Archives for posts with tag: My Stupid Backlog

I don’t know if I’ve mentioned it before, but I’m a massive Sega fan. Of course, the company makes it difficult for us diehards these days, having abandoned seemingly all of their incredible franchises of yore. No more Shining Force, no more Outrun or Daytona, no more Jet Set or Panzer Dragoon. No more Shenmue.

One series that rose from the ashes of Sega’s descent into third party publisherdom (if that’s not a word, it should be) is Toshihiro Nagoshi’s Yakuza series. While the franchise has struggled to find its feet in the West, it does well enough in its home territory to be heading towards its eleventh release with the upcoming Yakuza 6. It’s also often held up by fans as something of a spiritual successor to Yu Suzuki’s Shenmue, and for that reason it’s a series that’s been on my radar for some time, but one which I’ve for some reason or other never gotten around to. As I patiently (not really) wait for the Shenmue 3 that I kicked $250 into to reach my grubby paws however, it seems like a good time to address that.

Only I didn’t start at the beginning. That would have made too much sense. Also, it would have cost me too much cash, as Yakuza 2 is pretty damned expensive these days. But I’ve had the PS3 titles, Yakuzas 3 and 4, sitting on my shelf unplayed since their respective UK release dates, so I jumped in at the third game. Handily, sitting in the main menu are recaps for the first two games that aim to catch any latecomers up on the overarching story of the Dragon of Dojima, Kazuma Kiryu.

Kazuma Kiryu

Having watched them, I honestly couldn’t tell you what happened in Yakuza 1 or 2. Something about ten billion yen going missing, and I think there was a gang of triads, or Korean gangsters, former friends turned enemy then back to friends, and there was a little girl and a big building. Point is, the catch ups don’t do a great job of communicating those stories to someone with zero prior knowledge. They delight in throwing names of people, organizations, alliances and events at you, and in such a condensed format, they just don’t stick in your brain. But that’s ok, because what they do manage to achieve is to give you a good feel for the kind of guy Kiryu is, and that’s really important. He’s a hard man, but an honourable one, and he’ll put himself on the line for his friends without hesitation. Clichéd? Perhaps, but there’s a lot more to Kiryu than stereotypes. He’s a fantastic, nuanced character, multi-layered yet easy to understand, and Yakuza 3 might just be the best place to see that for yourself.

We begin in Okinawa, at a beach-side orphanage run by Kazuma, ably assisted by a mature beyond her years Haruka – the aforementioned little girl who is now effectively Kazuma’s adoptive daughter. The start of the game is lengthy and rather slow-paced, taking a fair while to pick up a head of steam. Much of the early game is spent focusing on the relationships between Kiryu and the kids in his charge, and the game takes its time to introduce new characters, like the members of the local Ryudo Yakuza family. Returning players could understandably find themselves a little bored by the languid pacing, wanting to get stuck into the meat of the game, but for someone coming to the series fresh, I thought it managed to lay down an entertaining foundation, establishing Kiryu’s character as this stoic, erstwhile Yakuza chairman runs around tending to his kids, making sure they have everything they need, solving the odd dispute between them, and cooking them curry (again) for dinner.

Of course, it’s not long before Kiryu gets caught up in a complex plot involving a military expansion bill, a proposed resort complex, the land his orphanage stands on, and a grand conspiracy encompassing members of Kamurocho’s Tojo Clan, a man that looks an awful lot like Kazuma’s dead foster father, and even the CIA. Yeah. I told you it was complex, didn’t I? Again, there are a lot of names, organisations and titles thrown at you over the course of the 20-odd hour story, but in such a dense, plot- and character-driven game, you’ll end up remembering them all. Nagoshi’s team really excels in selling the relationships between Yakuza 3’s cast of characters, and there are bonds here that you will really see develop over the course of the story. Some are already ingrained from the start, like when you’re strolling down Tenkaichi street and Haruka hurries to catch up, taking Kazuma’s hand as she does. Others you will see grow over the course of the story, such as the fantastic friendship between Kazuma and the fiercely loyal Rikiya Shimabukuro, who may well be the ultimate bro.

