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About
Derek spends his days trying to keep up with Sonic the Hedgehog, his evenings attempting to jump as high as Mario, and his nights by sneaking into the Ninja Turtles’ secret lair in the hopes of getting some special ninja training from Master Splinter.

Among other things.

Born and raised in boring ol’ Massachusetts, Derek has felt the call of fantasy from a young age. Proudly declaring that “Reality is boring!” he strives to find new and interesting fantastic worlds with an unmatched drive. He hopes that his works will one day inspire others to explore the fantastical. He welcomes anyone on board for the ride.
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Xbox LIVE:Ryoma90
PSN ID:Ryoma90
Steam ID:Ryoma900
Wii U code:Don't know it.
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And shop there too.

In the past, I've spoken in favor of GameStop whenever they came up in conversation. I've always felt that, yes, they offer you very little in exchange for your used games, but I've never felt like I was forced to accept their offer. Much like haggling on a car, they can make an offer of a dollar, and I can choose whether to accept it. If I feel it's an unfair trade, I keep my game. Done and done. I also enjoy their used games, as I've mentioned before that I have an addiction to cheap games. If it's less than twenty, it's very difficult for me to say no to interesting or high-rated console games. Sure, they have some downsides, such as constantly offering me a PowerUp rewards card (now a credit card) and their used game price inflation on stuff like Xenoblade Chronicles, but I've never really had a problem with them.

And really, the game was worth 90 smackers. 

Until now.

Allow me to set the scene. I drive by a GameStop on my way home from work. As an owner of a WiiU, I obviously want Super Smash Bros for the WiiU as soon as possible. While I don't usually pre-order things, I figured that since Smash is one of the biggest WiiU releases this year, I'd make an exception. I went online to pre-order the 100 dollar bundle, with the GameCube controller and adapter. I planned on having it shipped to store, where I could pick it up on my way home once it came out. However, it seems that the bundle was not available for pre-order, but the game and adapter (the true prize) were. So, I pre-ordered both, specified the store to send them too, and sat confidently in the fact that a pre-order guaranteed me a copy of both for 48 hours after release.

The day before, I called GameStop and spoke to a clueless girl that didn't know what the GameCube adapter was (and offered me the GameStop credit card). After speaking to a coworker, she assured me that both Smash and the adapter would be in stock that day. I told her that I would not be able to pick up the game until roughly 6:45PM because of work, and she said that was fine. So, I felt confident I would get what I had ordered.

Old memes are still relevant.

I arrive at GameStop and find a line behind the counter. That's fine—I expect a line because lots of games are being released at this time, and it's Friday. A guy behind the counter, with the line still long, announces that he's going on break, and a girl takes his place. I go up to the girl, and recognize her voice as belonging the clueless girl from the phone conversation the day before. She looks up my pre-order, hands me a copy of Smash and a cardboard belt, and begins ringing me up. “Wait,” I say.

“My adapter?”

“Your what?”

I explain that I had also pre-ordered a GameCube adapter. She takes an Amiibo and asks if this is what I want. When I say no, she looks to the guy on the other counter and explains what I'm looking for. He, of course, is helping another customer while looking at me. “We don't have any more in stock?”

“The computer says we don't.”

“Then that means it got sold to someone else.”

I could've screamed.

Pictured: An appropriate amount of rage.

He proceeds to pick up a phone held together with duct-tape and starts dialing. He begins muttering to himself that he is going to “kill” whoever sold my adapter, and while helping other customers, he calls other GameStops in the area. The woman looks at me and rings up my Smash game, saying that at least she can do that. So, I pay for Smash, and then move off to the side while I wait.
I waited for twenty minutes.

Meanwhile, another guy in line says that he pre-ordered a Smash Bros bundle online, and the girl is sent to find it. I see her dig in a drawer behind the counter, push a bundle aside, and say it's not there. The other guy, still threatening to kill an employee, holding a phone to his ear, and trying to ring someone out, tells her to look in the back. She does, and emerges five minutes later, empty-handed. “The computer says we have one,” she says. “But I can't find it.”

He digs in the drawer, produces the bundle, hands it to her, and says “It's not a console bundle. It's a controller.”

