Category Archives: Editorials
(Our Eurogamer Expo content is coming soon… in the meantime, enjoy this piece on DS RPGs from Gamebit Contributor Si Cole. -Managing Ed)
So, hands up who bought a 3DS. Go on, all the way up. Okay, you can carry on with what you’re doing. This here article is for those of you still living the 2D dream, those of you looking for some RPG action with an Eastern flavour for that trusty little DS of yours. You interested? Yeah? Okay, gather ‘round…
Now some people will say that the JRPG is dead. And some people will say there have been no decent JRPGs this generation. Both of these statements are, I’m happy to point out, utter bilge. Admittedly, it’s a genre with what we can politely call idiosyncrasies and quirks that may put some off. Foibles that can send even those blessed with Zen like calm into fits of rage. I mean, I’ve lost count of the times I’ve screamed into the nearest pillow after being kicked – KICKED HARD – by the hoary old JRPG.
Anyway, as I was saying…
That whole “JRPG is dead” thing is a fallacy. They’re not dead, they just chose new pastures from which to entertain us. Yeah, that’s right. It’s the handheld where this much maligned genre has found succour. The reasons for this? Well, I can think of two main reasons. Firstly, from a financial point of view it’s relatively cheap. As technology evolves and becomes ever more sophisticated, the cost of development spirals accordingly. Producing big budget JRPGs full of the cinematic bombast we’ve become accustomed to is simply not commercially viable. Unless you’re a big hitter such as Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest or Shin Megami Tensei you’re going to find it hard to shift the units to recoup those millions upon millions of Yen you’ve burned in development.
Other than commercial viability another factor that springs to mind is simply the lay of the land. Gamers’ tastes have changed regarding what they play on the consoles sat under their tellies. The high-end consoles, namely the Xbox 360 and PS3 are capable of handling the gargantuan Western role-players formerly exclusive to PC gamers. The likes of BioWare and Bethesda have been able to steal the hearts of console RPG fans with their sophisticated wares. This is compounded by the fact that on the whole the genre has failed to evolve. Whilst the WRPG still feels fresh to your average console gamer, the evolutionary paralysis that grips most Japanese RPG developers dictates that creaking mechanics of a bygone era still reign supreme – something gamers, in the West at least, have had a bellyful of.
Woh, there. This is treading into epitaphic waters. I know, I know, this is supposed to be a positive piece. Before I started chewing the fat over the state of the genre I was telling you that the JRPG is alive and mostly well on the handheld console. Below are the four DS titles I think most worthy of checking out if you haven’t already.
Chrono Trigger DS
Okay, this is technically an old game. I was finishing my GCSEs when it appeared on the SNES back in March 1995. I didn’t see a copy until later that Autumn as the North American release didn’t appear until that summer and back then it was trickier to get hold of games from overseas. That’s right, this never got a Euro release – either on SNES or on the PlayStation port that appeared four years later.
Now anyone who was fortunate enough to have played this back when it first appeared will tell you that this was a high watermark for the genre. Developed by Square, whose staff were at the peak of their creative powers, Chrono Trigger has everything; an epic narrative that spans thousands of years and several dimensions, a varied cast of characters you actually care about, a fun combat system and multiple endings. The game follows the exploits of Crono and his band of companions as they endeavour to save the world from the evil Lavos. As mentioned, the story takes the adventurers across many centuries and alternate dimensions, each with their own separate story arc that cleverly ties into the bigger picture. The DS version is arguably the definitive version in that it adds a New Game + mode and several new quests. If you haven’t played Chrono Trigger I implore you to do so. The game has stood the test of time well and will provide a rewarding experience that many, more modern titles struggle to match.
Dragon Quest IX
No one needs an introduction to Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Sky. Nintendo did a pretty good job, via slightly creepy X-Factor berks “Jedward”, of ramming the game down our throats. At the time I derided Nintendo’s cynical marketing campaign. The idea of “The Jedward” grinding an old-school JRPG for 70 plus hours seemed frankly ridiculous. In hindsight, however, I applaud them. You see, they managed to get one of the DS’s most hardcore titles into millions of homes.
Level-5’s second Dragon Quest title (following the stunning VIII on the PS2) is essentially a series of vignettes sewn together by a tale of a (literally) fallen angel charged with collecting a number of celestial fruit. The fruit has fallen into mortal hands, wreaking havoc in the many locales your hero travels to. Although not the greatest narrative in relation to other Dragon Quests, the varied cast of NPCs and locations in which they are found keep things engaging. Anyway, you’ll get most of your enjoyment from building up your team, each member having a vocation which grants them unique skills.
