Franklin Raines’ FPS Tour of the Arts

A common aspect of playing shooters is how you often visit a locale only once. No returning to the burned out house set-piece from two hours ago to revisit an NPC, as most shooters like to make every area a sequestered bubble. My experience with most shooters is that you are expected to only run down that hallway or back alley once, unless you happen to get shot dead before you hit the next checkpoint. Certain games like Resident Evil 4 (whose action hybrid approach to gun fights make it an odd duck in this example) would sometimes have you backtrack for puzzles, but once you crossed that bridge to Ramon Salazar‘s castle, there was no returning to those lovely Spanish households.

First Person Shooters specifically are a great example of a quick type of game where you are rarely expected to sit and smell the flowers. Some FPS developers do try to get their players to appreciate the atmosphere though.  A way that developers utilize in order to get the player to slow down their gun reloading is by simply placing detailed things on the wall. They know players like to speed through their campaigns, as FPSs lead themselves to quick gameplay. I decided that with all the late 90’s and early 2000’s FPSs I have been playing lately that I owed it to you readers to give you a tour of some of the better (or at least odder) art I’ve found at the end of my gun barrel. Let’s call it “Franklin Raines’ FPS Tour of the Arts”, at least until I can think of/patent something better.
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Why We Need Okage: Shadow King To Keep Us Humble

okage A few months ago I was amusing myself with an early PS2 game called Okage: Shadow King, a delightfully goofy game that doesn’t bother to take itself seriously for eighty-five percent of the story. Okage is the kind of game that at first sight, seems purely crafted for goofy entertainment, a fair bit of foreshadowing and clues that let you get  the deeper nature of the game’s world. But ultimately, you will remember Okage because it makes you laugh, snicker and chuckle.It is the kind of game that makes talking in Pig Latin a terrible curse, our protagonist the prize winner for “most overshadowed character”, and includes such bosses as the Sewer Evil King, the Company President Evil King, and the Idol Evil King. I feel comedy focused games are missing nowadays, leaving only games that take themselves too seriously.

As much as I enjoy a poignant narrative, such as: that of Radiant Historia, a story of loss and how time travel will not necessarily solve everything; and Xenoblade, a tale of revenge and how easy it makes it for others to use you as their pawn, great stories, but they have a fill of plot devices we have all seen before. I know that anyone with a true love for games and their favorite genre knows that they all have trappings, traditions, and weird habits that deserve the occasional mocking.

I present to you, the Sewer Evil King.

I present to you, the Sewer Evil King.

I appreciate games such as Disgaea and other titles that NIS publishes that love to use goofy characters ( with outrageous level caps) that make fun of anime and game clichés, to say nothing of obliterating the fourth wall. But even these goofy characters have their share of drama and heavy themes that become more pronounced as the game progresses. I mean, two plots about demon children wanting to overthrow their overlord fathers is enough, okay? I feel like they stand in more as buffers (chemistry humor, yes?). But I feel they do not go far enough into the comedy to get anywhere near Okage. Continue reading

Can Gender Selected Characters Ever Be Growing Characters?

Sometime back around 2000 or 2001, my mom bought me the Game Boy Color remake edition of Dragon Quest 3. This was a big event for me: it was my first exposure to Dragon Quest, one of my favorite RPG series, and it was my first “T” rated game, were I was first exposed to saucy subject matter like Akira Toriyama’s love of girls in bunny suits (which DQ3 practically had as an entire job class devoted to, called a Gadabout) and the fan revered “puff puff” service. Yet the biggest aspect of DQ3 on the GBC for me was unintentionally picking a female lead. See, the probably seven year old me thought that I was picking my weight class, misinterpreting “M” as medium instead of male and “F” as fat instead of female.  So here I was, at party with a beefy warrior, a stocky fighter, a pretty thief, all male, who dwarfed their female hero leader by a foot.

It wasn’t until years later that I learned my character was female, a concept I found cool as I was playing this small woman who commanded orders to these three big male adventures; empowering if you think about it.

