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2:42 PM on 11.07.2013  

Pokémon X taught me how to enjoy gaming again


Playing Pokémon X brings me back to a simpler time. And no, I don't mean the days of drinking Surge and watching Nickelodeon.

I'm talking about the years after studying for weekly spelling tests and before Steam sales flooded our game libraries. A time when you'd do chores and save allowance for a month because there was that one game you really wanted. A time when playing a game and finding all the secrets wasn't about getting an achievement or a trophy, but because that was the one game you were into. You'd want to play the game slowly, take in the sights to savor the experience, and only put it away once you got all the entertainment that you could get out of that $50 investment.

Not only does Pokémon X recapture this long lost magic, but it was a potent wake-up call to the flaws of my gaming habits. Maybe they don't make 'em like they used to, but I haven't been playing 'em like I used to either.



Pokémon X (and Y) gives the player so much to do without ever making demands. When we think of what makes a "nonlinear" game, we start to think of terms like "sandbox," or "branching narrative." Pokémon X's nonlinearity is the opposite of these things, yet there is so much to see and do that no two playthroughs will be alike. I've yet to reach gym seven and have run my game clock to nearly 80 hours by breeding Pokémon, planting berries, treasure hunting with the dowsing machine, and trying to catch as many Pokémon along the way as I possibly can. The funny thing is, it's not like I'm doing everything I possibly could be doing either. Pokémon X gives me plenty to do when I stop to smell the roses, and the main quest is always there whenever I want to get back to it.

I like to call Pokémon X a "funbox" game. Whereas sandbox games give players a plethora of toys to make their own fun with in a massive world, Pokémon X gradually provides the player small individual areas that are loaded with secrets and/or introduce new subsystems or gameplay elements. Whether you spend hours exploring a new map or race through to the next area is completely up to the player's choice, as both are equally viable options. Fighting trainers in the battle chateau or even trying to "catch 'em all" are systems designed solely to entertain the player, and there is never a sense that the developers intend for players to do everything in order to "100%" the game.

This "funbox" theme is reinforced by the gang of friends the game introduces to the player near the beginning. While each character is (supposedly) traveling the same path you are, each of them have different objectives they hope to accomplish along the way. Trevor is interested in filling out the Pokédex, while your rival represents the player who wants the strongest team and probably battles competitively (even though (s)he only uses three Pokémon most of the game but that's a detail). Shauna wants to enjoy the ride without thinking too much about it, and Tierno... okay I actually don't know what Tierno represents but just bare with me on this. My point is, Pokémon X isn't a game that has a best way to be played. The game can be a shallow experience if so desired, but there is enough depth under the surface to provide the player with countless hours of entertainment. The point at which Pokémon X is "finished" is completely on the player's terms.



Pokémon X doesn't have an achievement or trophy system, and I think it's much better off for it. Now, I don't inherently oppose achievement systems. In fact, games like Mega Man 9 and The Binding of Isaac intelligently incorporate achievements into the game's design to promote replay value. Yet in general, achievements have undeniably changed the way I play games. Even when I specifically tell myself to ignore these metagame statistics, I can never shake the nagging feeling that I haven't truly beaten a game unless I fulfill a bunch of arbitrary requirements dictated on my system's dashboard. Conversely, when I consider, say, playing a game on a higher difficulty mode and there isn't an achievement for it, my accomplishment feels less significant. Maybe I'm just insane, but I do think that there's a mind game at play when a looming progress bar indicates to your friends that you've only obtained 50% of a game's achievements, even if you've played it for 50 hours or more.

With games being so cheap and plentiful thanks to Humble Bundles and sales, I've grown to rush through games without stopping to enjoy them. There are so many games I want to play, and now they're all more obtainable than ever. This makes achievements become my personal indicator of "beating" the game, regardless of how accurate an indicator they are for getting the most out of the experience. Seeing the little bar of completion read "100%" lets me breathe a sigh of relief, as it means I can finally move on to the next game I've been wanting to play. At some point, I stopped having fun while I gamed. I played games and beat games, but I simply wasn't enjoying games like I used to. Pokémon X made me finally open my eyes and realize the errors of my ways.


I love you Persona 4 Golden, but there are some trophies that you can't rationally expect me to enjoy getting.

Had there been achievements like "Herbivore: Plant 100 berries" or "I caught 'em all!: Fill the Pokédex," I honestly don't think I'd still be playing Pokémon X. These subsystems wouldn't feel like fun things that the developers created for my amusement. There would be that same nagging voice saying that I've only "beaten" the game after doing what the metagame stats tell me to do. It is because it's my choice to deviate from the main path and smell the proverbial roses that I'm able to find the game such a joy to play. No one is telling me to do everything; my journey through Kalos is going to be played however I want.

The fact of the matter is, Pokémon X's very design would make an achievement system redundant. Everything you do has a direct and rewarding impact on your options throughout the game, so no side mission is a waste of time. Petting your Pokémon in Pokémon-Aime can give bonus EXP and stat boosts, and even catching a new Pokémon means a new option for battling or breeding. Very little - if not nothing at all - feels like filler, and this is Pokémon X's greatest strength. Being fun is all the motivation the player needs to explore.



It's easy to get lost in Pokémon X's world, yet hard to ever feel lost. There are enough short term goals in the game to make me go "ehh, just five more minutes," and then hours pass by before I even know what happened. That's the gaming experience I grew up with that has kept me at this hobby decades later, and it is my goal is to keep this mindset of "just have fun" alive as I go forth into my backlog.

Pokémon X isn't going to win any awards for innovation. In fact, I wouldn't even consider Pokémon X to be my favorite entry in the series. But I know that, years from now, I'll be looking back on this game nostalgically for all the joy it has brought me. I'm glad I didn't pick it up in a bargain bin during a sale, because Pokémon X is easily worth a month of washing dishes.   read


8:56 PM on 10.30.2013  

Top Ten Spookiest Pokémon


It's Halloween, and there is literally nothing scarier we could be celebrating on this day of shock and terror than the Pokémon series.

I mean, seriously, have you read the creepypastas? Chances are, if you buy a used copy of any of the Gameboy Pokémon games, that thing is going to either be elaborately hacked or haunted. Playing these games will drive you insane and make you kill all your friends and family because binaural beats and reasons. Last I heard, it was some guy named Ben's fault, but everyone got sick of his shit and tossed his ass in the lake.

While Pokémon is full of spooks and ghouls, only ten of the monsters can be the scariest. So sit on the edge of your seat, pop open the candy corn, and enjoy this definitive list of the ten most spooky Pokémon. To enhance the atmosphere, I recommend you listen to this most infamous track.


(Picture by Hawk525)
10: Gengar

This Pokémon is a shadow that eats your soul while it smiles with glee. I can only suspect that Gengar was the result of a ghost having a smile-off contest with the Cheshire Cat, which then caused the Cheshire Cat to die and come back as a Gengar to murder the other ghost because ghosts can do that.

If you are a sentient being with a pulse then Gengar has stalked you numerous times during your life. It says right in the Pokedex: "A Gengar is close by if you feel a sudden chill. It may be trying to lay a curse on you." In other words, Gengar has probably cursed all of us a number of times and is probably responsible for the global economy still being a dump.



9: Excadrill

This Pokémon is literally a slasher film villain waiting to happen. It has knives for hands and it can drill through ground faster than you could run if your legs were made of rockets. Oh, and it can "bore through a steel plate, no matter how thick it is" and its speed doubles in sandstorms. The moment this thing gets a taste for human flesh, we're all dead.

Actually, what's with all those red splotches on its face and body anyway? ... Oh shit.



8: Glalie

There is no other creature that God or man has created that can look so mildly uncomfortable and still appear so deathly intimidating. It is a giant face without a body, and disembodied heads have been representative of spooky things since forever, until Slender Man came along and was the exact opposite of a disembodied face because he's a nonconformist poser.

But really, Glalie is extra spooky because "it prevents prey from escaping by instantaneously freezing moisture in the air." This reportedly is the reason that NASA is trying to invest in a moonbase.



7: Rhyperior

Rhyperior is a Pokemon that fires Geodudes at you. Imagine if someone hit you with a catapault, and then the catapult got up and starting punching the hell out of your face. Being stuck in a sleeping bag with Jason Voorhees would still leave your body in a better condition than that.


6: Sharpedo

Oh, Sharpedo isn't spooky? It's the combination of a shark and a fucking missile you dimwit.  It swims at 75 MPH, it can "rip through sheet iron," and in the event that you damage its fangs, "its cruel fangs grow back immediately." I heard a Sharpedo ate the iceberg that sunk the titanic just to prove a point.



5: Exploud

Hooooooly shiiiiit look at the mouth on that thing. Considering it's nearly five feet tall and its mouth covers almost its entire body, it would have no problem devouring a child in a single gulp. And for a grown person like yourself, it would likely need two bites for you to go down. You can decide which fate is worse.

You might notice that Exploud has no ears. This is because its ability is "soundproof," which means that it won't even hear you scream. And by the way, did I mention that its name is Exploud.



