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5:02 PM on 08.31.2015

Looking Back: Xenosaga Ep. 1

The Xenosaga trilogy was a formative experience in my life. I have fond memories of playing the games in my heady pre-teen years, that magical time when I was far less cynical about the world. For years I held it up as a masterpiece, in my still forming mind it was the trilogy to end all others. When a possible HD collection came up for discussion last year, I thought it might be fun to revisit the trilogy and see how well it held up to a 23 year old me. Nostalgia is a bitch.

Let me start by saying that Xenosaga Ep. 1 is by no means a bad game, but it can be a fucking slog. It has an absolutely fantastic opening, full of technical mumbo jumbo no one could possibly understand, but boy those camera cuts sure are cinematic! It starts out intriguing enough, placing you in a virtual world tutorial level to get you up to speed. The pace throught the first 15 hours is about 60/40 cutscenes to gameplay, which is precisely how I remembered it. I'm a big narrative guy, so I was super happy with the way the game was progressing. Unfortunately for me this pace didn't last.

The battle system is fantastic. It's a very unique system that's somewhat hard to explain in writing. It gives you multiple basic attacks and "super" attacks called tech attacks, combined with a traditional magic system called ether. There is a good amount of room for customization and experimentation in this system, and you need to wrap your head around it quickly. This game is unforgiving, bosses can and will kick your ass if you don't prepare yourself accordingly. Even grinding has limited use as levels don't mean much in terms of stats. Instead your power mostly comes from the use of 3 different kind of points earned in battle, points that are used to learn new spells, abilities, and skills. These points can also be used to up your stats to a ridiculous level. The problem is the game never really explains how important pouring points into your stats is. The points used for upping your stats are the same ones used to level up your special attacks. So naturally I, and I assume most others, pumped their points into their attacks and completely ignored their stats; leading to a huge power discrepancy at boss time.

The main problem with Xenosaga Ep. 1 is that it's just too methodical. The game is so damn slow in every respect, and it becomes infuriating looong before the endgame. First of all battles take way too long thanks to the admittedly awesome animations. Every basic attack has an animation that lasts just long enough to bother you, but not to put you over the edge. Then you have your tech attacks, which all have really cool animations that are amazing the first time you see it, but are way too fucking long. They become a regular part of battle quickly, and before I even reached the halfway point I was so tired of watching the animations play over and over with no option to skip them. Eventually every battle became a chore, and I found myself popping an escape pack more often than I actually battled. Thankfully our lord and savior Erde Kaiser becomes available before the final dungeon. Erde Kaiser is essentially the Knights of the Round of Xenosaga, except in this game it can kill every boss except 2 in one shot. It also features a skippable animation, making it the ultimate weapon. Once it was in my possession I never touched another attack except against the last 2 bosses, who I hit them a few times until they got within the damage threshold and then summoned Erde Kaiser.

Battle is not the only aspect of Xenosaga that's slow. Menus have a noticeable open and close time, menus lag just enough that I sometimes find myself opening the wrong menu because I pushed the button before my cursor reaches the right listing. Luckily the run animation isn't too bad, but you always run into debris that has to be destroyed, or elevators, or buttons, or something else that has a way too long animation associated with it. Level layout remains relatively straightforward for 90% of the game, but the last two dungeons suddenly introduce puzzles and alternate pathways. It was at this point that I pulled up a faq, because there was no way in hell I was going to run around fighting a bunch of tediously long battles trying find the right path.

Xenosaga is fucking crazy plot wise. I vaguely remember that it wraps up pretty well in the end, but this first episode is an absolute clusterfuck. Strange terms and names are tossed out left and right nonchalantly. As far as I'm concerned it's impossible to follow what the hell is going on in this game. I just finished it today and I can't keep it straight. Weird things just happen over and over with no explanation, except the occasional anime gasp of a name of something/someone you have no prior knowledge of. It's insane, but intentional. It's clear that they expect you to play all the games to grasp anything concrete out of this first episode. Even the main character Shion is confused about what's happening, making her position a relatable one. Every character in the party seems to have some kind of connection to the greater narrative, but what that connection is remains a mystery even after the credits roll. 

Xenosaga still looks pretty good for an early PS2 release. I think this is mainly due to it's distinctive anime art style. Environments are fairly spartan but character models look fine and faces are super expressive. There are definitely some areas that show their age, but when it comes to the sci-fi environments like ships and space colonies, the game looks alright. Voice acting is pretty strong, with the notable exception of chaos who lives in bad anime dub territory. The games soundtrack is really lacking. There are only a handful of tracks in this 40 hour game. You will hear the same battle music in regular battles and boss battles with only one exception. Most dungeons have no accompanying theme, instead all you hear is white noise and footsteps. Cutscenes sometimes have music, but the same few tracks get heavy rotation. It's a real shame, because what's there is pretty awesome.

Xenosaga Ep.1 is not the game I remembered. As I said upfront nostalgia is a bitch, and she slapped me hard with this one. I was planning on playing all three games in a row, but now I'm leaning towards both taking a break and possibly skipping Ep. 2, which I remember as being the weakest of the trilogy. When the HD collection was being discussed there were plenty of people asking if they should play the trilogy, and back then I replied with a definitive yes. After this experience I'm a lot more hesitant. I can only hope Episode 3 holds up.

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8:19 PM on 08.17.2015

Contemplating replaying Ground Zeroes in preparation for MGS5, but I'm not sure if it's worth installing just to play it for an hour.

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3:24 PM on 07.27.2015

Taking Notes: Mass Effect

Last Friday I posted a blog about diving back into Mass Effect, and trying to take a look at the game in a critical light. In an attempt to sound smarter and also make specific references to moments in the game , I took notes on my latest playthrough. This blog is purely me translating my notes from a mini spiral notebook onto the internet verbatim; in the hopes that someone finds entertainment in reading my dumb and poorly written thoughts.

