Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Doppelganger Games

With the recent announcement of Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 for the PlayStation 3, I was reminded again that life as a poly-gamist can get a bit tricky at times. When a great game is available on just one console at a particular time, of course I would buy it for that console that it is available for at that moment. I bought Ninja Gaiden 2 soon after its release last year and now, the PlayStation 3 version that was never even hinted at before - the cover even has that fake "Only on X-Box 360" stamp on it - will contain new weapons, additional bosses, more playable characters, and an online co-op! The only reprieve I can get from this is that I was distracted from finishing the game in the first place so now I can wait for Sigma 2 before I play the game again but then, what was the reason for me to own the game on the X-Box 360 in the first place?

Of course, doppelganger games such as this one don't limit themselves to cross-platform boundaries and can take many mutated forms. Here are 10 of the more prominent ones that have victimized me (mostly my wallet) with their existence. For each of these listed items, I asked myself this question - was it really worth it?

1) The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion

Purchase History
Personal Computer Version - 03/22/2006
X-Box 360 Version - 05/05/2006

Even with a game as great as Oblivion, one copy of it is better than two. I bought the PC version for obvious reasons: the graphics are much superior than what the 360 can ever hope to conjure up but I was a bit too rash with the decision because the game just couldn't run smoothly with all the graphical settings set to max and I am just one of those people who want to play it with the maximum settings if those settings are available in the option menu. I settled with playing the game at 720p and half of the bells and whistles enabled until the hard drive on my computer crashed - not because of the game of course. At that time, I was completely addicted to Oblivion so because I just couldn't wait for my PC to be rebuilt - I decided it was a good time to upgrade - so I picked up the 360 version. I played the 360 version for a while before my PC was ready and of course playing the game on the PC again made me forget the 360 version. Perhaps the funniest thing about this particular case is when the PlayStation 3 version came out in 2007, there was strange compulsion that almost made me buy the game again on that platform!

Worth it? No. I should have been more patient and just stick with the PC version. I mean, buying the 360 is more of a downgrade and really brought nothing substantial to the whole experience.

2) Dead or Alive 2 and Beyond

Purchase History
Dead of Alive 2 (Dreamcast) - 10/02/2000
Dead or Alive 3 (X-Box) - 11/15/2001
Dead or Alive Ultimate (X-Box) - 2004
Dead or Alive 4 (X-Box 360) - 12/30/2005

Ever since the original Dead or Alive on the SegaSaturn and the PlayStation, the series has really gone downhill. This is the main reason why: It's pretty much the same game over and over again despite the addition of new characters. Still, the main offender here involves laziness on Tecmo's part: The characters pretty much look the same as they did on the previous entries. Yeah, yeah so the polygon count is higher - like anyone can really tell - and the details on the outfit are more defined but how come they all have the same, exact blow-up doll look to them throughout all these years? And new outfits don't necessarily mean new patterns on the same costumes that the characters wear - we want to see actual new outfits! Remember the huge amount of unlockable costumes in the first game? Tecmo even has the audacity to make the number of available looks smaller with each entry in the series. The character design changes per installment for both the Virtual Fighter and the Soul Calibur series - that is why I don't consider those as doppelgangers.

Worth it? No. These games are fun but the fun doesn't last very long and they get old very quickly because I feel like I have played the games many times before. This reminds me of Street Fighter IV and its over-dependence on classic (as in old and decrepit) characters to carry the bulk of the action but I will save that for my full review of the game.

3) Dragon Ball Z Budokai Whatevers

Purchase History
*****Deep Breath*****
Dragon Ball Z: Budokai (PlayStation 2) - 12/30/2002
Dragon Ball Z: Budokai 2 (PlayStation 2) - 12/09/2003
Dragon Ball Z: Budokai 3 Limited Edition (PlayStation 2) - 2004
Dragon Ball Z: Budokai Tenkaichi (PlayStation 2) - 10/21/2005
Dragon Ball Z: Shin Budokai (PSP) - 2006
Dragon Ball Z: Budokai Tenkaichi 2 (PlayStation 2) - 11/17/2006
Dragon Ball Z: Budokai Tenkaichi 3 (PlayStation 2) - 12/19/2007
Dragon Ball Z: Burst Limit (X-Box 360) - 11/26/2008

Let it be said again that I am not a Dragon Ball Z nerd - never dream of wanting to have the very phallic, crazily erected hair because I always thought that the characters have them to compensate for something else - but I do like the idea of a Dragon Ball Z game ever since the split-screen extravaganza on the Super NES. If you look at the purchase history above, you can see that the series was updated every year but I must say that the series does get better with each entry, thus making me want to get them when they were individually released. Still, looking at that long list, anyone can see that the developer and publisher of the series are pretty much just milking their customers dry. Their greed becomes more apparent when the series suddenly jump to the PSP and the 360 and for these platforms, all the innovations that come from each entry of the series were thrown out the window and you are left with the basic game from the first Budokai so that they can start the whole entire milking process all over again. Yes, it's very sickening.

Worth it? No. I love the ultimate product - Tenkaichi 3 - but the road to get there was a bit too long and then after all that love and support, I got slapped in the face by the release of the much inferior Burst Limit.

