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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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Short post this week, but one that I personally find pretty interesting. Jordan Devore mentioned in a post about a week ago that he was not playing Destiny, and was instead playing Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones, a game he had gotten for free from Nintendo as part of their ambassadors program. He had played the game in the past, but because he hadn't touched in so long, it felt like he was going through the game for the first time.

That seems about right to me. For example, I played Twilight Princess, and have the completed save game to prove it. But ask me what happened in that game, and I couldn't tell you. No idea why, but for some reason, that game didn't stick with me. If I was to play it tomorrow, it would feel a lot of ways like playing it for the first time to me.

That's a great experience, but I wonder if it speaks to the quality of the game. For example, I've only played Persona 4 once, but many of its story beats (which I will not post here for fear of spoiling for someone else), have stuck with me. I remember more about P4 than I do about P3, which I played after the fact on my PSP (because I didn't want to deal with AI party members on the PS2). Does that mean that Persona 4 had the superior story and gameplay?

Certainly had better colors.

To answer my own question, I'm going to say that I don't think so. Without getting into a war in the comments over whether P3 or P4 is the superior game, I think it has to do a lot with how the game “hits” you at the time. Persona 4 came in at a very turbulent time in my life—back to college, struggling with courses, attempting to find my way, etc. It was the game I needed at that point in my life, and because of that, had really stuck with me.

I think P3 didn't come at that point in time.

If I were to replay Persona 4, either on the PS2 or the PS Vita enhanced remake, it would feel a lot like visiting an old friend, as opposed to playing it for the time. If I were to play Twilight Princess, I would be impressed if I recalled anything other than Link's name. That would be playing it for the first time.

I think both experiences have merit in their own ways. I don't think anyone is going to say that Persona 3 nor Twilight Princess are bad games, but I think it just speaks to where I was in my life at the time of playing them. Because of that, replaying them would result in very different experiences than replaying Persona 4.

What about you guys? Have you had either experience (or both) happen to you?


How do you define a favorite video game? Is it the one that filled you with the most inspiration? If that's the case, then the clear winner would be Skies of Arcadia, a JRPG for the Dreamcast that presented a bright world full of wonder and possibility. Even now, when I take a step back from my writing and look at it critically, I see the influence that game has had on me.

Or, is your favorite game the one that had the greatest emotional connection to you? If that's the case, then the clear winner is Persona 4. Kanji's struggle with his sexuality mirrored my own in a number of ways, and years later, I can recall specific plot points from the game with clarity. It's stuck with me for years, and will continue to do so.

Or, is your favorite game the one that always brings a smile to your face? The one that you boot up when you're feeling down, the one that was a constant companion for more years than you care to admit? The one that you swear you could play with your eyes closed? If that's the case, and I believe it is, then my favorite video game is Sonic 3 and Knuckles.

Yes, I know I'm cheating a little bit here because that's technically two games combined together. But the experience they create feels so singular, so united, that I very rarely played them separate from each other. And they were originally designed to be one game, so I'm gonna say that it counts. I'll leave it to the commenters to decide if they agree.

Sonic 3 and Knuckles uses the admittedly-still-cool feature of cartridge locking. Basically, Sonic and Knuckles has a slot on top of the cartridge for you to put other games on top. When you put Sonic 3 on there, the two games combine together into an almost “mega-game.” The stories combine, more levels are added together, and everything fits perfectly into place. It's like this was how the game was made to be played.

Funny how that works out.

The plot of the game is fairly simple, but complicated by platformer standards. Out in the ocean, Angel Island rests. Angel Island is home to the Master Emerald, a crystal with tons of power. Dr. Robotnik needs the Master Emerald for his world domination plans, but he finds that the Emerald is protected by a red echidna named Knuckles. Rather than roboticize Knuckles, Robotnik convinces him that Sonic and Tails (who recently arrived at the island), are out to steal the Emerald. Thus, the blue hedgehog finds himself with a new foe. And so the game begins.