“Oh.” She takes it, and then rings it up.

Now, this is just me, but GameStop prides itself on being a store for gamers, run by gamers. Shouldn't a part of Employee Training be to know what the big releases are, and what bundles are coming out!? She looked right at the bundle, said that wasn't it, and nearly sent the other guy in line home empty-handed. I couldn't believe it.

Or odd, for that matter.

So, like I said, I wait twenty minutes. Remember the guy that took his break earlier? He comes back, and the guy on the phone says that I am missing an adapter. I hear this guy say “I'll handle it” and then marches over to me. He must be the manager, but he is also younger than me and wearing a College Sweatshirt. He says that Nintendo didn't ship them enough copies to fill all pre-orders.

“But that guy said that someone must've sold it to someone else.”

“He was confused.”

“...Uh huh.”

“But I'll give you a call when more come in.”

“Great, thanks.”

I could have pushed harder, but he shifted the blame to Nintendo, not to GameStop. Any screaming would do no good. So, I left.

I realize that there are far, FAR more important things in this world than a missing GameCube adapter. I realize that having my game but not my ideal way to play it is among the Firstiest of First-World Problems. But dammit, I pre-ordered my adapter. It was guaranteed to be there. It wasn't. I got spoken to like I was an idiot, had my time wasted, dealt with some seriously unprofessional people, and had an overall terrible experience. Plus, no compensation for my time, missing pre-order, or anything was offered to me. Nothing. Just shoved out the door so they could do more selling.

If I see a charge on my card for not picking up my pre-order in 48 hours...

Pictured: Me being polite on the phone.

At best, it's embarrassing for GameStop. At worst, it's infuriating for a customer. I expected better.

I guess that was my first mistake.

I got home, and placed a call to GameStop HQ. Turns out, they have only phone lines or live chat—no email. So, I called the phone line to complain. I got told that all “representatives were assisting other customers” and “my call was very important to them.” After a half-hour of waiting, I started a live-chat that took two tries to launch. After an hour of waiting on both the phone and the live chat, and getting nowhere, I gave up.

It's honestly less about my missing adapter now and more about the sheer unprofessionalism of the whole thing. I sent an angry email to Nintendo, because at least they have an email form to fill out, and since GameStop was likely to blame them, I thought I'd strike there as well. They at least responded, and while their advice was essentially to “talk to GameStop,” at least I got somewhere with them.

This is the absolute last time I pre-order anything from GameStop. And likely the last time I shop there. Since they can't guarantee items in stock that I pre-order, there is no reason not to order from an online retailer such as Amazon. The one advantage of GameStop pre-orders, I had thought, was getting the item I wanted that day. Guess I was wrong.

And the worst part? I got a physical letter the next day from GameStop HQ. Do you know what it was? A Credit Card offer.

Fuck you, GameStop.









So, I told myself last week that I was done blogging about Bayonetta 2. It was time to move on, I said, and despite the fact that I've played little else since the game was released, surely I had said all I could on the subject. It's a brilliant game, and after all, there are only so many synonyms for brilliant on Thesaurus.com. But, as I sat down to think of something to write for this week, I could think of little else.

So, here we are. Talking about Bayonetta 2 once again. Specifically, its ranking system.

If you've never played a Platinum Games' game (and yes, this phrasing amuses me) before, firstly, shame on you, and secondly, here is how the game is structured. The games tend to have a large number of levels, and each level is divided into encounters with monsters. The name of these encounters varies from game to game (Missions in The Wonderful 101, to Verses in Bayonetta). Each encounter has a set number of enemies to defeat, whether a small legion of weaklings or a giant boss. And at the end of each encounter, you're graded on your performance based on three simple-to-understand criteria:

  1. The length and duration of your combo.

  2. The amount of time it took to defeat all enemies.

  3. The damage taken during the battle.

The amount of points you earn in each of these criteria is then scored to give you a grade for that encounter, ranging from Stone (you suck) to Pure Platinum (you rock!). At the end of the level, each encounter's score is tallied together to give you a kind of “Final grade” for the level.

Like a report card you never show your parents.

These rankings never hinder your progress in the game, and they rarely affect anything other than special unlocks. And with Platinum Games' games being unforgiving and very challenging, it's very likely that your first foray into this wonderful world of video gaming will result in low ranks.