4) Dynasty/Samurai Warriors Series

Purchase History
*****Another Really Long List*****
Dynasty Warriors 4 (PlayStation 2) - 08/03/2003
Dynasty Warriors 4: Xtreme Legends (PlayStation 2 ) - 2004
Dynasty Warriors 4: Empires (PlayStation 2) - 04/13/2005
Dynasty Warriors 5 (PlayStation 2) - 04/06/2005
Dynasty Warriors 5: Empires (X-Box 360) - 03/31/2006
Dynasty Warriors 6 (X-Box 360) - 05/05/2008
Samurai Warriors (PlayStation 2) - 2004
Samurai Warriors: Xtreme Legends (PlayStation 2) - 2004
Samurai Warriors 2 (X-Box 360) - 09/22/2006

This particular series has a special place in my heart because I do enjoy them all but I have to face the ultimate truth: they all are pretty much the same freaking game. With each new entry, you get slight improvements to the experience - in the case of the Empires rehashes, almost a different kind of genre. Still, you are basically clobbering one opponent after another until your kill counter reaches the high heavens... in every single one of these games! Also, the series was stuck with a terrible graphics engine until Dynasty Warrior 6 hit the market. I included the Samurai Warriors series into the mix because though the cast of characters may be different, the gameplay remains exactly the same!

Worth it? Yes. I love this series too much. I really did enjoy every single of of these games but if I ask myself now which one would I prefer to play? My answer would be the three on the 360 because they are the most polished compared to the rest. But would I play the others in the series again? Absolutely. Just not that frequently.

5) Naruto: Gekito Ninja Taisen! Series

Purchase History
Naruto: Gekito Ninja Taisen! - 05/12/2003
Naruto: Gekito Ninja Taisen! 2 - 03/17/2004
Naruto: Gekito Ninja Taisen! 3 - 12/21/2004
Naruto: Gekito Ninja Taisen! 4 - 05/12/2006

These imported beauties for the Nintendo GameCube did eventually make it as a domestic release that successfully mimic the doppelganger nature of the original Japanese release! This fighting game series rationalize the releases of the sequels by adding additional characters a little bit at a time. Granted, the developer was doing this to match the games with the progression the anime show - when new characters were finally revealed in the anime, they were then added into the game. Though new modes are added in the later releases, the character and background graphics are seriously recycled. There are little changes to the presentation as well. The game would have benefited from the ability to purchase and download additional characters from an online service such as X-Box Live or PlayStation Network but then again, I think the games would still have been released the way that they did because money talks.

Worth it? No. Owning number 4 pretty much makes owning the earlier releases meaningless because there is no way I would play the other three - except for the Random Game of the Day feature - because the fourth one has everything that those games have plus more.

6) Persona 3

Purchase History
Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 - 08/17/2007
Shine Megami Tensei: Persona 3 FES - 04/24/2008

I have made mention of my frustration in regards to this particular PlayStation 2 duo in the 2008 Yearly Gaming Analysis. The FES disc pretty much has the entire Persona 3 game that is nicely tweaked compared to the original plus an additional mode with an additional storyline. What hurts so much here is that the domestic release of Persona 3 was actually after FES was already released in Japan, so Atlus actually planned to force the game's fans to eventually have two of the same game in their homes. This may be the biggest case of doppelganger games of them all because of how popular the Persona series is to a lot of serious, hardcore gamers.

Worth it? Yes. Unfortunately that is. Not getting the FES disc means that you haven't played the entire Persona 3 experience while avoiding the purchase of Persona 3 in the first place could have been a silly move if FES was never released. I still cannot forgive Atlus for misleading their legions of loyal customers and if they make one more of such a dirty move in the future, rest assured that company is going to close down faster than the typical lifespan of a X-Box 360 before getting the red ring of death.

7) Resident Evil 4

Purchase History
Nintendo GameCube Version - 04/14/2005
PlayStation 2 Version - 10/28/2005
Nintendo Wii Version - 06/20/2007

Usually, when you see that "Only For" exclusivity print on cover of a game released for a Nintendo console, it usually signifies the truth. Unless you are money-hungry Capcom because not even a year after they released the game on the GameCube, they already have the PlayStation 2 version out with 16:9 progressive scan support and additional contents, kicking all the owners of the first release straight in the shin. Though graphically inferior, the game still looks pretty darn good and after the disappointment of playing the GC version using the zoom option on my TV because it was in letterbox mode, it was strangely a much better experience overall and the visual clarity definitely helps. I did notice the little things that are missing from the PS2 version though when it comes to graphics complexity so when the Wii version came out, I thought it would be a great idea to own it because it has an optional point and shoot control scheme, the original release's superior graphics, plus the true widescreen/progressive scan and the additional contents from the PS2 port.

Worth it? No. Who would have known that the ultimate version would eventually be released on the Wii but the good thing about it is that it was really cheap. Still, I really don't like Capcom's strategy when it comes to the PS2 release because with the very small time frame of exclusivity between the first two versions, it was apparent that Capcom was playing a dangerous game with multi-console owners. They really didn't have to lie and say that that the game was exclusive for the GC. I doubt that it would hurt the sale of the game on either platform if they release them both simultaneously. We all know that there are a lot of people out there who only stick to one console or another so there are a lot of money to be had even if Capcom chose integrity instead of treachery.

