Mumbling about Muramasa: The Demon Blade

Man, you remember the Wii?  I’m pretty sure I’ve said this before, but for all the flak the Wii got for “having no games”, it sure had a hell of a lot of good games.  In a lot of ways, I feel the Wii got everything that the indie games market is covering now, before indie games even had a hope of making it.  In the face of the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 pushing HD graphics and high processing power, but correspondingly high development costs, the Wii offered a more modest rate of performance at a much cheaper, and correspondingly less risky, development price.  Games didn’t port well to and from the Wii and you didn’t see it’s larger install base buying as many games as the other consoles, so it didn’t see that many AAA releases.  But established companies shooting out more experimental and creative secondary-level games?  That it had in droves.  And lots of them were really good.  At this point, my Wii library is pretty comparible in size to that of its competitors, and I find myself really glad for that.

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Case in point, there’s Muramasa: the Demon Blade.  Oozing art style, combat that’s at the same time buttery smooth and awkward, a game that’s not trying to make the huge statement of its AAA counterparts and is just there to be fun.  That last part is really representative of the Wii’s output for me.  How did it play out in this case?  Let’s find out!

Muramasa is made by Vanillaware, who at this point were notable for Odin Sphere and later because well-known for their beat-em-up Dragon’s Crown.  It’s a side-scrolling action game where you play as one of two characters roaming around beautifully drawn depictions of the various areas of feudal Japan, as you slay your enemies, collect the Demon Blades, and…. do things to get stuff done.  There’s a plot, but frankly, it really doesn’t matter.

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And yeah, it being Vanillaware, the art is the most prominent part of this piece.  And it is great.  Everything is lavishly hand-drawn, incorporating real-world art techniques from feudal Japan in a way that makes things look completely fitting to the setting even as they’re stunningly gorgeous.  Most of it looks even better in motion.  Being hand-painted, animations are a little limited, and some of them do look a little janky, but for the most part, they really breathe life into these characters and locales.

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The bosses are probably visually the best part.  If you’ve been playing video games for a while, chances are you’ve probably been pretty well exposed to lots of classical Japanese culture and mythology.  Muramasa draws from that well pretty heavily, but doesn’t just add art to it, it’s often dropping some really interesting twists on the classical mythology as well.  Inugami goes from classical mythology of being a dog poltergeist to the version here of being a blasted scary being with rows of teeth that never end.  Raijin keeps all they fierceness and aggression he’s had in classical mythology, but he’s in the form of a muscular battle woman here.  I found it interesting, seeing the unusual takes on familiar features all over the place.

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Sunshine Blogger: The Four-ening

We’re continuing our Sunshine Blogging spree by taking on the questions that Red Metal posed for us in his nomination.

And frankly, if you hang around this place, you know Red Metal.  He and I have been blog allies for quite some time.  He does a lot of video game reviews, pulling some rather unsung parts of games history out of the pile as well as the traditional classics.  On top of that, he’s been doing film reviews as well.  Guy puts a lot of content out.  So go check his blog.  You won’t be sorry.  And thank you, Red Metal, for this honor.

Other than that, rules are the same as the last three times.  Or, frankly, any of the many other awards we’ve gotten.  Questions are different, however.  Let’s go!

  1. What do you feel is the ideal length for a studio album (or LP)?

Roundabout an hour is the perfect length for me.  Substantial enough to be getting at an artist’s sound from a variety of angles and to make for a full experience in the car, which is where most of my albums get played, but not so long that you start to get tired of it.

2. Have you ever accidentally rendered a physical copy of a game/film/album unplayable?

Aaaaahhhhaahahahahaaaaaa…. all the time.  Let’s see.  I think first was with a copy of SimCity 2000.  Dropped the disc underneath my computer chair, and in attempting to pick it up, ran the chair’s wheels over it.  Never got that recovered.  My copy of Saints Row wasn’t running as smoothly as I wanted it to, and I had my Xbox in the vertical position.  I wanted to see if it’s work better if it was horizontal, so moved the console while the disc was spinning, and that put in a thick circular scar that made it unreadable.  My local game shop was able to fix it, though.  A similar thing happened with Fallout: New Vegas, when the cat knocked the console over while I was playing it.  Game shop guy came through then, too.  Later, he went out of business, and I bought my own disc grinder for those knocks and scratches.  Got a lot of use out of it, but a few missteps.  I had a used copy of Eternal Darkness that was always in poor shape, but it had degraded to the point where it just couldn’t read anything past a certain point in the game.  Tried to get it in the disc doctor, but the tiny little Gamecube discs didn’t mount correctly, and it ended up in worse condition than ever, to the point that it wasn’t even readable.  And the used disc I bought for Yakuza 4 has a slight scratch in it that had absolutely no effect on the game except for one late game cutscene that it prevented from loading, completely ending progress.  I ran it through the grinder and got the disc in absolutely pristine condition, except for the fact that it didn’t work at all.  Apparently you can’t just grind down the scratches on blu-rays the same way you can with CDs and DVDs. I had to replace the disc entirely.  Save data was on the console, luckily enough.

