Summer Gaming Challenge #2 – A Link Between Worlds

The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds is one of those titles I really wanted to delve into, but kept getting distracted.  At first, I just wanted to finish Etrian Odyssey IV (which is a big mistake; there’s a reason why it’s taken me over a year to get to the final Land), then I had to review games, then I became smitten with my Vita, and the list of excuses continues on.  Eventually, when the Summer Gaming Challenge came around and I asked my boyfriend for suggestions, this was one of the titles he recommended above all else.  So, seeing as I needed a few portable titles to play on the transit to school and work, I delved in and began Link’s new adventure near the beginning of my challenge.

And I just could not stop playing it.

I am one that needs to be in the “right mood” to enjoy a Zelda or adventure-y title:  If I’m not in the mood to explore and solve puzzles, I’ll quickly drop the game, like I have with 3D Dot Game Heroes and Phantom Hourglass.  When I started A Link Between Worlds, I wasn’t sure if I was in “the mood”.  I kept dying in Hera’s Tower, and had a general lack of interest in transversing Hyrule.

When I get to Lorule though… everything changed.  The joy of exploring the entirety of the land more or less unhindered completely sold me on the title.  It was actually a good while until I entered my first dungeon in the dark world; I spent a goodly amount of time just walking around the land, trying to find more cracks, more Maiamais, more save points so I could travel around on a whim.  Collecting rupees also was fun, as being able to afford and straight out buy Ravio’s items lends to a sense of accomplishment… and then you can go and get them upgraded on top of it!

The dungeons themselves were pretty easy overall, but then again it may have been simply because I’ve learned the tricks Zelda games expect my to catch over the years.  I still got stuck on a few things (the Dark Palace was a little annoying because of… well, it was dark), but other than wondering about whether a few items were in the game I never had to consult a guide.  I still died a lot, though.  I never said I was good at games.

The story was pretty nice, and pretty light.  I already knew about the big plot twist, but it was nice nevertheless.  Of course, being a Zelda game, and one inspired by older iterations at that, I didn’t expect an epic, sweeping plot to guide me through the world.

But yeah, A Link Between Worlds?  Fantastic game, definitely in my Top 3 Zelda titles (which is a list that’s never definitive, mind you), and another winner for my Challenge.  Looking at my list, this probably won’t be the end of the good times, either, so it’s going to be a fun summer.

Summer Gaming Challenge #1 – Journey

I’ve been lazy with writing these (I’ve already beaten my second game!), but no more.  The first game I’ve taken down for my Summer Gaming Challenge is Journey, a title I forgotten about but decided to switch in once I saw someone else put it on their list… and, well, I’m glad I did switch it in.

Journey really is a beautiful adventure.  The graphics are fantastic, and give an amazing atmosphere to the whole ordeal.  The spoon fed story is also great, and leaves a lot open for interpretation.  In terms of the gameplay, it’s simple and easy to progress without getting too stuck, and there’s a palpable reward for exploring the area (basically, it’s easier to move around).

When I went in, I expected to play the whole Journey by myself; it’s been a long time since the game was released, after all.  Most of the first half of the game ended up with me playing alone; it did not impact me negatively really, as I took my time exploring the areas and collecting extensions to my scarf.  At one point, though, I kept hearing chirps (the noises the characters make) and looked around to see, to my surprise, another player a few feet behind me.  From there, everything changed:  Playing with another player and working the puzzles with someone else gave Journey a whole new layer of enjoyment and underlying emotion that it brought the title to new heights.

See, together or alone, Journey is… well, a journey:  A path taken to find the truth, to find peace, to find… anything, really.  When there is someone beside you, it makes the journey that much easier, as you know there’s someone right there beside you, sharing your pain and triumphs alike.  As my partner and myself trekked up the snow-laden mountain, keeping close to each other to keep warm and able to use our dwindled powers (most of our scarves were ripped off when I caught the attention of an enemy), I felt an honest connection between the characters on the screen.  It was a joy to see the two working together, struggling to make it to the end of their trek, and that I was a part of it.

