Thursday, August 11, 2016

Memorable Melodies: Main Theme from Luigi's Mansion

Song: Main Theme
Game: Luigi's Mansion
Composer: Kazumi Totaka

Last night I stayed up way too late playing Tricky Towers online multiplayer with a few of my friends. It's a cool Tetris-like game where you use Tetris blocks, but need to think about physics in order to build a tower. There are very few musical tracks in the game, so eventually I started to whistle along, or so I thought. Much to my surprise the song from Tricky Towers never came out, and instead I ended up whistling the main theme of Luigi's Mansion. 

I first played Luigi's Mansion right around when it came out. One of my best friend's at the time was given a Gamecube by his parents to celebrate some major life event I can't recall. Sadly he ended up with no games, so we had to go and rent some. We ended up getting Luigi's Mansion and we tried to complete it in a single night. As an added challenge bonus he didn't have a memory card either, so we had to leave the game running the whole time. When it was time for me to go we hadn't completed it, so I still have never seen the end of Luigi's Mansion.

Having only really played the game once I don't know why I remember the music from it so vividly. Perhaps it's because I always liked how Luigi would hum along to the music as he went around the mansion trying to nab ghosts. 

Note: I feel like I've put songs up called Main Theme a lot on this feature. I don't know why these songs don't get real names. It's kind of lame.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Podcast Episode 18 - I am Setsuna

This month's podcast is all about the newly released I am Setsuna. It pays homage the the SNES JRPGs of old (specifically Chrono Trigger).

Monday, August 1, 2016

Game Time - July 2016

I'm going to be real with you guys. I'm going to say a lot of mean things in this edition of game time. I initially thought that this would be a hype filled month where I'd regale you with tales of the dope JRPGs I've been playing. Instead I'm going to tell you about how I hate one of them, and think the other one is average at best.

Don't worry though, because Monster Hunter is still awesome. It hasn't let me down yet! I've got a lot to get off of my chest this month, so let's get right into it.

Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness

I love Star Ocean as a series, but man do I not really like this game. The original Star Ocean was okay, I really liked 2 and 3, but 4 was a complete train wreck. 5 isn't much better in my eyes. To be honest after 4 I was not expecting there to ever be another Star Ocean, but there is and it was made on a shoestring budget. The action battle system is alive and intact. I'd actually say it's the only thing I like about the game. I used to have a lot of trouble linking skills and canceling, but now it seems like you can spam the same attack to get a cancel bonus, so it's really easy to do tons of damage at a time. I look forward to battles, because I enjoy beating down monsters and trying out new skills.

You know what I don't like about Star Ocean 5? Literally everything else. I don't even know where to begin with this one. One of my favorite parts of playing RPGs is that the characters are developed over the course of the game. Let's take the main character Fidel as an example. I'm right before the final dungeon and you know what I know about him? His name is Fidel, he has blue hair, he's way into swords, his dad's name is Daril, and he inexplicably wants to protect a little girl he knows almost nothing about. That's pretty much it. It's infuriating. Normally the game's personal action system would fill in any gaps in character development, but that doesn't happen either. All the characters do is talk about random things like how much they love cats. The most upsetting part to me is that the entire game revolves around Fidel's quest to help out a girl he finds randomly named Relia. Despite the fact that he knows nothing about her, he makes it his life goal to protect her. This leads to him throwing a bunch of tantrums. There's no conceivable reason he or any of the other characters should care as much as they do. I could rage about the terrible characters and plot forever, but it's best if I move on.

At least battling is fun.

The budget of Star Ocean 5 was undoubtedly small, but some of the design choices they made were questionable. You know what's a good way to make me not pay attention to any dialogue ever? Make it so I can move around the environment and spam emotes. You can do that. So instead of seeing the characters talk up close and personal I'm standing there as Fidel clapping like an idiot every scene. Yes, this is my fault, but there could have at least been cinematic camera work or something. It's weird, because two scenes in the game did have a cinematic camera and they looked really good.

