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.
Mortal Kombat has been quite... different over the last few years. While the MK series had some great ideas under their belts ranging from an armageddon to an epic crossover, the gameplay has, quite admittedly, have not made the transition over to the 3D realm well... While the stars were brightening the dark sky with the tweaks made in Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe, Midway filed their losses and declared bankruptcy, possibly destroying the series a la "Armageddon..." That is, until, Warner Brothers, alongside with NetherRealm Studios, revived the series in a big way: Going back to basics with a new story, gameplay mechanics, and great fatalies. Is this as big as the revival of Scorpion? Or should have Armageddon finished it off?
Hot N Cold
Story and Presentation
Following the events of Armageddon, many, if not ALL, of the familiar faces such as Sub-Zero and Scorpion lay lifeless outside the Pyramid where Raiden and Shao Khan do battle for one last time. Shao Khan, after losing the right to take over Earthrealm numerous times, pummels Raiden left and right, throwing all around the arena. Before he can lay the finishing blow however, Raiden uses his Amulet to send a message to his past self in the form of premonitions and a cryptic message ("He must win!") in order to prevent this outcome. It's from here that the game reverts and retells the events of the first three Mortal Kombat games, allowing newcomers and hardcore fans of the series to join in.
As with EVERY story involving time travel (like Back to the Future, The Butterfly Effect, and Steins;Gate), changing the past isn't easy: Raiden doesn't truly know HOW things will play out, only what COULD happen, such as Scorpion killing off Sub-Zero. It's an intriguing narrative that keeps the Story Mode entertaining, as the story not only follows the lore Ed Boon (who's also in charge here) created, but also tweaks events differently, such as preventing certain outcomes that I won't spoil here (but involve killing off plenty of characters). Speaking of characters, Story mode is similarily done in the same manner as the other present generation game "Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe," where you control a certain character for the entire chapter (Johnny Cage for chapter one, Sonya Blade for chapter two, etc.) with cut-scenes seamlessly tying into the fights. It's a welcome change from the drab Konquest mode that gives you the story upfront instead of needless fillers.
But while Story Mode won't last you quite as long (ranging from 6 - 9 hours depending on how good of a player you are, though the difficulty scales if you're having too much trouble), there's always the classic Arcade move to mow through (though with no gimmicks like Endurance) and the towering "Challenge Tower," which is a series of 300 challenges to play through. While Arcade is a simple "no frills" affair, Challenge Tower offers unique challenges, ranging from fighting without arms to throwing your arms at the opponent, allowing a greater diversity. And if some of these challenges aren't your cup of tea (like if you have trouble adapting to these foreign rules), or if they prove too difficult (like fighting 3 Shao Khans in a row without healing or boosts), you can thankfully buy your way to the next challenge, easing any and all frustrations you may encounter. The only other thing that's curiously missing is the omission of a Versus mode (and no, Training Mode with an AI DOES NOT COUNT).
My Life, Your Entertainment
But the real reason to play this game (other than the eye pleasing, deliciously gory fatalies) is the new gameplay mechanics. First and foremost, the game has finally reverted back to its 2D self while still maintaining its "klassic kontrols" scheme of four attack buttons and one block button, meaning that gameplay is much easier to pick up and play. If you fondly recall the ol' MK2 days, rest assured that you still perform moves and uppercuts the same way. However, the depth of the game had not only been retained, but refined with the introduction of new game mechanics.
While characters still perform their signature moves, from Scorpion's Spear to Sub-Zero's Ice Ball, these moves can be enhanced to be more effective by ulitizing the bar found in the bottom of the screen. This bar is filled via performing special attacks, actions, or just getting whooped. The bar is also divided into segments, which, when the bar is filled up, opens up a new ability to perform. Using one of these bars can enhance a super move like Sub Zero's Ice Ball, turning it into a beam of ice to make it harder to avoid. Using two of these bars allows you to break an opponent's "kombo" with a "Breaker," a non-damaging attack that stops the enemy from hurting you anymroe and sending them flying back for some breathing room.
And finally, by using three of these precious bars (if you still kept them for this long), you can activate a powerful special attack dubbed "X-Ray Attack," Mortal Kombat's answer to Street Fighter's Ultra Combo (without the K). These attacks are usually meant to do major damage as either a means to come back from behind (taking off almost a third of their health) or to completely destroy the opponent in a devastating way. These attacks are risky to perform, as they are essentially hail mary shots, but that, as well as the abilities "enhance" and "breakers," only adds to the depth of the game.
Do you save up your bars to perform these "X-Rays" or do you constantly enhance your moves so that you might not even need 'em? Do you hope to bank the entire bar on an X-Ray attack or use two-thirds of it as a safety measure to stop the enemy if he caught you off guard? And how WILL you land the X-Ray? Do you try to catch the opponent off guard, or do you inplement it in a kombo, while ensuring the move connects, possibly reducing its efficiency (as damage scaling, where the more hits you dish out, the less damage they start to do) along the way?
If all of this is making your head spin, fret not: The game is, as I've said, easy to jump into. Moves are extremely easy to pull off, especially with the game providing a list of them in the pause menu, and some of the characters have kombos where you hit the same button a few times over and over again (including fan favorites and poster boys Scorpion and Sub-Zero). And if that's not enough, there's a training mode to get your learn on, a practice mode to make perfect, and even a beginning difficulty if you rather learn by doing.
However, with this being said, sometimes the game's AI don't play fair: Opponents can often read your moves, doing an appropriate counter at the right moment. While the best players can do this as well, it shouldn't be apparent in the Normal difficulty: With no regards to my skills, the AI shouldn't be able to react that fast if I JUST think to teleport or jump in the air. Heck, once I even "tricked" the AI by mashing buttons, making them do the counters to the moves that I wasn't even doing. It's isn't ALWAYS a problem, as the AI "allows" you to hit them in return, as well as repeated failures causes the AI to go easy on you, but it's still something to note.
