Nintendo’s new console is officially out there, and I still feel nothing. That actually makes me kind of sad, because I use to get excited about things I am not even buying. This leads me to two possible conclusions: either there might be something wrong with the Wii U, or there’s something wrong with me.
“I’m sure is the Wii U, honey!”
Because I don’t pretend to own the truth, I’m going to say I honestly don’t know. Maybe Nintendo is really screwing things up, or perhaps I’m the one that’s off and can’t see things clearly. One thing is certain, though, the console’s most attractive feature is the Wii U GamePad; or at least that’s what Reggie has been trying to convince us to believe these last few months.
So when I think of it that way, when I think about the GamePad and how many “exclusive” advantages it might have, I can’t stop imagining how the whole idea could fail, too. Mainly, because of what other companies have been making. And in a matter of months, I might add, because technology’s like that. Here’s three ways the Wii U might meet its match:
The Microsoft Way
When Microsoft announced Xbox SmartGlass this past E3, I liked the idea. It was interesting, simple, and zero invasive. It seemed like more of a companion to your whole Xbox experience rather than a mandatory feature. It was also, obviously, a response to the Wii U’s announcement a year before. But then I thought about something: it was considerably better than the whole GamePad thing.
The idea here seems to be this: have a companion device connected to your console that assists you through a number of tasks, either watching a movie on Netflix or preparing your formation on Madden NFL 13. I thought SmartGlass had already a huge advantage over the Wii U because you could install the thing as an app on any available smartphone or tablet, whereas on Nintendo’s console you’re stuck with the GamePad.
“Man, I’m still trying to sync it with iTunes; but it just won’t work”
Think of it this way: Microsoft has achieved something very similar to what Nintendo has done. The difference is that, whereas the japanese said: “Hi, we are releasing this awesome thing in this new console”, the americans responded: “OK, so, we’re releasing kind of the same awesome thing. It works if you have an Xbox and a smartphone or tablet. Also, it’s free”. Wait, an Xbox? I think a lot of people have that, yeah. Smartphone or tablet? I believe everyone has at least one of those.
But then there’s a hole in all of this. The GamePad is also a gaming controller, a smartphone or a tablet can’t certainly match that…
That’s the Wikipad, a soon-to be released gaming tablet that runs Android. That controller you see there is detachable, so the thing basically works as a regular tablet and a portable console at the same time. Should devices like the Wikipad start to gather popularity, Xbox SmartGlass could take advantage of the controller features and they could basically do all the things the Wii U GamePad does too. But hey, Nintendo still has the upper hand at something: the fact that the GamePad is its own, and well; you can’t match that kind of compatibility between devices.
Only that, apparently, Microsoft still has something up its sleeve. We've all heard about that Xbox Surface tablet, right? Well, in that case, full compatibility between console and device might just be a few months away for the company. Now, imagine that tablet with a controller like the Wikipad’s. Considering the Surface tablet already has its additional piece of hardware, we wouldn't be crazy to think that the company plans to do the same thing with its gaming counterpart. And presto, we have Microsoft’s full version of the Wii U GamePad. Only that this one is potentially way cooler.
We have to be fair, though. We obviously disposed of the whole “free” thing when we started talking about the Wikipad and the Xbox Surface. Besides, almost all of this is based in pure conjectures. Because unlike the Xbox guys, what Nintendo is offering is already here. Still, the prospect does look good. SmartGlass was already released a few weeks back; it’s all in motion now. Not only could Microsoft put the Wii U to shame, it could actually make its own completely new portable console in the process.
The Sony way
In this tablet/console war thing, Sony has, in my opinion, the best possible weapon available: the beautiful piece of hardware that is the Playstation Vita.
Just look at that sexy bastard.
We don’t have to think much about it. The Vita already has it all: controls, a touch screen, Wi-fi and generally good specs. Besides, it’s Sony’s own creation, so the full compatibility part is taken care off. The handled has features like Cross-Play (in a selection of PS3 games), Remote Play and Cross-Save. There are basically a lot ways for Sony’s two consoles to interact between each other. From picking up a PS3 game later on your Vita, to simply buying some games on the portable to later play them on the home console.
