Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Bioshock Infinite DLC packs announced

Back when Bioshock Infinite launched, Irrational Studios promised there would be DLC packs, and that players could save some dough by bundling them in a season pass. Now we finally have trailers to show for these DLC releases, the first of which is known as Clash in the Clouds and the second being titled Burial at Sea. Clash in the Clouds appears to be a horde mode/endurance mode, not unlike Bioshock 2's Protector Trials, though the Infinite maps seem a bit larger and offer up skylines, vigors, and many of Columbia's strongest foes. Clash in the Clouds is available today for $4.99 or 400 Microsoft points.

Burial at Sea appears to be the far more intriguing package, offering up yet another alternate timeline/universe where Booker and Elizabeth existed in Andrew Ryan's city of Rapture. The plot is said to chronicle the events that led to the city's downfall, something that I had hoped they would include as a DLC pack for the previous two Bioshock titles or even make an important plot point (if not the main focus) of a future Bioshock title set in Rapture. Nevertheless, players will finally be able to experience Rapture's decline firsthand, and frankly the presentation of the city and its inhabitants looks better than ever. No release date has currently been announced for Burial at Sea, though Irrational Games states that it is 'coming soon' - considering the decent gap since Infinite's original retail release, I can't imagine they would wait too long past the end of the summer to release this DLC pack.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Anime review: 5 Centimeters per Second

5 Centimeters per Second is the story of a young man and his relationship with a childhood friend/classmate and how it changes over the years. The film is divided into three segments, with the total runtime being just over an hour. The first segment focuses on protagonist Takaki Tono’s first meeting and befriending Akari Shinohara in elementary school, and the two eventually coming to develop romantic feelings for one another. As Akari has moved to another town out in rural Japan, the story juggles the letters the two exchanged during their time apart following elementary school with Takaki’s journey by train through a grueling snowstorm to visit her. This first segment is heavy on the backstory, but does well to shape the two lead characters and ends on a simple, if not heartwarming note.

The second segment focuses on Kanae Sumida, a classmate of Takaki’s who has long admired him from a distance but never worked up the courage to confess her feelings to him. She spends many of her afternoons surfing and confiding in her sister – little illustrations of what makes her tick as a character. Unfortunately, we don’t learn much more about Takaki or see any real further development for his character – all we learn in the second chapter is that he’s taken up an interest in space shuttles and that he’s still holding out for Akari. While Kanae is an interesting enough character whose dynamic with Takaki is notably different from the one he shared with Akari, it’s strange that the majority of this segment would be devoted to Kanae’s observations of Takaki instead of providing a personal account of what’s going on in Takaki’s life delivered directly by him.

The second portion is especially odd as it bears little real significance to the third segment, in which Takaki and Akari are now both adults, living separate lives, though Takaki clearly still keeps her in his thoughts. Here we see a sample of (what is seemingly implied to be one of many) Takaki’s most recent relationship, which apparently lacked real substance and eventually fell apart. Or perhaps it was due to the fact that, even after all these years, he still holds on to the glimmer of hope that he and Akari will wind up together, despite living in different parts of the country and now having significantly different personal priorities.

5 Centimeters per Second’s animation is phenomenal. The way the snow pummels down slowing the train conveys a real sense of nature’s power, while the falling cherry blossom petals are gentle and brightly colored. The film does take to the ups and downs of romantic relationships and the (often innacurate) perceptions of them in a real, believable manner. It doesn’t forcibly end any of the segments on a happy note or a sad note, per se, though portions of its overall execution are questionable and leave something to be desired.

My rating: 7.25 (out of 10)

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Top 10 Games of the Seventh Generation Consoles - #1: The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword

This is easily the most impressive Zelda title I’ve played since Ocarina of Time and the Oracle titles. Whereas Twilight Princess blatantly tried to align itself with Ocarina of Time and offered up a host of uninspired and generally non-threatening bosses, Skyward Sword borrowed elements of practically every previous Zelda game and meshed them with a brand new combat system. The result is one of the most fresh and enjoyable experiences I’ve had with any video game in a long while, and the most fun I've had with a Zelda release in over a decade.