The only other thing to note is the bosses. While Shang Tsung is just like any other character, Goro, Kintaro, and Shao Khan are enhanced to feel more like bosses, but it's incredibly cheap: While I'm fine with increased damage and defense, as well as a few unblockable attacks, these bosses have "super armor" that enables them to be kicked square in the face and not flinch at all (though the damage is still counted). While you can get by by knowing when and where to attack (essentially their backs right after they perform an attack), it doesn't make the bosses feel more challenging as much as it does annoying and catering to a specific play style (usually you can jump over their combo and throw a few punches of your own, but doing it ad nausem isn't fun, but tedious, and completely makes the game boring).
Yet that NEVER gets old. Could go "On and on and on...."
Online and ending notes
As with any fighting game in this generation, this game includes an online mode where you fight against other people (after first buying or redeeming a Kombat Pass). Like MKvsDC, you can go into a chat room (named after their dimensions like EarthRealm and Edenia) or make one of your own and either challenge people to a match or wait to be challenged yourself. It's a pretty standard affair, but with features lacking in other fighting games, such AS a chat room as well as a "win ticker" (where they annouce who wins a match in the chat room), it's a much appreciated treat. But the real appeal of online is NetherRealm's unique take on the "Arcade" experience...
Remember in the old days when Mortal Kombat, Street Fighter, and Marvel vs Capcom 2 hit up the arcades, there were people crowding around the machines watching the people play, learning their play style, having the winner stay and reserving your place in line by inserting a quarter? While that experience has been recreated here... Enter "King of the Hill," a game mode where up to 8 people can enter a "Quarter Up" style competition. While two people battle against each other, the other 6 can spectate and even cheer and approve the action and boo and disgust the noobs. It's a pretty cool experience, with the nice touch of having either a Mortal Kombat avatar or your own Xbox Live avatar represent you.
While these online offerings are cool, I did have some problems with it however... For one thing, lag is present in most of the games I played, though in varying extents. Most of the times, there's maybe a VERY small lag input that can be adapted to, but sometimes the lag can be horrendous, resulting in slow motion kombat with both players wrestling over control. Secondly, while I love "King of the Hill," there are times when my console (I played on both the PS3 and Xbox 360 versions) froze whenever people enter or leave, and once my console crashed on me, forcing me to TRY to turn it off... While they don't happen often, the fact that it COULD is something to be wary of.
As for the rest of the game, the game runs smoothly outside online, and in a game that is all about timing and execution, this is a huge relief. Another is getting your money's worth; While money doesn't factor into my score, there's plenty to do here if you're willing, from beating the lengthy story, scaling the 300 stage Tower, and beating Arcade with every character as well as plenty of secrets to unlock via the Krypt and the help of the internet. Everyone, sans a certain robot fellow, has an alternate costume, with one donning three (the others can get a Klassic kostume via DLC).
Everyone also have at least two fatalies, all of which are interesting and immensely satisfying to watch. Fatalies are a huge part of the series, and despite the team's best efforts to retain them in the T rated MKvsDC outing (as well as that relatively dull Kreate-A-Fatality shown in Armageddon), they are back in full force this time around; Over the top gore abound, expect to see plenty of head decapitations, arms ripping off, and buckets upon buckets of blood (and even a nod towards a certain someone's Fatality in the last game). While Fatalies don't essentially make the game, it certainly doesn't break it either, and the inclusion of them in this game means that NetherRealms is doing things right.
Score: Presentaion and Graphics ---- 9.0
-The character models are awesome to look at, especially when they're torn apart and brutally beaten. The backgrounds are entertaining as well, with animations that help keeps the scenary memorable. And seeing the outrageous Fatalies are always a treat.
Sound ------- 8.5
-The announcer is just as booming as ever, and the pre-battle battle cries makes the series a lot less quiet. The sound effects from the beatings are entertaining and ear-pleasing, and the voice action, while a little awkward, fits the characters well.
Controls ----- 8.75
-While I find the PS3 controller easier to handle, the controls are still easy to pull off, and the more mainstreamed scheme (such as just pressing two buttons to use an X-Ray) makes it easy for anyone to get into. There are some mishaps, but otherwise, the controls are solid.
Fun Factor --- 9.0
-The fighting is satisfying in this game and offer plenty of ways to go about it. With breakers, you can prevent a lot of the beatings, and the X-Rays makes it possible to come from behind. Seeing cool things in action makes losing a lot more acceptable, especially if it ends in a gruesome Fatality or the adorable Babality (yes, they went there).
Content ------- 8.75
-Story Mode's about 6 - 9 hours, Challenge Tower offers a lot to do if you don't plan to skip too much (I skipped like 75 - 100 of them and it still took me like 6 hours), and beating the game with everyone's Arcade is sure to last a while longer. And with friends or random strangers to play against, there's always something to do.
Final Verdict - 9.2
-This game's got plenty of things to do, and it makes it fun/ easy to do it. They knew what to expect when they designed the game, such as allowing skips in the Tower, difficulty scaling down after repeated losses, etc, and it shows. Seeing the brutal X-Rays and the bloody Fatalities are so awesome that they are bound to put a smile on anyone's face.
What affected rating? Doesn't effect (no bareing on score):
-No versus mode? Seriously, it's not that hard to include... I want my Sub-Zero vs. Noob match ups! And no, Training Mode DOES NOT COUNT. However, it's not fair to deduct points for that.
Hinders (hurts score):
-Cheap bosses. I know the game is trying to be challenging, but the challenges in Challenge Tower were challenging... The bosses were just cheap. Yeah, I beat them with relative ease (had more trouble at the Tower) but I was bored to tears doing my 1-2-3 combo (not the button inputs by the way) over and over again...
Helps (Increase score):
-Fatalies are SO welcomed!
-Fun, frantic, refined gameplay.
-Story provides a great narrative that few fighting games have. While there are better ones out there (BlazBlue), it certainly rises above others (what IS going on in Dead or Alive?).
