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Thoughts On: Telltale Games

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I am currently playing through The Wolf Among Us from Telltale Games, and here are my two cents worth on the first episode. For someone who hasn’t read the comic book series this game is based on, I really enjoyed the first episode. I was intrigued by this world the game gave me, and I liked the characters, along with the subtle and not so subtle vibes they gave off. I am interested in checking out the comic book series this game is based on, but I want to take my own guesses with what might happen with the characters in the game’s story. I am not going to review The Wolf Among Us until all five episodes are out so I can review the entire experience and not just the individual episodes. I will say this though, get the season pass for this game. Now then, I thought this week I would also talk about the company that made this game since their second season to their Walking Dead game is coming out soon. I also want to talk about them because they are slowly becoming one of my favorite developers, and are filled with ex-LucasArt employees. Anyway, let’s get started on talking about Telltale Games!

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Like I said, Telltale Games was made by a bunch of ex-LucasArts employees in June 2004. Knowing what was going on with LucasArts during that time, and knowing what they have done since, I don’t blame them for quitting that company, due to how much of a flop the studio would be in the 2000s and since. Moving on, Telltale Games released their first game in February 2005 and it was called Telltale Texas Hold’em. It was obviously a poker game, and that got them some positive reviews. Kind of weird to start off your legacy as a company with a poker game, when in the future, you would be known for your high quality adventure games. It is just interesting to me, personally. Their second game would be their first official adventure game, and it was based off of the comic book series Bone. The game was called Bone: Out from Boneville, which was based off of the first volume of the Bone series. It was released on September 15th, 2005. It was met with mostly positive reviews, but was criticized for its simple gameplay and short length. In March 2006, they released an adventure game based off of CSI called CSI: 3 Dimensions of Murder. It was met with mixed reviews. In April of that same year, they released Bone: The Great Cow Race. Just as with the first Bone game, it was also met with positive reviews. Telltale Games is now known for releasing their games episodically, and their first episodic game was Sam & Max Save the World. Critics and gamers loved the humor, graphics, and gameplay. However, it was criticized for the simple puzzles and the overall repetitive design. It was a very successful game for the company and cemented their legacy of releasing their adventure games in episodic formats. 2007 saw the release of CSI: Hard Evidence. It garnered a mostly above-average response, but it was definitely not their best game. Since CSI: Hard Evidence was not a huge success, they went back to the drawing boards and made another Sam & Max game called Sam & Max Beyond Time and Space in November 2007-April 2008. It was once again well received by critics.

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Their next episodic adventure game would be rather different, and tackle the popular Homestar Runner online series. It was called Strong Bad’s Cool Game for Attractive People, and was released from August 2008 to December 2008. It was well received, but was criticized by claims that consumers who haven’t seen the online series wouldn’t understand the overall experience, and that there was a lack of ambition in most of the episodes. I haven’t played this game, but it looks fun, and I was a huge fan of the site a long time ago. Their next game would be based off of the stop-motion Wallace & Gromit franchise called Wallace & Gromit’s Grand Adventures, and was released in March 2009. It had a positive reception, and is a pretty fun adventure game, but it is distracting that they had to get Wallace’s stand-in voice actor instead of the original one. The stand-in’s voice is obviously very different than Wallace’s original voice. Their next game would bring the ex-LucasArts employees back to the 90s, when they were still a part of the LucasArts family, since their next game was Tales of Monkey Island. They even got Ron Gilbert, who was one of the original creators of the franchise to help with the game. It was highly praised, and I have played a bit of it. It is a fun game, but the controls are wonky. It was released in July 2009. Once again, they made another CSI game in October 2009 called CSI: Deadly Intent. The only thing that really stands out about this game is that the DS version has four unique chapters that are not in the other versions. April 2010 saw the release of the developer’s most recent Sam & Max game called Sam & Max: The Devil’s Playhouse. Once again, it was well received, and it just seems like the Sam & Max games are now one of the most consistent game series based off of a licensed property. Telltale Games would be the publisher of a three episode adventure game called Hector: Badge of Carnage, which was released from June 2010 to September 2010. It was highly praised for its humor and being a well-designed game. If you have played this game, tell me your experience with it, and I might try it out on my iPhone or computer when I get the chance. June 2010 saw the release of Nelson Tethers: Puzzle Agent. It was a collaboration project with Graham Annable, who was the creator of Grickle, and is a very talented animator. For some reason in 2010, they released another CSI game called CSI: Fatal Conspiracy. Big surprise, it didn’t get good reviews. Their next game would actually not be an adventure game. Understandable, since I would think after so many adventure games in a row, they would need to take a break from the genre. They then made a poker game that was called Poker Night at the Inventory. It was, for the most part, a simple poker game, but was popular due to the cast of characters you played poker against. The game was known for starring Heavy from Team Fortress 2, Strong Bad from Homestar Runner, Max from Sam & Max, and Tycho from Penny Arcade’s webcomic. It was well received, and seems like a popular game, but I am not much of a poker player, so the game doesn’t really interest me.

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On December 22, 2010 they released their next adventure game, Back to the Future: The Game. This game was unique, due to the story taking place six months after the original trilogy, and they even brought back Christopher Lloyd to reprise his role from the movies. It was a popular game, despite some criticism due to technical issues seen throughout the five episodes. I have only played the demo of the first episode, and it is interesting, but I didn’t really grow up with the Back to the Future series, so the game didn’t really grab me. After making a Law & Order game, and a solo episode puzzle game, they released their next adventure game based off of one of the more popular movie franchises, Jurassic Park. The plot of the game took place during and after the first Jurassic Park film, which is nice, since the other two films in the franchise…yeah, forget about those. It was also noticeable for originally being released in April, but was pushed back to November of 2011, with all four episodes released at once. Its reward for the delayed release was mixed reviews with critics and gamers complaining about bland story, forgettable characters, and weak gameplay. Yeah, when your characters and story are the weakest part of your adventure game, you did something wrong. After making another episodic adventure game based off of Law & Order, they then got to work on what I consider to be their best game. In April 2012, they released their next episodic experience, this time based on The Walking Dead. The story was an original story following a convict named Lee Everett and his relationship with a young girl named Clementine during the zombie outbreak. It was critically acclaimed and won the developer multiple Game of the Year Awards. It is my favorite game from the developer, and is one of my favorite games of all time. They just showed that the game industry can have good storytelling. They released an expansion to Season 1 called 400 Days that will hopefully expand into the recently announced Season 2. After that money train came through their doors, they released a sequel to their popular poker game in April 2013 called Poker Night 2. The cast this time was definitely one that I never expected to see. The cast this time includes Brock Samson from The Venture Bros. TV series, Ash from Evil Dead, Sam from Sam & Max, and Claptrap from the Borderlands franchise with GLaDOS from Portal being the card dealer. I don’t know if this game is more popular than the last game, but I wish these Poker Night games were real, since I want to be a witness to the conversation these characters would have with each other. Currently, they are working on The Walking Dead Season 2 and their newest adventure game, The Wolf Among Us.

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So, what do I like about this company? They basically brought back the adventure game genre. For several years after the genre died down, this company came out and started making adventure games again for the newer and older generation of gamers to enjoy. By the time they started releasing their adventure games, gamers were more interested in action games, shooters, and RPGs than point-and-click adventure games. It would have been looked at as a risky investment, but since most of the developer were made up of ex-LucasArts employees, I think we were in pretty good hands. I mean, in this day of gaming, would we think a licensed game like Telltale’s The Walking Dead would get multiple Game of the Year Awards? That is just amazing to think about. It is also nice that they haven’t had to go back on old point-and-click adventure game mechanics that would now look like utter tedium, topped with a spread of frustration. And again, they show that games can have engaging stories.

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Now then, what would I like to see from this talented company in the future? For the most part, I don’t want them to tackle other genres. I think since their strength is in cinematic adventure games, they should stick to that, while innovating and improving on the format. Where I would to see them change is in tackling an adventure game not based off of an already existing IP. I love how they are making good licensed games like The Walking Dead, Back to the Future, and their recent adventure game based off Fables, but I would like to see what they can do with their own unique ideas. I mean, am I the only one who would like to see them tackle an original adventure game IP? I also think they need to tackle the technical issues that plague their games. I know this is like asking Rockstar or Bethesda to not have any technical issues in their games, but it wouldn’t hurt to put some of their resources in making sure there aren’t any minor bugs that detract from the experience. I also think some minor art design tweaks are needed, due to some of the character models that are in their games having rather weird facial expressions. I don’t know if it is the art style that does this, but I feel like there needs to be some tweaks to the art design.

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In the end, Telltale Games has some incredible promise as a developer and will hopefully be getting stronger and better in the future. They just need to change a few minor things to be truly great. For now, I anticipate The Wolf Among Us Episode Two and The Walking Dead Season 2. What would you all like to see from this company? For now, it’s time for my third playthrough of The Wolf Among Us Episode 1.

Thoughts On: Level-5

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Remember when Square Enix was basically the go-to destination for RPGs? I mean, from the late 80s to the beginning of the 2000s, they were the RPG makers to be on the watch for. They were especially the guys to respect when Squaresoft acquired Enix becoming Square Enix, and had both Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest under their belt. Up to 2006, they were king of the RPGs, but after that, around Final Fantasy XII’s release, Square Enix became the butt of every RPG maker’s joke, when Final Fantasy XII, XIII, the first version of XIV, and XIII’s sequels caused some major issues within the Square Enix fan base. For the most part, it was because most of the fan base thought the games were not as good or up to the standards of past games. That changed slightly in 2013, when they decided not to beat around the bush, and impressed us by improving Final Fantasy XIV, and showing us what Final Fantasy XV was going to look like. During that seven year span, some trust was lost between the developer and the consumer. When that happened, gamers had to rediscover or find alternative RPG games or franchises, and back then, that was like journeying into the unknown. Sure, there were other RPGs made by other companies than Square Enix, but they were risky investments since the Square Enix name was a familiar one in terms of quality RPGs. Anyway, gamers turned to different franchises like Wild Arms, Persona, Shadow Hearts, Suikoden, and Grandia, just to name a few. RPG gamers also had a multitude of developers available to satisfy their RPG fix, like tri-Ace, tri-Crescendo, Game Arts, Atlus, Konami, and you get the idea. However, one company throughout the years has shown that they have the RPG chops to play with the big boys, and that was the independent Japanese developer, Level-5. These guys arrived around the PlayStation 2’s launch back in the early 2000s, and have since become a rather famous company that has developed many popular games. They also got the help of publishers, like Namco Bandai and Square Enix, to release games like Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch, and two Dragon Quest games. They do have their faults and I do think some of these faults are major, but the good that they have done obviously outweighs some of their issues. Let’s get started.

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The company was officially founded in 1998 by a guy named Akihiro Hino, who was a part of the now defunct developer Riverhillsoft. While he was working at Riverhillsoft, he worked on the OverBlood franchise. When he founded Level-5, he decided to cooperate with Sony on working on the PlayStation 2, but would only do it if he could have his own company. After they made the agreement, Level-5 was born. Before I talk about the games this developer has made, I am only going to focus on the RPGs and the games that they are known for, which means I am going to skip over the Inazuman Eleven games and others, unless they are important in some way, shape, or form. Their first game for the PlayStation 2 was the very popular Dark Cloud. It was originally meant to be a launch title for the PlayStation 2, but it was delayed until a later time. It was well received for its action-oriented combat, multiple playable characters, town-building gameplay, and randomized dungeons. The game sold a little over a million copies, but I haven’t personally played the game. I have seen it on the shelves of rental stores many times, but never knew anything about it. If you all recommend it, I will go find a copy. In 2002, they released a sequel to Dark Cloud known as Dark Chronicle in Japan, but as Dark Cloud 2 in America. It had a different art style and some new gameplay mechanics that would both be used in a title that I will talk about soon. It was also well received, and once again, I haven’t played this game. If you have played this game and recommend it, I will go get a copy to review.