For some people, this becomes a kind of disheartening feature, reminding them of how much they suck at video games. I'm inclined to agree with that idea. This does show that you suck at these games. But rather than get disheartened by it, I welcome the challenge. Yes, I suck at this game now. But I'll get better.

You can play through a Platinum Games' game and entirely ignore the rankings. That's fine. But if you do, you're missing out on a whole new level of challenge and gameplay. See, these games are made to be replayed multiple times. Because, by the time you get to the end of the game, you are far better at the game than you were when you started. And if you were to go back and try an earlier level, your ranking would go up. It's a tangible measure of progress, and while you may not have mastered the game, you at least can measure your improvement.

My first playthrough of the original Bayonetta resulted in many Stone rankings. But I kept at it, and managed to get those scores higher and higher. In Bayonetta 2, I've earned almost always gold and platinums, and upon clearing the story, I went back to earlier levels and raised my ranking. Now, I learn nothing less than platinum ranks, even on higher difficulties.

It just required practice.

Look, a quote in an image. How inspiring.

Too many games, I feel, are designed to empower the player. They are designed to make you feel like a badass without doing much more than just going where the game says to and doing the thing. Their systems aren't complicated, and the game never begs you to master it. There's no challenge, because the game is too concerned with making you “look cool.”

Bayonetta 2 makes you look cool. But before you can do so, you have to master its systems. It's a game that rewards practice, and makes you earn your badassery. It's a system that keeps on giving the more you put into it.

It's a type of game philosophy I can really get behind.

Did this make sense to you? :) Do you agree with this thought process, or do you like the illusion that you are good at the game? Let's talk about it! With these posts, I'm finding that my views are more and more in the minority opinion of video gamers, something I find fascinating. Let's discuss!

 









I'd like to bring up a discussion I had with one of my video gamer friends a few days back regarding the value of a video game. Specifically, what would justify the purchase of a sixty dollar full-console experience. I was talking about how I would spend sixty smackers on Bayonetta 2, Mario Kart, Smash, Super Mario 3D World, and so on. He said that he didn't feel those were full experiences, and when I asked why, he said something very interesting to me.

“They have no story.”

Ignoring the fact that Bayonetta 2 does have a story of questionable quality, I instead chose to ask, “Why does that matter?”

“Because I'd play something like Mario, finish it, and be done with it. I wouldn't be invested in what was going on—I'd just be going through the levels. Without a story, I feel like I'm getting half a game.”

I thought that was a very interesting perspective on the current state of video gaming as a whole, and one that clashed immediately with my own. Ignoring the fact that not all video game stories are created equal, and that everyone has a different opinion on what makes a “good” story, the idea that not having a story at all could make for a lesser experience seemed very strange to me. And I think it spoke to the generational differences between the two of us.

Whippersnapper! Back in my day, we had two glorious d's. And we were happy to have'em!

See, I'm 24 years old. I've been playing games since I was young enough to be terrified of Doctor Robotnik (which is a story for another blog), and my first game console was a Sega Genesis. The first game I ever completed was one of the Sonic games (I forget which, probably 2?), and those 2D platformers were the basis of my gamer ideas.

My friend, on the other hand, just turned 18. He's never owned a console that wasn't made by Sony—his earliest gamer experiences were with things like Crash Bandicoot. Sly Cooper is among his favorites, as is Jak and Daxter and, more recently, Infamous. He talks about those games the same way I talk about classic Sonic, with a nostalgic air and eye.

The games I grew up with had very little story at all. Sonic didn't do much more than run to the right and break robots. I played a lot of platformers with a similar style, and for a long time, when I thought of video games, I thought of merely going right and navigating obstacle courses. He thought of collecting things, exploring 3D environments, and most important to this discussion, stories that defined his childhood.

And that's when Master Chief bust a cap in the mean ol'alien's ass.

This blog is not about the quality of video game storytelling (after all, I think Uncharted 3's story is a load of garbage, up there with Heavy Rain and LA Noire) but rather the idea that games need to have story as a focus, as if not having one makes for an inferior product.

