Surely you wonder why I wish the wrath of a thousand suns upon Mr. Gerstmann. I first direct you to this piece. It's short, read it through. If you like, you may also visit Giant Bomb's "Set Phasers to Fun" video series.
Now, thanks to that, I'm having to consider it seriously, myself. I wish you hadn't made me think about it, Jeff.
Oh Jesus Christ. Right now I'm looking at a list of upcoming releases, separating them into buy/rent/wait-for-Steam-sale columns. Checking my bills and seeing if my budget is in order. This sort of crap is why the terms "disposable income" and "impulse purchasing" were invented. Or should I say, full impulse purchasing?!
Anything else I write here about the process of talking myself out of it will be pointless, merely a copy-paste of Jeff's writeup.
It's weird that I'd never have considered this option for any other game, not on my own or without considerable pressure. That is how thoroughly the appeal of Star Trekhas compromised my judgment. To really go into why that is would read like more pale justification.
I've got nine days to decide. In the meantime I'll continue to play the beta, almost hoping it will somehow stop trying to appeal me. I'll put up this list of things with the potential to dissuade me from making this insane decision:
1. Doing my taxes
2. Checking on my health insurance
3. Final Fantasy XIV 4. Taking a deep breath.
Also, have these pictures of someone personifying the ships from the new movie.
I put this up on Japanator this morning, but since some of you don't go there >:(, I figured it was my duty as Dtoid's resident Sakura Wars fanboy to put it here, too.
*Plus, I haven't posted in a while so hey, why not.
Anyway, story time:
NIS-America twitter'd that the official Sakura Wars site had been updated with new character profiles. I went, and looked up the new profiles. Surprise surprise, some of the names had been changed to sound better in English. That's common (Phoenix Wright, Trauma Center), and even preferable if done well.
But then I noticed some text shadowing those new names, text that matched the original Japanese names:
At first I thought it was just bad web design, that someone at NIS forgot to check his Photoshopping copypasta, and I tweet'd my lulz appropriately:
"@NISAmerica changed the names but not the background text. Does that mean they'll change over the language discs?
Then lo and behold, I get a DM from @NISAmerica:
"Hello Josh, Japanese voice disc will have the original character names in text! Thanks!
So, yeah. Wow.
I've never seen this happen before. Sure, there are games that have both EN and JP voice/text options, but more often than not such games get "dubtitled," meaning that the localized text used to script the dub is used for the subtitles. That usually means the word-for-word translation is less accurate, and in some cases actually adds, deletes, or alters the lines and naming conventions themselves.
It happened in Valkyria Chronicles and Odin Sphere (to good effect), and it happened in Rurouni Kenshin (to catastrophic effect), but I've never seen two separate localizations used in the same release.
It might be a side effect of Sakura Wars' dual-disc setup. There's too much voice data, especially for the Japanese version, for altered conventions to let slip. Maybe they're just that serious about making the game work in the west. I'd like to think the latter.
Also, it drives home how hard it might be to keep the game from offending Americans. I know some of you folks were disgusted at Gemini Sunrise's cowgirl accent, what more for a female African-American lawyer-slash-actress practicing from the streets of Harlem, named "Sagitta Weinberg?!
I was lucky enough to score an early copy of the game at the recent big-screen-demo event, and after pulling a marathon run through of Uncharted 1 and proceeding straight into the sequel from there, I noticed just what the game does that makes it one of the most cinematic gameplay experiences ever.
She's voiced by the lady from Farscape. Mmmmmm
I'm trying not to slather too much fawning praise on it here, as you've probably read as much in the flood of early reviews. In terms of mechanics, Uncharted 2 is definitely NOT new. Feature-by-feature, it's barely different from the first game, save for some relatively minor-but-useful tweaks. In fact, "minor-but-useful" is a good way to describe what exactly the game has done to make for one of the best single-player experiences you'll find.
Note: Don't worry about spoilers.
What it does is make the transition from cutscene to gameplay almost seamless. That's it. That's really all it took. Again, it's not new. You saw the beginnings of it in Uncharted 1, but it's so fully realized here that I noticed how important it was in bringing the cinematic experience to a game while preserving the mechanical elements of play.