Certainly, the core essence of Zelda is retained, but there’s plenty of new characters and content to indulge in, like sassy and prideful Demon Lord Ghirahim or the Timeshift Stones that are scattered about Lanayru Desert. Ganondorf has long reigned as my favorite video game villain of all time (specifically, his Ocarina of Time and Wind Waker incarnations), But Ghirahim ranks quite highly as well. While Skyward Sword’s enemy number one is full of attitude from the first encounter to the last, he slowly reveals more and more about his true nature with each encounter he has with Link – and I don’t mean that we learn more about his plans to revive his master, as that is something we know practically from the outset. Rather, we see how truly prideful he is, as well as how he is unable to deal with someone else besting him in battle, let alone a human.

As for the new combat system, it is what the Wii was designed for – a perfect 1:1 reaction as Link swings his sword up, down, sideways, and vertically. The dungeons are chock full of fun puzzles and stronger enemies than usual, many of whom require a specific angle of attack from Link’s sword. There’s a curious collection of items at Link’s disposal, including a whip, double clawshot, and the beetle, though none of these serve to replace pre-existing items as is typical of Zelda titles. Many of the items also see multiple applications, such as the whip being used to swing across chasms and pull on switches. While few of the dungeons ever reach the scale of those in Ocarina of Time or Majora’s Mask, they are all wonderfully inspired on both the front of puzzle design and aesthetic presentation.

The soundtrack is gorgeous, the art style phenomenal, and the characters – especially a more bright and talkative Zelda – genuinely lovable. Skyward Sword ends with one of the most epic, atmospheric boss fights to ever grace the series, which is saying a lot, considering how well-received the boss fights in nearly any Zelda game tend to be. This is the story that sets in motion all the patterns witnessed in the rest of the series, and I could not have asked for a more perfect way for it to be conveyed. It’s a game that I waited more than two years to play after its initial reveal, a game that I was excited for unlike any other before it, and a game that delivered everything I had hoped for and more.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Top 10 Games of the Seventh Generation Consoles - #2: No More Heroes and No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle

While there have been plenty of solid sequels and revamps of classic titles on the seventh generation titles, few developers have dared to tread into brand-new territory. Few have dared to create something so bold as No More Heroes. Much as I love the Mass Effect sequels, Metroid Prime 3: Corruption, and the other games that found their way onto this list, they are all sequels or spiritual successors to previous releases. Though the No More Heroes titles do draw inspiration from contemporary hack-and-slash action titles and 8-bit arcade-y games, the culmination is a wonderful breath of fresh air, not just to the genre, but to video games as an entertainment medium.

Both the original No More Heroes and its sequel Desperate Struggle are (among other things) unapologetic – Travis Touchdown slices and dices his foes into bloody pools, spouting off vulgar one-liners during his moments of downtime that are equal parts awesome and silly. The original game defined a brand-new experience and was one of the earliest Wii titles to really nail the motion controls down by balancing those with a traditional button/joystick combo. While No More Heroes boasts many a colorful environment and memorable assassin, the sequel cleaned up the entire experienced, streamlining the overworld and amping up the combat just enough that it was more fast-paced without teetering into the realm of frenetic.

The sequel also saw a more focused, darker story – one of Travis seeking revenge – which still managed to balance the silly with the gritty. While the first game was more off-the-walls goofy, the references to Star Wars and Back to the Future therein seemed unorganized and random compared to the sequel’s mecha boss fight between robots inspired by anime Space Runaway Ideon and Gurren Lagann, or a narrow forest whose twisted dead trees and red night sky were an obvious nod to Capcom’s explosively popular Resident Evil 4. Instead of giving off the impression that the game was chock full of ideas that creator Suda51 thought were cool, NMH2 came across as more of a love letter – not only to the creative minds behind the works Suda was paying homage to, but to fans of the original NMH as well.

