Bleh. While The Idolm@ster Shiny Festa: Honey Sound has proven to be an excellent title for a bit of random gaming right before hitting the hay, I'll still declare it played through after a little over ten hours. Grinding for points required to reach the highest SS level isn't even halfway done but after repeating the Star of Festa long enough, I've finally amassed all 20 collectible character cards available on normal difficulty. Additional points and cards could be farmed by challenging the tougher Pro and Master difficulties but although Pro doesn't feel entirely unconquerable, the worst button sequences are already chaotic enough to make it nigh on impossible to get back on rhythm once it has been lost. Short put, playing at that level no longer bears much resemblance to fun.
Granted, practice and tenacity might go a long way but as pink, perky, and energetic as the game's soundtrack is, mere twenty songs is woefully inadequate in the long run. After ignoring roughly half of them due to their general unimpressiveness and playing the remaining other half for those ten or so hours, repetitious girly pop eventually turns into an earsore. If Honey Sound, Funky Note, and Groovy Tune had been stuffed into a single game, it might have been a truly formidable package but as things stand, I'm forced to take a timeout before venturing over to the other two sibling games. On whole, though, the Shiny Festa series feels like jolly good fun for at least as far as one's skills are capable of taking them.
As for the caption of today's entry, it's all about the good and bad news delivered by Capcom this morning, related to the famed defense attorney Phoenix Wright. It was already known that Ace Attorney 5 – from now on known as Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Dual Destinies – would see daylight in the west as well. The schedule has now been defined as this Fall 2013, and the above trailer is sure-fire evidence of there once again being a healthy dose of spectacular court house drama together with sudden plot twists and top-notch humor. It has been so long since the previous games that this blog hasn't been able to properly relay their supreme wonderfulness but, personally, it's still hands down the most awesome and beloved series on the original Nintendo DS.
As for the bad side of the news, the game is only released as a digital download on the 3DS' eShop. I'm not entirely sure whether to get mad towards the publisher or the consumers but either way, it's a goddamn sacrilege that a physical release, even for a cult classic of this caliber, is deemed financially unprofitable. Sure, this asinine decision doesn't stop me from being the first in the virtual line when the game is released but – pardon me – I've again lost some respect towards the publisher and gamers in general. Let's just keep going where we're going and step by step, we're closer to nothing but big budget, DLC-infused HaloCoDAssCreedBafa boredom. What a rosy future, FFS.
Pfft... I've been loafing around on a blogging break long enough to get my act back together and return to blabbering about entertainment. For obvious reasons the past couple of weeks haven't been exactly rife in gaming but damned if I haven't gotten at least something done. Lately, the PS3 disc tray has been vacated by Far Cry 3, which ended up providing 34 hours of surprisingly enjoyable frolicking around the exotic paradise of Rook Island. That's where Jason Brody, together with his brothers and friends, heads for a bit of adventure vacationing. Sadly, the island is also home for modern pirates into gun, drug, and slave trafficking, and it doesn't take long for the hapless tourists to get snatched as well.
Jason manages to escape, although Vaas, the nutcase leader of the bad guys, wastes his brother in the process. Jason vies for both revenge and rescuing his pals that are still alive but there's only so much one man can do against ruthless opression. Thankfully the native Rakyat tribe of the island is also getting fed up with the villains and they're just looking for a brave warrior to lead their people. Thus, it's time to lock and load, strap on some grenades, get some cool tribal tattoos on the arm, and begin the transformation from a paltry Yankee tourist into a jungle guerrilla warfare expert.
Far Cry 3 is a fairly conventional, yet exemplary entertaining and versatile first person shooter. The massive Rook Island holds so much miscellaneous stuff to collect and accomplish that the actual story missions quickly turn into secondary objectives. As well as assaulting Vaas' strongholds scattered around the island, Jason also thins out the local wildlife, handily working their skins into ever-bigger wallets, gun holsters, ammo belts, and loot satchels. The flora of the island, in turn, is good for a variety of syringes that can be used to restore lost health and, for example, temporarily improve lung capacity or awareness. Ascending rickety radio towers slowly opens up the map of the island and seized enemy camps act as convenient fast travel points across the island.
