• TheEnglishman

      Professor Layton vs. Ace Attorney Review

      2 years ago

      Three and a half years after it's original announcement, Professor Layton vs Ace Attorney has finally reached Western shores (in Europe at least, you guys across the pond have a vague 2014 release date). As a big fan of both series, I've been eagerly anticipating this release for a long time. Now that the game has finally been released, just how well do the Professor and the Attorney get along?

       

      Story

      Famed archeology expert Professor Layton and 'Ace' Attorney Phoenix Wright both find themselves being asked for help by a young girl named Espella Cantabella. Through a series of strange incidents, both men find themselves and their respective assistants in a seemingly storybook world where magic exists, witches run amok and a man known as 'The Storyteller' writes the fates of the townspeople. In this crazy world, Espella is accused of being a great witch and is put on trial. It's up to Layton and Wright to work together to prove her innocence and unlock the mysteries of Labyrinthia.

      The game is split into ten chapters, which cover both Layton's adventure and Wright's, with the game switching control over between them at certain intervals. It's great to experience the adventure from these multiple perspectives, with even the Layton style recaps being personalised by each character (including Luke and Maya). It's hard to really place when PL vs AA is supposed to take place in their respective timelines, though Maya's presence suggests it is between Trials and Tribulations but before Apollo Justice (BTW, it's awesome to have an Ace Attorney game with Maya in. Maybe Capcom should think about that one for the next AA game...) .

      The story doesn't rely on a heavy knowledge of either series. This is mainly thanks to the fantasy setting, meaning that returning characters are few and far between. The Labyrinthians make up for this though, with plenty of personalities who continue the style of humour so enjoyed in both series. It's brilliant when Wright suggests using modern forensics to catch a suspect in the first trial, only for the citizens to be baffled. Labyrinthia is an intriguing setting, and while it's focus on magic and witches might seem a little odd, especially for fans of a fairly realistic series like Ace Attorney, the logic of the world is established fairly quickly in the game's 15-20 hour run time. It's great to slowly uncover the true nature of the 'Great Witch' and Labyrinthia itself. While a few late twists stretch credibility a little far (even by the standards of the Layton series) the overall story is very enjoyable.

       

      Gameplay

      Fans of either series will immediately recognise the gameplay of PL vs AA. Half of the game focuses on the investigation and puzzle solving of the Layton series whilst the other half covers the courtroom trials which are a staple of Ace Attorney. Generally the Layton sections aren't especially different from their source material. Players go around various Labyrinthian locales, talking to residents and solving the puzzles they throw in along the way. It's all enjoyable stuff, though I'd agree with a few other reviews that the puzzles don't match the difficultly of the series best. While I'm all for fewer maths puzzles, a few felt a bit too easy in the later chapters of the game.

      It's Phoenix Wright's sections which get the largest changes, thanks to the nature of the 'Witch Trials' that he participates in. For a start, testimonies aren't given by just one person anymore. A group of witnesses is able to testify about the crimes that take place, and Layton has to interrogate all of them at the same time. While I was concerned this might mean characters would be less developed they actually play off against each other brilliantly, especially in the final trial. The group in that one literally had me laughing out loud. Group testimony serves a practical benefit too though, as Phoenix is able to see how a witness reacts to another's testimony and even compare testimonies for contradictions.

      Another Layton staple, hint coins, can be used in both sections which is a smart move. Less of a smart move is the decision not to allow text to be sped up. This feature, usually present in AA titles, has oddly not made it into this game. Even so, these minor flaws don't damped this experience too much and the gameplay is a solid reminder to fans of what makes these two series so fun in the first place.

       

      Presentation

      Graphically, the game's locale and characters are all designed brilliantly. Labyrinthia looks a magical medieval town with it's own style, which it's inhabitants all have their personalities reflected in their design. There is definitely more of a Layton feel to the overall look of the world, though the developers have made sure that the courtroom sequences have the over the top nature of the AA series, as reflected in the characters reactions to questioning. Personally I would have preferred Wright to be designed more in the style of Dual Destinies, but given that this game was made first I can understand his appearance here. What is a little more surprising is that the game occasionally lags, presumably due to the character models on screen. It doesn't occur often but is jarring when it does happen. Overall though the game looks great and I'm pleased with how it's turned out.

      The audio is good too. There are nice calming tunes to wash over Layton's puzzle solving and dramatic themes to play over Wright's deductions in the courtroom. Unsurprisingly, there's also a number of remixes from both series and yes, there is another remix of the best theme ever from Ace Attorney. Characters are all voiced nicely, though for some reason there's a different voice for Phoenix Wright than in Dual Destinies. Maya also finally has a voice, a mere eight years since she appeared on the scene. She sounds ok, but it's not quite what I expected. All in all though, PL vs AA is a great looking and sounding title.

       

      Conclusion

      While perhaps unable to beat the best from either of the source material series, Professor Layton vs Ace Attorney is a solid reminder of what fans have come to love about both series over the years. A highly engaging story, brilliantly enjoyable characters, fun gameplay and great presentation ensure that the flaws that are present remain relatively minor. The experience is made a little bittersweet with the knowledge that it's the last adventure for either series before (allegedly) creative changes are made to both series. However, this game is a must for fans of either series, and a good starting point for anyone who's never experienced Layton or Wright before.

    • TheEnglishman

      Bravely Default Review

      2 years ago

      Where once titles like Final Fantasy and Chrono Trigger stood proudly at the pinnacle of gaming fandom, JRPGs have declined in popularity. With the rise of FPS's and Western RPGs like the Elder Scrolls series, as well as the increasingly busy lives of a maturing audience, JRPGs have become something of a niche genre in the present day.

      This means that titles aiming to reverse the trend will get a fair amount of publicity and this is certainly true of Bravely Default, a 3DS title aiming to capture the spirit of old adventures and update the experience for a modern audience. The game came out in December in Europe, but I've only recently completed the title (see what I mean about busier lives?). The question to be answered is, does Bravely Default pump new life into a flagging genre or is it proof that the sun is setting on JRPGs?

      Story

      Bravely Default takes place in a world called Luxendarc, home to four crystals which control the elements. One day, a powerful darkness renders the crystals useless. The elements are thrown out of balance and a great chasm opens up in the land. If you're thinking 'Hey, this story sounds familar' you've presumably played literally any JRPG ever.

      Our valiant heroes rely on a few well worn cliches too. Main protagonist Tiz comes from a village which was destroyed by the chasm which opens up, along with his brother. Agnes is a girl blessed with the ability to revive the crystals, aided by a fairy named Airy. Ringabel is a 'charmer' who suffers from amnesia, coming along for the ride after reading about the heroes in a mysterious journal which predicts the future. Finally, Edea is the daughter of the general leading the forces against Agnes's group, who has to choose between her friends and her family. 

      As you can see, the story plumbs from the big book of JRPG cliches, but it would be wrong to say the story is bad as a result. Each character has their moment to shine and develop, and there are interesting plot lines for each. I found Edea to be the most engaging, as she constantly has to rise up against long standing comrades and friends, as the world gets far more complicated than she ever thought.

      The story develops well too, even taking some good twists along the way. One late development caught me off guard completely so it's fair to say that, though cliched, Bravely Default isn't entirely predictable.

      Gameplay

      Again, there'll be an instant familiarity for anyone who's played Final Fantasy with regards to Bravely Default's gameplay. A mix of dungeon crawling, town exploring and overworld strolling awaits. Ironically enough, given how recent FF games have moved away from this style, it's actually refreshing to revisit. What might have been seen as overdone a decade ago has a certain nostalgic feel to it.

      In battle there's been a few noticeable attempts to evolve the standard turn based format. For a start, the game employs the titular 'Brave' and 'Default' mechanics. Selecting Brave allows the character to perform an action multiple times in a turn whilst using Default will allow the option to save turns for later use. It's a great mechanic adding an extra layer of strategy to fights. For example, a character can save turns, then heal, buff and attack all in the same turn. The game also utilises a job system a la FFV. There are 24 jobs available in total, though given that each character can only equip the skills of two at one time, it feels like there are a few too many.

      There's also a bonus mechanic which utilises Streetpass. Collecting friends using the feature is vital to rebuilding Tiz's ruined village, which can create shops for weapons and items. Additional bosses can be downloaded, and acquired friends can be summoned in battle. It's a great addition which makes Streetpass more useful than it has been for a long time.

      The game is also generous with timekeeping, bringing in a few fast forward options to help get through some of the more grindy areas of the game.Fights can be sped up and even turned off completely. This is essential in one of the biggest flaws of Bravely Default - it's second half.

