Tag Archives: PlayStation

Einhänder Review

_-Einhander-PlayStation-_Einhänder (Available exclusively on the Sony PlayStation)
ESRB Rating: E
Number of Players: 1
Genre: Shooter
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Developer: Square
Release Date: May 6th, 1998

Parent Talk:Einhänder is rated E for everyone because it doesn’t feature any graphic violence or offensive language. This is the perfect game for everyone in the family, even young kids that are interested in spaceship shooters.

Plays Like: Virtually all shmups play the same except for a few variations here and there, and that’s absolutely correct with Einhänder. You select one of several crafts, and destroy everything on-screen. Along the way you’ll find enemy weapons you can steal, which increase your power, and if you’re really lucky you just might perform well enough to find some unlockable goodies.

Review Basis: I finished the game dozens of times over the years.

During the arcade heyday shooters, shoot ‘em ups, or shmups were the cream of the crop. Virtually every arcade game was a shooter of some sort. Some of the very earliest hits on the Famicom were also shooters, like Gradius, which was one of its first million sellers. The problem is, like all good things, there is such a thing as too much. The entire genre was over-saturated, and ultimately shooters fell out of the spotlight. Today they’re a genre dedicated to only the most hardcore fans. Bullet hell shooters tried to spice things up, but for the most part the genre is long past its prime. The same could be said in 1998, when Square took a chance and developed a shooter that was really unique. While it didn’t spark a revolution, it did prove that even in markets where almost everything has been tried multiple times before, it’s still possible to do something unique.

Ein2The Great:

Perhaps the best feature of Einhänder is its incredible use of moving camera angles. The entire game is fully rendered in 3D, but the action plays on a 2D playing field, and the camera is on rails. Often the camera will swoop in and out around your ship, sometimes even behind, and all the while you have complete control. It’s great because it makes for some really interesting boss battles, and gives the game a really unique flavor.

Ein3The Good:

+ At the game’s onset you have access to three unique ships, with another two waiting to be discovered. At any point you can adjust your ship’s velocity, which is a great touch. The game’s ‘gimmick,’ if you will, is that you have the ability to snatch over a dozen enemy weapons by destroying incoming enemies. Let’s say there’s a powerful enemy ahead that has a wicked looking rocket launcher, well as long as you destroy its body and not the gun itself, you can then steal that weapon for yourself! These unique weapons only have a limited amount of ammo, but it is great fun experimenting and finding the best one for your current situation.

+ The various ships also differ in the way they can hold different weapons. All ships can pivot their secondary weapons either over or below the craft. Some can only hold one secondary weapon, while others can hold three. Selecting the ship you feel most comfortable with is critical as you’ll need all the help you can get. This isn’t an easy shooter, and one hit sends you back to the previous checkpoint. Thankfully the adjustable difficulty levels make the game enjoyable to all.

+ Most PS1-era polygon-based videogame haven’t aged well, but Einhänder is different. It still holds up really well, with enemies nice and detailed, and the environments, while simplistic, still very much looking as they should.

+ Fantastic audio package. Not only is the soundtrack utterly fantastic, but the sound effects themselves pack a punch. This is one of those games where you’re going to want to get your hands on the soundtrack.

Ein4The Lowdown:

I’ve always enjoyed shooters, even though as I get older I find I’m getting worse and worse at them. My hand-eye coordination just isn’t what it used to be. That said, I was really surprised by how much I enjoyed Einhänder today, revisiting it for this review. It’s just creative enough to help separate it from the pack, but retains that classic risk versus reward the genre is known for. If you’re looking for a great shooter, look no further than Einhänder, although do be warned that it’s not cheap and is currently only available on the original PlayStation. Sorry PS3 owners, no PSN version for you.

Final Score: 8/10

Resident Evil Review

Resident EvilResident Evil (Available on the SEGA Saturn, and Sony PlayStation)
ESRB Rating: M
Number of Players: 1
Genre: Survival Horror
Publisher: Capcom
Developer: Capcom
PS1 Release Date: March 30th, 1996
Saturn Release Date: August 31st, 1997

Parent Talk: The original Resident Evil was rated M for mature because of animated violence and animated blood and gore. You’re in a mansion filled with zombies, need I say more? Ok, I will say more, this mansion also has dogs that have returned from the dead, and all manner of other disgusting and decaying creatures. That’s not the only aspect that makes this a mature game, it will actually scare you. There are cheap scares all over the place with things jumping out at you, and the fixed camera angles mean you never know what lies directly in front of you.

Plays Like: The concept here is that you’re trying to locate your missing team member within a giant mansion. The catch is that zombies are everywhere in the mansion, hell hounds are outside preventing you from leaving, and you honestly have no clue what’s going on. By finding clues, solving puzzles, and combating the undead, you just might make it out alive.

Review Basis: Having played this one since 1996, I have completed it on every difficulty level, and multiple times across every platform it has ever been released on. It remains one of my favorite videogames of all time. No bias here.

I’m going to be completely honest with all of you, Resident Evil is one of my favorite videogames of all time. Back when this game came out I had never heard of a ‘Survival Horror’ game before, and I most certainly hadn’t played the Famicom-exclusive Sweet Home so I had never even thought of this wild concept before. You want to lock me inside some giant open 3D area with limited ammo, have me solve puzzles, and try and locate my missing teammate? How am I supposed to do that when the mansion is crawling with all manner of evilness? Therein lies the appeal, and within only a few short minutes of playing, I immediately fell in love. It didn’t hurt that I got the living crap scared out of me within ten minutes of playing. That was the very first time that ever happened to me before, and to be really honest, that feeling has never happened again. It’s Resident Evil on the original PlayStation.

RE1The Great:

‘You’re Dead Scared’ was the original tagline for Resident Evil and boy what a fitting line. I remember way back in April 1996 when a group of my friends were sitting in a basement with the lights out, as we had always done before, and we decided to pop in this new Capcom game. There were four of us there that night, and all four of us would have our gaming lives changed forever thanks to a few cheap scares. If there’s one thing the original Resident Evil did, is it lived up to its namesake, it really did scare everyone who played it. It didn’t matter if you were the biggest fan of horror films, or if you hated them, the minute you grabbed the controller and started to move around the various hallways, you knew anything could be around the next corner, and that feeling of dread slowly crept in. Before you knew it, you were jumping with every new sound you heard. That’s how classics are born, and to this very day, some 18 years after its release, it still proves to be every bit as creepy.

RE2The Good:

+ You all know the story, you know the mansion, and you know the characters, but what you might not realize is that the ultra-cheesy voice acting, and dialogue actually give this game it’s charm. Returning to this legendary game today I thought for sure it would be cringe worthy, but perhaps I’ve got my rose-tinted glasses on, but I found all of these different elements are what makes this game so special. It feels as though you’re playing a cheap b-movie, and that’s exactly what Capcom was going for. This was long before the John Woo-inspired moments from Resident Evil 6.

+ Core gameplay is broken down into solving puzzles, piecing together the story by locating journals or diaries, and combat. Often you’ll have to travel from one portion of the mansion to the next looking for a specific key, or a crest to access further into the depths of the mansion. Puzzles might seem simplistic by today’s standards, and they certainly aren’t logical, but again, they play into the game’s charm. One moment you’re trying to reach a map, the next you’re flipping switches on a series of painting in order to open a chest.

+ Combat is rather simple. Armed with a select few weapons, such as a knife, a handgun, a shotgun, bazooka, and a few others, you’re tasked with exploring each and every room in the mansion, not knowing exactly what enemies are inside. There might be zombies, there might be hell hounds, there might be crows, or there might be something else entirely. The catch is that there are typically more enemies in the mansion than you have the ammo to dispose of. This plays into the whole ‘survival’ aspect of the freshly coined term ‘Survival Horror’. You’re constantly weighing your options of using your ammo to take out the slow moving zombies, or saving said ammo for more powerful enemies you might run into later on. Health is also not easy to come by, so this juggling act is always on your mind. When you do leave enemies behind, odds are very good you won’t remember which room you left them in so be prepared to get scared all over again the hour or two later when you come by this way again.

