Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Gloria Union (PSP)

Oh, I should say, this one is for Blaze Union: Story to reach the Future, another PSP game in the 'Union' spinoff series (Yggdra, Blaze, Gloria.)

I really hope we see English releases of these Sting games..

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Vanillaware E3 2011

Vanillaware are one of my favourite game studios that usually get overlooked a bit. I was recently on a stream of someone playing Odin Sphere and there seemed to be only a few people who had played the game or even heard of it. The games I've played from them are Odin Sphere and Muramasa: The Demon Blade. These games are 2D sidescrolling action games/action RPGs depending on how you look at it. I'd say that they have enough RPG elements to put them in that end of the spectrum. What makes them really interesting to me is the artstyle. The sprites and backgrounds have this really amazing stylistic, vibrant and exaggerated appearance. Couple that with some really amazing music and at least to me, you have some excellent games. Some critics might say that slowdown in places and slightly repetitive nature of the gameplay really detracts but I was just really engaged by the combat and just how amazing the game looks that those things never really bugged me at all.

Odin Sphere is primarily based on Norse mythology as you might be able to tell from the name, not quite as strongly as say Valkyrie Profile, but its definitely a strong influence throughout the game. It borrows from a lot of other legends, myths and stories as well, which really builds up a nice rich game in my opinion.

Muramasa: The Demon Blade has a distinctly Japanese feel. I'm not meaning that it looks like it was made by Japanese developers-I'm referring to the feudal Japanese history setting and plot that it has. Its all about ninjas, samurai, a bit of political intrigue and quite a good shake of mythology coming across in the various enemies you fight and characters you encounter such as the Inari Kitsune(fox deities.) Its got some really interesting areas you go through, such as the water dwelling boss who you fight in this really stylistic but dramatic backdrop clearly based on The Great Wave off Kanagawa, one of my favourite Japanese woodblock prints.

So thats a bit of a tangent into two of Vanillaware's older games (I'm not going to go into Princess Crown, Grimgrimoire or the games that didn't get brought over here as I've still not got those games.) What I was really wanting to talk about was the recently announced Vanillaware titles, Dragon's Crown and Grand Knight History. We've known about Grand Knights History for a few months I think, but this is the first we've heard about Dragon's Crown, what will be Vanillaware's first HD game, releasing Spring 2012 on the PS3 and Playstation Vita. Sure, these games won't be for everyone, as the artstyle, particularly in Dragon's Crown could be described as grotesque and overexaggerated. Still, it looks gorgeous in places I think. Just see how smooth and vibrant it will run on the PS3. Grand Knights History will change things up quite a bit-it will be turn based :) Hopefully it works well.

Finally, check this retrospective from last year by one of my favourite youtubers. I actually had an idea to do a big blog post about Vanillaware's games a while back (before I saw his video) but never got round to it. So I guess this post kinda says a lot of what I might have.

Oh, on another note my Now Playing 'column' is on a bit of a hiatus...I'm thinking of changing it to another day from Sunday, or maybe to fortnightly so I'll always have at least a couple of games to talk about. I'll think about what I'm going to do with it.

Friday, June 10, 2011

I am dissapoint.

Just a kind of mini-rant on the way things are going in the RPG genre of video games. I remember a couple months back being really interested in a few of the games that we now know more about. There seems to be a general trend of mainstreaming the genre. Let me quickly add to that before you close the tab. That isn't necessarily the thing that bugs me. There are some RPGs that would definitely be considered mainstream that are perfectly good games, I would say the Pokemon games and slowly more the Dragon Quest series are decent mainstream role playing games. It is the dumbing down and the blurring of genre boundaries that usually ends up annoying me more with games that could have done so well.

So I better give some examples of what I mean.

One of the best selling (I think) RPG franchises in the west currently, the Mass Effect games have been on a worrying downwards trend into generic, safe territory. The first one had some rather deep customisation options, a retarded (but deep) inventory system and some other aspects that would mean that it definitely is an RPG. Ok, I don't have problems with shooters, or games that are cross-genre, definitely not. In fact, I think a lot of the best games are those that manage to transcend boundaries successfully. But it seems with the movement to the 2nd ME game, they saw that Call of Duty games, Halo games, Gears of War games sell well and they decided to move more towards the shooter end of the spectrum, ditching some of the more hardcore RPG elements that really helped give the first game the feel it had. So it seems to me that the series is evolving, moving away from its roots. I may just be an old cynic, or one of those people who isn't too keen on change (I would say I'm ok with change) but I'm not 100% happy with the Mass Effect series and the way it is going. They are still excellent games, both of them though, don't get me wrong!

E3 has done little to dispel these concerns for me, with the announcement that ME3 will be using Kinect as an optional extra. Sure, its only for minor things like voice commands, but they've tried this in one of the Tom Clancy games (I think) before, and it really didn't work too well from what I heard. Kinect is interesting, but I think it is aimed more at a casual market, for easy to pick up and play games like Just Dance or Kinectimals and whatnot.

Some other recent examples might be Hunted: The Demon Forge, which was recently released on PC, Xbox 360 and PS3. It looked like it would be a rather decent RPG, but it looks like a rather badly put together Gears of War clone with a fantasy RPG skin. Metacritic Link To be honest, I don't think this game is going to do very well. People have become a bit disinterested in the Gears of War games recently, I've really who is going to want an more obscure version of them?

Dungeons and Dragons: Daggerdale and Dungeon Siege III looked like they could hit a sweet spot for me. Heavily loot-driven dungeon crawling type games. Recently I've been trying to find either a good Diablo esque game, either clones or one of the Diablo games themselves, I have both. So the best I could do was play a bit of Diablo II, its still at the top of the pack in my opinion. DnD: Daggerdale looks to have been really rushed out, and its getting some terrible reviews. Gamespot Link It also apparently has some game breaking bugs all throughout, especially in the multiplayer, which would have been a strong selling point of the game for me. Dungeon Siege III is one I've been interested in for a while now, as I played the first game in the series and was pleased with it. This one from what I've heard on a few podcasts and seen in videos seems to have been watered down slightly. It sounds more like the X-Men Legends games that were on consoles a few years back. So more co-op driven and hack and slashy and perhaps simplified. I'm really hoping this one doesn't dissapoint me.

Final Fantasy XIII-2 and Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning are two other games which really could be good if they change things up from games that have come before. Square Enix are capable of making decent games, even though things might not necessarily be as strong as they once were, so they could definitely do something with the mythology they've built up in FFXIII. I just hope they make some big changes from the first game, as there was a lot there that I didn't enjoy (even though I put in a lot of time to XIII, nearly platinuming it...)