Dan’s Deck Tech — Budget Black/Red Aggro

My favorite part about Magic: The Gathering is absolutely how varied and interesting deck building is. With 25 years worth of cards and mechanics, pretty much anything is possible. As of late, I’ve been updating a few of my decks, and I decided that I want to share some of them. Today I’ll be talking about one of the first good decks I’ve ever used, a budget black/red (Rakdos) aggro deck that I affectionately call Super Weenie Hut Jr.

And when I say budget, I mean REALLY budget. It’s composed of nothing but commons and uncommons, but I’ve been able to make it see a good amount of success over the years. This is the most recently updated version of this deck.

The Decklist:

Creatures:

x4 Rakdos Cackler

x4 Tormented Soul

x4 Rakdos Shred Freak

x4 Spike Jester

x4 Minotaur Skullcleaver

x4 Mogis’s Marauder

Instants:

x4 Lightning Bolt

x4 Go For The Throat

Enchantments:

x4 Untamed Hunger

x4 Madcap Skills

Lands:

x4 Dragonskull Summit

x9 Swamp

x7 Mountain

Pretty straight forward strategy here. Play good value, low cost cards throughout the game and swing in with them as consistently as you can. Eventually use one of the menace-giving auras to make creatures harder to block and/or play Mogis’s Marauder and win the game. Let’s get into the meat of it, starting with the one-drops: Rakdos Cackler and Tormented Soul.

This deck wants to attack a lot, so these two offer some really good advantages. Rakdos Cackler is a super versatile card. Early game, you can Unleash and get a 2/2 on the board on turn 1, or later in the game, it’s still a solid card to play quite simply because it adds to your field of weenies and is mana efficient. The fact it loses its ability to block if unleashed doesn’t really bother this deck because it’s not going to do much blocking to begin with, plus if you ever have to be cautious, you can just not unleash it. That said if you’re playing defensively with this deck, you’ve probably already lost. The reasoning for Tormented Soul is the same. The fact that it can’t block is made up for by the fact that this deck doesn’t block much, and being an unblockable 1/1 that we can pump later with our auras is super good for how aggressive we’re trying to be here, especially since this card can help us get past threats that are simply too big for this deck to handle otherwise.

For our two-drops, we have Rakdos Shred Freak and Spike Jester.

Again, reasoning here is quite simple. Rakdos Shred Freak is a 2/1 with haste, and Spike Jester is a 3/1 with haste. Fast, easy damage. But let’s take a look at the board for a minute here. Let’s say turn 1 you play Rakdos Cackler and unleash it. That means if you play Spike Jester the following turn, you’re swinging for 5 damage on turn 2. Between the 1 and 2-drops in this deck, you pretty much never run out of ammo to throw at someone.

Finally, our 3-drop creatures: Minotaur Skullcleaver and Mogis’s Marauder.

These two are quite honestly some of my favorite cards ever printed. Minotaur Skullcleaver is a hyper-aggressive monster, coming onto the field as a 4/2 with haste. Skullcleaver is scary because it’s not only 4 damage raw the turn you play it, but the turn it’s played, it can deal with threats the deck otherwise couldn’t handle. Those threats being literally anything with 4+ toughness. He’s hard to block, super cheap and efficient. Mogis’s Marauder is this deck’s win condition for when you’re facing a deck that either doesn’t run red or black, or runs them but isn’t swarmy. That is, if you haven’t already won from repeatedly bashing your opponent’s face in. When Mogis’s Marauder comes into play, it gives X creatures haste and intimidate until end of turn where X is your devotion to black. Notice something about the cards in this deck? The only permanents that don’t count towards devotion to black are Minotaur Skullcleaver and Madcap Skills. Chances are when you play this, you’ve got enough devotion to black to pretty much give your whole side of the board intimidate, which you use to swing in and win the game. So long as your opponent isn’t running black. Generally speaking, if you’ve been playing well and drop Mogis’s Marauder on turn 4, you can probably win the game. If you’ve been playing well and drop him on turn 5, you definitely win the game.

Now as for instants, it’s quite simple. This deck is running two instants: Lightning Bolt and Go For The Throat.

So uh, what is there to explain? Lightning Bolt is an amazing card that can help keep your tempo going or just smack your opponent in the face for 3 damage. Go for the Throat is amazing removal for every threat that isn’t an artifact. Creatures in this deck don’t really go past 4 power, so if any really big threats show up, Go for the Throat can generally handle them.

As for enchantments, this is where the deck becomes really mean. Fun, but mean. We’re running 4 copies of both Madcap Skills and Untamed Hunger.

Menace has always been a really cool ability, in my opinion. It doesn’t make your creatures unblockable by any means, but it makes them incredible frustrating to deal with. being forced to double block is always something players dread, and when you’re being as aggressive as this deck, it makes it even more frustrating. Madcap Skills gives a creature +3/+0 and menace, and Untamed Hunger gives a creature +2/+1 and menace. By the time you end up playing these auras chances are you’ll have built up a solid board state of 3-4 creatures. Putting menace on any of them will make them terrifying, and force your opponent to deal with your offensive pressure in ways they probably didn’t want to. Generally speaking, Madcap Skills is preferred on cards like Rakdos Cackler and Minotaur Skullcleaver and Untamed Hunger is preferred on Spike Jester and Rakdos Shred Freak. But any combination of aura and creature work. Tormented Soul makes menace not important, but a 4/1 or 3/2 unblockable is still scary. Untamed Hunger also helps with Mogis’s Marauder by adding to your devotion to black. Menace also helps in conjunction with Mogis’s Marauder. If your opponent has a way to get through intimidate, you can still mess with their blockers by having a menace or two on the board.

Our mana base is quite simple, with 9 Swamps, 7 Mountains, and 4 Dragonskull Summits. Really basic setup because quite frankly, this is all you need. You could replace the check lands with better ones like, say, shock lands, but then this deck wouldn’t be as cost-effective.

For a super budget version, you could run only basic lands and still have the deck function well, cutting the price of the deck down to about $30 USD. Just replace the 4 Dragonskull Summits with 2 swamps and 2 mountains. Roughy 1/3 of your creatures are hybrid mana, so getting mana stuck generally isn’t an issue.

Total price of this deck is just under $40 USD, $30 USD for the super budget version, and for that price, you get a fun, aggressive deck with interesting abilities.

Why Bioshock is my Favorite Game of All Time: An Ode to Bioshock’s 10th Birthday

Anyone who knows me knows that my favorite games are JRPGs. I prefer turn-based ones like Earthbound, Persona, and Final Fantasy 10, but there’s a fair share of action ones I love, too, like .hack and The World Ends With You. So it therefore might be surprising to hear that I’m also really big on the horror genre in general–not just in games, but in media overall. I grew up on classic horror movies–mostly the Universal monsters and Vincent Price movies, and it’s a love I’ve kept close to me all my life in movies, TV, books, and of course, games. Most notably Silent Hill 2 and 3, which are 2 of my favorite games of all time, and stand out quite a bit in my otherwise mostly anime-filled list of favorite games. But perhaps what stands out more is my number 1 choice:
Despite what many people may guess, and believe me I don’t blame you for these guesses, it’s not my favorite JRPG of all time, Earthbound. It’s not any of my other favorite JRPGs like Persona 3, 4, or 5 or .hack//G.U. It’s not even any of the other stellar JRPGs that dominate best JRPG of all time lists like Skies of Arcadia, Suikoden 2, or Chrono Trigger even though they’re all definitely fantastic games. No, my favorite game of all time is the incredible, critically acclaimed Bioshock.

Did I mention that I once got to meet Levine? Because I did.

I think it’s a safe bet that most of you reading this know what Bioshock is since it’s so well-known, but just in case you don’t, it was a game made by Irrational Games in 2007. It was led by the one and only Ken Levine who was very involved in a similar game, System Shock 2. Bioshock is a horror game about a man named Jack who gets into a plane crash and finds his way to the once-illustrious, underwater city of Rapture which is now being torn apart from the inside out by the once-human Splicers, Big Daddies, and Little Sisters all seeking one of Rapture’s most incredible scientific creations, Adam, which essentially grants the user various super powers (often at the cost of their humanity or sanity).
Levine would also create a sequel for Bioshock, the more recent Bioshock Infinite which is also a wonderful game. Some of you may be wondering about Bioshock 2, but contrary to popular belief, it wasn’t made by Irrational or Ken Levine and the number of main series contradictions it contains combined with the ending of Bioshock Infinite suggests that Bioshock 2 didn’t take place in the same universe as 1 or Infinite, but we’re not here to talk about the Bioshock timeline or canon today.
We’re here to talk about the original Bioshock, which dominated game sales charts when it first came out August 21, 2007–exactly a decade ago as of when this article is being written. Practically overnight it became one of 2007’s most acclaimed games–not an feat considering Portal, Team Fortress 2, Halo 3, Modern Warfare, and Super Mario Galaxy all came out during the same year.
I would’ve been just starting 8th grade when it came out, but I wouldn’t play it until my sophomore year of high school–so about 2 and a half years later. As a matter of fact, it was around the time Bioshock 2 came out. A friend of mine at the time was working at Gamestop and used her employee discount to buy it. I thought it sounded cool so I asked her if I could borrow it when she was done. I didn’t know too much about Bioshock at the time, just that it was a horror game that took place in an underwater city and that there were Big Daddies and Little Sisters, but that was the limit of my knowledge aside from the fact that this game was pretty much universally adored. I went in to it with high expectations, expecting a game that was really good, but probably not as good as say, Silent Hill 2. I was dead wrong.

via polygon.com

Bioshock blew away my expectations in pretty much every way possible. From the minute I started to the minute I beat it and immediately went back in for a new ending, the sheer artistry in this game, was juts mind boggling to me. Before I played Bioshock I didn’t really have a concrete favorite game, just kind of a group of favorites, but it became immediately clear to me that this was, by far, the best game I’d ever played. It’s now 7 years later and this game still never ceases to amaze me. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve replayed it, but I can tell you that it’s at least 4 or 5. But what is it about Bioshock that always keeps me coming back for more? I’ve played so many amazing games in my day, but what is it about Bioshock that makes it so much better than the others for me? How does Bioshock relate to me, and why is it able to do so more than other games?
There are many reasons why Bioshock is my favorite game of all time. It’s very well-made, well-researched, the graphics are some of the best of their time and hold up pretty well, gameplay is solid, it’s a game oozing with creativity and originality, but so is Earthbound. So is Persona. So is Silent Hill 2 and 3. These are all the expected hallmarks of a masterpiece. So what, to me, makes Bioshock stand out among them? Is it just because it’s especially well made? I thought about it a while, and I think it mostly boils down to one thing:

I love a good story.

