Oculin, known in the realm of the living as Benjamin Toy Yoder, is a college student majoring in journalism and professional writing. He likes to pretend to be a vidjya game journalist and, at the very least, has successfully tricked a few people into believing him, landing him gigs at VGChartz, Classic Game Room Empire and TheSpeedGamers.
Digging for gems in unknown or poorly received titles is what Oculin games for. He places a large emphasis on entertainment, rather than just polish. He also has an unhealthy interest in creepy Japanese idol games, despite never playing one.
Anime, visual novels and manga are also hobbies of his, although he is incredibly picky and very rarely takes recommendations.
Bring up Final Fantasy XIII and you'll generally get a group of disgruntled moans from around the room. The title built up a bad reputation for itself that seemingly gets worse over the years. Final Fantasy XIII branded announcements are met with cries for Square Enix to abandon the series and start anew.
Lighting Returns: Final Fantasy XIII sits on my list of to-play titles for this year, so I can't talk about Square Enix's more recent outing. However, I can tell you that if you disliked Final Fantasy XIII, you should at least give Final Fantasy XIII-2 a try.
Starting Final Fantasy XIII-2 seems like a mistake, so you'll just have to trust me on this one. It opens with this weird cutscene that serves mostly as fan service for the first title's main character, Lighting. The rest of the game follows Lighting's sister, Serah. Then you have to deal with her annoyingly whining for the first half of the story about Lighting's disappearance from the world. It gets better as the plot focuses more on Noel, who is one of the last surviving humans in a future world, but sometimes it feels like the game would be better without Lighting and Serah's story at all.
Undoubtedly, the biggest improvement of Final Fantasy XIII-2 are the areas in the game. Gone are the linear hallway level designs in favor of locales with more variety. Large open areas with winding paths take precedence here, along with an emphasis on exploration to find treasures as well as keys that open gates to new areas. These levels are frequently reused, but often they have some sort of gimmick or change of atmosphere to freshen up the experience.
Both the main line story quests and side quests require players to track down items without too much guidance given. Having freedom from an ever-guiding hand is appreciated, but sometimes the developers can leave players in the dark about where an item is or how to get to its location. It's a pain if you don't have time to search every corner and path. However, there's a simple solution to that: Use a guide. There's no shame in that. I used one, and I approve of you using one, too. It's our little secret.
The battle system remains largely unchanged from Final Fantasy XIII, but gives players full control from the start. Players immediately have access to three major class roles, and the combat focuses heavily on quickly changing between offensive and defensive formations, like in the original. The player's battle performance is ranked, which provides awards and gives incentive to optimize strategies even within normal battles. One annoyance is that random battles return, but they can be avoided if the player outmaneuver an enemy in time.
A couple of hours into Final Fantasy XIII-2 unlocks the ability to essentially train the series equivalent of a Pokemon to fight in your party. While there are some strategies in choosing specific monsters, for the most part they simply fill an additional slot to complete a three person party.
Final Fantasy XIII-2 is not the greatest JRPG or Final Fantasy, but the changes to the pacing, level design and some of the story remedies many of the most hated aspects of Final Fantasy XIII.
Like many 3DS owners, I sat down with The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds over the holiday season. My first Zelda title was A Link to the Past on the Super Nintendo, but for some reason the two-dimensional, isometric gameplay never resonated with me. The fully 3D titles, from Ocarina of Time on the Nintendo 64 and beyond, have always impressed me with their larger sense of scale and more in depth combat features.
So while A Link Between Worlds fails to light a spark of gaming love in my heart, it makes me excited for what the next console entry in the Zelda series may have to offer.
The Legend of Zelda series has been in a rut on the home consoles, which became a noticeable issue with Twilight Princess for the Wii and Nintendo Gamecube in 2006. The game is essentially the traditional 3D Zelda formula on steroids. It is cumulative of everything that came before that, but now bigger, better and prettier. However, it did little to add to the franchise, unless you count blinding players with bloom lighting.
