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9:25 PM on 04.18.2013  

Violence: The Gatekeepers



Before going any further into this site-wide discussion, let's take a moment to reaffirm exactly what it is that we're talking about here.

Violence, ostensibly the topic at hand, like it or not, is absolutely everywhere, in some form or another, woven deep within the fabric of most any culture you'd care to name. Sometimes its shadow is forcibly and oppressively cast over us (here in the USA, for instance, mere days ago debris-loaded bombs were set off amidst the spectators at the Boston marathon), but most any time the word "violence" crops up on the likes of a video game site a specific brand of violence is on tap, one which we all too willingly gulp down into ourselves. “Artificial” violence, “imitation” violence, spun liberally from whole cloth, and deliberately, painstakingly tweaked to force-feed the maximum degree of gut-wrenching adrenaline without "directly" harming anyone.



Even more to the point, though, discussions of violence in our little corner of the digital realm, and frequently a considerable distance beyond it, almost exclusively focus upon one particular recipient of said violence. “The establishment”, or whatever you’d care to label it, volleys precious few complaints at the fact that R-rated movies tend to draw the highest degree of praise from critics, that news stories are routinely assigned priority based on the ever-profitable principle of "it bleeds, it leads", or, yes, that M-rated video games almost inevitably receive the lion’s share of both coverage and sales figures across the board. The presence, prevalence, and veritable worship of violence within society at large is seldom what gets anyone talking. When it comes to how many murders, real or fictional, that the average joe witnesses on a daily basis, most average joes couldn't care less, and even the not-so-average ones seem content to yawn in disinterest.

As the (not always evenly-applied) refrain goes, it’s not anyone’s business to determine what grown-ups do with their time.

Bottom line: if someone is talking about violence, it's almost always got something to do with its exposure to children, and children only. Our immature offspring - our most valuable investment and our present’s only link to our future - are the ones who truly matter whenever the topic comes up.

Or so it might seem, until you're on the far side of a Gamestop sales counter.



In case you’re not already aware, yes, I work part-time one or two nights a week at a Gamestop across the parking lot from my full-time job (please forward all “you are an unthinking pawn of the evil empire” emails to the usual address). As a regular old cash register grunt I don’t deal very much with the “technical” side of the business, and thus spend most of my working time face to face with walk-in customers. Notwithstanding the notable perk of having similar-minded employees around to discuss video games with (and yes, at this particular store they are indeed “real” gamers), by and large it’s vanilla retail work, much like any other.

One recurring thing about this job, however, has stuck with me.

Again, in case you weren’t already aware, Gamestop has a rather strict policy on the books when it comes to enforcement of the ESRB’s content ratings: if you are not “obviously” 17 years of age or higher and cannot verify your age with a photo ID, you simply will not be allowed to purchase an M-rated game in-store. If you’re a frequent under-age customer who insists that your folks have given you permission to pick up game XYZ, just like they did two weeks ago for ABC, that won’t cut it. If your mom calls in on her cell phone to say “okay”, or pulls the car up outside the door and waves approval through the open window, no dice. If any customer is going to buy a Mature title “by the book”, he or she is going to have to physically stroll up to the counter, listen to the cashier rattle off the list of objectionable content found on the box, and give an affirmative response in person.



Moreover, no employee can ever say that he “forgot” to go through the required routine, as a warning pops up on the register’s screen every time an M game’s barcode is scanned, not to mention that security cameras are always watching; beyond that, if I ever decided to, eh, let it go just this once and management got wind of it, I would be instantly fired, no questions asked. If any of my superiors happened to be anywhere in the vicinity at the time and didn’t stop me (or were merely labeled as having not trained me well enough), they’d be right out there on the street with me (with a few choice words to share, I’m sure).

Offhand I don’t know what the policies of competing video game stores or other entertainment retailers might be, but say what you will about Gamestop (and yes, there is plenty to say) they have a pretty thorough means in place of ensuring that no child will get ahold of an M-rated video game from their store without the explicit consent of a parent. If nothing else, the company wants no part of the scathing criticism constantly heaped upon the video game industry by advocacy groups, politicians, and those very same parents, whose willingness to open their wallets is a big part of what keeps them in business. The latter’s will, when you get right down to it, is always the deciding factor, and it’s an especially important decision to make, because unlike even a youngster escorted by a guardian into one of those R-rated movies, a child and a video game will almost certainly end up left completely alone and unsupervised with each other in short order.

At this point I ought to note that I’ve only been a Gamestop employee for a relatively short time compared to my colleagues, but even with my limited experience I often wonder exactly when so many parents’ much-ballyhooed oversight of their offspring devolved into such a shockingly cheap commodity.



You’ve all heard the stories from somebody else you know who works at a store like mine: the clueless/negligent/shouldn’t-have-been-allowed-to-breed parent who doesn’t so much as blink whilst forking out for the latest Grand Theft Auto as a birthday present for their soon-to-be six-year-old. There will always be people like this, of course, though we always hold out the hope that at least some of them are guilty only of occasional questionable choices made out of ignorance, as opposed to across-the-board, willfully negligent parenting. The more hours I log in behind that counter, however, the more “oh, I’m just helpless” eye rolls I see, the more “he’s already played it at a friend’s house” I hear, the more unchallenged, bratty outbursts I witness, the more “Go play at the demo unit for awhile while I go shopping” I eavesdrop upon (one of my fellow employees has branded Gamestop “The Child Abandonment Capital of the World”) and the more I find myself regurgitating the following conversation at the tail end of yet another uneasy transaction:

“Ma’am, in case you’re ever curious about exactly what a game has in it…you’ve seen the little age rating box on the cover, right?”

“Yes.”

“And you’ve seen that under it there’s a quick blurb describing the basic sort of content that’s in the game, right?”

“Right.”

“Well, right near there you can see this website listed, esrb.org: that’s the website of the board that rates these things. If you go there and type in the name of a game you want more info on, a page will come up for it, and you’ll also see a more detailed write-up on specific things you’ll see in the game.”

“Oh, thanks!”

“And failing that, there’s at least one official website or YouTube video up for just about any game you can name these days, so just Googling around will probably help to some degree. Basically, the information IS out there if you’re willing to look for it.”

“Great, thanks again!”

How many of them ever follow up on my advice, I’ll never know.



Now, to be fair, as a bachelor with no children I’m more than willing to concur that raising a kid right is nowhere as easy as it looks from a safe distance. I can still remember the plethora of dirty tricks that I myself used as a kid to get what I wanted out of my long-suffering parents, and as a former substitute teacher I’m all too jaded a witness to how a youngster’s time away from his or her parents can so effectively undermine anything and everything the latter have worked so hard to instill. Moreover, even as a longtime gamer who regularly keeps up with industry news, staring down those walls upon walls of cover art can still be intimidating, a reminder of how many titles I’d still have trouble explaining to a customer; I can only imagine how vast and unfriendly a wasteland it must embody to some poor grandmother or uncle trying to track down a vaguely-worded request (“well, he said it has a car in it…does that help?”).

Then, of course, comes the game industry itself, which, despite its considerable efforts to get on good terms with concerned parents, still isn’t nearly as adept as when it comes to its favorite pastime: shooting itself in the foot. Let’s check back in on Gamestop, which is loath to patch up a considerable semi-loophole in its own “zero-tolerance” M-rating policy; while the store doesn’t allow minors to pick up Mature games, it happily invites them to put down the five bucks necessary to reserve one that isn’t out yet. Sure, the store still requires an adult’s presence to claim the title once it comes out, and he or she is free to cancel the order on the spot, but this situation is still a more difficult one for parents to stand firm in the face of (“It’s MY money! I was looking forward to this! I already told all my friends I’d play it with them online!”), as opposed to the standard-issue “Can I get this?” out of the blue. And this is to speak nothing of the publishers’ increasingly shameless advertising departments, which regularly flout the PR department’s insistence that nobody would EVER try to lure the kiddies towards anything inappropriate.



So yes, shielding your children’s eyes and ears from things you’d rather they not see or hear (or play) is a downright Herculean task, and can almost never be accomplished to the extent you’d hoped, especially when buttressed with the temptation of something that can grant you a bit of much-needed quiet time as the magic of the TV screen does its job. I get this, and would never criticize any parent for raising a less-than-perfect kid (if that were the criteria, after all, my own folks would rate the very sternest of talking-tos), especially when it comes to the topic of video games, a medium whose unique and powerful allure I know all too well from a very young age. I probably also ought to note that I am about as far across the spectrum as you can get from the “just let the market do whatever it wants, and if it makes money then nobody has any right to criticize it” laissez-faire mindset, which places any and all blame for a product’s ill effects (and before anyone asks, no, I don’t believe that video games inherently make people kill people in real life) squarely upon the consumer; sorry, but you can’t call a perennially overburdened, undercompensated public and a castrated-with-a-rusty-spoon regulatory structure a fair match for nigh-limitless and anonymous corporate dollars spent exclusively in the name of infiltration, influence and obfuscation.

In the face of all this I have naught but the utmost respect for those parents who are still willing to put their foot down and declare that they, not their child, is the one who, after considering all sides of a problem, has the final say in decisions made within their family. It’s not just me, either; I recall one recent incident during which my Assistant Manager uttered the phrase “You can use adult toys as weapons” in response to a parent’s innocent query, and all of us in the store watched with all-too-rare satisfaction as the proverbial hammer was brought down (that said, I, like the afore-linked Herr Sterling, always find it odd how sexual content invariably seems to raise a much bigger red flag with parents than violence, but that’s another issue). And yes, I understand that not every kid’s tolerance for “adult” content is the same, and that some room for leniency is most always needed. Most of all, I completely understand that raising your kid is, when push comes to shove, your business, not mine.



That all being said, every copy of Saint’s Row that I watch waltz out the door in the clutches of an elementary or middle schooler - and there are many - still wears on me, and makes me feel like I am indeed the one showing the most interest in the child in front of me.

Every time I have “The ESRB.org Conversation”, I wonder, despite all of the outrage, all of the bellyaching, all of the impeccably-dramatized concern for their kids’ moral welfare, how many parents, tired and stressed after a long day, are so much as willing to forego an episode or two of American Idol (or heck, just DVR it!) in favor of doing a bit of old-fashioned research into their kid’s hobbies and interests – or, heaven forbid, actually talking to them about it openly and face-to-face.

Every mordant chuckle, accompanied by a sarcastic(?) comment of “All the good stuff, huh?” uttered by an accompanying adult in response to my required reading of a game’s mature content, makes me wonder where in heaven’s name the gatekeepers of our children’s young lives have gone to. Granted, I’m citing material based largely off of my own limited experience here, but considering that, to wit, an old back issue of Game Informer published a reader letter lamenting the exact same problem a full ten years ago suggests to me that the evident disconnect between the usual rhetoric (“I’d do anything to make sure my child grows up in a safe, nurturing environment”) and the usual action (“Oh, I know it’s awful, but at this point I’ve just given up”) reaches a good long ways, both backwards and forwards, beyond my evening shift.



As far as the causes of and/or solutions to the situation go, those are issues that I’m quite frankly ill-equipped to address. I will readily submit for your approval, however, that before anything at all can be done in this area we as a society need to honestly reassess what manner of ingredients we’re trying to stir into something swallowable. We gamers constantly hear what pervasive and corruptive threats violent video games are to our children, are harangued with lawsuits and legislation in the name of protecting them from that very threat, and proceed to waste our breaths for months and years on end, debating whether or not the charges contain any merit on their faces. All the while we manage to all but completely ignore the biggest, loudest, smelliest elephant in the room: for all the bluster about how diabolically awful violent video games are, on an individual, personal level very few parents seem willing to take much meaningful action to keep them out of their living rooms.

Something is missing here, or has been outright stolen away from under our noses; until we stop pretending that the problem with the gate is that it’s locked too tightly, as opposed to swinging freely upon rusty hinges, heaven only knows what might pass through it.   read


12:05 PM on 04.07.2013  

2013: BM’s Year (So Far) In Weird



Hello everyone, or at least everyone who still remembers me. It’s certainly been awhile since I last had the time or inclination to submit a proper blog post here, hasn’t it? Granted, what you’re reading now still isn’t one, really, but it IS something that I’m finding it tougher and tougher not to spout about a bit. I guess you could sort of call it rant, but a “positive” one, if such a thing exists. Anyway, here’s the story, such as it is:

Like a lot of long-time gamers, whenever a new calendar makes its way to the wall some part of me starts wondering “will this finally be the year?” You may well have done the same, if only in passing, mulling over the previous twelve months’ worth of unsavory developments, botched releases, PR disasters, anti-consumer espionage, and outright incompetence, and thinking to yourself, “Maybe this is when I’ll finally just stop buying new games and stick to playing my old ones.”

And shortly thereafter, if you’re like me, your first new purchase of the year ends up being a new DVD rack to keep all your upcoming pre-orders in.



You might recall that I did something like this around two years ago (man, it really has been awhile); since then, naturally, my utterly shameful backlog has only metastasized into an even blacker, more noxious blight upon humanity, and is poised to get worse still in 2013. How does this keep happening amidst a gaming climate so constantly awash in negativity, and thus seemingly less and less inclined to bother catering to a niche customer like myself?

It’s a question for the ages, certainly (well, maybe not), but before delving any further into it, here’s a brief-ish overview of how things are looking to play out in my increasingly-overgrown neck of the gaming woods over this coming year. Feel free to compare notes with your friends, and see who manages to get farthest in before throwing up their hands in utter disgust!

---------



Compared to the last time around things have, if nothing else, ramped up a bit more gradually; for one thing I’m currently holding off on the generally well-received Ni No Kuni, which despite its charms still doesn’t seem to have bucked Level-5’s ally AI legacy issues…eh, maybe when the price comes down. On the flipside, though my previous brushes with Namco’s “Tales” series didn’t leave much of an impression on me, a cohort finally convinced me to give fellow PS3 JRPG Tales of Graces f (which, in case you haven’t heard, can now be downloaded from the PSN if you can’t find a physical copy) a try, and against all odds I enjoyed the bugger quite a bit; enough, in fact, to persuade me to plunk down for Tales of Xillia, due out this summer. So, that’s at least one more to add to the list, assuming I resist the urge to go back and give Vesperia another shot in the meantime.

Not too long after the aforementioned episode two more JRPGs came down the pike/in the mail: first there was Tecmo-Koei’s rather disappointingly quiet release of Atelier Ayesha (advisory: there be some rage in them comments), though it should consider itself lucky, as the company’s concurrent PSN upload of Atelier Totori Plus wasn’t even formally announced. Then came NISA’s localization of the increasingly-bonkers Hyperdimension Neptunia Victory, whose LE came in a “time capsule”, better known to regular humans as a “lunchbox”. Oh, and there’s an app for it too.



Of course, sequels to both (and an anime for the latter) have already been announced in Japan, as has the crazier yet Mugen Souls Z, so it would appear that oddball JRPG fans, even those who aren’t particularly excited for Time and Eternity or have forgotten that The Witch and the Hundred Knights still (supposedly?) exists, will be keeping their ears to the ground for the time being. Hell, even the long-delayed Black Rock Shooter is finally crashing the party, albeit in digital-only form; too bad about Grand Knights History and the Persona 2: Eternal Punishment remake though (after all, without them, whatever will I play?!?).

Oh, and then there’s that…other company that makes JRPGs, sometimes, that I’ve forgotten to touch on…I think they have one or two projects of interest in the works someplace. Maybe even three.. That being what it is, since I don’t have the time or patience for strategy titles that I used to, at least I can state with confidence that The Guided Fate Paradox and Disgaea D2 hold no interest for me. None at all. I think…



Now, of course, is the time that I suddenly and inconveniently remember surrendering to temptation and bringing home both a 3DS XL and a Vita over the previous few months.

Right on cue, in charges Project X Zone to blow the mother of all holes through that particular façade…and it’ll be following in the footprints of Devil Summoner: Soul Hackers, a previously Japan-only Shin Megami Tensei title that’s making an enhanced trip westward in a few short weeks (oh, and later in the year, so is an enhanced Ys from Falcom and an enhanced Muramasa from Vanillaware, who also have a little something else slated for the fall).

Even this rather momentous event, however, pales in comparison to the recent revelation that the next numbered Megami series installment, Shin Megami Tensei IV, will also be nipping at its heels later in the summer; the third “main” SMT game, subtitled Nocturne in the USA, is one of my all-time favorites, so you know very well that I’ve already plunked down the (fifty!) pre-order dollars for this one.



So yeah, the RPG-ish realm looks a bit packed of late; surely there can’t be quite so much going on in terms of finger-twitching action games, can there? Heck, Dragon’s Crown and Muramasa have already been referenced, and Sly 4 is already out (and, yes, on my shelf), so what else looms on the horizon, exactly? Sure, Sony has been making a bit of a push in this area, as I am looking forward to Puppeteer in September, and am keeping an eye on Tearaway, whenever Media Molecule get around to that. Ah, and Pandora’s Tower, aka “oh, right, there was a third Project Rainfall game, wasn’t there?” is ushering the Wii out soon too (see you on the other side, Earth Seeker and Captain Rainbow), whilst Donkey Kong Country Returns is hoping to grace the 3DS with a bit of a boost.



Naturally, Nintendo could use the help after losing the exclusivity of the lovely-looking Rayman Legends (which, yes, I will also be buying in some form, having enjoyed Origins thoroughly), though the announcements of an Epic Yarn-esque Yoshi game, a prettied-up Zelda: Wind Waker and a new Mario + Luigi portable saga ought to get the nostalgia flowing pretty capably even without it. On a separate wavelength altogether, I’m having a tougher and tougher time ignoring Remember Me, if only for the fleeting flashes of Mirror’s Edge that it throws our way from time to time. What a tease!

Speaking of teases, the fighting game sector has gone somewhat quiet of late, at least compared to the past few announcement-packed years; that said, Mortal Kombat fans do have Injustice: Gods Among Us right at their doorstep, and though I’m not personally much for the NetherRealm brand of brawling, I would be forced to acquire the game if Komrade Kielbasa ever joined the kast (imagine the beautiful, beautiful trolling he could incite! If nothing else, Divekick could use a tag partner).



Tekken vs. Street Fighter, meanwhile, is still a good ways off, as is Blazblue: Chrono Phantasma and whatever Guilty Gear-related project Arc System is hacking away at, but of course the most noteworthy pugilistic news of recent months has been the runaway success of the Skullgirls IndieGoGo campaign, which garnered enough support to add several new characters to the game’s modest roster (not to mention use of the game’s engine by the guys who were doing the My Little Pony fan fighter). Of the most personal concern to me, oddly enough, is the seemingly-neverending limbo of Phantom Breaker, which to the best of my knowledge was never officially cancelled, though we do at least have beat-em-up spinoff Battle Grounds on XBLA to help ease the pain a bit.

At this point in the pseudo-article, brace yourselves, you knew it was coming: BM always has to say something about those silly 2D arcade-style shooters that only he plays, even though nobody actually makes them anymore (he totally just pulls all those supposedly new releases out of his backside; just smile and nod until he wanders off). Well, it’s high time for me to yank out a few more, so breathe deep; for starters, in February there was the region-free Ginga Force, from the makers of Eschatos, which maintains the genre’s famously demanding challenge level whilst inserting a few concessions for newcomers, such as a weapon shop (everything’s unlocked with in-game currency, don’t worry!) and the gradual granting of extra lives in stages you’re having trouble with.



You might have also heard of the recently-released Cave Shooting Collection, which packs together every X360 shmup published by the illustrious arcade developer Cave (note: the two licensed releases published by 5pb are not included) alongside a load of replay DVDs, a pair of artbooks (which, while we’re on the topic, are likely to give my wallet its own set of issues this coming year), and even a soundtrack collection if you get an early copy; if you’re just now thinking of importing a Japanese 360 to see what these games are all about this is an excellent way to catch up.

The biggest news out of Cave, though, is none other than DoDonPachi Sai-DaiOuJou, their final 360 masterpiece, which has been getting rave reviews in the arcades (and features art by The Ar Tonelico Guy, for an extra layer of nerdiness); there are not one, but two Limited Editions to lust after, so you know this one’s gonna be pretty darn big if you’re a bullet hell fan.