I love a good story that I can sink my teeth into that’s well-researched from top to bottom. One that leaves no stones unturned and has an incredibly well-made universe–even if that means it’s the one we live in. One with engaging characters. One with great conflicts–I’m especially a big fan of conflicts with moral ambiguity where you’re the judge of who’s the good guy and bad guy, despite who the protagonist may be, or if there’s even a good guy or bad guy. One with symbolism that means to convey a heavier message. Things like Star Trek the Next Generation, Shiki, Earthbound, Death Note, and LISA would be a few other examples of fiction that I think exceed at this 5-star storytelling. If these are examples, then Bioshock is a textbook definition.

via wccftech.com

Unparalleled environmental storytelling, audio diaries that show the dark underbelly of the politics of Rapture, the most graceful breaking of the fourth wall ever executed, characters that fall into the deepest and darkest extremes, even the advertisements seen throughout Rapture–every single facet of Rapture–serves to further tell the story of Rapture and what’s happened there. The symbolism that it bleeds–even what it references (EX: Atlas Shrugged)–only further tells the story of the morals, philosophy, and general attitude Rapture once held and is holding. A few other games have managed all of these things, but none even close to the degree of Bioshock, which has effectively fleshed out is whole universe more thoroughly than any other game I’ve played. What I’m trying to say is, both its environment and writing are exceptionally immersive of their own rights–when combined, they effectively create an immersive experience unlike any other. One that made me think about this game in a way that, when I first played it, I’d never thought before. One which every gamer owes themselves to try at least once.

I’d never experienced a universe as creative and thorough as Bioshock’s when I first played, and to this day, I still haven’t. I’ve never been more immersed in a given game universe than that of Bioshock’s, which is in fact so thorough that I feel like I could write a school paper on it (like a history paper or a column on the politics). Rapture is truly a place unlike any other, one that was crafted with the utmost love and care. Bioshock’s is a world I continue to get lost in no matter how much I play it, one that continues to surprise and impress me in its meticulous details and careful planning. To some, the addition of such painstaking and unnecessary details might seem excessive, but to me they make Rapture come alive in a way I’ve never seen in any other game.

To me, Bioshock is more than a game, it’s a piece of art unlike any other I’ve ever experienced. Beyond being incredibly well-made, it’s a testament to how much a game can immerse you and impact you in ways you never thought possible. Through its exceptionally creative and thorough storytelling, Bioshock is the first game that made me think critically about games, made me seriously think about its philosophy, made me think about the symbolism and want to analyze the story, hell it made me read Atlas Shrugged. It’s a game that made me question myself through the sheer grace in which its message was conveyed. It’s my favorite game of all time.

Would you kindly understand why I love this game so much now?

via nerdist.com

 

 

Visual Novels for People Who Don’t Like Visual Novels

Visual novels are one of the most niche genres you can find in Western gaming. In Japanese gaming communities, visual novels are a staple. In the West, not so much. There’s no definitive reason why this large difference in markets exists, but that’s not what we’re here to talk about today.

There’s a number of (not entirely unfair) stigmas on visual novels: “They have 0 gameplay”, “They’re all anime”, “They’re all dating simulators”, “The stories aren’t interesting enough”, “They’re all on PC and I only play console” and so on. And although it’s okay to simply not like visual novels, I also think it’s important to remind people that there are exceptions to these common misconceptions. There are visual novels with more gameplay than others, there are some visual novels that have had official releases on handhelds and consoles in the English speaking market, they’re not all drawn in an anime style, there are some that are American-made, and they’re certainly not all dating sims, for example.

I’ve compiled a list of visual novels that fall into such categories: Visual novels that even people who don’t like visual novels might find worth a try because they break the stereotypical image of the cheap, anime dating sim that most people associate with the phrase “visual novel”. Alternatively, think of this as a list of worthwhile visual novels that a visual novel novice might find as a good starting point for getting into the world of visual novels. And of course, fans of visual novels will probably recognize most–if not all–of these titles, and if they haven’t played them already, I’d highly recommend each and every one of these.

 

Steins;Gate

There’s a good chance you’ve already heard of the prodigal son of the SciAdv series, Steins;Gate, thanks to its critically acclaimed anime. For everything that makes the anime great, it makes the visual novel arguably one of the best of all time. Although heralded as one of the better visual novel adaptation anime, it still doesn’t capture everything in the Steins;Gate story–especially now that the sequel, Steins;Gate 0, is out. The world of Steins;Gate is vast, interesting, well-written, and in one word, memorable.

Set in Akihabara, Japan during the Summer of 2010 (the not-so-distant future at the time it came out), Steins;Gate is the story of a young, down-on-his-luck scientist, Okabe, who finds a way to send text messages to the past. He quickly discovers the dark truth behind the research of time travel, and takes on the task of preventing a dystopian future that it’ll cause at the cost of his sanity and his friend’s lives.

The story of Steins;Gate is one of the most praised in visual novel history. If you’re looking for a visual novel with a gripping story and lovable characters, this is precisely what you’re looking for. It’s also among the most accessible visual novels on this list, as it’s available on Steam, PSVita, and PS3.

 

Katawa Shoujo

What happens when a group of 4channers can’t get enough of a doujinshi artist’s concept sketches? They formalize a team, call it Four Leaf Studios, hire Mike Inel, and make a visual novel based off of those sketches. And so Katawa Shoujo was born in 2012.

You play as Hisao, a high school senior who was just diagnosed with a heart condition. He’s sent to a school for the disabled where he befriends an energetic track star with prosthetic legs, a laid back artist with no arms, the deaf student counsel president (and her translator), the blind yet graceful class representative, a shy burn victim, and the legally blind conspiracy theorist. In a sentence, this is a dating sim featuring a cast of disabled girls.

At its core, Katawa Shoujo is a set of heartwarming stories about self-discovery, acceptance, the thrill of youth, and most importantly, love. Not a single weak character or story exists in this stellar dating sim. Dating sims, more than any other kind of visual novel, are extremely character driven and therefore need a diverse set of interesting, well-written, and likable characters–Katawa Shoujo succeeds with flying colors in this respect, making it one of the best (and most accessible! it’s free on their official website) dating sim visual novels you can find.

 

Zero Escape

I’ve made my opinion on the Zero Escape trilogy (999, Virtue’s Last Reward, Zero Time Dilemma) very clear in the past a number of times–I adore it. It’s one of my favorite trilogies in video games period. It’s a cult-favorite, highly acclaimed trilogy of puzzle visual novels for the gamer who likes a good challenge.

Each game starts out the same way: You (and you play as a number of characters throughout the trilogy, but mostly Junpei and Sigma) and a group are trapped in an enclosed building of some sort and your lives are all on the line–use your scientific prowess and creativity to escape. You’ll die a few times, you’ll come back to life a few times, and most importantly, you must find out who’s behind your imprisonment and why. There is an overarching story throughout the trilogy as well, and therefore, these game absolutely should not be played out of order.

If you enjoy puzzle games that’ll test you to your absolute limit, Zero Escape will more than satisfy. Aside from being an excellent visual novel, each of the Zero Escape games are known for their extremely challenging puzzles that’ll test your creativity, problem solving, scientific knowledge, morals, and ability to listen to their fullest extent. For the visual novel novice who likes puzzle games, Zero Escape is ideal.

 

Ace Attorney

Odds are if you’ve played at least one visual novel without realizing it, then it’s almost definitely an Ace Attorney game. One of Capcom’s most beloved handheld series, Ace Attorney has been around since 2001. Since then it’s had 6 main series games, a few crossovers (most notably with Professor Layton and a cameo by Pheonix in Marvel vs Capcom 3), and a few spinoff games–a few of which were never released outside of Japan.

Ace Attorney tells the story of rookie lawyer Pheonix Wright who only takes cases in which he believes his client is truly innocent–even if the evidence is against them! You’ll explore crime scenes, question witnesses, and face off against a variety of prosecutors who want nothing more than to whip you, throw coffee at you, get you disbarred, or even show you their sick air guitar riffs because they’re a part-time prosecutor, part-time rock star.

Consistency in its incredible writing and fascinating characters are what drives the Ace Attorney series. Its sense of humor is also worth mentioning, as it makes the otherwise serious tone you might suspect of a game about a lawyer disappear almost entirely. Without playing them, most people likely wouldn’t expect a game series about a defense attorney to be even half as entertaining as Ace Attorney is–and Ace Attorney is, without a doubt, not only one of the most entertaining visual novels out there, but entertaining handheld games period.

 

Hotel Dusk: Room 215

One of the most standout titles on the Nintendo DS, Hotel Dusk: Room 215 is a visual novel that does nothing conventionally. From its art style to its story and even the way you actually have to hold the game, Hotel Dusk is, at the very least, one of the most creative visual novels you’ll ever play.

The year is 1979, and a former detective, Kyle Hide, finds himself staying in a rundown hotel with a gaggle of colorful guests. Allegedly, wishes are mysteriously granted to those who stay in the room he’s been assigned. Haunted by the shadows of his past and perplexed by the mysteries surrounding this hotel, you’ll play as Kyle as he solves puzzles and discovers the missing connections between his past and present.

There’s more gameplay in Hotel Dusk than most of the other titles on this list. If a lack of gameplay is one of the major reasons you avoid visual novels, this one would be a bit more up your alley if you like puzzle games or point and click adventures–or even games that are a bit more experimental in their execution. Hotel Dusk is, without a doubt, one of the most memorable games on the Nintendo DS. Hotel Dusk is a must-play for anyone who wants to experience the best of what the beloved handheld has to offer.

 

Danganronpa

Although its anime wasn’t as well-received as Steins;Gate, Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc is another visual novel with an anime that helped bring it to the forefront of notoriety in visual novel releases in the West. Since its release, it’s had a number of re-releases, spinoffs, and even sequels on various platforms.

In a sentence, Danganronpa is Ace Attorney meets Zero Escape. You play as Naegi–an ordinary high school student with extraordinary luck. So lucky, in fact, that he was randomly selected to enroll in a high school, Hope’s Peak Academy, for the incredibly gifted. When he and his classmates arrive, they’re told that they’ll be held captive in the school forever unless they kill each other. When a student is found murdered, they’ll hold a trial. If the true culprit is discovered, they’ll be executed. If the murder is pinned on the wrong culprit, the innocent will all be executed. In a series of high stakes trials and investigations, you and your fellow classmates must not only solve the mystery of the murders, but the mystery of Hope’s Peak Academy itself and who’s truly behind everything.

Also like Ace Attorney and Zero Escape, it features more gameplay than most visual novels–mostly puzzle solving and trials very similar to Ace Attorney. Admittedly, Danganronpa relies heavier on typical (and often clichéd) anime character tropes than anything else on this list. I’d therefore be more hesitant toward recommending it for the regular anime watcher, but for someone less familiar with the triteness of many of these tropes, this would be fine. I’d therefore call Danganronpa probably the best visual novel entrance point for someone who not only doesn’t play many (if any at all) visual novels, but also just doesn’t watch much–if any–anime either. It is, at the very least, redeemed in its sense of style and a mantra of “Go big or go home” that seems to be thematic throughout the entire game.