+ Item management is also an extremely important element of Resident Evil. Not only do you have to conserve ammo, and health, but you need to make use of special storage units in order to keep additional items you can’t carry. At any given moment you can hold only eight items, and you don’t have the option of dropping items on the ground to pick them up later on. This means you’re going to have to make proper use of the storage units in order to keep everything you happen to find. Thankfully the storage units are magically connected to one another so you don’t need to backtrack all through the mansion to get your items, all you have to do is find another safe room with another storage unit and you’ll have full access to all your goodies.

+ Fixed camera angles were a genius way of solving crazy camera problems that were plaguing many early 3D games of the time. If you didn’t have a camera to worry about, the thought was you could just enjoy the experience, and for the most part that’s true. The camera angles only enhance the fear factor because you never know what’s going to pop out in front of you. On the downside though there are situations where you’ll be attacked by an enemy you never knew was even there.

+ The audio holds up perfectly, with crisp and clear music playing during key scenes, but for the most part the audio takes a backseat to the ambient noises. This was one of the first games I can remember of that really emphasized background noise. You wanted to have complete quiet because you needed to hear the moaning of the zombies, or the pitter patter of…something else. The voice acting as also brilliant.

RE3The So-So:

+/- Resident Evil was one of the first big console games to utilize ‘tank controls’ meaning your character always moves forward with up on the d-pad, and left and right will pivot their position in the 3D space in the appropriate direction. These controls have been blasted by reviewers, and gamers alike, although personally I’ve never had issues with them.

+/- The pre-rendered graphics still look fairly decent, although the character models are extremely rough around the edges. Enemies are also made up of low polygon counts. But you can easily make out what they’re supposed to be. I like the nostalgic looks, but certainly others who have never played the game before will most likely think the dated visuals distract from the overall package.

RE4The Lowdown:

Resident Evil was a landmark videogame. It was one of the first games that really scared people, it ushered in this new approach to action games, hell it even ushered in the whole ‘Survival Horror’ sub-genre, which is still going strong almost twenty years later. Most people who are new to gaming, or who have never played this version of the game and are curious to see what all the fuss is about, can easily find a copy on the PlayStation Network, or they can try their hand on the radically improved GameCube remake, which just so happens to be the very best remake of all time, but that’s for another review.

Final Score: 8.5/10

Community Question – What Do You Think of PlayStation Now?

PlayStation Now will allow you to stream previously released PlayStation hits, up to and including games from the PS3 era like The Last of Us, on devices such as the PlayStation 4, Vita, and even your smartphone. What do you all think of this newly announced service?

Dragon’s Crown Review

dragonscrown02Dragon’s Crown (Available on PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Vita)
ESRB Rating: T
Number of Players: 1-4
Genre: Action/RPG
Publisher: Atlus
Developer: Vanillaware, Atlus
Release Date: August 6th, 2013
PS3 Price: $49.99
PS Vita Price: $39.99

PS3 vs. Vita: There aren’t many differences between the two versions. The Vita version has all of the content found in the home console version. It’s easier to gather around friends and play together with the home console version, though the handheld version is $10 cheaper and the pointer controls feel much more natural on the Vita. The Vita version seems to slow down more frequently during gameplay though, especially in the fights with the Kraken and the Goblin Gate. You can transfer save data between the two versions, though unfortunately cross-buy and cross-play features are not available.

Parent Talk: Dragon’s Crown doesn’t have any blood or gore, but it does have highly sexualized character designs. The character designs are meant to reference Dungeons and Dragons and Weird Tales/Conan the Barbarian, which had very scantily clad characters, but it may make some people feel uncomfortable, especially parents with young children.

Plays like: Classic arcade brawlers with a twist like Capcom’s Dungeons and Dragons: Tower of Doom (and the recently re-released Dungeons and Dragons: Chronicles of Mystara), as well as the Golden Axe series. Dragon’s Crown is a beat ‘em up game at its core, throwing you against hordes of enemies in a semi-2D field, but it has adventure and role-playing elements as well. Also, if you enjoyed Code of Princess, you’ll really love this game.

Review Basis: Completed the Elf campaign, played locally and online, currently on Hard mode, started campaigns with the Fighter, Wizard, and Sorceress.

dragonscrown05

Vanillaware deserves a lot of love, whether or not many gamers know it already. They’ve been keeping 2D gaming alive with excellent titles like Odin Sphere and Muramasa: The Demon Blade (my personal favorite of the bunch). Dragon’s Crown fits squarely in with its forebears, because it thoroughly embraces its 2D heritage and manages to be fresh and interesting at the same time. While Odin Sphere was more of a single-player RPG and Muramasa was more of a Metroidvania-style adventure game, Dragon’s Crown is more of a Golden Axe-like arcade brawler. Yet also like its kin, Dragon’s Crown manages to make itself distinct, thanks to an interesting array of characters and a surprising amount of depth.

The Great:

Wonderful, nostalgic, 2D brawling. Dragon’s Crown is a throwback to classic arcade-style games, but given a modern twist. Part of the game’s charm is that it seems like a mindless, fun, hack-and-slash game at first glance, but hides a layer of depth beneath the surface. Destructoid probably put it best, calling the game a “technical brawler.” It doesn’t have the insane move-set of a typical fighting game, but each character has a unique move-set, a character-specific skill tree, and a wide variety of equipment at his or her disposal. Deciding who to go with and how to spec characters can make your adventure that much more successful.

The Good:

+ Absolutely stunning artwork. Though the character designs drew some ire from people, I’ll go out and defend it: George Kamitani’s artwork is absolutely wonderful and he has a true sense of style. The designs are meant to pay homage to the stylized look of Weird Tales/Conan the Barbarian, Dungeons and Dragons, Golden Axe, and perhaps Record of Lodoss War. I do agree that it’s highly exaggerated, but that’s the point of the characters. I personally prefer the aesthetic of Muramasa more, but that’s because I’m more interested in the Japanese mythology background and characters from that game. No matter which you prefer, it’s impossible to deny that the highly detailed characters and the amazing monsters really show that 2D artwork can still impress in the HD era. The dilapidated ruins, sprawling ruins, ornate castles, and dank waterways feel nostalgic rather than cliché. The characters have a sense of personality and life. The game looks especially beautiful on the Vita’s OLED widescreen. It’s quite possibly the most beautiful game on that system.

+ A diverse cast. There are six playable character types: Elf, Fighter, Amazon, Sorceress, Wizard, and Dwarf. While you cannot customize your character like in some fantasy role-playing games, each character has unique gimmicks. The Fighter has a wide array of sword attacks, can block with his shield, charge through enemies, and perform powerful combination attacks. However, the Wizard can create familiars out of wood and rain down fiery destruction. Each character gets access to a common skill tree as well as a character-specific skill tree. The Elf character, for example, can get access to a larger quiver, a better charged-shot skill, and more. You can build your character differently by focusing on different skills and changing your equipment list. I’ve spent most of my time playing as the Elf character, which is nimble and graceful. She can quickly unload a volley of arrows, but also unleash quick kick attack combos, which makes her a fun character to play.

+ Variety of equipment options. Most beat ‘em up games just set you own your way with a basic weapon and an occasional power-up. That is not the case here. Over the course of the game, you can open chests and get new gear, including weapons, armor, belts, necklaces, greaves, etc. Each piece of gear is ranked between E through S. E ranked gear tends to not offer any perks, while S ranked gear tends to have more passive bonuses. You can even purchase multiple equipment bags so that you can swap out different item sets between levels. You can spec one item list for finding items and increasing your chances of getting great loot. You can have up to 500 pieces of loot in your main equipment list, so you’re never pressured to start selling off your gear. Your equipment actually has a durability gauge as well. If you use your equipment too often, it may break, so you have to go to the shop and repair it. Though you may find that appraising a weapon you found may be the better option.

dragonscrown03

 + Items and power-ups. In addition to the equipment system mentioned above, you can also find limited-use weapons and items, such as crossbows, daggers, and torches. You need torches to ward off ghosts and bombs are needed to blow up secret passages. You can even mount certain monsters and ride them around!

