Xenoblade Chronicles

“I’m sorry, I just got out of a pretty intense relationship, and I’m just not ready for anything long term yet. Can we just hang out and have a little fun?” – Me to most other games after finishing Xenoblade Chronicles


It is unexpected for any Wii game to take nearly 100 hours to complete. After all, Nintendo is supposed to be the well-marketed system for the casual crowd. The focus should be on the Just Dance and Mario Party games, not an intense and sprawling action RPG that has taken some obvious cues from MMORPGs. But earlier this year, thanks in part to Operation Rainfall, Nintendo released Xenoblade Chronicles in America. I have been playing the game on and off since its release in April, and I am happy to report that I finally finished it. Continue reading “Xenoblade Chronicles”

Muramasa: The Demon Blade

The push for photo realism in games has really drawn attention away from games with great sprite art. Muramasa: The Demon Blade is a title that got completely lost in the American market, in part because of it’s being a sprite-based side-scrolling action game and in part due to its being released on the Wii. In fact, I remember being interested in the title before it was released here and then totally forgot about it until a friend brought it to my attention again. I’m glad he did because the game really hit me on an aesthetic level and brought me into the world of magical ancient Japan. Continue reading “Muramasa: The Demon Blade”

Silent Hill: Shattered Memories

It seems to me that people in person as well as those reading this blog are generally dismissive of discussion of video games. No matter what strides the medium makes, people cannot help but to connect it to adolescent power fantasies – an immature notion of control in an otherwise uncontrollable world. By and large, it is true. Walk by any Game$top and find images of larger than life men holding larger than possible weapons, not to mention promises of quests that can only be completed by saviors. Despite these things, I urge people to give the medium another chance. Only with additional consumer input can it reach its potential.

Note: Not a scene from the game I know that I am not the only one that sees what the potential of the medium is, but it feels like even those involved in the industry are still trying to figure out what toys they are playing with – along with being unnecessarily focused on a narrow audience. Games can be more than fantasies for asocial, weak-willed males. Games at their best are simulators conducive for problem-solving, not to mention an untapped source for interactive fiction. I long for the day when video games are integrated into classrooms for more than just game studies. I long for the day when the latest story craze is found on a console or computer first.

Silent Hill: Shattered Memories is an example of the latter. The problem-solving is a moot matter. The game merely expects the player to think intuitively about interacting with common objects to find keys or open doors. (One of the last keys in the game is found by unvelcroing (not a word) the neck flap on a jacket, pulling a chain out of a shirt pocket, and then grabbing the dangling key.) The storytelling in the game, however, is above and beyond most other games. It does not take much, but I put this up there with Eternal Darkness and Metal Gear Solid 3.

Note: Actual game play footage The game begins with a psychological advisory explaining that the game will be mining the player for data which then gets integrated into game play. After a short video, the game begins with a psychiatry session, the framing device of the story, and the player has to fill out a true-false questionnaire. Then traditional game play occurs after the psychiatrist asks you to start from the beginning. Your player avatar, Harry Mason, loses control of his car on an extraordinarily snowy day, crashes, and then starts searching for his missing daughter who was sleeping in the backseat. The adventure begins, and the only actions you have are shining your flashlight on objects and calling your daughter’s name.

To be honest, I was not a fan of the objective and projective tests employed by the psychiatrist, nor was I a fan of the choice of a psychiatrist over a more traditional therapist. After completing the game, having a psychiatrist makes sense. As for the tests, they could have been made to better resemble actual tests rather than exist to communicate bland binary data that can be deciphered pretty easily once the player knows what it affects.

But the effects of the data is pretty amazing overall. Decisions made at the very beginning of the game affect the atmosphere as well as Harry’s personality. The answer to “Does alcohol make you feel more relaxed?” will litter the world with soft drink or beer cans. Providing different opinions on sex will make Harry either an extremely nice guy or a pervert who comments on every picture (or mannequin) he stumbles across. That’s just the tip of the iceberg, as even thematic elements of the story change, resulting in completely different endings.

I failed to discuss the nightmare segments in the text. They are also dynamically influenced by your psych evals and behaviors. Pictured is a standard demon, called a Raw Shock. They chase you and you can't fight back. Their form begins to change over time, matching with your psyche. On one play my shocks had weird abstract crowns. On another, they had breasts and high heels. I think there are six other kinds I haven't seen... Maybe I my background is too heavily littered with Choose Your Own Adventure books, but I have been waiting for a game that changes based on user actions. Sure, many games have multiple endings. Sure, many games have branching dialogue trees. Few games, however, broaden both elements out and then make the multiplicity make some sort of sense in the end. (Eternal Darkness, I must say, brilliantly interwove its three endings together. That game still needs a sequel…) I just cannot get enough of Shattered Memories.