Rikiya's a bit too into this

Though the series is often thought of as a sort of Japanese GTA, Yakuza 3 is structured much like a jRPG; you have your main plot thread, plenty of side quests, levelling up, which affords you new skills, and even random encounters, which, as ever, can get annoying when you’re just trying to get to the next plot point. Of course, combat isn’t exactly your standard jRPG fare, as fights in Yakuza are settled by brawling in the streets. You’ll punch with Square, throw in combo-ending kicks with triangle, and use the same button to activate powerful Heat Moves when you have enough meter; these do massive damage and, if you’re holding a weapon – which can be anything you pick up on the streets, from bicycles and signage to stun guns and even swords – you’ll get a bespoke animation for each when using a heat move. As previously mentioned, you can unlock new fighting skills as you level up, giving you access to new techniques, and best of all, you can learn new, elaborate heat moves by turning voyeur and videoing odd people doing crazy things in public – like watching a drunken salaryman try to pole dance on a lamppost – and then blogging the results with a hilariously dramatic flourish. It’s completely, wonderfully bizarre.

Of course, there’s more to Yakuza than the main story objectives, and that’s where the comparisons to Shenmue come in. If you fancy a break from all the brooding and brawling, you can head on down to the batting cages and hit a few home runs. Or maybe go bowling or sing your heart out at karaoke with Haruka. Then there’s darts, pool, golf, arcade and UFO catcher machines and tons more besides. Like Shenmue, Yakuza gives you a ton of different distractions and ways to waste time, and like Shenmue, while none of this is compulsory to drive the story forward, it does serve to enrich the world you inhabit. Yakuza is often labelled as an open-world game, and it’s a tag that ill fits the series in my opinion; the game’s two locations of Ryukyu and Kamurocho aren’t the sprawling landmasses you’d expect to find in a GTA or an Assassin’s Creed – they’re maybe the size of a single district in one of those games – but they are absolutely packed with things to do should you feel like you need a breather. Seriously, I finished the game in 24 hours and only achieved 12% completion!

Ultimately, how much Yakuza feels like a replacement for Shenmue comes down to what you take from that long-absent series. There are certainly similarities in the way you can choose to ‘waste’ time doing lots of extraneous yet fun activities, and also in the way that you’ll be fighting lots of goons in the streets (though Shenmue is more tied to the Virtua Fighter combat engine than the more arcade-y feel of Yakuza). However, if what captivated you about Shenmue was the setting, the atmosphere, the detailed slice-of-life portrayal of a Japanese teenager in the mid-80s, well, you won’t get that here. The tone of the two games can often be wildly different, too; while ostensibly a ‘serious’ yakuza/crime drama, Yakuza 3 isn’t afraid to suddenly turn incredibly gamey, often to the point of gleeful absurdity. Of course, Shenmue had a handful of goofier moments, like racing forklifts around Yokosuka Harbour or anything involving Chai, but there’s nothing that matches two guys tearing off their suits in one motion as their fighting spirit literally erupts from their bodies before they do battle on top of a skyscraper. It’s a game with a great sense of humour, that never lets its setting and subject matter get in the way of glorying in its nature as a videogame. For my money, Yakuza feels like Nagoshi’s team wanted to make an amalgamation of Shenmue and a 3D take on Streets of Rage, and dress it up in an elaborate yakuza-focused soap opera.

And that’s ok. Yakuza doesn’t need to ape Shenmue to justify its existence. For my part, while I didn’t manage to find a stand-in for Shenmue, I did manage to discover another Sega franchise to obsess over. Now I just need to find the time to play 4 and 5 before the next couple of instalments arrive on western PS4s.

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Namco-Bandai have published a new trailer for this week’s release of Tales of Xillia. The clip, called ‘Two Heroes, Two Nations, One Destiny’, focuses on the RPG’s dual protagonists Milla and Jude, as well as the two warring countries seen in the game. I suppose ‘one destiny’ refers to the characters coming together to save their world.

What’s interesting is the length of the trailer: at around 30 seconds, it’s perfect for TV. Will we actually see television advertising for this instalment of the long running franchise? I certainly hope so, but given the game will be released in five days (in Europe; two days in the US), they’d be leaving it a little late. I’m already very excited for Tales of Xillia (I’ve even switched my pre-order to the Special Milla edition, despite already owning this), but seeing an ad on TV would probably push me over the edge.

