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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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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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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.
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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.
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The Crystal Chronicles franchise is one that has taken a few of different forms, but the most drastic change to its foundation was The Crystal Bearers, released on the Wii in 2009.

This video actually has been a long time in the making, so there are some inconsistencies in the footage quality. Most of it was recorded on my old 480i capture card. 

Grand Theft Auto inspiration info source: http://www.gametrailers.com/videos/x1v2ie/final-fantasy-crystal-chronicles–the-crystal-bearers-e3-09–producer-interview