      It's difficult to talk about in a review without spoiling the game, but it's fair to say that gameplay choices lead to the second half of Bravely Default being a poorer experience than it's first 25 - 30 hours. Most talk of Wind Waker's Triforce Quest as being pointless filler, but the repetitive, grind heavy experience I found in the later stages of Bravely Default topped that for me. Some reviews have suggested that this flawed area is a relatively minor drop in quality, but personally I found it to have a detrimental effect on the game as a whole. It's a flaw, but how much of a flaw will probably vary from person to person.

      Presentation

      As the screenshots I've posted have hopefully shown, Bravely Default is a nice looking game. Towns are designed vibrantly and appear full of life, each with their own unique style. The characters are all well designed too. One of my favourite elements is how the designs of enemies who hold job classes will be incorporated into your heroes looks when equipped with that class. It's another encouragement to change teams up more. Unfortunately, dungeons don't appear so vividly and are fairly generic looking, which is very noticeable when they're traipsed through multiple times.

      The music of Bravely Default is generally good, with a particular highlight being music played in battle. I'm a big fan of the theme played whilst fighting bosses with job classes for example. Still while the music is enjoyable, I wouldn't say it matches the highest in the genre. Decent but not amazing overall. The same can be said of the voicework too. Our main heroes all sound fairly good, but they're handed a fairly dodgy script which doesn't mind using around 27 words when 'Ok' would do. Some of the more enjoyable performances come from characters with only brief entries. I liked the OTT nature of Barbossa the pirate and Praline the performer (yes that really is a job class in the game). It's just a shame Bravely Default suffers from verbal diarrhea.

      Conclusion

      Years after the hey-day of the JRPG, Bravely Default tries to make a flagging genre it's own. In some way, the game is successful, building a surprisingly elaborate world and filling it with likable characters and a battle system that expands beyond traditional roles, welcoming a few new ideas and valuable shortcuts. The game's biggest twists almost put it on the path to greatness. 

      Yet for all the progress made, a few poor elements have dialed back Bravely Default's ambitions. A clunky script, some fairly grindy spots and a highly repetitive second half clip the wings of the game, leaving it feeling a little less grand than pre-release hype suggested.

      There's certainly a lot to celebrate about Bravely Default, and the potential exists for a burgeoning series to emerge from the roots on display here. JRPG fans will find much to enjoy and even casual fans of the genre should at least check the demo out. Yet for all the brave steps forward that are made, it might be a little soon to suggest that Bravely Default can pick up the mantle dropped by Final Fantasy.

      ...

      At least not yet.

    • TheEnglishman

      Peeking under Majora's Mask

      2 years ago

      Earlier this week, Nintendo led their latest Nintendo Direct show with the announcement that The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask was being remade for the 3DS, with an early release date of Spring next year. The announcement took many by surprise, despite the vague suggestions and subtle hints. Personally I've been waiting ever since Ocarina of Time 3D was first rumoured, so it's been a pretty long haul for myself!

      Since the announcement has finally been made though I've found myself wondering... what is it about Majora's Mask that makes it stand out so much? Why was the clamour for a re-release so strong, arguably more so than Ocarina's re-release on the 3DS? I'm hoping to provide just of a few of the reasons why the reputation of Majora's Mask has endured so strongly to this day.

      A Tough Act to Follow

      Majora's Mask had the uneviable task of trying to one up it's immediate predecessor Ocarina of Time, which was seen as revolutionary for the series as the first 3D Zelda game, as well as the one that propeled the series into the mainstream (well, in our house at least... we were a Sega family). Ocarina of Time set the bar pretty high in the Zelda series and has continuously taken the top spot of 'best ever games' lists ever since. When Nintendo were coming up for a sequel to one of their most successful games ever, they could have just made 'Ocarina of Time 2', continued the adventures of Adult Link and created a solid, if uninspired, sequel. Instead though, as we entered a new millenium, we were treated to a game that was wildly different from any Zelda game before or since.

      NO LINKS TO THE PAST

      One of the most surprising initial discoveries about Majora's Mask is how little it shares in common with other Zelda titles and, indeed, the lore of the series itself. Calling it 'The Legend of Zelda' at all is pretty generous when Zelda only makes a brief cameo in a flashback sequence. Other key elements such as Ganon, the Triforce, heck even Hyrule itself are completely missing in action. Majora's Mask is set in the world of Termina, a completely new location for the series. It's not just the location that's new though. 

      The story of Majora's Mask is far different to any previous tale involving Link. While out looking for Navi, Link meets the Skull Kid, who's stolen a powerful item called Majora's Mask. Link is cursed and the Skull Kid attempts to bring the moon crashing down on Termina. Using the Ocarina of Time, Link is able to reverse time to three days earlier, but now finds himself constantly reliving the same 72 hours while trying to stop the Skull Kid and the moon. It's definitely a different sort of tale to 'save Zelda, stop Ganon'. With everyone aware of their impending demise, the game conveys sorrow, anger and regret. This darker tone was new for the series and only Twilight Princess has attempted to match it. That's not to say it doesn't have it's humour or light hearted moments however. Majora's Mask is definitely a game to be enjoyed rather than suffered through, but the environment and character stories definitely help it stand out from the rest.

      A More intimate affair

      In fact, the backstories of individual characters is another reason Majora's Mask has become such a cult classic. Early on in the game Link meets a group known as the 'Bombers Secret Sociey of Justice', a bunch of kids who roam Clock Town trying to do good deeds. Link is invited to join and performing good deeds for the townspeople becomes one of the main themes of the game. This can take many forms, such as soothing a lingering spirit, helping a dance troupe with their moves, or even giving toilet paper to a desperate man (seriously). Some of these quests are mini-epics in themselves, such as a running event to re-unite two lovers seperated by the Skull Kid's magic, which takes roughly the whole of the three days to complete. Another quest see Link visiting a ranch on the final day, finding a shell shocked ranch hand. Only by getting the ability to reach the area earlier in the sequence can the player understand what's going on and actually do something about it. Majora's Mask obviously has it's bigger story but it invests a lot in it's side missions as well, developing NPC's a lot more than previous games had managed.

      Unmasking LINK

      A recurring element of Majora's Mask is... well, masks. When Link first meets the Skull Kid, he's turned into a Deku Scrub. Only after spending time in this form is he able to free himself and return to normal. This serves as an introduction as to how masks can aid Link and affect gameplay. As a Deku Scrub Link can pop from flowers and glide. When he's a Goron, Link has the ability to smash boulders and roll forwards. Being a Zora aids swimming. These different forms Link takes provide a unique spin on the traditional puzzle solving format of the Zelda series. Other masks are available for Link to collect as well, providing a range of different uses. It's a rewarding feeling seeing the effort of aiding someone underscored with a new mask.

      Small But With BIG AMBITIONS

      After A Link to the Past was released, Zelda fans had to wait a good five years for the next installement to be released. While Ocarina of Time was definitely worth the wait, Nintendo were reluctant to take so long with the next adventure. This meant Majora's Mask would reuse the engine from Ocarina, as well as other assets such as character models. As a result, the game isn't quite as large as it's predecessor. It has only 4 'main' dungeons and many characters in this game are reimagined from Ocarina. It's a little strange to see the bosses of one of Ocarina's dungeons turn up as potion sellers in Majora's Mask, while child and adult Malon are two seperate sisters in this game.

      The re-use of these assets was one of the reasons Majora's Mask didn't initially have as much success as it's immediate predecessor, but as time has passed, people have appreciated the unique style that Majora's Mask holds. Clock Town is, inspite of the impending catastrophe, a vibrant area and other locations have their own unique sense of style. Majora's Mask may not be the technical marvel that Ocarina was, but the design and style of Termina has helped it hold it's own.

      Back to the future

      Standing out in a series like Zelda is no easy feat, but Majora's Mask does a brilliant job. It's unique tone, memorable characters, challenging but enjoyable gameplay and interesting world all help the second N64 game stand the test of time. It's difficult to say which Zelda game stands as a clear favourite for me, but Majora's Mask stands alongside Ocarina of Time and Twilight Princess at the top for me. I'm confident that when a new generation of gamers get the chance to play this classic next year, it'll become one of their favourites too.

       

       

    • TheEnglishman

      Could Professor Layton Vs. Ace Attorney still come west?

      3 years ago

      Editor’s Note: I know Level-5 is currently thanking fans for their “continued patience” when it comes to the localization of this game but as I die-hard and Layton and Ace Attorney fan myself, I’d really appreciate some info. 

      The crossover title, Professor Layton Vs. Ace Attorney, may still have a potential future outside of Japan. At an event called Japan Expo in France, Level-5 president Akihiro Hino was asked about the game. This was his response:

      "Something's in the works, but I can't talk about it today."
       
      Interesting comments from the developers of the game, given that we haven't heard anything about a possible English release for Professor Layton Vs. Ace Attorney since its announcement three years ago, or it's release in Japan last year. What's even more interesting is that it was reported on Level-5 International's Facebook page.
       