Level design is at its most creative here. There are still loops and rings, and a clear focus on speed. But there is also a focus on exploration, as the special stages are accessed by finding Golden Rings in the levels. If you want the best ending, you need to seek out these stages. Levels are layered, with alternate paths branching off everywhere. While I have my preferred routes to travel, it does feel that every time I go through the game, I get to the end a different way. It's fast, and it's challenging at times, but it's always fun. Even in the water levels.

Unlike past Sonic games, there is a boss at the end of every level. Often, there is even some interaction with the bosses before their actual encounter. The first level has a robot that burns the forest, for example. You start the game in a sunny green area, but about halfway through, the robot drops bombs every and burns it all down. The rest of the level is then on fire. It's a little touch, but it goes a long way.

My favorite boss is that of Marble Garden zone. Sonic finds Dr. Robotnik with a drill on his ship, and it looks like a typical boss fight. That is, until Robotnik drills straight down, destroying the garden in one fell swoop! The first time I saw this, I gasped. How was I supposed to win that, with no ground? But Tails, who is normally regulated to “guy who gets in the way” saves the day here. He picks up Sonic in his arms, and together they are able stop Robotnik.

There is a strong focus here on the cinematic nature and the story. Whereas other Sonic games kept story light with a seemingly random set of levels strung together, here everything is connected. Act 2 of a world begins right where Act 1 ended, with no fade to black. There are little transitions from each level. They aren't much, but seeing Sonic fire himself out of a cannon and then land in the next world goes a long way to making this game feel connected.

There are even some brief cutscenes, though they are usually kept playable. Towards the end of the game, Sonic and Knuckles have their fight. Dr. Robotnik, seeing the chance, steals the Master Emerald. Knuckles, of course, sees this, and tries to get it back. He grabs the emerald, but Robotnik has other plans. Bits of wire come out of his ship, and electrocute Knuckles, wounding him, and giving Robotnik time to escape. Knuckles, seeing this, uses the last of his strength to help Sonic pursue his foe. It's not much, but for the time, this was really big. It stuck with me, you know? Even know, the once-bad-now-good trope is one of my favorites.

That's ignoring the other details, like how the Death Egg can be seen in the background of some stages, how Knuckles goes through every level differently than Sonic and Tails, with some different bosses, the quality of the music, the dizzying special stages that require more skill than in the past, the bonus level you get when you complete all special stages, and so on and so on. There is so much content and memorable moments packed into what is basically a two hour game, that I cannot describe them all in this one blog post.

I can only recommend that you play the game if you haven't already. You won't be disappointed.

So, I'll admit with no small amount of shame, I didn't get around to playing Fire Emblem: Awakening until I saw the Lucina reveal trailer for Super Smash Bros. My more recent posts acknowledged my far-too-big video game backlog, and Fire Emblem: Awakening was just another game on that ever-increasing list. It wasn't because I wasn't looking forward to it (I love Fire Emblem!), but more that I was hesitant to start another long JRPG.

But I'm glad I took the plunge.

I found out about Fire Emblem, like I suspect a lot of people did, through Marth and Roy in Super Smash Bros. Melee. Intrigued by these very anime-styled protagonists (and having a soft spot for blue hair), I asked for the Game Boy Advance game, simply called Fire Emblem, for Christmas and was very pleased to have gotten it. I played through the game obsessively, learning about all the characters, creating my army, and getting wholly invested in the storyline. I was sad to see that game come to an end, and was eager for more.

I mean, what could be more compelling than this?

But the other Fire Emblem games seemed to lack a certain something. I played Sacred Stones, and remember thinking it was only decent. I tried several times to play the Gamecube Path of Radiance, but grew bored before long with the bland animations and overlong cutscenes. None of the games seemed to capture the excitement of the original, and for a long time, I just stopped seeking them out.

Until now.

Fire Emblem: Awakening is the latest in the series, and it finally has that certain Je-Ne-Sais-Quoi that the other games lacked. I can't exactly tell you what that is, but I can say that this game has it in spades.

