December 29, 2013

2013 Wrap-Up

Posted in video games tagged , , , , , , , , , , at 7:19 pm by riulyn

2013 was quite a fast year for me, probably because I spent so many hours gaming 😀 They were many good hours, which I hope to continue with next year. So my personal 2013 game awards are as follows:

Best game that I beat in 2013 – Xenoblade Chronicles (honorable mention Persona 4 Golden)
I think I have enough posts on how much I love Xenoblade Chronicles. If I could accurately dictate why I loved the game so much, I think I would be able to write a good fanfic out of it at least. Persona 4 was quite the challenger, but maybe because I didn’t get the powerful true/great/whatever ending, I find that the end just comes and it left with a bit of a unsatisfactory taste. Anyway, Xenoblade for me had a great mix of interesting places and lore to explore, relationships to develop everywhere (and I think I liked “matchmaking” as my team more than being the center of everything as is the case more for Persona games), and a plot that moves at a good pace most of the time with some very crazy and some very emotionally moving segments.

Best game that I replayed in 2013 – Suikoden II (honorable mention Suikoden V)
I probably don’t need to write this section, do I? I love Suikoden games too much.

Worst game that I beat in 2013 – Lufia 2: Curse of the Sinistrals (honorable mention Magna Carta: Tears of Blood)
I knew Lufia 2: Curse of the Sinistrals was going to be a bad game, but I already bought it and figured I should beat it anyway. It wasn’t so bad that I couldn’t play it; the puzzles weren’t bad per se. The game tried to be too serious and too funny at the same time, doing a worse job than Star Ocean IV with this. It somehow felt more compressed compared to the original and most of the relationships between people (esp. the romances) were portrayed horribly. In addition I never really liked the action controls. I abused the retry and level boost, finding myself not caring enough to figure out the controls completely.
Magna Carta deserves a write-up for being a game that makes you do way too much repeated backtracking just so your characters can be at reasonable levels in the late game. There are many issues with the battle system which I’ve written about before. What saves this game from being the absolute bottom is a background lore and Yason dealings that were decently interesting. The way the story ended up being told, though, was quite inefficient. If many of the gameplay issues are resolved in the sequel, then I can see myself really enjoying Magna Carta 2.

Favorite game that I beat that was released in 2013 – Ys: Memories of Celceta (honorable mention Tales of Xillia)
I beat a good mix of turn-based, tactical, and action RPGs this year and action RPGs ended up being my favorite. Ys IV gets the top spot for being so crazily fun. The battle system is improved upon Ys Seven’s with a fun synthesis system added on. Characters are a bit sharper and smarter than in Ys Seven, the pacing is great, and map-making is both fun and story relevant. Tales of Xillia gets honorable mention because it takes too long to get to the good stuff. The good stuff is really good though, and the battle system beats that of Tales of Graces f for me due to Linked Artes. I highly anticipate Tales of Xillia 2 due to the way the first game ended; at the same time that means I don’t end up rating Tales of Xillia as highly due to that not so satisfactory finish.

Game that I beat in 2013 that surpassed my expectations the most – Shadow Hearts (honorable mention Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter)
I’ve already mentioned in previous posts how Shadow Hearts games were something I knew of but never wandered into. The early 2000s was filled with RPGs from everywhere, and I was still playing a decent number of PS1 games in the PS2 era. However, I knew enough people who liked Shadow Hearts and I figured that I like most games so I’d enjoy Shadow Hearts too. What I didn’t expect was how charmed I would be by the game. Yuri was more obviously a character that I would like from the beginning, but Alice was also amazingly charming. I liked the battle system more than I expected to as well. I already knew the music was good but it fits with the game ridiculously well.
Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter began with a frustrating start and it was hard to have expectations for this polarizing game. Even so, it seemed like it would be light on the story and be more about the battle system at first. The amount of depth and care in the presentation really took me by surprise. It’s hard for me to really, really enjoy a game that made me stress out while playing it, but I can definitely appreciate how it was put together.