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After working on the Dark Cloud games, Level-5 basically got a request by Square Enix to make the next game in the very popular Dragon Quest franchise. In 2004, they released Dragon Question VIII: Journey of the Cursed King for the PlayStation 2. It was, again, well received, and sold well in both Japan and in America, but knowing how American gamers were towards the franchise back then, saying it sold well in America is really saying something, especially if you compared the huge number of copies that were sold in Japan to the number of copies sold in America. Personally, this is my favorite PlayStation 2 RPG, and is one of my all-time favorite video games. It was just an amazing game that went back to the basics of the franchise and had entertaining gameplay, and a very enjoyable story. This wouldn’t be the only game in the Dragon Quest franchise they would work on, but we will get back to the franchise in a minute or more. Their next PlayStation 2 RPG was released in 2005 in Japan, and in 2007 in America, called Rogue Galaxy. This is, once again, another RPG that was well received, and I know a lot of people really like this game, but I didn’t really care for Rogue Galaxy. I remember not liking the gameplay that much, but this was a few years ago, and my patience for RPGs has expanded, so tell me what you all think about the game and I might give it another try. It just didn’t give me a good first impression. In 2006, Level-5 released a tactical RPG for the PlayStation Portable called Jeanne d'Arc, and it was released in America in 2007. It got pretty good reviews, and I always hear that people recommend this game.

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Like I said, I am going to skip over a chunk of the games that don’t really matter, since this company is more known for their RPGs, but I would feel stupid if I didn’t mention this other famous franchise. In 2007, they released their first major puzzle game, Professor Layton and the Curious Village. This game was released in America a year later. It was known for some rather challenging puzzles, and a rather charming art style that other games have tried to copy, but failed to do so. It was well received, and it resulted in a new franchise of games that came out almost every single year, with a new game in development as we speak, along with the crossover game with Phoenix Wright coming out next year here in the states.

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So, move back to the year 2008. Level-5 was doing pretty well for themselves and were getting the recognition that they deserved. It seemed like nothing could bring this developer down. Well, something did. At least in my opinion, this shows off their weaknesses in game developing. They released White Knight Chronicles in 2008 in Japan and 2010 for the U.S.A. The biggest draw for this game was its MMO-inspired design, its multiplayer component, and the gimmick of being able to summon a giant suit of armor that reminds me of the anime The Vision of Escaflowne. In the end, the game received mixed reviews, and gamers either liked the game to an extent or hated it. The game has its draws, but in the end, it’s just average. I always kept hearing how people enjoyed the multiplayer component, but since they shut down the servers a few months back, you are stuck with the single player story that was considered average to mediocre, a “make your own” avatar character that would make you feel more like a creepy third wheel within the game’s story, bland looking graphics, and gameplay that could be rather repetitive and tedious at times. The biggest waste of time was the giant knight you could summon. There really wasn’t much to this mechanic, and it felt shallow. It was easily one of Level-5’s most disappointing releases to many gamers. Obviously, they would take the criticism, and improve on it in the sequel. They released White Knight Chronicles II in 2010 and America got it a year later. The game got more mixed to negative reviews because they didn’t fix a thing! Well, they have fixed a few things, but the overall game was left unchanged. You would think the sequel would be even better than the first game, but this is one of those cases where the sequel just feels worse than the original. This franchise had potential to be more than what it ended up being, but they sure didn’t do anything to make it stand out among JRPGs released during that time. There is also a prequel game on the PSP, but I could barely find out any information on this game. Level-5 also got to work on the next Dragon Quest game, and released it in Japan in 2009 and in America in 2010, Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies for the Nintendo DS. It was highly praised for the small changes to the overall design, and the inclusion of being able to play with your friends through online multiplayer. This is another game that just isn’t my cup of tea. I know a lot of people really love this game due to its multiplayer mode, but that takes away from the story and the single player experience, which is what I really loved about the previous Dragon Quest game, but maybe I’m making the multiplayer sound worse than it is because it really isn’t so bad. I can see the appeal of playing through the creative world of Dragon Quest with a couple friends.

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Their next big RPG came out in 2010 where they collaborated with famed animation studio, Studio Ghibli, and the result of this collaboration was Ni no Kuni: Shikkoku no Madōshi, which translates to Second Country: The Jet Black Mage. It was released for the Nintendo DS and was pretty well received, but from what I read, it sold only half a million copies. They then made a PlayStation 3 version called Ni no Kuni: Shiroki Seihai no Joō. This translates to Second Country: The Queen of White Sacred Ash. It came over here to America as Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch. The difference between the two games, besides the titles, was the combat. From what I could tell, The Nintendo DS version was more tactical turn-based combat, and the PlayStation 3 version was more action-oriented. What do I think about Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch? Well, you will have to wait to read my review of it. Level-5 has also made an anthology game series called Guild01 and Guild02. They were a bunch of games made by different developers and designers. I hear good things about the individual games, and I would recommend checking out a few of them. Currently, they are working on a RPG for the PlayStation 3, Xbox One, Android, IOS, PlayStation Vita, PlayStation 4, and Wii U called Wonder Flick. It looks interesting, and I wanted to write an article about it, but there isn’t enough information about the game yet, so I am going to wait on making an article about this RPG.

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Boy, that was quite the history about their line of RPGs and other well-known games, wasn’t it? Anyway, what do I like about Level-5? Well, when they hit the mark of making a great RPG, they really hit it. You can tell when they put their passion, heart, and soul into an RPG. They know how to keep what old RPG fans like in their games, but bring something new and interesting to keep the gameplay addicting and investing to the player. I still think their best games are Dragons Quest XIII and Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch because they were doing something that Square wasn’t doing during that time, making stories and characters we actually care about and are invested in, not piling on the melodrama like chocolate sauce on an ice cream sundae. They were changing up the RPG genre by either going back to their roots or innovating where it’s needed. Sometimes, it’s just a little change that is needed in a game or genre to make it great.

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So, what would I like to see them tackle next? What would I like to see change about them? Like any other company, I would like to see what they could do with other genres besides the RPG and the adventure puzzle game. They do work on other games like the Inazuman Eleven and some Gundam games, but they don’t do many other original IPs that are different genres besides the RPG or puzzle game. I think they also need to polish up their track record. They kind of have the same issue as Gearbox Software, where they will release a good game, then a bad game, then a good game, and then a bad game. In this day and age, where gamers are being as finicky as ever with what games they buy on day one, you really need to put your all into the game, no matter what budget or time limit you have. While Level-5’s track record isn’t as inconsistent in quality as Gearbox Software, it is definitely there. They release Dragon Quest VIII, fantastic RPG. They release Rogue Galaxy, pretty good, but not on par with Dragon Quest VIII. They release White Knight Chronicles, pretty disappointing. They release Dragon Quest IX, everyone loves it. They release White Knight Chronicles II, the game sucked. They release Ni No Kuni, pretty much everyone loves it. Who knows how well Wonder Flick will do, but let’s hope it does well.

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In the end, Level-5 is a good developer. They do make good RPGs. Even their weaker RPGs are better than the worst games that Gearbox has made. I know there are other RPG developers that are mixing up the RPG genre, but Level-5 was the company that reminded us that, “hey, other Japanese companies make RPGs also!” They are obviously very talented at Level-5, and I hope they do well in the future with their next couple of games! As for me, I am going to play some more Ni No Kuni and find some more info on Wonder Flick!

Thoughts On: Adventure Games

Recently, I have become interested in the adventure genre again, chiefly with titles like Beneath a Steel Sky, the Space Quest franchise, Grim Fandango, and The Neverhood, as well as more recent adventure games; I've specifically been into The Wolf Among Us and Telltale’s The Walking Dead. This is a genre I usually stay away from, due to some rather finicky design issues that I have a distaste for in certain adventure games. The genre was essentially dead until a couple of game designers and developers decided to slowly resurrect it with a fresh new look and design. Adventure games have definitely had an interesting history in popularity. They were the “unique” games of their time before we had a slew of indie developers and Kickstarter projects publishing unique games. I'll provide a little cliffNotes history of the companies that were the most well-known for making adventure games, talk about what I like and dislike about the genre, and explain what I think needs to change.

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Back in the day, games were very simple when the arcade and home consoles were available to the public. There wasn’t really anything complex about the games themselves. All you did was perform a certain action, like platforming, shooting, or gaining points, and hope to get the highest score you could. It was a simpler time back then. The adventure genre began in the ‘70s as text-based adventures, in which you typed in commands in order to progress through the story. These kinds of games were made famous by companies like Infocom, and they are not my cup of tea. I don’t care for games that are only text-based, and, on top of this, games where you have items packaged with the game in order to get you immersed in that game’s world. Luckily, in 1979, a company known as Sierra Entertainment surfaced, and they decided to be more innovative with their adventure games by actually using graphical images in them. Sierra Entertainment was mostly well-known during the '80s until the late '90s for their titles like King’s Quest, Space Quest, Leisure Suit Larry, Gabriel Knight, Quest of Glory, and so on. The games themselves were known for a variety of things; the Space Quest series was known for its humor, and the Kings Quest games were known for being brutally difficult and somewhat unfriendly to gamers, but they were popular nonetheless.

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In the '80s up until the late '90s, LucasArts, the company owned by none other than George Lucas, decided to throw their hat in the ring by developing some of their own games. Let’s just say that their attempt at making adventure games got them to be one of the most popular game developers around at the time. They were known for games like Maniac Mansion, Day of the Tentacle, the Monkey Island series, Full Throttle, Sam and Max, Grim Fandango, The Dig, and many others. These games also got highly praised for being extremely funny, but why is the humor one of reasons these games stand out among adventure titles? It’s chiefly because they hired two of the best game designers around at the time, who were making and writing most of the adventure games listed above. The two designers in question are Tim Schaeffer and Ron Gilbert, who are extremely creative and know their way around humor. You may recognize them for more recent games like Deathspank, Brutal Legend, Stacking, and The Cave. During the ‘90s, another company called Cyan released a series of games called Myst, which were well known for being a first-person 3D adventure game. Sadly, at the tail end of the ‘90s, adventure games pretty much died as they stopped raking in huge sales, and games like The Neverhood and Grim Fandango became very difficult to find. For a while, adventure games popped up from time to time, but they were not a popular genre while action games, shooters, and platformers conquered the home consoles and computers. They remained dormant until the mid-2000s, which is when two companies in particular were doing rather interesting things with the adventure genre. Quantic Dream released Indigo Prophecy, a horror/cinematic adventure game with a morale system and multiple endings, which was very well-received. It is a game I definitely recommend checking out. The other company was Telltale Games, founded by ex-LucasArt employees, that got well known for their work on the newer Sam and Max games, a Monkey Island game, a game based off of Back to the Future, Jurassic Park, and The Walking Dead. The last one I mentioned won multiple Game of the Year awards, and it is one of my personal favorite games of all time. They are also known for an adventure game based around Wallace and Gromit, as well as their recent release of The Wolf Among Us, which is based off of the comic book series Fables. Recently, the adventure game genre has gotten a bit of a face lift, and it has starkly reappeared in the gaming industry. Even Kickstarter is helping out designers with games like Double Fine Production’s Broken Age (which I, personally, am looking forward to), and Doug TenNapel’s Armikrog being fully funded. Both are set to be released sometime in the future.

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So, what do I enjoy about adventure games? I enjoy the stories, the worlds, and the characters that come out of these kinds of games. I know a lot of people prefer gameplay over story, but with adventure games, if the world, story, and characters are not interesting, then you are merely walking around a boring world with forgettable characters, doing little but solving puzzles. Since story and characters are basically 50% or more of the focus in adventure games, developers can and should use most of the manpower they have to come up with a clever world and characters. This is where designers like Tim Schaeffer and Ron Gilbert really show off their strengths. I’ll list a few games and explain what I mean. In Toonstruck, you are a cartoonist played by Christopher Lloyd who gets sucked into a cartoon world being threatened by a malicious villain played by Tim Curry. The Neverhood is a huge clay-made world, filled with surreal humor, as well as a story that bears the biblical theme of creationism. Leisure Suit Larry in the Land of the Lounge Lizards is a comedy about a dorky guy whose only goal is to get laid. Blazing Dragons is a world with centaur-like dragons that are protecting the land from a villain played by Cheech Marin. What I'm getting at is this: if you cannot have fun or do well in creating a world using those premises, then you've done something wrong. You could even create far more adult-themed stories and worlds like in Sanitarium, Dark Seed, or I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream. I know there are gamers who also play adventure games for the puzzles, but the stories, characters, and settings are the things that I look at in an adventure game first. The puzzles have always been a mixed bag for me, but I usually prefer inventory puzzles, since 50% of the logic puzzles that I've played have left me stumped enough to look up a walkthrough.