The game starts with you creating a kind of Avater to represent yourself in the game's world. I made a pretty red-head named Athena. The customization objects are surprisingly robust, and I feel that I created a unique character that stood out in the game's world. You have lots of hair styles, a few faces, and default poses to choose from. It works well

Athena and Chrom having a moment.

The game begins with your character waking up to meet Chrom, a leader of a band of soldiers and future ruler of the land of Ylisse. Quickly, he realizes that your character is a good tactician, and invites you to join his merry band of misfits. It isn't long before wars start, zombies appear, time-travel becomes a reality, and many many turn-based battles spring up over the world. And you right in the thick of it. Together with Chrom, you must lead your team to glorious victory, and save the world in the process.

It sounds like a fairly typical JRPG storyline, and in a lot of ways, it is. But it's also a pretty well-written one. Dialogue tends to feel natural, peppered with some old medieval English. The game, for the most part, finds natural reasons for battles to occur. And for a dark storyline, there's a surprising amount of levity throughout, keeping the game from being too angsty. It's a good ride. What problems there are tend to be minor (the time travel is never fully explored), and it does a good job keeping your interest until the end.

What really sets this game apart from other Fire Emblem games is the characters. Like other games in the series, you meet and recruit people on your journey to fight with you. These characters tend to be one-note in past games, with one trait that seems to define them. This seems to be case in this game, as characters all seem to have their one trait (Sumia trips, Stahl likes to eat, Sully wants to be treated like a man, etc.). But, there is a stronger focus on support conversations now between characters, and that's where more depth to each character comes in. They are all well-written, often funny, sometimes dark, and always make the characters feel more like real people. In past games, I remember myself creating personalities for the characters in my mind, but here, I don't need to. For once, it's right in front of me.

I do love Yarne.

Characters can now get married too, and this becomes a big part of gameplay. Two characters marry, and their stats can be passed down to their children. I chose who to marry purely based on the pairings I decided I liked most, but if the internet is any indication, there are some ideal pairings to make beastly children.

This Fire Emblem game gives you a world map to explore, with the chance for random battles to appear. I have mixed feelings on this concept as a whole. On the one hand, it's great if you want to grind and make your perfect team (I did do that), but on the other, it takes away from the difficulty. Past Fire Emblem games were stressful, because leveling up characters was challenging. You had only the story battles to do it, so you took great effort to make them all get a piece of the action. It works here, because there's a greater focus on class customization, but I think I prefer the difficulty of past installments.

You can also switch permanent death on and off. One of Fire Emblem's trademarks to set it apart from other games was that if a character died in battle, they were gone for good. This forced you to be extra careful in your strategy. If you messed up, you had to choose whether you could live with yourself with that character gone. I kept this feature on for my playthrough, and I played on Hard difficulty. I didn't lose a soul. :)

Graphics are nice too!

The last new feature is the concept of pairing up, which replaces the “Rescue” feature in the past. In past games, if a character was in trouble, you could have another character “Rescue” them, or take them off the map and move them to safety. Here, you can have characters pair up. One character leads, while the other supports. Not only is this great for building relationships, but the support character also lends stats to the lead! There is never a reason not to do this, and while it means you'll have fewer units to move, each will be considerably more powerful. It's great for leveling, and for getting through tough battles.

Whew! That's a lot of stuff. I could go into more, but I think I'll leave it at that. Suffice to say, this game is great. It has a lot of new features that refine the Fire Emblem experience, while keeping it familiar enough to fans like me. In a lot of ways, it feels like a Best Of game, as it takes all the good of past games, expands on it, and removes the bad. If the series continues in this direction, the future is very bright indeed.

So, when are we going to hear about Shin Megami Tensei X Fire Emblem, huh?

EDIT: Anyone know why there's so much extra spacing here? I have no idea how to get rid of it. 


And I have no regrets.