I bought Super Mario 3D World knowing that there would be next to no story and wanting none. I wanted Nintendo's classic polished platforming and creative level design. I got it, and do not think the game is lesser because of it. In fact, I'd rather Mario have no story than the stuff pushed in Super Mario Sunshine. My friend would feel very differently. Nintendo games actually don't appeal to him because of the lack of story. He like Kart Racing, but would rather play Modnation Racers over Mario Kart, not because it's a superior kart-racer, but because there's a story mode.

I wonder if this is becoming a trend for modern gaming. As games strive more and more to emulate Hollywood, it seems that the focus is shifting away from game challenges such as surviving and learning the system, and instead looking more at creating interactive cinematic experiences.

Because we clearly need more of this.

I personally think that's a shame, because cinematic experiences can be enjoyed in other mediums. Movies, television, and books all can accomplish the same thing, debatedly better, than a video game could. Yet, video games can do so much more.

I know that story-based video gaming has its place, certainly. I play JRPGs after all, and really enjoy things like The Walking Dead and Gone Home. But I never felt that a game was inferior for having no story. A bad story, yes (especially when that's the game's selling point), but a game like Mario does not need a story like a game like The Walking Dead does.

So, now I turn it over to you—I've rambled and meandered long enough. What do you think? Are you more like my friend, or me? I'd love to hear from you and discuss in the comments.

 









 I'm going to do my best not to type in all caps and gush here. After all, I am a writer. I am expected to remain critical at all times.

BUT OH MY GOD YOU GUYS I FOUGHT A PRIEST WITH FLAMETHROWERS STRAPPED TO MY ANKLES WHILE HE SUMMONED A GIANT ANGEL DRAGON THAT FOUGHT MY GIANT ANGEL DOG.

I am both an adult and a professional, I swear.

Yeah, I need you to reschedule that call until AFTER Power Rangers, thanks.

I've been waiting for Bayonetta 2 for what felt like a eons. A big fan of the first game, my body was beyond ready for a sequel. I loved the world of Bayonetta—I loved how stupidly over-the-top everything was, how silky smooth the combat was, and how much the game pushed me, not only to beat it, but to master it. I put probably 40 hours into the first one, and barely scratched the surface of what the game had to offer. So, needless to say, Bayonetta 2 was a day one purchase for me. I even pre-ordered it.

And got offered a Powerup Rewards Credit Card for my trouble.

I'll admit, I felt some trepidation about the sequel. I did not think it would be a bad game, but I worried that it would be too similar to the original. I worried that there would be a sense of “Did here, done that” to the game. A more refined game, but lacking a certain Je-ne-sais-quoi that made the first all the more special. The demo reinforced this fact, because while a great glimpse of the game, it did little to convince me that this was going to be more than Bayonetta 1.5.

My fears were entirely unfounded.

I have yet to finish the game (or even get very far as of this writing because real life sucks), but it's clear to me that Bayonetta 2 knew exactly what it wanted to be. A refined version of the first game, introducing subtle new ideas and taking the action to 10. It takes what I loved from the first (Combat), drops the stuff I didn't (Angel Attack) and injects plenty of life and personality into everything. With modern gaming constantly striving to appeal to everyone at once (and lose its appeal in the process), it's refreshing to have a game where simply watching the main character speak drips personality.

Seriously, watching Bayonetta in the cutscenes is a joy, purely because of how much of her character leaks through.

WINGS.

Combat is a joy. It's similar to the system in the first game, but with some refinements. Firstly, combo inputs are slightly different. Button mashing still works fine, but a few of my old combos are slightly changed. For example, you can know kick four times in a string, as opposed to three. Punch-kick-punch still gets a wicked weave, but now punch-kick-kick does (for most weapons) as well.

Speaking of weapons, the news ones I've unlocked so far (which isn't that many), feel very distinct and useful. Whereas in the first Bayonetta, I didn't use anything other than her guns and the sword, here I want to play with everything. The only weapon I can't quite figure out is the bow and arrow, but hey, we all have our favorites.

Bayonetta controls perfectly, with barely a frame rate hiccup. Her instant-dodge is still in full-force, and just as satisfying as ever to pull off. Wicked Weaves feel great as ever, and seeing Bayonetta unleash a fury of attacks in glorious 60FPS is just icing on the cake.

