Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Senran Kagura 2 Story Analysis: Chapter 1

In my review of Senran Kagura 2 back in 2015, I praised its story, but I don’t think I detailed just how good it is.  Every Senran Kagura game has at least a decent story, but as much as I might nitpick, I would go as far as to say Senran Kagura 2 is Yukinori Kitajima’s magnum opus.  It is a How To guide on writing a good story and I refer to it a lot when it comes to character development, atmosphere, genuine cuteness, drama, consistent themes and character dichotomy, among other things.  The same can be said about the original game too, but Senran Kagura 2 has the addition of being a sequel and thus has an even more extensive list to refer to, like how to build on series establishments, how to please longtime fans without pandering and how to address previous shortcomings.  It takes everything that has made Senran Kagura so good and polished it into one of my favorite stories of all time and my 2015 game of the year.

Unfortunately, not everyone sees it that way.  Some people brush off the story entirely or call it decent at best.  Some people are even stupid enough to play it before Senran Kagura Burst as if the big 2 on the box isn’t there.  Others simply say that it is written around a mundane part of the human anatomy.

These people are idiots.

I think the story deserves a closer look than that.  As a journalism graduate and story buff, I have a lot to sing praises about.  I've played a lot of games with different stories and settings, but few have satisfied me quite as much as the Senran Kagura games.  Instead of simply summarizing what makes Senran Kagura 2’s story so good, I think it's best to analyze each individual story element of the game’s five chapters and why they all come together so well.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

King of Fighters Retrospective Bonus Round: KOF: Maximum Impact

We’ve gone over the main King of Fighters titles in my long retrospective, but there is still some ground to cover.  The King of Fighters has had some spin-offs, the most prominent being The King of Fighters: Maximum Impact and its sequel, Maximum Impact 2 (bafflingly renamed KOF 2006 in America).  These were the first King of Fighters games to be made specifically for the PS2 and utilized full 3D characters and environments long before KOF 14.  I remember seeing advertisements in magazines and was skeptical.  It isn’t in the series colorful 2D style, the story is completely unrelated to the main games, there were no teams and there was Mortal Kombat’s not-that-well-received transition to 3D around that time.  For years I would forget the Maximum Impact games existed, but after getting my hands on them, I think they’re worth giving a fair shake.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Odin's Sphere Leifthrasir Review

Odin Sphere, Muramasa: The Demon Blade and Dragon's Crown are sort of a trinity of Vanillaware games people actually care about.  All three use George Kamitami's fantastic artwork and tell classical stories using certain mythological inspirations.  Among the trinity, I've always considered Odin Sphere to be the best one overall, even after playing Muramasa, a faster-paced game on a stronger system.

I got the original Odin's Sphere on a whim.  I was at Gamestop to buy a copy of The King of Fighters 11 and 13, but since there was a buy 2 get 1 free sale on used games I also got Odin Sphere, which I remember being referenced in Nintendo Power as one of the Muramasa creator's previous games.  Essentially I walked out of a store with the two greatest fighting games ever made and a decent action game.

There was a lot to like in Odin Sphere, but technological restraints of the time weighed it down a bit.  It could get too unforgiving, loading times for the pretty graphics added up, some of the enemies required exploiting some kind of arbitrary flow-breaking weakness and the final part of the game, without spoiling anything, is bullshit at worst and vague at best.

I beat it, but never got the best ending, as that required doing repeating a certain set of missions, refilling the success-critical items for each time and having to wait through several loading times.  If it weren't for all the little problems Odin Sphere had I would've finished it fully.

Even with those gripes it's still my favorite Vanillaware game thanks to its story, a classical mythological tale of dueling kingdoms, dragons, forbidden magic and the underworld told across five different characters with their own play styles.  With the wrinkles ironed out it could almost be considered a masterpiece.

Lo and behold, Vanillaware promised to make it the fantastic game it could be with Odin Sphere Leifthrasir, an HD update to the game for the PS3, PS4 and Vita.  With my fond memories driving me, I got the Vita version, because with Muramasa Rebirth and Dragon's Crown on there, why not complete the set?

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Hyrule Warriors Legends Review

The feats modern technology can achieve is amazing.  It feels like only yesterday I saw Metroid Prime Hunters: First Hunt on the original Nintendo DS and was blown away by the 3D graphics it could achieve.  Now with the 3DS and Vita, there are entire console games you can fit in portable systems.  Ocarina of Time, Super Street Fighter 4 and Tales of the Abyss are all on the 3DS while the Vita has games like the Blazblue games, Injustice: Gods Among Us and the God of War PS2 games.  That would have made my teenage head explode!

Handhelds have their setbacks, of course.  It almost never looks as good as a game's console version and the processing power doesn't match up, which is why a lot of gamers were skeptical about Hyrule Warriors Legends, the updated portable version of the hit WiiU game. Hyrule Warriors is a hack and slash crowd brawling game with a heavy emphasis on murdering enemies by the hundreds with flashy and fancy moves.  Unlike the far superior Sengoku Basara, a lot of these games from Tecmo Koei take place in many wide open areas, meaning a lot has to be rendered at a rapid pace.  The 3DS can do a lot with enough time, money and effort, but can it really pull off a game like this and keep all the elements that make it so fun?

The answer is a surprising yes.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

10 Game Soundtracks Suited for Guitar Hero

Who doesn't still get a kick out of Guitar Hero?  Average gamers may not have the dexterity to hold cords in specific fashions and tune real guitars, but we sure know how to rhythmically press buttons, and Guitar Hero used that to emulate a guitar's feel as well as challenge us with some of the most iconic guitar-heavy songs in music history.

Guitar Hero was a major party game franchise back in its heyday and is still a big favorite to this day even if all the old peripherals are no longer officially sold and all that's left is the new Guitar Hero Live.
I think the problem the original Guitar Hero games had was that they released too many games too fast and ran out of big-name songs to use, but that's only looking at the music industry.  If the eligible songs expanded to games, there's an entire medium they could use, full of challenging, catchy guitar jamming up there with the best of them.  Entire franchises are built on rocking tunes.  Look at how puny all the sections on this TVtropes page are compared to the Video Game one.

It's not like music needs lyrics.  Cliffs of Dover in Guitar Hero 3 and Frankenstein in the original game are both classics.

It's sad that the only thing qualifying for game music in a Guitar Hero game is recreations with the music creator and the Halo theme.

That's why to demonstrate the musical strength of games and just for fun, I'm making this list of 10 game/game franchise soundtracks that should be in a Guitar Hero game.  To show how impactful and challenging they are, for each I will pick out what I think would be the most difficult song to play and the most iconic song that every fan should know (usually opening or credits music).  There's only so much you can say about music in words, so this won't be especially text-heavy.