      While this in no way confirms that the game is coming out in Europe or North America, it's at least a refreshing change from hearing absolutely nothing for the last few years. It might be influenced by Capcom announcing the next Ace Attorney will come out here digitally, or the fact that the next Professor Layton game could be the last (or at least the last starring Layton himself)...
       
      I'm massively excited about playing this game, but honestly I thought there was no chance of it still reaching the West. If it comes out in Europe (and America I guess...) I'd be thrilled.
       
       
      What about you g1's? Are you hoping we'll see the Phoenix Wright and Professor Layton crossover released here in the West? Or are you not bothered by it at all? Maybe you've already played the Japanese version and have an opinion on it? Be sure to share your thoughts one way or another in the comments below.
       
    • TheEnglishman

      Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Dual Destinies Review

      3 years ago

      For the past few years, it's seemed that the Ace Attorney was doomed to disappear from Western shores. The last entry in the main series, Apollo Justice, enjoyed only moderate success whilst one entry in a spinoff series based around Miles Edgeworth was never localised at all. It seemed as though the niche, though dedicated, fanbase might not enjoy anymore courtroom battles.

      However, all this has changed in the form of Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Dual Destinies. The incredibly long winded title hides the fact that the game is really just Ace Attorney 5. The game was released on 24th October as a digital download from the 3DS eShop, to the consternation of some fans who wanted a physical copy. However, this review will be focusing on the game itself and exactly what Capcom has brought to the table for a new Ace Attorney game on a new handheld. Has the series risen from the ashes, or merely earned a stay of execution?

       

      Story

      Dual Destinies follows the stories of three lawyers; the old hand Phoenix Wright, his protege Apollo Justice and the newcomer Athena Cykes. These three use their talents, experiences and abilites to crack cases and prove their clients innocence. The game balances playing as all three characters fairly well, making sure that each protagonist has their moment to shine, but there's no GTA V style option of switching between characters on the fly or retackling a trial whilst playing as a different lawyer. It might have added a little more variety to what is a fairly linear experience.

      The story itself opens with a dramatically with a courtroom being destroyed mid trial by a bomb and escalates from there. Our three heroes find themselves coming up against the 'dark age of the law' where public trust in the legal system has plummeted. This is perhaps best shown in the new prosecutor to the series, Simon Blackquill. He's a prosecutor, but has also been convicted of murder.

      Overall, the story doesn't feel to drastically different to previous entries in the series. Phoenix and pals have always been up against massive odds so the overall setting doesn't feel too different. The game has received a mature rating though, and later stages and trials definitely feel a little darker than previous entries, though the series keen sense of humour is kept intact.

      Each case has it's own twists and turns, though some of the earlier ones can be slow paced at times. Even so, none of them are terrible and the game's final case really ranks among some of the best in the series.

      There's also a number of cameos from previous characters in the series, but these aren't especially satisfying. With the exception of a certain prosecutor's return, most of the old guard are either only briefly available or aren't around at all. It's a little disappointing to see formerly major characters like Trucy Wright and Kristoph Gavin reduced to brief interludes. Still these characters, old and new, retain the series wit and charm, serving the story well.

       

      Gameplay

      As ever in the series, gameplay comes in two forms: Investigation and trials.

      Investigation sees one of the trio searching over a crime scene looking for clues or talking to witnesses for information. Investigating crime scenes now takes advantage of the 3DS hardware, meaning crime scenes can be moved around to get a look at areas from another angle. This means that objects can be hidden out of initial sight and discovered only when the scene is approached from another angle. While this is a nice update, it's still basically the same feature as in previous games. For some reasons, non crime scene locations can no longer be investigated at all. This may not seem like a big loss, but it's disappointing not to be to look around areas like Phoenix's office and get some flavour text at least.

      In truth though, it's the trials that people really play Ace Attorney games for, and I'm happy to say these still remain the highlight of the experience. The general set up is still the same; your lawyer will take on a prosecutor by taking the testimoney of witnesses. This testimony is then cross examined to look for lies or flaws. Evidence found during investigation can then be presented to expose the lie. This gameplay has worked wonderfully over the years and still remains as enjoyable as ever. However, there are a few new additions to the system as well.

      For a start, each lawyer has a unique ability which they can use to help them in court. Phoenix's use of the Magatama and Apollo's ability to perceive lies have both been seen before in the series. The main new focus is Athena's 'Mood Matrix' which focuses on spotting the emotions people display when giving testimony (as shown above). The matrix looks for emotions which seem out of place with the events described, to see whether a witness is lying or misremebering an event. It's a really interesting mechanic that's well used in the game. While it won't counter the arguement some people hold that Ace Attorney has too much reading and not enough gamepaly, things like this add a little something new to a fun but aging experience.

       

      Presentation

      The presentation in Dual Destinies is arguably one of the biggest improvements the series has made. For a start, the game now includes animated cutscenes to help break up the action a little more. These serve as a great change, and help to develop the characters, especially since they're actually voice acted beyond shouts of 'Hold it' and 'Objection!'. While these cutscenes are enjoyable, they rarely last for more than a few seconds. I'm all for making sure cutscenes don't get in the way of gameplay, but Dual Destinies is a very story heavy game with an emphasis on reading. A few cutscenes lasting a minute or two wouldn't have hurt.

      The games models have gone a huge update as well. Gone are the old sprites, replaced with full 3D models. These carry all the charm of the old sprites, but the increased range of motions allows for some brilliant animations that can really develop a character's personality. I was concerned originally when I saw the old models disappear, but these new replacements work brilliantly. Hopefully any future AA game would stick with these. The only problem is that the 'visual novel' style of the game now seems a little more dated, especially on the dynamic moments in trials when the camera pans around, capturing objections and breakdowns in 3D. By comparison, the usual static view feels a little old fashioned.

      The game's music does a good job of capturing the craziness, the drama and the out and out bizarre. There are some decent themes, but nothing that comes close to the series best musical moments. It's an ok mix, but given how strong some of the older games themes have been on older systems, it's a little disappointing.

      Conclusion

      Dual Destinies has certainly tried it's hardest to make the Ace Attorney series move on from it's DS origins and update for the new generation. Some of these updates, such as the increased value in presentation and the introduction of the Mood Matrix, have helped to bring a reasonable amount of change. At heart though, the game remains an enjoyable text adventure.

      If you played five minutes of the original and decided you hated it, nothing in Dual Destinies will convince otherwise. For it's new bells and whistles, the flaws of the text adventure remain. Action can be slow paced and one or two cases fill a little bit like filler in the grand scheme of the story.

      These flaws stop DD from sitting among the heights of the series, but as previously stated the improvements make the game stand out from what's gone before. Ace Attorney fans will love it no matter what, but I believe casual adventure game fans should at least give the demo a try and see how it feels. If nothing else, Dual Destinies has shown that the series can outlast it's DS roots and maybe even shows hope for the future of the series. I certainly have no objections to that.

    • TheEnglishman

      My Top Ten Games of 2012

      3 years ago

      2012, the year of the Olympics, potential Armageddon and inexplicably popular Korean dances. It was also the year of the Vita, the Wii U. The year of Kickstarter and Ouya. 2012 will be remembered for a lot, both inside and outside of videogames. For me though, it's all about these titles. Let's take a gander at my top ten games of 2012, before yelling about what an idiot I am, shall we?

       

      Honourable mentions:

      (These titles deserve talking about, but couldn't quite sneak in)

      Assassin's Creed III: Although I'm enjoying III a lot, I only picked the game up on Christmas Day, having played only about two hours of it since then. Given that I'm still in the tutorial stages, it would be extremely unfair to other titles to include this without having played more of it.

      Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask: Again, another Christmas gift. To be fair though, even though the game is a strong title, it's fun for the same reasons the others were. Fun game, but not the most innovative.

      Theatrhythm - Final Fantasy: The game with the most ridiculous name ever ended up being a surprise hit with me. This 3DS title mixes a pretty enjoyable rhythm game with some nostalgia for older titles in the series. Left a surprising impact on me and could have sneaked onto the list in previous years.

      Darksiders II: Honestly, I was bored with this title. The original Darksiders had a fair amount of variety in it's gameplay, but the sequel seemed to focus on more of a cookie cutter approach to it's gameplay. Dungeons felt repitious with little to do but hack skeletons and collect the occasional powerup. Again, not a bad game but just not what I was expecting.

      Frog Fractions: http://twinbeardstudios.com/frog-fractions Just play it and love it.

