Friday, December 19, 2014

Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 3: Full Burst Review

For a blog called the Shonen Otaku Corner, I haven’t written very much about anime or manga.  It’s been almost entirely focused on games instead of what the term “shonen” is usually applied to.  This is because, at heart, I’m a gamer first and as much as I love the action-packed stories of shonen, I find the way they can translate into kickass action games (and vice-versa) captivating.  Sometimes the games can be better than their source material, as is the case with the rock-crushingly popular shonen franchise Naruto.

Naruto, being as extraordinarily popular as it is (especially in America), has a great many licensed products: a card game, accessories, plushies (I have 2) and even special contact lenses don’t even begin to fathom how much Naruto stuff you can find.  There used to be American commercials for the stuff, but I never see those anymore.

Naturally these licensed products include a great multitude of licensed games.  Naruto may rival Dragon Ball Z in having the most licensed games based on a shonen franchise, including RPGs, beat-em-ups, fighting games and even a platform fighter based on the Naruto parody spinoff.

Of all the Naruto games, the three game series that get the most recognition are the Clash of Ninja games, Ultimate Ninja games and (in recent years) the Ultimate Ninja Storm games.

All three licensed series are well worth playing, but the Ultimate Ninja Storm games are the ones with the most notoriety, because they aren’t just good fighting games or good retellings of the Naruto story.  There are some that find them more entertaining than the series they’re based on!  I am one of such people.

The truth is, I don’t actually like the Naruto manga or anime very much.  The manga is as fun an action-packed read as any shonen manga, but I’ve always found the art direction and fight scenes to be just a little bit… Lacking.

The anime improves this with great art direction, easier-to-follow fight scenes and English voice acting from a huge array of experienced anime voice actors.  However, these high points don’t shine on a regular basis and much of the anime is badly-paced and filled with… Well, filler.  It’s Dragon Ball Z all over again.

The games rectify the anime’s problem by cutting the crap and going straight to the story and flashy fighting the manga presented.  In the Ultimate Ninja Storm games this highlights the specialties of the game’s developers, Cyberconnect 2.

CyberConnect 2 is primarily known for its licensed games, having produced various titles in the .Hack franchise, all the Ultimate Ninja and Ultimate Ninja Storm games and Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure: All Star Battle.
They have, however, also made some IPs of their own, such as the Nintendo DS adventure game Solotarobo and the quick time event-slathered super-powered god-annihilating epic Asura’s Wrath.

The majority of CyberConnect 2’s games have one thing in common: They look amazing!  Even outside of the HD game systems, their games push the hardware’s limits and couple that with great art direction to deliver stories that are presented well no matter what the gameplay may be like.  Just look at a few of these and keep in mind that it’s all rendered on the PS2:

The Ultimate Ninja Storm games are one of CyberConnect2’s most famous properties, with a new entry being released each year (just like the Clash of Ninja games up until 2009).  For this article, however, I am only looking at one: Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 (and its update, Full Burst).

As you’d expect from a licensed fighter, Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 retells its source material in a world of (very colorful) ninjas that battle using the ever-plot convenient mix of mental and physical energy called Chakra in order to perform spectacular ninjutsus with high-speed martial arts (taijutsu).

For those not aware, the second and third Ultimate Ninja Storm games take place after a time skip in which all the characters have been training and are now stronger and older in the era of the story titled Naruto Shippuden.
After having made a short appearance in the first part of the story, Shippuden largely has an evil organization of rogue ninjas called the Akatsuki serve as the main antagonists with the goal of extracting 9 incredibly powerful tailed beasts from the ninjas they are sealed inside (Naruto’s being the nine-tailed fox).

Ultimate Ninja Storm 2 ended with Naruto defeating the Akatsuki’s leader, Pain, in a spectacular battle after the latter devastated the Hidden Leaf Village Naruto resides in using what is essentially an extremely powerful force field.

20 minutes.  And how many episodes did it take that stupid anime?

Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 continues the story with the manipulator behind Pain taking charge and declaring war on all the nations of the ninja world using an army of clones of his underling and reanimated ninjas so that he may get his hands on the 2 Jinchuriki remaining.  The war is the central conflict, but there are various plots of other characters that go on as well, including Sasuke’s vendetta against the Hidden Leaf Village (particularly one of its elders) for conspiring against his clan and leading to their deaths, the ninjas meeting with old reanimated friends and the Hidden Leaf Village trying to keep Naruto unaware of the war so that they can hide him.

Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 goes over the most crucial plot points in adequate detail, even expanding on a few of the fights the source material only touched upon, such as one with the 7 Swordsmen of the Hidden Mist Village.

But, sadly, there are also a lot of rather important plot points the game glosses over or doesn’t mention, particularly when it comes to the explanation of powers.  The most painful example has got to be Sasuke’s battle with the Leaf Village elder Danzo.
In the series, it’s a very climactic battle where Danzo reveals what’s under the bandages he keeps his right arm wrapped in.  In the game, it’s a normal battle where it’s possible (and likely) to beat him before he even has a chance to reveal it, as it’s simply Danzo’s powered-up awakened form, something many characters have.  The game builds up to the fight right, but doesn’t pay it off.

Later, the main villain takes control of six of the most powerful characters in the Naruto universe.  In the series, it’s explained that he controls them using a technique Pain had used previously.  In the game… He just can.

Beyond that there are simply missed opportunities.  A rather important point of character development for the character of Sai is cut entirely.  Instead there’s a chapter focused on the battles faced by Darui, one of the most minor of minor characters there are, which would be fine if Darui’s fight felt eventful, but it doesn’t, and it’s especially frustrating that he fights Kakuzu as a slightly stronger enemy instead of the ultra-powerful super boss he was in Ultimate Ninja Storm 2.

How come you don't just do THAT, Kakuzu?
But I doubt anyone complains about the additions or omissions to the story unless they’re specifically asked, because most of everything Ultimate Ninja Storm 3’s main story mode has is glorious!

Fitting name.
It’s divided into 4 modes of gameplay: The one-on-one fights the series is built around, multi-man brawler stages in which you fight several weaker enemies at once, spectacular one-on-one boss battles that mix the usual combat with flashy quick time event sequences the developers are known for and an explorable overworld that connects them all.

The staple combat of Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 is of the easy to learn, hard to master variety.  There’s only one button for melee attacks, so the complicated punch and kick button combinations of The King of Fighters or the Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure Capcom fighter do not apply.  Simply mash the B button when you’re close to your opponent and you’ll unleash your character’s stylish combo, of which you can switch up a little by tilting the control stick up or down mid-combo.  But of course, if it were that simple it wouldn’t have any depth.

Using a melee combo on your opponent requires getting close to them, and unlike the Clash of Ninja games, you aren’t always so fortunate.  The stages are very large and open, and fighters can dash around the stage throwing shuriken, expendable projectile items or projectile jutsu to keep their opponent at bay if needed so that they can charge the chakra they need to enhance their dash, power up their shuriken and, of course, use their jutsu.

Each character and their variants have 2 jutsus: A normal one and an ultimate one.  The normal jutsus take a chunk of chakra to use and usually cause some form of moderate damage to the enemy if they hit.  The ultimate jutsus are the flashy cutscene moves that show off CyberConnect 2’s presentation prowess.  They do over half a health bar’s worth of damage and require about 70 percent of a full chakra gauge to use.

Aaaaand the stage is still intact.

Finishing the match with one even adds a little character detail by cutting to a freeze frame of the anime with the user giving one last line before landing the final blow.  Sometimes the line and frame used changes depending on who’s being finished off by who.  Touches like that are some of the best parts of licensed fighting games.

Tenten gets almost no attention in the series, but she does in the games.
There are other factors in the fighting too, like the substitution jutsu that bails you out of an enemy’s combo, teammates you can call in to assist you and powered-up “awakened” forms that can only be used when you’re low on health.

The entire game centers itself around this combat, with the brawler sections in some parts of the story playing the same way, just without locking on to a single opponent.

But the real highlights of the game’s story mode are when the combat is mixed up in the more elaborate boss battles, as they’re almost as fun to watch in action as they are to experience yourself.  If you want an example of how a badass battle is done, look no further.  The fast-paced combat against foes of varying sizes is interspersed with cutscenes that are brilliantly shot and invigorating, with no characters stopping mid-battle to analyze the situation like they do a little too often in the anime.

