Posts Tagged ‘Gaming’

I Went to Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses at the Sydney Opera House

Oh look, a post that isn’t ludicrously lengthy.

At the end of last month I put to bed a small regret of mine – Half a decade ago I was presented with the opportunity to attend the Sydney debut of Symphony of the Goddesses, a worldwide concert tour immediately following on from the special Legend of Zelda 25th Anniversary concerts in Japan and the USA. For reasons I can no longer remember clearly (probably funds), I did not take this opportunity. Naturally I regretted my decision pretty soon after the performance dates arrived and several of my friends raved about how good the show was. I told myself the next time I had such a chance I would not let it pass. But for years, no such chance appeared.

So when, after years of sporadic worldwide tours with varying set lists, the announcement was made that Symphony of the Goddesses would be returning to Sydney harbour this year, no price would have been too high for me to snatch up a ticket. Two years after entering the opera house for the first time to attend the Pokemon Symphonic Evolutions showcase, I was back in the venue’s main concert hall to take in the fully-realised music of one of my absolute favourite media franchises. And what an evening it was.

There are three main reasons I’d go to see an orchestral performance of a videogame music selection – The atmosphere, the craft and the arrangement. Hardly groundbreaking reasons of course, and I’m sure the majority of the people in attendance on the night had similar motivations. Atmosphere is created mostly by said people, whose collective energy and passion tend to elevate an event that otherwise gets by on a uniquely strange blend of nerdiness and class. This department provided the largest point of difference between the Pokemon concert and the Zelda one for me. At the Pokemon event, there seemed to be more themed and/or casual dress in and around the hall, while during the concert the audience reacted loudly to each track and arrangement – especially the more widely recognised ones. While the Zelda show was hardly black tie – and cosplay was there if you looked for it – I definitely noticed more of a conservative attitude to dress code in general. What’s more, during the concert you could tell a crowd favourite by a groundswell of hushed whispers and gasps rather than whoops and shouts. I can’t quite put my finger on the reason for this (perhaps Zelda’s slightly older fanbase, or the fact the concert landed on the exact weekend of PAX Australia in Melbourne) but it certainly lent the atmosphere a more reverential tone and allowed quieter pieces – of which Zelda boasts several – to shine.

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7 Things We Learned At E3 2017

Somehow another whirlwind year at the Electronic Entertainment Expo is over, and with our collective wallets looking nervously over their shoulders once more, it’s always fun to work out the trends that define the year’s most bombastic videogame event. Doing so is one of the clearest ways we have of determining where the larger industry is at during a given year, so here are my takes for 2017:

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We’ve Been Spoilt in Recent Years

Judging by the prevailing consensus on the suite of 2017 E3 press conferences, you’d swear almost nothing good was announced – Never mind the complete and utter deluge of news. Looking at all the new games, new footage and new details we have been inundated with over the last week is an exercise in pure exhaustion – with future-minded budgeting an exercise in futility – and yet the lack of so-called “hype moments” has left many feeling slightly empty. Of course this was inevitable, especially regarding Sony, as after two consecutive years of bombshell-laden shows lacking release details and/or real footage, the company’s proverbial chickens have come home to roost. Hype moments did arrive (see below) but when they don’t come from the current industry leader, the impact ain’t quite the same. Nonetheless, I genuinely believe that all things considered, 2017 was a pretty great E3 to watch, mostly because…

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(Almost) Every Publisher is Improving Their Stage Game

There’s no guarantee that this trend won’t reverse immediately next year, but when compared to 2016, the majority of the E3 conferences have largely improved in leaps and bounds when it comes to window dressing and pacing. EA didn’t seem to get the memo, but Microsoft and Ubisoft seemed to take direct notes from Sony’s remarkably snappy game-after-game 2016 structure, while Bethesda seemed to look more to a Nintendo Direct-style format by wrapping their titles in a charmingly consistent theme park aesthetic. Sony, meanwhile, took what they did last year and cranked it up by matching each major game showcase to a specific mix of lighting tricks, props and even live actors, as Nintendo squeezed a few megaton announcements into the company’s shortest show ever. It’s easy to forget that 2017 brought us fewer awkward stage interactions and irrelevant media distractions than we’ve had in recent memory, which is surely worth acknowledging.

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Six Tiny Things I Learned Playing the Nintendo Switch

Yes, I get it, I’m hardly unique among the denizens of the internet in talking about hands-on experience with the Nintendo Switch. Thus far Nintendo has been reasonably good at getting the system out into people’s hands and plenty of those people have been forthright in sharing their opinions through podcasts, forums and YouTube videos the world over. I have consumed far too many of these impressions myself.

Those are my hands and that's a Switch. Yep.

Those are my hands and that’s a Switch. Yep.

