Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Tales of Xillia 2 Preview

Tales of Xillia 2 made its debut last week in Japan and although the game is not planned to be localized in the west just yet, fans might have something to look forward to in the sequel if it does come. The game is a direct sequel to the first Xillia and boasts itself to be a mothership title. While it’s hard to judge if it’s worthy of that title just yet, the game does boast a lot of content and changes up how Tales titles normally work.

Meet Elle and Ludger
Tales of Xillia 2 takes one year after the events of the first game. Nearly everyone from the previous game makes an appearance or has an important role to play in Xillia 2, however, the focus has shifted to two new characters. Ludger Will Kresnik is the game’s silent stoic protagonist. He’s one of the older protagonists that the Tales franchise has seen and it’s interesting to see the age dynamic in your party considering that you’ll have old men and very young girls. Speaking of young girls, the second new character is Elle Mel Mata, an eight year old girl who asks Ludger for help in her quest to find the Land of Canaan.

It’s clear from the get-go that Xillia 2 has a different story to tell than its predecessor and this isn’t entirely bad. Characters such as Jude and Elize have matured greatly in the interim so it’s nice to see how they interact with some of the other party members. The focus is heavily on the character interaction and development and it’s definitely there. The constant conversations and banter that your crew will have during skits and cutscenes are always amusing and while they may fall to Japanese tropes, it’s not entirely bad.


Ludger is one of the older protagonists in the franchise.
The story is progressed through segmented chapters and each chapter will have a small narrative that keeps the overall story going. It may seem odd at first but it’s not bad as the game feels episodic in nature, a la Final Fantasy XIII-2, and they’re long enough to be fun but not short enough that it’ll end abruptly. To progress from one chapter to the next, you must pay off Ludger’s debt, which he ends up getting within the first hour of the game. It’s a cheap way to keep the game segmented and you cannot proceed to the next chapter without having to pay off a certain amount of Gald. Luckily Gald is abundant and there are many ways to attain it whether it be finishing quest from a nearby bulletin board or just hunting monsters. It’s all in good fun.

When you’re not keeping yourself distracted with the main story, in between chapters you can interact with your party and undertake Character Chapters. Each one of your party members have an individual story to tell and Ludger can take part in it. It’s interesting especially if you were invested in the characters from Xillia 1 as you’ll see further growth in them or you can see how their maturation has affected them. Some of these chapters last a couple of minutes while others can take up to the length of a main chapter. These extras are very beefy and are just as entertaining as the main story that you can engage in.



As cool as always.
While the narrative is something new and entirely different from the original title, everything else remains largely the same. The battle system plays exactly like the first Xillia so if you’ve played it, you’ll find yourself right at home. You can use normal moves and special moves called Arts; and the number of times you can attack in succession is dictated by a number located to the right of your character portrait. Linking makes a return in Xillia 2. The purpose of linking is to combine two characters to attack enemies in unison to create a cohesive set of attacks and combos. It’s an interesting idea and it’s not a surprise that it appears in the sequel. When using certain Arts with your linked partner you can initiate Link Arts. These powerful moves cause a lot of devastation and it’s pretty thrilling to pull them off. Unlike the previous game, however, the amount of Link Arts available is substantial making Link Arts much more useful this time around.

While the execution of combat appears to be fairly simple in concept it can quickly develop into a deep one if you choose to invest in tinkering with the game’s skill system and Arousal Orb - no it’s not what you think. The skill system is nothing new but by activating the various ones you can unlock from the Arousal Orb - which I will get into after this - characters get new abilities. Whether it be stat boosts, special skills that assist you in battle, or skills that benefit your linked partner they’re all pretty useful. The Arousal Orb is the successor to the Lilial Orb. While the web design of the latter allowed you to control the various ways to build your character, the Arousal Orb is much more streamlined. From the outset of the game you’ll have only two Arousal Orbs to choose from and each Orb has a set of skills and Arts that your assigned character can learn. As you progress the game you’ll find more Orbs and by switching the out you have a variety of things to learn. If you’ve played Tales of the Abyss, it’s something to that nature. 


Like a boss.
The game is hardly disappointing so far and if there are any qualms I have about the game there are only two so far: Ludger and reused assets. Ludger is a silent protagonist and it doesn’t work at all. In the various instances where Ludger is interacting with the character, it’s clear that he’s supposed to have a set of reactions but he doesn’t show this at all. Instead there’s an awkward silent or grunt, when there’s supposed to be a proper response. What you end up getting then is an odd set of interactions with Ludger. Secondly, the game is a sequel to Xillia 1 and it came out one year later. As a result many of the assets - actually almost all of the assets - are reused and recycled. There are only a handful of new things visually so it might disappoint in that regard.

Tales of Xillia 2 is a great game and one to keep an eye out for in the future, or if you’re willing to import it will most likely be worth it. Stay on the lookout for a review posting on the blog and RPG Site.



Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Assassin's Creed III Review


Strapping yourself back on the Animus to relive the memories is one way to spend your time, but if you’re expecting the ride to be one wholly good then you might be in for a disappointment. Assassin’s Creed III keeps the story of our modern-day Assassin, Desmond Miles, going forward to the inevitable conclusion that players will reach at the game’s end. This final stretch, however, brings along many technical problems, pacing issues, and a lack of focus leaving the game unpolished. Even so, the game is ultimately an enjoyable experience overall with a few gems that truly shine bright.


             As Desmond et al finally arrive at the site where Those Who Came Before have been guiding him ever since Assassin’s Creed II they come to the realization a key is needed in order to activate the mysterious complex which will save the human race from a solar flare. Juno, who inhabits the walls of said complex, forces Desmond to visit the memories of another ancestor in order to find the key. What starts out as a simple problem that must be overcome quickly escalates into a web of conspiracy during the times of the American Revolution. The idea is fairly solid and while a simple revelation of where the key would suffice, Desmond must unravel the mysterious tale of his ancestors Connor and Haytham Kenway.

Chasing down your foes is fun.

In addition to ACIII’s narrative pacing problem, the game has an extremely lackluster protagonist. While Haytham is charming, charismatic, and cool Connor is completely devoid of personality. Simply put, he’s idealism manifested in human form. Connor’s naivete knows no bounds and throughout the entirety of the game he fails to have any distinct characteristics that stands out. Often times he’s so busy being someone’s lapdog it’s hard to find out why you’re even playing as him. The way Connor speaks is just as disappointing as it hardly feels like there’s anything passionate or emotional in his dialogues leaving him feeling like a robot at times.


However, that’s not the only problem that Connor has. While Connor does have the abilities to back up his Assassin pedigree, he fails to intelligently analyze situations. He constantly does things as he pleases without heeding the words of his master, Achilles. This places Connor in a variety of tight situations forcing the game’s story to take a certain direction, although it could be avoided entirely. In the end, you end up partaking in missions that have no importance at all to the grand scheme of things. Speaking of no importance, many of the crucial events during the American Revolution make appearances in the game but none of them feel like they matter. It’s almost as if the developers threw darts at a wall full of events from the Revolution and decided to stick Connor in them. The game fails to keep the historical and fiction aspect of the story in a cohesive manner.