All of this is helped by the perfectly casted voice actors from the anime, particularly the English one.  Nolan North’s deep Billy Zane-like villain voice secretes evil every time the main villain is onscreen, Beau Billingslea’s rough and raging voice is fitting of the Raikage, and I’ll never forget his rapping badass Jinchuriki brother Killer Bee, voiced by none other than The Black Baron himself (and plays a very large role this time)!

The Baron is ready to play.
I have to admit, however, that Ultimate Ninja Storm’s overall dedication to presenting the story of the source material can be a detriment at times.  There are a couple of points where the story sequences go on for an extremely long time before you finally take control again (the longest being at least 25 minutes) and you’re forced to do the final few chapters with no chance to save.  You have no way of knowing whether or not you’re going to need half an hour or an hour to finish the next part of the story.

And you can’t expect to do anything in the main adventure in between the story missions either.  You’re railroaded into the story until it’s over, playing as all sorts of different characters in different locations.  I said before there’s an explorable world outside of the fighting, but until the end of the story it’s only there to move you from point A to point B and save.  If you try to move anywhere other than where you’re supposed to in the story, you’ll be told to turn back and go down the Final Fantasy 13-style linear hallway.

It's a whole village of hallways!

What’s more, people following the manga may realize something odd about the phrase “until it’s over.”  At the time of Ultimate Ninja Storm 3’s release, the last story arc it covers wasn’t finished.  As a result, the game’s ending is a cliffhanger that doesn’t exist in the series proper, which will likely be extremely disappointing for some.  Not me though.  Without giving too much away, the final boss fight sequences are titanic and climactic enough to work as a conclusion.  I was expecting to be disappointed, but I was not.

I like these odds.
The update to the game, Full Burst, alleviates the unfinished story issue just a little.  In addition to some visual enhancements and bonus modes, Full Burst adds one more bonus chapter that continues the story with a truly damning boss fight that has Sasuke teaming up with his dead brother to fight Kabuto, the one who used the reanimation technique.  But Kabuto doesn’t need to fight with zombies this time, because he knows how to use sage mode, something only a few other characters in the series were able to do!  As expected, the game doesn’t tell you anything about how he managed to do it.

This fight with Sage Kaubto has to be one of my favorite boss fights of all time.  It’s long (6 health bars?!), extremely challenging, peppered with quick time events and the whole way through Kabuto unleashes stage-wide jutsus using the powers of the Sound 5 from part 1 of Naruto that you have to maneuver around and dodge.  The music is suspenseful and Crispin Freeman, Yuri Lowenthal and Henry Dittman all call their attacks in traditional shonen fashion.  Truly it is a battle to remember.

You would think after the story is all said and done there wouldn’t be a whole lot to do other than fight with all the characters you’ve unlocked.  That is a major draw of the game, as there are TONS of characters with several variants on their appearance and jutsus, including every single fighter from Ultimate Ninja Storm 2.  All except for Lars Alexandersson, but whose idea was it to put a Tekken character in a Naruto game anyway?

Even though playing with all the characters can keep a gamer occupied for hours, there’s still a lot more in the single player adventure’s world to do once you’re given free reign.  As you explore all the different nations you can finish side quests and find Ninja World Timeline pages that allow you to (somewhat) recreate key fights from Naruto’s history.
Completing side quests and timeline pages earn you money, items for battle, experience points to allow for more and better items, and substitution items that can replace the generic log shown when you use a substitution jutsu.  The substitution items are taken from all over Naruto’s history, like his frog friends, the water balloon he used to practice the Rasengan, his blank answer sheet from the Chunin Exams and his frog purse.  The substitution items are my primary motivation for going back to the adventure mode.  They’re fun to collect kind of in the same way as trophies in Super Smash Brothers.

The story itself (which can be replayed from the start menu) also adds replay value with the occasional branching choice that generally equates to taking the easy way or difficult way to winning a battle, like fighting all the Swordsmen of the Mist at once or splitting them up.

I’ve been playing Ultimate Ninja Storm 3: Full Burst for the past month and I don’t see any signs of stopping for a while.  It has strong single player and multiplayer content with a story that practically surpasses the source material and enough collectibles to keep me coming back.  It is everything that an action game, and especially a shonen-based one, should be.

I give Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 3: Full Burst an 8 out of 10.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

A Look at the Jojo's Bizarre Adventure Capcom Fighting Game

The most recent anime adaptation of Hirohiko Araki’s multi-part manga epic Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure has been making the rounds, quickly gaining popularity in the anime-loving crowd, particularly once it reached part 3.