The game's main forte is naturally freedom. Even if the missions themselves are rarely nothing more than killing a whole lot of antisocial hoodlums with a comprehensive array of weaponry, the way to do it is usually up to the players themselves. Going in guns blazing is always an option but it's far more rewarding to stealthily pick out enemies one by one either with a combat knife up close or with a sniper rifle from afar. As a delightful bonus, captive animals can occasionally be freed to cause a bit more of extra chaos.
The storyline, revolving around thematics of insanity, is essentially simple, unsurprising, and utterly trivial, and the most memorable thing about the game's soundtrack were the sudden pieces of bombastic dubstep strewn here and there. As for everything there is to collect, shoot, or do, there's so much of everything that it eventually turns just boring and repetitious. Despite all this, for those commendable 30-or-so hours Far Cry 3 puts up an excellent treat. Even if it isn't much anything else, it excels in creating an open and atmospheric playground that is fun to fool around for a decent period of time!
That experience was part of the attached, personally most intriguing pile of releases that made their way into the collection these past few weeks. Granted, my turn of the year vow to play through more titles than buy has taken an unexpected hit but if Mr. Life would be kind enough not to fling any more shit my way for awhile and once summer vacation starts, I'm going to try and stage a comeback.
A day of pleasing events for a change. At the end of last month, I was still struggling to get my money back from Microsoft's campaign from earlier this year. Today, the ordeal came to a close as I noticed my long-awaited fifty euros had been deposited back to my bank account. It took fourteen weeks rather than the promised ten and I still can't wrap my head around how how they managed to lose half the information written on a single piece of A4. Still, a happy ending to a minor issue, although despite decent-ish customer service, this is the last time I dabble in promotions like those; temporarily lending money to big corporations is just way too cumbersome and prone for mistakes.
Yesterday's Nintendo 3DS Direct broadcast was also a source of a couple of most wonderful and welcome surprises. Square Enix's exceptionally well-received Bravely Default: Flying Fairy, released in Japan some half a year ago, is heading to Europe this year. As the above trailer shows, it's "only" a traditional JRPG but then again, traditionality is exactly why I'm so excited about it! World map, airships, a pompous orchestral score, sappy drama, turn-based battles, massive special attacks... Yum!
Furthermore, after a wait of nearly 19 years, the SNES classic EarthBound has finally decided to bless Europe with its presence! This utterly endearing and original JRPG by Shigesato Itoi has earned a cult following and deservedly so. It's heading for the Wii U Virtual Console and I'm keeping my fingers earnestly crossed that it would also find its way to Wii as well. If that won't happen, no harm done. Just another inducement to invest on Nintendo's currently more than struggling piece of hardware.
The program for the last complete day was typical for my visits in Japan, i.e. once more into the fountainhead of otaku culture to make full use of what little there was left of my travel budget. For anyone visiting the area, the best places to go for games seem to be on the right side of the main street when approaching from Dotonbori. Pretty much at the entrance to Den Den Town, the Hyper Media Shop Geo and the Media Recycle Shop next to it in particular are treasure troves for used games, and Super Potato, found towards the end of the street wasn't half bad, either. Volks, situated across the street from the first two of the afore-mentioned shops, is a paradise for those into figurines and anime paraphernalia.
Nothing particularly interesting to report about the day. Plenty of shopping, retro gaming, walking around, and calling it a day with one last tasty marine-esque okonomiyaki at Chibo, the place already familiar from day one. The journey was coming to an end and after considerable effort, I even managed to cram everything into my backpack and satchel, even if both of them were nearly bursting at their seams.
Packing was further complicated by a silly Project Diva F accessory set complete with its controller stand, PlayStation 3 skin stickers, and other random junk. I picked up Ryu ga Gotoku 5 as well, just in case Sega wouldn't deem worthwhile to localize it. Okami HD in turn was released on disc in Japan and since there were plenty of rumors that it would also have English text, I decided to risk it. For PSP, a fresh vocaloid game Megpoid the Music#, even if it has received atrocious review scores. Lastly, for the 3DS, Taiko no Tatsujin: Chibi Dragon to Fushigi na Orb and Labyrinth no Kanata, which I drooled over at a year and a half ago. Seems like Konami never bothered to bring it over to the west. The language barrier is sure to pose an insurmountable problem with many of these but I still want to give them a go.
