Well, what is there to say about me? I'm kinda like your average gamer: I like to play games, I like to talk about games, and I hope to work in the video game industry one day.
I do tend to enjoy videogames more than the average gamer would though: videogames have been my life for as long as I remember (hell, the earliest memory that I can recall personally is me waking up and hopping on my SNES to play that X-men and Spider-man crossover game) so it's as much a part of me as my personality.
Although I LOVE to play videogames, having been doing so my whole life, I am not as skilled in videogames as others so I usually play on easier difficulties. Don't get me wrong, I do find it a bit dull when a game's too easy, and I do respect games that are hard for the players who want it (Dark Souls is deliciously hard and I wouldn't want it any other way) but I'd still like it if developers catering to gamers like me who simply aren't as skilled as others.
I have a wide variety of taste when it comes to games as I try to keep an open mind about everything that comes out: just because I play mainstream games Halo and Call of Duty doesn't mean I can't enjoy the underrated ones like Anarchy Reigns, Fire Emblem, and the like.
Videogames like Dead Space 2 and F.E.A.R. 2 are meant to be scary... In Dead Space you run around being chased by reanimated corpses that's been horribly mutated into terrifying creatures whilst, in F.E.A.R. 2, a creepy ass little ghost girl is so hent-bent on raping you that she'll fuck up the world just to get some... No, she is NOT hot, and no, that isn't the scary part.
Anyway, these two games built their success on their abilites to sell you on the scare factor, like the sudden jump scares that Alma impose on you throughout the game or the beautifully haunting moments like when the mother at the daycare is blown to bits after prompting her Necromorph baby to come to her. Both of these games worked because they created a spellbinding atmosphere that places you into their worlds all alone to fend for yourself. However, both of these games spawned a sequel that features co-op into their series, and that threatens the series' main attraction of trying to scare the pants of their players.
After all, how can you be scared when there's a buddy by your side? Well, read on for a couple of ways that, I think, can make co-op scary.
How I Believe Co-op Can Be Scary
Words of Wisdom right there
After hearing much praise about the indie game Slender, based off the "legend" of the Slender Man, I decided to head to the website and see what it's about. As the game downloads in the background, I recall hearing things about how it's such a scary game, about it plays the way a horror game SHOULD play like, that I couldn't resist shaking my leg in anticipation at giving it a go. Once did I finally open the file and start up the game did I find it to be a frightening treat; being chased by a faceless, humanoid figure in some creepy, dark woods with only a flashlight is such a thrilling experience that I couldn't help but get my friends into this.
And get into it they did; the game is addicting because not only does it does it scare you (because, as my girl Pinkie Pie puts it, "sometimes it's just really fun to be scared"), it goads you into trying to "beat" it by tasking you with the objective of trying to acquire 8 pages of notes before your inevitable capture by the hands of the Slender Man. So, even after my friends screamed or are left rendered breathless by the static "game-over" screen, they keep reloading the game and forcing themselves back into it at a shot of getting just one more page. Eventually, I had to kick them off my laptop after losing my patience waiting for my turn; at which point they would download it onto their own laptops to enjoy. I certainly didn't mind them wanting to play it on their own laptops, but I was a bit skeptical about them wanting to play Slender together at the same time, as if we were doing some kind of makeshift, or "ghetto," co-op.
I mean, playing Slender side-by-side is an odd request to hear... After all, this is a game that's meant to be scary; how scary would it be if we were both trying to play the game together? Nevertheless, after taunts about how one of us would last longer than the other (now that I think about it, were we still about about the game?) I decided to give in and play the game with my friend by my side. Now, for those of you uninformed about this game, this is a solo adventure through the woods; there is NO form of multiplayer whatsoever, not even a leaderboard. So, instead of playing with one another, we played alongside one another; we decided to enter the game at the same time and see who can get the most pages as well as who can outrun the Slender Man the longest.
Obligatory "you're gonna get raped!" comment
In addition to starting the game at the same time, we also turned off the lights and rotated our laptops away from each other, aligning them back-to-back like a game of Battleship, so that not only could we not see anything in the room, we also couldn't see what the other person was seeing. Despite not wanting to see each others' screens, we still kept the sound up and loud so that, when the Slender Man is in the vicinity for either of us, we could both freak out at the sound cues and wonder which one of us is he after; only when we see the strobing flash of a bright, white light do we know the answer to that, though it usually isn't long until the Slender Man gets his hands on the other.
Though we were laughing up a storm, we were both legitimately scared playing the game despite being in the same room with one another. That got me thinking: a lot of people like to blame co-op for ruining the scare factor in games, but why is that exactly? I mean, when we go to the theatre and see a horror movie, do we not still get scared even as we sit with hundreds of other people? See, I don't think that it's the co-op that makes the game less scary... I think it's the way the game is handled AFTER incorporating co-op, and as such, I can think of 3 ways to remedy that:
3 Ways to Make Co-op Scary 1 - Divide and Conquer!
To quote Lee from The Walkind Dead: The Game: "Where are your legs, man!?"
Yes, the game has co-op, I get that. What I don't get is why, in a horror game, are we always together? I know games like Dead Space 3 and F.3.A.R. have the option to play through the game solo, but when you play co-op, you're always within reach of your buddy. I mean, I understand that it's mostly due to technical limitations, but level designers could make it so that we're separated from each other, or at the very least not attached to the hip. I mean, I know that, in order to advance we're going to have to meet back up, but you know what they say:
"Absence makes the heart grows fonder."
Putting that into context, by having the game separate us, you can have players freak out through separation anxiety. Think about it: usually in these kinds of games, your co-op partner is not only a second pair of eyes, and a second pair of guns I might add, but also a medic; in Dead Space 3 and F.3.A.R. death is almost non-existent as you can be revived within a blink of an eye. By having the players part ways, we are now forced to survive on our own after being accustomed to having the other guy around: no one's going to cover you while you're reloading or pick you up when you're down. That gives a bit of fear in trying to make it back to your partner as soon as you can, especially if the game is stingy with health pick-ups, since you'll likely die on your own.
Speaking of "on your own," while F.3.A.R. was adecent game, the supernatural teammate idea was horribly underplayed... While this was before Dead Space 3 I think that they should've taken a page out of their book and make Fettel invisible to Point Man so that whoever plays as Point Man can't see his co-op buddy. That way, whenever Fettel executes someone in a bloody way, Point Man just sees it as kind of like a supernatural event, a sign of a "guardian angel" of sorts.. Even better, you when you play this game's co-op online, they could've had the Guest player drop-in and drop-out without notifying the Host to surprise them.
2 - Don't Scare One Player and Not the Other!
"Step by step, heart to heart, left right left, we all fall down... Like Toy Soldiers..."
Speaking of Dead Space 3, that game did the whole "co-op isolation" thing kind of well: those segments regarding Carver's delusions are very interesting because his perspective is locked to someone playing as Isaac; the delusions themselves are also a doozy because they are a bit scary to play through. However, while Carver is having one of these delusions, he is unable to fend for himself in the real world, hence needing Isaac to watch his back... So while the second player is going through a creepy experience, the first player is stuck with defending him from various Necromorphs like an escort mission.
I don't know about you, but that's not as fun.
Hence my second suggestion: why scare one player, when you can scare them both? Seeing a cut-scene through Isaac's perspective and not understanding what Carver's seeing is a good idea because you're like an outsider wondering what's wrong with Carver. However, that novelty wear off after only a bit; they should've done it to more extremes, especially regarding Carver in the real world. Take this for example: what if, during Carver's delusions, he's still functioning in the real world instead of just shaking his head around, mumbling to himself? For example, everything he's doing in the delusion is the same thing he's doing in the real world?
That would mean, in Isaac's perspective, Carver's walking around in a daze, shooting his gun about and alerting Necromorphs to his position. Heck, maybe for this segment, friendly fire is turned off and Carver could actually shoot Isaac; why not go a step further and "influence" Carver to shoot at Isaac through the delusion? Not only that, in the game, Isaac could be telling Carver to snap out of it or "fight it" whilst in the real world, the player has no way to communicate with his buddy because the game cuts out the mic to simulate that Isaac's words aren't getting through to Carver... especially if he's telling him to "stop shooting me!" Carver, for his part, just plays through the experience normally; it's fun enough as it is already, and the player can tell his partner what he went through afterwards just like anyone would in that situation.