  • Cool character creation. Alliance database thing/data corruption/profile reconstruction
  • Takes background into effect.
  • Love all weapons at all times.
  • Spoken word codex.
  • Strong film grain.
  • Infinite ammo is cool.
  • Soldiers salute when you walk by.
  • I love the mystery and how no one believes in reapers at the beginning.
  • Nihlus is a good representation of a cool spectre character.
  • Renegade female for a different experience.
  • Protheans were still very mysterious and cool.
  • Sarens ship as a reaper was an amazing reveal.
  • Framerate is an issue.
  • Non hostile targets on Eden Prime nice touch.
  • Grenades are cool.
  • Great introductions to the various species through citadel embassies.
  • Still seems ok graphically.
  • Crazy UE3 pop in.
  • Armor variety is awesome.
  • Battle not very fun, powers janky.
  • Always miss one keeper on the citadel.
  • Like different armors and that you can armor everyone with different (aesthetic) armor.
  • Long elevators. (20 sec)
  • Amazing speech when becoming a spectre. Great swelling music.
  • Love muzak version of main theme in elevators.
  • Renegade choices seem to often deny quests, which is an annoyance.
  • Another great speech moment when you take over the Normandy.
  • I like the Mako. It's Janky but fun to run over geth in.
  • Hard for me to be renegade towards my companions.
  • High risk planets are a cool idea.
  • Collection quests suck. i.e. minerals and turian insignia's, medallions, etc.
  • Level 1 and 2 hazards that limit movement outside the Mako due to extreme climate.
  • Cool quests related to the background you pick. i.e. earthborn has "Old Friends" quest involving helping your old gang from back on Earth.
  • Side missions are ok, not great. Stories in these missions are often fairly benign, or end seemingly prematurely.
  • Some awesome planets i.e. frozen planets, planets with constant meteorites.
  • Side quests get old fairly quickly. They have a formula of:
    • 1.Small story bit.
    • 2.Combat.
    • 3.Unsatisfying resolution.
  • Burnout at about 10 hours in. Mainly referring to UNC quests.
  • Early Citadel quests are still interesting as they focus more on conversation and world building.
  • Like personal quest like Wrex family armor, wish there was more stuff like that.
  • Stopped doing UNC quests after 5, incredibly boring. Continued to do other quests. Only exception to this was the moon AI/VI mission.
  • Most planets are drab mountain ranges, some cool exceptions.
  • Appreciate the amount of lore written, incredible that every planet, even unexplorable ones have a fairly lengthy description.
  • Bring Down the Sky has a compelling opening that really draws you in.
  • Bring down the Sky stunning skybox.
  • Missing miners quest in Bring Down the Sky is a waste of time, no payoff.
  • Enjoyed navigating minefield.
  • Enjoy the introduction of Batarians. (complete assholes)
  • Realized that the main problem with side quests is that narrative is the only reward worth anything, and it's always sparse/throw away. The way the loot woks there really is no reward that could satisfy and XP flows so fast and furious that those rewards don't mean anything either. Money also becomes meaningless quickly. Only things worth buying being upgrades and spectre weapons.
  • Sprinting is super fast but very limited.
  • Very interesting moral choice at the end, one that isn't as black and white as usual. Do you let the bad guy go to save a handful of lives? Or do you sacrifice them to ensure the bad guy can't harm anyone else?
  • Equipping party individually using lockers is cool conceptually, but annoying in practice.
  • Skipped colony side quests on Feros. Partly because they seemed boring, partly to roleplay as a no nonsense renegade only concerned with finding Saren. 
  • Nice bit of foreshadowing with Fai Dan about the real nature of the colony. "Most serene place imaginable." (Watch video for real line)
  • It was in the middle of Feros that I realized I really wasn't having much fun, and I started mainlining the game in the hopes that the main plot would keep my interest. Which was a stupid hope since I'd played the game before and knew all that was going to happen.
  • Eventually combat becomes boring as your gear and powers get stronger.
  • Decryption minigame gets old very quickly. Eventually I started using omnigel all the time, since money wasn't really an issue. I had a ton of stuff to turn into omnigel that I could use to open boxes full of useless stuff for the most part. It is a vicious cycle done in the hopes of finding something worth using.
  • Loot starts out cool but becomes a hassle quickly. There is just to much junk that is thrown at you.
  • Mako is a bitch on Feros thanks to the tighter spaces of the skyway and tunnels.
  • The knock out grenade for the crazy colonists is a nice touch.
  • Fai Dan resisting and killing himself is a nice scene. Made me think that if it was in ME2 it would probably have a renegade interrupt to kill him.
  • Like the mind meld Asari can do, Star Trek nod.
  • Funny that the Protheans look so different than they do in later incarnations.
  • New found respect for Kaiden now that I'm romancing him. He is a good character, I never gave him a chance before, I would always let him die.
  • Talking with your crew after missions is easily the highlight of the game.
  • Big fan of the political intrigue/corruption on Noveria. Much more interesting then Feros. I enjoyed taking down the administrator. Made me feel like a badass space cop. Plus he's such an asshole that I had a lot of fun taking him out.
  • Noveria has some actually good side quests such as the hanar smuggling and the corporate espionage one. They are both interesting plot wise and have many outcomes. These are the kind of side quests I wish there were more of.
  • The shield takes way to long to recharge on the mako. It's into the minutes to get full shields from near empty.
  • Puzzle to fix VI on Noveria is still annoying. I suggest paying the 100 omnigel.
  • I feel like Noveria is composed of all the things that make ME great: Alternate paths, dialogue with a variety of people, some mako but doesn't overstay it's welcome, combat is tolerable, great final choice.
  • Wrex argument on Virmire is tense, it really put me on edge even though I'd seen it before.
  • Captain Kirrahe's speech on Virmire is easily one of my favorites, just excellent cinematography, sound, and writing.
  • We held the line!!
  • I love the whole of Virmire. The mission itself has a sense of grandeur and scale. It makes me feel like I'm in a real battle. The comm chatter is fascinating. Even though I was playing renegade I was happy to help Kirrahe at every opportunity.
  • Sovereigns introduction is amazing. Gives me chills. I love how threatening and overwhelming he is just in conversation.
  • Sarens introduction on Virmire is badass, he rolls up on a floating platform and just blasts biotics like a boss. The conversation afterward is telling, letting the player see just how effective indoctrination can be.
  • The ensuing boss fight greatly undermines the following cutscene where Saren nearly kills Shepard. Classic RPG trope of winning the boss fight but losing the plot battle.
  • The death on Virmire is a pivotal point, but one that doesn't have much punch as the 2 party members that can die are easily the weakest of the group. I did however appreciate the survivors remorse Kaiden expressed in the wake of Ashley's demise.
  • Thought the commanders quarters on the Normandy are utterly useless.
  • I like that if you rescue the person you put on the salarians team they are also rescued and appear on your ship to thank you.
  • Nobody stabs me in the back Udina, nobody!
  • I kind of enjoy the chemistry between femshep and Kaiden, it actually seems legit which is a hard thing to pull off.
  • The lock in a the the citadel seems stupid to me, the game drills into your head repeatedly that you have supreme authority, yet Udina can just shut you down in an instant.
  • Sex scene is even tamer than I remember. Comparable to a lifetime movie at best. Although I do find the dialogue afterwards hilarious "I don't think I've worked out all my stress yet."
  • Prothean statues on the world of Ilos are really inaccurate when compared to later renditions.
  • Not a fan of Ilos aesthetic. Normally I like overrun urban areas but here it just doesn't seem that well done.
  • I like that Shepard can understand Prothean, good reveal with your teammates saying they can't understand the language while all you hear is English.
  • Vigil has one of the best information dumps of all time. I like that after so many hours you just get a ton of questions answered in one conversation.
  • The small relay in the citadel being an actual relay is a great reveal.
  • The massive space battle at the citadel is awesome. Makes for a good setting to end the game.
  • Love space walking on the citadel. Skewed perspectives make for an interesting environment.
  • I appreciate that they let you talk Saren into suicide. I wish that they didn't make you fight his husk afterward. I feel like ending the game on a conversation is fitting.
  • Letting the council die doesn't exactly feel like a renegade choice in the moment. It only makes sense to concentrate on Sovereign, the risk is just too great to waste ships on anything else.
  • Saren boss fight sucks. It's just an annoying bullet sponge kind of fight.
  • The next to final scene of Shepard coming up from the rubble is great. The swelling theme really makes it feel epic.
  • I don't like being railroaded into an all human council. It seems really improbable to me that humanity would just take all seats on the council like nothing. I get that one of the main themes of the franchise is humanities rise, but it seems impossible that such a thing could happen in the world they built just because Shepard saved the Citadel. Especially since it's clear in ME2 that most people don't even believe in the reaper threat.
  • The credits song is kick ass
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1:54 PM on 07.24.2015