4: Kakuna

Kakuna might not look like much. It just sits there, stuck to a tree, as it watches you beat on its friends over and over again just so your turtle can get a little stronger. But know this: it never stops watching you. All around the forest are all forms of Kakuna, completely stationary, keeping mental notes of your misdeeds and plotting their revenge. You may be safe now, but someday Kakuna will evolve. And judging from the look in its eyes, it is not pleased.



3: Omanyte

Omanyte seems innocent enough. Except, at level seven, you might overlook that it somehow learns "bite."

Tell me, with what teeth is this snail managing to bite people with? Have you ever seen the underside of an Omanyte? Let's keep it that way.



2: Ludicolo

On a day like Halloween, a holiday when children will mostly be left on their own as they loot candy, there is nothing more horrifying than Ludicolo. Let's be honest here: would any of us trust this guy around children? His mouth agape, his beedy eyes wide open, his hands outstretched as he shimmies and shakes? Remember that time you said "oh, everything's okay around here, it's just that monster that 'appears to be a combination of a pineapple and a duck.'"

I bring these things up because, yes, the Pokedex specifically mentions that this thing appears to children when he hears them singing. What does it gain from appearing to children? Let's pray the answer is "nothing," and parents, please, make sure your kids are supervised if they are musically inclined.

--
Now, for my number one spot, I was very torn over whether I would put this specific Pokémon here. I mean, really, if you've been on the internet in the past two weeks, you likely would have guessed who I'm going to put here. But you know what? I just can't help myself, and no other 'mon has been so deserving of the title of spookiest Pokémon. This Pokémon has won over the hearts of fans and critics alike for its unsettling stare and shockingly dark pokedex entry, so make sure you don't pet him behind the ears and give it up for...

...

...

...

...

...


1: MissingNo

That's right, there is no Pokémon spookier than MissingNo. Before Pokefans were sprouting stories about Unowns spelling HE DIED and a spooky ghost Pokemon that kills its enemies and leaves tombstones, MissingNo was the original Pokémon haunting. I mean, come on, it's rogue data that took a life of its own, promising children dreams of infinite items as it ate away at the fabric of our games and would eventually lead to the complete destruction of some save files. Don't believe me? Well, my Pokémon Red, which held a file with all 151 Pokémon before becoming unable to remember a save game for more than six minutes, would like to have a word with you.

Some may argue that MissingNo is just a glitch, but oh, he lives. He would even eventually sing his own twisted melody to those who triggered him in specific ways. He would distort reality if you ever tried to use him in battle. He became Pokemon 0, and the internet has never forgotten him. And judging from Pokémon X and Y, it seems he's still around, watching over us ever since we ritualistically summoned him in Red and Blue to fulfill our desires.



I've heard many Pokémon fans suggest that MissingNo should be brought back as a canon Pokemon. Others have went as far as to make their own mockups to show what a possible inclusion could be like. But really, MissingNo was never our friend. He was born by accident, and he is content to watch us nostalgically reminisce about him when all he offered were shallow rewards and broken dreams. No, MissingNo doesn't need a comeback. He's hidden away from us, at the bottom of the box where we kept our old Pokemon games, laughing at the havoc he caused to spite those who created him.

---
Have a happy Halloween, and remember not to get spooked! Because if you do, that means a Gengar is nearby and you should start running to a well-lit room.   read


2:10 PM on 10.26.2013  

A 100% Objective Review of the Ys series. Because VIDEO GAMES.


ShadeOfLight says we need stupid things like "happiness" and "positivity" and "quotation marks" around here. Well tear down the pillow fort and throw out the pizza, because I'm about to add some much needed JOURNALISM to this site.

What follows is the most objective and accurate overview of the critically acclaimed Ys series as long as you don't count this one and maybe a few others. WARNING: I use intense amounts of undeniable facts. If you have allergies to journalism, reading this article could make two to four of your limbs fall off.



Ys I: Ancient Ys Vanished

In Ys I, you play as Adol Christin, literally the most badass badass ever conceived. You want to know how this guy fights? HE RUNS RIGHT THE HELL INTO ENEMIES. AND WINS. I mean, look at him, he's just charging into everyone and doesn't give even the tiniest fuck.

Ys I was one of the grand daddies of the action RPG, yet compared to most RPGs of the era it remains amazingly playable. Oh, what's that? You spent three minutes just to kill a single metal slime in Dragon Warrior? Well Adol Christin just killed an army, and he's still going.

10/10



Ys II: Ancient Ys Vanished - The Final Chapter

In Ys II, Adol Christin becomes an even more deadly badass by gaining the ability to THROW FIREBALLS AT ENEMIES. Now if this guy even SEES YOU you're dead.

What's that Uncle Ben? With great power comes great responsibility? Well toss your old ass back in the grave, because Ys II lets Adol set every villager on fire, and each person has a unique and silly reaction to reward your misdeeds. And if you feel bad, you can just give them apples and they'll like you again. But then after you're done with that, Adol also has the option to turn into a literal monster that can then go around and frighten all those villagers who thought Adol's reign of terror might be over. Ys II perfected the art of torturing NPCs, and really, what other criteria matters when judging a game?

10/10



Ys III: Wanderers From Ys

I can't say I like this game that much. It's kind of the black sheep of the bunch, and while it can be kind of enjoyable, the side scrolling combat is a little too sloppy for my tastes.

But wait a second, this game would eventually be remade into Ys: Oath In Felghana, which is one of the best damn games ever MADE. So, by extension, this makes Ys III one of the best damn games ever made.

10/10



Ys IV: Mask of the Sun

On the surface, this may seem like just another Ys game, but hold on, where have I heard this boss music from?

Oh right, it's only an SNES version of Yngwie fucking Malmsteen's Far Beyond The Sun, except somehow Ys IV manages to make it even more epic despite only using SNES soundfonts. You might want to call an emergency hotline, because this game just blew your damn mind without you even playing it.

10/10



Ys IV: Dawn of Ys

Some games go multiconsole, and usually those games stay the same with maybe a few technical differences. Except this Turbo CD version of Ys IV gives you a totally different game with a different storyline and a CD soundtrack, making this indisputably the best port ever made.

I actually haven't played this one, but supposedly this one is better than Mask of the Sun, so you do the math. Just kidding, too late.

10/10



Ys V: Kefin, Lost City of Sand

I haven't played this one either, and I hear this one is kind of an awkward middle child, so I'm going to have to dock some points for that reason. But this one was never released in English, so naturally I can't hold it to the same standards as the other games.

5/5



Ys VI: The Ark of Napishtim

Remember how The Legend of Zelda was already great in the NES and SNES days, but then Ocarina of Time reinvented the series and changed gaming forever? Guess what, Ark of Napishtim is the Ocarina of Time of Ys.

This is a 3D action adventure with all the jumping and attack buttoning that modern gamers have come to expect, but Falcom expertly retained Adol's status as a walking death machine. I mean look at this guy, he doesn't even give a shit that he's falling to his death and he still manages to kill a giant flying bug monster just because he can.  

This game also features an opening sequence that feels incredibly epic despite nothing happening in it. Ys is so fast paced that even when the series does nothing, my heart is pumping at a dangerous rate. When I die, I can only hope that my cause of death is some kind of heart failure by playing too much Ys.

10/10



Ys: Oath in Felghana

You're asking me what I thought about Ys: Oath in Felghana? Don't you remember what I said about Ys III? Learn to read you fucking spaz.

10/10



Ys: Origin

What's that? There are no strong female characters in gaming? Get ready to pop a literal or metaphorical boner, because I present to you a female character that makes Kratos look like an infant Justin Bieber.



Yunica Tovah wields both an axe and a sword that are larger than she is just because she wants to keep things interesting after she's killed ten thousand different monsters. She is the only character in the game unable to use magic, yet she manages to kick everyone's asses just because who has time for studying when you could be murdering everything with your arms. And I mean, look at her, she doesn't even have to dress for combat, she could destroy an army on her way home from school.

Speaking of school, you might be thinking "oh, well there's an unlockable schoolgirl outfit, so clearly she's sexualized." Well think fast douchebag, because her schoolgirl outfit doesn't reveal any additional skin, and it only makes it more embarrassing when she takes your ass down for even suggesting she gets by using her girl parts. I am a grown man in my mid 20s, and Yunica Tovah is my power fantasy.

10/10



Ys Seven

I could talk about how this is yet another brilliant reimagining of the Ys formula. I could talk about how the battle system is reminiscent of Secret of Mana and Kingdom Hearts while perfecting both and kicking the adrenaline up to 11. I could talk about how all the special moves and team combinations makes it feel like you're playing a different game every time you mix things up. 

Instead, I'll settle with telling you that there is not a single bad song in the soundtrack.

I give this game a 7^7, but of course I had to round out the result, so unfortunately I can only give this game a

10/10



Conclusion

That is the extent of my journalistic criticism regarding this series. I know some fanboys are probably going to complain that I was too harsh, or that I left out some stupid feature that would have increased the score, but I'll have you all know that, when Ys: Memories of Celceta comes out, I am going to review it as critically as I possibly...

Wait, you're telling me I can listen to the soundtrack online!?

THE SOUNDTRACK OF THIS GAME IS AS GOOD AS YS SEVEN!?