+ Partner system. Even if you’re playing alone, you still have options. You can play locally or online of course, but if you prefer, you can resurrect other characters to help you. If you find bones in a level, you can take them to the local priest and revive them. These partner characters can’t level up or change equipment, so you’re encouraged to manage these partners carefully. Bury the bones if you don’t need to revive them and then part ways with them after you’ve adventured for some time.  If you bury the bones, you may be rewarded with a bonus item as well.

+ Magic system. Of course, the Sorceress and the Wizard have spells at their disposal, but there’s also a rune system as well. You can purchase several runes from the wizard Lucain, who looks suspiciously like Lord of the Ring’s Gandalf.  When you enter a level, you may find inscriptions strewn about the landscape. You can select the runes via a point-and-click style control system and then combine them with your own to cast a variety of spells. By combining specific runes, you can heal your characters, open hidden passages, petrify enemies, and more. After you uncover a rune combination, it will be recorded in Lucain’s rune guide. Sometimes it’s too hectic to select the runes while fighting enemies and renders some of the attack-based rune spells somewhat ineffective, but it’s an interesting mechanic.

+ Multiple pathways, multiple difficulties. When you first play the game, everything is very straightforward. You go through a basic tutorial, undertake a basic quest, and then gradually reach new areas. Once you get far enough, you can get a “second quest” in each area. Once you finally clear each level and get all of the talismans, you can challenge the dragon in the hopes of defeating it and restoring the land. However, that’s just part of your quest. Beating the dragon once clears the game on “Normal” and revives on the goddesses, represented as a statute in the church. You can then play the game again on Hard, and then again on Nightmare, in the hopes of reviving the other goddesses. Your level cap increases on each mode, going from level 35 on Normal, to 65 on Hard, to 99 on Nightmare. I completed the Normal mode in about 15 hours after completing all of the quests, and going through the remaining modes is not a breeze either. The bosses become more challenging and you also gain access to a new labyrinth level, which is basically like a remixed tower consisting of various sections of other levels. Most levels only take about 10 minutes or less to beat, making the game ideal for short bursts of play.

+ Both English and Japanese audio is available.

+ There are multiple color schemes for each character.

+ Continuous play option. Levels don’t take much time to complete, but there’s an interesting hook that comes after beating a stage—you can choose to keep going in the hopes of getting added rewards, but risk becoming worn out. After each stage, you may get a bonus incentive, whether it’s added gold or score bonuses. However, if you use your equipment too long, it might break, making it less effective in combat. You also have to worry about how many life points your characters have, because after a certain amount of revives, you have to start shelling out money to revive your comrades. It’s a careful balancing act. Do you risk braving the next level? Or do you go home and rest, repair your equipment, and prepare for the next adventure? However, you may occasionally get the option to heal between adventures by feasting over the campfire.

+ Quests. Each level already has a secondary path to discover and alternate boss to fight, but you can also revisit levels to satisfy quest objectives. Some quests ask you to defeat a number of enemies, for example. After completing a quest, you get a piece of art with a short story. It’s simple, but rewarding, and may remind many gamers of Lost Odyssey. I became more interested in finishing the quests just to see the various art pieces and stories, rather than getting the quest bonuses and items.

+ Multiplayer. One of the big draws of Dragon’s Crown is the multiplayer. You can easily drop in and out of online plays, making play seamless and quick. I joined a game in a few seconds and experienced no lag whatsoever.  I also played with a friend locally and everything was seamless. You can drop in and drop out in the middle of levels, making joining games less cumbersome.

+ Music. The music is just excellent. Composed by Hitoshi Sakimoto, Dragon’s Crown score perfectly fits the fantasy aesthetic. Some of Sakimoto’s work includes Tactics Ogre, Vagrant Story, and Final Fantasy Tactics, which should give you an idea of its epic scope.

+ The fantasy landscape. Playing Dragon’s Crown is like reliving a session of Dungeons and Dragon’s mixed with a game of Golden Axe at the same time. The narrator perfectly complements the adventure with lines that make you feel as though you’re experiencing a tabletop adventure. The game play is reminiscent of classic arcade beat ‘em up, but the sparse story segments still manage to have personality and charm thanks to the dungeon master-like proclamations from the narrator. You can even access other narrator voices as well. The adventure is remarkably simple in scope, but that’s what makes it endearing—you have to defeat the dragon and save the land. It’s not bogged down with brooding characters or meandering plot threads.

+ Cross Save option easily lets you transfer your save data between the PS3 and Vita versions. You can upload your save data on one platform and then download the data on the other, so you can pick up where you left off.

dragonscrown04

The Bad:

-The pointer controls on PS3. Controlling Rannie the Thief and activating runes is interesting, but the pointer controls on the PS3 are a bit awkward. It’s not necessarily that bad, and considering that it would otherwise be impossible to control Rannie at the same time, it’s a somewhat necessary evil. Many times, I wouldn’t activate runes or move Rannie until I cleared out enemies because it was difficult to do both, but the runes had attack-focused abilities, thus completely useless by the time I cleared out the enemies. This is a very minor complaint. The Vita version avoids it completely, because the touch controls are significantly quicker and easier.

-Stiffness. Dragon’s Crown is a 2D brawler, but it has a pseudo-3D plane like other arcade brawlers. And like those games, it also can be a bit awkward at first. This was especially problematic when playing as the Elf, when precision is required. Sometimes I would barely miss my arrow strikes because I misjudged the enemy’s hit box. Using the analog stick makes movement a bit easier, but then running became more awkward, because you have to hold the attack button down to run. The d-pad makes running easier (with a simple double tap), but then lining up to attack enemies is a bit trickier. This issue goes away in time and to be fair, it’s just a matter of getting used to the game’s controls and quirks. After some time, I was able to easily land hits.

-Even with the option to replay levels, do quests, and explore hidden routes, the action can get a bit repetitive. You’ll be fighting the same bosses several times, you’ll see the same levels several times, and you’ll have to run through the same challenges. If you play the game with other characters, you’ll have to redo the same challenges and stages. Playing on multiplayer alleviates the tedium and the game does remain fun to play for quite some time, but if you’re on your own, it does drone on a bit.

-Unfortunately, you cannot customize your character’s appearance and equipment doesn’t seem to change the look of the character. Also, there aren’t variations of the characters—if you select the Elf, there’s only the female Elf character, for example. The six characters are very well developed and designed, and the character art is incredibly intricate, so I can understand why they don’t have the added customization options. Still, it would have been nice to have other options for these characters.

-Sadly no Cross Play feature.

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The Ugly:

Occasional slowdown. This issue was more prevalent on the Vita version, especially during more hectic boss fights like the Kraken. I rarely had this issue with the PS3 version.

The Lowdown:

If you like classic arcade games and are a fan of 2D action, you’ll find a lot to love in Dragon’s Crown. It’s one of the best games of its kind, as a brawler with depth and heart. For a game in this genre to last more than a few hours is a feat in itself, so one that lasts a dozen is a godsend.

Score: 9/10

Why a Wii U Price Drop Needs to Happen

Anyone that owns a Wii U can proclaim without a doubt that it’s a fantastic system. There are a few great games for it, an awesome (if underused) tablet-like controller, and the virtual console, which will always be one of Nintendo’s best kept exclusive feature. The problem is that the Wii U doesn’t get much love by the gaming world. Most view it as a inferior console. While it’s true that it’s specs are extremely outdated (especially compared to the newer consoles), the attractive price-point kind of made up for it at the time. However, things are about to change soon. The PlayStation 4 is about to release for a retail price of $399.99. Let’s face it, the basic Wii U model at $299.99 is not worth it. 4GB of memory is laughable. At $349.99, the deluxe model is only $50 cheaper than a brand spanking new PS4. There’s no way consumers are gonna opt for the Wii U when they can buy a powerful true next-gen machine for just a few more dollars.

The gamepad rocks but it doesn't seem to attract customers.
The GamePad rocks, but it doesn’t seem to attract customers.