At least, it was the last time we checked; none of us laid eyes on the clock for a while now. My friends and I all sat in front of a brightly lit TV screen in a dark room, with controllers in our hands, music blaring in the background, with sodas and snacks on the side (for the ones spectating of course). The palms of our hands were sweating... As so many bodies lied on the streets of New Mombasa, we were all so close to the winning the game, yet it felt like forever and a day until one of us finally hit that 50 kill mark. After dodging bullets, ducking explosions, and defying death for as long as possible, eventually the score card flashed and the screen faded to black, the last place loser gave up his spot, albeit reluctantly, and sat in the back.
But that was just a brief intermission. After all, "The Show Goes On..."
Nothing's "Lovelier Than You"
I don't think there'd be any other game like Halo , much less series. Halo gained its recognition for its control scheme, complex storyline, and epic single player campaigns, but everyone knows what the true deal with Halo is: The multiplayer. Whether you're fighting against or along, shooting at or with, Halo does it all and then some. Sure, there's been many other games that were fun to play with friends, such as Mario Kart , Goldeneye, and dare I say, Mario Party, the Halo series is one of the best multi-player games to have ever caught my attention.
And it's best played with friends on the couch.
Let's forget about this thing called Xbox Live and Playstation Network for a second... Just pretend it doesn't exist: Back then, before the whole internet craze and all, we played games on the couch with a neighbor or a friend dropping by after school. We whipped out the good ol' NES/ SNES, plugged in the controllers (remember when they were wired?), and chose from a collection of games like Contra, King of Monsters, Killer Instinct, Mortal Kombat, and more. None of those games had an online functionality (mostly because it didn't really exist back then) and yet they provided so many good times, mostly because of interactions between PLAYERS.
I mean, after all, isn't it more fun to scream at your friend's face than to do it over a microphone? That's why my favorite Angry Video Game Nerd was when he and Justin Kyle fought together (take that any way you wish) in Battletoads.
Best episode ever, "Check It Out."
Fast forwarding, when the Xbox came out, Halo was the must-have game to get; Everybody and their grandmothers (who probably had to have bought it for their underaged young'uns) knew all about it. Sure, the premise wasn't totally original (humans versus aliens with a super soldier on the side) but Halo was like a totally awesome Contra: Two super-soldiers waging fast frantic bullet storm action against an alien race (minus the one hit kills)? Sign me up! Me and my friend (let's not be grammar police, it sounds better that way) played this game almost every day, and it was made all the more fun when you're yelling for the other to "cover me" and to "take the left side."
But once the alien bodies lay across our feet, it wasn't long before our thirst for blood and violence (hold the guts please, we ARE gentlemen) made us turn for one another. Maybe it was because there weren’t enough enemies. Maybe because we ran through the level like professionals (at least on Normal). Maybe it was to get back at the guy who "volunteered" to send you on a plasma grenade suicide mission. But we aren't going to do that here... Oh no... No, we finished the mission, quit out of our session and loaded up a multiplayer deathmatch. We chose our personas (with names that didn't belong to us), set an arena , usually something small like Beaver Creek and Rat Race, and started shooting at each other with bullets, explosives, and plasma beams. Sometimes people would come over and join us in our little frag fests. The more the merrier... The better the times.
A little while after Halo 2 dropped, we pretty much established our weekly Halo ritual: We all brought out our controllers and gathered around the TV to play. Loading up our profiles, we instantly started to trash talk each other (like threatening to kill us with the Energy Sword and tea-bag our bodies) as we decided how would team up with who (there's always "that one guy" who everyone wants to team up with because he's so good). We all had our own controllers, even those who didn't even have an Xbox, so whoever loses signs himself off and unplug his controller. While I settled for a normal blue controller, my friends and one of my brothers had that silver wireless Halo 2 promo controller that they sold at the launch who they dared not let anyone touch.
Yes, we were that dedicated to the game.
Love is like a "Battlefield."
And yet as much as we played it, no two games were alike, and most likely, each and every game was like as fun as the last, almost to the point that it's like it’s being mass produced. I mean, in just one of our matches, we have like 50 insults, 5 comments on the sexuality of the situation (i.e. "That's so gay!") and 34 tea bags (did he really need to count?). We played from dusk to dawn (weekends for the win), hooping and hollering (because our parents couldn't hear us over their karaoke sessions), shooting and looting... Time just flies as fast as the bullets over our virtual avatar's head. We take a few 5 minute breaks every now and then, but rest assured, our sessions last for hours with very few rest in between.
But despite the long endurance, none of us felt tired throughout the whole time: Our spirits high, we proceeded to toss frags, ram Warthogs, and sword lunge across the map (remember that rocket sword lunge?) without the feeling of fatigue, even after the yelling we did about screen watching. I mean, speaking of screen watching, that's one thing that local play has over multi-player: The fact that just many, you can sneak a small peek at your opponent, or you could hear things that maybe you weren't supposed to. Hear that Energy Sword? Watch out. Heard that sniper crack? Move to cover. Opened the gate in Zanzibar? Get the hell out.
Perhaps our good times made us oblivious to our weariness... Or maybe it was the fuel we were consuming, like Coke, Mountain Dew, and Dr. Pepper with a bowl of Lays and Doritos and Fritos on the side. Maybe it was because we had "Dance Floor Anthem" by Good Charlottle playing in the background. Maybe it was the thrill of escaping from two players only to lead them into a frag infested trap for a double kill.
Or maybe the long sessions of gaming dulled our senses. After all, that's probably why we had the will to listen to Cascada's "Everytime We Touch" from start to finish.
Thank God no one asked why it was on the iPod.
"Get Em High"
But everything good must end... Eventually, as we all grew up, we didn't have much more of these Friday Frag Fests anymore. We tried to keep the show alive with Call of Duty 4 and Modern Warfare 2, but those games are more about winning and skills than having a good time. Plus, with online now being the new craze these days, there wasn't much need to come over anymore as we could just put on our headsets and chat in a private chat. That was fine and dandy I suppose, but I'm more of the kinda guy to talk in person... Even when I got a cell, I just call and text a time and place to meet up.