3 - Don't Turn Your Games into Action Ones!
We're not in Raccoon City anymore...
Carver's delusions are nice and creepy, and proves that Dead Space 3 is capable of building an atmosphere that could leave people creeped out despite incorporating co-op into the system. That's because, as I said, co-op isn't the thing that ruin the fear: it's the lack of atmosphere. While it's certainly true that co-op can ruin the atmosphere, and by extension fear itself, that's something that's more-or-less determined by the players; as for the game itself, some of the horror games that features co-op are games that really weren't scary in the first place or were only scary in certain sections.
Let's delve into Resident Evil 5 for a bit: a lot of people say that it isn't as scary as its predecessor and some would say that it's due to its inclusion of co-op. However, could it be that, for the beginning of the game at least, it just wasn't a scary game? I mean, the game starts out with Chris and Sheva being saved by a helicopter's missile after being holed up and overrun in the marketplace by a couple dozen angry majini; heck, even the enemies aren't as creepy, going from the robe-loving cult-like group Los Illuminados to the standard citizen looking Majini. Even Isaac's opening level of Dead Space 3 veered off the fear factor by replacing stabby Necromorphs with gun-tooting Unitologists.
Now, I realize that, even without co-op, the games might've still gone down the same route. But come on game developers, when we want to play a horror game with a buddy, we want to play it because we both want to get scared, not blow things up like a buddy cop action movie! I mean, we already got games like Army of Two and Gears of War to fill that void; we don't need some franchises, that I will not name, getting turned into action games... For the record, while I did enjoy Resident Evil 6, that doesn't exclude it from the list, especially after the treat that was the Resident Evil 5's "Lost in Nightmare" DLC.
This would make an epic Dark Souls x Resident Evil crossover...
Actually, let's get into that: Lost in Nightmare is a good example about how a co-op horror game should play like: the level is stingy with items such as health and ammo so you don't have an abundance in supplies, you're constantly needing to separate in order to solve puzzles, and you're up against enemies that can soak up a lot of bullets and dish out enough damage to make them a threat. The atmosphere is also perfect as the design of the mansion is creepy with long hallways and traps everywhere with the camera angles building tension; not to mention the overall look of the lower areas, which are filled with rusty metal and pointy objects.
It even does the three points I brought up: it seperates the two of you for some separation anxiety (especially in that trap room with the needle), it does it best to scare both players by having multiple monsters go after the both of you, and despite RE5's generally action-orientated gameplay, especially the Desperate Escape DLC, you aren't encourage to spray bullets into the enemies as they are tough to kill and you have low ammo (though it's actually easy to kill them if you know how).
If you don't believe that a game can't be scary and fun with Co-op, I say try out the Lost in Nightmares DLC and see for yourself. If not, you could try out the way my friend and I played Slender if you're not feeling too weird about being alone in a pitch black room with your buddy.
They say when you're about to die, your life flashes before your eyes. They usually say that when you're near death but considering the "possibility" that we're going to die in a couple of weeks, I figure that's close enough. :P
2012 is a wonderful year of gaming for me not because of so many games that came out (such as Resident Evil 6,Assassin's Creed III, Mass Effect 3, The Walking Dead, etc.) but because of the fact that I got to replay so many of the video game characters that I grew up with over the years of gaming. I mean, I've been gaming for the majority of my life, so I have played through the lives of a lot of characters in their adventures. However, usually their stories end as we move from one console generation to the next, forcing us to leave behind beloved characters in favor of newer ones. Now don't get me wrong, I love some of the characters of this generation, such as Uncharted's Nathan Drake, Assassin's Creed's Altair, and more, but I have a soft spot for nostalgia, the yearning for characters I've grown attached to.
And thanks to this year of video game releases, I can relive playing as them for one last goodbye...
Again, assuming of course (though not believing) we die by the end of this year.
The Mass Effects of a Hero
This year of gaming started off with a bang by giving us the end of the trilogy of the hero Commander Spehard. Yes, I'm quite aware of the fact that the ending isn't quite to everyone's taste (it may have been shattered to pieces but I still hopelessly cling to the Indoctrination Theory) but this is how I felt throughout playing Mass Effect 3, what I've been thinking from the second I press the Start button: this is going to be the end of my hero. Yes, MY hero; the hero whose name, backstory, personality, and choices were all determined by me. This makes him one of the more personal characters on this list because of the fact that he is, essentially, me. In fact, if I plug in my dusty ol' Kinect, I could even voice him, though I rather have Mark Meer do that (not hating on Jennifer Hale though!).
Now, out of respect for gamers who never played this series but will, thanks to the recently released trilogy pack, I will try my best to refrain from spoiling much of the story. That's fine by me, because the story itself isn't what I want to talk about, but rather my character's involvement, or rather MY involvement, in them. Throughout the game series, the game always tries to force you to make decisions, enticing you with the thrill that whatever choice you make, from who to kill and who to spare, to who to save and who to left die, that that choice will remain with you for the rest of the series.
When the series started in 2007, the idea that saves could carry from one game to the next, impacting it in a way that's much more substantial than a simple stat tranfer (like the PS2 series .hack), was revolutionary at the time. Think about it: many games emphasizes decision-making in video games, but they usually bear fruit within a couple of levels (like the recent Call of Duty: Black Ops II) or in a cut-scene that takes place right after it (here's looking at you Army of Two: The 40th Day). For this series, not only do your decisions carry over from one game to the next, but decisions you made in the first game could also come back to haunt you in the third; even the DLC can change the story a bit, as the game references whether or not Commander Spehard went on that extra journey.
That made my time in Mass Effect 3 much more memorable, because from the first major decision I made in the first game to the last major decision I made in the second, are all coming back in one way or another. While the game boasts replayability, I found the series much more interesting to play through it just once, to ensure that whatever choice I make, that it's a choice I must live with; no do-overs for this player. And while I may eventually replay the series again (unless...), I'm always going to remember the first time I ran through the series because I always made my decisions based on how I would make them, not how an alternate version of me would, or picking decisions for the sake of seeing "what-if."
While some people despise [Mass Effect 3, be it for it's "horrible" ending, changed script, or "day-one" DLC, I'm glad it came out because I finally got to see the end of a journey that spanned over five real-life years. And I'm even more glad that it came out in 2012, because if it was scheduled to come out in 2013, and **** goes down in 2012, I'll never be able to rest in peace. :P
No Halo for a Lost Hero
They say "Spartans never die; they are just missing in action." That quote means, that, when a SPARTAN dies, they are listed as "Missing in Action" in order to increase morale of the standard soldiers they fight alongside with by making it seem as though as they are unkillable, as though they are gods. While some of the SPARTANs are listed as "M.I.A." despite being as dead as the Greek soldiers they are named, and trained, after, one particular SPARTAN is actually missing in action: John-117, otherwise known by his rank "Petty Officier Master Chief." However, with the extremely capable 343 Industries taking over the series after Bungie's departure to establish a new IP (good luck to you guys), the Chief's coming back for another trilogy, starting with the long awaited Halo 4.
Now, many people say that a new trilogy isn't necessary, that a new trilogy is just an excuse to milk the Halo franchise, but regardless of whether or not we needed to or not, it feels damn good to step into the boots of Master Chief once more, especially now that he's more talkative (and retains his awesome voice actor Steve Downes). Now, I'm not crazy about his new campaign in terms of gameplay, as I hate the new Promethean enemies, and the campaign seems to be filled with padding (I swear every level has at least one moment of filler, from destroying the same objects twice or thrice to repeating objectives again and again), but the story feels absolutely phenomenal; from seeing the rampant Cortana (with Jen Taylor reprising!) lose her cool to seeing Master Chief finally emit some amount of emotion, I tread through the "boring" campaign to see the story to its end.
Spoilers for Halo 4: You have been warned
And that ending... While it may not win the award for the best ending ever, it certainly brought a tear to my eyes. It's hard to resist spoiling the ending, but I have to for the sake of this blog: seeing Master Chief being forced to leave Cortana behind was extremely sad, especially to someone who experienced the beginning of their relationship (in the book Halo: The Fall of Reach, which I read shortly after Halo 2's release). I know he spends time without her in all of the Halo games to date, as he separates with her in Combat Evolved after the level "Assault on the Control Room," leaves her with Gravemind in the latter half 2, starts the majority of 3 without her, and doesn't even receives her in the prequel Halo: Reach, but this goodbye seems all the more dramatic because this time, he feels as though he's losing her for good, whereas all the other times he tells her he'll be back.