Anyone could see my confusion when pretty men like Yuri from Tales of Vesperia are such common RPG protagonists.

Let’s talk about gender selection in videogames, as I’ve got something on my mind.

Character gender selection to me has its strongest ties to RPGs, with simulation games coming in second. Since the main character is usual meant to represent the player’s avatar, a player’s gender is an important means of visual distinction. Often, gender selection is simply aesthetic, like my earlier example with DQ3, its sequel DQ4, and most of the Pokémon games. A pre-construct male or female choice where your silent-protagonist self-insert has little bearing on the story but to play along (well, unless you are like me where playing DQ4 as a girl changed the narrative to “How High Fantasy Lunch from Dragon Ball Saved the World from Evil”).

Further character customization, even going far enough to choose different species, still often only speaks to the aesthetics. I don’t remember Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic ever hinting at the beginning of character creation that making Revan a foxy lady meant getting a stat boost to force lightening and toxic resistance. For a solely fighting game example, the character customization in the later Soul Calibur games did let me make a short and skinny lady who fought with Nightmare’s behemoth Soul Edge. Awesome yes, but it was at the expense of the series’ historically minded 16th-17th realistic setting… a setting that thought it necessary to let that alien thing Necrid exist. In fact, since character creation works on its own plane of wish-fulfillment, it’s hard for it to have any real bearing on the world around it.

Wait a second. This Saint Seiya character was alive in the 80’s. How am I suppose to take her in Soul Calibur seriously when the only thing I can think of is 80’s leg warmers?

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Garr and Yasha in “When You Doubt Your Seemingly Corrupt Leader”

I originally planned on writing this article on the many ways Japanese games represent different world religions, and while I might try again in the future, the only thing that came to mind was how the Catholic church was either a great place to save your game, like in the Dragon Quest games, or a headquarters for the cartoony evil initial villains, like in the Tales of games (Tales of the Abyss even made their Catholic church music themed with evil maestros and everything). I then decided to write about video games that go through religious doubt, but that’s far too complicated. Finally I decided “why not write about two different video game characters that followed similar character arcs to that of Final Fantasy IV’s Cecil Harvey?” In other words, characters whose doubt eventually caused them to refute their leaders’ plans when they decided that they no longer morally agreed.

Warning: Serious plot spoilers for both Breath of Fire 3 (BF3) and Asura’s Wrath (well, statutes of limitation on BF3, as I reserve the right to spoil a PS1 game that is old enough to drive in all 50 U.S. states). 

Garr is one of the four Holy Guardians created by the head goddess of the Urukian tribe (similar to Mayan people) who revere Garr with respect, demonstrated by how they act completely unfazed by his large demonic appearance. Originally created centuries ago to start the Brood War, a conflict against a perceived world threating group of half dragon humans named Broods; Garr spends his semi-immortal life as the reigning champion of an underground fighting competition called the Contest of Champions. I see Garr’s role in Breath of Fire 3 as a world-worn guide for the main character, the once centuries dormant and perceived last living Brood descendent Ryu. Garr’s a perpetually crossed-armed reminder that he’s been around Breath of Fire 3’s post-apocalyptic fantasy block.

Garr, found in his natural habitat.

During the first half, when Garr brought Ryu to Angel’s Tower, a Brood graveyard, Garr secretly planned on killing Ryu. Conflicted about his role in life, Garr often struggled with what was more important: fulfilling his duty to enact his God’s wishes by destroying the Brood; or letting Ryu live. Garr felt doubtful of the Brood after they intentionally didn’t resist Garr and the other Guardians.  Leaving Garr to doubt his actions, but at this point still goes through with his God’s plan.

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A Guide To Visual Novels: Or, Just Teaching What Many Of You Already Know

Let’s say you like an anime, and feel like looking it up. What’s this? It was originally a visual novel? Whatever could that be? And what are these “eroge”? Forgive me if I am insulting anyone’s intelligence; rather, I am trying to empathize with the lowest common denominator, which is a tall order for me.  I shall try my best to explain what visual novels are and what is their relationship to eroge and dating sims.