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So, what do I think needs to change about adventure games and what do I hate about them? To put it simply, adventure games can be extremely unfriendly to gamers. Some adventure games are known for being brutally difficult for the reason of extending the game’s life span. Many tactics for making legendarily difficult adventure games have been used in the past, such as incorporating inventory items that can kill the player, creating unbeatable scenarios for the player to stumble upon, or adding puzzles that are completely cumbersome lest the player happens to be some adventure game god. Many adventure games simply adored messing with the player. I am all for games increasing in difficulty, but the adventure game tropes I listed above have always made me want to stop playing any game that featured them. I don’t feel rewarded after getting past something like the infamous Space Quest IV Skate-O-Rama section, but rather feel annoyed and exhausted that I spent hours or more on one section of the game that killed the pacing and enjoyment of the experience. Thank goodness we have patching available in gaming these days, or else stuff like this wouldn’t fly. There is a fine line between being difficult and being obnoxiously tedious, and a lot of game series like Kings Quest fell into the latter category, which is why I prefer the adventure games from LucasArts. Sure, LucasArts adventure games have their tedious moments, but they are never talked about as much as Sierra Entertainment adventure games. Adventure games also had the tendency to screw with the player simply for the sake of it, like the infamous hallway segment in The Neverhood. Let us not forget the trope of a game not telling you how or when you have messed up resulting in the player forcing to restart to the very beginning like in The Adventures of Willy Beamish. I don’t need everything hand-fed to me to beat the game, but I want to feel like I messed up because at least I know I've made a mistake – don’t tell me that I messed up when I did that one thing wrong seven hours back. Outlandish logic might make sense in games like Sam and Max or in Toonstruck, but it can’t be too headache-inducing; otherwise, people who aren’t dedicated gamers of the genre won’t want to play it anymore. In my opinion, adventure games need to be fluid experiences, and they can’t rely on illogical tropes to make their games creative. I know the appeal of these kinds of games is that if you stay dedicated, you will pull through and beat the game, but what if I just want to have fun in this game’s world? What if I want to feel enveloped in a game’s reality without having to worry about using which item when or where, or having to really think outside the box to solve a very minor puzzle?

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Overall, adventure games are an interesting genre to talk about, since you can do a lot of things with them. It's interesting that we are seeing a bit of a revival of the genre thanks to companies like Quantic Dream and Telltale, along with companies like Kickstarter who assist in funding designers like Doug TeNapel and Tim Schaeffer. On the plus side, this also provides the gaming industry with a bit more variety, which is one thing gamers are constantly asking for in a flood of shooters, RPGs, and action games. Maybe we will see more adventure games made by classic developers, and hopefully, see some sequels (or even spiritual successors) to some of the legendary adventure titles in gaming.

Thoughts On: If Nintendo were to make a sequel to Pokémon Snap 2

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This game should be no stranger to gamers who owned a Nintendo 64 like me when they were young. If you had a Nintendo 64 and didn’t have this game, there was something wrong with you. The game in question is Pokémon Snap. It was one of the most hyped games for the console, since it combined Pokemon and um, photography. While today it might not be special, it was a big deal then. It was a best seller for the console, and people to this day want a sequel to it. I mean, why hasn’t there been a sequel to a rather unique game? Photography in games has been a rather underutilized mechanic, and only a few games have implemented it into their gameplay. We have games like Dead Rising, the Fatal Frame franchise, and Beyond Good and Evil (one of my favorite games of all time, by the way) that use photography, but it was never the main focus of the game. The one game I could think of that used photography as a major mechanic besides the Fatal Frame franchise was a PlayStation 3 game called Afrika. Recently in an interview with Polygon, the director of the soon-to-be-released Pokémon X & Y games, Junichi Masuda, who is best known for working on the Pokémon franchise and games like Drill Dozer and HarmoKnight, was asked about a sequel to this fan favorite Pokémon game. Of course, he didn’t give a straight answer as to whether they have an idea about doing for a sequel or not. Seeing that article then got me thinking, what if Nintendo were to make a sequel to Pokémon Snap, what would it be like? I know someone has probably written an article about this, but I am just going to go through the ideas of what they could do with a sequel to a rather interesting game. Let’s get started!

Beyond his discussion on Pokemon X and Y, Junichi Masuda of Game Freak was also asked about Pokemon Snap, the beloved Pokemon photography game from the N64, and the possibilities...

My idea for a sequel would be that you are an aspiring Pokémon photographer, and you are sent out by a company that publishes a popular Pokémon magazine to take the best pictures of Pokémon ever! Yeah, the story shouldn’t be the main focus of this game, but this is just the setup. This will be a case where gameplay and world development should be priority number one.

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The gameplay is where the most change should be. Take the players off the rails, and let them explore a massive world. Give the players the ability to create their own character with a huge amount of customization options. Game Freak, or whoever they get to make this game, should also give the reasonable option of either the player piloting a transforming vehicle, or for the more popular option, have the player choose from a variety of Pokémon to help the player take photos. I mean, what Pokémon fan doesn’t want to have the ability to ride on top of a Braviary to get aerial views of herds of Pokémon, get great underwater shots while swimming on the back of a Mantine, or capture footage or shots of Pokémon running across the grasslands on top of a Dodrio? The main item that any good photographer should have is a camera, and maybe through leveling up, you can customize your camera to do to different things. Sub-items should be available like food or the Poké-Flute, but I don’t think the Pester Balls would be needed. Instead of having something to aggravate the Pokémon, the Pokémon themselves should act like they do in their descriptions in the Pokédex. As for the multi-player side of things, have players team up on challenging photography challenges, or compete against one another as to who can take the better photo. The difficulty could be in how good the photo is, like is the Pokémon looking natural or did you pester it, is the Pokémon too close to the camera, too far away, is its back turned, knocked out, and you get the idea. As for levels, instead of having generic levels like the last game, they should have the levels be the entire regions that you can travel across. I guess this idea for levels is too ambitious for its own good, but at least have iconic areas from each of the regions where you can take photos of multiple types of Pokémon. Maybe throw in city or town environments to see how Pokemon would react around them. It would be cool to see if they could fit all the regions into one game, but if they can’t, at least give us huge open areas of land, sky, water, mountains, and canyons to give the player more areas to take pictures from.

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I usually like to talk about the graphics around this time in all of my articles, but I don’t think I will, since, well, the game hasn’t been confirmed yet. It should look like a fully developed 3D world. Keep the art style the same. Keep it colorful and detailed. Make sure the world around the player feels immersive.

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Now, who would be the right developer to tackle such a project? Nintendo does have many small developers who have worked on spin-off Pokémon games before, but this project would have to have the right team. I know HAL Laboratory worked on the original with another company, but I think the ideal developer would be Monolith Soft. They would be a good fit for the project, due to their experience in making a huge world for the players to explore.

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In the end, this is all just an idea of what Nintendo could do with a sequel to a game that has so much more potential now. Sure, some people might want the game to be the same, like the last one, but I don’t think that would go over very well with everyone else. That is just my opinion though, and hopefully, they put as much effort into this possibility as their main franchises. Who says spin-offs can’t be just as good? Anyway, if you have any ideas on what you think should be in the possible sequel, comment below!

Thoughts On: Suda 51

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I want to make something clear about what these articles I write are about. First and foremost, it is not a review. If this was a review of a game that isn’t out yet, I would have given a score to it and that sounds rather silly to give a game a score when it isn’t even out yet. These are a series of written articles covering upcoming games, and giving my impressions of what I have seen of them, gaming topics, and other things gaming related. Now that I got that out of the way, I thought I would do an article about one of my favorite game designers, Suda 51. This is the guy who makes those crazy action games like No More Heroes, Shadows of the Damned, Lollipop Chainsaw, and the recently released Killer Is Dead, which will be one of my reviews in the near future. There is just something that I love about his games, even if they are not perfect all around. Let’s begin, shall we?

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Let’s get started with Suda 51’s history of being in the game industry. His actual name is Goichi Suda. The 51 is a play on his name, because "Go" means 5 and "ichi" means 1 in the Japanese language. He started out working for a developer called Human Entertainment, known for some popular games like a few Fire Pro Wrestler games, Vanguard Bandits, and the Super Famicom horror game, Clock Tower, among others. At Human Entertainment, the first games he worked on were Super Fire Pro Wrestling 3 Final Bout and Super Fire Pro Wrestling Special as a director and scenario writer. He also worked on a series of adventure horror games called Twilight Syndrome: Search, Twilight Syndrome: Investigate, and Moonlight Syndrome. None of these last three games were ever released in America. After the team at Human Entertainment disbanded, Suda 51 founded his own company called Grasshopper Manufacturer. Game-wise, this is when things got more interesting. I am going to skip a few years to the mid-2000s, because this is when Suda 51 got really noticed by the gaming community. In 2005, he released a GameCube and PlayStation 2 game known as Killer 7, an on-rails shooter kind of game with a unique artistic presentation. It was definitely a game that stood out among the games released that year. The reception was mixed, but Killer 7 became a cult classic among gamers and remains one of the many games talked about during the whole, “video games vs. art” and “sex and violence in video games” conversations. I have never played it, but if any of you have played either version of the game before, tell me what you think, and I might go find a copy of it since I am usually up for something unique. Suda 51 has made other games that were also well-known, but for the people that don’t know him, I thought I would start with one of his more recognized games. Some of his earlier games that he was famous for before Killer 7 are Flower, Sun, and Rain, and The Silver Case. We didn’t get the original release of those two games, but we did get a DS remake of Flower, Sun, and Rain, an adventure game that got mixed reviews when it was re-released, but was praised for its colorful themes and story. At the same time, it was criticized for its difficulty. Before we get to his more popular games, Grasshopper Manufacturer and Namco Bandai teamed up to make an action game based off of a popular and mostly well executed anime called Samurai Champloo. Now we get to the games he has worked on for the past few years. In 2008, Suda 51 released a new action game for the Wii called No More Heroes about a young man named Travis Touchdown who wants to become the number one assassin. The game was once again known for its violence and art style. It was well received with the biggest criticism concerning the camera and the very empty overworld you can travel through on your huge bike. I liked it personally, but it did have its problems. There is also a PlayStation 3 version that you can find that uses the PlayStation Move controller. Before releasing a sequel to No More Heroes, Suda 51 was the producer for a Nintendo DS RPG called Contact. It was released in 2009 and got mixed reviews. In 2010, he released a sequel to No More Heroes called No More Heroes: Desperate Struggle. The overall design of the first game was improved upon in the sequel, and some new playable characters were added in certain moments of the game. It is my favorite game out of the series, but it had some camera issues, and the first part of a certain boss fight was awful since you had to deal with the motorcycle controls in a small battle arena. In 2011, Suda 51’s company teamed up with EA to release a campy horror-survival-third-person shooter game known as Shadows of the Damned for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. This game had some big names besides Suda 51 behind it, like Shinji Mikami and Akira Yamaoka. Shadows of the Damned got mixed reviews, but a lot of people I have talked to who have played the game have said that they enjoyed it. Again, tell me what you all think of it and I might go out and buy a copy. 2012 brought us the quirky zombie-killing Lollipop Chainsaw for PS3 and 360, with the voice talent of Tara Strong who did voice work for many popular shows like The Powerpuff Girls and Teen Titans to voice the main female hero. It also got mixed reviews, but it was one of my personal favorite games of that year, even with its clunky controls. A few weeks ago, we got Killer Is Dead, another action game from Suda 51. You can probably tell how the reviews went so I won’t mention them here. Personally, I really liked Killer Is Dead, but it does have its issues. Suda 51 has worked on other games with his company, like Sin Mora and a game based off Blood+, but I just thought I’d give the viewers/readers a quick CliffNotes version of the games he and his company worked on that are well-known among the gaming community.

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So, what do I and many others like about this guy and his view on game design? Well, one thing that I think no one can deny is that his games are definitely memorable. They have a certain tone, look, and feel to how they play. They might be flawed, but in my experience of playing them, they always stuck in my mind out of most games I have played in that year. I think it’s great that he gets to make the kind of games he wants, even when he might be under the very tight grip of the publisher’s fist.

