Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Final Fantasy XIII-2 and The Polar Opposite Fanbase

Oh dear... Well this is sparking quite the news huh? On the 18th, at Square's 1st Production Department Premier, Final Fantasy XIII-2 was announced. Following the announcement, reactions from fans roared into a howl of "I can't wait!" and "I hate this game! It sucked! Why make another one?"

So what's going on with FF XIII-2? It's fairly hard to say really, and it's difficult to look at this without a biased opinion. I enjoyed Final Fantasy XIII.

Yes, that's right, I liked Final Fantasy XIII.

And if I may say, I do know about and acknowledge the game's flaws. Corridor after corridor of linear gameplay, the story is complex and difficult to understand, the battle system is more of a numbers game than anything, some annoying characters, no towns, no airship, lack of open world, etc.

For me, I pretty much liked the battle system. It kept you on your toes at times. And I like linear RPG's, although XIII did get tedious at times. Especially at that damn airship, yeah, that sucked. I generally enjoyed the characters and didn't hate any of them, but I did miss the towns and airships.

At first the game came out to generally positive reviews, but as gamers got the chance to play FF XIII some were soon disappointed. It was certainly a cloudy response at first, with lots of people enjoying it and others being disappointed. Over time more and more people posted negatively about the title, and those who enjoyed it hushed up.

The people who didn't like FF XIII seemed to have had a large influence on those who hadn't played it yet. I call this the "Catching the FF XIII Sucks and I Haven't Played it Train".

Yup, and there are still people out there that say "FF XIII sucks! I haven't even played it and it sucks! Square-Enix is an epic fail!"

Those who had enjoyed Final Fantasy XIII began to change their minds on the game. Maybe they reflected on the game and changed their opinions, or maybe they saw how the general fan reaction was going down and decided to go with a seeming majority.

But wait a second here. Final Fantasy XIII went on to sell over 6 million copies. So regardless, the game was a blockbuster hit for Square. This leads to Square announcing a sequel to FF XIII, and it is titled "Final Fantasy XIII-2".

If it sounds familiar, it's probably because you are remembering Final Fantasy X-2, which is generally considered a disappointment. I haven't played much of it, but there are people who really enjoyed the game as I have learned recently.

So why FF XIII-2 and why now? Toriyama says it's because the fans wanted it and the staff wanted it as well. I'm with most people on this one... I don't really think fans wanted a sequel. But hey, who knows? Toriyama also admitted "that the first Final Fantasy XIII received a variety of opinions from players. With XIII-2, the development staff hopes to respond to many of those opinions." (Andriasang).

That is a hopeful statement. It's actually a very hopeful statement, taking the recent boot of FF XIV's higher-ups into account to fix mistakes and try to please the fans. So will FF XIII-2 be successful? It's fairly difficult to say right now.

After they finished production of FF XIII, Toriyama said they cut out enough material to create another game. I don't think that was a very smart idea to say that, since fans are saying "Well the game's already made for them. They're just trying to make a quick buck!" Who knows, that may be true. But there's an opportunity to get things right for the fans. Maybe we will see less narrow corridors and paths, and more open world stuff?

All we know about FF XIII-2 right now is that it has Lightning with new armor. Yeah, armor. It's a lot different from her outfit in FF XIII but change can be a good thing.

I have hope for this game and I am excited for it. Hopefully, it will be better. But no one will be getting their hopes up, except maybe for some.

But there's one thing that's been nagging at me recently.

As I was reading reactions to the announcement of a sequel for FF XIII, there seemed to be less haters of the game and more people willing to state how they liked it. Better yet, people were engaging in critical discussion about the game instead of just saying "I like it" or "I hate it". They looked into its flaws and gave support for their reasoning. It was nice to see.

One commenter on Kotaku said something along the lines of "This is amazing. I have never seen such polar opposite opinions for a game before." And that really hit home. Even though people were discussing both good and bad aspects of the game, you could generally tell if they actually liked it or not.