We are still friends, and we still hang out regularly, but when we game, it's mostly just taking turns in single player or online endeavors... Good times, sure, I guess, but nothing like the things we used to do... When Halo 3 was out, one of my brothers grew attached to the Missile Pod and Gravity Hammer, naming them both "Frank" and threatening to kill us if we even touched one (and as luck would have it, despite being one of the worst players, he always managed to stop us from using his toys within 30 seconds of picking them up). Now, my brother just brags on getting that "Chopper Gunner..." It just isn't the same anymore.
But nevertheless, the memories shall remain within my mind forever... I don't have any pictures of our events, nor any remnants of what happened (we gave up our Xbox, games, and controllers to give them away to people who didn't have them once the 360 came out), but as soon as I heard the word Halo (even when it's completely unrelated like that Beyonce song), all those memories come flooding back to me like a slide show, and that's something you never forget. You can recall all the great epic moments in gaming, from seeing the wonders of Ico to slaying giant beasts in Shadow of the Colossus, but none of it would ever be as great as just playing a little Halo among family and friends.
Hello there, welcome to "Moments in Gaming," (working title) a (hopefully) series of blogs dedicated to some of the best moments in gaming. Why? Because we play so many games, but we only covet so few of them. Think back: People mention games like Final Fantasy 7, Shadow of the Colossus, Metal Gear Solid, and Super Mario Brothers, but how many people mention all the other games like Godzilla: Destroy All Monsters, Area-51, Mario Party, and more?
Sure, they aren't the triple A titles that we will remember forever, but I believe that many of the video games we overlook have a few great moments in them, and I want to take this time to appreciate them. So join me as we go back into the 90's to recall one of the truly most rememorable moments in gaming: Defeating the Pokemon League.
I want it all.
Remember back then when Pokemon first hit the shores of the US? People were selling toys, action figures or collectibles, bedroom decorations from blankets to sheet covers, Pokemon plastered party hats and cups, and more. It was so crazy that everytime you went to a Wal-Mart or a Toys R Us, it was like an adventure! But despite all that was going on, we knew where the real adventure lies: In the cartridge labelled Pokemon: Red/ Blue version lying inside our Game Boys.
Now, before I go any further, I feel like we need to know our past: Back then, when Pokemon was first released for Japan, it wasn't Pokemon Red and Blue, but rather, Pokemon Red and Green. Yeah, back then, as kids, we probably didn't know anything about this game (like it was originally going to be called Capsule Monsters), so when Red and Blue got released, we took it as just that. But it's true, Red and Green were the first duo to be released (which was also the duo for the remakes FireRed and LeafGreen) with Blue being a better enhanced version released after the duo, something that's been done over the years (Gold/Silver/Crystal, Ruby/Sapphire/Emerald, Diamond/Pearl/Platinum).
But enough about that history lesson, let's talk about the first time we turned on our Game Boys and saw the world that Game Freak created for us. After we created a persona for ourselves, we were tossed in a world where a race of monsters named Pokemon roamed the world, and that Trainers, people who "teamed" up with these monsters after taming them, were people embarking on an adventure of a lifetime. But before we could become a Trainer ourselves, we needed one of these magnificant creatures, and who better to get a Pokemon from than the professor who taught us about them himself, Professor Oak?
When the three Pokeballs lied in front of me, I don't know about you, but I recall some great debates about which Pokemon to take: Should I hold the plant looking dinosaur Bulbasaur, the cute turtle Squirtle, or the badass salamander Charmander? Of course, no matter which you choose, the rival would always choose the one strong against you (prick), but I choose my Squirtle with pride, eagerly awaiting to see just what these guys could do. And wouldn't you know it, I get to test them out right here, right now! I also recall losing my first time, picking Tail Whip repeatedly, but back then, I thought that Tail Whip meant smacking him with his Tail... Oh well, can't beat them all, just gotta dust yourself off and move on. So let's do just that and save myself the embarassment.
We all know how Pokemon work: You use a Pokemon to catch other Pokemon before training them to beat other people's Pokemon by first beating other Pokemon. And that was the appeal of the series: you trained your Pokemon to become stronger so that you could beat other Trainers to advance in your journey until you were strong enough to tackle Gym Leader, a group of Trainer with powerful Pokemon. And once you beat one, you went on to defeat the next, then the one after, then et cetera, until you've beaten them all.
The game could've taught us some important things had we paid attention to them: First off, we work as a team. Sure, you could super train one guy to do all the work, but then again, that's not the way the game's intended to be played. No, there is much pride in training a team of fighters who can watch each others back. Pitting a Grass against a Fire? Sub out for a Water Type. Need for a guy to take a breather? Cover him with someone else. And with type specific Gym Leaders, as well as varied regular Trainers, one Pokemon with an average level can't do much.
All for one and one for all!
But once you trained a team of vicious baddies, defeated the Gym Leaders across the land, crushed Team Rocket into dust, and stormed through Victory Road, you knew that, once you stood outside the door of the Elite Four, that you had hit the Big Time. Whatever gloves the game had on were coming off, as the game expects you to run through 5 of the hardest Trainers in the game (thankfully not one after another) without leaving, resting your Pokemon (aside from items), or switching out. Oh, and if you lose just once, you get booted back to the beginning to do it all over again, no ifs, ands, or butts about it (unless you saved and reloaded).
But that's ok. You were ready for it: You've beaten the toughest Trainer in the game, you used the money you've acquired in the game to buy some of the most important items in the game, and most importanty, you've trained some of the best Pokemon in the game, where your Squirtle, Pikachu, Weedle and Catterpie are now Blastoise, Raichu, Beedrill and Butterfree. And so you proudly walk through the doors, not even looking back as they close it behind you. You fought against the first guy with everything you had. You won, you healed up, you saved the game, and then you walked through the next door, repeating the process.