Personally, I am a bit partial to Desperate Struggle. It’s much easier to jump into, has a higher degree of replayability due to its time attack Death Match mode and general faster pacing. But I won’t deny that the boss fights in the original No More Heroes were some of the best I’ve experienced in any game. Being such a huge fan as I am of the Legend of Zelda series, that is the standard with which I compare the boss fights of any and all other video games, and it is incredibly rare that another title provides as consistently high-quality encounters. But the UAA ranking matches in the NMH games are truly something to behold – a brilliant mesh of flair and challenge that defines the core of the experience.

Top five video games and anime of 2013 - Spring/Summer contenders

As we are now well into the month of July, I thought it an appropriate time to preview the contenders for my end of year ‘top five’ anime and video game lists. These are, of course, contenders that I feel currently have a strong shot at making said top five lists, but are not necessarily confirmed, as other anime I view and games I play later this year could oust them from their current positions (I think this weighs more heavily on the video game portion of my blog, as most of the 2013 releases I am most looking forward to – Pikmin 3, Watch Dogs, The Wonderful 101, Killer is Dead, and Pokemon X & Y - will be coming out between late summer and mid-autumn).

- Video games -

Mass Effect 2/Mass Effect 3 – Both games have different strengths and weaknesses, but they do well to build off the groundwork laid out by the original Mass Effect (and by extension, Knights of the Old Republic) to create one of the most interesting and lively contemporary science fiction universes. Learning about the Collectors, the Cerberus loyalists, the Krogan genophage, and the Asari lifecycle is equally entertaining as shooting up enemies as you venture through the ruins of Tuchanka or the undercity of Omega. The relationships you build between Shepard and his/her crew members as well as the decisions you make regarding the outcome of various subplots will echo across the grander storyline, making the experience a truly engaging and rewarding one.

ZombiU - A surprisingly well-designed survival-horror game, ZombiU really set the standard for third-party developers on Nintendo’s new console. It requires you to be careful, tactical, and smart, limiting the number of item slots in your backpack but also offering multiple paths and strategies in defending yourself against (or avoiding, if you so choose) the rather durable infected that now roam the streets of London. Each area visited is packed with unique assets, and clever additions like a thin layer of fog and occasional specks of dust that show up on the gamepad screen show that the developers put a ton of time and care into creating a real, believable post-apocalyptic London. ZombiU may not be consistently terrifying, but the atmosphere is always spooky and the limited range on your radar will make for a tense experience. To that end, it is one of the most masterfully handled survival-horror games released for any console in a long while.

Persona 4 - While I still have a decent ways to go before completing this JRPG, I will say that what I’ve experienced so far has been a welcome break from conventions of the genre. Though the process of repeating portions of each dungeon is a bit unusual, it is not as tedious as I initially expected, as there are only a handful of dungeons to begin with. The game places just as much emphasis on traditional dungeon crawling and turn-based combat as it does on building relationships with classmates, friends, and relatives to further enhance your abilities in fusing personas and developing combat strategies. Though Persona 4 was released after the PS3 had effectively taken over the PS2’s role as Sony’s main console, it is a game that still looks and sounds great on the hardware.

- Anime -

Evangelion 3.0: You Can (Not) Redo - The third entry in the Rebuild of Evangelion tetralogy, You Can (Not) Redo takes us down a path both similar and different from End of Evangelion. 3.0 carries arguably the darkest tone the films have seen since End of Evangelion, and with good reason – the world has largely been reduced to a state of ruin. With former allies now enemies and his friends failing to provide him with any answers as to what happened since the Near-Third Impact that occurred at the end of Evangelion 2.0, Shinji Ikari finds the only person he can truly depend on is Kaworu Nagisa. Evangelion 3.0 has a much slower pace than its predecessors, with most of its runtime spent on exploring what happened since the events of Evangelion 2.0. That said, when the Eva units start duking it out, the action is intense and exciting, and the animation (somehow) looks even better than before.

Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann - A satire of all things mecha, Gurren Lagann is a series that knows little about subtlety. Every Gunmen mech is colorful and displays fighting poise that is over-the-top, while the character designs are highly stylized and the dialogue all about standing up for what you believe in and making the impossible possible, no matter how much the odds are stacked against you. There are two story arcs, each simultaneously taking jabs at and drawing inspirartion from both old-school and new-school mecha anime. The first story arc is understandably longer, as it devotes plenty of time to introducing the world and characters and developing them to set the stage for the second story arc. That said, the second arc (known as the Anti-Spiral War) does seem to take its sweet time in setting the stage for the last major conflicts, and probably could have been expanded to run nearly as long as the Beastman War arc, as the final few episodes do feel as though they are sort of rushing to reach the series’ conclusion. Regardless, Gurren Lagann is just plain fun to watch, and is action-packed from start to finish.

Steins;Gate - A story about the ramifications of time travel, Steins;Gate is grounded primarily in real-world theory, despite the means of time-travel being quite different from Doc Brown’s DeLorean or the Doctor’s TARDIS (both of which are poked fun at in the series’ English dub). Instead of physically moving backwards and forwards, protagonist Rintarou Okabe – a daring scientist who, despite truly caring for the well-being of his friends, fashions himself a mad scientist alter ego named Hououin Kyouma – sends text messages to the past via the frequencies emitted by his custom-rigged microwave, which in turn move him sideways onto timelines that diverge off the original one he started on. It’s a complex web, and the series – while genuinely funny throughout – does take a turn into dark territory near the halfway point. It’s a great balance of science fiction and comedy, and does exceptionally well at grounding itself in real scientific applications, despite how odd the devices used to achieve the jumps from one world line to another are.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

PC review: Dear Esther

In some ways, Dear Esther is a video game, yet in others it is not. You are given control of a man who is seemingly alone on an island. He has decided to trek from one side to the other, passing by abandoned brick houses, the wrecked hulls of ships that have run ashore, and through colorful caves whose walls are marked with chemical equations. As the narrator/protagonist makes his way across the island, he relays his many messages to a woman named Esther – a character whose identity and fate will be explored before the final destination, referred to as ‘the aerial’, is reached. Eventually, you will have to move forward to make any progress, though Dear Esther does allow literally as much time as you so desire to explore and area before moving on. Some areas are a bit off the beaten path, but visiting them will reward you with even more dialogue elaborating on individuals known as Jakobson, Donnelly, and so on.

One of the most important bits of information the protagonist relays early on is that there is an infection on the island – one that affects not only the body, but also the mind. This line is intended to get players thinking about just what is real and what is imagined, while also lending itself to the game’s eerie nature. At a few points during the journey, there will be a shadowed figure visible from a distance. Sometimes this figure will be in an area that is altogether unaccessible. Other times, it will be on top of a hill or around a cliff, but should you decide to chase after it, you will find absolutely nothing outside of the rocks and grasses that already decorate the area. The cave portion, which acts as Dear Esther’s midway point, and everything that follows, will perform a duality of answering more questions and forcing you to question the mental state of the protagonist.

Though it is a Half-Life 2 mod and is thus graphically a bit aged compared to more recent releases, the lighting effects, environment designs, and occasional cryptic messages that line cave walls and cliffsides make this one of the most gorgeous looking games I have played in a long while. With a fog that hangs low, partially obscuring rocks and buoys out in the sea, and a radio tower whose blinking red light is constantly visible from practically anywhere on the island, there is a beautiful, haunting contradiction between abandoned, rusting man-made objects and the natural beauty of the island; between the old brick houses and the modern shipwrecks. The soundtrack goes above and beyond – its delivery mostly gorgeous and sometimes eerie, not unlike the tale being woven.

Portions of the story are left open to interpretation, though by the conclusion of Dear Esther, you will have quite a clear idea of who’s who and why each character and place mentioned is important. It’s a pattern of repetition, with each mention of the aerial, Jakobson, Donnelly, and the museum slowly revealing more and more about their nature. To consider it exclusively as a game would render the experience sub-par. It is more accurate to consider it an interactive story – one that is poetically written and beautiful to take in.

