Once again our two heroes, Zack and Gillman, play through one of the most recent games to have graced the face of modern gaming. This week is the sequel to the critically well received Tales of Xillia. Won’t you join us as our two heroes enjoy some classy JRPG times.
There are some game series out there that seemingly get better with time; which apparently is against the norm for the industry that is only be interested in driving every idea they have into the ground. The overarching Shin Megami Tensei has not only managed to evolve and improve its story telling since it was introduced, but the gameplay and interface doesn’t seem to be afraid to mix things up enough to make it simply not the same game presented a year later. The only real downside that can be mentioned is that the series seems to have an arbitrary naming convention, which when it comes down to it is probably the least of things to fault a JRPG with.
It wasn’t that long ago that almost every SMT game to come out rightfully earned the moniker of being only for the hardest of the hardcore gamer. Over the last decade the series has been slowly stepping away from that, and while some of the challenge remains in additional content or side story quests, most of the game is not much harder than many other classic JRPGs. With this newest addition there is even more of a modification as the game has introduced the ability to change the difficulty level if needed, allowing newer players to reduce the game to an easy mode. The game is now allowing players to continue even after they are killed by buying their way out of Hell with either Macca (in game currency) or Play Coins from their 3DS, although seeing as how it is now possible to save anywhere in the game it seems like it would just make sense to revert to a recent save then shit through the process of losing money.
Mega Ten 4 is also rather well written with an interesting mechanic of fading in and out of focus whoever is talking. The style of the story telling works rather well on the 3DS, and most segments are fully or partially voiced in some way. While the story focuses on several new recruit Samurai, basically the local cops of the area, it quickly spreads from that and establishes the world around it as something that is living and breathing. It isn’t enough to follow the heroes as they stumble through the world, the game also introduces a weird dichotomy between haves and have nots in society, and even a world where people don’t know about literature. It isn’t so much painting a story about strong willed heroes going on an adventure in a new world, it is a fantastically realized world in which these people find themselves on an adventure.
The battle mechanics of the game are relatively similar to what they have been in the past, turn based combat where the player’s goal most of the time is to hit the enemy’s elemental weakness to cause the most damage and gain an extra move. This time around the heroes’ team fights first, then the foes have a turn, and back and forth until one side either dies or is recruited by the player. One of the larger differences this time is that the NPCs that will randomly escort the player through an area will join in the battle, although they only engage in random attacks. The largest change is the way that merging demons works, in that the game presents “recommendations” for what it thinks that the player should have at that moment, strangely most of which are normally pretty good about being very useful in a given area. It is possible to look through a list of possible fusions, but it does normally require a little digging to find it.
For anyone who is a fan of JRPGS with a 3DS should run out and buy this game, and anyone who doesn’t own a 3DS and enjoys the genre should really start considering buying one. Not only are there enough great games out for the system, but the entire venture has officially reached a tipping point to where it is easy to point to one game and declare that is why you bought the handheld. That game is Shin Megami Tensei IV. It is out now and it is worth every penny that they are charging for it.
It’s no surprise that the crew at Varms loves older games… especially since we put out a podcast about classic games. I have been hammering out game time on just about every home console that has been around since the mid 80’s; among them are the latest in gaming hardware, including a Xbox 360, a PS3, and a pretty decent gaming PC. While everyone out there is going gaga for the latest and greatest FPS games and checking into rehab for Call of Duty: Black Ops addiction, I spent my free time playing Hyper Dimension Neptunia and Ar Tonelico Qoga- oddball niche titles no one really gives a crap about. Having beaten the both of them, I began to crave more JRPG gaming. I found myself buying a copy of the first Ar Tonelico game and popped it into my PS2, since I never played it and figured it would be a fun diversion after completing the newest title in the series. I became hooked, and lost 9 hours of my Sunday destroying anyone that stood in my way with the power of Reyvateil song magic.
I then realized that over all the years this current console generation has been around, there really hasn’t been much of anything for the fan of niche RPG’s to play with. Sure games like Mass Effect and Dragon Age are fun, but sometimes I just want to jump into a quirky, colorful, and charming JRPG… and these opportunities are few and far between on this console generation. I can understand that niche titles are called that for a reason- they are meant for a narrow audience. The problem I seem to have with this console generation is that even though companies still hammer out shovel-ware, I still can’t get my JRPG fix on the regular like I have on every other console generation. I decided this would be a great time to take a look at how the game industry and gamers themselves have changed the modern gaming world into one that is unfriendly to niche gamers.