With each victory, you feel like you've grown stronger not only in experience, but in heart: With each Trainer defeated, you're one step closer to taking on Lance for the title of Champion, a title well coveted by every Trainer out there. And you probably deserve it too, seeing as how you've come this far, so as soon as you beat the fourth guy, you eagerly healed and saved before walking through that door to the Champion, where you beat him after a harsh duel, probably after pitting your last Pokemon against him. Once his HP hits zero, you let out a cheer of victory, knowing that you were the second person to beat him today!... Wait, what?
The original rival.
That's right: Your rival, whom you've fought so many times before, had already defeated the Champion, and now, for the true bout for the title Champion, you're instantly pitted (without healing or saving if I recall correctly) against him in the final battle of the game. You probably deemed this unfair (considering how hard Lance was, how many Pokemon were knocked out, and how many items were wasted), screaming out of your lungs, probably learning a few new words along the way, but nevertheless, you fought against your rival (after scrambling to heal up your main fighters) tooth and nail, now not only giving everything you've got, but perhaps even more so.
You didn't stop: You relentlessly fought and struck down his Pokemon one by one, maybe sacrificing one in the process, until he was down to his last one. And despite his constant use of Full Restores and Max Potions, he was only delaying his defeat until finally, you knocked down his last Pokemon's last pixels of HP, and you win the battle, racking in big money along the way. And here to celebrate your victory was Professor Oak, who will input your team of Pokemon into the Hall of Fame, where they will stand not only in the game, but in your memory: You trained these guys (hopefully) yourself for this moment, and as a kid, it was a pretty astounding achievement to be able to invest enough time to raise a group of 6 Pokemon to be strong enough to be the strongest of the land.
And that's something that'll stay with me forever. Sure, defeating N after the Pokemon League in the new Black and White games was pretty epic, especially pitting Reshiram against his Zekhom, but nothing said to me like a job well done than being inducted into the Hall of Fame in the very first game. I mean, 6 straight fights without going to the Store or Pokemon Center (because you can't buy Eithers and Elixiers) was brutal, especially if you didn't have a guide to tell you what Pokemon to bring or what types they had. No, when I defeated the Pokemon League, I did it with MY Pokemon that I'D trained whom I'VE invested the time into without ANY help. And what a glorious feeling that was.
Every journey starts with a single step. Now if only your rival would just let you friggin' leave.
Back in middle school, gaming was essentially my life: I played games everyday, every week, every chance I got. Sure, I've had friends, but that was during school. When I got home, the first thing I do is either turn on the TV to play my Gamecube or sat down on the couch and take out and turn on the Gameboy Advance that I kept in my pocket at all times. However, as much as a gamer I was, I never truly got out of my comfort zone: All I played was Super Smash Brothers Melee, Pokemon, Mario Party, and all the other mainstream games with essentially no depth. However, one issue of Nintendo Power opened my eyes to the most amazing game I've ever read about, and the game that opened my eyes to a whole new world...
And I was blown away.
"Nothin' on You" Yes, still doing music references
When I read the article of Tales of Symphonia , which was pretty rare for me since I dislike reading in general, I was so taken in on the hype that Nintendo Power, the source of video game related news back then, was giving it. They mentioned a great, robust battle system, a detailed world, colorful graphics, and more. Now, despite growing up on the SNES and N64, I never strayed from games that had levels and such, so things like The Legend of Zelda and Metroid blew me by.
But for some reason, that I can't even explain to this day, I was strangely drawn on wanting to play this game. Yeah, the anime aesthetics did help in that regard (I made a whole blog on Japanator about loving anime girls), and yes, the battle system was pretty sweet, but it wasn't because of that that I became so dead set on having this game... No, something inside me told me that this might be one of the most important games I'll ever play, despite my brain telling me it might not be worth the money (why spend money on a game that I might not like?). So what did I do? I followed my heart, saved up my money (a few dollar bills here and there) and hit up the local Gamestop.
Once I bought the game and held it in my hands, I knew that I made the right choice. The case was all shiny, the cover art appealed to me, and it felt heavy, like a REAL game. And so, on "My Way Home" from the car ride (I remember ripping the cellophane off, reading the instruction manual, and complaining about headaches during that time), I popped the first disc in (the only other game that had multiple discs that I recalled at the time was Final Fantasy 9 ) and watched the intro cut-scene. The anime cut-scene was pretty good, a step up from the quality of other animes I watched, but the music really hit home; Remember, the America version didn't get a catchy Jpop song like Tales of Vesperia did, but an orchestra of music that made me feel inspired, uplifted, and best of all, ready to play. (Or should I say "Ready for Whatever?")
While there weren't many anime cut-scenes, it DID get adapted to an anime.
Now, before I go on to the meat of this whole blog, you have to understand where I'm coming from to understand what's going through my head. The only other story-orientated JRPG I ever played was a little bit of Chrono Cross and a few hours of Final Fantasy 9 . Chrono Cross had one of the best game intros that I remembered at the time, with it's unique opening gameplay, that stuck in my mind to this very day. However, I was pretty young at that time, so once all the action stopped, I immediantely lost interest, a mistake I still regret apparently since people tell me it's so good... And I went on to make that same mistake with Final Fantasy 9 ; Don't get me wrong, I loved playing as a pirate who decides to crash a play, and of course, Vivi, the little lovable black mage, but at one point in the game I got lost, and in m frustration on not knowing where to go, I lost interest yet again.
However, those games weren't mine, so when I stopped playing them from other people, I was pretty much "Letting Go" of them both physically and metaphorically, a decision I regret. But I wasn't going to make that mistake again, so "No Matter What," I was going to finish Tales of Symphonia now that I actually owned it. So once I booted up a new game, I kept my mind open of all the game has to show me, and what it showed me was pretty damn cool: The game started pretty decently, with school kids in school learning about not just a mythlogy, but something that actually HAPPENS in their world, before the teacher has to leave to tend to an emergency... An emergency that Lloyd and Genis are curious about.
At this point, I might've lost interest in the game, since it didn't start off as good as Chrono Cross and Final Fantasy 9 did, but I stuck with it, reading all the text and such, in hopes that this game will blow me away like I thought it would from reading about it. And after some pretty cool turn of events (the appearance of the Desians, the introduction of the badass Kratos, and the whole "Chosen One" type deals), I started to get into the game, but that was only the "Tip of the Iceberg."