That said, Cave isn’t the only one out for the hearts (and coins) of the shooting faithful, though most of the “official” home-front action remains on the XBox 360; Moss, makers of the most recent Raiden games, are sending out the Gothic-themed Caladrius (this time featuring artwork from The Devil Survivor Guy) in short order, and the tiny Triangle Service (perhaps best known for Trizeal) is coming out of nowhere with a two-game collection rather cumbersomely known as Shooting Love 10th Anniversary: XIIZeal and DeltaZeal. If you’ve never heard of either game there’s a(n additional) reason for this: they’re actually renamed versions of XIIStag, originally published by Taito, and the even more obscure G-Stream 2020, which was first put out by the now-defunct Oriental Soft and never saw a home port.

Over on the PS3 end of things rumor has it that the rather cutesy ground-based shooter Mamoru-kun is Cursed! might be following Under Defeat to our side of the Pacific, and on XBLA indie games you ought to check out the recently-released Cave tribute Chronoblast if you haven’t already. Finally, the Dreamcast faithful can look forward to not one, not two, not three, but FOUR homebrew shootersm coming soon: it’s STILL thinking, people!



Just in case the outlook isn’t overwhelming enough, I’ve found some of my other trademark resistances slowly crumbling of late. To wit, I’m one of those people who has always had VERY mixed feelings concerning digital distribution: as much as I applaud the relative freedom it grants to small developers who could never land a physical publishing deal, not to mention the potential (though largely unrealized, at least on the consumer end) cost savings on materials and environmental concerns, its prominent place within the campaign to transform games from products to services (given and taken away at the seller’s sole discretion, paid for or not) always leaves a very bitter taste in my mouth.

Notwithstanding, despite not being much of a PC gamer I’ve begun to see what all the people raving about Steam sales are frothing about; lately a sizeable portion of the deals on Playstation Plus in particular have been hard to resist (between the ten bucks back and three months extra I got just for surrendering and picking it up earlier this year, not to mention the half or more off I’ve gotten on several titles since, it’s just about paid for itself already, and I’ve got more than a year of it left). If the overall marketplace keeps this up, it’s gonna be mighty hard for me not to plunk down for Guacamelee! or Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse somewhere down the line, let alone the next Humble Bundle.



Phew…

So, if you’ve managed to read this far in you should have a pretty good idea of what my year in gaming (and spending) is going to look like (notwithstanding whatever else might get announced in the coming months), and it’s more than a bit nuts, especially for someone whose existence most of the industry barely acknowledges. On the surface it hardly makes sense, even, but methinks one last game I’ve felt compelled to reserve recently rather succinctly sums up why it’s all happening just the same. Which game could it be, you ask?

This one.

Yes, you heard me. THIS one.

Sweet Fuse: At Your Side.



Let’s back up a minute. I am, for whatever it’s worth, a straight male. This is a game, among other things, about being a girl and quite possibly getting cozy with one or more dudes. In short, no, I am not the target market. But yes, I AM buying the daylights out of it. Why?

Because, dear reader, it stands proud as perhaps the most utterly insane release of the year.

Let’s break this thing down, piece by piece.

- Sweet Fuse is, as previously noted, an “otome” game, a largely action-free visual novel aimed at a female audience.

- Not only do you play as a girl, but she is the fictional niece of the real-life Keiji Inafune, creator of Mega Man and several other Capcom classics.

- The plot involves Inafune-san opening up an amusement park (well, why not?) and inviting you to visit: unfortunately, it’s taken over by a not-at-all-predictable villain named Count Hogstein, and you’ve got to read a bunch of text, make a bunch of decisions and solve a bunch of puzzles to get out in one piece.

- Along the way, you encounter a herd of eligible guys, all of whom you’ll have a chance to romance, should you so choose; part of the process is the “sweet fuse” mechanic of the title, which allows you to either be patient with a given fella when he does something stupid or completely blow your stack at him.

- This game is being localized for release in the United States.

- On the PSP.

- As a physical UMD.

- In late 2013.

If all of this doesn’t make Aksys the most bat-guano bonkers publisher on the face of the Earth, I don’t know what does (y’know, since having previously brought over an “otoge” which allowed you to date historical Japanese samurai was totally run-of-the-mill. Not to mention using an Idea Factory title to troll Atlus).



And you know what? In an era where strong reviews and millions in sales are still not good enough, dammit, I’m more than willing to take a step or two outside of my comfort zone and throw them, and anyone else willing to take at least some measure of risk in this age of caution, to go just a bit against the grain, a few bucks of support, even if they’re not aiming their efforts specifically at me. Sure, as Herr Sterling has said it’s true that “innovation” alone doesn’t make a game good, but the sorts of games I like to keep my eye on are, I hope, more than a “see what sticks to the wall” brand of product.

These are, to my eye, entries into “passé” genres (who pays more than a buck for an arcade game?), often featuring “foreign” aesthetics (Too cartoony! Not enough blood!) and “unapproachable” mechanics (No regenerating health?!), games which will never make its creators millionaires or spawn much in the way of imitators, but are made, meticulously, for a specific audience, and are not ashamed of that fact. Not every game can or should be like them, but the mere act of being them, in a world out to mercilessly smother them from existence is, in my opinion, itself worthy of a bit of praise and acknowledgement. Moreover, I’m not inclined to wait for someone else to stand up and give it to them.



These games and their creators are why, in the face of a million bald space marines, quick time events, unskippable cutscenes, freemium pay models, always-online DRM, day one DLC, tacked-on multiplayer, invasive social aspects, unfixed bugs, shoddy ports, anonymous slurs, brand elitists, painful E3 presentations, corporate asshats, and everything else that’s screaming in my ear for me to finally cut myself off and for Pete’s sake get to that god-awful backlog, I’m still keeping my gaze fixed firmly upon the industry and slipping a handful of my dwindling dollars into its crumbling, oft-forgotten corners. There aren’t a whole lot like me, I’m sure, but we are indeed here, and we are paying attention. And (very) occasionally blogging.

Heaven only knows what the future holds, of course: maybe next year, if the DS and Vita are crushed underfoot by the likes of the iPad, if the Wii U never finds its footing, if the PS4 is above all a Facebook/Youtube pseudopod and the Durango further chains us to the whims of our ISPs and their servers, I’ll finally bid the industry a fond farewell and retreat to video games as I want to experience them, ignorant of any and all protest the current gatekeepers care to disseminate. Sometime between now and then, however, I’ll be strolling out of that booby-trapped fun park with a hunky new squeeze on one arm and Uncle Keiji on the other.

Ready or not, next year, here I come.   read


12:11 PM on 07.22.2012  

Namco vs. Atlus: Fate of BM's Self-Respect



WARNING: If you object to the idea of a fighting game-related post written by someone unable to cite active frames, stun values, tiers and combo strings from memory at a moment’s notice, stop reading now to save yourself (and others around you) a few gray hairs. You have been warned.

So yeah, as the above implies I’m not exactly a legendary presence (if any at all, really) within the fighting game community, but that doesn’t stop me from harboring a good deal of affection for the genre: much akin to the scrolling shooters I go to great lengths to import even if my best scores are invariably pathetic, fighters, to me, serve as a sort of symbol for gaming as I most fondly know it, and a niche I like to support with my business when I can, even if I’m not skilled enough to experience them at a “high level”.

Something about any game that can be mastered on so many different fronts and thus taken incredibly seriously (sometimes a bit too seriously) by its players, and yet be, on its face, so patently ridiculous, never fails to charm me. As amazing as it is to observe tourney-caliber participants in action, it’s tough to completely forget that you’re watching a green dude charge his body with electricity to zap a guy who can stretch his rubbery arms halfway across the screen…not to mention that a tiny, well-placed bump to the shins can serve as the final nudge into a lights-out KO, or that a piece of blank space can swat a blocking opponent in the back of the head if placed JUST right during a jump kick. And that’s before you even juggle giant robots 50 feet in the air and rip spinal cords out of undead ninjas. Fighting games, in short, are some of the most finely-tuned pieces of nonsense that humanity has ever created, and for that alone I can’t feel anything but happiness about their existence.



Of course, like anyone else I have my personal biases, blissfully uninformed as they may be: I adore certain character designs even as I sneer at their fellow combatants, praise the story elements of one series while dismissing them as unnecessary, eye-rolling distractions in another. Exhibit A would be my usual preference of two-dimensional fighters to three-dimensional ones: in blunt terms, not only am I superficially prejudiced in favor of stylish spritework and fluid animations over the upgraded skin pore texture rendering engine slathered over the latest pair of sweaty polygonal pectorals, but I have an even harder time wrapping my mind around the latter, which is no mean feat considering how complicated 2D fighters can get.



Judging hitboxes and whatnot in 3D is a bit of extra work in and of itself, but then there are the movelists…oh man, those movelists go on absolutely forever, and the slightest variation in how, when and where you press a single button can completely alter every relevant property of even a basic attack (“wait, is Back + LK the overhead, or does that only work from the side, at throw range…does LK [delay] LK become the chargeable knockdown pounce when you’ve shifted to Mantis stance, or is that LP [delay] LK while prone?”). For someone like me who lacks the time, inclination, and raw talent to even best the CPU opponents on “Normal” difficulty much of the time, Virtua Fighter makes Guilty Gear look accessible…and yes, I know that you’re not supposed to use every single move every single match, but it’s still a lot to sort out, at least for the likes of me. To those of you who do it and do it well, I salute you without hesitation.



Anyway, it’s not like anyone else really needs to care about any of this: it’s just one gamer’s very limited perspective at work. That being said, over the past couple of weeks things have gotten a lot more interesting for me in the fighting game circuit, and it’s driving me absolutely nuts.

Here’s the setup: over the next few months, the two (arguably) biggest fighting game releases coming to Western consoles are Persona 4: Arena and Tekken Tag Tournament 2. If you haven’t been keeping up, the former is a brand new, sprite-based 2D fighter based upon a sorta-offbeat RPG series, while the latter is the latest in an established series of expansive 3D brawlers. My gaming backlog (like my income) being nothing short of embarrassing, I’m limiting myself to picking up only one of the two, at least at launch. So, question for you: based on what you’ve read here so far (and even moreso if you’ve ventured elsewhere within this blog), which game do you think I’ve been leaning towards?



Yeah, I’m afraid that this is one of those “if you picked the obvious answer, you’re going to be totally surprised at how wrong you are and suddenly question everything you thought you knew” situations. And if you’re feeling confused, try to imagine the knots it’s got me tied up in…heck, you figure I’d be used to questioning everything I am as a gamer by now.

For anyone still willing to listen, though, here’s my best shot at putting into words why I’m finding myself, against all odds, drawn more towards Tekken than Persona this time around.



Let’s start with the presumed front-runner, Persona 4 Arena, which is being published by Atlus, a longtime specialist in the localization of Japanese curiosities and a personal favorite company of mine, though ever since the surprise success of Demon’s Souls they seem to have developed a growing and deeply unfortunate taste for angrybrown mediocrity (sorry, but medieval-styled angrybrown is still angrybrown). Anyway, that’s certainly not a problem here, as Arena looks like a million brilliantly-colorful bucks, thanks to the 2D expertise of Guilty Gear developer Arc System Works.



On the flipside, this association, from this vantage point at least, is the mother of all double-edged swords. Since Street Fighter IV kicked off the so-called “fighting renaissance” four years ago, there has been a lot of chatter and criticism concerning fighting game companies’ infamous penchant for nickel-and-diming their fans via an endless series of tweaks, updates, and enhancements to an existing product that rarely offer very much bang for the buck. Capcom, especially since the on-disc DLC fiasco of Street Fighter X Tekken came to light, has borne the brunt of the community’s ire; as the company that more or less pioneered this dubious practice back in the 90’s it’s hard to argue that they don’t deserve at least a good deal of the bad press they’ve gotten.



Amidst all the bellyaching, however, another egregious offender has managed to escape largely unnoticed (no, not SNK, though admittedly the same principle might apply to them, to a lesser degree): if you think that Super Street Fighter IV or Arcade Edition were superfluous, take a gander at the painfully piecemeal roster updates and such that Arc’s Blazblue series has received in roughly the same amount of time. Yes, I know that Arc isn’t as big or resource-rich an outfit as Capcom, and that producing new spritework is a whole different beast than new polygon-based models, but in terms of how eager either entity is to clutch at every last “bonus dollar” they can coax out of their loyal patrons, what’s good (or bad) for the goose is good (if not worse) for the gander. At this juncture no “serious” DLC has been announced for Arena (Eyeglasses? Really?), but I very much doubt that fans of the breakout Persona 3 won’t end up staring Minato or Junpei in the face on the PSN (or a physical “Tartarus Edition”) somewhere down the road, especially considering Arena’s somewhat modest out-of-the-box roll call.



Then, of course, there's Atlus' own recent headline-grabbing actions...and yes, I'm talking about THAT. I don't intend to go on at length about it as there's been plenty of more qualified opinions aired already, and I can certainly understand (and to a degree sympathize with) Atlus' stated reasons for taking the unprecedented step of region-locking a PS3 game, but no matter the circumstances the whole thing still leaves a lingering, bitter taste in my mouth.



Even if this particular decision doesn't affect me directly (I own a US PS3; problem solved, right?), you may recall my earlier mention of having had to import, mostly for the 360, on numerous occasions: I thus know firsthand what an enormous additional pain in the neck importing can be when there's a region lock to bypass, and don’t wish it any more on my fellow gamers across the ocean than upon myself. Yes, a company's regional offices all need to make enough money to keep doing their thing, but you'd figure that of all people Atlus could have found a better solution to this dilemma...after all, back when they wanted the US Faithful to stop importing Demon's Souls from Japan, they whipped up a special edition to help convince them to buy locally. Those heady days have passed us by, it seems.



Okay, that's enough negativity: let's move on to the surprising ways in which Tekken Tag 2 has managed to steal away my attention. At the top of this list, interestingly enough, is Tekken series producer Katsuhiro Harada. As much as I enjoy the antics of his goofy (and overworked) Capcom counterpart, Yoshinori Ono (though of course it's best for everyone when both are involved), I find myself particularly intrigued by a lot of what Harada has been saying of late. To whit, he's supposedly been fighting his bosses on the issue of charging for extra characters, stages, and moves: of course, there's no real way to know just how genuine these claims are, but considering what a notoriously poor reputation “Scamco-Bandai” has built for itself during the DLC era I'm tempted to give him the benefit of the doubt on this one, just for openly bringing up such an uncomfortable company issue. Time will likely tell if he's just been blowing smoke, but I find myself unusually hopeful.



Harada's most controversial recent statements, however, were aimed at none other than the fans: there's been a lot of back-and-forth as to whether or not his complaints about the fighting game community (certain sectors of it, at least) have much merit, or even whether he has any “right” to make them in the first place, but for the record I find myself coming down largely on his side of the argument. I'm not a programmer or designer and thus can't speak from experience, but at times even I, notwithstanding my own well-voiced stable of impossible digital wishes (Pocket Fighter 2!!), can only gape in awe at the painfully entitled attitudes of some of my fellow gamers and mutter to myself “this can't be for real.” While nobody likes to get told off by clueless industry figures, in this particular case I think, for the most part, that what Harada came out and said was long overdue, and hope that some of his detractors were genuinely listening: I certainly was.



Moving past the real-life personalities and into the game itself, I must also (re-)admit that I'm a total sucker for the radiantly silly (well, sillier) approach that Tag 2 is taking: granted, any title which presents the possibility of pitting a cyborg lady with an exploding head versus a boxing velociraptor is a bit tough to keep a straight face around by default, but the more proudly Tekken acknowledges this the more likely I am to give it a good-natured whirl. From over-the-top item moves to the totally ridiculous swimsuit costume pre-order bonus (even here I’m forced to offer Namco a golf clap, as for once all characters, not just the ladies, are subjected to impractical attire just for the heck of it: Harada recently confirmed that even True Ogre will be joining the beach party. Your move, Tecmo!), Tekken is letting the larger gaming world know that stone-faced tourney players (some of whom have convinced me that the Satsui no Hadou is for real) are not its only intended audience. This is exactly the message that more such series need to send, via means other than dumbing down the fighting mechanics…though sometimes I wonder if a less-serious veneer actually ticks off the “true fans” more than a “nerfed” ruleset (better to lose a tourney than use a “gay” character). I wonder what Snoop’s take on the situation might be.



So yeah, while I certainly have a number of caveats when it comes to possibly plunking down my cash for Tag 2, and Atlus is still doing quite a few things right with Persona Arena, the more I think about the situation the more I find myself eager to get Kuma onto that tire swing.



You might have noticed that I’ve ventured very little into how the two games actually play (though I guess that this is as good a time as any to express my misgivings about Arena’s one-button combos), but seeing as most fighting games are largely “symbolic” purchases for me in the first place, those concerns, oddly enough, come across in my mind as secondary (this is the point at which the hardcore types who ignored my opening warning proceed to hit-confirm their Raging Comment hyper combos – I am not responsible for any damaged/melted/atomized keyboards and/or custom joysticks that may result).



The big question for me, instead, is as follows: Which of these series, and/or their parent companies, is currently moving itself in a positive direction?

From this admittedly blinkered perspective the answer strikes me as clear, if also depressing in a way, considering how many of my dollars Atlus has received in the past (and, in all likelihood, will continue to receive in the future, if perhaps not so frequently); on the other hand, considering that my only “regular” Namco purchases for some time have been occasional Katamari offerings, maybe this is a rare chance for Pac-Man and myself to make nice.



Honestly, though, I’m rather loath to attempt to think that far ahead; the present mess is more than enough to wrack my brain all on its own. Though the clock is rapidly ticking down, I haven’t yet made my final decision as to where I’ll be going to get kicked repeatedly in the face, largely because I’m not sure I’m even considering the right criteria: is it some kind of gaming sin to even view a purchase through the same prism as I’m viewing it? Have I inadvertently reduced myself to a puppet of the marketing department, instead of the opposite? It kind of feels like it sometimes…it almost makes me wonder if the hard-nosed fighting fans have been right all along, that if I’m not going to pour out my heart and soul into a well-crafted fighter then I might as well not waste my time on it in the first place.

Not that it matters now: the bell has rung, and about all I can do from here on out is roll with the punches.   read


6:28 PM on 04.20.2012  

Collaboration: IF Only...



Hm.

It would appear that my fellow c-bloggers are currently writing about video game-related collaborations and crossovers that they wish would happen. Interesting.

Most of the community’s focus, at least so far, has been on theoretical team-ups that, practically speaking, are incredibly unlikely to occur, but would inspire nothing short of delirium within certain specific segments of the fanbase if they did. An understandable trend, as imagining the impossible is kind of the point behind the assignment.

But guess what folks?

Over in my neck of the woods it’s already happening; has been, steadily, for several years now, in fact.

Sound like I’m yanking your chain? Read on: it’s absolutely true! All of it!...

except for one TINY little problem.



It’s not exactly a household name for non-niche gamers, but weirdos like me tend to be at least somewhat familiar with a Japanese publisher/developer known as Idea Factory. Founded in the mid-to-late 90’s, the company’s comfort zone has always resided primarily within the RPG and strategy realms, but a couple of years ago the outfit decided to forge a brand new specialty for itself: collaborations.

And not just ANY collaborations, mind you: borderline-impossible ones.

LOADS of them.

So, greenhorn, you were impressed when Capcom managed to engineer a handful of joint productions with SNK and Namco? Sure, it allowed you to finally act out that Blanka/Kim Kap Hwan fan fiction you'd slaved over (minus the subtle ambience and philosophical undertones, of course), but you’re forgetting one important thing: some people, strange as it may sound, might have actually HEARD of Street Fighter and Fatal Fury. Moreover, the two series, gameplay-wise, at least superficially resemble each other. A crossover between the two had at least an iota of potential to turn something that might be mistaken for a profit – the entire notion actually made a certain type of sense.

Shh!...do you hear that? It’s the scornful laughter of Idea Factory, off in the distance, at Capcom’s pitifully tiny cojones.



Want to do a REAL collaboration, it mocks? Okay then: try putting the likes of Growlanser, Gungrave, and Code of the Samurai all together into one game…oh, and then top it all off with Shadow Hearts, just to keep things interesting. By the way, that’s all BEFORE you add a generous sampling of your own original characters and series into the mix.

