having to fight something while they’re exploring the world.

In many ways, combat and exploration go hand-in-hand. Many of the game’s puzzles require players to clear a room of enemies before they can interact with whatever crazy mechanism the Chozo thought up. If it were a first-person adventure game as Nintendo states, many of the game’s puzzles wouldn’t be prefaced by combat. In fact, combat itself is one giant puzzle, but it may not be obvious at first. 

Unlike previous Metroid games, Samus’ beams don’t stack. Instead, players are able to choose which beam they should use. Primarily, the beams serve to give the player a sense of progression as they allow the player to access new areas that were previously hidden away behind color-coded doors. 

In combat, the beams also play a puzzle-like role. The basic Power Beam can damage most enemies, but some enemies are exclusively weak to the Power Beam. Later on, you get the Wave Beam which makes short work of electric and robotic enemies. The Ice Beam is best used on fire-based enemies while the Plasma Beam just pretty much kills anything that gets in its way. 

This is interesting as it’s clear that any of the beams can be used on any of the enemies with a few exceptions. It’s up to the player to figure out which beams are the most effective on which enemies. 

It’s even more fun to look at how each beam affects the same enemy. Let’s take a look at the Flying Pirate as an example. The Power Beam can bring one down, but it will go into a kamikaze spin dive upon dying. A charged Plasma Beam will stun the Flying Pirate, but the end result is still the same. 

Now the Ice Beam is where things get interesting. Like most things in the game, one shot from the Ice Beam will freeze a Flying Pirate. You can now either keep firing until it dies, or you can just shoot it with a missile to make it harmlessly explode. Through this method, you remove the possibility of it trying to dive bomb you. 

With the Plasma Beam, a few shots will make a Flying Pirate burn up. Alternatively, you can fire a few shots at it, catch it on fire and let the fire slowly eat away at its health until it burns up. 

Now, in a game like Metroid Prime, players are going to kill enemies in the fastest way possible. I can’t say it’s a bad thing, but I think the game is a little more fun when you play around with all the possibilities that the four beams represent. 

This all may seem like common sense, but it’s something that I never really thought about until my most recent playthrough of this most excellent game. I can only hope that a potential Metroid Prime 4 will include the same beam juggling mechanic instead of just stacking them. It’s just not as fun. 


The Search For The Next Great 3D Platformer

3D platformers are awesome!

Sure, 2D platformers have their merit, but there’s something special about navigating a 3D space as a plucky plumber or a bearish umm… bear.

From middle school onward, my years as a gamer have been full of 3D platformers. Super Mario 64! Banjo-Kazooie! iNinja! (Okay, that last one isn’t that great…)

In recent years, the 3D platformer has been on hard times. It seems that only Nintendo has been making them, and even then, they’ve been a little on the disappointing side. Now, don’t get me wrong – I love Super Mario 3D Land and Super Mario 3D World. They are amazing games!


Both Super Mario 3D Land and World are more like 2D platformers that have put on a little bit of dimensional weight. It allows Nintendo to play around with some classic conventions, but it’s just not the same as something like Super Mario Galaxy 2.

Speaking of which, Super Mario Galaxy 2 is pretty much the perfect 3D platformer. It offers varied, graphically exciting worlds to explore and things to collect. There are coins, star bits, power stars and more!

Some people prefer 2D platforming because the focus is on the platforming instead of the collecting. That’s a fair argument, but there’s just something super special about looking high and low for the next piece of the puzzle. In this case, the puzzle is made up of a 120 power stars.

When it comes to 3D platformers, it’s not so much about the platforming or collecting though. Those are definitely really nice, but it’s really all about the worlds you explore.

I have a thing for bright, colorful worlds in video games. It’s even better when there are secrets around every corner. It’s disappointing then to see games trading in the vibrant, varied worlds of yore in exchange for Samey Dr., Boresville, Indiana.

It’s not a problem just affecting 3D platformers, but it’s a curse that hurts 3D platformers more than any other genre. You see, samey environments totally work for shooters, MOBAs and the other games you kids like these days. The gameplay is solely focused on competition so there’s no need to build a compelling world.