I’m also ready to get stuck in as soon as it turns up, as I’ve finally finished Tales of Graces f. Indeed, my backlog is finally starting to see some traction, as I’ve also finished The Witcher and made a start on its sequel. Now all I need to do is finish some more games before adding any more – not an easy proposition with new consoles on the horizon!

It’s been a while since my last ‘Musical Mondays’ piece, and this one was prompted by doing something that I’ve previously covered in another of my irregular series’ – my backlog-baiting ‘My Stupid Backlog’ pieces. You see, over the weekend, I finally finished The Witcher, a game which, along with its sequel, was the focus of my second ‘MSB’ piece, and when I heard the end credits theme, Believe, I just knew I had to write a post about it.

It reminded me of when I first finished the original Mass Effect and M4 pt II by Faunts kicked it; it just felt so fitting, so right. This piece of music is wildly different from that which closed the first chapter of Commander Shepard’s story, but no less fitting for the game it brings to an end.

I love the mix of violin and electric guitar in this theme. It all melts together beautifully, the violin lending the music a bittersweet, melancholic edge, while in other places joining up with the guitar, soaring in triumph. It perfectly evokes Geralt’s travels and trials throughout the game, each victory coming with a price attached. It also perfectly encapsulates how I felt when I had completed the game – elated at finally seeing the tale through to its conclusion, yet a little sad to see it go.

As a bonus, here’s a track taken from the bonus CD The Witcher: Music Inspired by the game that came bundled with the Enhanced Edition. It’s a beautiful piece of harp-led electronica, and includes some samples that are taken straight from the game’s soundtrack.

It feels good to finally be seeing some movement on my ridiculous backlog of shame, and I’m really glad I played The Witcher. Though a little clunky in places, it’s an utterly fantastic game, and with the third title on the horizon, now is a perfect time to grab the first game and its sequel Assassins of Kings, which will be next on my list… after BioShock Infinite, of course.

togf
It’s time to take another guilty look at my absurd backlog, and today I’m focusing on Namco-Bandai’s Tales of Graces f. An enhanced port of a 2009 Wii title, this PlayStation 3 version added a ten-hour epilogue (hence the ‘f’, for ‘future’), and finally made its way here last August.

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while (first off, thanks!), then you may remember that I made an unboxing video of the Day One edition that Namco-Bandai put out at Graces f‘s release back in August. And a very generous set it was too, comprising a gorgeous, full-colour (albeit paperback) artbook, a behind the scenes DVD and a soundtrack disc. I was very excited for the game; I was quite new to the Tales of series at the time, having played Tales of the Abyss on 3DS and (most of) Tales of Vesperia on my 360, but I became a big fan of the series right from the start.

I knew I wouldn’t be jumping straight into Graces f, as I was knee-deep in something else at the time (I can’t remember what though…), so I had intended for it to inhabit The Shelf for a while. But recently, a couple of things have really tempted me to get stuck in. First of all, I’m currently playing another beautiful, colourful Namco-Bandai RPG – Ni No Kuni. I’m now about 16 hours into Level-5’s collaboration with anime house Studio Ghibli, and loving (almost) every second of it. It really is a beautiful game, and genuinely looks like a Ghibli anime. It’s quite an achievement; we’ve seen cartoon-y games before, but the sumptuous colours and bright, clean shading really elevates Ni No Kuni‘s art-style above other aesthetically-similar games. Visually, it reminds me of the couple of Tales of games I’ve played so far (Abyss and Vesperia), as they’re also very colourful and possessed of stark, clean lines and use of flat colours and cartoon-y shading. Playing Ni No Kuni has reminded me that Tales of Graces f sits unloved on my shelf, and also that I still need to finish Tales of Vesperia (a game so good I bought it twice!).

Speaking of Vesperia, that game is another reason for my sudden desire to play Graces f. I recently watched the anime prequel Tales of Vesperia: The First Strike, and it reminded me how much I loved the game’s characters – Yuri Lowell might well be my favourite jRPG protagonist ever, and young mage Rita Mordio is fantastic, possessed of the kind of attitude that usually only inflicts one who is too good, too young – but I never finished the game. I reached the final dungeon (The Tower of Tarqaron) a few months back, and then decided to ‘take a break’. I absolutely loved my time with Vesperia (I might even call it the best jRPG I’ve played this gen), but there was one difficulty spike that took me close to ten hours to overcome (and also took me perilously close to crying real man-tears). When I reached Tarqaron, I worried that I might find the final boss insurmountable, decided to leave it for a few days… and then never went back.