The flow of the game is dreadful, and every time I got somewhere I cringed, because I knew I'd have to immediately walk back to where I was previously. The story flows like this. Go to a new place, realize that what you need to do it really back where you were before, go back to the old place, find out about a new place. That's the game. It constantly has you go back to the same areas over and over again. There are very few areas in the game, so they needed to have you go to them over and over. It wouldn't be so bad if every single map wasn't huge and empty. If you're going to have a wide open map at least fill it with something. This could have been mitigated by giving access to a fast travel system early in the game. Instead they wait for what seems like an eternity to give you fast travel, and then take it away in the next story scene you get to. Then you have to play for another eternity to get it back. By the time I got fast travel permanently I no longer wanted to play the game.

There are way too many scenes like this.

I wanted to love this game, but I just can't do it. So many things about it drive me absolutely nuts. I'm still glad I picked it up, because the battle system is fun. It's classic Star Ocean. I just hope that Tri Ace is allowed to make a bigger and better Star Ocean next time. Hopefully there's a next time...

I Am Setsuna

My favorite game of all time is Chrono Trigger. So when I heard that a new game was being developed with the same ATB ( Active Time Battle) system I was super excited. I was even more excited to know that Square-Enix opened the new developer Toky RPG Factory to make new games in the same vein as the Super Nintendo RPGs I hold so dear. At first glace it seems like they succeeded in making a SNES RPG in modern times, but under the surface there's a solid game that doesn't deliver on the feelings of old.

Don't get me wrong, I like the game. At first I thought I was being overly critical, but after a lot of thought I feel like there are fundamental problems with the game. The battle system is spot on. It feels and plays like Chrono Trigger. You wait for the bar to fill up and then you can attack. Characters can team up to do special dual, and triple techs. There's even an added layer to the combat called momentum. If you don't attack right when you're able to you can add additional bonuses to your attacks with a well timed button press. It's a fun addition that sometimes feels a little too powerful. Where the game falls apart for me is both its lack of characterization and variety.

Sometimes the Chrono Trigger references are a little on the nose.

The story of I Am Setsuna is one that RPG fans have heard before. Monsters are invading the land and the only way to calm them is to have a sacrifice travel across the land and offer themselves to some unknown being. This isn't the issue though. Where things go awry for me is that the characters are all interesting, but the pacing and writing of the game don't allow the characters to develop as they need to. In Chrono Trigger I felt like I intimately knew each character by the end. In I Am Setsuna I'm right before the final boss and I know very little about each character. Most of them are surface level archetypes and nothing more. I can't quite put my finger on why they all seem so flat. Part of it is definitely the pacing. Everything moves along so fast that before you know it you have a full party of characters. It's not easy to develop seven characters all at once.

The entire game takes place in a snowy land accompanied by a piano only soundtrack. I love the music and the snow covered land, but it definitely leaves me wanting some more variety. As I made my way through the game I found the setting enjoyable. What made me like it less was when I had to revisit literally every area I had been to previously in order to unlock chests that you can't unlock until near the end of the game. Then after doing that I now have to go back to many areas for a third time in order to finish the end game sidequets. Once is fine, but three times per area is way too many. It's made even worse by the fact that you can't quickly exit areas and have to backtrack all the way through them to exit. It really starts to grate after awhile, which is why I haven't finished the game yet.

The game is beautiful, but the environments have little variation.

I understand that this is Tokyo RPG Factory's first game and that they had a relatively low budget. I hope that this game sells well enough that they're able to take another stab at making a nostalgic RPG. I feel like I Am Setsuna gets so close to what I want, but falls just short of the mark. I Am Setsuna is a solid game, but it's not the JRPG classic I was hoping it would be.