But last weekend I was indeed fortunate enough to play the thing myself – Thanks RTX Sydney – and I have several thousand words worth of thoughts to share. But rather than regurgitate the recurring thoughts I’ve heard plenty enough about already – the surprising build and screen quality, the comfortable designs of the joy-cons, the appeal of ARMS etc – I’m going to focus on some smaller things I’ve heard almost no-one talk about so far.
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1. The Joy-Cons’ Buttons Are Miniscule

A lot has been made of just how small the frame of the joy-cons themselves are, but I haven’t seen much talk about the buttons themselves. These things are tiny. Anyone who has owned a PlayStation Vita will be familiar (and likely comfortable) with such a size bracket for face buttons, even if these are slightly bigger. Of course there aren’t all that many people who fit into that category, so it’s worth a mention. Even more notable are the joy-cons’ L and R buttons, which are literally wafer-thin, no exaggeration. They don’t exactly feel flimsy, and they’re well-placed enough to ensure you won’t miss pressing them, but I’ve never seen anything quite so narrow on a controller or portable console before. That’s unless you count the “+” and “-” buttons, which are indeed actual buttons (to my surprise), though they didn’t seem to do anything in any of the demo builds I played.

It's hard to illustrate scale but yeah, those shoulder buttons are thin.

It’s hard to illustrate scale but yeah, those shoulder buttons are thin.

Speaking of clicking, every button on these things is digital and “clicky”, a la the Game Boy Advance SP, original DS, or DSi buttons. The control sticks also click in, and their movement range is necessarily constrained by their portability. But as a clear step up from the Vita nubs in this department, the joy-con control sticks take the crown as the best commercially available portable ones yet by default. While not part of the initial one-piece joy-con setup, the included wrist strap rail transforms the joy-cons’ SL and SR shoulder buttons into the only non-clicky inputs of the whole shebang. They instead feel almost springy, like they’re resisting slightly when you press them down. They sit nicely under the index fingers, though.

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Best of 2016: Top 5 Game Consoles

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2016 was a year of transitions for console gaming. With at least one – possibly two – machines on their way out and another pair going through significant physical changes, there was a lot on offer for owners and prospective owners of the five main dedicated gaming consoles alike this year. Because it’s fun to do so, I will now rank them once again. Exclusive games on each were plentiful, helping to draw lines in the sand between the consoles, but I’m also counting versions of non-exclusive games that I feel are different enough from their siblings to warrant a mention. Needless to say, new versions of existing hardware weigh heavily as well.

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VR BEST OF 2016 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. Fun, but strange. Respectful disagreement is very welcome.

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5. Wii U

(LAST YEAR: 3rd)

 

At the start of 2016 there was a pervasive feeling that the Wii U was on its last legs, but we had no way of knowing just how barren the year would be for the ailing console. Its relatively bare schedule of major releases throughout the year only kicked off in March, and though Pokken Tournament turned out surprisingly well, a slightly-tuned HD remaster of The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess wasn’t exactly the kind of release to attract new buyers (even if that remaster was pretty damn good). Then April marked the death knell for the console, as that brought with it the combined disappointment of Star Foz Zero and the announcement that the Wii U’s successor – then codenamed NX – would release in March 2017.  From then on, only three first-party games came out on the platform at all. Admittedly, Paper Mario: Color Splash and Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE were fantastic, but that simply isn’t enough to make a year worth celebrating, sadly. Onward to the Switch, then?

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2016: The Year of the Japanese RPG?

As we arrive at the end of another January, and the videogame industry begins to awaken once more from its holiday release slumber, it’s already evident that 2016 is going to be a tremendously big year for games. We are already knee-deep in a veritable feast of high profile indie goodness, with the likes of Oxenfree, Darkest Dungeon and most notably the long-awaited The Witness just available this past week, and both Unravel and Firewatch just around the corner. Beyond that is a host of widely anticipated blockbusters that look set to define the current generation of videogames. The Division. Uncharted 4. Quantum Break. Overwatch. Mirror’s Edge Catalyst. No Man’s Sky. Many, many more.

Virtual Reality will finally become an, ahem, reality this year, with multiple companies trying their hand at convincing the gaming mainstream to pay attention to their lead VR product. Nintendo has an uncertain but very exciting year ahead as they look to unveil the mysterious NX console, at long last, simultaneously branching out into the mobile gaming space. It’s all rather delectable if you ask me.

And yet, when you look ahead at what’s slated to release this year, there are the makings of one more trend – one likely to be overshadowed by most, if not all, of the above in terms of media attention. That is, of course, the sheer volume of Japanese Role Playing Games – or JRPGs – that Western gamers will be able to get their hands on throughout 2016. Fans of ridiculous narratives, stylish presentation and checkbox-completionism, rejoice!

Widely considered a dead genre as recently as half a decade ago, not only has the JRPG survived to this day, but through the occasionally cartoonish force of will of a handful of developers, 2016 looks to be the biggest year for the genre since the burgeoning days of the first PlayStation, at least in terms of Western – especially European/Australian – release dates. Delays notwithstanding (and they will happen to some of the games I’m about to talk about, mark my words), 2016 is so packed with Japanese RPG promise that I could theoretically just play JRPGs – lengthy as they tend to be – and nothing else this year yet still be fairly satiated going into 2017. That won’t happen, of course, but it’s still a staggering thought given the scraps JRPG fans have had to feed off for the majority of the last 10 years.