I swear, I am truly an elegant and graceful person.  These missteps are totally unrepresentative.

3. What series do you feel has a confusing naming convention?

Godzilla is absolutely the worst at names.  The. Worst.  Seriously.  Let’s see if you can follow along with this.

Godzilla (1954) is a different movie from Godzilla (1985), which is different from Godzilla (1998), which is different from Godzilla (2014).  Godzilla, King of the Monsters! and Godzilla: King of the Monsters are different movies.  Mothra vs. Godzilla and Godzilla vs. Mothra are different movies.  King Kong vs. Godzilla is different from the upcoming Godzilla vs. Kong.  Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla and Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla are different movies.  Terror of Mechagodzilla is the sequel to Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla, not Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II, which takes place in a completely different timeline than Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla.  Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla was notable for having a direct sequel in an era where otherwise every other film around it completely restarted the continuity, but the sequel was titled Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S. and didn’t refer to the previous title at all.  However, Mothra vs. Godzilla and Godzilla vs. The Thing are different titles for the same movie.  Same with Ebirah, Horror of the Deep/Godzilla vs. The Sea Monster, Invasion of the Astro Monster/Monster Zero, All Monsters Attack/Godzilla’s Revenge, and probably a lot of others I’m not perfectly aware of now.

On top of that, and this seems like a really minor issue now, most over the films are titled something in the structure of Godzilla vs. Other Monster which is only helpful if you can distinguish the names of the monsters.  Do you know the difference between Megalon and Megaguirus, and can tell me whose film features the coveted Big Dumb Godzilla Dropkick?  Becoming a Godzilla fan requires a guide of some sort.

4. What critical darling do you feel completely failed to live up to the hype?

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I remember people raving about Psychonauts.  I remember people bemoaning the fact that it’s not talked about more, didn’t sell enough, doesn’t take up enough space in our collective consciousness.

Then I played it.  And you know, I get what people like about it.  It’s got good ideas, it’s got a lot of creativity, it’s really high concept.  It’s just not very fun to play.  The controls are clumsy, the environment is often unresponsive, the challenges before you are really uninteresting, etc.  This is a game that’s a blast to watch, to absorb all the good parts behind it.  Just not to actually get your hands on the controller.

5. Which work do you feel should have deserved more attention?

Time is starting to correct this, but Fire Emblem has long been one of gaming’s unsung treasures.  I love turn-based strategies, but you very rarely get a good series going.  Fire Emblem has earned it’s place as one of the best.  I can understand why it never got much love.  Nintendo didn’t have faith in it on the American market until their character’s placements in Smash drove demand for it, and even then, the rampant permadeath, minimal developmental advancement between entries, and really basic presentation makes it hard to recommend for the general player.  But the strategic gameplay is really solid, and the series always deserved more than just surviving on the very edge of profitability.  From Awakening on up, though, the series has been getting a lot more success, and that’s really nice to see.

Now, if it would just get enough success that you could manage to find a copy on sale or for something less than MSRP even years later, that would make me a pretty happy man.  Nintendo doesn’t really cooperate with deal hunting.

6. Do you prefer a foreign work to be subtitled or dubbed in your language?

Film and TV, I prefer them to be subtitled.  I have a lot easier time with my film-industry burnout stress issues when watching a movie if I don’t understand the language being spoken, for whatever reason.  Video games, I prefer them dubbed, usually, especially if they’re going to be delivering any spoken content outside of cutscenes.  Given that I’m interacting with the work and my attention needs to be going in a couple different directions, having the dialogue draw too much of it away by making me both read and listen and mentally attach one to the other through translation conventions just doesn’t work on the fly.  Video games seem to get higher quality dubs than film and tv as well, that helps.

That said, I’m not super picky on it, and there are times when dubs can improve or reduce the quality of a work.  I just want the best experience available, and I can go between them as needed.

7. Can you remember an instance in which you managed to succeed in a game by the skin of your teeth (e.g. beat a difficult boss with barely any health remaining)?

Lots of times.  I think one of the most glorious times of that was in fighting Artorias in Dark Souls.  And you know what?  You guys were there for it.  Nice to have it recorded for posterity like that.

8. Can you remember an instance in which you got completely robbed playing a game?

Yes, and it still burns me.  No More Heroes has the absolutely worst overworld I have ever seen in games.  It’s big, expansive, takes forever to traverse, and mostly empty.  You have to deal with it, though.  It’s not an optional part of the game.  Specifically, to get your story missions, you have to grind for them.  You have to pay money to get your missions, and the only way to get sufficient amounts of money is through the inane minigames that are scattered around there.  To access them, you have to sign up for them at a central location, drive through the lame overworld to get to them, do the worthless thing, drive back, sign up again, rinse and repeat.  It’s not fun, it’s not engaging, and no matter how anyone tries to say it’s really satire, this is one of the dumbest and most disrespectful things I’ve ever seen anyone include in a game.  The core gameplay is pretty good, so you deal with it, but as you have to do more and more grinding to get to your missions, it really starts to wear thing.