The overall story also takes a hit as AC3 tries to juggle many plot threads but does so poorly. The focus of the game’s narrative leaves you scratching your head wondering what exactly you’re fighting for. Is it to kill the Templars? To protect your village? Assist the British? The colonists? It’s hard to know where exactly the game wanted to go and it clearly shows. The jumbled mess simply feels like a means to an end - getting Desmond the key.

Gruesome kills are such a treat.

While the story is poorly executed and not thought out, the gameplay delivers for the most part. Combat, being one of the pinnacle aspects of the series, has undergone a major revamp changing how one executes his moves on a poor soul. Rather than having an offensive and defensive stance the previous games utilized, AC3 combines the two streamlining it. The defensive actions are all relegated to one button allowing you to counter and parry attacks while the remaining face buttons act as your offensive or tactical assets. It’s an interesting setup one that tries to keep things simple while maintaining the fun of fighting enemies. If you’re familiar with the Batman: Arkham series then you will be right at home. Countering takes only a simple button press and the animation that follows is a joy to watch, and trust me there are a ton of kill animations to enjoy.

Sadly the trade off in the new combat system is the relative ease in skirmishes. Rather than going on the offensive it’s extremely easy to just wait until your opponents attack and simply counter them to death followed by a series of combo kills. It’s disappointing that fights can boil down to a matter of mechanical abuse, and while this is mostly up to the player, you can’t help but feel that it was poorly designed from the get go. The abuse doesn’t end just there as you can throw enemies at each other until they fall down. Then you can subsequently kill them at your leisure.

Try to figure out where to go next. Seriously
Roaming through town streets, jumping from rooftop to rooftop, and just traversing a variety of levels is a trademark to the franchise. AC3 is no different in this aspect considering it forces Connor to move a ton whether it be by foot or on a horse. Oddly enough you’ll find yourself on a horse as much as you would traveling around on foot. Myriads of problems make it easier to maneuver Connor around in cities using a horse. One such problem is the janky controls when running around. Instead of using a combination of two buttons to jump, run, and perform other acrobatic feats AC3 uses a simple touch of the shoulder buttons. This allows Connor to do everything pervious Assassins could in the past games. While this may seem like a good change it isn’t the case at all. Often times Connor will end up climbing things that you don’t want to or jump on top of things that should be ignored. Due to the running and climbing feature all being tasked to one button and the way Connor will interact with any object he is in range of, there are a lot of frustrating situations where you wish you could control him differently.

Another problem that arises from traveling on foot is due to the layout of the town and the overall level design of various areas in the game. The buildings in both Boston and New York are so far apart from each other that it feels very inefficient getting around town using rooftops. As a result running around through streets and pushing people out of the way or using a horse is the best way to get from place to place. The buildings also pose a problem as many of them are laid out in a way that it’s annoying to run away from pursuing foes. The layout just isn’t as clever or as useful as the previous games making it feel like the game is often times working against you.

Lastly, there are a ton of technical problems such as clipping, framerate drops, and other bugs that makes travelling around town a detrimental experience. While it doesn’t occur often there were numerous instances where I phased through an entire building, got stuck on the ground, and had invisible walls blocking my way. It was both annoying and put me in situations where I had to fight though I desired to run away. The framerate seems to drop consistently where there are a lot of objects and details that draws on the console’s power. It’s understandable considering the game’s graphical prowess. However, it’s annoying when a solid 30 FPS dips to an erratic back and forth of 15 to 25 FPS. While I don’t have motion sickness, it did make my head a tad doozy.

Sprawling cities. Well.. two at least.
The missions that Connor partakes in is arguably the best and worst part of the game. Most of them have simple main objectives but have optional ones that ramp up the challenge a bit. It’s a nice touch and I’m glad that it’s one of the few features that transitioned over from the previous titles. Whether it be an assassination missions, freeing hostages, or stalking a contact they all stand out to be quite the joy. Almost frustratingly so, some missions have aspects that are absolutely criminal. Stealth isn’t handled extremely well in the game at all and it’ll take clever positioning to silence enemies or follow someone.

Welcome to the Frontier! It’s an extremely huge zone abundant with wildlife, trees, and other mysteries hidden in its green - or white depending on what season you’re in. This zone serves as a primary hub for traveling to major locations but also a way to distract yourself. While traveling in the wild there are a variety of quests you can undertake whether it be hunting animals, navigating through various trees to find stunning vistas, or just checking off the things on your list of extras to do. It’s no exaggeration when I say that there truly is a multitude of things to do and while the extras may seem repetitive at times, the types that you’ll encounter mix things up quite a bit never leaving you bored.

Watchu looking at?
Hunting is one of the newest features in AC3 and let me tell you that it is no easy feat. Every once in a while you’ll find some clue that’ll lead you to where a game is at. By tracking these games you can collect the material from killing them which in turn leads to a lot of money. While tracking them is relatively easy, actually catching/killing one is another beast in and of itself. By cleverly positioning yourself in bushes or raining death from treetops, you’ll find success - patience is also needed. This is mostly for the larger animals though and the little ones will take a measly arrow or a gunshot to do the job. Hunting is a cool idea in concept but sadly fails to be anything more than just doing the motions to earn money. There isn’t any real reward from killing animals and the steps becomes old quite quickly. Although the magic of hunting does wear off, it’s an interesting system built to keep players busy in the Frontier.

The Frontier is huge as I mentioned but feels unnecessarily so. While there are many things to do in it, a smaller sandbox would’ve sufficed. It would allow ease of navigation, a focus on intricate traveling methods using treetops, and more monumental landmarks. Even so, the Frontier is by no means a horrible place. It’s quite a marvel and the amount of lush greenery around you is absolutely baffling. Combo this in with the great graphical presentation and you have a recipe for something amazing.

Ahoy!
Speaking of amazing, AC3 features ships that you can control and take out to combat. It sounds horrible at first but once you give it a go it’s truly quite a marvel. While the system isn’t intricate considering you only have three designated speeds to maneuver your hunk of wood, the game manages to make best of what’s there. Moving around in water is extremely fun with the various wind speed and directions affecting your ship keeping you always on your toes since you can’t afford to hit any obstacles such as rocks. Try to manage moving your ship then with enemies that are firing upon you. Positioning is key when winning a naval battle and AC3 takes this to heart. By controlling the speed of your ship to put yourself in an optimal position you’re able to blast enemy ships with a single volley of cannon balls. It’s extremely thrilling and it disappoints me that there isn’t a race or a deathmatch of naval combat for multiplayer.