Monster Hunter Generations

You know what's great? Monster Hunter. I feel like I no longer need to say that Monster Hunter is a hard game to get into. I feel like people know that now. It's cool that it's becoming more popular over here in the U.S. but it's still not some huge mainstream success. What's interesting to me is that the developers of the series actually seem to be trying to broaden its appeal as opposed to catering exclusively to the crowd they know they already have s stranglehold on. The newest game in the franchise is called Monster Hunter Generations, but it should really be called Monster Hunter: Greatest Hits. It's got all the old Monsters you love, and a few new ones that you'll probably enjoy fighting. You can still use all of the old weapons you're used to as well, but now there are multiple styles and what are essentially super moves.

That's right, Monster Hunter has super moves now and they're pretty rad. They're called Hunter Arts, and you charge them up over the course of a hunt. They have a wide variety of effects, but they all look flashy. You can use anywhere between one and three Hunter Arts depending on which of the styles you are using for your weapon. In previous iterations there was one way to use your weapon, but now every weapon has four styles, which broadens the depth of each weapon quite a bit. The issue that I'm running into is that I feel that some of the styles make the game too easy, but I'm still enjoying myself.

The Malfestio is a cool new owl monster.

The first style is the traditional Guild style. If you have played Monster Hunter before, then this is what you're used to. It's the same, so if you're adverse to change you're going to be rocking this style a lot. Next up we have the Striker style, which is the one I'm most unfamiliar with. It's essentially Guild style with a few less moves. The tradeoff is that you can equip three Hunter Arts and they charge a lot quicker. The third style is my personal favorite, which is Aerial style. Since I use Great Sword we'll take that as an example. Normally you can charge your strikes up on the ground to do a ton of damage, but in Aerial you can only charge while in the air. In this style the dodge button lets you vault off things to get a ton of air. This allows you to mount monsters all the time, and it's a ton of fun to jump around like an idiot. Finally we have Adept style, which I feel will end up being the elitist style. Essentially if you dodge right before a monster hits you it's possible to dodge out of the way and do a powerful counter attack. Timing the dodge properly is important, so you need to learn a monster in and out to be effective with the style.

It's cool that there are so many more options for each weapon in this game. The bummer is that I feel like the weapons were all made equal in terms of damage. What I mean by this is that Great Swords used to be a power house, but now they do about the same as someone using the dual blades. It's cool that the game is more balanced, but now there's no real reason to use one of the slower weapons over something that hits faster and just as hard. Yes, I can still break parts better, but I'm a fan of huge damage. I hope that this is changed back in the next true iteration of Monster Hunter, but we'll have to wait and see.

Welcome to the space jam!

Like I said in the beginning, this is akin to the greatest hits album of Monster Hunter. If you've never been into the series before there has never been a better time to join in on the fun. Hunting monsters is exhilarating once you learn the basics.

What does the future hold?

Approximately 800 million games I want to play very badly come out in September, which means I have about one month left of not playing a whole bunch of games left ahead of me. Next week No Man's Sky finally drops, so I can see what the heck it's actually all about. I'll probably end up streaming a bunch of it, because it seems like the kind of random exploration that would be fun to do with some company.

Other than that the only thing that's on my radar is God Eater 2. I feel like it came out forever ago in Japan, which is probably true. Now that I'm way deep into Monster Hunter I don't really like the clones of it, so we'll see if I outgrew God Eater as well. Hopefully not, because I enjoyed the hell out of the original game despite the fact that it was on the PSP.

Ohh, just kidding. King of Fighters XIV comes out at some point as well. The demo is a lot of fun. It's like they took the KOF I love and made it possible for regular humans to play and enjoy!

See you guys next month!

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Memorable Melodies: Zinogre Theme from Monster Hunter Portable 3rd

Song: Zinogre Theme
Game: Monster Hunter Portable 3rd (Also every iteration after it)
Composer: Masato Kouda

I started playing Monster Hunter a few years ago when Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate came out. Somehow I ended up falling in love with the series and have been playing it ever since. It's an odd series, which is definitely not for everyone. It has a high barrier to entry, and has a lot of repetition. What's cool about it is that each one of the monsters you fight is wholly unique. They have their own patterns and movements that you need to learn in order to take them down effectively. That's why I tend to describe Monster Hunter as a series of boss fights. 

