Saturday, September 10, 2011

Ezio Auditore Synced With Me, Will I Sync With Italy?

With all the good games that I've been able to simply pick up and enjoy the hell out of since the beginning of the year - Call of Duty 4, Mass Effect 2 PS3, 999 to name a few - it seems I got a little too spoiled for a while. As I tried to pick up other games to suck me in real quick like ll of those had, it wasn't happening at one point. Just ask Assassin's Creed II, The 3rd Birthday and Fallout 3, for example.

But I was running out of options - I wasn't in the mood to take on something heavy like Nier, and I didn't have infinite dollars to go buy whatever struck my fancy (as much as I'd like to go grab Red Dead Redemption, and I will in due time). I had to go back to my own collection, and after all, there had to be a reason that I was so persistent in wanting to try Assassin's Creed. I'd always loved the premise, and how the gameplay looked.

Take #2 with AC2 went much better. When Desmond first dives into the Animus, Ezio Auditore is born in 1459 - the Renaissance period - and then you kind of spend some time in his coming-of-age days. You hang out with his brothers, get to know the beautiful Firenze, his home district in Florence, Italy, and generally end up being an errand boy with a few scuffles here and there. Needless to say, while you learn some of the gameplay aspects, the game starts out a little bit slowly.

This is about where I abandoned Assassin's Creed II for no real rhyme or reason other than my own gaming (and maybe my real) ADD. But when I got the nagging feeling to go back to it, I had no regrets. The story takes an awfully dramatic turn an hour or two into the game when the men in Ezio's family are hanged to death. Between that and Ezio discovering - and inheriting - his father's true profession, is when I became instantly hooked.

That may sound a little shallow, but the game really did take off at that point for me. And I'll have to be honest, 17-year old Ezio comes off as a... I don't want to say goofy, but it's hard to take him seriously. He sure didn't seem the assassin type at first, but then you see how he gets to that point. The rest of the game is spent following him as he goes after anyone involved in the Auditore deaths - and believe me there are a lot of targets.

Assassin's Creed II involves a lot of progression. It is often praised for being much, much improved over the first Assassin's Creed. Ezio moves around Italy - from Tuscany to the rest of Florence to Monteriggioni to Venice to Forli and eventually Rome. You get to see Ezio learn the tricks of the assassin trade, you see him reach the Brotherhood, and you see him AGE (HOLY SHIT IS THAT REAL FACIAL HAIR?) and become a lot less goofy as time wears on.

And this is where Brotherhood often fails.

Here Ezio spends pretty much all his time in Rome post-Monteriggioni invasion as he tries to bring down the Borgias. Whereas AC2 spans 1476 (let's ignore the one-minute sequence where Ezio is actually born) to roughly 1498, ACB goes from about that point to 1503. It's not just about the length of the timespan though, although four years doesn't allow for much story progression either. You don't leave Rome except for the middle of a mission. Not that Rome is an awful place, after all it makes sense when you're targeting the Borgias, one who happens to be the Pope - and it's about historical as cities come. However, it's also not the most interesting, and it often lacks the charm of the familiar Florence, Venice surrounded by water and the small, but lively Tuscany.

As a result, AC2's story advanced much better and was more intriguing, whereas in Brotherhood you really focused on weakening the Borgias, and there just wasn't much room for progression. From the getgo you knew your endgoal was Cesare and/or Rodrigo Borgia while you gained allies in the likes of Machiavelli, Copernicus and fought against the French invasion... once. 2 on the other hand had much more interesting and dramatic pursuits - masquerade, anyone? - and assassination plots.

Don't get me wrong. Brotherhood still has its moments storywise - granted, they mostly happen in the beginning and the end, but for the most part it was not quite the same. If you love the gameplay from 2, it's the same, but Ezio can execute guards right quick if you time it all right. He also gets to recruit others to become assassins, which - for better or for worse - makes things much easier when you square off against 8 or 10 guards at once. Sometimes it makes things TOO easy, but calling other assassins in really isn't required. One thing I loved about AC2 was that Ezio for the most part fought alone, which kind of appealed to the rather stoic person in me.