8) Sega Genesis Collection Variants

Purchase History
Sega Smash Pack Volume 1 (Dreamcast) - 04/27/2001
Sega Genesis Collection (PlayStation 2 ) - 11/19/2006
Sonic's Ultimate Genesis Collection (PlayStation 3 ) - 03/20/2009

I am not sure whether I should call these releases brilliant or sadistic because as a person who used to own the Genesis system, I wouldn't be able to fight the temptation of owning compilations of the classic games for that console... Even if that means that each release would feature almost the same collection of games plus one or more games that were not featured before and are not available to be purchased anywhere else. Besides the three "Genesis" themed collections listed here, I also own a couple of those "Sonic" themed collection, making the Sonic games featured in these collections ultimately redundant. Instead of releasing fresh games that have never seen the light of day after the Genesis era, we get to see these games showing their faces repeatedly across the three collections: Shinobi III, the Golden Axe series, Kid Chameleon, the Phantasy Star series, the Vectorman series, Columns, Comix Zone, the Street of Rage series, Altered Beast, and the Ecco series. It's like they can't find other games that we are dying to play again... like Herzog Zwei, Zero Wing, Valis, Contra: Hard Corps, Rocket Knight Adventures, and the list goes on and on. They really don't have to stick with Sega games because some of the true innovations during those beautiful 16-bit years come from third party developers!

Worth it? No. If this article was written before the Wii's arrival, then my answer would have been a yes because it's hard to find these games again without going through the eBay hassle. With the Wii's Virtual Console, I can just pick and choose whichever classic game I want to add into my collection without the risk of redundancy even if that means I have to wait forever for the great games to actually be released in that format. Nintendo really needs to get those great Genesis titles available on the Wii Shop Channel constantly.

9) Post-NES Ninja Gaiden

Purchase History
Ninja Gaiden (X-Box) - 03/04/2004
Ninja Gaiden Black (X-Box) - 09/24/2005
Ninja Gaiden Sigma (PlayStation 3) - 07/06/2007

Ninja Gaiden is still one of the most brutally satisfying action game of all time but how many times can we see the same game over and over again? History is repeating itself too, for me at least, with the sequel as I have explained in this article's opening paragraph. The additional contents found in Black made it a must buy for fans of the game but it could have easily been presented as an optional paid download on X-Box Live. When Sigma came out, I couldn't help but get the game because I do adore the series a lot and I appreciate the efforts done in improving the overall look of the game, bumping the resolution to 1080p while reworking some of the textures and polygons. The thing is though, the original on the X-Box looks glorious enough that Sigma only looks a little better compared to it. The addition of an additional character wasn't a huge attraction for me though because Rachel is just not that interesting. Now Ayane and Momiji in Sigma 2, well that's a completely different story.

Worth it? Yes. Sigma is the ultimate version compared to the other two and looking back at Black, at least it was sold at a lower price even though the distribution method was questionable. For a game as legendary as the 3D Ninja Gaiden, it's an honor to own each copy of its iterations. Sigma's release is forgivable because of its timing... I wish I could say the same thing about the upcoming Sigma 2.

10) Winning Eleven Series

Purchase History
World Soccer Winning Eleven 6 International (PlayStation 2) - 03/18/2003
World Soccer Winning Eleven 7 (PlayStation 2) - 02/29/2004
World Soccer Winning Eleven 8 International (X-Box) - 02/06/2005
World Soccer Winning Eleven 9 (PlayStation 2) - 02/08/2006

Soccer is the only other form of sports that I can tolerate alongside tennis and golf and the Winning Eleven series is the best soccer games ever made. The FIFA series has always been really stiff compared to the level of polish found here. Now for the honest truth: I never really noticed any real improvement with the release of each sequel other than the differences in overall presentation and minor graphical improvements. I think I must have fallen under a spell or something when I bought these games because as much as I like soccer, I am not a big fan of it. I mean, I don't even think Beckham is that great - he just happens to be a good soccer player who also happens to be very good looking thus the marketable popularity. I mean, after saying stuff like that, people should know that I don't take soccer all that seriously. I must have had some extra cash to burn and there were no other good games out at the time when I purchased number 7, 8, and 9.

Worth it? No. I only really need one of them and any one of them would do. I did realize this after that last one, though it took me four years but better late than never. Several newer games from the series did emerge on the 360/PS3 over the last two years but they didn't even make it onto my Purchase List because I know I already have enough Winning Elevens to last me a lifetime. [Edit: 04/04/2009 - What do you know? I actually own Winning Eleven Pro Evolution Soccer 2007 for the X-Box 360 that was purchased on 02/09/2007! The Winning Eleven print was so small that I missed it while writing this piece.]

Monday, March 30, 2009

Games Played 03/26/2009

Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII - PSP
Vanishing Point - Dreamcast

*Didn't feel like gaming on that day and I got a bit sick too.


RPG Maker 3 (2004)
Developer: Enterbrain, Inc./Runtime, Inc.
Platform: PlayStation 2
Purchase Date: 10/05/2005

A samurai getting heavily philosophical with a happy-go-lucky treant.

It should be evident from this website that I love to write. It's not just my personal favorite pastime - besides gaming - but it has been prevalent in my professional life as well. If you like writing as much as I do, then RPG Maker 3 will be one of the most fun games you will ever get to play. As the title suggests, it's a role playing game editor that has enough complexities to allow you to create mini masterpieces of your own. You are stuck with the medieval-era settings but by using just a tiny bit of imagination, you can really go wild with this game. You can create your own world maps, towns, and dungeons but of course you do not have much control over the pre-set battle mechanics and character designs. But as we all know, what makes a great RPG is its storyline and the "Story and Rules" options are quite fun to experiment with. You can't make the games too huge but there are ways to go around that problem. A USB-keyboard is a must for this game or you will go crazy in less than 5 minutes if you use the on-screen keyboard. It's a shame that there is no online connectivity that would enable you to share your creative creations easily. This problem was solved last year with the release of RPG Maker XV for the Personal Computer that I have yet to try out.