Third party support is dropping left and right. Everyday you hear news of another company either cancelling it’s Wii U support, or dropping high profile exclusives on other systems. First it was Rayman Legends, one of the only big guns that was supposed to hit the Wii U in Q1, then Deus Ex: Human Revolution Director’s Cut got the same treatment, a once Wii U exclusive now hitting every other system. EA doesn’t seem to have one single title in development while Square-Enix announced Kingdom Hearts 3 for everything but the Wii U. That’s another reason why the price needs to drop, Nintendo absolutely needs to sell more Wii U’s if they ever hope to gain support back.

While it’s absolutely true that the 3DS faced a similar situation at first, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the Wii U will be a great comeback story as well. The 3DS got a truckload of quality titles and never let go since. The Wii U seems to be on the right track with Pikmin 3, Zelda HD, Super Mario 3D World and Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze all hitting before the end of the year. With Mario Kart 8 and Super Smash Brothers Wii U also set for 2014 releases, the future seems bright. However, without third party support, you can be sure that we will see many more game droughts with next to no new releases like Wii U owners have been experiencing since launch.

Will 3D World have the same impact?
Will 3D World have the same impact?

The biggest issue Nintendo seems to be forgetting is the following. While Nintendo hopes that the Wii U’s upcoming triple A titles will help detonate sales like it did with the 3DS, they are negating one major fact. The 3DS also received an $80 price drop months before the quality titles started pouring in. Without a similar incentive, the Wii U seems doomed. Sure it will indeed move some units this holiday season. It has arguably the best lineup of games in the last quarter of 2013, but with a simple $50 drop, bringing both SKUs down to $249.99 and $299.99 respectively, Nintendo could make a much bigger impact. Not only would they have all the killer games that would sell systems, they would also draw in a large number of consumers with an attractive price point. This simply needs to happen!

However, it seems less likely every day that Nintendo will even consider a reduction of price. This worries me as Nintendo has never had so much trouble with a console before. Third party support is at an all time low, and the system’s sales are far from impressive (As of March 31, 3.45 million units were shipped worldwide, not sold). As a Wii U owner, I fully understand the potential of the system. The problem is, if things go on like this, the Wii U could be dead by early 2015. That’s why something drastic needs to be done in time for the holidays, and a price drop seems like the only logistic step.

E3 2013: Sony Press Conference Live Blog & Stream

Time for Sony to shine! Will they opt out of DRM? Will their exclusives outmatch what Microsoft just revealed? Tune in to find out. We’ll be live blogging the whole thing. Click here to watch the live stream! I’ve also embedded the stream below the chat window for convenience.



Live Video app for Facebook by Ustream

Best instruction video of all time.

Sony Officially Closes Its Liverpool Studio

One of Sony’s oldest partners has officially been shut down.  Originally known as Psygnosis, the developer was formed in 1984, and hit critical and international acclaim with the original wipEout.  Sony actually picked up the developer before they really hit their stride.  In 1993 Sony Electronic Publishing acquired the company and in 1999 the studio was officially brought under the European arm of Sony Computer Entertainment and renamed Liverpool Studio.  Sony issued a press release explaining the move to shut down the studio.

As part of SCE Worldwide Studios, we do regular reviews to ensure that the resources we have can create and produce high quality, innovative and commercially viable projects in an increasingly competitive marketplace. As part of this process, we have reviewed and assessed all current and planned projects for the short and medium term and have decided to make some changes to our European Studios.

It has been decided that Liverpool Studio should be closed. Liverpool Studio has been an important part of SCE Worldwide Studios since the outset of PlayStation, and have contributed greatly to PlayStation over the years. Everyone connected with Liverpool Studio, past and present, can be very proud of their achievements.

However, it was felt that by focusing our investment plans on other Studios that are currently working on exciting new projects, we would be in a stronger position to offer the best possible content for our consumers.

Our Liverpool Facility will continue to operate, housing a number of other vital WWSE and SCEE Departments.

This should not take anything away from the great work WWS are doing and the incredible games and services that we have made, and continue to make, both for this coming year and further in the future.

So there you have it, a very sad day for one of Sony’s first big first-party studios.

Problems Continue to Plague Sony’s Fledging Portable

The Vita has had it rough.  I think everyone can agree on that.  While it had a super impressive launch, the system has virtually disappeared from the headlines since then.  Sure we hear about the odd announcement, and yes last week’s news was awesome, but before that it was as if Sony was in silence mode.  It appears gamers didn’t like the silence as new sales figures have been released and they paint an extremely ugly picture for the PlayStation Vita.

As of June 30, 2012 the PlayStation Vita has sold 2.2 million units worldwide.  On March 31, 2012 Vita sales stood at 1.8 million worldwide.  What does that mean?  It means only 400,000 systems were sold worldwide in April, May and June.  In that exact same timeframe the PSP sold very close to one million units, meaning the older portable is outselling its big brother by a factor of 2:1.  How many people do you know are actually buying a PSP?  Yeah, I don’t know anyone who is either, which is exactly the point here.  If no one you know is buying the PSP, that means even less people are buying the Vita.  Ouch, not a very good way to kick things off.

Thankfully the future looks much brighter thanks to all the Gamescom announcements, but with news like this it does make you wonder what Sony can do to rectify the situation.  The company has sales have been “acceptable” and that they’re having a very hard time convincing third parties to choose Vita over mobile offerings such as the iPhone and Android-based smartphones.  Meanwhile the 3DS has been a sales powerhouse after Nintendo dropped the price of the portable.  The last official numbers we have are from September 2011, and they paint an even uglier picture for the Vita.  Back then the 3DS was at 6.68 million units sold.  So just imagine how far ahead the 3DS is now.

So now it’s your turn to chime in.  It’s clear Sony is at DEFCON 1 with the Vita.  Imagine if you were in charge, what would you do to try and turn things around?  Do you think this will have any impact on what Sony might try to do with the PlayStation 4?

Sony Acquires Gaikai for $380 Million

I have to admit I find this news a little surprising.  For one thing, E3 has come and gone, and news of this magnitude would have rocked the house at the trade show.  Secondly, the higher ups at Gaikai said they wanted at least $500 million for the company and all the patents they hold.  Thirdly, Gaikai just announced a new partnership with Samsung at E3 that would bring the Gaikai platform to all future Samsung Smart TVs.  That brings us to today, where it has just been revealed that Sony will acquire the game-streaming company for $380 million.  That’s far less than the company wanted, which is likely the reason this deal wasn’t announced at E3.  They likely had more negotiation meetings to solidify all the details.

Sony Computer Entertainment’s Andy House said the new acquisition will allow PlayStation fans,

“to instantly enjoy a broad array of content ranging from immersive core games with rich graphics to casual content anytime, anywhere on a variety of internet-connected devices.”

Meanwhile Gaikai CEO David Perry explained Sony is looking to,

“harness the power of the interactive cloud and to continue to grow their ecosystem, to empower developers with new capabilities, to dramatically improve the reach of exciting content and to bring breathtaking new experiences to users worldwide.”

What happens to the Samsung deal at this point in time remains to be seen.  It should also be noted that there are many PC games being offered on the Gaikai platform and the company has many deals already in place.  For example, David Perry was at Google’s I/O event last week where Gaikai was making inroads on mobile devices.  Could we expect the service to remain as global and universal as before, except this time to feature PlayStation games, or will this be completely reworked?  The bottom line is this deal is still very fresh and we’ll have to wait and see what comes next.  What do you guys think of this news?

Resistance: Burning Skies Review

Resistance: Burning Skies (Available only on PlayStation Vita)
ESRB Rating: M
Number of Players: 1 to 8
Genre: FPS
Publisher: SCEA
Developer: Nihilistic
Release Date: May 29th, 2012
PSN: Online Multiplayer

Parent Talk: Burning Skies is rated M for Mature by the Entertainment Software Rating Board because of blood and gore, intense violence, and strong language.  There are scenes where people get decapitated; dead children lay in the streets and other moments featuring gratuitous violence.  While not at the same level as some other M-rated games, clearly this one wasn’t designed with children in mind.

Plays Like: This is the very first FPS I have ever played on a portable that controls exactly as if it were designed for a console.  The dual analog setup is excellent.  That said, the linear narrative and watered down gameplay make this Resistance feel like an early console FPS, and far removed from the franchise its supposed to be apart of.

Review Basis: Finished the entire game on Normal difficulty setting.