But it's fun to have them around. What I love about both games - and a lot of the stuff I play - is the micromanagement I get to do. Put more simply, I upgraded the Monteriggioni completely in AC2, bought all the paintings, and bought every weapon, shitty ones included, so they'd all be on display inside the Villa. ACB got my obsessive micromanagement into overdrive since it entails rebuilding all of Rome. Everything from taking down the Borgia towers to restoring all the businesses.. you bet I rebuilt Rome 100%. Needless to say my Brotherhood is pretty awesome. In fact, they're all almost at the level of Assassin.

What else is there to love? ITALY. I am not gonna lie, but I must have fallen in love with Firenze the first time Ezio walked its streets, not to mention everywhere else he travelled. You get an idea of the history and the culture, and you get to hear snippets of one of the most beautiful languages in the world. In convincing Italian accents, no less! (No seriously, has anyone watched The Borgias? They all sound English, with the exception of the French who actually sound French as they should.) Ubisoft really did their homework and it shows.

One last thing. I know people are tired of playing as Ezio. That will end with Revelations. Personally, I'm fully okay with sticking with him for one more game, after all, I've played as the guy literally since his birth. (I also need to turn his slutty ways into some kind of drinking game, but that's besides the point.) For those of you who have only played Brotherhood, it's more than worth it to play AC2 to see Ezio's beginnings and the rest of 15th-century Italy. As for me, I want to get acquainted with Altaïr and how Desmond got into this mess in the first place. After all, *I* like both beginnings and ends.

Monday, June 13, 2011

E3 Part 1: I Shed A Tear For Mass Effect 3

...But not in a bad way.

The E3 demo for Mass Effect 3 wasn't so shitty that I wept for this series' future. Nor was it so beautiful that I cried at greatness, or any such nonsense. Rather, the angle that BioWare is taking with Mass Effect 3 has been the same ever since the announcement trailer: Saving Earth.

Our lonely little planet has been largely out of the picture for the Mass Effect series. Now, it suddenly has a very central focus in the biggest part of the trilogy. Until now, Shepard's been everywhere in the Milky Way, even to the Galactic Centre for fuck's sakes. Earth made a very brief blip on the radar in Mass Effect 2, but now we're gonna get a lot more intimate with home.

PROBABLY MINOR SPOILERS AFTER THIS - really minor, but the thing I talk about has much more effect (har har) when seen for yourself. (But if you saw the E3 demo you should be good to go.)

The demo was behind closed doors, but it was almost a 30-minute presentation in all. Though we saw much (which I won't get into since I'd already written a preview), the last of the three-part demo served to remind us of that whole 'saving Earth' thing. Now, I was far from alone in having less than dry eyes, you could hear all kinds of sniffles as the demo ends in a sad silence. Just seconds prior, Commander Shepard had been unable to save a young, innocent bystander from Reaper attacks, but it wasn't for a lack of trying. Initially, he sees the boy crawling through a duct after the attacks begin. Shepard tries to convince him to come out, but as soon as he turns around the duct is empty. Later the kid is seen running to and climbing inside an N7 ship - and presumably safety, but BioWare tricked us. As soon as the vehicle takes off, a Reaper shatters it and many others like it, to pieces.

That type of ending is supposed to hit home, and I get that. BioWare pulled it off well. But it kind of hit home for me even more - literally. The city depicted here is painfully, obviously Vancouver. I may bitch about the Canucks all the time, but after living here for 15 years, seeing a bunch of oversized aliens tear apart your home city no matter how fictional is always going to be terribly unsettling.


What happened in the demo may just be a consequence of paragon/renegade actions. But that brings me to another points: All those decisions you made in Mass Effect... and Mass Effect 2... and obviously, Mass Effect 3 are all going to finally have repercussions, even if it didn't seem like it in the first two games. If you saved this alien species or killed that one, that'll alter how those races react to you needing their help against the Reapers.

A lot of common things I hear is that it looks a lot like Mass Effect 2. Yes it does, but it looks better, it looks bigger, and it sounds wonderful even with a new composer. It still sounds like Mass Effect. I love Mass Effect 2, so I'm fine with all of that. I also love plot in my games - ME2 may not have had much of this, but it was very character-driven (no complaints at all mind you). And that is what excites me about Mass Effect 3. Having not played the first game, I've yet to experience a major chunk of story, which ME3 will undoubtedly change.

