Posts Tagged ‘Games’

Best of 2017 Closer

Happy new year! 2017 is going to be a hard act to follow for entertainment media, what with its great movies – both blockbuster and indie in spirit – and especially its decade-topping lineup of videogames. Big event movies will certainly come in 2018, headed up by the most ambitious Avengers film yet and the second Fantastic Beasts flick, and smaller gems will emerge as they always do. But there’s a fair bit of videogame uncertainty going into the new year. Will Microsoft nail all their proposed releases this year? How close are we to a new Playstation? What can the Nintendo Switch’s second year possibly bring to even hope to match up to its first? Time will tell. In the meantime, here are the links to all ten of my 2017 year-end countdown lists:

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1. Top 5 Disappointments

2. Top 5 Gaming Trends

3. Top 15 K-Pop Singles

4. Top 5 Game Consoles

5. Top 10 Movie Characters

6. Top 10 Gaming Moments

7. Top 10 Movie Scenes

8. Top 10 K-Pop Albums

9. Top 15 Games

10. Top 15 Movies

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Best of 2017: Top 5 Game Consoles

At this time of year, as people look back on the 12 months that were and attempt to make sense of them, it’s not uncommon to hear phrases like “It was a year of two halves”. Well, this is a list of two halves. Or it would be if you could divide five in half cleanly. You know what I mean.

By the standards I use to make this short list every year (quality of exclusive gaming releases, features and/or general usability improvements), two major gaming consoles had a pretty dour 2017, two had an absolutely incredible 2017, and one in the middle surprised a lot of people with its tenacious refusal to die. Even outside the spheres of online fanboy arguments, there were some clear winners and losers when it came to videogame consoles in 2017. It was a truly fascinating year to be an observer of the console gaming space, let alone a participant in it.

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VR BEST OF 2017 DISCLAIMER

This list represents my opinion only. I am not asserting any kind of superiority or self-importance by presenting it as I have. My opinion is not fact. If you actually agree with me 100%, that’s strange. Intriguing, but strange. Respectful disagreement is most welcome.

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5. PlayStation Vita

(LAST YEAR: 4th)

Some might question why I even see fit to include the PS Vita on this list anymore. After all, by this point Sony’s most recent portable has been declared either dead or dying for most of its actual life. Such a narrative continues to echo (faintly, it must be said) throughout a general gaming community that has long since written it off. In a year that saw the debut of the Nintendo Switch, a handheld so rich in quality indie and Japanese games that some have taken to calling it the “Vita 2”, plenty of Vita die-hards finally pulled the plug on Sony’s little beast. All things considered, the Vita’s 2017 records shows a much lower output of the fresh indie games, JRPGs and visual novels that were once its bread and butter. There were some exceptions of course – Stellar portable versions of Undertale, Danganronpa V3 and Ys VIII gave the Vita some semblance of relevance over the Switch at times throughout the year, if only for a small community of gamers – but with such a dripfeed of indie support and the (tragically) dwindling mainstream relevance of PSN trophy-hunting, the truly wondrous Playstation Vita may finally be on its last legs. Like, actually. For real this time.

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Happy Fifth Birthday Wii U- Oh, OK Then

Wow, what a nifty device!

Ranking my favourite games on a Nintendo console right around some major multiple-of-five anniversary has been one of the most consistent things I’ve been able to do on this blog, not to mention one of my favourite kinds of post to write. But never before have I been able to so comprehensively make one such list on the first possible milestone. The Wii U is well and truly done and has been for months, but here we are on its five-year anniversary of release in Australia on November 30th, 2012, and I’m already able to count down my ten favourite games on the thing.

I believe it is Animal Crossing: New Leaf that features a reference within Nintendo’s own studio system to the Wii U’s failure. If you obtain a Wii U console in-game and approach it while it’s on display, you get the pithy message “Great artists aren’t always appreciated in their own time.” It’s a chuckle-worthy bit of self-deprecating humour, but it does contain a grain of truth. Due to its terrible opening 18 months, where a combination of hubris, awful all-around marketing and general industry panic resulted in a more-or-less sealed fate, the Wii U’s “time” was short and unimpressive to the masses. Luckily for the few people who did own one, however, not only did the Wii U boast the widest range of first party Virtual Console titles in the retro gaming service’s history and a pretty wonderful social media environment in the form of Miiverse, but when Nintendo’s back was to the wall, the company sure produced some amazing games. These are my absolute favourites.