Of course, when not being a badass Assassin from the past, Desmond dons his hoodie to become a modern-day badass. In between certain sequences, Desmond will have to retrieve power sources that will keep the complex in working condition. While these segments are extremely short they offer some fresh breath of air. Rather than being bogged down to a location from the olden days, you’re exploring more modern architecture and experiencing the modern-day threat of the Templars. Although the gameplay segments feel no different from something that Desmond’s ancestors did, the new coat of paint is nice and gives a fresh take on how an Assassin in the present would go about handling missions.

Is that a match?
In an effort to also flesh out Abstergo and the conflict between the Templars and Assassins, the Desmond missions act as a catalyst of sorts to wrap up pre-existing conflicts while introducing new ones. Unfortunately, just like the rest of the game, the execution isn’t there. The new character Daniel Cross appears out of nowhere, gets a negligible amount of exposition, and is simply left out in the dust. Also it appears that the conflict between the two groups is trivialized by the conversations with Those Who Came Before essentially making the entire narrative of the franchise pointless. The narrative elements of the modern-day world certainly had some charm and mystery in the previous games but how it unravels in the trilogy’s conclusion is a major disappointment.

Multiplayer makes a triumphant return and while there isn’t anything new that will completely reshape the formula, it still remains to be entertaining. There are numerous modes to be had but they all essentially adhere to the core idea of identifying the enemy and assassinating him. It’s simple but actually assassinating someone is rather difficult because often times you’re a target of an assassination as well. This means you must blend yourself in a crowd of NPCs in a map so that you aren’t noticed while maintaining a lookout for your target. This game of a circular cat and mouse is something unique to the franchise and for an industry ridden with first-person shooters, it’s refreshing. The modes will change up how you approach your assassinations or add new mechanics - or remove them. For instance you might have a compass that will help you to find your targets rather easily in Wanted but have it removed in Quick Deathmatch. All in all, the modes are all fun and will keep you busy for a long while.

Assassin’s Creed III is ultimately a good game bogged down by the failure to execute great ideas properly. While the need for change in order to improve gameplay is understandable, changes that fail to address the problems it has had keeps the game from reaching greatness. This doesn’t mean that the game doesn’t deliver in what it attempts to do, however. If you’re looking for the same formula found in the previous games then you’ll find it here but for something revolutionary, or even evolutionary, look elsewhere.

Monday, July 9, 2012

New batch of articles and beyond!

Hey guys. It's been a bit over a month and I've had a lot happen. Of course I am always writing articles for GameZone and busy with other things such as helping The Gaming Vault and RPG Site - places where you should check out for gaming related stuff. Having said that, I recently had the opportunity to also get a chance to do some surprising stuff, but check it out below. The list below is a compilation of all my work at GameZone and TGV in the past month. Click on the title and read the full articles! Enjoy!

Unchained Blades Review


"Unchained Blades is the latest JRPG localization from XSEED, however, for a system that is slowly dying does this game deserve your chance? Its anime aesthetic and notable work from certain people may entice but sadly that’s all it is. On paper the game’s ideas are cool and neat but the execution just isn’t there."

Magic: The Gathering - Duels of the Planeswalker 2013 Review

"Magic: The Gathering has been around for over a decade and it’s not hard to believe that a video game featuring online support would be released. Having been out nearly every year, out comes this year’s version of Duels of the Planeswalker. The game captures the spirit of magic successfully while adding an abundance of features that keep your attention but should you buy into the mystical world that the game has to offer or should you cast it aside?"

Nitpick: Am I Gliding or Walking? 


"Hover boots. Do you guys remember them? I do. For those of you who don't know, Hover Boots were an equipable item that Link can find in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. It was quite nifty as you could glide across large gaps of open space without fear of falling down. This was most useful in the Shadow Temple. The animation was quite slick and you could distinctly tell if you were gliding or not since the walking animation made it seem like your feet made contact with the ground."

Nitpick: Quantitative Difficulty

"After a long period of being unable to do what I want freely for most of the time, I had the opportunity to just plop down and enjoy Diablo III. Ironically, I wasn't particularly enjoying it, but moreso just frustrated at the game's poor design choices. I'm sure that gamers will testify that difficulty is one of the greatest appeal of a video game. If a game was not challenging then there is no sense of achievement or accomplishment. Having said that, difficulty is not the sole aspect of a video game, but one of the inner-workings that enhances the experience. Not only that but varying difficulty helps to increase the longevity of said video game. All in all, difficulty has proven time and time again to be a benefit to both gamers and video games."

Nitpick: Teach You to Play, it Does Not

"This week in Nitpick, we’ll look at a game that’s causing a storm in the e-sports community: League of Legends. Perhaps you’re familiar with this game, and if you’re not, where have you been? E-sports has been on the rise for many years, but with the recent introduction of Starcraft II and League of Legends, it’s grown considerably in a short span of time. As great as e-sports is, that’s not what I want to talk about. Instead, I want to talk about the learning curve and the methods the game uses, or doesn’t use, to teach its players about the intricacies of the game."

A long time ago in a galaxy free, free to play

"It hasn’t been a year since Star Wars: The Old Republic made its official launch, but the game has lost a considerable amount of subscribers. In addition, Bioware and EA have recently opted to include a free trial period up to level 15 and have considered going free-to-play as a way of keeping up with the dynamic progression of the MMO model. While they may not currently be ready to go free-to-play, the idea isn’t terrible. Far from it, since the two companies can greatly benefit from implementing the free-to-play model; they will be able to deploy microtransactions to make a profit, as well as having the freedom to create content as they please."

More than a blog post, more than a company

"In a time where video game companies are so focused on making a profit or ways to money pinch you, it’s hard to find one that actually cares about its fans and communities. Companies such as Capcom find ways to get more money by locking content on discs or sell costumes at absurd prices. Others such as Activision overcharge its customers with expensive map packs. In light of this it’s refreshing to know that not all companies are like this and actually try to communicate with its fans. ArenaNet is one such company."


Procedural Rhetoric of Deus Ex: Human Revolution

"Deus Ex: Human Revolution is a game brimming with content, ideas, and philosophies. In a way, the game can be presented as more of a personal journey where you choose, both in gameplay and in narrative. Sure, its RPG attributes lend a hand in making choice a prominent aspect of the game, but it’s more than that. Video games reach a higher level of entertainment and intelligence when it creatively combines gameplay and the message it’s trying to portray. However, what does all of this mumbo jumbo mean? Deus Ex: Human Revolution is game telling a deeper message to its audience through its gameplay and the premise of the plot: human augmentation."