Looking Back: Mass Effect

This is a spoiler warning!!

Mass Effect is, without hyperbole, one of the greatest franchises in gaming. Even in spite of it's rocky conclusion, I believe that the Mass Effect trilogy will always hold a pivotal place in videogame history. With that said, I recently decided to dive back in to the franchise, starting with the original. It's a game I remember fondly, one that holds a special place in my heart. I thought that this time through I would be a bit more critical of one of my old favorites. So I busted out a spiral notebook and wrote some notes in anticipation of writing this blog, a blog looking back at Mass Effect.

Right off the bat I was struck by just how cool the character creator is. It's an awesome in universe system that tasks you with rebuilding your entry in the alliance database by picking your history, class, and appearance. It's a very clever way to get you into the game world immediately, and is representative of the attention to detail Bioware put into their fiction. Right after you're done making your custom Shepard you're quickly treated to dialogue custom matched to the background you chose. After a quick scene revealing Shepard face you take your first action in the game, which is a dialogue choice. It's indicative of Bioware's dedication to making Mass Effect a game that focused on the players choices. It's a promise that was seemingly broken by the end of the trilogy, but back in the day it was revolutionary.

At this point I was thoroughly impressed at how well the game held up. Sure I could already see the frame rate dipping, and the textbook unreal engine pop in was in full effect, but I was impressed by how good it still looked. Then I was dropped down for the first bit of action in the game, on a planet known as Eden Prime. Once my boots were on solid ground I was much less impressed with Mass Effect's staying power. The combat is straight up janky. That's the best word I can think of to describe the weird amalgamation of shooting and RPG mechanics. Even as a first attempt it's hard to forgive just how terrible the moment to moment action is. I had a vague recollection that once I was a little leveled up and had put some points into my skills combat would be smoother, but that theory proved false. Even late game the combat is barely tolerable. Thankfully it's not long before normal difficulty becomes a joke, and you can start rushing through the combat to get to the good stuff.

The plot of the original Mass Effect is essentially a set up for the rest of the trilogy, and in that sense it's a great success. The opening section on the citadel still remains one of the best sections of the entire game, thanks to it's incredible world building. In those opening few hours I was completely sucked into the worlds politics and history. Despite the fact that I'd played the game multiple times in the past I was still enthralled by the sheer density of information they hit you with. Bioware manages to sprinkle the pertinent bits around by setting up a ton of quests involving all the different species of the citadel. It's unfortunate that this pace doesn't last past the opening citadel jaunt.

 

Once you leave to start the game proper, you get peppered with a bunch of incredibly generic side quests. I thought this playthrough I would try to 100% the game so I could give a proper opinion, but I just couldn't deal with the endless stream of horrible side content. The basic formula is this: You get a message from someone or initiate a short conversation with a random person, then you do some combat in a generic location against generic enemies, finally you get about a paragraph of unfulfilling dialogue. The repetition really started to bother me about 10 hours in, and it's at that point that I pretty much gave up on the side quests and focused solely on the story.

After recruiting Liara in a pretty milquetoast mission, I headed to Feros. This planet was a complete slog of boring combat and even more boring conversations. Not much of consequence happens here, it's a complete throwaway of a main mission. So I went onward to Noveria, where I had a great time. Noveria to me represents whats great about the Mass Effect series. It has alternate paths through quests, great dialogue with a variety of interesting characters, a little bit of Mako but not enough to overstay it's welcome, and most importantly, an interesting final decision. It's the complete package, and if Feros was anywhere near as interesting as this, the game would be a much better package.