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Now then, what would I like to see him tackle in the future, or see him improve on? Of course, I would like to see him delve into other genres in gaming, like I think he could make a really trippy, deep, and unique L.A. Noire kind of game. I also wish he would polish up his games. Usually, you have different categories in what kind of an experience a game gives you. There are experiences like flash over substance, which is where Suda 51, in my opinion, falls. Sure, his games might look like no other, artistically, but there are always common issues within his games, like awkward camera angles and just an overall unpolished feel to them. Does his company allow suggestions or recommendations from the quality assurance team while the game is being worked on? I know this sounds harsh, and it is harsh, but after so many games and so many of the same problems, why do these common complaints still pop up? This next thing I would like to see him fix is a conflict of its own. I like how crazy his games can get, but sometimes I feel like that craziness detracts from the stories. I know Suda 51 is a smart man and has themes and commentary put into a lot of his games, but sometimes I just don’t see them. I don’t want to feel like I am stupid or something when I miss these themes and commentary, but I also don’t want Suda 51 to feel like he needs to be more explicit with his stories. Maybe I am just never going to be happy or able to explain this criticism, since I would criticize Suda 51 for toning down the craziness, but would also criticize him if the story was weak.

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So, do I have any last thoughts for Suda 51? Not really. I just hope he keeps creating his strange and unique games, giving the gaming world something different. Sure, his games might never reach “Game of the Year” status, but if you ever find any of his games for cheap, I would pick them up and see how you feel about them yourself. I know not everyone is going to like his style of games, but if you need something interesting in your action games, why not try out a game designed by Suda 51?

Thoughts On: Quantic Dream

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Well, it’s time for another Thoughts On. I honestly didn’t know what to do for the next one, since there wasn’t a game I really wanted to give my thoughts about at this moment. I usually want to wait for some more info and more footage about the game to get my thinking cap on. So I decided to play Indigo Prophecy on my original Xbox and then Heavy Rain on my PlayStation 3. For those not in the know, both games are made by one developer, Quantic Dream. And yes, this is the same developer that is developing one of my most anticipated games of this year, Beyond: Two Souls for the PlayStation 3. It came to me, why not do a Thoughts On about one of my favorite developers? So…yeah, that is just about it. Here are my thoughts on Quantic Dream.

Now, let’s talk about the company’s history and games. Their first game, Omikron: The Nomad Soul, was released in 1999 for the PC and Dreamcast. It was mostly an adventure game with some elements of first-person shooters, fighting games, and puzzle games. The game was met with mixed results and didn’t sell well. There was a plan to bring the game over to the PlayStation 1 and 2, but due to poor sales and the mixed reception, those plans were canceled. Quantic Dream’s next game wouldn’t come out for a couple of more years until the next generation of consoles were in their stride. In 2005, the next game they made was called Indigo Prophecy or, as it is called in other countries, Fahrenheit. It was published by Atari and was an interactive drama/action/adventure game released for the PlayStation 2, Xbox, Windows, and Mac. It was better received due to its unique gameplay and experience. Back then, we really didn’t have a cinematic style game that was more focused on story than gameplay, and that is saying something since this was the same year that games like God of War came out, and in my opinion, that was a pretty fun year for games. Their next game wouldn’t come out until 5 years later, for Sony’s next console, the PlayStation 3. It was originally called The Casting, but was changed to Heavy Rain, another interactive drama/adventure game that was known, for better or worse, for using everything the PlayStation 3 controller offered. It was very well received, and was one of the more unique games to come out of 2010, a year filled with Bayonetta, God of War 3, Enslaved, Vanquish, Mass Effect 2, Super Mario Galaxy 2, Red Dead Redemption, and some other great games. Of course, some people like to make fun of certain areas of Heavy Rain, but I considered Heavy Rain one of my top 5 games of that year and probably one of my top 20 all-time favorite video games. Plus, it’s a new IP. I can’t understand when a new IP that is something completely different just gets laughed at and insulted. Humans, we act strangely, don’t we? Anyway, Quantic Dream’s next game, Beyond: Two Souls, another interactive drama/adventure game is coming out this October with the star power of Ellen Page and Willem Dafoe. At E3 2013, the company showed a PlayStation 4 tech demo called The Dark Sorcerer to show off the console’s powers and graphical abilities. It was a bit more light-hearted in tone than their past games, with the story of an old actor trying to get through a scene in a fictional fantasy film, and everything that you could imagine goes wrong. Unfortunately, it was only a tech demo, but I have more thoughts about it later on in this article.

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So, why do I like this company? Well, I like what they are doing with Triple A-funded titles. Sure, you could just make another shooter or a grand RPG, but Quantic Dream shows that you can do more than what we usually get with Triple A titles. I am not going to be that guy that jumps on the indie and Kickstarter bandwagon, since I still love a lot of the Triple A titles that come out and will support them. However, this time around, Quantic Dream has given us something breathtaking, instead of another white guy with a big gun or something that obviously relies too much on multiplayer and shouldn’t even be a Triple A retail title. I’m basically saying that publishers should take notice that every single Triple A title doesn’t need to be a military shooter or some other huge genre that is oversaturating the market.

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Now, what would I like to see them do in the future? I would like to see them cover a genre that isn’t an interactive drama. Maybe they could roll with an interactive comedy or something. Don’t get me wrong, I love the dark themes and stories of Indigo Prophecy or Heavy Rain, but seeing the tech demo for The Dark Sorcerer made me think they could do something more than drama and horror. Maybe they could take the idea of The Dark Sorcerer and make multiple episodic comedies. Oh, and when I say episodic, I don’t mean do what Telltales is doing with their games, but make a game that covers multiple stories within one game. It would be set up like Movie 43 and not be the worst thing ever conceived by the film industry. Or maybe tackle it like a spoof film like Space Balls, Blazing Saddles, Hotshots or Airplane. They could hire on Tim Schaeffer or Ron Gilbert to help write a very humorous script or something. I just think you could do more than one genre for the cinematic style of games they do.

In the end, this is a developer that everyone should support. They do something different that other developers are not doing, taking a step out of the hypothetical safety net. In my opinion, this is why so many developers just don’t get it that we want to see something new. We don’t want to see more white guys with guns. We don’t want to see more military shooters. We don’t want to have games that solely rely on multiplayer. We want good games that can give us a variety of unique experiences. So, why not help out the industry and support developers like Quantic Dream?

Thoughts On: Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2

Since this Thoughts On will be about the upcoming 3D game, Castlevania Lords of Shadow 2, let’s start this Thoughts On with my two cents on the very popular Castlevania franchise. I am kind of indifferent to the franchise. I never grew up with it, and have only played a few of the main games in the franchise. I am currently going through Castlevania: Symphony of the Night on my PlayStation 3 and am enjoying it to a certain degree. In my opinion, Super Castlevania IV is the best game in the franchise. Sure, some people have pointed out that it isn’t as good as everyone makes it out to be, but you can basically use that argument on any popular game. To me, the level design and the controls were better, and it was just plain fun. I mean, in the end, if you are having fun, that is what matters, right? I am having fun with Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, but I had to take my time with this game to enjoy its overall design, and while this isn’t a game with a, “it’s hard to get into, but when you do, it’s satisfying” kind of situation, it takes a little bit to get used to the game. I have played bits and pieces of the DS games, and I know a lot of people like those games, but I got tired of what is pretty much the same game over and over again. It isn’t like Madden, where it really is the same game over and over, but with every game having that Metroid style of design, it got tiring pretty quickly. Why should I play Portraits of Ruin over Dawn of Sorrow? I know, in terms of design, the DS games are different, but it’s pretty much the same game. Even after saying that, they aren’t terrible games by any means. When Konami released Castlevania: Lords of Shadow back in 2010, I read that gamers had mixed reactions to it. It was mostly well-received on one side of the gaming population who loved it for its combat, story, music, and downright beautiful graphical presentation. The other side didn’t like how much of a drastic change the reboot of the series was. In my honest opinion, this was one of my favorite games of 2010. Sure, it had some flaws, but I thought it was a pretty good game. Konami then released a midquel by the name of Castlevania: Lords of Shadow-Mirror of Fate for the 3DS this year to a more mixed reaction. Personally, I believe it’s a solid action game for the handheld. While it had more flaws than the last game, I would still recommend it and would give it a 7 out of 10. If you disagree with me, that’s fine. Different strokes for different folks. Now then, Lords of Shadow 2. In my eyes, it is one of my top 10 most anticipated games of this year and has been looking pretty snazzy in the trailers and demo footage. I have a few concerns, but for the most part, I am still quite excited for this title. So, what are my thoughts?

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As usual, let’s go over the story. The story this time stars Gabriel Belmont, who is now Dracula, voiced by Robert Carlyle. If you watch shows like Once Upon a Time, he is the guy who plays Rumplestiltskin. He has awakened many years after the first two games. He is greeted by Zobek, voiced by the ever so awesome Patrick Stewart. Zobek warns Dracula that Satan, voiced again by Jason Isaacs, will return to the world. It is up to Dracula to regain his powers and stop Satan from taking over the world. In my opinion, the story looks promising. It doesn’t just cover the story of Dracula in the modern world, because it also covers what Dracula was like back in the times of knights and sorcery. Maybe it will give us more insight to the story that Mirror of Fate didn’t give us. While I like the idea of stories that jump back and forward from the past to the present, I hope the story is strong enough so the players don’t get confused, lost, or just end up not caring about the overall story. I have high hopes for it since the first Lords of Shadow had a really strong story.

The gameplay looks like it has some depth to it. In the first game, you had sub-items, your battle cross, and two kinds of magic. This game seems to tighten things up a bit. For example, you still have a blood whip to take out enemies from long range to close range, but the magic and other weapons are handled differently. Light magic in the last game helped you get more health back, and in Lords of Shadow 2, the light magic and its functions have been put into the form of a sword called the Void Sword. Shadow magic which made your attacks stronger has been relegated to the Chaos Gauntlets. It seems like they want to make the powers and abilities more focused on three weapons instead of having every single weapon and sub-weapon get involved with the light and shadow magic. The biggest change though is how you will travel from level to level. Instead of being a linear chapter-based affair, which I liked, the entire world of Lords of Shadow 2 will be open-ended, like Batman: Arkham City, where you can come back to earlier areas. From what I can tell, it’s basically going to be a 3D version of Symphony of the Night. Mercurystream has already confirmed that you will be playing as Dracula from the past and from the future, and I’m interested to see how they implement the more open-ended world for both current-day Dracula and back-in-the-land-of-swords-and-sorcery Dracula. A game mechanic that I am happy to see back are the titan fights. I know people complained about them in the last game, as to how they were like the Colossus fights from Shadows of the Colossus. In my opinion, these complaints are flawed. Everybody seems to forget how awkward or awful the controls were in Shadow of the Colossus. You could adjust the button layout, but that didn’t help how clunky the controls were. Anyway, from what we have seen from the E3 2013 demo, mixed with some Uncharted-looking platforming, the Titan battles are being designed like the Cronos fight from God of War 3, where the fight was a level within itself. Hopefully, this will be yet another multi-hour action game that we can sink our teeth into, but no clock tower levels, okay?

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I don’t need to tell you how amazing the graphics look in the game. I don’t care if it’s lighting, textures, etc., it just looks beautiful. I also like the grand scale this game is giving us. I mean, who didn’t feel pumped while watching the E3 2013 trailer? This is something most action games do not get. Even Ninja Gaiden 3 and its update just failed with how non-epic it was. That is the thing about action games, in my opinion. I want to feel detached from reality, be an incredibly powerful guy who lets nothing get in his way, and fight giant monsters or opponents who are larger than life. Lords of Shadow 2 seems to have that epic feel in the scale of the graphics and its combat. The music also sounds amazing. Say what you want about Lords of Shadow and Mirror of Fate, but one thing that was apparent in these games was well-composed music. Heck, the franchise has a big reputation for having awesome music. Even if games like the early Game Boy games and Mirror of Fate might end up with the weaker soundtracks of the franchise, Lords of Shadows 2 seems to have a grand scope to add on to the adventures of Dracula.

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So, any concerns before release? Well, if they are focusing so much on having a huge world to explore, make the exploration worthwhile. There is nothing worse than having to backtrack through a huge area that really has no worthwhile reward. I also hope the enemy variety is much better than the past two games. The past games have had enemy variety up the wazoo, but maybe to a fault. The past two games had a more focused selection of enemies, so I hope the new game has a good, but varied range of enemies so the combat doesn’t get boring. In terms of DLC, if this game has it, make it worthwhile! I might defend the first game and the midquel, but I will not defend Lords of Shadow’s DLC. It was pointless, too puzzle-heavy, and the only thing worthwhile in both $10 DLC packs was the villain, who was pretty cool-looking and had a great voice. Hopefully, they also balance out the combat, exploration, and puzzle-solving, since for me anyway, focusing on one thing more than the other is quite the buzzkill in the pacing department.