Go ahead, we’ll wait.

…what’s that? Giving up already? *tsk tsk tsk*…

So, let’s recap for a moment…we, a company with a mere fraction of the history or industry-wide pull that an establishment like Capcom commands, managed to get Atlus (the Persona guys), RED Entertainment (Sakura Wars), and Aruze (the company that bought out those losers at SNK) to work with us, all at the same time…and did we mention that this was one of our very earliest shots at collaboration?



In case this fact wasn’t clear enough, no, Chaos Wars wasn’t exactly Infinity Ward and DICE putting out Call of Battle (with the Field of Duty map pack to follow), in terms of either buzz or market impact: that said, for fans of the obscure and semi-obscure series brought together therein by Idea Factory, this was a minor moon shot of sorts (especially seeing as the bugger actually ended up being localized, albeit terribly, in the USA, despite the fact that many of its individual portions never had been). Out here on the fringes we spend inordinate amounts of our time fervently praying that a given company’s last game sold enough copies to keep things afloat; the notion that somebody out there had enough faith in such offbeat brands – or was just plain crazy, either possibility worked for us – to combine them gave us hope that there might be (*gasp*) an adequately-marketable future for the stuff we liked to play.

As it turns out, our aspirations to this particular end were not misplaced in the least: Chaos Wars was just the beginning of Idea Factory’sFrankenstein-esque antics within the niche gaming world.

Consider Trinity Universe, which brought together Nippon Ichi fan favorites Etna, Flonne and Prinny from the Disgaea SRPG series, and threw them into cahoots with Violet and Pamela from Gust’s alchemy-centric “Atelier” line of role-playing games – the funny part is, this was actually a step down from their previous project, Cross Edge, in terms of sheer scope and ridiculousness. Not only were NIS and Gust on board for that one too, but so were none other than (*double gasp!*) Namco-Bandai, which owns the publishing right to the Gust-developed Ar Tonelico, and, yes, Capcom themselves, who lent five characters from the long-dormant Darkstalkers to the festivities.



Of course, even the above utterly pales in comparison to the likes of Hyperdimension Neptunia – not only did Idea Factory manage to knead in a particularly heavy dose of Sega (the main character is basically an anime girl version of a never-produced Sega system…who can summon Alex Kidd and Shinobi in battle), but the entire premise of the game is a spoof of the current-gen “console wars”, and features truckloads of winks at and references to the three “active” console makers and their innumerable products.

That’s not to say, of course, that there are no “official” guest stars to be found: not only are anthropomorphized takes on Gust, Nippon Ichi, and Idea Factory itself (under the nom de guerre of “IF”) present as playable characters, but so are RED and the visual novel-centric 5pb, via downloadable content. The recently-localized sequel, which shifts its focus to portable systems/girls, brings everyone back and invites Falcom (Ys, Legend of Heroes) and Cave (DoDonPachi, Mushihime-sama) over to play too. And they can wield The Power of Inafune…after being sent on their merry way by former Hudson Soft spokesperson Takahashi Meijin.



Oh, and did I forget to mention that Compile Heart, the Idea Factory subsidiary that directly developed Neptunia (and appears as yet another playable heroine), is formed partially of former staffers from dearly-departed Guardian Legend and Puyo-Puyo developer Compile? And that they’re working on another Neptunia sequel as we speak? And that Idea Factory is ALSO currently collaborating with Sting, developer of unique strategy hybrids Yggdra Union and Knights in the Nightmare?

Most of these names might not mean a heckuva lot to a majority of you, but rest assured: for a certain class of gamer, Nerd Heaven looks a lot like this. To put it bluntly, things are absolutely awesome in our quaint little neighborhood – our fellow connoisseurs of interactive digital entertainment can only hope that one day they may share in some similar manner of collaborative glory.

…yup, simply awesome.

*contented sigh*





…except, that is, for that one LITTLE problem I mentioned earlier.

...namely, the fact that most of these collaborations really aren’t all that great.

You see, in its native Japan Idea Factory is sometimes nicknamed “Idea F*ck”, a blunt reference to how many of its ideas end up going bad. And we’re not talking in terms of, say, graphical fidelity, which certainly isn’t the company’s strong suit but can be overlooked relatively easily by fans: we’re drilling straight to the core here. In a nutshell, IF is infamous for repeatedly attempting to whitewash major gameplay deficiencies with heaps of its aforementioned otaku appeal: yawning imbalances, jagged pacing, perplexing design choices, ludicrous overcomplication (for an idea of what you’re in for, check out this recounting of the skill system in Record of Agarest War), you name it and it’s probably brought at least one of Idea Factory’s titles crashing down. Both players and critics have panned release after release – for the record, while I personally wouldn’t have been QUITE as down on Neptunia as DToid was, there’s little in that review I can argue with on a point-by-point basis.



Yet somehow, amidst all of this, Idea Factory remains almost unbelievably prolific, cranking out game after game, and winning ally after ally for its joint projects (including an execrable tourney fighter, though to be fair they didn’t develop that one in-house) – what in the world is it that keeps them in business, in the face of so much subpar output?

Desperate nerds like myself, that’s what.

We’re either so taken with the idea of seeing our favorite characters all together in one place (in this way, we’re not much better than the eight-year-olds who beg their parents for a lousy license-based property just because a cartoon animal they like is on the box), or so eager to FINALLY see such a brazenly nerdy concept done right, that we continue to give the company second, third, and fourth chances to redeem themselves, insisting inwardly that once they see just enough of our vital support they’ll FINALLY have enough drive and resources to truly do our geeky exuberance justice. So we continue to put up with the gouge-worthy DLC and cheeky fan service (headed, perhaps inevitably, in ever-more-shameless directions), always in anticipation of that crowning moment when our loyal patience is at last rewarded in full.



By and large we’re still waiting, though this isn’t to say that there’s absolutely nothing to be hopeful about: despite their not-insubstantial flaws, Trinity Universe was a nice step up from Cross Edge, as was mk2 over the first Hyperdimension Neptunia. The potential for Idea Factory to refine its source material into a truly knockout crossover game is certainly there, though it’s yet to accomplish a heckuva lot more for fervent supporters than dragging them along until the other shoe drops with a resounding "clunk": will this clumsy, painful-to-watch dance ever change its tempo? Nobody knows, but for those out there snickering at “those ever-so-malleable losers” like myself, be forewarned, as there are portents here of what may well await more visible sectors of gaming in the not-too-distant future…or what may well have already landed in your posh backyard, even if you haven’t noticed.

Undoubtedly, a major part of the reason that IF has managed to amass so many alliances among niche developers is a matter of simple necessity: trapped in thrall to insular and picky fanbases, a number of these outfits have surmised that cooperating, instead of competing, with each other is an all but unavoidable path if they want to keep themselves open for business. Heck, look at Capcom and Namco, standard-bearers of the once-flagging fighting game…who once did this and are now doing this (oh, and were you aware that Guilty Gear developer Arc System Works is currently paired up with Atlus itself?). Though your Triple-A favorites may appear immune to such trends as of now, in such a high-stakes, rags-to-riches business as this one the next Rugrats Go Wild (or motion-controlled mini-game collection, for that matter) is never far off for a once-proud developer fallen on harder times.



On this side of the proverbial tracks, the future is now: our favored game makers are already huddling together in anticipation of the gathering storm. On the one hand, this sets the stage for some truly amazing collaborations that never could have come to pass otherwise…on the other, a well-set stage isn’t worth much if there aren’t any entertaining acts being performed on them, or if the performers themselves aren’t up to snuff. At this point the question is posed to the viewer: do you walk out of the theater right this second, or hang around in hopes that the upcoming show is the one you’ve been waiting for (the buzz has been great, after all)? What about after the next one? Or the one after that? You might roll your eyes at some of the out-crowd for having kept our butts obediently in our seats for so long, but trust me, once you find yourself in a similar position with a franchise you’ve loved for years the answer won’t come to you nearly so easily as you thought it would.

Thus, to all of you out there dreaming of the video game collaboration that will change everything, by all means keep dreaming – and keep on supporting the games you enjoy – in hopes that something special eventually comes out the other side. That said, don’t sigh “if only…” too loudly: someone out there is listening, and one day might just be crazy enough to give you almost exactly what you wish for.   read


3:58 PM on 03.24.2012  

Shortblog: The Real News of the Epic Mickey 2 Announcement



As you’ve probably seen by now, a sequel to 2010’s Disney tribute/platformer Epic Mickey has been announced – not too surprisingly, a good amount of gamer chatter has bubbled forth in response, including quite a bit of early coverage right here on DToid. Most of the focus has been on the “homebound” console edition, subtitled The Power of Two, but there also exist rumblings of a portable iteration: right on cue, a handful of sites have gotten wind of an upcoming Nintendo Power issue which confirms that a 3DS version, Power of Illusion, will be hitting shelves around the same time as its big brother.

Feel free to check the link and have a look for yourself.







…you missed it, didn’t you?

Look again.



…THERE! See it? Right there:

Dreamrift, the studio formed by Henry Hatsworth alumni that brought us Monster Tale, is listed as Power of Illusion's developer in an online preview of the cover story.

…oh man. There IS some good left in this world.



In case you didn’t already know, I’m a big fan of these guys: Henry Hatsworth in the Puzzling Adventure, in particular, stands as not only a personal favorite DS game and all-time platformer pick right alongside the likes of Super Mario World, but one of the few absolute goods that EA has ever seen fit to bestow upon gamers (I’m still convinced that the spillover good will from Hatsworth is what made Mirror’s Edge happen). Charming, creative and supremely fine-tuned, Hatsworth is both a mash note to the hard-boiled olden days of pixel-perfect character-based action gaming and a look ahead at ways to shake things up and keep the hallowed genre fresh for less-adapted audiences (one fellow c-blogger recently revisited the game here; also feel free to check out older writeups like this one). The studio’s first post-EA effort, the sorta-Metroidvania Monster Tale, didn’t rock my world in quite the same fashion but is still very much worth playing.

The thing is, ever since Monster Tale hit shelves, there has been virtual radio silence: though reviews for the former were positive, the developer had openly acknowledged the risk they were taking by putting out a brand-new IP on an aging system, and I feared that this admirable devotion to doing their own thing might have caught up to them in the worst way. While the afore-linked interview had quoted Dreamrift’s co-founder as saying the group had a 3DS project in the pipeline, I was still worried, especially considering what’s been happening to some of my other favorite developers lately.



Thankfully, it seems that Dreamrift is still alive and well: while I definitely would have preferred another original game for their 3DS announcement, I can’t complain too much about a licensed project keeping things afloat (WayForward could definitely use the competition, if nothing else). Will Power of Illusion be good? Like you I have no idea, but certainly hope so – heck, I don’t have a 3DS myself, but I’m half-tempted to pick up a copy just to show a little support (much as I’m doing with Gravity Rush for the Vita, another system I lack, at least so far). In any event, for the moment I’m just glad to see that at least one of my favored companies, and a standard-bearer for gaming as I most fondly know and remember it, hasn’t faded away along with the rest – if any guys from Dreamrift ever end up reading this by some odd twist of fate, best of luck and I’m pulling for you!

--------

P.S. – Yes, the title does say “shortblog” and the author is listed as “BulletMagnet”. Do not attempt to adjust your monitor.   read


8:51 PM on 12.28.2011  

Resolutions: Fresh Flowers



As both a video gamer and a onetime student of the visual arts, I’ve never felt uncomfortable shining an occasional spotlight on the more “superficial” aspects of my favored pastime, snorts of “graphics whore” from certain unenlightened corners notwithstanding: scoff if you must, but once the “video” part has been unceremoniously nixed from the equation you’re no longer talking about the same medium that I am. I also like to keep in mind that not a single sprite, model, backdrop, or texture on that screen got there by itself: some real-life human being out there made it, spent time and effort designing and implementing it, and is in the end just as legitimate a contributor to the end product as the dialogue writer or control programmer or level layout constructor. Why, I ask, shouldn’t their share of the output be just as deserving of genuine, passionate attention and discussion as the rest, especially when it manages to distinguish itself to some degree? After all, if one person points out a flower in bloom and the other immediately starts spouting off about photosynthesis, nomenclature and biomes, one of these two, even if everything he says is factually correct, would be largely missing the point.

Of course, such rugged philosophical terrain is notoriously difficult to traverse (let alone map), thanks to everyone’s personal definitions of “artistic vision” and/or “artistic merit” differing (as well they should) to no end: for the sake of simplicity I tend to split the gaming community’s thoughts on the subject into two very rough (and frequently intermingled) “schools”. The first is what I call the “Technical” interpretation, wherein a game’s graphical quality is judged primarily in regard to how successfully its artists take advantage of the technology at their disposal, most often in pursuit of lifelike realism: I’d place most of today’s so-called “Triple-A” titles, like Uncharted and Gears of War, among many others, into this category. The visual achievements on display here are difficult to dispute from a purely “academic” standpoint, but since most competitors seek the same end goal (life-like imagery), it can sometimes be difficult to tell them apart at a glance, especially when they also happen to concern themselves with similar themes (modern military warfare, for instance).



Then there’s the second viewpoint, which I like to label the “Intuitive”. It’s both less attached to a single artistic “angle” and less reliant on the sheer “horsepower” of machines and their programmers, lending a central focus instead to the far less predictable whims of the draftsmen and doodlers dwelling within the earlier, looser stages of the creative process: as such, it’s even more difficult to judge objectively than its sibling. The best meager “definition” I can affix to an “Intuitively” appealing presentation is a visual style which is somehow almost impossible, even without prolonged study, to mistake for any other, to the point that it’s very frequently cited as a key component of a game’s overarching “identity”. Of course, there will never be anything remotely resembling a gamer-wide consensus on what “qualifies” or doesn’t, but at the same time every last one of us can say with the utmost confidence that we know an “Intuitive” masterpiece when we see it. In case you couldn’t tell, while I don’t consider this side of the equation innately “superior” to the other, it is the one I especially love indulging in, both alone and with fellow gamers.

However, I digress; whether or not you happen to see eye to eye with me on any of this is irrelevant…less so, in fact, with each passing second.

2011 has come and gone, and, from where I’m standing, has changed everything.

Almost everything.



Though it has amassed some extraordinarily passionate fans over the years, the “Intuitive” approach to gamers’ prying eyes has always played second fiddle to the “Technical” one – not without reason, as publishers and developers alike are under constant pressure to appeal to the largest (paying) audience possible, and taking a graphical route too open to interpretation and vulnerable to personal taste is almost certain to alienate a sizable portion of both consumers and reviewers from the word “go”, rendering the likelihood of a profitable return a coin toss at best. This reality manifests itself most everywhere you care to look: the Mario and Kirby series, for example, have consistently sown success for years, which is precisely why visual departures from the norm like the crayon-textured Yoshi’s Island and the craft store-chic Epic Yarn (to say nothing of the endearingly angular likes of Psychonauts or the hand-claymated Skullmonkeys) only pop up from their ranks on rare occasions.

In like manner, the bold, jarring visual styles lent to ambitious, sprawling adventure pieces like Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker and Okami have frequently been reassigned to lower-budget portable projects after their initial (and financially disappointing) high-end debuts…and they’re the lucky ones. The storybook aesthetics of Little King’s Story and Valkyria Chronicles always seem to have trouble meeting even modest expectations in the face of Starcraft and Command and Conquer. The very quirkiest, most-beloved Mother entry is destined for obscurity next to anything with the Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest logo on it. Killer 7 scraped together a single game: Kane and Lynch has two, so far. Even attempts to let uninitiated audiences down slowly by straddling the “Technical/Intuitive” line, a la Mirror’s Edge, routinely fail to make inroads…let’s not even get into Folklore.



“Intuitive” projects are not singularly doomed to failure, of course: the borderline-goofy minimalist veneers of Katamari Damacy and Minecraft have managed to carve out surprisingly robust niches for themselves, and fighting gamers were recently given the enviable choice between the heavy, inky Street Fighter IV, the anime-SFX-infused Blazblue, and the old-school spritework of King of Fighters. While we’re on the subject, Skullgirls’ gonzo “cheesecake with a dollop of macabre on top” take on things is currently waiting in the wings; the blossoming indie scene, not surprisingly, has been making countless artistic contributions of its own, from Limbo to Journey to Bastion to Sword and Sworcery EP to the Lotte Reiniger-esque Outland. An unbiased observer of the industry’s current state might very well come away with the impression that the “Intuitive” style is, at long last, making some real headway into the mainstream consciousness, and that even bigger, bolder, and higher-profile forays await just over the horizon.

Like you said, BM, 2011 changed everything, right?

Indeed it did. Unfortunately, what I see spread out before Intuitive gamers today is not an era of growth and expansion, but of heretofore-unseen retreat and regression, uncomfortable silences, the dead and dying carted off en masse, the planned victory parade “postponed” again and again and again.



Mind you, I took more than my fair share of trips to the local video game store this past year, but each time I left the house I could feel both my excitement and my nervousness spike, as if I had to beat the proverbial vultures to the door; I couldn’t shake the sense that, despite the undeniable slew of exciting releases that awaited me, I was somehow bearing witness to a hopeless, losing battle, and that the tide was about to turn decisively for the worse once and for all. A veritable army of my favorite developers, bless their hearts, were mounting not a glorious march to victory for my beloved Intuitive style, but the digital equivalent of the Charge of the Light Brigade – a brave but ill-conceived offensive maneuver which would end up costing them, and their supporters, very dearly in the end. As the year draws to a close it would appear that many of my fears in this area have come to pass with a terrible vengeance.

Three, in particular; you may have even heard of them.

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If you were like me at the time, when you first glimpsed a screenshot or two of Rez you probably wondered what the heck was going on amidst all the seemingly random lines and lights: once you actually got your hands on the game, however, you were somewhat taken aback (perhaps even disappointed) at how simple and traditional it was in terms of core gameplay concept. This was no accident: brought to bear by Tetsuya Mizuguchi (of Lumines and Space Channel 5 fame) and drawing inspiration from sources as diverse as Wassily Kandinsky and Underworld, Rez was primarily conceived not as a revolution in terms of mechanics but as a tentative video game foray into synaesthesia (further evidenced by its infamous “Trance Vibrator” peripheral). While developer United Game Artists was quietly dissolved a few years later, they’d gained enough notoriety to ensure that Rez, in time, would earn itself not only a re-release in HD on the 360 but admission into a Smithsonian art exhibition.



Now, take the combined pedigree of everything mentioned up above, transfer the assets to a new Mizuguchi-headed company, advance the technology by a decade, deepen the mechanics (including a bona fide rhythm component, which ties players even more directly into the audiovisual experience), and then back it all up with the marketing muscle of publisher Ubisoft and a high-profile Gamestop “Epic Rewards” contest, not to mention bonus hype as the first “killer app” for the selling-like-hotcakes Kinect peripheral, a load of E3 awards, and positive critical reception upon release. The result? Child of Eden, which first popped up in our neck of the woods this past June: its bold, often abstract visual approach, as the record shows, hit at exactly the right time. Finally accomplishing what Rez never could, Child of Eden elicited mass acceptance from eager gamers of all sorts, who rewarded it with impressive sales numbers. The industry at large was finally forced to sit up and take note.

…oh. Wait a sec. Nix pretty much all of that (well, except the part about being “noted” by the higher-ups, though it’s not the sort of attention anyone wants). And no, the lower-priced PS3 edition, released a few months later, didn’t change the tone.

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To be fair, the optimists among us might venture, perhaps we should approach this from a different angle: maybe, instead of being too bold, Child of Eden wasn’t bold enough. As a “spiritual sequel” to an existing title, albeit a visually distinctive one, the odds were against it doing something truly unexpected and reaching its full potential – maybe a completely new idea was what the doctor ordered. Enter Takeyasu Sawaki, a Capcom alumnus whose previous design credits include the stylish Devil May Cry and Okami, and pair him up with producer Masato Kimura, whose industry expertise reaches all the way back to some of the SNES’s biggest hits – then, in an unprecedented move, undo the chains and let them run totally free. Come this past August, the fruit of their labors, El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron, at last descended to Earth.