My rating: 8 (out of 10)

Friday, July 12, 2013

Wii U review: ZombiU

ZombiU is survival-horror in the most literal sense. You are dropped into post-zombie outbreak London with little more than a cricket bat to bash in the skulls of the infected, a flashlight with a slowly draining battery that must take a few seconds to recharge after it hits zero, and a single pistol. While you can find submachine guns, shotguns, a crossbow, and a sniper rifle out in the various locales you’ll visit, the ammunition for any of these is extremely limited, and aiming at any part of a zombie’s body that isn’t the head won’t do you much good. You’re going to have to be tactical and conservative if you want to stay alive, and the game does provide you with quite a few options, be it the slow-and-steady routine of taking out one zombie at a time, or being gutsy and using yourself as bait to lure a group of zombies into a tunnel or other confined area before tossing a grenade or moltov cocktail into their ranks. ZombiU hones in on the story of the survivor and the narrating/instructing character known as the Prepper, and thus does not lose itself in trying to explain a larger world beyond the plague that hit London.

There are two single-player variants you can choose from. The more challenging mode gives you one shot to make it to the end of the game without being killed. If you are taken down by the infected, that’s all she wrote - you will have to start over from the beginning, regardless of how far into the campaign you made it. The standard settings are a bit more forgiving, putting you in the boots of a new survivor in the event that your current character becomes one of the infected. However, ZombiU still gives you something of a slap on the wrist - all the weapons, ammo, and health items you were carrying at the time of your unfortunate demise are still being carried by your previous character. To retrieve them (which is highly recommended), you will need to trek back through previously explored territory and kill the now-infected survivor. Any zombies you managed to kill before your previous character joined their ranks will stay dead, but your former self will put up more of a fight than any run-of-the-mill zombie.

As you progress through the game, you will be able to upgrade the pad that acts as both your radar and ranged hacking tool, and can eventually use it to pick up secret codes written on walls and decipher archaic messages left by the Ravens of Dee. Dispatching stronger zombies that emit red fumes from their body will reward you with one of four upgrades to your weapons, which can then be applied to whichever weapon you see fit at a workbench located in one of the safehouses. The gamepad can also be used as a scope for long-range weapons, and can zoom in to 2x and 4x distances. Occasionally, the game will also import other ZombiU players or individuals from your friends list as zombies that can reward you with a decent trove of supplies.

There are a little over a half dozen locales you’ll visit as you scour London for the CCV boxes, Letters of Dee, and so on. Each is quite wonderfully realized, though some are significantly smaller than others, due to their context in the plot. One of ZombiU’s greatest strengths is the presentation of places like Buckingham Palace, the Brick Lane Flats, and the Tower of London, due to the unique assets found within each. One flat includes a bathroom and bedroom with one body reclined in a bathtub, another individual lying on the floor next to the toilet, and three more figures piled onto a single bed, providing some insight into how others might have spent their last moments before the plague hit. The one-time use of objects like marble statues, a nursery playhouse, and a single accessible boat docked in the river really help define the experience and identify these areas as unique. The fact that few environmental objects are recycled shows that the ZombiU development team put a lot of love and care into the final product.

ZombiU may not be terrifying 24/7, but is spooky and tense throughout. That said, when the game wants to make you jump, it will do things like force you into incredibly tight quarters or have some outside factor cause your radar to drop out completely and be replaced with loud, nerve-wracking static. Traveling through areas like old city sewers, will cause dust to gather at the corners of your screen, and bright sources of light can obstruct your field of vision, a couple of nice additional touches on the part of the development team. Curiously, a brief Metroid-style segment wherein you are temporarily stripped of nearly all your gear is easily the game’s weakest point, and follows almost immediately after one of the game’s most challenging and brilliantly-executed segments. ZombiU does not have many low points, thankfully, and the aforementioned segment is but one blight on an otherwise exceptional eight-to-ten hour experience.

My rating: 9 (out of 10)

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Top 10 Games of the Seventh Generation Consoles - #3: Bioshock and Bioshock 2

The opening to the original Bioshock was an interactive sequence that blew me away when I first played it. Six years later, I still consider it to be one of the (if not the single) best introductory sequences in any video game. While the brief monologue Jack relays moments before his plane crashes into the ocean serve to provide players with some inkling of who he is and what is to come, it’s still deliberately vague. The game takes you (the player) and protagonist Jack from a familiar setting and thrusts you into a strange, dangerous, and yet ever-intriguing environment: the city of Rapture.