The fact that this isn't the standard of video gaming is both sad and pathetic.

No comment needed.

But, I think what I like most about Bayonetta 2 is how much it feels like a video game. Which is somewhat strange to type. But, many modern games seem more concerned with telling a story, or generating certain emotions from the player. Bayonetta 2 strives to challenge, amaze, and most importantly, create fun. The cool stuff you see Bayonetta do in cutscenes? You can do cooler stuff in gameplay. It's incredible.

PLUS I FOUGHT SNAKE ANGELS AT THE GATES OF HEAVEN.

I'll probably write a more thorough write-up of the game once I get further along in it. I really think Bayonetta 2 represents where modern video gaming should be going, rather than where it is. I hope that it succeeds. And, at the very least, is remembered for how brilliant it really is.

 









 

I had no intention of buying Hyrule Warriors when it was released. I hadn't ever played a Dynasty Warriors game, or any of its many sequels/spin-offs. But I had heard enough negative buzz about the series to be turned away. I heard that its combat was simple, repetitive, with no depth or nuance to it. As a Bayonetta fanboy, I scoffed at the idea that such a game existed. Let the peasants play their Dynasty Warriors, I say, I'm a real man! I plan Ninja Gaiden and Bayonetta, a man's game! I like to be challenged—I feel no need for simple combat!

I'm pretty much better than all of you.

But, here's the thing. I went to a used games' store a few weeks back, and as I browsed their game collection, I saw a copy of the (now ancient) PS2 game, Dynasty Warriors 3. It was on sale for five bucks. I knew nothing about the game, other than that its voice acting was a thing of beauty. Deciding that the voice acting alone would be worth the price of admission, I snatched the copy and took it home.

I booted it up with the full intention of playing it for a bit with my little brother. We started a multiplayer round, and gave it a go.

Playing it on the PS2 was painful. Not because it was a bad game, really. But because the game was poorly programmed. The fog of war in multiplayer really only let you see a few feet in front of your character, enemies would attack before they were loaded and appeared on the screen, it was tough to perform any moves, and so on.

Is this Dynasty Warriors 3? I don't know.

But, there was something there. Something that was actually pretty fun! My brother and I enjoyed ourselves, despite the poor programming. We enjoyed ourselves so much, that I decided that a version of this game, running on more powerful hardware, could be really enjoyable.

So, we bought Hyrule Warriors.And really enjoy it!

All of the complaints I've heard leveled at the series still apply. The combat is mindless, and a bit repetitive. There is no real nuance to anything—it's just charge forward and kill, kill, kill. If you don't get 1000 kills in a single mission, you're doing something wrong. The game has a problem with pop-in, with enemies appearing on the map after you get there. And the framerate ranges from tolerable to godawful.

And yet, my brother and I played the game for four hours straight Saturday night, and would've kept going if we didn't need to get some sleep.

I'm not even completely sure what it is about the game that makes it so enjoyable. It could be the power trip it creates where your characters really feel like one man armies. It could be the light tactics involved (capture that keep first, move over here, I'll get that guy while you get this one). Or it could be the inherent charm of the Zelda

Or, it could be that badass scarf.

But for what it is, I'm completely addicted. I won't play it by myself, because then I think the allure would vanish. But playing with my brother or a friend? It's really hard to stop! There's always one more keep to capture, one more map to clear, or another Gohma to defeat.

I fully intend to sink stupid amounts of time into Bayonetta 2 once it releases (I'll have posted this after the release date, but wrote it before hand). But, once my brother comes home, I expect to once more draw the Master Sword, and lay waste to the legions of enemies before me.

After all, Ganondorf isn't going to level up himself.

 









I think just about every gamer has heard of the majesty that is Resident Evil 4. Upon its release on the Gamecube, it was heralded as one of the greatest video games of all time. Its revolutionary new camera system, featuring a sharp “over-the-shoulder” perspective changed action, horror, and 3rd-person shooter mechanics forever. Now, the game has been often imitated, even by its sequels, but in the eyes of most gamers, nothing has topped it.

Having played the Wii version, it is easy to see why.