There’s also Cross Controller, where “[you] find brand new ways to interact with compatible PS3
games by using the PS Vita system's unique features to control gameplay”. That sounds a lot like what the GamePad does. All of this is probably how Sony has responded to the Wii U. Only that this time, like Microsoft, the whole thing just looks cooler than what Nintendo is doing.
OK, Reggie, calm down. I know, I know. We have to be fair: not all is perfect in Sony’s plan. For example, we have to admit that the Vita is kind of pricey, and the fact that it’s still missing a decent library of quality games worsens everything. Because paying $250 (Wi-fi only model) just to get some nice compatibility features doesn’t seem like a good deal. In that way, Microsoft might have some points with SmartGlass. There’s also the fact that most of these nice features only work with a handful of PS3 titles; whereas, with the Wii U, we can almost expect all games to take advantage of the GamePad.
Happy, Reggie? Because now I have to admit something: Sony’s plan is probably my favorite. Mainly because I still feel that the Playstation Vita is a really powerful system that can take on a lot of challenges. It all depends from Sony, I guess. If they play their cards well, we’ll see. Maybe sooner than most of you think, because I’m thinking now of Playstation All-Stars Battle Royale as the game that will finally prove to us just how good this PS3/PS Vita thing can be.
The tablets in general way
If you’re still reading at this point (thank you, by the way) you’re probably wondering what else could threaten Nintendo, if not Microsoft or Sony.
My answer is this: technology.
Ha, no; but seriously, think about it. In this whole smartphone and tablet era we’re living in, companies like Apple and Google have become big names in gaming with their App Store and Google Play, respectively. The popularity that games like Angry Birds have gotten is really serious stuff, and everyone has taken notice of that. Every day we see more and more releases, and every time developers are more interested in general. What I’m trying to say here is: mobile gaming is big now.
OK, not THAT big.
Now, we have to know that Nintendo is not targeting hardcore gamers with its GamePad features and all of that. No, I think they’re aiming at kind of the same public that goes crazy about these games like Angry Birds. And how could Google or Apple (or any other company, I might add) give Nintendo a considerable headache? The possibilities are endless, if you’re creative; but I’ll start by naming the Ouya, for example.
You’ve probably heard of it already, but the Ouya is an upcoming video game console that will run a modified version of Android’s Jelly Bean software. By itself, this new console doesn’t represent much of a threat to the Wii U, mainly because it will have an exclusive store with games specifically designed for the thing. But the sole fact of the Ouya’s conception could’ve opened a door to a lot of ideas.
I think the guy who did this had to open a very large door. On drugs.
With tablets like the Wikipad we saw before and consoles like the Ouya, a very interesting ecosystem of devices with Android, for example, could be originating. Therefore, we could start seeing new consoles that run Google Play and support Cross-Play with any android tablet or smartphone. Hell, we even have Smart TVs now, so maybe we could see some of those get some kind of compatibility. Let’s dream some more: a Nexus TV that runs Android. See the possibilities?
Then there’s Apple. A lot of rumors have been around now saying that the company is cooking something big for the gaming industry, because it wants in. Besides that, rumors of a TV have been pretty strong too, lately. I can easily imagine one that runs the App Store and every game in it. Then, your iPhone, iPad or even iPod Touch can join in to completely change your gaming experience, in kind of the same way the Wii U is hoping to.
The good news for Nintendo in this one? Well, 90% of this is probably just in my head, for starters. There just doesn’t seem to be a straight plan, or anything solid for the moment. However, it’s there. And though it may seem a weak argument for most of you, I’ll say it just as I said it before: technology’s like that.