For all the years the series has been around, through all of its 8 parts and generations of different heroes and villains, part 3 is considered the major turning point and the most famous.  It’s so influential, the hero and villain of part 3 are the only playable characters from the series in Jump Ultimate Stars, while the heroes from the other parts are only support characters.  It’s a story almost as iconic as the likes of other Shonen Jump classics like Fist of the North Star and One Piece.

Sadly, although it got a cult following in the internet community, the Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure manga’s popularity was never anywhere close to the amazing numbers it got in Japan.  Part 3 wasn’t officially translated by Viz until years after its Japanese release, when it garnered popularity, and every other part wasn’t translated at all until recently.  The garnered popularity that supposedly led to the manga’s official translation can be attributed to two adaptations that were released in English beforehand: A set of OVAs and the fighting game by Capcom.

The Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure Capcom fighting game has heroes and villains from part 3 (that can fight) as a playable characters, and adapts the story into a series of one-on-one battles, like most shonen-based games.  That story in this case, as you might expect, is bizarre..

For those who aren’t caught up, the Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure franchise’s parts are similar to the way the King of Fighters storylines work in that knowledge of previous parts is good to have, but not strictly necessary.  However, the first two parts can be easily summarized:

Part 1 tells the story of an English nobleman named Jonathan Joestar and his conniving adopted brother Dio.  Dio turned himself into a vampire using an ancient metamorphosing stone mask that made him more powerful, but also vulnerable to the sun’s energy.  To fight him, Jonathan learned Hamon, an ancient fighting style built around manipulating the sun’s energy, which allowed Jonathan to damage him.

In the end, Jonathan reduced Dio to a head, but the head (with some assistance from one of his vampire underlings) later ambushed Jonathan on a cruise liner with the intent of attaching itself to Jonathan’s body.  However, things went awry, and both of them went down with the ship.

In part 2, Jonathan’s grandson Joseph Joestar, who inherited the Hamon technique, had to fight a band of ancient superbeings with the same vulnerability to sunlight as vampires.  Called the Pillar Men, these humanoid abominations got their name from having been released from hibernation in stone pillars found in underground ruins.

The Pillar Men created the stone masks that turn people into vampires, but by combining a large chunk of a special stone called the Red Stone of Aja with the stone mask, they could instead turn the wearers into a more powerful lifeform and take away their sunlight vulnerability.  To make a long story of hellish training and crazy schemes short, Joseph won.

Part 3 is kicked off when a coffin is pulled out of the ocean containing Dio’s head attached to Jonathan Joestar’s body and controlling it.  Joseph, now an elderly man, finds out about Dio’s return and fills his grandson Jotaro in on Dio and the new power people have called Stands.

Stands are a manifestation of one’s inner fighting spirit with common rules as to how they work, with the occasional exception.  They can only be seen by other Stand users and are projected from a Stand user’s body mentally, meaning that a Stand user can use their stand and not even look like they’re doing anything.  The farther a stand goes from a user’s body, the weaker it gets (this is how one can know a Stand user is nearby).

Stands are where Araki had the freedom to get creative.  There are the usual types of combat stands you would expect, like fire, ice and swordplay, but throughout Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure’s long run, there have been stands that really put the “bizarre” in the title.

For example, Joseph’s stand, Hermit Purple, is able to see visions of anything in the world and convey it to him by channeling it through some visual means.  For example, he can get a message by having his stand’s tentacles go into a TV and flip through channels in such a way that single words in each one are played in rapid succession so that they form a full sentence.  Early on he’s able to take pictures of where Dio is, wherever he is, by karate chopping a camera with his stand.  Apparently that gets really expensive.

Other stands include the Hanged Man, which can attack people by going into reflections and attacking them there, Death 13, a grim reaper that attacks through dreams, and Anubis, a sword stand without an owner that possesses anyone who touches it (including their stand, if they have one).

At first, the primary conflict is going after Dio, of course, since he’s an evil vampire plotting to take over the world and wreak havoc with his own stand, but the stakes raise when Jotaro’s mom (and Joseph’s daughter) develops a stand of her own.  Because she’s not as strong as everyone else, however, the stand saps her strength, slowly killing her.  The only way to get rid of the stand is to kill Dio because he (or Jonathan’s body) is somehow the source of it…..