With that we get to Virmire, by far the best section of the entire game. It has all the great things Noveria does, but taken to the next level. It's a roller coaster of great moments that hit one after the other starting with trying to talk down Wrex, which is tense even to someone who knows the outcome. Following that is a fantastic speech by Captain Kirrahe about holding the line against all odds. Then you go into a lot of combat, but you get immersive radio chatter about the battles going on around you, keeping things interesting. Right when you start to get sick of combat you get your first chance to meet a reaper. This conversation with Sovereign gives me chills. Even though it's a short interaction the voice and tone of the speech gives you the impression that you're way out of your league with the reapers. Shortly afterward Saren makes an appearance for a boss fight. Here I have my only real issue with Virmire, which is that it embraces one of the oldest RPG tropes in the book. Even though I kicked Saren's ass the following cutscene shows that I lost the battle, which kind of takes me out of the experience. Even still I was riding a wave of nostalgia at this point, this was the Mass Effect I remembered. Topping it off is perhaps the biggest decision in the game, one where you hold your allies lives in your hand.

The choice between Kaidan and Ashley on Virmire is a pivotal part of the game, but one that doesn't hold the weight I once thought it did. Kaidan is a character I never gave much of a chance before, but went out of my way to explore this time through. As a female Shepard I decided that I would romance him instead of Liara, in the hopes that he would be a more intriguing person as a love interest. I'll admit that this playthrough I did take a liking to Kaidan, but I never grew as attached to him as I did many other party members throughout the series. Ashley on the other hand is a piece of shit racist, who I sacrificed quite easily. In previous playthroughs I'd kept her alive because I felt at least she had some character, but this time around I was done with her shit. Both of these characters are easily the weakest of the entire franchise, and I wouldn't be bothered much if they both died honestly.

This brings us to the final sequence of the game. You're waylaid for a short time at the Citadel for some reason that is unclear to me. Udina seems to be able to lock Shepard out of her ship despite the fact that as a Spectre I hold supreme authority. After that pointless intervention you go to the final planet of Ilos. Here lies some old Prothean ruins that have been overtaken by nature. You find a few statues that show the Prothean form, but this form is later retconned from the series in favor of a more humanoid appearance. It's a fairly boring place up until you start your ride into an old Prothean research facility. Here you get to hear a massive info dump form a Prothean VI that somehow survived 50,000 years. The information he gives you answers a ton of lingering questions about the nature of the reapers, and adds a sense of urgency to the situation. It's now clear that if you don't stop Sovereign and Saren, the universe is doomed to extinction. It's also revealed that the small relay statue on the citadel is actually a working relay prototype, and you use it to reach the final battle.

Finally a space battle, something I was looking forward to all game long. Bioware delivers on it's sci-fi premise with a massive battle involving dozens of ships blowing the shit out of each other, and Sovereign just bowling over cruisers to reach the Citadel. After a short space walk on the walls of the citadel you finally reach Saren, who at this point is completely under Sovereigns mind control. With enough points in your intimidate/persuade skills, you can talk Saren into suicide, which I feel would make a fine ending to the game. It's too bad that this conversation is quickly undermined by Saren coming back to life as a husk, and engaging you in an annoying bullet sponge boss battle. Once Saren is dead for good you get the next to final choice in the game, whether or not to save the council. I hate this decision, because it's considered a renegade action for you to focus your ships on sovereign instead of rescuing the council. I feel that given the information you possess it only makes sense to target Sovereign, because the council can be rebuilt if lost. Instead if you make the logical choice you're railroaded into having an all human council in subsequent games, which seems like an impossible outcome in this universe. Humans are basically despised by most alien species, yet they save the citadel and suddenly they're the dominant force in the universe.

The first Mass Effect is an odd beast. In some ways it's a failed experiment in combining shooters and RPGs, but in other ways it's a masterpiece of cinematography and craft. It has so many little things that stand out from the rest of the franchise that I miss. Dozens of aesthetically different suits of armor, having all 4 weapons at the ready even if you can't use them, a basic loot system, omnigel to avoid boring mini games, and infinite ammo. It also is easily the most mind numbing game of the bunch, with numerous valleys and not quite enough peaks. It's a game I once remembered fondly but now remember as something of a mixed bag of concepts both failed and successful. On one hand I'd recommend everyone interested in the series to play this game to absorb the awesome universe, but on the other hand I'd worry that they would give up after trying to deal with the clunky combat and long stretches of mediocrity. Does Mass Effect hold up? I think at this point I'd have to say no, but you might want to play it anyway.

“You all know the mission and what is at stake. I have come to trust each of you with my life, but I have also heard murmurs of discontent. I share your concerns.


We are trained for espionage. We would be legends, but the records are sealed. Glory in battle is not our way.


Think of our heroes: the Silent Step, who defeated a nation with a single shot. Or the Ever Alert, who kept armies at bay with hidden facts.


These giants do not seem to give us solace here, but they are not all that we are. Before the network, there was the fleet. Before diplomacy, there were soldiers.


Our influence stopped the rachni, but before that, we held the line. Our influence stopped the krogan, but before that, we held the line!


Our influence will stop Saren! in the battle today, we will hold the line!”

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8:29 PM on 07.14.2014

Evo 2014 (In Pictures)

Evolution 2014 is over, and boy was it spectacular. I, being a Las Vegas local, finally decided this year to take the plunge and buy a ticket to the largest fighting game tournament in the world. It was one of the best weekends of my life, and I made sure to snap a bunch of pictures to keep the memory alive. Unfortunately I snapped them all with my camera phone, which resulted in a lot of blurry pics. So I picked out the usable ones and put them together to give everyone a little context of what it's like to be at the show in person.†

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5:58 PM on 10.12.2013

Beyond: Two Souls Review



Beyond: Two Souls

Holy Shit I love David Cage

Played to completion once, no reloading


Beyond: Two Souls is exactly what I wanted it to be. Itís the sequel to Heavy Rain in every sense of the word. The writing is improved, the actors actually act, the gameplay system is more intuitive, and the game just flows better than Heavy Rain ever did. Quantic Dreamís games are getting better, but thereís still room for improvement.