RTX 2012: Halo 4 Multiplayer Impressions

"During my stay at the first day of RTX 2012, I had the lovely opportunity to check out Halo 4. Sadly I could only have one go at it since the line was so absurdly long but fortunately my game lasted a good 10 minutes. In the game I played I was in a new playmode called Regicide where players in the map must kill the king, which gives you points. However, you’re not just limited to killing the king. You can kill others who isn’t a king but it will reward you with less points. By killing the king though you will eventually be on the road to becoming a king and you will be hunted more easily since you are constantly revealed on the map."

Monday, May 28, 2012

I'm back, as a freelancer that is


So I've been off the grid from this blog for a few months. Of course, with good reason. I was busy as finals were approaching in college, lots of projects and schoolwork, but lastly I was trying to establish myself as a freelancer. Luckily, all the things that I just listed worked out and I'm working as a freelancer for a site called GameZone. It's a really cool website and I'm excited that my work can contribute to its already existing awesomeness. I have some articles already posted on there with the addition of a game review. In addition, I'll also be writing a column called Nitpick on GameZone. It's a series of articles where I nitpick a small detail or feature from a game and hope to explain why it sucks and what can be done about it. Below are excerpts and links to my article - just click on the title - so check them out. I'm sure you'll like them.

Risen 2: Dark Waters Review

"Risen 2, despite its attempt to bring the pirate world to gamers, is a game that has a lot of potential on paper. However, its boring and unfulfilling combat combined with a poor leveling system leaves you wondering whether the game is even worth it. Fortunately, the entire experience isn't hampered thanks to its wondrous atmosphere, which helps to drive you through the dozens of hours the game offers."

Why Should you Care About Sequels?

"Sequels have been around for a long time. If you really think about it, many of the popular titles of today are sequels. Nintendo is one of the companies notorious for this. They have titles like Mario,Zelda, and Metroid, almost coming out on a regular basis — by regular, I mean forever."

Five Reasons Guild Wars 2 is Awesome

"Guild Wars 2 is a game that hardly needs an introduction. It's an MMORPG set to release this year and has been called many names: savior of the genre,WoW killer, the next big step, etc. It's hard to not think why, especially considering all the praise it's received from players who had the lucky chance to play the game."




"Oftentimes, developers make an announcement for a game to get the hype train going, only for fans to feel impatient until the game finally comes out. We've seen countless games that were announced many years prior to launch, such as Starcraft II andDiablo III. While it took a while for them to finally get a date, the following games haven't even been dated after years of being announced."

Nitpick: Invisible Walls

"Ever had a feeling where a greater force is at work when you're playing a video game? I'm not talking about a game out to get you or some divine controlling the machinations of your existence. What I'm talking about is a little annoyance called invisible walls. Now that I've made this clear, I 'm sure you understand exactly what I'm talking about. That feeling you get where you should be able to walk or run past a certain point but the game doesn't let you."

Nitpick: Artificial Intelligence or Artificial Stupidity?

"Something that I've expected to improve this generation, compared to its predecessor, is the complexity of artificial intelligence (AI). To be more specific though, I'm talking about actual intelligence and the realistic responses that characters can provide in-game. This means that if I hit someone I expect him or her to be angry. If I give a gift they should give a response that shows pleasure or displeasure, depending on the gift of course. However, these are mere expectations, and just that – nothing more or less"



Tuesday, April 10, 2012

5 Things the Tales Series should do

If you didn't know I'm a pretty big fan of the Tales Series, I buy every single mothership title and import as often as I can. In fact, I've imported Tales of Veseperia, Tales of Graces f and Tales of Xillia. Every game in the franchise seems to progress the franchise to a better future - something that should be expected of a series. 


However, one thing I've noticed is that at its core the Tales Series sticks to a very formulaic archetype. The same stereotypical male lead that needs to heavily develop, the villains that have moral ambiguities who have a hurt past, and the same repetitive combat structure with little to no variations. Each Tales game might appear to be different and you can definitely make that argument. I look at it like this. Using the analogy of a human body, while the bones (core ideas and infrastructure of the game) remain the same, the outside skin and inner workings of the body (the gameplay mechanics that build around said ideas) are different.


What's so wrong about this? There's nothing wrong. In fact, the Tales games have been known to get great reviews because it's good at what it does. Even I review them with fairly good comments. Once again, it all goes back to the idea of improving though. The developers have every reason to stick to the same old tried and true formula. After all, if it ain't broke, why fix it? Well, just because it's not broken doesn't mean you can try and "fix" it. Perhaps the word fix implies a prerequisite of being broken but I look at it differently. I look at it as a way of fixing things that can possibly get broken over time. This means that everything has the potential to improve! So what can be changed? Well, below are five things that I think the series can change, add, and or remove. Some are small nitpicky stuff but others are large changes. It's not in any particular order by the way!


1. Transitions in and out of battle/Exploring the world
This first is actually two ideas - I know I'm sort of cheating but hear me out - that work with each other quite well. As of now you travel around the world and there are enemies scattered throughout your path. Once you run into them you quickly transition into a battle arena; and you exit the arena once you end the fight. This is sort of how many traditional JRPGs work. Final Fantasy, Star Ocean, The World Ends With You, and more. The battles don't happen on the map but they displace you into a battle arena. Now, this isn't bad but wouldn't it be cool if you saw the enemies in the world and as you run into them, without having a transition, you just automatically get into it like an action RPG? 


Now I understand that changing this up means reinterpreting the series entirely - I know. However, what I'm asking exactly is that. The combat can still be the same but it would be cool to have the battles and the world around you be seamlessly connected. The game can still utilize the same old combat system and make it work around this mechanic. However, this brings up another issue: the size of the world 


If we're going to make the world more combat capable then this means that the maps need to be a lot larger than it is now. Currently the paths are narrow and the maps are designed in a way so you can't fight on them. It's understandable why since the battles actually take elsewhere, why does the travel area need to be so big? It doesn't. However, the idea I proposed earlier needs to be complementary with bigger areas and maps to support such a feature. This means more vast and expansive areas that are in tradition to WRPGs, ala Skyrim? Well... maybe not exactly but something along the lines. Granted, I'm not asking for an open world Tales. I'm just asking for something refreshing.


2. More dynamic shopping/thriving economy
One aspect that I feel lacking in almost any RPG I play is the idea of buying. While combat and storytelling have evolved to be more complicated as time passed, shops have seemed to improve little. It feels somewhat gamey. It's a simple routine of go to new place, buy stuff, sell stuff, done. Nothing complicated, nothing to crazy, nothing dynamic. It's very boring. Now, I'm being vague and very general about this. I also know that there are games that are exception to this rule, but many RPGs to fall under this, especially JRPGs.

Tales of Xillia took a different approach to how shops worked. You can trade in materials to further evolve the shop. This would allow for new goods to flow in and older products would be discounted accordingly. It's a nice concept on paper but it was a very shallow system that seemed almost stripped of parts. I felt like it was meant to be something greater but the developers just hacked it to make a streamlined shopping experience. I want to game to make me feel like shopping matters and have it deliver a meaningful in-depth system. I don't have solid ideas sorry, but if it didn't change, I'm sure it would be nice - even if it fails, trying is better than nothing.