Resistance: Burning Skies is an extremely missed opportunity.  Taking place just as the Chimera invade the US, I felt Nihilistic didn’t do enough with the storyline to showcase the shock and awe that would have ensued during an alien invasion.  I mean just imagine the chaos!  As already mentioned the gameplay doesn’t hold up particularly well either.  So what went wrong?

The Great:

Hands-down the very best aspect of Burning Skies is that it proves the Vita can handle a console-like FPS on the go.  The controls are exactly as you’d expect for a twin-stick FPS, they’re spot-on perfect.  While the rest of the package tears away at the seams, it’s obvious another FPS will rise from the ashes to show us all how it’s done.  Perhaps this year’s Call of Duty: Black Ops – Declassified will be just that game.

The Good:

+ Cover mechanics works well for the later portions of the game when the environments open start to open up.  This allows you to pop your head out and take a few shots before ducking back behind cover.

+ Typical Resistance weapon loadout means you won’t see very many surprises, but the weapons featured here are some of the best, including the Carbine, Bullseye, and the much-loved Auger.

+ Weapon enhancements add some variety to these classic weapons.  Players can alter each weapon by selecting two of six different available enhancements.  These range from stronger ammo to increased range, added scope, etc.

+ Touch controls take some getting used to, but they initiate secondary fire on all weapons, and allow players to throw grenades, and perform melee attacks.

+ Some impressive boss rights are another big highlight.  While not overly challenging, they fill the screen nicely, and give you a glimmer of excitement from the previous games in the series.

The So-So:

+/- Nice visual effects are offset by the repetitive corridors that make up the majority of the campaign.  Every building or cave only has one way to traverse it, leading to linear gameplay.  This lack of variety highlights bland level design.

+/- The five hour campaign is fun, but there’s very little incentive to return, even with the New Game + option, which keeps your weapon enhancements for your next play through.

+/- Online multiplayer is fun, but not as deep as you’d expect for a modern FPS.  Up to eight players can choose between three gameplay modes, deathmatch, team deathmatch, and survival.  As you play you gain XP, which can be used to unlock new weapons.  With no voice chat options outside a private party, and limited matchmaking, there’s not much to get excited about.

+/- The audiovisual presentation is a mixed bag.  The audio is virtually non-existent for most of the game, and the graphics verge from excellent to low res.  The soundtrack picks up when you’d expect, but don’t expect the presentation values seen in the PS3 trilogy.

The Bad:

– The story is a huge disappointment.  The Chimera attack the US, and we’re not told much else except that protagonist Tom Riley is trying to locate his family.  There was so much potential for greatness here, but with virtually no cut-scenes, or fleshed out dialogue, players never feel the urgency or chaos that they should.

– The Chimera have been severely downgraded.  No longer will they swarm you in high numbers, nor will they try to flank you.  Every time a battle begins, the Chimera ignore everyone else and come straight for you.  They also take time to get to their shooting positions, which allows you to run up to them and take out most with a simple swing of your fire axe.

The Ugly:

The lack of facial animations really put a strain on some of the key scenes.  You’ll meet several characters who will be blown away right in front of you, but given the lack of emotion they show, you won’t really care.

The Lowdown:

I’m sad to say that the overall package just doesn’t come together as well as the Insomniac-developed Resistance trilogy did on the PS3, nor the Sony Bend developed Resistance: Retribution.  With such a small emphasis on the storyline, and the watered down gameplay, fans will likely be highly disappointed if they’re just coming off Resistance 3.  As a long time fan of the series I did enjoy the quick play through, but expected so much more.  I’m fairly certain you’ll agree if you decide to give this one a spin.

Final Score: 5/10

PS4: Enter the Playstation Orbis

A big story about Sony’s next Playstation broke on Kotaku earlier, courtesy of a source who has provided the website with correct information before, according to writer Luke Plunkett. Here’s the scoop, coupled with my own thoughts on the rumours.

Name: Playstation Orbis

Dropping ‘4’ from the system’s moniker may seem like sacrilege to some, but I’d say it’s about time to move on from the traditional Playstation numbering system. Personally, I like the name Orbis and if it sticks I’ll be happy with that. Rebranding the next Playstation home console seems like a refreshing change to me, and opens the doors for new marketing opportunites. If this is the case, as Kotaku has pointed out, the PS “Orbis” would align with the PS “Vita”, forming the phrase “Orbis Vita[e]”, which means “The circle of life” in Latin. Not only would that make a lot of sense in so far as connecting the two platforms, but it carries some very cool symbolism to boot.

May Not Play Used Games

This is similar to the rumour floating around about the next Xbox, NGP, Durango, or whatever you’d like to call it. Of all the speculation surrounding Orbis, this particular tidbit seems very likely… to an extent. I’m sure publishers would love to take a bite back out of the used game industry, and placing limitations on used games is the way to do it. Now, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the used games industry is going to pack up and move out. If second-hand games were pulled off shelves entirely, it would discourage middle class consumers who love gaming but want or need a few dollars back on their purchase, and severely damage GameStop’s business as well. And as much as the that big retailer can be a thorn in the industry’s side in one regard, do hardware makers and software publishers actually want GameStop to go bankrupt? That’s doubtful, as it would significantly hurt the public image of the industry and ultimately reduce the retail presence of games.

GameStop: an important retail presence. 

The alternative solution seems to be that if you were to trade in a game, the next person who buys that game would have to pay a fee through Playstation Network to unlock the full content, similar to the online passes enforced by individual publishers this generation. It’s interesting to think of what repercussions this could have on the used games industry. It could very well drive down the value of trade-ins and the selling price of used games, as who’s going to buy a used game for $50 then pay another $20 to ‘unlock’ their game when the new product itself only costs $60? Regardless of the impact, this would give publishers the shoehorn they need to slide into the used game market’s profit margin and take back a considerable amount of money without destroying the infrastructure of the gaming retail business. It seems like the more likely route to me over completely wiping out used games.

Online Authentication of Games

This next rumour wouldn’t be a big surprise if it turned out true, as PC game publishers have been doing this for years. Basically, the idea seems to be that before being able to start up a game you’ve just purchased (whether on Blu-Ray or via PSN), you would need to authenticate the product online. This would tie into the strategy for cutting out used games discussed above. The game would be locked to a specific PSN account, preventing it from being exchanged among friends or resold as easily. I don’t think that would necessarily stop you from bringing a game to play at a friend’s house as long as you’re logged onto the account said game was downloaded with. It’s a slap to people who purchase used games, but a logical step for Sony to cut out piracy as well as to seize more profits for software publishers.

Hate this? Well, you’re going to see more of it.

However, Jarrod raised a good question in Episode 9 of our Canadian Gamers podcast (check it out to listen in on a great discussion). Considering Sony’s status as a global publisher, what exactly would this mean on the international stage? There are many areas of the world Sony caters to wherein the infrastructure is not at the level necessary to provide internet access to the majority of consumers. How would Sony handle that issue? Would they offer an alternative to these countries by dropping the authentication altogether, or would they sell codes of some sort via retail? One thing is for certain: online authentication would seriously alienate these user bases. It will be interesting to see how Sony approaches the matter if they indeed go down this route.

Backwards Compatibility Canned

As much as I’d like this rumour to turn out false, it seems very likely that Sony will pull the feature that has been apart of their console lineup for over a decade and a half. The process already began with the PS3 when PS2 backwards compatibility was quickly stripped from new SKUs within a couple years of the system’s launch. PS1 backwards compatibility remains, but if you want to slay Heartless in Kingdom Hearts II you have to dig out your Playstation 2 to get the job done. The lack of backwards compatibility will escalate with Orbis if Kotaku’s sources are to be believed.

This is a real bother for those of us who love to play older games and only want to have one system hooked up to the television, but in all honesty it’s probably not going to affect the average consumer that much. How often does the everyday user feel the need to bust out a ten year old game? Probably not often, if at all. So, just make sure to hang onto your PS3 in case you get the itch to play some Mass Effect 2 down the road. You wouldn’t want to have to re-buy the game via Playstation Network, after all.

Don’t expect to play PS3 games on Orbis.