Willem Dafoe is best known for his performance in Being John Malkovich ll: District Dafoe

Beyond opens at the end of the storyline, with main character Jodie Holmes (no relation) telling the player that she needs to remember everything that happened in her life. From there we are thrust into her shoes as she grows from a small child into a grown adult, but not in a linear fashion. Instead the game has a Pulp Fictionesque style that tosses you around a timeline. One level youíre playing as teenage Jodie, the next youíre a frightened child hiding from monsters under the bed, then the next youíre a CIA operative on a mission to assassinate a warlord. I've struggled with myself as to whether this is a positive or a negative. If the games story went about in a linear fashion, I might have been more connected to Jodie and the other prominent characters. Then again, the jumping around keeps things interesting. Every chapter something new and cool was introduced, and I got surprised again and again by Jodieís ever changing fashion sense.

This game is gorgeous. Everything about it is so crisp and real; I couldn't help but think that we could have kept this gen going a bit longer. Of course I expected the game to look good, considering itís supposed to be a cinematic experience, but I was blown away by how amazing the graphics are. The faces are especially impressive, with a level of detail that is literally jaw dropping. Ellen Page and Willem Dafoeís (Our lord and savior) acting combined with the amazing visuals really sell the whole experience.†


Ellen Page is best known for her performance in The Last of Us as 14 year old Ellie

A lot of flak has been thrown David Cages way in regards to his writing ability. Considering the many plot holes and absurdities present in his previous games, itís fair for people to presume that Beyond wonít be any better, and in many ways itís not. The game is still full of cliches and ham-fisted lines that occasionally pull you out of the experience, but itís gotten a lot better. There are no real plot holes as far as I can tell, and characters are almost 100% believable. Gone are the out of place French accents and red herrings of Heavy Rain. Instead the game offers a pretty straight forward story, with a few twist and turns but nothing mid blowing. Of course the game is chock full of movie tropes, such as a mysterious other world called the ďInfraworldĒ, a couple of completely shoed in love interests, and donít forget about the corrupt government officials! †In the context of the game the story works, and kept me interested for the 10 or so hours I played.

Now we get to the controversial ďgameplay.Ē Let me just get this out the way and say the Beyond is without a doubt a game, and anyone debating that it isn't a game is a jerk. The gameplay essentially boils down to moving with the left stick and interacting with things using the right stick. Itís a pretty cool context sensitive system where small white dots appear on things you can interact with and you move the right analog stick towards the dot to perform the interaction. Gameplay is completely different in high action scenes. The game will move in slow motion for a few seconds and you as the player have to move the right stick in the same direction that Jodie is physically moving on screen. For example thereís a scene where you have to fight off 3 attackers on top of a moving train. When Jodie throws a right handed punch you have to push right on the analog stick to succeed. When you need to duck, you push down on the analog stick. Itís an intuitive system and a great idea, but I consistently ran into the problem of not knowing which direction to push, or pushing what I thought was the correct direction but failing. It can get really frustrating but since there are no game overs it isn't too much of an issue. The final piece of the puzzle is the second soul referenced in the title; Aiden. Aiden is a sort of spirit that Jodie has control over, and this is what makes Jodie so special plot wise. As Aiden, you can forcefully interact with objects, possess humans, and occasionally heal people. Again, itís a great idea, but in execution Aiden is very limited in his interactions. He can only possess certain people and only interact with specific objects. It leads to moments where you wonder why Aiden canít just rescue Jodie from some of the horrible situations she gets into by possessing/killing her attackers.†


No Quantic Dream game is complete without a shower scene.

Beyond: Two Souls is sort of an outsider in the gaming world. Itís been labeled as an interactive drama, a game for the masses, and a wannabe Hollywood picture. To me itís a game that drew me in harder than any other game has since Quantic Dreams last venture, Heavy Rain. Its gameplay is simple and limited, but itís that gameplay combined with the drama of the plot that makes Beyond so great. When I have to mash the X button to save Jodieís life, or hold down a series of buttons to hide from the cops, I can feel the excitement and intensity of the events on screen. I want to scream and yell at Jodie to move faster, because Iím so invested in her story. When Iím playing the game I can disregard the nagging problems with the writing because Iím in so deep in the moment. Tons of people laugh at David Cage and his constant quest to squeeze more emotion out of his games. Iím personally waiting with bated breath to see his if his next game continues the constant cycle of improvement that started 8 years ago with Indigo Prophecy.


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8:35 PM on 10.09.2013

Just Some Impressions:GTA Online

GTA Online does not live up to the hype.



Let me start by saying that I've managed to avoid most of the online glitches that seem rampant in GTA Online. The only problem I ran into seemed to be the most common of them all, not being able to play the first race. After the patch came out (amazingly fast I might add), I had zero real problems playing the game to its fullest. The problem is that playing the game just isn't that fun.

The open world is just a glorified lobby. Nothing of any real substance ever happens while you free roam. Sure you can make your own fun by randomly screwing people over or joining an impromptu gang, but that kind of fun doesn't last. The only things of real substance you can do is either rob a convenience store or sell random cars to the chop shop, and those activities get old quickly. I've tried to dick around with random people and while it sometimes results in spontaneous fun, mostly it leads to boredom.†


The game has it's moments, but they're few and far between

Of course, every multiplayer game becomes instantly more fun with friends. You can communicate and set up your own scenarios which often lead to some legitimately amazing moments.†Itís a comment I constantly see when people defend multiplayer/co-op games; ďIts better when you play with your friends.Ē What I always want to reply with is ďOf course it is dumb ass!Ē or ďOh really, I would NEVER have figured that out without your AMAZING and INSIGHTFUL FUCKING COMMENTĒ. What I want to know is how much fun you can have with random people, and the answer in this case isÖ..not much.

You have your standard multiplayer modes and some GTA particular multiplayer modes that aren't really anything special. Then you have the missions you get from NPCís which are almost always some kind of co-op fetch quest. Every single mission comes down to either killing someone or retrieving something. Itís just seems like Rockstar really didn't care when they made these missions, theyíre just so completely mediocre. Once again the only fun comes when something unexpected happens, such as your co-op partner getting run over by a bus. Sure itís a nice laugh, but then itís back to the tedium.