BioWare is pretty damn talented at this. I can't wait to see how they execute and close the Mass Effect story in a galaxy and characters I already adore.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Day BioWare Had A Mass Effect On Me

Every once in a while there's that one video game that comes along and blows you right out of your gaming la-la-land when you least expect it. Sometimes, it's less noticeable when you play a string of fantastic titles in a row, like I did in the summer of 2009 (aka my MegaTen Crunch Time) until you look back and realize which ones were more brilliant than others. Everyone knows the Shin Megami Tensei series to be near and dear to me, and so far I haven't been able to find an SMT which tops SMTIII: Nocturne in my eyes. But with nearly all of them being quality titles, I can't complain.

Then there are the times where something shows up after a dry or mundane spell of gaming. Twice now, it's happened to me a year after the game originally was released. The second most recent time was Persona 3. I'd kinda fallen out of gaming (save a little God of War II) due to school, work and other stuff. With all the interest I had in the previous Persona games, I hadn't ever actually played any of them. I meant to buy the original Persona 3, I really did. But it slipped my mind and... well, you all know Atlus and their short runs. But when Persona 3: FES came out, I bit the bullet and grabbed a copy the week it came out. Despite being at RPGFan even then, I knew nothing of it other than its popularity. Granted, it wasn't an expensive investment ($30) and I was.. fairly loaded back then. That game was ridiculously immersive and I fell in love.

The same thing happened again earlier this year. I was never into WRPGs. They always seemed boring back in the day. Admittedly, I had no way of playing Mass Effect 2 until the PS3 port in January. But I can't for the life of me tell you just why I suddenly wanted BioWare's latest (at the time). It wasn't when the game was announced for PS3 (August 2010). It wasn't when it won tons and tons of accolades (GOTY 2010 awards, and PILES of them). In fact, it was somewhere in the middle, when I was compiling my Amazon wishlist and randomly suddenly decided 'you know what? I actually really want this game.' And I don't keep huge wishlists. Around 20 items max, of what I want the most - usually in gaming and blu-rays.

Once again, I knew next to nothing about Mass Effect 2. It was popular. It was BioWare. It took place in space, the subject of my studies. (Which is usually irrelevant - I'm not into Star Wars, Trek, etc.) Sure I wrote a couple of stories on DLC, but what the heck did I know? So, I pre-ordered it. I wrote about it, defended it from people who whined about things that were included just for the PS3 version.. and I waited.

The wait was worth it. I even pimped it out to a friend who shares a lot of Call of Duty love with me, a day after I cracked open my copy. She bought it on a day we met up for coffee, loved it of course, as did I. Moreso than Persona 3, it is immersive, a sum of many well-executed parts. I wish I could tell you my favourite thing about it. But I can't. There's so much there from the character interaction to the main storyline to all the little details like NPC chatter. There's the music that only got better near the end. Oh and I suppose the Paragon/Renegade alignments were pretty fun. Choose the renegade options as a female Shepard, and Jennifer Hale comes off as a flawless bitch.

My ability to put Mass Effect 2 down for two and a half months was no fault of the game itself in any way. Admittedly, I got stuck at one point due to some minor bug, but this wasn't something to turn me off from ME2's world. It was more me getting caught up in an intense semester, and others like Call of Duty made it much easier to relieve stress, especially in a multiplayer forum. But as I said, Mass Effect 2 is immersive. Here, from the first several hours, I knew would require a lot more attention than just picking it up and shooting Russians/Viets/Cubans/zombies for a couple hours; more than I could give it at the time. I wanted to be able to really enjoy it.

I guess I have a pretty good gut instinct when it comes to games. Again, ME2 didn't let me down even when I went to finish it.

There is a downside to all this, though. I fear that a masterpiece would spoil me too much for other games. Other RPGS? Other WRPGS? BioWare games? Mass Effect 3? In the case of Persona 3, I feel it partially ruined Persona 4 in that both were so long and so similar and I played them back to back that I was simply burnt out on the calendar system by the end. But that's different. In a sense, I do worry about Mass Effect 3 and that it may possibly not live up to admittedly high expectations, especially after the response to Dragon Age II. But I also have to keep in mind that this is a trilogy which was planned as such from the start, and the DA and ME teams are different.