Whether Visual Novels are real video games or not is a debate I am not going to get into here. But for the most part, Visual Novels are text scrolling games that tell a narrative while paper cutouts of characters talk and interact with the main character or other characters, usually with accompanying voice acting. A common approach is to have you, the player, look at things from the eyes of the protagonist in an attempt to have you become the protagonist.  This sometimes extends to leaving the protagonist’s face blank on images they show up in. The faceless protagonist is so pervasive in visual novels that it often becomes a good thing to check whether the protagonist even has a face or voice acting. It shows the protagonist is important enough to the narrative to warrant the efforts of fleshing them out as actual characters. Outside of the faceless protagonist constancy, visual novels are too busy trying different character archetypes, plot twists, art styles, etc. so the only constant in visual novels is that you will be doing a lot of clicking and reading.

Maybe Japanese women like their men faceless…?

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What Happened When I Stopped Playing Dead Rising, And Never Got Back To It

To start with an overly broad statement, “How often have you put a game down for a large amount of time because of X reason?”. I personally am talking on whenever say, I buy a cheap copy of an Advance Wars game because I wanted to take another stab at a strategy-game, even though I know I am terrible at the genre. Or the time I bought a port of fighting games like the PSP version of Street Fighter Alpha Three or the Wii version of Guilty Gear XX Accent Core Plus (which I equate now as a twenty dollar soundtrack + a game), to then learn I am not hardcore enough a fighting game player to warrant such purchases. Or even the time I kept forgetting to get the No More Heroes’ save data from my friend’s Wii because I played the game with them at their house, and was later hesitant to restart. Yet the perfect example I can recall is none-other than that bastion of George Romero-no relation, 2006’s Dead Rising from Capcom.

Detroit Lions linebacker, I mean photojournalist Frank West is following a news scoop that has him traveling by helicopter over the Colorado town of Williamette. At first believing his attempt at Gonzo journalism will have him simply facing a town riot, he learns that the city violence is caused by not by civil uprising, but zombies. Getting off at the top of Williamette’s large shopping mall, Frank is set to get him that scoop, making him famous in the field of “make sure you get the shot, even when the subject is about to kill you”. Mysteries are afoot though when trained Department of Homeland Security agents Brad Garrison and Jessie McCarthy try and hide from Frank that there is more going on in the Wiliamette mall then zombies and marauding psychopaths. From there, Frank has to make his way from scoop to scoop, solving his own mystery in an open-world game with shops to explore and misc. objects to defend himself.

I ended up relying on this map as much as the average metroidvania.

I ended up relying on this map as much as the average metroidvania.

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7th Dragon 2020-II Import Impression: Slaughtering Dragons In Tokyo Was Never This Flashy

91P17tNuzML._SL1500_Unlike their undead co-workers the zombies, dragons rarely get to start their own apocalypse. Because the fantasy genre usually portrays dragons as mighty, but rare, creatures they are usually left as strong bosses, if not the final boss itself (whether we talk about video games or not, it rarely makes a difference). But sometimes, some form of media comes along, and shows us the terror of what it would be like if the flying, fire breathing lizards were about as common as say, rats? Rob Bowman’s 2002 Reign of Fire, was one such movie, if you were one of the few to apparently enjoy it. Another such attempt, though this is no B-List movie, has arisen from Japan in the form of the 7th Dragon series, and its latest installment, 2013’s 7th Dragon 2020-II.

7th dragon 2020-II is the third game in the 7th Dragon series and the second game in the 7th Dragon 2020 spin-offs (kind of confusing, I know.) It was developed by Imageepoch, a game developer that deals primarily in JRPG’s like Fate/Extra, and Sands Destruction, and published by Sega. Yuzo Koshiro, who has worked on the Y’s series as well as every Etrian Odyssey title to date was the composer for the game, illustrator Shirow Miwa, best known for his Dogs manga series, was the character designer.