 

Hatoful Boyfriend

Have you ever wanted to date a pigeon?

 

Clannad

Like Steins;Gate and Danganronpa, there’s a good chance you’ve heard of Clannad thanks to its famously tear-jerking anime. Originally released in 2004 by Key (the makers of many other highly successful visual novels like Kanon, Angel Beats, and Rewrite) , Clannad has managed to survive the test of time better than most other visual novels thanks to its highly praised emotional writing and endearing cast of characters.

The story of Clannad is a simple one: You play as Tomoya, a high school senior, and a bit of a slacker. One day he befriends a cute girl from his school, Nagisa, and through her and the experiences they share, he makes a few other female friends: Now choose one to date. Each girl has her own unique route in the game in which you spend time with her and an after story which acts as an epilogue.

If you like a heartfelt, emotionally charged story then Clannad will deliver. Through highly sympathetic characters, it’s a visual novel that will make you laugh and cry with equal intensity all in the same chapter. If you liked the anime, you’ll love the visual novel. Like Steins;Gate, the anime for Clannad is often praised as being one of the better visual novel adaptation anime, but it’s still far from perfect. Above all, Clannad conveys strong messages of personal growth and learning to love: Ideal for the player who’s going through a rough patch in their lives and in need of encouragement or relatability.

 

 

Asagao Academy

Kickstarted by Cara Hillstock in 2014, Asagao Academy is one of the most charming dating sims you’ll ever play. Ever heard of Normal Boots on YouTube? (ProJared, Peanut Butter Gamer, Did You Know Gaming?, Satchbag, The Completionist, Continue?, and until recently, JonTron) Because it’s a dating sim where you date them.

You play as the cute, pink-haired Hana, as she transfers to a new school after being bullied at her old one. Despite her shy disposition, she’s quickly able to make friends with Mai and the extremely popular Normal Boots Club–which, of course, is made of the guys in Normal Boots. From here, you choose who to spend time with, what you’re doing, and of course, who to date. In dating them, Hana learns more about them, herself, and the potential danger in becoming too close to your friend’s pet bird.

Barring a few in-jokes, being a fan–or even familiar with–Normal Boots isn’t necessary for being able to appreciate Asagao Academy. At its core, Asagao Academy wants to tell stories of people overcoming obstacles in their lives with the help of their friends–romantic or otherwise. Where Asagao shines most is that, unlike most other dating sims, the importance of friendship is also heavily emphasized. Obviously your romantic relationship takes center stage, but friendships with Mai and other members of Normal Boots all still get time to shine–something extremely rare (and extremely wonderful!) in dating sims.

When DLC isn’t Enough: On Shadows of Valentia and Content Distribution

It’s always a good day when a new Fire Emblem game comes out. Bright-eyed and hopeful, I went to GameStop last Friday for Shadows of Valentia with that mentality. In fact, I was even considering getting the amiibo pack (and I might have if they weren’t sold out by the time I arrived). I brought the game up to the register and the otherwise indifferent employee’s voice dropped a few octaves and she raised an eyebrow as she asked me if I wanted the season pass for the game. Knowing that the season pass costs more than the game itself (albeit by $5, but still more than the base game nonetheless) I said no, but followed it up by asking if anyone else had got it yet. She laughed and said no.

It’s no longer news that the Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia season pass costs more than the game itself. On top of this, the trailer and information revealed about it haven’t been particularly inspiring, and with its price tag, leaves much to be desired. Even now, many fans are still resentful about it–including myself. If there’s one thing we Fire Emblem fans know anything about, it’s over paying for Fire Emblem. Unfortunately, even when the game is new, not a 3 part game, not a rare collectible, or a lovable money hole of a mobile game, Intelligent Systems apparently wants to uphold that tradition in Shadows of Valentia through DLC and the amiibos.

Worst part is, this is the average price.

What frustrates me about this are 2 things: First and foremost, no season pass should cost more than the base game itself. Period. Season passes that cost more than their base games are indicative of one of 2 things: Either the DLC itself is over priced or there’s so much content that the developers should’ve either left a fraction of it in the base game or, if it’s story/mini-game content, then they should’ve made it a separate game entirely (but, just to reiterate, that’s only if it’s making it more expensive than the base game).

Second, even if you do decide to buy the season pass, you still don’t have all the content that this game has to offer. For the cherry on top of your content sundae, you need to buy the Shadows of Valentia amiibo 2 pack. It grants 2 more dungeons (one for each amiibo) and illusory heroes of Celica and Alm. In other words, for 100% of the content Shadows of Valentia has to offer, you’re paying a staggering $110 (or $130 if you got the special edition). That’s essentially triple (or more than, if you got the special edition) the price of the base game. That’s absolutely absurd.

 

via rpgsite.net

“For 100% of the content Shadows of Valentia has to offer, you’re paying a staggering $110.”

 

I will give Intelligent Systems points where they’re due, though: They are allowing players to either buy the DLC in packs or, as the site is currently leading us to believe, singularly. In other words, if you’re just interested in the prequel story in the DLC, you can buy those maps in a pack. Or, if you just want one or two extra maps, the official site lists individual prices on them so it’s reasonable to believe that they’ll be able to be purchased singularly. This doesn’t excuse them for this whole debacle, but admittedly, it does alleviate the issue since it shows that they’re at least somewhat aware that asking the players to pay $45 for the season pass of a $40 game is not only risky, but PR suicide.

The decision to make such an expensive season pass is surprising–not just because extra maps in Awakening were so reasonably priced, but because this game is coming through Nintendo–a company that’s only recently stepped into the realm of DLC and has been otherwise fair about pricing it and finding a good balance of how much to leave out for DLC. Part of me therefore wants to believe that perhaps this is their or Intelligent System’s way of experimenting with how much fans are willing to pay for DLC and what their attitudes are toward it. Unfortunately for them, if that is indeed the case, they likely won’t be seeing the results they were hoping for.

Numbers as of 5/23/2017

The only other reasonable explanation for the prices I could think of is Intelligent System’s trying to hold to the 28-map-tradition that’s in nearly every Fire Emblem game. By making DLC maps, they’re effectively keeping to tradition (a wise idea, since this is, after all, a remake) while offering the fans additional content. The addition of dungeons and exclusive classes might just be their way of putting icing on the cake, if this is the case. This might have been a better idea if the lackluster map designs weren’t perhaps the lowest common denominator among reviews for Shadows of Valentia.

Regardless of the reason, the bottom line is, Intelligent Systems made a frustrating decision by dividing up the additional content for Shadows of Valentia so poorly. What I think would’ve worked better for them is utilizing the amiibos more–perhaps adding a pack of the DLC currently in the season pass on each amiibo–therefore allowing the season pass to be about half its current price, and perhaps just being the prequel story with an extra dungeon or two. As for the exclusive classes, those should’ve been left in the main game. Extra maps and a little extra story is one thing, but classes for characters shouldn’t be exclusive to players who throw extra money into the game. It’s not just a scummy thing to do, but also downright unfair.

Issues with its pricing and content distribution aside, I truly am having fun with Shadows of Valentia so far–which only makes it more of a shame that these aforementioned problems are so prevalent. Although alleviated by the fact that they can all be purchased separately or singularly, it’s still no excuse for the fact that 100% of the game’s content is triple the price of the base game. I sincerely hope that Intelligent Systems and Nintendo learn from this–especially if Binding Blade really does end up getting remade next. I love Fire Emblem, I really do, but I don’t relish the idea of paying more than a hundred dollars on a single, complete game (unless it’s .hack//Quarantine, apparently, but that’s a whole other story).

via brcde.vg

Why Mother 4’s Rebranding is a Great Decision

As some of you may have heard, the highly anticipated fan game Mother 4 has just announced that they’ve decided to rebrand the game. This was done mostly due to the controversial take downs of AM2R and Pokemon Uranium by Nintendo last year. As a fellow Nintendo fan game, Mother 4 had plenty of reason to believe that it not only could, but likely would also be taken down by Nintendo.

via http://am2r-another-metroid-2-remake.en.uptodown.com

“But it’s a free game! They’re not making any profit! So it should be fine, right?” Some of you may be thinking. As others may recall though, so were both AM2R and Pokemon Uranium. A common misconception about copyright and IP law is that to take legal action, the infringer (in this case, the fan games) has to be making a profit before the IP holder can take legal action–that’s not true at all. In what Josh Walters (attorney, law professor, advisor and chief of DeviantArt) calls “The Law of the Playground” in a panel he hosted on copyright laws in fandom at San Diego Comic Con 2012, there’s a slight difference in actual law and what’s written on paper. To paraphrase what he says, written law dictates that an IP holder can sue for anything as minor as fan art, regardless of its quality or whether or not it made profit, if they want to. However, the “law of the playground” dictates that, essentially, (and again: I’m paraphrasing so as to not quote an hour long lecture) if you do that then you’re going look like a petty jerk and likely suffer a barrage of bad press. Therefore, in cases like fan art, most IP holders go beyond not caring (from a legal standpoint) about whether or not you do it, but some even encourage it (after all, why wouldn’t they? Free advertising).

There is only, however, a certain degree to which the general public and companies tend to consider these minor infringements “acceptable.” Fan art? Acceptable–nay, often encouraged. Ripping movies from online and selling them for cheap? Not acceptable–might even get you in some degree of legal trouble depending on the extent to which you did it. Generally, the perception seems to be based on how much effort in the infringement that the infringer placed. Ripping a DVD or Blu-Ray? No effort or artistic value whatsoever. Making a fan game? Years worth of effort and lots of artistic value. I can’t confirm this, but I’d place a large bet that the the amount of income (if any) the infringement makes would also tip the scale in how acceptable it would generally be considered as well.

So how does this all tie into Mother 4? Because Nintendo is well-known to fiercely protect their IPs. And why wouldn’t they? They run a much higher risk than any other major game company for becoming a generic trademark. A generic trademark is when your brand name becomes so synonymous with the product that the name of the brand is usually used in place of the name of the product–for example, saying Q-tip for cotton swab, Aspirin for pain reliever, Yo-Yo for spinning toy, and even App Store for mobile gaming market. When your brand becomes a generic trademark, it essentially enters the public domain–therefore making it exceedingly difficult to take legal action if someone uses your brand name in a way you don’t want them to.

via imagenspng.com

Being the owner of some of gaming’s largest and most recognizable IPs, it should be no wonder why Nintendo might be scared of becoming a generic IP. They had a particularly bad scare in the 90’s, when they almost did become a generic trademark synonymous for video game console. They’ve become noticeably more fierce about defending their IPs since then–from taking down fan games (which, as I already explained, are considered copyright infringement in a court of law) to suing Pokemon themed parties. They have to be fierce about it–otherwise, as the most recognizable brand in video gaming, they and some of their IPs might come close to being generic IPs again. In return for their fierce defending of their IPs, they’ve had a lot of bad press about it, and certainly lost the faith and respect of several of their fans–especially those who loved some of their games so much that they wanted to express that love in the medium of another game, who will likely never think of Nintendo in the same way the once did again.