Release Date: Holiday 2013

Kotaku’s sources suggest that the new system will drop in a year and a half, just in time for the holiday shopping spree as one would typically expect of a new home console launch. Does that mean we could see the Orbis at E3 this year despite Sony’s denial of the possibility? It’s hard to say. Apart from the above morsels of apparently well-founded speculation, a few more rumours about tech specs came out of Kotaku’s sources, but they’re not much to go on. For those details, check out their original story as linked below.

There’s a lot left to be uncovered, and for all we know this could all be false information, so only time will tell what features are actually apart of Sony’s next generation effort. Regardless, what are your thoughts on the Orbis thus far, assuming these rumours pan out and become reality?

Source: Kotaku

Editorial: Japanese Gaming Doesn’t Need Saving

NOTE: This is an editorial piece by Timothy MacKenzie. The comments and views expressed therein do not necessarily represent Project COE as a whole.

Chances are, in one popular media site or another, you’ve read a statement that either implies or outright proclaims Japanese game development is irrelevant. During this generation, there has been a growing sentiment among gamers (particularly those in the United States), that Japanese game designers no longer “understand” what it means to create a quality game or that the torch has officially been passed to Western game developers. The glory days of Japanese gaming on the Super NES and PlayStation have given rise to a swath of popular Western IPs like Uncharted, God of War, and Call of Duty. There is truth to that. Mainstream gaming appeal in the West is undeniably strong, thanks to a flurry of excellent content, new IPs, new risks, and new strategies. However, I do find fault with saying another country’s contributions are entirely irrelevant.

I’m here to tell you that to dismiss Japanese game developers is not only misguided, it’s just plain silly. I’ll give you full disclosure here: I’m a huge gaming nerd. I’m also a fanatic for Japanese gaming, animation, and culture. Yet I still take issue with the pervading sentiment that Japanese gaming is doomed–I’ll tackle each point, one at a time.

“Japanese companies just don’t matter anymore!”

This claim is false. There is simply no other way to approach it. While gamers can choose to spin this statement, and chances are some media analysts and journalists have chosen to embrace this mantra, the fact remains that two out of the three major current hardware manufacturers are of Japanese origin. Sony and Nintendo are not exactly bit players in the video game market either. This would be a different case if Microsoft was utterly dominating the market share, but that’s far from the truth. The fact remains that it was the Wii that “won” this generation and Sony’s performance is far from shabby. When “Nintendo” and “Sony” remain has viable terms in the gaming zeitgeist and characters like Mario remain a huge part of gamer culture, I take issue with the notion that Japanese gaming no longer has any importance.

Who doesn't know Mario?

Critics of Japanese game companies will obviously point to the lagging sales of the Nintendo Wii (and the slow start of the 3DS, which has resulted in a loss for Nintendo) as a sign of a decline in hardware relevancy. However, the 3DS has performed far better than other noteworthy failure, the Virtual Boy. It has also performed better in the first eight months of its life than the Nintendo DS did in its entire first year. In the case of the 3DS though, sales have surged dramatically since the drop and it is far more probable that the system will have a healthy, profitable lifespan once even more respectable software begins to hit the system. This is already evident thanks to the appearance of Super Mario 3D Land and Mario Kart 7.

Sales of the Nintendo Wii have been lagging, and thus critics have pointed to a drastic decline in Nintendo’s stock. Remember that the Wii launched back in 2006. The system was never intended to last for a 10-year life cycle. Besides, the fact that the system is finally slowing down in sales after about 5 years probably has less to do with Nintendo being in big trouble, and more to do with the fact the Wii has reached a saturation point. It has sold exceptionally well during its lifetime, so wouldn’t it stand to reason that at some point, the market will just not need anymore of said product because everyone already has one? Even with the lagging starting performance of Sony’s Vita machine, we still have to accept that the game public has a strong interest in these game consoles. Many of the problems we attribute aren’t because Microsoft is “crushing” the competition or because there isn’t any room for Japanese games or consoles…it’s a fundamental shift in our views on platforms in general. I think it just goes to show the strength of these game platforms that they’ve managed to hold such strong appeal for so long, staving off attention even from the burgeoning smart phone market. The shift we are seeing in attention is not representative of a decline in quality from Japan-there are still excellent titles produced there. It’s a shift caused by a number of other trends.

“Japanese games suck. Western games are better.”

This is another claim that gamers tend to make, but critics can be guilty of too. Making a base generalization or semantic all-ness statement is something that everyone is guilty of, but it’s still fair to point out that this generalization is simply false.

Throughout the history of video gaming, Japanese-developed games have had a huge impact on both the progress of the industry and the development of video games in popular culture. Japanese companies like Nintendo have such an amazing amount of “soft power” that it’s impossible to ignore. Nintendo products have disseminated around the world and have become staples of popular culture. Super Mario can be seen on t-shirts, candy, belts, and more. Poke’mon is a massive worldwide phenomenon. The Legend of Zelda also commands a huge fanbase and its influence has extended far beyond the sphere of video gaming alone.

The Legend of Zelda has transcended its status as a game. It's part of game culture.

Super Mario Bros. defined side-scrollers for generations to come. Super Mario Bros. 3 further improved on the formula and is considered one of the best platformer games of all-time. Super Mario World re-introduced the series for the Super NES and garners as much love as its predecessors. Super Mario 64 helped usher in 3D platformers with its impressive controls, immersive gameplay and colorful visuals. SEGA’s Sonic the Hedgehog was one of the most popular game characters of the 90s, and was at one point considered more well-known to US audiences than Mickey Mouse. Sonic the Hedgehog 1, 2, and 3 are frequently cited in best games of all time lists.

Metroid introduced an innovative and interesting spin on 2D adventure games. Super Metroid brilliantly refined Nintendo’s formula from the Metroid series and is sometimes referred to as one of the best games of all time on game media lists. The Legend of Zelda defined adventure games for generations to come. The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past further developed the series and introduced many of the series conventions. IGN recently named it the best Super NES game of all time. Ocarina of Time has broad acclaim and has consistently received perfect ratings. Skyward Sword is in a similar position.

Dragon Warrior streamlined the Dungeon-and-Dragons style role-playing game format and is considered the “grandfather” of the Japanese RPG genre. Final Fantasy brought forward more conventions that defined RPGs for years to come, like with its job class system. Final Fantasy II/IV was an amazing step forward in character progression and narrative storytelling video games. Final Fantasy III/VI went one further, and VII is almost single-handedly responsible for the explosion of JRPGs in the PlayStation generation. There are almost too many other noteworthy JRPG franchises to name: Chrono Trigger, Xenogears, Vagrant Story, Parasite Eve, Tales, Earthbound/Mother, Suikoden, etc.

Street Fighter II was not only responsible for the popularity of arcades and the fighting game genre in the 90s (sparking competitors such as Mortal Kombat and King of Fighters), the series has also commanded a huge following in the tournament scene. Street Fighter III: Third Strike defined competitive tournament play and Street Fighter IV re-introduced the fighting game genre to mainstream popularity. The vast majority of fighting game series: Tekken, Virtua Fighter, Dead or Alive, Soul Calibur, Guilty Gear, King of Fighters, BlazBlue, etc, are all the creations of Japanese companies.

If you have any interest in fighting games, you like Japanese gaming.

There are literally hundreds more that could be named. Metal Gear Solid practically invented the stealth action genre. ICO and Shadow of the Colossus command a great deal of critical acclaim. Okami was a fore-runner for Game of the Year in 2006. Cave Story is a major indie-game success story.  To ignore these games and their relevance is insulting. Granted, there are many poorly executed or just plain bad Japanese-developed games, sure. But there are plenty of awful Western games too.

“Well, Japanese games USED to be good. There aren’t any good ones anymore.”

This is another unsubstantiated claim. It can easily be disproven by casually throwing out names of critically well-received games: Super Mario Galaxy, Valkyria Chronicles, Professor Layton, Phoenix Wright, Bayonetta, etc. There are many great Japanese games across multiple platforms and various genres. There are still many talented and respectable Japanese developers that still take prominent roles in game design. Let’s not forget that many great Japanese games have come out in 2011, including: Catherine, Shadows of the Damned, El Shaddai, Ghost Trick, The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, The Legend of Zelda Ocarina of Time 3D, Super Mario 3D Land, Pokemon Black/White, Ys Chronicles, Dragon Quest VI Realms of Revelation, Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3, King of Fighters XIII, Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together, Okamiden, Arcana Heart 3, Sonic Generations, Disgaea 4: A Promise Unforgotten, Kirby’s Return to Dreamland, etc.

