My “Favorite” Game of 2011

I apologize to my non-existent readers for the lack of posts (broken water heater, Christmas stuff, fantasy basketball drafts, and laziness). Anyway, let’s carry on with subjective opinions and nonsense! *clap*

Today, I’m going to be talking about what was my “favorite” game of 2011. Don’t get me wrong; Skyrim, Skyward Sword, Uncharted, etc. are probably better games, but the game I am about to talk about deserves some love too. I understand that not many people have played this game, or probably even heard of it, but damnit, I’m going to write about it anyway!

:D

Most people just said “lol wut,” while a very small number of awesome people just said “yessss.” That’s right, screw all your fancy lookin’ shooters and western RPGs, my favorite game released in 2011 is Atlus’ Radiant Historia for the Nintendo DS.

As I have discussed in previous posts, the video game market we are in this generation has forced a lot of JRPG developers to switch to handheld systems. While this may be alarming for some, Radiant Historia may help relieve some of your fears. Radiant Historia shows just how great JRPGs on handheld platforms can be.

Radiant Historia has everything that its console counterparts have, and in some cases, it offers even more. Great gameplay, music, graphics, story, and length; the restriction normally placed upon handheld games absolutely do not apply to Radiant Historia. Once again, Atlus has proven that it is the true king of the JRPG genre.

Instead of treating this like a review, I’m just going to point out a couple of things that make Radiant Historia stand out as my favorite game of 2011. Perhaps the best thing about Radiant Historia is its battle system. I can’t believe I’m about to say this, but Radiant Historia MAY have one of the best battle systems of all time. It’s a bit hard to describe without seeing it with your own eyes, but think of the battle system as blend of traditional turn-based combat with some additional real time strategy aspects thrown in. Enemies are placed on a 3×3 grid. You can use your characters’ skills to push and pull enemies across this grid. If you can get multiple enemies on one block, you can attack that block to deal damage against all of the enemies standing in it. Also, one of your characters can lay down traps, while the others can try to force them into it. It sounds kind of complicated at first, and my shoddy description isn’t really doing it justice, but the strategical aspects this game offers is what makes it that much more fun.

Another strategical element Radiant Historia offers is the option to manipulate your characters’ turn order. You can allow your opponent to attack earlier so you can get more consecutive turns later. You deal more damage when you have a higher combo, so stockpiling turns is usually a good way to dish out a ton of damage against bosses. However, if you give your opponent too many turns, they will kill you. Radiant Historia also has a nice amount of difficulty to it. You need to know what you are doing; you can’t just spam your strongest attack and expect to win. However, the game still eases you into this system flawlessly. Take it from someone who normally blows at anything having to do with strategy and contemplation, the game will make sure you are comfortable with its battle system before it throws anything overwhelmingly difficult at you.

Radiant Historia’s also boasts an amazing storyline filled with a cast of endearing characters. You play as a man named Stocke, a young soldier working for a country named Alistel. Due to his skills as a soldier and the compassion he shows for his companions, Stocke is granted the power to travel back and forth in between different timelines. Stocke must use his time traveling abilities in order to find a way to end a long lasting war between Alistel and the nation of Granorg, while also ensuring the safety of his comrades and friends. The story has its fair share of twists and turns that will keep the player entertained and interested in what will happen next.

While the story itself is very good, what really makes it stand out is Stocke. Stocke has become one of my personal favorite lead characters in any RPG game. What makes Stocke such a good character is that he (for the most part) is fully developed at the beginning of the game. Most JRPG protagonist have to go through some sort of life-changing process that finally shows them what kind of person they should be. It’s refreshing to see a character who doesn’t start out as either a complete asshole (I’m lookin’ at you, Squall), or a complete wuss (I’m lookin’ at you, Tidus). Instead, Stocke always does what is best without bitching and moaning about how his actions may or may not negatively impact himself.

Stocke shows how good JRPG characters can be by finally going against typical JRPG tropes

So… When I first decided to do a post on Radiant Historia, I only expected it to be about 300-400 words long. Yeah… I was wrong. This just shows how much I loved this game. In my opinion, Radiant Historia is the best RPG to be released since Shin Megami Tensei: Person 4 (December of 2008). It has absolutely everything a JRPG fan could want, despite the fact that it is on a handheld system. Even if JRPGs continue to be forced onto handheld systems, I will have absolutely no gripes as long as they can match Radiant Historia’s quality.