Just a quick warning: I cheat on this list. Three times. Without regrets. It’s technically a top 13…

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10. NES Remix (1&2)

Right off the bat we start with two games in one entry, but here’s a sobering thought: NES Remix is the only Wii U-exclusive game to see a sequel on the same console. That’s not why they share a position on this list though – That’d be because they are essentially two halves of one package that come with a combined price tag a fraction of what a full retail release costs. The NES Remix twins represent some of the most fun you can have with a group of friends on the Wii U – and without a strict player number cap to boot. Despite an ostensibly single-player presentation, you can lose lives so quickly in these games that they almost beg to be played in a pass-the-controller group setup. That’s almost exclusively how I played it, at least. Chopping up absolute classics with nonetheless dated mechanics and throwing them into a blender with other, perhaps less stellar 1980s games is a surprisingly effective recipe for uproarious chaos, and I really hope we haven’t seen the end of this mini-franchise.
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9. Nintendo Land / Game & Wario

At first glance, this is a devious rule break, but there’s method to the madness. For as long as these two games have been out in the marketplace (so most of the Wii U’s lifespan), I have maintained that if you splice half of Nintendo Land and half of Game & Wario together to make one five-player party game, you get one of the very best and most unique experiences on the Wii U. Though Nintendo Land gets no shortage of hate for its poorly-received launch game status – and Game & Wario tends to get forgotten entirely – there are some genuine gems to be found across these two wacky titles. The Luigi’s Mansion-inspired ghost game in Nintendo Land was played more times in my house than most other entire games, such is its unironically ingenius 4-vs-1 multiplayer slant, and you can say something similar about Game & Wario‘s Fruit – which pits a room of watchful bystanders against one nervous player trying to blend in amongst a screen full of AI characters. Taking into account the Mario and Animal Crossing themed attractions from the former game and the Pictionary-lite mode / insane ring-toss variation from the latter, it really baffles me why Nintendo never officially paired the two collections in some capacity. No first-party release after these two showcased the one-of-a-kind potential that the Wii U’s control setup could offer.  
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8. Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE

Persona. It’s a word that will make almost any JPRG fan sit up and take notice, and it absolutely should have been found somewhere in the rather confusing title of Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE. Despite a premature announcement trailer that hyped up a bona fide Fire Emblem crossover with Atlus’ Shin Megami Tensei series, the gameplay loop and visual style of this buried gem has much more in common with the storied SMT sub-series Persona, which has only recently broken into the wider gaming consciousness this year. Though it was spoken of within gaming circles as the game to play if you just couldn’t wait for Persona 5 on the PS4, it turns out that Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE is no mere entree, and despite sharing much of the same structural Persona DNA it has plenty of worthwhile appeal all its own. In fact it is just as effective when played after Persona 5 is over, because its manically optimistic energy seems like the perfect antidote to the melancholy that the 100-hour PS4 epic can exhibit at times. Though Tokyo Mirage Sessions leans into its J-pop industry aesthetic so emphatically that it is bound to put some people off, it has plenty of critical things to say and just as importantly, the battle system, upgrade paths and character arcs are extremely satisfying. And the in-game menus are laced with neon lime green, which is a hearty bonus.

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What I Think of the Nintendo Switch

Well Nintendo, you’ve done it again. You’ve successfully, shall we say, been Nintendo.

It’s been an insane weekend for the Japanese videogame giant. The curtain is now (mostly) up on the tremendously exciting Nintendo Switch, the home console that can also be played as a portable (Not the other way around, as Nintendo seems very keen to emphasise). And the general complexion of the reveal event was very, very different to what the seemingly endless supply of corroborating rumours and prediction videos would have us believe. For all the credible leaks from credible sources about specific games and features that may very well still ring true, the big Tokyo event still managed to be an almost complete surprise both in its general content and where it decided to put its focus. If “Switchmas” had been right about what we were expecting, it wouldn’t have quite felt like a Nintendo show. We Nintendo fans as a general group have a habit of forgetting that, but for better or worse, the Big N was more than happy to throw us a few reminders. This is a company that does not like being predicted, but as it turns out, even the collective power of the internet’s most well-connected sleuths couldn’t quite spoil everything. And in true Nintendo fashion, said surprises have divided the internet right down the middle.