If you feel a top ten coming on, you know me too well… and you’re close. Here come no less than fifteen JRPGs which, at the time of writing, are primed for a 2016 release and have at least a half-decent shot at coming out this year. If anything, it’s a little sad to think of how selective I’ll need to be with which ones I play in order to get any of them finished at all:

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Final Fantasy Explorers (3DS)

It all kicks off with this little game – a JRPG from Square Enix with ambitions far beyond those of your standard Final Fantasy spin-off. It’s already available for purchase (though in limited physical quantities) and its efforts to blend the addictive loot grind of Monster Hunter with the ever-appreciated traditional FF job system is holding it in fairly good stead on Metacritic thus far. It remains to be seen how long its series references and central gameplay loop will keep me and my friends playing together, but something tells me it won’t be the fault of Final Fantasy Explorers when I stop playing it – The blame will probably sit with the next game on this list.

When’s It Out? Two days ago here in Australia, at least officially. Indeed, it has already begun…

How Keen Am I? Considering it’s already in my hands and heavy on multiplayer, very keen indeed.

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Bravely Second (3DS)

Several pundits single out 2013’s Bravely Default as the game that put an exclamation mark on Square Enix’s turnaround as a game publisher, following years of baffling decisions and wandering through the metaphorical creative wilderness. I reviewed it on this blog, back when I did those, and I adored the game’s fantastic blend of classic Square RPG mechanics with very modern ideas, not to mention its phenomenal audio-visual presentation. Bravely Second looks to give fans more of the good stuff while cutting down on previous weaknesses, and I can’t wait to dive back into the world of Luxendarc.

When’s It Out? February 27th, meaning Second follows the example of its predecessor by releasing months earlier in PAL regions than in the Americas.

How Keen Am I? I put a tick over 70 hours into the first game, and yes, I finished both endings despite that final looping stretch. So yeah, I’m excited.

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Best of 2015: Top 10 Gaming Moments

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It follows that an insanely good year for games means an insanely good year for gaming moments, and that was definitely true for 2015. From incredible story beats that stuck in the heads of many, to smaller touches that blew away expectations, to personal milestones unique to each player, this year bred positive videogame talking points at a wonderfully consistent rate. Here are the ten that stuck out the most for me.

Most of these are not story-related, but there are spoilers here for certain games.

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VR BEST OF 2015 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 weird. Cool, but definitely weird. Respectful disagreement is most welcome.

SPOILERS DEFINITELY FOLLOW.
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10. What Makes You S.P.E.C.I.A.L? – Fallout 4

I didn’t get very far in Fallout 4, for a swathe of complicated reasons that can easily be summarised in the phrase “It wasn’t for me.” But that doesn’t change the fact that the game handles its weirdly lengthy install in a classy, fitting and very entertaining way. Armed with a grainy filter straight out of a 1950s movie theatre and some superbly drawn black and white animation, the game introduces you to each of the seven sections of your in-game skill tree via a series of whimsical – and brutal – vignettes that are great fun to watch. Depending on the speed of your hard drive and the platform on which you play, you may find that the length of these consecutive clips matches up almost exactly with your install time, which is a nice bonus.

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Best of 2015: Top 5 Game Consoles

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Here we go again with my opinion on how the big videogame consoles stacked up against one another over the calendar year. It was a hell of a year for console gaming, and as someone who has access to them all these days, I’ve got to say it was tough at times to choose where I wanted to spend my time playing.

This is a difficult list to explain, as it largely comes down to how I feel about what each console offered to consumers that was unique from its contemporaries. That said, the main quantifiable factors that usually go into this list are volume and quality of console-exclusive games (read: Steam not counted), major console-exclusive features in multi-platform games and any relevant improvements to the experience of using the console made year over year. There’s a lot to say, so let’s go.

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VR BEST OF 2015 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 weird. Cool, but definitely weird. Respectful disagreement is most welcome.
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5. Playstation Vita

(LAST YEAR: 5th)

In a year that saw Sony admit its first-party support for the PlayStation Vita was all but dead, the company’s third-party relationships really came through for the beautiful console in a big way. If you’re a fan of high-profile indie games and/or interesting Japanese fare, the Vita had you covered in spades throughout 2015. A PlayStation Plus subscription was just about enough to keep Vita owners covered for fun and intriguing experiences over the course of the year, as exclusive or not, there are few digital games I can bring to mind that don’t improve just by being on Sony’s magnificent handheld. I played Broken Age, Grim Fandango Remastered, Lost Dimension, Hatoful Boyfriend and Stein’s Gate on Vita in 2015 and couldn’t imagine playing them any other way.

Of course the bona fide exclusives were few and far between – pretty much just Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls and Persona 4: Dancing All Night in terms of exclusives that made any waves whatsoever – and the Vita-playing experience didn’t really change in a meaningful way. So unfortunately I can’t match my enthusiasm for the handheld in 2015 with a high position on this list. It sucks that the Vita also suffered a discouraging number of delays this year, both in the port and original game categories. I just want Severed to come out, already!

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