A lengthy Easter weekend is always welcome and spirits rise in unison with day temperatures steadily climbing above zero Celcius. Exceptionally even gaming is momentarily all about recent titles. HarmoKnight, the fresh new 3DS rhythm game by Game Freak of the Pokémon fame was released just yesterday and despite its hefty price tag and digital nature, I had no qualms finding it a new home on the memory card. In hindsight, I probably shouldn't have, even if it did provide a brief and original moment amidst brisk tunes. The player takes control of a young boy, Tempo, who wields an ancient note-like staff while running and jumping across the world of Harmonia, rhythmically beating the living heck out of mechanic Noizoid nasties that dream of world domination.
HarmoKnight's idea of combining an action platformer with music gaming is pretty shrewd. Tempo advances through automatically scrolling stages that frequently switch between 2D and 3D viewpoints while providing several alternative routes to take. Keeping in rhythm is achieved by well-timed jumps and strikes which require a good balance of sense of rhythm, keen eye, and reflexes. Noizoid boss stages in turn are Simon Says style challenges in which short button sequences have to be repeated accordingly.
The production values of the game are suitably high. It looks good, sounds good, and, most importantly, totally ignores any motion control gimmickry. Two buttons and the four faces of the direction controller – that's the whole game mechanic in all of its beautiful simplicity. There are even more than 50 stages, so all should be well. Unfortunately, HarmoKnight is undermined both by gameplay and length. The hit window of the notes is just slightly too narrow and there are moments when they come in so thick and fast that Tempo's five heart health reserve is ravaged at an alarming rate. By replaying earlier stages, it is possible to challenge any level with up to eight hearts but even that feels occasionally inadequate. None of this is a show-stopper, though, and the mini-adventure of the young hero can be completed in just a bit over three hours.
Some replay value can be found in improving scores, seeking out extras hidden in stages, or tackling them at a faster pace but rhythm games require an immaculate attention to highly-tuned precision and that's something HarmoKnight is lacking somewhat. It's essentially "nice" and I'll probably return to it every now and then but 15 euros for such a little snack is way too much (･_-｡ )
The 60 hours spent on The Wire were, however, one of the best entertainment time investments I've made in a long while! Tight storytelling was in abundance and the fates of several of its central characters truly wrung my heart. Some even in real life; Felicia Pearson, for example, was recruited into the series straight from the streets of Baltimore and she played the role of a seriously scary and callous ghetto gangsta in a brilliant fashion. Sadly, after the series ended, she fell back to her earlier life and as I understand, is currently serving a drug trade conviction in supervised probation (゜-゜)
Although The Wire seems to be regarded as one of the best TV series ever made, that doesn't mean it would be entirely flawless. The game of street made perfect sense but at times it felt like no one in Baltimore is willing to play fair, so to speak. Whether it was the police, politicians, lawyers, teachers, or reporters, nigh on everyone seemed to be involved in some shady business or the other, resulting in needlessly exaggerated drama. The pacing, too, could have been better. Each of the five seasons was built around one of the aforementioned parties in a slightly disposable fashion.
Nevertheless, The Wire is a starkly touching and frequently surprising series that closes its curtains in style and ultimately while it's still winning. As fun as it would have been to follow the life of Baltimore forevermore, it's better this way. Now to find some other gem that has already finished airing – in this gluttonous internet age, the mere thought of having to follow an intriguing story on a weekly basis, let alone trying to survive season breaks is just plain unfathomable (^_^;)
In other news, let's backtrack to last January, when Xbox 360 came back home, aided by a Microsoft moneyback campaign. The basic premise was simple: buy the console and a game, fill in a campaign form, mail it and the receipt to Microsoft, wait a whopping ten weeks, and get a reimbursement of 50 euros straight to your reported bank account. I was a bit sceptical on how such convoluted scheme would work in practice and – lo and behold – of course it doesn't work. It's now closer to 12 weeks since I mailed all the required documents, the reimbursement is nowhere to be seen, and the customer support mostly excels in escalating the issue somewhere else.