Again, this scene particularly hits a soft spot with me because of the fact that I've been a faithful follower of the series, the characters, and all that jazz, so it feels like departing with a friend. I know she'll be back in one way or another (calling it now, Halo 5 will have a new "version" of Cortana but Master Chief will find the whereabouts of the "original" Cortana by the end of the game, at which point he'll spend the majority of Halo 6 trying to get her back)...
...But at the moment, when you're fully immersed in the scene and not thinking about the outside world, it was painful to watch. If the world ends soon, this game series might have ended in a somber tone, but that's the more reason why it resonated with me more than most game endings.
The Rebirth of an Anti-Hero
Spoilers for Hitman: Blood Money: You have been warned.
The last time we saw Agent 47, his body is resting on an open coffin before being lowered to a crematorium at his funeral. It was a wonderful scene that I regret never writing a blog about: as Agent 47 lies in his deathbed after being injected a poison by his handler Diana, with his signature Silverballers at his side, she gives him a kiss goodbye before leaving the premises. What should be the end of the infamous hitman now comes down to the player: if the player does nothing during the credit scroll as his coffin, and body, descends into the crematorium, then that's the end of his story; he can finally rest in peace after a life of killing targets. However, if the player presses a button during the credit scroll, preferably in sync with his heart beats, Agent 47 rises up from the coffin and proceeds to kill everyone at the funeral, leaving behind no witnesses as he makes his return.
It turns out that the "poison" Diana Burnwood injected Agent 47 with is actually a "fake death" serum used earlier in the game, similiar to Metal Gear Solid's Fake Death Pill. When Diana kissed Agent 47, she had applied the antidote on her lips, slowly reviving Agent 47 (similar to the Revival Pill). The reason for this is because she had to "fake" Agent 47's death in order for them to both escape the clutches of the dangerous group known as "The Franchise." Thus, Agent 47 owes Diana Burnwood his life. This is why I believe that Hitman: Absolution should've started with a remake of this level: not only would it remind players how Diana saved Agent 47's life, and how that comes into play at the beginning of the game, but it's also the perfect way to show the rebirth of Agent 47 after a six-year-or-so hiatus.
While I won't spoil the story of the most recent entry of the series, Hitman: Absolution, I will say that the return of Agent 47 is a welcome one. As I said earlier, in case you skipped over it because of the spoiler, it's been six years since the last entry of the series. SIX YEARS... That's the time it took for the entire Mass Effect trilogy to start and end. This is one of those series that would've been forgotten as we head into a new generation of consoles; remember, this is supposefully the longest generation to date, so we would've moved on by now. However, thankfully, we didn't, and we get treated to an awesome Hitman game that combines new "action packed" stealth games like Splinter Cell: Conviction with the old school Hitman gameplay I know and love.
Better than the gameplay is the character Agent 47 himself; he still looks as sharp as ever, still voiced by his original, awesome voice actor David Bateson (though I wouldn't mind if Timphony Olyphant reprised his movie role), and is now a person with more of a consicous. In the older games, we see hints of his developing conscious as he goes to confessionals and spare non-target hostiles, but in this game, he starts to feel a bit more human, showing us a different side of him with still retaining his badass abilities. And while I said I won't spoil the game, and I'll stay true to that promise, all I can say is the ending is a nice surprise and development on Agent 47's part.
Typically, and within reason, when people about to die, they suddenly start to become more religious, asking their deity for forgiveness without doing anything to earn it. And if this is the last Hitman game ever, then Agent 47 can rest easy knowing he had earn his.
The Max "Payne" of a Non-Hero
I said that the last Hitman game was six years ago, but this next hero hasn't seen action since the last seven to eight years. Max Payne is the star of the self-titled series (which thankfully spares me a couple of italic brackets) which is popular for it's fun shooting mechanics and a noir-like atmosphere. Back in the day, this cop-on-the-run can inadvertantly use adrenaline to slow down the perception of time to dip down, dodge bullets, and dive into cover whilst taking on groups of heavily armed thugs alone, and succeeding to boot. So what has he been doing since then in, the latest entry to the series, Max Payne 3?
He's been getting drunk, sipping drinks while wasting away at a bar during the night before returning home to waste away the day. Considering all that (canonically) happens in Max Payne 2, you could say that it's not unusual for someone to turn out the way he did. It's a somber tone, not unlike the previous games, but this time Max Payne is seemingly a shadow of his former self; if the world is going to end soon, is this how I want to remember the badass hero of the last gaming generation, who took down an entire corporation by unravelling the conspiracy behind it? Thankfully, though his mind may not all be there, as his drunken stupor causes him to make more mistakes than a reckless teenage driver would, his shooting abilities are still intact; not long into the game is he trying to shoot down Brazilian gangsters and New Jersey assholes.
Wait, did I say "trying" to shoot them down? Yeah, I meant he's "totally" shooting down gangsters and assholes. Specifically gangsters who are assholes.
It's a welcome change in pace for gaming to play as someone who isn't frigid and stiff, but rather someone who is agile and can move, despite his beer gut and out-of-shape body. When I play games, I like to feel like I'm the character, and when I play Max Payne, I feel like I'm Max Payne; I'll run from bullets, I'll dive to cover, or I'll dive out of cover and dodge bullets to return fire. That's also the same reason I really enjoyed the dodge mechanics of Resident Evil 6, and essentially the entire game, but that's another topic for another day; point is, playing as Max Payne feels damn good, if not better than before as the physics makes playing as him feel fluid.
And hearing him is another delight; as a recurring theme in this blog, voice actor James McCaffrey reprises his role for Max Payne despite earlier reports that he wouldn't. And thankfully he did; hearing his voice again sends chills down my spine, especially when he says those memorable one-liners ("I knew it was a bad idea, but in the absence of any good ideas, I continued forward" is one of my favorites, though it doesn't beat "I don't know about angels, but it's fear that give men wings" from the original). And, while it's a slight [SPOILER] to mention, I loved that at the end of the game because, after all is said and done, he finally stops monologuing about his life and how bad the situation is.
And that's the perfect way to "end" the series; Max Payne is finally at peace after three games worth of troubles, finally living in the moment rather than complaining about the past. [End Mini-Spoilers]
Reliving My Childhood Heroes
Taking the honor as the final two characters to mention, I want to say that I waited so long for their official reappearance in another video game that I had given up hope of ever seeing them again. These characters have had a huge impact on me back when I was a young child because back then, child heroes were my thing, as I could play as a young child going off on adventures that I, in reality, couldn't. Sure, I could always buy their old, original games, or play their PSP remake/ port, but replaying an old adventure is like looking at a photobook of their memories; I wanted these guys to have another adventure to experience, but with generations of not appearing in anything other than a brief cameos, I had to move on and accept that my heroes are retired.
When Sony officially announced the initial batch characters to their mascot get-together, Playstation All-Star Battle Royale, I kinda just blew it off. Sure, Sweet Tooth and Big Daddy were cool, and of course Kratos and Nathan Drake were going to make it in, but no character seemed particular too special. However, when I read that leaked list of the complete character roster, my eyes widened and my jaw drop. I almost couldn't believe it... It felt too good to be true that I had to follow any and all rumors about the game to see if the leaked list had any weight to it. I mean it, I scoured the internet trying to see if these two characters had made it in, and once Playstation released the official list of characters did I smile:
My childhoods heroes PaRappa the Rappa, from his self-titled series, and Spike, the original hero of the Ape Escape series, were set to appear in Playstation All-Star Battle Royale. And not as a brief cameo appearance, oh no, but as actual, playable, combatants.
I was so overjoyed that I couldn't help but squeal in delight, not unlike Rarity from My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic (F.Y.I. Fluttershy for the win); this game became much more of a big deal to me because not only can I once more step into the shoes of the "famous" PaRappa the Rappa, or wield the Time Net and Stun Rod of the original Ape Escape hero Spike, but I get to use them to kick the asses of all the other Playstation heroes such as Jak and Daxter and Sir Daniel. This excites me greatly because not only did my characters come out of retirement for at least one more adventure, but they're tussling with the newer heroes as if to say "don't count us out just yet, we can still hang with the best of them."