      10: Rhythm Thief & the Emperor's Treasure

      A rhythm game set in Paris where a young thief is after a man claiming to be the resurrected Napoleon Bonaparte? While this may sound like the plot to an awful B movie, Rhythm Thief actually manages to pull off it's ridiculous tale with a fair amount of charm, creating likeable characters and a fairly diverse recreation of Paris. The game amps up it's presentation levels with some neat animated cutscenes and well mastered music. Think Professor Layton with dancing and you're getting there. The rhythm games are fun too, mirroring stylus swipes and button presses to the musical cues. A few poorly implemented ones using gyroscopic controls (e.g.. shaking the 3DS as though it were a pair of maracas) threaten to spoil the fun, but on the whole there's much to enjoy.

       

      9: Paper Mario - Sticker Star

      The Paper Mario series has quite a legacy. I'll admit my only previous experience was with the Thousand Year Door, but it was a quality game that I played through more than once. The others in the series are highly regarded as well so does the 3DS title match these efforts? Well it certainly maintains the traditions of the older games, creating a vibrant 'paper' world with a number of Mushroom Kingdom inhabitants making the transition. Levels are designed for jumping and hammering through, as Mario seeks out Royal Stickers to beat Bowser for the billionth time. The game changes things up by making stickers the primary focus in the game, required for solving puzzles and moves in battle. This causes a few problems, such as having a limited number of moves or only being able to discover which sticker a boss is weak to in battle.

      Despite a few niggles holding the game back, Paper Mario makes a good impression and shows just how good the 3DS can be for RPGs.

       

      8: Resident Evil 6

      Assuming you haven't clicked away from this article in disgust, allow me to explain. Yes, this game has it's flaws. It has a poor camera, a badly changed health system and focuses too much on setting up the next big action sequence. Ok guys, I understand why people didn't enjoy it. Heck, I had one or two moments where I turned the system off because I was so annoyed about the game messing up.

      But while I had the occasional moment of anger, I had many more of simple enjoyment. Yes the game focuses too much on action, but that doesn't mean these pieces aren't enjoyable. RE6 amps things up from previous titles, making clear that the whole world is under threat from the viral menace, hence the hopping all over the world fighting crowds of zombies. Not many other games also offer three unique campaigns from the off either. I also enjoyed the moments when campaigns crossed, just to see how characters old and new interacted. Maybe this game does have it's flaws, and maybe I had higher hopes for it, but I was far from disappointed.

      7: Mass Effect 3

      Few series have had quite such an impact over the last generation as the Mass Effect series. Mass Effect closes out the trilogy by bringing the whole universe in on the fight against the deadly Reapers. Commander Shepard leads the last charge, seeking to bring the forces of the different races together and boot the Reapers back out. 3 doesn't revolutionise the series, ultimately choosing to build on the successes of the second game and add a few new features such as the 'galactic readiness' meter, which shows how the forces rounded up by Shepard can help defeat the Reaper menace. Missions include new enemies and worlds, as well as weapons and comrades. Perhaps the game feels a little too similar to it's immediate predecessor, but Mass Effect 3 closes the book on this trilogy very effectively.

      ...

      Also, I didn't think the ending was that bad. A little 'meh' but not worth getting that worked up about.

       

      6: Final Fantasy XIII-2

      After retrying FFXIII this year and finding that it wasn't as bad as I remembered, I felt compelled to give it's sequel a try to see how things had changed.

      Seems like they changed quite a bit! For a start the game follows around Lightning's sister, Serah, who spent most of the first game being a giant crystal paperweight. She and her new BFF from the future Noel take advantage of the warps in time to go traveling through the ages to look for Lightning, who's disappeared completely. Of course the story escalates (concluding with the real disappointing ending of the year), but it also allows for some major improvements over the original. For a start, the linear nature of the first game is gone, with Serah able to travel to a number of different timelines and pursue different quests (there's a ton of sidequests). As well as this, the game also changes the battle system for the better, removing some poorer elements and bringing in a Pokemon style monster capture system to add variety. The game still looks great, and music wise there's a few highlights. The story isn't quite as engaging as FFXIII but there's much to enjoy here. Definitely one of the most successful sequels that I've played.

       

      5: The Darkness II

      Another cruelly overlooked title, The Darkness II was the surprise sequel to a cult classic. The game follows Jackie Estacado, a mobster rising to the top of his criminal family who has to live with a malovent power known as the Darkness inside of him. A plot to remove Jackie and take the Darkness from him is discovered, leading the mobster to take action. The game combines standard FPS gunplay with the supernatural killing option of the Darkness to create a wide variety of options with regards to playing through the levels. Mechanics such as Jackie's weakness to light are still in play, requiring a certain amount of strategy. Enemies are improved from the original and later enemies require a certain amount of skill to defeat. 

      The sequel makes a few interesting changes too. The game has a cel shaded style which actually looks quite good. It also brings in an optional campaign which can be played alone or with friends, bumping up the replayability of the game. Most surprising of all is the twists and turns the game's story goes through. There were a few moments that caught me out completely. If you've had any experience with the original or just want an FPS with something a little different, this has my recommendation.

       

      4: Virtue's Last Reward

      (Known as Zero Escape: Virtue's Last Reward in America)

      What do you get when you combine Saw with Professor Layton? Probably something like Virtue's Last Reward, a sequel to DS title 999. In this game, as with it's predecessor, a group of seemingly unrelated people are kidnapped and forced to play a game with their lives. By solving puzzles to open doors, the group can choose to work with each other or betray each other in the hopes of escape. I've provided a really simplified synopsis of the game because it's impossible for me to really do the set up justice. Each decision made in the game has the potential to split the timeline of events, meaning that multiple playthroughs are a necessity far more than in most games. I won't spoil anything, but let's just say VLR makes some clever decisions across it's timelines.

      The actual gameplay is focused around the puzzles in the game. These are mainly the old adventure game 'Get out of this locked room!' type of puzzle. They're generally fun, though a few feel obtuse and are pretty difficult to just casually work out. Even so, the game steps up from 999. There's a flowchart present, which allows the layer to go between different parts of the timelines and re-do an earlier section if necessary. The old sprites are bumped up to 3D models and there's even voice acting (though the European version chooses to stick with the original Japanese voices rather than pay for the English voices). Virtue's Last Reward may be light on actual gameplay, but it's a 30 hour tale that shouldn't be missed.

       

      3: The Walking Dead

      It may seem difficult to believe that a licensed game in 2012 could conjure up memories of Monkey Island and other adventure games but The Walking Dead takes the better elements of this old school genre and fleshes it out in the zombie stylings of today's gaming landscape. A knowledge of The Walking Dead universe isn't needed (though I highly recommend the TV series) to play these episodic games. All the background needed is that zombies have invaded the country and everything's going to hell. The game follows Lee, an escaped convict who is trying to survive the mayhem and look after a little girl named Clementine. The episodes follow the TV format, with 'previously on' appearing for a recap and 'next time on' for a preview of the next episode.

      The game goes through the usual adventure game process of 'find item a, combine with b to complete objective' but it's so much more than that too. Lee has to work with the people in his group too, and that often means picking one side over the other. The game tracks the decisions Lee makes, and each episode contains a few game changing ones to make the player really work. The characters are interesting too, mixing a wide variety of personalities and beliefs. Clementine, who could easily have been another annoying brat to escort like so many other games, is actually one of the best characters introduced in the past year. She's so innocent that the game forces you to care about what happens to her. Even so, she's never a burden, and pretty level headed considering she's a ten year old in the end of days. 

      I'll close this entry on this. The only licensed game of any media that I've felt was brilliant was Goldeneye. In the Walking Dead, there's a serious competitor.

       

      2: Resident Evil - Revelations

      While I did enjoy RE6, I have to admit that it is an acquired taste. However, the same can't be said of Resident Evil: Revelations. Set primarily on the cruise ship Zenobia (with occasional detours) the game follows good ol' Jill Valentine and her new partner as they look around to discover what has caused the ship to go silent. Chris Redfield gets in on the action as well, along with a couple of newbie shooters who go investigating other mysterious areas. The tale plays out in the traditional Resi manner, but with these games it isn't really the story that keeps people going, it's the gameplay itself.

      This is where Revelations excels. Enjoyed the over-the-shoulder style brought in by RE4? Revelations uses it with precision. Enjoyed the creepy zombies of the past? Revelations brings in the (rather stupidly named) Ooze monsters, sort of a fishy variant of the traditional zombies, with a number of disturbing variants popping throughout the game. Enjoy actually being scared in RE games? Revelations has some genuinely creepy set pieces, with bosses taking a fair amount of work and offering up a much bigger threat than previous titles. One stalks the corridors, suddenly rushing Jill when she least expects it.

      The game's ability to make players jump is only possible when the environment looks so good. Revelations pushes the limits of the 3DS to provide a great looking experience with the best graphics I've seen in a handheld title ever. When the news game that a PS3/360 port was in the works, I wasn't surprised. Turned off by RE6? Pick up a 3DS or wait til the PS3/360 version hits, I guarantee you'll have a good time.