Make no bones about it, Dragon Quest IX is a beast, a veritable leviathan of a game. It’s absolutely massive. There are hundreds upon hundreds of hours of gameplay on offer here. Firstly, the main game itself can take upward of seventy hours to finish. Not only that, the game includes a plethora of treasure maps which require some serious levelling to best their dungeons’ bosses. Then there are the various vocations on offer to the player and his squad, each requiring a good degree of grinding to take full advantage of. To top it off, once you’ve finished with the single player experience you can even take the game online to play with others. Seriously, this game is massive – and tough too. The game will happily punish poor player preparation, removing half your stash of total gold and sending you back to the beginning of a dungeon. Definitely do not be fooled by the cutesy art-direction and playfully colloquial localisation!
Developed by Atlus, of Shin Megami Tensei fame, Radiant Historia arrived on DS in the US earlier this year. The game follows the exploits of special agent, Stocke and his friends who become embroiled in the battle between their native country and their bitter enemy, neighbours Granorg. Radiant Historia riffs on Chrono Trigger’s time travel mechanic superbly. The plot crsiss-crosses between two main timelines, with the player having to dart backwards and forwards with the aid of a mysterious tome, resolving plot points that enable progress at later points in both timelines. In addition to the wonderfully dizzying plot, the game’s combat is also superb. The enemies appear on a 3×3 grid with the player having to cue attacks. The longer the chain of attacks the quicker enemies are dispensed with and the more XP is awarded at the end of battle. This adds an almost puzzle element to the game and stringing a big combo together is extremely satisfying.
Unfortunately, the game hasn’t had a European release. This is probably because Atlus don’t have a European presence, with a lot of their games being published in this region by the likes of British publisher Ghostlight. Fortunately, importing games is a lot easier these days and with the DS being region-free, playing this game should be relatively hassle free. There are a number of reputable North American sites who will happily ship to our shores so you’ve got no excuse not to play this excellent title.
Pokémon HeartGold / SoulSilver
Okay, for a lot of gamers in their twenties, a new Pokémon game is a no questions asked day one purchase. They were at the right age in the mid-nineties to form an emotional attachment with the franchise. Pokémon’s surge in popularity at the time was part of their childhood; the cartoon, the lunchbox and of course, the original Game Boy title. In contrast there are a lot of older gamers who view Pokémon games as childish fare, simply that videogame of that annoying cartoon that used to be on years ago. Now, I don’t mind admitting that until about a year ago I was one of the latter – and how wrong I was. Pokémon may be chock full of cute, nonsensical beasts with equally nonsensical names but don’t let that fool you, as like Dragon Quest IX this is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Yes, under the fluffy surface Pokémon HeartGold / SoulSilver is a brutally addictive collect ‘em up fused with a deceptively deep RPG.
The aim of the game is to become the best Pokémon trainer in the land. To do this the player must battle other Pokémon trainers as they traverse the large game world. Along the way your trainer collects wild Pokémon which can be trained to fight in your team of four. Unlike other JRPGs the player does not level up, each individual Pokémon does, and at certain levels, your Pokémon will evolve, granting them a wider selection of special moves. The battles are essentially rock-paper-scissor affairs and the skill is to create a balanced team to go into battle with. The sheer number of Pokémon you are able to collect means that hundreds of hours can be spent collecting, training and organising your team. And of course, once the collecting bug bites it’s really easy to find yourself saying; “I gotta catch ‘em all”.
Oh, and I almost forgot to mention the Pokéwalker, a pedometer like device that comes with the game. You can transfer a single Pokémon to the Pokéwalker and fight and capture random Pokémon on your travels and discover random items too. The more steps you take the better the Pokémon you can attempt to snare and the better the items there are to discover. That’s not all. Each time you transfer a Pokémon to the device and then back to the DS it will level up by one level. That means you can continue to cultivate your collection of Pokémon even when you don’t have your DS with you. Neat.
The World Ends With You – Set in contemporary Japan, this Square Enix title is a feast of Japanese pop culture and makes full use of the DS’s touch controls.
Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey – A sci-fi dungeon crawler in which the player has the somewhat novel option of negotiating with the demons they encounter.
Mario & Luigi: Partners in Time & Bowser’s Inside Story – The Mario and Luigi RPGs are all of a high standard, with Superstar Saga being one of the GBA’s best titles. The DS games or of a similar standard; full of playful humour and typical Mario charm. The battle system in both games is particularly satisfying, utilising a clever rhythm action based mechanic.