10/10   read


2:52 PM on 10.25.2013  

The Stanley Parable's Noncontroversial Controversy



Look, I get it, the reasoning for those images being changed in The Stanley Parable is a bit silly. I haven't played the game myself, and I hope to change that when I have a little bit more spare change, but I get why the impulse is to be critical of this bit of news.

What I don't get are the cries of censorship, the homogenization of gaming, and the corruption of the developer's artistic vision. There is no shortage of arguably stupid controversies about 'isms in gaming, but that doesn't mean each new controversy is related to all the others. Not all authors are the same, and there are differences in the parties crying foul in each instance. If we look at the facts in this specific instance, there are numerous reasons why this particular controversy shouldn't be all that controversial to begin with.

What happened here wasn't a controversy: it was a discussion. Whether you agree with the outcome or not, it's undeniable that this is a far cry from how these hot button stories usually play out.



Let's compare and contrast this particular news story to some of the biggest controversies of the past year:

Borderlands 2 and racism: Mike Sacco leads a public charge against writer Anthony Burch on twitter, saying Tiny Tina, a major character in the Borderlands 2 story, "has got to go" because of her "verbal blackface." Anthony Burch defended his decision to write Tina the way he did, but upon further badgering he began to consider changing the way Tina was written if gamers felt her dialogue was truly problematic. Enough speak out in support of his Burch's writing that he does not make any significant changes. 

Dragon's Crown and sexism: Kotaku writer Jason Schreier makes a front page post calling George Kamitani a "14 year old boy" and calls his work "cheap." After passively aggressively making jabs at one another, they eventually speak directly to one another and apologize, but by this point the controversy has already scattered throughout the gaming community and the internet.

The Stanley Parable's offensive image: Fiction writer Oliver Campbell finds a section of The Stanley Parable offensive, so he privately sends a message to developer Davey Wreden about his feelings. Wreden and Campbell have a discussion about retaining the integrity of the joke while removing what Campbell found offensive, and eventually they agree upon a way to change this section while keeping both parties happy. They come to a satisfactory conclusion, Wreden admits that he was not attached to the visual gag to begin with, and Campbell says Wreden was pleasant to speak to.


(Source: The Rough Sketch)

The Stanley Parable did not change because of controversy. Rather, there is controversy because The Stanley Parable changed. Both parties spoke to each other privately and directly, and at no point was a political correctness task force at work to strong-arm their agenda. What was done here was voluntary and - as mentioned by the author in this Reddit thread - was similar to how content in the game was changed as a result of playtester feedback. The experience of the game (and allegedly the joke in question) remains intact, and the most that any gaming news site has done to the issue is report the result.

I know emotions are likely high on this issue due to its similarity with other controversies like I've listed above, but we can't treat all of these issues as if the same circumstances are at play. If we look at the facts regarding this story and don't just skim the headlines, then it becomes apparent that this story is a completely different beast all together.



I'd like to also point out that "artistic vision" is not quite the sacred ground that some seem to treat it as. This may come to a surprise to some, but even the best authors do not make perfection with every word they write. The best authors will not defend every written word as exactly the way they wanted from the moment they conceived of a story. Wreden explicitly says that the joke of these two images falls into this latter category for him, noting "I'm not exactly married to the gag, it doesn't make or break anything about that particular section." Had Wreden's artistic vision been for that scene to be exactly the way it was originally portrayed, then logically he would have defended it. After all, as many like to point out, you could count the number of players who found this scene offensive on one hand. He could have just as easily chosen to ask players in some kind of public forum about the joke to gauge interest if he was really unsure about a decision, and surely he would have garnered enough support to keep the scene as is if that were the case.

Wreden goes on about this issue more extensively in the Reddit thread I linked to before, so I won't regurgitate the arguments that he makes so eloquently himself. For those who need a tl;dr, he does not feel his artistic vision has been compromised in any way, and there is plenty of content some might find offensive in game that he has no intent to change. But really, no artist has an absolute "artistic vision" down to every last detail. Putting out content and choosing to modify it in response to criticism is a regular part of the creative process. 



As a personal example, I've had parts of my own fiction critiqued in ways that I get upset about, and yes, sometimes there are accusations of misogyny or other similar issues that I obviously never intended. Yet more often than not, I wind up reanalyzing what was being critiqued in the first place, find a way to change it while keeping myself happy, and I usually wind up with content that I actually enjoy more than I did before. This is what friends, editors, and playtesters are for, and in this particular story, Campbell was acting more like an editor than someone who just wanted to feel offended. Maybe he shouldn't have felt offended. Maybe he has no right to. But if nothing else, he voiced his concerns in a responsible manner instead of going right for the media or a public forum to pressure Wreden to change the game. If more controversies begun and ended as this one did, then maybe we all wouldn't be so sensitive over controversies to begin with.

And if you're offended by the change Wreden has made, then clearly there is precedent for you to try to voice your concerns to him in a responsible fashion.



I'm not telling you how to feel regarding this situation, but I ask that you look at the facts. Gaming news outlets get so overrun by emotions that it can be hard to think straight, and as a result the truth often gets lost in a storm of anger and sensationalism. If you still feel outrage having grasped the full story for what it is, then by no means am I saying you're wrong. In fact, as I said in the beginning, I agree that the call to change the image seems a bit silly to me. 

All I ask is for you to be fully informed before embarking on a crusade, because there's too much in the gaming industry that's worth being angry over. Conversely, there's so many videogames that are worth being excited over, and I'm sure we all would love to feel a little more positivity around here. This controversy is only controversial because gamers are deciding it's controversial, as both the author and those who were offended seem to be perfectly happy with the outcome. Do as you will and feel as you will, but the moral of this parable is to pick your battles carefully.   read


4:23 PM on 09.26.2013  

“Sexualized” is a lazy term. Think before you use it.



For all the times the words “sexualized” and “sexualization” pop up in articles and comments sections on gaming sites these days, have you ever taken a step back and asked what those words mean?

I mean, I’m sure we all kind of think we do, just based on the fact that the word “sexual” is in both terms, but I want you to actually put what you think they mean into words. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines sexualize as “to make sexual: endow with a sexual character or cast.” However, that only asks more questions than it does answer them. How do you make something sexual? Does sexual mean erotic or is it just pertaining to the act of having sex? Is the criteria for being “sexual” objective or subjective?

When you call a character or videogame “sexualized,” how do you answer any of these questions in your use of the word, and is there any hope that I, the person reading your thought, would answer those questions the same way? With how prevalent discussions on “isms” have become in gaming communities, something desperately needs to be done with the language we use in the process. The fact of the matter is, when you rely on the term “sexualized,” you aren’t creating conversation. You’re avoiding one.



The main problem with the term “sexualized” is that, when used by itself, no one has any idea what you’re talking about. The term has become so overused (and even inflammatory) that any meaning it may have carried in relationship to gaming has been lost. Only calling a character “sexualized” is the intellectual equivalent of saying you dislike something because “it’s bad.” Instead of actually formulating a unique thought and conveying your opinion, you create a vague blanket statement in which it’s the reader’s responsibility to assume what you mean. If I had a nickel for every flame war that could have been resolved if the participants in the argument actually explained what they meant by “sexualized” before shooting back and forth with “yes and you’re ignorant” and “no and you’re stupid,” I’d buy us all pizza.

For example, as someone who does not generally follow Metal Gear Solid and wasn’t really interested in watching any trailers for Metal Gear Solid V, I was fairly confused when I saw certain sites and comments calling out the “sexualized design” of the new character named Quiet. Without any effort made to explain how she’s sexualized, the arguments by themselves were virtually pointless. Sure, I can try to understand that someone thinks her sexualization is bad, but that’s like expecting someone you just met to legitimately believe that your grandmother makes the world's best meatloaf without explaining what’s in it.


I initially planned to put a picture of Quiet here, but after seeing this... I couldn't resist. You must understand. I could not resist.


Even after seeing pictures of her character, the term “sexualization” is ambiguous. Is “sexualization” referring to her attire? If so, is it because of how revealing the outfit is, how seemingly impractical it is for a combat situation, or both? Is it her figure or breasts that are sexualized (a point I’ve discussed in the past)? In any trailers or screenshots, is she specifically portrayed as a submissive sexual object? For all I know, her sexualization could be referring to all of these things or none of these things, but without any kind of clarification I have no idea what the discussion is even about.

Note: I did become aware after writing this that Hideo Kojima made some references to designing Quiet as a "sexy" character, but regardless of those sentiments (or other statements he may have made), my misgivings with these kinds of arguments still stand. And really, a good argument wouldn't assume everyone knows everything about every prerelease piece of information anyway.

The other problem with calling a character “sexualized” is that it can imply that you somehow know about a prior version of the character that was not sexual, but then someone came along and did something to make the character sexual. See, when these terms are used in reference to real life issues, “sexualize” is more often used as a literal extension of its dictionary definition. For example, when Bratz dolls caused controversy for being sexualized, it makes at least some sense with only a glance. The dolls portray young girls as older and, yes, sexual by the use of suggestive clothing, poses, and makeup. Modern society generally agrees that prepubescent girls shouldn’t be portrayed as sexually desirable, so the term “sexualized” makes sense. When something (in this case, children and childhood) is either made sexual or at least more sexual, the term “sexualized” is a bit less ambiguous. Granted, even in the case of Bratz dolls, those who argue the point still have to explain how they are sexualized, but at least there’s less confusion in what the term means.



