Okay, Christmas is admittedly still long times away but there won't be much more games shopping this year and as for the December schedule, I think I'm fully booked. It has been another couple of months scouring bargain bins and being seduced by a handful of import curiosities. The selection is still somewhat skewed towards alternative gaming but I'm not entirely immune to the siren calls of big budget titles by big budget publishers.
For a brief moment, I was genuinely excited about EA's plans to release Mass Effect as a trilogy. Then they clarified that the collection wouldn't feature all the respective DLC, so that version can get bent. Instead, I settled for a heavily discounted Mass Effect 3 Collector's Edition which will serve me just fine in concluding Shepard's journey. As for Street Fighter X Tekken, it probably fails to yank me away from another brawler (grin) but a bit over a tenner for its special edition was too good a deal to pass. The last of those big boxes is Zone of the Enders HD Collection, which I picked up instantly without waiting for possible sales because mechas and Kojima-san (´∀｀)♡
On the Wii front, there's the befuddling Opoona, mostly because it was listed in this 1UP article. That site marketed it well enough and as ashamed as I am to admit it, the game totally flew past my radar back when it was originally released. Raving Rabbids Party Collection is much easier, though. I've laughed at these manic bunnies on a few videos but never actually got around playing the games themselves. Yet another tenner to experience all three titles should be good enough value for money, even if it's essentially just a silly mini-game collection.
As for PS3, nothing particularly interesting going on. Asura's Wrath and its sweaty, testosterone-laden action was interesting only on heavy discount whereas I missed The Ratchet & Clank Trilogy simply because of being too busy. The games in that HD remake are already more than familiar from the PS2 times but I'm thrilled to be able to experience them again. At least they're guaranteed to be solid old school platforming fun as opposed to Sony's sorry releases that stubbornly try to squeeze still a little more money out of a franchise that should've been laid to rest already (yes, I'm talking to both of you All 4 One and Q-Force there in the back row – just knock it off).
Next up, the high hopes department. The Testament of Sherlock Holmes should be a proper, no-nonsense, old-school-pleasing adventure game. Which would be awsum! XCOM: Enemy Unknown on the other hand could really be the second coming of the Turn-based Strategy Jesus but something held me back when it got released. Perhaps I'm just afraid that it wouldn't be quite as stellar as UFO: Enemy Unknown turned out to be back in the 90's but I guess I have to take that step sooner or later.
Recent retro times won't be going anywhere anytime soon, thanks to the recent Midway Arcade Origins that packs over 30 of the publisher's classic releases from the previous decades. Should be fun! Also, even if I never got that excited about its predecessor, I'm finally prepared to give Final Fantasy XIII-2 a chance. Mostly because a cheap HK version as that one is still, as before, the only way to experience the game with English subtitles and original Japanese audio. Japanophilia also thrives with K-On! Houkago Live!! HD Ver. which is simply a HD remake of the very same PSP rhythm game that I enjoyed last year.
Last but hardly not least, there's the game with the highest potential of becoming my all-year favorite, Virtue's Last Reward. Two years ago, Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors struck like a million volts and although I'm still somewhat worried that I'd be in for too much more of the same, my expectations for this one are through not just my own roof but the person living above me at that. I'd love to dive into it straight away but will wait for an entirely plan-free day to do that. The upcoming weekend is another of those busy ones but come next week and Thursday, when Finland solemnizes its independence... :P~~~~~~
All that and four new recently released DLC tables for Pinball Arcade, and I think I'm going to be spoiled well into next year.
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.
All the recent outstanding projects are now pretty much taken care of. Yakuza: Dead Souls managed to entertain a little over 29 hours but eventually succumbed to battle fatigue and I'm hardly proud of my 44.13% completion rate. While there would still be a whole lot to experience, the game began to taste like bland rice rather than a proper teishoku and thus I just rushed it to its completion. It was okay but these days just plain okay doesn't really cut it.
That's not to say Dead Souls wouldn't be a decent zombie game. It featured the slowly lurching kind of undead to be therapeutically mowed down by the thousand and as for parody, it served quite a few deliciously juicy and genuinely funny moments. Yet, the gameplay is fairly awkward, the story ends up falling flat as a pancake, and while the ruined streets of Kamurocho are at least in theory something new, they're still the exact same blocks filled with the exact same activies as before. Experiencing them the fifth time around simply isn't exciting anymore.