My Take on Spike TV’s Video Game Awards

While I don’t believe that any website, magazine, or television channel’s video game awards should be taken as gospel, I do think it is important to discuss what has become the highest profile video game award show out there. Spike’s VGA’s have almost become a mini-E3; an event where new games are announced to the gaming public. At this point, it seems like the awards play second fiddle to the game announcements, celebrity appearances, and bizarre performances. Still, Spike’s Video Game Awards is still a pretty eventful and exciting day for all gamers. Let’s discuss some of the bigger awards:

Best Xbox 360/PS3/Wii Games

Who won: Batman: Arkham Asylum (360), Uncharted 3 : Drake’s Deception (PS3), The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword (Wii)

Who should have won: Gears of War 3 (360), Uncharted 3 : Drake’s Deception (PS3), The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword (Wii)

I really don’t see any problems with the choices for each system’s best games. The only debatable one is Batman, considering the fact that it isn’t a 360 exclusive. Every nominee in the PS3 and Wii categories were console exclusives. Why wasn’t the 360 held to the same standard? I know it would have likely resulted in two relatively bad games being nominated (possibly Halo and some Kinect game), but it still should have been held to the same standard as the other systems. Gears of War 3 probably should have won the award to keep consistent with the consoles, and it was a pretty damn good game as well. It feels like this award went to Arkham Asylum simply because they felt obligated to give it a few awards since they “robbed” Mark Hamill and Tara Strong of the voice acting awards.

Best Handheld/Mobile Game:

Who won: Super Mario 3D Land

Who should have won: Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective

I know that this I am probably alone on this, but Ghost Trick is just my kind of game. Ghost Trick combines innovative gameplay with an amazing storyline to make one of my personal favorite games of 2011. While I knew it had no actual chance of winning, I am very “proud” of Spike for giving it some attention. Mario is great and all, but I feel obligated to give Ghost Trick some much deserved love.

Best Shooter:

Who won: Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3

Who should have won: Gears of War 3

I’m not one of those people who hates Call of Duty with all of their being, but I do believe that this particular entry in the series is quite flawed. There’s even less new content in this game than there have been in previous Call of Duty entries.  I can understand why it is so popular, but it doesn’t deserve to be called the best when it is still the same game it was four years ago. While a lot of the same could be said about Gears of War 3, it at least offers a pretty good single player campaign that people actually care about. Gears of War 3 is a fine conclusion to a good series, and should have taken home the trophy. Still, looking at these nominees makes me worry about the future of the shooter genre. Nothing really stands out as great, but it still continues to be the most popular genre. I really hope developers will be able to add some new elements to the shooter genre to make it a bit more exciting than it currently is.

Character of the Year:

Who won: The Joker

Who should have won: Ezio Auditore (not even nominated?!)

In the overall scheme of things, the Joker is clearly the better character, but I really believe that this award belongs to Ezio. Ezio has become one of my favorite characters introduced in this generation. It is hard to find compelling characters in a generation that focuses less and less on single player campaigns and character development. Over the years, we have seen Ezio grow from an irresponsible teenager into a man responsible for an entire order of assassins. Since Ubisoft did such a great job at concluding Ezio’s story in Assassin’s Creed Revelations, I believe he deserved this award. I don’t have any serious gripes against the Joker winning this award, but I think it is an absolute crime that Ezio wasn’t even nominated.

Game of the Year:

Who won: The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

Who should have won: The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim…. Aaaand?

I’m not going to argue with the decision to give Skyrim the game of the year award. Out of all of the games released this year, it was clearly the one that stood out the most. They made the right decision here, and I couldn’t agree more that Skyrim was the best game this year. However, it wasn’t my personal favorite game that was released this year. That game will be saved for another post, but I can safely say that no one expects it, and that only a very small number of people have played it. By no means do I think this game was the best game released in 2011, but it was my personal favorite, and I NEEEEED to write about it! So, congratulations to The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim’s well deserved award!

My Favorite Video Game Series – #14

Coming in at number fourteen on my list of my favorite game series is one of the most consistently great series around. I can pretty safely say that not a single “bad” game exists in this series, despite the fact that it is nearing its twentieth anniversary (holy shit I’m old).

#14 – Kirby

Favorite Game in the Series: Kirby’s Adventure

Least Favorite Game (that I’ve played): Kirby & the Amazing Mirror

THE NOSTALGIA! One of the first games I can remember playing as a young chap was Kirby’s Adventure on the NES. This was the perfect game for kids who were just getting into video games; it wasn’t very challenging, but was still extremely fun for everyone. My cousin and I used to compete with each other on who could do better on the weird little mini games (the quick-draw one was a bitch). Even though Kirby’s Adventure wasn’t a multiplayer game, we found a way to make it one. Kirby’s Adventure remains is still one of my favorite games today, and I still regularly play it on the Wii’s Virtual Console from time to time.