Halfway through the game, you have to pay about $800,000 of game money to access a mission, if I remember correctly.  Tons of grinding.  Contrary to every other mission you’ve been through, when you start this one, it’s just a big long hallway.  No open areas, no twists and turns, nothing really to capture your interest, just long hallway that you fight basic dudes in.  But then you get to the end.  And the boss comes out.  And the bosses are the best part of the game.  This guy looks intense.  This is going to make up for it all.  But who’s that other guy in the cutscene?  And why did he just slice the big boss in half?  And now he’s leaving?  You never got to fight the boss?  Oh well, mission success, now grind $900,000 for the next mission.

I turned the game off then and I have never been back to No More Heroes.

9. What is your favorite arcade game?

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I have not played this since I was a kid, so nostalgia may well be twisting my perspective, but Ninja Baseball Batman was my favorite arcade game as a cub.  The only place I ever saw it was my local Pizza Hut, but I spent so many quarters on that game.  I don’t know if I ever beat it, but I do remember coming really close to the end multiple times.

10.  If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go?

I would make a world tour, and visit the homes of the significant others of all my enemies and take them all on their dream dates.  No romances are so sweet as the one that ruins the life of someone you hate.

11.  What critics (in any medium) do you find to actually be reputable?

These days, not many.  I would much rather get an opinion from one of my fellow content creators than trust a review.  I trust the staff of PC Gamer more than anyone else, however.  It used to be because they were the only outlet I would see that would be openly negative in previews about a game that just wasn’t fun to see.  Everyone else, no matter how they trashed the game when it was released, you could always go back and see those same staff doing their jobs of being good industry outreachers and talking up that exact same game in previews, but PC Gamer would openly state that the games not good.  I don’t see as much of that these days, as I’ve moved away from traditional video games media as a whole, but I still see them taking a more balanced line than other outlets, not so much trying to partner with the publishers until they switch sides so they can milk a bad game or controversy for the big bucks then ingratiating themselves with the publishers once more to start the cycle over again.  I’ve gotten a little bitter about that, haven’t I?

Well, in the interests of sparing LightningEllen, no nominations this time.  Yet.  We’ll see if anyone displeases me first, then they’ll be staring 121 questions down as well.

Sunshine Blogger v3.00

We’re back, baby!  Went on a bit of an unintentional hiatus there, but yet again, Lost to the Aether rises like the phoenix.  You all now have my permission to rejoice.

We’re going to ease our way back in here by addressing the not one, but two Sunshine Blogger awards/nominations/whatever we received while I was out in that horrible, fearsome place we call real life.  Yes, both AK from Everything’s Bad For You and Red Metal from Extra Life Reviews have put us forward for this incredibly illustrious award.  Having received this already twice before, that obviously makes Lost to the Aether a shoe-in for this, whenever the people administering this bother to make my trophy.

Anyways, as always, in making these nominations, each of our fellow bloggers have posed a number of questions to us.  And your main man is always up to fill people in when they get curious about him.  So let’s get started.

Since AK got his nomination in first, will handle his questions up front.  Red Metal’s turn will come later.

But first, in keeping with the rules of the award, thank you, AK, for this opportunity to engage in my favorite activity and talk about myself.  If you don’t already, you should go check out his blog, Everything is Bad For You.  In spite of the name of his blog, he mostly posts about the good things, usually Japanese games and music, he enjoys.  Dude knows and loves his SMT.  And he’s a lawyer (poor guy), so you’ll sometimes see him working his law knowledge into his posts the way I do with business stuff sometimes here.  You like my stuff, you might well enjoy his.

Next step, on to the questions posed.

  1. Do you have a favorite game composer?  If so, who is it?

Motoi Sakuraba is my favorite video game composer.  I really admire him for the fantastic range and diversity of his works.  I know him best from his work with the Tales Of series, where you get mostly JRPG big bombastic emotion projecting pieces with a bit of rock instrumentation thrown in at times.  His work with the subtle, moody intensity of Dark Souls’ soundtrack was so different I never realized it had the same composer until I looked it up.  Going from there to the Valkyrie Profile series, to the Star Ocean series, to his Smash Bros. work, to so much more, every series of which seems to have a completely different type of soundtrack that is still of a really high quality, Sakuraba is a marvel even among all the talent in the industry.

Beyond that, Yasunori Mitsuda’s work in games is really limited, but Xenoblade Chronicles has probably my favorite soundtrack of any game.  Koji Kondo is a bit hit or miss for me, but when he hits, I think he has more impact than anyone else.  His theme from the trailer to Legend of Zelda Twilight Princess gives me chills every time I listen to it.  And Nobuo Uematsu’s soundtracks basically define my childhood, and still get my feels going.

You know, as I type this out, I realize this is really, really close to Red Metal’s post on the subject.  Guess I’m not that original.