       

      1: Dishonored

      I've never really enjoyed stealth games. Titles like Splinter Cell and Metal Gear have passed me by without interest. When I heard Dishonored was focused on stealth, I thought that I would pass this one up to. I bought it when I saw it was going cheap and didn't expect much.

      How wrong I was.

      For one, Dishonored isn't just about stealth. The game can be conducted stealthy sure, but the player can be as violent as they like as well. Stealth and the non-lethal option will reduce guard numbers and provide a better outcome but playing aggressively brings more challenge and creates more chaos. I felt that bringing out the sword would be the more fun option, but Dishonored actually puts a lot of effort into making stealth entertaining as well. Which is the better option, killing a main character or knocking him out and brandishing him with a mark so he is excluded from an order? The game also gives Corvo some Bioshockesque powers, such as control over time or the 'Blink' power to zoom across level parts without being spotted by guards.

      Speaking of Corvo, it's perhaps important to explain his story. Dishonored follows his quest for revenge after being framed for the murder of an Empress. He seeks out the daughter of this ruler and wishes to put her on the throne. The game's story may seem simple, but the narrative takes some interesting twists before the credits roll. It's a shame to see the story end, as much work has been taken to make Dunwall seem like a vibrant place, with unique characters and a steampunk environment that actually looks cool instead of tacked on. Comparisons with Bioshock have been made, but Dishonored creates its own world, with its own brand of gameplay. I've only beaten the game once but I'm itching to dive back in.

       

    • TheEnglishman

      Re-Evaluating Grand Theft Auto IV

      3 years ago

      Back in 2008, I signed up to the current generation of consoles when I purchased an Xbox 360. The reason for the purchase? GTA IV. 

      I've never been a massive GTA fan. I snuck in the occasional go on the original GTA on the PS1 but thanks to parents being pretty strict about age ratings, I didn't get chances to pick up GTA III, Vice City or San Andreas. By 08 though age wasn't a problem and I knew I had to pick up IV. The trailers I'd seen for it looked incredible, showing off the sprawling Liberty City. It was far larger than any other video game environment I'd seen and far better looking to boot. I'd seen other 'next gen' titles before, but this was the first that really made sit up and pay attention, the first that showed me just how great the generational gap was. I paid up and get a 360 with GTA IV (and the infinitely more forgettable Medal of Honour: Airborne). Many hours later I completed IV and decided I'd experienced a truly great game. Many others agreed, with Gametrailers awarding it 9.8 out of 10.

      Five years have passed (kinda hard to believe) and we'll soon see two new consoles, the PS4 and the Xbox One, battle it out for gamers love and affection. However, the current generation will be bowing out with a sweet swansong in the form of GTA V. In preparation for what will be offered by Rockstar's latest offering, I'm looking back at GTA IV and seeing how well it's aged in the last five years. I'll look at the story, gameplay and presentation to see if it really is still a winner.

      If this format looks familiar, it's because I made an article in the same format about a year ago, looking at Final Fantasy XIII.

       

      Story

      Overview:

      Niko Bellic is a Eastern European immigrant who is seeking a better life in America after being scarred by war in his home country. Letters from his cousin Roman suggest that the US is the land of opportunity and encourages him to come over. Upon arrival, Niko learns the harsh realities of life in the big city, and is forced into a criminal lifestyle to survive. He also is looking for revenge for those who have hurt him in the past as well. Whilst living in Liberty City, a number of it's citizens rely on Niko to provide support that others just can't offer.

      What I thought then:

      My initial impressions regarding GTA's story were very high indeed. As I've previously stated, I had virtually no experience with the series so I didn't really have any references. As well as that, most of the games I'd previously played were fairly light hearted and didn't really deal with the mature themes on offer here. I really enjoyed Niko's tale, just because it felt like something that could have come from a TV series or a decent drama film. It briefly made me consider the whole 'Are games art?' argument before coming to the conclusion of 'Let's not go there'.

      As well as the main tale, I really enjoyed the little vignettes that many of the side characters made. Characters like Brucie, Little Jacob and Manny are all well realised and given clear personalities that went beyond the one note character traits of many games I'd played at the time.

      How I feel now:

      Perhaps it's a sign of how GTA IV was well regarded, but it feels like the story makes less of an impact now than it did in it's original outing. While I would still rate the story highly, I can't help but feel other games have done elements better since GTA IV's release.

      Niko still remains a likeable anti-hero, perpetually exasperated by the idiocy of everyone around him. Yet it's a little hard to sympathise with him when he delivers a monologue about the horrors of war, only to go and shoot a ton of generic thugs (or pure innocents if you're feeling particularly malicious). Sure, circumstance dictates that Niko is forced into the criminal underworld, but he's still willing to take down a gang, blow up buildings and kill businessmen 'as long as I get paid'. It's not like Lee in The Walking Dead or Booker in Bioshock Infinite, where their violent responses are forced by the attacks of others upon themselves or the charges they protect. Niko is still a good character, but I think better heroes and anti-heroes have emerged in the last five years. Red Dead Redemption has virtually the same plot as GTA IV but I'd rate it just a smidgeon higher because of it's protagonist, John Marston.

      I still feel the cast as a whole is a great spread of diverse personalities (with the different ethnicities reflecting the melting pot that is Liberty City). I feel it mainly works because of the quality of the voice acting and dialogue, with characters sounding like real individuals and not just, well, video game characters. Perhaps my only gripe is with the times you're encouraged to 'hang out' with others. There's nothing more irritating than being about to start a new mission, only to get asked if you want to go play pool with someone on the other side of the city. These side trips (which can unlock goodies like the ability to buy weapons and more from characters) often cover the same ground that the previous story missions did and feel repetitive. Yes I know that Brucie is a steroid junkie and Roman loves 'Big American Titties!' you don't need to remind me again game. It's the 21st century equivalent of Navi from Ocarina of Time.

       

      Gameplay

      Overview:

      Like it's predecessors, GTA IV is an open-world game that tries to give as much freedom to players as possible. Cars can be hijacked, many buildings are open to exploration and contacts will give Niko missions to gun down enemies, steal vehicles and generally cause as much mayhem as possible. Various mini-games are available, such as pool and bowling. Multiplayer is also included.

      What I thought then:

      Back in 2008, my experience of open world games was fairly limited. Probably the one I had most enjoyed was Destroy All Humans! which provide laser guns, telepathic powers and a flying saucer. Whilst GTA IV didn't provide this extra terrestrial options, it was by no means a disappointment. The gameplay amazed on initial attempts, with what felt like a limitless scope of things to do. Sure story missions were available, but why not cruise around across the massive city landscape, enjoying all the benefits of the HD city?  Watching the game blur as some of the sports cars in the game reached top speeds was where I felt the new generation was being realised. Being able to go from the ground level into the sky via helicopter or across the water with a boat only enhanced the experience further. Everything in Liberty City felt so grand that it was impossible not to feel a little awed.

      How I feel now:

      It's difficult not to enjoy the things you can do in Liberty City. Despite being annoyed at being called upon every so often, I can't deny the enjoyment of the mini games available, something I didn't really appreciate in the past. There's still a certain liberation in the freedom of what the player can do. Nabbing a police car and solving crimes is fun, as is going on a sudden helicopter journey and making mischief. Whilst variety is definitely available in Liberty City, I have found technical issues that have hampered the enjoyment in 2013 though. For a start, the vehicles seem to have a certain weightless quality that affects the realism that runs through the game. Taking a corner at slightly more speed than necessary often sees them roll over. This can also mean that impacts during chase sequences can offer leave the car spinning in the wrong direction, failing the mission.

      Missions are another sore point. Although they're generally fun, having to spend a number of the early missions going through mechanics for features that aren't used again seems especially pointless. Why learn the ability to throw stuff when it is never called upon again? Why learn about the trains when you can just call a taxi to put you in the next location? It isn't helped that there are no checkpoints in missions at all. If you die at any point in a story mission, the player is forced to go all the way back to the beginning, driving to the scene of the action all over again.

      Other technical frustrations abound. Auto aiming means weapons will always target other characters, which is a major annoyance when trying to shoot at a vehicle or one of the game's collectable pigeons. The cover system is awkward as well. Niko always 'snaps' to cover with a press of rb, but if there is a wall and a lower partition, he can get confused and leave himself open. Confrontations in buildings can be awkward as well, with enemies standing out of camera view until Niko steps in the room and gets a shotgun shell to the face. The truth is that technical issues aren't massive problems individually, but come together to take the shine off a highly polished experience.

      Presentation

      Overview:

      As stated, GTA IV is open world game based in an area called Liberty City. This not so subtle parody of New York City is a massive range of skyscrapers, parks and slums, spread across multiple islands. There's even a Statue of Liberty! Advertising is everywhere, and the many NPCs who populate the streets have dialogue and things to say.