I've made no secret about my love for all things Mario Kart, and number 8 is the second best Mario Kart I've played (hard to top Mario Kart DS, a game I bought twice so my brother could play with me). But when Nintendo announced its DLC plans for it, I needed new pants.

Pretty elf boys on motorcycles will do that to you.

But it was more than just my love for new things Mario Kart that made me so eager for this DLC. It was the fact that the DLC simply contains so much content! If you're too lazy to click links, it includes six characters, eight new cars, and sixteen new tracks, all for 12 bucks. That is a ton of extra content for what is comparatively a pittance. I was talking to a friend of mine about it (using caps lock as I tend to do when excited) and he mentioned how ModNation racers charged 8 bucks for one new character. I don't know how true that is, but even if he was off by half, 4 bucks a character is a lot of money. He described it as Nintendo cheating themselves of cash. After all, why charge 12 dollars for something when you can charge 24? Or even 36?

In an age of video gaming that seems to be increasingly characterized by greed and squeezing as much money out of the consumer as possible, Nintendo's Mario Kart DLC stands out even brighter. Sure, at the end of the day, it's about lining Iwata's pockets, but they really go out of their way to make it worthwhile. 12 dollars for half the content would be a steal. But for all of it? The money couldn't leave my wallet fast enough.

To make my fanboy scream even louder, it's not as if Mario Kart 8 held back content. It has just as much content out of the box as every other Mario Kart (with the glaring exception of mission mode from the DS). So, I didn't feel like I was buying half a game at 60 bucks—I felt like I had bought a full experience. This DLC on top of that? Icing on what is already a very sweet cake.

Don't think we have enough frosting. GET ME THE SUGAR.

Nintendo has not done a lot of DLC lately, with the most prominent examples being New Super Luigi U, Mario Golf: World Tour, and nowMario Kart 8. But so far, they seem to be going out of their way to make their DLC worthwhile. New Super Luigi U was a game I enjoyed more than the vanilla version, Mario Golf: World Tourgives you 50% more courses, and the same idea is applied to Mario Kart 8. Normally, I loathe the idea of DLC because it feels like they are holding content back from the full game. But so far in Nintendo's case, it feels like they are doing exactly what DLC should be doing. Providing more content to an already complete experience for a low price. This is DLC I can buy without feeling dirty, nor feeling ripped off.

This is DLC I can stand behind.

I said it above that I have no regrets about buying Mario Kart 8 DLC, and I don't. To me, this large number of new tracks and characters is well worth the price of admission. And if the latest rumors regarding Smash Bros are any indication, this DLC policy looks like it will continue. SSB4 already includes more characters than Brawl, and any additional characters will just sweeten the deal all the more.

Nintendo gets a lot of flack for being slow on the uptake. That is completely true. But no one can deny that once Nintendo catches up with the pack, they do things right. MiiVerse is a delight. Their online store on the WiiU works like a charm. And now they are nailing the concept of DLC.

As of this moment, I am proud to be a Nintendo fanboy.

I have a problem. It's a doozy.

I have an addiction to cheap video games. But not games like those in the Steam sales. Oh no, I like cheap console games. You see, I don't have a gaming PC (I had to use my work laptop to play Gone Home) so I do almost all of my gaming the old fashioned way. So, you would think I would be shelling out a pretty penny to play games and develop a backlog.

Quite the opposite, in fact.

You see, I rarely, if ever, buy games the day or week they come out. There are exceptions to this, of course, like Bayonetta, Mario Kart, or the upcoming Persona Q. I tell myself that I don't buy those because their prices won't drop right away, and I'm usually right. But for other games, if I wait about three months (maybe less), the price will likely be down to 20 bucks or even less than that. And now, with the Xbone and PS4 out, the price of games for the previous generations are even cheaper.

My kryptonite.

I have quite a large video game collection. Very few of the games in it were bought at full price.

And I don't have time for most of them.