LIBRARY STATUS: 4 out of 5

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Games Played 03/25/2009

Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII - PSP
Hunter: The Reckoning - X-Box
Resident Evil 5 - X-Box 360
Rock Band 2 - X-Box 360


Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus (2002)
Developer: Sucker Punch Productions LLC.
Platform: PlayStation 2
Purchase Date: 09/27/2002

Another game with graphics that will look beautiful forever.

Sly Cooper is a platform game where you play the title character, an athletic raccoon, who is out to to find the manuscript that belongs to his family of thieves who thrive in stealing from other thieves. It is one of the finest platformers on the PlayStation 2 because of its strict adherence to classic platform game conventions, which made the game quite challenging. You die from only 1 hit until you get a power-up and the game relishes in providing the player with a lot of really dangerous and tricky jumping sections. In each of the stages, there are codes to collect that provide you with the combination codes to the locked safes located within them and it will take skill and perfection to find them all. Graphically, the game's smooth animations and stylish art style serve it well even now. The game uses comic-book style story segments and they are fun to watch. The game also has some great voice acting and a lot of memorable supporting casts.

LIBRARY STATUS: 4 out of 5

Friday, March 27, 2009

Games Played 03/24/2009

Boom Boom Rocket - X-Box 360
Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII - PSP
Resident Evil 5 - X-Box 360
Rez HD - X-Box 360


Vanishing Point (2000)
Developer: Clockwork Games
Platform: Sega Dreamcast
Purchase Date: 12/31/2000

Can you count the number of vanishing points in this screenshot?

The game's title may imply that it is a complex and technical racing simulation - the game even contains in-depth statistical information about each of the real-world vehicles that the player gets to control - but it's actually not. It's an arcade racer, pure and simple. The controls are very floaty though and if you hit anything during the race, be it another car or the side of the road, you will find yourself spinning out of control. Perfection is a must in the game. Unlike other arcade racers, the game has an element of rally racing in it where your position in the race is determined by how fast you can get to the multiple checkpoints on the tracks. You still see your opponents on the road but it's never about physically driving pass them to win. Vanishing Point still looks great, with smooth frame rate and high resolution textures. I love the imaginative stages and the serious tone of the soundtracks. The game has the weirdest loading screen in racing game history: an x-ray vision of of skeleton driving a car from many different angles.

LIBRARY STATUS: 4 out of 5

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Games Played 03/23/2009


Mario Power Tennis (2004)
Developer: Camelot Software Planning
Platform: Nintendo GameCube
Purchase Date: 2004

This ever changing court makes everything more challenging and interesting.

I just love how Nintendo slapped the "Best Seller" emblem on the game's cover during the first run of the game's production to convince people to purchase it. It was rather pathetic, as if the game wouldn't sell in the first place. I love Mario Power Tennis because of its clever interpretation of the sports from the variety of offensive and defensive special moves that the characters can use to the rule-altering courts. The graphics are bright and colorful as usual with great character animations and a lot of self-references when it comes to the backdrop designs. It is unfortunate that you can't turn off the trigger animation for the special moves because, though they are quick, they take you away from the game for that brief period of time. The camera would suddenly cut to a close up of your character while he/she/it is going through the animation routine before rudely cutting back to the default view. If they can make everything happen in real time in the next game - as well as adding the now mandatory online feature - it could have the potential of being a real winner.

LIBRARY STATUS: 3 out of 5

Games Played 03/22/2009


Hunter: The Reckoning (2003)
Developer: High Voltage Software
Platform: X-Box
Purchase Date: 05/23/2003

You'll be constantly surrounded by the undead... So bring your friends along for the massacre!

I remember picking up the last copy of this game at a local store and was approached by a group of guys who wanted to buy it from me for twice the retail price. I of course, said no and they looked so disappointed. To be honest, I was just mildly curious about this game so I could have waited to buy it again while gaining some extra cash in the process. When I got home and started playing the game, I felt worse about the situation because I really didn't enjoy the game so much - Hunter: The Reckoning is definitely a group game and is not fun to be played solo. It's a hack and slash with tons of enemies on screen which sometimes make the whole occasion frustrating when tackled alone. There are four character types to choose from and they would work very well supporting each other with their unique abilities and weaponry. The lack of online multi-player really made this a bad purchase for me though I can see why this game be really popular and fun if you can find 3 more people to play it with you locally.

LIBRARY STATUS: 3 out of 5

Wii Menu 4.0 is Here!

I am just loving Nintendo right now. Back in May of last year, I criticized the Nintendo Wii's small internal storage capacity when the memory-hogging WiiWare games became available on the Wii Shop Channel. I mentioned that the logical solution would be to utilize the SD Card slot on the console and today, Nintendo has made that dream into a reality for Wii owners! Just merely hours ago at the Game Developers Conference, Nintendo President Satoru Iwata announced the new Wii Menu 4.0 that is available to be downloaded... Immediately! The update allows downloaded games that are saved to the SD Card to be launched directly from a special menu without having to move them to the Wii's internal memory! It was a total pain before to manage between the two memory spaces and now, the Wii is finally ready to really support downloadable games. As a side note, the Wii Shop Channel are now selling classic arcade games as well but that's nothing compared to the menu update!

Notice anything different?

Beautiful, just beautiful. Now, if we can only get customizable themes for the menu...

There is some loading time involved when launching games directly from the SD Card.
Not to worry though, it merely lasts several seconds.

Oh yes! You can now download the games you purchase directly to the SD Card!

With this update, Nintendo lifted the 2GB cap on the SD Card so I'm not holding back!