It made it all the more painful that I lost my partner about halfway through the climb up the mountain.  While the player likely disconnected or decided to quit (I was a bit slow, after all), I felt as if my companion had died, and that my avatar had to finish the quest on their own.  Why couldn’t he make it?  Was the cold too much?  Losing the companion at that point made the atmosphere feel all the more real; it made it feel as though I had to push on for my partner’s sake, lest it’ll all be for nothing.  It’s quite impressive that a simple thing that happens online all the time could provide this amount of pure emotional force behind it.  It just goes to show how much attention was put into the product that nothing breaks your immersion into the atmosphere of the game; in fact, in some cases little occurrences might even drive this point home further.

But really, Journey ended up being a beautiful title, and a great start to my challenge this year.  Here’s to hoping I’ll have a great run of classics to keep me rolling through the summer (spoiler alert: I do)!

Summer Gaming Challenge 2014

It’s that time of the year again… time for the Summer Gaming Challenge!  I’m going to be a little lazy and just cut and copy the information from a post I made elsewhere here.

The Summer Gaming Challenge is when you choose ten games to play over the summer that are considered ‘classics’ that you’ve not played for one reason or another.  Since Racketboy’s a retro community, they tend to stick to older games, but it really can be a game from any generation.  Most of my games tend to fall in the modern generations.

My time span will be from June 1 to around the end of August (haven’t decided if that’ll be the day my fall classes start or the end of the month).

Here’s my list for this year:

  • Shadow Hearts (PS2)
  • Luigi’s Mansion (GC)
  • Super Mario RPG: Legend of the 7 Stars (SNES, via Wii VC)
  • Radiant Historia (DS)
  • The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds (3DS)
  • Shin Megami Tensei: Digital Devil Saga (PS2)
  • Suikoden (PS1, via PS1 Classics)
  • Ni No Kuni:Wrath of the White Witch (PS3)
  • Shenmue II (Xbox)
  • Journey (PS3) [Post]

I actually have a nice representation of consoles this year… which I decided to do since last year’s method of only doing two consoles failed pretty hard.  I actually wanted to include a lot of retro games this year, but since the Retron 5 took forever and a half to come out, I suppose it’ll have to wait until next time.

There’s actually a few games on this list that I’ve already started (NNK, DDS, and Shadow Hearts) that I’ve never gotten around to finishing.  Mario RPG and ALBW I’ve really been wanting to play, but never found time.  I feel like I have an obligation to play Shenmue II, and the others were mainly chosen by Slayn Bacon, because I couldn’t decide anything (some of the others were games he picked too, but I had at least an idea that I wanted to put them on the list in the first place).

As usual, when I beat a game I’ll write up a quick post about it; and if I beat an RPG that’s not in RPGSite’s database, I’ll also write up a formal review there.

This year, I’m hoping to beat at least five of the games.  Of course, I’m gonna try to beat them all, but I also have to be a little realistic!

Review a Great Game Day – The World Ends With You

There’s always something to be said about a game that does something wholly unique.  The developers are trying to step out of the sometimes restricting box that is game design, and make a big splash with giving gamers something… well, different.  The problem, however, is that when developers try something “new and unique”, it tends to be less than perfect.  Perhaps the gameplay didn’t pan out, or the idea itself didn’t mesh well with the setting it was in, or maybe the idea with just a bad one from the get-go.  Regardless of the reason, though, games that are dubbed “unique” and “different” tend to carry the stigma of being… well, not always great as a video game itself, but more an interesting piece to ogle and marvel at. At its best, a piece to remember in the annals of gaming history as the stepping stone to a new genre or way of thinking within the industry; at its worst, a forgotten title that will squander in obscurity.

That being said, there’s little better than a unique, interesting title that manages to hit all of its high notes wonderfully; a game that both oozes originally and is still a solid, enjoyable game.  A package so completely new and refreshing that even the most jaded gamer can appreciate it… and that is precisely what The World Ends With You is.

The Reaper’s Game is what brings the plot together, but the characters are easily the more interesting part of TWEWY until the end.