Some of you may be wondering if Mother 4 would still be affected by this because it does, after all, still have an original setting, original characters, etc. Point blank, yes, it is. They’re still using the Mother IP in the title, they revealed that they were putting Mr. Saturn in the game, and likely many more such concepts original to Mother. An IP doesn’t necessarily have to be the brand itself–it can also be identifiable hallmarks of the brand that make it itself. This can be anything from an aesthetic, concepts/characters/places existing in works of fiction, or even materials used in production. For example, Tiffany Blue. Yes, the color. It’s arguably the biggest hallmark of the Tiffany brand, and therefore, even using that blue is considered copyright infringement if you’re using it in a way when it can be confused with their brand. In other words, if you want to paint your house Tiffany Blue, that’s fine. If you want to sell your product in a Tiffany Blue box, then there might be a problem. If your product is jewelry, then you have a lawsuit on your hands if Tiffany Co. ever finds out. In this scenario, Nintendo is Tiffany Co. and Mother 4 is the artist packaging their jewelry in a Tiffany Blue box.

Luckily, judging by the trailers and the information we’ve been given about the game up until now, this won’t have an astronomical affect on the game. To quote the OP of the AMA, “This is still the story of Travis and his friends fighting the mysterious Modern Men. Leo still lights his smokes with paranormal fire.” In other words, although there will certainly be noticeable changes, the game is still itself. It will have a different name, but it’s still the same story. Whether or not this will affect gameplay is yet to be said, as far as I can see.

If they were to say that this game was inspired by Mother and drop some subtle references here and there, then legally speaking, that’s fine. Case in point: Undertale, which does this many times. Therefore, if Mother 4 took this approach by removing all the explicit uses of Mother/Earthbound IPs, they’d be in the clear, and unable to be touched by Nintendo. On the other hand, by keeping its name and the Mr. Saturns (among other characters/concepts original to Mother) they would put themselves at a likely risk of being taken down by Nintendo. As not only a huge fan of the Mother series, but a big fan of the work that the Mother 4 team has been showing in their game, I’d really hate to see this happen. Therefore, their protecting themselves from copyright infringement by rebranding and joining the ranks of games like Undertale and LISA as Mother-inspired games, they’re making a good decision not only for themselves, but for their fans who will want to play the game and see to it that it’s preserved. Nobody, least of all them, wants to see years worth of effort go to waste. That’s why rebranding is the best thing Mother 4 could’ve done for themselves and their fans right now. I, for one, am no less excited for this game than before.

via hardcoregamer.com

My Final Fantasy Wish List

There aren’t many game series that have managed to not only survive, but thrive as long and as well as Final Fantasy. Final Fantasy has practically become synonymous with the JRPG genre and in many ways, is its mascot. That doesn’t necessarily mean that Final Fantasy is without sin, though.

Kennedy makes a sick joke
Get it? I’m hysterical. via finalfantasyunion

I find it hard to call myself a longtime Final Fantasy fan in light of just how long it’s been around, even in the States (1990) but I have been a fan of Final Fantasy for just over a decade now, and I have played most of the main series games and many of the sequels, prequels, and spinoffs. In other words, I know my way around the franchise well enough to know exactly what I want from it. Ever since the release of 15 I’ve been thinking a lot about things I’d like from the franchise since it’s been changing so much in its last few entries: New concepts that could be interesting, old ones that I’d like to return, things it should hang on to and let go of, and so on. So without further ado, here’s my wish list of things I want to see in Final Fantasy.

 

via fanpop

Remake or Re-Release of Crisis Core

Since Final Fantasy 7 is getting remade, it’d only be appropriate if its wonderful prequel, Final Fantasy VII: Crisis Core, got a remake, too. Or at the very least re-released. It was originally released for the PSP in 2007 (or, if you live anywhere but Japan, 2008) and is, in fact, the tenth best selling game on the PSP. Despite being a clearly well-loved and well-selling game, a very crucial part of the Final Fantasy 7 story, and yet on a handheld console that was largely overlooked and underrated, Crisis Core never got a re-release of any kind. Not even on Steam, where you can find a sizable portion of the Final Fantasy franchise, for better or for worse. I’ve been playing a lot of Final Fantasy 7 lately, and the only thing it’s making me want more than to sink my teeth into the remake is a chance to replay Crisis Core. Not only is Crisis Core simply a wonderful game, but it fleshes out 7’s story entirely–but sadly, unless I want to go buy another PSP, I can’t do that unless it’s re-released. Once the remake is out, we’re going to see a flood of new Final Fantasy fans wanting to get into the series and older fans wanting to relive it. Crisis Core is a large part of reliving the joy of Final Fantasy 7, and Square Enix can bank on that easily. There’s no reason for them not to re-release it.

 

via gematsu

3D Remakes of Final Fantasy 5, and 6 (or at least 6)

Currently, Final Fantasy 5 and 6 are the only main series Final Fantasy games that were never made or remade in 3D, despite 1-4 all getting 3D remakes on the DS (7, of course, is when they started getting made in 3D right off the bat.) Final Fantasy 5 I can sort of understand why it was never remade in 3D: It’s not one of the particularly more well-loved Final Fantasy games, generally has okay reviews at best, and is generally only well-known for being the first Final Fantasy game to expand the job system and add more customization options. In other words, it’s easy to see why it wouldn’t be high on Square Enix’s priority list for Final Fantasy.

The reason Final Fantasy 6 hasn’t been remade in 3D escapes me completely. There’s no reason for it not to have been remade in 3D. Final Fantasy 6 is constantly hailed as one of the greatest entries in the series. Many fans agree that its antagonist, Kefka, is the best in the whole franchise, the gameplay is more polished and perfected in 6 as opposed to the other 16-bit Final Fantasy games, the characters are very well-written, this was the first time a Final Fantasy game dug this deep into its story, it was emotionally gripping, the list of reasons why this game is so beloved can go on forever. This makes it all the more curious why it never got a 3D re-release or remake of any kind, sans a very poorly made mobile port with some slightly 3D sprites (which, in case you’re wondering, doesn’t constitute being called a 3D remake.)

If I haven’t made it clear enough, if only 1 of these games were to get a 3D remake, it should be 6. It confounds me how it hasn’t been remade in 3D yet. The gorgeous visuals and jaw-dropping atmosphere are 2 of the biggest hallmarks of Final Fantasy. So why not, Square Enix, bank on one of your most loved games and make it the visual indulgence we’ve all imagined it to be for over 20 years now? After the 7 remake is done, 6 should, without a doubt, be the next to get remade. If Square Enix wanted to take the next decade or so and not make any new Final Fantasy games and focus on remaking some of the classics instead, I honestly wouldn’t have a problem with that.

 

via hardcoregamer

A return to turn-based combat

If this were a numbered list, this would be number 1. If only one thing on this list were to happen, I’d want it to be this. I didn’t care for the combat in Final Fantasy 12. It got worse in 13. I give 14 the same leeway I give 11 because they’re both MMOs and therefore should be played differently because they’re a different genre of game, and of course, I’m not a fan of the gameplay in 15. One of the hallmarks that made early Final Fantasy stand out was its turn-based combat with a timer that was used in the first 9 games. In 10, the timer was removed and it was purely turn based. Final Fantasy 11 is when the average player could start noticing some pretty large changes to the traditional Final Fantasy combat, but as I already said, it’s an MMO–obviously the combat would be different. Enter Final Fantasy 12, which in terms of gameplay, feels like an identity crisis from start to finish. The timer from the early games is still there, but it’s not turn based–it’s a Frankenstein of gameplay elements. It’s the game that transitioned the series from its traditional turn-based combat to action JRPG combat.

Make no mistake, I like action JRPGs. In fact, there are many I love–most notably the .hack//G.U. trilogy which is one of my all-time favorites. The problem lying in Final Fantasy as an action JRPG series is that the gameplay is messy, gimmicky, and in many cases, needlessly complex. It had its time to experiment, but has failed not once (12), not twice (13 and all its spinoffs), but 3/3 (15) times now. Many fans miss the turn-based combat this series branded itself with–including myself. Change can be good, sure. And yes, there is a shortage of popular turn-based JRPGs (as opposed to action JRPGs) in recent years. I think that’s all the more reason Final Fantasy should return to its turn-based roots, especially if they choose to bring back the style from 10 which (in my opinion) was the best gameplay the franchise has ever had. Not only will several older fans be happy, but it’s an effective way to dominate the sizable niche of fans who prefer turn-based JRPGs (which is likely to be become bigger real soon with the release of Persona 5 on the way) and improve the overall quality of the games in general.

 

via movienewsguide

If you’re going to require watching an anime to understand a game, at least attach it with the game

This has been brought up on the podcast a number of times, but if your game–Final Fantasy or otherwise–practically requires you to watch an anime, please attach the anime with the game somehow. Put it in the case. Attach it with the files on Steam. Put an option to watch it in the main menu. Something. The original .hack// series attached DVDs with the .hack//Liminality anime with the games, so why can’t Final Fantasy do it, too? If it’s more of a spin off (like Advent Children) then this isn’t necessary, but in Final Fantasy 15 they practically make it a necessity to watch Kingsglaive and Brotherhood–yet they’re no where to be found with the games. Luckily, Brotherhood is available on Crunchyroll but Kingsglaive, however, isn’t. You have to pay $13.99 to stream it or buy it on DVD/Blu-Ray, unless you’re okay with pirating it. (Square Enix certainly isn’t, which makes it all the more baffling why it’s not more accessible.)

In summary, I don’t mind watching an anime to better understand the world of a Final Fantasy game–but if you’re assuming your audience has seen the anime (as Square Enix does with Final Fantasy 15) then give them access to the anime. There’s a difference between using an anime to help your storytelling and requiring the anime to help your storytelling–Final Fantasy 15 is the latter. If you’re going to do this, attach the anime with the game. It highlights its importance to the story. If you’ve bought the game, you’ve bought the anime with it. Square Enix doesn’t even have the courtesy of making Kingsglaive more accessible, which is, for lack of a better phrase, a scummy thing for them to do–not to mention confusing. Is trading accessibility for a higher price honestly more profitable for them in this scenario? Anime is one of the easiest things out there to pirate or stream illegally. I honestly think that if they charged a reasonable price for Kingsglaive, Square Enix would see many more people more willing to pay the extra few dollars to support it. But by asking so much to see it–especially after paying for the game with a retail price of $60–that seems like more money than necessary. Again, this wouldn’t be a big deal if it were a spinoff like Advent Children was, but unless you want to be left without context several times in-game, watching not just Brotherhood but also Kingsglaive is a necessity.