When it comes to game design, Dead Souls stumbles on the hurdle so common for so-called lengthy games. It certainly has tons of stuff to do but as it's mostly quantity over quality, there's not much incentive to check it all out. Oh well, even as-is, it's a decent, snack-sized spin-off and not only is Yakuza 5 already under development, it promises both a new game engine and plenty of new locations. About time, too!
As for shopping, it has been just as quiet as it probably should be around these times. Quite some time ago I had a good enough time with Secret Files: Tunguska on the DS to get it for the Wii as well. Also, The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn now goes cheap enough to warrant a go at some suitable point in time. Granted, I still haven't seen even the movie but as I smoothly keep on lying to myself, all in good time...
After a break of a few weeks, not only did Jak II: Renegade continue but I battled my way through it as well. I left it with mixed feelings back in late March but as the story developed, I began to warm up to it. Even navigating the shockingly cramped and maze-like city wasn't entirely hopeless once I realized that the mission icons on the edges of the mini-map reacted to every intersection by moving towards the way to go.
The missions themselves were pleasantly varied. As well as the usual jumping and shooting, there were hoverbike races, rail grinding, button mashing, big boss fights, wild flights, and even small scale mecha goodness. The story, revolving around time travel and Precursor lore, managed to tie in this sequel with its predecessor quite commendably. Sure, the tale is just silly, lightweight fantasy but considering how radically different Jak II is, that's still somewhat surprising.
Still, what a frustrating trip it was! Missions passed on the first try were few and far between, and I was again about to forsake the whole game for about half a dozen times due to losing faith and subdued by ruthless irritation. It often felt like the developers had played a perfect, optimal performance and sprinkled it with just a pinch of margin for error. That would be an OK challenge should the gameplay be razor sharp. It's not.
I can't even bother remembering how often I had to replay through the same, dull sections in order to retry my luck at some particularly tricky part. Not only are the checkpoints of the game all over the place, so is controlling Jak. The moves just don't register when they should and as a cherry on top of the cake, there was a part that felt just plain impossible for quite some time. Not until consulting the net did I learn a move required to proceed. The game never taught it and it wasn't even listed in the pitiful manual (eight pages for all three games). To triple jump, press X, X, and O. Required in exactly one place throughout the game :(
The entire playthrough was marred with weary frustration and fun mostly stemming from overcoming adversity. Then again, the more my modern stuffy self endured, the more my younger HC self rejuvenated. The game was never particularly entertaining but it always coaxed to be completed and that's what I did, if only to prove myself that my inner child is still there. He was a bit too easily entertained back then but yeah, he's definitely still around. In the end, all this took more than 18 hours and I had to challenge the very last baddie maybe 20+ times but it's finally over. Platinum would require a couple more trophies but Jak II can keep them. In traditional HC mentality, done once, never again ^^;
And that's the rest of the haul of April. Only the third big Wii JRPG, Pandora's Tower, felt worthy of full RRP whereas the rest were acquired from all sorts of bargain bins. I'm slightly ashamed of never having played Okami and Okamiden but let's finally give the wolf a chance as well. Epic Mickey for five euros felt like a delightful deal and when I eventually get to replace my 360, its backlog is now bolstered with Gears of War 3. Batman: Arkham City should be awsum just like its predecessor, although I should've waited a bit longer in order to grab its upcoming GOTY version with all DLC :( Oh well, at least I managed to show patience with Fallout: New Vegas by grabbing it cheap with all the additional content and probable bugs.
I was supposed to stop with Wii gaming for a change but then I stumbled across the 1996 SNES classic Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars that I had purchased from Nintendo's marketplace a few years back. I decided to give it a go and sure enough, the dastardly Bowser had once again kidnapped Peach. If one had to name the most useless employees in gaming history, the guards of Mushroom Kingdom would win the dubious honor hands down. The rescue operation, though, only takes about fifteen minutes.
Mario's about to wrap everything up when a humongous sword drops from the sky into Bowser's Keep, sending everyone flying all over the world and dislodging the entire castle from the mainland. After recovering from this sudden twist of events, Mario is missing not just the princess and the bad guy but also the idea of what to do next. He's soon met by a frog named Mallow, whose knowledgeable grandfather might be able to help. That covers initial traveling company and as seven enigmatic star pieces fell to earth together with the sword, it's pretty obvious on how to proceed.
