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The Complexity of SeeD

The trend in gaming has been to simplify, simplify, simplify. If games are easier, more people will want to play them. If games are less complex, fewer people will quit them midway through, and the more people who beat games, the more people will play more games, more sequels.

Simpler games mean more money, put simply.

Complexity in games is certainly different from difficulty, the subject of this month’s omnitopic, though the two are often related. The earliest games were extremely difficult, but most featured two buttons and few had even the most rudimentary concepts of player progression and development. In Super Mario Brothers the only way to get better was through trial and error, and the tutorial was the first goomba, walking at you. In Final Fantasy, you improved by leveling up, but the concept of leveling up was not much more complex that killing enough monsters to get more hit points. It was Mario’s trial and error codified into a straight, simple progression, mostly because you couldn’t get much better at hitting the attack button. Contrast this to modern games, where tutorials are all consuming but the games themselves are easier than ever. In fact, they are designed so anyone can complete them.

During the Super Nintendo days, when all games came out of Japan, none of the truly complicated ones ever made it over to America. People look at me funny when I say the SNES had some brilliantly complicated games, and they remember Mario World, Super Metroid, and Final Fantasy VI*. My first reaction to this is always to claim Final Fantasy VI is secretly a very complicated game, with arcane, unexplained mechanics that allow you to completely break your party, but then they retort by saying they never understood any of them and still beat the game. Fine, I respond, and list off a string of titles: Final Fantasy V, Bahamut Lagoon, Romancing SaGa, Shin Megami Tensei. All very complicated games.

All very Japan only, too.
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A Link to the Past: Chrono Trigger

Chrono Trigger, released today on Virtual Console, is perhaps the most perfect game in existence. In light of the fact that some people may be playing it for the first time, this piece contains no spoilers. At all. That’s how perfect it is: I don’t want to ruin it for those unfortunates of you who’ve never played it.

It was developed by the second Dream Team, and they might have had more density of talent than the original 1992 American Basketball edition. I mean, Christ, look at the people who worked on this game: Hironobu Sakaguchi, creator of Final Fantasy; Yuji Horii, creator of Dragon Quest; Akira Toriyama, artist behind Dragon Ball. And that’s just the stars. These three guys are Jordan, Magic, and Charles Barkley. The story made Masato Kato, who would go on to write Xenogears. Yasunori Mitsuda’s career began by scoring the game, and when he got sick Nobou Uematsu replaced him; together, they assembled perhaps the most memorable score in gaming. The game was directed by FFVI, VII, and VIII director Yoshinori Kitase, FFIV lead designer Takashi Tokita, and Akihiko Matsui, who designed the battles in that game. The end of the proverbial bench was Tetsuya Takahashi, who’d done graphics on pretty much every Squaresoft SNES game, as well as Yusuke Naora, who went on to do art direction in pretty much every Squaresoft PSOne game, and Baten Kaitos director Yasuyuki Honne. The last guy on the bench, Chrono Trigger’s Brian Scalabrine? Why, that would be Kingdom Hearts creator and modern FF character designer Tetsuya Nomura.

Read that paragraph again. I can’t even imagine a similar crew from Western game developers of any era. It’s too ludicrous to imagine. Hell, just Sakaguchi and Horii together would be like Valve and Epic making a game together. It’s absolutely bonkers.

And the game they made? Perfect. Still ahead of its time. When I play Chrono Trigger today, for the dozenth time, it does things that modern RPGs don’t do. If Final Fantasy VII is the triumphant king of the Japanese RPG, then Chrono Trigger is its benevolent queen.
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Xenoblade Confirmed?

It’s been one of the great shames of the Wii that so many Japanese titles have languished as overseas only games while America gets Barbie Horse Adventures and Wii Play 2 instead. Titles like Mistwalker’s The Last Story and Fatal Frame 4 and Monolith’s Xenoblade have been stuck in Japan with Nintendo loathe to confirm or deny any effort is being made to bring these core titles to the States.

(Well, we all know Fatal Frame 4 is dead; just wanted some historical context.)