The World Ends With You stars Neku, a somewhat socially inept teenager that is in a game for his life and very existence.  See, he and the other participants have died, but if they survive the Reaper’s Game, they are revived and allowed to continue their lives.  Surviving this game isn’t all that easy, though; since the Noise (the typical mob enemies of the game) exists in two different “zones” at the same time, so the only way to fight back is to make a pact with another participant in order to fight the Noise in both zones at once.  This is all wrapped around a plot involving the Reapers themselves and their motives, and the players that fight in order to live on.

This short synopsis might make it seem like the game’s story is obtuse and hard to grasp, but it’s really presented in a easy to digest manner.  The World Ends With You focuses on the characters first, and the overarching plot of the Reaper’s Game second.  The main character might be a bit cliched–Neku is an asocial moody teenager, Shiki has confidence and image issues, Beat and Rhyme have a typical example of a broken home–but they are still relatable and interesting enough to keep from getting stale.  A lot of this comes from the plot device of the Reaper’s Game entrance fee.  This involuntary fee is whatever the player holds most dear, and the revelations and mysteries surrounding what the characters have lost to play this game is really quite intriguing.  As you learn about the players’ past and what was taken from them, it’s all the more painful when you realize that only one player can win the Reaper’s Game.

The overall plot involving the Reaper’s Game itself is pretty interesting as well, but it takes a bit of a back seat until late- and post-game.  Even so, the reason for the Reaper’s Game and the politics behind it all is arguably the most interesting part of the game.  In addition, while all of the pertinent details of the game involving Neku and the others are revealed by the end of the tale, you can learn more by obtaining Secret Reports.  These Secret Reports are obtained by replaying through the various days and achieving certain tasks within each day.  These reports offer a lot of information on the Reaper’s Game and the reasons behind it, and offers a way for a curious player to learn more, while not bogging down those that only wanted the main plot.

Riding giant stuffed cats into battle; yep, this is Japanese all right.

It’s clear to see that The World Ends With You’s story holds up well, but how about the gameplay?  TWEWY is an RPG, but its battle system is wholly unique from other games of the genre.  As stated in the story, you’ll have to deal with Noise to survive the game, and the Noise exists in two zones at the same time.  Therefore, Neku has to team up with another player in order for them to effectively fight the Noise.  So, during battles, you control both Neku and you partner at the same time.  Neku is on the bottom screen, and you use the stylus and (generally) tapping the various pins you have equipped to attack.  Your partner, however, stays stationary, and you use the D-pad (or buttons, if you’re left handed) to attack the enemies.  Also, how your partner attacks depends on the partner themselves, so as the game progresses you’ll have to learn how to handle your new partners and use them effectively in battle so you won’t fail.  Partners share a health bar as well, so if either character gets hit too often, it’s game over for both characters (and for you).

As such, it becomes a battle of making Neku dodge attacks on the lower screen, and having your partner counter Noise on the upper screen before they get to attack.  This is enforced by the “sync puck”; basically whoever has the puck is the one that can attack, and after an attack they pass it off to the other player.  It sounds very hectic, and at first it is; thankfully the game makes your first partner very easy to control, so you have time to learn how to multitask and deal with the Noise before it launches its full force at you.  Eventually, the partners you control will be that much more complicated, and the enemies harder to manage and counter.  The World Ends With You manages to provide a good challenge throughout, so gamers aren’t likely to be bored when they get to a boss battle.

Pins, bro. You got them.

Another big part of the game involves the various pins you collect throughout the game.  These pins are what you equip to Neku for his various attacks, as well as the items used for the Pin Slammer mini-game.  Of course, different pins have different attacks, and they also level up and evolve when you use them.  How they level up depends on the pin itself:  Some level up from battle, others from Pin Slammer, and some even level up by other means.  While sometimes it’s difficult to tell how exactly to level the pins up, it keeps them viable throughout most of the game, where the “best pin” depends more on your favored play style than on a specific pin.  Granted, there still are ultimate pins, but getting them is by no means required to finish the title.