Money is king online, and playing the boring missions is basically the fastest way to get money. The only reason to rob stores or sell stolen cars is to get money. Everyone wants money because they want to buy guns/cars/garages/houses. Just like in real life, I became a slave to money. What little fun I had in the open world was squashed when I realized that dying in the open world costs money, a lot of money. So I instead focused on doing missions and the occasional deathmatch/race. It was like a job to me, I played for hours just to get enough money for a new gun and some clothes. Of course there are ways to make money fast, but they involve playing the same missions dozens of times in a row. It seems like the ultimate goal is to get a nice house, but I donít really care enough to get there. Iím bored enough as it is, I donít see how a virtual house will make the game more interesting.


Unless of course this is what happens when you buy a house

Nothing about GTA Online is really different or innovative; itís a collection of mediocre multiplayer modes and boring co-op missions. Itís feels like a boring modern version of Red Dead Redemptionís multiplayer. Maybe I built it up too much prior to launch, but GTA Online really is a huge disappointment for me.   read


5:05 PM on 09.13.2013

Tales of Xillia Review



Tales of Xillia

Current generation game, last generation ideals

Played to completion on Normal difficulty with most side quests completed


The Tales series has been a constant in my life since the venerable GameCube classic Tales of Symphonia hit in 2004. Symphonia is one of those defining games of my childhood. In the nine years since Symphonia hit US shores, Iíve become a completely different person. In contrast, the Tales of series has remained almost identical, and Xillia is no exception. It has everything youíd want in a Tales game: Fast paced real time combat, likeable characters, and a generic anime-esque plot. Itís a Tales game through and through, and I couldnít put the controller down.

Xillia opens with a choice. You have to choose which of the 2 main characters will become the actual main character of your playthrough. Picking the naÔve young med student Jude will reward you with the best all-around plot experience. Picking the mysterious beauty Milla grants you a less cohesive story overall, but has tons of interesting background information and character development tidbits. Either way you go, the main game remains the same.


Gaze upon your god!

Xillia has an incredibly slow start. Learning all the systems and experimenting with the brand new link artes, (Combo abilities involving 2 party members) keeps things interesting for a while, †but it doesn't take long for the game to hit a relatively long lull. I was bored for a lot of the first 20 or so hours of Xillia. The combat is fun but can get repetitive and the plot goes almost nowhere. Then somewhere around 2/3ds of the way through the game goes into overdrive. The story takes some awesomely dark turns and the boss battles come fast and furious. Itís suffers from whatís known as FF13 syndrome, although itís not nearly as dreary as that game gets. Even during the boring times you get the occasional funny skit or interesting side quest. Speaking of side quests, this game almost has a split personality when it comes to the types of quests handed out. On the one hand you have the standard fetch/kill quests that add almost nothing to the game. On the other hand there are side quests which consist only of going to specific spots and watching a quick cutscene. These quests are almost universally interesting and build the backstory of your traveling companions.


The humorous skits help fight the boredom

Itís hard for me to find any fault with the main cast of Xillia. Sure the dub could be better, but in the overall picture that doesn't even matter. The characters are so well written and believable that I fell in love with them at first sight. Jude seems like the typical naÔve protagonist at the start, but he shows himself to be capable and smart, and those traits only improve as the game proceeds. Milla plays the typical fish out of water type, but the execution is so great that you canít help but be drawn to her. She is by far the best female main character of the entire Tales series, but the real standout of the cast is the charming rouge named Alvin. His shifting loyalties and questionable actions keep the story interesting, but itís his awe inspiring end game actions that really make him so interesting. The only shame is that his standout scene is only shown during Judeís playthrough. The rest of the cast all have interesting and unique personalities, and I thoroughly enjoyed learning about them all.

The music is still buzzing around in my head. The game has dozens of distinct pieces that remain memorable even after the game is over. If only the game looked as good as it sounds. It still boggles my mind how bad this game looks. The textures are muddy and bland and the environments have a ton of recycled pieces that become very noticeable after 40 hours. Considering the fact the game was made from the ground up for the PS3 itís strange that it looks worse the last game in the series Tales of Graces f, and that game is a Wii port! Itís not like it ruins the game, but it really brings me down when I see the same muddy textures reused for the umpteenth time.


Namco once again shows how to make relevant DLC

Tales of Xillia left me wanting more. The games comes to an end so quickly that I couldn't help but wish that I had a little more time to spend with my party. At 40 hours with nearly all side quests done the game is standard RPG length but not up to the Tales of standard. In those 40 hours of game time I spent more than half in a sort of haze, just playing like a zombie waiting for the next bit of stimulation. Then when the game picked up and summarily ended I was disappointed that it was over. Tales of Xillia has its flaws, particularly its severe cliffs and valleys, but it is a fine entry in the Tales of series.

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4:07 PM on 06.28.2013

An Ode to the Temporary Party Member

Temporary party members have long been a staple of JRPGís. It takes its place in the pantheon of tropes along with amnesia and crazy hair. In some cases an awesome character from the story will help you out of a tough spot with (usually) awesome abilities. Other times these characters will be in your party at the very beginning of the game, and then you realize they wonít stick around when they donít level up in the same way as your protagonist.†


This isn't going to end well

I would be remiss if I didnít lay out some ground rules in regards to this list/blog. First of all there will be spoilers for a lot of RPGís, including but not limited to: A bunch of Final Fantasy games, the Xenosaga series, Lunar Silver Star Harmony, and .Hack. Secondly, not all characters who are only around for a limited time count as temporary party members. For example, Aeris doesnít count because she is a main party member for a good chunk of the game and levels up with everyone else. When it comes to temporary members, I mean a character that is only in the party for one battle or one area, who doesnít learn skills in the same way as main party members, and more than likely has static equipment. With that out of the way, letís get on with the show.


