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About
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.
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Oculin
5:00 PM on 06.04.2014



I'm not really sure what I expected coming into Drakengard 3. I've never played a main entry in the Drakengard series, but I fell in love with the spin-off title NIER. While NIER was far from a  AAA polished experience,  what made it stand out was how unique it was. NIER had standard hack n' slash gameplay, but the title constantly experimented by mixing in elements from other genres. Some of the most striking examples were the bullet hell-style boss battles and the text adventure sequences. The story had an amazing localization that perfectly portrayed loveable characters with playful and often foul-mouthed dialog despite being in the middle of devastatingly depressing world. 

 Part of me wanted Drakengard 3 to recapture what NIER was. However, Drakengard 3 is not NIER. So you can throw out most of those expectations.



Drakengard 3 focuses almost entirely on hack n' slash gameplay. Each level is mission based and incredibly linear with narrow corridors and small rooms usually filled with waves of enemies. Most of the foes you encounter do little beyond occasionally attacking, so they essentially just act as fodder. The difficulty slowly climbs, but rarely are there that many challenging situations. Stronger enemies and mini-bosses shift the focus to evasion, but theses foes are relentlessly recycled. It's a repetitive structure that is thankfully still somewhat enjoyable because of the game's variety of weapons. 

Early on the player has a limited arsenal of weapons and basic movesets, which makes the game seem frustratingly simple. However, over a couple of hours the player's options are expanded. There are four weapon types; swords, knuckles, spears and discs and each weapon has three different varieties with small, medium and large sizes. A large number of these weapons have different movesets which can be expanded through upgrading them using gold and materials. The player has the ability to carry one of each type of weapon with them, so they can swap between them mid-combat. Death is rarely an issue outside of carelessness, so it's just a matter of choosing which tool is most efficient for slaying enemies.



Certain instances and boss fights have the player mounting a dragon that can breathe fire, fly around and butt stomp to the ground. Piloting the dragon has its moments, but most of the time you feel like you're stumbling around an arena with awkward controls and camera angles. What should be an empowering experience always feels like a liability. The on rails shooting sections with the dragon fair much better and are a nice distraction from slicing up countless foes.

The overall gameplay experience just feels woefully average. There's no attempt to add any interesting mechanics and the game doesn't play well enough to be impressive for its action alone. Technically the game is a disaster with consistent frame rate issues that sometimes grind the game to a halt. Visually, it seems the least amount of effort needed was put into the graphics, although character models used in the cutscenes are impressive when stacked up against the rest of the game.

The actual game elements of Drakengard 3 just feels like a shell the developers used to hold the story and characters.  

The main story presented from the start is a bit underwhelming. I could bore you with the full details, but the core information you need to know is that you play as Zero who is trying to kill her sisters. These sisters are worshiped as living gods and each has a disciple that can help them summon an angel for combat. When Zero kills one of her sisters, she takes their disciple. This initial story takes up the entirety of the first play through, but rarely goes much deeper than its premise.



What makes Drakengard 3's story interesting is what happens after the first set of credits.  The story continues through multiple timelines that show alternative adventures that Zero takes.  A large portion of these additional storylines focuses on what I assume to be the overarching story of the Drakengard series. This plot involves the recording of multiple timelines and branches in reality. The story does eventually loop around back to the main plot, but not until much later. Without playing the rest of the main series, you can sort of enjoy this taste of a larger tale. Still, it feels like you're missing out on the bigger picture. 

The final branch of the story contains most of the key plot points to wrap up Drakengard 3. Despite this, it feels like the game tries really hard to keep you away from this branch. You'll traverse the same repetitive landscapes multiple times across all the story branches. The final branch in particular requires the player to collect all the weapons in the game to access it, which needs some grinding for gold. Finally, the last boss, while an interesting and cool surprise, is completely unforgiving. Only those who are lucky or just devote hours of time and energy into the fight will likely get past it. After 4 hours of attempts, I gave up and just went ahead and looked up the ending online like a true casual.

As interesting as the story becomes over time,  it isn't the real draw of Drakengard 3. Instead, the characters play a much bigger roll.