So what should you do? Try FF XIII and form your own opinion. Does it warrant a sequel? We will see within the next year since Square said it's supposed to be out sometime in 2011.

Keep your fingers crossed.

- Jared C.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Blue Dragon... And the Occasional Poo

At times, Mistwalker's Blue Dragon stinks of poo... literally.

The original Blue Dragon for the Xbox 360 had the potential to be a gem, but it falls short in many areas. This doesn't mean the game isn't fun, it's just... a tad bit frustrating. It was released back in 2006 on the Xbox 360 in Japan, and came out in America in mid 2007. To my knowledge, there weren't that many Japanese RPG's out on the 360 at the time, and this game seemed to be promising.

Why? Mistwalker composed a "dream team" of RPG developers. Hironobu Sakaguchi directed from Final Fantasy fame. Nobuo Uematsu composed the score, also from Final Fantasy fame and other works. And alas, Akira Toriyama provided both character and monster designs. His credits belong to writing and illustrating Dr. Slump and Dragon Ball, and creating character designs for Dragon Quest and Chrono Trigger.

So lets first start with character design. Apparently Toriyama has
a thing for poo... quite possibly originating from his other works such as Dr. Slump. The very first enemy you battle in Blue Dragon is a freakin' Poo Snake. Yeah, I said it, Poo Snake.

For main characters Shu, Jiro, Kluke, Marumaro, and Zola, he does a fairly good job. Jiro, in the green, reminds me of Vegeta for some reason. NPC's look alright, but kinda get boring after a while. Also, I could have sworn I saw Bulma walking around somewhere in Jibral.

*Note: The expressions found on these primary characters rarely change throughout the game...

The best part about Blue Dragon is its ending. Not so much because the game actually ended, but because the final boss battles and ending to the narrative were quite exciting. Looking into Blue Dragon's story I didn't know what to expect, but I'm glad I didn't expect much.The plot revolves around Shu, Jiro, and Kluke living on a planet and everything seems to be going just great. Then out of nowhere the sky turns into a purple miasma. My first thought
was Naraku, but no, actually the main villain in this game is THE ULTIMATE ALMIGHTY OLD-MAN NENE (and pet side kick frog parrot dude who *spoiler turns out to be a badass final boss). Hold on a second...
Nene? What the hell kind of name is that?! I played the game with its original Japanese vocal track turned on with English subtitles, and Shu says "Nehneh" wicked fast. I guess you could pronounce his name "Naynay", but we all know you want to call him "Neenee".

Anywho, with that rant out of the way, Shu's living the good life until purple miasma shows up and Land Sharks destroy his village. Cool beans. You're pretty weak so you can't fight the shark but you somehow capture it and use it to fly up to Nene's base. It's not a real shark, it's a robot shark that can fly, obviously. In his base your party of three are told by a mysterious woman's voice to swallow orbs of light, and they do. Congratulations! You know have the ability to turn your shadow into a monster to fight other monsters! Which is actually BADASS.

Here's Shu fighting a huge rat. Who do you think will win?
Over the course of the game you come across a city, a few towns, and a lot of ancient ruins. Unfortunately the ancient ruins all look the same. At first it's cool because the "ancient" ruins are all very advanced and decked out with technology, but hallway after hallway and room after room of the same stuff gets kinda boring.

The story is predictable and you know what will happen next. You chase Nene all around the world, he gets away, and you do it again. The battle system prides itself on the formatting of older JRPG's, which is totally fine with me. Each shadow starts off with its own special skill, and you level that skill up with SP. There's the option of changing your skill to learn all of the other skills, but why would you do that when you're already so strong with your current skill? I was a level 50 Sword Master and battles were going smoothly. I changed Shu to something else and suddenly the game became surprisingly frustrating.

For me, Blue Dragon was frustrating because I wanted more to happen. There are certain elements of the game that I wouldn't mind so much if the story was more engaging and if the monster and dungeon designs weren't so repetitive. Blue Dragon became more of a chore to finish instead of a captivating story that left me wanting more. And what was up with the frame rate at times? Most of the game looked pretty but some of the animation slowed down way too much for an Xbox 360 game. Cut scenes were also plagued by random black loading screens... in the middle of the cutscenes. Why couldn't the cutscene be one long scene?