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In the end, I am probably more optimistic about this game than other people and I’m fine with that. I know some would rather have had Koji Igarashi keep designing the games, but I liked the change of pace of the Lords of Shadow trilogy. Once I get some cash, and they announce a limited or collector’s edition, I will definitely be putting my pre-order down for it.

Thoughts On: The Valkyria Chronicles Series

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For this Thoughts On, I wanted to talk about a series that, at first, I didn’t really think much of. I played the first game a year or so ago, reviewed it, and that was it. Only a few weeks ago did I think back to my memories of this franchise and how it really affected me. This usually doesn’t happen a whole lot to me. A game or franchise has to really reel me in to make me reflect on my whole experience with the franchise. I might have only played one game in the franchise, but I have seen a full walkthrough of the second game and did enough research on the third game to see where I personally thought the game stood on its merits. The franchise in question is Sega’s Valkyria Chronicles. While I wouldn’t list this series as a one hit wonder kind of situation, unlike Sega’s other RPG, Skies of Arcadia, Valkyria Chronicles is a franchise I wish Sega would touch upon again. It isn’t like any other franchise or game series I have seen or experienced in my life as a gamer. For this Thoughts On, I am going to tackle this article differently. I will basically set it up like my other Thoughts On articles, but I will talk more about what I would like to see in the franchise if they ever make a new game, and give my opinion as to why the series failed to pick up steam, even though it had four games in the series.

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Now then, let’s begin. I first heard about this franchise through ads, first online, and then on TV. I watched a few reviews of it and I liked a lot of things that the game was offering, but didn’t rent it or buy it since back when it was released, tactical RPG’s were not my cup of tea. I wasn’t much for the strategy genre or its sub-genres, such as the turn-based tactical RPG Vanguard Bandits or Final Fantasy Tactics. In 2012, I then decided to give it a try for my review’s 4-year special. I rented it from Gamefly, put it in my PS3 when I got it, played through about 95% of the game, reviewed it, and that was it. I thought it was a great game with some minor flaws that brought down the experience. I didn’t get to play the two other games due to not having a PSP, but also not really hearing about them at all. It seems like a thing with Sega where they won’t advertise their franchises too much, apart from Sonic. Now, jump to a few weeks ago. I was playing the Project X-Zone demo where I got to play as the main characters from the third game, and seeing their lines and how they interacted with each other after a battle, I began thinking about what I liked about the set-up in the first game besides the fun alternative WWII setting. It might have had the look of an anime-style game, like Namco’s popular Tales series, but it was more than that. The characters in the first game were the farthest thing from the typical anime-inspired RPG characters. They were closer to something you would see in the Studio Ghibli films. They felt more realistic and likable. Sure, some anime tropes appear in the first game, but it doesn’t hit you over the head with those tropes. The first game is just amazing in its story and characters. I am going to skip the second game since, well, I have more to say about the second game later on in this article. The third game had a unique setting with a group of soldiers made of not the usual kind of soldiers you would think. Instead, the team that you follow were filled with characters who did something wrong in their past. They weren’t all criminals, but they did do something that was against the law, and to me, that’s an interesting premise. If there is going to be another game in the series, they should combine the best aspects of both the first and third game in the franchise. Make the story deep, mature, and filled with a small bit of humor here and there, and make sure the characters are likable right off the bat. Don’t fall into the trope of thinking that to appeal to a much bigger audience, you need to drastically change everything. To appeal to a wider audience story-wise, just do what I suggested, and make the story and characters good.

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The gameplay is what really brought me into the franchise. While it was a tactics game, it was more action-oriented, and it didn’t have the same design choices as Suikoden Tactics or the other games I mentioned above. The fields of battle were free to go through, and the characters were not stuck on a grid-like field. Your movements and turns were based around command tokens. Your tank would take two command tokens, and each individual soldier would require one token to move and perform your action. Your soldiers could move around freely, as long as their stamina bar didn’t run out. Each character you had in your army had different jobs. You had scouts, lancers, shock troopers, engineers, and snipers. In my opinion, each class didn’t feel unbalanced, and you needed to have a good mix of each soldier on the field. The sequels further advance the class system, making it more customizable so each soldier was unique. The characters that you recruited didn’t just stop at which character was what class. Each character had certain abilities for the battlefield and they were friends with other characters. It gave the gameplay so much depth. In my opinion, of the tactics games that I have played so far, Valkyria Chronicles has the best combat of that genre. In the next game, I would like to have all of the original classes from the first game, and make the customization streamlined so that you aren’t customizing every single soldier. The subclasses that are found in the sequels should be upgraded versions of the original 5 classes. If they do bring back subclasses, since they have different weapon load-outs, maybe they can just make each of the soldiers have a number of weapon slots so they can carry more than one kind of weapon with them. I just liked having all my ducks in a row, not having to deal with individual things. I would also like the battles to be on one huge map. It made Valkyria Chronicles 2 and 3 seem a bit more cluttered with its set of smaller maps, and having to hugely multi-task each individual group of soldiers. Also, get rid of that stupid morale system. I understand why they have it, but with a genre that can already be pretty difficult besides having elements like permanent death for a majority of your characters, we don’t need another layer of tedium if we are getting our butts kicked.

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Graphically, this was another high point for the franchise. Well, maybe the first and third game. Sure, I like graphics that look so realistic that it’s creepy looking, but sometimes it’s fun to see what you can do with an incredibly powerful console and a more cartoon sketch style. The first game on the PS3 was amazing to look at. It is an overall beautiful package in the graphics department. The PSP games tried to keep the same presentation, but of course, they couldn’t, due to the console they were on and, well, the missteps the second game took. The third game definitely has the 2nd best looking art style in all of the four games. The music is amazing. The opening score for the first game was incredible. It was beautiful, soft, and just wonderfully composed. As far as the art style is concerned, if they make a new game, they need to keep the same style as the first game.

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So, where did this series fall flat for me? Well, even though I would highly recommend this series to anyone who is a Sony fan, there are a few things to look out for. The first game had some questionable enemy AI and random spikes in difficulty where you would win one mission easily and then get your bottom handed to you the next. I never liked games that did this because it takes me out of the game, not allowing me to enjoy it as a fluent experience. Games should start out simple and get more challenging as the experience goes on and not just get difficult out of nowhere. However, these little misfires in the first game don’t even remotely ruin the experience. The second game, well, let me be blunt and say that the story and art style sucked. It basically ruined the game for a lot of people. It went through the same ordeal that games like Dragon Age 2 did. The move from likable and non-anime-like characters, to a cliché and forgettable anime school day setting was definitely a huge mistake. Not to say that a school day setting couldn’t work, since we have seen it work in games before, but with how it was handled, it just made it seem like any other anime-styled story. I heard that they changed the setting to broaden the audience, and from what I have seen and read, yeah, it didn’t work. Instead of using the same or similar art style on the PSP, they use a cheaper anime look to the whole package, and you can tell it looks cheap. Even the English voice acting is terrible. I’m sorry to rag on the second game so much, but it was really a terrible move on Sega’s behalf that these changes were made. From what I have seen, Valkyria Chronicle 3’s story is much better, but it still has some of that anime male pandering, which is becoming a bit of an issue to me, personally. The only other reason I could find that maybe is why we aren’t seeing another game in the franchise was a browser game known as Valkyria Chronicles Duels, which is only in Japan. I saw some footage of it and tried to find some images for the game, and once again, found some obnoxious male pandering fan service. I find this an issue because some of the female characters in these games were really well-written, deep, and likable. They then just put them in some NSFW style images, and while it isn’t hentai or hardcore porn levels of pictures, it is still a shame to see some of the better female characters from Japanese gaming in such images.

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Now then, since I got that out of the way, what would I like to see in a future game? Well, while I like the menus and how you get around to the different areas of the HQ, I would like to see the next game give you the ability to actually travel anywhere in the main city or camp, depending on what they do for the setting. The third game also brought in the choice of falling in love with either of the two lead female characters, and maybe they should expand on that and make the world more interactive. Give the player the ability to meet the different recruits face-to-face, give the player the ability to go to the training areas or the research department, and you get the idea. It would just make the story and place you are located in worth more to the player.

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So, does this franchise deserve to keep going? Should we see another game in the franchise? Yes, yes, and more yes. While writing this article, I picked up Valkyria Chronicles for my PS3 and just love it. Not only has it become one of my favorite PS3 games, it is one of my favorite games of all time. You should definitely check out the sequels even if they kind of get ruined by some of the issues I mentioned above. It’s a shame that this series might have the same fate as Sega’s other RPG IP, Skies of Arcadia. I do know that Sega is teasing some kind of Valkyria Chronicles-related announcement in a few days, but who knows what kind of announcement it is going to be. Maybe it’s a new installment. Maybe it’s a confirmed localization of the third game. It could even be an HD collection of the two PSP games using the first game’s engine for the PS3 and Vita. Just take it with a grain of salt, and let’s hope we can one day come back to this game franchise and join the crew of Squad 7.

Thoughts On: Knack

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Saying that the pre orders of the PS4 are selling like mad would be an understatement. After the first day of E3, Sony’s pre-orders were booming, the PS4 was the hot new console to get. Well, that is until Microsoft pulled the plug on the DRM and other issues that plagued the Xbox One. The PS4 is still the console of choice for many gamers and consumers this holiday season, but some things are kind of holding me back from buying it day one. I am not fully on board with having to have PS+ to play games with online multiplayer features in games like Destiny. However, with the price being only $5 per month, along with the perks that come with PS+, I think it’s a necessary evil (unless they make certain games’ online features playable for people who have either membership for the PS4). Even though I do like what the console features, I have not been fully persuaded to pay $400+ for the PS4 and games, at least not yet. I do like some of the titles announced for it; the games that caught my attention were The Order: 1886, from the God of War developers, the downloadable title Secret Ponchos, and the focus of today’s Thoughts On, Knack. I might not get a PS4 day one, but Knack and those other games I listed sound like a good reason for me to get one. Even future titles like Destiny look interesting to me. However, Knack, for the most part, was the first game for the PS4 that caught my attention when Sony started to talk about it earlier this year, and after doing some research and looking at the videos for it, it looks promising! Not only is it being developed by Sony’s Japan Studio, the same studio that is also making the downloadable game Rain and the 2.5D platformer Puppeteer, but it is also being designed by Mark Cerny. For those not in the know, he is to game design what Jim Cummings is to voice acting; he has been on everything! He has worked on the PS1 Crash Bandicoot and Spyro games, Ratchet and Clank, and Resistance. You get the idea. He has had a hand in a lot of great games and still does. So, let’s begin with his most recent work, Knack.

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The story, for the most part, seems simple enough to follow. An evil race of beings known as Goblins are attacking human kind, and of course the humans are fighting back. A young human scientist comes up with a new way to fight back against the Goblin forces. What is this new weapon to fight the Goblins? A small, living being made of relics known as Knack. He has the ability to absorb ancient relics and become more powerful. It is up to Knack and his creators to fight off the Goblin forces and save the day. From what I have seen, the story seems simple and easy to follow. It has a lot of themes that I have seen in stories like this, and hopefully the characters are likable enough to be invested in. Then again, we are dealing with Cerny who helped make platformers with likable and entertaining characters. We will only know for sure when the final product hits the public later this year.

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The gameplay has been described as a mix of Crash Bandicoot, God of War, and Katamari Damacy. I can say after watching the demo that, yeah, I agree. It is a mix of those games, but that is no surprise since Cerny did work on God of War 3 and the PS1 Crash Bandicoot games. You play as the title character, Knack, going through linear Crash Bandicoot-style levels beating down on Goblins and other enemies to get to the end of the level. From what I have seen, Knack’s main ability is that his body can absorb sun stones and relics to become more powerful and gain more health. You lose health and power if you lose too many pieces from your body, and gain new attacks and abilities as you play through the game and get stronger. You can also find pieces of machinery to make new machines to make the experience easier, like being able to gain more relics and etc. Along with the relics, Knack is able to absorb different parts of the elements. In the E3 demo, Knack was covered in ice, which may or may not give him special abilities. I like the idea of the overall gameplay design where Knack will get weaker, both health-wise and strength-wise, if he keeps getting hit. It reminds me of how in Dragon’s Dogma you can lose parts of your health bar when you get struck, but can’t fully heal yourself unless you go to a resting area of sorts. It gives the game some depth because you don’t just want to rush through the fights, or else you will find yourself with less health and strength to take on the enemies.