I have no history with the Resident Evil series. I've played a very short bit of Resident Evil 5 long ago, and didn't care for it. Sometime later, I picked up a copy of Resident Evil 4 Wii Edition for a dirt cheap price. But, it stayed on my video game shelf since then, collecting dust and forever being one of the many games I'll “get to eventually.”

EVENTUALLY.

But, with Halloween around the corner, and me needing something to hold me over until Bayonetta 2 drops and changes my life forever, I decided to give this zombie game a try.

I'm glad I did.

If you don't know, Resident Evil 4 is about Leon S. Kennedy, a recently promoted government agent who has been sent to MiddleOfNowhere Europe to search for the president's missing daughter, Ashley Graham. Upon arrival, it's not only clear that Ashley has indeed been taken here, but that something really strange it going on in the village. The people have become mindless drones, moaning and dirty, and will kill Leon on sight. Leon must not only find Ashley, but escape with her alive.

And so the game begins.

As of writing this, I have not finished the game, so it's possible my views will change. But suffice to say, the storyline isn't amazing but it's very serviceable, with good voice acting, and some wacky and some not-so-wacky characters making up the cast. Leon himself, with his emo haircut, seems more like an anime character than a real person, but his wisecracks are bad enough to be enjoyable and makes for good company as you explore the village.

Plus, his hair screams "tortured soul."

I think what impressed me most upon my initial boot-up of Resident Evil 4 was how “not-ugly” it is. It looks dated, but it seems to have aged more gracefully than many other games of its ilk. The town is ugly as it should be, as are the zombies you encounter. But it's the art style that makes it ugly, not the graphical limitations of the time.

Controls took some getting used to, though. Leon doesn't move like most characters do. He can only walk forward or back, and he needs to rotate in place to aim his direction. I'm used to it now, but it felt unnecessarily tricky at first. To shoot, you press a button which has Leon plant his feet on the ground and raise his weapon. I thought, since this was a Wii game, I'd be using the WiiMote to aim my weapon. And I do, but you use the left stick to aim the camera. Bringing the WiiMote to the edge of the screen does not move the camera at all. You have to use the left stick and WiiMote in tandem to be effective at shooting. It's wonky, it took some getting used to, but I understand why they did it.

The camera is unnaturally glued to Leon's back, making it so that you can only see what he can see. You have no idea what's behind you because of this, and more than a few times a zombie snuck up behind me. It works well at creating a sense of unease, as if you can never see the whole picture. I liked it. According to some reviews I read, the WiiMote makes the game too easy. Having not played the other versions, I cannot comment on that.

I hesitate to call the game scary though. Ammunition seems to be readily available, and many times I have more ammo and health packs than I know what to do with. Plus, when your shotgun can blow the heads off the zombies, it's hard not to feel empowered. This doesn't detract from the game though—it just makes it less scary than I anticipated.

Shotguns hurt zombies too.

Something that had me initially worried was the fact that a lot of the game consists of an escort mission. You find Ashley early on, and it's your job to ensure she makes it out alive. She has her own health meter and everything, so I was preparing myself for the worst.

Quite the opposite, actually. Ashley is excellent at standing behind Leon when he's firing at zombies, keeping her mostly out of harm's way. If she's in front of you, she'll duck out of the way as well, thereby not getting in the way of shooting. You can only give her two commands, “wait” and “follow”, but I never felt like I needed more than that. It's not so much that Ashley is smart enough to take care of herself, more that she's smart enough to not get in the way of Leon protecting her. Escorting her around never once felt like a chore, and for that, I am very thankful.

In fact, something about the game that may sound like damming it with faint praise, but really isn't, is how not-annoying the game is. Yes, enemies are bullet sponges, but never to an obnoxious degree. Boss battles are challenging, but never frustrating. Puzzles are not overly strenuous. There is no point in the game that I felt was poorly conceived, poorly designed, or just annoying. Nothing.

That alone, is a great accomplishment, and one that Resident Evil 5 couldn't match.

As of this writing, I just started chapter 5. I hope to finish at least the main campaign before Bayonetta 2 drops on the 24th. But even if not, I am glad I got to experience this game. Playing it, it's very clear why it is considered one of the greatest games of all time.