As I said on here before, I have a killer commute. Two hours, one way. It's on the train, so I can play some portable games (as long as I don't get motion sick doing it), but most of gaming occurs on Sundays when I tell my friends I'm busy and for about an hour before bed. Since I have a fondness for JRPGs, it's unlikely that I will complete a game in a week. As you can imagine, this leads to quite the backlog.

Yet, I keep buying more games.

Over the weekend, for example, I went to a used games' store/comic book shop with my little brother. This place has quite a few retro games, and I'm trying to rebuild my Genesis game collection (I sold it like a moron when I was younger and emulation just isn't the same). I browsed the shelves, and found a couple games from my childhood including Tiny Toons: Buster's Hidden Treasure (not a good game) and World of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck (a very good, creepy game). Those games were like 5 bucks each, so no problem. I also found a copy of Phantasy Star III, which I believe is a good game, and cost me 15 bucks. While browsing the PS2 section, I saw a copy of Rogue Galaxy, which is a JRPG that I heard of but never played. It was factory sealed, complete, and only 25 bucks. Done, done, done.

You see, it was also Tax-Free weekend here in Massachusetts, so I didn't need to pay sales tax. The store also was running a discount of an extra 6% on everything. So, all told, I got about 4 games for roughly 50 bucks.

Not a bad deal, right?

Pictured: Me if I wasn't human.

I spent the weekend playing World of Illusionwith my little brother, and feeling super nostalgic about it. I've never beaten Tiny Toonsso maybe one of these days I will. I love old school JRPGs, but I don't know if I'll ever around to playing Phantasy Star. Rogue Galaxy sounds really interesting and right up my alley, but maybe I want to play Kirby: Triple Deluxe first.

It's kind of ironic how, now that I'm an adult and can afford to buy all these games, I don't have time to play them. I buy them, often aware that I probably won't play them right now, or even ever, but I still buy them regardless.

Am I alone with this first-world problem? Or do other people have a similar addiction?

Last week I wrote about how I crossed one item off my video game “bucket list,” completing The Lion King. But last week actually had me cross something else off as well. The same used video game store had another precious game from my childhood, probably more precious than The Lion King. I innocently browsed the GameCube section of the store, glancing at such classics as Luigi's Mansion and Zelda: Wind Waker, when I did a double take. There, not where it should be in alphabetical order, almost winking up at me, was a copy of Skies of Arcadia: Legends. My friend who was with me can back me up on this—I squealed. I grabbed the copy of the game off the shelf and raced to the counter, clutching it to my chest like it was made of gold.

Really, it might as well have been.

You see, Skies of Arcadia and I have an interesting history. We met back in the early 2000s, back when I was an awkward tween who thought 3D graphics were the best ever and that there was no such thing as a bad Sonic the Hedgehog game. I knew very little about role-playing games, outside of the fact that they often had “boring” turn-based battle systems and random encounters. I had played Pokemon, but that was as far as I was willing to go.

I also had no job, and relied on my parents for my video game income. For obvious reasons, they didn't like spending 60 dollars more than a few times a year on a game, so I ended up getting a lot of the games I played from a tiny BlockBuster down the street from my house, wedged between a supermarket and an Italian restaurant. I had only a GameCube, and that had the smallest section of video games for rent. So, it was slim pickings.

While browsing, a certain game caught my eye. It had an anime boy (I knew next to nothing about anime as well at this time—I was in an awkward phase of trying to convince myself I wasn't a nerd) on the cover holding a sword with flying ships in the background. I picked it up, flipped it over, and read the back of the box. This game promised action, adventure, big ship battles and a good story! It sounded awesome! I asked my mom if I could rent it, and she said I could. I took it home, plopped my little brother on the couch next to me (who didn't play many games yet), and popped the game in. This game, of course, was Skies of Arcadia: Legends.

This one. Right here.

I remember being taken in immediately from the start. The introduction still sticks me, even now. A lone woman flying a funny looking narrow ship, getting captured by a pompous douchebag. The team of Sky Pirates raiding the ship. Vyse and Aika leaping into battle.