Monday, March 23, 2009

Eventuality of OnLive

Something creepy, ominous, and dangerously groundbreaking is about to hit the video gaming world. OnLive promises to eliminate the need for video game consoles and expensive personal computers to deliver a high end gaming experience (up to 720p that is). How does it work? Think of it as Video On Demand, only A LOT more interactive. If it succeeds, video gaming will change forever and we will never be plagued ever again by childish console wars, troublesome backward compatibilities, and frequent cycling of newer hardware/consoles. The service is slated to be available later this year and its website is going to open tomorrow so that everyone can discover just how revolutionary this is going to be.

Looks like I may live to see the end of multi-platform gaming after all.
If everything works as planned that is... Good luck, OnLive.

Games Played 03/21/2009

Killzone 2 - PlayStation 3
Radiata Stories - PlayStation 2
Resident Evil 5 - X-Box 360
Sonic's Ultimate Genesis Collection - PlayStation 3


Ultraman (2004)
Developer: KAZe Co., Ltd.
Platform: PlayStation 2
Purchase Date: 05/05/2004

Destroying monsters one episode at a time.

I grew up watching the Ultraman series and this game is based on the first of many of the giant super beings. Ultraman is basically a simple wrestling game - only you are fighting huge monsters while destroying the landscape around you in the process - with quick punch and kick attacks and a lot of grapple moves. It's a very easy game to play and if you know what you are doing, the matches can be over quickly. Of course, you want to be stylish with your wins - just like the TV show - and destroy your opponents with a super move, which usually involves charging up your strength and deploying the assault at the appropriate time. Though heavily truncated, the game has a story mode that follows the episodic nature of the source material very closely. Being a fan of the show, the game's nostalgic value is priceless and the versus mode where you can pit the monsters against each other is much appreciated!

LIBRARY STATUS: 3 out of 5

Games Played 03/20/2009

Resident Evil 5 - X-Box 360
Sonic's Ultimate Genesis Collection - PlayStation 3


Shrek: Super Slam (2005)
Developer: Shaba Games
Platform: X-Box
Purchase Date: 12/01/2005

Yes, you can even fight as the Gingerbread Man!

Shrek Super Slam is better than you may think. If anything, it is definitely far superior than the movies Shrek 2 and Shrek the Third combined! Super Slam is a 4-player fighting game that is very similar to games like Power Stone 2 and the Super Smash Bros. series. The controls are simple with basic melee attacks at your disposal and a cool super power "Slam" attack when you are able to fill up the "Slam" bar. There are also a lot of weapons as well as environmental objects you can pick up and use against your opponents. It's fast paced and hectic and the destructible stages really add to the fun. I am not a big Shrek fan and the reason why I bought this was because it just looked like a fun beat-'em-up and it actually is! The game contains a lot of characters, stages, and things to unlock. Super Slam would have been a more popular game if it had online multi-player support.

LIBRARY STATUS: 3 out of 5

Additional System for the Library

I can't believe that all this time, I have forgotten to publish the list of Super Nintendo Entertainment System games that I own - the original cartridges, not the digital Wii versions. As a matter of fact, the total number of games that I have listed on my profile does include the 9 games I own for this system. I have archived the list here.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Games Played 03/19/2009

Phantasy Star Universe - X-Box 360
Radiata Stories - PlayStation 2
Shadow Hearts - PlayStation 2
Super Stardust HD - PlayStation 3


Shadow Hearts (2001)
Developer: Sacnoth
Platform: PlayStation 2
Purchase Date: 12/28/2001

Roger Bacon is not your typical role playing game villain.

A "M" rated Japanese role playing game? Now that's something you don't see very often. This rating is surely caused by the game's copious amount of blood and sexual situations. Shadow Hearts is a highly underrated, highly imaginative RPG based on the events surrounding World War I. The main character, Yuri Hyuga, is forced by a voice in his head to save a young woman from the military and supernatural forces that are out to get her. The semi-historical approach of combining altered facts with demonic mythologies resulted in a refreshing tale filled with outlandish and memorable characters/events. Though the structure of moving from one town to the next is what you would normally expect from the genre, it is exciting for once to see the realistic Chinese and European locations that are presented in the game. Shadow Hearts is notable for its inclusion of a playable homosexual character. The game is so bold that you get to see that character hitting on Yuri persistently during the course of the adventure. Battle wise, Shadow Hearts introduces the "Judgment Ring" system where actions selected are followed by a circle with marks inside of it. The player must input the button presses when a rotating indicator hits the appropriately marked spots within the circle to activate said actions. This feature is implemented flawlessly into the game, ensuring the player's constant interaction and participation during the battles.


Games Played 03/18/2009


XGIII: Extreme G Racing (2001)
Developer: Acclaim Studios Cheltenham
Platform: PlayStation 2
Purchase Date: 08/05/2001

The great architectural works in the game produce an overwhelming sense of scale.

The WipEout series is truly the king of all futuristic, weapon-based racing games. Acclaim almost stole that crown away from Sony with the release of XGIII, a brilliant game that features cool looking bikes and epic racing tracks. Just like WipEout, XGIII is simple to control but hard to master, especially at faster speed. The game allows you to purchase weapons to bring with you to the race which adds an element of strategy to the races. This also provides a better sense of control and experimentation because you don't have to depend on random power-ups while racing. The graphics are a sight to behold, most of them contain massive structures, twisting tracks, and an amazing view distance. The sense of speed is quite dramatic too - when you break through the speed of sound, you get to see a really sweet graphical transformation on the entire screen. The music as well as the sound effects are muted to accompany this effect, creating a zen-like state of pure gaming bliss.