As one progresses through the game’s levels an astounding selection of vibrant art styles rear their heads, each one more memorable than the last: stained-glass silhouettes, stark blacks speckled with only faint glimmers of light and movement, flowing watercolor pastiches, sunnily surreal cartoon playscapes, and myriad others that simply defy description (Sawaki has stated that even things he saw in his personal dreams served as influences throughout development, though he still wishes he could have implemented more variety), all of it translated onscreen with dazzling graphical panache (by the much-maligned Gamebryo engine, no less). Combat, the central focus play-wise, utilizes only a handful of button inputs, relying more on timing and crowd control strategies, hitting all the right marks for the “easy to learn, tough to master” bullet point on the back of the box; a smattering of side-scrolling platform segments serve as a different but equally-inviting canvas upon which to show off the creators’ collective vision.



Spot-weld the whole thing onto an out-of-left-field story loosely based on a non-canonical Biblical work and you’ve got a product difficult for anyone remotely “gaming-friendly” to ignore outright: in Japan, in fact, El Shaddai actually whipped up enough pre-release froth to inspire not only figurines but its own branded designer jeans, and even a full-fledged internet meme. Publisher Ignition was so encouraged by this early success that it was already throwing around additional ideas for the brand before the game ever saw daylight; even in the West, where the push to market wasn’t nearly so bottom-up in nature, critics were generally impressed, and even the less-enthralled ones couldn’t help but praise El Shaddai as a breath of fresh air amidst an increasingly murky sea of angrybrown.

So how’d it do?...well, you can feel free to look around for exact sales figures if you like, though it might be enough to know that the most recent of issue of Game Informer (for whatever it’s worth) referred to El Shaddai as a “notorious poor seller” right alongside Shadows of the Damned, and that its asking price has plummeted even faster than Child of Eden’s has. Oh, and Ignition has also shuttered its US dev branch, no longer develops games internally, and is staring down a buyout by Disney.

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Hmm…ah, that’s right, we’ve been forgetting something important all this time, silly us. Japanese game development is in stark decline, everyone knows that - thus, Sawaki’s determination to “embrace Japanese conventions” with El Shaddai was probably an unavoidable dead end from the outset. Now is the West’s time to shine, and wouldn’t you know it, longtime (and non-Japanese, just to clarify!) industry figure Michel Ancel steps up to the plate with none other than a brand new entry in the Rayman series, which, conveniently enough, first distinguished itself back in the 90’s largely thanks to memorably kooky art direction, and has managed to remain, against all odds, a viable license to this day (though of late its “Rabbids” spinoffs have been getting most of the attention). Could there be a more perfect setup for a dramatic eleventh-hour Intuitive turnaround?

Origins, which just graced shelves a mere month or two ago, rescues Rayman and company from the minigame-compilation wasteland and plops them back precisely where they belong: 2-D side-scrolling platform worlds stuffed to the gills with inspired, colorful nonsense. First conceived as a series of small-scale baby-step projects limited to digital distribution channels, as development went on and the potent possibilities behind the newly-minted “UbiArt” toolset (which allowed the game’s artists to more easily realize their visual concepts onscreen in playable form) manifested themselves in earnest, Ubisoft’s head honchos, still smarting from the fiscal wounds left by Child of Eden’s underperformance, eventually became convinced that going the full-fledged physical release route was once again warranted (just to be safe, though, they decided to give out some free stuff to encourage pre-orders).



Reviewers wholeheartedly agreed with this chosen path, and were almost without exception smitten with the game’s come-hither combination of, once again, simple pick-up-and-play controls (though later areas and challenges can challenge even grizzled old-schoolers), four-player simultaneous co-op, and gorgeous hi-res artwork. “Meet the New Crazy”, invited the ad campaign, and it wasn’t kidding – where else, within the span of a single level, can one emerge through a watermelon-rind gateway onto a city-sized glacier populated by chattering silverware and ice-skating lizard butlers, then swing through a hellish mariachi-accompanied adobe kitchen via lava-bathing chili peppers and bouncy sausages (not a euphemism!), and finish the whole mess off with a disco-ukulele flourish (that is, if you’ve scored highly enough)?

Nowhere, I think it’s pretty safe to say – and, based on the sales figures observed so far, we probably won’t be privy to such antics again. If you’ve still got the stomach to keep track, this game’s post-launch price drop, despite depressingly stiff competition, stands as the most rapid of the three (and yes, the decision to launch at the same time as the latest Call of Duty probably didn’t help, but seeing as Child of Eden was utterly trounced by the critically-panned Duke Nukem Forever I’m willing to call into question just how much of a difference it really would have made). In case you needed one last kick in the teeth, Ancel has apparently determined to use said sales as a way out the next time anybody asks how Beyond Good and Evil 2 is coming along.

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Three well-realized, visually striking games, all seemingly custom-tailored for long-overdue mass-audience integration. Three well-established visionary development heads at the helm. Three relatively modest budgets backed by three well-heeled ad campaigns. Three sets of glowing professional praise to finally spirit them above and beyond the high hopes that had been laid upon their shoulders.

Three icy, unambiguous rejections by the gaming populace at large. Three crippling, stinging failures.

In retrospect, one really can almost envision the makers of these three titles, half-exhausted by ever-louder demands to go big or go home, finally getting together and deciding that, within the confines of a six-month span, they would mount one last-ditch, all-or-nothing charge to arms in the name of the Intuitive art style – an even nerdier (if such a thing is possible) take on the climax of the Battle of the Hornburg from The Two Towers. If you’ll recall that famous scene, however, Tolkien’s desperate riders luck out, saved by the timely arrival of a powerful ally: unfortunately, I very much doubt that such an event is in the cards for Intuitive gamers, especially as recession-wary publishers grow ever more dismissive of any proposal that might not be a completely “sure thing” - something Intuitive titles, by definition, can never be.



With outside-the-box studios like Clover and Blue Tongue being eaten up alive and smaller, less risk-averse publishers like Atlus and Nippon Ichi faring little better (the recent acquisition of Atelier studio Gust by Koei Tecmo, entailing a new focus on social games, hit me particularly hard…and feel free to cue Team Ico, while we’re at it), I’m not holding my breath for that resplendent white horse to suddenly appear over the hill. The best the movement has to give, in terms of both quality and market-readiness, has already been given, and it was not nearly enough to succeed.

To be perfectly clear, I’m not afraid that the Intuitive approach is in danger of disappearing altogether: there will always be someone out there willing to invoke and nurture the outwardly “unsafe”. I DO predict, however, that fewer and fewer of these erstwhile gardeners will be able to bring their creations to life anywhere beyond the bounds of the indie or freeware realms: the shelves of brick-and-mortar stores and major digital retailers alike are destined to calcify into an even more focus-grouped, homogenous mass than they already are, and any gamers who remain determined to hunt down the few succulently Intuitive morsels still floating around out there will be forced to resort to ever more obscure (and in some cases shady) channels. Those unwilling or unable to take up residence in gaming’s back alleys will simply be left out in the cold.

2011 truly has changed everything…everything, that is, except me, and what I continue to look for and value in a video game.



To be fair, a few spots of interest do remain on the commercial horizon today: Vanillaware, creators of the painterly Odin Sphere and Muramasa: The Demon Blade, have already gotten their next two titles, Grand Knights History and Dragon’s Crown, picked up for localization, and a couple of portable offerings in the pipeline (Gravity Daze and Sumioni for the Vita, in particular) certainly have an Intuitive spirit about them. Will any of these succeed? I don’t know. Will they get as much support from above as their 2011 predecessors did? I very much doubt it. After such a disastrous series of high-profile burns, I don’t consider it outlandish to suggest that gamers won’t witness many more full-tilt charges at their ranks by teams that dare to buck visual trends – I anticipate a nigh-permanent return to extremely low print runs (if physical copies are in the cards at all), increasingly limited and obscure distribution channels, and a snowball’s chance of any real market penetration. The magnificent, hard-charging horses we marveled at this past year are being put out to pasture in favor of high walls and half-filled water balloons to occasionally lob over their edges.

It’s sad to think that this may well be the only recourse that both creators and consumers of Intuitive games can lean upon in this day and age –. I, for my part, can only tell you what my intuition tells me. It is good and right, I say, to admire the fearless Intuitive cavalry of 2011, to praise the flourishes of brilliant imagination that they’ve shared with us; amidst all the shimmering sabers and blaring trumpets, however, it behooves us all to remember that something important, something irreplaceable, has been trampled unceremoniously underfoot.



The gaming landscape has forever changed, but my resolution going forward, for better or worse, remains the same as every year before.

To offer, whenever I can, a small, earnest token of appreciation and support to those still acting in the behalf of gamers like myself…and to place fresh flowers in memory of the growing multitude no longer with us.   read


10:17 PM on 08.15.2011  

East vs. West: Where The Old Gods Dwell



Whenever humanity encounters something really big that it can’t explain, it has a fascinating tendency to not only create its own explanations, but to grant them life. The sky, the sea, the past, the future, love, war, all of them have had countless stories written about them - or, more to the point, the something or someone said to embody them. As civilizations and cultures have died whilst others advance, and various phenomena are shifted, one by one, into the realm of the rational and mundane, these grand figures have lost much of the raw authority they once wielded, but their enduring presence within our collective imagination has proved as undying as they themselves were once supposed to be.

Like their mortal subjects, they were painfully flawed: they could be distant, uncontrollable, fearsome, inscrutable, gullible, rash. Strangely enough, this was itself part of what endeared them to their worshippers: even the most powerful forces in existence, in their worst moments, were merely struggling with the same weaknesses and troubles that we ourselves face, and in some small way were aware of, and could act upon, the unbreakable bonds they shared with the tiny, insignificant people dwelling far below. Yeah, it’s still true that, even after the handfuls of rituals and sacrifices, humanity was pretty much always left on its own in the end, but finding one’s way in the world somehow became more fulfilling when you knew that someone, somewhere, was always watching, even if only out of morbid curiosity.



Recently, after finally setting up a long-overdue (and shamefully bloated) Backloggery for myself, I crunched a few numbers and stumbled across a not-quite-cosmic riddle of my own: amidst an age of gaming that has already been all but totally ceded to the West, and my immersion within the medium only expanding in the meantime, somewhere between 75 and 85 percent of my collection, consistently across all console generations, is currently comprised of “Eastern” games. Despite harboring an admitted distaste for the “gray, gritty, and gory” aesthetic of so much contemporary Western design, I certainly don’t consider myself a “chirpy, cliché and chauvinistic” Japanophile either, at least not enough to justify how skewed my gaming tastes have wound up. After giving the matter some thought, it turns out that something bigger is at work here.

I am, you might say, the child of an elder gaming god…and the resplendent palace where he and his countless brethren dwell can be glimpsed within the shimmering outline of the rising sun.



Video gaming as we know it was, like so many of the old gods, born from chaos, a product of the meandering minds of (Western) programmers and hobbyists tinkering with the cathode ray tubes and oscilloscopes originally intended for science experiments and missile defense systems. In the beginning, games were granted existence for the sole purpose of finding out what could be done with this state-of-the-art equipment: as Nolan Bushnell said of the first cabinet-based (and coolly-received) video game, Computer Space, “All my friends loved it. But all my friends were engineers.”

This tendency to construct one’s house upon a foundation of technological advancement above all else, I would argue, still exerts tremendous influence over “Western” game development down to this day: as more powerful and affordable hardware has ascended to prominence, many of the innate limitations that once dictated and defined what a video game could (or, possibly, should) be have lost their ability to smelt certain properties from the end product: only being the first to define the next “leap forward” matters any longer. It’s not inaccurate, I think, to state with conviction that many developers have moved away from creating “games” in the truest sense: a game, by definition, cannot exist without rules and limits, which themselves only exist to further the cause of their owner, and mean nothing in any other context. Thanks to this unceremonious rejection of traditional boundaries, gamers are being given fewer and fewer games in favor of more and more experiences – that is to say, Things That Happen (or as the front page might put it, Things That Are Things).



Think for a moment about the terms that, with increasing regularity, pepper gaming pitches, reviews and analyses in this day and age: Set Pieces. Events (quick-time and non). Moments. Very, very strictly meted-out bits of production-line “ooh” and “ahh”, painstakingly engineered for a single, one-time burst of admiration and devotion from the audience; the coding equivalent of an extravagantly-staged Mystery Play. Even within games whose reputations are built upon promises of “non-linearity” and “open-endedness”, there is almost always a decidedly methodical and self-assured design mentality at work – it’s never difficult to tell exactly which bits and pieces are the ones custom-tailored for critics to reference in their back-of-the-box quips, the ones you’re supposed to rave about to your pals, online and off, as soon as you finish. Every time your jaw drops open, you can almost feel the spoon being slid silently down your throat.

Then, of course, there are Achievements, a uniquely Western construct that imparts an additional “on-rails” element to just about any game: though end users can choose to mostly disregard them, developers are no longer granted that luxury, and this fact grows more obvious with each successive, increasingly-scripted release. And in the end, with precious few exceptions, once you’ve completed the often-arbitrary list of tasks compiled by the marketing department, the game is as “finished” as finished can get: there’s simply nothing else built in for you to do, unless you count deleting your data and starting all over. It’s like a step-by-step gospel of Why This Game Is Worth Playing, Period, with no space left for amendments: go here, do this, find these, kill those. Thou shalt, thou shalt not – *ker-PLUNK!* - and then you’re all done, ready to be roughly shoved towards the next sixty-dollar book in the canon (and to type up a new listing on eBay).



This isn’t to say, of course, that contemporary Western developers don’t create anything worth playing: far from it. I WOULD, however, charge them with getting too caught up in the “Enlightenment” movement that raw, heedless technical achievement has become: to put it another way, they’ve lost a lot of respect for what you might call the “primeval forces” of their profession.

Once upon a time, after all, video gaming was not subject only to the cryptic proclamations of cold, distant science, the One True Lord of the modern industry. No – in ancient days (y’know, the 80’s and 90’s) it was subject to the dizzying whims of a diverse pantheon, born of raw, crackling, exuberant energy and pure, unfocused, and sometimes downright intimidating willpower.

This is the way of the Old Gods. And this, above all else, is what critics of Eastern game design, sometimes unconsciously, are bad-mouthing when they accuse Japanese developers of reticence, stagnation, a stubborn unwillingness to “get with the program” and “give modern gamers what they (are supposed to) crave”. To them, the off-the-cuff, fireburst, whirlwind school of game design has been rendered irrelevant by means-tested commercial logic: to them I’d reply that, in gaming, as in life, the construct of reality is nothing without the pillars of myth.



These increasingly shrill voices have likely forgotten that, while video games are native to the West, they rose to power in the East: though Bushnell and his contemporaries had managed to find success earlier with the likes of Pong, the first title to truly spawn a bona fide “cult” was Taito’s Space Invaders, which proved so popular that Japan experienced a shortage of the 100-yen coins required to play it. At the time, the basic philosophy behind the two games was pretty much the same - keep things simple and self-evident enough to instantly appeal to average folks – and this design model endured on both continents throughout the arcade era. As crude as this mindset may sound in the age of multimillion-dollar, decade-long, headline-making gaming projects, even now it’s difficult to look back at that time and fail to marvel at the hundreds upon hundreds of minor (and not-so-minor) miracles that were wrought in those less-civilized days.

This, after all, was when all anyone ever expected or needed to judge one of your products was five free minutes and twenty-five cents: if they didn’t like what they saw, heard, and felt during those five minutes, that was the last quarter they’d ever spend on your big, expensive video machine until you came up with a better one, and arcade owners were not inclined to wait that long when dozens of other hopefuls were already clamoring for your cabinet space. In retrospect, such circumstances might sound downright impossible to succeed under: how in the world, after all, could the creators of these games ever adequately explain to their fans, as they do now, just how awesome they truly were?



How could gamers ever really understand what they were playing? Without exclusive interviews, how could the developers impart a rough idea of the playtime required for customers to overcome the initial learning curve, or which triggers one needed to trip to unlock the secret ending, or hint at the intriguing back story that made their seemingly-dull main character so much more appealing once you’d unlocked that one crucial cutscene? Without fan-fueled beta testing and real-time polling, how might they lay out the strategies and upgrades you’d need to excel during multiplayer sessions, to “properly” set off that fierce race to the top? Without regular trophy awards and stat tracking, how on earth did they set clear watermarks for what a “good” score might be, let alone a “great” one? When oh when did the creators ever get the chance to reveal exactly what made their precious baby tick, and how players should (nay, must!) approach it to squeeze the absolute maximum amount of pure entertainment out of every single second spent in front of that screen?

Answer: They didn’t. That was YOUR job. Their work could speak for itself.



This is the way of the Old Gods.

Are the controls adequate to accomplish the task I’ve been assigned? Do the rules make sense? Is the challenge level engaging but fair? Is the pacing brisk enough to keep me interested without over-stimulating me? Does the graphical and aural atmosphere pull me in? Is there enough depth to the experience that I feel free to experiment and delve further? A successful arcade game had to elicit positive responses to all those questions and more from the user within mere moments…and, believe it or not, that is exactly what they did.

Sure, the diehards could pick up those glossy magazines near the Toys R’ Us checkout counter and devour every last SUPER HOT PRO TIP they could get their mitts on, but this wasn’t necessary to enjoy the game, or to appraise its value. Those first five minutes might not be enough to give you total insight into every single facet of the game, but they WERE enough to determine, beyond the shadow of a doubt, whether or not you wanted to slip another quarter into that (hopefully-functioning) coin slot: seriously, did you pick your first character in Street Fighter II because of the high priority and low startup lag of his crouching medium kick?



Oh, and riddle me this: when are you officially “finished” with, say, Marvel vs. Capcom? When you’ve seen the end credits once? When you’ve done so with all the characters? When you’re at the top of the “Versus” board? When you’ve won EVO?

When are you “finished” with DoDonPachi? When you conquer the first loop? One-credit it? Find the true final boss? Score 100 million? 200 million? When you see bullet patterns dancing on the back of your eyelids as you fall asleep?

When is Puyo-Puyo Sun “finished”? Do you have to complete Normal mode? Hard mode? Put together a 7-chain? 8-chain? 10-chain? Once you’ve seen all the story interludes? Or once your friends stop playing and move on to Puyo Puyo~n before the online servers are shut down?

The Old Gods’ deafening silence on the matter speaks volumes – games that have received their blessing are NOT designed with “the end” (and/or the sequel) in mind. The gamers themselves must ford their own path, without the aid of infinite respawn checkpoints, and decide for themselves when, if ever, to stop.



This is the way of the Old Gods.

Though by turns cruel and covetous (i.e. stupidly hard and hungry for more of your tokens), these digital giants, diminished though they may be, have weathered the ages largely untouched by mass-marketable revisionism and reformation; even as everything around them changes, they remain what they are, no more and no less, for both better and worse. Even the “unconverted”, as a result, may find it difficult not to find something to admire in their earthy purity, their rough-hewn pixelated visages, their effortless radiation of the timeless magic that links brain to eye to hand to joystick to screen. In the end, yes, that’s all there ever really was to these regal figures, just imagination and dissonant energy and suspension of disbelief…but try to tell me that those very things aren’t exactly what video gaming, in its most essential form, is all about.



Make no mistake, both East and West alike have been plagued for years by worthless unlockable tchotchkes, parasitic DLC, and other cynical means of “enhancing replay value” (is there a more soullessly corporate piece of gaming lingo in existence?), and the once-mighty gaming temples known as arcades have toppled from grace in spectacular fashion across all continents, retaining only a handful of devotees across the globe. In the meantime, the spirit of these “Old Gods” burns decidedly stronger in the East, just as it always has. Not only does the proud arcade scene yet retain a notable foothold here, but Japanese developers keep the most tightly-controlled game design elements where they belong: within the game itself, not in how the player takes it in. They continue to make (Japanese) games, not (Hollywood) experiences.

To some, this is a frustrating farce of childish longing for a golden age that never really was; to me, right or wrong, it’s a due display of reverence for the powers, both real and imagined, which granted that original, vital spark, not of existence, but of life to video games, a display for which I will continue to express my own appreciation.