And these characters are represented in all their glory; Spike uses not only his aforementioned Stun Rod and Time Net, but all his other gadgets such as the RC Car, the Slingback Shooter, the Sky Flyer, and the rest of his arsenal. He can even unlock a costume that resembles the one he wore in Pumped and Primed, the PSP port of the original PS1 game. As for PaRappa the Rappa, not only does he recite his signature rap "I Gotta Believe" as his level-3 Super, but he is also voiced by his original voice actor Dred Foxx! Unforunately, the same can't be said for Spike, which is a bit of a let down, but understandable nevertheless.
Still, playing as these characters again brings a smile to this gamer's face because like I said, it's great to see them both again. I'm a little disheartened by the fact that these two are "rivals" to one another in this game, though "rivals" may be a bit of a stretch when you consider their reason for fighting... and to be honest, the "rival" cut-scenes in these game are simple and pretty cheesy, not to mention short and unsatisfying... but seeing these two in a cut-scene together really hits home to me that they're in the same game together. I mean, I've been dreaming of seeing the two in another game, but I never would've thought that their next game would be the one and the same, nor would they be able to team up and kick some ass together! I can't even say that it's a dream come true because I never even imagined that it could happen!
With all that said, I can't imagine a better way to end a blog about the return of beloved video game heroes than the ones who really struck home with me back when I was a child gamer. I could mention some other characters such as Sherry Birkin from Resident Evil 2, the cast of Dead or Alive 5, or Pit from Kid Icarus but I never played some of those games... Though for the record, Kid Icarus: Uprising is my all-time favorite 3DS game; I know it's too early in the system's lifespan to make a statement like that, but what other game could have solid writing that balances funny and serious moments, fun frantic gameplay that leaves you sweating, an addictive loot-based system, adjustable difficulty, and AMAZING voice-acting (Antony Del Rio and Ali Hillis convinced me to buy this game alone) in one portable package!?
So what I was saying is, 2012 is a great year for me because it feels as though most of the video game characters I grew up playing as came back out of retirement for another go at gaming. As I said, I have a soft spot for nostalgia, so seeing all these characters again in one year feels like a high school reunion (though I'm a bit too young to say how that actually feels like). Truth be told, I actually had forgotten about Max Payne and Agent 47 before this year since it's been so long since their last outing! However, like I said in the very beginning of this blog, when you're about to die, your life flashes before your eyes...
So if it's not a coincidence that all these heroes are coming out of the woodwork on the year we all supposefully die in, we better panic.
[Disclaimer: This game contains information on the ending to the video game Shadow of the Colossus. Why a disclaimer than a traditional "spoiler" tag? Because this game is one of the GREATEST games to come out of the PS2 and everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, SHOULD have played it by now. If you haven't played it by now, go out and buy it; it costs like 20 bucks or less for the PS2 and maybe 40 bucks for the HD remastered PS3 rerelease. To everyone else, read on. :) ]
"How could this have happened?" a young man muttered, in his native tongue, under his breath as he rode his horse, who galloped across the land. A single teardrop scrolled down his face as he turned to his "cargo:" The corpse of a beautiful maiden, wrapped in a cloth, not unlike a mummy. "This isn't fair," he spoke again, reminding himself of her fate, as he finally came across a shrine he had been looking for this entire time.
Upon entering the premise, several shadow-like beings attacked him, but they were no match for him; using the light from his sword, he quickly vanquished the beings, causing the surprise of a deity named Dormin. After a little back and forth, a deal was struck: In exchange for bringing the girl back to life, which had been taken for her because of something that wasn't her fault, the young man was tasked with the objective to slay sixteen colossi located across the Forbidden Land.
But the deal had a catch to it; The colossi are hard enough to take down, but the young man is doing on the bare "promise" that Dormin would revive the woman. Not only that, Dormin even gave the young man a warning that there may be an even bigger price to pay when this is all said and done. But the young man, determined to revive the young woman, set out regardless.
Over My Dead Body
With a premise to a game like that, there's surely no one who could resist not knowing the ending of the game. Sure, the game boasts some wonderful design with large landscapes uninhabitated with people, a wonderfully melancholy color palette for the world, and, of course, epic boss battles against enemies 100x your size, but for some people, those are just the "appetizers" and "entrées" to the meal; the end of the journey just has to be worth the effort of the journey itself. After all, when you had crab cakes and a steak dinner, if all you had for dessert was a single piece of candy, you'll be disappointed that the dessert couldnt top the meal.
But don't get me wrong; I enjoyed every minute of the game. From scaling the hairy backs (and goatees) of these humongous beasts to jumping off a horse onto the wing of a flying dragon over a sea of sand (everyone's favorite: the 13th colossus), it's hard to put down the controller; you'll be playing for hours just wanting to see who you had to fight next, and, of course since you're there, actually slaying it. Speaking of slaying, that part of the fight makes the game much more interesting actually; The thing is, whenever you deliver the final blow to the monsters, causing them to spew black blood out of their wounds in a spectaculur fashion, you'll have little time to celebrate as black tentacles of "energy" spring from the corpse and stab you in the chest, piecing your heart. But you don't die; you merely fall to the ground, succumbing to your wounds, while staring at a bright light, before magically appearing back at the altar of the shrine, surrounded by the shadowy figures who attacked you in the first part of the game.
And this doesn't just happen once, oh no, it happens every single time you killed a colossus. The first time it happens, you're shocked and bewildered at what's happening, and the next time it happens, you'll even try to avoid it. You don't however... And eventually, possibly after the 5th, 6th, or even the 16th colossus, you'll accept that it happens and just let it take you over (like with every hentai involving tentacles). However, over the course of the game, there seems to be a slight, subtle difference with this routine: With each colossus slain, there appears to be more of those "shadow" figures watching over you as you sleep. Not only that, the last thing you hear before you succumb to your wounds, the voice of a young woman, possibly the young woman who's dead, seems to be getting louder and clearer with each dead colossus. But before you celebrate the sign that she could be coming back, the young man's skin and hair colors grows a tad bit darker...
And the group of monks who's chasing the young man, for stealing the sword he carries and for running off to the Forbidden Land, are getting closer and closer...
With the rising action of the story getting more and more intense, sooner or later the game's eventually going to reach the climax and the inevitable "falling" action... And for people like me, that's something we fear. I mean, I don't fear it like a plague... It's just that I fear that it might not be as good as it needs to be to top off what's going on. But finally, after a tear-jerking selfless sacrifice of your horse's life to save you, and after slaying every beast from here to Timbuktu (or whatever's the equalivant in this world), you finally face an epic battle between you and the final colossus. After dodging fireballs, running through the trenches of a battlefield, and scaling the biggest colossus of them all, you finally take down the last colossus and fulfilled your promise to Dormin. With the last time you get pierced by the black tentacles, the finale starts.
Upon making it back to the shrine, the young man meets the monks who've been chasing him for committing the crimes. However, rather than taking the young man in, the elder monk declares the young man, who looks like a zombie by now apparently, "possessed" by the dead, and orders his two men to kill him. After trying to reach the young woman, the young man is shot with an arrow as another man stabs him in the chest with a sword. In an odd, unexpected surprise, black blood spews out of the young man's body, just like the colossi he stabbed, as he falls to the ground, succumbing to his wounds (yet again).
However, in a strange turn of events, the young man's body is covered in the black, "shadow" essense as it appears that Dormin, the deity that the young man had been working for, possesses his body. And in a strange revelation, Dormin reveals that, apparently, his power was "locked" with these 16 colossi, and when the young man slayed them all, Dormin is now at full power. Dormin then goes to possess the young man, using his body as a vessel, tranforming it into a giant colossus itself, which isn't hard to do considering that every time one of those "black tentacles" pierced him, the young man was actually absorbing the dark energy of Dormin.
With stories like these, it's hard to imagine that video games have come a long way, from playing things like Pong and Space Invaders that only had little to no story at all. However, with almost every medium out there, it's still possible to tell a story like this. I mean, it might be portrayed differently, like as a book, it'll go into explanations and character thoughts while a movie would be short and cinematic, but that's because it's playing to its strengths. So what's the strength of video games? Actually using the game, and even twisting the game's mechanics, to further strengthen the story.