It’s All About The Money
Newer games have fancy graphics and physics engines that give them that shiny new look. Unfortunately, this is only made possible with fancy new computers, software, and tons of time and effort… and all of that requires piles of money. These simple fact forces developers to be at the mercy of greedy CEO’s that would rather sell blockbusters than invest in something that is expected to sell to a small audience. Video games became a huge industry in recent years, so this mentality is pretty much standard for the industry. A Japanese RPG contains tons of content and costs a fortune to make on newer hardware, so they have to fit into the realm of “everyone will like this and play it”, versus something made for a fan of the genre. This is how we ended up with the latest Final Fantasy game being 50% RPG tutorial for dummies and 50% actual RPG.
People Are Obsessed With War
Okay, just to clear things up, most RPG’s are about war and fighting, at least on some level. What I’m talking about here is people’s obsession with real war, and the urge to bring it into their living rooms. American game companies dominate the industry these days, and all of the big sellers out there are about war. It seems every damn game I pick up now involves me wandering around bombed out battlefields and post apocalyptic wastelands, shooting up the locals in the name of freedom and justice. Don’t get me wrong, I like darker stories, but I also like going on a journey through a world that isn’t just a mess of blown up buildings. Even worse, there is only so much to say about the motivations behind conventional warfare- so you usually wind up with a shallow storyline that sums up to a bunch of one-liner grunts fighting an enemy that won’t give up for some reason. This goes even further downhill when you look at a game like Call of Duty: Black Ops, where the single player experience is a mess of bad AI and throwaway plot for the sake of focusing on the multiplayer experience that people buy the game for.
I actually feel people give games like this far too much credit than they deserve. Black Ops is nothing more than a shallow rip-off of Modern Warfare 2. The campaign is nothing more than mess of half-assed and rushed development, and the multiplayer is Modern Warfare 2 with some tweaks, maps, and name-changes. This game may print money, but it doesn’t deserve to. I love the COD games, but I have to admit that the franchise is getting past its prime, even more now that Activision screwed over the original developers out of sheer greed. I’m not saying everyone needs to become a super crazed JRPG nut that looms around wondering if a game has a female protagonist that is a Tsundere, but let’s face it… war… war never changes.
Haters Gonna Hate
In an era where more and more companies are taking to the internet to figure out what people want to buy, I am starting to take concern with the fact that website blogs and social networking have been getting more and more attention from game developers and publishers. Yes, I am aware that I am writing this article for a website blog and that I would love for you all to tell your friends on Facebook and Twitter how much you like wasting your time reading and listening to our crap… but there is one force on the internet that looms in the darkness, waiting to ruin everyone’s good times: Trolls. Trolls are lurking on every website, waiting to get a rise out of anyone with an opinion about something. The problem being, what happens if someone starts to take these douche bags seriously?
It turns out that in some ways, this actually may be a problem. Retailers and game publishers have experimented with tracking visitors on game review websites and seeing what kind of “buzz” the game is generating. The internet is full of foul-mouthed jerks that love bashing on the geekier breeds of gamers, and perhaps the most poorly treated segment of gamers are those that like JRPGs. The internet is rife with a culture that labels fans of anime and Japanese games as lonely freaks that have betrayed American culture. Even one of my favorite video comedy/review sites on the web, Zero Punctuation, is just full of hate for JRPGs. Even television has carried on the trend of attacking this segment of the geek population- you can’t watch X-Play on G4TV without knowing that host Adam Sessler HATES anything remotely Japanese. Now, while it’s fine for someone to have an opinion and express it in public, what is the point of having someone that hate’s JRPGs review them? Obviously they won’t like the games, and obviously they will bash the hell out of it and pick on the people that do like those games. All this does for the gamer community and the internet at large is feed the trolls.
With all these seeds of hate planted on the blogs of the world, I can’t help but feel that all this bad press is giving some publishers the wrong idea about whether or not they should take the risk of trying to sell niche titles anymore. Some have even attacked reviewers themselves for even reviewing a niche title. Here is a comment off of Destructoid.com, from a blogger that is angry with a writer for doing a review of Ar Tonelico Qoga, and giving the game a decent score:
Yeah, the end reAlly is near for dtoid if it doesent get rid of hack writers like this turd-eating retard reviewer. He also writes for japanator, this site’s otaku pimple. Seriously, all you weeaboos should quit chugging the soy sauce and realize that games like thus and most if what japan craps out these days are the cancer killing the industry. All they can sell now are rape simulators and kiddy pron fodder for fat losers who never see anyone naked besides their mom.