The East, after all, is where those majestic Old Gods still dwell, and where I, as a gamer, dwell also.   read


3:59 PM on 05.15.2011  

What I’ve Been Up To: Part 2



Hi again, all: as promised in the previous installment, I’ve got some more stuff to talk about regarding what I’ve been up to lately. Let’s get right down to brass tacks: though I haven’t written much here, there is one thing I haven’t stopped doing…

Keeping up with obscure gaming news.

That’s right – it’s been awhile since this blog’s recurring news feature, The Obscurer Tribune, stopped updating regularly, but that doesn’t mean my desire to spread the word about the oddball side of gaming has diminished one bit. Even after stepping back from DToid, I found myself, almost subconsciously, stockpiling links to notable stories – eventually it became clear that some things can only be put off for so long.



To be perfectly blunt – I am not again taking up a set schedule for either the Tribune or this blog. That ship, for the time being at least, has sailed. What I AM doing is publishing what you might call a special “Digest Edition” of the Tribune, composed of what I consider to be the most noteworthy offbeat gaming items I’ve glimpsed since I ceased blogging. It’s not as in-depth as previous issues, but hopefully it’ll make you aware of at least a handful of things you weren’t up on before.

Since this is a highly condensed edition covering several months’ worth of content, I’ve limited its scope mostly to stuff not covered on DT or in previous blogs, so if you observe something that’s missing it’s probably been mentioned elsewhere (though I’m still as open to outside material as ever!) Anyway, on to the good stuff!

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I already discussed a couple of recently-released Cave shooters in the first “Up To” article, but there’s still more business afoot: first and foremost, the upcoming 360 port of Akai Katana, out in late May. Unfortunately, AK is going to be region-locked (the developer apparently hopes an outside publisher will pick it up eventually), but even if you don’t have plans to pick up a J360 you might still want to set up a Japanese account, because that’ll let you download a demo for the title. (Additional DT coverage here and here.)

Discouraged by the region-locking news above? Don’t be too sad: there are other unlocked Cave shooters to snag, and they just got cheaper! Mushihime-sama Futari (check out my “How-To” if you’re not familiar with it) earned a “Platinum” reprint back in November, and ESPGaluda II just got one this past month: if you’re holding off on importing because it’s “too expensive” you’re REALLY running out of excuses now!

Additional tidbits on the Deathsmiles front: first, the game is on its way to the iPhone – keep an eye out for further info as it develops. Also, back in February the US version of the game was patched to adjust slowdown levels and fix a few other things, so if you (like me) don’t hook your 360 up to the ‘net too often you might want to make sure you download that bit. Finally, the big one: Deathsmiles IIX is coming to America, as an untranslated, 30-buck “Game on Demand” downloadable title. Cave will be publishing itself, since Aksys, sadly, doesn’t seem interested in revisiting its role with the first game for the time being, though Rising Star is supposedly considering bringing the sequel to Europe.

Cave’s not the only one putting out new shooters, of course (though it can sometimes feel like it) – Wii importers can also pick up Milestone Collection 2, which keeps all three shooters from the first collection (Chaos Field, Radirgy, and Karous) and bundles two newer products, Illvelo and Radirgy Noah, in with them. Karous is also making a solo trip to the 3DS at some point.

The game is out in Japan, but there’s still no official release date for Otomedius Excellent in the West: that said, Gamestop is hinting that it might finally make its way here in July for a measly 30 bucks, though obviously that needs to be taken with a grain of salt for now. On a related note, a moment of silence, please: Konami’s planned Gradius for the PS3 has officially been canned.

Touhou fans have undoubtedly already been following this, but let it be known to everyone that ZUN’s next shooter, Ten Desires, is almost ready to go, and will be out over the summer: there’s already a demo out there if you want to sample it. Naturally, there are plenty of trinkets for diehards to pick up, though apparently ZUN is clamping down a bit in this area…

On the “it’s still technically a shooter!” front, “fight off the love-crazy schoolgirls” pseudo-lightgun game GalGun has been out in Japan for a bit now, as has a demo you can download with a Japanese XBL account: inexplicably, though, a patch has since been uploaded as well, which disables camera angles low enough to peek under enemies’ skirts, basically rendering moot the reason why 95 percent of buyers got the game in the first place (and does some other stuff too, not like it matters). Ecchi sorts, consider yourselves warned. The less-lecherous among us might be more interested in upcoming doujin run-n-gun Gun Lord.

Time for a little moichindising! Cave is selling some new (and expensive) stuff in its online shop, while fans of G. Rev’s Under Defeat might be interested in a newly-released Superplay DVD featuring near-impossible player footage, to make you feel even more inadequate! There are also a couple of new models floating around out there, though the links seem to be escaping me at the moment, except these bits of Touhou…in the meantime, look for the latest issue of Retro Gamer magazine, which features a writeup on Cave.

Finally, a quick downloadable/indie shooter roundup, for any of you wanting to use this feature as a jumping-off point: check out Strania (another one from G. Rev, which now has DLC available), 99 Bullets (which limits how many shots you can fire each stage), Viriax a hybrid from the guy who made Hydorah), Galaga Legions DX (no explanation needed), Gatling Gears (a co-op twin-stick release), Shield the Beat (a rhythm game with a shmup veneer), Level 2 (a metal concept album you can play), Lunaria (from the Bike Banditz folks), and Jamestown (about the well-documented British colonization of Mars). Oh, and don’t forget Trouble Witches Neo!




I know most of you have been primarily excited about the rebirth of CURLEH MUSTACHE (yay), the latest helping of TOASTY (meh), or yet another lazy and unnecessary appearance by Evil Ryu (boo), but there’s actually quite a lot of other stuff going on in the fighting world beneath the surface: let’s start with all-girl brawler Arcana Heart 3, which was just released digitally in the US. PAL gamers will be getting a physical version in June, including a nice LE, which I’ve already surrendered and pre-ordered: in the meantime, Siliconera’s posted a nice series of “tutorial” articles on the game. Here’s the latest, with links to the previous ones. Sega’s also got a dog in the fight with Chaos Code.

Going back in time a little ways, SNK’s obscure tourney fighters Aggressors of Dark Kombat and Savage Reign are headed for the Wii’s virtual console: too bad they didn’t go with superior sequel Kizuna Encounter for the latter, or, uh, Neo Geo Battle Coliseum for the former, maybe? Capcom, meanwhile is still plugging away at the promised online-enabled Third Strike, and announced that Alpha 3 will be joining it – gonna hafta keep holding your breath when it comes to Rival Schools, though.

Namco, meanwhile, is taking its sweet time on Tekken x Street Fighter, but somehow I think Soul Calibur V will tide a lot of you over. In any case, it’ll never top Tekken: Blood Vengeance, since video game-themed CG movies are guaranteed hits! Always! A slightly less-sarcastically-cited sure success would be yet another embarrassing Ivy figure, but if you ever wondered what on Earth the designers were thinking (aside from the obvious), there’s a system in place, and don’t you forget it!

Siliconera recently posted a two-part interview with Daisuke Ishiwatari (the Guilty Gear guy), which has him talking about a variety of topics, though most of you are probably too busy messing with Blazblue: Continuum Shift’s latest DLC. On a related and uplifting note, Aksys is selling Blazblue t-shirts to fund Japan quake relief.

On the “doujin” front, I would be remiss not to mention Skullgirls, which should finally see daylight over the summer, as well as offer a new video for Card Sagas Wars (is it truly possible for me to pine for a game with Master Chief in it?). Oh, and then there’s Under Night In-Birth, the newest effort from the guys who brought you Melty Blood.

Speaking of fighting games based on eroge, there are quite a few of those in the pipeline right now: Aquaplus has Aquapazza, BaseSon has Koihime Musou, Alchemist offers Ougon Musou Kyoku X, and, while not technically VN-based, 5pb gives us Phantom Breaker. There’s a demo on Japanese XBL for that last one, if you’re interested.

In terms of “sorta-fighters”, feel free to check out half-puzzlers Slam Bolt Scrappers and Word Fighter, not to mention Kenka Bancho offshoot Gachitora: The Roughneck Teacher in High School: where else will you be able to use flaming tigers to strip problem students naked?…totally metaphorically, of course. Then there’s Lord of Vermilion Re:2, a card game borrowing characters from all over the dang place. Oh, and did I mention that Guardian Heroes is coming to XBLA? Mighta forgotten that…

Finally, yeah, I’m still a total sucker for the silly things Kotaku sometimes posts, like this one, and this one…and what the heck, this too. Less-goofy readers than myself might still be interested in an upcoming Street Fighter motion comic, which will certainly provide you with your daily recommended allowance of Delta Red tuchus. Last but not least, take a gander at this interesting c-blog about a recent bit of tournament controversy.




I’m still not sure what to expect from the Black Rock Shooter PSP RPG, but one thing’s for sure: you hafta check out the bonus figurine from the limited edition! In other “what the heck IS this?” news, something called Black Sting is also in the works, but I know next to nothing about it, unless I’ve missed some manner of reveal since January. For something dwelling in slightly more familiar (though not yet localized) territory, read an interview with one of the folks behind Half-Minute Hero Second.

I’m a bit nervous when it comes to Gust these days after the disappointing Ar Tonelico Qoga, but I’m still happy to see screens and a trailer for Atelier Meruru…by the way, NISA, any chance we’ll be seeing Totori stateside?

…ah, okay, that’ll do nicely.

Of course, the developer is already busy with Nora and the Carving Studio, a joint venture with the Etrian Odyssey folks…out on the periphery, you’ll have to import this figure, but Udon has come to the rescue on the art book front, as they’re bringing the Official Chronicle artbook for the Atelier games stateside! They’re supposedly doing the same for an Ar Tonelico book too…cue the Futurama “SHUT UP AND TAKE MY MONEY!” caption.

Of course, Gust isn’t the only bunch raising a pre-emptive eyebrow on my end…you all know I love Vanillaware, and that I’m eager to see more of Grand Knights History, but the underlying structure sounds odd…turn-based combat with an online multiplayer component? Well, it’d help to eliminate the sometimes-stiff real-time mechanics from Odin Sphere and Muramasa, but I’m still hesitant to throw myself at it with abandon.

Sting, after the brilliant Knights in the Nightmare, is also taking things in an unusual direction, with Gungnir, a “relatively traditional” SRPG…considering that the company’s more experimental games tend to be their best (IMO), I’m holding out hopes for Gloria Union instead. Weirdest of all, though, is the news that the Soldner-X guys are working on a downloadable SRPG for the PS3…saddest of all, Irem’s confirmed that Bumpy Trot 2 is no more.

I’ve also been a bit nonplussed by good ol’ Atlus lately…while Persona 2: Innocent Sin looks good (and is hopefully coming our way eventually), I’m somehow having trouble getting equally excited about Devil Survivor 2 (and Overclocked, like 99 percent of the 3DS library so far, isn’t even on my radar).

The “weirdest name of the issue” award goes to PSP dungeon crawler UnchainBlades ReXX, “weirdest concept” is bestowed upon rhythm/RPG hybrid Sequence, and “weirdest theme” honors are claimed by the Wii’s Pandora’s Tower, which has you hunting down monsters and feeding their raw meat to a very hesitant vegetarian. In slightly less-strange sectors Square has two new entries in the successful Chaos Rings saga in the works for the iPhone, Gamevil is taking much the same route with Zenonia 3, and Tri-Ace has two more for us, namely Frontier Gate on the PSP and Beyond the Labyrinth for 3DS.

Out in figurine land, a trio of Falcom ladies will be getting new super-deformed Nendoroid releases: which ones? Well, we don’t know yet: people hafta go and vote for their favorites first! There certainly are plenty to choose from…anyway, another Plenair has hit the scene since last issue, as has an impressive papercraft of Aegis from Persona 3.

As a final note: Herr Sterling, today, we stand united!




Cave Story 3D aka Pretty Much the Only Reason I Might Remotely Consider a 3DS At This Point, will be on our shelves in August, so I’ve got ‘til then to decide whether to cough up the 250 bucks…oh, and while I’m at it, Happy B-day, Pixel!

I personally wasn’t particularly taken by the Japanese Catherine demo (maybe being able to read the text would help), but Atlus’ recent decision to use tamer box art in some displays has sparked a bit of discussion on the c-blogs…not that any of this matters to the nutcases at Aksys, who responded to Atlus’ request for fan ad submissions with a not-so-veiled plug for Agarest War Zero. In any event, that IS a pretty nice LE.

Of course, then there’s the other Japanese-exclusive (for now) demo I tried, namely El Shaddai: Rise of the Metatron. Again, I wish I knew a bit more about what was going on, but I generally tend to concur with Herr Sterling’s thoughts – dang that’s pretty, dang that’s tough. I found the platforming controls a little stiff, though combat felt pretty good…wonder if they’ll include an unlockable plastic chibi mode to go with its accompanying fashion line? Ah, and check out this nifty early concept demo, if you haven’t seen it before (heck, even if you have, watch it again).

Two of the more interesting (IMO) gaming companies on the scene, namely Marvelous and AQ Interactive, are merging – to read some comments on this development from Xseed (who are owned by AQ and have worked with Marvelous), click here. On a separate front, both The Last Guardian and the Ico/Shadow of the Colossus HD package have been delayed (again), but some guy is apparently tinkering with a Game Boy-styled SoTC – sadly, LEGO Ico is just a fantasy, as is not having to import Solatorobo.

Several anticipated (by me) downloadable offerings have finally seen daylight, some after lengthy delays: to whit, we’ve got Cave mini-platformer Nin Nin Jump, Square’s Strider-esque Moon Diver, Ikaruga-gone-platforming Outland, and Capybara’s HD-ized and rebalanced port of Might and Magic: Clash of Heroes. Oh, and some of you might be aware of Koumajou Densetsu, a Touhou fangame that plays like a Castlevania title: did you know they’ve got another one? WayForward fanboy that I am, though, I have a special place where my heart would be for Mighty Milky Way

Of course, there are a whole bunch of others that we’re still waiting for, but all of the following are (apparently) still alive: Fez certainly comes to mind, as do the lovely-looking Bastion and Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet, despite a long hunk of downtime for all three. If you’re in the mood for the read even less traveled, you might prefer to keep an eye on Pickdun, Terraria, Perfect Cell, or Warp. One promising title that probably won’t be finished, unfortunately, is The Iconoclasts, by the guy who did Noitu Love – you can, however, download the unfinished product to see what might have been.

Yeah, I know, Portal STILL isn’t really obscure enough to deserve coverage in this pseudo-periodical, especially when I already mentioned it last time around, but frankly, I don’t care, especially when its sequel has a nifty comic tie-in, cool poster, and free DLC attached to it. I do hope Master Newell is pleased by my efforts bzzzt…the assimilation has already begun.

Aaaand it’s time to dump most of the stuff that wouldn’t fit anyplace else into a single paragraph: Japan has received SNK Arcade Classics 0 on the PSP, though I’m still hoping for a “Volume 2” with a better game selection. Speaking of PSP, dimension-hopping puzzler Crush is being remade for the 3DS, with a brighter vibe than before, though presumably not as gonzo as crossover card game Weiss Schwartz, which is being digitized, but never localized thanks to one of the biggest messes of copyright shenanigans since Super Robot Taisen.

A couple more miscellaneous articles you ought to read: first, a decent write-up on the so-called “hardcore” Japanese game development mindset. Second, though I’m not personally a Mega Man fan, shmups.com forum member undamned (who IS a big fan, obviously) made a neat discovery recently: Mega Man mini-pinball! Also, Scribblenauts stuff!

Mario (yeah, that Mario) is probably the least-qualified possible candidate for a write-up in the Tribune, but this video, as utterly wrong as it is, made me laugh too hard not to share it. Oh, and by the way, did you ever wonder why some of the “building block” levels in the background of Super Mario Land 2 had a “N&B” insignia on them? Now you know!

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Well, I’ll have to leave it there for now: hope you enjoyed the temporary return of the Tribune. Hopefully I’ll be able to do another one like it at some point, though heaven only knows when that might be: ‘til then, thanks for reading and keep gaming obscurely!

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Oh, but before I go, just one or two other things I’ll note quickly about what’s been happening in my neck of the woods.

When I first announced my semi-departure from blogging here, I mentioned that after months of unemployment (which was, incidentally, the catalyst that got me blogging in the first place), I’d managed to find a bit of work: part-time, but steady. In case you’re interested I’m still at the same job, and saving up for a sorely-needed replacement for my current car: it’s hardly an ideal position to be in, but it’s definitely better than where I was, so I’m glad to have managed to hang on as long as I have. Hopefully something better awaits, but for now this is it.

I also, to Wry Guy’s horror, got picked up for a seasonal gig at Gamestop this past holiday season, and they’ve kept me on since then to fill in various scheduling gaps: retail work is retail work, of course, but it was handy to have that employee discount when I was picking up all those new releases earlier this year. As with any such job there are countless stories to relate (even with my limited hours), but they’ll have to wait for another day.

Finally, as I mentioned earlier, when I first announced that I’d be stepping away from this blog for awhile, I said I had other projects on the back burner: believe it or not, while I’m still working my way through the list, I have actually managed to finish a couple of them. You might have already noticed a few of them in the sidebar, but here they are in case you didn’t:

First off, I’ve done a bit more work for Racketboy, which offered me my very first “published” writing gig a little while back – as with my previous two projects, this one is a system-based shmupping guide, though I’ve shifted my focus from the 32-bit systems to the PS2. Did you know that such an “uber-mainstream” system actually has one of the greatest scrolling shooter lineups ever? Have a read and you may well be surprised! I’m currently finishing up another project for the site…keep an eye on that sidebar!

I’ve also managed to get myself a new outside client, namely Hardcore Gaming 101, home to a whole slew of articles on unusual games. Once again, my initial contributions to the page are shooter-related: specifically, we’ve got Deathsmiles, which was just recently released in Europe, and Espgaluda, whose second iteration was ported to iOS around a year ago. Both of these articles need an update, which I plan to do soon, but if you’ve ever been curious about those two series (or others; several shmup-centric posts by other writers have gone up there lately), hopefully these bits will tell you most of the “essential” stuff. I also hope to do more work here at some point; I’ll keep you posted as best I can.

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Guess that’s about it for the time being. Hopefully you didn’t mind my catching up with you all a bit, as I’ve enjoyed getting back in touch with the community, if only for a short (by my standards, anyway) time: I don’t know when I’ll be able to blog here next, but until then you can rest assured that I’m still gaming and writing away, among other things. ‘Til then, see you around the comments, on the forums, or wherever. :)   read


5:51 PM on 05.08.2011  

What I've Been Up To: Part 1



Hello everyone…or at least everyone who remembers me!

Hope you’ve all been well – as you might be aware, I still pop in here regularly to look around and comment, it’s been some time since I last blogged myself. At this point I feel it’s high time to catch up a bit, and let you know what I’ve been up to: why now? There are a few reasons, but one particularly strong motivator wills me to write about gaming at this particular point in time:

The first four months of 2011 have saddled me with perhaps the most densely-packed new release schedule I’ve EVER experienced.

In a nutshell, I’m even MORE backlogged, broke, and over-stimulated than I’ve been in a long time: simultaneously, of course, I’m also in the mood to celebrate. Most gamers end up feeling “the crunch” around the holiday season, when publishers try to take advantage of audiences out gift shopping for each other, but for an aficionado of the offbeat these sudden gluts of interesting stuff can pop up just about anytime, especially when compounded by delays or other schedule changes – it’s already tough for my fellow weirdos and myself to prioritize one’s precious gaming time (or even keep track of all that’s out there), but it’s impossible not to feel a bit warm and fuzzy (and raring to blog!) at times like these.

So off we go: for anyone interested, I’ve cobbled together a list of all the new releases, import and domestic, that I’ve picked up from this past January through April, in order of their debuts, plus a handful of impressions and other thoughts about each. I haven’t played the whole batch to completion, obviously, but hopefully any curious onlookers will have a better idea of what’s going on after reading about one. Though I guess the video embeds will probably help too. Anyhow, as always, feel free to ask questions afterwards if I’ve neglected something!