The game doesn't gloss over the fact that you are mass murdering soldiers. Zero is essentially a psychopath, who seems to enjoy slicing everyone into pieces. Her dialog is mostly verbally abusing her dragon and disciples, or complaining about how annoying a situation is.

The disciples that follow Zero are just as crazy. Dito is witty but as blood hungry as Zero is, Decadus is calm and priest-like but a masochist who moans at any thought of physical pain, Octa is wise but a sex freak and Cent is a lying asshole. All of this is rounded off by Zero's dragon Mikhail, who is charmingly childish and often clueless about the current situations and conversations. 



As you mindlessly slay through the enemies of Drakengard 3, your chatty party will talk almost non-stop. There's sex talk, threats, bullying and a lot of arguments, but these conversations are the highlight of the game. Everyone's perverted and obsessive attributes are what make them so likeable, even if they're a bit two-dimensional. Each disciple added to your party adds a new personality to the conversations. 

Even with the relatively simple main plot, these characters bend and defy the player's expectations of how they interact with each other and the world. The game is constantly crushing tropes and redirecting the storytelling because of it. What is mostly an average game and difficult to trudge through becomes quite enjoyable thanks to these characters. 

Drakengard 3 is a game of banter. Almost everything exists for the purpose of highlighting the characters and delivering dialog to the player. The gameplay simply acts as a sufficient distraction as you listen to these conversations. It's a couple steps shy of being a bad game, but its focus on characters is enough to make it a unique experience that's hard to regret playing. Well, minus having thrown your PlayStation 3 out the window due to the final boss.

Score: 6.0 / 10

Pros:
 - Solid combat
 - Wide variety of weapons with different weights and movesets.
 - Bizarre and entertaining characters and dialog


Cons:
 - Tedious gameplay
 - Poor visuals and consistent technical issues
 - Weak story
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Recently Nintendo's Wi-Fi functionality across their Wii and Nintendo DS platforms were shutdown. In-game online services and downloadable content are no longer available. Thanks to Nintendo half ignoring online gaming over the last generation, the Wii and DS had the least to lose. The Wii's and DS's online experiences were passable at best and few titles embraced DLC. It's sad to see the online functionality and additional content disappear, but what terrifies me the most is what the future holds for the Wii's online store, WiiWare. 

For now, WiiWare is safe. Nintendo has not announced any plans to shut down the service, but it's inevitable. I'm sure only a few people are as distressed as I am about losing WiiWare. WiiWare never succeed like PlayStation Network and Xbox Live Arcade did, so many will be willing to just write off the service. Unlike DSiWare on Nintendo 3DS, WiiWare hasn't been integrated into the modern eShop store on Wii U. The service only exists on the original Wii and Wii U's backwards compatibility mode. Unless Nintendo bothers to integrate the Wii into the Wii U's main operating system, I can't see them merging the two stores as they did on the 3DS.



WiiWare is not a service known for its high quality games. The Wii overall is a system made up of experimental and budget releases. Wii games were often interesting to look at but were rarely polished enough to be AAA experiences. Like a lot of Wii's software, a large number of WiiWare titles are exclusive to the system.  Games like the wind based platformer LostWinds, the town and dungeon management Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: My Life as a King / Darklord, and the 16-bit style ReBirth series from Konami can't be found anywhere but on WiiWare and are largely considered decent games.

It's rare to have the money and time to play every single game you want to. Probably more than two thirds of my gaming budget and playtime is dedicated to games I've missed out on over my 24 years of existence and from before I was born. WiiWare is a platform I have yet to fully invest my money and time into, so I'm contemplating just dumping money into the service and hoarding games.

It will be a good while into the future, but eventually PSN's PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Portable support and the Xbox 360's XBLA will likely disappear. Many popular games will live on via ports across multiple platforms, but not everything will be salvaged. We already have seen this issue with current retro games that seemingly never get rereleases for one reason or another. In those cases, you can at least still buy an original copy even if it might incinerate your wallet's contents as prices on older games rise.



These services shutting down will end the ability to buy some of these games. There will be the option of not paying for them through hacked systems, emulation and piracy. As long as someone has a copy on a system that can be ripped, it can be preserved. I'm not a fan of piracy. Just thinking about it leaves a bad taste in my mouth. But without any alternatives, hacking and piracy might be the only way to save the future retro of digital download gaming.
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I'm finally giving up on ignoring indie games. They just won't go away. I've gotta deal with them eventually, so it's about time I start playing some. I thought it'd be fitting to make one of my first forays into the space with Cave Story, a title that pre-dates the modern indie movement.