3. Change the narrative structure
Now, this one is debatable. I understand that the stories for Tales games are designed in a way to appeal to a specific audience. I respect the developer's decision on this. However, just because you change up the story doesn't mean it can't appeal to the same audience.

Right now the story lacks any dramatic plot twists, themes that are cliche or somewhat childish in retrospect, and characters that fit the typical anime trope. "Hey, that guy looks suspicious. He's probably a traitor." Guess what? He is a traitor. It's hard to be surprised and wowed by the stories in the series. However, it does come with its own benefits. Because everything ties to a central overarching theme, the narratives tend to be coherent for the most part. However, the lack of originality is what I'm trying to get at.

I want a character that has a backbone rather than realizing that the foundations of his beliefs are weak. I want a cast of characters that are interesting to me and I can relate to. I want the party to not complement each other perfectly but a group of people that have to travel together because they have a common goal, despite their misfits. What I'm trying to get at is that you can take all the stereotypical anime stuff out and still get a story that will cater to the same audience. Sure you might lose some people because it's no longer anime-esque but chances are you'll get new people too.

4. Put back the title system from Graces/Leveling/Customizing
Tales of Graces f had an awesome character progression system. It had a grid of a 100+ titles. Each title had up to 5 abilities you can learn from as well as a benefit to having the title equipped to your character. However, if you only want to learn 2 of the abilities then you can just learn them and move on to a different title. It's a very unique customization system that allows for various styles of customizing. You can level up titles to unlock all the Artes first or you can level them in a way so you unlock everything. It's up to you. This dynamic encourages a deep mix and matching of different combination of titles in various orders for a unique experience.

Sadly, this system was only on Graces and it's a bit disappointing that the customization system gets changed after every new installment. Even if the new games don't adopt this customizing system, it would be extremely nice to see something drastically new for a change. Leveling nowadays feels like all numbers and I feel that it shouldn't. However, for a game that relies heavily on numbers I could be wrong...

5. Make side quests/stuff enjoyable
One thing I enjoyed about Mass Effect 3 - much to my chagrin - is the set of side quests that it offered. It immersed me into the world and made me care about my companions. Not only this but it introduced me to new characters and I also felt like I cared about them? Why? It's because it wasn't some boring old fetch quests or seeing a mini-narrative skit telling me to do some pointless task. Make the objectives more compelling and create a system where the game rewards you for taking the time to explore it. Don't make it a chore.

In addition make the skits more... enjoyable. I'm not saying that they're enjoyable now but they could be spiced up. Make them more cinematic. Present them in a way so it has more personality or style. Lastly, I'd hate to add the conversation wheel but do something so you're not just watching a segment of an anime. Engaging the player is the key.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Side quests in Majora's Mask

Earlier this week I had an article of mine posted up at Gameranx. It discusses how Majora's Mask's side quests work were unique and how it's fundamentally different from other games' side quests. Here's an excerpt and check out the full article here!

"Games nowadays have sidequests that tend to be boring, monotonous fetch quests with a little bit of action here and there. The challenge is also nonexistent. Mass Effect 3 is a great example of this. You look on the map, click the destination, see some cutscenes, kill some dudes, and that’s it. How boring is that? In fact, there’s no real way to mess up and fail the sidequest other than to just die in combat."

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Tales of Xillia Import Review

I recently won a Review of the Month contest on GameFAQs for my Tales of Xillia Import Review! The following is a revision and polished version of the one up on GameFAQs. If you'd like to read the original click here. Enjoy!

*****

The Tales of Series has been releasing games for 15 years and Tales of Xillia is its 15 Year Anniversary title. The game attempts to set itself apart from other JRPGs while moving forward from the designs that perhaps has plagued the industry for a long time. Utilizing a new combat system, a unique art style, a dual-perspective narrative, and an engine exclusively crafted for the PS3 unlike the two previous titles, is this game truly great?

Liese Maxia is a world full of people that rely on the power of Spirits to use every day goods. Whether it be for light or activating machinery, Spirits are needed. The two main protagonists are Jude Mathis, a 15 year-old male student aspiring to be a doctor studying in Il Fan, and Milla Maxwell, the Spirit Lord Maxwell in the form of a 20 year-old girl. While Jude is wandering the streets of Il Fan, he runs into Milla and both of them find themselves discovering a secret laboratory in the metropolis. As they journey together, Milla finds her powers and Spirit allies sealed away. Now proclaimed a traitor and a criminal, Jude runs away with Milla in hopes of finding out why her powers are sealed and the Spirits are declining.


Who do you choose?
The premise of the game doesn’t seem particularly special. In fact, the idea of a protagonist just being thrown into the fray of things is quite common but Xillia does it quite differently. There are two main protagonists and this allows for a unique narrative, especially considering infrequency of using this style in the genre. In the beginning of the game, you can choose to Milla's or Jude's perspective of the story. While you can control either one of them in battle, the game will force Milla and Jude to split up; and you won't get the full understanding of the story unless you complete both Jude and Milla's story. 

The idea to have dual protagonists and a split narrative is quite clever but the execution is definitely not there. Most of the problems that arise in the narrative is due to Milla’s side. When progressing through the game, Milla will split up from the party a few times. During these times, Jude’s story is constantly progressing. When Milla rejoins with Jude, the story continues but it doesn't fill you in on what happened on Jude's side. As a result, this forces the you to play through Jude's side. While this doesn’t quite happen in Jude’s story, it is extremely frustrating to know that plot elements are left unanswered completely on one side of the story. It’s even more frustrating to know that the player has to play through both sides in order to understand even the basic plot. While the game attempts to craft an experience that will be unique depending on which character the player chooses, it’s not done efficiently.


The gang is all here!
On the bright side, the actual narrative is very good. In fact, the story is possibly one of the best in the series; this is due to the characters and the lack of fillers in the story. Alvin in particular is thrill to see in the cutscenes due to his nature and personality as the game constantly progresses. While the entire cast isn’t great, each character has an amazing story to tell as they tackle their own personal problems. It’s also great to note that the character backstory is perhaps one of the strongest in the game such as Leia and her issues with Jude, her childhood friend, and the decisions that led up to choosing being a nurse of sorts. Although these stories are extras, it’s a thrill to go through them moreso than its predecessors due to how enthralling each tales are. 

The somewhat lackluster villains that have plagued the franchise for a while seems to have changed since the villains in Xillia actually have a strong motive to do what they believe is right. It is rightly so then that Xillia actually doesn’t have a binary white and black moral code like Graces or Abyss. Instead, many of Xillia’s characters actions sit on the gray side. Everyone has a motive or a level of resolve that compels them to do what they do. It is this type of development in both plot and character that truly differentiates Xillia from Graces, exceeds the thematic excellence that Vesperia accomplished, and character development that Abyss pushed for.