 

via idigitaltimes

Keep the camera from Final Fantasy XV in future entries

There isn’t anything in Final Fantasy 15 that puts a bigger smile on my face than when I see Prompto has taken more pictures. It’s charming, culturally relevant, and a good way to share the game and get some free publicity and discussion on social media.Final Fantasy 15 is the first time we’ve seen such a large integration with modern technology in a Final Fantasy game, and for the most part, makes it work really well! Whatever direction Final Fantasy 16 takes–traditional fantasy (EX: 10), futuristic/dsytopian fantasy (EX: 7), or something with a more modern feeling (EX: 15) I really hope that Square Enix finds a way to integrate the camera. In fact, photographer can be a permanent class in Final Fantasy for all I care. Regardless, it’s a light hearted break to see our protagonists having fun during the rest of the despair and tragedy going on in the rest of the game–I hope it stays. In fact, I hope we’re eventually able to take our own in-game photos as well.

 

via vizzed

Bring back the questionable fashion choices

If you’ve played almost any Final Fantasy game before 13 you know exactly what I’m talking about. Skirts made out of belts, hats the size of your torso, a new character sporting a midriff for each day of the week, and who can forget the indescribable “style” of the blitz ball uniforms. With a few exceptions (most of the characters from 7 and 8 and a few other miscellaneous characters here and there) up until Final Fantasy 13 most characters in the series had wonderfully bad fashion taste. But of course, most of their attire fits in well with the universe–if anything, it helps build the universe. A glance at any character from Final Fantasy 9 will tell you that we’re dealing with a very traditional fantasy game–just as a glance of any character from Final Fantasy 15 will tell you that there’s less traditional fantasy in this entry.

But man oh man, despite that, I still miss the wildly imaginative–often over imaginative–designs given to characters. I consider these over-the-top fantasy designs practically a part of the Final Fantasy branding because they were used for so long. There’s nothing wrong with not having them, though–like I said, in a subtle way, it helps build the world. Such as in 15, they might not be necessary. But to someone who’s become so accustomed to the questionable designs of Final Fantasy–which is likely the vast majority of fans–it’s a little disappointing playing a game like 8, 13, or 15 and not needing to pause for a minute to wonder how someone’s hair is staying the way it is and how many hair products they consume in a daily basis. Or how part of an outfit was even crafted or where it was bought, let alone staying on their body. Or feeling pure shock and awe seeing a cosplay of it and wondering how the hell they did it. In 13 is when I think we saw the transition. If you went out dressed light Lightning, Vanille, Serah (her 13-2 costume, not her 13 one), or Noel you’d probably get some strange looks, but in the right environment (I say because of Fang) I think you could get away with dressing up as anyone else without anyone batting an eye. Will we ever see a character with hair as gravity defying as Cloud or Seymour again? God, I hope so. I miss the sensation of being able to look at a character design covered in 50 fabrics, a few unnecessary pieces of armor here and there, a dozen belts and zippers, probably either a midriff or a deep v-neck (maybe even both), and hair that would make Marie Antoinette jealous and without knowing anything else being able to identify that it’s a Final Fantasy character.

via avclub, illustration by Nick Wanserski @NWanserski

 

Kingdom Hearts: The Epitome of Gameplay over Story

Warning: Major Spoilers for All Kingdom Hearts Games Ahead

It’s an argument as old as time: Story vs Gameplay. Alongside Console vs PC, this is probably the second most argued thing by the gaming community as a whole–and most will probably tell you that it depends on the game–after all, I don’t know anyone who played Bayonetta for the “story” or anyone who plays a Telltale game because they can’t get enough of making decisions that ultimately won’t matter. But on the other side of that, the gameplay in Bayonetta is nothing short of exhilarating and The Wolf Among Us brags a story more interesting than most other games. As far as the gameplay vs story debate, although it does certainly depend on the game (after all, I don’t start a new visual novel game expecting much, if any gameplay–and I don’t play fighting games because I want to know the story) in my opinion, the best games are the games that have both of these 2 factors working together in tandem and with equal force.

What do I mean by this? After all, what separates a game from other means of telling a story is the gameplay–should the gameplay not be the main focus of the game? Not necessarily if the game is a game meaning to tell a story. After all, if the story is good enough, it can outshine any lack of gameplay (or poor gameplay) and keep the player interested anyways–which is the foundation of the visual novel genre. Alternatively, if one’s gameplay is good enough, the player won’t care about the story because they’re having so much fun–which is what a lot of fighting games rely on. There’s no right answer in the story vs gameplay debate, but we can identify which one a game focuses on despite its efforts–and Kingdom Hearts being such a complex case of this is a great series to analyze in this lens.

It’s hard for me to remember a time when I completely understood the story of Kingdom Hearts. And believe me, there was! In my middle school and early high school days (about 10 years ago–when ReChain of Memories wasn’t out in English yet and 358/2 Days was hardly more than a rumor) you could’ve asked me anything about the franchise, no matter how obscure, and I could’ve told you the answer–well, if there was an answer at least. The story of Kingdom Hearts has always been one that’s tried to shroud itself in mystery when it can. That wasn’t enough to stop Kingdom Hearts from being my favorite game series for a few years, though. Needless to say, when a new game would come out, I’d buy it day 1. I wanted those questions that not even I knew the answer for to be answered. And as more games came out and more questions were “answered” it became more and more apparent to me:

The story of Kingdom Hearts has always been vague, and it will stay vague until the end.

Every time a question was seemingly answered, it never came without a catch–another dozen questions arise, the characters don’t know the full story, someone teases that there’s more to it than that and either won’t tell you what you’re missing or at least won’t tell you until much later, people forget about the answer and it becomes irrelevant, or in some cases, it becomes important again later and it’s revealed that the “answer” you thought you’ve had all this time was wrong all along. It’s one thing to do these things once or twice–in fact, it’d be hard to imagine a good story in which everyone knew everything all the time–but it’s another to use them all the time and for every possible conflict and character, as Kingdom Hearts does.

Take for instance the purpose of Organization XIII. In Chain of Memories and Kingdom Hearts 2, we’re told it’s a coalition of strong Nobodies who have joined together under Xemnas who seek to open Kingdom Hearts to regain their hearts and become whole again. Nothing too wrong with that, right? Enter Xion in 358/2 Days: Suddenly, it becomes apparent to us that there’s more to their purpose than they say since Xemnas went out of his way to make a (faulty) clone of Roxas in case he “proved useless” but despite the implications that came with that, we weren’t told anything more. Birth By Sleep comes out, we see the origins of Organization XIII: It was originally a research project lead by Ansem the Wise and Xehanort on heartless and memories (particularly the restoration of Xehanort’s memories) gone horribly wrong, ultimately resulting in them becoming Nobodies. Finally, Dream Drop Distance: Xigbar reveals that the true purpose of the Organization was to create vessels for Xehanort–the members, who were on some level, all at least part Xehanort (though only Xigbar and Saix were aware.) Alternatively, they were also possibly meant to be the 13 Seekers of Darkness to fight the 7 Lights in the inevitable keyblade war that would follow.

via imgur

Organization XIII is just one of the dozens of major elements that make the “everything but the kitchen sink” story that is Kingdom Hears. Sadly, it’s also one of the easier elements to explain since it’s a group, rather than a single character–all of whom are surrounded by clones, vague symbolism, Alzheimer’s symptoms, more clones, cardiology problems, and at least 1 major identity crisis per game. If I had to compare the overall writing in Kingdom Hearts to anything, it’d be an overdramatic soap opera or telenovela with too many twists and turns–to the point where it’s clear to anyone who watches it for more than 10 seconds that it’s trying far too hard.

Actually, comparing Kingdom Hearts to a cheap soap opera or telenovela is still a bit generous since the same soap operas don’t aspire for the same level of symbolism that Kingdom Hearts always is, yet always loses itself in trying so hard, effectively turning any traces of symbolism into the player wondering if anything said in a given conversation is meant to be taken literally. (Read: Any time anyone talks dramatically about the concepts of light and darkness and if it’s supposed to be symbolic of good and evil, or if they’re talking about a literal force, and how wildly inconsistent it is.)So despite how obviously the story has lost itself in its own alleged symbolism, why are there so many people who defend the writing in this game to the death? Two words: Forced Drama.

How do soap operas and telenovela play up a situation, even if it doesn’t entirely make sense to the audience? Editing. Dramatic music and sound effects. Dynamic camera angles. Over-the-top acting. And when one starts making money, the writers come up with a cheap excuse to draw the story on longer than it needs to be. How does Kingdom Hearts do it? Editing. Dramatic music and sound effects. Dynamic camera angles. Try-hard acting. And what has Kingdom Hearts been doing so well these last few years? Cheap excuses that have been drawing out the story longer than it needs to be.By clearly establishing an easily identifiable relationship between the main characters and knowing right when to time the music, Kingdom Hearts has done a stellar job of making you think a moment is dramatic and heart wrenching when in reality, it’s either completely insignificant (or will become insignificant), or just plain makes no sense and is merely happening out of convenience. The best example of this I can give is Axel’s death in Kingdom Hearts 2. Axel was (and still is) my favorite character in Kingdom Hearts–so like most, his death scene, no matter how underwhelming, really upset me. Even back then I knew it was a really underwhelming scene–and frankly, poorly timed as well. Axel has come seemingly out of no where, helps Sora fight off one horde of nobodies, and dies thinking of Roxas.

So to understand this scene, first we got to understand why he died in the first place. Why it was necessary. Was it necessary? Absolutely not. Up to this point, the only things that have killed Organization XIII members was fighting with either Sora or Riku–not a kamikaze attack. Not just any kamikaze attack, but one that not even Axel seems to be aware of. In the cutscene preceeding his death, Axel says, “I think I liked it better when they were on my side.” to which Sora asks, “Feeling a little…regret?” “Nah, I can handle these punks. Watch this!” and then Axel explodes. At least, that what it looks like–he’s still in one piece, somehow completely devoid of burns, yet it still kills him.

So what’s the reasoning in killing the only member of the Organization that isn’t completely against us?

  • To reveal that he was the one who kidnapped Kairi and where Sora can find her and a route there–something that also reveals that Axel has had a change of heart (pun intended) and is now on your side, therefore letting you sympathize with him more in his final moments.
  • To show us that Axel has been a good guy all this time–that he’s never stopped thinking about Roxas and that all he’s done up to this point was selfless, despite how it may have looked–and thus show some character development for him.
  • To rid the game of the biggest nuisance in the Organization since he’s the only one that Sora (or perhaps more accurate to say Roxas, who is a part of Sora) likes and probably would be unable to kill himself because of that friendship.
  • To up the sense of drama at the end–the sense of just how many enemies Sora is against and how hard it would be without friends and how powerful the enemy is. Sora couldn’t defeat all these nobodies that Xemnas could control–he needs someone else to help him, and Riku isn’t quite an option yet. So who else could Sora call a friend? At this point in the game, Axel is the only one who fits the bill.