Cave Story was more relevant 10 years ago thanks to using a retro style that had seemingly been abandoned by publishers. Now, there's no shortage of games that tickle that retro itch. But if you take all Cave Story's nostalgic elements and throw them aside, there's still an impressive game underneath.

Cave Story doesn't simply emulate titles of the past. A lot of retro side-scrollers weighed the player to the ground and reduced mobility, which would rack up the challenge. The small and relatively fast character you play as in Cave Story easily maneuvers between enemies. Later on there are opportunities to take advantage of vertical space with an upgradeable jet pack and a machine gun that can be fired downwards to propel the character into the air. The character's mobility adds some freedom from the ground and flying right over enemies while raining bullets down on them from above just feels good. I haven't played that many retro side-scrollers, but I haven't seen many games that offer the level of control that Cave Story does. 



Speaking of upgrading, the weapons in Cave Story have three tiers of levels. Collecting little shards that enemies drop upgrades your weapons. However, taking damage reduces the level of the weapons. The player has a health bar, but it almost becomes a secondary factor. Losing the upgrades on your weapons feels even more devastating than just flat out dying. It helps that the game is forgiving and saves your weapon levels at save points, but losing a level can completely throw you off in a pinch. This system creates a unique incentive for players to avoid damage to stay empowered. 

I didn't particularly like Cave Story's plot, at least not as much as the gameplay. It's about some bunnies that get experimented on to be used as weapons. The premise just didn't resonate with me. However, how it's presented is one of the game's strongest feats.



Early on, a lot of the characters are talkative as the scenario is being set, but the game drastically cuts the amount of dialog later. The story has a minimalistic approach by giving characters just enough lines to establish a likeable personality but keeps their purpose or goals from becoming overbearing. The dialog provides just enough information so that the visual storytelling doesn't come off as overly vague while still letting the player fill in the blanks on their own. All of this combined creates scenarios where a character's actions in the story become even more potent without any supporting dialog for them.

There's a lot more to cave story, but these elements in particular set the game apartment for me. Its presentation gives the vibe of retro love letter, but tearing away the pixely art and chippy tune music doesn't change the fact that there's a fairly unique game underneath.
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With the recent release of Yoshi's Island on the Wii U's Virtual Console, I thought I'd take the time to actually play the game, albeit on my 3DS instead. I was born in1990 and my exposure to the Super Nintendo was limited. I remember playing classics like Super Mario World, Donkey Kong Country and Super Mario Kart, but my tiny toddler brain couldn't really comprehend what was going on. Consoles like the PlayStation and Nintendo 64 are the start of my most significant gaming memories. I have a lot 16-bit experiences to catch up on, and playing Yoshi's Island was an attempt to cross one of these off my list. Despite all the praise for the title, I initially found myself underwhelmed.

It's underplayed in the game's title, but Yoshi's Island is a sequel to Super Mario World. The game plays very much like Super Mario World with a focus precise and challenging platforming, but goes well beyond with its presentation by creating essentially a virtual coloring book to explore. However, the early level design plays it safe with a large focus on standard platforming. New mechanics, like throwing eggs, are available to you, but aren't really used in any significant way in these early levels.



I’ve always been someone who hates more of the same in games and nothing was really pulling me in. I almost gave up on the game during World 3 and started questioning whether I was still interested in trying out 16-bit classic platformers. I just came out of playing Mega Man X a few months ago and I felt a bit lukewarm about that experience as well. What drove me to keep going was that Yoshi’s Island seemed to be laying the groundwork for Super Mario 64′s structure.

Some of the individual rooms have an emphasis on exploration and the developers play with vertical level design. The game doesn't even have a level timer, which does away with usual “just go right fast” mentality of most platformers. Fully exploring these zones leads to finding red coins and hidden flowers to improve your score at the end of each level. While I didn't take on the task of finding all these collectibles, it seems that getting all of them in each world unlocks more levels at the end of the game.