Skyward Sword, released on the Wii in late 2011, did take some steps to add new aspects to the series. The game introduces a larger cast of memorable characters, implements a crafting system to upgrade equipment, and focuses on new enemy designs to make use of Wii MotionPlus, yet it fails to shake off the shell of older Zelda titles and retreats to the standard formula.
Most of the new cast is phased out out mid-way through the story in favor of focusing on Link and Zelda, the item-based dungeons persist and less enemies in the later half of the game have elements tied to the sword controls.
A Link Between Worlds succeeds at freeing the Zelda franchise where Skyward Sword was unable to, and acts as Twilight Princess' near polar opposite. Outside of the setting, A Link Between Worlds breaks down what would often be considered fundamentals of the Zelda franchise. The dungeon and item cycle has been completely reworked. You can now tackle dungeons in almost any order and essential items are available through stores. Instead dungeons feature optional pieces of equipment.
These optional treasures have to be tracked down by the players on their own, where before they'd be led to them through a sequence of linear events to a mandatory treasure chest. Dungeons built around specific items still exist, but they are the exception rather than the rule. Free-form dungeons take precedence, allowing you to tackle them with whatever set of equipment you desire. That's not even mentioning Link's ability to merge with walls which challenges players to throw out their expectations when it comes to traditional Zelda problem solving.
Unlike Twilight Princess and Skyward Sword ,which take hours to truly begin, A Link Between Worlds is quick to start and the entire overworld is available almost immediately. That is something that hasn't been a part of the series since the original The Legend of Zelda released nearly 28 years ago. It doesn't even force you to get a shield, which is often considered an essential aspect of Link's arsenal. It brings back memories of being able to skip the sword in the original release.
My desire for franchises to significantly evolve or change with each entry isn't shared by many, as apparent by the current yearly franchise grind of the gaming industry. So it makes me glad that A Link Between Worlds' changes are so well received. Much of the negative criticism about the title stems from the fact that it's a sequel to A Link to the Past, but I'm fine with that if Nintendo needed a safe foundation to be willing to take the risks that they did.
Now that they have broken down that barrier, I'm hoping it has given them confidence to take the next console entry and continue to tweak and turn aspects of the series to create drastic differences the game's design. A Link Between Worlds may not be my favorite Zelda game, but it's yet another step in building a better future for the Zelda franchise.
It's been almost four years since Cing went out of business. In over a decade of its existence, the company created multiple point-and-click adventure games for Nintendo's platforms. Being a fan of Hotel Dusk: Room 215 on the Nintendo DS, it was sad to see them go as they finished work on the sequel, Last Window: The Secret of Cape West, which only released in Europe and Japan. I imported Last Window years ago, but have saved it for when it felt right to dive in. I finally sat down and completed in a couple of flights over the holidays, and realized I was more disappointed than I should have been about Cing's closure.
Obviously it was a shame to those who lost their jobs, and I hope by this point they've all found some form of employment. But as much as I enjoyed Last Window, the title did little to broaden their horizons.
Cing's DS and Wii experiences always stood out thanks to their novel use of Nintendo's systems and their features, often requiring you to think outside of the game's boundaries. For example: One puzzle in their Wii title, Another Code: R -- A Journey into Lost Memories, requires you to open the Wii's Home menu to reveal the solution. It's a refreshing and sometimes frustrating experience as it requires you to mentally break the fourth wall, often on your own.
After finishing Last Window, a thought crossed my mind: “I could go without playing another title like this, at least any time soon.” Their games didn't evolve after their second release for Nintendo, Hotel Dusk. Sure the novelty puzzles continued to be unique to their games, but they were an expected feature by their fourth title.
Comparing their earlier DS games, Trace Memory and Hotel Dusk, it's easy to see there are some improvements and changes between each release. Hotel Dusk streamlines puzzle elements and the user interface, as well as gives players a more natural view of their surroundings through a first person perspective, where Trace Memory had been isometric.