At the moment it seems like my issue is being handled somewhere in Ireland where they first claimed that the payment couldn't be processed due to missing bank details (yeah, right) and after delivering them a second time, they claim all is now in order and that I would get my money in 3-4 weeks. I believe it when I see it but this is certainly some bona fide customer bouncing right here. Granted, it's not a big deal but I'm peeved at how a needlessly complicated process to begin with just keeps on getting worse. Bureaucracy FTW (>_<)
Backtracking further, to the last day of last year, I recall making some New Year's resolutions about cutting down on impulse sale purchases. Although restraint carried a surprisingly long way this year, I guess the innate nature of resolutions is that they're to be broken. I blame, in particular, the local department store chains that a couple weeks back wanted so desperately to get rid of their games inventory that it would've been a crime not to take advantage of their deals. If the retail price of two or three games is enough to bolster the collection with twelve, then so be it. I regret nothing (￣^￣)
Nintendo's almost monthly Nintendo Direct shows are something I haven't actively followed before, even if I probably should have. Today, I happened to be on the computer to watch the latest one live and sure enough, it's something the other two companies could also pay heed to. The half an hour overview of the upcoming 3DS and Wii U games of this year was most endearing. Although the show still failed to sell me a Wii U, it seems like there are at least a couple of 3DS titles worth keeping an eye on.
Checking back, I seem to have played all Mario & Luigi games prior to starting this blog, so let's summarize that series as a mixture of action, puzzles, and light role-playing elements that are almost on par with the heavenly Paper Mario games. Should Mario & Luigi: Dream Team, released some time next summer, not fall into the same pit of story underappreciation as Paper Mario: Sticker Star did, I could very well imagine myself walking out to do a bit of shopping.
The other promising 3DS initiate is a digital-only release that has been known for quite some time already but also one that I somehow managed to fail to bring up earlier. Rhythm Hunter: HarmoKnight, promoted above, is out here in the western world by the end of March and, rest assured, I'll be amongst the first in the virtual line of the virtual shop! This little side project of Game Freak of the Pokémon fame looks like a splendid rhythm game disguised as a 2D platformer. Simple, efficient, and charming. Yes, please!
Yosh! Everything is back to normal in the Glade of Dreams. At least I think so. The latter half of Rayman Origins failed to deliver a tale. I ended up thoroughly pummeling some whimsical magician but I'm still not quite certain exactly who he was and what role he played in the grand scheme of things. The trip took around ten hours, although playing in a nonchalant way at first came back to haunt me. Later stages remained locked until saving enough Electoons, so I had to revisit many of the earlier stages to ransack them a bit more meticulously.
If I wasn't interested in the best rewards and all the hidden secrets at first, I'm twice as unwilling to go for them after a playthrough. The level of challenge rises considerably towards the end and in the exact way that can drive a gamer insane. Many of the boss fights and speedily scrolling stages can be completed only by performing moves in a very precise, prescripted fashion. Clearing them requires nothing but memorization; hastily advancing half a screen, dying in tactically placed traps, restarting from the beginning, and slowly learning the required pattern to survive. I had to attack the last platforming hell stage closer to fifty times and when the end credits finally rolled, the game left the console with the speed of a greased weasel, never to make a return.
I do understand why the game has been received favorably, though. It looks positively stunning, it's extremely challenging, and its musical tracks full of unintelligble blabbering and humming are both brilliant and utterly adorable. Some have said Rayman Origins is the best platformer that is not Mario, and from a certain perspective they're absolutely right. Still, it very much lacks a story and it's quite stingy with its fun, dispensing it mostly to those who prefer their games with an extra pinch of challenge and no motive to drive them along. I suppose it's okay, even if in this household it was mostly a letdown.
Speaking of stories, I almost spewed my morning coffee onto the keyboard while rummaging through various sites for recent gaming news. I have been a huge fan of the Paper Mario games and thus very excited about the upcoming Paper Mario: Sticker Star for the 3DS. Lukewarm reviews, however, haven't been exactly reassuring and the final nail into the Won't Buy coffin came – as incredible as it is – directly from Shigeru Miyamoto himself. According to this Kotaku article, he said in some Nintendo interview that one thing was clear from the very beginning of the project:
“It's fine without a story, so do we really need one?”