Beyond world three, the more open-ended nature of the levels becomes ingrained in the game's design. What really saved the game for me were the egg throwing mechanics. The eggs just seem like a convenient ranged attack early on, but in the latter half of the game you're avoiding enemy projectiles while carefully taking aim with your eggs. One of the bosses actually requires you to ricochet an egg off the wall and skip it across the water to hit his weak point. Towards the end of the game you start feeling vulnerable without eggs, which leads to another mechanic where you can re-catch your own eggs to conserve your egg ammunition. In some cases, egg management is essential to completing a level.

In the end I still wasn't blown away. Maybe my lackluster impressions comes from playing Yoshi's Island almost two decades after its original release. But, the second half of the game definitely grabbed my attention more than the tried and true gameplay at the beginning.

Please, don't kill me.
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I have a massive backlog that consists of over 200 games, which accounts for almost half of my collection. Depression and frustration overcome me when I open my closet doors. I've only added to this pile over the last two years. However, I have recently completed three games! Well, kind of.

Technically, I simply re-categorized a couple. While some games have clear endings where you've “beaten” them, others titles don't have clear cut completion statuses. I actually have this whole set of rules in my mind about what counts as beating certain games. For example, paying off my debt in an Animal Crossing game creates a win in my book. However, sometimes I end up changing my mind or bending the rules a bit depending on the game. 

Is that cheating? Maybe a little bit. I have my reasons though. Below are three examples of games I recently re-categorized and my reasoning behind each change.



Brain Age: Training Your Brain in Minutes a Day 
Unfinished to Beaten

I haven't thought about Brain Age for a long time and I don't really remember why I had it marked as incomplete. Upon further inspection of the game, I found that completing 20 days of training unlocks all of the training programs. I scrolled my game's calendar all the way back to 2006 to find that I finished 28 days of training in my teenage youth. That sounds like a win to me. 

The Sudoku puzzles included  in the game could be used as a benchmark as well, but the mode remains a side attraction to the brain training mini-games. Completing all the Sudoku puzzles would only add to an attempt to 100 percent the game.



Final Fantasy XI Expansions (PS2) 
Unfinished to Null

I used to play Final Fantasy XI on a PlayStation 2. For those of you who don't know, FFXI is an MMORPG and came with a hard drive that had to be installed into the old fat PS2s. After an incident where my PS2 was left on for almost two years straight (it's a long story), my PS2's hard drive finally fried. 

Despite continuing to play FFXI for another two to three years on PC, I never actually beat any of the expansion packs. The PC version of FFXI leaves a huge black mark on my record with 10 expansions and add-ons packs remaining unfinished in my collection. I removed the PS2 versions because I can no longer play them on my current still living PS2, which is a slim model. R.I.P. PS2 Fat.



Virtua Fighter 4: Evolution 
Unbeaten to Beaten

I didn't plan to reclassify Virtua Fighter 4: Evolution. Initially I positioned the game's Quest mode as the main campaign. Quest mode essentially has the player touring in-game arcades while completing challenges and competing in tournaments with AI players. However, a fundamental problem arose: I am awful at Virtua Fighter, more so than any other fighting game I have played.

In hopes to retain my sanity, I lowered the bar for completion to beating the  arcade mode on normal difficulty, which didn't really work out either. Like a true controller slapping casual, I lowered the difficulty to easy and claimed my trophy there.  Dirty? Yes. Realistically, I would never have had the time and drive to see more. Completing the mode on easy still rolls the credits, so I'll settle for that. 



These seemingly spontaneous changes to rules can backfire. Occasionally a game gets reclassified as unfinished if I feel my past reasoning was flawed. I'm also always finding errors in my game listings. For example, I recently found that I had a single listing for Dead or Alive Ultimate on the Xbox. However, the game is actually a compilation featuring a port of the original Dead or Alive and a remake of Dead or Alive 2. Mistakes like these sadden me as it sets me back on an already impossible task of significantly reducing my backlog.

With my limited free time, impulsive purchasing habits and slight addiction to Final Fantasy XIV, I'm struggling to tear down my list. Occasionally, it can feel like I'm cheating. But if it's justified, I can't really worry too much.

I think and write about my backlog way too much.

Why are you reading this? Go back to playing video games.
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This review was written for my editorial and critical writing class.




