XBox 360 Universe Straight from the source
  • scissors
    December 29th, 2016GamespotUncategorized

    A few months ago, I reviewed Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE, the pop-idol crossover JRPG between Atlus' Shin Megami Tensei series and Nintendo's Fire Emblem series. In it, I mentioned that the only entry I'd ever played of the former was Shin Megami Tensei IV, bringing up the fact that I enjoyed it quite a lot. That all changed this September when I received a copy of its pseudo-sequel, Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse, from its publisher for review, and I have to say that finishing it left me extremely disappointed.

    Before starting, I'd like to emphasize that while this is based off of a review copy, this is not a review of the game, but a critique of it. As such, I'll be focusing almost exclusively on things that I found disagreeable, while giving not much more than a cursory reference or two to elements that I actually enjoyed. I also must mention that there will be SPOILERS for the entirety of both Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse and the original Shin Megami Tensei IV, so if you haven't already, I'd strongly recommend finishing both games first before reading.

    Chronologically, Apocalypse takes place on a divergent timeline, somewhere near the end of the previous game's Neutral path. It follows the story of the player character Nanashi and his childhood friend Asahi, two demon hunters in training, as they struggle to make a name for themselves in a war-torn Tokyo. Rather than a war of nations, Tokyo finds itself battleground to a war of the realms - a war between Merkabah and Lucifer, angels and demons, heaven and hell.

    There are two major story beats where Apocalypse's timeline diverges from the previous game. The events of the first beat are inextricably tied to the events of the second. The first is with the death and resurrection of Nanashi. Near the beginning of the game, Nanashi and his two demon hunter mentors are slaughtered by a demon called Adramelech. Dagda, the supreme "Good God" of Celtic myth, meets Nanashi in the underworld and offers him a second chance at life in exchange for one thing: his servitude. Nanashi is to become his Godslayer and help Dagda achieve his goal of committing mass deicide and creating a new universe where all life is one with nature and "devoid of all bonds," apparently. The second is when Nanashi releases the seal that imprisons Krishna, Apocalypse's main baddie, which really sets Apocalypse's timeline into full divergence.

    One of my core issues with Apocalypse is that Dagda is an unlikable prick, and remains so throughout the duration of the game. This wouldn't be a problem if not for Dagda's integral role as a narrative and mechanical force meant to persuade the player to "sever their bonds" and go down one of the game's two major moral routes. Dagda doesn't give Nanashi any compelling reasons to agree with his point of view, though. All he does is sit in his little smartphone box and blankly complain about how bonds hold people back, all while the story is doing absolutely everything in its power to argue against that.

    This includes giving Dagda by far the least amount of screen time of any of the major characters, even though he is arguably the most important one. In a lot of ways, Dagda is presented as this game's analog to Burroughs from the last. In the previous game, Burroughs would pop up constantly. Whether it was to congratulate Flynn for completing a mission, to brag about him to other Burroughs, or to reprimand him for being indecisive, she was always a constant presence in that game. Dagda has no such presence, even though he plays a far more vital role in the plot than she was ever intended to.

    Dagda's line of thinking is also completely at odds with his actions. He criticizes other gods for using human beings as mere chess pieces towards their own selfish ends, all while using Nanashi as a puppet for his own goals. He chides with contempt whenever any character shows even the slightest sign of dependency on others, all the while constantly depending on Nanashi himself. He argues in favor of severing bonds, all while forming a bond with Nanashi that persists even when he ultimately achieves his goal. At best, Dagda is a walking contradiction, but at worst he's a critical impediment to the goals and aspirations that Apocalypse strives, but ultimately fails, to achieve.

    Dagda can't be blamed for everything though, because as I said before, the story does everything in its power to work against him by pushing the most sugary narrative of peace and comradery I assume the mainline series has ever seen. The execution of the focus on bonds and companionship on the whole feels very foreign from what I had always assumed were the intended aspirations of mainline Shin Megami Tensei as a franchise. I think it's because this game focuses more on the characters and how they interact with each other, while the previous games focused more on ideas and how they impact people's lives.

    My point is that, in Apocalypse, your party members have no reason to exist from a narrative perspective outside of just being Nanashi's companions. They aren't each embodying separate narrative themes or ideas that the story is trying to discuss or explore.

    In the previous game, Walter existed to embody a philosophy where the strong rule and the weak are ruled upon. Jonathan represented a desire for order amongst ensuing chaos. Now both of these were taken to their absolute worst extremes, and I don't think that either of them are examples of a good way to execute this, but what I'm trying to say is that neither Walter nor Jonathan actually needed to be Flynn's companion for their existence in the story of that game to have had meaning or purpose.

    A FOCUS ON FRIENDSHIP

    Friendship was used then as a vehicle to explore the themes they represented, while in Apocalypse, friendship itself is the theme that every party member represents. There are no real complexities in any of the relationships because every character completely abandons their prior allegiances and values, no matter how deeply ingrained, to join Nanashi and Asahi's random band of misfits by the end. I cannot overstate enough just how much of an issue this is. The theme of Apocalypse is "making or breaking" bonds, not just making them. Because of the way that Nanashi's friends are presented within the context of the story, the Peace vs. Anarchy angle doesn't work as a functional morality system.

    Much is made adieu about the thoughtfulness of the morality systems in mainline Shin Megami Tensei games, but of the two that I've played so far, both have fallen completely flat on their faces in executing them in a compelling way, and both for very similar and very different reasons. Even so, Apocalypse does the seemingly impossible task of doing morality even worse than its predecessor.

    The first thing to make abundantly clear is that the two main paths in the game are in absolutely no way "Neutral" paths like was advertised. Peace is the sugary-sweet good path while Anarchy is the "I'm a monster" evil path. There is no semblance of nuance with the morality here. If you're making the choices you'd make in real life, and you're not a heartless sociopath, you'll get the Peace ending. If you're making choices because you're curious and want to see the Anarchy ending, you'll get the Anarchy ending.

    Apocalypse isn't trying to say something with its morality. It isn't trying to challenge your values and it isn't trying to make you think. The issue is that challenging a player's values is the only real value that morality systems have in video games in the first place. If they aren't making you think, they fail to be functional morality systems, and that's exactly what's happened here. In order to go down the Anarchy route, Nanashi has to literally become just as unlikable a prick as Dagda. The game does absolutely nothing to make Anarchy actually seem like a justifiable or at least "necessary evil" choice. If you're decent, choose Peace. If you're curious, choose Anarchy. That's all it boils down to. With how the game treats morality, Peace gets to have its cake and eat it too, while Anarchy has no cake and doesn't even know what one looks like.

    Even if you absolutely hate every party member in the game, none of them actually give Nanashi any compelling reason to treat them as poorly as he must to earn Anarchy alignment points. What could have actually been more compelling is if each of the characters had to work together against their wills from beginning to end to reach a common end. In this scenario, the "bond" which connects them wouldn't be friendship, but a shared goal: "to survive" or something like that. Apocalypse could've then had each character commit a massive act of betrayal that acts to set the group back, and the player has to then decide whether to maintain their strained bond or sever it forever.

    MORE COMPLICATED RELATIONSHIPS

    Each character is already driven by their previous alliances, so making something like this believable, sympathetic, and true to their characters would write itself. Asahi would be driven by vengeance over the deaths of her mentors and later her father. Nozomi would be dedicated to her commitment to protect the fairies and her allegiance to Nanu. Hallelujah would be committed to the Ashura-Kai, Toki to the Ring of Gaia, and Gaston to Mikado. Isabeau would be committed to protecting Flynn, and the little green intruder just wouldn't exist. It's their alliances to their previous factions which would cause them to "sever bonds" with the group in the way that Dagda wants Nanashi to sever his bonds with them.

    Apocalypse could've even presented different points in the game where each companion was destined to die horrifically unless the player did something which went against their values. Basically, multiple "for the greater good" scenarios. The game could have some characters commit their acts of betrayal before the "death choice," while others would commit their act of betrayal only after they've been saved/spared. This would've made Nanashi's relationships with the various party members complicated, making the matter of severing bonds with them throughout the game far more grey.

    The point is to make the player think and give the game some much needed nuance. If this game's main theme is bonds, and this is a mainline Shin Megami Tensei game, then it should be doing everything in its power to put stress on those bonds and reveal the uncomfortable realities that come with forging them. Doing anything otherwise is far too convenient and serves to undermine the entire game.

    Speaking of convenience, something that Apocalypse has been universally praised for are its plethora of quality of life improvements over Shin Megami Tensei IV and the rest of the franchise in general. While most of the improvements were welcome and make this entry the most polished in the series, I think that they go a bit overboard with many of them. One such improvement over the previous games is that Apocalypse highlights rooms which have NPCs with new dialog by giving those rooms a glowing yellow dialog bubble.

    This is incredibly convenient, and helps exploration feel more focused - great. The problem, however, is that these dialog bubbles are placed on the bottom screen, meaning that players are incentivized to keep their eyes glued to the map instead focusing on the actual world. This is also partially why I don't like that there's no option to turn off the map entirely. Because the map also draws itself in real time, the player is incentivized to stare at the map even more for an idea of where to go next instead of establishing an actual sense of place within the world and familiarizing themselves with the landmarks of the area they're currently in.

    It's a shame because both Apocalypse and the original Shin Megami Tensei IV have excellent dungeon design in that the world itself feels like one organically interconnected dungeon. Every area feels like a place that was once lived in, but is now decrepit, and that tacitly fleshes out Tokyo far beyond what any dialog or story moment could ever hope to convey explicitly. Placing those yellow speech bubble highlights in the world itself, on top of removing the world map from the default bottom screen, would've made traversing Tokyo less convenient, but it also would've forced players to survey their environments more and stay immersed in the setting, rather than just keeping their eyes fixated on the map the whole time.

    DEMONS IN THE OVERWORLD

    Another way by which Apocalypse places more importance on convenience than on player immersion is with demon encounters in the overworld. In Shin Megami Tensei IV, walking about the overworld used to be tense because demons would constantly aggro and try to attack you. Sometimes, just seeing one would freeze you up and keep you cautious and mindful about how you'd move about so as to not let them notice you. Compounded with the punishing difficulty that these games fame themselves on, it made for a truly compelling experience.

    Now, most demons won't attack Nanashi unless he engages with them first, even when they're standing right next to him and staring right at him. This makes Tokyo feel like a much more hospitable place to travel than in the previous game because demons in the overworld are much more docile. This is in stark contrast to the narrative being told, where the people of Tokyo are literally too petrified to even walk outside. If only they knew how friendly these guys really are.

    Apocalypse's alignment mechanic has also become a casualty of unnecessary mechanical streamlining. Shin Megami Tensei IV's point-based alignment system was something I absolutely hated in that game, but it was because of how it was executed. Choices that would ultimately effect which ending you'd get was blatantly telegraphed to the player, not only with a condescending "Choice!" icon, but with Walter and Jonathan constantly butting in to patronizingly telegraph which alignment each choice would steer you towards.

    IF IT'S BROKE, THROW IT AWAY?

    The alignment system had no subtlety, that was my problem with it, but rather than actually fixing that lack of subtlety, Apocalypse instead chooses drain it of all its meaning and impact completely. Absolutely nothing you do in Apocalypse holds any meaningful consequence, because you simply get to choose which ending you get of your own volition. You're only penalized if your choice goes against your alignment, and all it does is cause Nanashi to lose items or demons. It's an annoying inconvenience, rather than a thought provoking consequence.