I mean... I... What!? Storytelling in games is often belittled with a stance that it could never reach the level of the best of books or movies, anyway. I don't fully agree but for Christ's sake, the sheer majority of games most certainly need at least some kind of a lovingly nurtured context. It doesn't matter if everything boils down to just a plumber rescuing a princess, teenagers protecting a fantasy world, or a super soldier repelling an alien invasion, I claim that all meaningful doing needs some supporting force throughout the whole experience, or it dilutes into menial executing. A bit like Rayman Origins or that Super Mario Galaxy 2.
Even the smallest of cinematics or character dialogue during a journey, preferably about the journey itself, are something that deepen the gaming experience and breath life into the game worlds and their inhabitants. Without them, the game is stripped down to just an idea. That's perfectly fine for little, often ingenious indie games but when a full-priced, full-blown console game in a series that has always had its fair share of storytelling as well decides to downplay the importance of a story, then that's not good. Not good at all.
Bye bye, Montreal. Deus Ex: Human Revolution continues slowly but adamantly in regards to the chosen approach. The entire Canada section turned out to be surprisingly short and straightforward but at least it featured plenty of chances to knock out unsuspecting special ops members. I'm now 20+ hours into the game and it's starting to feel like a breeze. The hardest difficulty would surely show its fangs in combat but when you're not seen in the first place, it becomes a cakewalk. Granted, if your partner just suddenly disappears with his assault rifle left on the ground, anyone in their right mind would get suspicious but what the heck, anything goes and I'm not complaining – it's still loads of fun.
By now Jensen is so heavily augmented that I'm actually having trouble finding any reasonable use for the Praxis points awarded. Oh well, at least the invisibility-granting, questionably overpowered module saw good use at least once. The game also challenged me with another, forcibly introduced boss fight but whenever those pop up, I'm perfectly happy to abuse the game mechanics as far as I'm allowed. In this case, the twenty frustrated retries transformed into more like twenty seconds spent, which was most appreciated.
The story has moved back to Detroit and while the main plot thickens, I've been delighted to see the side stories shedding more light into not just the universe but also Jensen himself. Voluntary side content usually deals with improved stats and better gear which, in the end, are by and large irrelevant but in case of Human Revolution, it's something truly worth pursuing in order to deepen the whole experience. Which is nice.
At this point, only the accursed middle-agedness manages to bother. During the week, gaming is always about an hour or two in the evenings and when it comes to games like these, it's hardly enough to get them going. In comparison, it's like trying to watch a movie 15 minutes a day. Thankfully the upcoming weekend is totally devoid of distractions...
...although that one is more or less booked already. The whimsical shopping spree of September ends with the attached, awfully miscellaneous, physical nonet. As for the digital future, support has been shown in the form of the PSN duet of Jet Set Radio and the much-hyped release of Tokyo Jungle. I suppose there's nothing else to do but to flounder until Friday and find an acceptable weekend couch potato balance between newcomers and ongoing projects.
Hmmm... It's about time to having to admit that any kind of motion gaming is a massive personal no-no. Rhythm Thief & the Emperor's Treasure got its small, additional chance as I ardently negotiated with it that the console truly was tilted in the proper direction at the exact right moment without any sort of ill will or dastardly ulterior motives. Sadly, we never reached a sufficiently common understanding.
Although I eventually did manage to pass a challenge requiring such tilting once, even if just pathetically barely, I succumbed to vanity and began chasing a better grade. Now simply passing it has turned into a near impossible task, no matter how many times I retry. I can't help but feel that Raphael's adventure has come to an abrupt end. Stuff like a sadistic difficulty level or cheating AI are things that can be learned to live with but there's no greater, more aggravating aspect about digital entertainment than having to fight with a game's controls. Challenging? Yes, but for all the wrong reasons.
Phew! It's starting to feel like a Miku overdose but I'm loving every minute! Hours spent on Hatsune Miku: Project Diva F are creeping closer to twenty and the entire song list has now been completed on Hard. For the first time ever, I even dared to give Extreme a go but even if some of the easier songs are perfectly doable on that one, the hardest ones quite expectedly gave me a good trashing and a kick on the nuts at that, often in less than fifteen seconds (；゜Д゜)
Still, on Hard the game is nigh on perfectly challenging and I'm really starting to like its songs, all of them new apart from one lifted from 3DS' Project Mirai. At first there didn't seem to be a single, explicit hit amongst them but after additional playthroughs, easily more than half of them have grown into ones that are great fun to return to. A good example can be found above; 40mP's breezy and bubbly Torinoko City.