He's more badass than he looks, trust me.
Fastforwarding, I want to tell you about my experience of the game once it started to get real good. Since I didn't get far in the two PS1 games I mentioned earlier, and the fact that all I games I've played were level based, I never got to experience a true open world before (I guess Pokemon could count, but it didn't amaze me back then), so when we get some pretty free rein to explore the world of Sylvarant, I was so taken back that I was just amazed: The wide open fields, the infinite skies, the oceans that stretched across the horizon... I had no idea how big the world could be (I was in middle school at the time).
I walked around the land, trekking my way to my destination, taking in the sights, exploring any places of interest... It was amazing to play a game that could do this! Sure, I did actually got lost on my way to Palmacosta (that was actually RIGHT IN FRONT OF YOU), but the battles I had in this game was awesome... I always did wish for a game that allowed me to free in real time instead of waiting for my turn (especially for Pokemon ), and after seeing the characters pull off some pretty badass moves like "Beast" and "Tempest," my wish was pretty much confirmed.
"Beast Mode" (a track from B.o.B's mixtape)
And the story was just so interesting. Well, looking back, it was pretty simple at the time, but when I was a kid who grew up hating stories and such (always prefered action movies and skipping over any boring dialogue), it was amazing to see an electronic story that you could actually play. This wasn't like just watching it... I was playing it. And the characters grew attached to me over the scenes that I actually remembered their names and read every bit of dialogue, even all the static, voiceless Z-Skit cut-scenes (which didn't bored me for once I started to get to know the characters).
And the scale of the story also made me feel like a hero: Instead of trying to be the very best ( Pokemon ) or catching them all (Ape Escape), I was out to save not only one world, but two worlds. I wasn't just trying to save my friend from a certain fate, I was trying to stop everyone from becoming something they're not. And I didn't know what betrayal was at the time, nor believed in anything but pure god or pure evil, so when Kratos and Zelos did what they did, I was shocked and depressed. I never felt this way in a game before... I didn't think I'd be the one who'd get attached to the characters, who feels emotion from a story... It was all a new thing to experience. I felt sad when Colette became a distant, emotionless being. I felt angry when Kratos betrayed me. I felt among friends when we're sitting around a campfire enjoying a meal. And best of all...
I felt happy to have played this game.
It unlocked a door of possibility into my world of video games, where being introduced to Tales of Symphonia made me want to play games like it. I started to play Grand Theft Auto 3 for it's action packed story and free roaming world, Final Fantasy Tactics for it's story and the ability to customize (I will write a blog on that sometime), and more, all from one game. Sure, maybe you think I'm making this game a lot bigger than it really was, but back then, this was a game with a low barrier to entry that, using past experiences with Pokemon and Final Fantasy 9 I was able to get into while still being introduced to new types of elements like story and characters. And even today, I regard JRPGs as one of my favorite genres of video games ever, with Tales of Symphonia being the most influencial.
"It doesn't make sense to me... What does it all mean?" Well, I'm pretty sure many of you guys are familiar with that: It's one of the more famous mottos that some of the Sony exclusive games are using to describe themselves, such as LittleBigPlanet . So I bet you're wondering: How could you NOT know what it means? Yes, I'm very well aware of how painfully obvious it is, but sometimes you gotta realize that as obvious as the answer may be, sometimes you just need to look at it differently.
Are you familiar with the saying "The glass is half empty/ the glass is half full?" Essentially, it means that despite being the same thing, you can view it as two separate perceptions of it. So "Play.Create.Share" probably means just that to you: Play the game, create a level, and share it with the whole. However, while I'll be saying the same thing, here's my perception of it: Play the game, create the memories, and share THAT with the whole world. Because after all, we may be playing the same game, but we aren't playing it the same way.
And so, appropriately, I quote Kid Cudi when I say this to start my blog: "I'm off on an adventure."
"What's up, how's everyone doing? You are now in the world I'm ruling."
You know what I hate about gaming today? That everything's so connected to the online world that it's not even funny: If you aren't hooked up to Xbox Live or Playstation Network (lovingly shortened to XBL and PSN respectively), then you're missing out. For the modern age, that was a good thing, kinda like a REVOFEV (Revolution of Evolution). I mean, you could now play against people all over the world, linking into the Social Network (not a song reference, but I managed to work that in).
However, the more gaming integrates with the internet, the more it can hurt, like a double edge sword: With new downloadable content (DLC) becoming much more mainstream, it's hard to get the most out of your games because you're denied content that in some cases should've been on the disc. In some extreme cases, not downloading a patch may prevent you from playing it. An example of this was Assassin's Creed for the PS3, where without a patch, the game was essentially a glitch riddled cesspool. I still love the game, don't get me wrong, but I shouldn't have to be online to enjoy this classic to its full extent (it's a great game!). Another would be Metroid: Other M , in which I didn't stop because of the story (I liked the melodrama...) but because of some bug that stopped players cold in their tracks.
So what if I want to enjoy the game as it is? Think back to the classic generation: Did we have DLC? Did we have online (Dreamcast, if I recall correctly, sure, but stay focus on where I'm going)? No, we didn't, but was that a bad thing? No, that meant that we could see everything in the game that the game has to offer, like the multiple endings in Chrono Trigger (despite the fact I played it once. Yeah, a game that actually encourages multiple playthroughs still wasn't enough for me to go back). And definitely no giving us a half assed ending just to make us pay for the rest ("Let's have a toast to the douche bags...", Alan Wake and current gen Prince of Persia ). So what does it mean for me? What if, one day, when Sony eventually ditches the PSN support for the PS3, I just want to enjoy the game for what it's worth, and for what's on it?
Cameo characters not included in original packaging, must be downloaded. RAGE.