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Graphically, it looks great. I like the soft textures on everything, giving it a good cartoony feel to the overall presentation. I also like the little bits of detail added like when Knack gets hit, he loses bits of relics from his body. It’s just little details like that which makes me feel for Knack and make him more than just a walking weapon. As opposed to other Playstation games like ICO, I don’t think this game will have the emotional impact of a deep relationship between the scientists and Knack, but I’ve been wrong before in my own personal experiences of how certain game’s stories have turned out. The music sounds pretty good. It sounds like it’s going to be grand in scope, but we will have to see if the music is more than epic 24-7. Then again, if you are going around destroying goblins, smashing stuff, and turning into a 3-story-tall beast, you really don’t want some kind of music from “My Little Pony” or something in the background. It looks like a solid package with good graphics, sound, and voice work.

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So, any concerns before release? Well, I hope the controls aren’t an issue the bigger Knack gets. I say this because I have played through a lot of games Cerny has worked on recently, and his work on the PS1, while still really good, has some really clunky moments control-wise. This is especially true if you play through some levels of Crash Bandicoot 3 as Crash’s sister. It also seems a game design law that heavier characters’ movements are tougher to control. The combat and platforming, while not as time heavy as something like Super Meat Boy, are hopefully tight enough to where it is your fault you got hit and not the other way around. The combat and the enemies look like they are more than just there to be a nuisance, like the enemies seen in the PS1 Crash Bandicoot games. This would mean the controls need to be a bit more tight and precise than the games Cerny has worked on in the past

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If I were going to get a PS4 day one, I would be thinking about getting Knack. Since, well, when isn’t it a good idea to have a platformer for your new console? It looks like Sony is doing the right thing by offering a multitude of games ready for their new console at launch, and Knack is looking to be one of the best reasons to get it. Good looking graphics, fun gameplay, and led by one of the most well-known game designers on earth, Knack is looking to have a knack for being many people’s first PS4 game.

Thoughts On: Super Mario 3D World

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If you had to ask me about my favorite franchise of all time, I would have to say it is the Mario franchise. Super Mario, Mario Kart, Mario Party, Mario Tennis, and you get the idea. I just feel like there is something so uplifting and satisfying about playing a Mario game. I don’t like every single Mario game and I might like other games in the franchise more than others, but I just think it is a great franchise. Heck, my favorite game of all time is Super Mario Galaxy 2. I think of it as the ultimate Super Mario experience and a game any fans of platformers should try. I know some people have been more pessimistic about the franchise, like the New Super Mario Brothers series of platformers, but even then, I can think of much MUCH worse platforming franchises that should have stopped at the first game. Not counting the games made by third parties like the educational entertainment games and Hotel Mario, the franchise really doesn’t have a game that utterly flopped. It isn’t like Sonic, where after the Dreamcast era, Sega was trying to remake Sonic into something else, and it led to bad game after bad game and then finally, ultimate waste of space, Sonic 06. Sure, some of the recent Mario entries might not be better than past games, but they aren’t terrible games. As long as you have fun with them and the level design is still topnotch, I am going to support it. Now then, since E3 has been over for a few days, one of the biggest announcements and games to come from Nintendo at E3 was the new upcoming 3D platforming Mario title for the Wii U, Super Mario 3D World. The response of the public has been kind of mixed. Some are really excited about this game and I am in that category, but some were expecting something other than a sequel to 3D Land for the Nintendo 3DS. I can see where they are coming from, but since I actually got to play the E3 demo, my opinion hasn’t changed. I am still excited about this game, but I am not saying I don’t have my concerns or my thoughts about the title. I wouldn’t be making a “Thoughts On” about it if I didn’t feel like talking about it and giving my thoughts and concerns for the plumber’s upcoming adventure. Before I start, I just wanted to say I got to play a tiny bit of the demo at one of the Nintendo Best Buy E3 Experiences, and while it was a bummer that I had to wait in line for three, almost four hours to be able to play just a little of the demo, I have a bit more experience with the game than just watching trailers and footage of the demo shown during E3.

The story, from what we have seen, is nonexistent. I know the story in a Mario game really isn’t that important unless it is one of his many RPG adventures, but to put my two cents in on the matter, something is up here. I say this because PEACH IS PLAYABLE! So, maybe Bowser isn’t the bad guy? I mean, he could be, but if Peach is not the one captured, then what is Bowser up to? I can see the idea for the plot being Wart from the second “Mario” game on the NES coming back and wanting to show how awesome he is and throw the Mushroom Kingdom into chaos. This means it would be up to Mario, Luigi, Peach, and for some reason, Toad to go save the day. Again, I know the plot won’t mean much in the end, but I’m still interested to see what is going on since Peach isn’t being kidnapped by Bowser.

The gameplay that has been shown is of, what else, a 3D platformer. Obviously, the game is designed more around Super Mario 3D Land’s level design and not around Super Mario Galaxy’s level design, though from what I have seen and played, there is a mix of both. It does lean more toward 3D Land, but from the level that I played, I got a Mario Galaxy vibe. You travel around large levels as Mario, but this time, he isn’t alone. Along with him in his platforming travels, the player will be able to choose to either play as Luigi, Peach, or Toad. This makes the game more like Super Mario Brothers 2 3D Land, due to the playable characters and the different ways they control. Luigi, of course, can jump higher, Peach can float, and Toad can run faster. We have seen the return of old power-ups, but we also have a new power-up that sounds stupid, but is in my opinion, very fun to use, known as Cat Mario. You get to swipe at enemies, lunge, and climb up walls. It made me want to think how I can traverse the levels and find secrets, and it was just fun to see Mario in a cat suit. From the E3 demo, it looks like Nintendo is putting a variety of levels into the mix, like the swimming on the back of a giant aquatic version of Yoshi, and more variety in the bosses with that giant worm thing. I like that, since my biggest criticism towards Super Mario 3D Land was the look and variety in levels. It was a blast to play through and is a game I highly recommend to new 3DS owners, but it got slightly repetitious with how the levels looked. Overall, I enjoyed the level design shown in the E3 demo of Super Mario 3D World. Hopefully, the entire game is filled with the huge amount of variety shown in past 3D Mario adventures.

I'm basically River Yoshi.

Graphically, it is Super Mario. It has incredibly colorful graphics and it just looks good even if some people call it an HD 3D Land. I also like the little details attached to the game, like the fur on the cat suits, and from what I saw, the grass moving in the breeze. It makes the levels and the world livelier when they put the little touches here and there. The music sounded good. It was energetic, and that is what it should be in a Mario game. I just hope the music is varied among the levels. It’s almost pointless to talk about the voice work since, well, when has voice acting been a huge thing in a Mario game? I mean, besides in Super Mario Sunshine. It’s just another solid presentation package from Nintendo. Who knows how it will look in the end, but from what I have seen, it’s pretty good.

So, any concerns before release? Yes, actually, I have a few concerns. I know I am going to keep hammering this in, but I really do hope there is a huge amount of variety in the levels offered to you when the final product is released. I also hope they don’t take 3D Land’s route of a linear road, and instead have a huge overworld hub like in the Nintendo 64 game or the first Galaxy game. We really don’t know how this game is going to look in the end product, but until they show more footage of the game, we can only hope. I also hope the 4-player co-op isn’t too chaotic, like in the New Super Mario Brothers. From what I have seen and played, it isn’t too chaotic and unforgiving, like in the New Super Mario Brothers game. The levels seem to be more designed around the situation where you might be playing with more than one person, and I hope all the levels are designed like this.

All in all, I am excited about this game, but I do hope Nintendo is taking this new Mario game in the right direction and making it as grand and epic as my favorite game of all time, Super Mario Galaxy 2. I am going to get it, since a Mario game really hasn’t disappointed me, unlike other game series I have played, like Sonic or Fable. Who knows? This might be like Wind Waker HD, a game that Nintendo is making to test out how to really work with the Wii U and then get to work on something like Super Mario Galaxy 3 or Universe or whatever. Let’s see if the plumber is up to task in his first 3D Wii U debut.

Thoughts On: Beyond: Two Souls

Is ambition dead in current gen gaming? I ask this because I feel that, while we do see some unique games come out everywhere, we don’t see as many experimental games as we did during the PS1 and PS2 era of gaming, where many kinds of games were made to give the gamer and consumer a variety of games to play. I mean, think of how many distinctive games we got during that time, and look at the variety we have now. Sure, downloadable games and indie games have become the next step in creative IP’s, but what about the big budget titles? Why don’t we see more unique and ambitious titles released on a disc anymore? It seems rare that we see this kind of game, and whenever we do see something truly unique given to us, either no one buys it or they react negatively to it, which is a darn shame. For example, one of my favorite games of all time, Heavy Rain for the Playstation 3. It was such a breath of fresh air to get what is basically a cinematic adventure game with puzzle elements. What happened after that? People made fun of it for its honestly weird controls and other sections of the more infamous parts of the game. In spite of it's reception, it is nevertheless, a great game and you should at least check it out if you haven’t already. Now then, why did I pick Heavy Rain as an example? Well, if you didn’t read the title of this article, this "Thoughts On" will be about Beyond: Two Souls, which is made by the same developer, Quantic Dream. With big name actors Ellen Page and Willem Dafoe and some incredibly good looking graphics backing up this ambitious title, what do I think about the game that will be out later this year? Read on to find out!

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From what we have been told and what I know about the game, Ellen Page plays the role of Jodie Holmes, who, since she was a kid, had a connection with an unknown being known as Aiden. Throughout the game, we will see her from when she was a child to a young adult. We also know about characters, like a government scientist named Nathan Dawkins, voiced and played by Willem Defoe, and an agent of the Government named Cole Freeman, played by Kadeem Hardison. The story is to have elements and themes of thriller, horror, the supernatural, and the psychological. We are basically getting a movie in a video game format, and I like that. I have already talked about how games these days don’t have good storytelling elements, and this sounds like a great example of how to make a story-focused game. From what I have seen from trailers and footage, the story will be very mature and thought-provoking.

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The gameplay has been described as a cinematic adventure game with puzzle-solving elements, like in the developers’ last game, Heavy Rain. It looks to control the same way as, and have a lot of similarities to Heavy Rain. From the very little footage available (unless you go to gaming events), the main difference from the previous game, as far as I can see, is that it has fewer button prompts than the very button-prompt-heavy Heavy Rain, and focuses more on Jodie using her supernatural friend Aiden to help her solve puzzles. As previously stated, the main gimmick is Jodie using Aiden to help her through the game. You can possess people to help you solve puzzles or get Jodie out of a tight situation. For example, the demo at E3 2012 showed Jodie stuck in a situation in which she was surrounded by cops, and the player used Aiden to possess a swat team sniper to take out the other policemen. You can also kill the people you possess, but from what I have seen, it’s better to see what you can do with said person before you end his/her life. Quantic Dream, the developer has also confirmed that whatever you do inside the game will alter how the story goes, which means like Mass Effect and The Witcher 2, you will have many reasons to replay the game, or play the game how you want and see what happens.

 

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Graphically, what is there to say about it? It looks freaking fantastic! I know many games that have tried to get that photo-realistic look to their games that have worked, like Uncharted, Red Dead Redemption, and L.A. Noire, and games that have failed at it, like the recent Medal of Honor game. There is apparently a mixed reaction to motion capture due to the technical aspects of the subject of animation. The argument is that the good part of motion capture lets the actors, well, act and emote, since they aren’t having to rely on how the animator wants them to emote because their performance will be blended in with the CG environments. The bad part is that it takes away control from the animator, who in a sense should have more control on how the characters move and look when acting. Either way you look at it, I love this technology we are using today for video games, and since I am not much of a technical kind of guy, I just think it looks great how eerily realistic the CG looks at times. I like how, instead of getting voice actors for the role of motion capture and voice, they actually get Hollywood celebrities to do the motion capture, voice, and look of the character. I feel like more Hollywood actors should do this, since it would be cool to see both voice artists and Hollywood actors in the same game. It’s similar to how the first reboot of Spyro had Elijah Wood and Gary Oldman, and how Brutal Legend has Jack Black and all those famous metal musicians. All I’m saying is that it’s another avenue actors should look into.