Bioshock is a curious game in the sense that most of the story is conveyed to Jack via audio diaries and radio chatter from both Atlas and Andrew Ryan. To tell more than to show is always a risky formula for a game, but having Jack enter Rapture after it has already gone to hell in a hand basket allows players to focus more on the hauntingly gorgeous setting. Little Sisters urge their Big Daddy protectors on to new corpses, blissfully unaware of the walking guinea pigs they have been transformed into. Sander Cohen has Jack go on a murderous scavenger hunt to gain passage through Fort Frolic. And the direct interactions Jack has with characters like Cohen, Tenenbaum, and Ryan cultivate one of the game’s most important aspects – choice.

While the core of Bioshock will remain the same for each and every player, there is a significant degree of freedom to how the game is experienced. Aside from the option to save or harvest the Little Sisters for precious ADAM, players can choose which weapons and plasmids to upgrade. They can choose to explore areas not important to their current objectives to better explore the fallen city, and they can choose to pick up or not pick up audio diaries that would better inform them of what led to Rapture becoming a such a horrifying place.

While most would argue that the story of the first Bioshock is superior to the sequel, I would argue that the method of storytelling in Bioshock 2 trumps that of its predecessor. The ‘stranger in a strange land’ approach does not work particularly well in a second visit to the same locale, and 2K avoided this problem altogether by putting players in the boots of a Big Daddy named Subject Delta. One of the original Big Daddies, Delta is far more powerful and intelligent than the typical Bouncer or Rosie and can wield much more powerful variants of the weapons Jack previously used. Because players would already know the fate of the characters from the first game, there was no reason to pull a ‘smoke and mirrors’ routine. Bioshock 2 gave players the run of the place almost instantly, and expands upon the stories of major characters that shaped the experience of the first game, while also introducing all-new characters who were key in both the rise and fall of Andrew Ryan’s underwater utopia-turned-dystopia.

Bioshock 2 looks better, sounds better, and - most importantly - plays better than its predecessor. Chunks of coral and more heavily flooded areas give players a sense that Rapture has decayed even further since their last visit. The gun controls are more tight and the hacking process distracts less from the core gameplay. As a Big Daddy, you are certainly tougher than any normal human, but then again, the splicers have mutated so far along that they are more dangerous and creepy than ever.

It would be inaccurate to state that the Bioshock titles belong to the horror genre. While certainly spooky, they consistently utilize elements from action, adventure, and RPG genres. But if there is one thing that can unquestionably be stated about Bioshock and Bioshock 2, it is that they are two of the most thought-provoking games of their day, due to the ideologies they bring into play and the questions they raise – not just within the context of Rapture, but also for the people who make and play video games.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

ZombiU journal - entry two

Now that I’ve gotten through scouring Buckingham Palace, I have to say I am even more impressed with the environment designs in ZombiU. While I won’t spoil any of the plot, I will say that there is part not long after the quest in Buckingham Palace that requires you to visit an apartment complex. While some rooms are blocked off or barricaded, the ones that you are allowed to enter are strikingly different in their layout and décor.

One such apartment handles this masterfully, the trash and bodies left behind offering a glimpse into the actions of what others were doing when the plague hit – specifically, there are disco lights dancing off the walls, trance music breaking the eerie near-silence otherwise perpetuated throughout the game, one body reclining in a bathtub, three piled on to the same bed, and one zombie left crawling on the bathroom floor. While that last one was likely the developers having fun with the idea of a zombie mimicking some guy drunk off his ass, the other bits are great little additions that the ZombiU team didn’t have to put in the game, but they did anyways and it made the experience all the more engaging.