      What I thought then:

      As this game was my window into the HD era of gaming, I was pretty stunned. Watching an interactive city, teeming with life and built to the heavens was mesmerising. It may be a game, but it still felt like a truly living city. Watching the small slums that Niko starts off in grow to the massive collection of towers and skyscrapers was an amazing feeling. The graphics were far more realistic than anything I had experienced at that time in a video game, with cars that actually looked like cars rather than strange boxy lumps or people who moved and acted realistically. It was a real eye opener for what video games could do.

      I loved the small details too though, like how the weather changing would affect the NPCs walking the streets, or how actions taken in story missions would be put onto the local news. I was equally impressed by how well acted the game was, with characters conveying a wide range of emotions thanks to their voice actors.

      How I feel now:

      Again, this is probably the element that has changed least for me over the years. I'm still impressed with the scale and technical ability of the game's environment, even after playing games like Skyrim and Red Dead Redemption. It's definitely a more engaging environment than that of L.A. Noire, which felt fairly barren when not investigating crimes. Still some of the graphical awe that I felt has faded upon a repeat inspection. Some textures on buildings can take awhile to load, making things look a little more messy. NPC characters lack much definition as well, with repeated characters used a fair amount. The main characters don't quite look as impressive as the facial mapped ones of L.A. Noire. Niko especially has a bit of a weird rubbery look about him now when compared to today's main characters. That's not to say the game looks bad, I still find myself stopping to look at the surroundings. It's just that a few more recent titles can show IV up a little.

      Perhaps what I've enjoyed more from this return to the game is the ridiculous amount of added detail Rockstar put into the world around Niko. There are parodies of virtually everything in American society (I think my favourite might be the talkshows on the radio) and virtually every area of life is casually mocked. Lengthy TV shows run on the air and virtually every store has some sort of pun title, like the internet cafes named [email protected] There are even a huge stream of web pages on the in game internet, full of jokes. It's these extra details that give Liberty City a little edge over it's competitors, even five years later.

      Overall:

      There's no doubt that GTA IV made a big impact on me when it was released. I'd never played anything like it before and was hooked from the start. I sunk hours into it and the extensive DLC episodes that were released later on in the game's life. This game gave me my first taste of what the HD generation had to offer and I definitely liked what I saw.

      Do I still rate this one so highly with the current generation about to end and GTA V around the corner? Well it's true that the last five years have seen games change an awful lot. Perhaps that's why it feels a little bit more dated than might be expected, still harboring some video game cliches like exploding red barrels and mashing the a button to maintain a sprint. A lack of autosaving definitely hurts the experience on a repeat playthrough. I'd even go so far to say that some of the characters have had better written equivalents in other titles since 2008.

      Yet these issues don't hold GTA IV back. It's still a well written piece, more mature than most titles out there, including other open world titles. From a technical stand point, the game still looks great and it takes a certain amount of aging to truly appreciate the levels of work that went into creating this title. Most importantly, it's still a fun game, with no times where there is absolutely nothing to do. I feel that GTA IV has stood it's ground in the last five years, and is definitely still a game to be reckoned with. If you've never played it, I highly recommend giving it a try before V arrives.

    • TheEnglishman

      Ten Reasons The New Fire Emblem Has 'Awakened' People To The Series

      3 years ago

       

      Back when Super Smash Bros Melee reached Western shores, questions raged about two relatively unknown characters named Marth and Roy. We were soon enlightened that these characters came from a series known as Fire Emblem, a swords and spells strategy game that was popular in Japan. The enquiries led to Fire Emblem being released on the GBA internationally in 2003.

      A small but strong cult following developed from this title which led to most of the succeeding games seeing a Western release as well. Fire Emblem Awakening is the latest, appearing on the 3DS on February in the US and last month across Europe. Unlike it's predecessors though, Awakening seems to have garnered a large amount of attention in the mainstream media as well. Sales have been strong across the board, with 3DS sales in good old Blighty receiving a sizeable boost as a result. It's success is impressive on it's own, let alone when also competing with Tomb Raider and Bioshock Infinite for attention. What's caused this previously unheralded but experienced series to suddenly appeal to the masses? Here's just a few reasons that Awakening has opened so many eyes.

       

      1 - Now that's (marketing) strategy

      A pox on my early adopting, a pox I say!

      As previously stated, Fire Emblem has had a cult following but remained reasonably niche. That's not some arrogant 'You guys won't have heard of it' boasting, just a simple fact.  I remember reading a review of the GBA Fire Emblem which convinced me to get it back in the day, but generally the series has shunned the spotlight. Heck, Nintendo thought so little of the news that Awakening would be reaching Western shores that it was 'officially announced' through Reggie Fils Aime's Twitter account. After that mis-stumble though, the game received a fair amount of attention. A steady stream of trailers and TV ads ensured the game would be noticed rather than swamped by big names coming out on the main consoles at the same time. It featured prominently on the 'Nintendo Direct' broadcasts, and the delay until April in Europe was softened by the announcement of a limited edition 3DS XL with an awesome design that I wish I'd waited for. Ah well.

      2 - The start of something special

      To pick Casual or to just keep pressing the Home button...

      I think at some point someone at Intelligent Systems must have realised that making just another Fire Emblem would unlikely to bring new fans in. There have been small adjustments made in this game that make Awakening an ideal starting point for those who have never dipped into the series before. Chief amongst these is the inclusion of a 'casual' mode, which removes one of the series main sticking points - permanent character deaths. Any unit which loses all HP merely retreats from the battlefield. While this may seem like a bold move, the idea ultimately removes the threat with the objective of making Awakening seem a less intense experience so that players can progress through the story without constant restarting of missions. (I still went with classic though).

      3 - A grand production

      Butterfly masks are the latest must have accessory

      Awakening marks a significant step up for the handheld series in terms of production values. For a start, we're given plenty of animated cutscenes throughout the story. While this isn't a first for the series, the quality is more lavish than those found in Path of Radiance. The general battlemap remains a birds eye view of the area, almost like a board game. The battles themselves are more reminiscent of the console Emblem games, with characters enjoying full 3D models rather than the charming sprites of the GBA games or the slightly fugly models from Shadow Dragon. Each character looks unique rather than simply a colour swapped sprite.

      Special credit must be given to the music as well. Whilst the game does away with 'Map themes' and 'Battle themes' it instead alters the melody of the music playing at these different stages. Soft gentle tones during the planning stages will seamlessly change to dramatic grand pieces during battle. It's a great choice.

      4 - Support our troops

      My money's on the guy on fire

      The support mechanic has always been a staple of Fire Emblem games. The idea is that by placing two characters next to each other on the battlefield, the relationship between them would develop. Support conversations would unlock and potentially they would be together when the game ended. It's a nice idea but always seemed a little confusing and unnecessary for the series.

      Awakening tweaks the mechanic to make it far more essential. The game allows to characters to fight the same opponent if placed next to each other. Pairing characters up allows for stat boosts, the chance to block an attack or a chance for a second strike. Small details like a little heart appearing when a support action is completed shows if the two characters can get a better support rank as well. This can unlock conversations between the two that can develop characters well beyond just their original introductions. The fact that these can be genuinely amusing rather than the awkward brand of mistranslated humour that often comes out of Japanese games shows what a good job the localisation team has done with Awakening. Supports provide other incentives too...

      5 - Til death almost certainly do us part

      Well the world's crumbling around us and we're at war, but sure I'll marry you!

      If two characters can achieve a high enough support rank with each other, they can enjoy one of Awakening's new mechanics and get hitched! While marriage between two characters would be briefly alluded to in the epilogues of previous FE games, Awakening makes it a major game mechanic. For one, marrying two characters will give them greater stat bonuses when paired together, creating little super teams in you army. For another, it lets you see the ridiculous reasons that your characters can get married. ('Oh you managed to get a letter to my parents? Guess I'm yours for life then!)

      There's a third, very significant reason as well. I don't want to spoil the plot so I won't be too obvious but let's just say it runs with the natural reason to get married. 

      6 - Avatar Antics

      They really got my bleached hair, enormous eyes and giant collar to a T.

      Other Fire Emblem games have played with the idea of the player being in the game by having a tactician alongside the crew. Awakening takes this further by having the tactician as a real customisable character who is an integral part of the plot. The avatar takes an important role guiding what occurs in the game but also has his own role in all the events that occur.

      Having the idea of the player being so heavily involved in the game is smart way to lure those who've never experienced the series into the action. Just as the character is the newcomer experiencing the game world for the first time, the player receives a similar experience through their first time as well.

      7 - Content overload!