Whether you might believe it or not, I’m a big fan of Nintendo. That’s probably the reason why I’m being so critic about them, but I just simply can’t see the Wii U as a strong case. There are just too many good things happening out there. That being said, I honestly hope I just talked a lot of nonsense (I think I just did), because I really want Nintendo to succeed.
I can’t recall the first time I played a FIFA game. It was probably at the end of the 90s, I was just a little kid and thought my dad played in the World Cup. What I do remember perfectly, though, is the first time I got my own FIFA. It was for my beloved GameCube.
It was FIFA 2006, and God knows I had really good times with that game. I spent hours winning tournaments, customizing my own ones and pretending to be a football narrator. I was still young back then, and though I did know how to recognize a good game, I wasn't very critic towards any. In other words, FIFA 2006 was awesome for me, no objections.
Jump to 2009. I receive FIFA 10 for my Xbox 360. So I’m still a stupid teenager, but at least I’m a little more critic about life; and games. The honeymoon stage begins and I start playing the thing. It was great, with all that high definition graphics and… Well, football. It didn't last long, though: besides starting college that year and not having much time, my Xbox 360 got the RROD after a couple of months. I would not have it fixed in my hands again for another year. My time with FIFA 10 had ended, but the honeymoon stage never did.
We arrive at 2012. On my birthday, I get FIFA 12. And so it begins.
First of all, I’m one of those who believe that paying $60 every year for a couple of updates is evil (oh, classic EA). However, it is certainly not illegal. We have to grow up: the company is making money that way and it won’t change because “it’s wrong”. So OK, we’ll have to adjust our wallets. Some of us will find it at a discount, others simply won’t buy it every year, and there’s also the option of borrowing it “for a few days” from that friend who owns it. You know the one.
“No Tim, seriously man. The last person you lent it to was Steve”
But if we are going to do that, we expect a quality product at least. None of the last years’ FIFAs, in my opinion, have achieved that goal thus far. The series has been relying too much on presentation to sell; and sadly, it works. Because you know: the the new soundtracks are always excellent, having the clubs up to date is a must, putting your face on your virtual player is fun, and those new skill challenges are great, now Messi’s on the cover; and how nice, Tim, that little sticker says it’s a FIFA Licensed Product and the game is definitely better because it has that impact system that is so “revolutionary” to the gameplay (clue: it isn't).
Those are the thing we focus in, but now that I finally could go pass the honeymoon stage with FIFA 12, I realize how mediocre the game is; as well as FIFA 10 (I’ve been checking it again) was and probably FIFA 2006 too. I now take into account some serious problems like the long loading times, the crappy save system, the infinite glitches, the unpolished and limited modes and the inconsistent difficulty. Just look at my Game Face, for God’s sake:
They never get the nose right
Yeah, all games have glitches and problems; but the thing is, the developers here have a chance every year to fix them. They don’t. I’ll speak for FIFA 12: I personally lost interest in the career mode as soon as I realized how much time I was spending in the menus and not playing. And OK, maybe some out there do like to spend time on the menus, yet for them I can still imagine the experience being a little frustrating. Again, the loading times are just ridiculous, as well as the menus being unpractical. Then I tried with Ultimate Team, only to be limited again by how unpolished the mode was. Basically, the game unintentionally gave me so many obstacles I just quitted. Then there’s that Game Face I could never make right (not even in FIFA 10) because it would appear with some deformed feature that was, I tell you, not mine. There’s also that time I made a couple of manual changes to some clubs in order to keep them a little more up to date. When I returned to the game the next time, I found almost all teams with random players. Had to go back to default squads and lose all I had done. Then, the inconsistent difficulty. Against the AI, I always won like 5-0. Then I go to the next level, Professional, and lose every time. Ok, that’s a common mistake in games, but then no one tells me how to improve, and the tutorials don’t say much.
Now, the worst part? They don’t really care about it. They sell. Just read this IGN article about how EA had to release a patch for FIFA 13 because of the absurd amount of glitches it had, or maybe this one that confirms that, for the Wii and PS Vita versions, they just grabbed the previous game and released it as a new FIFA. Oh, I also forgot to mention how they didn't release a patch for the Vita version because you know, they’re not going to do it for those three guys who bought it.