2. Same question as above, but for game artists/art directors.

You know, I’m having a lot harder time with this one than I am with music.  There’s a lot of games I can point at having particularly good art direction, but I can’t bring any of the individuals behind them to mind.  I guess I haven’t connected with the individual creators on this front the same way I had with the music.

3. Is there a character you’ve encountered in a game that annoyed you immediately?  If so, did that character grow on you over time, or do you still dislike them?

Almost any child character in a game.  It always seems like the kids are just cancer to the story.  Nobody knows how to write them well, and they always seem to cause the characters I do like such huge problems and haven’t built up the sympathy required for me to tolerate that.  Walking Dead’s Clementine, Final Fantasy VI’s Relm, and Persona 4’s Nanako are about the only exceptions to this I can think of, where I actually enjoyed their presence from the start.  The rest of the kids just make me groan internally when I realize they’re going to be sticking around.

Sometimes they grow on me, and sometimes they don’t.  It really depends on how they progress from the initial brattiness.  Persona 3’s Ken never did.  In fact, I spent much of his arc moving from initial mild frustration over how “precocious” he is even though he doesn’t really do anything to great anger at the plot over how he does horrible things that have huge consequences yet his development through that is crazy rushed and everyone forgets about what he did almost immediately.  Anise from Tales of the Abyss, however, you start unraveling her character and finding out that, although she’s annoying, she’s got her reasons and traumas that make her that way.  Then there’s characters like Fallout 3/4’s Mayor MacCready, whom I had a burning firey rage for because they’re such a stupid little ratbag, then I have a lot more sympathy for them after they’ve gone through a bit of hell for being a stupid little ratbag, and I like them more once they’ve paid for the suffering they’ve imposed on me with their stupid existence.

Moral of the story is never have kids.

4. If you could own any vehicle from a game, which one would you own, and would it be a practical form of transportation?

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I’ll take the Jehuty from Zone of the Enders 2.  It’s good transportation, and you can park it anywhere.  Combat ready, for when I spy one of my many enemies.  And I have it on good authority that women love a man with a mecha.

5. How do you feel about contributing to crowdfunding campaigns for games and other works?

I actually have pretty strong feelings about that.  That drives me to never do it, really.

I really don’t like how crowdfunding campaigns are driven to treat those contributing to them like investors and selling them on that concept, yet really, all they’re doing it pre-ordering the material all in advance with potentially some special perks, and once the campaign is closed, treating them that way.  It’s telling the consumer they’re buying one thing, but selling them another.  And the fact that there’s no accountability in place and so many of these projects launch and fail because they’re sold on the strength of the creative aspects but they don’t have a producer or manager in place capable of keeping them moving forward, I just really have a hard time trusting crowdfunding.  I think one of my earliest awarenesses of crowdfunding was for the Homestuck game, yet once that campaign was funded, mismanagement led to it negatively impacting the webcomic it was to be based on, and the game itself was floating in the dead zone for a while and still has yet to fully come out.  Not a good first impression of it.

Yet, I can’t deny we’ve gotten some marvelous games out of it.  Your Undertales, your Shovel Knights, your FTLs, your Kingdom Death: Monsters, your Divekicks, the list of smashing successes goes on and on.  I can’t deny that it’s made for some great things, some of which probably wouldn’t exist without it.  I just wait until they’re all available commercially before I pick them up, however.

Fun fact, once upon a time I was going to do one of my business counselor posts about how I’d do a crowdfunding campaign, but then my last job proved that I’m really not good at those.

6. Reversing a question I was asked – what movie would you want to see adapted into game form?

Eh, I’m not really one to ask about movies.  I used to work in the industry, sucked at it, and got burnt out to the point that even now, years later, I get stressed out when I watch anything but just the right type of film.  So, sorry, but I rarely watch movies now, and I don’t have a good answer to this question.

7. Do you buy physical copies of games?  How important is it to you that the publisher releases a physical copy of a game, or does it matter at all?

Oh yeah.  I get physical copies all the time.  That’s my preferred way of getting all this going.  I live in a rural area, and internet’s not the greatest here.  It’s just fine for streaming movies, usually, but downloading games takes quite a while, and it’s usually a lot easier for me to swap out a card or disc when I want to play something than it would be waiting a day or two before I get to play that current gen piece of hotness I’ve got my eye on.

That said, I do have an extensive digital collection.  Mostly on PC, however.  The closing of the Nintendo Wii Store and the fact that my XBox 360 doesn’t work with my current internet has given me trust issues over games being taken away from me, and although Sony seems more reliable, it’s still a pain in the exquisitely formed butt to need to constantly manage system memory.  On PC, though, the various launchers I have make it easy, and the games get to be so cheap, it works wonders with my thrifty nature.  I’ll usually get a game digitally if it’s significantly cheaper than physical, but otherwise, give me my disc any day.

8. If you could have dinner with/hang out with any one main cast of characters from a game, which one would it be?

The crew from Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance.  I don’t know why, really.  It just seems like they’d be the best time for just a big giant barbecue.