I’m honestly not entirely sure how that works, but the point is Jotaro, Joseph and some friends they pick up along the way have to travel to Egypt where Dio is hiding and kill him.  This leads them on an adventure across the continent, visiting many different cultures, all while fighting other stand users Dio sends after them and making badass poses and catchphrases.  The heat is on!

(Especially when they have to go up against The Sun, whose only power is simulating Arizona.)

Forewarning: If at any point of this article the names are inconsistent with something you’ve read about Jojo elsewhere, there’s a good reason.  Think of it this way: there are 2 translations for names in Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure, the actual way and the “official” way.

Hirohiko Araki likes American music.  You’d swear he was the eccentric mentor to Daisuke Ishiwatari, because Araki names at least half his characters and stands after musicians, albums and songs!  But unlike Guilty Gear, the naming in Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure is less subtle, so in the case of official translations, like the game, names are changed to protect the innocent (the innocents in this case being the ones who have to deal with trademark lawyers).

How the names are changed varies with the translation.  Sometimes names are changed into ones that still reflect what the original name were referencing (Devo to Soul Sacrifice, J. Geil to Centerfold).  More commonly, such as in the game, the names are simply spelled differently, but pronounced in the same way, such as the pillar man Eisidisi (ACDC) in part 2, and names like Robber Soul (Rubber Soul), S. Terry Dan (Steely Dan) and Iced (Vanilla Ice) in the part 3 game.  Vanilla Ice’s translated name works because in Japanese he’s usually referred to as “Ice” for short.  I’ll be using the translated names from this game.

Voing's original name was Boingo, and he has a brother named Oingo.
The renaming issues may be why no official company has bothered translating the parts after 3.  Part 3 has a handful of necessary name changes, but the stands, at least, are mostly named after the arcana (Silver Chariot, Star Platinum) and Egyptian deities (Sethan, Anubis).  In later parts, however, the stands are given names like Killer Queen, the Goo Goo Dolls, Aerosmith and Red Hot Chili Pepper.  I imagine coming up with new translations for all of them would be a nightmare to localize, but they did do it for many of them when they localized the new game, Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure: All Star Battle, so there may be hope yet.

Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure is at the same time one of the perfect candidates for a fighting game adaptation, and yet not, if you really think about how fights work in the manga.
On one hand, the franchise has all sorts of extremely unique and imaginative characters that fight in varying ways, like the best fighting games do.
On the other hand, one of the main appeals of the manga (starting with part 2 in particular) is that most fights are less about strength and more about wits.  More often than not in Jojo, brute force doesn’t work, and the hero has to come up with some way to outsmart his opponent instead of outfight them, because many times the villain has powers that are either not fit for direct combat or extremely unfair and overpowered.  For such overpowered Stands, the game designers have to take liberties with the source material in the name of fair play.

Robber Soul’s stand Yellow Temperance is the perfect example of this.  Yellow Temperance is a stand that can be seen and touched, can morph into any form, eat anything it touches (even with only a detached piece of it), works as armor and can’t be burnt or frozen off.

The way Jotaro lands a hit on Robber is by getting him in the water and nailing him when he comes up to breathe, because even though his stand is invincible, he isn’t.

But since that would be unfair in a fighting game, Robber Soul is as vulnerable to being hit as anyone else even though he fights using Yellow Temperance’s Kakyoin disguise.  Instead, to better emulate his invulnerability from the manga, he plays defensively, with close-ranged special attacks and a counter move that can instantly stand crash an opponent (more on that later).

Iced’s Stand, Cream, (hurr hurr) had a similar downgrade.  In the manga, Cream swallows its own body to create an orb of a sort of antimatter that makes anything it touches vanish completely with no resistance, friction, or trace (did I mention this series is bizarre?).  In the game it just does a considerable amount of damage.

Additionally, fights in the manga often come with heavy amounts of monologuing that seems to trap everyone else in a time stasis field until they (or someone else) finish talking about what they're doing.  Of course, that's a fighting game no-no.

But I can’t go into detail on how the characters change with the game’s mechanics without discussing the mechanics themselves.