As evident from the title, this Mario adventure is a clear-cut role-playing game. The story advances in a traditional fashion of scouring through towns and dungeons, grinding for character levels, welcoming new members into the party, and fighting lots of turn-based battles. They're based on the usual melee and special attacks but brightened up with properly timed button presses that can increase or decrease the damage given or received. It's a system worth learning as the numerous boss battles, especially towards the end, aren't exactly a cakewalk.
At first Super Mario RPG isn't convincing at all. Progress takes place on rails and while random little arcade mini-games try to spruce things up, there's very little in the traditional role-playing way of adventuring and conversations. Over half of the star pieces are collected in just a few hours and the game feels like it's going to end before even getting started. Eventually, however, it comes to life and transforms into a pleasantly challenging, versatile, and content-rich experience that lasts around fifteen hours not even counting any optional content.
Although there are many role-playing elements in Super Mario RPG, it still tends to feel more like just a lively action-adventure. That's not to downplay it, by any means – this one later evolved into several fantastic Paper Mario and Mario & Luigi games – but it doesn't feel sure of itself and exactly what it wants to be. Still, an enjoyable little nostalgia trip to the preceding history of the afore-mentioned series.
Seems like lightweight gaming during the week is indeed doable. Today the pile of completed games grew with de Blob, which remained entertaining through to its end even despite some unavoidable hiccups. The effort took a little over ten hours, although it could've been slightly less, too. After goofing around one stage for more than an hour, the game calmly decided to crash. And since there are no save points within the levels, it meant having to just suck it up and restart from the beginning.
Also, the gameplay remained fairly cumbersome throughout the adventure. De Blob got regularly stuck to the walls, having a hard time figuring out whether the player wanted to land or perhaps roll along the wall for a brief period of time. Extra time icons, rewarded for completing various challenges, occasionally dropped to inaccessible places, and the appropriately massive final confontration with Comrade Black was, thanks to awkward controls, challenging for all the wrong reasons. Furthermore, bumping into water springs or paint bots right after having transformed de Blob into a suitable color happened way too often. Then again, that's probably not something to blame the game for.
Despite all that the tyrant has now been felled and Chroma City once more bathes in color. Problems or not, the game was enjoyable. The level of difficulty was pleasantly calm and even if time ran out on some challenges, they could be instantly retried, usually from where the previous attempt had ended. Those interested in challenge and longevity are covered as well, since even after a playthrough there's still plenty of special missions with tight time limits to complete in order to unlock tempting concept art and video clips from the game's Extras menu. I found the controls a bit too unwieldy to get into those, though.
Whatever the case, de Blob was a colorful, groovy, and genuinely amusing experience. The sequel saw daylight on the other two home consoles of this generation as well, so with a bit of luck a traditional joypad is all it takes to refine an excellent idea into a comprehensively solid presentation. It's definitely worth investigating at some point – de Blob is just too adorable and whimsical a hero.
As for ongoing projects, Theatrhythm: Final Fantasy has matured in short bursts to 16 hours played. Its songs – especially battle musics – on hard were such a traumatic experience that I've willingly retreated to complete them on easy and normal without missing a note. That self-imposed challenge is far more doable, although I've only managed a single SSS class performance in which each and every note of a song was hit with exact precision.
Points awarded for all this rhythm tapping are now thrice as high as was originally required to beat the game but still not enough to unlock even the first of the hidden playable characters. Oh well, at least an occasional collectible card, song, or movie unlocks every now and then. My party of four, chosen from the original selection of 13 FF characters, is soon leveled up to 99, which might be a good time to equip them with some of those incomprehensible skills and items. Perhaps they help in completing at least some battle songs on hard – challenging those two minute tracks without any gear could mean a thorough trashing in as little as 20 seconds ^^;
As this week was all about colorful platforming on the Wii, I saw no reason to stray elsewhere. Next up was de Blob – THQ's small scale surprise hit from 2008. It takes place in Chroma City that suffers under the oppression of Comrade Black and his INKT troops who are hellbent on removing all colors from the town. This tyrannical black-and-white power is most unwelcome but only a sympathetic little lump, de Blob, together with a handful of other resistance fighters are ready to fight the harsh oppression to return color and joy back to the world.