This isn’t to say that the terms “sexualized” or “sexualization” can’t be used when discussing videogame characters; the terms just need clarification. To go back to Quiet’s design, instead of saying “Quiet is sexualized” and calling it a day, someone could say, for example, “Quiet’s uniform is as revealing as a sexualized army girl Halloween costume, and hopefully Hideo Kojima is able to justify the design in the game’s story.” Now the reader will know what perspective the commenter is coming from, and by having to answer the question of “what do I mean by sexualized,” the commenter was forced to make the argument more solid and justifiable as a result.

Just to be abundantly clear, I’m not saying we should avoid discussions about “isms,” sex, or sexualization itself. In fact, this couldn’t be any further from the truth. Particularly around here on Destructoid, I’ve seen some of the most thoughtful, intelligent, and persuasive arguments about these subjects, and I don’t want that to ever change. Yet it has become impossible to ignore those that seem to use these words just for the sake of trying to appear as politically correct to others on the internet. Before sounding off on a particular subject or issue, we all need to be honest with ourselves and ask whether we’re actually contributing something meaningful or are just making noise for the sake of attention.


Picture slightly censored for those who are offended by butts.


If you find yourself using these words, challenge yourself to clarify what you’re actually addressing and modify your argument to reflect this. And if you’re unable to do that, then relax; there’s other things you can do to be helpful and supportive for a cause! Say some nice words to someone if they make a great argument, support developers who create games with characters you particularly enjoy, or tell your friends about a great game or article you found. Bringing about change for a good cause comes in a variety of forms, so not being recognized by internet users as a champion of inclusivity doesn’t mean that you aren’t one. At the end of the day, we’re all just regular people trying to learn more about a subject, and sometimes it’s good to be silent to see what other people have on their minds.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ll be making several phonecalls to my internet service provider to let them know that “sexualized young girls” was a suggested Google search that came up in my research and I swear it’s not what it looks like.   read


12:50 PM on 09.22.2013  

Klonoa 2 is awesome and you should play it



Not only is Klonoa 2: Lunatea’s Veil the best game you’ve (probably) never played, but it’s also my favorite game. As in ever made.

I’m not here to convince you that Klonoa 2 is the best game ever made (objectively, it’s not), but I can assure you that you’ve never played anything quite like it. Beneath the façade of a child friendly mascot platformer, Klonoa 2 weaves an unforgettable experience that combines smart action-puzzle sidescrolling with a story that contains surprisingly deep themes that are reinforced by the accompanying visuals and music. Like any truly great piece of children’s literature (such as The Little Prince), Klonoa 2 is not a game you grow out of, but rather, a game you grow to appreciate as you begin to realize the complexity of what is going on under the surface.

Critically acclaimed, yet commercially underwhelming, Klonoa 2: Lunatea’s Veil is a strong contender for the most under appreciated game ever made.



First, let’s take a moment to talk about how bold and innovative the console Klonoa games were for their time. The first Klonoa game, Door to Phantomile, was released in 1997, a year after Super Mario 64 revolutionized gaming in an era when 3D mascot platformers were all the rage. Klonoa: Door to Phantomile boldly strayed from the pack by pioneering the now-popular 2.5D perspective, and instead of taking the Mario inspired jump-on-enemies-to-defeat-them route, it created its own identity with a gimmick that opened the door to clever puzzles that served to enhance the action.

Instead of outright attacking enemies, Klonoa is able to grab enemies using his signature wind bullet. Once an enemy is in his grasp, he can throw the enemy in front of him to attack an oncoming foe, or he can toss the enemy beneath him while midair to double jump. It’s a simple concept, but it’s constantly reinvented throughout the games with various enemy types and layouts that cause the player to reassess each screen individually to survive (or to at least not take damage). Plus, as anyone who has played a Klonoa game can tell you, quadruple-jumping off a tall ladder of enemies to reach the top of a tower never loses its charm.

While many platformers of the PS1/PS2 era tried to bloat their playtimes by forcing the player to collect a bunch of arbitrary objects to advance in the game or to unlock the “true” ending, the Klonoa series instead dared to be short for the sake of maintaining a high level of quality that kept the game consistently fresh from start to finish. Although both the console Klonoa games are certainly on the brief side, they also feel short because there is hardly a minute of these games that could be considered filler. At the time, this caused many gamers to choose other platformers to spend their money on over Klonoa, but I can assure you that the Klonoa games have stood the test of time much better as a result. Like a fine desert, both console Klonoa games leave you wanting more, yet you also feel satisfied with the quality of what was on the table.

In short, the Klonoa games played like indie style platformers over a decade before indie style platformers were even a thing. Both mainline games felt new and innovative while feeling familiar and nostalgic at the same time, and if you’re the kind of person who is begging for innovation in this modern era of gaming, then you owe it to yourselves to check out these games.



Of course, while Klonoa: Door to Phantomile was great, Klonoa 2: Lunatea’s Veil evolved the formula to create an unforgettable experience. Released early in the PS2’s lifecycle in 2001, the production values in this game were outstanding. Not in an obnoxious way, of course. The cel-shaded graphical style looked stunning while keeping a silky smooth framerate, and although some animations are a little primitive, the art holds up remarkably well today. Both the visuals and the soundtrack are brimming with variety, yet they always feel cohesive because they actively work with the theme of the story: an introspective tour of the emotions of a dreamer.

The genius of the narrative is how it’s blatantly hidden in plain sight. On the surface, the plot seems like typical kids stuff. A cute animal hero and his two new friends go on a quest to ring four bells to get a special power before the evil sky pirate (!) does. And for the most part, I’m confident that this childish first impression was intentional. Yet as the game continues, the story gets steadily darker until it reaches a point which it’s impossible to ignore the change in tone, and this, again, ties in strongly with the nature of the story to that point. At one point, a character is eventually overcome with such feelings of ineptitude that the character actually says “damn it… damn it all”, which isn’t exactly profane, but a serious departure from the seemingly carefree nature of the first half of the game.

As the characters in game are confronted with a new reality as the plot goes on (don’t want to spoil it, after all), it becomes impossible to not see the previous areas of the game in a new light. While each “world” of the game could be vaguely identified by genre archetypes (ice world, fire world, etc.), each world in-game is actually identified by a particular emotion. As residents of each respective area overindulge in the emotion of the respective world, the player witnesses the problems with each particular outlook on life. Keep in mind that the game is still aimed at kids, so don't expect it to go into deep philosophy or anything. Instead, each respective mood is reinforced by the visuals and music so as to let the player feel each emotion and let their mind fill in the details for how residents of each world must carry out life.



For example, the Maze of Memories level is located in an area defined by “indifference.” Before entering this level, Klonoa and friends talk with one of the residents who tell them that the world's citizens never bother to go outside, as they much prefer to stay inside and look at art and mirrors so that they can relive past memories. The level in general has an abstract art theme, and just by listening to the level’s music it’s hard not to feel this sense of hollow emptiness that’s reaching out to try to feel something. As one resident of the area says, “Just as art is a reflection of the soul, these mirrors are reflections of the past. Why leave, if you can keep reliving bygone days?” The player not only witnesses the pitfalls of overindulgence of one emotion, but the logic that actually ensues with it.

As the Klonoa games make it clear that each game takes place in a dream world, it becomes clear that the characters (outside of Klonoa himself, possibly) are less fully developed dynamic characters and more representations of particular thoughts or themes. As modern games try harder and harder to be taken seriously, Klonoa 2 embraces the surreal and asks the player to suspend disbelief and enjoy the experience for what it is. Much like an actual dream, Klonoa 2 doesn’t try to make sense, but this makes the moments of profound clarity richer when they come. Akin to many people you may know in real life, Klonoa 2 holds a surprisingly amount of substance beneath a seemingly shallow exterior.



Unfortunately, the Klonoa series never found the traction it deserves and, nowadays, is all but dead.  Of course, the blame is just as much the publisher’s fault as it is the fault of gamers. While many overlooked the console Klonoa games due to their brevity, the marketing for the series never came close to try to appeal to older and experienced gamers. Perhaps if more gamers knew that the console games were directed by Hideo Yoshizawa, the man who directed the NES Ninja Gaiden trilogy, it may have gained a little more interest. On a shelf next to other platformers, Klonoa hardly looks particularly distinguished, and undoubtedly gamers had their hearts set on true 3D games and would ignore something that is more or less a sidescroller that could be played with an NES controller. The only time the series experienced any kind of mild success was with the lower budget GBA spinoff titles which, while definitely good, lacked the fantastic presentation and stories that made the two core games so wonderful.