    It doesn't stop there, though. Apocalypse also sees the return of Healing Springs, a mechanic from Nocturne. Again, while convenient, they serve to give lower stakes to traversing Tokyo, and makes the whole ordeal less tense. I'm actually not against something like this in theory, but the implementation and execution of it here evaporates any sense of threat or menace that the overworld had left. In combination with more hostile demons, the presence of Healing Springs could have created a great juxtaposition between the tension of traveling such a dangerous and unforgiving world and the relief of shelter. Instead, they simply serve as a way to make traversing through the world that extra bit more convenient.

    I'd like to take a moment now to speak on something that's been heavy on my mind for quite a while. It's on the topic of an idea I'd like to call "franchise authenticity." We're all attracted to certain games for certain reasons, and those elements that attract us can cause us to anticipate future iterations in that series of games. It's what turns us into fans. From game to game in a given franchise, some of those elements can change or be spun on its head, but as long as those core elements remain faithful to what initially pulled you in, you're likely to derive at least a little enjoyment out of it.

    What I've been thinking about lately is what those core elements are in any given franchise. Who decides what those elements get to be? What happens when a game in that franchise does away with those core elements to create something new? Does it matter? Is it still a part of that franchise if it doesn't?

    If we're going to be adults about this, the final answer has to be yes, but I don't think that this means that we can't criticize it. I believe that, as being part of a series, there are certain core elements that must be revered and understood. Any game that does otherwise isn't being authentic to the values of the franchise, and should be criticized as such. That's where this term "franchise authenticity" comes from.


    A good, relevant example of this is the recently released Metroid Prime: Federation Force for the 3DS. A lot of fans were upset because, while the game walks like a Metroid game and talks like a Metroid game, it misses the core elements that make it feel like a Metroid game. For Metroid, those elements are exploration, isolation, and a growing sense of power as the game progresses.

    The worry is not so much that these elements exist within the vacuum that is Federation Force, but that some franchise-inauthentic elements could make their way into a mainline Metroid game, whether it's another Prime game or 2D Metroid. It's a worry I echoed myself when I argued that it was actually Prime itself that began to feel as though it lacked some franchise authenticity. The problem with Prime, however, was that it was still a good game. It appropriately founded its own fanbase that felt that it was the foundation by which the authenticity of all other games in the franchise would be compared to.

    I asked before who gets to decide what those elements get to be, and I want so desperately to be able to say that it’s the first landmark game in any given series that does because that's what I personally believe, but the truth is that that's not the case. The fact of the matter is that it's actually fans, as a collective, who get to decide when a game is being franchise authentic, which is why the existence and apparent critical success of Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse terrifies me so much. Because, no matter what I say in this critique, I cannot bring myself to say that it's not an enjoyable game. That is despite its flaws. My biggest issue with it is that it's an incredibly franchise-inauthentic game, but in a few years, me and fans like me won't be the ones who get to decide that, which means that games like this could be what the mainline Shin Megami Tensei games look like going forward.

    There are many definitions of the word "macabre," but perhaps my favorite one describes it as "dwelling on the gruesome." To me, that is at the heart of mainline Shin Megami Tensei's essence. That's what makes any given game in the series franchise authentic, and that's what initially drew me to Shin Megami Tensei IV. Everything that game did, every theme it presented, was in pursuit of making the player dwell on the gruesome, and it's what makes me want to go back and play all of the other games in the series. I'm currently playing through and loving the iOS localization of the first Shin Megami Tensei, in case you're curious.

    To be clear, "dwelling on the gruesome" could mean anything from "dwelling on" a violent death, a horrific truth, an unfavorable decision, or an unfortunate outcome. The operative word here is "dwell," though. The macabre isn't so fixating because it presents you with uncomfortable situations, but because it forces you to contemplate them.

    MACABRE VS. EDGE

    On the other hand, there's "edge." Webster defines edge as having a bold, provocative, or unconventional quality. The important distinction to consider here is that edge is more concerned about how its quality is perceived. That describes almost every semblance of the darker themes that appear in Apocalypse. It's more concerned about looking macabre than actually being macabre. That's why it feels so inauthentic.

    Asahi wasn't killed later in the game because Atlus wanted players to think about the loss of a long-traveled companion - if they did, they wouldn't have revived her in the Peace route, the only route where players would've actually cared that she died. They did it because it makes Shesha look cruel and because it makes Apocalypse look unforgiving. Edge is more concerned about how things appear than how they truly are. Macabre is concerned about forcing you to think about how unpleasant reality truly can be.

    Nikkari and Manabu too. They didn't die early on because Apocalypse wanted the player to contemplate death or the harsh realities of weakness, they died because the developers wanted to make Tokyo look unrelenting. They were purely a plot device meant to give Tokyo the aesthetic of menace without needing to give it any of the feel. That's why I didn't mention them by name in the beginning of this critique when I brought them up. I genuinely didn't remember what their names were because I genuinely have trouble remembering that they were even a part of the game. Without substance, they served as little more than unmemorable plot devices.

    CONTEXT IS PARAMOUNT

    You know who I do remember, though? Issachar, from the original game. Arguably more of a shameless plot device than Nikkari and Manabu were, Issachar was also killed off at the beginning of his game with very little time to get to know or like him. And yet he was infinitely more memorable. Why is that? Well it's context, of course. Issachar’s death was contextualized by two things: the element of classism between the Luxurors and the Filthy Casuals of Mikado, and the final decision of whether to finish him off or spare him after he chose to become a demon. Even ignoring Walter and Jonathan's intrusive banter, which completely ruined the mood and gravity of the fight, choosing to finish Issachar off to end his suffering is a decision I still think about because the morality of it is ambiguous. There are plenty of demons in the Shin Megami Tensei universe who aren't evil - who don't suffer. How do I know that there was really no hope for him to become the same way? How do I know that he couldn't be helped?

    Well the answers to those questions don't matter because the point is that I'm actually asking questions. Shin Megami Tensei IV got me to dwell on Issachar's death, and that's what it means to be macabre. In that moment, Shin Megami Tensei IV succeeded where Apocalypse all too often fails. I want to be clear, though. What I'm criticizing here is not execution, but ambition. I'm not criticizing Apocalypse's execution of being edgy; it's of no concern to me if it's doing edge well. In fact, I think that it actually does do edge well, and for another franchise or a further removed spin off, I might actually enjoy that more. What I'm concerned about is its desire to be edgy at all, instead of macabre. I'm concerned because I'm suspicious that Atlus genuinely believed that they were aspiring to be macabre, and don't actually understand the difference anymore.

    Or maybe they just don't trust the average Shin Megami Tensei fan with the stakes needed to properly pull off the macabre anymore. Look no further than Asahi's revival along the Peace route. That was the moment where everything about this game clicked for me, because I knew it would happen. As soon as Shesha murdered Asahi, after I recovered from my initial shock, the first thing I thought was how they better not do some power-of-friendship nonsense at the end and bring her back. But they did, rendering the entire ordeal meaningless. It's the cheapest way to garner an emotional response from your audience and makes every decision the player makes ring hollow, all because the game didn't have the balls to keep her dead.

    Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse has no teeth. It's a pit bull pup trying to act like a full-grown dog, while having absolutely no understanding of what that actually entails. Looking at Nikkari and Manabu again, there was little risk of upsetting players too much by killing them off because we hardly got to know them before it happened. On top of that, Asahi seems to shake it off almost entirely, remaining bloomingly optimistic throughout most of their adventure. Now I'm not about to go too hard on Asahi's characterization since actually I really like her, but her mentors only recently passed away and she was back to being silly and cheery the very next day.

    There's absolutely nothing wrong with having levity, even in a franchise as macabre as mainline Shin Megami Tensei, but the balance needs to be perfect so as to not deflate tension and jeopardize the integrity of what's supposed to be at stake. Too little, and the game will begin to feel emotionally exhausting. Too much of it, though, and it begins to feel like the characters don't take the situations they find themselves in as seriously as the player is expected to. The whole love triangle subplot between Nanashi, Asahi, and Toki is a relevant example of far too much levity.


    It was clearly added for comic relief, and perhaps a bit of fanservice as well, but it just obliterates all sense that anything is at stake when the world is literally ending for the second time and these two are bickering over who will get to bone Nanashi when they're all 18 and of legal consenting age. Asahi's romantic interest in Nanashi also has the unintended effect of making her father's death less meaningful to the player than it potentially could have been otherwise. Allow me to explain.

    Throughout the game, Nanashi's reminded that he grew up with Asahi and her father. It's strongly implied that he looks at her father as a father figure for himself as well. I initially assumed that this would mean that Asahi's relationship with Nanashi would be more similar to a step sister, only that can't be the case because Asahi very clearly doesn't look at or treat him like a brother. She treats him as a love interest, so it can at least be inferred that the relationship they have with each other is not familial. It would make no sense for Nanashi to look at Asahi's father familially, but not Asahi. Going by how Asahi treats Nanashi, the relationship between him and her father likely doesn't go too far past him merely providing food and shelter for the friend of his daughter.

    This obviously doesn't mean that his death becomes meaningless to Nanashi, but the death of a friend's father is never going to hit as close to home as someone that Nanashi viewed as a father figure himself. It takes something that was likely intended to be impactful for both Asahi and Nanashi equally, and turns it into a character beat for Asahi almost exclusively. All because the writers wanted some harem humor.

    There's been a bit of an elephant in the room that I've tried to avoid bringing up too early in this critique because I wanted to discuss every disagreeable facet of the game thoroughly before talking about what is perhaps the most controversial and divisive one. I wanted to make sure that I covered all of my bases in painstaking detail to avoid being accused of anything unfair. I hinted at this a little bit when I spoke on the element of "franchise authenticity," but I'm going to go into it in depth now, because to ignore it would be dishonest and irresponsible.

    I'm sure that more than a few of you have noticed my careful wording when making generalizations about the Shin Megami Tensei franchise. "Mainline" Shin Megami Tensei is how I've tried to phrase it, and I'm sure that most fans can tell why. There's a bit of an uncomfortable rift within the fanbase of this series and, while the games that are excluded from the "mainline" tag are both plentiful and diverse, most fans know that when you "mainline Shin Megami Tensei," what you're really trying to say is "not post-Persona 3/4 Megami Tensei."

    I'm about to start playing Persona 3 on a friend's borrowed PSP. I've watched and enjoyed both Persona 4 anime adaptations. I've played Persona 4 Arena Ultimax and mopped my friend with my main Teddie, and I'm literally giddy with anticipation of finally getting to play Persona 5. I'm anything but a Persona hater, but Persona serves as a sort of balance of powers when it comes to Shin Megami Tensei, and it has a lane.

    I mentioned this in the Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE review that I brought up earlier. Here's what I said:

    "If the mainline Shin Megami Tensei games are bleak and dreary, while the Persona (as well as other) spin-offs have leaned a little more in the middle, then Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE sits comfortable at the sweetest end of the spectrum."