The tone changed significantly between them. Both are point-and-click adventure games focusing on solving complicated mysteries, but Trace Memory is viewed through the eyes of a young girl trying to find her father. Hotel Dusk is from the perspective of a seasoned detective, and often dealt with more mature and complicated themes.
Their following title, Another Code: R, revisited Trace Memory and felt like a step back, often undermining the player's intelligence with hand holding and dialog that assumes you have an attention span of less than five minutes. Thankfully this was an issue unique to this entry.
Instead of building off their past successes after stumbling, they simply returned to the Hotel Dusk formula. Sure Last Window had a new story and new characters, but the actual game shell containing it and the story's themes remained unchanged.
It's hard to fully blame Cing. They worked under short development periods and they obviously didn't have room to take risks, or at least that's what I assume as they went bankrupt soon after the release of Last Window. It wouldn't be surprising if it was simply an attempt to stay afloat, hence its safe nature.
I love the story, themes, dialog and characters of Cing's titles. If Kyle Hyde from Hotel Dusk and Last Window was real, I'd have a giant man crush on him and his manly back.
I'm actually curious where the developers went following Cing's bankruptcy. I haven't gone searching for them yet, and I'm not sure if any of them are high profile enough to be tracked.
There has been a renaissance in the point-and-click adventure genre in recent years. Most of the newer titles seem to be based off western developed releases of the past, but I do hope someone takes time to look at Cing's work and build off the foundations they set.
The Wii was my favorite console the last generation. That's not a ridiculous proposition if you think about all the first party successes the platform had with Mario, Zelda, Donkey Kong, and other big Nintendo franchises. Where my love of the system does get a little strange is that I prefer the Wii's third party titles over other consoles.
When it comes down to overall quality, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 had a consistent flow of AAA third-party content, especially in the later years of their life. Most third party Wii titles ended up being these B or C level experiences that needed more time to come together, or were just a bad combination of ideas from the start.
What set the Wii apart was not only a new control scheme, but a whole new audience for the market. Most consumers bought the Wii for Wii Sports, and were largely inexperienced beyond those four mini-games. Third party publishers took a lot shots in the dark, hoping something would stick with this unknown audience. Without a large variety of successful blue prints to work off of, a lot of different styles and approaches were taken to find a hit. It was reminiscent of early 3D games, as developers were trying to figure out what worked best for this new system.
The Wii's hardware sales built a promise of an untapped market many publishers were drawn to. The majority of this new gaming audience was happy with just Wii Sports, but third parties didn't know that at the time.
Some games were aimed at bridging a casual and more traditional gaming experience, often intending to act as a stepping stone between these two experiences. These titles used simple and approachable mechanics, wrapping them in a complete adventure with cut scenes and an involving story.
Dragon Quest Swords was one of the first titles to attempt this style on the Wii, following the simple tale of Blade and his companions to face the evil demon, Xiphos. The title relies on a simple set of skills that you learn to master. The end of the game surprisingly requires an extensive amount of precision using the infrared pointer on the Wii Remote. It's a light experience that hardly lives up to the main Dragon Quest series, but doesn't try to. It was essentially the Wii's Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest.
Before PlayStation Network and Xbox Live Arcade fully came into being, the Wii offered an escape from the growing budgets on other platforms. This allowed for a slew of creative titles.
Lost in Shadow combines two-dinensional combat, platforming and puzzle solving, then designed those mechanics around light sources. The player is trapped in the shadow world and can only traverse in the background from the shadows cast off physical objects, which need to be manipulated to create a path. It replicates ICO's visuals and atmosphere, which makes it a treat on the aging Wii hardware.
The controller itself captured the imaginations of many developers, despite the original Wii Remote being a limited device. The Wii MotionPlus came a bit late, but helped developers fully deliver on the ideas that they had since launch.
