Tuesday, February 25, 2014


Final Fantasy XIII Series

Awhile back, various media outlets, and zines predicted that the FF series might end someday. But they weren’t aware how much staying power and vitality its kept in the past generation of consoles / and PC power. Even with the grasp in international markets, Final Fantasy has captured the hearts and minds of fans young and old.

XIII however is a unique saga, covering Lightning (and friends) journey of evolution, survival, and fighting for being different. But at its core, it also touches on the reality of who is chosen as a hero or heroine. Plus the impact of; what sides are up in arms over those who take arms, or capable of greater things.

I have always enjoyed FF for its type of storytelling, even seeing how far this chapter has gone. In three tiered fractures of a vast adventure that parallels time, and consequences that everyone Lightning becomes a part of.

Even more diverse is the amount of monsters, to vast environments that push the in-game engine to unknown capabilities. To be honest, I have never seen any other type of RPG series push its engine this far. In character design, monsters, and areas of exploration (including timelines).

But what really pushed the XIII chapter is its effect on the entirety of the FF universe. (for the longest time some all fans have pondered what is this connection?) Including the fact that time shifts within the trilogy (as if connected to Chrono Trigger, including the fact the producer of that game also is a part of the XIII series).

Speaking of the bizarre number, the group named Red XIII have been a part of FF since VII. Only known as a mysterious group; that finds itself locked to fate, tied to unknown circumstances connected to various timelines. *Including Kingdom Hearts, with key members of their organization unveiling themselves. (but no knows what side they’re truly on)
(**Gifted Fal’Cie or L’Cie? We might learn someday)

On that note, whatever platform you enjoy gaming on, whether console or pc, if you loved FF in the past, or new to the series. This is a fun rollercoaster ride worth taking. And it may even parallel some of the most engaging storyline’s in years to come.

Castlevania Lords of Shadows (CV then and now)

Castlevania – Lords of Shadows Books I&II
MercurySteam / Konami / Kojima Productions

(A Look back and forward)
This series was in the past, filled with various locales, timelines, heroes and villains. However we’ve never grasped onto who the Belmont’s truly were. Sure we took on Dracula various amounts of times. But who was the villain we’ve fought against so many years?
LoS so far has explored the origins of Gabriel, from a quest of redemption to nightmares.

(Level Headed)
In past games, CV relied on funky design schemes, and obstacle ridden level design. Although it pushed the mark another series made (Capcom’s ™ *Devil May Cry ™) relied on a 3d map with overlay, and able to use the camera to examine the level you were currently exploring.

But like all series, they evolve, so DMC and CV also share the map design in common. In Symphony of the Night, however it was a 2D map of the castle, and its depths (in fact two maps, one of the normal and the alternate upside down version).

Speaking of maps, LoS also includes the classic map overlay that Simon Belmont’s quest used (and other Belmont’s to follow). Shown as an actual 2d plane, that displayed distance from a to b, a being where you started, to b where the quest would end, eventually that was the Castle Keep. Over the years, it grew into splitting paths, and would extend like a tree branch pointing out various areas that were hidden once you cleared an obstacle.

(Music Soothes the Savage Beast)
For a long time, CV’s soundtracks were composed by Konami’s Kukeiha Club, a crew of music composers’ that would collaborate on game series projects like Castlevania. With a mixture of classic tunes retouched, to original songs that were rarely heard in videogame music. Mostly taking on an atmospheric persona, these memorable songs would influence many more titles to push boundaries and become unique. (Nintendo’s ™ Metroid ™ has close ties to this similar design, using the in-game atmosphere to capture its essence and mood to push a player to “fight or flight”.)

LoS is a big departure from this design, it is now a full orchestra composed soundtrack. Although it does carry hints of the past games sound design. What has changed the most is the texture, taking on a more dramatic approach instead of a electronica rock, or ballads that the past games utilized on. (However some of the CV series ost’s actually carried orchestral themes.) But it didn’t rely on it from start to finish.

However, rumors have been shared that LoSII might carry the torch, and bring back some familiar sounds we’ve heard in the past.