By "cinematic experience" I'm talking about the linear, cutscene-driven, arguably passive narrative format that for whatever reason is being treated as a scarlet letter by some more militant game design progressives. If nothing else, games like Uncharted 2 illustrate exactly what we have to lose should we suddenly abandon those principles in our rush to embrace self-authored, emergent, player-created blah blah blah.
One of the first times I actually saw a transition anywhere near that smooth was in Metal Gear Solid 4, right at the opening. After Snake rolls out from under a truck, the cutscene shows him rolling across the street and sidling up against the wall while Otacon suggests he find a weapon. As he steps out from cover, the camera simply pulls back, and the HUD smoothly fades, signaling that you, the player, are in control.
That only happens a few times in MGS4, but it happens all the time in Uncharted 2, making for some of the greatest "Oh shi-!" moments in any single-player campaign. It's partly a technical achievement, since graphics are finally good enough that you can't really tell between cutscene and gameplay models, but it's also a great exercise in precise timing and dramatic scripting. All of it comes together to feel as if you're really playing a movie. You get control during the bits you want to take part in (gunfights and wild stunts), while allowing the game to take the reins during bits you'd rather watch (great voice acting, dramatic interaction, and staring at Chloe).
Naughty Dog proves that level of expertise repeatedly, knowing exactly when, where, and for how long to take away control without letting on to the player that what just happened was supposed to happen. The game strings together set-piece after set-piece, but this time without the telegraphed pacing that you noticed in Uncharted 1, where you went from arena-fight-to-puzzle-to-arena-fight. Some puzzles are long, tense climbing challenges, and some fights are fast-paced, running gunfights.
You're climbing a rickety lather, when all of a sudden the rung collapses, causing it to swing to the side and throw you into a wall, immediately transferring your grip to that wall, allowing you to continue the climb up. You never really lost control, until the last second when the designers went "Whoops!" and cued the surprise, then were given control back right as you caught your breath. You're constantly thinking "Holy crap, that was a close one." You don't notice until the replay that you could have just hung on to that supposedly collapsing ledge forever, because the first time around, it really looked as if you could screw up and fall, or because guys were shooting at you at the time.
Of course, not every game is suited to maintaining that breathless pace. Complicated plots or mechanics that require mastery wouldn't be able to maintain coherence in the face of all that action, but Uncharted 2 doesn't tell a very complicated story, and makes all of its gamey nuances known in the first couple of hours. After that, it's all about keeping your attention while crazy-ass shit goes down all around you.
It isn't gaming's Citizen Kane, but it IS gaming's Indiana Jones, which is a hell of a good thing to be by itself. Well, I said I wouldn't slather too much praise on it, but it seems I just did. Oops. Anyway, I'll just end this by saying that that "It Does Everything" ad Sony cooked up hits pretty damn close to home.
P.S.: If Heavy Rain manages to make me eat my words next year, you'll know that it has been an EXTREMELY good time for linear narrative, and for games in general.
I was thinking of putting this video up as the header for my Sakura Wars piece, but couldn't find a good link until now. Also, I was being indecisive about whether or not it would torpedo the whole affair, so I let time run out on the LIPS choice.
It's an ad for Sakura Taisen 2, featuring Segata Sanshiro. The girl is Chisa Yokoyama, one of the voice cast. They all played in-character during the various live shows. Such courage!:
Also, someone asked me about the whole "cannon-under-the-Arc-de-Triomphe" thing and whether or not it was real. Have some proof, in HD, even:
And, for a couple of people worried about culture shock, the translated OP/ED movies for Sakura Wars 5 Episode 0 ~Samurai Girl from the Wild West~. It's an action-game prequel for the Sakura Wars title you're getting.
Back in February I ran a SO RONERY P3 FEStival and showcased the work of a certain Segami Daisuke, one of the best Aegis-obsessed fan artists around. He was animating the tracks from one of the Persona 3 Drama CDs, namely the episode "A Certain Day of Summer," covering Aegis' day out with the crew.
Drama CDs are essentially radio plays featuring a game or anime show's voice actors. You don't really have that kind of thing in most western games, but they're quite prolific among popular franchises.
In any case, most Drama CD plays are relatively mundane affairs, but the artist really packed in boatloads of in-jokes, referencing everything from Social Links to external properties like Touhou, Akagi, and even Kuso Miso. In many ways it's even funnier than Tartarus Theater.