That brings me to the point of ModNation Racers . Having a game so well integrated with the online community is a great idea, but for me, the most enjoyment I got out of ModNation Racers was the story mode: Career Mode, where you yourself, or whoever you made, was a star. If you read my blog on Lost Planet 2, you'd recall that I absolutely ADORE games that feature characters in the cut-scenes. So imagine my excitement when I heard that your character, in his fully customizable glory, shows up in the in-game cut-scenes? I may be "Wild'n Cuz I'm Young," but it's always nice to see a game where creation is not just an afterthought, like in Soul Calibur 4 where your character was seen in like two cut-scenes.
Show of hands: Who here when they first got the game ran straight into the Creation Center? I know there's more hands than that! You, with the shifty eyes, I know you did too! Put that hand up, in fact, put two up for trying to lie! Alright, that's cool, but now then, show of hands, who was disappointed with how little stuff they gave you? I know the feeling, I felt like I had to earn the stuff in order to create stuff, kinda like spending money to make money. So that's probably what dragged me into Career Mode, to just grind through it to earn more stuff, but imagine my surprise on how awesome the story was, albeit being simple...
ModNation Racers features a story about a kid named Tag, a guy who dreams of racing and winning. Sure, before you can create yourself, you have to go through the ropes under the pre-defined skin of a kid wearing oversized goggles, but once the story allows you to become you, then it was amazing: You get to create not only your character in the way he looks, but you also get to choose the whip he drives by in. I wasn't the most creative person out there, so I have that generic anime, silent (he has no mouth!) street racer (picture included!) with an equally generic ride (not included, but to your benefit), but the fact is that he was my creation, and I love him with my heart (I even took a picture using the in game camera, transferred it into a computer and print him out, which is how I can show it to you).
My "Gorgeous" character design for the "Pursuit of Happiness."
So now, he's going to show up in all the in-game cinematics, which I thought was going to be decent, as the CG cut-scenes that the game was using before was nice and slick, but man, was I wrong: Your character isn't cut out of the cut-scene (like the pathetic PSP port where it's in first person) but rather, he's in there, like an actor on the stage! Again, I could play this game over and over again, just to see my character doing his stuff in the cut-scenes, and while Lost Planet 2 beat it in terms of adrenaline pumping, holy cow that's a big monster, movie style action, ModNation Racers had it where it's at: Humor and drama.
I literally burst out laughing watching these cut-scenes (which is no easy feat for someone like me), and watching my character become the star in most of these cut-scenes warmed my heart to no degree. I mean, seeing my character try to refuse the deal with Uncle Richard was hilarious, as well as seeing my character being showcased as a champion. And don't get me started on the pre-race animations... I recall seeing my character "Drive Slow" to the start-up line “Like a Boss" one time much to the chagrin of everyone, seeing my character so annoyed that he stomped on another racer's foot, and seeing my character get punked by some punk chick (she honked her horn when my character was sleeping to have him wake up, realize false fully that the race had just started, and crash into another racer). It was pure, innocent humor that didn't rely on potty jokes and adult humor that I love to show my kids one day should I get them.
And then there was the drama. I had became so attached to my character that when he signed over to Uncle Richard to become a sellout (due to a sabotage on his "boombox," what they call the cars), I became disheartened. That's like seeing your son grow up to be a murderer, like how Thane felt in Mass Effect 2 during his loyalty mission. And the fact that he couldn't be customized during this sequence was just heartbreaking... By not allowing me to customize him, he didn't just sign over his dignity, he signed over his soul. He was a generic racer, by the book, with no outlandish ride. Even one of the guy's most adoring fans, who'd been there since the beginning, looks down in shame. Oh Uncle Richard, how could you be so "Heartless!?"
My College Dropout
You see how much I'm getting into the story? Trust me, if you think this is getting too into it, I actually played through the whole game not once, not twice, but thrice (bolding was intentional) with all different character, not to mention replayed certain levels much, MUCH more. I literally loved this game not because of the addictive drifting mechanic, the upgradable weapons system, or even the thrill of winning first place: I loved this game because of the story. I loved seeing my character go from absolute zero "To the Same Heights" (bonus points for the correct anime song reference) as that fancy pants Expresso. I loved seeing him win that Trophy and sharing it with the Chief... It warmed my heart even today, and since I've replayed it dozens upon dozens, if not hundreds, of times, that's saying a lot.
Yeah yeah, I know that there's hundreds of thousands of levels out there (though not as much as LBP) and that I haven't talked about them once, but that's because maybe, just maybe, I didn't need it. The story, though short, was good in itself, and sometimes, that's all a good game needs. Say what you will about the horrendous loading times, the simple story... Whatever, that's cool that you have your own opinion, but for me, this game will be in my heart forever, as will the image of seeing my character Genesis win that Trophy for the Chief (probably because I played it so many times in a very dark room that it burned into my retinas, but hey, I'm not complaining).
So now that you know you're in the presence of a "Champion," roll out the "Red Carpet," because "my life is like a movie..." And I'm out.
"If you can't do what you imagine, then what is imagination to you?"
Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors (otherwise known as 999) isn't your average game: While it has an original concept unlike any other game, the thing is, this game isn't really a game... at least, not in the sense you may be thinking. This game is what's classified as a "visual novel," which is an interactive novel of sorts: You read lines upon lines of dialogue which watching static anime sprites go through pre-set poses. Visual Novels are rare to see outside the land of the rising sun, but they certainly ain't nonexistant: Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney are but one of a few that sees success overseas. However, while Phoenix Wright is certainly a well received game, visual novels are for the most part, hit or miss, with games like Time Hollow and Lux-Pain failing to make a splash. With Akyss releasing 999 to everyone, will it reach to the same heights as the beloved Ace Attorney series, or will it end up in the bargain bin?
999 is commonly compared to the Saw films, and with good reason: 999 has characters put into something called the Nonary Game, where they must play for their life. Nonary means nine, which makes perfect sense: The nine characters has nine hours to find a door with a nine on it, or else the bomb in their intensines (read: impossible to regurgitate) will blow. To traverse through the doors, they need to satisfy certain conditions: The characters are all assigned a number from one to nine, and three to five of the characters' number's digital root must equal to the number of the door they want to go in. So to go through Door 5, their digital roots must be 5. For example, characters 1, 2, 4, and 7 would have the number (when added up) 14, and 1 + 4 = 5, which is their digital root, allowing them access. Failure to follow these rules will result in immediate death.