Ultimately, I’m not saying that they are bad games. They are fun to play, especially with friends. What I’m saying is that they’re not that good. They’re mediocre, regular; nothing we should be very excited about and certainly, something that should work better for $60 a year. FIFA is still the best option out there, though, because any other franchise that has “soccer” on its name doesn't deserve respect.
Now consider if “borrowing” FIFA 13 from Tim is really worth it.
I’m a fan of the JRPG genre. I like the big casts of characters it often offers, the well-constructed (and usually beautiful) universes to explore; the memorable, epic stories it tells. Also, insane length.
In other words, what attracts me about JRPGs is the narrative. Of course, no game functions without a proper gameplay (duh); but this genre in particular has the responsibility of delivering in all the things I mentioned before, and nailing it in the process. The Last Story fails miserably at this, and that’s why it never quite makes it.
If this Mistwalker debut for the Wii could at least tell a decent story, things would be completely different. Most of the other things work fine (most), but the narrative is so bad that it sinks all other aspects of the game, ultimately ruining the whole experience. Seriously, it is so bad that you’ll often feel like you’re being mocked.
First of all, the characters. Let’s take the best example, Zael, the protagonist. He is probably the most flat character I’ve ever known in my life. It’s not about how cliché he is (or the whole game, for that matter), it’s about how he never truly demonstrates any personal trait, much less a credible personality. He just does nothing. The only thing he is good at is saying generic phrases, and taking a seemingly selfless attitude towards everything, so exaggerated you’ll just think he is stupid. Finally, you won’t care much about him, or you’ll simply dislike him as I did. The other members of Zael’s party aren’t all that bad, though. Sure, they too have they share of cheesy lines, inconsistent traits and annoying voices (to that, later) but at least they have some moments. I found the magic user Mirania to be, by far, the most likable of them all.
The plot itself doesn’t work too well either. Yeah, it’s filled with too many clichés, but that really doesn’t bother me. I can stand those. What I cannot stand is the absurdity of the situations, the things they never explain to us, the impossible coincidences that still happen… Things like a character suddenly disappearing, but no one says anything about it; or maybe how they make the worst decisions when the solution is so simple, right there in front of them; perhaps how someone turns evil or good out of nowhere, without explanation. There are just too many loose ends, too many things done wrong. As far as Japanese stories go, I have yet to see one so abysmal.
It doesn’t end there, unfortunately. We know the whole story is disastrous, but it all worsens with how the game tells it. One of the most annoying things I found myself with was when I was in the middle of a quest and then the characters started talking about something right there in-game. That’s ok, a lot of games do that. The problem presented itself when I continued on walking through the dungeon and suddenly triggered a cut scene, stopping permanently the conversation. This did not happen two or three times, this happened almost all of the times, so my solution was to just stand there, waiting for them to finish in fear of missing anything. Not much different were the times that another conversation started, now in the middle of a fight. The game didn’t even give the voices more volume so that they could be heard over the sounds of the battle, and I was too occupied to read the subtitles. More than once this bothered me.
And yet, these little things still don’t end here. There’s the awkward, cheesy narrator that speaks in between scenes. There are also the face expressions of the characters that rarely match the situation or the words they say (probably because I can only recall seeing a “serious” and a “smile” face for every one of them). And how could I ever forget about Seek Mode, which I can only describe as being sad. I’ll explain: Seek Mode is triggered in some cases of the game when, for example, you’re being tasked with finding the weakness of an enemy formation. The solution is often obvious (like a weak bridge, for example), and still, the screen highlights it. In other words, Seek Mode is pretty silly. Seek Mode is sad, however, when it’s thrown in the middle of a scene when, say, Zael is chasing after someone. He runs, then Seek Mode enters, and you have to find the person. Then he runs some more, then Seek Mode again. You get the idea. It ruins the pace of some scenes; it’s unnecessary, annoying and even a little insulting.