9. How important are a game’s story, characters, and overall message to you when weighed against the quality of its gameplay?

I want something to be good in a game.  I can take a bad story if the gameplay is good.  I can take bad gameplay if the story is great.  Best case scenario has both of them coming in line.  I’m willing to work with most any mix there, as long as at least one of the elements has something to offer.

10. If you were exiled to a desert island and could only bring one game console with you, which one would it be?  Not counting the PC – you’re allowed to have a PC on the desert island.  You also have access to power sources.  This is a really convenient desert island, isn’t it?

Well, I’ve got a couple hundred games in my PC library, so are you sure you’re going to let me have that?

Probably my Wii.  Largely because it’s backwards compatable with my Gamecube library, which has a little bit of everything in there, as well as it’s own.  So I think that could keep me occupied for quite a while.

11. How much money do you think you’d get for your entire game collection in Gamestop in-store credit?  

I have a pretty massive game collection.  Most of it’s digital or from a generation or more ago, so that’d be pretty minimal.  I could probably get a good steak dinner from what’s left, if I could find a restaurant that takes Gamestop in-store credit, but not much more than that.  Their going rate’s not that considerable.

Alrighty, now it’s on to the end times, the further nominations!  Normally, I would skip this part, but not today.  Today, I nominate LightningEllen for all eleven nomination slots here.  That’s right, LightningEllen, pick 121 questions, and answer them in your blog.  You have to thank me for it, too.  The rules say so.

And tune in next time, when we slam down the eleven questions Red Metal posed as well!

Eyes on Neon Drive

There’s something to be said for those games that will take a simple concept, distill it down to its purest essence, and then build something beautiful out of it.  Something that’s so simple to talk about, yet so complex in its execution.  You get that in your Tetrises, in your Pac-men, and now, in your Neon Drives.

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We’re going to call Neon Drive, made by the how-the-heck-do-you-pronounce-that developer Fraoula, a ‘Rhythm Driver’ here.  Yeah, we’re breaking the boundaries of genres even as we recreate them.  Ok, not really, because Neon Drive is really just a rhythm game at its core, but it takes place in a car, on a street, you know, driving.  So like I said above, really simple in concept.  At its base level, there four lanes you can move between.  Your car automatically moves forwards, and obstacles come along the path forcing you to switch between lanes in time with the music to avoid them.

And that’s that.  Well, mostly.  Again, really simple in concept.  And yet they make it work.  It’s not an epic experience or anything, but I had a good time with it when I first came across the game a few years ago, and I had a good time with it again when I picked it up just recently.

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The music and aesthetics are a big part of it.  Most of what I know about the 80s, I know from games and movies trying to be deliberately retro, so I’m pretty sure the era was all about neon and sci-fi and synth-heavy soundtracks and that weird segmented sun and really, really bad hair and clothing.  Except for the last bit of it, this game seems to pull it all off well.  Especially the music, that really stands out.  I do have to commend this soundtrack, it’s pumping and driving and manages to not get old even as you listen to the same segments over and over again because this game is really hard.  And it sounds so appropriately 80s, and is tailored really well to the challenges you’re facing in the game.  The music and your movements mesh together so naturally, sometimes it feels like you could get through the obstacles with your eyes closed if you just followed along with the music.

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And then you crash and burn because even with all that, the game is hard.  It’s very heavily skill-based.  It requires reflexes, planning, and absolute precision, and it will make you replay the same sections over and over and over again until you get it right.  It’s interesting how it builds those skills up in you, however.  It can take you a long while to get there, but once you get to the point where you can beat a level, you’ll be able to do it again and again like nothing.  I remember, it took me about two hours to beat all seven levels when I first played the game a few years ago, a feat the developers have stated makes me certifiably superhuman.  I hadn’t touched the game at all in the interim, but picking it up again here, I was able to move through that same set of levels with very little trouble.

Then I got to the new 8th level.  That one is absolutely brutal.  I hate that this game keeps track of how many times you’ve tried but failed, because I truly embarassed myself on the last one.  If you can beat that one, you’re a better Neon Driver than I.

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It is pretty short.  There’s only 8 levels, and if you can get through them in a single go, each level only takes you about two minutes.  I feel like it makes full use out of being compact, though.  Each level switches up the gameplay somehow halfway through, whether by switching perspectives, turning the obstacles into oncoming traffic, transforming your vehicle entirely, etc., and each one does it in a different way.  Again, I finished it my first go around in about two hours.  The 8th level can extend that some, if you’re going to put in the time to get through it.

And, you know what?  That’s all I’ve got to say about that.  It probably comes across a lot better in action than it does in spoken word, so check this out to see a bit of what I’ve been going through.  