      You can always count on Capcom to bring in DL... Oh wait

      Fire Emblem games are rarely short and Awakening is no exception. The main story is twenty five chapters long, with later chapters taking a good hour or so to clear (I've heard, I'm only on 15 so far). This provides a lengthy experience in itself, but in terms of the game's content, it's only one part.

      Fallen soldiers can be rechallenged as 'Risen' challenges in a similar fashion to the extra missions in Sacred Stones. Side chapters are dotted throughout the game, offering the same level of difficulty as the main quest. DLC is introduced for the first time in the series but actually makes quite a positive impact, offering chapters that examine characters thought to be gone, chapters that develop your armies experience and wealth and chapters that look to the series past as well.

      8 - Traditional Tactics

      'Oh, still talking about Awakening? I've beaten it on Lunatic seven times in the last week, so now I'm going to watch the Fire Emblem anime. In Japanese of course.'

      While Awakening looks to bring in new players by bringing in new elements and softening up a few issues that turned people off in the past, it's clear Intelligent Systems has taken care to treat old fans as well. The general gameplay remains the same and there are no new changes that drastically upset what players have come to expect from the series over the years.

      Best of all, the 'Champions of Yore' DLC packs are a long love letter to the series past, with characters from every previous Fire Emblem game making an appreance, along with the original games music as well. As well as this there are a number of characters that can be recruited into your main team, meaning you can give Chrom to boot to let Marth in if you're really desperate to. Even characters from the Japanese only games make an appearance. I've got no clue who they are but it's a nice touch anyway!

      9 - Storytime

      I'm going to take a guess that this guy is the villain

      One of the flaws with Awakening is that it doesn't have a great story. If you've played pretty much any other Emblem game, you've seen this game's story: Large empire suddenly invades other nation, prince of nation escapes, goes on quest to reclaim throne. Usually a big supernatural force seems to be dictating actions. It's not particularly original and runs through a fair number of Fire Emblem cliches.

      Here's the thing though... I was still interested. Despite it's fairly generic story, I've been interested in what's happening to Chrom and how he can fight the Plegian masses. I think the reason for the interest is that the game is a little more character driven than previous titles. Most characters in the series only tend to get a brief introduction with their wacky attribute highlighted (Sumia's clumsiness or Tharja's obsession with the Avatar for example). By having characters develop through support conversations and have occasional other appearances, players bond with them more and want to see them win. Awakening's story may not be new but it does hold the interest more than some others in the past.

      10 - Fight fire with... well not much actually

      Luigi realising that he shouldn't have brought a vacuum to a sword fight

      Perhaps one of the biggest reasons for Awakening's success is a general lack of competition at the moment. I mentioned earlier that the game had to compete with the likes of Bioshock Infinite, Tomb Raider and Gears of War for attention, but these were all console entries. On the handheld market, Awakening has a bit of a clear run. The only other game that I can think of that could take sales from it at the moment is Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon (which I still intend on getting at some point), and maybe that Monster Hunter game that I don't really know much about. Awakening is a good enough game to get strong sales on it's own merits but perhaps it's better that it has come out now rather than closer to the holiday season when it might have had to compete with A Link to the Past 2.

       

      Anyway, that's my reasons for Fire Emblem: Awakening's success. Hopefully you agree with my opinions but if not then feel free to leave a comment (a reasonable one mind you).

    • TheEnglishman

      Is the Video Game industry running out of ideas? - For & Against

      4 years ago

      Editor's Note: I have to admit that I didn't have much of  a problem seeing a lot of these established franchises come back this year but I can see TheEnglishman's point and he definitely raises some thought provoking questions about the state of originality in games. 

       All series see some form of beginning. The mid-eighties saw the beginning of Mario, the mid-nineties saw the beginning of Tomb Raider and Resident Evil, whilst the mid-noughties brought us Gears of War and Assassin's Creed. What ties these various series together? All were present, in some form or another, at E3 last week.

      The fact that these long running series are around still in new iterations surely prompts the question, are we struggling to bring new ideas to the table in 2012? Will the games that see us through to the next generation simply be rehashes of what's gone before? My aim is to examine the 'for' and 'against' of this question, create a conclusion and open the question up to you guys. Let's go!

      Video Games are running out of ideas: For

      1 - Old titles dominated E3 2012

      Finish the fight... again

      Anyone who watched E3's press conferences will have noticed a feeling of deja vu creeping over them. Halo in Microsoft's presentation, Mario for Nintendo and so on. It's pretty much a certainty that CoD gets play time in some one's presentation, usually Microsoft, and that certainly proved true this year. The old hands were plastered across the coverage of this year's E3. 

      This was especially true in Nintendo's conference, where two New Super Mario Bros. games were shown off. I can't help but wonder how the 3rd and 4th entries in a retro styled series based off of Mario games from the mid-80's to early 90's can still be called 'New'. I'm not saying these games will be bad, I'm sure they'll be enjoyed by millions and earn Nintendo a fair amount, but it isn't the newest video game idea.

      The future is toy planes

      I often feel that the Call of Duty series is criticized far too harshly, but has become increasingly notable in recent years how similar the games have gotten. The feeling was very strong during the end of Microsoft's conference, when the game felt awfully similar to the experience of Modern Warfare 3 that had opened their show the year before. Again, I have no doubts that this is a game that will sell millions and be highly acclaimed, but it felt like another series which was showing little change.

      2 - The Wii-U showcases old games

      For obvious reasons, the Wii U was a key talking point last week, with many watching to see what the new device was capable of doing. The response seemed to be that it could run already released games slightly differently. The news that Arkham City and (admittedly surprising) Mass Effect 3 would be making their way to the Wii U may have created cheers in the audience, but did it really showcase the best of the new technolgy? Would the crowds in the past have cheered so loudly if they heard the SNES was getting  Sonic, or that the Gamecube was getting Final Fantasy VII? I'm not saying that picking up a competitor's games won't be good for Nintendo, but the conference seemed to highlight getting old games to sell new technology.

      Even NintendoLand, the show closer for the company, turned out to basically be a Nintendo themed mini-game collection that stuck with the staples of the company. It wasn't a hoped for new IP,  just a showcase of the same old series. It might have looked better than Sing ... but not a million times better. Speaking of Sing ...

      3 - Casual games losing their appeal

      'Hey, I just met you... wait no I've definitely seen this before'.

      I tend to find the 'gamer-rage' that meets casual games funny, as if by making games like Just Dance, Ubisoft would cancel Rayman or Assassin's Creed. Even so, this E3 seemed to show that the casual market for video games is getting a little tired. The fairly tired reactions to Just Dance 4 and Dance Central 3 showed that even Usher couldn't make a tired concept seem new and exciting. For me, one of the worse moments was watching Nintendo promote Sing, a karoke game for the Wii U, basically showing the new technology to do something that the PS2 had done with Singstar and the 360 had done with Lips. Even the promise of reading the lyrics on the GamePad 'so you can face your friends while singing!' didn't make the idea seem any better.

      Moving away from the music titles, other casual titles didn't exactly leave a lasting impression. Wonderbook from Sony was casually mocked, while the announcements of new versions of Wii Fit and Nike+ Kinect Training didn't exactly thrill. It's difficult to exactly see how 'sequels' can be done for fitness titles. Casual games are by no means bad but the noticeable lack of interest in the above titles shows how a lack of new ideas in even this market can be felt.

      Video Games are running out of ideas: Against

      1 - E3's new titles

      We'd never have dreamed 20 years ago that beards could be so detailed

      Whilst I'd argue that this year's E3 wasn't a classic for new video game ideas, a few titles certainly made a big impact. Watch Dogs showed a neat gameplay concept in the ability to hack the technology of people around the player whilst showcasing the upper end of modern graphics. ZombiU highlighted just how inventive the Wii-U technology can be by taking the fairly overdone zombie set-up and adding gameplay elements that utilise the GamePad for a new spin on things. Most impressive of all was The Last of Us, a PS3 exclusive (annoyingly for me) set in a post apocalyptic world, utilising some beautiful graphics with an interesting gameplay style. I was intrigued by all three and other titles like Dishonored have done enough to at least capture curiosity and showcase some potentially interesting gameplay.

      2 - Old games can learn new tricks

      Leon fights off some excitable zombies

      Although I highlighted how some very old series made their presense felt at E3, it should be stated that they weren't in the same forms that they were on their debut. The Tomb Raider of 2012 is a far grittier, far more emotional game than the boxy adventure of the 90's whilst RE6 is on a far grander scale than the 'Mansion in the mountains' of it's PlayStation predecessors. Our older series have had to look at their competitors and learn to evolve over the years. Not every change is loved, some have complained that Resident Evil has become too action oriented, that Lara's adventure feels unoriginal, that it... doesn't exactly go into 'uncharted' territory (or that it does if you understand my meaning).