It’s a shame, because I strongly believe there’s an audience for all Klonoa has to offer; they just don’t know it exists yet. With the direction the series seemed to be going in with Klonoa 2, who knows what a third installment might have offered? As it stands, Klonoa 2 isn’t even available as a PS2 classic, and at a price of $10 this game would be an easy impulse buy. With so many fanbases revitalized with rebirths of their favorite franchises (Shadowrun, Earthbound, etc.), it seems almost criminal that Klonoa has been left in the dust at every opportunity for a revival.



Perhaps a game like Klonoa 2: Lunatea’s Veil is a hard sell for teenagers and adults, but as time goes on, the game is becoming increasingly harder to obtain. If you happen to stumble on a copy, I wholeheartedly recommend picking it up. Perhaps the series’ fate was to end after two main installments, but it does not deserve to be forgotten. At worst, you might start to feel like a kid again, but I doubt that’s such a bad thing.

And if you’re still not convinced, I’ll ask you to listen to this sexy big band secret agent style track. Just try to tell me that you don’t want to play this game right now.   read


4:17 PM on 09.05.2013  

5 Ways to Curb Your Game Hoarding Addiction (Pt. 2)



Welcome to the epic conclusion of this tutorial on how to murder even the most fearsome backlog. New to the party? Catch up by reading the first part here.

Yesterday, we learned that we should only buy games we actually want to play versus games that are just on sale. Yet even at that, there are still plenty of pitfalls to avoid if we want to keep our libraries in check. To illustrate, let me introduce you to my totally real friend: Sally Steampunk.

4: Avoid loading up on the same genre or series.

Word problem of the day: Sally has just read my advice from yesterday and proclaims “well, I like action RPGs the best, so now it’s a good time to purchase all the Kingdom Hearts games and go wild!” She finds good deals on every game in the series so far and thoroughly enjoys the first two titles. However, by the time she gets to the third game, she finds the process of playing through it to be a chore. Within the week, she looks for more games to buy while the remaining Kingdom Hearts games go unplayed on her shelf. What did she do wrong?

Answer: You can have too much of a good thing. Had Sally gradually acquired the Kingdom Hearts games over a period of time and occasionally played other titles between them, her chances of finishing and enjoying every game in the series would have increased. Also, what if she hated Kingdom Hearts after playing the first game? She’d be stuck with six games that she’d never want to return to.



Chances are, you like more than one genre. Even within any given genre, there’s a lot of variation as well.  While debate over whether The Legend of Zelda is a true RPG series or not remains heated, Sally could likely scratch her Action RPG itch between Kingdom Hearts games with a Zelda without becoming burnt out over either series. By mixing up the order in which you acquire the games you are interested in, you will find yourself more satisfied with the games you actually have in your collection. 

5: Predict future price drops

Sales are both a gamer’s best friend and worst enemy at the same time. Even if you try to follow all the before mentioned advice, seeing a new title slashed from $60 to $30 for 48 hours is too good to pass up, right?

Spoilers: Unless it really is a game you've been dying to play, you should keep waiting.

With the exception of niche games with low production runs, almost all games will continue to drop in price with time, even falling below their “sale” prices. For example, critical darling Bioshock Infinite could be found for $40 within three months of its release, and the game can be purchased for $30 (Xbox 360, PS3) or $20 (PC) as of writing this. By Christmas, it will likely drop to at least $20-$15, and within the following year it will likely drop even lower, probably running for $7.50 on Steam during a flash sale.

In other words, it’s rare for a game to be on sale for its “lowest price ever.”  If you are eager to play a game, then these early sale prices can be justified, but 80% of the time you will save more by waiting. In other words, analyze your personal demand for a game and determine how much you’d like to pay for it.



If you’re extremely eager to play a new release but don’t want to pay $60, tell yourself to wait for it to drop to $40, which could likely happen within the first month or two. If you are interested in a game but still have five other games you'd like to get into, then perhaps $15 or $20 is more in your ballpark. In some cases, you might want to wait and see if a game’s DLC interests you and wait for a bundle/game of the year edition.

And by the way, those pre-order bonuses usually don't offset the high pricetags either. Example: I know a guy who made sure to preorder Borderlands 2 to make sure he'd get access to the bonus Mechromancer character. By the time he actually played the game, the game was going for half its intial asking price and the Mechromancer DLC could also be found discounted as well. Had he waited until he actually wanted to play the game, he would have saved himself ~$20 for the same product.

Measuring your patience for a game is the key. With practice, you’ll play most of the games you want for the lowest prices you’d like to pay for them. 

BONUS SECTION: When to ignore everything I just said!

I’ve written the above advice in the best interest of the consumer (you), but it would seem irresponsible to ignore the extenuating circumstances in which it can be wise and/or admirable to outright shell out top dollar without waiting for a sale price.



Smaller/riskier games are usually worth supporting if you like the risk/series/genre/etc. For example, as a huge fan of the criminally underrated Klonoa series, I couldn’t have purchased the 2009 Wii remake of Klonoa: Door to Phantomile fast enough. While a number of variables contributed to the game’s unfortunate failure (like being marketed to elementary school age children when it’s properly suited for all ages) a number of gamers opted to either purchase the game used or deeply discounted because of complaints about the game’s length (despite otherwise positive reviews). This unfortunately means that the likelyhood of seeing the Klonoa team band together for another title is slim to none, according to the series director.

Another example? Beyond Good and Evil. How has that planned sequel been coming lately? I rest my case.

As mentioned earlier, games with low production runs are also worth getting in on if they happen to be your cup of tea. $50 may have been a lot for Metroid Prime Trilogy or Xenoblade, but clearly those would have been worthy investments at this stage.

I’m not suggesting to throw money at every underdog game that you see, but if you happen to be a firm believer in a game or series, then voting with your dollars will ultimately be good for it in the end. 

Conclusion

As with any list of advice, none of this is the gospel truth that will work for everyone. The thrill of the sale is almost as exciting as booting up a game for the first time, so bargain hunting should be something we anticipate and enjoy, not something we dread. The goal is to spend more time playing the games you enjoy the most, and really, why wouldn’t we be striving for that. 

So get out there, enjoy yourselves, and use all that money you save to buy your friends a few gifts to spread the love. And while you’re at it, maybe some of those games you’ll never play can go to a good cause, like charity! That’s what Sally Steampunk did, and do you know how many children she helped? None. Because she doesn’t exist. I should probably think of more realistic names than Sally Steampunk.   read


2:52 PM on 09.04.2013  

5 Ways to Curb Your Game Hoarding Addiction (Pt. 1)



“My wallet is crying.”

Admit it, you’ve said it, or at least thought it. If not, you must be here just to laugh at the rest of us and I will not tolerate such pretentiousness.

(Just kidding, please stay and play nice).

Between Amazon, Steam, and even the Playstation Network, it’s hard to fight the impulse to toss money to the wind. We love to buy games like burgers on a dollar menu, only to order well beyond our capacity and leave our purchases to rot. Some games you might not even have any desire to play, but the sale was just so cheap that you couldn’t resist getting a copy. For example, I ordered Steel Diver for five dollars, which is five more dollars that I could have tossed at Mighty No 9.

Game hoarding is something we all struggle with, but it’s okay. We’ve all been there, and we’re here to help. With these five steps, you’ll no longer provoke stores to shut up while they take your money. Your wallet will stop crying, and you will be in control of your finances once more.

1: Ask “how much time do I spend playing games?”

Before anything else, you need to be honest about your gaming habits: How much time do you actually spend playing games on a weekly basis?


I swear I allocated 80 hours for finishing Dark Souls somewhere in there

Fun Fact: If you buy games faster than you play them, your backlog will always grow. Now, you might be saying to yourself “oh, I just need to spend more time playing games.” To that, I say stop it. No really, stop it. You are only fooling yourself. 

Your gaming habits are habits for a reason. You play games for as long as you enjoy them, and you have non-gaming things to be doing with your time as well. If you feel obligated to play a game just because you bought it, then stop. You aren’t getting your money back, and you aren’t getting your “money’s worth” either.

In economics, this is called the Sunk Cost Fallacy. If you regret purchasing a game or otherwise don’t enjoy it, you shouldn't force yourself to play it. That money is gone and your time is precious.

Therefore, instead of convincing yourself to play more games, the smarter thing to do is to modify the other variable: buy fewer games. So go ahead, let a timer run while you kick back and play games for a while, or just check what Steam says you've played in the past week. If you only buy videogames at a rate you can actually play them,  you’ll probably wind up playing more videogames as a result.

2: Decide what games you actually want.

A game being offered at a good price does not make it a good deal. Borderlands 2 GOTY for $19.99 is only a good deal if you like shooting midgets and leveling up. It’s similar to how a delicious filet mignon priced at $5 would still be a bad purchase for a vegetarian.

It’s not your responsibility to pick up every critically acclaimed game. Some games just aren't for you, and there’s nothing wrong with that. It can be surprisingly difficult to discern which games you actually want to play, so here is a simple test to help decide how interested you are in a game: When you receive the game, are you going to want to play it or put it on the shelf?