In 3D platformers, the game has an obligation to lose the player in its world.

For example!

Super Mario 64 – the Haunted House level was legitimately nerve wracking and was one of the first times that a game truly gave me a sense of place.

Banjo-Kazooie – Freezeezy Peak started an obsession with snow that hasn’t subsided to this day. It truly made me feel like I was in a winter wonderland.

Super Mario Sunshine – The entire game is made of sunshine and smiles. It’s physically impossible for me to not be smiling while playing that game. Like Freezeezy Peak before it, Super Mario Sunshine inspired an almost obsessive love of water in games.

Super Mario Galaxy 1 and 2 – The sheer amount of wonder that’s packed into every level is awe inspiring. The worlds of 3D platformers peaked at Super Mario Galaxy 2 and nothing has surpassed it since.

So, why does this piece reference a search? For the past few weeks, I’ve been looking for a 3D platformer that could even come close to the aforementioned games. After all, I missed a lot of 3D platformer/character action games that were released on the PS2 and Gamecube.

I only recently played the first three Sly Cooper games alongside Jak and Daxter. Both are excellent games, but they didn’t really give me what I was looking for. In particular, Jak and Daxter gave up on all attempts at wonder with Jak 2. Instead, it seemed to fall under the curse of mid-2000s game development where every game hero had to be edgy and say a few naughty words to get a Teen rating.

With those franchises turning up nothing, I looked towards the platformer heroes of yesteryear alongside some new heroes.

First up was Legacy of Kain: Defiance. I haven’t played any of the previous games in the franchise, but I have owned Defiance for years without ever playing it. I know it’s not technically a platformer, but it does have platforming/collection elements. It also had a wonderful sense of place, a fully realized world and an amazing cast of characters.

It didn’t win any Zachary Seal of Approval awards, but it certainly put a smile on my face. That’s more than I can say for the next two games I tried.

First up was JoWood’s Legend of Kay. In this historical Chinese simulation, the anthropomorphic cat people of China are conquered by the invading Gorilla and Rat colonists.

I shit you not – the Legend of Kay is one giant heavy-handed metaphor for the colonization of China with Gorillas and Rats representing the West while noble cats and rabbits represent the Chinese.

With that out of the way, how is the actual game? In short, Eh…

To elaborate, the game is really two games in one. At parts, it’s a competent platformer. At other parts, it’s an infuriating beat-em-up made by a team that was clearly in love with the system they had built without realizing how shit it was.

At the beginning, the game makes an earnest attempt to drill the nuances of its combat into your head. For instance, you can press triangle after killing an enemy to immediately leap to the next enemy for a more powerful combo attack.

Of course, this particularly useful maneuver loses all usefulness as soon as you reach the three hour mark when enemies start to wear armor. Instead, you just have to wail on them until the armor breaks. It breaks the flow of what could have been a super awesome, acrobatic combat system. Instead, it feels like molasses on a rocket. The core of the combat is slow moving, but everything else is moving way too fast.

The other game I purchased was The Legend of Spyro: A New Beginning. This was the big reboot that came before Spyro was turned into a bit character in a game used to sell toys. It promised big worlds, big adventure and maybe a few laughs.

Instead, Sparx the Dragonfly opened his mouth and out came the voice of Satan himself David Spade. I immediately turned off the PS2, prayed to God for protection and doused myself in holy water. I haven’t touched it since.

If you were expecting a joke here, there won’t be one. I literally turned my PS2 off at the exact moment Sparx opened his mouth.

My search for the perfect 3D platformer continues, but I can at least know that I avoided 15 hours of David Spade trying to have a career as anything but a straight man for Chris Farley.

I’m Trying To Find The One Piece, I Think

It’s no secret that I love anime. I think it’s a splendid form of media and I follow a number of shows every season. One series I do not follow, however, is One Piece.

Now, before the One Piece fans grill me, it’s not out of any kind of misplaced hatred. It’s more like I’m intimidated by how fucking huge it is. The manga has been running for 15 years now, and the anime has been running for almost just as long. I don’t have the time to get invested in something that’s already that huge.