    I called this balance of tone in Shin Megami Tensei games a sort of trichotomy. Persona has its place in the Shin Megami Tensei franchise that cannot be denied, but there was a moment of awakening for me when playing through Apocalypse. A moment when I knew that a traditional review wouldn't be appropriate for a game like this because its issues are far too complicated for a simple recommendation assessment. I was playing the game for review, and was getting frustrated with the characters. I liked them, but I felt like they weren't being fleshed out nearly enough, and was trying to figure out how they could've solved this apparent issue.

    Then I thought back to my playthrough of Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE, and the answer seemed obvious. What this game needed was a social link system like that game had! Then I remembered that this was a "mainline" Shin Megami Tensei game, not Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE and not Persona, and got a chill.

    Nanashi, Asahi, Hallelujah, Navarre, Gaston, Toki, Nozomi, Isabeau.

    All of these characters, outside of maybe Isabeau, follow relatively straight-forward archetypes, and I honestly don't have a problem with that. People can relate to archetypes because they're simple and broad. As long as the characters are likable, I think that they'll have done their job to at least some degree. There's not a character here that I dislike. Not even Navarre. But let's look at the playable cast of Persona 4 for a moment. Please take note of the order I'm putting them in and compare.

    Yu, Chie, Yosuke, Teddie, Kanji, Naoto, Rise, Yukiko.

    The main character, the energetic leading girl, the laid-back guy, the mascot, the guy with a tough exterior but a heart of gold, the enigma, the eye candy, and the reserved one. None of these comparisons are exact, but few can deny that there is at least something uncanny about the comparison I just drew. People who communicated disdain for Persona as a sub-series did it because they were afraid that its immense and eclipsing popularity would lead to something like this to happening, and it finally did.

    I love that Persona exists and that it has a fanbase of passionate enthusiasts that eat it up, but there was always a place for mainline Shin Megami Tensei too. Even if it was eclipsed in popularity and even if it has become destined to play second fiddle to Persona, there's always been a place for people to go who specifically liked what only mainline Shin Megami Tensei could offer, and now it feels like that's in jeopardy. This is just one game, I know, but this wasn't made by some spun off team. Studio Maniax themselves did this, the developers behind the original Shin Megami Tensei IV, and the reception of this major departure has been overwhelmingly positive.

    Only a few days ago, I published a review of Pokémon Sun and Moon, and even I can admit that I was harsh on the game. Even so, I don't regret saying what needed to be said, and I feel that despite my vigorous criticisms, I made it perfectly clear that still I enjoyed Sun and Moon quite a lot, and that they had become some of my all-time favorite Pokémon games. It may surprise you, then, to hear that I actually enjoyed Apocalypse way more than Sun and Moon, despite a critique here which was unquestionably and exponentially more scathing. It's just a far better made game.

    As part of any other franchise, I may have been a tad more lenient, but giving developers a free pass on this sort of stuff tells them that it's okay to keep doing it, and I'm not going be a complacent in letting that happen here. I respect Atlus as a publisher way too much to, and I empathize with the anxiousness of any fans made nervous by the direction this game went in too much to as well. I know I said that this wasn't a review, and I know that I warned you all not to read this critique without finishing the game beforehand, but I'm sure that more than a few of you read it anyway. So, what do I truly think? Is the game worth playing?

    Yes, it is. It's a good game with a lot of flaws outside of just being franchise inauthentic, but it has a lot of heart that will resonate vividly with most fans of the genre. Taken on its own merits, it certainly is the most polished, clean, and ambitious JRPG that I've personally played from this year. But Apocalypse doesn't exist purely within its own merits. It exists, at least partially, from the merits of its forefathers who brought it here, so it also had a reputation to live up to. In that light, it failed gruesomely in nearly every critical regard. I want to remain optimistic, however, that this was just a temporary and experimental detour from the values of the mainline series. Perhaps, with the release of the hopefully inevitable Shin Megami Tensei V, I'll look back at this critique with all of the needlessness of worry that hindsight can sometimes provide. For now, though, I can only dwell on the gruesome.

    Playing video games since the age of 5, Spencer Manigat has been fascinated with the possibilities of this interactive medium for nearly as long as he could speak. Recently, his growing obsession with learning about tactile mechanics, interactive narratives, and all things on the academic side of gaming has lit a new passion in him to discuss, debate, and critique various topics in this brilliant medium of video games that we all find ourselves participating in. Pokémon Platinum Version, Super Metroid, and The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker are a few of his favorite games. You can contact Spencer at spencer.manigat@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter @spencewashere.

    Full Article - http://www.vgchartz.com/article/265603/critiquing-shin-megami-tensei-iv-apocalypse/

  • scissors
    December 24th, 2016GamespotUncategorized

    Full disclosure; this review is based on a review copy I received of Pokémon Sun. I also received a review copy of Pokémon Moon, but didn't feel the need to play both for this review. If you've played a Pokémon game before, then you're well aware that the differences between two versions are miniscule, with a few inconsequential differences between the two to encourage interaction between players. I played together with a group of three other friends, only one of which had Pokémon Moon. I'm well aware of the differences between the two versions, and regularly spoke to him about these differences. I've played every single game in the mainline series, many multiple times through, as well as many of its various spin offs. It wouldn't be far reaching to say that my adoration for this franchise borders on obsession, and I would consider myself a bit of an expert.

    --- 

    HOW DOES ONE CRITICIZE A STEP IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION?

    Well, the answer is simple. You just do it. I just do it. That's my job - my responsibility to you, the reader. There are things to criticize about Pokémon Sun and Moon, but it just feels... unfair? The game does so many things that I was afraid Pokémon would never do with the series. For one, it's more cinematic; more so than any other game in the franchise. That's great, but only within the bounds of Pokémon. If you're a fan of Pokémon, you've probably heard this phrase before. In fact, I'm willing to bet you've even used it yourself.

    It's good "for a Pokémon game."

    "For a Pokémon game." That's where I'm stuck. Because the presentation isn't very good outside of the context of Pokémon. Characters have dead eyes with stiff animations and the player character regularly has an immersion-breaking flawed expression that doesn't match up with the tone of the scene taking place. So while it’s so much better than any of the Pokémon games that have come before it, it's also so much worse than "good." How am I supposed to criticize that? The answer is, I just have to.

    Sun and Moon are the most story driven Pokémon games since the 5th generation games Pokémon Black and White. While that's great, it can backfire because a bigger focus on story will naturally raise expectations when it comes to what that story is and how it's composed. This was the case for Black and White. It felt like the ambitions of the story superseded the actual quality of writing. Team Plasma, the antagonists of the game, fought to liberate Pokémon from their trainers. An interesting premise, but nothing was ever done with it beyond just surface-level stuff. N, Team Plasma's king and leader, was at the center of the games' main philosophical conflict between "truths" and "ideals," with the player taking the opposing viewpoint. Another interesting premise, one that could have afforded the player the agency to carve his or her own character as well as N's by means of moral choices, but again, nothing is ever done with it, and the words are ultimately meaningless within the context of the games.

    BUT WHAT ABOUT SUN AND MOON?

    All of this is to say that Sun and Moon fair much better than those games because the story is far more intimate and far less ambitious. In a lot of ways, the games feel like a sort of vacation from the norms of Pokémon in general, and that lends to a laxer atmosphere. Of course, to say that they fair better isn't to say that they come out unscathed. While I'll get into my issues with the actual story structure much later, with regards to just characters, Lusamine, president of the Aether Foundation who protect and heal hurt Pokémon, is assuredly the biggest let down of a character in the game, with the Aether Foundation as a whole being the most deflated twist.

    It all really comes down to pacing. They're introduced far too late into the story, and for far too brief a time, for anything that is revealed about them to have any sort of impact. Lusamine also lacks even the slightest of subtlety, something that even Guzma, the one-dimensional leader this entry's villainous Team Skull, was able to achieve. Team Skull in general were a highlight for me. In sync with the games' more carefree tone, they functioned more as comic relief. The dialog was just cheesy enough and Team Skull just pathetic enough for me to end up smiling every time they appeared on screen.

    Good dialog is really what elevated so many of the characters for me. A lot of characters who could have been boring and one-note were saved by the snappy banter they'd exchange amongst themselves. That includes all of the Trial Captains (this game's replacement for Gym Leaders), the four Kahunas (this game's pseudo-replacement for the Elite Four), Professor Kukui, Lillie, and even Hau. The mysterious Lillie in particular is a stand out, and has become one of my favorite characters in the series.

    As mentioned earlier, all of this is embellished by the largest focus on presentation that Pokémon has ever seen, and it just feels really low budget. This is the first bit in which the dilemma I mentioned before rears its head. It's such an improvement over what has come before, and it bodes supremely well for how Pokémon will present itself in the future, but for the "right now" it's not even good presentation for the hardware. At least specifically when it comes to story-telling. Sun and Moon have opted to refrain from featuring voice acting, which causes this cheap-feeling disposition when you see these characters silently and stiffly pantomime genuinely fun-to-read dialog that you're too focused on to even really pay attention.

    Pokémon is the second largest video game franchise in the world, second to only Mario, so it's extremely frustrating to see them be so conservative about this stuff when they're one of the few franchises who can actually afford to splurge on better presentation. But it's better than what's come before, demonstrably so, and that's tough to criticize.

    The same is not the case, however, for the setting of the game: the Alola Region. Pokémon has gotten a lot of flak amongst some its more hardcore fans for growing more and more linear with each new entry, and Alola is no different. I guess one could argue that it's more appropriate here, given the theming, but the whole game felt like I was on one of those amusement park trolleys, being given a tour of all of Alola's most shiny attractions. And they are shiny, no doubt about it, but it doesn't feel like you're exploring a world.

     

    BUT IT'S MORE THAN JUST LINEARITY

    The true culprit is reduced geographical complexity. Routes are less complex, caves are less complex, buildings are less complex, and worst of all, the way they all interconnect is less complex. It just leads to this really uninteresting B-line to the next plot beat without any sense that you're getting lost in this vast world, and that's something Pokémon used to have. It takes streamlining to an unnecessary degree that's detrimental to the game. I could list off a bunch of specific examples, but there's one in particular which seems to thematically stand out.

    Alola is a tropical country of four distinct islands, thematically based on Hawaii. I cannot emphasis enough just how excited I was about this. Hoenn, another tropically themed region from the 3rd generation of Pokémon, is one of the most geographically interesting regions that Pokémon has ever featured. Returning to this kind of setting would present so many cool opportunities for a region like Alola. One of the coolest things about Hoenn compared to other regions were its extensive water routes. Now I know that this is often debated upon, but hear me out. The great thing about Hoenn's water routes, and large bodies of water appearing in games in general, is that they do an unmatched job of increasing the perceived sense of scale in a game without needing to increase the actual physical scale of the game. Too much water? Not enough water, if I'm the one you're asking.

    Hoenn also had by far the most diverse selection of traversal options when it came to aquatic exploration. Sure, you had your typical surfing, but you also had water currents that made you think about how you went about exploring. You had caves and islands and wrecked ships to spelunk. You had an intricate diving system which allowed you to explore the depths of the ocean floor, finding entire areas, caves, and in one case an entire city which was only accessible that way. You could fish basically anywhere, and you could even climb up waterfalls.

    So, you can imagine my immense disappointment when I discovered that water exploration in this game amounts to nothing more than investigating puddles. I get that it's more convenient, I totally do, but there comes a point where you can streamline something too much, and it begins to taste artificial and plain. That's my issue with Alola - it’s too sterile. I love the actual towns and cities. They're diverse and memorable and have great themes, but the paths to get there are so mindless, and it just makes exploring the world boring, with little reason to go back after the game is done.