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So, any concerns before release? I hate to say this but since I feel like gamer’s tastes have changed, I'm afraid this game will not sell well. I say this because Beyond: Two Souls, which is basically an adventure game with a triple-A budget, is coming out when all the big budget shooters are coming out, and, well, as long as Call of Duty sells in the millions, ambitious titles like Beyond will always be second or lower in terms of sales. However, if we are willing to take a risk and enjoy something that has more thought and work put into it, I think gamers will be surprised. Sure, I enjoy a good shooter here and there, and know these kinds of games are not for everyone, but with the rise of indie games and kickstarter projects going the more unique and interesting route of game design, I think it is time we change our view of games a bit and try something new. I also hope the controls aren’t as clunky as Heavy Rain’s style of moving. Heck, I love Heavy Rain, it’s one of my top 10 favorite games, but man, do the moving controls just feel awkward.

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To no one’s surprise, I am excited for this game. At first, I was going to wait and rent it to see if I would actually buy it since I did that with Heavy Rain, but after thinking about it for a few days and seeing the most recent trailer of the game, I said, screw that, and now I have my preorder of the Limited Edition waiting for me this October. I honestly wish more triple-A games that come out in the future have this kind of ambition alongside games like Watch Dogs, and like I said, the indie and kickstarter games. Beyond: Two Souls is coming out October 8th and will only be on the PlayStation 3. Thanks for reading and have a nice day!

Thoughts On: Killer is Dead

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As you can tell from my reviews and my mentioning them every time I review one of their games, I really like Suda 51’s game developing company, Grasshopper Manufacture. As I have said in the past, I like how they are making their own unique spin on the action genre while everyone else is trying to make a guy with a gun, and make the multiplayer beat out Call of Duty and Battlefield’s multiplayer community. I know their games are probably more flawed than I want to admit, but I think they deserve kudos for staying fresh and having a unique stake in the action game genre. I wanted to do a Thoughts On about their upcoming game, Killer is Dead because, well, it has everything I really do like about their games, but it also brings to mind my fears that their past games’ faults will be in this title also. What do I mean by that? Well, there is usually a pattern in how Suda 51 games are made, but I am getting ahead of myself. Let us get started with my thoughts on, Killer is Dead.

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From what we have gotten so far, Killer is Dead’s story stars a guy named Mondo Zappa, which to be honest, is a cool name. He is basically a hit man who takes jobs from this company known as the Bryan Execution Firm to take down criminals that are, for a lack of a better term, causing havoc. It is up to him to take down these criminals, and from what recent trailers have shown, an alien invasion also happens in this world of cybernetic implants and lunar tourism. As you can probably tell, the story is going to be filled with memorable characters and the story as a whole will be absurd and a bit over the top, which is what I like about the games from Suda 51. The characters are pretty likable and memorable, even when the story gets so over the top and crazy. From what the trailers have shown and what Suda 51 has said about the game, the story seems to be a bit darker and more mature than their last game Lollipop Chainsaw, but still has that flashy Suda 51 flair with its characters.

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The gameplay is, of course, a hack-and-slash action game where you control Mondo, and fight through smaller baddies to get to the bigger baddies. You have your usual hack-and-slash moves and can counter or block attacks with the, um, block button, and a dodge roll to get out of harm’s way. A recent article has explained that if you pull off different executioner moves, you get different stat increases. The more obvious part that stands out about Mondo is his cybernetic arm that can change into a gun, drill, and many other weapons to use on the enemies. Now, one of the more “interesting” side objectives in Killer is Dead are, and I am not kidding when I say this, the “Gigolo Missions”. These are missions where you go out on a date with the many female characters you meet in the game, and, well, make them fall in love with you. There are also side objectives that will earn some extra swag for Mondo and some cash to upgrade himself. It seems like it’s going to be a game more akin to games like No More Heroes since Mondo can also use wrestling moves like Travis Touchdown from the No More Heroes franchise. It looks like this will be an interesting experience, and I can’t wait to see how all the gameplay mechanics mix together.

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Now, one of the highlights of the game that we have seen so far is the great art direction. I love the cel-shaded look and film noir feel of the game. It reminds me a bit of Sin City if it was made in Japan. One of my favorite parts of the presentation and art style so far is the main character Mondo’s design. I love how he carries around a sword and his robotic arm while wearing a salary man suit. The art style is always a strong point in Suda’s company’s games and it isn’t any different here.

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So, any worries before release? Well, I hope the controls are better this time around for this game. I love Suda 51 games because of how unique they are, but man, do the controls bring down the game at points. No More Heroes 2 had this issue and Lollipop Chainsaw’s tank controls turned off many a gamer until they knew how the combat and scoring system worked. It just seems like it’s a reoccurring theme with his games where the controls are a bit wonky at certain times. I also hope there is a better amount of replay value than in the last games. Sure, if the game is fun to play through, that is good enough, but when you are paying 60 bucks for a game that last 5 or so hours, you do need something to keep the player coming back.

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So, as you can probably tell, I am excited about this game. I always look forward to Suda 51 games since it breaks up whatever is coming out during that time with a little flair of the unusual and interesting. It comes out later this year in the US by XSEED, who is becoming very popular right now, and well, I would say if you aren’t looking forward to the next Call of Duty or Battlefield, which will be coming out around this game’s release, check it out. I think it’s fun to see what Suda 51 has cooking, and this one will be yet another cult classic title from the very interesting and talented game designer.

Thoughts On: Vanillaware

For this Thoughts On, I wanted to talk about one of my favorite developers. They have gotten a very positive reputation for their work and game design style. At first, I didn’t really think much of them, but after playing almost every single game they have made, I have a newfound respect for them. Here are my thoughts on the Japanese game developer, Vanillaware. I decided to do a Thoughts On about this company and give my two cents about them because they are a very unique company for multiple reasons. Plus, they have been on the news recently in gaming, and I want to join in on the hype and conversations being had about them.

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So then, for the ones that don’t know, Vanillaware was started by a group of people who worked at the well-respected company, Atlus, and made a game called Princess Crown. It was well-received when it was released for the Saturn in Japan, but since the Saturn bombed over here in the states, we never got it. After that game was released, they formed their own company in 2002 named Vanillaware. In 2007, they released two games. The first one was Grim Grimoire, a real-time strategy game that was generally well-received despite some clunky mechanics and some minor issues, but I hear it’s pretty good. Where they really got noticed was their next game released that same year known as Odin Sphere, an action RPG that was also liked all around despite some long loading times and it sometimes getting repetitious. It is one of my personal favorite games, and you can either get a copy for the PS2 OR get it off the PSN store. I highly recommend it. In 2009, they released a Wii game known as Murumasa: The Demon Blade, which was also a fan and critic favorite, and is yet again, one of my personal favorite games. You can easily get it on the Wii or even get the updated version for your Playstation Vita that is coming out this year. They also released a PSP game known as Grand Knight History that came out in 2011, and it WAS going to come out over here, but XSEED, the publisher that was going to bring it over here, basically ran out of money and cancelled it. That is a shame because it should come over here! I mean, with the PS Vita flopping harder than a fish on a cutting board trying to escape the butcher knife, the Vita needs games like this. Heck, just digitally distribute as a PSN game for PS Vita and PS3 and I’d buy it! Anyway, their current project that is coming out over here in August is known as Dragon’s Crown, an arcade-style action beat ‘em up with dungeon crawling elements in the same vein as Capcom’s awesome Dungeon and Dragon arcade games. This shouldn’t be a surprise, since the director of Dragon’s Crown worked on the D&D arcade games and the gameplay is very similar to those arcade games. That is all that I know about them. Oh wait, they did do a collaboration with another company, and released a DS in 2008 called Kumatachi, but that was only in Japan.

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So, why do I respect this company so much? I mean, why should this company get all of your money and respect? Well, I love them because of their ambitious view on game design. While every company right now besides some indie developers are trying to make the most cutting edge photo realistic humans on earth, Vanillaware strictly stays 2-dimensional, and they haven’t made a full-on 3D game. They also use a downright gosh darn beautiful and creative art style. It gives their games a unique identity and makes most 2D games that use a hand-drawn or painted art style look downright cheap. I’m looking at you, Facebook games. I know some controversy has recently sprouted up in the garden that we know as the gaming press about the Sorceress’s Over-the-top figure, but in all seriousness, everyone, stop overreacting to it. I understand why some people might be offended by that, but to offset how curvy and sexy the girls can be in Dragon’s Crown, Vanillaware DID make Dwarf character basically the ultimate example of a steroid user, and the Fighter and Wizard characters downright handsome. I mean, yeah, game characters should be at the point right now where we shouldn’t rely on guys being devilishly handsome or girls being made to look like Playboy bunny models, but like I said, the game’s art style gives it a unique look. If you look at usual fantasy-looking games today, they all look a bit generic like Dragon Age, Dragon’s Dogma, and you get the idea. At least the over-the-top character designs used in Dragon’s Crown or the company’s other games give them an identity since they look like no other game, artistically speaking. I just think the recent controversy is a tad overrated, and should have never happened because the topic was and is secondary to the positive aspects of the game. Anyway, I like how they stand out in an industry that really wants everything to be 3D, but a few developers like Vanillware decide to take the road less traveled. While everyone is making a white guy with a gun in a modern warfare aesthetic, Vanillware is making a very beautiful, unique, and well-animated-looking game. So, what would I like to see from them in the future? While I do love this company for what they do and how their games are designed, I do wish they focused more on storytelling. Sure, there are stories to their games, like in Odin Sphere and Murumasa, but they were either flawed. Odin Sphere had a slightly confusing story and Murumasa lacked a climax to the end of its two stories. It would be really cool to see a more story-driven game out of them. Heck, seeing a different genre than the action RPG would be kind of cool. Think about it, they could do something like an adventure game with their art style or maybe an action platformer. Even though I know this will probably not happen, I would like to see what they would do if they were given the chance. I also wish they would push more for advertising. While their games are very well-received, they don’t really sell well, or at least not in the triple A category. It’s a bummer because I know gamers are pretty sick of seeing shooters every month, or half-baked sequels like Dead Island Riptide. I feel like Atlus or whoever publishes the games from Vanillaware really need to better market the games.

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Overall, with the minor things I would like to see them do in the future, I love this company and will support them. I think they deserve a little more respect than they are given. If you have a PS2, a Wii, PS3, or a PSP, you should get their games. I’m really looking forward to Dragon’s Crown, and I hope to see more creative things in their future!

Thoughts On: Puppeteer

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As the PS4 gets closer to its arrival at the end of this year or early next year, a slew of great games are or have come out to send off the Playstation 3 in style. So many different kinds of genres from RPG’s to platformers are coming out. We have games like Ni No Kuni, one of the best JRPG’s of this year or maybe THE BEST JRPG of this year, God of War Ascension, Sly Cooper 4, and upcoming titles like Naughty Dog’s survival game The Last of Us, and the very cool and interesting Beyond Two Souls, starring Ellen Page and Willem Defoe. Not to say that this console’s last year line-up doesn’t trump anything Microsoft has going for it, but it trumps anything Microsoft has going on for its console’s final year. Seriously, alongside Nintendo, Sony always has a good line-up of games throughout their console’s life spans. Sure, the PS3 was way too dang expensive at first, and Sony isn’t really doing well with the failing Playstation Vita, but hey, they have good and varied exclusives. Today’s Thoughts On focuses on Puppeteer, directed by Gavin Moore. The only info I could get on this guy was that he was the lead animator for Playstation exclusives like the PS2 game, The Getaway and Forbidden Siren 2, along with the PS3 remake of the first Siren game. When this game was announced, I was pretty darn excited. I mean, the PS3 already had a great platforming franchise with Little Big Planet, so why not have yet another exclusive platformer? It also seems to me that this game has a unique aesthetic of everything being like puppets, and the levels taking place on a stage. Even though we have seen this puppet and theatre look before, with games like Black Knight Sword and Twisted Pixel’s Gunstringer (still the best Kinect game), this takes it up to the next level with a beautiful art and graphical presentation, and a fun premise and gimmick. What are my thoughts? Read on to find out!