Now in the game’s defense, I did find some points that at least got it half right; and even if the result was unpolished, it was still enjoyable. I’m talking about the battle system, which I feel was a genuine attempt at something different. The battles are in real time, affected by standard RPG stats like Defense, Attack, HP, etc. Mistwalker tried to give it a little twist by adding some stealth and shooter elements. Before every encounter, the party usually stops Zael to reflect on the enemy formation and suggest what course of action to take. This generally means a second path that you can use to sneak on your enemies and attack them from behind. There are other times when the best choice is to hide behind a wall, attract an isolated enemy with an arrow and kill it before it alerts others. Now when you’re in the actual fight, you can usually hide to confuse enemies (this is a little silly, since you hide in front of them) and then surprise them from said hiding, dealing considerable more damage. Although this stealth element is fun, it is limited and ends up being a little repetitive. The shooting part is far from stellar; but it’s there, and sometimes it’s necessary. When you shoot, you still retain a third person view, but you can’t move. It is usually useful at stopping enemy mages from casting, but deals too little damage to kill. At the end, Zael’s crossbow isn’t that all necessary, and you can easily win all battles without using it (except for the parts that it’s obligatory). Finally, a unique battle element The Last Story introduces is The Power of The Outsider, a skill granted to Zael at the beginning of the game that, when activated, makes the surrounding enemies attack him and ignore his allies. This is especially helpful when you want your mages to cast an important spell. This ability, very relevant to the plot, grants other skills like slowing down monsters and reviving allies. All characters, including Zael, have five lives. The rest is not that new: the mages’ spells consists of healing or attacking circles, and the other characters deal damage with different blades. The battle system is by far the best accomplishment of the game. It often throws you into situations in which you’re encouraged to do something “different”; but sadly, most of my battles still ended on simply killing every monster standing in my way.
Now there are still some things I found to be decent. The equipment and upgrading system is ok. Although the game only has like seven, eight armor sets (torso and legs) they are upgradable up to 13 levels, adding some new feature on every other level. The weapons are not much different, only in that there are more of them, and don’t have that many levels. The prices aren’t the hard part (money is not hard to find, anyway), but the materials you need for upgrading. They usually are only accessible until certain parts of the game and even then, they are scarce. The equipment is fully customizable: you can add/remove parts and even apply different dyes to it. It all works great, in other words. Then there’s the town in the game, which I found to be charming enough. Although it offers many side quests, a lot of them consist on fetching things and silly stuff like that. Other than that, they still make Lazulis City feel alive.
The game looks great, generally speaking. Characters as well as environments are immersive enough, although never too charming or amazing. If you want to get an idea, the visuals have a Twilight Princess feel to them. In the sound department, it is worth noting what probably is the only memorable thing about The Last Story: the music. Apart from being beautiful, it works well with both the gameplay and even the narrative. Then it’s a little sad to admit that some sounds on the game (like steps, for example), pass like being a little cheap. Then the voice acting is inconsistent. To be fair, they do the best they can with what they’re given and yeah, most of them are decent. But then there are some characters that I would rather not have to hear. Like Syrenne, one of Zael’s friends, which is given the most exaggerated and annoying accent ever. Then there’s Mirania, whose voice I even find lovely, and matches perfectly how she looks and acts. Then there are those that, you can tell, do a well enough job, but they’re characters are so cheesy they end up sounding bad themselves. In that case, Zael fits perfectly.
So there’s that. Everything that has to do with The Last Story’s narrative is poor and disappointing. It is especially sad because I feel the game is a genuine attempt at creating something fresh and fun for the genre. The battle and upgrade systems are enjoyable, but they don’t make up for the rest. Though for some reason it hurts me to say this, The Last Story is ultimately a broken experience, filled with unpolished features and a story so terrible, it’s hard to ignore. One can have fun with it, but not without effort.