    This is a poor segue, but I'd like to talk about conveyance and play conditioning with regards to Sun and Moon. For those unaware, conveyance is basically how a game teaches, or "conveys," its mechanics to the player. A game with good, graceful conveyance does this implicitly, while a game with poor, clumsy conveyance does it explicitly. Now, depending on who you ask, Pokémon will be known either for having good conveyance or poor conveyance. The most obvious example of how Pokémon regularly uses conveyance is in its starter Pokémon/Gym Leader/Elite Four set up. As of generation 6, there are 18 different Pokémon types to remember, all with different strengths, weaknesses, resistances, and immunities to remember as the different types interact with one another.

    Learning all of these type match-ups would obviously be incredibly intimidating for any new player, so the developers elected to structure the entire campaign of each Pokémon game around teaching the player about all of the different types gradually and incrementally as they played through the campaign. First, by introducing the player to the concept of types and their "rock, paper, scissors" nature via the player being gifted one of three starter Pokémon. If you've played a Pokémon game before, you know how the rest of this goes. You go on an adventure across the country, defeating 12 bosses of varying types until you're rewarded by beating the game and becoming the champion of the associated region. This is the template by which every Pokémon game abides.

    BUT IS THIS GOOD CONVEYANCE?

    And does it even matter? At first glance, it could appear to some to be expert conveyance, but the truth is that it's not. There are two major problems with setting a game up like this. Earlier, I defined poor conveyance as being explicit. What I mean by that is that it interrupts progress to teach you the rules of the game. It's not invisible. Pokémon takes this a step further by literally anchoring progress, plot, and player choice in the case of starter Pokémon, to a campaign-wide tutorial for type match-ups.

    That Pokémon is formulaic is easily the most common line of criticism thrown at it, and poor conveyance is almost entirely the reason why. Instead of having where you go next being dictated by a unique and situational character motivation driven by the main conflict of the story, too much of it is dictated by the next spot to take your next lesson, with the conflicts existing around that.

    "But Spencer," you may be thinking. "Sun and Moon don't have Pokémon Gyms anymore! Now there are trials, and Trial Captains, and Totem Pokémon, and Kahuna's, and-" it's all the same thing. Trials are a spin on Pokémon Gyms, Trial Captains are a spin on Gym Leaders, Totem Pokémon gym leader matches, and Kahuna's are a spin on the Elite Four. It's an altered implementation of the same thing with the same end goals. So, why does having graceful conveyance even matter? Because it allows experienced players to enjoy a game unimpeded while remaining accessible to new players.

    When you first start up Pokémon Sun and Moon, you'll be given one of three Pokémon. Either Owlett, the Grass-type owl, Litten, the Fire-type cat, or Popplio, the water-type sea lion. I don't like starter Pokémon because the selection is so small that it feels like every trainer will end up having a similar team. I understand the need to gift the player with a Pokémon to start out with, but I don't understand why I, an experienced player, am forced to start off with one of these three Pokémon in particular. I've already learned my type match ups. I have no need for what are essentially "training wheel" Pokémon when I've already done my homework and learned that lesson.

    It's not like it's a canonical thing either. You will regularly meet trainers without starter Pokémon. There's an actual class of trainers called Breeders whose literal job is to breed young Pokémon for new trainers. It would be incredibly easy to allow more experienced players to have access to one Pokémon they really enjoy via a breeder instead of a starter Pokémon, but the developers are so afraid that new players will skip their tutorial that everyone has to participate, meaning it can sometimes take hours before some players have access to the first Pokémon that they like.

    But the starters are frankly just a nitpick. Where this really starts to drastically impact the game, every Pokémon game, is in its story. I said before that it fared better than Black and White because it wasn't too ambitious for its own good, but this has to be said - a critique of one Pokémon game is a critique of them all. While there is so much to love about the characters and the way they interact with each other, there's so much to dislike about how bland the actual moment-to-moment story here is. So much of that is because half of the plot involves just participating in these rote and sterile trial tutorials, while the other half is trying to duct tape this small and intimate story about family and bonding and interdimensional travel onto that.

    It just ends up feeling so hacked together and it doesn't need to be like that. Pokémon Contests were a mini game introduced in Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire, and they were framed as this sort of optional alternative to the Pokémon league that didn't end up having any impact on the story. The key word here is "optional." Why not make the gym challenge an optional part of Pokémon in this very same way, and focus the entirety of the storyline on actual character-driven conflict? I'm sure many of you didn't know this, but you actually can go back and battle all of the Trial Captains like a proper gym battle.

    This easily could have been extended to the trials and the Pokémon League as a whole, but the developers are afraid that new players won't learn the types and will get lost. Even though the entire basis of that worry is moot now that battles will inform the player of which move types will negatively or positively effect which Pokémon, a decision I'm entirely for, by the way. Seasoned players have to sit through yet another homogenous campaign so that new players can learn all of the new types that they actually don't even need to learn anymore.

    GYM TO GYM - TRIAL TO TRIAL

    We malign other games for becoming too formulaic, but then praise this one when it's doing all of the same things. Why? Because it's a step in the right direction. Because Trial Captains truly do have some positive differences that feel fresh when compared to what's come before. Because gradually introducing the player to the various Kahunas throughout each island is so much more compelling than how prior games handled their Elite Fours, not having much interaction outside of league battles. It makes them feel more like real characters who you care about by the time you end up fighting them, so how does one criticize that progress without feeling unfair?

    The other term that I brought up earlier was "play conditioning." Play conditioning is actually a term coined by YouTuber hbomberguy, and I love it. It's basically when a game, through mechanics and level design alone, is able encourage the play style that is most optimal for enjoyment. You'll often hear gamers say something like this:

    "You're not enjoying the game because you aren't playing it right."

    If a player is enjoying a game less because they aren't being led to a play style that would be more fun, that game probably has poor play conditioning. Sun and Moon have poor play conditioning.

    Again, this is another one of those "when you criticize one Pokémon game, you criticize them all" things, but Pokémon does an absolutely terrible job of encouraging the most fun play styles for maximum enjoyment during the campaign. In fact, they actively discourage them. Fan websites like Serebii and Bulbapedia being as popular as they are is symptomatic of that. Such a big reason that fans like me regularly refer to those sites is because they give detailed information on various Pokémon, locations, movesets, evolution methods, etc. This is all information that players have had to collaborate on and, in many cases, literally hack the games to uncover. If you're a new, lapsed, or even casual fan, you don't know about these websites. You depend on the game to explain itself and give you the proper tools for optimal enjoyment, and therein lies the problem.

    Whenever I play a new Pokémon game, I like to plan a team of six ahead of time. I want to learn all of their moves, discern between which ones are egg moves, which are learned via level up, which are learned through TMs, where those TMs are, where to catch those Pokémon, how do I evolve it, gender ratios, encounter ratios, base stats, etc. Building a team like this is so fun and makes your team feel super efficient and intimate. This is all information that I have to learn about from an external websites though, when I should be able to access all of this info directly from my Pokédex. Instead, any info that can even be gleamed is locked behind Pokémon capture. You can only learn about a Pokémon after you catch it, and what you learn isn't very helpful or detailed. It's bad play conditioning. The mechanics in the game are not conducive to the most fun play experience.

    Base Points (dubbed Effort Values or "EVs" by fans) are points that a trainer can distribute amongst their Pokémon in order customize stat distribution; you assign 4 BP to the Attack stat, and gain one extra point in Attack, for example. It's a really neat and deceptively simple mechanic that can make each Pokémon feel distinct from other members of its species. Planning out your BP spreads for each Pokémon can be fun, but the actual way you gain BP is so complicated, convoluted, and grindy that most casual players will just avoid doing it. That's bad play conditioning. This is actually an area where Sun and Moon take an assertive step back from the games that came before them. Pokémon X and Y had a simple mini-game which encouraged players to raise their Base Points that way. Is it the best solution? No, the best solution would've been to just allow players to manually assign their earned Base Points to any stat they wanted with each level up, but the point here is that what Sun and Moon does is worse and they came out 3 years later.

    Customizing a team and giving it the right moveset and stat distribution and all of that is important because it gives your playthrough its own personality. Going through the game with 6 Pokémon you've tweaked just right can feel amazing. This may sound cheesy, but it really makes you care about your Pokémon more. Each moveset, nature, BP spread, held item, nickname; everything lends to each Pokémon having their own little personalities that make them feel intimately your own. Pokémon Sun and Moon do their best to discourage this type of play, even after you beat the game.

    HIDING THE FUN STUFF

    Held items are a huge part of competitive play in Pokémon, yet they're almost completely absent from the main campaign. They can make Pokémon battles way more fun and interesting, but almost no one in Alola holds them unless it's a Z-Crystal, Sun and Moon's featured gimmick and something I suspect was a leftover concept from a scrapped “Pokémon Z” game. Worse yet, all of the quirkiest and most fun-to-use held items are locked behind an extremely difficult, tedious, and grind-heavy post-game area that actively discourages ever using them.

    They have to be purchased with a completely separate currency from the one players have earned after dozens of hours playing through the game, and for what good reason? One of the more memorable NPC battles I had was with a Golfer who gave all of his Pokémon the Flame Orb hold item. Each Pokémon would take advantage of holding the Flame Orb in a different way and, by the time you beat the Golfer, you were probably at least a little bit interested in the Flame Orb. So, what does the Golfer end up doing? He gives one to you.  It's so simple. They designed one battle as a little tutorial for how to use the item and how it could be fun, and then they just gave it to the player. Now the player knows how to use it and got to participate in a unique and memorable battle. This kind of stuff could have been done with all of the held items on top of simply making them available for purchase in regular shops with the default currency because locking them away in the post-game like they are now is deliberately locking away fun.

    There's this battle simulation website created by fans called Pokémon Showdown where players can make dozens of perfect teams and just play together for free without any of the literal hours of tedium and grinding, and this is why it exists. Players using cheat devices to artificially create "perfect" Pokémon is a serious and rampant issue in the Pokémon community, and the reason they do it is because Pokémon does everything it can at every turn to make getting access to the most fun parts of the game "legally" nigh on impossible, and it can be so frustrating when you're a veteran of the series and just have to watch issues like these continue to crop up generation after generation, game after game.

    A LOVE-HATE RELATIONSHIP

    ---

    Pokémon Sun and Moon have become some of my favorite Pokémon games, and I truly mean that. There are so many wonderful things about the games that I've failed to even mention here. Hidden Machine moves, used in previous games to artificially gate off progression at the expense of a precious move slot, are finally gone and have been replaced with the unquestionably superior ride Pokémon mechanic. The music, like with every Pokémon game, is absolutely phenomenal and does such a great job of punctuating the happenings on screen. The world is finally rendered in with some sense of 3D realism, which makes the journey through Alola feel so much more immersive. There are so many cute and endearing little touches too, like how your mother's Meowth will wake you up and hand you a literal bottle of Awakening if you sleep in your bed at home. The Pokémon designs are great (including the interdimensional Ultra Beasts), the character designs are spot on, and the way this game tackles lore and world building rivals Sinnoh.