Now before you get too stressed out about worrying about who goes into what doors, let me just tell you that it's pretty much automatic on how the game proceeds: You read through lines upon lines of dialogue until you're given a choice on what to say, or what to do. While not every choice you make will determine which of the 6 endings you get (3 of which are bad with 1 red herring), it will become pretty obvious when it will (like which Door do you want to go through when presented the choice). While that would be the gameplay of most visual novels, 999 has a little extra something included to make gameplay a little more exciting... Escape puzzles.
Solving the puzzles
Like the overabundance of flash games that flood the web, the Escape segment of the game have you searching a confined room for items and clues on how to get out of a room. While some are certainly brain-teasers, most of the time you just need to know what to do at what time. There's quite a good number of puzzles that exists in the game, but most are solved the same way: Look through every "clickable" object until you have all that you need, and then ask the characters on what you should do with them. Most of the time, they just flat out tell you what to do, like "Use this to do that," while at other times, they simply give cryptic clues along the lines of "Have you found something that can be used to decode this?" It's interesting to find out how to solve each puzzle, but hardly any of them requires any brain power to do so. But should you get stuck, you have the option to save at ANY time without fear of being backed into a corner, so you can always put the game down without going to sleep mode.
But you will find out how hard it will be to. This game simply has an engrossing story that'll leave you wanting to find out more, and with lovable characters that you'll grow attached to. While most people have nicknames to hide their true identities, it won't be long until you're able to recognize each and every character. Even though there's no voice acting, the way the dialogue was written gives everyone a different vibe, such as giving Snake a "princely demeanor" or Clover that "bratty little girl attitude." Sure, they are anime clich'es such as the lovable lug (Seven) or the snobbish, big breasted woman (Lotus), but the presentation allow them to each stand on their own, and that is important, if not absolutely crucial, in a visual novel (after all, who'd love the Ace Attorney series without Phoenix Wright, Miles Edgeworth, Dick Gumshoe, etc.?)
Kinda reminds you of a certain someone I just mentioned, eh?
However, unlike Phoenix Wright, but like most visual novels, this game is meant to be played multiple times. There are 6 endings, and while some are essentially the same as one another (they don't end on a good note), all of which should be experienced, sans one ending that, in particular, is nothing more than a tease. While it may take over 7 hours to get through one playthrough, on repeated playthroughs, you're allowed to fast forward dialogue, effectively cutting the time in half. For a game with multiple endings, this and the "save anytime" feature are a godsend. However, the only problem is that you can't fast forward puzzles you've done before, meaning you have to do them again. While knowing the answers certainly helps, you still have to do things in the order you have to instead of going straight to the answer, which can be annoying. It is intended that you have to redo the puzzles because sometimes the main character, Junpei, will learn new things during the puzzle if you did things differently before then, but to still have to do the puzzles itself is a real drag.
Still, the endings are all worth to get (except the coffin ending, which is essentially half of the true ending, so it's pointless to get since you'll probably want the true ending anyway) just for the experience. In fact, this whole game is an experience: The character designs are typical, but the atmosphere of the scenes are particularly haunting, with the appropriate music accompanying them. And since the game is so well written, you may find yourself becoming Junpei as he tries to not only survive, but to the find out about the truth of this game: Why are these characters selected? What is the purpose of the game? Why is his childhood friend that he haven't seen in years here? These are questions that are answered well in the true ending, which is achieved not just by going a certain route, but by achieving a certain "bad" ending before it. While I will certainly keep my mouth shut on spoilers, I can say that the both the "bad" ending, as well as the "true" ending of this game stands out to be one of the highlights of this game, and it simply must be experienced. You may see it coming with the clues sprinkled throughout the game, but seeing come to fruition is a feeling unlike any other.
Overall, I quite enjoyed my time with 999: Like a good book, it filled my mind with a great story filled with haunting details that all ties up together for a grand finale. While I wasn't a big fan of the unanswered questions that lingered, this game simply is an experience that's well worth the 35 dollar price tag. However, the controls weren't as nice as they could've been (not as smooth as Phoenix Wright), and while having multiple endings SHOULD'VE given you a reason to play again and again, the time you spend in each playthrough drops to the point where you spend more time at the puzzles than reading anything else, and 3 of the 6 endings don't contribute anything that you couldn't have found out in the two "true" endings... But this game clearly had a lot of thought put into it, and while the visual novel aspect of the game means that it may not BE for everyone, everyone needs to EXPERIENCE this hidden gem.
While it isn't much, a couple of these are sprinkled throughout the game, specifially for the key moments.
Score: Graphics ---- 8.0
-While the sprites of the characters are so crisp, the animation isn't as smooth as it could've been. The backgrounds are nice to look at, but it's not unlike something you couldn't see on those online "escape the room" flash games.
Sound ------- 8.5
-While there is simply no dialogue at all, the music is haunting when it needs to be, which is quite often. Some of them do cycle over and over throughout the game, but for the most part, it does the job well.
Controls ----- 7.0
-I can't believe on how the controls are somewhat awkward. Sure, the hit box is generous for some items, but for others, it's almost a nightmare. I had trouble at a few puzzles simply because the game failed to register what I was doing, or it registers it too late. I'm not sure if it's just me, but I never had this problem before the puzzles...
Fun Factor --- 8.0
-Going through it once is like reading a really good book: You'll find it hard to put down. And on repeated playthroughs, learning the revelations, as well as the "what if's" scenarios, is equally enjoyable, but redoing puzzles aren't, especially when they were a nightmare to do the first time (write down your answers).
Final Verdict - 9.0
-This game is like a book, so it's a hit or miss thing for most people. Visual novels aren't for everyone, and it surely could've been more. But instead of focusing on what the game could've been, focus on what it is, because it excels at what it does.