Things are looking good for Xenoblade, though; video games super sleuth Jim Sterling has unearthed an unlikely confirmation in the form of Peter Dickson (also known as “Some Guy”) saying he’ll be providing voice over work for the game. The game had already been confirmed, stealthily, for Europe, and this just adds credence to the idea that Nintendo is waiting to bust out Xenoblade and The Last Story at E3.

The only downside to this news is that it’s supposed to be a Fall release. Which means it’s going up against Skyrim, Skyward Sword, Deus Ex 3, Torchlight 2, Mass Effect 3, and potentially a new Nintendo console *and* Diablo 3. Which means it’s being sent out to die a slow, painful death, convincing Nintendo that there’s no market for third party hardcore games on the Wii. Which is bullshit: there’s very little market for non triple A releases when there are literally a half dozen 40+ hour adventures coming out in the span of three months.

But let’s not be too pessimistic. Xenoblade, everyone! Japan might be back!

News in Brief: Communist Day Edition

Welcome, welcome. If you’re here, you’re probably lamenting the fact that I am working on May Day. Either that or you’re probably thinking of that song by that guy. Whatever. It’s time for all the news that wasn’t quite fit to print.

Big news, of course, is that the Playstation Network might go up again soon. I’m kind of surprised it sparked less debate about digital content and online rights management, because with it down lots of people couldn’t play or download games they already owned. Well, I’m not really surprised: the whole thing’s been enough of a clusterfuck that I can’t really be surprised by anything about it.

In any case, the PSN will be back up. Will you use it? After two credit card scares in the space of a couple months? Do you think they’re good enough to stop a third? …Yeah, they probably aren’t.

More information about RPGs of all persuasions, the 3DS, and more after yon cut!
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Pokemon Black and White Impressions

Well, I guess I called it, months ago. Welcome to the world of Pokemon, indeed.

I’ve not beaten Black and White; that would be ridiculous. Rather, I’ve sunk a good half dozen hours into the title, and this has given me time to form impressions of the game. Read on, to find out!
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Review: Cthulhu Saves the World

There aren’t enough games made about Cthulhu. Point of fact. Ancient, eldritch alien evils of insanity are, frankly, a lot better than grandstanding idiots, various varieties of demons, and the lord Jesus Christ. This is empirical fact.

And hell, Cthulhu Saves the World shows that those eldritch evils make fine Japanese Role Playing Game protagonists, too. Heck, I’d take the shirtless, tentacled majesty of Cthulhu over Tidus any day. This is another positive development in the history of Western civilization.

There are two audiences for Cthulhu Saves the World, the newest game from Zeboyd Games, creators of Breath of Death VII: Cthulhu maniacs and old school JRPG fans. The game succeeds in short, brilliant bursts for the first crowd, and in a long, sustained burn for the latter.

I am in both groups, so you may take me saying this is a great game and the best role playing game of 2010 with a slight grain of salt. But it really was. Sure, I’m going to pick a nit in this review (and, frankly, it’s pretty large), but that does not detract from the overall experience, which is phenomenal and falls among the best games I played last year.
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Hyperdimension Neptunia is what the fuck?

Okay, I know I said I’m going to stop caring about new games, and I make no illusions that this is not the first time I have made excuses to post about new games, but I’m making an exception because this game looks, literally, batshit insane. And it’s coming to America, so unlike posts about Xenoblade and The Last Story, it’s relevant to your interests!

I…there are no words for this game. It’s unfortunate that all these promising RPGs have been pushed back to the same two week period of time in late February/early March, inexplicably to avoid competition with first person shooters, because I honestly cannot justify purchasing this game. Which is depressing, because this is a game about video game consoles that transform into sexy ladies (one of whom sounds like she’s voiced by Michelle Ruff, aka Yukari “Hawkeye” Takeba). Seriously.

There are no words.

Are We Ready For Catherine and Real Life?

“Oh, you’re looking at that again.”