All that aside, Mass Effect 2 may well have just ruined me in general, as opposed to encouraging me to play more BioWare titles or WRPGs. Why is that? It had a rare magic and charm that I've not gotten from a game for a while. Will I see that again anytime soon? Certainly I won't go seeking consciously for something to top ME2, but I can't help but feel that other titles will disappoint me for a little while to come.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

No Russians, or no terrorists?


After a (probably ill-advised) day of marathon FPS gaming, I beat Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. Having just beaten Modern Warfare earlier in the day, I expected a continuation of the storyline with Capt. Price and Soap MacTavish, and even more nukes, gunships, grenade launchers and the like.

And that's what I got. I also got an upfront warning about a mission that 'may disturb' players, which would be skippable without any penalty or loss at a chance of points or trophies. I inquired about this on my public Twitter - after having made over a billion dollars, many a person had played MW2 after all. Just like reactions around the general Internet, @ replies were mixed. Very mixed, ranging from 'it didn't bother me' to 'it unsettled me.' Morbidly curious, and because it's a video game, I went through with 'No Russian.'

Somehow, because I didn't bother paying attention to the CoD series until a couple months ago, I missed this entire controversy in gaming news. (Yet I knew that Infinity Ward got forcibly shut down by Activision - go figure.) Maybe it's because I don't really play horror games or Grand Theft Auto-types, it was one of few things in some 20 years of video games that made my stomach queasy. And yet at the same time I expected worse. Sure, I participated in shooting innocents (you're not forced to, your objective is to merely follow Makarov) at the airport - I was an American pretending to be a Russian terrorist, after all.

The civilian part was mercifully short, but it feels stretched out as your character is forced to a deliberate slow walk to make sure you, Makarov and the rest of his entourage make sure you get every last innocent soul. Even screenshots can tell you why this mission got the reaction it did around the world which is already sensitive to terrorism. I can't blame them for taking out the entire mission in the Russian version. One Russian commenter on an article about the mission said she cried after watching the scene. (But as far as Square Enix translating 'No Russian' into 'Kill them, they're Russian' over in Japan? Ouch. No wonder they released two versions of Black Ops there... I'm just saying.)

So, did it serve to show you a terrible reality of war? Yes. Did it further the story or was it just shock value? Well, it *could* have given you more motivation to find and shoot Makarov's guts out, but you never actually do that, and that motivation is lost on people who skipped the mission. To me, it's just a video game in the end, and No Russian is not a scene you're particularly supposed to enjoy, rather you're supposed to see firsthand how ruthless guys like him really are. While yes, Makarov is fictional, people like Hitler were not.

What you ARE forced to watch though, are Roach (your other character) and Ghost being sold out, shot and burned alive by Shepherd, minutes ago an American ally. With that motivation factor, Price and Soap hunt down Shepherd... with the help of Makarov's intel, of all things.

Which is all fine and dandy but WHEN THE FUCK DO WE KILL MAKAROV? Whoops, MW2 just ended after you (as Soap) knifed Shepherd.

Do we get to kill him in Modern Warfare 3, then? Oops, Infinity Ward is gone. Fuck you, Activision.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The New Dante Still Looks Like A Hipster Crackhead Who Just Left The Loony Bin

I may or may not have mentioned in my first post that I love Devil May Cry.

In case I didn't, well, I love Devil May Cry. I mean, except 2 of course, but still I enjoyed the design of that one. Maybe not so much angsty personality.

Yes, this post is going to be about that.

Everyone who knows me is going to be extremely unsurprised at my loathe for the new Dante design. I've seen a few forumgoers say, 'Wait, all this uproar because his hair ISN'T WHITE?'

Actually.. technically, it is white. In the middle.
Point number one. Point number two: The hair is just the most obvious, the first you notice of a million different changes. Not just the hair colour, but the rolled-out-of-bed-2-minutes-ago hairstyle, the build of a crack addict, and everything else that makes this guy not Dante. And don't get me started on the smoking. It's not cool anymore, guys, and that last scene would have made for a GREAT final trailer scene without it.

Oh yeah, trailer. In case you live under a rock, a recap: Capcom showed at TGS that they wanted to reboot the DMC franchise. Cue two-minute-long 'DmC' trailer featuring what looks like a Sid Vicious & Rihanna bastard child shooting and going after Generic Capcom Demons in Generic Big City. There's a slow, deliberate voice-over repeatedly asking for a name and oh shit, it seems like our 80s punk reject really is Dante!