LIBRARY STATUS: 5 out of 5

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Games Played 03/17/2009

Phantasy Star Universe - X-Box 360
Power Stone - Dreamcast
SSX Tricky - PlayStation 2


Radiata Stories (2005)
Developer: tri-Ace Inc.
Platform: PlayStation 2
Purchase Date: 09/09/2005

A game that rewards you for loitering about and nonchalantly kicking people around.

Radiata Stories is a game that I really like but I never get to finish it due to distractions from the newer games I got soon after its purchase. The troublesome thing about playing a role playing game for me is that I have to start it from the beginning again if I stopped playing it for a lengthy period of time. If I don't do that, I would feel disconnected from the game because I would have forgotten about the small plot details to make sense of what's happening around me. In the case of this game, I have already played it twice from the start and the farthest I have been was around 11 hours in. I am going to try and complete it this time around. Radiata Stories revolves around a newly inducted Radiata Knight by the name of Jack Russell who longs to be a legendary knight just like his dad was. The story is filled with offbeat humor but what I like the most is that the majority of your time is spent in one town where you can recruit over 100 unique characters to join your group. These characters have their own daily schedules and it is up to you to figure out the pattern of their individual lives and find out how you can convince them to join you. The battles are in real time and there are no random encounters so it is really easy for me to start playing this game again. It also helps that the game still looks absolutely stunning.

LIBRARY STATUS: 4 out of 5

Friday, March 20, 2009

New Games Alert!

I had a bit of a hard time when I was at the store shopping for new games today. Usually, after a long period of new-game abstinence I would be picking up at least 5 of them. I am getting closer and closer to purchasing a house so I do want to curb my spending. I ended up buying Resident Evil 5 for the X-Box 360 (Eurogamer.net helped me a lot with the final decision making) and Sonic's Ultimate Genesis Collection as well as Killzone 2 for the PlayStation 3. Games that almost made it to the cash register were Phantasy Star Portable for the PSP, Madworld for the Nintendo Wii, and Valkyrie Profile: Covenant of the Plume for the Nintendo DS.

Wait, I didn't buy 3 games, I bought 42 of them!

Resident Evil 5 Home Space

Looks similar to the actual game. Quite impressive.

I took a nice little stroll inside the Resident Evil 5 Home Space last night. It's supposed to be a representation of the "Shanty Town" stage from the game. Though it's small in size, I must say that I am pretty impressed with what Capcom has added into the place that is beyond anything else you can find in the ever boring Home application. I really adore the movie set vibe where you see a lot of high res, tongue-in-cheek posters of how Capcom has transformed the area into what you see in the game. It's quite brilliant. And then there is also this:

Wicked cool! Nice little tease.

I don't know. The PlayStation 3 version of the game suddenly looks a bit more tempting right now, especially after that situation from earlier this week. There were a lot of people socializing inside the RE5 home space when I was there, so it may be easier to find like-minded players to co-op with. I'm still a bit partial towards the X-Box 360 version at the moment but we shall see.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Review: Synecdoche, New York

Synecdoche, New York (2008)
Genre: Drama
Format: Blu-ray
Director: Charlie Kaufman

Synecdoche, New York proves that Charlie Kaufman's writing alone would have made Being John Malkovich, Adaptation, or The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind a success and that the directors for those movies, though accomplished as they are (Spike Jonze and Michel Gondry), had little to do with why those movies worked so well. With Synecdoche, Kaufman takes on the role of the director and the screenwriter: The impact of that combination produces one heck of a masterpiece.

Basically, the movie is about a theater director, Caden Cotard, who seems to be experiencing some health issues. He lives with an unhappy wife and a hyper-active daughter. The film follows his daily interactions with his family and the other women in his life. To reveal any more plot details will rob you of the pleasure of discovering how magnificent this movie truly is. At the beginning, the movie seems to be more of a goofy comedy with the usual Kaufman trappings of unconventional wits in the dialogues and some shocking situations but you will later discover that this film is a boundless investigation into extreme existentialism, which is Kaufman's favorite subject matter. The last half hour of the movie is very painful and hard to watch but it is also, ultimately, very honest. The ideas about life and death presented here are depressingly bleak but if everyone in this world appreciates life as much as Kaufman does, it would have been a much better place for all of us to live in. Once the discussion of "the double" and the question of individuality arrive on screen, get ready for the full assault.

Philip Seymour Hoffman is fantastic as the theater director and I have never seen Catherine Keener looked so raw and messed-up. She reminds me of how Cameron Diaz looked in Being John Malkovich. The rest of the cast are also engaging and they give the movie their all in what must have been an emotionally traumatic experience for each of them. Synecdoche is a brave film that is not only meaningful, but it is also made with the best of intentions. Kaufman is a beautiful human being who understands the nature of what makes us human. He's always been good about telling it as it is. Now he has proven to us that he can show it as it is too. A sublime directorial debut. Synecdoche, New York is one of my top 5 greatest movies of all time.

RATING: 5 out of 5

Games Played 03/16/2009

Ikaruga - X-Box 360
Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords - X-Box 360
Rock Band 2 - X-Box 360
SingStar - PlayStation 3
SingStar Pop - PlayStation 2
SingStar '90s - PlayStation 2


Taito Legends (2005)
Developer: Taito Corp.
Platform: PlayStation 2
Purchase Date: 11/25/2005

The Ninja Kids is quite imaginative with a lot of enemy variations and cool boss fights.