    I know that it probably seems like I'm being too critical of Sun and Moon, but other games simply don't get away with the kind of things that Pokémon does, and they've been at this for 25 years now. Sun and Moon are a vast improvement over X and Y in nearly every discernible way, but in many ways it just feels like a mere stepping stone to something greater. The problem for me is that every single Pokémon game since maybe Platinum has felt that way. Like an interim that just never ends. I see everything that people love about this game, and I even agree with most of it, but I love Pokémon way too much and have done so for way too long to settle anymore.

    Pokémon Sun and Moon are some of the best in the series, no doubt about it. If that's all you're looking for, then I can assure you that this game does many things well and you'll enjoy your time in Alola immensely. If you were hoping for something more, though, well... at least it's still good for a Pokémon game.

    Playing video games since the age of 5, Spencer Manigat has been fascinated with the possibilities of this interactive medium for nearly as long as he could speak. Recently, his growing obsession with learning about tactile mechanics, interactive narratives, and all things on the academic side of gaming has lit a new passion in him to discuss, debate, and critique various topics in this brilliant medium of video games that we all find ourselves participating in. Pokémon Platinum Version, Super Metroid, and The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker are a few of his favorite games. You can contact Spencer at spencer.manigat@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter @spencewashere.

    Full Article - http://www.vgchartz.com/article/266892/pokemon-sunmoon-3ds/

  • scissors
    December 24th, 2016GamespotUncategorized

    Welcome to Part IV of '40 Years, 40 Games'. This is the final entry in a four-part series detailing what I consider to be the very best game of every year between 1977 and 2016. Check out Part III, 1997-2006, here.

     

    2007
    BioShock (X360, PC)

    A spiritual successor to the System Shock games, BioShock honors its predecessors by cleverly merging multiple genres into an amazing game experience. While it's predominantly a first-person shooter, BioShock features elements of adventure games, role-playing games, and even horror games. It's a masterpiece of game design, and it plays very differently depending on the path the player chooses. 

     

    2008
    Super Smash Bros. Brawl (Wii)

    Boasting a staggering amount of content, from its online and offline multiplayer modes, to its "vault", to its surprisingly deep single player campaign, Brawl is one of those rare games that can be played ad infinitum. The stage design in Brawl is inspired; its score, a greatest hits collection of thirty years of Nintendo music, is unmatched; and its fighting mechanics accessible enough for novices yet deep enough for veterans. Most importantly, the game is a joy to play, alone or with a group of friends.

     

    2009
    Demon's Souls (PS3)

    Set in a medieval kingdom ravaged by demons, Demon's Souls tasks players with exploring several diverse game environments, slaying terrible monsters, and collecting weapons, armor, items, and souls, the currency of the game. Employing a unique permadeath mechanic, whereby demon slayers who fall in battle are reduced to a weakened "soul form," and an asymmetrical online multiplayer mode, whereby other players can leave behind hints or invade others' worlds, Demon's Souls brings extraordinary features to a fairly common genre. 

     

    2010
    Super Mario Galaxy 2 (Wii)

    Three years after Nintendo EAD caught lightning in a bottle with the original Super Mario Galaxy, the studio returned with a sequel that managed to match, even surpass, the brilliance of the original. The sheer imagination on display in Super Mario Galaxy 2 is mind-boggling. It packs more ideas and mechanics into individual levels than some games do in their entirety. Super Mario Galaxy 2 might not be as revolutionary is its predecessor, but it's every bit as beautiful, creative, and fun.

     

    2011
    Portal 2 (X360, PC, PS3)

    A significant upgrade from the first Portal game, Portal 2 is packed with more puzzles, more interesting and varied level design, and some of the funniest writing and voice acting of any video game, ever. Players will hop, skip, and jump through dozens of puzzling levels, using portals, blocks, and gels to move past seemingly impossible obstacles. Level and puzzle design is deliriously clever; single-player and co-op modes are addictive and fun; and the dialogue, humorously delivered by Ellen McLain, Stephen Merchant, and J.K. Simmons, is uproarious.

     

    2012
    Xenoblade Chronicles (Wii)

    With its challenging and deep battle system, its focus on exploration and character building, and its beautifully-realized game world, Xenoblade Chronicles is a RPG for the ages. When players aren't fighting off monsters and mechanical warriors with a combination of skills, arts, and ether attacks, they can take on hundreds of side quests, manage "affinity" levels among their party members and the general populations, and craft gems for weapons and armor. The huge amount of things to do, see, and discover in the world in Xenoblade is astonishing.

     

    2013
    The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds (3DS)

    Despite sharing an overworld with its predecessor A Link to the Past, A Link Between Worlds represents a completely original Zelda experience. In the game, the hero Link boasts a new ability to transform into a two-dimensional painting to access hidden rooms, treasure, and a dark "mirror" version of Hyrule. Backed with fresh ideas, brilliant dungeons, and plenty of secrets, A Link Between Worlds is the best Zelda game in years.

     

    2014
    Mario Kart 8 (WiiU)

    Where recent installments of the Mario Kart series felt, at times, like variations of a theme, Mario Kart 8 feels like a brand new game experience, built from the ground up. Sure, the battle mode is an afterthought, but it's small potatoes considering everything that's right with Mario Kart 8, including opulent visuals, an orchestral soundtrack (a first for Mario Kart), silky smooth online play, and imaginative tracks that rank among the best in the series.

     

    2015
    Rocket League (PS4, PC)

    Rocket League might just be the surprise hit of the century. Since its release in 2015, the game has earned developer Psyonix north of $110 million, with over five million units sold across three platforms. That's darn impressive for a game where folks play soccer with rocket-powered cars. Rocket League deserves its success, though, mostly because of everything it does right: easy-to-understand controls, mechanical and strategic depth, online and offline multiplayer modes, and lots of replay value.

     

    2016
    The Last Guardian (PS4) 

    Director Fumito Ueda, who brought the world Ico and Shadow of the Colossus, adds a third masterpiece to his resume with The Last Guardian, an action-adventure game heavy on puzzle-solving and platforming. Set amid crumbling ruins, the game stars a young boy and a watchful griffin-like guardian, Trico. By issuing orders to Trico and solving environmental puzzles, the boy attempts to find his way home. Ueda and company took the symbiotic gameplay of Ico to new heights in this mesmerizing and moving adventure.

     

    Thanks for reading!

    // //

    Full Article - http://www.vgchartz.com/article/265703/40-years-40-games-2007-2016/

  • scissors
    December 23rd, 2016GamespotUncategorized

    For six years, Amnesia: The Dark Descent, one of the more chilling and influential first-person horror games ever made, was restricted only to PC. Beginning last month, at long last, PS4 owners can experience the living nightmare in the comfort of their living rooms. Featuring the original Amnesia — worth the price of admission alone — plus its expansion Justine, and its sequel A Machine for Pigs, the Amnesia Collection is great for the uninitiated. Those who own the games on PC, however, won't find much reason to double dip.

    The Dark Descent, the main draw in the collection, follows amnesiac Daniel as he makes his way through Brennenburg Castle. Gradually Daniel realizes that his amnesia is purposeful, perhaps even self-inflicted, and that he must journey to the depths of the castle to uncover the truth.

    In keeping with The Dark Descent's Lovecraftian framework, mystery is a big part of the proceedings, and fear an important instrument of gameplay. Not knowing what's going on with Daniel or with the castle is part of what makes the game so unnerving. Not knowing what monster lurks around the corner or what horror awaits behind the door makes the game absolutely nerve-shredding.

    The developers at Frictional Games, who proved their horror chops before Amnesia with Penumbra and afterward with SOMA, accomplish this sense of dread in two main ways: sound design and shadow. Instead of relying solely on jump scares — although there are quite a few in The Dark Descent — Frictional uses sound to inspire fear. Whether it's the sound of a shuffling monster or a creaking ceiling, noises in the game signal something terribly wrong and then let the player's imagination run wild.

    Similarly, Frictional plays with light and shadow to evoke disorientation and feelings of helplessness. Daniel is (understandably) afraid of the dark. When shrouded in darkness he will lose focus and hallucinate and the screen will warp and blur. Players can combat this by using tinderboxes to ignite lamps and candles or use an oil lamp to light the way. Tinderboxes and oil refills are in short supply so players must decide when to brave the darkness and when to illuminate their surroundings.

    Light will attract monsters, however, so players mustn't linger too long in the brightness. As in Penumbra and SOMA, the hero of The Dark Descent is underpowered and under-equipped, and thus must play a deadly game of hide-and-seek with the game's monsters. These encounters are distressing and often unbearably suspenseful. Daniel's only real options are either hiding or running for his life. 

    In addition to managing a limited supply of tinderboxes and outsmarting monsters, players will need to do some problem-solving. This could involve finding a heavy instrument to break down a barrier, or mixing chemical components together to create a compound. Puzzles represent a nice, cerebral break from the visceral act of surviving Brennenburg Castle.

    Although Amnesia is just as atmospheric and scary as it was back in 2010, it appears dated in terms of graphics. This doesn't affect negatively the game's mechanics or atmosphere, but fans hoping for a graphical overhaul will be left disappointed. It's especially glaring compared to the luscious graphics of Frictional's SOMA, also available on PS4.

    In addition to The Dark Descent, the Amnesia Collection includes its expansion Justine — set in a different locale with a different protagonist — and its sequel A Machine for Pigs. Developed by The Chinese Room (Dear Esther, Everybody's Gone to the Rapture), A Machine for Pigs is more formulaic and less scary then The Dark Descent, and thus the weak link in the collection, but it remains a stylish, thought-provoking affair.

    Overall, the Amnesia Collection is an outstanding package of games for horror fans. Folks who already own The Dark Descent and its follow-ups on PC might not find enough cause to double dip but players new to the franchise will discover a lot of value in this compilation. Fans of slow-burning survival-horror games shouldn't miss Amnesia this second time around.

    Full Article - http://www.vgchartz.com/article/266580/amnesia-collection-ps4/

  • scissors
    December 23rd, 2016GamespotUncategorized

    Welcome to Part III of '40 Years, 40 Games'. This is a four-part series detailing what I consider to be the very best game of every year between 1977 and 2016. Check out Part II, 1987-1996, here.

     

    1997
    Final Fantasy VII (PlayStation)

    Final Fantasy VII had a big impact on the games industry, but it had an even larger impact on the public perception of RPGs. It wouldn't be an exaggeration to claim that FFVII was the first mainstream RPG — it sold 10 million copies, the most of any Final Fantasy title — and was one of the first games to place a huge emphasis on story and production values. In fact, it cost $45 million to develop, making it the most expensive of its time, and required a team of roughly 120 artists and programmers.

     

    1998
    The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (N64)

    Ocarina of Time is a masterpiece, the pinnacle of Nintendo creativity and ingenuity, and the benchmark against which a large number of games — past, present, and future — are judged. It pioneered innovations like z-targeting, auto-jump, and context sensitive buttons. It took existing game mechanics like horseback riding, fishing, and the realistic passage of time and wove them into the narrative like never before. In addition, Ocarina features a sweeping musical score, unmatched sound design, and gameplay so rich, varied, and engaging that it had no equal.

     

    1999
    SoulCalibur (Dreamcast)

    Boasting incredible graphics, huge replay value, and a revolutionary "eight-way run" control scheme, SoulCalibur is one of the best fighting games ever made. Combat is strategic and intense, the character roster is varied, and the action is silky smooth and beautiful to watch. One of the highlights of the game is "Missions Mode," a story mode of sorts where players can complete missions to earn points, which can then be used to unlock concept art and costumes.