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Prinny 2: Dawn of Operation Panties, Dood! (Jan 11)

As you can tell from my review of the first Prinny, I want to like those dopey, explodey critters more than I actually do, but an excess of rote memorization and finger-killing button mashing kept me from doing so the first time around. At first glance the sequel appears to have made a few well-intentioned concessions to the less-masochistic among us: the various “tricks” and exploits necessary for success are more clearly explained at the start, and more importantly the “combo” meter is no longer utterly useless.

However, as noted by a fellow c-blogger, these improvements are largely rendered irrelevant: Prinny is, of course, still a weakling, and a single misstep is often enough to send him (and you) hurtling backwards, right off a platform and into a pit. To prevent this from happening, many areas still require a very specific sequence of actions on your part, and when little random things start popping up everywhere to throw your rhythm off, that’s a recipe for disaster – too much disaster for my liking. I suggest platforming masochists stick with Super Meat Boy. (DToid review here.)

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DoDonPachi Dai-Fukkatsu Black Label (Feb 3)

…er, I think I’ll just abbreviate it DFKBL and be done with it. Anyway, the “regular” edition of Dai-Fukkatsu came to the (Japanese) 360 a few months ago, and I was honestly a bit underwhelmed by it: the DonPachi shooters are favorites of mine, but this latest entry just came across as excess for the sake of excess, and didn’t feel as well-tuned as its illustrious predecessors. When a “Black Label” revision was announced soon afterwards I was skeptical, but decided to give Cave a second chance: thank goodness I did. The stages, ships, and modes are much the same (save a few welcome tweaks, including the ability to turn the “auto-bomb” off), but the game system itself has been granted a necessary near-overhaul.

First and foremost, you can now fire your “main” and “laser” shots simultaneously to inflict extra damage, but doing this fills up a “rank” meter: the higher it builds, the angrier enemies get at you. At the same time, of course, your scoring possibilities also skyrocket, so the idea is to spend as much time at “P.O.’ed to the max” settings without being utterly flattened; easier said than done, naturally. Hypers (which allow your shots to cancel enemy bullets) can now be “shut off” early to save energy, but aren’t as abusable when it comes to building chains. Oh, and if you buy the retail version, you get an exclusive “Arrange” mode which takes all this stuff and dollops the proximity system from Ketsui on top: yeah, it’s pretty bonkers. This is an expensive add-on, and region-locked too, but for those with the means to snag it this bad boy definitely comes recommended.

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Marvel vs Capcom 3: Fate of Two Worlds (Feb 15)

It’s a crying shame that this cross-promotion never actually happened, but considering how bleak prospects once looked for another Marvel/Capcom crossover one can’t complain TOO much. I’m hardly a fighting game expert, but I enjoyed MvC2 for what it was, though I obviously never got into the “whoever blinks first gets caught in an infinite” tournament mindset – this followup seems to take at least a slightly more “reserved” tack, with a smaller and better-balanced cast (though certain roster choices did make me scratch my head), which at the end of the day (along with glitch fixes and other patches) I’d call a decidedly wise design decision.

I’m not as huge of a fan of the new control scheme, as I tend to have an easier time keeping track of attacks clearly marked “punch” or “kick” as opposed to vanilla “weak” and “strong”, but it’s hardly an impossible adjustment to make – even on a pad I can generally do what I mean to do, though I’m nowhere near fast enough (or proficient enough on a joystick) to pull off anything impressive. A more in-depth “training/tutorial” mode would also have been appreciated for n00bs like myself, but I can say that about pretty much every fighter except Continuum Shift – all in all, it’s good to see these two perennially pugilistic universes beating the tar out of each other again. (DToid review here.)

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Hyperdimension Neptunia (Feb 15)

Crossover RPG Trinity Universe was, I thought, an encouraging step in the right direction for much-maligned developer Idea Factory – while far from perfect, it partially overcame the company’s infamous penchant for burying bountiful surface appeal underneath layer after unnecessary layer of ill-conceived gameplay systems, and was fun enough for me to see through to the end. Then came news that a modified version of its base framework would appear in a new game, starring anthropomorphized characters spoofing the current generation of consoles: is there any way to make a hopeful nerd more excited? Then it came out.

To the credit of publisher NIS America, they did a darn good job on the localization: the uniquely Japanese sense of goofiness is intact, but everything flows nicely for English speakers in terms of dialogue and characterization. Tragically, the rest of the game doesn’t keep pace: the still-second-rate presentation I might have been able to forgive, but the limited cast (plus the extra sting of DLC characters, a trend I dislike, to put it mildly), one-step-forward-one-step-back battle system (no manual healing? really?), and baffling inventory setup go a long way in rendering the title’s gloriously pure geek appeal null and void. That said, Neptunia isn't a total tragedy, but IS a truly shameful waste of potential: a sequel is apparently in the works, but I’m running seriously low on patience at this point (yes, even in the face of a laser-breathing Inafune). IF, you’ve done this enough times now that you should be getting it right a lot more often. (DToid reviw here.)

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Radiant Historia (Feb 22)

Atlus definitely knows how to hype a game, so when this one popped up seemingly out of nowhere I was a bit suspicious – having been disappointed by the similarly-sprung Hexyz Force (Sting, what happened?), I watched from a distance for awhile before finally deciding to take a chance and go for the pre-order: happily, I ended up bringing home perhaps the most pleasant surprise of the year so far. For starters, it’s one of the rare RPGs you can put down for awhile and then resume without being totally lost: as you work through the timeline a perusable record is kept of all the game’s major events, and your allies all retain their levels and equipment no matter how many times you dimension-hop, so if you hate that nagging feeling of “maybe I oughta just restart…” give Historia a try.

The aforementioned time-travel theme and grid-based battle system are both well-implemented and fun, but what honestly impressed me most were the characters, both playable and NPC: it’s been a long time since a JRPG truly nailed a more “low-key” style, where everyone seems at least somewhat grounded in reality and don’t go out of their way to be “memorable” (which, in all likelihood, would just make me want to forget them). Kudos to the localizers and translators for doing a bang-up job on this front. Listen to Wry Guy, and pick this one up - encourage Atlus to make more like this! NOT THIS! (DToid review here

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Ys 1 & 2 Chronicles (Feb 22)

Xseed did some mighty fine work with Ys Seven and Oath in Felghana late last year, so this one was obviously on my list too, especially since it was slated as superior to the DS compilation from a year or two earlier. It is a pretty impressive package, with nicely-revamped graphics, three (awesome) soundtracks to choose from and a handful of other extras, but I’ve also got a caveat for anyone considering a purchase: these are REALLY old games.

That’s part of the appeal, of course – “combat” is primarily running into enemies at particular angles, if you need a general idea of what you’re in for – but other recalcitrant “old school” elements, like super-obscure means of progression (especially in the first Ys) and an abundance of quick, “what just happened” deaths, tend not to endear themselves to modern gamers so easily. This state of affairs is understandable, since TOO many updates and adjustments would have resulted in purists crying foul, but if you’re curious about the Ys series I’d personally recommend starting with Oath in Felghana or the PS2 version of Ark of Napishtim, and deciding how far back in time you’d like to go from there. (DToid review here.)

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Muchi Muchi Pork! and Pink Sweets (Feb 24)

If there were two Cave shooters seemingly destined to remain obscure arcade exclusives, these were it: kooky, fan-servicey, and Freakin’ Tough, neither were ever destined for mass audiences. Lo and behold, the developer suddenly decides to bundle ‘em together on the 360, with a nice load of bonuses in tow: alongside the original “Arcade” modes for each game are tweaked “1.1” versions and all-new “Arrange” variations, plus first-print buyers can download a “Matsuri” version of Pork! which adds some bosses from Pink to the recipe.

The graphics haven’t been enhanced at all, but they’re still lookers to be sure, and once you’ve got a handle on how everything works both titles are lots of fun, but their limited commercial viability means that Cave didn’t devote enough time to getting the details right: the “Arcade” modes for both are imperfect, scores from them and “1.1” modes are not separated, and several other annoying omissions exist (oh, and forget about the “infinite lives trick” in Pink if you were counting on that). Still, this is a package well worth picking up for shmup fans, and it’s region-free, so get importing, ALL of you!

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Okamiden (Mar10)

I’d actually just finished up the first Okami on the PS2 not long before this came out, so at first the timing seemed ideal to take this one for a spin…as fate would have it, though, I’ve actually devoted less time to this one so far than any of the batch o’ new stuff covered here (sorry, but I really AM overloaded!). From what I’ve seen of it up to this point, though, it’s about as good a “conversion” (for lack of a better term) of Okami to the DS as one might expect: this, as it happens, is both its best and worst aspect.

While the cel-shaded “ink painting” style still looks like a million bucks on the small screen, the lack of a second analog stick makes moving around and seeing what’s going on more cumbersome than in its big brother. The amount of reused assets (guess who needs another drying pole?) doesn’t help matters either, though, again, it’s impressive from a technical standpoint how much they were able to do with the hardware (albeit with some additional loading). I can’t say a heckuva lot more than this at the moment…except that, yeah, that li’l puppy bugger is stupidly cute. I’m man enough to admit it. (DToid review here.)

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Ar Tonelico Qoga: Knell of Ar Ciel ( Mar 15)

If you ever check out the pair of writeups I did on Ar Tonelico II, then you’ll know I’m a pretty big fan of the series: despite being aimed squarely at the “otaku” brain, its world is unique and well-realized, and treating your party’s physically- and magically-inclined characters as separate “groups” adds a neat dimension to combat. II’s ending suggested a sequel, and here it is: once again, the West is lucky enough to get a shot at it, but despite serving (presumably) as the saga's conclusion this one is sadly the weak link of the bunch.

The primary culprit here is the ill-fitting, real-time Star Ocean-esque battle system: ally AI is non-existent, with no way to alter your comrades' behavior, and physical attacks are so clunky and inconsequential that their only real use is to build up the Reyvateil’s powerful songs for the killing blow whilst spamming healing items. The attractive art and setting are still here, and the “diving” mechanic remains intriguing, but the “naughty” elements are also starting to cross the line from “oh Japan” to “eww, Japan”. If you’ve tried the Ar Tonelico games before you already know if it’s worth your time to see the tale through to its conclusion: if you’re not sure, start with the first two and you’ll quickly find out. (DToid review here. As a side point, apparently the trigger to obtain the “true” ending is rather obtuse, but I managed to stumble onto it without knowing what it was. Make of that what you will.)

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Monster Tale (Mar 16)

Henry Hatsworth in the Puzzling Adventure is one of my favorite DS titles (heck, one of my all-time favorite platformers, period), so when I heard that several of the people involved with it were working on a sprite-based “Metroidvania” title, I was nothing short of ecstatic. The end result is both all I hoped it would be and a victim of my probably-unfair expectations: starting with the bad news, the charming pseudo-British Hatsworth cast and art style have been largely supplanted by a decided “white guy trying to do anime” vibe (this is why I hate conventional marketing wisdom so much), and the interconnected areas, while attractive, are not expansive or secret-ridden enough to match their more established competition.

On the bright side, Hatsworth’s controls and combat were top-notch, and they’re even better here: your main character can still freely mix up close- and long-range attacks with a little timing practice, and the addition of a monster pal, whose special techniques can be activated pretty much at will, opens up even more options to smack your adversaries silly. Encounters play out as continuing “experiments” to try and beat the most loot out of everything and evolve your buddy into new forms, making the required backtracking much more bearable and giving the game more bite than its focus-grouped veneer suggests. I do wish a more challenging extra mode unlocked after finishing: it would have suited this game much better than the already-taxing Hatsworth’s brutal “Gentleman Mode” did. (DToid review here.)

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Eschatos (Apr 7)

A few of you might be aware of Judgment Silversword, a fan-made shoot-em-up that eventually earned itself a physical (and very expensive on the secondhand market) release on the Wonderswan handheld; few have tried it, but those who have give it nothing but effervescent praise. If that line caught your attention, note that this 360 shmup is a spiritual sequel, featuring the same original programmer and publisher: though its graphics are laughably outdated, the rest of the game (and its region-free status) make a strong case for your import dollars.

Basically, across all modes you’ve got a “narrow” shot, “wide” shot, and limited frontal shield, which must be used in tandem to plow through the legions of aliens between you and the end credits. “Standard” mode keeps things simple: kill every enemy onscreen, and do it fast, for the most points. “Advanced” makes things more interesting: here, you can power up your shots, but this weakens your shield, which you’ll want to use to cancel bullets for extra points, so you’ll have to strike a balance between offensive and defensive power to excel. Both modes have three default difficulty variations, alongside “Time Attack” and “Endless”: oh, and did I mention that Judgment Silversword and its “remix”, Cardinal Sins, are included on-disc as bonuses? If you’re hankering for a shooting experience that harkens back to the good old days, look past the unattractive exterior and pick this up.

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Bullet Soul (Apr 7)

5pb, known primarily for its visual novels, hasn’t exactly endeared itself to shmuppers lately: Cave hired them to port DoDonPachi Dai-Ou-Jou Black Label to the 360 a few years back, and the result was a semi-disaster until they brought in outside help to patch it much later on. Seemingly undaunted, however, the company soon announced an all-new shooter, developed entirely in-house: to call me and many others skeptical was an understatement. Then, however, I headed to the game’s official page, and was promptly knocked on my tuchus by more 80’s-style cheesiness than one could shake a sparkly neon glow stick at: not long after this, it was confirmed that 5pb was reaching out to international buyers by making Bullet Soul region-free. Against my better judgment, I decided to give these guys one more shot at winning me over.

In terms of over-the-top insanity, the final product certainly doesn’t disappoint: ludicrous characters, boatloads of evil robots and alien bugs, big loud explosions, screen-covering homing lasers, huge “BONUS!” messages popping up all over the place, it’s all here, in spades. Despite how busy it is, the basic idea is pretty easy to grasp: you’ve got a “normal” and “focused” shot, plus a supply of smart bombs, and killing any enemy cancels all their bullets into “souls” which cannot harm you. If this makes the game sound easy, it is, until you try for a high score: to rack up points you have to destroy enemies up close, which forces you to be much more efficient with your kills to avoid being point-blanked. What’s here is fun, but it’s a little sparse: apart from a few “trick kills” there are no other scoring aspects to practice (the “souls” do absolutely nothing), and the only additional “modes” are single-stage score attacks. There’s DLC on the way, but that’s rather cold comfort: I recommend downloading the demo on Japanese XBL before plunking down the cash.

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Portal 2 (Apr 19)

The day I finally picked this one up officially marked the end of “Utterly Bonkers Gaming Glut 2011”…phew. That said, the original Portal is one of the few first-person games I’ve ever been able to get into, let alone (eventually) finish, so I was quite excited about the prospect of another like it, though some of the nutso stuff shown in the trailers made me feel even more inadequate: against all odds, as it turns out, I managed to make it through the single-player mode with few problems (and if a doofus like me can do it, so can anyone). The new elements do complicate things a bit, but there tend to be fewer choices of where to place portals than before, so you don’t have to fumble around as much when looking for a solution: this does take a bit of the “edge” off of the experience, but I’d say it was largely a necessity.

On other fronts, GLaDOS is still a hoot, and I ended up liking the dimwitted Wheatley more than I thought I would: Aperture founder Cave Johnson also gets a good performance from That Guy From Law and Order: SVU, but I found some of his script lines to reek more of “sledgehammer wit” than anything else (seriously, nobody likes a good jab at ethics-free corporate science than I do, but it does need a bit of, y’know, nuance to really hit the mark). I don’t go online much so co-op is probably destined to sit idle (unfortunate, since it’s supposed to be good), but it can’t really be helped: I do hope Valve supports the community on all three platforms, though I ended up buying the PS3 version (which is linked to its PC counterpart) just in case…aaaaand naturally, the PSN goes down. (DToid review here.)

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Well, there you have it: the list of games I've picked up at launch these past four months. These aren't all I've played, of course, but I won’t go much deeper into that here: what I WILL devote a bit of space to is a short rundown of a few new games from this period that I was also watching, but eventually passed up to make room for the rest…and why I ended up deciding as I did. Feel free to take me to task on any of the points I bring up: as you can see from the above section, my resistance to the prospect of another offbeat product to add to my collection is pathetically weak!

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Lost In Shadow – The nifty visual style and concept perked up my proverbial ears, but the second I heard the platforming and combat controls compared to the original Prince of Persia’s, that was it for me. With so much else crowding my gaming schedule, I just couldn’t see myself devoting much time to an interface that would in all likelihood drive me nuts, even with some redeeming elements surrounding it.

de Blob 2 – I generally enjoyed the first de Blob on Wii, at least for the 15-buck price tag I eventually got it at, so when a sequel appeared at a slightly reduced price point I decided it deserved at least a quick spin. Good thing I tried before I buyed…er, bought – it’s still colorful, bright, and full of infectious energy, but the edges are also still rough, from weird-feeling jumping and camera controls to irritating glitches (when a beach umbrella opened up and trapped me inside it, that was when I decided to pass). I expected a bit more polish from a sequel…though I am still a bit curious as to how the DS version plays.

Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together – As someone who spent a decent amount of time with the first Ogre Battle, those pre-order tarot cards looked mighty tempting, but I was forced to lay off: to state it plainly, I just don’t have the same time or patience to devote to twenty-character, 45-minute battles as I used to, even if the experience is a “high-quality” one. I'd be ashamed to admit how many SRPGs I have languishing on my shelf, thanks to my hesitance to ever start one with the intention of finishing it...and I thought my attention span might actually improve as I got older.

Phantom Brave: The Hermuda Triangle – To put it bluntly, despite the handful of extras I’ve already bought this thing twice, and am in no hurry to do so again, even for a measly twenty. Also see my previous comments about my…malleable relationship with SRPGs.

Jikandia: The Timeless Land – Apparently some of the same guys behind Half-Minute Hero worked on this, so I became immediately interested: the PSN demo, however, left me mostly unimpressed. The visual style and theme are endearing, but the platforming and combat are bone-simple: that’s not necessarily a negative, until you apply the “time gimmick”. Basically, you can choose to have a stage run from 3 minutes to a half-hour, or anything in between: nice in concept, but the longer you choose to stay in a level the better loot starts popping up, so you’re forced to repeat the same landscapes until you’re sick of them if you want the best stuff. Not a wise decision to actively push players into going against what the game does best.

The 3rd Birthday – Weirdness is my thing, and Parasite Eve is definitely weird, but third-person shooters (even weird ones) usually aren’t, especially on the less-than-ideal PSP format. Maybe I’ll give it a rent at some point, but I don’t see my inherent curiosity leading me a whole lot farther than that, unfortunately – Square, for Pete's sake, stop doing this to me!

The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky – As much as I like Falcom and JRPGs, any of the latter which even flirt with the “generic” label are an instant turn-off to me these days: from what I hear Trails is very well-crafted and got a great localization, but I just can’t get past the exterior layers and combat system, both of which I’ve seen a million times before, when I could be playing something like Shadow Hearts instead. Part of me hopes that the game sells well and that the sequels follow it here, but I’m afraid that if this happens it won’t be any of my doing.

Mamoru-kun is Cursed! Widescreen Edition – I’m glad to see the regionless PS3 finally getting a little shmup support, and certainly don’t mind the prospect of getting the DLC characters for free here, but I DO already own this game on the 360, and despite its charms I’m in no big hurry to fork over another wad for pretty much the same thing. A bunch of reported freezing bugs doesn’t exactly stoke my enthusiasm either.

Final Fantasy IV: The Complete CollectionFF4 was my very first RPG (as FF2 on the SNES, of course), and will always hold a special place in my heart, but as I said in the Trails segment above, at this point I’ve played so many of the darn things that they really need to do something different to keep me interested. Prettified graphics (well, minus some of those character sprites, which look more deformed than the originals) and the After Years bonus stuff is all well and good, but I think I’ll wait ‘til the price comes down a bit, at the very least.

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I guess that about does it concerning my semi-relevant gaming thoughts and experiences for this year so far - hopefully you’ve encountered something of interest in there someplace. As you might expect, while the rest of 2011 doesn't look nearly as crowded for me, there ARE still several items coming down the pike that I'm watching intently (and, in some cases, have already plunked down money for). I plan on discussing those too...



…in my NEXT blog entry, which should be showing up here pretty soon.