Despite essentially standing unopposed, it’s clear that Sony won this year’s Gamescom. Even if Microsoft and Nintendo had brought out their European CEOs and announced that they were going to pay every member of the public to own their systems, Sony would have wiped the floor with them. Uncharted 3, Resistance 3, the already polished games coming to the PlayStation Vita and the PlayStation 3 becoming cheaper than Microsoft’s Kinect-ready baby for the first time sent a clear message to gamers, the assembled press and the industry: the Sony Computer Entertainment we all loved is back, in a very big way.
Sony’s conference in Cologne was somewhat symbolic; as SCEE’s current CEO, Andrew House, prepares to leave for Tokyo and SCEI, we were given The Jim Ryan Show, as the COO and heir to House’s throne extolled the virtues of PlayStation. For just under an hour, Jim appeared cool and calm in his first major public appearance, and introduced games that made many 3DS owners regret their purchase.
No longer bound by a singular analogue nub and PlayStation-era graphics, Nihilistic showed us a console-class FPS on a handheld for the first time in the form of Resistance: Burning Skies. A trailer for LittleBigPlanet kept Kaz Hirai’s word from E3 that the PlayStation Vita would blur the lines between reality and gaming worlds, as real world objects and backgrounds were turned into a monster in the game’s level creator. Reality Fighters killed Nintendo’s AR Games and Face Raiders in one neat little package where your face and the faces of your friends can become fighters in the real world without the need for AR Markers (demonstrated by battling “Andrew House” and “Jim Ryan” using the Audience as a backdrop). Finally, Escape Plan showed off SCE’s creative touch, as a game with the charm of World of Goo and art style of Limbo, with buttonless controls taking advantages of PlayStation Vita’s touch surfaces.
As I watched trailers and live gameplay straight from Germany, my need to buy a 3DS merely to play Super Mario 3D Land and Mario Kart 7 faded. For Sony, the PS Vita is their portable PlayStation 2: a system with many times the graphical prowess of its predecessor and with a metric crapton of third-party support (FIFA and an all-new Assassin’s Creed have been confirmed for 2012 launches by Sony). People will be willing to beg, borrow or steal the £229 Sony’s asking for its new portable’s entry-level model because the Vita will actually have compelling games, something Nintendo’s not nailed yet with it’s ~£149 3DS. This generation, the handheld war will be fought on software, not affordability, and with stellar first-party titles and console-class 3rd-party content on the way, it’s not hard to see Nintendo losing its dominance in a shrinking handheld market this generation.
Move continues to be the unloved middle child at Sony; whilst its accuracy has shifted more than a few sharpshooter-bundled copies of Killzone 3, it’s failed to capture the casual market in the way Sony intended, eclipsed by continued Wii sales and the launch of Microsoft’s controller-free Kinect. Regardless, Sony soldiers on, and is trying to entice Wii owners with Move Fitness and DanceStar Party. Whilst I’d certainly buy the two games – which explain themselves with their names, if I’m being honest – over Wii Fit and Just Dance, I definitely wouldn’t over the full-body workout of Your Shape or UFC Personal Trainer and the super-advanced, super-fun Dance Central, which is set to gain a sequel this Christmas.
Speaking of unloved children, Sony managed to surprise everyone with a new PSP model, the PSP E-1000, exclusive to Europe, lacking a glossy (and fingerprint-friendly) finish, stereo speakers and Wi-Fi. Whilst this isn’t going to be appealing to most gamers – who will continue purchasing the PSP-3000 – Sony isn’t aiming for the hardcore gamer here; in a U-turn on their original strategy, they’re aiming this at pre-teens and teenage kids who will appreciate the large range of £10 PSP Essentials. The PSP is certainly a solid entry-level handheld, and the constant addition of new games to the Essentials library is welcome to current PSP owners. Even in spaces where Sony has been perceived as a loser, they keep soldiering on, providing new things and new deals for current customers.
Whilst talk of non-Move PlayStation 3 titles was relatively brief, the appearance of Resistance 3 and a new piece of DLC for inFamous 2 will keep PlayStation fanboys and new customers happy and content with their purchases. But for many, the final items were the biggest and most important parts of Sony’s conference.
I’ve been playing Jak and Daxter: The Precursor Legacy in recent weeks on my slim PS2, and I’ve learnt to love its developer, Naughty Dog. Whilst it drags on in places, I’ve been amazed that a ten-year-old game can be as fun and engaging as something still in its slip-case. At the risk of sounding cliché, it’s something of a timeless game, and it’s been making me consider dropping money on a PlayStation 3 for Naughty Dog’s Indiana Jones/Lara Croft hybrid, Uncharted. At one point, I considered waiting, and was almost ready to keep my money in my wallet until Christmas. And all of a sudden, Uncharted 3 happened. The footage they showed at Gamescom told me one thing: I need to get my hands on Uncharted and Uncharted 2, pronto.