(I Am the Night)
Speaking of change, as many learned by journey’s end who Gabriel came to be. But its hinted that LoSII, the past and present collide. (an actual full-fledged city nestled beside Drac’s keep) There is no telling, who might join this next chapter, but hinted that Zedd/Death, and Alucard (might even be playable?) reunite once more.

(Going Batty)
LoS has established its own timeline within the series. However, not all fans of the CV series are satisfied. For several since, a fandom community named “Operation Akumajou’ (demon castle). An organized group that demands: that CV returns to its classic gaming roots. (with IGArashi Koji’s vision in mind) **IGA was head producer for many years, and was part of the CV team with Dracula X (Richter’s first quest) (*there were two versions of this game, the Super-CD / Turbografix-16 **import only) (and the SNES edition, which was an alternate version of the game since it was a limited palette.)

Super vs Super -
Super CD was a well-established console overseas, the format could display audio and video, as clear as a movie playing on current systems. However, it had some load times to deal with. Although with enough memory, it was able to cut those down quite a bit.

Super NES however was cartridge based, so no wait, just pickup and go. But its biggest limitations were: level design, music, and controls were broken down to work with the system. That’s not to say it wasn’t challenging, it’s a tough game to beat.

Given how different the games were on two different systems. The Super-CD edition carried a full story, levels, and interchanging paths (this would later carry on within Symphony of the Night).

Another obstacle was the first 3D CV, on the Nintendo 64. Oddly enough it became a two parter, being one of the most toughest chapters around. With an odd control scheme, and a trouble-some camera. It also juggled with a funky gem system, and tricky difficulty in level and enemies spread throughout. However, it was a test of what’s to come.

Later 3D CV adventures like Lament of Innocence (another reboot), following a said Belmont to be the first, versus a friend who becomes Drac. And after Curse of Darkness, the aftermath, with a demon hunter who takes back his humanity after the loss of a loved one (eventually doing battle with an old friend).

Although these various chapters establish enough story to push the series a bit more. Something was missing.. to be honest I wonder why fans of the old CV want to go back. It was great for its time, but I have to be honest, being a longtime fan it needs more to make it worthwhile. LoS calls back to a lot of classic game designs, but also mixes up some unique ideas. It doesn’t feel lackluster, every bit of the game is a welcome challenge (or you can find new things hidden within).

I have to be honest, I actually love the character, level, music, and story design that LoS has delivered thus far. Sure it may not rely on the past adventures, but it definitely has delivered some unique surprises.

But on one footnote, that is why we have past games. We can replay them anytime and go back to when it felt right to us. It may not be for everyone like it used to be, but sometimes we need change. And with storytelling, it needs to evolve and explore new territory.

Lords of Shadows II might be the last CV game we might see for a while. But it will definitely deliver something unique for everyone, whether new or classic fans to explore.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Catherine (PS3 / Xbox360)

(Persona Team) . Published by Atlus Team USA
2011 Release (PS3 . Xbox360)

What do sheep and two girls that look identical have in common? A unique experience titled Catherine. It is a trippy, fantastic puzzle that unravels through one lone hero (who has diverse nightmares). What do they mean? And what are these sheep!?

Seriously this game is bizarre, but ultimately fun, it never hesitates on being serious (even the in-game puzzle dialog will critique on a missed marker, or give tips to aid your mission) *btw there is a disembodied voice that seems to follow you too

Is it a love story? Honestly, it is a mixture of diverse storytelling, it is intense with choices being made, and interactivty. (wait what!?)
Well for one, say you go to a bar, get a text message. Reply, all is done right? Nah, in Cat, this system grades your behavior (and later consequences) even a rating with two baby angels / and the other devil if you act naughty.

Katherine / Catherine?
There are two women, they may have the same name but they are opposite from one another. It is up to you, noble hero to find your path. Destiny!!

If you missed this one, be sure to pick it up. (btw its rated M, so definitely not for the kiddos to be playing)

Be sure to visit http://www.catherinethegame.com/

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Zombies, Noir and much more

Playing catch up with reviews lately, btw Killer is Dead LE is available for $30 at GS and other shops!