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From what I can get from the trailers about the story, and from what I have read, you play as a prince named Kutaro who has been taken by this fiend known as the Moon Bear King. This villain known as the Moon Bear King was apparently very close to this Moon Princess and decided to take over the kingdom she ruled. After taking it over, Moon Bear King has been kidnapping the souls of children and turning them into puppet servants. Unfortunately for our hero Kutaro, he gets his head devoured by the Moon Bear King and tossed aside. I guess you can say Kutaro is in way over his head now. Luckily for him, a witch helps him get a replacement head for now, and sends him off on a quest to save the kingdom by getting a magical pair of scissors and the heads of the legendary moon heroes. The story from what the trailers have shown looks to be slightly light-hearted, but not really aimed at kids due to the visual aspect of the game. It isn’t really a platformer for the actual kid, but more for the kid inside the adult gamer. However, from the trailer’s breaking the 4th wall moment with the villain talking to the narrator, it looks light-hearted and not taking itself very seriously.

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The gameplay is of a 2.5D platformer, in the same vein of Little Big Planet. You travel across 12 worlds and need to fight 12 evil generals and save the princess! You will jump your way through levels in a very traditional way, but trailers have shown some of the more gimmicky levels that are included within your adventures. From what I have seen of the videos shown of the game, your health system is determined by the heads you collect. You can only collect 3 heads, and if you lose all three, you lose a life. However, each head can be more than a sign of your health. Each head has a small ability that can be used to do things like unlock bonus levels within the main levels. They have revealed that you will gain four special heads that are from the four moon heroes, and have special abilities to go along with them. Only two of the four heads have been revealed, along with what their abilities are. The Knight head will give Kutaro a special shield, and the Ninja head will give Kutaro the ability to use bombs. If having magical heads that give you magical abilities and act as your health wasn’t enough, Kutaro in the first level gains the powers of a magical pair of scissors that seem to have parts of levels revolve around them. You can either just cut something on the ground, or jump in the air and use them to cut things and move around at the same time. It also looks like you use the scissors on the bosses to hurt them and the normal enemies. Seems like the game is taking advantage of its stage-like setting having the levels interchange for you, like how a play would change its scene by moving everything from the background and foreground. It’s kind of cool, since it helps immerse you into the game’s creative world. It is always nice when a game developer goes the extra mile to immerse you into their game’s world. For example, in Red Dead Redemption where there is no hub besides the map, it just pulls you in more, when there isn’t a bunch of stuff huddled around your screen.

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I love the art style in the game. I always like it when a developer can make something like a shooter or a platformer or any genre in general look unique. Sure, the anime looks of Tales of Vesperia or the realistic look of Heavy Rain is fine and all, but when you go the extra mile and make the game unique looking, it definitely stands out. For example, compare Dark Soul’s grittier realistic look and then look at Dragon Quest 8’s more personality-given look. It just stands out more, to be honest. Same goes with this game. As I said above, its visual look is more akin to the adult gamer that is a child at heart, since I would think a lot of kids would find some of these visuals terrifying, more so than, say, Kirby or Mario. Not that it’s a bad thing, since it makes the game stand out from everything else. I just love the atmosphere the game gives the player, where it looks like you are watching one of those puppet shows. This game reminds me of other games like I mentioned above, Black Knight Sword and Gunstringer due to the whole puppet play aesthetic.

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So, any lingering thoughts before release? Not really. I just hope the platforming is well-designed and the controls aren’t floaty. I love Little Big Planet and its sequel as much as many other gamers do, but one of the things that is a turn-off about the series is the floaty jumping mechanics. From what I have seen, the game is requiring you to have good platforming skills to make it through the levels, since some of them look to be forced scrolling.

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All in all, Puppeteer looks to be yet another solid game that will help the PS3 go out with style. Plus, the 40 dollar price tag is also pretty nice. Hopefully, this game does well in its overall package and in sales to warrant a sequel, since we don’t see that many big budget platformers these days. Let us hope there are no strings attached to this quirky little platformer once it’s released. Thanks for Reading!

Thoughts On: The Wonderful 101

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So, this game for the next Thoughts On that I am going to be talking about is one of my top 10 most anticipated games of 2013. Well, to be more technical, for the rest of 2013 it is one of my most anticipated games. I finally got to play a demo of it twice at a gaming event at my city Austin, along with other Wii U games like Pikmin 3 and Lego City Undercover. Today’s Thoughts on is all about Platinum Game’s next game this year, THE WONDEFUL 101. When I first saw this during the E3 Nintendo Conference, I was excited beyond belief. Finally! Another Platinum Game’s title on a Nintendo console and especially one that looks really unique. Sure, it might look like one of the games I mentioned above this sentence, but it is very far from being a clone of that game! I know this since I got to play both games and they are incredibly different.

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The first time I saw this game was during the E3 conference when I watched the trailer. I was already intrigued, since Platinum Games was going to be behind one of the exclusive games for the Wii U. If you know me, I love me some Platinum Games. They are always a developer that you can count on to make a quality product. This means, anything they do will get my attention. After watching the trailer, I thought about the setting of the game. A group of super heroes recruiting more super heroes to fight off an alien threat. Yeah, Platinum Games isn’t very well known for their amazing storytelling, but there is a certain energy to their games’ stories that tells you that they were having a lot of fun working on the game and knew that, in the end, gameplay is what really matters in the game. This leads me to my next talking point, the gameplay.

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The one thing I really love about the gameplay mechanics that Platinum Games use in their action games is that they are always unique, or at least really fun to play with, and the gameplay in the demo I played is no different. You control the group of heroes with, of course, the Wii U game pad. The gameplay mechanic of drawing certain symbols on the touch screen to make a special move like a giant fist, sword, and gun to name a few was really smooth and I was worried about that. Sometimes, game mechanics that require you to do a little multi-tasking can look very intimidating and be a bit much for one lone player to deal with. I personally didn’t have any trouble switching special moves when fighting the enemies. Sure, it was a bit weird that I had to press A to make the move activate, but after playing the demo twice, I got used to it, and before I knew it, I was beating the enemy forces into the ground. I also like how you get stronger by adding new recruits to your massive super hero team by using the right analog stick to draw a circle around the people. They even had a cool little element using the Wii U game pad where you went into this building and had to use the smaller screen to look around and turn knobs to solve a simple puzzle. Leave it to Platinum Games to be a developer to have something fun up their sleeves. The boss I got to fight was also fun. Having to fight on his arms was epic. I mean, you are extremely small compared to this giant robot you get to fight in the demo, and that is what Platinum Games is good at, making you fight awesome bosses that are usually bigger and better than the last.

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Graphically, I have nothing to complain about. The demo I played was the same one that was used at E3, and by my guess, any of the game conventions last year after it was announced. It was bright and colorful, and the game didn’t have any slowdown problems from what I could tell. Sadly, I couldn’t really hear the music due to being in a really crowded area, so I can’t really comment on that, but the music from the trailers for the game sounds epic!

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So, any concerns before release? Well, I have a few. One concern I had was that there was a timer on the demo I got to play. I should have said this WAS a concern I used to have about this game, where you would play a bunch of small levels for a certain amount of time until you had to fight the boss, but they probably put a timer on the demo so everyone can have a chance to play the game at the events. I also hope there is enough variety in the gameplay before getting to the bosses. The bosses look fun, and the one I fought was incredibly entertaining, but I hope the enemy variety and level design are varied enough to keep the player going. As much as I love Platinum Games, sometimes their games have a bit of an issue being repetitious, like Madworld, Anarchy Reigns, and Vanquish, but they are still super fun to play. This last concern is a bit much, and in the end it probably doesn’t matter, but I hope the game is longer than the usual Platinum Games title. I mean, in the end the game needs to be fun and have replay value, but it wouldn’t hurt them to make a game that is longer than 4-5 hours. I also saw that they had multiplayer in the announcement trailer from E3 2012, and I’m curious to see if they got rid of it or are going to have it, but make it offline, or maybe have it as both online and offline.

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Anyway, I am super excited for this title, and I know it will be yet another game I want to own from the proud members of Platinum Games. Its release date hasn’t been announced yet, but it will be coming out this year, and well, I put my preorder down. If you love Platinum Games, and want a really good game for the Wii U, look no further than The Wonderful 101 when it’s released and I’ll make sure to review it when I can. I also wanted to thank Nintendo for hosting the big gaming event during SXSW this year. It was a lot of fun playing the demo for upcoming Nintendo games and I had a blast playing through Wonderful 101

Thoughts On: The Next Zelda

The day was January 23rd, 2013 when Nintendo was having another Nintendo Direct Conference on some announcements focusing on the Wii U. They announced some cool stuff like a new Yoshi title, a new RPG from the Xenoblade developers, an actual HD remake of Wind Waker, and talked about a new 3D Mario, Mario Kart, and showed a trailer for The Wonderful 101. Besides all the hype and discussions that got started with this Nintendo Direct, a lot of people started to speculate on what they were going to do with the next game in the Zelda franchise. I also decided to think of what they were possibly doing with the next entry in this amazing franchise. Some things they said made me think that they were going to do something amazing, but some things they mentioned kind of irked me a little and made me worry. Here are my thoughts about what they discussed and what I would like to see in the next Zelda game.

Let us talk about the first thing they mentioned, which was that they were thinking of making the next game more open-ended, where you wouldn’t have to go through a linear path to complete all the dungeons. I like this idea since even though I love Skyward Sword with all my heart, I did wish there was more to explore. I think they should make it more open-ended, like the Rockstar games or Dragon’s Dogma, to tackle the dungeons in the Zelda games however you want to. I think however that they need to make the dungeons more mainstream like they did with Skyward Sword, and not make every dungeon a set of small rooms. A huge open world including sky travel, ocean travel, and land travel would be rather cool, as would making Hyrule one gigantic world with multiple continents that you need to travel and not just one big continent. I also think every item you find in dungeons in the next game need to be useful in any situation, rather than in just one dungeon, like that spin top thing from Twilight Princess was fun to use in the dungeon you found it in, but you couldn’t really use it for much else.

Now, I am going to talk about the thing that irked me a little, it’s about their talk about multiplayer. They didn’t say multiplayer specifically, but they said they would want you to play with friends. I always liked my action adventure games solo play only, but I then thought of something they could do with multiplayer. They could have a separate mode where players can make fan-made dungeons using different rooms, puzzles, enemies, and bosses. Maybe make certain bosses exclusive only to this dungeon-making mode. After you make the dungeon to your liking, you can put it online and you can have a group of four people tackle the dungeon together, like in Little Big Planet-style. I just don’t think multiplayer works for the main story mode for Zelda.

Let me share my thoughts for gameplay. I think it’s fine, but maybe Link can have a more varied move list, like a combo list or something. Then again, if they did give Link a new set of moves, they would have to redesign everything from the enemies to the bosses to make said changes work within the game’s overall design. I liked the motion control combat from the last game, but maybe they could have the option, like in Pikmin 3, to either play with the Wii Motion Plus attached Wii mote or with the Wii U Gamepad. If you use the gamepad, maybe you can have your entire inventory placed on the small screen on the Gamepad, and have the main TV screen free of the clutter of health and icons, thus immersing you in the game’s world more. I also think if they are going to make the game more open-ended, they should have secret dungeons with secret bosses that don’t tie in with the main quest, but are a good reward for players who find said secret dungeons. Oh, and keep the bosses huge and interesting. I also hope they keep both halves of the game interesting since Twilight Princess had a bit of a slow first half with you having to go from human Link to wolf Link and back to human Link, and while I liked the Silent Realms in Skyward Sword, they were a bit of a bump in the road of pacing throughout the second half of that game.

Moving onto the art style, I really enjoy the art style used in both Twilight Princess and Skyward Sword so they can do either for the next game. Maybe do the “realistic” version with the bright cel-shaded art style, like in Skyward Sword, or use the dynamic lighting and shading used in the Wind Waker Wii U Remake. Either way, I think what made Zelda fun for me is when they weren’t doing something totally realistic looking, like in Skyrim. I think its colorful art style worked well to give the game its identity. A lot of people have talked about giving the Zelda character voices, and I have mixed feelings about that. Sure, voice work would be nice so you don’t have to read text, but you can easily pick the wrong voices for the job. For me personally, if they keep going with this more developed Zelda character, like from Skyward Sword, they should get Tara Strong to play Zelda and maybe Josh Keaton could be Link. However, that is just a thought.

In the end however, I am excited to see what Nintendo will do with this new Zelda and I will probably be buying it, since I’m a huge Zelda fan. I know that they will always bring something unique and memorable to the formula and the design of the overall game, but it is always fun to think about the good and maybe troublesome thoughts about what the next Zelda might bring. I hope they don’t change too much of the overall design, but I’ll make sure to be first on the list to preorder the next entry in this amazing franchise.