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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.”
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.
I've debated with myself numerous times over whether I would chime in on the recent controversies that have been plaguing the video game community. Every time I went to write a post, I always stopped before I started, deciding that I was no expert on these subjects, and would likely write something based on false assumptions and be mocked for my lack of knowledge. But, I feel that ignoring these controversies is a bad route to take as well, because they are becoming a big part of the community now. So, while I would rather gush about my love for the Bayonetta 2 demo, I am here instead talking about serious issues. Whoo.
That tail deserves 3000 words alone.
I am no expert on any of these subjects, and I won't ever claim to be. I am nothing more than one guy with a keyboard and an opinion. I'm going to share that opinion now in what I hope is a clear and not too rambling post. But the GamerGate controversy and the others surrounding it are truly too huge to discuss well in one post.
Now, I present to you, my opinion.
Let's start with sexism, because why not. I dated a feminist for a year or so a couple years back. Without going into it, let's just say that I've seen, first-hand, the good feminism attempts to do for the world. I've also seen how it shoots its own ideals in the foot. I've seen her eyes light up when her arguments open my eyes to something I had never seen nor understood because of my own gender, and I've seen her rage illogically when I point out how something she said becomes hate speech. I've seen both sides.
I don't think Feminism itself is the true problem here. Feminism is defined by Webster's dictionary as “the theory as political, economic, and social equality of the sexes.” That is a definition I agree with, and I guess that makes me a feminist. Unless you're a bigot, I think a lot of people agree with that definition too. The problem is that many of the most vocal feminists don't follow that ideology. They don't strive for equality, they strive for superiority. Those ideas quickly become the most vocal, because an extreme idea is far easier to share in 140 characters than a more moderate one. I don't think most feminists hate men. I just think it seems that way, because of the vocal extremes and the ways those are easily spread.
Got your attention quick, didn't it?
There's not an ounce of science there. It's just my opinion.
Gamers are uncomfortable with feminists bursting into their medium. And why wouldn't they be? I think most of the quote/unquote hardcore gamers never fit in in school. They've been told time and time again that their hobby, video gaming, is a waste of time. And not only a waste, but also leading them down a road of horrible violence, misogyny, and other names. Of course they are going to get defensive and fight back. We all do when we're told we're wrong. My ex-girlfriend would get horribly defensive the moment I disagreed with something she said. She hated the idea that she could be wrong, that these ideas she read online could have someone disagree with them. Gamers do the same thing. Seeing a feminist come in and tell them their hobby is wrong inspires the same defensive reaction. ]
You don't have to stay within the realms of sexism to see gamers have this fear of being wrong. Look at the comments section for any negative review of a popular game. There is always a few, maybe many, leaping to the game's defense. They call the reviewer names, they make exaggerated claims, they type in all caps—they get angry. And defensive. After all, here's a reviewer telling them that they are wrong. The reviewer says that the game is crap. Somehow, that becomes a personal attack on the gamer's tastes, and the gamer reacts with rage.
It seems as if the negative review somehow diminishes the joy the gamer had with a game.
THIS GAME IS NO LONGER FUN.
On some level, this does make sense. In gamer culture, there's a huge focus on pre-ordering, buying the game the day it comes out, etc. No one likes to feel that they made a bad purchase, especially with games are expensive as they are. But rather than rage at the reviewer (and make yourself look like a child in the process), why not just play the game? Find out for yourself if it's good or bad. You might like it. The things that the reviewer didn't like may not bother you. Find out for yourself.
A video game reviewer is simply a guy or girl who gets paid to review games. A review is nothing more than their opinion on a game. They are only an expert in that their job allows them to play more games than you. Their opinions get posted on bigger websites. But their opinion is no more valid than yours. Their opinions deserve respect, as does your own. But Jim Sterling's low Mario Kart score should not somehow make your enjoyment of Mario Kart invalid. It's just a discussion. That's all a review is.
I don't believe that reviews are objective. Like, ever. They are opinion pieces. Sure, they could discuss how such-and-such game has an extraordinary polygon count, or that its textures are unreal. They could say that the game has a solid 30 FPS, or a 60 FPS. But, do either of those really affect the game itself? Is there an objective way to rate...fun?
One needs only to look at Deadly Premonition to see that there isn't. From perfect 10s, to 2 out of 10s, the game meant so many things to so many different people. Yes, the graphics were crappy, the textures bad, the voice acting terrible, the plot silly, etc. That didn't wreck Jim Sterling's experience with the game, in fact, it enhanced it. But it wrecked the experience of the reviewer who gave the game a 2. Is one opinion more valid than the other? No. Is one more objective? Maybe, but how can it really be objective from an enjoyment perspective? The bad graphics enhanced the game for Jim, wreaked it for others. Objectivity? Doesn't really exist.
Zack, they said our game's poor graphics improved the experience.
Something that gets thrown around the GamerGate thing is the idea of integrity in the video game journalism...thing. For the longest time, I never understood that. But, then again, I'm one of those people who always thought that the concept of video game “journalism” was laughable at best. With rare exception, there is very little actual journalism in the industry. Interviewing developers, generating previews, posting news, all of that is essentially a glorified ad for the industry. Journalists may have more connections than you or I, but the news they post is almost always what the developers and publishers have decided to tell them. It's a cynical view, but it's the one I always had.
A preview event is something carefully constructed by a developer/publisher. The “journalist” gives his opinion on what he played, but that's it. There's no real objectivity there—it's just an opinion. Same as a review. Interviewing a PR person, dev, or whoever? Carefully constructed statements meant to shine a bright light on an upcoming game. And most journalists can't land an interview until the publisher says so. Is this integrity? I don't know, I don't really think so. Are exclusive reveals of a new trailer integrity? Is obeying a review embargo integrity? I don't know.
After all, publishers give limits on what can be discussed in a review. They say that the review cannot be posted yet, and cannot discuss certain aspects. The reviewer is expected to obey that, if they want to keep their job and continue to get advance copies of video games. Why does the publisher set those limits? Because they view the review as another form of advertising for the game. Positive buzz is advertising, after all. A review is often the equivalent of people telling their friend to play such-and-such because it's “so good.”
A reviewer should always give their honest opinion. I believe almost all of the reviewers out there do. Is that integrity? I think so. I think a problem that stems up though, and often the reason that inspires so much rage, is that it's easy to forget that a review is an opinion. Most review writers won't explicitly state “I think this part of the game is crap” in their reviews. They will just say “This part of the game is crap.” That implies that it's a fact, not an opinion. Because of that, if someone was not bothered by whatever the reviewer thought was crap, it makes them seem wrong. After all, it's a fact that this part is crap. Therefore, the gamer feels wrong, and therefore acts defensively.
Whew. That's enough typing on this subject today. It was more rambling than expected, and kind of jumps all over the place. But those are my thoughts on the subjct. Happy to discuss them in the comments section. :)
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.
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.