The addictive and flashy combat returns.
Combat has always been the strongest focus for the franchise and perhaps, oddly, it’s the weakest aspect of the game when considering Xillia as an entire package. The combat uses the Double-Raid Linear Motion Battle System (DRLMBS). Veterans of the series will notice that this game plays much more like Vesperia than it does Graces due to the lack of circular style of movement and more of a linear horizontal back and forth movement. The combat almost plays exactly like Vesperia but the little differences that add up make it a unique experience. You still controls only one character but you can link up with any of the remaining three party members. This link allows you to attack a single enemy together, essentially controlling both characters but the second in a bare bones sort of way. 

Link Artes are engaging and keeps the action going.
However, the point of linking up to a character is to use special moves called Link Artes. Once you have accrued a certain amount of meter on your Overlimit Gauge, your character can use an Arte to activate the Link Arte. Depending on the character you link up with and the move you use, different Link Artes will be performed. It doesn’t end there though. If your Overlimit Gauge fills completely, the player can perform a series of Link Artes in succession until the meter depletes. This allows for you the create a method for all your Link Artes to hit effectively since certain ones blow enemies away or draw them close. It's an interesting idea one that doesn't let players get away with mindless button mashing all the time.

There is a TP system in place so whenever you uses an Arte, a certain amount is expended, however, unlike Vesperia it is much easier to regain TP in this game without the use of items. Jude in particular can replenish dozens of TP in a matter of seconds. Another difference from its predecessor is the use of a mechanic called Action Capacity (AC). Those who have played through Graces will realize that it is very similar to the CC. Each attack, whether it be an Arte or a normal one, will consume AC. In order to replenish this the character has to stand for a mere moment. While the AC is definitely an interesting addition, it’s not the best one. It’s odd that the the limitless possibility of creating combos through the various Artes would be limited by such an odd system.


Grave!
Lastly, it’s worth mentioning that while the fights against the grunts are really fun and thrilling, the boss fights are not. Those who found the boss fights fun and enjoyable in titles previous to Xillia will quickly realize that it is not quite the case in this game. Bosses are frustratingly difficult to fight against because they can break out of combos quite easily and can normally take 10 hits before coming free. Added to the fact that certain bosses have cheap moves or will have stats that make them ridiculously strong, you have a recipe for disaster. It’s astonishingly weird that the boss fights, one of the best things about the series, has been reduced to a disaster that become a hassle instead of an enjoyable experience. Luckily the bosses are not the ones you will be fighting against for dozens and dozens of hours throughout its 40 hour story.

The progression of each character is done through a system called the Lilial Orb. Once you open up the system, a web-like hexagon grid will appear. Each point will have a node, that contains a certain stat increase; All the nodes are interconnected in some way and once you connect the nodes to fill a certain area, you will unlock an hidden orb. However, you can’t obtain a node if you have don’t have a node already unlocked adjacent to it. This means that while the starting points for the characters will be the same, the development will be different since there will be different routes to take. Prioritizing certain moves and stats by using this unlocking method means that you’ll develop your characters in a very specialized and unique way. 

Easy to use and somewhat disappointing...
Unfortunately, while the customization seems very freeing, it’s not. Characters perform extremely well if they are developed the way they are supposed to. Jude and Alvin will benefit from Physical Attack stats while Milla and Rowen benefits from Magic Attack stats. The illusion of developing your character suddenly disappears once the flaws of this system is realized. Despite this, the idea of controlling the development of your characters in varied ways is interesting.

The audio of the game is great especially considering the MIDI-like track that Graces employed. The musical pieces are very enthusiastic and really drives you forward. The tracks range from a grandiose anthems to a very wonderful but exhilarating orchestra piece that is used in battle. All of these have great synergy and bring forth a feeling of truly wanting to care about the character troubles, the world’s suffering, and the trials overcome in each battle. It’s important to note that the voices of the characters actually seem average especially when considering how well done the soundtrack is. The voices fit each of the character quite well and they all exhibit excellent execution but it’s not until they are in a state of emotional extremes that the voices stand out. The audio package is definitely one of the finest that the series has ever seen.

It looks absolutely gorgeous.
Xillia is the first Tales games to actually be made for the PS3. This means that the graphical capability is tailored to fit the PS3 unlike Vesperia and Graces, which were ported to the PS3. Sadly, Xillia doesn’t astound technically. In a way it is disappointing due to textures often not being very detailed or just flat out plain. It is great then that the style and the artistic vision of the game is extraordinary. Using an oil-painting style, the world almost seems like a painting on the wall, expertly crafted. Each locale feels unique whether you visit the ambient city of Il Fan or the snowy recesses of the Khan Bark. 

You can also control the camera at all times, which is a first for the franchise. This means you can have a good look at each environment you comes across. Unfortunately the plains, mountains, and other lands you traverse through to go from town to town are very bland and lack personalities altogether. Often times all of the areas in-between are large, empty, and the same but with a different set of colors to make it appear like it’s different. The art direction is absolutely phenomenal and it’s too bad that it only stops a few small steps from a perfect delivery.

Well... What's there to complain about?
There is definitely a level of replayability, as with all Tales games. There are a plethora of side quests and the inclusion of a dual-protagonist means that you can clear the game twice without having to go through the same thing over again, though you need to go through each character for the full experience. There is a coliseum-esque area like previous titles in the franchise and there are many items to collect. All of this bundled together with a fun battle system makes it very enjoyable to go through the game’s extras.

Tales of Xillia is a great game, despite its flaws. It actually makes many improvements that the franchise needed to adopt in order to become more modern such as the inclusion of a movable camera, the removal of dialogue boxes, and virtually everything becoming a cutscene. These little presentation changes allow Xillia to be a great package overall and while it’s somewhat difficult to overlook the flaws it does make, the game definitely does more right than it does wrong. If you’re an avid RPG gamer looking to delve into a very interesting world with characters that are extremely well-developed and a combat system that is action packed to boot, then you should check this game out. 

NOTE: This game is only released in Japan meaning Japanese efficiency is highly recommended. It is possible to play with translations and little Japanese but you might not receive the full experience possible.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Man named James Paul Gee

The more time I spend  reading and thinking about James Paul Gee's What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy, the more I realize how games aren't just some form of entertainment. Just like how movies and films can be used for entertainment, they can be used for educational purposes. I'll take a few paragraphs specifically talking about a few ideas that he describes in the earlier parts of the book and what I think of them.

One of the first things he discusses is this idea of literacy. Now the first thing that pops into my mind when I think of literacy is reading. This was actually last year. However, now I have evolved the definition of this word to something much more. If I had to define it with my own words it would be the following: being able to comprehend, understand, and manipulate a certain medium. In this case, Gee discusses what it means to be digitally literate and most importantly what it means to be literate in video games.