Going Through Changes
After Dormin possesses the young man, you don't just sit back and watch a cut-scene of Dormin trying to kill the monks... You control him. Finally, after being the David to the Goliath, you become Goliath yourself, towering over the ground. You can swing your arms around in an attempt to kill the people who shoots arrows at you, which by the way, doesn't hurt much. However, while you're huge, you swing your arms very slowly, with walking being even slower. It's a very stark contrast to the young man, who's been nimble and agile enough to traverse enviroments and even dodge attacks at a moment's notice. The controls feel sluggish not because its a bad game, as after all, you had the whole game to get a feel for it, but it's intentionally sluggish to give the weight of being a giant.
Of course, all of this is in vain; No matter what you do, you're destined to fail. After all, you spent the whole game as the little man who takes down enemies way bigger than him... Size doesn't matter. Becoming something of a colossus yourself, it was time for you to be taken down; After a vain attempt to kill the men, the elder monk takes the sword and walks back to the "pool" of the shrine, which had always been in the background but had never been used up until now, and casts a holy magic to seal away Dormin once again. In a splendid cut-scene, Dormin's dark presence is being slowly sucked into the pool (which is now the equalivent of a whirlpool), fading away, leaving the young man exposed underneath, while all this time, tries to desperately reach the young woman.
But the young man isn't spared this wrath; The young man is also being sucked into the vortex, viciously trying to claim him. However, you don't just watch this happen; putting the controls back into your hands once again, you control the young man as he desperately tries to make it to the young woman, who still lies in the same spot since the beginning of the game. What I love about this part is that there's no objective telling you what to do; you saw during the cut-scene that the young man was trying to reach the girl, so you assume that that's what you need to be doing now. You probably think that he can do it too... But then again, you probably believed that you could've killed the human enemies when you became a shadowy giant...
And how'd that turn out?
Look What You've Done
You could try running towards the woman, but you'll never make it. You could spam the jump button and even make it farther, but the game just pushes you back all the same. It's like no matter what you do, you'll only go up to 5 steps forward, but you'll always be pushed 5 steps back. Eventually, you WILL get sucked into the vortex (ironically like the way you've been sucked back into this game after taking a break) and you will, after all this time, lose. But hey, people got to lose sometimes, right? The thing is though, the thing makes this scene so powerful isn't because the character loses... It's because you (and I) did. Sure, you could watch a scene of a movie, and if it was set-up EXACTLY like this, you'll probably shed a tear or two. But for me, the thing that really gets me is that, no matter what buttons I pushed, no matter how much I held "forward" on my joystick, the young man doesn't escape his fate, just like how the young woman didn't escape hers.
To reiterate the point of how putting the controls in your hands compare to watching a movie, imagine watching a horror movie... Now, when things get a little close, you yourself is probably sweating bullets, with your body tensing up in fright. The emotion you feel is true, but when you think about it, you really are a member of the audience; As in, no matter what YOU do, whatever happens in the movie, be it that the person gets away or killed by the villian, is going to happen regardless. Don't get me wrong, this happens in video games as well during cut-scenes, but recall playing Uncharted 3, specifically when the thousands and thousands of spiders swarm over to kill Nathan Drake.
Now, according to the script, Nathan Drake survives the encounter, but think about when you're ACTUALLY playing that scene... Instead of just watching the scene of seeing Drake escape his insect pursuers, you actually need to make it happen by pushing the buttons on the controller. Otherwise, Drake will succumb to the fury of the 8-legged freaks and perish, and believe me, seeing his lifeless corpse being trampled on by spiders is a disturbing sight, one that only happened because you (yes you *points accusatory finger*) screwed it up. And, to avoid that from happening, you need to take control of the situation by taking the controller, as if playing out the fate of these characters in order to fulfill their "destiny."
Careless World: Rise of the Last King
What I'm trying to say here is that it's fine for a video game to try to emulate movies. After all, without their influence, we wouldn't have games like Final Fantasy XIII and Uncharted 3 (and that'll be a sad world to live in). However, for a game to truly stand out on its own, to do something a movie or a book can't, it needs to play to its strengths and incorporate game mechanics into the story. I'm not saying all of these moments needs to be playable, but some of the best moments of gaming incorporates the game itself (like, if I recall correctly, in this one Final Fantasy, this one monster will NEVER attack a certain teammate, and when all the other teammates have fallen, the monster will have no choice but to attack itself... That just wouldn't feel the same if you had seen it in the movie).
I may have been side-tracked for a moment, but I just wanted to explain how this ending, which I'll finish in a bit, really stood out to me. I mean, any game could have a deep, emotional cut-scene at the end of the game, but only the greatest games actually ultilizes the fact that its a game into its story. And speaking of ending, the ending to this game was bittersweet as hell;
The young woman, after all has been said and done, actually wakes up from her "slumber," but sees no one in sight. Upon exploring off on her own, she finds a baby (where the young man had been sucked into) with horns on its head. She picks up the baby and carries it out of the shrine, eventually finding a green garden to reside in, with the horse that "sacrificed" itself to save the young man limping in to accompany her. It's bittersweet because despite all that the young man had done to bring her to life, he never got to see her again. It's like spending your life to amass as much gold as possible and dying before you had a chance to spend a penny.
Some may say that its depressing how it ended. I, however, say it ended just fine; after all, not every story needs a Hollywood-styled ending.
Especially not one that isn't even remotely close to Hollywood.
"I used to be an adventurer like you until I took an arrow to the knee." I'm so sorry, I couldn't resist :P
I'm a huge fan of Saints Row: The Third, doing things like beating it three times (and recently started a fourth) and buying most of the DLC (everything sans the Invincible Pack and Z Style). So it wouldn't be a surprise that I would be anticipating the GenkiBowl VII DLC pack, as the game claims it to be a Mission Pack, meaning no pointless costumes (though I rock my Knight of Steelport armor all day) or questionable guns. I mean, the website even claims that this DLC will blow your mind. But is GenkiBowl VII worth attending or should you simply stay home?
Welcome to GenkiBowl VII; Home of Murder Time FunTime
Professor Genki is at it again; Not content with the simple Super Ethnical Reality Climax game show, he decides its time for another GenkiBowl, the place for murder, fun, and time to have fun murdering. As the leader of the Saints, as well as the terrorist of Steelport (which would catch the eye of superstar psycho Professor Genki), you're invited to participate in the GenkiBowl, doing crazy named Activities such as Sad Panda Skydiving and Sexy Kitten Yarngasm,
"Wait," you must be saying, "Activities?" Unfortunately, yes, even though the game calls them Missions, as you even access them initially via the cell phone Mission tab, they really are just Activities masquerading as Missions, not unlike the middle portion of the main game (and even then, these "missions" don't count towards the "missions completed" count). This wouldn't be so bad if there was some context to the Activities, as in the main game you did Tiger Escort to face your fear or Snatch to build up Zimo's ho stable, but there isn't any aside from the fact that you're on the game show, nothing more.
There are cut-scenes in the DLC, but there aren't so many of them; The only reason I put the "s" there is because there is two cut-scenes, one only being seen had you beaten ALL of the Activities instances (you're only required to do one instance to proceed but you need to do them all to see the ending). Most of the DLC, much like main game, lets you do more than you watch, with in-game conversations, like cell phone calls before the missions, giving you the details. However, the cell phone conversations in this Mission Pack is simply telling you to show up for the next event, not even bothering to tell you where you'll be heading to next.
Speaking of not bothering, the Mission does VERY little with the Boss him/herself; Aside from his three-second appearance in the opening cut-scene, your character does not speak at all during the missions aside from the usual taunts and phrases that they shout when they are attacking someone, like "The Saints ALWAYS win," and even then, sometimes they don't say anything at all, like when you taunt or compliment.
While the voice actors for the announcers Zach and Bobby return to reprise their role, in a top-notch performance, it's still disappointing to never hear your character at all; The Boss DOES speak at the ending cut-scene, but even then, it's some random voice under the voice disguiser; The Boss isn't even in their usual attire as you're FORCED to wear a Panda suit for the last cut-scene (remember there's only two). I had planned to play through the packs with all my characters, but with all playthroughs being identical to each other (in the main game I changed the sex and voices, taunts, and compliments for each character) there's no point to playthrough them with the others aside to unlock stuff (more on that later).
Can I haz Sexy Kitten Yarngasm!?