It's a simple premise, yet one that works awfully well! De Blob rolls and bounces around the vast Chroma City nicking colors from robots that carry them in order to paint the city blocks with all hues of the rainbow. He's challenged not just by INKT troops but water and ink as well. Water removes his ability to paint and ink is downright fatal unless quickly washed away. Points awarded for painting open up new areas further into the city and further variety is provided by various challenges scattered here and there – coloring buildings with a required color, racing through checkpoints, or simply squishing a set number of enemies. There are, of course, also a whole lot of secret collectibles strewn around the town for unlocking bonus content and new missions.
De Blob packs quite a bit of the same charm as the Katamari Damacy series but without anal time limits and discouraging defamation. The vast levels are first given a time limit around 10-15 minutes but the game is so happy to reward various little tasks with extra time that one can explore each stage closer to an hour still with plenty of time to spare. Also, even if the areas are large, it's a breeze to figure out where to head next – simply roll towards the spots not yet overtaken by the melange of color de Blob inevitably leaves behind him ^^;
Some five hours in I'm assumably about halfway through and it's been loads of fun. Wreaking colorful havoc in Chrome City is therapeutically relaxed, easy, amusing, and accompanied with an excellent soundtrack. The BGMs are all about funk and reggae, and they do a great job in supporting de Blob's resistance anarchy, growing in tension the more colorful the city becomes. The expressive de Blob himself is awesome as well – he doesn't exactly speak but his expressive behavior is top-notch.
It's a great game only beset – as usual – by the Wii controls. The temperamental camera simply wails for a right thumbstick and while the thumbstick on the Nunchuk is good enough to move de Blob around, as simple a task as leaping isn't given a button but instead a sharp yank downwards with the Wiimote. The final result is just as pitifully awkward as one might imagine and the only reason de Blob passes with flying colors is it's foremost aim to entertain rather than challenge.
Whatever the case, a most vivacious and original experience that serves as lightweight springtime gaming most wonderfully!
This week's entertainment was provided by Super Mario Galaxy 2 and while I managed to complete it on this weekend eve, I'm for once at a loss for words. The first part kicked off with these thoughts and came to a close with these. That would be irrelevant weren't it for the fact that I could have just as well been describing this second game. The playthrough required 70 stars instead of 60 but other than that, the length, the challenge, and the entire experience itself were almost uncannily identical to the first game.
As a homage to creativity the sequel is perhaps a bit wilder and more vast but what it gains in those fields, it loses in storytelling. The game is kind of like a Director's Cut of the previous adventure entirely without the adventure. It's jam-packed with amusing, colorful, and original stages but very, very little adhesive to glue them together. There's plenty of fine, playable platforming to be enjoyed – as much as fussing with the nunchuk and the Wiimote can ever be considered enjoyable – but the overall experience is woefully hollow. It's definitely "just" a level pack for the first one.
That's probably enough buts to stress the fact that I'm slightly disappointed, even after having a reasonably good time. My upcoming two days are spent elsewhere but perhaps by Sunday I'll get started on something new or at least give old, ongoing projects some attention. Either way, a happy and hopefully work-free weekend to all!
Gaming during the week is as sluggish as usual and Theatrhythm: Final Fantasy on hard is starting to resemble a bully that steals your lunch money and shoves you into the nearest mud puddle to boot. At this point, it mostly feels impossible so I employed good old wuss tactics and retreated to the game shelf for some old, forgotten classics. I ended up with Super Mario Galaxy 2 as its predecessor was most decent platforming fun a bit over a year ago.
The second round of the red-capped, moustached hero around galaxies is disconcertingly familiar and this time around, the adventure doesn't even bother with a story. One Bowser, one kidnapped princess, and one plumber once again across the galaxy collecting power stars to give chase. Sure, the basic setting is classic Mario all the way but Nintendo sure got lazy with this one. For now, the sequel truly feels more like a downloadable level pack for the first one, only its sheer size constitutes a full-blown game instead.
And that's about all there is to say so far. Granted, there are plenty of new special powers and one can ride Yoshi as well but after seven hours and three worlds, it truly feels, in both good and bad, the first Super Mario Galaxy. Mostly in good, considering the commendable amount of sheer creativity by the developers, but telling the exact same story with different levels really isn't a proper sequel. Oh well, will see, will see...
