Monday, March 30, 2009

"Storytelling" in games. Who writes this stuff?

Seriously. I just finished Star Ocean 4 for the X-Box 360, and can't help but feel extremely disappointed by the story. If there is one thing that always bothered me about the "Star Ocean" series, it's that all the "alien" races in the games look almost exactly like humans. Pointy ears does not an alien make. So you mean to tell me that completely different ecosystems on dozens of planets millions of light-years apart produced sentient beings that are all nearly identical to one another save for ear-shape, at almost the same time? The odds are ... well, ridiculous. Suspension of disbelief = no longer suspended. It makes no bloody sense.

But then again, J-RPGs are often developed with the anime-fan in mind. Plenty of anime archetypes are recycled in J-RPGs, and so too are the stories and general style. This explains why so many of the characters feel so goddamned similar. It's all modeled after something else. The J-RPGs job then, is to make it's story and characters as interesting as possible, without straying too far from the mold. Star Ocean 4 doesn't get it right, though. None of the characters are interesting enough for me to care about them. A hero with a "strong sense of justice"? The strong-willed but quiet female companion? The seductive assassin looking to avenge her dead love? The silent, arrogant badass? The obnoxiously loud (and terribly dressed) cat girl? Yeah. I think I've seen this all before....

Us writers need to submit something to these developers. They need some fresh blood.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Nothin' like a swift kick to the balls....

Really. Anyone on the receiving end will agree, that there is nothing quite as painful, or as humbling, as a proper testicle-booting. Except maybe playing Capcoms tough-as-nails "God Hand".

This is one of those games though, that leaves a lasting impression on you. An action gaming experience you will remember, and in my case, compare all other action games to. Yes ladies and gentlemen, God Hand is a "good" kick to the balls.

It is probably the most challenging game I've played in recent time. The beauty of the gameplay though, is that frustratingly hard as it is, I never cried out "cheap" or "unfair" like I do when I play Ninja Gaiden, (or sometimes even Devil May Cry). I weave, side-step, and back flip out of any attack the game throws, and if I get hit I know is was because I made a mistake, and not because the game nails me with an attack I couldn't avoid.

What's more, the gameplay is tight. By this I mean everything you need to conquer the game is at your fingertips, but necessary for you to utilize. Easy to access and use, but hard to master. This makes the game feel tight; everything has a purpose, everything fits.

If you are an action buff, you need to play this game. It belongs in you game library, not cold and lonely in some bargain bin. It needs some love!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Why is it so damned good?

Alright, I admit it. I'm a little late to the party. 

I played Okami only a few months ago. (Sue me). But damn, did it leave an impression on me. Anyone who has played it knows why. It's friggin beautiful. The art direction was brilliant (Japanese watercolor? Seriously?), the music was actually good ( I find that too many games get away with crap music), the story was interesting, as were its characters.  Who can forget Mrs. Orange "Raging Demon"-ing her stove to whip up some cherry-cakes for you? The incredible battle with the demon Orochi in the cave shrine? Or Nine-tails on Oni-Island? The sense of awe and warmth at Ammy's recovery, thanks to Issun, during the final battle with Yami? Whats more, the gameplay is solid, if not a bit easy. But hell, I can forgive ease; it's an adventure game, after all, not a hardcore action game. 

What makes Okami such a classic is the fact that the game is a brilliantly polished "whole-package" of a game. Every major aspect of the game, control and gameplay, sound, story and pacing, characterization, is all done beautifully. It is what I would consider the adventure game "ideal". Okami had everything that it needed to do the be a good, memorable game, and it executed it wonderfully. 

What this amounts to is a gaming experience I have not witnessed since my completion of Zelda, A Link to the Past, back in 1994. Okami is now the game I use to compare all other games in this Genre, that's how wonderful it is. If you still have a PS2, I highly, highly encourage you to get this treasure of a game. (It was ported over to the Wii as well, but I heard the port was kinda choppy and unresponsive regarding the Wii-mote controller. I haven't played the Wii version, so I can't say for sure).

Of course, it's not perfect. But the minor gripes feel so insignificant compared to the whole of the game that I may as well not even mention them. So I wont. Buy Okami if you haven't already. Buy it. Now.