There is lots of hitting other people.
You would expect a Capcom fighting game to play similarly to their other games, like Street Fighter or Darkstalkers, but it controls more like Blazblue, just with the pacing of a Capcom fighter.  Just like in Blazblue there are buttons for weak, medium and strong attacks that are used with special and super special moves to make combos, but in place of Blazblue’s Drive button there is instead the Stand button.

Obviously, the Stand button has characters use their stand, with a couple of exceptions.  Like in the manga, how the stands are used varies.  Most call their stand in and out to enhance and change their attacks.  The ones that do that have a meter that depletes as they’re hit while their stand is out and can only be recharged by calling it back.  If the meter completely runs out after a hit, that player suffers a “stand crash” and can’t call their stand out at all until the meter refills.

The main heroes except for Joseph can all have their stands split from them to attack the opponent from a distance like a puppetmaster, and have them use an attack while allowing the user to still move in order to attempt a double-team.  The shaman D’Bo’s play style is based around this by possessing the killer doll he uses in the manga with his stand, Ebony Devil.

Other stands are used more unusually.  One character, Shadow Dio, is supposed to be Dio before it’s revealed what he and his stand look like.  Because of this, his stand button has his shadowed stand appear for quick attacks, unlike the regular Dio who visibly calls it in and out like the others.

Another stand user, Mahrahia, uses her stand in a way tangentially consistent with the source, which you probably wouldn’t expect to work in a fighting game.
In the manga, Mahrahia’s stand, Bastet, looks just like a power outlet, and anyone who touches it becomes magnetized; everything within a long radius that’s magnetic pulls toward them.  In the manga, she hides Bastet on solid surfaces, tricking Avdol and Joseph into touching it, but in the game she can place it in midair as a trap, and every time the opponent touches it, they gain a level of magnetic strength.  With each level, Mahrahia’s metal and live wire-throwing attacks from the manga homes in on the magnetized enemy faster and at longer range

A few characters don’t use the stand button for a stand at all.  The three fighters that use the possessed Anubis sword use their stand button as one more heavy attack button.  Instead, Anubis’s primary stand function is using a special move that counters attacks from the opponents and memorizes them, allowing him to counterattack quickly after guarding the memorized attacks again.  This is because in the manga, he’s a stand that learns.

No matter how many liberties they took, the developers never lost sight of what made each character a unique opponent, and that they were able to translate them so relatively faithfully into a traditional fighting game’s mechanics is something to be admired, especially in the PS1 and Dreamcast version’s biggest draw: Super Story Mode.

In the arcade versions of the Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure game, the story is very abridged, acting as a traditional fighting game with 7 or so enemies, each with cutscenes recreating scenes from the manga.  However, because some characters weren’t in the game until updated releases, and because not all of them fight, several of the villains are never fought and the whole story at large is largely skipped.

Super Story Mode leaves every single fight, villain and plot point in, give or take the usual changes to match the engine’s limits.  This includes the villains that don’t fight man-to-man.  For a number of encounters, like with the Empress, which attaches itself to Joseph’s arm, you complete a series of (shoehorned-in) quick time events as the sequence of events from the manga play out.  In the Empresses's case, they were to dodge her punches.  Boy wasn’t that a bad situation.

Other encounters get more creative.  You have to face Daniel D’Arby, whose stand allows him to turn people into poker chips when they lose, in his poker game after losing Joseph and Polnareff to his other (rigged) games, just like in the manga.

At least I'm not putting my Viewtiful Joe DVDs on the line.
And at another point the game doesn’t establish well, Polnareff and Kakyoin’s stands have to go inside Joseph’s body in order to kill S. Terry Dan’s stand, The Lovers.  The Lovers makes its user and target form a bond that has the target feel what the user does a thousand fold, meaning if Dan hurts himself, he can potentially kill his target.  Dan uses this to hold Joseph hostage while he makes Jotaro do a series of degrading chores for him.

The mission to fight The Lovers in this game takes the form of a side scrolling shooter, with Polnareff’s Silver Chariot used for close ranged attacks and Kakyoin’s Heirophant Green for ranged attacks.  Talk about an unexpected gameplay change.

They don’t show how they got in that whole situation in the game, but they do show how it ends, and sure enough, it’s lifted straight from the source material, with a mild change (a backstab attempt instead of a hostage attempt).