Is this was not inspired by God Eater's Hannibals, then I must be French.

Is this was not inspired by God Eater’s Hannibals, then I must be French.

Now, I will warn you, this is an import game, as the title implies, this is not a full review, so much as a general impression. The reason for that is quite simple: I can read squat of Japanese; as such, a true review of the game would be incomplete without at least some story analysis.

While I did say that I cannot provide a story analysis, I can provide you with the general premise of the games as a whole. In the year 2020, dragons from space invade Tokyo, warping the city and covering it with mysterious flowers. The dragons quickly overwhelm the military and complete chaos ensues, which is when Murakumo, a government agency made up of people with superhuman abilities dispatch their 13th squad to deal with the draconic menace. One year later, after the events of the first game, the dragons come back for a rematch and seem to be more powerful than ever.

Moving on to the gameplay, you control a trio of characters whose appearance, voice actor, and class are yours to pick (and later on, fully exchangeable, except for class, which follows slightly different rules). You can assign one of them the fairly arbitrary position of leader, though you can change it at any time when in your room. All it really does is assign someone to interact directly with the cast during the story sequences. The game mixes elements of dungeon crawlers with those of more traditional RPG’s while battles are fought in a first person perspective, much like Dragon Quest, mixes things up by showing us our characters as they perform actions. A regular attack, for instance, will simply show the fighters coming in from the sides and swinging their weapons at enemies. Skills, on the other hand, will change camera angles and have the player characters performing much more elaborate attacks; this video showcases some of the flashier ones.

Roppongi has let itself go.

Roppongi has let itself go.

Among the usable classes, we have the samurai, who is strong, has good endurance, and speed, but is only above average. There is the destroyer, who has excellent strength and endurance, but afflicted with low speed and magical defense. The psychic, powerful offensive and healing magic, but has low physical prowess, low endurance, and middling speed. The hacker, which has a great deal of supporting skills, but lacks very many offensive skills, and has the same general weaknesses as the psychic. The trickster, possessed of decent attack, high speed, and two sets of skills depending on whether it is using knives or guns, unfortunately it also has low defenses, and it’s gun skills consume a lot MP, so they have to be used carefully; the knife skills have low MP consumption, inflict status effects and often gain a critical hits, but tend to lack in power. Finally, the idol which is a support class much like the hacker, but has more offensive skills, and the support it provides is slightly different from those of the hacker, it also has better offense, but it is still kind of frail.

One of the main gimmicks concerning 7th Dragon 2020-II is presence of the vocaloid Hatsune Miku, you know, the virtual voice who lends her talent to any Japanese composer who cannot afford to hire an actual singer. She (and her merry band of companions) are quite popular among the Japanese, and certain sections of the English speaking internet community. While her in-story presence is fairly insignificant (at least as far as I was able to tell), helping her in a certain side-quest allows you to change the entire soundtrack to “Diva Mode” which is a remake of the original soundtrack using vocals, courtesy of Miku herself. To my surprise, the songs sound vastly different, and often were improved by the switch to Diva Mode. Take this and this as an example.

Our diva.

Our diva.

And I suppose I have been glossing over the language issue haven’t I? All of the story, all the skill names, and all the items are in Japanese, however, the menus themselves are completely in English, so at the very least you will not be getting lost there. And voila, these spreadsheets contain very useful information and translations (but no walkthrough) of the 7th Dragon 2020 and 7th Dragon 2020-II  games (the second one is still in progress, but it is still fairly complete).

As a whole, 7th Dragon 2020-II and its predecessor seem to be more about style than substance (or at least for those who cannot follow the story) but they are nonetheless enjoyable, challenging games. If you like the Etrian Odyssey series, you might want to give this one a look-see. 7th Dragon 2020-II is not as old fashioned, but it does make up for it in terms of flair and I certainly did enjoy myself.