So, why the sudden, drastic change? Why a reboot? DMC4 is only two years old! I've read countless articles on the game (if I did this kind of research on my actual university papers, my grades would be ballin'...), and it sounds like Capcom isn't thrilled with DMC's sales outside of Japan (4 has sold 2.7 million overall) and wanted to give it a more 'western' appeal, so what do they do? Hire European developer Ninja Theory, responsible for Heavenly Sword and apparently um, Enslaved, to do the trick.

Or did they? The reaction is some amusement, a few 'I like it's, but mostly anger. And yet still more pointing out the eerie similarities (left) between the new Dante and the creative director of NT, Tameem Antoniades.

A bunch of interviews later, it sounds like Capcom wanted Ninja Theory to make the change drastic, even daring them to 'try and make us angry' and to give the fans an initial shock. That they did, and it's sure one way to generate buzz - but the best way? Hmm. All the negative attention is going to be quite something to overcome.

Which is too bad, because the trailer itself is quite decent. Still, we have no inkling one way or another how much of the DMC series will remain intact. Let's have a quick review on how well-brushed-up these news guys are on DMC lore.

"It's about Dante being cool and making you feel cool when you're playing it, and so the combat and the style system and everything is integral to that."

We, the fans prefer the term badass. It was a part of Dante's demeanor. But, to say the games revolved around that? Oh fuck no. Dante himself was ALSO about the cheesy one liners and being the only character who wasn't an angsty fucktard. Unless you interrupted his pizza dinner. But even then, he was still amusing. As for the overall games, they weren't about feeling cool or badass or whatever. I saw a remark recently that this may even go the way of God of War. And people know I love Kratos. But DMC has always been more about style than about blood and QTEs, ever so loosely ripping off Homer and Greek mythology at the same time.

"But, you know, what was cool 12 years ago, I think that was when the first game came out, isn't cool anymore."

Wait, really? This is the new director? He can't even get the series' age right?

"If Dante, dressed as he was, walked into any bar outside of Tokyo, he'd get laughed out."

I'm sorry, I missed the part where Devil May Cry was based on reality. Guess I was too busy fighting off wraiths and the six other hells while making sure Cerberus doesn't chomp me to bits. If the new Dante walks into a bar as-is, he'll either get IDed or beat the hell up! Irrelevant? Yes, but you get the point.

Oh but someone else weighed in!

Kamiya replied to a 'I miss the Dante you made' tweet with, "I miss him, too..." and later said, "I've been sad since Dante left me."

When asked by a Twitter follower "DmC by Ninja Theory? Do you think they will evolve the action game from your Bayonetta standard?", Kayima replies, "whatever."

I read his Twitter last week and man, it must be like watching someone else raise one of your kids. I realize how dramatic that sounds but I have no better way to phrase it. It'll sound to some like Hideki Kamiya (the guy who created DMC) is bitter, but wouldn't you be? I'm sure he is but if Bayonetta's any indication, the guy's still super talented.

Point is, and I know Capcom originally set out to seriously redesign the series and give it something new, appeal to new fans, blah blah blah. But this? A developer who, as good as Heavenly Sword may or may not have been (the jury's still out because I never did buy it...), doesn't seem to 'get' this series, what it's really about, and it's not just white hair. And people wonder why fans are so angry. Initially I thought, well why not just do a whole new game series instead? But at the end of the day it's all about numbers, and a new series just wouldn't sell as well as something with 'DMC' - I'm sorry, 'DmC' tacked on.

(Not that I think 2.7 million is terrible, but apparently Capcom does. It's way more than half of Bayonetta, and I'm having super difficulty finding current sales numbers for God of War III, but I think it's very similar to DMC4. Considering the former is only six months old, maybe Capcom sees a reason for wanting more DMC sales in Western markets? Just a thought.)

The good in all this is, for how out of touch Ninja Theory seems to be with the existing series, Capcom America and Capcom Japan are both still involved in the new DmC title. They keep promising that a lot of things about the series will remain intact, blah blah blah. That and the fact that we have yet to see any actual gameplay, which for all we know, could be the best part. I realize that a huge change could still mean the series remains awesome. Could. But if this turns out terrible and Dante really does turn out to be an emo Justin Bieber, well, Capcom loses some fans. But gameplay was after all, my favorite part of the previous games.