If you like Dead Space, you owe a huge debt of gratitude to Resident Evil 4.

There is, however, a noticeable trend that is most likely responsible for the generalization that Japanese gaming doesn’t have a large presence on current generation platforms. The PlayStation 2, Nintendo DS, and PlayStation Portable were, and still are to some degree, popular platforms. This was and is especially true in Japan, where those platforms excelled even beyond their insane success in the United States. As of January 31st, 2011, the PlayStation 2 has sold 150 million units worldwide according to 1up’s reporting. Because of the popularity of these platforms in Japan, Japanese companies chose to spend more time and resources on development for them. Some gamers may question why Japanese software companies didn’t jump ship as quickly into the HD market.

Pretend that it is the year 2005. The Xbox 360 has launched and the PlayStation 3 is on the horizon. You are an executive in a Japanese company. Do you stick with the incredibly popular PlayStation 2, which represents a huge market share and has a large fanbase? Or do you gamble on a brand new system, from a company that is unpopular in your country, which has very little market penetration? The third option is to wait and develop a game for the PlayStation 3. However, game development costs significantly more on the PS3 than the PS2, and again, PS2 has the legacy behind it.

Handheld systems also have a huge following, especially in Japan. They are easy to develop for and do not require as large an investment as an HD console game. Japanese companies did not shy away from HD consoles because they are afraid of competition or because the developers lack ability; such a claim is silly. It was a conscious choice.

We also need to consider that mainstream appeal and popularity are not always synonymous with quality.

“Japanese-developed games are too simple and linear. Western games have more depth and complexity.”

Supporters of this claim tend to point to Western-developed role-playing games versus their Japanese counterparts. It is plain to see that games like Fallout 3, Mass Effect, and The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion do offer more depth and customization than, say, Final Fantasy X, Baten Kaitos, or Tales of Symphonia (all of which are great games). The main problem isn’t necessarily that a game is more or less linear than another. The problem is that we’re projecting a negative context onto one end of the spectrum and glorifying the other side. My argument in return is that customization, or lack thereof, is not an immediate indicator of quality. A simple game can be great. A complex can be bad. It depends on how the game elements work and if the game manages to make the player feel satisfied. There has to be a sense of autonomy (being able to play without feelings of restriction, within reason), viable rewards for any risks taken (i.e. challenge and satisfaction), and a sense of mastery (feelings of accomplishment).

BioWare’s Mass Effect series is noteworthy because it allows players to choose uniquely tailored responses in dialog, customize the lead character’s gender, appearance, and behavior, and so on. This innovation is far from new though. Even JRPGs have used this feature to some degree, an example being the fame system and dialog trees in Skies of Arcadia. These features are meant to evoke a sense of immersion, or a feeling that the player is actually “there,” in the shoes of the main character. This does not, however, automatically make the game “better” or “worse.” It depends on what kind of experience you’re looking for. If the inclusion of dialog trees immediately means a “better fantasy game,” then by that logic, a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure book would be better than Lord of the Rings. See? Contextualization is key to discourse. I can just as easily dismiss Mass Effect by framing it as a bunch of sidequests all loosely connected to an end goal with some morality choices tacked on. Sounds a lot less impressive when framed in a negative context, huh?

Persona is arguably one of the best RPG series of the last decade.

Japanese development company ATLUS has proven that they can provide an excellent spin on the RPG genre with the Persona series. Persona 3 and 4 both combine elements of character building and player preference-fueled customization options with typical Japanese role-playing game conventions. The player takes the role of the main character and can shape the game experience around his or her preferences: this takes the form of joining clubs, interacting with characters, forming and refining relationships, and managing activities. The battle system and general “style” of the game embrace the developer’s heritage, resulting in both satisfaction and familiarity (turn-based menu-driven battle system). It’s not these elements on their own that establishes the game as “good” or “bad,” but how they work together to engage the player. This can be seen as a hybrid approach between both the typical JRPG and the typical Western design approach.

However, there still is nothing “wrong” with having predefined characters and responses, as long as they are engaging and easy to like. Chrono Trigger has resonated deeply with fans because of excellent character design and character development. Fans are easily able to identify characters by their unique mannerisms and behavior. For example, who will you remember more vividly: Cloud Strife from Final Fantasy VII or your custom avatar from Oblivion? Western-role playing games tend to feature “blank slate” characters, where the player is encouraged to explore the game world and assume the role of the protagonist. In Japanese role playing games, the general trend is to put the player in the role of a fly on the wall. Perhaps the best example of this is Baten Kaitos, where the player assumes this role almost literally. Rather than actually play as the main character, the player is a subtle guide, who never physically manifests in the game world.

The prominent trend in Western-developed role-playing games is to give the player a heightened sense of immersion, evoking the sensation that “you” are the hero or anti-hero. Again, look at Fable, Elder Scrolls, Mass Effect, and Fallout. I am in no way asserting that these are bad games. Far from it. They are fantastic. However, gamers should recognize that the degree of customization is a conscious design choice. Valkyria Chronicles has a set of pre-defined characters and a script that the player is unable to meddle with. The lead character, Welkin Gunther, has a set base of values that do not change regardless of what the player desires. This does not make the game any worse than the aforementioned titles though. It just makes it a different kind of experience.

Valkyria Chronicles is one of the best games in the PS3 library and a brilliant RPG.

I’m not implying that all JRPGs are immediately exempt from criticism because of the differences in design philosophy either. There are some Japanese-developed games that just missed the mark for whatever reason, whether it’s shoddy dialog (Star Ocean: The Last Hope) or somewhat poor execution (Resonance of Fate). Few other genres have attracted so much venom during this console generation, especially in reaction to the disappointing HD debut of the Final Fantasy series. However, it’s more than fair to point out that genre, as a whole, still has a lot of potential and should not be dismissed so casually. Xenoblade Chronicles, which was released in Japan and the UK and is gearing up for releasing in the US, has garnered massive critical acclaim. Other JRPGs from this generation, including Eternal Sonata, Tales of Vesperia, and Lost Odyssey, have also received positive praise.

Another common complaint is how gameplay concepts are implemented. Namely, Western developers opt for real-time combat, while many prominent Japanese role-playing games still have turn-based battle systems. Many gamers consider this element a “flaw,” but the truth isn’t so simple. Utilizing a turn-based system is a conscious design choice, which is not good or bad by itself. It depends on how well the game utilizes the system and if it manages to be enjoyable. Are Dragon Quest VIII and Lost Odyssey great games? Absolutely. The turn-based system is not a flaw for people who enjoy that classic style of play. It is clearly an issue that can be interpreted as a matter of preference.

“The Japanese don’t know how to make the industry move forward anymore. Western developers are far more innovative and artistic.”

I would never downplay the success of the developers behind innovative games like Portal 2, LA Noire, or Heavy Rain. They are great game experiences. Go play them. Enjoy.

I will, however, dispute the claim that Japanese developers “don’t know how” to make the industry move forward. That’s nonsense. They’ve done so many times in the past and demonstrate the ability to do so still. Entire genres owe much thanks to Japanese-developed games. Take a look at the action genre. Games like Dead Space and Gears of War owe a large debt of gratitude to Shinji Mikami and the rest of the development team behind Resident Evil 4, due to the over-the-shoulder 3rd person camera angle and impressive action gameplay. I would go so far as to say that without Resident Evil 4, Gears of War and Dead Space probably wouldn’t exist; at least not in the form we know them today. Critics may argue that games like Gears are more inspired from the Unreal games, but compare the gameplay between those games. Even in one of the only 3rd person shooter games in the series, Unreal Championship 2, the perspective, controls, and gameplay are significantly different.

What more can be said about one of the greatest games of the decade?