That doesn't mean there weren't good parts to Blue Dragon. There's got to be some great stuff here to develop an anime television series adaptation, manga, and two sequels on the Nintendo DS. Sakaguchi did an excellent job at creating a new world setting where you follow the protagonists who need to save it. It's simple and lighthearted, enough so that for fans of older Square games and more mature RPG's it may just be too simple.

But like I said before, the ending of Blue Dragon and even the latter half of the game is where it's at. All save for the final dungeon, Nene's fortress. Jesus christ, it was one of the most infuriating experiences needing to battle so many monsters just to get to the final boss. Ironically this is where the best examples of level design take place too... go figure.

With the story being cliche in that the Ancient Civilizations had such powerful technology and they all killed one another, and then the world rebuilt itself, I was sure nothing too exciting would come from it. But then Nene decided to do some crazy ass thing where the planet LITERALLY DIVIDED IN HALF.

And behold! The center of the planet is made up of ancient space cube technology!

Isn't that cool? I thought so too!

Blue Dragon's first sequel, Blue Dragon Plus for the DS takes place a year later after the events of the first Blue Dragon. It features Shu and the gang with some newcomers, and new evil has arrived. It has a strategy RPG feel to it, which is a large turn from Blue Dragon's traditional battle system. The second sequel, Awakened Shadow, takes place after the events of the first sequel. This one's a little different where you create and customize your own protagonist and then Shu and the gang help you.

I really hope these sequels go a little more into the character's backstories and relationships. Blue Dragon sets up Shu and Jiro both having feelings for Kluke. I don't know about you guys, but Shu seems to be more of an older brother figure while Jiro is the shy guy who should be her boyfriend. Besides, that Sahlia girl that Shu saved from killing herself and then gave him a cookie in thanks is totally the girl for him. Yup. C'mon, she gave him a cookie!

As for extra sidequests and achievements, the sidequests seem to be alright and the achievements aren't so cool. Once you get your airship, known as a Mechat in Blue Dragon, you can fly it around and go wherever you want, including new areas you couldn't get to before. These mainly consist of new locales with multiple floors and really difficult monsters to battle (the strongest ones in the game). Defeating these monsters usually leads to getting new gear and items, leading to the fulfillment of achievements. Other achievements require you to level your characters and their shadows to level 99.

Finding every item in the game is probably the hardest achievement, because it means you need to do everything in order to qualify. I'm not sure if this also means finding every item and such scattered throughout the world though. Meaning, every location seems to have items, gold, experience points, etc. that you can obtain by just hitting a button. For example, if you check out the fireplace you may get 10 gold. Check out the stove right next to it and you may get more gold. At the same time you may get nothing, and the game will tell you so. But don't worry! There's a "nothing man" in the game that allows you to trade in all those nothings for rare items. Unfortunately this gets very tedious. Running around and checking out every rock, house, pipe, vent, etc. and constantly pressing A takes time and is probably best suited for completionists.

A side note on the soundtrack. Uematsu does a fine job with supplying a fairly good score for the game. It's not his best score, but a song that stands out is the boss battle music "Eternity". I remember attending the Video Game Orchestra's concert at Anime Boston 2010 and hearing this song performed live. It was quite the experience! Another song that IGN gives a nod to is "Cave". My personal favorite? It may very well be "Happy Birthday", and it plays at the very end of the game.

So would I recommend Blue Dragon? Honestly, probably not. I would rather recommend Mistwalker's other RPG Lost Odyssey. It has more heart, a well constructed battle system, a memorable soundtrack and well-presented story.

So get to it and try some Lost Odyssey, or wait it out for a hopeful release of The Last Story!