As I’ve been getting strong Tales of cravings recently, I’ve decided to go back and finish it off soon – maybe even today. But I only have a few hours of the game left to me, and I really want to experience a full-on Tales of journey, so it’s handy that I have Tales of Graces f, which hasn’t even graced my PS3’s disc drive yet, to scratch that itch. The only problem is that it’s calling to me so strongly right now that I’m tempted to play it concurrently with Ni No Kuni, and this I must resist! I don’t think I can handle two massive RPGs at the same time (and I’m still dipping into The Witcher on my PC every few days). So, provided I can hold out, I’m pencilling in Tales of Graces f as the next title in my backlog that I aim to tackle. And I know I’m in for a good time; PSG’s own Dan Bushell put the colourful jRPG in at number three on his top five games of the year list, and if Dan loved it, I’m sure I will too.

ds2s
Yes, it’s a new year, but I still have a ridiculous backlog. Worse, in fact, thanks to receiving games for Christmas, as well as sales on the likes of Steam and GOG.com. As always, the first few months of the year are again jam-packed full of new releases that will also be joining the growing list, while I fruitlessly try to whittle away at it.

And it is one of the upcoming releases that’s on my mind today; Dead Space 3 launches in a little under three weeks, and I honestly don’t know how I feel about it. The original Dead Space was one of my favourite games of 2008 – I absolutely loved it. Contrary to popular internet opinion, I thought 2011’s Dead Space 2 bettered the original in every way (except for that frustrating monster-rush near the end), and it ended up being my favourite game of 2011, ahead of Skyrim and Sonic Generations.

But Dead Space 3? I don’t know what to make of it. Admittedly, I haven’t seen much of it, which is likely to its benefit, but I didn’t much like what I did see – series protagonist Isaac Clarke running around a bright, Hoth-like world called Tau Volantis engaging in third-person shooter battles with human opponents with an AI companion in tow.

At first glance, these sound like the exact same issues that most people had with Resident Evil 5 back in 2009. The demo and the overwhelmingly negative reaction that I noted online put me off playing that game until last year, and when I did I loved every minute, so perhaps I am giving Dead Space 3 short shrift. I can say that I’ve been curiously uninterested in the game since that initial unveiling, yet as it creeps closer to release, I am unexpectedly starting to look forward to it. And I’m quite glad to feel that way – I do love the franchise, after all. I even read the thoroughly mediocre book about Michael Altman and the origins of Unitology…

So, I said I loved Dead Space 2 (and I really did – I feel like it didn’t get enough praise – certainly for the visuals, which I believe are among this generation’s best). When I spied the DLC mini-campaign Severed on Xbox Live for a cheapo price more than a year ago, I snapped it up eagerly. There it has since remained, unplayed, on my harddrive. But as Dead Space 3 began to gently tug at my attention, it occured to me that playing through Severed might be a good way to get back into the franchise before the sequel arrives.

Dead Space 2: Severed is a two-chapter mini-campaign, featuring characters from the enjoyable lightgun spin-off Dead Space: Extraction (and set three years after that game) and is a side story to the events of Isaac’s own traversal through the Sprawl. As far as I’m aware, the gameplay is broadly comparable to the main campaign (though I imagine suit and weapon upgrades must be either excised or handled differently), and I hear it’s just a couple of hours long – perfect for someone who’s trying to clear items from a backlog!

Of course, the fly in the ointment of this plan is that tomorrow will see a Dead Space 3 demo arrive on XBL and PSN, so that will get all my attention (and I’ll most certainly be doing a write-up, you can count on that!); if it’s good, I’ll probably be salivating over more Dead Space content and immediately load up Severed. If it’s bad? Well, I’ll probably be sitting in a corner crying and rocking back and forth whilst holding onto my knees, lamenting what has become of one of my favourite new franchises this gen.

Let’s hope for the former, eh?