But on to the meat of the DLC: The Activities. I mean, after all, the story doesn't make the game; The gameplay does, and if the gameplay is awesome, then would that make up for it? Well, in any case, you get four Activities in this order: Apocalypse Genki, Super Ethnical PR Opportunity, Sexy Kitten Yarngasm, and Sad Panda Skydiving. With weird sounding names, they are sure to be fun, no? Well, somewhat:
Apocalypse Genki is really just the Super Ethnical Reality Climax Activity with a new layout and like one new gimmick; You fight in a forest-based layout with dense trees and foliage but you still play the same way: You shoot mascots, avoid traps, and shoot targets in order to reach the minimum amount of money needed to open the door to the exit. Just because its in a new location doesn't make it any more exciting and just because we can throw mascots into shark-infested waters doesn't make it any more different. Now, if you loved S.E.R.C., then you'll have no reason to hate this, but it's disappointing that, having enough time to remake S.E.R.C., they would do something crazier.
Super Ethnical PR Opportunity is the same as Escort, only without the sexy moaning and groaning; You pick up Professor Genki and hype him up for the GenkiBowl by driving around and causing mayhem, such as crashing into cars and running over people, and doing as Genki commands (like killing mascots or damaging cars) while avoiding "hysteric fans" from annoying Genki (much like the pararazzi in Escort). The difference here is that you now have a weapon; A flamethrower attached to the car that, after you charge it up by running people over, can be used to roast pedestrians alive and even take out the "fan vans," though they respawn (but at least it improves on one of Escort's worst annoyance). It's somewhat better than Escort but it's really the same thing. While there's two instances of this one, you can't do the other instance until you progress far enough in the missions like the Guardian Angel Activity in the main game.
Baby I got a plan; Runaway as fast as you can
Sexy Kitten Yarngasm is my favorite of the bunch, both in name and the game; Similiar to Mayhem, specifically Tank Mayhem, you need to cause enough money in damage within a time limit. However, instead of your own weapons (one of the most boring Activities in the main game) or a Tank, you get to run around in a giant ball of yarn (contrary to the belief that you'll control the ball with a car much like the little dude in Katamari Damacy) and run over cars and knock down signs and such. It's fun to play around with, and even more fun to the pretty energetic electronic music playing in the background (similiar to something you'd see in animes actually, or something in Japanese culture); In fact, the music definitely makes the experience even more fun.
The Activity isn't without problems however; The amount of damage you have to do is pretty high, and while there's a combo multipler, sometimes you'll be VERY strapped for time. The ball itself isn't hard to control, as it controls much like the Warthog from the Halo series, but it does get stuck between objects easily, such as houses and trees and other things that it can't destroy. Not only that, the best part of the Activity, the ability to send out a shockwave (the ball of yarn bounces up and slams down) so rarely becomes available; While it can cause mass destruction and much moolah, I had to use it mostly to get my ball out (hehe) of where its stuck in (hehe), and when I can't get it out (hehe), or I don't have a shockwave (you get like three though), then I'm forced to wait out the clock or restart. Still, it's my favorite of the bunch, being that its the most original and over-the-top.
So while they didn't save the best for last, the last is not the least; Sad Panda Skydiving is a combination of S.E.R.C. and the skydiving "mini-game" where you try to land in a marked area. Specifically, you jump out of a helicopter wearing a Sad Panda Suit and skydive through flaming rings for money, trying to make the minimum amount to complete the Activity. While the exit isn't locked for access, you will still fail the Activity if you don't make the minimal amount. However, there isn't nearly enough rings to make the minimal amount but you aren't screwed; You can land in designated rooftops and slay mascots with a chainsaw to make bank, though not without a catch: You MUST leave the rooftop within the designated amount of time, via the "man-a-pult" cannons, or just jumping off the roof, or else you will fail. You don't have to kill every mascots, and you can always try to return to the rooftop by landing there again, so it shouldn't be a problem if you're careful.
There are a few mishaps with this Activity as well: While you will presumably fail if you hit the ground, there are giant ballons of tigers and panda that you can use to "bounce" back into the air should you fall too low, but you can't see where they are in the map, meaning that if you're falling, you have to try to find one before you hit the ground. And even if you hit the balloon (unlike S.E.R.C., it doesn't matter which ballon you hit), there's no guarantee that you'll make it back to "operational height," so to speak, and just still fail anyway. And trying to kill mascots is such an annoyance; While most of the time they just stand there and dance, other times they will run around. Since you're using a chainsaw, you have to be close to kill them, and even with unlimited sprint, the time limit ensures that you need to keep moving, meaning that they will get away; It's so annoying that I need a couple hundred more bucks to be allowed to leave only for the mascots to keep running from me.
Touch the Sky
Here Kitty Kitty...
So speaking of money, is this pack worth 7 bucks/ 560 Microsoft Points? Well, it somewhat depends: I personally played and finished it, as in all the Activities and instances finished as well as seeing the ending cut-scene, in all under two hours or so. And that's including the time I spent driving my motocycle to each location and back to the Penthouse; Anyone with a VTOL who goes straight to the next location rather than returning home might even finish under an hour. However, since they aren't missions per se, you can replay the Activities again and again, though, seeing as how they aren't missions, you can't repeat cell phone conversations or the two cut-scenes.
At least by finishing the Activities you can get some unlockables, but they aren't anything too exciting save for one in particular: You can get some extra homies (I should note that CheapAssGamer's CheapyD is included and unlocked from the start of the Xbox 360 version of GenkiBowl VII) such as Angry Tiger and Sexy Kitten (the female Genki girls) but, aside from the reporter that you get at the end, they aren't anything special; If you wanna roll with some furry chicks, then you now can, but if you're into the bitches and hos, then there's no other reason to call them up. Homies are only cool to call because they have their own personalities; The Genki girls are just generic, unlike the reporter or CheapyD (though the latter is a hate it or love it affair). Not only that, there's no sound byte when you call up any of the new characters; It's just dead silence.
Other than the homies, you can unlock some vehicles, but most of them are pretty much reskinned/ recolored vehicles; The Mouse ATV is like a mix between the Saints Rover (seen in Gangstas in Space) and the ATV (in the Luchador version of Trailblazing) and the cars the Genki girls gives you are just pink versions of cars that you already get via the main story (though you couldn't customize them). The only other worthwhile thing is Yarnie, which is exactly what you think: The big ball of yarn seen in Sexy Kitten Yarngasm, only this time with unlimited shockwave usage. It's pretty fun rolling (see what I did there) around town with it, but your mileage may vary; I have a blast causing mayhem with it while others may not see the point of meaningless destruction.
So whether or not you should get this DLC is wholly dependent of how much you love to screw around in Saints Row: The Third. If you're very mission-orientated, then you may not like the fact that this DLC is mostly Activities, two of which is similiar to the ones in the main game, and the lack of cut-scenes. The missions are quick and, for the most part, easy enough to do within an hour and there's no reason to do them again aside from money, achievement, and personal enjoyment (though like I said, you get Yarnie after beating Sexy Kitten Yarngam, my favorite Activity, so why replay that one?). It's somewhat disappointing to call this a "Mission Pack," but as DLC, it does well enough that its worth 7 bucks, but not a penny more.
Score [For clarification purposes, similiar to Destructoid, I use the 10 point grading system. So it goes as follows:
4.9 and lower = Does not recommend
5.0 = Indifferent
5.1 and over = Recommend
Verdict: 7.5 With the slew of unlockables such as homies, cars, and outfits (disappointingly no Saints Flow or anything) as well as some Activities, it's pretty fun for an add-on, but as a Mission Pack? No, especially since it isn't polished; No sound bytes when you call the new homies, lack of the Boss's voicework, lack of cut-scenes, etc. Still, any fan of Saints Row: The Third should definitely play it, but it won't win anyone who isn't a fan, or someone who plays it casually, over.
We've played some of the greatest heroes in the video game world, such as Master Chief as he takes down the Covenant, Niko Bellic as he shoots his way out of a musuem in an Impossible Trinity, a young horned boy who guides Yorda out of a castle, Wander as he fell each and every colossi, Link as he saves Hyrule, etc. Their stories are great, with each character facing seemingly impossible odds, wading through strife with stride, as they achieve victory at the very end as our palms become sweaty as we pat ourselves on a job well done (remember to change your shirt). Once everything's all said and done, we put back the game disc back into the case and store it away, marking the official end to a character's story.
But what if there was a character whose adventure doesn't end? What if this character's story keeps going well after a game's done and we put another one in? You may be asking yourself "Who? Who could be such a character?" when, in fact, you should already know the answer yourself.