Ubisoft's first person brawler, Red Steel 2, in a lot of ways was better than Nintendo's own first party Wii MotionPlus offerings. Motion controls look ridiculously awkward as the player flails about, but Red Steel 2 makes you feel like a bad-ass while doing so. It takes your basic motions and transforms them into a variety of special skills: launching enemies into the air and slamming them to the ground, counter stabbing enemies behind you, and performing a wide variety of executions using your sword and guns. It was the sword fighting Wii game we all wanted, albeit three years after the fact.
It's sad that most third party Wii titles are likely to be forgotten, even though the platform lives on through the Wii U's backwards compatibility.
To avoid falling into a depressive Wii fan coma, there were some titles that received recognition. No More Heroes in particular put the light on Suda 51. The cel-shaded visuals helped with the Wii's technical limitations and matched Suda 51's bizarre style. It features a smart use of the motion controls, where the player uses a satisfying flick of the controller to finish their enemies. It also helps that the game featured some of the most entertaining characters in gaming history.
In a lot of ways, newer consoles are picking up certain elements of the Wii. Kinect is bundled in with every Xbox One. Download services have taken on the burden of strange or experimental releases as the generation has closed out. The Wii remains unique with the system's focus being on its combination of control scheme, broad audience and lower budgets. All those elements came together to help inspire third party publishers to to tackle content with a specific mindset: If Nintendo can do it, we can to.
Little fanfare was made around Attack of the Friday Monsters' initial release. It's not a surprise considering most Nintendo fans were busy celebrating the long-awaited virtual console release of EarthBound. Thanks to Nintendo's Indie Week, Attack of the Friday Monsters has been brought back to the forefront of the 3DS' eShop. It's a title that left a huge impression on me with its child-like innocence and heart-warming characters and dialog.
If you have not heard of Attack of the Friday Monsters yet, it's hardly your fault. There was a lone trailer for the English release, and what is shown offers little insight into what the experience offers. The trailer features a young boy doing a lot of walking around as giant monsters fight in the background. It's accurate, but lacks context.
Once you start a new game, everything becomes clearer as the most charming opening credits scene ever created plays. The 10-year-old protagonist, Sohta, sings about himself, his father's job as a dry cleaner, his mother's love of cooking, and the Japanese town Fuji no Hana, which he recently moved to.
Opening on a Friday morning during the summer of 1971, Sohta is sent out by his family to deliver some laundry to a nearby neighbor. Despite the short trip, he quickly becomes side-tracked into investigating a strange phenomenon: On Friday, giant monsters appear on the outskirts of town.
Finding out the mystery behind the monsters is the driving force to move Sohta from location to location, but getting a glimpse into the life of the townsfolk shows the true quality and love in the writing. The kids cast fake spells on each other, to which the victim of voluntarily falls to the ground. They gossip and make assumptions about monsters, adults and other kids, exaggerating as children often do. The real stories fall within passing dialog of the adults, who often seem somewhat distant as Sohta is oblivious or confused by their troubles.
Fully exploring Fuji no Hana doesn't take long, but characters who populate the it frequently move, often triggering a new set of dialog to enjoy. It's essentially a picture book you can explore. Beautiful hand-drawn scenes set the backdrop. On the edge of the town flat green farm lands stretch across the distance and where it meets the base of mountains, as factories from the next town over pump black smoke into the blue sky. All of this is set to ambient bird and cicada songs mixed with the occasional sound of distant passing trains.
Within the town are small and often wooden houses, which most families both live and run their businesses out of. A peppy TV announcer and wind chimes can be heard from the households as Sohta runs by open doors. Toward the north, a railroad crossing warning signal rings endlessly as trains pass and conductors announce the stop in a monotone voice. This impeccable attention to detail and atmosphere completes Attack of the Friday Monsters as a package.
The majority of us haven't grown up in a 1970s Japan, including myself, but the title tickles the player's childhood nostalgia either way, creating a warm feel-good experience. It may not have any sort of real active challenge as a traditional game does, however it's a world that I do believe many more can fall in love with.