Seriously japan, the best you can come up with us a third-rate gears clone like vanquish? Fade away already, or take a hint from the giant wave and wash your industry clean.
Fun Fact: I left the horrible spelling and grammar intact for everyone at home to enjoy!
Okay “xxbarbicanxx”, we get that you can find it in your heart to hate foreign culture and make wild speculations about how they live, but damn man, can’t you at least realize that maybe some people play Japanese games because they are sick to death of testosterone-fueled grunts shooting up blown apart cities? Deal with it. Way to keep it classy with the poorly-timed tsunami joke, I do a classic video game podcast that sometimes degrades into conversation about people helping dogs masturbate and somehow have more tact. Also, anyone who uses the term “weeaboo” should be shot. It’s for the benefit of all mankind, trust me.
Sure no one with a real brain can take a troll seriously, but most marketing dummies out there don’t always have real brains. I hate to say it, but giving haters a voice may very well be making a small contribution to keeping most of my modern gaming experiences locked to a set of crosshairs and ammo counts on the screen. All I know for sure is that I’m sick of having to dust off older generation consoles and my Nintendo DS just to scratch my JRPG itch, and I just want to give kudos to companies like NIS America, Aksys Games, and Atlus for at least trying to give me some niche goodness I can pop in my PS3 and Xbox 360.
Most JRPGs are lousy with villains who are simply terrible at their job of being evil. Final Fantasy VII’s organization The Turks alone held enough of them to populate a small village; so the only real surprise of this article should be in the fact that I found a villain that was bad enough at his job that I felt that I needed to share it with the world.
Beggar starts of his career of being annoying to the main character the way that most evil doers feel accustomed to, by asking him to be a pawn in the massive army that he is quietly building. While the reaction of ordering his troops to kill him on sight seems a little overboard, even when taking into consideration the standard reasoning of villains, it manages to set the mood for the rest of the game that Beggar irrationally hates the heroes and blames them for everything that is going wrong with the nation that they live in– even if he actively sees them fighting for the forces of good.
The main problem with Beggar’s plans isn’t that he is terrible at following them through, although people with chronic Alzheimer’s manage to complete more projects than he does, it’s that he is incapable of finding the heroes base of operations in a town with less than 100 people in it—a town populated mainly with his soldiers. This is kind of understandable though because they only hide out in a house roughly the size of half of the town and every single person who lives there knows where it is. The place is so big it is the second thing most astronauts in this world from space, right after Beggar’s failing.
Even after all of this, when Beggar does manage to leave the safety of the starting town where everyone feels that he is some kind of clown that threatens death as a form of a joke, he still manages to run into his nemesis literally every time he feels the urge to wander more than five feet outside of town.
All of these encounters, of course, result in a battle with Beggar. It should also be pointed out that he never manages to get stronger during any of these fights. During the first encounter he is something along the lines of a standard RPG boss strength, sadly he never gets strong. At one point after the third encounter his minions, which start appearing during the second encounter to attempt some form of challenge, who are just as strong as him start appearing as random enemies– they also stop appearing because the party gets uncontrollably stronger than they are. This mean that by the end of the game a handful of well placed hits is all that is required to beat the snot out of him after every long and annoying monolog.
Beggar also stands apart from most other worthless villains because the game feels fit to give him an entire family from the start of the game. Oddly they are only ever used as random spots of character development and then promptly never brought up again, and the development of his character always ends up being something along the lines of “Yeah, I have a wife,” and nothing more. Although the way that his character comes off it seems like he is more in line with the guy from Office Space and is just doing all of this stuff to actively get fired, and then go home to complain about how much work sucked to an uninterested family.
He also tries to kill his sister in cold blood because of a minor disagreement. Yeah, so the any argument that the game throws out later about how he is misunderstood and was simply believing in the real bad guy because he thought it would be a better world, all of that is given is kind of invalidated by the fact that he attempts to kill a defenseless woman in the middle of a city street in front of children. It doesn’t matter how many stupid plot related devices are thrown in that he helps the heroes out of, when it comes down to it he is mainly just an ineffective killer.
So the end of the game is Klein leaving the entire area in the hands of Beggar, the man who attempted to take it over under the guidance of a guy trying to kill everyone. This basically leaves an open power vacuum, one that the rest of the party (aside from the two leaving the area forever) don’t care enough to fill, that will mean that he is free to march what remaining troops he has over the rest of the land.
I guess the real lesson from all of this is that while Beggar might be a lazy, terrible bad guy but the heroes of Atelier Iris are pretty much just as worthless at their respective jobs. That and I think the entire thing was sort of meant for kids.