Even if you don't get what's going on, if you've played the game you'll get some idea of what's going on. Visit the February post for the other seven parts.
Will we see more Drama CD animation in the future, perhaps for P4's? Perhaps, but It's taken almost a year and a half to provide for roughly an hour's worth of content, and the artist still hasn't had enough of Aegis (thankfully). Given the latest updates, we might see even more P3 material in light of the P3P female protagonist (assuming a Drama CD for that hits). I wouldn't mind a Devil Survivor work going up, though.
In any case, I uploaded the file on Viddler (it's too long for Youtube). Here's a quick summary of what went on.
The crew visits the beef bowl place. Fuuka apparently likes her beef bowls without beef (just eggs and rice). The best Persona 4 commercial parody ever occurs at 1:12. Everyone asks what Aegis will be doing when it's all over. Yukari tries imagines how Aegis will deal with events that require her to take her clothes off, such as physical exams, wearing PE bloomers, or swimming. They visit the temple and Aegis is asked what she wants to wish for. At the dorm, she wishes to continue staying with everyone.
Stick around for the credits, which contain some awesome art of other P3 drama CD scenarios that won't be getting full animation. Below is the embed, from Viddler. Click here for the original Nicovideo link. Here's the actual Viddler page in case this embed breaks.
Some key frames (with more in the gallery):
Enjoy, motherf*ckers. It keeps me from having to work on my next eroge piece.
Turns out it was almost as long as the first two chapters of my undergraduate thesis. THAT is how much I want you to want to buy and enjoy hot sexy eroge. I congratulate (and apologize to) everyone who read the whole thing. You have earned my eternal gratitude and respect.
If you TL; DR'd on me (I don't blame you), here's what you need to win half the battle:
*The best way to encourage more diversity in content and game design is to start embracing game designs that don't conform to known genre conventions, or to start accepting and validating new genres entirely.
*Eroge are mainly about text, storytelling and talking, making them different from most games we know. To acknowledge them will help encourage developers that might wish to construct games along those lines or with similar themes and foci.
*The focus on character interaction makes eroge friendly to complicated, initially vague cast members who need a lot of exposition to get to know.
*Since the only real way to "fail" an eroge is to hit a BAD END or accidentally hook up with the wrong girl (it can happen), there's no way eroge can be accused of being "too much like work," a common complaint by non-gamers being asked to get into the hobby.
*An eroge's lack of conflict-based gameplay makes it more receptive to traditional, more passive storytelling methods, and keeps it from getting "fat" with grinding in the middle, which sabotages most game plots, while making their appeal easier to understand for non-gamers.
*The eroge's rigid, first-person narrative structure forces a player to connect with protagonists that might be otherwise be unlikeable, making it easier to cover difficult subject matter while discouraging players from treating in-game choices shallowly.
*Eroge can be built on the cheap, but will be hard to market widely because of the "porn with plot" stigma, among other things.
*Sometimes an eroge's copious amount of descriptive text can underline the limits of graphical realism, exploring heights of violence or gore that might sicken even the most hardened shooter veterans. Take the vivid text from Fate/stay night's first BAD END, where the protagonist describes himself being killed in a rather horrible fashion. And Fate isn't even a horror-themed eroge.
I would also like to acknowledge, as was pointed out by a few on Japanator, that my use of the term "eroge" isn't exactly helping my case when I claim that they're more than porn. However, I will continue to use it because the word is in my blog header, and because others don't like it when I use "bishoujo games," thinking it an unnecessary insertion of Japanese words SUGOI SUGOI KAWAII -SAN DESU DESU. Eroge is still one of those words, but it's slang, and sounds nicer.
As a reward for those who didn't TL;DR this time, here's a Nazi SS Battle Maid. She has pistol-blades, wears a jetpack, and hides grenades in her bloomers. She's not an eroge character, but very well could be. She (and her peers) are among the only good things to ever come out of Nazi Germany. Well, that and maybe the trend of girls in saucy military outfits.
...that holds no regard of the actual date in the birthday or whose birthday the picture celebrates. Or, for that matter, if it's even celebrating a birthday at all. Please consider this part of the reward for not TL;DR'ing on my eroge piece.