On Perceptions and Oblivion

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I don’t know if we’ve ever seen a more ambitious early-generation title than The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion.  By that time, especially following up on the critical and commercial hit Morrowind, the whole Elder Scrolls series was known for two thing; giant, expansive open worlds absolutely full of stuff to do, and not actually having any elder scrolls in the game.  Oblivion carried out all expectations of the former with aplomb, but shockingly, broke drastically with series tradition on the latter.  The gall of these folks.  But, when you’re leading a new generation, sometimes you have to move past your limits.

Perhaps as a result of being perhaps the most ambitious early-generation title in history, I don’t know of a game that’s aged so drastically and instantly as The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion.  Although a multi-console release, it was developed around the Xbox 360 architecture from it’s nascent days, releasing a mere four months after the system did.  It’s scenery looked lovely, but its characters, looked……..

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Yeah.  Visually, even the best parts of it, most of the launch titles available at the time well outpaced it.  They were new at incorporating voice acting into a game this size, which led to a lot of awkwardness both as it meant the characters had a lot less to say than they used to, and oddly, everyone sounded so much the same as all characters of the same race and gender were played by the same actor.  DLC was a new thing, and this game was obviously experimenting with the market for that, mixing both the instant-joke expensive but useless horse armor with the could-absolutely-be-it’s-own-game bargain Shivering Isles expansion.  And they had tried to correct some problems of the old games that didn’t really need to be corrected, leading to a lot of clumsily-implemented features, such as the counter-intuitive leveling system that quickly became infamous.

Thing is, the presentation may not be much, but the foundation of the game is very solid.  The Elder Scrolls have always been at their best making you buy into the world, at feeling like it was a living, breathing thing that you were truly a part of.  At its best, the Elder Scrolls would make you forget about this dumb meaty world where all your problems are and get you believing in this place where adventuring rules the day and people will regularly hire warriors to collect the laundry they lost at the end of a monster infested cave.  It really excelled at that.  The engine may have been hopelessly glitchy and the quest streams may be endless, yet they did serve the immersive experience this game really drove.

What’s really strange to me, though, is just how much my perceptions of this game have been driving by the video games environment I played it during.  Usually I’m well able to isolate things, and just enjoy them on their own merit, but not so much this game.  I remember playing it shortly after Morrowind.  Back then, I experienced the game as a definite step forward in terms of engine, a game that was more directly interactive and less reliant on behind-the-scenes dice rolls and bore a lot more quality of life features that really enhanced the experience, even as it did simplify a significant amount of the gameplay.  It was lacking character compared to its predecessor, having followed up a very alien realm by turning what was supposed to be a very Roman-inspired jungle nation into the standard fantasy thing you’ve seen over and over again, and the advent of voice acting significantly cut down on what people had to say, but it was still a really full and solid experience.  Coming back to it after Skyrim, I found the game somewhat obtuse, somewhat inelegant, and again lacking in character and depth of world in comparison, and clearly outshone in different ways by both games on either side of it, but still a very solid experience.

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And now?  Well, I enjoyed it enough to give 70 hours of my life to it, but even so, once again, I’m getting a very different perspective on it.  It’s builds its worth on the whole open world thing, of making you feel a part of this whole experience beyond just your screen, and it has a giant world of its own, so it definitely should be able to stand on its own, but I still find myself constantly and incessantly comparing it to other games.  The Elder Scrolls has become the standard in open-world design, and open world has become so in vogue right now.  Zelda does open world.  Mario does open world.  Monster Hunter does open world.  From the 2D Platformer to the 3D Platformer to the 3rd Person Shooter to the Open World game, that now seems the default for basically everything released.  And so many other games have taken and absorbed everything that once made Oblivion unique, to the point that I now have the same experience I do with so many other historically important games, the developmental milestones in the form that were once unique to this game but have proven so influential that all the ground they broke has been paved into a superhighway.  It’s interesting to see where it comes from, things have gone far beyond it now.

I think every time I’ve played this game, I’ve had a different take on it.  And when I come back some years down the road, when, at the rate things are going, everything is a Battle Royale game, I wonder if I’ll have a different take on the game then.

Smash DLC Predictions

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I’ve fallen for the new Smash Bros.  Hard.  This has happened before.  The original, Melee, Brawl, I’ve got hundreds of hours in all of them.  I ended up kind of meh about Smash Bros. 4, for whatever reason, so I wasn’t expecting too much about Ultimate.  Just picked it up on a lark, really.

And yet.  And yet.  I can feel it.  I’m falling off the wagon.  I am so into this game.  It’s just clicking for me, when I had assuming either the magic was lost with the last game or I had just moved past it.  It’s good.  I’m loving it.

So, in case you haven’t been on the internet for a while, one of the fun things to do with Smash is speculate about which characters are going to get into it.  Used to be that this sort of hobby would dry up after the game came out and cut through the knot.  Now, though, thanks to the magic of moneygrubbing, we have DLC to keep the questioning alive post-release.

We know there’s going to be at least six DLC characters for the game.  Two of them are already out, Piranha Plant from Mario and Joker from Persona 5.  So four to go.  And I am excited for it.  I reaaaaaaally don’t get excited for DLC; usually if it’s not in the base game, I have a hard time trusting the quality of it in advance.  But here, I find myself already getting the season pass.  I can’t understate it, that is quite a shift for me.