Game that I beat in 2013 that fell short of my expectations the most – Shining Hearts (honorable mention Lufia 2: Curse of the Sinistrals)
I heard Shining games were good. I heard Shining Hearts was good fun. I did not hear just how annoying the battles could be. I didn’t think such a “fun” game would have such a bad plot. I didn’t think the other characters were that great; they definitely get more interesting if you do their sidequests, but they still felt mostly one-dimensional and not a mix of good tropes like Tales characters. Of course if I had looked more into Shining Hearts before I played it I wouldn’t have been so disappointed.
On the other hand, I already knew how bad Lufia 2: Curse of the Sinistrals was for most people. Still, I thought people might have been exaggerating their issues with the plot bastardization since the original’s plot wasn’t amazing either. Also I didn’t expect myself to find myself mostly at odds with the battle system (though those skills for puzzles weren’t so bad, since it didn’t involve chaining attacks). At least the music didn’t disappoint.

Best soundtrack (from games I beat in 2013) – Xenoblade Chronicles (honorable mention Muramasa Rebirth)
I can’t think of a single bad song on either Xenoblade’s or Muramasa’s soundtracks. Xenoblade’s soundtrack has some of the most beautiful songs for locations and some of the most sweeping songs for important moments. Almost all the battle themes kick ass as well. The soundtrack is just so beautiful. Muramasa’s soundtrack is more unified with amazing instrumentation for their melodic Japanese with a twist music, but I would have loved to have just a few more tracks. Then again, the game is a bit short and the emotional punches aren’t quite there compared to Xenoblade, so in a sense there’s no reason for the game to have so much music. I think the Xenoblade and Muramasa soundtracks highlight my bias towards catchy melodies with long enough (30 sec+ I think) loops; Persona and some Tales music will loop too quickly while Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter and later FF soundtracks tend to have less emphasis on melodies. Still, I enjoyed many games with great music this year; music definitely was not an issue for me.

Here are some other stats for the year:

  • Game that took me the least hours to beat in 2013 – Ys I
  • Game that took me the most hours to beat in 2013 – Xenoblade Chronicles (honorable mention Fire Emblem Awakening)
  • Total games beaten in 2013 – 28 (1 in Japanese)
  • Total games purchased in 2013 – 53 (darn you Steam sale and all those last minute Japanese games)

This was certainly a backlog-expanding year, but I also got to play many different types of games, including my first forays into SMT, Shadow Hearts, Breath of Fire, Ace Attorney, otome, and Atelier games. I certainly feel more like a JRPG veteran than I did just a year ago and I feel blessed that I can continue to find a variety of fresh experiences in my backlog. My Japanese knowledge continues to improve but the localization market still seems healthy enough to get most of the big releases. I think next year can be another good year of gaming (even if I don’t buy so many games), and I’ll let you know my goals in the next post.

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September 5, 2013

Let’s Talk About Music Again

Posted in music tagged , , , , , , at 6:12 pm by riulyn

Just because I haven’t been working on sheet music doesn’t mean I should stop talking about music, right? If I’m surveying a shit ton of games, I’m hearing a lot of different soundtracks still, right?

I’ve been playing a bit of “play whatever loads in my PS2 and if not, Tales of Xillia”. Which means I should have an opinion about Tales of Xillia’s soundtrack by now. Compared to other Tales’ soundtracks, I feel like Xillia is in the middle? Even though I’m over 20 hours in, I’m only in the second chapter and there’s plenty of time for the rest of the soundtrack to show up. Sakuraba’s best themes, if there are amazing ones on a Tales soundtrack, tend to be near the end anyway. I have to say that the anime intro song is probably my favorite Tales intro song ever. I have spent hours listening to it on repeat. But anyway, I’m happy that Xillia’s soundtrack is better than Graces’. I might have been imagining this downward trend in “quality”, or at least in my personal enjoyment, of Sakuraba’s music starting with Abyss. I wonder how much overlap there is in the music for Xillia and Xillia 2? I guess I’ll find out when the sequel comes to North America.

Otherwise I have been engaged in the inner debate on which Wild ARMs soundtrack I’ve liked the best so far. I think it’s a fight between 3 and 5. The best part of 5’s soundtrack was the great variety in it, but 3 has catchier tunes. I probably should wait until I finish all the Wild ARMs games before choosing the Wild ARMs soundtrack to represent. I feel like when people think of Wild ARMs music they think of the first game, so it may have the best of the Wild ARMs soundtracks.