If you visit this blog with any regularity, you may have noticed something of a drop-off in content recently. It’s not so much laziness on my part (I promise); more that there hasn’t been much gaming news of late that has interested me enough to comment on.

I suppose that’s the way it goes at this time of year, when publishers are shipping out their big hopes for the Christmas period, and focus shifts from updates on in-development titles to sales numbers. Information like this doesn’t really interest me – I want to write and talk about games, not numbers of units shifted.

And so, staring at my shelves, laden end to-end and top-to-bottom with a considerable percentage of games I may never play (thanks to both the speed at which games drop in price these days, and my own inability to control my videogame spending), I had an idea: Why not write about these games I’m yet to play, and maybe give myself the kick up the arse I need to cross some off of my to-do list? I’m thinking I might do one of these a week, focusing on those titles that are foremost in my gaming regrets. So today, I’m kicking off with…

Heavy Rain
There are a few fairly good reasons why I’ve not yet got around to playing Heavy Rain. To begin with, it doesn’t help the PS3 (or indeed the Wii) that my 360 is my main console – pretty much all my multi-platform games are bought on the 360, and it’s the machine that sees by far the most use. The other two are mainly used for some fantastic exclusive titles, but with 90% of releases these days being mirrored across the two HD consoles, it leaves little free time for me to show the other consoles much love.

Secondly, Quantic Dream themselves are something of an issue for me. Granted, David Cage often comes across in interviews as if he’s convinced of his own importance (though it would be silly to form an opinion of someone’s personality based on nothing more than answers given to questions likely posed to provoke a response), but this isn’t my issue here. No, part of my reticence to play Heavy Rain stems from the one Quantic Dream game I have played: Fahrenheit, otherwise known as Indigo Prophecy.

I often see Fahrenheit used as an example of an intriguing story that utterly squanders its promise, and this is pretty much how I feel about it. The opening third of the game is fantastic, as one of a handful of playable characters wakes from a trance, having committed a brutal murder, and makes an attempt to hide evidence before escaping the scene. Perspective then switches to a pair of cops investigating the very murder that took place at the game’s start, which lends the game an intriguing cat-and-mouse element, with the player taking on the roles of both hunter and hunted.

The middle section sags a little with some questionable attempts at character building, before it all begins to fall apart and the story disappears up its own arse and into the realms of the ridiculous. For me, it was the kind of story development that made me want to flip over virtual tables, and the fact that it utterly destroyed the creeping atmosphere and intriguing premise that the opening hours worked so hard to build made it all the worse. The problems with Fahrenheit‘s story, characterisation and ending has always made me nervous to play Quantic Dream’s follow-up project. Sure, in most games, it’s often easy to overlook elements like this if you’re having fun with the gameplay, but considering how elevated in importance these elements are in Quantic Dream’s work, if those aren’t done right here, there’s not much left.

Perhaps the main reason I’m yet to play Heavy Rain, however, is down to one specific moron on the internet. Back when the game was originally released, a user on one of the forums I used to frequent decided to go around both forum threads and story comments spamming the identity of the game’s ‘Origami Killer’. Another user decided to compound this idiocy by confirming what the first cretin had posted. The story’s premise is discovering the identity (and solving the mystery) of the Origami Killer, so with that ruined,  I felt the game wouldn’t have quite the impact it would have had if I’d gone in completely blind. As it stands now, I’d be controlling one character knowing they’re the one to blame for everything that’s happening, and that’s surely going to affect how I play, and subsequently enjoy, the game. If anyone has access to a Men in Black neuralyzer, now would be a good time to offer its services…

It may sound like I don’t want to play Heavy Rain, but I really do – it’s in my collection, after all, and what I’ve heard from friends sounds promising. Curiously, it might be Quantic Dream’s upcoming Beyond: Two Souls that finally convinces me to stick the disc into my PS3’s drive and finally work my way through it – as excited as I am for that game, I’d like to see how Cage and Quantic Dream’s storytelling and execution have evolved since Fahrenheit caused me such disappointment. And if am to find a significant step up from the team’s last-gen outing, it may even increase my anticipation for their forthcoming title.

Do you have an enormous backlog? Feel free to leave a comment detailing your big gaming regrets, or, alternatively, lambasting me for my own.