Another aspect of the game that I absolutely love is the random imports of other players and people from your friends list as zombies. I was minding my own business earlier this afternoon, exploring Buckingham Palace, when I noticed the online moniker a friend of mine uses displayed above the head of one of the infected. While it took a few extra swings of my cricket bat to bash his head in, the rewards made it well worth it. Each of these uniquely identified zombies that I’ve encountered has carried with him/her a random assortment of ammo, food, health kits, and barricade materials that allowed me to stock up quite nicely before taking on the now-rather-sizeable hordes of infected. I may be getting to explore larger, more detailed (and by association, more exciting) locales now, but the game certainly isn’t apologetic in keeping the challenge up.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Persona 4 journal - entry two

I’m really digging the balance of characters and their respective roles so far. They’re all clearly specialized, but still decently flexible, which is highly appreciated. I’m starting to get the hang of fusing personas too, opting not to have much overlap in abilities if possible (I mean, what’s the point of having two or three personas for my main characters that all do basically the same thing?). The prospect of having the protagonist interact with party members, schoolmates, and others around town is a unique way of advancing your strategies and abilities, and makes the ‘social simulator’ side of things strategic as well. You’ll have to pick your battles between work, school activities, and hanging out with friends, because you simply can’t do them all every week.

I like the concept of the bonus ‘chance card’ found behind some persona cards after a battle, but the actual application of some cards seems quite lopsided. The cards can all be drawn face-up or face-down – the former granting the player a benefit and the latter doing the opposite. That said, a bonus like gaining more experience points from battles for a brief period does you better in the long run than having the entire map of a dungeon exposed for a brief period. Likewise, having your party members’ health bars drained to near-zero, while annoying, is easy to remedy, whereas a sudden shift in enemies gaining preemptive strikes (or advantages, as they are referred to in Persona 4) for a brief period can actually put you at a major disadvantage quickly - the more attacks your foes can get off immediately, the longer you have to wait to counter or heal up.

While the general floor layout of the dungeons are similar to older Final Fantasy titles and similar RPGs, I consider their aesthetic designs to be one of the game’s highest points. Sure, Yukiko’s Castle was typical fantasy JRPG fanfare, but it was colorful and just plain fun to explore. Meanwhile, Kanji’s Bath House is ridiculously silly, but also one of the freshest ideas I’ve encountered in the genre in a long while. And that’s something I’ve felt about the game as a whole – it takes a lot of classic staples of the JRPG genre and gives them new twists, some more drastic than others.

P.S. - While I really like Persona 4's battle system, I could do without Teddie's narration. He states the obvious, freaks out when my health drops even a little bit or one of my party member's defense drops, and is just an all-around obnoxious character.

ZombiU journal - entry one

So it took me a little while to really get into the mood to play ZombiU, but now that I’ve actually made a bit of progress with the campaign, I can say that it’s classic survival horror in the most literal sense. It’s been quite linear so far, sure, but there’s a tense atmosphere about it, thanks to a number of factors. First off, you cannot save wherever/whenever you like. You have to find a sleeping bag, your main save location being the subway safe house you will return to after each mission. However, in Metroid fashion, you can also locate small safe houses set a little out of the way in the otherwise zombie-filled streets of London. Saving at these spots can save you a solid chunk of time that would otherwise be spent performing the trial-and-error process of retracing your steps through zombie territory.

The limited number of slots in your backpack and the fact that you have to pause the game in order to swap out items in your immediate inventory add to the tension. You’ll need to smack each zombie a few times with the cricket bat before they are dead, making it more ideal for one-on-one encounters than fighting off a group. While you can scavenge for ammo, grenades, and moltov cocktails, these are few and far between and you’ll want to reserve them for large groups.

The game looks quite good overall, too. Some of the textures aren’t great and certain in-game objects don’t appear to have a significant step-up on games from last generation’s consoles. But the environments are fantastic in both scope and presentation. Whether it’s specks of dust obscuring your vision ever so slightly, moonlight shining down through grates into London’s old sewers, or a downpour streaming off the sides of industrial crates, ZombiU’s various areas are both interesting to take in and highly successful at immersing you in this contemporary apocalypse. It certainly doesn’t hurt that there are unique assets in abandoned apartments and grocery stores to help set them apart from traditional barricaded areas, abandoned vehicles, broken fences, etc. The controls really aid the immersion as well, and I’m glad to see that developers other than Nintendo are doing great things with the gamepad so early on in the Wii U’s life cycle.
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