I hate to put up a subtle spoiler warning, since people might complain otherwise, but the greatest strength the game has is how the ending weaves the framing device and traditional game play together. Harry Mason makes his way to the lighthouse clinic where he finds his daughter in session – except Harry is not there. He died 18 years ago, but his daughter has not been able to let him go. Harry and the world are a reflection of how she wants to see and remember things. When she sees him, he tells her to let go. She is not cured, though, as the psychiatrist notes that further sessions will be necessary. As will starting back at the beginning.

Proudly, this is one of the few games out there that actually deserves a mature rating from the ESRB. Unlike most games that wear the M proudly as a badge for its juvenile approach to violence and sexuality, this game gets there by actually being mature. Well, that and some of the darker subject matter that gets explored, but what else do you expect to find in the psyche of a girl who is discussing the loss of her father figure?

Why I hate online gaming…

This is the ranking screen from Mega Man 10. My score does not read 5 days, 2 hours, and 3 minutes. No, that is 5 hours, 2 minutes, and 3 seconds. That means that the top scorer completed the game in 52 seconds – an impossible feat. I wonder what people get out of cheating at games like this. Is there a sense of accomplishment I am not understanding?

For the record, I am not crying foul due to my game time. Mine is not suitable for submission. If I were to play again with the goal being reduction of overall time (and, of course, bragging rights), I would definitely stop myself and ask why I should bother. The number 7 score, by Purrfect:3, is the only one that looks realistic – and that barely broke top 10!


All around me are familiar faces / Worn out places, worn out faces / Bright and early for their daily races / Going nowehere, going nowhereJack is on fire!”

Probably from all the laser beams.”

It’s a figure of speech.”

Well you’re a figure of shit!”

Great… I’m a figure of shit… Can we move on?!”

Sega’s MadWorld was a game I had questioned purchasing long before it had been released because I wasn’t sure if it would hold up. The only information released on the game was the level of violence it contained. It’s assuring to know that the violence level might be enough to induce catatonia in the conservative elderly population. The game is just obscene, but the obscenity is reduced when you realize how over-the-top it is. I mean, you can trap someone in a tire, then shove up to five street signs in his skull before throwing him into a dumpster – whose lid then snaps the guy in half. Brutal but acceptable when one notes the level of absurdity.

The game does actually have some substance, though. First and foremost is the artistic style of the whole game. It’s black and white – and red all over, if you play it right. It looks like the comic of Sin City come to life, although the lead character resembles Hellboy more than he does anyone from Frank Miller’s comic. It looks great in its simplicity. There’s even a smattering of florescent blue when you fight space aliens!

The plot isn’t anything to write home about, but it’s there. You play a participant in the Death Watch competition, fighting your way to the number one position. The competition takes place on an island whose previous inhabitants were slaughtered by some unknown virus. Early in the game, you save a doctor who somehow never escaped but also did not die after exposure. It’s around this time that you find out that your character, Jack, is not just there to participate but to investigate the incident. While the plot gives the illusion of depth, by the end it’s all revealed to be a plot by the rich simply for the purpose of entertainment. (Oh, and to threaten other countries with a virus and whole the vaccine for ransom.)

The story isn’t the point of the game. The gameplay is all that matters, and this game delivers. It’s not just about killing people – it’s about finding creative ways to maim them before you end them. The game’s world is in a sandbox style, meaning it’s an open playground for you with tons of creative death traps. Tires, giant coins, and steel drums can be used to keep an enemy in place; signposts and candelabras can be used to (repeatedly) impale your oponnent; and giant hazards like spinning blades, iron belts of thorns, giant grinders, giant fans, the aforementioned dumpsters, and even the afterburners of a jet can be used to finally remove baddies from the playing field.

The absurdity of the action is aided by the commentary provided Greg Proops (of Whose Line is it Anyway? fame) and John DiMaggio (Bender on Futurama). They spend the entire game discussing how disgusting your actions are as well as ripping on each other without bounds. The only problem is that some jokes are repeated due to being connected to specific items (how many times have I heard the cockroach head joke after picking up a one-up?) and how long you spend running around a stage. However, they’re creative and vulgar, and that’s what makes it so damn pleasant in the end. You can just tell that the guys had fun in the recording booth the entire time.