Taito may be an old-school developer who has been making video games since the beginning of time but that is not a guarantee that all of the 25 games found here are going to be stellar. The standouts are of course Taito's industry-defining Space Invaders series, the lovable The New Zealand Story as well as Bubble Bobble, and the brilliant Rainbow Islands. The Ninja Kids was a surprise for me when I first played this collection - it's one of the most memorable 2D beat-'em-ups ever. There are many games here that I never recall seeing in the arcades or perhaps they just never caught my attention back then so it looks like they are still not catching my attention now. I like simple but when it's also not polished, it's a different story and that is the case with games like Zoo Keeper and Tokio. Though I am happy to experience some of these games once or twice, I probably would never go back to them ever again.

LIBRARY STATUS: 3 out of 5

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Denied by Nintendo

Nintendo is hosting the Nintendo DSi Sampling Events around the country for Club Nintendo Platinum members with one being held in San Francisco this weekend and I received an invitation to attend it. I responded to the RSVP a little too late though and got the following:

Black DSi for the win!

I am not a believer of the DSi because of its evil capacity to make previous DS models obsolete because of its firmware update capability so I thought it would be cool to test run it and perhaps I could be convinced to adopt the new system when it comes out. I'll probably wait on this until it's absolutely necessary to switch. I would probably get it as a Christmas gift if I do decide to wait for it for that long.

Review: Star Ocean - The Last Hope

Star Ocean: The Last Hope (2009)
Developer: tri-Ace Inc.
Platform: X-Box 360
Purchase Date: 03/04/2009

Who would have guessed that the X-Box 360 has become the center of Japanese role playing games - not to mention the center of Japanese shoot-'em-ups (only less popular and hardly ever translated to the West). Star Ocean: The Last Hope's current exclusivity to Microsoft's console is questionable though because the game has a huge following within the PlayStation community due to the past games in the series appearing on Sony's older consoles. Even the overly-indulgent "Only on X-Box 360" stamp was missing from the cover art though having it there usually doesn't mean anything - hint hint Halo 1 & 2 and Gears of War.

War is ugly and serves only to destroy.

The Last Hope is the prequel to all of the previous Star Ocean games. In the year 2064, World War III has completely made the earth uninhabitable thus forcing the survivors to come together and look up into space to find a new home for humanity. In the game, you follow a group from the first Space Reconnaissance Force teams who are tasked to look for other inhabitable planets for the eventual mass migration. This may sound incredibly epic but the moment you are introduced to the potential young lovers Edge Maverick and Reimi Saionji - okay, in the future, parents know better than to name their son "Edge", then again maybe not - the seriousness of the matter becomes heavily downplayed. How a couple of emotionally unstable youngsters were able to get through the intense military training is beyond me but this kind of assault on our logic is commonplace in the genre. Still, cast members in the previous games are definitely more relatable and natural than these two. The plot does get somewhat interesting midway through and there are hints of a more heavy-handed and darker philosophical question about existence and evolution but everything got completely overblown and messy towards the end.

Welch provides the game with a much needed excitement from its usual drab narrative.

So the story is forgettable but the real time battle system in the other hand is a completely different tale. It is highly addictive and you can spend hours after hours battling and feel richly rewarded in the process. This is helped by a "Bonus Board" system that can be built up by performing certain actions while battling. The bonuses include money, experience, skill points, and health/magic multipliers. The "Bonus Board" can be broken when your character receives a critical hit from the enemy. It can be frustrating to build it up again but since it's easy to take advantage of it, you will be more than eager to fill it back up soon after. You can bring four characters into battle at a time and you can switch between the four and even switch characters with the reserves at any time. There are no random battles, which made everything even better. On top of superior battle system, the massive item creation options will take away a lot of your time too. Its simplicity is the most brilliant thing about it: recipes can be found from non player characters and tresure chests or they can be discovered via "discussion groups" between your characters. Finding the ingredients can be a bit taxing and you have to look through the game's massive monster database or travel to previously traversed locations to look for special spots to mine and harvest. It takes a lot of time and effort to discover everything and this can be a bit too demanding if you don't like to backtrack.

Gotta love the cat people.

Speaking of backtracking, the game may require you to switch between the 3 game discs if you decide to go back to a previously visited world. This is somewhat disappointing, especially the fact that the console has the ability to have the full game installed on the hard drive. If they are planning to release this game on the PlayStation 3 later on, this problem will be solved because of the size of the Blu-ray disc. The game includes overly gigantic dungeons - reminiscent of Star Ocean: Till the End of Time on the PlayStation 2 - and this can be very problematic because of the lack of save points in them. Before you start a dungeon run, remember to set aside at least 2 hours or you will regret it. The never-ending amount of fetch quests you get from the NPCs are also tiresome and unimaginative and they sometimes require you to travel between planets which doesn't make much sense in the context of the storyline.

Those trents are some of the tougher enemies you have to deal with.

The Last Hope is the best JRPG on the X-Box 360. Sadly that statement does not say much though since its only competent competitions are Lost Odyssey and Tales of Vesperia - those two games started out great but they both bored me mid-way through. I do like the game but it could have been so much more. Pretty graphics can only get you so far - I love the well proportioned character models in this one. The game does encourage multiple play-through since it allows collections you earned from a previous game to be transferred to a new one and I plan to come back to it later to get my 100% completion - not a lot of JRPGs can do that. While Western RPGs have generated prominent releases for this generation: Mass Effect, Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, and Fallout 3, JRPGs are starting to lose their footings. This game is a good attempt to reinvigorate the slowly declining genre but the last hope truly rests on the upcoming release of Final Fantasy XIII after all.