I wonder if this person ever asked that question

If you are actually excited to play the game once you receive it, then it’s likely a good purchase. However, if you want to buy a game just in case you might be interested in it later, then you should seriously reevaluate whether you’re making a good purchase. If you never play the game you purchase, then it doesn’t matter if it was sold for $20 or $2 – it was a bad purchase. There are always extenuating circumstances, of course. Maybe a friend really wants you to try a game, or you are vaguely interested in giving a new genre a try. In these cases, spending a few dollars on a game and discovering you don’t like it after a couple hours is at least good for informing you future purchases. However, by maintaining a collection of games you actually want to play, your backlog has an exponentially higher chance of staying under control.

3: Avoid “rainy day” games.

Maybe you aren’t interested in a game, but for the price you figure that it might be decent to have in your collection just in case you’re really bored one day. These are what I call “rainy day” games: games you “save for a rainy day.”

Rainy day games can actually be great to have, but you can’t predict what itch you’ll want to scratch when that rainy day comes. Fortunately, there are some excellent economic options that can fill this void handsomely. For example, Humble Bundles provide a variety of often excellent games for less than six dollars per collection. Playstation Plus also provides retail and indie games at a steady pace, with games of just about every genre for less than the price of one newly released game a year. 

Even cheaper than both of those, you can also check out the multitude of flash games, indie games, and even RPG Maker games that are absolutely worth playing and cost nothing to download. Iji, A Blurred Line, Irisu Syndrome, The Way, and countless other games are just a few clicks away right now, and you don’t even need to enter your credit card information.


Irisu Syndrome is totally just an innocent puzzle game starring this bunny girl. Cute, right!?

With these options in mind, paying $10 or $20 for a single “rainy day” game suddenly becomes much less appealing. That money is much better spent on a game you know you actually want to play, and when that rainy day comes, you’ll have plenty of options to keep yourself busy.

--

Tune in tomorrow for the stunning conclusion on how to avoid spending your money! In anticipation of any potentially great strategies that may pop up in the comments (which I’d love to hear!), I’d be happy to incorporate excellent suggestions into part 2 (with permission of course). So go ahead, load up the Steam Calculator, get sad, and come back so we can share stories of awful purchases we were somehow conned into making. As for me, I think I’m going to look at my shrink-wrapped Steel Diver and shed some tears for a couple hours.

UPDATE: Part 2 is posted!   read


2:58 PM on 08.08.2013  

3 StreetPass Games that Need to be Made



The 3DS StreetPass games aren't great because they’re deep games. They’re great because they’re accessible versions of occasionally obtuse genres that are designed for short bursts.

I’m not sure if the StreetPass games have managed to introduce the casual masses to new genres, but I know they’ve made a significant impact on members of my family. My Father has generally stuck with Mario titles, First Person Shooters, and occasionally hack-and-slash loot games, but he unexpectedly fell in love with Flower Town and became interested in games like Animal Crossing. My brother hasn’t played any sort of RPG in about 20 years, but sessions of Find Mii would eventually lead him to pick up Project X Zone after playing a demo of it. Even I, the most “hardcore” gamer of my family, find myself looking forward to my brief sessions with the latest bundle of StreetPass games.

With the negative stigma surrounding “social games” these days, I feel the StreetPass games are social games done right. 

That said, there’s so much potential in the StreetPass concept that remains untapped. While the majority of the games are pretty simple (does Puzzle Swap actually count as a game?), Mii Force in particular shows that complex and action packed titles can work well in the formula. If more StreetPass games are made (as there's clearly a market for them), there’s potential for legitimately great games that can captivate hardcore audiences while engaging casual gamers and “training” them to become interested in new titles.
 
Below are my personal ideas for games that I believe would be smash hits with the StreetPass gimmick. Yes, this is going to basically be a nerdporn blog, but I think there’s something to discussing the possibilities of something that many gamers might just consider a gimmick. For the sake of humor, I've attempted Mii wordplay for each game’s titles.

Pictured: Heroes of Umbra (Because I'm not artistic enough to draw up my own game concepts)


Find Mii Loot!
Genre: Metroidvania/loot game
Dream Dev: Monolith Soft

Premise: Your Mii is a notorious pirate captain sailing the seven seas with a lovable skeleton friend that may or may not be one of the former enemies from Mii Force. After finding a treasure map leading to various ancient ruins around the world, your ship breaks amidst a massive storm that disperses your former crew, save your lovable skeleton friend. Starting from scratch with a tiny sailboat, you must find new recruits for your crew using StreetPass and make them raid these treasure filled ruins (because, you know, you have to watch the ship and all) so you can rebuild your ship and become the most infamous pirate king once again!

Gameplay: Think a StreetPass version of Rogue Legacy. The StreetPass Mii enters a short, randomized, sidescrolling dungeon filled with dangerous monsters, gold, and loot. The goal is to either earn as much treasure as possible or defeat the boss to move to the next level. The weapon and playstyle of each Mii depends on that Mii’s shirt color. For example, a Red Mii might use a sword for hitting a wide area, a Blue Mii might use a spear that hits a narrow area far in front of him/her, the yellow Mii might use a bow that covers the whole screen but fires slowly, etc.


Pictured: Rogue Legacy


Miis have no health, but their weapons have durability that deplete with use. If a Mii takes damage, the weapon’s durability is sharply reduced. If the weapon breaks, the Mii rushes out of the dungeon in a comedic fashion and drops a portion of the loot depending how far away from the exit (s)he is. Choosing to leave the dungeon early will end the game, but inflict no loot penalty.

If multiple Miis are StreetPassed at once, the player can choose which Mii to send into the dungeon while the remaining Miis give buffs that also depend on their respective shirt colors. So a Brown Mii might increase weapon durability, a pink Mii might increase the value of gold found, etc.

Miis get stronger by finding pieces of armor and relics in the dungeon, which carry over in each session but can only be equipped on the ship. While storages and blacksmiths who upgrade specific weapon types are eventually made available, they can only be upgraded by investing more gold into rebuilding the ship.

“Beating” the game unlocks a new game + mode that allows the player to continue upgrading and looting the dungeons again, and beating that mode allows all levels to be accessible at once but at a maxed out level. And now I realized this game is the deranged crack baby of Rogue Legacy and Borderlands 2. Maybe I’m the deranged crack baby of Rogue Legacy and Borderlands 2.


Pictured: Streets of Rage Remake


Miin Streets
Genre: Arcade Style Beat-Em-Up
Dream Dev: Treasure

Premise:  A gritty noir setting (by Mii standards, at least). Your Mii is a detective who receives a mysterious investigation request one day from a masked Mii who will probably turn out to be the villain of the whole story and surprise no one. The investigation leads your Mii to various dangerous locations on the infamous Miin Streets, but Detective Mii isn’t the type to get his/her hands dirty by busting up bad guys. The only option is to go to the streets and find some tough looking thugs via StreetPass who are bad enough to fight the badguys and help you solve this vague and unspecified mystery!

Gameplay: A throwback to games like Double Dragon and Streets of Rage. For the sake of keeping things family friendly, it would probably be more The Three Stooges style violence than the usual genre nitty gritty stuff, although bonus points if enemies scream “BARF” and run away when they’re defeated.

Stage progression works similar to Mii Force:  find one or more recruits, run through a stage, beat up a boss, end of session. The player earns points for beating the stage quickly, taking as little damage as possible, successfully blocking/dodging attacks, and performing multiple hit combos on enemies. Placing emphasis on blocking/combos could potentially be an introduction to lite fighting game mechanics as well.

As usual, the stats of the playable Mii depend on shirt color. Red Shirts could be slow and powerful, Yellow shirts might have a high jump and more powerful aerial attacks, etc. Additional Miis can be called in to assist the playable Mii for very short periods of time, or the playable Mii can retreat from the level and be replaced by a sidelined Mii instead. Although all Miis share a lifebar, opting for the second option would cause health to be slightly restored. 

Finishing the game unlocks more challenging difficulty modes, as well as an Arcade mode which challenges the player to finish the entire game in one run. In this mode, sidelined Miis act as extra lives instead of assist options.


Pictured: The Way


Mii Odyssey
Genre: Traditional Turn-Based RPG
Dream Dev: Atlus

Premise: A sort-of sequel to Find Mii. Years have passed since your royal Mii’s family was kidnapped by the Dark Lord. Of course, being the unfortunate kingdom as it tends to be, a new evil force has been sweeping across the world, covering once normal towns and caves with a thick fog that has infested these areas with dangerous monsters. Looking to not get kidnapped, your Royal Mii decides to leave the kingdom to the Prince and Princess while (s)he looks to investigate the fog, but not without enlisting the help of some of the mighty warriors who saved the world in the past.

Gameplay: With both Find Mii games being an introduction to basic turn-based battles, a small traditional RPG is a logical next step for the series. The player explores dungeons from a traditional overhead view, and the player can also learn tips from townsfolk and buy items and equipment in the kingdom as well. The combat system is an evolution of the Find Mii battle system, supporting HP/MP bars, a three person battle system and options for multiple magic spells per character.

The player’s Mii is the main character, but the other two party members are Miis the player has StreetPassed in the past. Their respective classes, stats, and spells are determined by their shirt color, with some light randomization. Characters start with a single spell, but can learn more by leveling up through battles. However, characters can only memorize up to three spells at once, a la Pokemon. The player’s Mii, however, is free of class restriction, and the player is able to customize the stats of the main character and the spells (s)he learns regardless of shirt color (possibly via some version of a small skill tree).