With that being said, I’m not going to say no to an excellent game and so I picked up One Piece Unlimited World Red this week for the PlayStation 3. It’s my first proper foray into the world of One Piece. I had watched a few episodes here and there of the 4Kids dub back during high school, but that’s about it.

I’m going into this game blind. I only know the most basic of basics. Even then, I’m woefully unequipped to handle the massive amounts of fanservice this game throws at players.

With the fact that I know nothing about the characters or story out of the way, how is it?

Well, it’s a licensed anime game adaptation which is better than a licensed American animated film game adaptation. Unlimited World Red was apparently meant to coincide with the series’ 15th anniversary so it definitely feels like something that was made to cash in on the fan base.

With that being said, there’s still a pretty fun game underneath it all. The combat is frenetic and reminiscent of the over-the-top fight scenes one frequently sees in anime. It’s a little unfortunate that it’s so simple as players only have a light and heavy attack. Those two attack buttons get a pretty good work out, however, as the game gives each character four pages of combos.

Speaking of characters, the entire crew is here. The stretchy guy, the sword guy, the lady with the orange hair, the lady with the black hair, the guy that may be a robot, the freakish reindeer man, the womanizing Frenchman cook and the fabulous skeleton. I think the skeleton is my favorite, but they all seem charming in their own right. I’m sure I would appreciate it a lot more if I knew the first thing about One Piece.

Oh well, it’s still a fun game.

Of course, your definition of fun may vary from my own. After all, I love the idea of farming materials to expand a city that acts as a home base. Some people just want to bash skulls in. In Unlimited World, the game expects you to do both if you want to succeed in the later parts of the game.

In short, One Piece Unlimited World Red is probably something that fans of the anime are going to enjoy. If you’re aren’t a fan (or like me, know nothing about it), it’s still worth a look if you’re into action RPGs with item farming.

That’s just my two cents, but I may have more than that if I ever find this One Piece everybody keeps talking about. It’s apparently worth a lot of money or something.

The World Doesn’t Revolve Around Us (And Neither Should Games)

Since the dawn of time, video games have cast players in the role of the hero. In Space Invaders, you were the hero ship defending earth from invading aliens. In Pac-Man, you were the partially eaten pizza defending something from ghosts. In Mario and The Legend of Zelda, you are the hero saving the princess.

What do all of these classic video games have in common? You – the player – are the center of the universe. For a time, this was a great thing. Growing up as a nerd, being a hero was awesome. The entire world revolved around you for a time and everybody bowed to your whim. Sure, there were challenges to overcome (and some were outright fiendish), but the world bent over backwards to make you feel important.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been thinking about what it means to be the hero in games. In particular, I’ve been thinking about this in the context of open-world RPGs, like Skyrim. My thoughts can be encapsulated as such – it makes no goddamn sense.

Seriously, why are you – the player – so goddamn important? You’re just a guy (or gal), but the entire world literally shifts to accommodate your quest.

I’m going to beat up on Skyrim a bit more, but know that I love it. I just hate how it handles the world and its relation to you – the player.

In Skyrim, you are the Dragonborn. In other words, you’re the hero. Now, this isn’t a bad thing. In fact, it’s a great set-up for a grand adventure. The problem comes when the entire world is there for you to interact with and only when you’re ready for it. See that cave over there? It’s empty for now. Once a quest activates, the cave will be full of life for you to maim, kill and push down slopes so you can watch the ridiculous ragdoll physics.

See what I’m getting at?

In Skyrim and pretty much every other game, the entire world is built around what you’re currently doing. Despite what the creators may say, it’s not a living, breathing world. It’s an interactive world built entirely around your needs. There are people in the game that don’t even exist until it’s convenient for you. It’s like they’re just waiting for the day you trigger the quest flag so they can finally be a real boy only for you to kill them and toss them back into the code abyss from whence they came.

In short, this kind of world is boring. Games shouldn’t be aiming for fully interactive worlds, but rather fully reactive worlds. Everything that can exist in the world should already be there from the start. It’s up to you to figure out what to do with it and the game rolls with the consequences.