Namely, that character is you.
PA Nights over Blue Slide Park
No, I'm not talking about YOU, as in the player... I mean, after all, you ARE just a gamer clutching your controller possibly with a beverage of choice well within reach (which would make for one pretty boring story), but I mean YOU, the character who's in the game. With character customization, you can essentially become a character within a video game's world, becoming a part of a universe where you matter (more or less). And when the time comes to switch to another game, who's to say that your character's story has to end right there? I mean, what if instead of making a new character for every game, what if you just pretend that all the characters you "make" are actually the one and the same?
Let's take my character for a second... What has he done? Well my friend, he had joined the Jedis in their fight against the Sith, raced in the Modnation Racing Championship, fought as a member of the Specialized Extracurricular Execution Squad, took over the city of Stilwater TWICE before bringing his reign to Steelport, AND saved the world of E.D.N. III from the Over-G. And that's just the tip of the iceberg. Count in his time spent in the Wastelands of Washington D.C. and the Mojave Desert, his adventures in Boletaria and Lordran (are those the names of the places in Demons Souls and Dark Souls, respectively?), and his days spent catching Pokemon and he has QUITE the interesting journal.
How is this all possible you ask? Through the clever use of character customization and integration of course!
Character customization is, to me, quite possibly the greatest innovation in the world, a concept that allows us to create and become a character that we would like to play as through his (or HER before anyone says anything) adventures. However, despite games like Grand Theft Auto 4 and Assassin's Creed: Revelations offering slight customization, it doesn't feel like we are the characters (well, to the point that we can't say that that character is ours), but rather, just a fashion designer of a movie. I mean, even if you put White dye on Ezio, he's still the same guy, doing the same thing he would've even if he was dressed in Crimson.
Under Ground Kings
No, the best kind character customization is one that integrates YOU into the character themselves. My favorite example of this (despite all the great games like is Persona 3 ; You can only make a name for him (and in the newest iteration, her), which is limiting, but throughout the game, with the amount of things to do and the amount of freedom, you become the character, deciding how to spend your time: Will you stick to your studies? Or will you hang out with friends everyday? Are you going to join an afterschool club? Which one? Will you balance your life between school and fighting Shadows or will you lean too much onto one side? How deep will your friendships be (which makes the ending one of my favorite video game endings of all time)?
At that point of the game, it isn't a character you just control like Ezio from Assassin's Creed... It's a character who is essentially you (or at least someone you choose for that character to be). So whenever you play the game, you decide how the character acts what he wants to do (like hey, you're not FORCED to study though you are somewhat forced to fight Shadows) rather than being a character who is basically told what to do. For example...
I've been playing Dark Souls and I've been making up my own stories. I mean, as we speak, my character, still in his starting Thief gear, is treading around the Darkroot Forest, waiting to be summoned to repel any intruders with his trusty Claymore, that he had to risk being roasted by a Hellkite to acquire, and Pyromancer's Flame, which he had ascended by becoming a pupil of the legendary Quelana of Izalith.
I mean, I KNOW I have to try to save the world or something, but the game doesn't really force you to do anything, and you're free to screw around and make up the story as you go. Maybe my character is in love with Quelana so he dedicates his time learning pyromancy to spend time with her. Maybe he wields the Claymore as a trophy from his near death experience against the feared Hellkite who guards the bridge with a very REAL "firewall." Maybe he keeps the Thief's gear on because he doesn't want anyone to know he's just a high school tranfer student who's in the S.E.E.S. club. And that isn't the story of someone else, oh no, this is the story of MY character.
You may have noticed that maybe I was getting too immersed in the universe of Dark Souls but video games are so immersive that it's easy to lose yourself in it. But what about movies and books? While those are immersive as well (well, I don't READ myself...) but, aside from playing the game, character customization and integration is practically the sole difference in being immersed in a video game and a movie: When you watch a movie, you know that there's these characters and what they are like, and you know that it's going to end one way or another and you can't change that (unless it's Final Destination 3 with that stupid alternate scenes and such). And with video games such as Assassin's Creed: Revelation, you again know who the characters are and what they are like, as well as having an ending that you can't change.
But with character customization and integration, even if it ends in the same way and the same manner, at least you yourself feel like you were a part of the story because essentially you put the character there yourself. In Saints Row: The Third, despite what the Boss is going through and going to do, since I can customize him, I can make it feel like it's my character who's going to do that all. I mean, it's one thing to say "Oh, that guy just jumped through a frickin' plane" but to say "Oh, MY character just jumped through a frickin' plane" makes it feel a lot more personal despite the fact that they both do the same thing. You really can't do that with a movie... I mean, what are you going to do? Imagine that the character in the movie is acted by you?
Actually, funny enough, there ARE games that let you do just that. That's beside the point, but hey, go figure.
Now I'm not saying that we SHOULD have character customization in every game... I mean, the Uncharted and [i]Metal Gear Solid[i/] series gets along just fine without trying to make you feel like your part of the story by showing you character whom you might truly care about. I mean, I can't imagine a world of video games without icons like Nathan Drake, Solid Snake, Master Chief, and Mario. But there are some games that, if they aren't going to give you an interesting character to play as, why not have it so you could make the character your own, even if he doesn't have that much screen time?
Make Me Proud (character below is my guy, sorry about blurry resolution)
The game that comes is Ghostbusters: The Video Game: We know that the main appeal of the game is rolling with the Ghostbusters squad, but since we're a nameless and sorta faceless generic character, why not go to some lengths to make that character our own? Take the original Saints Row: You are a nameless guy who barely talks (he has like what, four lines throughout the whole game?) but since we can customize him, we can at least feel like that's our character with our sense of style (with later iterations of the game offering a selection of voices, walk, fighting style, and more). It isn't much, but the phrase "a little goes a long way" applies here quite nicely.
So with all that being said, I'm very thankful that character customization exists; Being allowed to create characters and such is always such a fun thing to do. I have like a dozen unique Soul Calibur 4 characters that I regularly match up in fights for a faux story mode, a dozen more characters who won the Modnation Racing Championship, and I plan to create a least two more characters for Saints Row: The Third. And this is just this current generation: I had multiple copies of the game Final Fantasy Tactics Advance just so I could create custom teams such as all Black Mages (in honor of Vivi), ninjas (a slight Naruto craze got to me), and Gunmans (though I HATE moogles; Sorry kupo), half a dozen combinations of teams in the original Final Fantasy, and don't even get me started on how many Sims I have.
I can't stress enough how thankful I am that character customization (and proper integration) exists (when stacked up to things like mini-maps, checkpoints, and oh my lord REGENERATING health) because it's something that allows me to get more immersed into video games. Yeah, I get sucked in reading a book and watching a movie but unless I'm roleplaying, I can't feel like a part of the story when I'm reading someone else's thoughts and having no personal attachment to a character (what I mean is I LOVE the character Nathan Drake, but I don't ever feel like I'm Nathan Drake; like all I'm doing is just showing off how badass Nathan Drake is rather than how badass I am).
And that's the advantage video games have over any form of entertainment media: Having the ability to make the player feel a part of the story. While some of the greatest games in the world don't even try to utilize it, and again, not that they need to (especially if it would feel tacked on and limiting), the games that do are always personal favorites in my book.
You know, sometimes the best things in life are the things that you just stumble on to. For example, I've discovered Jet Set Radio Future from that dual disc with Sega GT, Feel the Magic from the cover art at a local Gamestop, and Armored Core: For Answer in a Game Informer magazine. However, while those games have spin-offs (well, Jet Set Radio Future is the spin-off of Jet Set Radio), sequels (The Rub Rabbits), and even both (Armored Core 1-4, Ninebreaker, Nexus, Last Raven, Formula Front, and For Answer), the game I'm going to be talking about today is a little something called "Riviera: The Promised Land."
I've discovered this little gem of a game in a magazine of Nintendo Power. Was there an article about it? Nah. Was there a preview about it? Not that I know of. So how did you hear about it? By a lone, one-page ad. Seriously, that's how I learned about the game aside from an eventually three paragraphed review that they eventually did, but it's still somewhat hard to believe that from one little ad that I've experienced quite possibly one of my most favorite games of all time.