Thanks for reading everyone, it’s good to write a little for you again: oh, and if you come back for Part 2 of “What I've Been Up To”, you might find a little surprise waiting there! :)   read


10:33 PM on 08.20.2010  

The Obscurer Tribune # 60



Well, everyone, I guess this is about it – as was previously announced, this will be the final issue of The Obscurer Tribune, at least for the time being. I suppose it’s fitting that we’re concluding this latest run with one of the largest compilations I’ve done: this fact speaks to how much great stuff is happening in gaming outside of the mainstream, as well as how badly I need a break from covering it. Hopefully the following selection will make for a fond farewell from me to you:

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OH GOD. SO MUCH WIN. What a way to send off the Tribune, courtesy of none other than Cave – thanks to a series of announcements at their recent “Festival”, it would appear that they have not forsaken console-based shooter fans after all. First off, DoDonPachi Dai-Fukkatsu is indeed being ported to the 360: the release date is November 25th, two new modes are included and some sort of LE is in the cards. Second, while details are scarce, disco shooter Dangun Feveron is coming to consoles as well, in some form: keep an eye out for further details. Finally, the coup de grace: this spring, the Raizing-esque Pink Sweets and Muchi Muchi Pork are finally getting home ports together, on a single disc!!! Images for the the former and latter games are over here – look at them and then start to party! JOY!!! (DToid coverage here.)

More good news from Cave – Akai Katana is now out in Japan, and some new (and better-quality) footage has started to show up on YouTube. The first four stages can be viewed here, while the final level (Plus the hidden final boss) can be seen here – note how after losing lives the “shield” meter becomes longer, which can be exploited for both scoring and survival.

On a related note, the promised patch for DoDonPachi Dai-Ou-Jou Black Label X is supposedly set for next month: even if it gets delayed again I’m currently too elated to care (all that much).

Make up your minds, dangit! Recently the PAL release date for Raiden Fighters Aces was revised from August to September, but earlier this week Amazon changed its listing back to this month – if their latest number is accurate, then the game ought to be shipping out today! Can any European shmuppers confirm or deny that their order has gone through?

Grasshopper Manufacture, aka “That Thing That Has Suda51 In it”, is breaking into digitally-distributed games with none other than a side-scrolling shooter called Sine Mora (“without delay”, in Latin). Little is known about it at this point other than some sort of time manipulation mechanic will be included…I wonder if this one will eventually be likened to some sort of bowel movement by the creator, as his past games were. (DToid coverage here.)

While the “official” release date for Otomedius Excellent is still set in September, the lack of info up to this point seems to be placing some doubt on whether that’ll actually happen…listings by various retailers putting the game in November or even January don’t exactly inspire confidence either. By the way, did I forget to mention that Excellent is apparently getting a PAL release too? I should have posted this a few weeks ago but I don’t think I actually did…anyways, here it is either way.

No official announcement from the developers yet, but if the ESRB is to be trusted, The Flying Hamster will be appearing not only on the PSP, but XBLA and PSN as well.

Anyone else remember the SNES port of Earth Defense Force, (possibly) better known as E.D.F.? It’s not half bad, and moreover it’s coming to Virtual Console.

Check out this recorded stream to see some footage of a bunch of doujin shmups shown at Comiket, including the latest version of long-anticipated Crimzon Clover around the eleven-minute mark.

A few of you might remember PC shmup Raptor: Call of the Shadows from way back in the day – if you want to do more than just remember it, a new edition compatible with modern Windows versions is now available for download.

A new and goofy XBLA Indie release is Avatar Squadron, which rather predictably casts your Avatar as the pilot of a biplane, in a side-scrolling shooter. You can angle your shots up or down a bit, and are also able to pick up various objects mid-stage, in similar fashion to Boogie Wings – you can also play with up to three others, but you all share one life stock, so be careful. There’s a free trial and the full game is only 80 points, so it might be worth a few minutes at least; one of a handful of videos on YouTube is here.

Another upcoming Indie title, Alpha Squad, looks too stupidly testosterone-soaked for my tastes, but since it appears to be (yet another) “twin-stick” shooter I have to at least give it a passing mention.

PSN players, on the other hand, should be happy to see this trailer for Pixeljunk Shooter 2 – by the looks of things, that ship is gonna need more than one run through the car wash after it’s over.

In terms of run-n-guns, you’ve got this gallery of Hard Corps Uprising, set in a jungle level: Siliconera is doing an interview with the game’s producer sometime next week, so stop by the site and look for that.

“Rail shooter” fans (and psychedelic drug users), on the other hand, can enjoy this interview with Tetsuya Mizuguchi, on the subject of (naturally) Child of Eden.

It would appear that Herr Sterling and Mr. Steakfries get along rather well, judging by the former’s front page review of Monster Dash.

Just in case you haven’t had enough Cave for one issue, check out these pictures of all sorts of miscellany from the aforementioned Festival. The company’s official English summary is here, and they’d apparently like to hold similar events in the West if such a thing were possible…probably not for awhile yet, unfortunately, if ever.




No big surprise since both were heavily predicted to make it in there, but now it’s official – Dormammu and Viewtiful Joe are the next pair of characters to make it onto Marvel vs. Capcom 3’s expanding roster. Want some videos to commemorate the occasion? Just go here. (DToid coverage here.)

Of course, MvC3 isn’t the only one revealing new characters this week: Cyrax and Kitana have been confirmed as appearing in the Mortal Kombat reboot, since apparently Sektor and Mileena felt lonely without a pseudo-palette swap or two around (here are some short impressions of thr two). Personally, I’m waiting for these guys to show up. (DToid coverage here.) The game’s producer would have you believe that, despite the various inevitable roadblocks, an eventual crossover title with Street Fighter is “inevitable” – we shall see. By the by, a quickly-pulled online store listing suggests that a budget compilation of early Mortal Kombat titles might be on the way before the year is out: if this is real, don’t expect the publisher to stay quiet for much longer. (DToid coverage here.)

The producers of Street Fighter and Tekken are at it again, exchanging silly barbs of various forms over Twitter (and taking part in an incredibly silly live-action sequence) to hype up their upcoming crossover titles…in all honesty, though, I think that this best sums up the situation at hand for many fighting fans. In addition to some followup comments from Ono, Gamescom attendees got an early look at Ryu’s model in Namco’s half of the equation, though obviously it’ll change a lot between now and release.

Naturally, Ono didn’t stop yakking there: turning his attention to the 3DS port of Street Fighter IV, he again promised that it would be a “perfect port”, as well as the possibility of two different control schemes to cater to players of varying familiarity with the series.

From Orochinagi comes this reminder that a bunch of SNK fighters are available on the Japanese PSN if you have access to it – and, er, a King of Fighters pachi-slot machine.

Despite an underwhelming box office performance, the Scott Pilgrim shenanigans continue: on the front page, you can check out a short audio clip of a Q&A session with some of the movie’s personalities, as well as a link to some animated sprites from the game alongside the official review. On the c-blogs there’s another review of the game (by the way, can it really be a “RetroGrade” if it just came out?), and a podcast devoted entirely to the series. Of course, there’s also a bit of visual silliness. And some plushies. Next week, keep an eye out for the soundtrack to the game.

I don’t know how many BlazBlue fans are likely to spend time on social game BlazBlue Mobile Battle instead of, y’know, the original game that inspired this, but Arc is gonna give it a shot…

Think fast – if you can get to Amazon’s “Deal of the Day” before today (Friday) ends, you can get Hori’s PS3 fighting stick for 30 bucks. If you can’t think quite THAT fast, if you’re a member of Best Buy’s “Reward Zone” and print out an online coupon linked here before the weekend’s over, you can snap up the 360 version of Tekken 6 for ten bucks.

Everyday Legend offers us a short musing (with a lowercase “m”) about his fondness for a simpler, bygone era of fighting gaming.

This week’s snack-centric ‘Shop Contest over at Kotaku has one particularly epic Marvel vs. Capcom-themed entry which I just had to direct you towards. Even this, however, cannot stand up to the glory that is Hasselhoff vs. Hasselhoff.

One, er, two more for the road: this gallery of Comiket cosplay contains dashes of Street Fighter, Guilty Gear, and Darkstalkers among others, including some tarted-up Touhou gals. One or two others sneak in here.

In case you’d forgotten, Hazama from BlazBlue is kind of a jerk.

Breaking news: Guile’s true identity has finally been revealed!




There was initially some confusion as to the meaning of this trailer, which states that the "premium box set" for Atelier Rorona would be a Gamestop exclusive, after being told that it would only be available at the NIS online store - a follow-up "Prinny Bomb" newsletter clarified the situation after this issue went to print. As it turns out, the "premium edition" you'll get at Gamestop contains the artbook, but the one at NIS's store has both that AND a soundtrack. The price for both is the same (60$), though you'll also have to tack on shipping for the latter - either way, both are up for pre-order now, so snag whichever suits your fancy. Also, there are a couple new Prinny-themed items at NIS's shop if you're up for 'em.

Neptune hit Japanese shelves this week, and over here you can see some new screens while you wait for NIS to update us on the status of a (hopefully) Western release: go forth, Opa-Opa! Go forth and DESTROY!

Holy fruits, that was fast! NIS’s Classic Dungeon was renamed ClaDun and announced for Western consumption only a few weeks ago, and now we find that it’s going to be on shelves September 7th! That’s got to be a world record for speedy localization…heck, most shmups take months longer!

At this link you can see a few new images of the Tactics Ogre remake, as well as read some extra tidbits on the updates and tweaks that are being applied to this version, from the in-battle display to characters’ names. Here, on the other hand, is a bit of info on the “Wheel of Fortune” system. By the way, while there is a pre-order bonus on offer for the November 11th Japanese release date, don’t expect a “limited edition” release for this one. (DToid coverage here.)

Oh, and by the way, they’re not stopping at Tactics Ogre either – the first game in the series, Ogre Battle: March of the Black Queen, is being ported to Japanese cell phones, and will feature downloadable maps and quests in addition to the title’s original content. Now I can draw those freakin’ Death cards at every other town I liberate on the go!...or could if I lived on the other side of the world, anyways.

Not to be outdone, this page contains both a set of Half-Minute Hero Second screens and some info on the “edit” mode, which allows players to create their own levels and share them with others.

Double Fine’s Costume Quest has itself a trailer – looking good so far, now let us in on some of the gameplay mechanics! (DToid coverage here.)

Sega appears determined not to let Valkyria Chronicles 2 go as unnoticed as its predecessor largely did – be sure to check out its “Community BLiTZ” postings, which are updated daily with information, giveaways and other stuff. Also check out a small Siliconera snippet about the class sytem.

Here’s the opening sequence for Shining Hearts – the characters who get to be in these things must have a good time, being able to float all over the place like that.

Most of the coverage (including a hands-on demo) of The 3rd Birthday at Gamescom has been behind closed doors, but the public got a pretty good consolation prize in this new image and this lengthy trailer (plus some other pics), which showcases a mishmash of cutscenes and gameplay footage, and offers a good deal of insight into the plot of this thing. Well, as much insight as there can ever be into the inner workings of a Parasite Eve game anyways. As for whether the series could ever see daylight on the PS3, if this one does well you never know… (DToid coverage here.)

Not much of the game itself is shown therein, but the first trailer for Radiant Historia has, nonetheless, appeared.

Looks like readers of the Tribune will get to share one last Etrian Odyssey III [url=]video[/url], with a focus on “advanced” character creation. From here on out you’ll have to access ‘em via Atlus’ mailing list like everyone else: the horror!

The chain of nerdy events surrounding Black Rock Shooter just gets more and more ridiculous: first an illustration was posted, which inspired a song, which led to a music video which was expanded into an OVA, and now THAT appears to have spawned some sort of RPG. Yeesh…and the cross-promotions have already begun, as has another helping of figure hype at Tomopop. Not like it really needs the help.

You’ve sort of already heard about this, but if you want to know, once and for all, how The Last Story got its name, click here. For something you’re probably a bit more interested in, the front page has some new screens.

You also already knew that Atlus was not immune to ill-advised outreaches to the “casual” subset (every time I see one of those 101-in-1 games on a shelf I die a little inside), not to mention overexposure of its recent Persona games (3 in particular), but with the announcement of Persona 3 Social for mobile phones both of these reach a whole new level. (DToid coverage here.)

Fellow blogger manasteel88 updates us on the release status of Recettear – as of now, publisher Carpe Fulgur is aiming for September 10th, with an attached price point of 20 bucks. Let’s hope they can make it!

Even though he HATES self-promotion, TheCleaningGuy digs deep down and heroically informs us of the latest “Sega Addicts” podcast, which centers around Valkyria Chronicles – praise be unto thee, Cleaning, your unhesitating willingness to sacrifice is an inspiration to us all! ;)

I just BARELY managed to catch this artwork from Yorda, inspired by Baten Kaitos.

A couple of weeks without any new Persona figure-related news feels like an eternity, doesn’t it? Well, this particular streak comes to an end with Tomopop’s preview of Metis (which comes with an accompanying Kotomaru!), and the announcement of an Aegis reissue. By the way, they’re up for pre-order.




Michel Ancel once again assures us that Beyond Good and Evil 2 is coming…and then keeps talking. Dangit Mikey, get back inside and keep developing!

Another Okamiden video hits the scene, consisting pretty much entirely on in-game footage. Nothing too big is revealed therein, but it does look like some of the “painting” will be a bit more involved than you might remember (DToid coverage here). Joystiq also has a preview to read, as well as an image of a (Japan-exclusive, of course) novelty bookcover, dangling puppy tail included. Yeah, time to bring out the d’aaaawwwww one more time.

Here’s the Gamescom trailer and some images for Super Scribblenauts – feel free to add your own adjectives. (DToid coverage here.)

A couple more nuggets on Sola to Robo this week – first, there will be some free downloadable extra quests for the game to keep you busy outside the main game. Second, anime studio Madhouse (aka the Death Note guys) will be contributing a handful of animated sequences – click the link for a few stills.

Nintendo revealed a whole slew of release dates recently, most of them for not-so-obscure games, but I’ve got no problem noting that Shantae: Risky’s Revenge and Super Meat Boy are on there too, slated to (finally) release sometime during the holiday season. Nothing exact just yet, but it’s good to see that they’re both on track, at least. (DToid coverage here.)

By the way, remember Reflection, the DSiWare platformer in which you control “mirror” characters on both screens (not Fractured Soul, the other one)? Well, it’s been renamed Divergent Shift (apparently the new rule is that these sorts of games need pretentious-sounding and potentially confusing titles), and it’s one of the downloadable offerings out this week. (DToid coverage here.)

For the moment the third game in the Badman series is Japan-exclusive but not for much longer – it was revealed during Gamescom that Europe would be getting a shot at it, under the surprisingly non-cumbersome title No Heroes Allowed. Click that link for a trailer which mentions some of the new features (though obviously the basic idea remains the same as always).

An interesting-looking puzzler being ported from the iPhone to PSP Minis is Fish Tank, in which the idea, as usual, is to match like-colored pieces (fish), though you need to control several of the little swimmers at once, and time their arrivals accordingly. It’s certainly an eye-catching concept – has anyone experienced it firsthand?

Majin and the Forsaken Kingdom didn’t want to be left out of this week’s “post a new trailer” party, so it decided to make its own contribution to the potluck. Also, it looks like Europe will be getting the game a little ways before the USA does – November 25th is the planned release date there, versus November 30th in America. Make sure to use those five days to thumb your noses at us! (DToid coverage here.)

The Persona team will be branching out a bit in its first game for “current-gen” consoles: Catherine, due out for the PS3 and 360, is described as an “action/adventure/horror” game, obviously intended for adults. By the way, if the lead character in the images looked familiar, you’re not imagining things: he was an NPC in Persona 3 Portable, and Catherine is actually based on the recurring dream he has. Weird enough for you yet? Try the trailer (and some stills of it) on for size…the heck’s up with those sheep? (DToid coverage here and here, c-blog item here.)

No official confirmation from Valve yet, but rumor...er, Game Informer has it that the new release date for Portal 2 will be February 9th of next year. What do you think are the odds that it’ll happen as listed here? (DToid coverage here.) Elsewhere on the front page is the company’s reassurance that they like the PS3 now, an short interview with Valve’s Doug Lombardi, and this news that Stephen Merchant (one of the writers for The Office) will be doing the voice of Wheatley, the Personality Sphere – some video footage of his performance (and other stuff from the game) can be viewed here. Finally, you’ve heard “Still Alive” many times before, but probably not this slow.

Creepy puzzle-platformer Limbo has apparently done pretty well so far, selling over 300,000 “units” – clicking the link also shows you a few additional comments from the game’s level designer, most notably his assertion that games need to “treat [the player] nicely”. Say goodnight, Gracie! Of course, the game probably wouldn’t have been as well-received if Activision had gotten ahold of it…then again, maybe it would. *sigh* (DToid coverage here.)

This might be my last opportunity to mention Mirror’s Edge for awhile, and by gum I’m gonna take it – at GDC, the game’s level designer talked about how the use of red as a guiding color struck her as odd initially, since it’s usually used to mean “stop” instead of “go”. She also says she’d like to do a sequel, though she didn’t say much more than that…hope springs eternal, right?

You hear about video game-themed art gallery shows opening up from time to time, but I thought that this one, featuring a Katamari Damacy theme, was worth a mention: anyone in the Portland, Oregon area interested in stopping by?

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At this point it’s time for me to finally step aside: once more I must thank this feature’s loyal readers for their kind words and attention, as it’s been a pleasure recapping this stuff for you. Hopefully someday we’ll meet again on these kinda-hallowed pages: either way, though, the signoff remains the same.

Thanks for reading, and keep gaming obscurely.   read


8:18 PM on 08.13.2010  

The Obscurer Tribune # 59



Issues like this one aptly display both why I started the Tribune and why I need a break from it…there’s so much neat stuff to cover, but trying to track down and transcribe even a halfway-decent amount of it is pretty much a full-time occupation in itself. Anyway, here’s what the cat dragged in this past week:

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A new trailer is up for the iPhone version of DoDonPachi Dai-Fukkatsu – if you have a bit of trouble following all the action a rundown of all the features showcased in on Cave’s official blog. It looks like iPhone owners are in for another treat, but I still hope that the company hasn’t forgotten about the rest of us, who prefer larger screens… (DToid coverage here.)

WARNING! A huge bunch of screens and a video from the “location test” of Darius Burst Another Chronicle are approaching fast!

PAL shmuppers, it was indeed a bummer to learn that Raiden Fighters Aces had been delayed for you, but there might be a bit of a “consolation prize” coming up – a couple of indications have popped up suggesting that Castle Shikigami 3 (the best in the series, IMO) is headed your way sometime early next year! Offer an extra prayer to the gaming gods and make sure this comes to pass!

There’s still no concrete XBLA release date for King of Figters Sky Stage, but the English Achievements list has been posted, so hopefully it’s not too far off now. Of course, I’m most intrigued by the reward for taunting a lot…

I’m not 100 percent convinced that VGChartz’ numbers are correct, but if they’re accurate then the US version of DeathSmiles has sold more than the Japanese original (which recently got a reprint). In any event, at least the game is selling in some fashion: do you have your copy yet?

I’m honestly not sure why I keep up with this anymore aside from pure innate stubbornness, but Cave is once again promising an “update” on the long-promised and never-delivered patch for DoDonPachi Dai-Ou-Jou Black Label X at this weekend’s “Cave Festival” event. Looking forward to it…AGAIN. Anyways, once the event actually starts it’ll be streamed here.

The recent Comiket convention in Japan has brought a bunch of doujin names to the surface, and to my attention: check out Hayabusa, Another Apocalypse, Shaftdiver, Super Mate Mate Laser, and Crisis Divider: Device Lost for starters. A “version 1.01” demo of ALLTYNEX Second is also available now.

One of the newer shmups on the Flash scene is Space Gate – it’s a bit rough around the edges, but not too bad overall. Has sort of a “what if Star Soldier was released for the original Game Boy” vibe going.

Readers have seen a handful of snippets on Privates here in the Tribune, but this past weekend the front page finally provided us with a link to download the game (and the requisite double entendre). Now get in there and start shooting some syphilis!