Honestly there's no reason for Cloud to even be here

Letís start with the grandfather of the JRPG, Final Fantasy. My first exposure to the temporary party member is a common one. The game was Final Fantasy 7, the location was Nibelheim. It started out innocently enough with my various party members having a discussion at the inn. It wasnít long before we transitioned to the past, and caught a glimpse of the sexy beast known as Sephiroth. After a little chit chat between Cloud and Sephiroth, a battle with a dragon commenced. It wasnít long before I realized Cloud was a huge pussy compared to Sephiroth. On the first turn the Dragon killed me in one hit, and Sephiroth hit me with Life 2, a spell I had never seen before that point. Then the show continued when Sephy shrugged off the Dragonís attack and hit him for 3000 damage. When I got cloud to attack, it hit for a measly 100. This battle perfectly demonstrates why I love temporary party members. It gives you a glimpse of how powerful you can be in the future, while humbling you by showing just how far away you are from being strong.†


Good luck buddy

Moving on to the sequel, we get Seifer and his presence in FF8. Seifer is presented as your rival from the very start of the game, and goes on to become a reoccurring boss throughout. Early on in the game, you get a glimpse of what Seifer can do, and itís not †very impressive. Heís basically a clone of Squall with no distinguishing features. Once again the game designers show mastery of their craft. By showing that Seifer is on the same level as the protagonist, they can later set up how powerful he becomes in relation to Squall. By the end of the game, he becomes a formidable boss that takes your whole party to beat. It also makes you a little more familiar with Seiferís character. Heís not really evil; he just wants a purpose in life.†


Seymour is a huge asshole, but he's got the bite to back up the bark

Now letís jump to the best game in the series. In Final Fantasy 10, we get to utilize the primary antagonist Seymour in exactly one battle. This battle takes place before we learn of Seymourís sinister intentions, and is the second example of Seymourís skills. The first time we see Seymour in action is during a cutscene in which he summons a giant fish monster that absolutely destroys all the enemies you've been struggling with up to that point. Later down the line we get to see what Seymour can do first hand in a boss battle that would be impossible to beat without him. Like Final Fantasy 7, Seymour is basically an example of how powerful you can become later in the game. He possesses the upgraded versions of the spells you can use, and does exponentially more damage then you. He's also unique in that he has an overdrive made only for this battle that most people never see. In order to watch this overdrive, you will have to delay the battle for a good 20 minutes, just getting hit and healing over and over. Most players finish this battle quickly thanks to Seymourís power, so itís completely unnecessary for the developers to include this. To me thatís what makes this battle so awesome. FF 10 HD 2013/2014 GOTY!


Vergil always gets the short end of the stick

Xenosaga is balls out insanity. Making sense of the series requires a PhD in fucking crazy shit, and thatís why I love it. It also makes good use of the temporary party member. In the first game, we get Vergil in our party for a short while. Now by the time I played Xenosaga, I knew how to spot a temporary member. As such I knew once Vergil joined the party I knew the fun wouldn't last. He had only 2 basic attacks and no abilities. Even though I knew he wouldn't be in the party for long, I never expected that they would take him out the way they did. After helping you escape the Gnosis and getting all the way to the escape pods, Kos-Mos mows him down in a hail of minigun fire. The sole reason she does this is because he was in the way of her shots, and thus expendable. Itís an amazing cutscene to watch because it surprises you to see just how cruel Kos-Mos can be. It establishes the fact that Kos-Mos is a robot who follows her programming and doesn't have any human emotion.(Even though this is actually revealed to be false later on).†


"I'm a fucking badass!!"

Flash forward to Xenosaga 3 where we get to use 2 characters we've seen throughout the series finally get into the fight. Miyuki joins the fray with a fighting style almost the same as Shionís, utilizing the same weapon and abilities. While it was cool to finally see Miyuki show up, the best part was seeing Allen fight. Throughout the series Allen is established as the sort of wimpy guy who just wants to be safe and secure. He is shown to have basically zero balls and no physical prowess. Then in episode 3 he becomes the ultimate badass. He joins the battle with a futuristic crossbow and competently replaces Shion in the party. He doesnít have amazing abilities or anything, but the fact that heís an ok fighter completely blew me away. This also helps set up his amazing actions towards the end of the game, specifically when he jumps on a Gnosis and beats the shit out of it to protect Shion. Itís represents a complete transformation of his character, and it's a beautiful sight to behold.


It may be packed full of tropes, but it's still an amazing experience

Lunar: Silver Star Harmony is an excellent remake of the Sega CD classic. This game is classic JRPG at its finest; young boy on an adventure, legends of an old hero who saved the world, ancient dragons, and a malevolent villain who fucks shit up. It's an absolute tragedy that I only found out about this game last year. It was refreshing to play a game that so perfectly encompassed the entire genre. Anyway, the game opens with a battle between 4 very powerful characters and what is basically the last boss. Once again itís showing just how powerful you can become by giving you a party of full powered fighters to use. The twist in Lunar is that this party is actually the parents of the main cast, and theyíre powers almost directly correspond to their childrenís abilities. Trust me itís more awesome than Iím describing.


I'm still waiting for a .Hack HD remaster

Finally we get to a somewhat obscure RPG, .Hack. The thing that separates .Hack from the pack is that itís a single player game that takes place in a virtual MMO. Your character is actually a guy on a computer playing an MMO. As such you can check your email and keep a friends list of party members to call upon. At the beginning of the game you are raiding a dungeon with your friend IRL whose character is named Orca. Things are going smoothly as you follow Orca around and leech xp from his kills. Of course things take a turn when a powerful monster attacks Orca and the player. Orca tries to fight back but every attack misses and the monster swats Orca like a fly. Orca tells you to run but youíre character is frozen in fear. Luckily a mysterious spirit appears and teleports you away with a mysterious book in tow. Itís one of my favorite game openings because it so perfectly sets up all the MMO tropes the game follows while introducing you to it's unique storyline.†


I put this picture solely because I really love Kos-Mos

I think thatís enough of a rant for today. I know that there are probably hundreds of characters I've missed on this list, including some from the Final Fantasy series. If I missed one of your favorites go ahead and tell me in the comments, because I love me some honest feedback.   read


1:09 PM on 03.26.2013

Epic Games is the new Capcom



The recent release of Gears of War: Judgment got me thinking about just how quickly Epic Games has gone from a company who released free DLC to keep playerís engaged, into a company who releases games with disc locked content and microtransactions.