This fact makes a £199 PlayStation 3 an incredibly attractive proposition. This generation, Sony has beaten the living crap out of Microsoft in terms of superiority in first-party titles, but the high price has put not just myself but many others off – until now. In the United States, Sony’s Blu-Ray-playing, inFamous/Resistance/LittleBigPlanet/Heavenly Sword/Uncharted-playing, do-it-all machine is now $50 cheaper than its bitter rival, the Xbox 360, and here in the UK, it’s at a price point where those who have, until now, just owned Microsoft’s machine or partnered it up with a Wii will say, “fuck it, I’m getting myself the only system I don’t own. Uncharted 3 looks really, really good, and I might as well pick up LittleBigPlanet whilst I’m at it.”
Unless Microsoft does something quickly, we could be looking at a future dominated by the PlayStation 3. And after their display at Gamescom, that’s not a bad thing at all.
Rockstar Games and I have had a bit of a love-hate relationship. I’ve played countless Grand Theft Auto games, but have never taken to them. Don’t get me wrong; I love the open-world environment and the reckless destruction of Rockstar’s flagship creation, but LA Noire remains my favourite Rockstar game. I’d forgotten why until a few evenings ago, when I curled up in bed with Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories, only to stop half an hour later, furiously pulling out the UMD from my poor little PSP’s disc drive.
Why? Two words: Car Physics.
I understand that Grand Theft Auto isn’t the most realistic game around, but there’s something about the handling of cars in this game that drives me (and my hardware) to destruction. No matter how good the game is graphically or in terms of story, the car handles like a shopping trolley on a freaking bouncy castle. Whilst LA Noire had equally crappy car physics, it was much less noticeable – primarily because you could hand the keys over to your partner if you were feeling lazy, and your car was about fifty times less likely to flip over because you hit a car or made a turn too quickly.
More importantly, in LA Noire – a game which I reviewed for both Stevivor.com and this very organ – the story wasn’t overly reliant on your driving. In Vice City Stories, I was taking the wife of one of the game’s many asshole NPCs Quad BikerRacing, and the game’s crappy car physics meant I lost the race every single time, and was presented with “Mission Failed” in giant pink letters. Why? I hadn’t come first. Well, excuse me for having to put up with your shitty vehicle handling.
It’s this kind of annoyance that has put me off the series. Either I’m flipping my car over because I need to make a sharp turn, or I’m stupidly outnumbered against Biker gangs or Cholos or Haitian gangs (delete as appropriate for GTA IV, Vice City Stories or Vice City). I play for the first hour and get used to the game, and then the difficulty incline goes freaking vertical. It’s things like this that put new players off the franchise, and I’m pretty sure you want sales for future GTA games to be more than the numbers you got for GTA IV.
The thing is, there’s a solution, and it lies in Rockstar’s latest epic, LA Noire. In LA Noire, the story carries on if you catch the wrong guy or if you don’t tie up a loose end. LA Noire keeps on going, regardless of the player’s actions. Perhaps Rockstar could apply this to a a future GTA game; if you come second or third in a quad bike race, for example, a cut scene is invoked where the asshole NPC’s wife says “Aww, better luck next time, generic protagonist”, and you get to play the next mission in the storyline of the asshole NPC’s wife. Knowing the slightly puerile nature of the GTA series, you probably end up banging her anyway.
That way, you stop the game from going stale, and the player’s actions influence your flagship franchise more than ever. Grand Theft Auto 5, anyone?
It appears it’s not a very good time to be a Nintendo 3DS game; as Kotaku’s Brian Ashcraft pointed out, 11 3DS games have either been cancelled or put on hold – one of them, as a matter of fact, because of uncertainty as to whether or not the system will succeed. In the US, NPD data shows us that Nintendo DS sales outstrip those for Ninty’s new handhelds by a factor of three. I have a few theories, however, as to why the Nintendo 3DS hasn’t been so successful so far; here’s just a few of them.
Firstly, Nintendo did themselves a great disservice by attempting to capitalise on the success of their previous handheld, by keeping the “DS” name alive. I have a theory that many consumers see the name “3DS” and think it’s just a Nintendo DSi with 3D capabilities – a problem not particularly helped by the similarities in design and the 3DS’ user interface. Eurogamer’s Rob Fahey reckons that many will believe, as they have done with the 3DS, that the Wii U is merely an add-on or iterative upgrade to their existing system.