Games like ICO and Shadows of the Colossus have garnered special attention for their unorthodox and artistic approach. Catherine transcends genres. Japanese developers have even been willing to explore genres rarely touched by Western developers. A great example of this is the “Visual Novel/Adventure” genre, which focuses on lengthy dialog sequences. The Nintendo DS has enjoyed a number of excellent visual novel/adventure games, such as Phoenix Wright, Time Hollow, 999, Hotel Dusk, and Professor Layton. All of these games have enjoyable stories, which range from family friendly (Layton) to mature (999), yet incorporate vastly differently progression and puzzle solving mechanics (finding lies in testimony in Phoenix Wright versus playing the detective in Hotel Dusk).

We know that Japanese developers have done quite a bit for the industry. But we’re not looking at another major flaw in the argument. The above claim insinuates that a game is only “valid” if it does something new, which is ridiculous. Games don’t need to constantly innovate or change boundaries, in the same way that film or literature can re-use common themes and motifs to make something enjoyable throughout the years. Super Mario made platformers fun in the mid 80s. What’s wrong with improving on the formula and re-introducing it for future generations? Super Mario Galaxy 2 didn’t have to dramatically change what is possible in video games for it to be regarded as one of the best games of 2010. Cave Story, the indie smash-hit, was largely inspired from Metroid and Mega Man, but is fun and worthwhile. It’s arguably the most recognizable indie game ever created.

Cave Story is a satisfying, nostalgic adventure.

Catherine is also an excellent step forward for game design. It’s probably one of the few mainstream console games I can point to that is specifically geared towards adults. Opponents of this claim will immediately cite the game’s marketing and then decree “it’s just selling sex to teens!” That is far from the truth. Catherine is actually an excellent game and has one of the best pieces of narrative in a video game. Lead character Vincent begins the game as a sort of thirty-something man-child. He slinks through life while avoiding responsibility. Once his girlfriend reveals to him that she is pregnant and wants to get married, his life spirals into chaos. At night, he’s plagued by terrible nightmares—which is where the game’s “puzzle” element comes in. Climbing the daunting towers of boxes isn’t there just to make Catherine into a tangible “game.” It’s there for a specific design purpose. It is a direct metaphor for tackling the hurdles in adult life. Vincent’s journey is all about taking responsibility and making a choice. The choices are ultimately up to the player, but the point is that the journey is all about having the courage to face responsibility. That’s a far more noteworthy story than a game that revolves around shooting bad guys in the face.

“Why don’t Japanese companies listen to US audiences?”

This is an interesting question to answer. There are many Japanese game companies, several of which have a diverse portfolio of titles. Capcom, Konami, Square-Enix, SEGA, and Namco Bandai have delivered vastly different gaming experiences over the years.

However, it is not quite true that they do not “listen” to gamers in the US at all. We can see that these companies have made large strides in Western territories, at least in some capacity. Capcom, for example, communicates frequently with fans via the company blog, Facebook, and twitter. Company representatives also interact frequently with fans at gaming events, tournaments, and more. Several of their games are directly in response to the condition of the Western market and some are made with a very specific “Western development” mindset. Dead Rising and Lost Planet especially exemplify this, along with the upcoming Dragon’s Dogma.

However, in the cases where the company “ignores” the US, the decision is not always unfounded. For example, Western gamers have given Square-Enix a lot of criticism over the announcements of Final Fantasy X HD. We wanted a Final Fantasy VII remake! Come on, Square-Enix, isn’t that obvious?

Well, let’s slow things down for a second, shall we? Remember how popular that these games are in Square-Enix’s native Japan. What exactly is wrong with developing a game with the motive of pursuing your own market and supporting the industry location that you belong to? It would be like criticizing BioWare for not making the games that Asian fans want most. It just so happens in this case that there are many fans worldwide who like Square-Enix’s games.

I’m in no way trying to give Japanese companies a “pass” for any mistakes made. Several companies have made moves I disagree with. For example, I’m personally annoyed with how Capcom has handled the Mega Man franchise and especially dissatisfied with how the cancellation announcement was delivered. I’m also angered by how Capcom has withheld content for Street Fighter X Tekken and is charging consumers to unlock content that is already on the disk. I’m annoyed with how Square-Enix is just sitting on a mountain of excellent IPs and developer talent but continually just plays it safe. However, Western game companies aren’t exactly totally immune to mistakes. Remember the horse armor DLC for Oblivion? How about the completely useless weapon skins for the Gears of War games? How about the total glitch-fests that are Dead Island and The Elder Scrolls V Skyrim? Or Duke Nukem Forever, which is now an eternal joke in the game industry? How about Western developers completely saturating the market in yearly sequels and needless amounts of shooters?

Here’s the bottom line: The truth is that the “future” of gaming will not be handled by one particular region. Gaming is a global phenomenon. We can all deliver great content that can drive the industry forward…that includes Japan. While the Japanese game industry doesn’t have the same economic might it had in the late 80s and early 90s, it still has a definite presence. Besides, not having a total command on the market doesn’t immediately translate into “completely irrelevant.”

Who's pre-ordering this? Me!

What do you say? Do you have fond memories of Japanese developed games? Are there any upcoming games that you are excited for, like Gravity Rush, Resident Evil 6Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch or Xenoblade Chronicles? Do you think Japanese gaming is doomed?

AT&T Reveals US Pricing For 3G Vita

As you likely know by now, anyone who purchases a 3G Vita in the US starting February 15th (for all your First Edition pre-orderers out there) you only have one choice of 3G provider, and that’s AT&T.  Unlike the Japanese 3G owners who get to use pre-paid cards in different amounts, AT&T will be offering their standard 3G data plans which go for $15 for the 250MB a month plan or $25 for the 2GB plan.  The good news is that no contracts need to be signed so you can only use the service for a month if you so desire.  To make the 3G model more lucrative Sony will be giving away one free game from the PlayStation Network (from a list of likely Sony-made games) to anyone who activates their 3G Vita through AT&T’s service.  That should help offset the $50 premium for the device.

The official Vita launch is on February 22nd, but eager fans can pre-order a First Edition system and receive their system a full week early.

Latest Round Of Next-Gen Rumors Surface

As time goes by we’re going to be hearing more and more about the next-gen console.  Today reports are coming in from all over the net suggesting the next Xbox will ship sometime in late 2013 with Kinect 2.0 bundled in with every machine sold.  By including the new Kinect hardware sources are saying that the hardware will be slightly less powerful than the PS4.  That said, both devices are said to be gearing up for a 2013 release date and that the odds are good Microsoft will launch their system up to four months before the PS4.

Right now these are nothing but rumors, but they seem quite plausible to me.  This year we should start to see both machines wind down somewhat.  Also, don’t be too surprised if both new next-gen consoles get mentioned at this year’s E3.  It seems only logical to start getting people excited about what to expect in the future.

What do you all think of this?

Oh Amazon, You So Silly

Well today was an interesting day.  Not only are we officially back to work, trying to secure all the biggest releases for the first quarter of the year, but we’re out there looking for the latest news to post.  You may have already heard of this story, but I just couldn’t resist and had to post it anyways.  Earlier this morning Amazon.com officially pulled the PlayStation Vita 3G model, saying it was “discontinued by manufacturer.”   Quite shocking wouldn’t you say?

We all know the system has been having a really rough time in Japan since it launched.  Sure the first week was great and all, but after that, BAM sales fell off quickly.  Today the system is being outsold by the original PSP.  Not exactly the best way to start the new year.  So Sony Computer Entertainment America decided to pull the plug on the 3G model for North America, right?  WRONG!  Turns out, as we expected, the 3G model is indeed coming to North America and Amazon simply pulled the plug on the device for no reason whatsoever.

No one loves me :( Oh, but they will...they will!

I’m sure this story will be updated in the coming days, but for now rest easy.  The Vita will be available on February 22nd, or a week earlier if you’re taking part in the First Edition pre-orders.  I thought this was an excellent way to kick off 2012, with a world-ending story.

Just out of curiosity, how many of you have pre-ordered the Vita and if so, which games are you looking forward to?  You know I’ll be here with virtually every launch title as soon as I get my grubby little ones on the device.  Uncharted: Golden Abyss for the win!