Since I was never much of a PC gamer, my experience with Epic Games started with the release of the original Gears of War. I was blown away when I played my first online round of Gears. No other game hooked me the way Gears did, I was playing the game 10 hours a day for weeks, enjoying every moment just as much as I did when I played that fateful first match. I actually enjoyed the game too much, playing became an obsession that had me ditching school and blowing off my friends. The only thing that got me away was the intervention of my parents after my Spanish teacher called home to say I had missed school for 2 weeks. My parents went straight for the jugular and took my games away for 3 months, leaving me only the Gameboy Advance I had stashed with a copy of Final Fantasy Tactics. When I got my games back, I of course went straight back into Gears, but luckily this time around I didnít feel the obsession I had felt only 3 months prior. When I got back in the game, I quickly noticed that a map pack had been released for the low price of free. At this point I wasnít very deep into the game industry, so I had no clue these maps were going to come out. In this map pack was the fan favorite Raven Down map, which became my temporary favorite. It wasnít too long after that the next pack came out, this time with a price of 10 bucks. I was a poor teenager with no credit card, so I was forced to skip this pack when it came out. Then after a few months Epic made the DLC free, and I was ecstatic. At this point I was playing different games, but I would still come back to Gears every few days. I was essentially in love with the franchise at this point, and was eagerly awaiting Gears 2.



Gears of War 2 arguably has the best campaign in the whole franchise. Unfortunately the same canít be said for the multiplayer. It was and still is a borderline broken mess. A lot of people abandoned ship and went back to Gears 1, but I stuck it out and came to enjoy the multiplayer immensely. The game came with a code for a map pack in the box as long as you bought it new, which I thought was a great idea. It gave incentive for people to buy new but it didnít punish used players. Looking back though I see the seeds of the problems with the Gears franchise today, which is Epic following the market trends to milk consumers out of every dollar they can get. Gears 2 eventually had 4 map packs that all cost money. It seemed that at this point Epic was done giving away free DLC to Gears fans. I was totally cool with this though, because I was a fan and the maps were reasonably priced. Towards the end of the games life, Epic earned back a little good will by releasing a super map pack that had every map ever released at a discount price. It was a great move that brought new and old players into the fray.



Gears of War 3 is a great game, it was packed with content that could keep players bust for 100ís of hours. This time around though, Epic made sure to throw some microtransactions in to make some extra dough. The game launched with 3 times as many skins to buy as there was to unlock. It was outrageous to me that Epic would do this. Then it came out that there were maps locked on the disc. Cliff Bleszinski then came out with a statement where he said ďIt's an ugly truth of the gaming industry. I'm not the biggest fan of having to do it, but it is one of the unfortunate realities." I read that as him basically saying that Epic is going to charge for this locked content and it will keep doing so in the future. Then on top of everything Epic put out a season pass for 30 bucks, and the first DLC it included was the on disc DLC. I felt completely ripped off at this point but the game itself was good enough to keep me playing. The next 3 DLCs promised in the season pass delivered, so I felt a little better about the game overall by the time the content stopped coming out, but I was still bitter about the whole thing. It turned out this was just a test run for the ďEpicĒ rip off that is Gears Judgment.



Gears of War: Judgment is a prime example of whatís wrong with the game industry today. After Gears 3 I was cautious about Judgment, and Iím glad I was. I rented the game and was appalled by the games lack of content. I was already on my toes thanks to the various pre-order bonuses and promotional items. If I wanted to get all the content I would have to pre-order from 5 places, buy some beef jerky and Brisk, and buy the season pass. In the vanilla game, there are only 8 character models. How the fuck did they make a game with 8 character models when there's 10 players in a match. Itís unbelievable how bare bones the game is without all the promotional items. Not only that, but the game has only 4 maps for deathmatch. 4 FUCKING MAPS! I was bored of the maps before my rental period was up. The Season pass is also a joke, it cost 20 dollars and you only get 6 maps and 2 game modes. Of course they attached permanent double XP to the pass to make fans buy it despite the lack of actual content. They also sell double XP as microtransactions, so you can pay a dollar for 10 matches worth. Itís disgusting what they've done to this game. The only thing they were missing was disc locked content, but it turns out that they have some of that too. Just today itís come out that the popular warzone game mode from the previous games in the franchise is locked on the disc, and is most likely one of the two modes included in the season pass. This game is the straw that broke the camelís back. Iím officially done with Epic and Iím done paying full price for games that are stripped of content so they can sell us it down the line. From now on Iíll stick with the companies I trust, but keep my eye open in case they shift downhill the way Epic has.
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12:10 PM on 01.27.2013

Bioshock's Museum of Orphaned Concepts

When I saw the announcement of the Bioshock Ultimate Rapture Edition, one thing caught my eye. A new feature called the "Museum of Orphaned Concepts" was added to the original Bioshock. Of course this was the first thing I wanted to see when I got my copy in the mail. So I decided to make a video so everyone can see this content, which I believe is incredibly interesting. The quality is terrible since it's from my phone, but you can still make out some of the awesome concept art that was thrown away before the original Bioshock came out.

Can't for the life of me figure out how to embed this, so click this link
WOULD YOU KINDLY   read


10:28 PM on 12.02.2012

IPL 5 Cosplay Roundup Featuring League of Legends!



Living in Vegas and being under 21 is basically the same as living on a tropical but not knowing how to swim. Thankfully, IPL came along and gave me the opportunity to ACTUALLY DO SOMETHING INTERESTING. After enjoying myself on Friday, I forced myself to work Saturday and miss out on the celebration. It was during the time I regretted not calling out that I had the idea to make a cosplay gallery. So I called my friends still at the event and asked them to get some pics for me to throw this gallery together. So, without further ado, here is a selection of some of the great cosplay of IPL !

First, we have a little set-up. A few picks of the venue to set the tone.....










To kick things off, we have a cosplay of Ahri from League of Legends.


Now a beautiful group shot featuring Nurse Akali, Ahri, and Elise


Next up, Taric and Dr. Mundo!


The Tommy-gun wielding Mafia Miss Fortune!


Seems like Miss Fortune is very popular, but I'll always love Dat' Ashe.


A wild Ezreal appears!


Headmistress Fiora dealing out the punishment.


The always stylish Vayne


Group Shot of Talon, Teemo, Katarina, and Battle Bunny Riven.


Bonus pic of Juliet Starling from Lollipop Chainsaw


Bonus pic the second of me with Jessica Nigri


What event would be complete without the swag?


Finally, we have a meme pic I made of my friend Roger. Included just to piss him off.
  read





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