The five-year-old me was very skeptical when he heard the premise surrounding the Kirby franchise. What could possibly be fun about playing as a pink puff ball who had to eat enemies in order to stop an evil penguin dude from using a rod to fuck with people’s dreams? (okay wait that sounds totally awesome). LSD-influenced premise aside, there is something about Kirby games that you just can’t help but love. Everything is just so damn… happy. The music, the art style, and even the series’ general lack of difficulty all seems purposely designed to make you, the gamer, as happy as possible. “Are you sick of getting your ass kicked in Contra? Fuck it! Throw in some Kirby’s Adventure and feel like a winner again! Had a bad day at school? Check out this incredibly adorable hamster guy that you can ride on! Feel better now?” Aww Kirby, you always know what’s best!

Just look at that picture. If you didn’t “dawwww,” you have no soul.

As I mentioned in the intro, there hasn’t been one truly bad game in the Kirby series in its entire history. Even though I list Kirby & the Amazing Mirror as my least favorite game in the series, it is still a solid game that doesn’t have any incredibly huge flaws in it. But the one thing that is holding the Kirby series back is that it really hasn’t changed much since 1993. While each new installment in the series does introduce a few new aspects that keep the series somewhat fresh, the core gameplay is still very much the same. Every game feels “safe” to me; it seems like Nintendo isn’t willing to experiment very much with the Kirby series. That being said, I sure as hell can’t think of a good way to change the Kirby series to make it any less stale. The core that this series is built upon is so solid, there really isn’t much of a reason to change it.

The only reason the Kirby series isn’t any higher on my list is because there really aren’t any “OMG AMAZING BEST GAME EVER” games in the series. Every game is a solid 7/10 (in my opinion), with some games reaching up into the 8-8.5 range. The series that are higher on the list may very well have a few more turds than the Kirby series, but they also have a lot more gems. It is because of this consistency that the Kirby series deserves a spot on my list.

My Favorite Video Game Series – #15

I thought it would be kind a fun idea for me to talk about what kind of a gamer I am. While I know that no one is likely reading this, I still enjoy putting my thoughts into words that I can read again in the future as I develop newer and better informed opinions. So with all of that said, I am going to be counting down the list of my top 15 video gamer series. I hope to write one entry two days or so, but you never know when laziness my rear its ugly, oleaginous head (that’s right, I just dropped that bad boy on you out of NO WHERE!).

By no means am I claiming that this list is objective in any way. This is just the opinion of one random dude on the internet who has nothing better to do than to waste time telling his non-existent readers what kind of games he likes. Depressing lack of self esteem aside, let’s get on with the list!

# 15 – Grandia

Favorite in the Series: Grandia II

Least Favorite in the Series: Grandia Xtreme

I’m not going to lie, Grandia is only appearing on this list because of what it means to me, and me alone. In all reality, there isn’t much that makes Grandia stand out from all of the other countless RPG series that were released in the golden age of PS1 and PS2 RPG dominance. But for me, Grandia is perhaps the most important series when it comes to what kind of games I enjoy today. The Grandia series is what formed my personal tastes in video games, and that is why it deserves to be on my list.

Again, another point I must concede is that this series is appearing on this list for primarily one game. Grandia II was the first true JRPG that I have ever played. It was the first time when a game’s storyline actually mattered to me. I’ve never actually cared about a game’s characters before; I usually tried to run through the text as fast as I possibly could. But Grandia II was different. I actually cared about the characters, because they were  interesting, funny, and thoughtful.

The one thing that makes Grandia stand out is it’s unique battle system. It is a bit difficult to put into words, but think of Grandia’s battle system as a combination of regular turn based battles, mixed with some RTS elements. At the bottom of the screen is an action bar, and on the action bar are little pictures of your characters, as well as the enemies you are fighting. Whenever anyone gets to the “COMMAND” portion, you can select your attack. You must then wait until your character get’s to the “ACT” section until they can actually use their attack. During this small waiting period, you, and your enemies, have a chance to delay each other’s attacks. This adds a very nice strategic element to the game that a lot of RPGs from this time lacked.

The stories from each game is different, similar to Final Fantasy. Whether or not you enjoy the stories in the Grandia series may vary, but personally I love them (at least Grandia and Grandia II). It is true that they often borrow tons of Japanese entertainment tropes, but they manage to pull it off fairly well. Also, since I don’t really watch that much anime, and because I never really played too many JRPGs before I played the first two Grandia games, I never really noticed them.