I find it kind of funny / I find it kind of sad / The dreams in which I'm dying / Are the best I've ever had As can be expected, the game is surrounded by a bit of controversy. The game will not be released in Germany due to violence, and I’m not sure if the rest of Europe will be receiving the game. Additionally, The National Institute on Media and the Family released a statement saying that they were disappointed in Nintendo’s allowing this game to be published on the Wii, since the family-friendly nature of the system was so lauded by them. Of course, my response is that it’s a video game system. That’s like blaming VCR manufacturers for the existence of porno vids. One final controversy about the film is that it sold only 66,000 copies in the first month, which is suggestive to onlookers that M-rated games are difficult to sell on the Wii (see previous statements about its family-friendly nature). There’s a lot that I have to say about the ability to sell so-called mature content on the Wii, but that has no place here. I have to say, though, that I don’t recall the game’s having any advertising outside of the video game journals/blogs world.

The important thing to note is that Sega is pleased with the sales of the game, and I am pleased with having purchased the game. It’s really short, but it’s insanely fun nonetheless. I wouldn’t mind a sequel with more creative tools and a less repetitive music soundtrack. And more commentary. Definitely need more dick, poop, and blood jokes.

Out of Touch – The Nintendo Wii Experience

I don’t really get why I started reading the Gamasutra blog, seeing as I am not in the video game industry myself.  It is very much an insider’s blog, but they try to make sure it is accessible to simply game fans.  Truth be told, who is most likely their bread and butter?  Yeah, game fans who want to make games.

An interesting article on creating must-have Wii games came my way, actually indirectly through another blog.  I forget the blog’s name, but I’m probably going to give them a shout-out sooner or later.  Gamasutra is interesting, but it’s just not something that calls my attention by itself.

The article sums up what it is you find on Wii and why.  There are a lot of bargain-priced titles that people in the gaming communities call “shovelware” that sell really well.  They have accessible box art, promise short play experiences, and most important cost less than the A-class titles on the system.  The big thing that jumps out at me is the lower price, especially after Valve publicly stated a month or so ago that more units of a game sell when the price is lower.

Shock and awe.

Along with value, games that sell well on the Wii are accessible and have a certain level of recognition factor involved.  This is pretty common in mainstream marketing, which is what the Wii has definitely reached.  Movies that sell exceptionally well tend to have brands or actors that people recognize and deliver fairly simple narratives (along with trailers that pretty much tell people what they’re getting).  It is what appeals to the base level of person.

I resent what Pachter says in the article about the Wii audience’s not being as sophisticated as the audience for the other two consoles.  There’s something about the word that bothers me in this context.  We’re talking about video games, and these people who play on the Wii are playing games that they want to play.  Whether or not the games receive critical acclaim is not important when the discussion should be about the amount of fun the individual user is experiencing.  I would say that these individuals are making incredibly wise choices, especially since they may not have as much invested in video games as others might.  A bargain title to a new gamer is a huge investment.  People who are used to paying upwards of $30 for games see the cost as lesser than people who are just now finding out how much everything costs.  While I would not buy these games myself, these are fairly wise investments for people who are essentially experimenting with gaming.

It starts making more and more sense to me why game developers and the long time enthusiasts do not understand this.  The only time they experienced this newness to video games was long ago, and they forgot all about the experimental wonder that it was.  Hell, this may even explain why their idea of a social gaming experience, for the most part, is cold, competitive, and usually at a long physical distance from everyone else.  Gaming for them is personal, and they can’t understand the mindset of people who are not at their level of intensity about it.

The developers are also the reason why the new consumers found on the Wii are not accustomed to the more intense, serious-minded games that are found on other systems.  Where were these developers at the Wii’s launch?  Their negligence cultured the crowd they are currently unable to sell their games to because they were were busy being nay-sayers about Nintendo’s less powerful system.  Now if they want to profit off of the machine, they have to build their brands from the bottom up.  They can also continue ignoring the Wii and making their profits from the other two, but it would be naive not to tap into a larger market.

And what we come away with is that people want to buy games they recognize, that are cheap, and that are easy to pick up and play.  MAKE your games recognizable.  If not based on a previous property, put it out in the public consciousness.  Advertising, believe it or not, can sell games.  SELL games for less than standard price.  What you fail to accrue per unit may be made up by total units sold.  MAKE GAMES FUN AND EASY TO PLAY.  Don’t make games easy, but don’t overcomplicate them.  That should be a no-brainer.

This is not coming from a Nintendo apologist.  I support the Wii because I find it to be a really fun system, and the price point matched where I needed it to be.  I have gotten a lot out of it already, but I would like to see more come its way.  I’m by no means the average Wii owner, but I know people who are.  These people want to play games, but they’re not the elitists who pour through all information available on the entirety of the internet before they play games.  They pick what is fun to them, not what they’re told is fun.  They want to share games with their friends.  They want to have fun with their consoles.  I’m not going to lie.  I want to have fun with my console as well.  Developers just need to realize that the only crowd out there isn’t the niche audience that was initially cultured in the 80’s.  It’s time to start thinking that really anyone could be a gamer if given the chance.