The entire game can be described lifted from the source material, really.  The visuals are an especially good highlight for the fans.  This game was one of the few to use Capcom’s more advanced Capcom Play System 3 Arcade Board.  The only other games to use it were the different versions of Street Fighter 3 and Red Earth, and if you know those games, you know that they are beautiful 2D fighters with a strong use of detailed artwork.  In Jojo’s case, much of its art outside the battle sprites, from the character select screen portraits to the finishing move reaction shots, is almost all lifted directly from the manga.

Part 2 flashbacks.
For the character of Midler, who was never fully seen in the manga, they had  Araki create a design and new artwork, making this game her only visual appearance.

Like any good shonen licensed game, it’s the little things that show how much the developers really knew the source material; things like special character introductions and taunts using quotes and poses straight from the manga, even if they were only used once.

Hell, the character of Jojo is a young Joseph Joestar, and everything he does is a reference to part 2.  He fights using Hamon on his clackers, the crossbow he used against Wamuu, and even smaller moves like the Hamon-infused soda can he used near the beginning of part 2.
His default taunt is his classic “happii urepii yoropiiku ne!”

But when he fights one of the main heroes he instead taunts with “Tsugi ni omae wa”, and then the character’s catch phrase ("Yare yare daze, tsk tsk Yes I am tsk tsk," ect.)  That was one of his recurring taunts in part 2.  This game let players do the taunt before they went overboard with it in All Star Battle.

It may not be the most balanced game for competitive play, and I have to admit the dated music can get annoying, but for fans of shonen, fighting games, or just Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure, this Capcom fighter is one of the essentials, and serves as a fun introduction to Part 3 if the new anime hasn’t done that already.

As I said, the game is available on the PS1 and Dreamcast, both versions of which go for very unreasonable prices online.  The best way to get it now is through the PSN store or Xbox Live Arcade in its “HD” release.  The HD versions have sharpened visuals more noticeable with the hand-drawn artwork from the manga than the in-game sprites.  Regardless, it makes an already nice-looking game look even nicer, and that it allows you to toggle between HD and classic, as well as toggle the blood censorship from the original American releases, is appreciated.

The biggest issue with the HD release is that it doesn’t have the console version’s Super Story Mode.  Without that, its $20 price tag is really pushing its luck on selling itself.  Still, it’s better than paying through the nose for the original copies.

I haven’t been able to find it on the PSN or XBLA recently, however.  Hopefully it-

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Design Brilliance of I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream

Halloween is approaching.  Everyone is getting out their costumes, setting up the spooky decorations and watching classic horror movies.  It’s also the time some gamers take to play their favorite scary games, as well as October-themed specials going on for games like Killing Floor and Team Fortress 2.

But for a lot of us, the scares are what we’re looking for.  Now’s the time to play the classics like Eternal Darkness, Resident Evil, Silent Hill 2, System Shock 2 or Amnesia.

This year I have a recommendation on another horror game.  I’ve already gone over how ClockTower is the scariest game ever made, and I stand by that statement, but this year I’m taking a moment to appreciate the aspects of a classic horror game that don’t contribute to the horror.

I’ve always held a soft spot for 90s adventure games.  I was quite a fan of King’s Quest 5 back in the day, and even now with all the advancements companies like Telltale Games have made to the genre, I can still play some of the adventure games from the days of lesser graphics and game design.  I still love The Curse of Monkey Island, the Phantasmagoria games, and The Neverhood as much as I ever have.  Sure they had annoying puzzles and huge leaps in logic when it came to progressing through them, but the stories were so well told and presented, I couldn’t help forgiving them.

That’s why when the opportunity came knocking, I bought the PC game adaptation of the short story I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream by Harlan Ellison.  I had heard about the game being scary, unsettling and overall pretty good, so when it was on sale for Halloween on Steam earlier last year, I gave it a try myself.

Naturally, I enjoyed the traits many of the best 90s adventure games sported: detailed artwork, a good story, and (mostly) good voice acting to boot.  Unlike some of the other 90s adventure games though, I was also impressed with IHNMAIMS’s overall design as a game, because it managed to largely avoid the major pitfalls many other adventure games of its type are infamous for.

As I stated, many adventure games in the 90s had design quirks, for lack of a better term.  Anyone who has played them knows the complaints as well as the jokes made about them: an increasing load of inventory items, illogical solutions with only one way to do them you likely had to find out through guesswork and not to mention some (usually from Sierra) that killed you or rendered the game unwinnable without fair warning.