The second hindrance is a slightly weird one; Nintendo have actually managed to create something that can’t be advertised well. I don’t have to remind you that 3D displays haven’t exactly taken off yet, and 2D advertising restricts Nintendo’s ability to show off its new system’s Unique Selling Point. Nintendo, here’s a simple solution: show people a picture of the Nintendo 3DS – screens facing towards viewers – and have a soft, mother-like voice say this: “This is Nintendo 3DS. It’s a totally new console that lets you play games in 3D without the need for glasses.” Then do some silly promotion – make images fly out of that top screen, if you have to. Just please, please, don’t make more adverts with generic people going “OMG IT’S REALLY 3D”. For our collective sanities.
Of course, silly marketing and ill-thought-out naming of a device isn’t everything; that launch line-up was pretty dang terrible. I mean, don’t get me wrong – Nintendogs looks far better than it did on Nintendo DS, even with the 3D off, and Pilotwings Resort is decent, even if it’s so paper-thin it should be packed in with the system instead of being sold separately – but the rest of the line-up made it feel like this hardware was really rushed out of the gate. It’s the first piece of Nintendo hardware, to my knowledge, to not launch with a Mario or Zelda title, and whilst that wouldn’t be much of a problem had their been a killer app bundled in, even hardened Nintendo fans struggled to find a reason to buy this hardware at launch. Yes, it would have made your 2010-11 fiscal results look bad, but you guys really needed to wait until The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D - along with, of course, the Nintendo eShop and Internet Browser – was ready.
That said, it’s not like many of these Nintendo 3DS games are going to be missed – the only major loss for gamers is the cancellation of Mega Man Legends 3 - but it still unsettles me a little. At E3, Sam Machkovech noticed a huge lack of third-party titles for Nintendo machines; losing even the likes of My Garden is a little unsettling, as a prospective buyer of this new hardware. One can only hope this trend is reversed, and we can get a flood of great titles – both from Nintendo and third parties – this time next year.
I feel like I’m the only person on the planet genuinely excited about the successor to Nintendo’s hugely successful Wii, the Wii U. Like the Wii Remote before it, the New Controller feels like something revolutionary. I’m relishing the thought of playing Zelda in HD, with my inventory and vital stats available for at-a-glance access. I will genuinely jump for joy if the Rhythm Paradise demo seen by Sam Machkovech at E3 makes its way onto one of the Wii U’s 25GB Discs, and I reckon I’m going to agree with Katsuya Eguchi’s statement that Wii U will change the way I play first-person shooters. So, as I mentioned on this week’s podcast, why is there so much negativity being levelled to this machine by journalists?
Last week, CVG’s Tom Pakinkis said that the Wii U has cut a few corners – the New Controller’s display isn’t a crisp, bright OLED one, for example, and it has no DVD or Blu-Ray capabilities – and, because of this, the core may be turned off. I’m pretty sure that many core Nintendo gamers (those who carry on playing Wii games, despite the massive amount of shovelware available for it) would disagree; after all, the Wii plays games in good old Standard Definition and has no DVD playback features, but they don’t care.
I honestly disagree that every core gamer wants a killer entertainment machine built in to their games console. Sure, Blu-Ray adoption has helped PS3 sales, but I think I’ve only ever used my Xbox 360 twice for DVD Playback, and the number was the same back when I had a PS2. Most gamers have standalone DVD or Blu-Ray players, or have decided to go digital and have invested in an Apple TV or Boxee Box. The Wii U – as with all Nintendo machines – is more concerned with providing gamers with a fun and immersive experience than giving it the ability to play every format on the planet.
Whilst it will be important for machines like the PSVita to use bright OLED screens – after all, they’re going to be used in conditions where massive amounts of sunlight would otherwise make gaming impossible – I don’t think it’s vital that the Wii U has a touch screen that utilises fancy tech. If it can display inventories and that super-fun Rhythm Paradise demo, it’ll do. I’m sure plenty of other gamers will agree – with Nintendo, it’s never about the tech, it’s about the experiences they can make.
So why so much stick from the press? Well, whilst I do believe everyone’s entitled to their opinion, I have a theory that most of these pieces are linkbait. Journalists – and gamers, as a matter of fact – have only seen a small amount of what the Wii U can do. Nintendo – and third-party devs, of course – will find innovative ways to use the New Controller, much in the same way devs are innovating with Kinect and as they did in the past with the Wii remote. All of our worries about the tech being behind the times or not powerful enough will fade away once the software is there and once we are able to get a Wii U controller in our hands.
That said, I’m forever the optimist, so if you disagree, let us know in the comments, or hit me up on Twitter (I’m @lovedecake).