Pictured: Find Mii II


The additional party members can execute certain combo attacks and magic spells like in Find Mii II, but the main character is unable to be a part of combo attacks. Also, level-ups apply to the party and not specific characters, so choosing to swap out a party member would allow the new party member to immediately level up to the appropriate spot.

Each dungeon is a set number of floors, but individual floors can only be unlocked by StreetPass tags. The monsters, hazards, and loot on each floor are determined by the shirt color of the StreetPassed Mii. If the party completes all unlocked floors without reaching the end of the dungeon, the player can either set up camp until another StreetPass tag is made, or they can choose to return to town and reshuffle the dungeon with subsequent tags.

If a StreetPass tag is made with a Mii who happens to be in the active party, the player has the choice to change the Mii’s class if the newly tagged Mii happens to be wearing a different color shirt. Also, if the newly tagged Mii knows a spell that the in-party version of the Mii doesn’t know, then the Mii can choose to learn one of those spells in addition to spells (s)he has naturally learned. Going through this process again with the same Mii will make the in-party Mii forget whatever spell (s)he had learned before. This would add a slight cooperative element to the game, as friends could coordinate unique party setups and build each other’s main characters accordingly.

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Again, these are just my dream StreetPass games that I believe could offer interesting innovations to their respective genres. Casual games don’t need to be the share-spam extravaganzas that Farmville spawned in its popularity. The growing popularity of the 3DS and the Streetpass games are perfect launchpads in which casual games could be reinvented, and getting casual gamers interested in new genres has the potential to grow interest in deeper games and shove a knife in the heart of anyone who thinks triple A games need to adapt the money gouging practices of freenium games.

I’m interested in what others would think of StreetPass games like the ones I listed above, and I’ll certainly read any comments with other potentially awesome ideas for StreetPass games. And if anyone at Nintendo is reading this, I’m not asking for a job or anything, but if a hefty bag of cash magically appeared at my door then I might look the other way if you steal my clearly genius ideas. Wink wink nudge nudge... please?   read


3:07 PM on 07.30.2013  

Boobs


Raise your hand if you like boobs. If you didn't, I'm going to assume you're lying, because you clicked a blog called "boobs."

I'm not here to guilt trip you, because, I mean, who doesn't love boobs? Heterosexual men are kind of hardwired to like boobs, and culturally there are a lot of people who are not heterosexual men that happen to like boobs as well, ironically or otherwise. This is why marketing firms love to play off of our fascination with boobs and plaster them all over commercials and advertisements in hopes of catching our attention. Many people may despise this practice, but resenting marketing tactics should not mean it's a moral responsibility to resent how certain women happen to look around the chest area.

I clarify this because I think it's important for gamers to direct their outrage towards the appropriate sources when, say, Motomu Toriyama orders breast implants for Lightning in Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII.

To be fair, reactions to this particular story have been varied, so the argument I want to make doesn't exactly speak to the majority. However, I've noticed a fair amount of comments that seem to share a sentiment along the lines of this:

"Lightning was a strong and attractive female protagonist in Final Fantasy XIII, but making her breasts larger sexualizes her as if she was a Dead or Alive girl."

To clarify, I too dislike Lightning's magical cup growth for reasons I'll explain in a bit, but as far as this particular sentiment goes, I just has to ask... does Lightning's new breast size somehow undo her attractive appearance or her strength as a character?



Gamers have made it abundantly clear in recent years that there's a demand for more variety in the ways various body types are portrayed in videogames, but unfortunately this seems to have led to an unfair vilifying of breasts. Jade from Beyond Good and Evil is rightfully praised as a strong female hero, but a number of gamers qualify her as a great female hero because she is modestly proportioned. I'll ask the same question again: if Jade's breast size was larger, would that somehow undo her tasteful attire and composure in the game, or would it somehow demean the heroic virtue of her actions? Imagine how ridiculous it would be to meet a very successful business woman who happened to have DDs and tell her "wow, I'm really impressed with all that you've accomplished in your life, but all that would have been more impressive if you wore a B cup." Busty women actually exist in real life (surprising, right?), and to assume that a larger bust size equals "sexualization" would mean that women with large breasts are inherently more "sexualized" than others just because of sheer biology.



On the opposite end of the spectrum, take Yuzu from Devil Survivor. Yes, she happens to have pretty large boobs, yet she's dressed fairly modestly. The characters in the game never discuss breasts or breast sizes, let alone Yuzu's chest in particular. Regardless, Yuzu is usually singled out and criticized for being busty, with some fans even referring to her as "Boobzu." Granted, sometimes criticism of her bust size is coupled with criticism of her "whining too much," but that doesn't change the fact that the criticisms are still used as if her chest somehow defines her as a character. Hilariously, Haru from the same game is dressed much more provocatively, yet this doesn't get nearly as much criticism as Yuzu because her breasts are on the smaller side.

In each of this cases, I feel there's a certain hypocrisy in that these critics are trying to prove how they aren't influenced by how busty female game characters are, but at the same time they show how much they are influenced by focusing on chest sizes to assign value to certain videogame characters over others. As mentioned before, there's nothing wrong with liking boobs. Many people need to be honest with themselves and accept that their eyes occasionally drift south when they make eye contact with a woman. If these things are problems in an individual's life, then it's that person's prerogative to fix it, but pretending we're somehow not affected makes us miss the real issues all together.

Lightning's breast size is not the problem. The problems lie in how her breast size increase doesn't make sense from a continuity perspective (so how did they get bigger, exactly?) and making her strike sexy poses to show off jiggle physics seems impractical and inconsistent with how she has acted in the previous games. Large breasts in Dead or Alive are not the problem, but the mentality that the breast slider is the same as the beauty slider is. Revealing armor has its place, but the average warrior would consider it impractical and the likelihood of all women running into battle in it breaks the player's immersion.



Listing every issue ever would keep us here for the next week or so, and this isn't to say that there's no room for fan service. However, the assumption that large breasts equal sex appeal is one that is just incorrect. It's how busty women are showcased, dressed, and portrayed that sexualizes them, but their existence doesn't mean they are inherently sex objects. If the goal is to truly rally for more diversity in videogame characters (regardless of gender!), then the outrage needs to be aimed in the right direction. Tell Square-Enix that they can have their pervy moments over female characters, but overdoing it with arbitrary close-ups of butts and boobs is what is insulting and off-putting. Encouraging diversity doesn't mean discouraging the majority being represented. If anything, we should be applauding games that can feature strong, busty characters whose inclusion are not for the sole reason of marketing or sex appeal.

Let's get rid of the shame in liking boobs. It doesn't have to mean you're a pervert, and it doesn't mean that you value a person's personality less than appearance. By admitting this, the arguments for less boobage will actually have more weight and developers can't write them off as mastrophobia. Tell the industry that you like boobs, but it'll take a lot more than that to win your money.   read


11:24 AM on 06.25.2013  

My Confession: I Love a Bad Game



Final Fantasy XIII does nearly everything that I believe a jRPG shouldn't do. The dungeon design is nonexistent, all pressure of resource management has been nullified, and the story is honestly the worst I think I’ve ever seen in a game. I’m also 65 hours in and I can’t stop playing.

Final Fantasy XIII is old news by now, so I thought there would be no surprises when I decided to pick it up for all of $10.00. Depending on who you ask, the game is either a brilliant reimagining of the jRPG formula or a disgrace to the Final Fantasy name. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d end up agreeing with both sides. Even the first 20 hours in which the game is “still getting good,” I was surprised by how much I was enjoying the experience.

Around the 40 hour mark, I asked myself a question that challenged everything I knew about gaming: Can a game be enjoyable without actually being engaging, immersive, or even fun?



I was initially inclined to call Final Fantasy XIII a “guilty pleasure,” but that doesn't quite fit. I’m not really embarrassed to play it, and it’s not indulgent in cheap thrills like ultra violence or sexually provocative content. It’s not that “so bad it’s good” kind of enjoyment either, as that is more appropriate for games like Deadly Premonition. Upon deeper introspection, I found my reason for enjoying Final Fantasy XIII is actually quite simple: A game can have a fundamentally flawed foundation, yet be built around that intelligently to create a satisfying – if not fun – experience.

For example, while most good RPGs use limited resources/HP/MP to add tension to regular battle sequences, Final Fantasy XIII does away with virtually all resource management and actually works with this as a mechanic. Since the AI doesn’t need to worry about excessive use of resources, the decision to only control the party leader actually succeeds and makes battles flow quickly. The rating system means battles focus on being effective instead of efficient, all while still giving the player reason to take each encounter seriously. Honestly, I’d take the battle system of, say, Grandia, over Final Fantasy XIII’s auto-combat any day, but finishing a battle in a hot minute and seeing a five star rating is a unique form of satisfaction. Maybe I didn’t do a whole lot to earn it, but I can’t deny I enjoy doing it.