Barry Steakfries is BACK! The movement is automatic, the perspective is side-scrolling, the featured weapon set includes the “machine gun jetpack”, and the title is Monster Dash. Look for it on iPhone next week!

Tuesday’s “Free App of the Day” was a Geometry Wars clone called Critical Wave – give it a look if you’re not already taking a break from “twin-stick” shooters.

Nerf NOW has done a whole bunch of “Touhou”-themed comics lately…and they even feature a cameo by Dan Hibiki! The story begins here, and continues on until the thrilling conclusion. On less savory fronts, a certain former entertainer of ill repute (aptly described in the comments as “creepy Japanese jack Sparrow”) is involved with a certain unofficial Touhou fan music CD – watch the linked video promo at your own risk.

This week’s bit of Space Invaders silliness is a fan-made pseudo-crossover with LEGO Star Wars.




Your point accounts probably haven’t yet had a chance to cool off from forking over the extra bucks for Makoto, but get ready to pay (or at least gripe about paying) again: Rachel’s butler Valkenhayne Hellsing is BlazBlue: Continuum Shift’s next downloadable character. At least it looks like Aksys has its technique down when it comes to eliminating lag. Gamer Limit also posts a somewhat late review of the game here.

Speaking of money, if you have some more laying around you can pay one of four (so far) tournament-level players to tutor you for certain characters in Super Street Fighter IV – all of them are available on XBox Live, but only one also offers his services over PSN. 40 bucks per hour is as cheap as they get, so start saving… (DToid coverage here.)

The next fighter slated for late inclusion in Street Fighter IV for the iPhone is C. Viper – seems kinda weird that they didn’t just put all these “extra” fighters in at the outset, but whatever, they’re all free (unlike some others I could have/did mention).

Here are a couple more shots of Street Fighter vs. Tekken, all of which show Capcom’s fighters smacking around Namco’s cast – not too surprising, seeing as Capcom is the one which posted them.

Collecting signatures for petitions is pretty much always a waste of time in the video game realm, but what if someone who actually works in the industry encourages it? Capcom’s Yoshinori Ono told fans, via Twitter, to start begging for a new Darkstalkers game – could he have actually been serious, or was he just trolling? It’s kinda hard to tell from here…

Scott Pilgrim fever hits its pitch, with both the game (official) and the movie (unofficial) receive new trailers, while even more impressions, opinions, reviews, rundowns, screenings, tips, quotes, contests, and avatar items flood the interwebs. Wonder how many people ever saw this much exposure/success in the series’ future?

The front page has reviewed BlayzBloo: Super Melee Brawlers Battle Royale, and by the looks of things this is not, unfortunately, the second coming of Pocket Fighter. HOW LONG MUST I WAIT???

On the c-blogs, meanwhile, the7k’s latest “RetroGrade” blog takes a look back at Fighter’s Megamix for the Saturn, perhaps the only game in the genre which allows you to play as a racing car: JSL, on the other hand, discusses the role of Super Smash Bros. in crossover marketing (not to mention fanartz). Also, on the outskirts of the genre, garethxxgod’s Monthly Musing puts his love of scrolling “beat-em-ups” on display for all to see.

Others more familiar with the fighting scene might have already heard of a 98-year-old fan called “Oogosho”, but he’s new to me: anyways, Orochinagi recently linked to three videos of him on King of Fighters XIII, making a statement with a Daimon/Raiden pairing – the vids are here, here, and here.

Zoel ushers in the BlazBlue: Continuum Shift portion of the “PS3 Fight Club” – the wheel of fate is turning!

Surprise! The director/producer of Tekken doesn’t think that the recent movie adaptation was very good! Not enough boxing kangaroos, obviously. Or boxing velociraptors. Or Gon.

I’m a little late in picking these up, but be sure to check out these ModNation Racers characters, customized to look like fighters from several different series.

Just about every nerd convention seems to attract at least a couple of fighting game cosplayers, and Wonder Fest in Japan is no exception – Bridget and I-no from Guilty Gear appear here alongside several others.

Sagat (and Felicia) return once more: the former talks about the unintentional ‘training” of gamers to wait for inevitable improvements in favor of spurning original products, while the latter demonstrates (among other things) proper flossing techniques.




Once again, the utter strangeness of Criminal Girls earns it top RPG billing: this week there is a slew of new images as well as a bit of information about 3 of the 7 featured deadly sin-related prisoners. Feel free to check out the official site too. (DToid coverage here.)

“Have some Hero 30 Second screens”, says the front page. “Sure”, I answer. By the way, Japanese pre-order copies will come with some bonus quests and other things, under the combined title of “Sengoku Sexy Roman Pack”. I’d like to see someone refuse ANYthing with a name like that.

Atlus USA’s official trailer for the PSP version of Knights in the Nightmare is up and available for viewing (DToid coverage here); moreover, it would appear that both this title and Hexyz Force will be getting PAL releases sometime in the future, following up the recently-released Persona remake (c-blog reaction to the latter here).

This eight-minute video shows one stage of Blue Roses, and demonstrates how adjacent characters can team up on either attack or defense (sorta like Valkyrie Profile: Covenant of the Plume), as well as some “QTE-style” button-pressing commands during certain sequences. One of the characters also kinda-reminded me of both Karin from Shadow Hearts and Vanessa from King of Fighters, which automatically makes me need to play this.

Not only will Valkyria Chronicles 2 be out soon, but a demo is now available for download if you want an early taste. I know I do!

Korean developer Blueside is working on a DS RPG called Shining Legend – Siliconera theorizes that it might be a “revision” of Princess and Knight, a game announced by the company a while back but which hasn’t come out. Not too much in terms of details on this one as of yet…

Hot on the heels of last week’s selection of new pics for The 3rd Birthday, the game’s director puts up a couple more images and some promo art – more than that, he explains two of the game’s features (namely infinite ammo and battle damage…you can forget about a shower scene, though), accompanying the second with a short gameplay video (which makes me wonder why I keep sticking this thing in the “RPG” section). By the way, it looks like there’ll be a playable build at Gamescom, so keep an eye out for that.

I can’t wait to check out the Limited Edition stuff included with Ys Seven (oh, right, and the game itself, too) next week: in the meantime, here’s a small preview of the artbook portion.

Japanese-literate SMT fans might want to look into accessing the Japanese PSN, since the PS1 version of Shin Megami Tensei II is now available on there. Hey Atlus, truth be told we in the West certainly wouldn’t mind another enhanced PSP remake or two…

Lunar: Silver Star Harmony for the PSP has been rated for release in Australia – it’ll probably end up as a PSN download, but it’s still cool to see more gamers getting a shot at it.

Dungeon crawler fans ought to check out this new trailer for Class of Heroes 3, which shows off (among other things) a new sequential button-pressing mechanic used to launch certain special attacks. Also, Atlus apparently STILL hasn’t spoiled Etrian Odyssey III fans enough – not only will pre-orders get the much-hyped artbook, but every first-print copy will include a 2-sided poster! (DToid coverage here.)

Let us cling together and view some new media for the Tactics Ogre remake, as well as read up on some of the class tweaks being made. Or would that make you uncomfortable?

Did you know that a handful of veterans from the recent Shin Megami Tensei releases were working on Radiant Historia? A few of them and their roles in each project (and the current one) are on display here – oh, and the usual complement of new images (including the cover art) are up too.

Technically you can already play Chaos Rings on an iPad, but now Square has released a “native” version which has some enhanced graphics to take advantage of the device.

I know I’ve used the phrase “Just in case you thought Record of Agarest War 2 couldn’t get an fan-service-ier” before, but I’m gonna hafta dust it off again, thanks to this display of two of the game’s characters strutting their stuff in a cheesy music video.

They’ve still got nothing on Neptune, however, whose Powers That Be put together a cosplay outfit for the main character’s voice actress to wear.

The mental patients at Double Fine are apparently seeking a little piece of the RPG pie with Costume Quest, an upcoming downloadable title in which you play as kids in Halloween costumes, which become a whole lot more elaborate once a battle starts (reminds me of that South Park episode where the kids buy the ninja weapons). Check out some early impressions.

Videos like this one for Lord of Arcana aptly demonstrate why I’m so wary of most “action-RPGs” – seriously, if you can’t get both parts right at once, just pick one and stick with it.

He says he’s too busy to do much at the moment, but Tetsuya Nomura states to us that he’s happy with the reaction that The World Ends With You has gotten, and would be enthused to make a sequel eventually. Will it happen? If the money is indeed there, we’ll surely find out…

Feelplus, the developer which inherited many of the castoffs from Sacnoth/Nautilus, has been absorbed into parent company AQ Interactive…and my already-wounded hopes for some sort of Shadow Hearts followup fade even further.

While they wait for the fourth game in their series to come out (or at least their next crossover with Idea Factory), the Disgaea cast apparently makes ends meet by appearing on stickers packaged with a certain Japanese chocolate wafer snack. Hey, the Underworld has bills to pay too!

Attach the Stone of Shame! Somehow, in my folly, I did not link manasteel88’s excellent impressions of doujin sim-RPG Recettear last issue – please forgive me for finally getting around to it so late! The author, in his wisdom, has since mentioned that the game’s expected price is 20 bucks and the release date should be sometime this month, as posted on here. Beyond this, he’s also posted a Musing about NIS!

Steam Pirates was the “Free App of the Day” back on Monday, but it couldn’t hurt to mention it now too.

Did you forget to pre-order Persona 3 Portable and claim your Junpei Hat? Well, Atlus has seen fit to give you another chance, as it has 100 more caps to give away – first off, join their “Atlus Faithful” mailing list (if you haven’t already) and download any or all of the Junpei-themed wallpaper packs linked within. Doing so by August 27th will automatically enter you into the extra-hat raffle: good luck!




I’m always up for another Okamiden trailer, how about you? I’m not sure how it does it, but that li’l puppy somehow looks fluffier and fluffier every time I see it, an especially impressive feat considering that we’re talking DS polygons here.

News on The Last Guardian has been scarce of late, but Fumito Ueda has said that he’ll be “showing something” at the Tokyo Game Show next month, so hopefully the drought will end then. On somewhat related fronts, here’s a fanart piece with a Portal crossover, not to mention some images “inspired by Ico” from one of Naughty Dog’s artists.

Lost in Shadow, on the other hand, has been rather regular in providing new images and whatnot for us to look at, and continued to do so this week.

Wacko genre mishmash Dangan Ronpa has received a batch of new screens and artwork, along with a bit of info on a few of the characters.

It must be tough for the ESRB to rate a game like Super Scribblenauts, where you can not only summon loads of stuff instantly but give everything a smorgasbord of varying characteristics, but they certainly gave it their best shot. Also, if you pre-order this title at Gamestop, you’ll get a pair of fuzzy earphones in one of three fabric patterns – it’s no Rooster Hat, but it is free! Oh, and have a wallpaper.

If the whole “furry thing” going on in Sola to Robo makes you uneasy, perhaps the blow will be softened with the knowledge that your character eventually gains the ability to (temporarily) transform into a (shirtless) human. Or not.

I’ve never been a huge fan of the Ghosts ‘n Goblins games (having the majority of one’s deaths result from stiff jumping controls never sat too well with me), but supposedly Gold Knights II on the iPhone lubricates the gears a bit, not to mention adds a new character. Anyone have any impressions of this to offer? I’m curious how it turned out…

It would appear that Australian pinball fans have reason to feel a bit of excitement: Pinball FX 2 has been rated for the region.

The phrase “interpretive dance” has become something of a punch line to mock the hipster kitty (or, in my case, hipster salamander) crowd, but you might be curious enough about the whole thing to watch a high school troupe’s performance based on (what else?) Braid. Note: the embedded video there is only part one of several.

Do you like Cave Story? If so, Diverse thinks you’ll like Momodora too.

DToid’s own SeanYourPath heads over to Gamer Limit to recommend a quartet of worthy iPhone titles (Helsing’s Fire, Dungeon Coil, Fastar!, and Babel Rising) which only cost a buck apiece.

Tomopop indulges its Vanillaware fetish (and mine) with reviews of both Velvet from Odin Sphere and Momohime from Muramasa: The Demon Blade. In figure form, of course. *ahem*

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Back for one more next week: hope to see you then. Thanks as always for reading, and keep gaming obscurely.   read


8:02 AM on 08.09.2010  

'Magnet School: Graduation Speech



Well, well, well – it seemed like this day would never arrive, but here we are. As all of us bear witness to the conclusion of this ‘Magnet School curriculum, we’re ready to stop, for a little while at least, merely reading and talking about games: now is our time to flock back to the source, playing them, judging them for ourselves, experiencing them in a more meaningful way. Before going our separate ways, however, there remains one final lesson I feel obligated to share with everyone.

Up to this point, you’ve been exposed to some things I know about certain obscure portions of the gaming landscape, and hopefully learned a thing or two along the way; perhaps the most important insight to be gained, though, lies in but a brief look at what I DON’T know.

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Not counting the fleeting name-drops and links sprinkled amidst the lessons, a total of twenty-four obscure puzzle games were covered here: a decent sampling, but hardly a drop in the bucket of what might have been included. Right off the bat, in the interests of breadth and focus I stuck with fairly “traditional” puzzlers throughout, which leaves the realms of “maze” puzzles, Sokoban-style (box-pushing) puzzles, word- and number-based puzzles, logic puzzles, and 3D puzzles, among others, all but completely unexplored.

Naturally, even within those areas I did research, there remain dozens upon dozens of noteworthy titles which I was tempted to reference but simply didn’t have room for. Behold, for instance, the fantasy-tinged Poitto, which involves cracking open jars to squish monsters against the ceiling, while the whimsical Kokontouzai eto Monogatari offers players plentiful opportunities to “cancel out” large chunks of their area at once. Then there are the shape-based Toryumon (start the video at around 4:30) and Vadims, which share similar central concepts, though the former vies for an energetic “martial arts” theme while the latter leans towards stoic Egyptian. Even more impossible to ignore is the bizarre Mausuke no Ojama the World from (who else) Data East, which is all about lining up kissing lips in diagonal rows; finally, there’s action-puzzler Nightmare in the Dark, a cousin of Snow Bros. with a decidedly darker atmosphere. These are but a few of the “leftovers” I laid hands on while preparing ‘Magnet School: give them a try if you get the chance, and you might end up pleasantly surprised.



Of course, this selection pales in comparison to the list of games that I KNOW about, but have yet to actually PLAY.

The most obvious candidates here are a number of prototypes which, unlike Ghostlop and precious few others, never got lucky enough to be dumped for emulation: Treasure of the Caribbean (by Face, the Money Puzzle Exchanger guys) looks particularly promising, though Mahou Juku has my interest piqued as well. A pair of unreleased ADK carts, Fun Fun Bros. and Mystic Wand, have some name recognition within the Neo-Geo community, as does fellow puzzle-platformer Bang Bang Busters, but only a handful of gamers have ever experienced them. In a similar bind is the tadpole-themed Otamajakushi, which appeared on a Japanese Saturn demo disc, but never again beyond that point.

Needless to say, semi-legendary games aren’t the only ones beyond my reach: I can’t pin down much of anything on Monkichichi no Fuwa Fuwa Puzzle and Puzzle Kurutto Stone, while this video offers few clues towards figuring out what’s going on in Mawaza. The PS1, in particular, is a veritable minefield of unknown puzzle games that I’ve yet to play: Tripuzz, unStack, and Hermie Hopperhead offshoot Tamago de Puzzle comprise but a fraction of them. One particular specimen that I regret allowing to slip through my fingers is Tsukette Pon – if you’ve ever used Fighter Maker or RPG Maker, this is basically the ochige equivalent, allowing you to build your own puzzle game. Unfortunately, since I don’t know enough Japanese to utilize the creation tools, any tantalizing possibilities on offer here remain elusive.



Students, bear in mind, these preceding paragraphs contain only titles I’ve at least heard of. Judging by how much I learned during preparation for this series, you can bet your bottom dollar that all of this is easily dwarfed by the number of things I don’t even know EXIST yet.

This, dear students, is the lesson which I pray has been impressed upon you above any other: the knowledge that there forever remains so much of value to experience, even within a single gaming genre, long after the masses have moved on. Whether you find yourself generally unsatisfied with the direction the industry has taken or are eager to indulge more fully in it, never, NEVER be completely content with what’s laid right out in front of you at arm’s length. Dig deeper, search farther, push the boundaries of what you thought “gaming” would ever turn out to be for you – no matter what, something is ALWAYS missing from your collection (literal or otherwise), and you’ll never know the worth of what you have unless you’re also intimate with that you lack. For all you know, The Game You Wish They’d Make may already be waiting, with your name on it: if ‘Magnet School has taught you anything at all, you will get out there and find it.

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I’d like to conclude this graduation speech with a few overdue words of thanks: first and foremost, my deepest gratitude to any and all “students” who read through any portion of my lessons over these past few months. I very much hope you enjoyed them. Second, a tip of my hat to the army of websites and other sources which served as invaluable fonts of information during my research, especially the indispensable shmups.com forum, the veritable launching pad for much of this project. Finally, kudos to GaijinPunch of gamengai.com for offering some translation assistance: be sure to stop by his site and look around.

As your instructor, this is, at last, all I can think to say. Congratulations, graduates: school is out.



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At this point, with your permission, I’d like to step “out of character” for a few moments: there are a couple more things I need to mention, and an announcement I need to make.

As I noted at the outset, ‘Magnet School was envisioned as something of an experiment. Basically, I hoped that presenting material about unusual games in a structured, pre-formatted fashion might be more appealing to readers than occasional and irregular “off-the-cuff” posts; also, though I’m not sure how much I succeeded, I attempted to tone down my infamously verbose written delivery in favor of a more to-the-point, “academic” style and a more user-friendly interface. Basically, I wanted to remove as many unnecessary barriers as possible between readers and what I wanted to tell them.

In retrospect, as much as I enjoyed studying, playing, and talking about these games along the way, the results of this experiment can only be interpreted, on my end, as disappointing. While a promising amount of community interest was on display when the series was first announced, its “participatory” audience (as in, readers who responded strongly enough to ask questions or offer comments, which I gauge as “success” with material of this sort) quickly bled out, to the point where their remaining number from week to week could be counted on one hand. This outcome strongly indicates that, when it comes to under-the-radar gaming, format is largely irrelevant: no matter how it’s presented, the core material will never attract more than very limited attention. This bone-simple state of affairs has presumably been taken for granted by most for a long time now, but yours truly (as is often the case) needed a good, solid boot to the head to finally wake up and accept the obvious. Truth be told, I’m still not 100 percent on board even after the fact.



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That being said, at this point I plan to take a decisive step back from this blog: currently there are no plans for further ‘Magnet School curriculums, and moreover I will be (re-)suspending The Obscurer Tribune after Issue 60 is published.

To be clear, I am NOT leaving Destructoid or abandoning blogging altogether: I’ll still be stopping in here to read, comment, and occasionally post, but for the time being I will cease imposing any sort of “set schedule” upon myself in this area. The reasons I have for coming to this decision are as follows:

1) ‘Magnet School is the biggest and most involved writing project I’ve ever undertaken, and to state things plainly it took a lot out of me: even if the response from others had been more positive, I was already planning to announce at least a short break from blogging following its conclusion. In so many words, I’ve spent far too much time in front of a computer screen of late.

2) More importantly, I’ve finally gotten myself a bit of steady IRL work again: it’s only a part-time gig, but it took me so long to find that I can’t remotely afford to half-ass it. As a result, my free time is a ways more limited than it has been in awhile, and something has to give.

3) In favor of getting ‘Magnet School up and running, I’ve been repeatedly putting off a small handful of other projects: now that the former is done, whenever I do have a bit of leisure computer time I want to take the latter off the back burner and attempt to finish them without further distractions. If I ever do succeed in these endeavors I hope to eventually share the results with you. By the way, to anyone who has previously asked for my assistance with their own projects, I do still plan to fulfill my obligations: on that front nothing has changed.



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Considering the modest size of my audience this announcement isn’t likely to concern very many DToiders, but I still owe it to regular readers to clarify this situation before taking my leave. Once more I thank all of you for being willing to share your time and thoughts with me: I hope that ‘Magnet School allows my current “phase” at this site to go out on a high note with you.

Best wishes everyone, and I’ll see you around.   read







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