     

    2000
    Deus Ex (PC)

    It's difficult to single out one thing that makes Deus Ex such a superior game because everything works together. Graphics and sound provide an appropriate sense of place and atmosphere, the story and characters provide meaning and direction, and the dynamic gameplay provides constant challenges. What might be Deus Ex's greatest strength is its level design. Each level is perfectly spaced and paced, whether it's UNATCO headquarters on Liberty Island or a night club in Paris.

     

    2001
    Halo: Combat Evolved (Xbox)

    By providing the nascent Xbox with a "killer app," Halo: Combat Evolved secured Microsoft's spot in the gaming world. It also introduced features, control schemes, and themes that have infiltrated almost every mainstream first-person shooter since. Lastly, it helped move first-person shooters away from computers and onto home consoles, a journey begun by games like GoldenEye, Perfect Dark, Medal of Honor, and Red Faction

     

    2002
    Metroid Prime (GCN)

    When Metroid Prime was showcased by Nintendo at E3 2001, the reaction from fans and critics was mixed at best. Thankfully, Nintendo and Retro Studios (the new kid on the block) stayed the course, and released a game that somehow, miraculously, managed to transition Metroid from 2D to 3D and third-person to first-person all at once. The result is one of the best games of the sixth generation, and the start of a brilliant trilogy that would continue on GameCube and Wii.

     

    2003
    The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker (GCN)

    Unfairly criticized at the time for its cartoonish appearance, The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker features some of the most memorable and vibrant art direction of any Zelda adventure and boasts, without a doubt, the most visually expressive Link of any franchise game. Set on a huge, never-ending great sea, The Wind Waker is the story of Link’s quest to rescue his captured sister. Unlike other Zelda games, in which Link traveled by foot or on horseback, Wind Waker asks its players to navigate across the vast ocean in a small sailboat. 

     

    2004
    Half-Life 2 (PC)

    In Half-Life 2 Gordon Freeman must use his weapons and his wits to, once again, save mankind, in this instance from alien overlords and their human collaborators. Boasting an incredible physics system — in which objects and people obey the laws of gravity, friction and buoyancy — remarkably sophisticated artificial intelligence, and superior graphics, Half-Life 2 was a technical marvel. Half-Life 2 unfolds across several chapters, some of which involve the use of vehicles, some of which are heavy on problem-solving.

     

    2005
    Resident Evil 4 (GCN, PS2)

    Set in a rural village somewhere in Europe, Resident Evil 4 follows Leon S. Kennedy (one of two heroes from Resident Evil 2) in his search for the missing daughter of the American president. Capcom removed the fixed camera angles that had defined previous installments and allowed the camera to follow Leon wherever he went. Thus Resident Evil 4 became something of a survival-horror and third-person shooter hybrid, with some RPG elements thrown in for good measure. The game is thrilling, terrifying, and addictive, all at once.

     

    2006
    Elite Beat Agents (DS)

    One of the most inventive titles for the DS is Elite Beat Agents, a rhythm game with a great sense of humor and huge replay value. Elite Beat Agents follows a trio of government agents who fly to the rescue of everyday people in need, using music and dancing to motivate them. Players must use the stylus to tap, drag, and rotate objects on the touch-screen in rhythm with one of sixteen pop or rock songs. Most of the episodes in Elite Beat Agents are very funny. Others are touching and emotionally powerful.

     

    Check in next time for 2007-2016!

    Full Article - http://www.vgchartz.com/article/265702/40-years-40-games-1997-2006/

  • scissors
    December 22nd, 2016GamespotUncategorized

    As a kid my favorite video game series was Castlevania.  The satisfying blend of horror, adventure, combat, and music was difficult for other games to emulate and really captured my imagination.  Sadly, that series has been largely ignored by Konami in recent years.  Furthermore, every evolution Castlevania undergoes has been hit or miss.  For every brilliant entry such as a Symphony of the Night, there is at least one dud like Castlevania Judgement.  Fans of the Castlevanias of yesteryear can find solace in the fact that Slain: Back from Hell by Wolf Brew Games largely succeeds in satisfying that hardcore, old-school itch.

    Slain! originally released back in March on Steam to a tepid response.  Wolf Brew Games however went back to work, fixing the game's issues and releasing a Back from Hell version to go along with its PlayStation 4 and Xbox One fall release.  And now, at long last, a PlayStation Vita version has been released that fits all of the game's blood, gore, and heavy metal into the palm of your hands.

    What is immediately apparent in Slain: Back from Hell on the PlayStation Vita is that the gorgeous pixel art, along with the killer heavy metal soundtrack, made it through the portable conversion beautifully.  These two elements complement each other superbly and ensure players are presented with a combination that is distinct in today’s gaming landscape. There are some slowdowns when a lot is going on but overall it is a strong port.  The game's 16-bit pixelated graphics also provide plenty of unique areas to adventure through, however the heavy metal music gets a bit repetitive towards the end of the 5 or so hours it takes to complete Back from Hell.

    Although the game is relatively short, combat in Slain: Back from Hell provides a solid challenge to even the most grizzled Castlevania veterans.  Players take control of Bathoryn who is revived against his will to fight across six unique areas and overlords.  You will learn early on that death will be a constant companion to Bathoryn through his gothic adventure.

    Even though death comes often and quickly, Back from Hell is rarely unfair.  Players must learn from their mistakes in both combat and platforming to be successful.  Checkpoints are generally fairly placed and reaching them, especially after a particularly difficult section, provides a powerful sense of accomplishment.  There were several sections and bosses that I felt were a bit too punishing but you just have to learn how to approach various enemies with different tactics and muster the patience required to overcome them.

    To defeat the many enemies you will encounter, Bathoryn is armed with a relatively limited move-set, and this ensures that the gameplay in Back from Hell is decidedly old-school.  The sword is going to be your best friend and it will be augmented with fire and ice attacks as you progress.  Bathoryn will perform a basic combo as you tap the attack button in succession.  There is also a charged attack that requires precise timing.  You can use some of your mana to fire an energy projectile, or all of your mana to unleash a devastating blast attack that fills the screen.  You can block and counter as well as backdash to dodge.  Although this is all relatively basic, it's necessary to combine moves properly and learn how to use them judiciously in order to help Bathoryn on his quest.  Attempt to engage Back from Hell as a mindless button masher and you won’t get very far.

    The combat is easy to learn but is consistently satisfying and challenging because any wrong move can spell disaster.  This gives it a level of depth that may be surprising to some players.  More modern conventions that have become entwined in the latest Castlevania games, such as leveling up, grinding, and unlocking abilities have been tossed aside in favour of a deliberate and pure action-adventure title that requires thinking and skill.

    For better or worse, by intentionally focusing on a classic-style action title, Wolf Brew Games also made Back from Hell’s story somewhat thin.  The narrative is serviceable but really just seems like an excuse to allow Bathoryn to kill everything that gets in his way.  What stood out for me was the often hilarious dialogue Bathoryn constantly engaged in though; it was nice to see that the game didn’t take itself too seriously and made it clear that Wolf Brew Games just wants players to have fun.

    Overall Slain: Back from Hell succeeds as a retro Castlevania style game, which is something that is sorely missing from the industry today.  The blend of gory graphics and heavy metal music is fantastic and really stands out.  The gameplay is satisfying and deceptively deep, providing even veteran players with a hefty challenge, and although the story is forgettable and short, the dialogue is genuinely funny, providing plenty of great lines.  Fans who yearn for a strong, classic Castlevania experience will do well to consider Slain: Back from Hell.

    Full Article - http://www.vgchartz.com/article/266893/slain-back-from-hell-psv/

  • scissors
    December 22nd, 2016GamespotUncategorized

    By the late 90s Final Fantasy had very much established itself as a giant of the industry. It could count itself among the most successful video game franchises of all time. New releases in the series were more than just games by this point - they were events. The last two entries alone had sold a combined total of over 17 million copies on the PS1, helping the console become the de facto market leader with practically no serious competitors. Now it was just a question of following up on this success with yet another major franchise title.

    What Square and Hironobu Sakaguchi gave us next was probably something of a surprise to many fans of the series, especially those who had only been introduced to it by the previous two entries. Gone were the technologically advanced worlds and sci-fi elements, in their place was a notably more traditional-looking fantasy world and story akin to earlier games in the series, at least on the surface.

     

    End of an Era: Final Fantasy IX

     

    The development of Final Fantasy IX began well before Final Fantasy VIII had even been finished, with Sakaguchi writing the early version of the game's scenario script in July of 1998. Final Fantasy IX was directed by Hiroyuki Ito, this marking his second time at the helm after previously directing Final Fantasy VI. Hideo Minaba handled the game's art direction, while also designing many of the character alongside several other people. This meant that for the first time since Final Fantasy VI Tetsuya Nomura played no part in character design.

    Yoshitaka Amano once again provided numerous illustrations for the game, including its logo. As with every previous entry in the main series Nobuo Uematsu created the soundtrack for Final Fantasy IX. He spent roughly a year composing the score, ultimately finishing with around 160 different tracks, of which 140 made it into the final product. This still makes it one of his most extensive soundtracks to-date, comfortably eclipsing most of his past and future works in terms of sheer content.

    It's ironic then that, originally, Ito asked Uematsu to compose just the bare minimum number of tracks for the game. Ultimately, however, Uematsu went on to spend an extended amount of time travelling around Europe during the game's development, searching for (and no doubt finding in abundance) inspiration for his score. He has since stated that his work on Final Fantasy IX is his favourite from his long career.

     

    When Final Fantasy IX first entered development Sakaguchi intended it as something of a reflection and homage to the series' past. As the last game in the series to be released on the PS1 it was seen as an end of an era, one that would pay tribute to the series' now lengthy history before it entered into a new age with the advent of the next console generation.

    Additionally, it wasn't initially envisioned as necessarily being the next main entry in the series, simply because it was such a huge departure from the previous games. Eventually, however, it was confirmed as the next main installment, and by early 2000 development was nearly finished. Final Fantasy IX was released on July 7, 2000, in Japan, later that same year in North America, and early the next year in Europe.

    As already noted, Final Fantasy IX was a huge departure from what people had become used to from the series in the years leading up to its release. Many older elements not found in VII and VIII were brought back, and the overall design of the game was intentionally more cartoonish and unrealistic than in its immediate predecessors.

    In addition to directing the game Hiroyuki Ito also designed its battle system, which was yet another iteration on the ATB system he had originally created for FF IV. It also featured another return back to the series' roots, reverting to a four-person party during battles. Another throwback is that each character represents a specific classic job from the series' past, such as a thief, black mage, dragoon, or summoner.

    This was once again in great contrast to the last few Final Fantasy titles, which had featured highly flexible character development systems where each character's abilities and attributes could be developed in any way the player wanted. As a result, characters were much more specialized here than in the previous PS1 installments. Each had its own class specific abilities that only he or she could use. This makes the characters in Final Fantasy IX much more unique, not just in terms of the story, but also in battle, which is a quality the other PS1 titles often lacked.