I could go through the whole presentation bit by bit and talk about my thoughts on each individual revelation (I’ve watched the whole thing twice now, plus the entire five-hour Treehouse stream that followed half a day later and countless YouTube hands-on reactions), but there’s a better way to do this.

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– Nintendo’s Modern Console –

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The raw processing specs of the Nintendo Switch remain elusive in any sort of official capacity, though I have every reason to believe that Eurogamer’s December leak will turn out to be a fairly decent approximation. That leaves us with a console that’s more capable when sitting in its dock/outputting through the TV than when played on the go, but only as long as we’re talking about display resolution and theoretically (though hopefully not) frame rate. In it’s weakest configuration, we can expect it to be more powerful than the Wii U – that much is supported by the impressions coming out of the public-facing events of the last two days – but even at it’s strongest, it’s almost certainly going to come off weaker when compared to the standard Xbox One and PS4 models. That means the biggest triple-A third party releases will probably be skipping the Switch, unless it really takes off sales-wise and it becomes worth the extra financial investment to port down. It also means Nintendo’s first party games will continue to look amazing, and just about every big indie hit you can think of should be able to make it over to the Switch, uncompromised and fully portable. Ditto for the vast majority of Japanese RPGs and such. Swings and roundabouts, time will tell etc.
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What’s much more concrete – and refreshing, it must be said – is just about every other Switch hardware detail that has come to light over the last few days. The system will not be region locked (there are no words for how happy this makes me), it has a 6.2 inch, 720p capacitive touch screen (i.e. multi-touch, like the PS Vita or a smartphone), supports the current standard 802.11ac Wi-Fi spec, allows up to 8-player local wireless interaction, charges via super-fast USB-C – which is only just now becoming widespread on Android phones – and supports expanded memory via the reasonably cheap and easy-to-find Micro SDHC/Micro SDXC cards (At least up to 256gb according to one moment during the Treehouse stream, which would have been more than enough to fit everything I’ve ever bought on the Wii U). Its battery life is quoted as being between 2.5 and 6 hours depending on the game you’re playing, which is about what we could have expected; certainly not enough to last an international flight, but coupled with that USB-C charging port, it should easily be juiced enough to cover your daily work commute no matter what you’re playing. This is all very good news if you ask me, especially when combined with the generally premium look and – based on what I’ve read so far online – the feel of the system. This is a sleek, modern device.

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Best of 2016 Closer

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All things considered, 2016 was pretty good for the entertainment media I cover on this blog (I use “cover” loosely – sadly I barely wrote here in 2016). And I don’t even really watch TV shows! 2017 can potentially be even better when you look at what’s coming on paper, sitting there all promising in its un-delayed state. Here’s to a more consistent videogame release schedule, more wonderful RPGs, maybe a decent DC universe movie? 2017 looks like it could have a nice ring to it. In any case, here are all the links to my 2016 countdowns:

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1. Top 10 Disappointments

2. Top 5 Gaming Trends

3. Top 15 K-Pop Singles

4. Top 5 Game Consoles

5. Top 10 Movie Characters

6. Top 10 Gaming Moments

7. Top 10 Movie Scenes

8. Top 10 K-Pop Albums

9. Top 15 Games

10. Top 10 Movies

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The 2016 JRPG Report: Quarters 3 & 4

That’s right, I didn’t forget about this little project – Quarter 3 was just such a relative non-event for JRPGs that I decided to combine it with Q4 and bring things home strong. With one day to spare…

Q3 of 2016 really could have been a big one for Japanese RPGs. With Final Fantasy XV and Persona 5 originally slated for release in the third quarter, July-September was in danger of relegating the remainder of the year to relative obscurity. Yet Persona 5 only came out in Japan within this window (I realise we knew this a long time ago, but it’s still a bitter pill), and as for FF XV… Well, it was delayed again. This pair of facts, combined with the ongoing absence of smaller yet nonetheless exciting titles like Cosmic Star Heroine, left us with a decidedly lighter period of releases. At least for me personally, this allowed me to give more time to other games, most notably an old, highly revered classic. But then we reached Q4, and received two very heavy hitters alongside a decent selection of smaller but far from insignificant titles, leaving us with a lot to talk about. Let’s get stuck into the second half of 2016 in Japanese role-playing games.