The Castlevania franchise dates back to 1986 with its original release on the Nintendo Entertainment System. In the last decade, the series' popularity started to dwindle until the 2010 reboot Castlevania: Lords of Shadow for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 reinvigorated the franchise. Western developer MercuryStream changed the series' direction from an exploration-focused dark fantasy game to an action game more in line with traditional fantasy seen in Dungeons and Dragons and Lord of the Rings. It was praised by reviewers for its polished action and more serious approach to a Castlevania story. Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 builds off that foundation, but not always in the right ways. 

Traditionally, the Castlevania games follow a vampire hunter, usually within the 15th to 18th centuries, who is trying to either destroy or prevent the revival of Dracula. As a series first, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 puts Dracula as the main playable character. A modern-day setting provides fresh locales for the franchise with dark alleyways, laboratories and the city streets to explore. Flashback levels take place in a traditional castle environment, but are a bit dull when put up against the new modern setting.



Despite being the “good guy” in this game, Dracula remains a cruel being. He gives no second thought to drinking the blood of innocent citizens, but Lords of Shadow 2 positions him as the lesser evil compared to Satan, who is trying to take over the world.

Lords of Shadow 2 opens with the back story from the original game and the spin-off Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate and heavily invests in the lore of these titles. Playing at least the original helps with understanding Dracula's motivations and his seemingly ridiculous role as the hero. 

Playing the original game can also harm the player's experience. The combat remains essentially unchanged in Lords of Shadow 2 from the original. The Lords of Shadow series emphasizes performing combos, evading enemy attacks and timing defensive blocks. Playing well without taking any damage restores energy to fuel special attacks. These attacks either boost the player's damage output or allows for Dracula to drain health from enemies. The title rewards the ability to react quickly and play skillfully. 

Upgrading attacks through experience points generates a high level of satisfaction as these upgrades are often substantial improvements. However, Lords of Shadow 2's abilities are near identical to the original's. Worst of all, it actually takes all these abilities away at the beginning of the game, forcing players to rebuild their arsenal of attacks. Taking away these moves after just presenting them all in a tutorial level leaves the combat feeling incomplete during the first few hours of gameplay. For those who have already built their character up in the first game, retreading the same ground hurts the overall sense of progression. 



Most of the enemies found in Lords of Shadow 2 are orc-like vampires that rely heavily on close up melee attacks, similar to the original “Lords of Shadow.” These enemies can perform short smaller strikes that the player can block, or hard hitting single strikes that the player must dodge. “Lords of Shadow 2” does introduce modern-day military units who are heavily armored and have a wide variety of weaponry. Soldiers fire on Dracula from a distance, lay mines and use jet packs to distance themselves from Dracula's ground attacks. These enemies require new strategies to be developed from the standard vampires normally slain, and the change of flow in combat helps freshen up the experience. 

Lord of Shadow 2 introduces new mechanics but as separate stealth missions. Players have to avoid conflict with large soldiers who can almost instantly kill Dracula. Dracula can posses rats, soldiers and scientists to navigate from room to room by unlocking doors or traveling through small holes. These section act as a nice side attraction, but become repetitive throughout the experience. Dracula gaining the ability to transform into mist later on is the only significant addition to these sections, and this power still amounts to hunting down holes in a wall to proceed.

 


These stealth sections limits the player's actions and removes their ability to fight, which feels like a cheap trick. It's performed under the guise of Dracula being too weak from his reawakening to combat heavily armed soldiers, but later feels unjustified when Dracula is fighting towering beasts and large mechanized military armor yet is still unable to engage these soldiers.

That being said, Lords of Shadow 2 should be played without taking the game too seriously. While the original Lords of Shadow followed a holy knight's descent into darkness during service to God, Lords of Shadow 2 has a scene where Satan flies into outer space while riding upon a giant demonic worm. This ridiculous, almost B-movie quality, harkens back to older Castlevania titles and clashes with Dracula's seriousness carried over from the first game.

Lords of Shadow 2 falls short compared to the original as some of the layers added were left a bit rough. However, the stealth segments and modern-day setting offer refreshing variety that wouldn't be in a run-of-the-mill sequel that Lords of Shadow 2 could have been.
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