RATING: 3 out of 5

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

X-Box Live: From Friend to Foe

Finding good friends on X-Box Live and the PlayStation Network has been a bit of challenge for me because for the most part, I am particularly picky about the people I interact with. I am one of those odd individuals who enjoy persistent camaraderie and close friendships so I am usually turned off by random strangers who are just there for the thrill of the moment. It's a delicate balance of many things I suppose because sometimes it would take a while to build a trusting bond between individuals and it's not something that could miraculously happen at the initial state of happenstance. There are those individuals though that you just click with the very moment you meet them and whenever that happens, you know you have something truly substantial going on.

I have a small amount of people whom I consider as my close friends when it comes to online gaming and this is a story about one of them. I met this guy sometime around September 2008 via a random friend invite on X-Box Live. Apparently, he saw my high ranking score in Ikaruga and being a fan of the game, he thought that we probably shared something in common. I accepted the friend invite and after a week or so, I started to get messages from him because he was going through some personal issues at the time and was apparently venting out his frustrations using a shotgun approach. Being the ever helpful individual that I am, I jumped in and lent him an ear and soon after, we started playing Ikaruga together. Talking about personal life beyond the boundaries of gaming was probably the catalyst that lead to how comfortable we were with each other. He then became my first real friend on X-Box Live and I hadn't been so thrilled about online gaming ever since I left World of Warcraft until then.

We pretty much played together almost every single day. We would try to get the same game with multi-player elements so that we could find an excuse to play with each other. Because he mostly rent his games, I would be the one who would wait to see what games I needed to pick up next. At one point, he got Fatal Fury Special and Samurai Shodown II on Live Arcade - though I already own both games on other consoles, I still purchased them just so that we could play a match or two. Under normal circumstances, I would have never pay those Microsoft Points to get these two games. I am just mentioning this to exemplify how close the two of us were as friends.

Yes, as the last sentence indicated, we are no longer friends. The reason why I felt compelled to write about this is because I am totally perplexed by what triggered the end of our friendship: I picked up Star Ocean: The Last Hope on the 4th of this month and it must have been a week after my friend started playing the game. He had been ranting and raving about how great the game was and during that time, I expressed to him that I was looking forward to getting the game. When I finally got the game, he asked me how I felt about it. I had played about 2-3 hours of the game at that point and informed him that I was disappointed by the storyline because it was not up to par with the previous Star Ocean games - I have finished the game by the way and the review is in the works. After I sent that message to him, he went quiet for two full days and I thought it was weird but I brushed it off my shoulders.

Then all of a sudden, he sent me a funny message in the style of one of the characters in the game. I recognized it of course and I responded with "I knew you would like that character a lot". Soon after that, I got a chat invite and he proceeded in asking me what I meant by what I said. I told him that I was just joking around and I noticed that he seemed rather distant. To me, the character in question is one of the most irritating characters in the game but I didn't mean to offend him by my statement and I reiterated that to him. He then told me that he liked that character a lot and I acknowledged what he said and repeated to him that I didn't mean any harm with what I said.

After that little incident, he disappeared for several days and knowing him, he was probably online but shown as offline because he had done that before while playing with me just so that he could avoid friends whom he didn't feel like talking to at the time. Then, another sudden message, this time he made mention of how shocked he was about an event near the end of the game that he was jumping out of his chair. This of course made me smile so I sent him a message saying "You must have tears running down your cheeks when that happened". This was what I got back from him:

I was on my personal computer at that time so when I saw that, I signed in online on my console immediately and as soon as I got there, I received this message:

Concerned, I responded by asking if my previous message had offended him because I was trying to determine whether he was just pulling my leg or not. I mean, with the history of friendship I had with him, how could I have offended him so? But alas, he disappeared after I sent him my message, only to emerge a couple of hours later. I was going to invite him to a private chat since his Gold subscription had recently expired but he had his status as showing "Busy", which was apparently directed at me. After an hour or so, I looked for him and saw that he wasn't online. So I sent him another message telling him that what he was doing was not fair to me and I expressed to him that I was confused about what was going on.

Here is the climax. When I signed in earlier this evening, I found two voice messages left by him. He basically told me that I was being such a smart a$$ and started saying that he knew I didn't like Star Ocean: The Last Hope. He also said that the crying message was rude. He said he noticed that I had been playing Phantasy Star Universe and that PSU is almost like Star Ocean and that he will be playing it shortly - yes, that last part confused the heck out of me too. So I responded by pointing out the following:

1) I really don't understand how my message was rude. I was just teasing him and was just being funny. I reminded him that he is a good friend of mine.

2) I like Star Ocean: The Last Hope so his speculation was wrong.

3) He apparently can't take a joke even when it's that small and is done in good spirit.

About an hour ago, I saw him signed in online. I gave him five minutes to retrieve my messages and compose his thoughts but when I checked back on him, he was no longer online and low and behold, his name was no longer on my friend's list.

What can I say, I am totally bewildered by this. Close to 6 months of strong friendship destroyed by a reaction to a plot twist in Star Ocean: The Last Hope. All this nonsense from a guy who used to introduce me as his "best friend" and I agreed with him that the feeling was mutual. Was all that respect and companionship we shared before meaningless all this time? Maybe he had been faking it all throughout the length of our friendship? I mean, he did give me that silent treatment before when I told him that I didn't like PowerUp Forever. As a matter of fact, he made fun of me for not liking that game even though I am a shoot-'em-up fan and I didn't think much about what he said because we were friends. All I can say is that our friendship was never something that I have taken for granted. I have made references to him on this website - he's the guy who recently played a lot of Culdcept Saga with me. I am saddened about what happened but I also know that I need to snap out of it and move on because this is just totally ridiculous!