So yes, killing off Axel definitely wasn’t an accident. It was the way it was done that was sloppy. As I mentioned before, it was underwhelming. The attack that killed him didn’t look like something that would kill him. The way he spoke before doing the attack wasn’t how someone who knew they were about to die in a move of self sacrifice would speak. It was the tone and words of a new ally who was confident that he was more powerful than you and that he could prove it–without serious consequences. And when Sora realizes that he’s fading away, Axel still speaks casually–not just unlike someone who’s dying, but unlike anyone who’s even slightly injured. So why is this out-of-the-blue death still so sad? Because they start playing the sad music which this game is so famous for. Because we see Axel talking about his one and only friend, saying “He… was the only one I liked. He made me feel like I had a heart.” So we get sad. Not because Axel is dying, but because the game is giving us the cues to be sad.

Axel’s death was nothing more than a convenient way for the game to give some exposition, character development, and a route to your next destination all in one convenient scene. But what makes a character death emotional is when it’s more than than that, when it’s more than a convenient plot device like this is and nothing more. A truly gripping character death isn’t just looking to be convenient, it’s looking to be meaningful–and due to the underwhelming and too-sudden timing and method of his death next to how convenient his death would be, it’s easy to see that his death was, indeed, just a plot device. It’s not sad, the game just gives us the cues so we think it’s sad. And it’s not hard to play up these cues since they gave him a few redeeming lines at the last minute. Just to further this point, nobody ever looks back on Axel’s death. It’s not something Sora ever looks back on (very surprising, in light of how highly he seems to value his friends) for strength, it’s not a scene anyone goes back to thinking, “We couldn’tve done this without Axel.” Axel is literally never mentioned again by anyone–very surprisingly, since this is supposed to be a sad scene, right? Not surprising at all when you realize that this is just a thinly veiled plot device wrought of convenience because leaving Axel alive would be too problematic at the time (after all, can’t have a member of the Organization running around, can we? Especially one looking for Roxas) and the writer’s inability to write a good death and using the editors as a crutch to make up for it.

If you want to reference a good heroic death scene to compare this to–one that’s not the love child of poor writing and needing some last minute exposition–I’d point you toward another Square Enix game, Final Fantasy VII Crisis Core, in Zack’s death scene. Not only is it clear that he knows he’s going to die saving Cloud, but as we see in Final Fantasy VII, it’s something that stays with him. Something that haunts him. Something that’s formed him into the character he became because he’s tried in many ways to become Zack. Not just him, but Aerith as well. It’s emotionally gripping not just because there’s rain and sad music, but because we already saw so much character development for Zack throughout the whole game and how badly he wanted to be a hero–and seeing that he’s finally come full circle and become one. To drive the point home, it shows you Zack’s life flashing before his eyes. And because, if you’ve played Final Fantasy VII, you’ll realize that his aspirations for Cloud would only be half fulfilled because he was unable to protect Aerith, whom Cloud associates heavily with Zack. It’s emotional, it’s gripping, it’s something that affects the characters.

In short: Axel’s heroic death isn’t sad because it’s just a convenient plot device with sad music and no ramifications.

Zack Fair’s heroic death is sad because it has ramifications. Because by this time we know him incredibly well and how his story has come full circle and now he’s passing it on to Cloud, who’s changed radically by Zack’s death and will ultimately feel failure to protect his legacy by failing to protect Aerith.

If it wasn’t enough that they were insulting Axel’s character so much to only kill him (sloppily) for convenience, they went and did one of what I consider to be cardinal sins of writing a good story:

They brought him back to life in Dream Drop Distance. For no reason. No explanation. He literally just showed up.

And what’s more, like everyone else now, he can wield a keyblade because why the hell not.

via tumblr

The whole game operates under the same formula as Axel’s death: Use the music and camera angles, make people think it’s sad by forcing the emotion, and then BAM! Make it irrelevant somehow–In Axel’s case, by bringing him back to life for no reason. Just when the game makes you think it’s sad, it makes you happy again. You’re feeling a wide range of extreme emotions when you play through this series, so even when you don’t understand what’s going on, you still feel emotionally involved because the game is giving you the cues for when to be happy, sad, etc. And that’s why so many people confuse the fragments of story in Kingdom Hearts with a solid, understandable, well-written story–because they feel emotionally involved.

By now you probably think I hate Kingdom Hearts–and I don’t. Because it’s finally time to look at the other side of Kingdom Hearts: The gameplay. It’s an action RPG with several menus. Gameplay is kept constant in the main games (Kingdom Hearts 1, 2, and Birth By Sleep) and gimmicky in the “in-between” games like Chain of Memories, 358/2, ReCoded, and Dream Drop Distance. In the main games, the gameplay is generally the same–attack with one button, use magic with another, and then use items. Menu is in the bottom right, use it! Personally, I think Birth By Sleep had the best gameplay as it used that simplicity and added special combo attacks and a better way to aim. Regardless, there’s something satisfying about hitting mashing a button and see Sora (or whoever else the protagonist may be) act accordingly, nearly at the same speed as you. And what’s more, the games do require several elements of strategy in some of the battles–they’re not all easy. You can’t just keep mashing attack and win all the time. And it’s fun. It’s satisfying. And they mix up the gameplay (for better and for worse) in just enough games to make it feel all the more diverse and refreshing. From a technical standpoint, Kingdom Hearts is just. Plain. Fun.

In recent games, they’ve especially boosted this with adding more fun to be had than in combat: By adding mechanics with Unversed and training them in Dream Drop Distance, by sliding around in Birth By Sleep (and based on the trailer, we’ll see this again in 2.8 and 3), using the enemies more creatively, and of course, bigger, flashier, more colorful, borderline cinematic looking attacks. It’s fun to watch this happen–it’s fun to make it happen.

It’s hard to play a Kingdom Hearts game and not say you didn’t have at least a little fun. From a technical aspect–visuals, soundtrack, and most importantly, gameplay, Square Enix nailed it with Kingdom Hearts. I think that’s why I care so little about Chain of Memories, which has gameplay that’s the antithesis of all the other Kingdom Hearts games by using deck building based combat–which is significantly slower than the normally fast paced, hot bloodedness of the rest of the series which is so easily and readily fun to play right off the bat. It’s satisfying, it’s not mindless, and there’s different ways you can play the game if you don’t like playing it in a certain way. (EX: Using more magic, or using a certain kind of magic, as opposed to normal attacks–or focusing on abilities rather than regular attacks and magic.)

I don’t hate Kingdom Hearts. In fact, I quite like it. What I don’t like–no, what I don’t understand–is how a series that was the brainchild of the same man who made Final Fantasy 7 (and many other wonderful JRPGs) could’ve also thought of the hot mess story that is Kingdom Hearts. Lost in its own symbolism and the clearest example of what happens when you make a few too many sequels and come up with any excuse you can to force drama and carry the series on far longer than what it should’ve been, Kingdom Hearts fails in every possible department of story telling. I guess that’s what happens when you try to mix Disney charaters, Final Fantasy characters, and a few original characters. It sounds like the beginning of an awful “X and Y walk into a bar” joke, but alas, it’s the unfortunate basis of one of the most well known JRPG series of all time. But for every bit that the storytelling is bad, the gameplay is absolutely wonderful. It’s satisfying, fast, and increasingly diverse and cinematic. Again: It’s just plain fun.

In the story vs gameplay debate, Kingdom Hearts is the clearest example of how if a game’s gameplay is good enough, it can outshine even the worst of stories. If your editing and soundtrack is good enough, you can fake having a good story under the guise of “emotional involvement.” As such, joins the ranks of other convoluted but fun games like Bayonetta and Metal Gear. Not bad games at all–in fact, they’re excellent games. But God forbid movies ever get made about them, removing their gameplay and relying entirely on the overly complex story to entertain the audience.

Kingdom Hearts is what happens when an idea that would work for no more than 3 games gets drawn out far longer than necessary in an attempt to make money. The story becomes cheap, convoluted, and inconsistent, the excuses and reasoning behind character’s actions (and thus the characters themselves) become one-trope caricatures, and the strong emotions you felt in those first few games gradually become forgotten. If Kingdom Hearts didn’t have stellar gameplay to save it, this series likely would’ve died years ago.

My Top 5 Most Replayed Games

The idea of a game’s replayability being one of its main selling points is, I think, a really interesting idea because the standards for replayability have evolved with the standards for video games in general. After all, when you say you want replayability in a game, do you mean that in a sense that it’s fun and you’d like to relive the fun? Perhaps you skipped some content in the game that you’d like to go back and find? Maybe you want to take another look at the writing in the game now that you know the conclusion? Or are there multiple endings that you want to discover? Or perhaps you’re playing a game in which you make very important decisions and you want to experience the game from other answers? Perhaps it’s something else entirely? Regardless of reason, there are several reasons one could have for replaying a game. Admittedly, I probably don’t replay as many games as I should. Moreover, most of the games I’ve replayed I’ve only replayed once–maybe twice if it was short. Yet I also think that gives more gravity to the games that I have replayed more than once or twice because it speaks in volume on behalf of their timelessness. The only stipulation that I’m putting on this list is that there’s only 2 games on here that I can recall the exact number of times I’ve beaten them–the others are approximations which will be listed.

 

5. Harvest Moon: More Friends in Mineral Town

“Beaten” 3-5 Times
via gamefaqs.net
via gamefaqs.net

I have the word “beaten” in parenthesis because you don’t necessarily “beat” Harvest Moon–you just get to a point where you’ve done pretty much everything, so you start over and try something new. And that’s exactly what I’ve done with my first and favorite Harvest Moon game, More Friends in Mineral Town. I’d usually get to about a millionaire status before I’d start to get bored of my farm and want to try something new–making new friends, making them at different times, trying new crops, trying to get certain events, although I never did marry anyone else since Cliff was my waifu4laifu. Outside of marrying everyone, I’m pretty sure I’ve otherwise done everything there is to do in this Harvest Moon entry.

 

4. Kingdom Hearts

Beaten 4-6 Times
via wikipedia
via wikipedia

I’ve made no attempts to conceal the fact that I’m a JRPG junkie. The first JRPG I ever played was Okage Shadow King, but the first JRPG that I fell in love with and even beat was the first Kingdom Hearts. Regardless of how I feel about the franchise now and what it’s devolved into, it will still always hold a special place in my heart for being the JRPG that got me into JRPGs.  I got Kingdom Hearts shortly after it came out in the States, but because I was so young and such an inexperienced gamer, I could never even figure out how to beat the ambush on Destiny Islands. It wasn’t until a few years later, shortly after Kingdom Hearts 2 came out, that I would decide to revisit it to see what all the hype was about. Needless to say, I was hooked. I made it a point to replay it at least once every other year or so, eventually. And when the 1.5 Mix came out in the States, I replayed it yet again. Because I’ve replayed it so much, I know what to expect and exactly what to do anytime I enter the game now, and replaying it now has become very relaxing for me.