Like their abilities and looks each monster also has a unique theme. There are tons of themes to choose from, but the one I always think about it the theme of the Zinogre. It's a crazy electric wolf and I love fighting it. Not only is it one of my favorite monsters in the series, but its theme is great too. It's appropriately intense, and always makes me feel like I'm taking part in an epic struggle with the beast.

Here's a picture of a Zinogre for reference:

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Memorable Melodies: Tender Glow from I am Setsuna

Song: Tender Glow
Game: I am Setsuna
Composer: Tomoki Miyoshi

I have an undying love for Super Nintendo RPGs. Chrono Trigger is my absolute favorite game of all time. The characters and the adventure that they went on will stay with me forever. For some reason modern JRPGs just don't do it for me like they used to. I can't explain it, but something is missing.

Square-Enix put together a new studio called Tokyo RPG factory to try and make Super Nintendo era RPGs on modern consoles. Their first project 'I am Setsuna' released in the United States this past Tuesday as a digital only title. I am around ten hours into the game and am enjoying it a whole bunch. It has the same ATB battle system as Chrono Trigger, so it was an automatic buy for me.

However, more than the direct nods to Chrono Trigger it actually does feel like a SNES RPG. The story is simple, but the characters have a lot of heart. They may not all be as fleshed out as I'd like, but I can see what the writers were going for. On top of that it's not a sprawling game and is supposed to clock in at around 20 hours of play time. 

I read an interview with the director of the game and remember him saying that the overall theme of the game is sadness. This definitely comes across, because everything in the game is fairly sullen. To add to that effect the entire game takes place over a series of snowy islands. So while the snow is falling slowly on the land the thing that puts the somber feel over the top is the piano only soundtrack. At first I thought it would be grating, but now I actually kind of like it.

There's something about walking slowly through a town in a light snowfall while slow piano music plays i n the background. It's weird, because it doesn't make me sad, but instead makes me very reflective. As I play through the game I can't help but think back on games like Chrono Trigger and it makes my heart feel all warm and fuzzy. Tokyo RPG Factory hit the SNES feels for me, and Tender Glow is one of the songs from the game that actively makes me feel right at home. 

Friday, July 8, 2016

Podcast Episode 17 - Crowdfunding and Video Games

In the 17th episode of Game Time With Manny I talk a lot about crowdfunding and various video games that have come out of it. There are  a ton, but I focus on a select few.

I discuss what it takes to have a successful Kickstarter (Shovel Knight), and how to totally botch it (Mighty No. 9). People often don't know how much money and time it takes to create a video game, so I try to shed some light on that as well.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Memorable Melodies: Map Music from Yoshi's Island

Song: Map Music (Not the actual name)
Game: Yoshi's Island
Composer: Koji Kondo

I have always, and will always have a place in my heart for Yoshi's Island. It's one of the few video games from my childhood that I have vivid memories of. Long before The Ocarina of Time doomed me to play video games for all of eternity I rented SNES games from the local Video King. On multiple occasions I picked up Yoshi's Island and tried to get Baby Mario home!

It controls like a dream, and has a distinct sense of style. We're here today to praise its music though. I love almost every song in Yoshi's Island, but its map theme sticks out to me the most. After every stage you're thrust back to the map screen so that you can pick a new stage. This wonderful music plays every time, so you hear it quite frequently. It never quite gets stale though, because it changes as you advance. Each new world adds a new layer to the song. 

If you listen from the beginning you can hear the central theme. Then the weird bongo beat makes its way into the song. Each following addition is subtle, but in the end you get what sounds like a full band playing the tune. It's a really cool effect that I think adds a lot to this otherwise simplistic song.