Now, that sounds a bit much when I've experienced games like Shadow of the Colossus, The World Ends with You, Uncharted 2, Metal Gear Solid 4, Peace Walker and many many more, but it's not because it's that good that I love it so much, but rather, that I feel like it's tailor-made for me. I mean, millions of people say that "this video game" or "that video game" is so good, but I never seem to get into it. Chrono Trigger? Couldn't get into it. The Legend of Zelda: Link to the Past? Couldn't get that damn library book down. Ocarina of Time? I could barely get past the Deku Tree. Majora's Mask? Was too put off by the time limit (as well as that freaky ass moon...).
Now you gotta understand something: It's not like I HATED those games... I mean, I've beaten Chrono Trigger at least AND I've watched and enjoyed OTHER people playing The Legend of Zelda (the only one I've beaten was Minish Cap), and it's not like I'm one of those people who hate what everyone else likes (I've bought Gears of War 3 and reserved Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 and Battlefield 3) nor am I the guy who brag about listening to indie bands... I simply like what I like, and I just couldn't like those games.
But I love Riviera: The Promised Land... Oh God do I love it.
"This will be my world"
After tracking down a copy of the Gameboy Advance version of Riviera: The Promised Land (which involved my uncle driving me all the way downtown to get it... I so appreciated it), the minute I got home, because I get motion sickness easily, I popped that sucker in and started playing it. I was so enthralled by the story about Ragnarok, the coming of demons, and demon-slaying angels that hours had flown right by and I didn't even noticed it. Now, at the time, I hadn't really experienced great JRPGs at the time such as Chrono Trigger and Tales of the Abyss, so Riviera's simple story was somewhat of a stepping stone for me to jump into the genre.
The story, in a nutshell, is about two angels who comes to Riviera, a sacred land where beings called Sprites live, to sacrifice it to stop the coming of demons. One of the angels however, Ein, gets "killed" and "revived" by a goddess named Ursula who takes his memories away and have him live among the Sprites in Riviera in order to have him sympathize with the Sprites and stop the angels from sacrificing it. It's that story about conspiracy from higher authories, doing the right thing, and preventing a much bigger problem. Sure, it's no epic, but at least the story is pretty decent, although looking back, is pretty familiar territory.
However, what sets Riviera apart from all the other games is that it incorporates elements of the "renai" genre (you may know it as a "dating sim"): Throughout the adventure, you'll earn the hearts of your lovely teammates (such as the kind-hearted Fia, the childish Lina, the tomboy Serene, and the ditzy Cierra) by winning them over with the choices of dialogue and actions. I really like this element of the game because it's not only something that is seldom seen (though games like Star Ocean and Tales of Symphonia had it) but because it really makes you more attached to the characters, especially Ein, when you yourself are making some of the choices instead of just merely watching the scene proceed.
Not only that, but you'll definitely feel the tension as there are some VERY interesting choices to make. One of them for example, being one of my favorite moments in the game, has you choosing which girl needs to stand on a "pressure plate" in order to open the door, essentially boiling it down to "who do you think is the fattest?" It's very humorous to see the character's reactions as well as Ein's explanations ("Well, I figured since you were the oldest..."), making you enjoy the characters even more. And sometimes, the best moments can even be times when you don't have to make a choice at all, such as when Lina fell into a river, grabbing one of the girls who in turn grabs another, a la the "domino effect." I've played through the game several times and it's still so heartwarming to experience little scenes like this. Sure, there's no betrayal, politics, identity crisis and whatnot, but it's that kind of simple story that you can just enjoy.
This is the "Good Life"
However though, no matter how great the story may be, none of it matters if I could never get that far. Thankfully however, Riveria seems to have my horrible playing skills in mind, allowing for an easy to understand battle system: You simply pick which three characters to fight, what formation to use, and what weapons and items to bring. When you go into battle, you can choose what weapons you've brought to use, but you don't get to choose what enemy you target. To me however, that just simplifies things so much, yet makes the battles so much more interesting as you're not making your own plans, but rather working within the limitations of the game since you can't even bring more than four items into battle.
It's also VERY easy, albeit somewhat time-consuming (for me, upwards to an hour and a half though this is remedied somewhat by the PSP's sleep function) to grind in this game. Yeah, remember in JRPGs, to get stronger you had to fight the same old enemies over and over again until you were strong enough to fight the boss to unlock the next part of the story, which contained new enemy that you're going to eventually fight over and over again again (intentional)? Well in this game, although you have limited item usage, you have to use an item by a character repeatedly in order to level them up and learn a special skill with the item, which is TOTALLY easy. I mean, it doesn't matter if it hits or misses, you just have to USE it.
But don't think there's no depth to the battle system because grinding is easy: You still have things like elemental weaknesses and resistence but you also try to manage the enemies' "Overdrive" bar (a meter to use Special Attacks) so that they don't get it filled and demolish you as well as managing your item usage as they are limited like Fire Emblem. Not only that, should you fall in battle, the games not only gives you a boost (a section of your Overdrive meter) but they even start the enemies with their HP down a little, even on boss fights. And should you fall again, they'll take ANOTHER HP deduction as well as giving you even MORE Overdrive meter! And they'll even do it a third time! When I first played this game, I merely chose my favorite characters, my favorite items, and merely mashed buttons until I won, even if I had to lose three times in the row.
Some of you may say that this video game holds your hand too much, like how they simplified walking around... WALKING AROUND is simplified into just pressing the direction of which way you want to go! It's just that simple! No wandering around aimlessly nor any of that overworld junk. You may say that that makes the game way too easy... But you know what? I personally love it when a video game holds my hand. I mean, I love checkpoints, easy difficulty, streamlined adventures for a very good reason:
I shouldn't have to be good to enjoy video games.
I mean, had Ocarina of Time included like a hint system and Ninja Gaiden had a Easy mode, I so would've enjoyed them! I mean, what's the point of making the ending if no one's going to reach them? I still haven't beaten Final Fantasy 13 because I'm still stuck in some boss fight, nor Vanquish because of its relentless difficulty on Normal (Automatic takes the fun away). It's times like these that I just want a invincibilty code or something so I can still PLAY the game, like what Saint's Row 2 did: You can never die but you are have to do the action yourself, which most of the time you wanna do anyway! Riviera may not have that, but at least it gives me an out so that I can still enjoy the game.
Yeah, let's throw a rock at it, I'm in the mood to piss a demon off.
You know, it's been years since the GBA version of this game came out, yet I still pop it in every once in a while to replay it again, doing the same choices as I did the first time (you never forget your first). I may be one of those people who basically play a game once and never touch it again, but there's just something about Riviera that makes it so good... And apparently, I'm not the only one considering that they released the game more than four times:
The game originally started out as a WonderSwan Color game exclusive to Japan (which makes sense considering the nature of the title, more on that later), meaning that it wasn't released offshore for anyone else to play. However, Atlus and Sting must've loved the game enough to remake the game into a Gameboy Advance title to be released overseas into the good ol' United States of America, allowing people like me to play it. Then, a mere few years later, the Gameboy Advance version of the game was ported to the Playstation Portable with new features such as voice acting, though this was AFTER it was ported to cell phones in Japan. And as if that wasn't enough, they took that port (the PSP version), added in a couple of tiny (as in VERY tiny) features and called it the "Special Edition" (also exclusive to Japan). Damn... That's a lot of porting.
But why so many ports? After all, this was a game that got, according to reviews, 6s and 7s across the board... Not to mention much of the action was exclusive to Japan, such as the original WonderSwan Color version, the cell phone versions, and the Special Edition. And, adding on to that, the game was published by Atlus, meaning VERY limited quanities... I still have yet to own a new copy of the game, though I do have three copies of the game though (the Gameboy Advance version and two PSP version when one of them broke). So naturally, low quanities of the game combined with low amounts of advertising equal... a VERY small following of the game, at least where I'm from; From where I'm from, practically no one has heard of it, even to this day. Even on Gamefaqs there's like only a double-digit amount of pages of treads about it... Gears 3 got that many treads BEFORE it even came out!
So that's why I decided to write the blog on it instead of Feel the Magic (because there is a VERY devote following for the Jet Set and Armored Core series)... I felt that this, to me, was a great game that hardly anyone heard about. Sure, there's been a small covering of this game with its scant ads and tiny reviews (I think Destructoid did a review if I'm not mistaken), but I'm sure like 99.5% of the gaming community hasn't heard of it, let alone played it.
But I have played it... And I loved it. And I still do.