Recently, in my attempt to finish more PS2 games, I played some Magna Carta and while the game is taking way longer than it should to get through battles and has some of the worst scripted and acted cutscenes ever, the music is actually pretty decent. I don’t think I like it enough to own its soundtrack, but it certainly makes playing the game more enjoyable.

And while Magna Carta wasn’t loading, I was able to load Drakengard. I feel like this soundtrack will need to grow on me. It is certainly…interesting. I think the music fits the game? The game is also…interesting.

The one soundtrack, or rather music collection, that I’m getting soon and looking forward to is the 3 music CDs that come with the Ys IV Silver Anniversary edition. It’s $20 more than the limited edition, and I am severely lacking in Ys music on my computer. I don’t think I’ve met an Ys song that I haven’t liked, and certainly not a battle theme. I really, really hope the Amazon date of early November is true. I need it to come in before I head to Japan!

Finally, I don’t know if I spazzed enough about the awesome Muramasa soundtrack. Sakimoto’s music group continues to make good stuff. And frankly, I find myself once again wondering why he isn’t one of my top composers? When he goes melodic, it’s usually wonderful and awesome (like Valkyria Chronicles music). He certainly does atmospheric stuff well too (Breath of Fire Dragon Quarter, FFXII). In Muramasa, his crew makes melodic, sometimes driving music that has this traditional Japanese-ness to it. It’s incredibly appropriate for a beat-em-up RPG where you drive through enemies in traditional garb. I think out of all the big name Japanese RPG composers, Sakimoto is the least appreciated. Sometimes he was just so good that you didn’t even realize his genius? If that’s the reason, then I was one of the unenlightened…until now?

Ah well. Mitsuda will probably forever be my favorite, even if it’s the nostalgia talking. Chrono Cross music got me into video game music, after all.

August 1, 2013

July Roundup

Posted in video games tagged , , , , at 1:34 pm by riulyn

You might be wondering, what was so special about July that it gets its own roundup? Well, the last roundup took a long time to write up and in July I finished 5 games! I will write about music and maybe my life again at some point (like how much I’m into the Ar Tonelico soundtracks right now or how much less time I should have for games when I think about all the work I need to get done by November).

July’s finished games: Tales of Graces f, Muramasa Rebirth, Wild ARMs 4, Project X Zone, Suikoden 4

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July 3, 2013

Flashy and Flashier

Posted in video games tagged , , , at 11:18 am by riulyn

Time to brag. FINALLY Muramasa Rebirth and Project X Zone came in. They both look awesome on their respective systems. They both play smoothly so far and I am totally just mashing buttons without really knowing what I am doing, but whatever. I’ll figure stuff out…sometime.

Project X Zone (pronounce that “X” as cross) doesn’t care about the plot. They all know each other and portals everywhere, so what? In like the 1 hour I’ve been able to put in so far (still tutorialing), each add onto the combat system not only adds more ways to damage the enemies but more flash and special attacks. There’s also a good chunk of fanservice, both in terms of fan favorite characters and boobs. Haven’t paid too much attention to jiggle physics yet but I’m sure they factor in somewhere. The sprites and 3D effects are similar to Fire Emblem: Awakening’s. Pretty subtle and not really necessary, but I’ve kept 3D on for now.

Meanwhile Muramasa Rebirth looks amazing on the Vita screen. I played a little bit of the Wii version (will probably drop it out of my backlog since my Wii backlog is long enough) and the colors and so much more vibrant in the Vita version. Makes me wonder if anyone has played/basked in Okami on a Vita. I love having a jump button though sometimes I jump instead of talking to people. Since talking is so frightening lol… (Actually it’s just me and my failure at games.)

I can also “study” Japanese since Project X Zone and Muramasa Rebirth have Japanese voices, though the voices are a little too quiet for me and kind of slow. But then again, Japanese conjugations and such make everything longer.

Lastly, Shadow Hearts: Covenant worked again so I finally started that. Battle system feels faster and flashier than the first. The only “major” downgrade is Yuri’s lack of trenchcoat. The game already starts off with references to the first game, so I am very glad that I played that game first. It’s all those little things that count.

Oh, and in Tales of Graces f I have Accel mode for everyone now. Wow, everything really is getting flashier and flashier 🙂