     

    Characters learn new skills by equipping a specific weapon or a piece of equipment. Each piece contains certain skills that can be learned from it, with many of them being character specific, such as Vivi's black magic or Freya's dragoon skills. Support abilities are more universal and are generally available for multiple characters.

    Limit breaks also make a return, this time in the form of Trance. Each of the main playable characters has a meter that slowly fills as they damage. Once it is filled the character enters Trance, unlocking a new set of skills or improving already existing ones. Unlike before, this transformation cannot be controlled by the player; it will simply trigger whenever the meter fills up, regardless of the situation in battle. This means it can even trigger after all the enemies have already been defeated, making it a fairly unreliable gameplay mechanic.

    There are some notable mini-games available as well. A card game called Tetra Master is one of them, although I've always though it is just an inferior version of FFVIII's Triple Triad. By far the most useful and extensive mini-game is Chocobo Hot and Gold, a treasure hunting mini-game where the player goes around the world looking for buried treasure with a chocobo. Many of the game's best weapons and items can only be acquired through it.

     

    The narrative opens with a theater group called Tantalus arriving in Alexandria to perform a play in celebration of Princess Garnet's 16th birthday. However, the real intention of the group is to kidnap the princess. Of course, things don't go quite as planned, and it turns out Garnet actually wishes to be kidnapped.

    In contrast with the slow pace of VIIIIX introduces many of its central characters and sets the plot in motion very quickly. Within a few hours the main mystery that drives the storyline is nicely set up, and the initial motivations of each key character have been well established. In general, Final Fantasy IX does a masterful job of relating each character's personality, motivations, and way of thinking to the player. I can't think of a single other game from this era where the way a character walks and runs manages to convey so much of what they are like, from Vivi's swaying walk to Steiner's stiff movements.

     

    The story and characters are among the series' best. Every character has a purpose and an arc they go through, and they genuinely change and develop as events unfold. Zidane is among my favourite main characters in the entire series. The fact that he is actually a positive, upbeat character after two overly serious, broody protagonists is a huge breath of fresh air. In addition, the game has what I consider to be one of the best main villains in the series.

    Final Fantasy IX also introduces a new story mechanic called Active-Time Events. These are small, optional scenes the player can view at specific points in the game. They often give insights into a character's thoughts and actions, showing what they are doing when alone or away from the main party the player is controlling. They are an excellent addition to the game, as they provide plenty of room for secondary characters to develop and grow, and of course they give the player more insight into many of the game's key events.

     

    Visually, Final Fantasy IX is absolutely gorgeous. An argument could even be made that it is the best-looking PS1 game ever made. The character models are impressively detailed and vibrant, and the pre-rendered backgrounds had never looked better. Most backgrounds also contain some moving elements like flags, smoke, or other small details that make the world seem alive. In terms of visual design, I don't think the Final Fantasy series has ever looked as good as it did here. The world simply looks amazing, with each location and area having its own style and feel that makes it memorable.

    The FMV cutscenes are also some of the most impressive I've ever seen in any video game. Their scale and design is awe-inspiring, especially those featuring the game's summons, this time called Eidolons. The developers also once again used the trick where the game seamlessly transitions from gameplay into a cutscene and back, but it is here that they truly perfected the technique, before unfortunately abandoning it and using polygonal backgrounds starting with FFX.

     

    One of Final Fantasy IX's major themes was the exploration of the meaning of life and death. This can be seen in the storylines of many of the characters and locations in the game, with an actual tree of life, an entire dying world, and the cycle of souls being key parts of the story. This is another aspect that really gives Final Fantasy IX its unique identity, and so even as the title intended to pay respects to the series past it still became its own creature.

     

    The Best Part

     

    The characters. Even with this entry featuring my favourite story, soundtrack, and visual design in the entire series, it's still the characters that make this game so memorable as far as I'm concerned. The main cast is fantastic, the villain is among the series' best, and the supporting cast is filled with memorable and fleshed out characters.

    Every major character develops and changes over the course of the game, going through a distinct story arc that impacts them in fundamental ways. Additionally, thanks to their well written and defined personalities, when they go through such changes it actually affects the game's story as well.

     

    The Worst Part

     

    There's nothing really bad about Final Fantasy IX, just a number of smaller annoyances. The new limit break system isn't very well designed thanks to its uncontrollable nature, Tetra Master is too vague in its instructions to be enjoyable, and learning abilities from equipment can mean that if you missed an ability earlier you may have to return back to using an inferior weapon or other piece of equipment later in the game, which can be quite frustrating.

    Still, perhaps the biggest issue for me is that it's actually too easy. Even the game's most difficult superboss is notably easier to defeat than its counterparts in most other entries in the series, although there are some decently challenging fights and sections, especially if you're playing Final Fantasy IX for the first time.

     

    Does Final Fantasy IX Still Hold Up?

     

    Yes, without question. To me personally this is the peak of the entire series. What few small weaknesses it has are entirely negligible and easy to disregard thanks to everything that is great about the game. Final Fantasy IX is often regarded as a game that kind of went unnoticed between three of the series' biggest ever releases, but in my opinion it is better than any of them.

    Visually it is still beautiful over 15 years after its release, even with all the limitations of the PS1. The backgrounds are vibrant and colourful and in general the game is filled with thousands of tiny details that make it look impressive even today. The character models still hold up, and as already mentioned the FMV sequences are absolutely stunning.

     

    The music is of course excellent, as is to be expected from Nobuo Uematsu. His score for Final Fantasy IX definitely ranks among his best. It had a very different feel to much of his work on VI, VII, and VIII, which all had darker, more sinister undertones. IX in contrast is much warmer and features many callbacks to the earlier Final Fantasy games, with many tracks from these titles being rearranged for the soundtrack.

    The ATB system was slightly reworked again and saw the return of elements that its immediate predecessors had discarded. As a result it comes off as bit of a strange mix of old and new, but overall I'd say it's a good system that's fun to use, it just doesn't quite have the same level of complexity that VII and VIII's systems had.

    One welcome change was the addition of a fourth character to the battle party. This gives the player a lot of additional tactical options in battle, and makes the combat much more varied as well. The frequency of the random battles was criticized, but I only found them to be an issue in a few specific places in the game, where the high number of battles starts to become very frustrating.

    The characters are very well written and sympathetic. The writing in general is also very good and can often be genuinely funny, a trait which also extends to the characters themselves. While the core narrative does reuse many familiar storyline elements from older Final Fantasy games, it puts its own twist to them, which allows them to still feel fresh and sufficiently different.

    Getting the game is probably easier now than it has ever before been. Not only is the original version available on PSN, but Final Fantasy IX was also rereleased on Steam and mobile with various updates earlier this year. The updated version was given various graphical improvements and various other changes, but both versions are equally viable.

    Final Fantasy IX is perhaps one of the series' less talked about entries, but it more than holds up in comparison to other entries in the series. While I understand that its drastic departure from the previous two entries can turn people away from Final Fantasy IX, I still strongly recommend playing it. It's a very different experience compared to other Final Fantasy titles, but as far as I'm concerned it's a superior one.

     

    Fun Fact

    With Final Fantasy IX being intended as a reflection on the entire series up to that point in time, it features a large number of allusions and references to previous games in the series. Here are a few of the more notable ones:

    • One of the game's main antagonists is called Garland, which also happened to be the name of Final Fantasy I's main villain.

    • To acquire Ramuh, the player must recount the tale of a man named Josef to him. Josef's story is taken almost directly from the events of Final Fantasy II.

    • One of Freya's most powerful weapons is Kain's Lance. Kain was of course one of FF IV's main characters.

    • During the play `I Want to be Your Canary´, Marcus says the following line: “No cloud, no squall shall hinder us!” The reference here should be quite obvious. 

    Additional Sources:
    - Wikia

    Full Article - http://www.vgchartz.com/article/266894/history-of-final-fantasy-respecting-the-past-final-fantasy-ix/

  • scissors
    December 22nd, 2016GamespotUncategorized

    Sony announced a demo for Gravity Rush 2 will be available today via the PlayStation Store. There are two paths in the demo - one for new players and one for those familiar with Kat’s powers.

    The Gravity Rush Overture will also be available on the US and Europe PlayStation YouTube channels on December 26 at 8am PT / 11am ET / 4pm GMT.


    Gravity Rush 2 launches for the PlayStation 4 on January 18, 2017 in Europe, January 19 in Japan, and January 20 in the North America.

    A life-long and avid gamer, William D'Angelo was first introduced to VGChartz in 2007. After years of supporting the site, he was brought on in 2010 as a junior analyst, working his way up to lead analyst in 2012. He has expanded his involvement in the gaming community by producing content on his own YouTube channel and Twitch channel dedicated to gaming Let's Plays and tutorials. You can contact the author at wdangelo@vgchartz.com or on Twitter @TrunksWD.

    Full Article - http://www.vgchartz.com/article/266901/gravity-rush-2-demo-available-today/

  • scissors
    December 22nd, 2016GamespotUncategorized

    Microsoft has started the Xbox Countdown Sale and has discounted several Xbox One and Xbox 360 titles. The sale ends on January 9. 

    More games will go on sale later this week and next week. 

     

    View the list of current deals below:

    Xbox One

    • Arcade Game Series 3-In-1 Pack – $3.20 – 60% Off
    • Assassin’s Creed 4 Black Flag – $12.00 – 60% Off
    • Assassin’s Creed Syndicate – $20.00 – 60% Off
    • Assassin’s Creed Syndicate Gold Edition – $28.00 – 60% Off
    • Bard’s Gold – $2.99 – 40% Off
    • Batman: Arkham Knight – $10.00 – 50% Off
    • Batman: Arkham Knight Premium Edition – $16.00 – 60% Off
    • Batman: Return To Arkham – $29.99 – 40% Off
    • Battlefield 1 – Titanfall 2 Deluxe Bundle – $75.00 – 50% Off
    • Battlefield 1 Ultimate Edition – $97.49 – 25% Off
    • Bedlam – The Game By Christopher Brookmyre – $5.99 – 40% Off
    • Bioshock: The Collection – $38.99 – 35% Off
    • Call Of Duty: Black Ops 3 – Gold Edition – $35.99 – 40% Off
    • Call Of Duty: Black Ops 3 Digital Deluxe Edition – $59.99 – 40% Off
    • Call Of Duty: IW Legacy + Destiny – The Collection Bundle – $76.99 – 45% Off
    • Call Of Duty: Infinite Warfare + Destiny – The Collection – $60.00 – 50% Off
    • Contrast – $5.00 – 50% Off
    • Crimson Chrome Bundle – $12.50 – 50% Off
    • Dark Souls 3 – $30.00 – 50% Off
    • Dark Souls 3 – Deluxe Edition – $42.50 – 50% Off
    • Dead Island Definitive Collection – $20.00 – 50% Off
    • Deadlight: Director’s Cut – $10.00 – 50% Off
    • Destiny – The Collection – $26.12 – 33% Off
    • Deus Ex: Mankind Divided – $30.00 – 50% Off
    • Deus Ex: Mankind Divided – Digital Deluxe Edition – $45.00 – 50% Off
    • Dishonored 2 – $40.19 – 33% Off
    • Dishonored Definitive Edition – $10.00 – 50% Off
    • Dovetail Games Euro Fishing – $11.09 – 40% Off
    • NHL 17 – $30.00 – 50% Off
    • NHL 17 Deluxe Edition – $40.00 – 50% Off
    • NHL 17 Super Deluxe Edition – $50.00 – 50% Off
    • F1 2016 – $30.00 – 50% Off
    • Final Fantasy 15 – $44.99 – 25% Off
    • Final Fantasy 15 Digital Premium Edition – $63.74 – 25% Off
    • Far Cry Primal – $25.00 – 50% Off
    • Far Cry Primal – Apex Edition – $27.50 – 50% Off
    • Firewatch – $11.99 – 40% Off
    • Forza Motorsport 6 Deluxe Edition – $35.00 – 50% Off
    • Forza Motorsport 6 Standard Edition – $25.00 – 50% Off
    • Forza Motorsport 6 Ultimate Edition – $45.00 – 50% Off
    • Forza Horizon 3 Standard Edition – $38.99 35% Off
    • Forza Horizon 3 Deluxe Edition – $59.99 – 25% Off
    • Forza Horizon 3 Ultimate Edition – $79.99 – 20% Off
    • Grow Up – $5.00 – 50% Off
    • Grand Theft Auto 5 $30.00 – 50% Off
    • Grand Theft Auto 5 & Great White Shark Cash Card – $40.00 – 50% Off
    • Grand Theft Auto 5 & Megalodon Shark Cash Card Bundle – $64.00 – 60% Off
    • Grand Theft Auto 5 & Whale Shark Cash Card Bundle – $44.00 – 60% Off
    • Hitman – The Complete First Season – $30.00 – 50% Off
    • Hitman Intro Pack – $7.50 – 50% Off
    • Halo 5: Guardians – $20.00 – 50% Off
    • Halo 5: Guardians – Digital Deluxe Edition – $35.00 – 50% Off
    • Inside & Limbo Bundle – $17.99 – 40% Off
    • Jotun: Valhalla Edition – $10.04 – 33% Off
    • Lego Marvel Super Heroes – $5.00 – 75% Off
    • Lego Marvel’s Avengers – $21.99 – 45% Off
    • Lego Marvel’s Avengers Deluxe Edition – $27.49 – 45% Off
    • Life Is Strange Complete Season (Episodes 1-5) – $5.00 – 75% Off
    • Lost Sea – $7.50 – 50% Off
    • Metal Gear Solid 5: Ground Zeroes – $10.00 – 50% Off
    • Metal Gear Solid 5: The Definitive Experience – $33.49 – 33% Off
    • Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain – $20.00 – 50% Off
    • Madden NFL 17 – $30.00 – 50% Off –
    • Madden NFL 17 Deluxe Edition – $35.00 – 50% Off
    • Madden NFL 17 Super Deluxe Edition – $50.00 – 50% Off
    • Mafia 3 – $38.99 – 35% Off
    • Mafia 3 Deluxe Edition – $47.99 – 40% Off
    • Minecraft: Story Mode – The Complete Season (Episodes 1-5) – $10.00 – 50% Off
    • Mount & Blade: Warband – $13.39 – 33% Off
    • NBA 2K17 – $41.99 – 30% Off
    • NBA 2K17 Kobe Bryant Legend Edition – $51.99 – 35% Off
    • NBA 2K17 Kobe Bryant Legend Edition Gold – $59.99 – 40% Off
    • Ori And The Blind Forest: Definitive Edition – $10.00 – 50% Off
    • Oxenfree – $10.00 – 50% Off
    • Pac-Man Championship Edition 2 – $8.44 – 35% Off
    • Payday 2 – Crimewave Edition – The Big Score Game Bundle – $29.99 – 40% Off
    • Payday 2: Crimewave Edition – $6.60 – 67% Off
    • Prison Architect: All Day And A Night Edition – $23.99 – 40% Off
    • Pro Evolution Soccer 2017 – Digital Exclusive – $38.99 – 35% Off
    • Project Cars – Game Of The Year Edition – $21.99 – 45% Off
    • Project Cars Digital Edition – $15.00 – 50% Off
    • Star Wars Battlefront – $10.00 – 50% Off
    • Star Wars Battlefront Deluxe Edition – $15.00 – 50% Off
    • Star Wars Battlefront Ultimate Edition – $29.99 – 25% Off
    • Saints Row: Gat Out Of Hell – $3.75 – 75% Off
    • Tales From The Borderlands Complete Season (Episodes 1-5) – $6.60 – 67% Off
    • The Elder Scrolls 5: Skyrim Special Edition – $40.19 – 33% Off
    • The Escapists: Supermax Edition – $10.39 – 67% Off
    • The Flame In The Flood – $10.00 – 50% Off
    • The Incredible Adventures Of Van Helsing 2 – $7.50 – 50% Off
    • The Incredible Adventures Of Van Helsing 2: Extended Edition – $10.00 – 50% Off
    • The Telltale Undead Survival Bundle – $18.15 – 67% Off
    • The Walking Dead: Michonne – A Telltale Miniseries – $4.95 – 67% Off
    • The Witness – $26.79 – 33% Off
    • Titanfall 2 – $30.00 – 50% Off –
    • Titanfall 2 Deluxe Edition – $40.00 – 50% Off
    • Trials Fusion: The Awesome Max Edition – $16.00 – 60% Off
    • WWE 2k17 – $41.99 – 30% Off
    • WWE 2K17 Digital Deluxe – $53.99 – 40% Off
    • Warhammer: End Times – Vermintide – $23.99 – 40% Off
    • Wolfenstein: The New Order – $10.00 – 50% Off –
    • Wolfenstein: The Old Blood – $10.00 – 50% Off
    • Worms W.M.D – $20.09 – 33% Off
    • Everspace (Game Preview) – $23.99 – 20% Off
    • Forza Horizon 3 Deluxe Edition – $59.99 – 25% Off
    • Forza Horizon 3 Ultimate Edition – $79.99 – 20% Off
    • Gears Of War 4 Ultimate Edition – $69.99 – 30% Off
    • Recore – $19.99 – 50% Off

    Xbox 360

    • Assassin’s Creed 4 Black Flag – $ 7.99 20%
    • Batman – The Telltale Series – Season Pass – $9.99 17%
    • Batman: Arkham City – $6.59 23%
    • Batman: The Telltale Series – $0.74
    • Borderlands – $5.99 25%
    • Call Of Duty 2 – $9.99 17%
    • Call Of Duty: Black Ops – $14.99 17%
    • Call Of Duty: Black Ops 2 – $24.99 50%
    • Call Of Duty: Black Ops 3 – Bundle – $24.99 50%
    • Captured Kv-1 Elite – $27.99 11%
    • Dead Island – $2.24 40%
    • Dead Island Riptide – $2.99 33%
    • Destiny: The Taken King – $12.99 13%
    • Destiny: The Taken King – Digital Collector’s Edition – $22.79 15%
    • Destiny: The Taken King – Legendary Edition — $17.99 14%
    • Deus Ex: Human Revolution – $3.74 29%
    • Dishonored – $9.99 17%
    • Escape Dead Island – $1.99 50%
    • Fallout: New Vegas – $7.49 17%
    • Fallout: New Vegas – Lonesome Road – $6.69 11%
    • Game Of Thrones – Season Pass (Episodes 2-6) – $6.59 23%
    • Goat Simulator – $3.29 23%
    • Goat Simulator: Payday – $3.74 12%
    • Grand Theft Auto 5 – $23.99 14%
    • GTA 4 – $4.99 29%
    • Gyromancer – $7.49 17%
    • Injustice: Gods Among Us – $7.99 20%
    • Just Cause 2 – $2.99 33%
    • Lego Marvel Super Heroes – $4.99 24%
    • Lego Marvel’s Avengers – $16.49 15%
    • Life Is Strange Season Pass (Episodes 2-5) – $4.24 29%
    • Madden NFL 17 – $29.99 17%
    • Midnight Club: LA – $8.99 40%
    • Minecraft: Story Mode – Adventure Pass (Additional Episodes 6-8) – $4.99 17%
    • Minecraft: Story Mode – Season Pass – $9.99 17%
    • NBA 2K17 – $44.99 25%
    • Oblivion – $7.49 17%
    • Prison Architect: All Day And A Night DLC – $5.99 14%
    • Prison Architect: Xbox 360 Edition – $17.99 14%
    • Quake Arena Arcade – $2.49 17%
    • Rayman Legends – $13.19 18%
    • Red Dead Redemption – $14.99 17%
    • Remember Me – $5.99 70%
    • Saints Row: Gat Out Of Hell – $3.74 29%
    • Shred Nebula – $1.99 20%
    • Skate 3 – $9.99 17%
    • Sleeping Dogs – $6.99 65%
    • Tales From The Borderlands – Season Pass – $4.94 23%
    • The Walking Dead: Michonne – Season Pass (Episodes 2-3) – $2.63 23%
    • The Walking Dead: Season Two – Season Pass – $4.94 23%
    • Wolfenstein 3D – $2.49 17%
    • WWE 2K17 – $44.99 25%

    Thanks VG24/7.

    A life-long and avid gamer, William D'Angelo was first introduced to VGChartz in 2007. After years of supporting the site, he was brought on in 2010 as a junior analyst, working his way up to lead analyst in 2012. He has expanded his involvement in the gaming community by producing content on his own YouTube channel and Twitch channel dedicated to gaming Let's Plays and tutorials. You can contact the author at wdangelo@vgchartz.com or on Twitter @TrunksWD.

    Full Article - http://www.vgchartz.com/article/266900/xbox-countdown-sale-has-started-here-is-the-list-of-the-current-deals/

  • scissors
    December 22nd, 2016GamespotUncategorized

    Uncharted 4: A Thief's End was the highest rated game in 2016 on Metacritic with a Metascore of 93. That beat out three games that had a Metascore of 92: Inside on the Xbox One, Out of the Park Baseball 17 on PC and The Witcher 3, Wild Hunt - Blood and Wine on PC.

    The average Metascore for all games on the PlayStation 4 in 2016 was 69.1, compaired with 69.8 on the Xbox One, 70.8 on PC, and 68.5 on Wii U.

     

    Here is the list of titles with a 90+ Metascore:

    1. Uncharted 4 (PS4) 93%
    2. Inside (Xbox One) 92%
    3. Out of the Park Baseball 17 (PC) 92%
    4. The Witcher 3: Blood and Wine (PC) 92%
    5. Overwatch (PC) 91%
    6. Overwatch (Xbox One) 91%
    7. Forza Horizon 3 (Xbox One) 91%
    8. The Witcher 3: Blood and Wine (PS4) 91%
    9. Inside (PS4) 91%
    10. Overwatch (PS4) 90%
    11. Stephen’s Sausage Roll (PC) 90%
    12. NBA 2K17 (2K Games) 90%
    13. Kentucky Route Zero – Act IV (PC) 90%

    A life-long and avid gamer, William D'Angelo was first introduced to VGChartz in 2007. After years of supporting the site, he was brought on in 2010 as a junior analyst, working his way up to lead analyst in 2012. He has expanded his involvement in the gaming community by producing content on his own YouTube channel and Twitch channel dedicated to gaming Let's Plays and tutorials. You can contact the author at wdangelo@vgchartz.com or on Twitter @TrunksWD.

    Full Article - http://www.vgchartz.com/article/266899/uncharted-4-a-thiefs-end-highest-rated-game-in-2016-on-metacritic/

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