Title: Blue Dragon
Developer: Mistwalker
Genre: Japanese Role-Playing Game
Year: 2006
Platform: Xbox 360
Completion: Played through Blue Dragon in roughly 55 hours. Leveled Shu and others to 50. Explored most areas in every storyline dungeon but did not attempt sidequests after getting the Mechat.

- Jared C.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Pitch-Black Blackie


After finishing Sweet Dreams Dear Totoro I discovered what those soot sprites are actually called. They are known as Susuwatari, literally meaning "traveling soot". They live in abandoned buildings and houses, leaving dust behind wherever they go.

In Totoro they are called Makkuro Kurosuke, or pitch-black blackie!

In Spirited Away, they aid Kamaji in his boiler room, helping to throw coal into the fire so he can heat water for the bath house. They appear to be more fuzzy and have grown arms and legs (but they are still cute!).

So now I finally know what my soot sprite t-shirt says, and I don't need to wonder anymore. It says "makkuro kurosuke"!

Sweet Dreams Dear Totoro

Do you remember when you were a child and you'd watch Totoro over and over again on the good ole' VHS player? Seeing Satsuki and Mei enjoy their adventures with wonderful forest spirits, worrying about their Mom and looking after one another. Feel nostalgic? I, sadly, do not.

The reason for this is, well, because I did not grow up on Totoro. I only heard of My Neighbor Totoro a few times over the course of the past 8-9 years that I've been an anime fan, and it was just last year that I finally watched one of Ghibli's flagship titles. If there's one thing I can understand, it's how this film has the power to be important in so many people's lives.

When you are a child, you simply see Satsuki and Mei moving into a new house in the middle of nowhere, leading to an obligation for discovery and opening the gates to a pasture for the imagination to run wild. Mei travels about and notices that she can see small creatures. Following them, she finds the largest spirit of them all, the grand Totoro! It's unlike anything you've ever seen before. Mei discovers these keepers of the forest first, suggesting she is the most innocent in the film while a bit later Satsuki meets Totoro at a bus stop. Whether you connected with a specific sister or both, they take a space in your heart along with Totoro himself.

Although I did not watch Totoro when I was a child, I find a different appreciation for the film than what others may find. If you look past the positive and adventurous tones, we see a bed-ridden mother, Yasuko, who hasn't been home in a long time. The hospital is her home and Satsuki and Mei only get to see her occasionally. We are never told exactly what is wrong with Yasuko, and all we can do is hope she gets better sometime soon. As hinted by the images in the ending credits, she does eventually return home.

The father character, Tatsuo, is the perfect example of what a father should be. He supports his daughters and helps them through these rough times. He believes in the existence of Totoro, even though he may not truly believe. When Satsuki calls him at work, he responds to her with utmost care and notes that he will call her right back.

These circumstances are relatable and contain messages of hope and respect. This is a strong reason for why the film is still so popular today. If you begin with Totoro as a child, it caters to your own childlike needs. As you grow, the film grows with you and new themes are discovered along the way. I wonder what thoughts and feelings this film would evoke at age 50 or 60? Would we relate with Granny and do our best in looking after the young children in our life? Maybe My Neighbor Totoro would evoke feelings of wanting to be a child again so we can dream and imagine, just like in the good old days.

Beyond the mature themes, Totoro provides one of the most delightful examples of simple humor. I mean c'mon, look at that face!

And so, after viewing Totoro for the second time in my life tonight, I can see just how strong this film is and why it has persevered for years after its initial release. Whether you are a child who was fortunate to have grown up with Totoro, someone like me who hadn't seen it until just recently, or you are introducing the big fluffy forest spirit to your own young ones for the very first time, Totoro has touched the hearts of thousands, if not millions, of people around the world.

And to this, I say Sweet Dreams Dear Totoro...

- Jared C.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Well, it happened. Oops. I didn't post anything after starting the blog. Oh well! It will probably change... tonight! Who knows when I will post again!

Currently writing on...

- Romeo x Juliet
- Ponyo

Currently playing...

- Blue Dragon (-_-)
- Super Meat Boy
- Donkey Kong Country Returns