      Didn't find this until page 8 of my Google search for 'Lara Croft dirty'

      These complaints may seem to fit the idea that video games haven't evolved or brought new ideas to the table. However, the new Tomb Raider comes from a reboot that aims to take the series in a new direction from a fairly tired past, while RE6 has been building on it's roots to become a far more unique experience. These series may have had long histories, but they aren't just peddling the same games over and over.

      3 - We just can't let go!

      Dark Moon, thankfully not some sort of Twilight spinoff

      Within minutes of Nintendo's conference ending, do you know what the second highest topic on Twitter was? 'No Zelda'. That's right, despite Skyward Sword coming out less than a year ago, the fact that no new Zelda was announced annoyed people. This shows that, for all the hopes of a new IP coming from the publishers, there was still a desire to see the old crowd take their place on the Wii U. Can you imagine if Nintendo had turned around and said 'We're working on new series for the next few years, so there'll be no new Mario, Zelda or Metroid for the next few years'? The internet would have gone mad! People have a clear affection for a number of series, and even if a few ideas are reused in multiple games.

      Swords, big cloaks and blue hair? Yep, that's a Fire Emblem game alright.

      Also to be considered is the fact that absense makes the heart grow fonder. The general happiness that met with the presentation of Pikmin 3 was noticeable, as was the reveal that Fire Emblem would be returning to the Western world. Whilst we may argue that the annual and bi-annual releases from certain series can often make it feel like we're simply seeing the same characters again and again, games from series that have not seen a release for a long time can feel like a breath of fresh air.

      Conclusion

      OK, confession time. This blog was originally  going to be a complaint about there not being enough new ideas in video games, that we weren't experiencing any real changes. However, as I thought about the topic more I decided that I wasn't really making a fair assessment. I decided that a more balanced view was necessary and looked at both ends of the spectrum. In the end, my position has changed.

      I still feel that video games are in something of a rut, that the same old names and mascots have been brought around too often in recent times and are making too many appearances that aren't really that distinguishable. That being said, I feel it would be wrong to suggest that video games are running out of ideas. E3 has shown that clever new ideas for games are present, that new technology can bring some impressive looking and playing titles. It has also shown that some of our older series are changing as time passes, making themselves different to keep things fresh. As well as this, the fondness that comes with seeing a series that has been hidden away for awhile spring back to the fore cannot be denied. I think video games may be experiencing a slight issue with creating new and unique experiences, but I also feel that we shouldn't have any reason to panic about the future of the industry in the near future.

    • TheEnglishman

      Cliffhanger Endings in Video Games - The Good and The Bad

      4 years ago

       Like all media, video games thrive on creating cliff hanger endings that ask 'Who's that guy?' or 'There are more of them?' It's common for video games, especially in the first entry of the series, to end on a big shocker to set up a sequel (and potentially more games to come). Some of these are brilliant and work perfectly. Sometimes though, they don't. Maybe they were just unlucky amd backed a losing horse, but a game's cliffhanger isn't always resolved. I'm here to look at both the good and the bad of these endings. Spoilers ahead folks.

      The Good

      Dead Space

      The ending of Dead Space is a fairly familar one for the horror genre. Hero Isaac Clarke relaxes in a shuttle, fleeing from the mining ship Ishimura, which had been infested with a race of monsters known as the Necromorphs. As he contemplates events on board, he watches a video recorded by his now deceased girlfriend Nicole. He hears a sound, turns to his right and sees the same woman next to him, who screams and jumps out. A little scary yes, but fairly unoriginal in the horror genre. Variants of the 'Oh, I'm so glad that's over... wait what's that?!!' scare have been in plenty of movies. So why does this work? Well it's a good ending for a first game in a series as it doesn't force a 'To be continued'. If Dead Space had been unsuccessful, with poor sales, it's developers could have simply said 'Yeah, Isaac's dead' and left it at that. It leaves the possibility of a sequel by having his fate be unclear, but doesn't guarantee it. Ultimately though, it was a good idea to do so, as Dead Space 2 was a stellar adventure.

      Mass Effect 2

      Mass Effect 2 was an epic game (in a grand sense, not a LOL EPIK! way) and it's ending needed to reflect that. Perhaps there was no better way than bringing back the major threat from the original game, the Reaper. Except instead of one, how about a whole fleet of them? The threat of a Reaper invasion was talked about in both games, but it's only in seeing them heading for Earth that the scale of Mass Effect 3 began to be realised. It's a tone that's continued for the promotional material that's followed and it's helped to create some major hype for the end of the trilogy.

      Golden Sun

      Taking 'cliff-hanger' to a literal extreme, the original Golden Sun certainly features an ending designed for a sequel. After defeating the game's main villains (though one gets away) the area around the heroes is hit by an earthquake, with two characters falling into the sea. Presumed dead, the remaining party head out to continue their quest. But in a post credit sequence, it turns out the two who took a tumble are... alive?! It isn't a massive shock, and GS2 was already being developed when this game was released so there wasn't any concern that the ending might come back to haunt the developers. Even so, I like the dramatic nature of this ending anf it really does set the sequel up well. I've got to give them credit for that.

      Assassin's Creed

      During the development of Assassin's Creed, a lot was made of the fact that the game had two settings, one following Altair in the time of the Crusades and another following his present day descendant Desmond. Throughout the actual game the motives for the people holding Desmond hostage are unclear. They force him to relive his ancestors memories, but for purposes unknown. As the game progresses certain details become more clear, but the game's ending reveals that Desmond's captors are after a certain artifact and a message written in blood reveals he is not the first to be given this treatment. This ending is successful mainly because it plays to the strengths of the game. A lot is made throughout of the conspiracy and mystery surrounding Desmond's capture. The player only ever sees him in a sterilized white room with few defining features. By revealing this hidden message, the game establishes that the mystery will continue and players can't possibly say no.

      The Bad

      Haven: Call of the King

      Arguably the definition of 'Meh' Platform Adventure, Haven: Call of the King has only one memorable moment, it's ending. After going on a grand space adventure, hero Haven finds himself fighting an evil lord named Vetch. After winning the fight, Haven walks off into the sunset happy, right? Well... no. The bad guy ends up being ok, manages to kill the King that Haven was trying to save and leaves the poor guy chained to a rock. The end.

      Obviously this wasn't how the series was supposed to end. Haven was originally planned to be a trilogy, so it's likely our hero would end up getting rescued at some point. Unfortunately though, the developer's ambitions weren't supported by consumers and sales ended up being so poor that Haven never did get rescued. Poor guy.

      Psychonauts

      Oh, Psychonauts. A game respected by the community as brilliant ended up shooting itself in the foot a little with it's ending. After solving the goings on around the summer camp that hero Raz finds himself in, the character ends up becoming a fully fledged Psychonaut. Everything's ok then right? OF COURSE NOT! News comes in that the head of the Psychonauts, who happens to be the grandfather of Raz's girlfriend, has been kidnapped and he needs to come to the rescue! So of course, Psychonauts was massively unsuccessful in terms of sales and there are no plans for a sequel. It's a little different to Haven though, as this was a game with a lot of charm, a great design and some truly fantastic gameplay. Psychonauts could have been a great series, but it's unlikely that this cliff-hanger will ever be resolved.

      Medal of Honor: Rising Sun

      Rising Sun was one MoH game that tried to be different. It swapped Nazi blasting for action in the Pacific and attempted to have a slightly grander story than previous entries. An early mission sees the brother of main character Joe swarmed by the Japanese and presumed dead. But presumed dead only means one thing in video games... actually alive! The final mission sees one of the main Japanese commanders reveal that they hold Joe's brother but the American is unable to do anything about saving him before the ship they're on explodes. The twist was designed to establish a sequel where Donnie, Joe's brother, breaks out and gains his own freedom. However, Rising Sun's mixed reaction led to a change of attitude from EA and they took the action back to the Nazi's, with the rescue of Donnie only warranting a mention on the PSP MoH, Heroes. Oh well.

      Resident Evil Gaiden

      Let's say you have a big name console series. Let's also say that, for shits and giggles, you decide to make a pretty poor handheld spinoff. If you do this, would it make sense for the spinoff to kill one of the main heroes in the series? Without spending ages going through the plot of this pretty naff GBC game, it ends with Barry Burton and Leon Kennedy escaping from a sinking ship, supposedly ok. However, the game's end shows Leon bleeding green blood, implying that 'Leon' is actually a B.O.W (a recurring boss in the game) and that the real Leon died on the ship. A very strange ending, especially given that the real Leon appears very healthy and well in RE4 and other games. To be fair, the developers didn't know Leon would be used again in the main series, but did they really think it was a good idea to kill Leon off in a spinoff title? No wonder this game is pretty much discounted from the overall RE storyline.

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