Well, that and the cheesy one liners.

Now if you'll excuse me, I really need to go find a pizza with extra cheese.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Just press start...

So after attending E3 over a month ago, I came home with this great idea to start a gaming blog. And I did, in fact, create this one that very same night with all my good intentions and whatnot. The problem? I got too busy playing video games to actually sit down, finish the layout and finally get a first entry written.

Well, okay, so there was that little thing called a job too, which I DO need after all to support my gaming habit.

So who in Hades are you?

Chances are if you're reading this, you probably know me already. I may not exactly plug this thing at every turn I get - but maybe every once in a while. Let's go with a need-to-know basis, and all you need to know is: I'm some Canadian chick who has been playing games since uh... the Atari 2600.

But you work for a gaming website. Why a blog?

You see, I told you you know me. For the confused, okay yeah, I work at RPGFan, but I don't really write opinion-based pieces like editorials or reviews. I do news, and update the social media sites (like Twitter), but those are obviously much simpler and require less thought and not a lot of opinions. Also, message board posts don't count! Aside from those, I haven't got much practice in writing opinion pieces, unless I'm ranting about school or hockey, and this is a far less intimidating forum than an RPGFan review or editorial. I think.

Aside from that, a site called RPGFan limits one to.. well, RPGs. Yes, I do love them dearly and grew up on the 16-bit Squaresoft ones. But I also have a lot of love for different genres, especially action games - such as the Devil May Cry and Bayonetta hack and slash type, for one. You might recall that at the beginning of this post I mentioned E3. Believe me, I had a lot of trouble writing previews about many of the RPGs I played there, even ones I stuck with for half an hour. But I could have easily cranked out quite a bit on, say, God of War: Ghost of Sparta. Why? Well, it was much easier to get into, I love the series so I (sort of) knew what was going on, and I played the lengthy demo from start to finish. Basically, I'd love to ramble on about games a) not necessarily RPGs and b) in a less formal setting, but not SO informal it's a message board.

So... another girl gamer blog. Great?

God, I hate that term. With a passion. Yes, I have boobs and a vagina. Yes, this blog is entirely purple (for now), but I think being a 'girl gamer' is such a lame and incredibly overused angle. The male-female ratio in gaming may be incredibly lopsided still, but estrogen and video games is not an unheard of thing anymore. And they haven't been for a while. I don't want people to read the stuff here with the mindset of 'oh, it's a female's perspective...' Because it's not, really, it's just a gamer's perspective. Gender shouldn't, in most cases, be a factor.

Besides, I'm probably not your typical female. Whatever that may be in gaming.

Is the blog's URL a Shin Megami Tensei reference?

Um, yeah, I was kinda short on ideas. And while debating which difficulty to play once I got Persona 3 Portable, that popped into my head as a blog 'name.' Again, if you know me and you likely do, I'm a bit of an SMT... maniac. If last summer were to prove anything.

We now know you like bloody action, SMT and apparently some other RPGs. What else are you into?

I'll tell you what I'm not, a PC or MMO person. For one, I have a Mac. (Yeah yeah, Steam. Shut up, mine's not Intel.) Two... I tend to get addicted which would make MMOs the worst idea ever. Besides, I like to spread my gaming time around many different titles, hockey games, whatever. That's not to say I don't like multiplayer, because I love me some Smash Bros. and I am looking forward to Marvel vs. Capcom 3 so much it's kind of pathetic. I do love Metal Gear Solid and Metroid as well.

As for RPGs, I can't tell you the last thing I played that wasn't MegaTen. Welll, there was Chrono Trigger DS. 16-bit Squaresoft RPGs are some of my favorites. The Fire Emblem series also, although they've kind of spoiled me for other strategy RPGs. Unfortunately, I'm a tad behind in those games.

I will tell you that what I'm playing right now is, well, a few things: Bayonetta for PS3 (just started); SMT: Strange Journey for the DS (about three hours in); Persona 3 Portable (almost at July) and Devil May Cry 4 (final boss). They're all rated M - a coincidence, I swear!

A bit lengthy, but I'll blame it on this being the intro post.