So let’s join in on some of that same fun speculating.  There’s going to be four more characters.  Who are they going to be?  Here’s my predictions.  I’ll say I’m probably wrong on all of these, but you know what, that’s not the point.  The guessing is fun.  I’ll also say that I’ve not yet exhausted all the spirits, unlockables, and probably assist trophies in the game yet and I’ve been avoiding looking these up for spoiler’s sake, so there may already be information I’m missing.  But based on what I know now, here are my best guesses as to which Amiibo’s will soon be adorning LightningEllen‘s shelf.

Ryu Hayabusa-Ninja Gaiden

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Yeah, yeah, I know.  Even through just a cursory search online, this one’s a really popular guess.  Not leading with something unique here.  It seems strong to me, though.

Koei Tecmo and Nintendo have seemed to have a strong relationship of late.  They co-own Fatal Frame, Koei Tecmo has contributed a lot of games towards the NES classics available with a Switch Online subscription, Hyrule Warriors was a big success that was supported and updated longer than any other game on the Wii U, they followed that up with Fire Emblem Warriors, there’s a lot going on across the two companies.  But as yet, the only representations Koei Tecmo seems to have in Smash Bros. Ultimate are a Fatal Frame-based assist trophy and a few assist trophies from the same series.

I’m pretty confident that Koei Tecmo is going to get one character in on the upcoming DLCs, just based off of how strong their relationship seems to be with Nintendo.  And of every character Koei Tecmo has, Ryu Hayabusa seems most likely.  Even with Bayonetta and Snake in the mix, Nintendo’s still keeping things mostly family friendly in Smash Bros, and I don’t think they’re going to go any stronger on a horror game series like Fatal Frame than they already are.  Ryu’s probably the most prominent character Koei Tecmo has, and would represent both the Dead or Alive and his own Ninja Gaiden series here.  He’s the biggest part of gaming history of any of Koei Tecmo’s characters, as well as having the biggest presence on Nintendo systems, which isn’t a perfect indicator of Smash inclusion anymore, but it still does seem to be something of a factor.  And he’d have plenty of content to be drawing from.  If Koei Tecmo is getting one of these DLC characters, as I believe they are, Ryu Hayabusa seems the strongest option.

Jibanyan-Yo-Kai Watch

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Yo-Kai Watch is a property published and marketed outside of Japan by Nintendo, with Nintendo of America making key release announcements about the system.  Nintendo seems to be innately involved in this game.  It’s a multi-media property that seems to have developed a very dedicated following.  And yet it seems to have absolutely no presence in Smash.  I find that rather suspicious.  It seems to me the only way there wouldn’t be a spirit or an assist trophy or something from Yo-Kai Watch would be if they had other plans for the property in Smash.

Hence, the DLC character.  I know next to nothing about Yo-Kai Watch.  Seriously, this is a series that has almost entirely escaped my notice.  I know the people who like it really like it.  Just hasn’t come across my desk.  I picked Jibanyan because he seems to be the most visible… thing.   Yo-kai?  Mon?  Of the game.  The one that always pops up on all the art and posters and stuff.  He’s the Pikachu of the Yo-Kai.  I can’t speak with any nuance as to why it’d be him specifically outside of that, or what he would play like, but just you watch.

RabbidsRayman Series

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Yeah, I’m not super happy about them.  I really loved Rayman’s Raving Rabbids on the Wii.  But really, one game of these guys was enough for me, and I can’t imagine they’d make the most fun character to play.  Their loud slapstick really doesn’t seem in line with the Smash environment either.  But here we are.  I’m guessing that they’re an upcoming Smash DLC character.

With Smash 4, Ubisoft got the world excited with the news that Rayman was going to be in Smash, then immediately let them down by following that announcement up with the words “as a trophy”.  Seemed rather pointless then, didn’t it?  And it was.  But what’s happened since then?  I’ll tell you what happened.  Mario + Rabbids happened, that’s what.  It got attention in player spheres because of the sheer amount of emotions the developers demonstrated at seeing their game presented by Miyamoto at E3, but it’s since proven to be an actually pretty good game.  And one that Ubisoft has supported and updated for a good long while, now.

I’m operating on the assumption that if they’re already a spirit, they’re not getting into the game as a DLC character.  So that cuts out Rayman himself, as well as several of the specific Rabbids from Mario+Rabbids.  The garden variety version of them, though?  I haven’t come across one of those yet in spirit form.  And they’ve been a series that were born, grown, and thrived on Nintendo consoles from the Wii up.  So, it seems natural that they’d soon be BWAAAAHing up in Smash, too.

On the plus side, if I’m right about this, then that means that both Pokemon and the Ninja Turtles share a universe.  If we can get the Rabbids crossing over with Batman, too, that would be all of my childhood action figure storylines come to life.