Looks like it only took a spring vacation to mess up following the usefulness of PlayStation Plus. April's freebies included Shift 2: Unleashed, which I already own as a physical copy, but both Shank 2 and the PS1 classic Silent Hill were quite welcome. Today was also the last day to grab I Am Alive for a 20% discount, which I ended up taking advantage of. There's no denying the horrible psychological power of sales, even if finding a proper time to enjoy that one is going to be challenging.
Travel weariness is finally giving in and it's time to return to pointless banter about entertainment. The first game out of the homecoming pile was somewhat unsurprisingly Theatrhythm: Final Fantasy. The setup screens of the Japanese 3DS were a little bit perplexing but I eventually reached its home screen and it seems to work just fine. Good thing, too, considering that Yodobashi Camera is a bit too far away for any warranty issues ^^;
Theatrhythm is full of exotic, totally illegible message boxes as well but after a bit of intuition and a whole lot of guessing I had finally formed a troupe of four chibi FF heroes ready to partake in some serious rhythm gaming in the spectacular music world of the Final Fantasy universe. The series' 25th anniversary is celebrated with its parts I-XIII, each of which is featured not just with its OP and ED themes but also a single tune from its combat, field, and events. There's probably more to discover, though, considering the built-in jukebox can hold up to 77 songs,
As typical for the rhythm game genre, the game is easy to pick up. the upper screen of the 3DS is reserved for gameplay carried out in the lower screen. In essence there are just four different moves; tapping the screen, holding down, tracing an undulating line, and a little flick towards a direction pointed by an arrow. A simple set that still manages to compose varied enough game mechanics.
As well as the usual hunt for a high score, performances are rewarded with rhythm points. They're used both to "complete" the game as well as unlock a myriad of extra content; character and monster art as cute collector's cards, songs to the afore-mentioned jukebox, movie clips from each game, new hidden characters to play as, etc. While it didn't take more than five hours to see the end credits and thus consider the game played through, there's bound to be more content to unravel for dozens of hours more.
The idea behind a four character party is still a bit hazy. After completing a song, the characters earn experience points, levels, and equipable special skills in a typical JRPG fashion. In field songs, they can, say, enable part of the journey to be ridden on a Chocobo whereas in battle songs they allow familiar summons. In event songs, that focus on showing cinematics from each game, those skills can be used to see even a glimpse of those most touching and potentially spoiling moments.
At least some, if not all, of those skills also negatively affect the score for any given song and since I lack the ability to read any Japanese, I've neglected that part of the game altogether. It's most likely essential to unlock absolutely everything there is to see, though. After eight hours I've now completed all (found) songs both on Easy and Normal but there's still Hard to try out.
But is it any good? Well... Ummm... It kinda is, although not nearly as much as I had hoped. The musics of Final Fantasy have always been truly kick-ass. As a result, I've already grinned in joy like a madman, have had a lump in my throat, and experienced a fiery passion to play through some of those legendary adventures once again. Even as a rhythm game and despite having to use the stylus, Theatrhythm is solid. The moves are recognized snappily enough and most of the songs strike a good balance between fairness and challenge.
Despite all that Theatrhythm feels a tad lightweight. Sure, there are a lot of memorable songs to play but even after the first day it kind of feels that everything has been seen already and that unearthing the rest is going to be way too much work and repetition. Plans for a huge pile of downloadable content don't necessarily make things better, either. Yet, the game is enjoyable and even as it stands, the first proper Final Fantasy representative in ages. The European release is on July 6th, which should give me time to decide whether it's worth picking up the second time.
Today, I also checked out whether Wii's Zero: Tsukihame no Kamen was a mispurchase or not. The console is, of course, region-locked as well but just before my trip, I read a most interesting Kotaku article on how the fansub scene even exists amongst gamers. I've matured out of game piracy aeons ago but as that story outlined how one could truly be able to play the latest part of a truly spine-chilling series in English, as long as they had the original Japanese release, I knew I had to buy it.
The process itself was both questionable and rather unpleasant. I set up all sorts of shady software on an SD card lying around and stuck it to the Wii, hoping for the best and preparing for the worst. Thanks to vague instructions, it took more than an hour of miscellaneous tinkering around but sure enough, Zero eventually booted, completely subtitled in English o.O; I'm not yet sure if I'll ever have the courage to bring the console online or install any firmware update but this result is certainly worth a deep bow to anyone involved.