While no game has never fully perfected this, I’m going to drag out a game that most of you will groan at upon hearing.

The game in question is Gothic 3.

In Gothic 3, Piranha Bytes created the closest we’ve ever come to a fully reactive world. See that cave over there? There’s a dude in it who has no idea who you are, but he’s clearly up to no good. You kill him knowing that the world is probably better off without him. In the next town over, a person tells you about a crazy necromancer who lives in a cave. They would be awfully glad if you were to kill him… and wait? What’s that? You already killed him? Well, that’s wonderful news.

See the difference?

In Skyrim, the necromancer wouldn’t even exist until you were given the quest to go kill him. In Gothic 3, the necromancer exists from the start and the quest only exists to let you know where he is if you didn’t stumble upon him through your own adventuring. Upon killing him, the game world reacts appropriately.

Now, Gothic 3 isn’t perfect. After all, it’s really fucking old and really fucking broken. It’s still trapped in video game’s vain attempt to make the player into a hero. The world still revolves around you – the player – somewhat as the main narrative is all about saving the land.

Now imagine an open world game that took away the fact that you’re the hero?

Well, you might end up with something like DayZ, right? Well, in a way, emergent gameplay is creating fully reactive worlds through interaction with other players, but that’s not what we’re talking about here.

We’re talking about a traditional open-world RPG that stars you – a regular person – just going about their day. The game can still make you feel like a badass, but you’re no longer the center of attention. You’re just a person trying to make a living.

You can maybe think of it as a less story-centric version of the The Witcher. After all, Geralt is just a mercenary. CD Projekt Red’s games and the books go out of their way to let you know that Geralt is only a bit player in the grand scheme of things. While you experience his role in the world, there is a lot more going on that doesn’t revolve around him.

While that’s great, it’s still a tightly controlled narrative that has the player performing specific actions and fulfilling their role as the main character of the story.

But what if there was no role to fill? What if you – the player – was just cast into a world and told to make the best of it? Would you go off adventuring to find treasure, fame and fortune? Or would you settle down, start up a nice farm and live out you life peacefully? Both are equally valid options, but both options are available in wholly separate games (and by extension separate worlds).

What if the two were brought together? What if you could go on an adventure or be a farmer? The world would react to your choice and deliver scenarios accordingly.

If Bethesda is listening (they’re not), the next Elder Scrolls game would be amazing if it were to deliver something on that scale. Sure, you could go be the chosen one, or you could be an accountant.

“I was a hero once, but I found the life of an accountant to be more stable. After all, I have to provide for a family.”

Would that be a boring game? You bet your ass it would, but it would be amazing. Games need to show the boring side of life.

It’s nice to be the hero, but it’s even better to just be you.


Some Thoughts

It certainly has been a while since I last updated this. In fact, I updated this a mere 11 days before losing my job. 

Since then, I’ve been looking for work, playing video games and writing some reviews for Honest Gamers. 

It’s with that in mind that I have decided to finally come back here and dish out some opinions. As you are well aware, the Steam Summer Sale is already underway and I couldn’t resist picking up a few things. While I’ve been playing quite a few of the new games I’ve bought, I figured I would briefly talk about two of them. 

At the behest of somebody on GAF, I picked up Marlow Briggs and the Mask of Death for a dollar. I’m not exaggerating when I say that it was the best dollar I’ve ever spent. For the price of a McChicken, I got five hours of pure joy. 

For the uninformed, Marlow Briggs is a God of War clone published by 505 Games and normally retails for $5. At that price, you would think it’s shit. Instead, it’s one of the best God of War clones on the market. In fact, I think it’s better than God of War in numerous ways. 

For starters, it’s hilarious. While God of War tries to emulate a Greek tragedy, Briggs is a comedy. It’s like Indiana Jones and Big Trouble in Little China had a baby complete with crazy Chinese bad guy and over-confident wise-cracking hero. It’s made all the better thanks to a character I won’t spoil that adds a bit of a buddy cop vibe to the whole affair. 