Even in the visuals department, The World Ends With You is a winner.  Graphically, TWEWY was stylish before Personas 3 and 4 made it cool to do so, and with good reason.  The setting of TWEWY is Shibuya, Tokyo, one of the biggest shopping/fashion centers in Japan.  As such, this game’s stylish nature is a bit of a love letter to the area it’s representing, giving the game the unique energy that the real-world Shibuya gives off.  In fact, TWEWY takes this one step further with its equipment system; you don’t really buy armor as much as you buy new outfits, but every outfit needs a certain amount of courage to wear.  It makes sense, considering that Shibuya is where fashion statements are made… and some statements are louder and harder to pull off than others.  It’s really a small thing (much like how many games restrict equipment by levels), but just the little details help bring make the title that much more refined and polished.

Then, there’s the music.  You’ve probably heard some of TWEWY’s tunes before; most of the tracks are techno-y, J-pop-y, sometimes rap-py conglomerations that are upbeat and interesting.  It’s not really for everyone, but given the setting, the music is a perfect final touch for this game.  The tracks are very catchy, and sound exactly what would be blasting out the various Shibuya fashion storefronts day and night.  This might sound worse than it is, considering the… somewhat unusual choices youths make in terms of popular music, but there’s no worries here:  The World Ends With You’s tracks are all solid, more like a hand picked “best of” album than a mountain of the popular songs of the week.

It’s almost criminal that The World Ends With You is not more popular.  The title did achieve some mild success when released on the DS in 2008, and has gained a cult following, but the RPG has since, for the most part, been forgotten.  There was an iOS port released in 2012 that brought the title back in the spotlight for a bit (mainly because of the secret ending that hints at a sequel), and Neku making a cameo in Kingdom Hearts III, but TWEWY is mainly ignored when discussions of RPGs or DS games are brought up.  It’s a bit of a shame, really, that such a unique RPG is left in the dust when it should be a beacon for gamers that are tired of the ‘typical’ RPG; while The World Ends With You may still use a few genre tropes, it is such a wholly different experience that every gamer should try out.

Are We Moving Towards Another Game Industry Crash?

Today, Amazon unveiled its new piece of electronic wonderment–The Amazon Fire TV.  Of course, this $99 device streams the typical video services and offers the ability to look at your photos on the big screen, but the interesting part is that the Amazon Fire TV also plays games.  There’s not many, of course; right now there’s the Minecraft Pocket Edition and a few Amazon exclusive titles, but the potential is there, and amplified by being able to use a touch device like a tablet as a secondary controller for the console.

But, the Fire TV is just another device in a growing pile of consoles (multi-purpose or otherwise) trying to bulldoze their way into the current gaming market.  Aside from the “Big Three” with their consoles and portables, and the always evident PC market, there’s the mobile market, the OUYA, Oculus Rift, a plethora of Steam Boxes, Amazon’s device, and whatever else another company may think is a good idea to release.  The market is being overwhelmed with people trying to get a piece of the profit pie, and this behavior could easily make the entire industry fall in on itself.

A second fall of the gaming industry seems a bit extreme, but it has happened before.  When the game industry crashed in 1983, we saw many of the same ailments within the industry as we do today.  There were far too many consoles in the market at the time:  The Ataris, Colecovisions, Odysseys, and so on flooded the market and led to consumer confusion.  You couldn’t know what to get without an absurd amount of research, and many people will end up either making a bad decision (and therefore end up distrusting the industry) or never partake in the purchase in the first place.

But it’s just not the consoles that were the problem with the collapse; it was the games, as well.  Shovelware flooded the market, further breeding consumer distrust and confusion.  Too many consoles, too many games, and not enough quality control are the main reasons that the industry collapsed in on itself back in the day.

But, doesn’t that sound familiar?  The supersaturation of consoles aside, we are accosted by multiple game releases every day.  The indie movement may have brought gaming development to a whole new level, a level where developers may make what they wish without the restrictions of a company needs for profits, but it has also led to an incredible amount of failed, broken games.  Moreover, the Xbox Live Indie Game program and Steam’s policy changes allow poor quality games to flood the market.  With the sheer quantity of games on the market and with more coming every day, it is difficult to know what’s good, what’s bad, and what’s even out there to play.