Lloyd Irving-Tales of Symphonia

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Bandai Namco, under the direction of the eternal Smash headman Masahiro Sakurai, provided the staff to make this game.  Yes, it’s a Nintendo game through and through, but it was Sakurai and Bandai Namco that actually put it together.  Yet the only character Bandai Namco got into Smash is Pac-Man.  I would be absolutely shocked if they didn’t have at least one character in the DLC lineup.

And Lloyd Irving seems like the most likely option to me.  Not that they don’t have a huge list of other properties to choose from.  It could be Dig-Dug, but I feel he’s lost to the annals of time.  Same with Mr. Driller.  Someone from Soul Calibur wouldn’t be too out of place, but I feel that series doesn’t have a really strong stand-out character.  Heihachi from Tekken also seems a really likely option, but I struggle to come up with ground for that character that’s not already covered.  Lloyd Irving, however…

Tales of Symphonia was one of the best and most prominent games on the Gamecube, and filled a really solid space in the RPG library that was kind of lacking on that console.  They even followed it up with a sequel on the Wii, although that one wasn’t quite so exciting.  And in Smash 4, you could get his costume and hair for your Mii Fighters.  And you noticeably cannot with this game.  You could do the same with Heihachi, as well, sure.  And again, he also does seem a really likely option, but I’m tipping the scales over to Lloyd just thinking of atmospheric fitness.  But what do I know, maybe they’ll both get in.

So, that’s me.  That’s my guess.  Along with all the hundreds of thousands of others out there.  Am I going to look super cool once these characters actually come out and I’m totally right as always?  Is time going to prove me a wistful idiot?  We’ll see.

Analyzing Games the Aether Way

If you’ve read some of my older posts, you probably know that I just love to put too much thought to many of the games I play.  Explore the themes.  Read into the little features.  Even when the developers didn’t intend that to be there.  Especially when the developers didn’t intend that to be there.  You probably also know that I am an amazing human being, and every living human either desires me or desires to be me.  You wouldn’t think that would be related to my tendencies for over-analysis, but to be honest, I don’t know how I make my magic work, so it very well could be.

Maybe you want to be amazing just like me.  You shouldn’t.  You should want to be amazing in your own way.  But if that way involves analyzing video games and other creative works, maybe I can help you with that.  Let’s take a case study, and go over the sort of unconscious method I use to dig into the plots, the settings, the themes, the meanings, the hidden little features of things in a way that makes experiencing them so much more meaningful to me.

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To play along, I ask that you give Loved by Alex Ocias a go.  It’s a quick little platformer, minimalistic, not really heavy on the mind, but it has a lot of features that we’ll be able to apply the following lessons to.  So please, if you have 10 minutes to spare, give that a quick playthrough before continuing on with the rest of this post.

Anyways, let’s get going.  You want to analyze a game?  Here’s how I do it.

1: Understand Your Filters

We’re all on our own lives here.  Every single one of us has our own backgrounds, morals, beliefs, values, set of experiences, and whatnot.  Your family, your friends, your work, all of them will have their own, different cultures.  Every one of us has our own path through life, and have absorbed so many little unique bits into ourselves that make up a huge chunk of who we are today.  And that impacts the way we view our media.

Assuming most of us here are human adults, our brains don’t experience most things in a vacuum.  Rather, our brains will process stimulus by comparing it to what we’ve experienced in the past and basing it on that.  Our past experience color and change the way we have our current experiences.  We have lens.  Biases.  Filters.

Usually, this is not a bad thing.  These lens can become overpowering, to the point where you’re primed to see something based on almost no indication and you ignore the contrary and deeper points and you end up having big, dumb, easily refuted rants about the deeply offensive targeted political statements of Princess Tutu or something, but most of the time, they’re just a thing to be aware of.  They can be helpful to you, in fact, giving you an interesting and unique way of looking at the media you’re going through.  And these change with time as well, as we all go through life.  Our understanding of the world evolves, and with it, the way we enjoy our fiction.  To make the most use of them, however, you need to know what they are and where they’re coming from.  Knowing what you connect with and why, what’s going to make the most impact on you and how it gets there, is really the prime step in going for a deeper understanding.

So, in the case of Loved, it starts of strong with just its title.  For those of you who aren’t playing along, a) c’mon, seriously? and b) Loved is a simple platformer where the narrator is continuously putting you down and ordering you to do things which are commonly not in your best interest.  Obeying the narrator adds more details to the environment and gives the interactable objects distinct shapes, but leaves the world black and white.  Disobeying adds color to the world, but leaves things as indistinct squares.  There’s only two characters in the game, you and that narrator, and you’re given very little details on either.  Because of the title, you know it involves love of some sort, and it’s clearly an unbalanced sort of love, with the way the narrator treats you, but other than that, the specific impression of the relationship between the two, that all comes from you.  So who were they?  A romantic couple?  Parent and child?  Owner and pet?  The game gives little indication.  Your sense of their relationship is going to come from your filters.

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