As far as the gameplay is concerned, it’s nothing different from God of War. It exceeds the aforementioned Greek God murder simulator, however, in its variety. At times, the game likes to switch things by becoming an on-rails shooter, a fast-paced platformer or even a shmup. It also has some of the best set pieces I’ve ever seen. Hell, some of the latter set pieces put some of the best AAA games to shame. 

All of this comes in a $5 package that’s now $1 during the Steam Summer Sale. Do yourself a favor and pick it up. 

As for the second game, it’s a little more laid back – The Last Tinker: City of Colors. This delightful platformer claims to take inspiration from Jak and Daxter and Banjo-Kazooie. Beyond the aesthetics, however, nothing from those games can be found here. Instead, it’s a kid-friendly version of Rocksteady’s Batman games with platforming and combat taken straight from those titles. 

Its Batman origins are most easily seen in its lack of a dedicated jump button. Instead, players have to hold down the run button and approach a ledge to jump. Even then, our freakishly colorful monkey hero won’t leap unless there is something waiting for him to land on. 

In short, the game is overly simplistic and nowhere near as good as Banjo-Kazooie. That’s not a bad thing though as it’s still a delight to play. It even features a ham-fisted “racism is bad” metaphor that permeates the entire experience. What’s not to love? 

With that, I hope to kick off a string of updates for this blog as I move forward.

My Gender Identity In Media (And Games)

I am a man. Well, at least I am when you take at my sexual characteristics. I have a large build, facial hair and a penis. By all accounts, I’m a dude and generally happy with it. It didn’t always used to be that way though.

Growing up, I always had a fantasy of being a woman. I used to fantasize what it would be like to experience things from the feminine perspective. It even became somewhat of a fetish that still exists to this day. In short, I really wanted to become a woman. I never really struggled with that identity though as many others unfortunately do. That being said, I feel for those who don’t feel comfortable in their own skin because I used to be there. For a while, I didn’t know if I was cut out to be a man. I’m not what you would typically call masculine – I’m timid, weak and oftentimes just plain girly.

So, what happened? Well, video games did. Video games gave me an outlet to express myself as a woman. It let me at least for a bit fantasize what it would be like to have that kind of life. To be honest, it’s sometimes a little intoxicating as I really do wish I had the kind of curves and buxom breasts that women in video games have. The unhealthy image of an objectified woman appealed to me because I am a thoroughly uninteresting man. Even if I was objectified, I could still be looked at and praised for being beautiful. That was what I looked for most in games – somebody to tell me I was beautiful. If you played as a woman, the game’s script would inevitably grant my desire.

Of course, times change and we’re getting better about writing women in video games. The Tomb Raider reboot showed us a strong female lead that’s sensitive to her emotions (like any human being would) while having the resolve to get shit done. That’s also incredibly attractive, but in a different way. Lara presented the kind of power fantasy that we all desire. She just happened to be a woman and it was all the more awesome for it.

On the other hand, a lot of Japanese RPGs still present playable and NPC female characters as overtly sexualized. It’s definitely a problem, but I find myself conflicted on that point. On one hand, no woman should ever have to stare at an unrealistic avatar when playing as a character who shares their gender. On the other, I really like being that kind of woman because, as I pointed out above, I had a fantasy of being that kind of woman.

One game that really strikes a good balance between the two is Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn. I’m playing as a marauder catgirl because there’s nothing more sexualized than a catgirl and nothing more badass than a marauder. I like to think that’s my ideal character – a warrior who isn’t afraid to get a little naughty. I wish you could do that with males, but it always feels a little off. Men must have that chiseled body that’s more American Gladiator than Chippendales. In fact, the only male I can identify with in FFXIV is the hairdresser NPC. He’s fabulous and he exudes a kind of sexuality that I find engrossing. It’s this kind of man that I love and I wish more games would let you play as them instead of relegating them to the butt end of a homosexual joke.

In the end, what I’m trying to say is that I’m an effeminate male. I’m perfectly happy with my gender these days, but games allow me to escape to a world where I can be the woman 13-year-old Zach so desperately wanted to be. That’s pretty awesome.