Furthermore, let’s take Final Fantasy XIII’s crystarium. The crystarium is a clunky level up system that only pretends to offer choices and makes a time consuming process out of a normally streamlined staple of RPGs. Yet somehow, taking five minutes to watch my EXP advance toward each stat upgrade is strangely – again – satisfying. Instead of earning a lot of rewards at once during a dramatic level up process, Final Fantasy XIII gives small rewards frequently. All the flashing lights and pretty sounds make each of these small rewards feel significant without actually being significant, so being forced to deliberately level up characters emphasizes this illusion of importance. It’s like filling in a connect-the-dots puzzle versus being handed the finished picture… and that simile is more literal than I thought it would be.

And the story… my goodness, the story. I wasn’t joking when I said it’s one of the worst I’ve ever seen, yet that’s what makes it so enjoyable. Snow’s annoying optimism makes it hilarious when Lightning punches him in the face. The bad guys are so obnoxiously evil that I feel overjoyed when they get their comeuppance. The world is only so nonsensical to allow for inane gadgets and sparkling scenery around every corner. Maybe I just have an incredibly high tolerance for jRPG melodrama, but for all the story’s incoherence (which I assure you was plentiful), I usually felt I was getting what I wanted. It’s sort of like cheering on the drunken couple at the karaoke bar because they keep picking your favorite songs. Also, my analogies aren’t getting better and I apologize.

Some might read this and say my enjoyment of Final Fantasy XIII is shallow and therefore should be discouraged. To an extent, I’d agree on the shallow part, but I wonder if that’s a bad thing; I’m willing to bet we all play games that fall into the enjoyably bad place that Final Fantasy XIII does. The act of keeping the player involved by sprinkling small rewards and cheap thrills is commonplace now, so at what point do we distinguish between the rewards of a good game versus a bad game? It’s commonplace for games to feature a “level up” system, even if it’s just a means of delaying powers a protagonist should have had to begin with. First person shooter level design has streamlined so that players can consistently have more things to shoot while looking at pretty landscapes and scenery. The entire genre of “loot games” is built around the pursuit of small rewards. All these things are done to keep the player feeling “rewarded” and satisfied without necessarily creating a fun or immersive experience.


Small rewards are even given to real life to keep people interested


To clarify, all of the above can be (and has been) done in genuinely fun and engaging ways. By analyzing exactly why we enjoy certain games, we can come to a deeper understanding of what can make a system “shallow” or truly great. Final Fantasy XIII's foundation was built for the frequent distribution of shallow rewards, and I don’t think it’s wrong to enjoy that. Sometimes I don’t want to shed tears playing a To the Moon or spend hours customizing my team in a Devil Survivor. I may remember those games more fondly and recommend them wholeheartedly, but I’m happy to have a Final Fantasy XIII when I just want to unwind and watch pretty colors when I level up. 

I still consider Final Fantasy XIII a “bad” game, as it’s not really a “good” game and mediocre doesn’t describe my feelings toward it either. However, I think it’s okay to like a bad game. It’s not exactly worthy of the Final Fantasy name, so for those who expected the game to be better, I absolutely do not blame you. To me, Final Fantasy XIII is like a well made chocolate bar. It’s made with pure ingredients and tastes good, but it’s still candy. It lacks the nutrition of a vegetable or the exquisite flavor of a gourmet dish, but damn it, sometimes I just want some chocolate.  If it was all I ever had, I’d probably get sick, but every once in a while it’s good to have a little snack between meals.   read


2:38 PM on 06.13.2013  

Why Do We Still Care About Mega Man?



It's been two days since Mega Man was announced as a playable character in the new Super Smash Bros. and I still feel adrenaline left over from the excitement. I know I'm not alone in this. Go to just about any Mega Man related video on Youtube and the comments section will still be on fire with enthusiasm over the news.



It goes without saying that Mega Man is one of gaming's most memorable icons, but have you ever asked yourself why that is? At first glance, the answer is obvious. The classic Mega Man games have tight controls, great music, polished graphics, and a nonlinear level progression that was revolutionary for its time. Combine that with Mega Man's popularity and the power of nostalgia, the question seems kind of silly. 

On the other hand, one could say similar things about many classic side scrolling games, and yet Mega Man seems to garner a certain enthusiasm that other franchises don't. There's something about the series that makes us sing about our childhood to a level tune from the game, for example. So I ask again: what is it about Mega Man that sets him apart? My personal answer is simple: Mega Man is a hero that appeals to everyone, and I don't mean that in a self-insert kind of way. We're given just enough from the games to interpret our hero  in either basic or fairly complex ways, allowing him to take on a personal meaning for each player.

Series director Keiji Inafune was passionate about letting fans shape the Mega Man universe since the early days. From fans submitting ideas for robot masters in Mega Man 2 to the ill fated structure of Mega Man Legends 3's devroom, fans have had numerous ways to connect directly with the franchise. I believe this fan emphasis is what prompted Mega Man to divert into so many spinoff series throughout the years as well. Gamers looking for a dark and edgy Mega Man had Mega Man X, younger gamers had Mega Man Battle Network, Mega Man Legends offered a quirky Mega Man world, and the list goes on. Everyone had a version of Mega Man to relate to, which was a concept that inspired the (also ill fated) Mega Man Universe.

Yet the original classic Mega Man remains a bit nebulous, as players can see the origins of each direction the spinoffs went in this one character. Coincidentally, I think this is why the original Mega Man remains the most memorable. Whether you think Mega Man is about reveling in the silliness of the series or playing the role as the most awesome robot in the world, there's just enough given to us to support each interpretation without ruling out the other. In a gaming climate that seems to emphasize excess in every direction, Mega Man is a gentle reminder that less can be more.

To give an example, my personal interpretation of classic Mega Man is more along the lines of how he's portrayed in the music of The Megas. To me, Mega Man is somewhat of an understated tragic hero.



To explain, let's go right to the premise of the series. Mega Man, formerly known as Rock, is a lab assistant robot for Dr. Light. He's created along with numerous other benevolent robots that are designed to assist humanity with basic tasks, such as moving large objects (Gutsman) or being a glorified pair of scissors (Cut Man). This all goes well until Dr. Wily reprograms most of these robots to go berserk, prompting Rock to ask Dr. Light to transform him into a super fighting robot in order to stop the others. This establishes Rock as not only selfless, but as sentient as a human might be. He's able to care about others outside of how he is programmed to act or feel.

This is important because of how it relates to the main gimmick of the series: absorbing the power of boss robots once they're defeated. While it's unclear how exactly this works mechanically, it's generally described as "taking the robot master's data." The Robot Masters are confirmed to also be at least somewhat sentient, even in spite of Dr. Wily's meddling. This leads me to believe that, when Mega Man absorbs a robot master's power, he's also carrying that robot's memories with him as well. Mega Man learns the inner workings of whoever he destroys, which must weigh heavily on him given his selfless personality. After all, these robot masters were once kind allies of humans until they were reprogrammed. Mega Man has to destroy brother after brother because of Dr. Wily, and not only does Mega Man carry the guilt of eliminating robots that may not be inherently evil, but he carries their most intimate memories around through his journey. It's the equivalent of being forced to murder someone and then reading their biography immediately afterwards.

This puts a spin on the surprisingly somber ending of Mega Man 2. Instead of celebrating his second victory over Dr. Wily, he walks alone for months while wearing the colors of those he defeated. With my interpretation, Mega Man is reflecting on all the memories he has acquired as a sort of tribute to the ones he had to kill during his journey. 

I'm fond of thinking that this introspective Mega Man is what prompts Dr. Light to go out of his way to create Rush for Mega Man's next adventure. After all, Dr. Light had already made tools that generally do what Rush did already, but he purposefully retools them into a companion to help curb Mega Man's trauma over his struggle. Seeing Mega Man respond positively to Rush, Dr. Light would proceed to create additional companions such as Beat (who had some actual functionality) and Auto (who is kind of useful but is primarily comic relief).

Regardless, this all comes to a breaking point during the ending of Mega Man 7, in which Mega Man threatens to kill Wily on the spot for what he has done. Wily tells Mega Man that robots are not capable of killing humans, and Mega Man, charging his weapon, screams "I am more than a robot! Die Wily!"



This is uncharacteristic of Mega Man to this point in the series, but it makes sense given a tragic interpretation. Mega Man has had to kill 54 of his fellow robots through his battle with Wily, and by carrying their data he is unable to become desensitized to the violence. Wily waving Mega Man's inability to kill humans in his face is an assault to all the suffering Mega Man endures to that point, as it implies that robots aren't as worthwhile as humans are. "I am more than a robot!" is a line that I take to mean that Mega Man acts, thinks, and suffers like a human does, and this enrages him because Wily is clearly unable to see this as he continues to manipulate robots for his own desires.

I could easily go on, and I'm sure there are certain bits in the series that might contradict this particular interpretation, but that's part of the appeal. While this may be "my" Mega Man, the same character doing the same things can mean something completely different for another player. This is what keeps Mega Man relevant as a character, and the fact that the games tend to be fun to play certainly has a lot to do with it as well. Mega Man is more than a robot. He's an icon made up of equal parts awesome, nostalgia, and ourselves, and I can't wait to be able to throw metal blades in Donkey Kong's big goofy face in 2014.   read







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