Basically, I attribute a lot of my current love for video games to this series. Because of this, I felt obligated to honor it in some way, even though I think there are a lot of JRPG games that are much better. (I promise, not EVERY entry will be a JRPG series).

Anyway, I think I’m done blabbering about a series that no one else besides me cares about. I promise that the next entry on this list will be a little more interesting.

Can Sony Pull Off a Smash Bros. Clone?

The above photo is supposedly a leaked image from Sony’s next big project, Title Fight. Title Fight is rumored to be Sony’s version of Super Smash Bros, a fighting game filled with the companies biggest characters battling it out against each other.

The thing that makes Super Smash Bros. such a powerhouse is the rich history of great and iconic characters Nintendo has. Mario, Link, Pikachu, and the rest of Nintendo’s characters give the Smash Bros. series the star power and the mass appeal that have allowed it to become one of the best selling fighting games of all time. But does Sony have enough memorable first party characters to actually pull this off?

When we think of the great characters who have appeared primarily on Sony consoles, we think of people like Cloud Strife, Solid Snake, Crash Bandicoot, and Nathan Drake. Unfortunately for Sony, only one of those (Drake) is actually a first party character. Even though those characters are known for appearing on Sony consoles, their rights are still held by another company. Now, this may not end up being a problem, as Nintendo has had third party characters appear in Super Smash Bros. Brawl (Sonic the Hedgehog, and the aforementioned Solid Snake). But is Sony going to be willing to pony up the cash to get these characters in their game? They’re going to have to if they want to have any where near as much star power as Smash Bros,  and they’re going to need a lot more than just Cloud, Snake, and Crash.

Sony’s current list of memorable first party characters looks rather short. Uncharted’s Nathan Drake and God of War’s Kratos stand atop the list, but what stands underneath them is rather disappointing. Other characters include Sweet Tooth from Twisted Metal (pictured above), Sackboy from LittleBIGPlanet, Cole McGarth from inFamous, and Ratchet from Ratchet and Clank. These characters are fine, but they don’t come close to even the bottom tier characters on Nintendo’s list. After that, they are really going to have to start scraping the bottom of the barrel for characters from series’ such as Killzone and Resistance.

Title Fight could end up being an amazing project, I just really hope we don’t end up with a fighting game in which 60% of the playable characters are shooting guns at each other. Let’s just hope Title Fight’s roster looks somewhat similar to Sony’s “Michael” ad campaign*drools over a possible Ezio v.s. Solid Snake matchup.*

Will Xenoblade’s Localization Backfire?

Well, it looks like all of that bitching and moaning has finally paid off. Nintendo of America has finally announced that they, along with some unlikely assistance from GameStop, will be releasing the highly demanded Xenoblade Chronicles in North America. This comes as a huge surprise for those who have been demanding the game, due to the fact that Nintendo has commented numerous times about how they have no plans on bringing the popular JRPG stateside. While this is great news for some, is it possible that this move may end up blowing up in the faces of the fans hoping for more JRPGs to make their way over to America?

It’s pretty safe to say that JRPGs have lost the hold they used to have on the console market back in the PS1 and PS2 days. This generation has shown a huge decline in the popularity of JRPGs, which has begun to force the once popular genre almost exclusively onto handheld systems. When Nintendo of America announced that they had no plans to localize Xenoblade Chronicles, the main reason that they gave was that they did not expect the game to sell well enough to warrant a release. Now that they are finally releasing the game, I am afraid that we may prove them to be right.

Most of the fans who were clamoring for Xenoblade’s release have likely already imported the European version of the game. The JRPG fanbase is one of the most loyal in all of gaming; they are usually willing to do anything to get their hands on a game that they want. That being said, there aren’t many people out there who would be willing to buy the same game twice just to prove a point. This, combined with a market where JRPGs aren’t selling well, as well as a dwindling Wii user base could possibly lead to even more restrictions on the number of JRPGs brought to the states in the future.

The good thing is that localization costs are likely to be small due to the fact that the European version of the game already had an English translation. Also, Nintendo will make some of their money off of the exclusivity deal they signed with GameStop. Xenoblade has also received critical acclaim from European and Japanese reviewers, so hopefully a few good reviews from some big gaming websites will be able to draw more people in. It is certainly possible that Xenoblade will be a huge success, but the trends over the last few years point in the other direction.

Personally, I am very excited to finally get my hands on this game. But there is a significant chance that Nintendo of America will hit us with a snarky “I told you so” when this is all said and done.  With localizations of Xenoblade Chronicles, Ni No Kuni, Tales of the Abyss 3D, and Tales of Grace f slated for next year, 2012 will be a pivotal year in determining the fate of the JRPG on home console systems.