Anarchy Reigns
Platinum Games

What is a brawler?
For one, a character that can dish out sweet attacks (mix of punch and kicks) and the ability to toss things or wield weapons. But most of all, kick lots of ass!

Choose a side!
Taking on two chapters, players find themselves locked in a battle of opposing forces. The underground vs the holy order (hmm sounds familiar). Leaving the only way to answers is by taking power from the hierarchy, and opening everyone’s eyes about who the “good” and “evil” really are.

The real dish
I am honestly surprised that this game has an expansive story. Usually a brawler sends a character out to the world, throwing punches and kicks at unknown opponents from A to B. This game however gives you a reason to feel something for the underdog (even though they are from different game universes, but something important brings them together).

Mixing awesome beats with amped up gameplay, AR is a top notch game anyone who loves a unique concept with a classic premise. Do not pass this one up!

Killer is Dead
Grasshopper Manufacturer
Suda 51

K.I.D. introduces you to a world of light and dark. But wait, its not that dark, you can see (but what can’t you see / understand?) This is the hidden meaning in an exciting supernatural hunter squad tale. (*sequel to Killer 7? It may be the keyword in the title, but in fact its not)
A) Same director / developer
B) Different premise
C) May Contain Peanuts

Who Are You?
Mondo, (lead character you play), is part of a supernatural team that takes care of the unseen to the normal world. Living on two planes of existence, Mondo slays the “monsters” causing chaos in the human world. But the farther Mondo goes, things begin to change.

Like previous games, this entry carries the cel-shaded art design that makes you absorb more of the light/dark color contrasts throughout. Usually, cel-shaded based games use the influence of light, like other titles GHM has made, it is unlike anything you will play period.

Controls are introduced in each mission, from offense / defense, health, and fighting styles (wielding a blade) or using your (arm cannon?). From the start, Mondo gains abilities absorbed from those he “defeats”. Exp and money is also obtained, which enables you to buy skills, techniques, and gifts (for the ladies).

May contain Blood-
For those unaware, this is not a game for kids (sorry teens you are on that list). Centered more towards an adult audience: with themes of the unusual, to more adult themes that kids shouldn’t be a part of. Oh and its rated M for those who can’t read.

K.I.D. is a game that finds itself in a mixed mold of storytelling, and fascinating visuals. It may not be an epic spectacle, but with influences of a dark brooding noir, to comedy, and suspense. (For those that played Killer 7 on the Gamecube & PS2, welcome back)

Lollipop Chainsaw
Pomp and Circumstance
A fearless girl; a cheerleader, and her chainsaw. Enough said. Oh and you fight the undead. Coming from a unique background, Juliet is not your typical girl, and also super-sexy-cool. (did I just type that?!)

Shop Till You Drop!
Chop2Shop is a little venue that offers unique goodies for you to snag. If you have enough coins/medals, health, combo techniques, music, and extra outfits. (and a fun classic bgm tune)

She slices! She dices!
Like all hunters, one must take on all obstacles from a fearsome baddie, to saving another humans life (before they become lunch). On the plus side, she is one tough cookie. From the start there is an unexplainable outbreak of undead taking over her school, eventually it has spread through her whole neighborhood.

Sparkle Hunting! (Zombie Star Soul Mode)
Like all gaming icons, there is a hidden ability to become invincible. (in Juliet’s case, obtaining enough skill points allows her to gain a shield, and a boost in attack power) At this time, no enemy can touch her, so go nuts and save the day!
(*Collect enough Zombie Stars, and your XP meter fills up to allow you to chain power attacks + a handy defense shield that is a superstar mode, where you won’t lose health but gain awesome attack power)

Report Card -
After finishing a level, you graded on: zombies defeated, items obtained, and super modes you’ve achieved (+combos) (curious what an A grade might look like)

More fun goodies!
Further on into the game Juliet will wind up at an arcade. Guess what!? Its quarter plunking time, as you become part of the arcade cabinet fighting off various enemies, and earning extra bonus points. (even in classic definition!)

Overall, Lollipop Chainsaw is an awesome game that is a must own for your library.