However, being literate is only one thing. There is an idea that coincides with being literate and it's called semiotic domains. As Gee puts it, "any set of practices that recruits one or more modalities... to communicate distinctive types of meanings." What does this have to do withe literacy though? A great example that Gee uses is a description of a play in basketball. Now any person can read the series of words that make up sentences which in turn make up the description of the play. If the person can read it but not comprehend what is being said then that person is not literate in basketball and doesn't fit into the semiotic domain. To put it simply a semiotic domain is a domain where there are shared ideas, traits, and beliefs. Basketball is the semiotic domain and being literate in it is a trait.

How does this relate to video game, myself, and others? I'll describe how I fit into all of this first. In order for me to be a video game critic I must belong to a semiotic domain called video games. Furthermore I must also belong to a domain called video game critic. If I do not fit into either of these groups then I am not qualified to be a critic. Why is it so important? In order for me to even start critiquing and analyzing games I must completely literate in the medium. I have to understand what is going on in the game, how it works, why it works, and be able to understand the game on a fundamental level. If I don't understand this and am able to comprehend it at an abstract level then I have no right to critique any game. Why? Because there is no way for me to tell what mechanic/systems are good and bad. By educating myself and being literate in the video game domain I become an expert in the field.

This also applies to other people as well. People need to be more literate in video games. If not we will all just buy crappy games or buy games without questioning what's good or bad. By being critics, gamers have a better chance at making the gaming industry a better place. The domain of games used to belong just to the nerds and such but now it's not. The audience has grown. In response, people should be more literate too.

Now because I'm an aspiring journalist/critic there is one more step that I must take above normal gamers. I mentioned earlier that I must belong to another domain called game critic. Well, in this game critic domain  I must be literate in reading reviews and understanding how to write reviews. In addition I must understand how to pitch ideas for features, communicate with other critics, etc. Now I would go in detail but even I'm not literate enough to describe more about this domain.

Anyway, I've learned that this book is amazing. It has so much to offer me in terms of video games but beyond that too. My career path involves video games and I want to keep reading this book and hopefully I'll be enriched by it.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Issue of Endings

I didn't really want to get into discussing the ending of Mass Effect 3. Honestly, the reason behind it was due to my inability to express my feelings on the matter. I loved Mass Effect 3 and it was an excellent game up until the ending. Honestly, I sat down and thought for a while. Do I dislike the ending? Was the ending bad? Did it seem bad because the rest of the game was so awesome? I had a lot of thoughts jumbling through my head and it was very confusing. One thing I knew for certain about the ending though. I was disappointed. 

However, it seems "endings are becoming a hot topic as of late. Why? Well, we sort of have 3 cases, in 3 months, where endings have become somewhat... arguable. What constitutes as an ending in a video game? Do players have the right to complain about it? Should developers change endings? And so on and so forth. The 3 games I'm specifically talking about are Mass Effect 3, Final Fantasy XIII-2, and Asura's Wrath. 

Before I make any cases or bring up any questions, I would like for everyone to consider the idea of an ending. I find ending to be a conclusion to something. Endings are obviously associated with stories. If there is a beginning of a story, then there is an ending that will come, eventually. What constitutes an ending? I think it's a conclusion that the author original envisions or intended for said medium. Medium being games, books, or movies. If it is not that then I would say that it's not an ending. I understand that in game development a lot of things change. This means that the story can undergo many changes. 

Now I would like to address the people that complained about the ending of Mass Effect 3. Those that want the ending changed have shown no respect to Bioware at all. I say this firmly because if the company has produced a story, you should respect it. By players demanding it to be changed, they are in turn desecrating the work of art, the vision, and creative talent of Bioware. What can be more disrespectful than going up to a painting and saying, "This sucks. I want it changed!" I would be offended if this was said to me about any of my work. I won't get into the nitty gritty details about entitlement, art, or the controversy about the ending anymore. I will say that the ending of Mass Effect 3 was fairly conclusive.

Moving on, Final Fantasy XIII-2. This was another game that disappointed me with the ending. In fact, it was because the game didn't really have an ending. It was just a "to be continued." Now I know that cliffhangers in games are a sign of "to be continued" but Square-Enix had the guts to write it out. Man... Now I mentioned earlier that a conclusion is what the designer originally intended/envisioned. If that "to be continued" was a part of it then I respect that. However, I really felt that the game's story wasn't conclusive at all. Heck, I feel like not even the main plot art was wrapped up. Instead if felt like things were just getting started. Come on! Should games have a conclusive-like ending? No. However, I feel like if you do give players an ending like XIII-2, they'll be highly unresponsive and perhaps even be extremely upset. 

I can go on and on about XIII-2's ending but perhaps I'll save that for another time. I want to get into this advertisement that Capcom released a while back for Asura's Wrath. It's a DLC advertisement that said "true conclusion to Asura's Wrath." What? Now I haven't played Asura's Wrath for myself, but from what I've heard, the ending to the game is fairly conclusive. In fact it was a good ending and everything was wrapped up from what I hear. Then what the heck does this true conclusion mean? If the original game had a true ending... wait... I'm so confused....

Does this mean that the ending to the original shipped product wasn't the actual ending but made to feel like an ending; and the original ending was actually cut to be shipped as DLC? Wow. I'm just making an assumption here but if this is actually the mindset behind this game, then I can't possibly begin to describe my disgust and anger. 

Take for example a book. Let's say that you bought Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. The book ended right when Harry defeats Voldemort. That's a fairly conclusive ending. Sure it doesn't wrap everything up but the conflict is resolved and that's it. Imagine the outrage if J.K. Rowling said a month later, "Surprise! The true ending with what happens after Voldemort's defeat comes out in a week! This is the true conclusion!" I'm pretty sure you would be fairly upset. In fact I have a friend who's a big fan of Harry Potter and I wouldn't be surprised if he went up to Rowling and slapped her in the face. Regardless, this is a poor way to treat your customers.

So, what am I trying to get at with all these supposed issues of endings? Well... I want to say two things. The more outcry, the more complaints, and the more ridiculous things we hear from people the better. Sort of. It's good because it means people care about video games. Sure there's the obvious bad but I'm trying to be optimistic for once. It seems like gamers really aren't a small audience anymore. At least I don't think so. Second thing I want to point out is that the issue of endings might get worse. We're starting to see how DLC is heading down the wrong path and if we see issues of endings coinciding with DLC problems we get a bigger problem. Perhaps people can patch endings in the future if they complain enough. It almost happened with ME3. Who knows... All I can say is that the games industry is getting scarier by the day. 

Monday, March 26, 2012

Guild Wars 2 Closed Beta Article

If you guys were wondering why I didn't post anything for the past few days it's because I was busy with a little game called Guild Wars 2! For full details on my article please check out RPGSite or the link below! Also, I will add a link to a podcast where I and a few people from NeoGAF discuss the Beta. Thank you!