I'm still not sold on the touchscreen star notes but apart from those, the new changes are most welcome. As mentioned before, there's an exceptional amount of stuff to purchase with Diva points earned from completing the songs. So much, in fact, that acquiring it all will still take a great deal of time. For the first time ever, the characters are not limited to just new costumes but a variety of accessories as well, ranging from cat ears to eyeglasses, ribbons, bells, or even wings. Extremely cute and what's best, the chosen character and attire combination is now saved per song as compared to always having had to specify them separately.
Thanks to Vita's increased performance, the limit of characters appearing on songs has been raised from two to three and as before, everyone has their own room that can be furnished and littered with various presents resulting in amusing little animations. Granted, none of that serves any real purpose but it's a fun distraction when temporarily getting tired of playing through the songs. Besides, the traditional "gotta collect 'em all" aspect is strong with this one.
Ergonomics wise, the game would be so much better played on TV with a proper controller but that's hardly an issue – Project Diva F is still hands down the best rhythm game on any portable device so far.
The second music game of this weekend ended up being from Sega as well, namely Rhythm Thief & the Emperor's Treasure. It stars an elegant and smooth gentleman thief, Phantom R, who scours the streets of Paris together with his dog, Fondue, in search of his father who went missing three years ago. Along the journey, he flamboyantly and impudently relieves the city of its art exhibits, much to the chagrin of the local police inspector Vergier. He's also soon acquainted with a young violinist, Marie, chased by a mysterious villain named Napoleon and his cohorts clad in iron.
Rhythm Thief draws influence especially from the Professor Layton series. The player moves Phantom R, just Raphael in real life, from one city location to another while busily tapping every inch of the screen for hidden items and chats with the local populace. Medals popping out from everywhere are used as currency in a nearby store selling cinematics and mini-games encountered so far, and the sceneries also hold a vast variety of various sounds and other miscellaneous collectibles.
The bulk of the game, however, lies in its rhythm sections that make comprehensive use of the 3DS' entire feature set; hitting the control pad and buttons, tapping and flicking the touchscreen, or swinging the console in every which direction. These usually three-part, fairly brief challenges are either about Raphael hastily sneaking into or escaping from various facilities, or simple puzzles based on either sound or rhythm. Missed moves are tolerated as long as the groove meter has enough energy and as typical to the genre, the overall performance is graded from A to F.
For a story-driven rhythm adventure, Rhythm Thief is actually none too shabby. Stylish anime cutscenes move the plot forward smoothly and the game's soundtrack is an energetic collection of fluent pop music heavy on trumpets. Loitering around the city in turn is accompanied by suitably French-esque accordion pieces. The snappily dressed Phantom R is a delightfully able and assertive chap, who excels at making fool of the city's police forces just as one would come to expect from a master thief.
All would be fine, weren't it for the level of challenge which is... Well, for lack of a better word, peculiar. The window to execute the moves required to keep up the rhythm is uncomfortably small and the difficulty level spikes fairly early into the game, at least for those of us stubbornly aiming for straight A's. Making progress is often a matter of memorizing the needed sequences through weary repetition and the challenges making use of the hardware's motion sensors are mostly nightmarish, thanks to their brisk pace and the rather disappointing accuracy of the motions being registered.
Furthermore, the scoring system is utterly nonsensical. In some challenges, it is possible to end with a score that results in a better overall grade than a performance that scored even better. Perfectionists are in for a needless hassle trying to maintain good grades as the game rudely ignores an achieved A if the player already has a better score that was awarded with a B. Not that there wouldn't be other problems as well. Even a single miss chips off such a huge chunk of the groove gauge that it's impossible to make up towards the end of a challenge. Thus, it's perfectly possible to keep up a stellar performance only to fumble it even into a total failure at the last possible moment. Extremely unfair and annoying.
A little over four hours of notable repetition hasn't yet taken me even through half of the game, so the final verdict has to wait until the future. At this point, however, the afore-mentioned flaws make it a game that isn't really that much fun to play. Somewhat of a pity, as the weak gameplay is overshadowing an otherwise impressive and solid title.