It’s said with such disdain, you’d think I was looking at dead orphans or something, but no, it’s my friend, and I’m looking at Catherine trailers. Commonly known as “The Sex Game That Patricia Wants,” Catherine has become rather…infamous amongst my friends. Incidentally Persona games are often seen as “dating simulators,” instead of the high school simulators with dungeon crawling RPGs they are–fact is, the second that a game showcases a semblance of sexuality, it’s like being back in kindergarten and discovering cooties. But can we see past that?

I do not mean to belittle Atlus’ choice to focus on the sexual aspects of Catherine: a big part of Vincent’s problems deal with sexuality. Sex is a healthy and normal part of our everyday lives, and it is paramount that they adress the subject to show an accurate portrayal of an everyday life. Moreover it’s refreshing to see a game that wants to address sexuality in a meaningful way.

Still, most people will look at a trailer of Catherine and come to the same conclusion: it’s “the sex game.” And, sure, it is…but that’s not all it is. The marketing for the game, however, would tell you otherwise. The issue I have with Atlus’ choice to focus on the sex of the game instead of the Things That Actually Matter is that a good deal of players may feel too uncomfortable in giving Catherine a chance. The idea of playing a game where sexting is a mechanic, for example, may seem too “sleazy” to take seriously, despite it being a real, everyday practice. But if players are sometimes too embarrassed to play “kiddie games” because of what it might reflect on them, how will people feel about playing a “sex simulator”?

If there is a time when our distinctions between ‘natural’ and ‘artificial’ are pronounced, it’s when dealing with sexuality…in that sense, I suppose I can’t blame anyone for feeling uncomfortable exploring the subject of sex in a virtual place. If intimacy has a place in our society, it’s not considered to be found within a joystick…but that’s exactly why exploring it in this medium might be an interesting and revealing exercise.

Still, let’s not even think about the sort of bad press the game might get if mainstream media gets a wind of this game.

Maybe, the gaming community isn’t particularly ready for game that seriously deals with sex: what we experience in games are one-note caricatures of ‘love’ and lust. Not only that, we tend to be appeasers…it’s okay if a game falls short of exploring anything meaningful if it plays well, so games do not need to take risks in making meaningful experiences if we’re satiated with technical/mechanical decency. However, Atlus has to rely on the sex to get people to take notice..more on that in a second.
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Golden Sun: Dark Dawn exists

Here’s a question. You are Nintendo. You decide to make a sequel to a much beloved niche franchise, and put it on the best selling console in the world, the DS. You then do not publicize this game at all, to the point where gamers who *loved* the original games have no idea that the sequel is coming out in less than a month.

Apparently, Golden Sun: Dark Dawn is Nintendo’s golden egg, that it’s going to use to fight piracy. “This game no one bought that we didn’t publicize at all that you all were excited for at E3 didn’t sell because it was pirated!” No, no, Nintendo, your game won’t sell well because I have had to inform numerous people of its existence.

So, yes. Golden Sun: Dark Dawn does in fact exist. It is an RPG, for the Nintendo DS, and is coming out at the end of November. It is already out in Japan. It looks pretty exciting, if the above video is any indication, if very traditional. Of course, both the Golden Suns were fantastic, so that’s no problem. Thank you. This public service announcement is not brought to you by Nintendo, who will put this game out in a crowded holiday season to die.

Persona 2: Innocent Sin? More like Eternal Punishment!

Now on the list of games we give a shit about: the PSP remake of Persona 2: Innocent Sin.

I mean, it’s not like we care too much about the Persona series or nothing. In fact, there are times where Nightmare Mode might as well be a Persona fan site. And yet, neither myself nor Patricia have played Persona 2. Well, I’ve played parts of both games, but gave up for…mysterious, forgotten reasons. But, soon, that will be no problem, because Persona 2: Innocent Sin (the first half of the series; Eternal Punishment is the second, released in America half) is getting a PSP remake. And we are excited.

Well, I’m excited. And I don’t even own a PSP. Understand that, gentle reader! Anyway, it looks quite snazzy, so it’s something worth keeping on the radar.