RPGSite: Guild Wars 2 Beta Impressions

Guild Wars 2 Podcast

Friday, March 23, 2012

Ninja Gaiden 3 Review

            Have you ever taken a bite out of a jelly-filled donut only to find out that there wasn’t anything inside it? Well, even if you haven’t, Ninja Gaiden 3 is essentially just that. From videos and screens, Ninja Gaiden 3 appears to be an awesome game. That is until you actually try it and realize that it’s an empty game with nothing fulfilling about it. Ninja Gaiden 3 is not a good addition to the series nor is it a good game.

            Ever since Itagaki left Team Ninja in 2008, fans wondered where the Ninja Gaiden series would go. With Yosuke Hayashi directing Ninja Gaiden 3, the series would seem ready to move forward. Unfortunately, this is hardly the case.

            The story is fairly straightforward and sticks with simplicity much like its predecessors. A terrorist group attacks London demanding Ryu make an appearance. Of course this is all a trap. Ryu is afflicted with a curse and the Dragon Blade disappears. From there on, he has to find out what the terrorists are scheming with questionable allies.

The face of a killer. Well, what you can see of it.

            The plot progresses fine with minimal amount of cutscenes to keep the fast-pace, that’s in tradition to the series, going. The plot twists and the obvious betrayals are here and while it’s not bad, it’s not something that’s great either. The conflicts that Ryu has to handle are executed extremely poorly. While he has to save the world by going against the terrorists, he has to deal with the curse that is plaguing him. It’s a constant juggle between what is the bigger problem (external or internal) and ruins the experience.

            On the flip side, Ninja Gaiden 3’s protagonist is portrayed better. From the get-go you realize that Ryu is a much more talkative person this time around. With Troy Baker leading the helm, you get a masculine voice from him and it definitely fits. Unlike the previous games, Ninja Gaiden 3 attempts to make Ryu a much more human character, for better or worse. While you attempt to see a more compassionate side to Ryu, his ruthless side suffers for it. Other characters are extremely shallow and hardly developed. They’re simply there to fulfill certain roles for plot progression.

            While the story is average with its ups and downs, the combat is an entirely different case. Gone are long traditions of the series such as collectibles, karma, currency, alternate weapons, ninpo, and upgrading. In fact, everything that the series has been known for has been either stripped down or removed entirely making it a barebones game.

It's a bloodbath... of terrible.

Ryu has a single main-weapon to use throughout the entire game – the sword – with a bow and shuriken to round out his arsenal. In addition to his physical armaments Ryu can also utilize Ninpo. However, unlike prior installments he only has one Ninpo move which eliminates all the enemies on screen and refilling a bit of your health.

Ryu can create combos using the quick and strong attacks to kill enemies but the entire process is watered down. Due to cinematic finishes, your enemies will fall before you even get to finish your combo. The cinematic finishes also makes it so killing enemies are less about your skills making each kill a worthless experience. In addition, they are so fast that it’s difficult to even tell what is going on making combat more hectic than it should be. It’s all flash and no substance. Rather than doing cool things yourself the game makes you believe you’re doing all the cool things.

If that wasn’t enough Ninja Gaiden 3 further complicates things by bombarding you with countless number of enemies. Instead of challenging and smart enemies to go against like in the previous games, Ninja Gaiden 3 opts for quantity. The sheer number of enemies that are thrown at you makes it difficult to successfully pull off combos, or sometimes even survive. If you die it feels cheap.

Isn't black bad for the desert?...

Diversity is a key problem in the game. The lack of enemy types makes each encounter monotonous and boring. Every fight is the same with nothing mixing it up and therefore making the entire journey to the end worthless. In fact, by the end of the game it all seems entirely unfulfilling.

Boss encounters are a trademark for the series. It challenged you toyou’re your wits, put you skills to the test, and allowed for quick reactions. That’s all gone. If you analyze the movements and patterns of all the major bosses, they are all essentially the same. The massive ones just charge at you like idiots and can be cut down by dashing and attacking. In fact you can win against any boss using this cheap tactic making the so-called boss encounters just another tedious obstacle in your path. There’s no worthwhile reward.

            However, the most painful gameplay aspect of Ninja Gaiden 3 is traversing through the terrain. There are locations where you have to scale walls or climb across a crevice using a rope. By alternating between the left and right trigger buttons you make your way to your destination but this breaks up the pace of the game. Not only this but it’s frustrating when the environment or enemies work against you. It’s not a matter of difficulty, rather why it’s in the game in the first place. 
           
            Another aspect of making travel painful is the slow-motion segments. While Ryu will be running through jungles, hallways, deserts and what not, there will be times when he suddenly stops to a slow walk to communicate. Ryu is able to run and talk at the same time in certain sections of the game so why does he walk and talk? It just doesn’t make any sense. To add to the trouble, Ryu’s cursed arm sometimes paralyzes him halting the entire pace of the game. These glaring moments, while done to emphasize Ryu’s pain, is nothing but a mere hindrance.

Not if you shower yourself in red! 

            In addition to the story mode that pans out around seven hours, there’s the multiplayer mode. The two modes are Ninja Trails and Clan Battles. Ninja Trails is a horde-mode where you and a friend can kill waves of enemies. It’s fun due to a friend joining in and helping you through the dozens of enemies that you’ll plow through. Just knowing that you have company makes the experience all the worthwhile.

Clan Battle is a competitive team deathmatch mode where two groups of four ninjas face off until either side wins. It’s an interesting idea and works rather well. There isn’t nearly as much chaos as one would think and the reward of having to go against other humans is an interesting twist. The combat is virtually the same as single player with the addition of other Ninpo skills and customizable gear. Oddly, there’s more customization and fun to be had with multiplayer than there is in the single player.

Ninja Gaiden 3 sticks with the same graphics as Ninja Gaiden 2 but it’s not a bad choice. Everything still looks great. Textures are crisp, the colors are fine, and the character models look refined. To top it all off the game runs at a solid 60 fps with little to no slowdowns. There are no technical hiccups and the game definitely benefits from it. If anything is unfortunate about the game is that it doesn’t try to push the capabilities of the hardware more.

The audio fits the fast paced style with metal music playing in background. It’s a solid track and nothing feels out of place. The voice acting is great and nothing feels overdone. Each character portrays emotion well, particularly Ryu.

Ninja Gaiden 3 has questionable design choices and fundamental problems that ruin the experience. Removing mechanics makes the combat devoid of any personality resulting in a bad aftertaste. To add to the problems, the difficulty of the game has been rewritten for quantity rather than the quality of enemies. One has to wonder if this is the result of poor direction or attempting to appeal to a wider audience. Regardless, Ninja Gaiden 3 appears to be something awesome but it’s not.