 

3. Devil Survivor 1 and 2

Beaten 6 times each
via eurogamer.net
via eurogamer.net

I didn’t expect to fall as in love with these games as I did, yet here I am: Having played each to 100% completion. These games are oozing with moral ambiguity–who are the good guys? Who are the bad guys? You can just as easily argue one over the other–and I adore not just games, but any kind of story like this. Antagonists who are arguably more justified than the protagonists, protagonists who may or may not be in the right depending on how you look at it–I think stories involving these kinds of factors add a HUGE layer of interest and involvement to the story, especially if it’s a story in which you’re in charge of several important decisions, as you are in these games. Because I got so interested in the story, and more importantly because I thought each side was equally right and I wanted to see what would happen had I sided with one over the other, I ended up getting all the possible endings to both games: 6 in each.

 

2. Spongebob Squarepants Battle for Bikini Bottom

Beaten countless times, but less than the #1 game
via youtube.com
via youtube.com

I can’t tell you how excited I was for Christmas 2003 when all I wanted was a copy of this game–and lo and behold, my amazing parents got me a copy. The ad made it look amazing, despite all the technical problems of Revenge of the Flying Dutchman I still had lots of fun with it, and most importantly, I was 9 years old–I loved Spongebob. There was no reason for me to not be excited about this game. Needless to say, upon playing it, it exceeded my expectations. With a wide variety of levels, collecathons that added a lot of replayability to the game, and just plain being fun, it’s really easy to understand why anyone would replay this game as often as I did. Like many of the other games on this list, I didn’t want to stop until I’d hit 100% completion–which, by the way, was no easy task for me in light of just how much there is to do in this game. It’s aged incredibly as well, on top of that. To this day I’ll re-play it if I want to play something more relaxed even though there’s nothing new for this game to offer me–it’s just that fun.

 

1. Jak & Daxter

I’m not sure numbers go high enough to reach the amount of times I’ve beaten this
via wikipedia
via wikipedia

Ask any passionate gamer about the games that got them into gaming and they’ll usually have one or 2 particular games that turned them from someone who casually enjoyed video games to a full-blown gamer. This, to me, is that game. The first console I ever had was a PS2, and at first, we mostly just had racing games. This was the first non-racing/non-puzzle game we owned and my sister and I fell in love with this highly-praised platformer immediately. I didn’t know games could be this fun–and so, both my sister and I would play it endlessly. We wanted to experience everything this game had to offer. And when we did, we wanted to do it all over again. And again. And again. There’s so much variety in this game that it definitely never felt repetitive–an absolute must for any games hoping to have any replayability to them. I still replay this game every so often, in fact–hell, I can still 100% the game in a few hours, no problem. It’s aged wonderfully. There aren’t many games that have enticed me as much as the colorful world of the first Jak & Daxter game–mixed with the nostalgia I have for it, this is a game I’ll still be replaying in years to come.

 

 

 

As always, feel free to comment with your most replayed games and why you’ve replayed them so much! Do you think replayability is important for a game to have? How much replayability is too much?

More Games that Especially Deserve a Digital Re-Release

A few months ago I wrote a short list of games that especially deserve a digital re-release. The key word here is “short” because there’s many more games than I listed that deserve to be re-released on an online gaming distribution network like PSN, Steam, the Nintendo E-Shop, etc. Some, however, deserve to be re-released and therefore made much more available to players more than others. Most notably games that are harder (read: more rare/expensive) to obtain despite being well-loved, therefore making it difficult for both old and new fans to play them. As the gaming market starts to lean more and more toward digital releases, it’s important that these games don’t get left behind–which they currently are. So today, to remedy this, I’d like to draw your attention toward more games that especially deserve a digital re-release.

 

 

Super Smash Brothers Melee

via venturebeat.com
via venturebeat.com

Go back to 2001 and Super Smash Brothers Melee was the talk of the town. Everyone had it, everyone loved it, everyone played it religiously. Today? Less people still have it even though everyone loves it and the competitive scene for Melee is still very much alive. This game is 15 years old, yet it’s still played at EVO.
Because it’s on the Gamecube, there’s no way to practice online for it–which really sucks for players wanting to play other players that aren’t in their fucking house–let alone hundreds if not thousands of miles away. Normally I wouldn’t call this such a big deal, but because the competitive scene for Melee is still very much alive it’ll definitely affect you if you can’t practice effectively.
This game is still incredibly beloved and widely played–both competitively and casually. In fact, that’s what’s made it so expensive these days–it’s not that it’s a rare game by any means, it’s the best selling game on the Gamecube, it’s just that nobody wants to give their copies up since it’s the staple of the Gamecube library. Considering that 3 Smash games–2 of them being very well received, no less– have come out since Melee and yet Melee is still arguably the most popular Smash game out there should speak in volumes. Nintendo would make buckets of money if they re-released it and gave it an online feature. No balance patches, just let us play it online. That’s all it needs.

 

Blood Will Tell

via hardcoregaming101.net
via hardcoregaming101.net

Often called a big hidden gem on the PS2, Blood Will Tell is a highly underrated game that definitely deserves a re-release. Have you ever heard of Osamu Tezuka? If you have, good. If you haven’t, have you ever heard of Astro Boy, Black Jack, or Metropolis (2001)? Then you’ve heard of Osamu Tezuka. Although Tezuka is well-known for being called the “god of manga” or “godfather of anime” what a lot of people tend to forget about him is that he also made a story for a video game, too: Blood Will Tell. The game is based on one of Tezuka’s manga, Dororo. For reasons that aren’t completely clear, it’s considered to be a somewhat rare game and prices tend to run in the $50 vicinity. Between the lack of accessibility interested players have, the fact that it was inspired by a Tezuka manga, and the fact that it’s a Sega game, it genuinely surprises me that this game hasn’t already been re-released in one way or another.

 

Ninja Five-O

via hardcoregaming101.net
via hardcoregaming101.net

If you know even the first thing about collecting rare GBA games then you know about Ninja Five-O. This game is, without a doubt, the most rare and expensive game on the GBA. For reasons that aren’t completely known, Konami didn’t distribute many copies of this game–very unfortunate for them because this game is constantly showered in praise from the lucky few who’ve had the opportunity to play it. To find even a cartridge of this game is an incredible find, but to find a copy complete in box in 2016 is almost unheard of. Especially in the midst of the tough times Konami’s been going through since the start of all the drama that erupted between them and Hideo Kojima, the cancellation of Silent Hills, and the exposure of their horrendous business practices, it makes me wonder why they haven’t bothered trying to get a re-release of this game on the Nintendo E-Shop yet–clearly it’s a well loved game that would sell just fine with lots of curious players who’d line up to play it.

 

Super Mario Sunshine

via youtube.com
via youtube.com

This one kind of speaks for itself, honestly.

 

Pokemon XD Gale of Darkness

via gamefaqs.net
via gamefaqs.net

The year is 2005: The Pokemon 2000 movie is still fresh enough in everyone’s mind, Pokemon Emerald came out not too long ago, and what looks cooler to a young Pokemon fan than Shadow Lugia? I remember watching the commercial for it and desperately wishing I had a GameCube even if this was the only game I could play on it–it looked incredible. 11 years later and there still hasn’t been a Pokemon game quite like Gale of Darkness–by which I mean, an RPG. For that matter, there were no console Pokemon games for the Wii U, so it’s been a while since we’ve seen a Pokemon game on console. Like the other games on this list, it’s expensive (such are the highlights of the GameCube library) and loved by those who have played it–making it only harder for new fans to play it.

Especially in light of the recent surge of new Pokemon fans this year (from all the 20th Anniversary events and/or Pokemon Go) I definitely think there’s a lot of merit in re-releasing this game, both for old fans who want to relive it and new fans who are intrigued by it but don’t have $90 on hand to buy it–and that price is assuming, of course, that they already have a GameCube.

 

Hopefully when the Nintendo Switch arrives, a GameCube library in the Virtual Console will arrive with it. Especially considering how much more Nintendo-focused this list is compared to the last one, don’t forget to leave comments on games that you think especially deserve to be re-released. Like I said on the last list: The common thread in these games is that they’re hard to obtain physical copies of: They’re all rare, expensive, and at least 10 years old. If you have any other major reasons you’d like to see a certain game or a group of certain games getting  re-released for, be sure and let us know.

The 5th Boston Festival of Indie Games

This weekend we here at The Lifecast went to the 5th Boston Festival of Indie Games–or FIG for short. Not only was this my first FIG, but it was my first event as a member of the media/press, making this event all the more memorable for me. Not that I needed that for this event to be memorable by any means, because there were a myriad of amazing indie games–both tabletop and video–to play. The event was hosted by the MIT Johnson Athletic Center in Cambridge (which neighbors Boston) and hosted thousands of indie game developer teams and players who came to find out about all the new and upcoming indie games: Here are the titles I had the opportunity to play.

 

Cheer Up

cheerup

Upon entering the venue, we were greeted by Cheer Up–a simple but hilarious tabletop game. One person draws a question card–alongside the question, it’ll say what kind of cards the players need to use to answer it. A detail (D card), thing (T card), or action (A card) and in what order they need to go. The player draw 2-3 of the cards they need and use the cards to answer the question. The person who drew the question then draws a rule card to mix things up a bit–things like swapping cards, maybe you have to do something while you answer your question, etc. Hilarity ensues, and it absolutely did when we played a few quick rounds. Although a black and white printable version not featuring the cute face of the dev’s dog Niko is available for download on their site for free, the full, color version that we played isn’t available yet. We talked a bit with the dev who said he’s hoping to put it on Kickstarter soon–hopefully early October if everything goes well–and we definitely had a fun time with it, so we’ll definitely be on the lookout for it. I also need to thank the dev who was giving out free coasters just as I was thinking I needed some in my new apartment just the day before–so I think that was one of the funniest moments of the whole festival for me.

 

Now Everyone Get the F%$# Out!

fuckout

Developed by Star Cap Games, I’m actually no stranger to Now Everyone Get the F%$# Out! (henceforth FOUT.) There’s a monthly gaming event here in Boston called Game Over. It’s mostly a few fighting game tournaments, but there have been set ups for Rockband, Magic: The Gathering,  and other tabletop games in the past as well–including FOUT. Although I haven’t been to every Game Over since they started the event, I do go to as many as I can and I’ve made it a point to always look for where this game is set up. I always have so much fun playing it. Inspired by a wild house party thrown by the dev during her sophomore year of college when her roommate was desperately trying to study for a final she had the next day, FOUT is a game where you and your fellow players are trying to get people out of your dorm party so you can study. Everyone has a number of people in their room, and you’re given cards with party items (EX: bouncy house, pet rock, pizza, etc.) and each of those items has a fun rating. The higher the overall fun rating of your room, the more people there are. The person with the highest fun rating is the party animal, who gains people in their room at the end of each turn. The person with the least is the nerd, and they lose a person at the end of each turn. Of course there are items and event cards that can mix things up, as well. The aim of the game is to get everyone the f%$# out of your room so you can study. According to their facebook page, all the copies available of FOUT were sold at Boston FIG, but there are plans for making more.