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WHAT I’VE PLAYED

Releasing in mid-July, before my very late Quarter 2 summary went up, the much-anticipated Square Enix title I Am Setsuna promised to prove a number of things – not only that the notoriously ambitious company is capable of shipping games on time, but in doing so that it might better cater to the tastes of some of its oldest fans through gameplay-first experiences. An admirable goal to be sure, and while they may have pulled it off for all I know (opinions I read/heard were genuinely mixed), ultimately all that the snow-covered, piano-scored exercise in melancholy did for me was remind me that I never did finish Chrono Trigger back in the day, and I should probably fix that.

Don’t get me wrong – I didn’t just drop I Am Setsuna straight away. I played the first two to three hours and enjoyed the instant sense of atmosphere the visuals and music provide. And yet with each and every Chrono Trigger-esque enemy encounter I was reminded more and more of how much I enjoyed the SNES gem when I initially tried it on DS seven years ago. Fast forward a few months and I finally did finish Chrono Trigger in late October. I loved every second. If I have time (highly unlikely) I might write about that experience one day. It’s not all that relevant on this page though, so for now I’ll just say a hearty thank you to I Am Setsuna and move on.

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The 2016 JRPG Report: Quarter 2

Wow, these days it’s like I blink and suddenly I haven’t blogged in a month.

Then Pokemon Go comes out and suddenly I haven’t blogged in two months…

Well would you look at that, we’re already well into the second half of the year. This of course means it’s (well past) time for part two of my 2016 JRPG Report, a look at the second quarter of the most insanely populated year for Japanese role-playing games in recent memory. If you missed Quarter 1, click on over here.

I mentioned this last time, but Q2 was indeed noticeably less intense for JRPG fans than the opening three month period. I was able to dabble in most of the notable releases within the genre this past quarter, even taking into account the dense explosion of quality triple-A videogame releases that defined May. I even managed to finish one or two along the way, in a manner of speaking, which was nice. The biggest JRPG-related struggle I faced this time around was that of classification – I came right up against that nebulous chestnut of a question “What makes a game a JRPG?” on more than one occasion.

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WHAT I’VE PLAYED

I’ll get to perhaps the most controversial of these classification conundrums shortly, but first, to the game that contextualises it. Stranger of Sword City launched on Playstation Vita in late April (It was also supposed to release on Xbox One as it did in the US, strangely enough, but no such luck for Australians), a first-person dungeon crawling game with punishingly difficult moments and beautiful sprite-based artwork. In many ways I found it to be a more visually striking, mechanically deeper version of Demon Gaze, a dungeon crawler I had enjoyed far more than I expected back in 2014. This makes sense given they come from the same developers, but it was good to see nonetheless. Though I only played enough of the game to get a good grasp of what it is, I am glad I did, and I’d recommend it to any Vita-owning JRPG fan looking for a substantial challenge. The finely detailed art style pops off the Vita screen to make it even harder to escape the game’s punishing grasp.

Now Stranger of Sword City is a first person dungeon-crawling RPG (a subgenre that in some circles is simply shortened to DRPG), and Q2 of 2016 featured another such game – a Playstation Vita exclusive to boot. The game was not developed in Japan, but exhibits enough JRPG elements that I believe it deserves to sit in the same camp as Child of Light and South Park: The Stick of Truth, themselves Japanese Role-Playing Games in all but country of origin. The wonderful game I’m referring to is Severed.

Developed by Canadian studio Drinkbox games, Severed ‘s clever blend of strategic, fairly unique combat, fun levelling mechanics, morbidly oppressive Aztec atmosphere, eye-catching visuals and focused story make it well worth playing for the JRPG-inclined, and if you don’t have a PS Vita, the game is allegedly coming to 3DS and Wii U very soon, and has just recently launched on iOS devices. Don’t miss it.

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