Turn-based battle.

I remember being disappointed that the battle system was turn-based. I also remember knowing that this game was in my possession for the next five days (my parents would never be caught dead having a late fee), and that I was stuck with it. I remember being immensely curious about what happened next. I remember deciding that I could see what a turn-based game was like.

I remember being completely hooked.

Riveting stuff! Characters don't stand in a line like Final Fantasy. They move! A lot!

Skies of Arcadia: Legends sunk its hooks firmly into me. It captured my imagination at a time when I was struggling to determine what I really enjoyed. Here was a world full of adventure, of character, of life and story. It felt more real than any of the worlds I had experienced on the Sega Genesis. It felt big, it begged to be explored. It rewarded me for my patience, encouraged me to seek out what was there.

It also had to be returned far too soon.

I had to go to school, and of course, I rented the game on a Sunday so it had to go back Friday. My parents wanted me to be more active, so I was involved in an after-school Karate program. I did not have the time to finish this wonderful game. And I couldn't rent it again, not right away. I returned it on Friday, and it was checked out that following Sunday. It wasn't fair!

I needed this game more than I needed anything else! And I needed it now!

Being the clever boy that I was, I did my research. I found out that Skies of Arcadia: Legends was actually a port of a Dreamcast game simply titled Skies of Arcadia.I had a Dreamcast. An EBGames near my house had one copy of Skies of Arcadia for far cheaper than the GameCube version. I begged and pleaded with my mom, and managed to get her to take me to that EGGames, where we spent the better part of an afternoon looking for that one copy. It, of course, was filed under the V's. But we found it, bought it, and all but rushed home. I knew I had to start the game over, but I didn't care. I was more than willing to go through it all again, to re-experience everything.

I got home, popped the dusty Dreamcast open, and stuck Disk One in. It worked.

I actually like this art more.

Until a point.

You see, the game started fine. Played well enough to pass EBGames's incredibly stringent “Pop-it-in-and-see-if-it-works” test. But once you got to a certain point, it froze. Crashed. Would attempt to load a random battle and never get there. You name it.

You would think I'd be crushed. No, you see, I got determined. My dad had an old CD cleaning kit that I dug out. I cleaned the disk obsessively. I cleaned the Dreamcast reader. I read directions on how to remove scratches. I put everything I had into getting this damn disk to work.

And I got it.

Through a lot of cleaning, a lot of saving, and more than a few times of crushed hopes, I managed to get through the scratched disk. See, I would save constantly when I could, and attempt to play through a section. If it crashed, I turned off the Dreamcast, cleaned everything, and started again. More often than not, I could progress to another save point before another crash. I repeated this process God knows how many times, but my determination paid off.

These things work! Sorta!

I was able to get through Disk One. I was able to complete Skies of Arcadia.
Getting through this game was a labor of love. I wanted nothing more than to see the ending. Sometimes, it felt like I was fighting against the disk itself to play this game, but I kept at it. I just kept at it.

Fast-forward several years, and I still have that EBGames copy of Skies of Arcadia. But I am afraid to ever try to play it again, because that would mean risking constant crashes. I have even less time to game these days, and dealing with that headache seemed like exactly that. But I wanted to play Skies of Arcadia again. I wanted to own a working copy. And no, I didn't want to pirate it. A game I loved this much deserved a physical copy.

But unfortunately, physical copies of the game are very very expensive. During college, I could never justify to myself paying over a hundred dollars for a copy of a game I already technically own, especially when there were so many other games to play.

Now, however, I have an adult job with an adult paycheck. But to be honest, Skies of Arcadia had moved more toward the back of my mind. It became fond memories, rather than something to seek out. I always checked for a copy of it at gamestop or any other games' store, but always turned up empty handed.

Until two weeks ago.

I have it. It works.

And I think it's time to re-experience it.

That is, after I finish Fire Emblem: Awakening.