 

Fall of the Last City

fallofthelastcity

Marred by a very lengthy explanation of the game that ultimately didn’t do us much good, this was definitely one of the more fun tabletop games we played at FIG. Set in a post-apocalyptic world and developed by Christopher A. Barney, Fall of the Last City was surprisingly the most competitive game I think we played at FIG. Using paths, bases, and soldiers, the aim of the game is for the last city to be taken over. You and your fellow players will try to create paths to get to the city, and take its resources and citizens to join you and help you get soldiers. Where this game shines, however, is in its alliance system. In a way that reminds me very much of the Nonary Game in Virtue’s Last Reward, when you cross path with another player, you have the option to challenge them. When in a challenge, you can ally or fight. If both players ally, then you exchange alliance tokens and you can freely use each others paths, and you both get resources from the city. If one person chooses to fight and one to ally, then the player who chooses to ally will lose a base and a number of soldiers. If both players fight, then the one with the fewest soldiers on hand loses those soldiers as well as a base. Having alliance tokens helps you win at the end of the game, so you’d think that everyone would just want to ally all the time, right? Wrong. Reducing the number of soldiers your enemies have–not to mention taking one of their bases–is a very alluring idea, so it made for lots of strategic and competitive fun during the game. This game has a lot of complex rules that take a bit to get used to, but once we got the hang of it, it was a very enjoyable game.

This game was originally intended to be an Ingres-esque board game on Google Glass, the dev explained to us, but as Google Glass became increasingly less popular, the idea of making it a tabletop game appealed more and more. Wanting it to be something Mad Max-esque and something more physical–something that wouldn’t require a large team of artists, but rather, something the dev could make with his hands–the idea eventually evolved into what it is now. Fall of the Last City isn’t available for purchase currently, but the dev explained to us that he hopes to have it on Kickstarter by the end of the year if everything goes well.

 

Kung Fu Shadow Fist

kung-fu

The first Vive game that any of us had played, Kung Fu Shadow Fist is a VR game being developed by Digital Precept. It’s a simple game where you use the Vive to fight off dozens of training dummies–a VR version of an arcade brawler. There’s no complex gameplay, the devs explained to us, and it’s a game focused on the speed of your hits. You don’t need to be a martial artist to play this, either, because you can slow down the speed of the game if you want. The game is meant to feel like an 80’s action movie where you’re fighting off a lot of bad guys, and rather than fighting one guy with 100 HP, the game wants you fighting 100 guys with 1 HP, they added.

Sure enough, it was exactly that. A really fun VR arcade brawler. My only complaint was that the shadow step mechanic, which is used to rapidly move you from one spot to another, still felt really unfinished since I never felt sure about where it would land me and at what speed. You can play this game without that mechanic however, and aside from that, was really fun. It’s currently in its early alpha stage and on Steam Greenlight.

 

Perception

perception

This was the game I had by far been looking the most forward to. I’ve made it no secret that Bioshock 1 and Infinite are my favorite games of all time, and this game is being produced by a team led by the lead level designer of Bioshock 1 and design director of Bioshock Infinite, Bill Gardner, and his new team, Deep End Games. Set in Gloucester, MA, Perception is a first-person horror game in which you play as a blind woman, Cassie, as she tries to find her way through a haunted house using nothing but her limited sight and echoes. While she’s there, however, she starts hearing things, and it quickly becomes clear to her that she’s not alone. Lots of research was put into the idea of using echoes to find your way through the area, Gardner explained to me, because it’s an idea he had been considering for years but wanted to confirm it was a real thing that people can and have done–and it is. Gardner explained to me how he even met up with a teacher from World Access for the Blind who explained it in full detail to him so he could fully capture it in Perception.

Just as the Bioshock games have a focus in their beautiful, detailed narratives, so does Perception. It’s very clear that (for obvious reasons) this game takes narrative inspiration from the Bioshock games, as there are tapes–audio diaries–you can find and listen to throughout the house and listen to that helps tell the player about the previous owners of the house and piece together what happened. Gardner explained to me that he wants to make sure that the narrative is clear in Perception, as there seemed to be a bit of confusion regarding the ending of Bioshock Infinite–therefore, he’s trying to step up from Infinite and make this narrative as wonderful as he can. Also similar to Bioshock, this game has a very rich, detailed area that it takes place in that’s practically a character itself since you find yourself so invested and interested in this house and what possibly could’ve happened to it.

This game is much like a game of cat and mouse, he explained to me. As mentioned before, Cassie isn’t alone in the home. There’s something else with her–a Presence. And when the Presence appears, you have to hide. As mentioned before, Cassie is blind and finds her way around by echoes. When you tap something–when you make an echo–an otherwise dark room will be clear to you for a few seconds Or, if there’s something in the room that makes sound (EX: a ticking clock) you can see things using that echo. It’s about your relationship with the space, and you’ll familiarize yourself with it, Gardner said. If you make too much noise, the Presence could come out, so there’s a level of risk involved with using the echos which only adds to the constant suspense looming in this game. I can’t wait to play this game once it’s complete, because there aren’t many games–let alone demos–that got me feeling the same sense of dread and nervousness that you feel in Perception. As a horror game, Perception has already very much succeeded.

This game was Kickstarted in May 2015 and is currently available for pre-order on Steam. Gardner indicated that he was hopeful about an early 2017 release date, and hopefully, an eventual physical release date. There was a lot of time and love put into this game that you can see (or hear, rather) in every inch of this game. This was, by a large margin, the finest game I played at Boston FIG this year.

 

Tailwind: Prologue

tailwind

Tailwind: Prologue immediately stands out with its creative concept: It’s a shoot-em-up game being developed by Cipher Prime. Rather than being a typical shoot-em-up that relies on finding a sweet spot to shoot from and moving forward, Tailwind throws it all on its head by reversing everything: It’s a shoot-em-up about a falling ship that focuses on movement and melee attacks. The dev called it “An aerial ballet.” Gameplay was very tight and from the few minutes of this game I played, I could already tell it’s a very unique experience. Visuals were gorgeous, colorful, and minimalistic. As the dev explained, they took aesthetic inspiration from games like No Man’s Sky and Fire Watch. This game was originally a Humble Original exclusive during April. Unless you were lucky enough to get it then, there’s currently no other way to get it currently, however, the dev explained that they’re currently looking into ways to add a multiplayer option and campaign mode.

 

Inariinari

One of the most visual games I played, Inari is an upcoming mobile title devloped by Spectrum Studios about a fox god whose shrine is destroyed. When the shrine is destroyed, so is the light shard–which you must now find pieces of throughout the game. A very solid 2D platformer, the devs explained to me that they wanted to make a mobile game that was aesthetically appealing, had solid gameplay, and a good soundscape. There’s a particular focus on the beautiful soundtrack which was developed by Zhao Shen, who helped make this game all the more immersive. There aren’t that many immersive mobile games out there, the devs explained to me, so they wanted to make a mobile game that had that sense of freedom-as though you’re soaring–and immersion. When I tried the demo, sure enough, it was a very gorgeous game with a wonderful soundtrack, and although the gameplay was very basic, it was also very tight and very solidified. This game shows a lot of potential–especially now that mobile games are starting to become a much bigger market.  The game is currently in a private beta that’s still taking sign-ups, but if everything goes well, should be out in early 2017 or Spring.

 

Maze Racers

mazeracers

This was a pretty interesting game–it felt really finished, and honestly like a game that you’d find on the shelf of the board game section of a major retailer. Developed by FoxMind Games, Maze Racers is a simple game: Using pieces of foam and your board, create a maze for a ball to get from point A to point B that your opponent has to figure out. The board is magnetic and there are magnetic strips at the bottom of the foam pieces, so everything fits really well–additionally, you’re given a little cylinder the same width as the ball so you can make sure it fits. Once one person’s maze is done, your opponent has a minute to finish theirs before you switch. The first person who can solve their opponent’s maze by getting the ball from start to finish and back again is the winner. It was simple, creative, and like I said, already seemed very finished. The game is currently available for purchase on Amazon.

 

Dragoon

dragoon-game

I didn’t get to play a full round of this game because the festival was beginning to close down, but I played it long enough to know that I enjoyed it very much. I’m clearly not the only one who enjoyed it, because it’s won awards at FIG in the past–which immediately got my interest. Developed by Lay Waste Games, Dragoon is a 2-4 player game in which you play as a dragon trying to hoard treasure and take over villages and towns. A simple, but charming concept. Each round of turns has 3 phases: Populate, Action, and Tribute. During populate, new villages and towns up for the taking appear. During action, each player takes their turn–they can move, play cards to cause events, take gold, towns, and villages, etc. And during tribute, you and your fellow players collect the gold from your villages and towns. The first player to 50 gold wins.

There’s currently a special edition of the game up for pre-order now on the site that ships in October–it’s the version I played at FIG, and I’ll vouch: It’s a very well put together game. It seems like a game that would work very well if it were also mass produced and sold at major retailers since it’s very easy to jump into and have a lot of fun with.

 

My Verdict: The Best Games I Played

city

Although some games were better than others, I didn’t play any bad games at Boston FIG. Every game brought me some kind of enjoyment, and I left the festival very thankful for that. I had a great deal of fun at Boston FIG, and I’ll certainly try to come back to it next year as well. There were a great deal of game devs already at the festival, but I’d love to see this event become even bigger–perhaps getting so many devs that it becomes a 3-day event that requires a convention center–very akin to PAX East. I think it would work especially well that way because PAX focuses on triple A titles, and though there are plenty of indie games, yes, wouldn’t it be amazing to see an entire convention center of nothing but indie games? The festival seemed all too short, so if nothing else, I wish it had gone later into the evening than it did.

 

Favorite Video Game: Perception

The most realized, professional game I played at FIG, Perception seems like it will be a fantastic game once it’s complete. It’s creative, clever, suspenseful, and gives the player such an unparalleled sense of fear I haven’t felt from a game in quite a while. If you haven’t already been keeping an eye on it, you should be now.

 

Favorite Tabletop Game: Dragoon

Although I didn’t get to play it for long, it became immediately clear why this game is so beloved. It’s a very creative concept with solid rules and it’s really easy to have fun with. My only nitpick with it is that I wish it could host more than 4 players.