So, will the games industry collapse again?  It’s hard to tell.  It’s clear there are signs pointing to it, but the first fall didn’t happen in one day; it slowly tumbled over a number of years.  Nintendo, the previous savior of the gaming industry, appears to be struggling to stay afloat.  Microsoft and Sony have turned their consoles into multi-entertainment devices, which may or may not be an effort to keep in line with the obviously cheaper options like the Amazon Fire TV which can also play games.  The “AAA model” of game development that companies so heavily rely on big bucks for bigger profits is beginning to fail the big numbers companies spend those big budgets on.  The PC market is suffocating under the strain of thousands of games spread over various distribution services, with little way to organize and differentiate.  If something isn’t done soon, it’s very likely that everything will fall under a slew of badly programmed mobile titles… although, industries in general are a very fickle thing; maybe nothing bad will come of it after all.

Dysfunctional Humans

Dysfunctional Systems has a very interesting setting to it.  Placed in the (likely) far-flung future, members of Earth have taken it upon themselves to monitor other worlds (dubbed “systems”) in order to make sure things don’t get too chaotic and steer the worlds’ growths to be as orderly as possible.  These Mediators travel to different worlds and more or less try and solve the immediate problems, sometimes “by whatever means necessary”.

But, let’s not talk about that.  Let’s talk about Winter instead.

Winter Harrison is the protagonist of Dysfunctional Systems (at least the first episode), a student Mediator that ends up getting caught in a rather nasty situation.  Winter’s mindset is a bit odd, though; she barely understands what the word “war” even means, and balks at the down trodden people as if they are simply playing at being poor and overworked.  She wonders why people “seemed to pick their outfits from a pile of rags” and why the President of Brighton threatens to launch a weapon at their oppressors because it would hurt people.  The whole concept of a world being less than perfectly operated is just a bit above her head, which leads to a slightly condescending attitude to the citizens of other worlds, even if she doesn’t verbalize this attitude.

She is not the only one that thinks like this, though; apparently many of the Mediators hold similar thoughts.  Their detached attitudes that a another other world is destroyed is rather unsettling, really.  But when you really think about it… these rather off-putting attitudes aren’t too far from what some of our own thought-processes are around these sorts of subjects.  In the United States, we only really see news that’s related to our country–whether it’s an address from the President, or of some guy that opened an amazingly unique shop in Minnesota.  While us Americans do hear about the major world news (such as the deadly tsunamis), we know little about the plight of others outside our own country.

This isn’t true in every country, of course, but we can easily see how this can be distilled down to an individual level.  Many of us have our hobbies, favorite TV shows, and whatever else have you; while we may garner information about subjects that don’t interest us as much, we generally do not care much about them.  If someone is following the The Walking Dead and not Game of Thrones, would that person particularly understand the impact of, say, Eddard dying in Game of Thrones?  Not really, though it’s likely they had some thoughts about when Jim died in The Walking Dead, whether they liked the character or not.

That’s the key here:  Understanding.  We know of different situations that are worst than our own, and can even empathize with people within these unfortunate situations, but we don’t really understand what it is that’s the problem unless we go through them (and therefore care about it) ourselves.  For example, I personally know how it feels to be living below the poverty line, struggling to make ends meet, but I do not understand the suffering that comes from being homeless and/or jobless, or starving because I didn’t have enough money to buy some food for a few days.  While I can sympathize and feel sorry for those in that type of situation, but I cannot truly understand what they’re going through.

It’s the same with Winter, really.  She may not sympathize with the people of Brighton, and her thoughts of them seem needlessly ignorant, but the world that she grew up in had none of these issues; in fact, it would seem as if most people of the future Earth that Dysfunctional Systems would never have to come in contact with such issues.  It’s only natural that she doesn’t understand why these people seem so downtrodden and desperate, when she comes from a society that’s (at least hinted at ) pretty much perfect.

So, perhaps if you think Winter’s being a little cruel, or harsh, remember that she’s really not that different from us, even if we can (usually) mask it better.