IHNMAIMS averts the overstocked inventory problem right off the bat through its premise.  The story is about the last 5 humans on earth being tortured by a human-hating godlike supercomputer named AM (Allied Mastercomputer), voiced by Ellison himself.  In the events of the game, AM makes each human play a game of his own making, each one preying on their weaknesses.  That means every character, along with their scenario, has their own inventory and map.

Each scenario’s landscape is relatively small (about half the size of a suburban elementary school), making them easy to navigate and greatly reducing backtracking.  It’s much like Telltale Games’ episodic adventure games released today in how it takes the story one chapter at a time.  Not only does this mean you don’t have to go to hell and back if you forgot something, but because there’s less to cover, should you decide to take the desperate practice of trying to use everything you have on everything else to get something to happen, it’s a lot quicker.

But in my playthrough of the game, that didn’t happen.  With the exception of a few points of guesswork and vagueness, IHNMAIMS is relatively logical in its solutions, and when the rules of logic are bent in AM’s twisted game, clues are given.
Without spoiling the solution, I cite a point in Ellen’s scenario.  In it, she must grab a chalice from a room being guarded by a vicious sphinx that scares her away when she comes in.  However, if the player looks at the room through a security monitor in another room, it doesn’t show the sphinx.  Hmmmmmm…

She doesn't even touch the thing!
That sense of fairness is properly played in the ways you can lose too, as opposed to the aforementioned Sierra games where even somewhat sensible options will have you killed on a whim.  For one thing, dying in IHNMAIMS does not mean the end of the game until the finale.  If one of the characters dies in AM’s game, they’re transported out to start the scenario all over again, with the story justification being that AM wants to torture them as long as possible.  It can be annoying if you don’t save, but it’s better than allowing you to save yourself into an unwinnable scenario by mistake.

That, however, should not happen, and the game won’t kill you for one slip-up.  While it is possible to die, there are very few instances it can happen, giving the game the relaxed play of Monkey Island, but with some of the sense of peril of King’s Quest, where everything is trying to kill you.  In any situation in which you can die, you can see it coming and it’s avoidable.

For example, in Ted’s scenario, he can hear the sounds of wolves getting closer every time he enters the central room of the castle, and the front door is missing a hinge.  It gives you several chances to figure out a way to shut the door, so if they bust in and you die, it’s your own fault.

Other times the game doesn’t need to warn you and has you rely on your common sense.  If you cut the airbags in a blimp in order to lower it to the height it needs to be at, common sense tells you that you shouldn’t cut any more than that, or else…

In the same scenario, the designers anticipated a player’s thought process in a specific way.  Instead of cutting the air bags, you can instead try to shoot a hole in it with what is described as a bulky, single-shot handgun.  However, you’re supposed to realize that the reason it’s bulky and has one shot is because it’s a flare gun.

Fire does not go well with blimps.

Instead of simply giving a generic “I can’t use these two things together” line, the game knows what you were thinking, and you thought wrong.

In one last brilliant design decision, each scenario has multiple endings that give the game flexibility.  These endings are determined by the character’s moral actions through their chapter, long before games like Infamous and Mass Effect implemented their own morality measurements.  For example, having Ted be unfaithful lowers his morality, and having Nimdok use ether to ease the pain of someone suffering raises his.

There are different ways for the successful endings to play out as well; there isn’t only one proper set of solutions.  Although the alternate solutions never diverge far from what you’re supposed to do, they allow for some tangential thinking.

For example, in Ted’s scenario, you’re told that there’s a clue on the servant woman’s tapestry in her room.  There are two ways in: you can either sleep with her (lowering morality) or give the demon you summon that can open locks a bit of energy to have him open the simple lock on her door.  Alternate solutions like that also help give the game some incentive to play through it again.

Unfortunately, much of the good about the game I just went over sort of falls apart at the game’s finale, where the puzzles are abstract, you’ll almost certainly need a guide, and you die permanently, but the 80% of the game getting to that point is still a treat.

Before playing it, I thought I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream was a cult classic because of its well-told story, like most fondly-remembered adventure games, but having played it myself, I see there’s more to it than that.  While it shows its age in some areas, IHNMAIMS holds up pretty well, even by today’s standards.  If you’re looking for a creepy game to play this Halloween, it’s a solid buy.