Xenoblade Chronicles comes to Europe!

March 31, 2011

Sorry for the long break, but anyways, great news: Today, Nintendo of Europe announced that Xenoblade will be released in Europe this year under the new full title “Xenoblade Chronicles“. The Monolith Software-rpg for Wii has been permanently praised for its vast, open game world and has been voted number one-rpg of this current generation of consoles by a certain Japanese hardcore-rpg-fans´ website. A release date isn´t known, neither if the game will see a US-release. But it certainly would be stupid to release both this and Zelda: Skyward Sword at the end of the year, so maybe we´re in for another pleasant surprise soon?

New Famitsu-scans of Earth Seeker

September 9, 2010

Wow, this game looks like a winner. As you can see in the scans below, Earth Seeker for Wii seems to go for a rich atmosphere, set in a uniquely designed alien world. The screenshots show some combat-action as well as strange locations. What´s kind of saddening is that this is yet another great-looking RPG for Wii that we have to put on the “ugh, hopefully it´ll be released over here“-list, next to Xenoblade and The Last Story.

First Trailer of The Last Story

July 8, 2010

And it looks gorgeous. Easily the best-looking game for the Wii. Great way to start a day, wake up, walk over to the PC, sit down, and find out that there´s finally a video of The Last Story.

The Last Story – Trailer

Besides the awesome visuals, what´s most intriguing is the combat-system. I actually thought it was going to be some turn-based system, but this is so much better. Looks more like Zelda meets Final Fantasy meets Gears of War. Combat looks very direct, very active. No passive command-choosing, but active fighting. Take cover behind objects, aim and shoot at an enemy, jump over objects and so on. And then there´s the town, that really looks nice. Maybe it´ll succeed my favorite video game-town, Windfall Island from The Wind Waker, who knows. The thing that I definitely know, however, is that at this moment, I´m more excited about The Last Story than Zelda: Skyward Sword. Now just announce this game for Europe and the USA, Nintendo!


May 25, 2010

In a recent argument on the web, fans of RPG-games heavily argued about what makes an RPG an RPG. That typically developed into the usual WRPG vs JRPG-discussion. Each of these, western and eastern RPGs, feature very different contents, focus on totally different key aspects. But what is it that makes us call them “role playing games”?

Most popular example on the WRPG-side is Mass Effect 2, the second act in the ME-trilogy, released earlier this year. The argument started when some people criticized Mass Effect 2 for having abandoned most of its predecessors RPG-traits and devolved into just another action-shooter. It´s needless to say that JRPG-supporters hopped onto that opinion. That lead me to thinking about what it actually is, this…”role playing game”.

In my opinion, role playing means that I am actively playing part in a game. For example, where in a shooter like Call of Duty I´m just following scripted events, in games like Oblivion or Mass Effect I´m actively influencing how the game proceeds. I can change it. Make decisions. Some bigger, some smaller. That´s what role playing, to me, is about: Creating your own adventure by playing a role within the game.

JRPG-fans now seem to have a completely different view at things. There seems to be a connection between the term “RPG” and these typical minigame-like combat-systems that JRPGs have. And stats. And grinding. And random encounter. And so on. Here, RPG describes game mechanics. However, there´s also some JRPG-fans that would explain “role playing” to mean “playing the role of a pre-defined character”. Like “you cannot influence anything, you are just playing this character and guide him though his role”. Both of these views are heavily flawed as far as I see it.

Tying certain gameplay details to the term RPG is turning the term ad absurdum. RPG means role playing game. There is absolutely no connotation of what kind of game mechanics that means. Secondly, calling the guiding of a pre-defined character through a set story role playing also ridicules the terms meaning. If that´s what a RPG is, then almost all games out there would be RPGs. See Call of Duty. It still can see how someone could use the term RPG in that way, coming from tradition. But where it gets really ludicrous is when people try to take away that term from a game like Mass Effect 2.

I think I´ve never before played a game where MY decisions allowed me to experience an adventure that individualized. When a player reaches the end of ME2, everything up to this point will have been his personal experience. There is an overarching story, sure, but it is all the different attitudes you can choose from that really bring your Shepard to life. It´s true that ME2 left a lot of ME1´s typical RPG-mechanics, and I hope we´ll get back some of them for ME3, but at the same time, ME2 was such a great role playing-game in the very meaning of this term that I couldn´t care less. In ME2, I became Shepard. I influenced how I talked to people, how I proceeded the story, how I changed the story depending on my very choices. I think I wrote that in my ratio-article about ME2, but ME2 really felt like a “true” RPG. Because IF there is any kind of game mechanic that should be associated to the term RPG, it is choice.

New artworks and details about The Last Story

March 18, 2010

The official website of The Last Story for the Wii was updated again, and it´s quite interesting what information we got this time.

Ruli City is supposed to be the base of the whole adventure. the game director wanted it to create so that the player feels as if he´s actually there. Even more intriguing is what the game´s producers, supposedly Hironobu Sakaguchi, had to see. He explained that most RPGs are designed in a way to not get the player lost. Dead ends and broad roads. Ruli City is created to actually make you lose your orientation once you walk around for a while, featuring big roads as wall as narrow backstreets and also dead ends. The city is made so that you look around, watch the passing-by people, things that fly with the wind and other stuff.

There a reason for this kind of setting, so walk around aimlessly to experience that reason” is what he closes his explanation.

The only thing I can say at this moment is that Ruli City is the town that I always imagined for a new Zelda-game. It´s all there in the artworks. The market people on the big road, the dark, narrow backstreets, and you can even spot points that would make for some nice climbing, exploring the city in its vertical direction. With The Last Story´s city, Xenoblade´s overworld and Red Steel 2´s sword controls, one wonders if Zelda Wii will be able to deliver. It´s getting more difficult with each day, that´s for sure.

A simply enjoyable adventure: First details of Xenoblade

February 17, 2010

The latest issue of Famitsu did not disappoint. It features a multi-page article on Xenoblade, the upcoming JRPG of Monolithsoft. The magazine features some definitely gorgeous screenshots of the world of Xenoblade – a rather interesting world. The game is supposed to take place on top of the bodies of two frozen-in-motion deities. These two deities once fought each other. Now, each of their bodies is populated by a different culture. The hero´s Deity marks the home of organic life. The other giant body is inhabited by mechanic life. The story starts by mechanic life stirring up organigc life´s peace.

Besides the already interesting setting and story, the actual gameplay bits sound even better: The whole world is one seamless world that Tetsuya Takahashi, director of the game, said he wanted the player to explore. And indeed, taking a look at the new screenshots totally makes me want to explore that world. Part of what makes the scale of Xenoblade that fascination is its similarity to MMORPGs that Takahashi himself mentions. Not only is the world´s scale supposed to be like that of a MMORPG, also the combat-system sound a lot like World of Warcraft. Enemies are visibly running around on the overworld. Once you engage them in a fight, your character will fight automatically. You as the player have the option of choosing special attacks, recovery skills and other special abilities. Nearby enemies even will join your current enemy, something  I only experienced in Etrian Odysse. If that´s still not enough great news, then let´s tell you that Takahashi mentiond how the game will take supposedly 50-60 hours to complete – without endless grinding or cutscenes.

Xenoblade is shaping up to be a very promising game. And no matter how it turns out in the end, the fact that Tetsuya Takahashi himself said that Xenoblade is supposed to be a simply enjoyable adventure, a return to the origin of RPGs, is a great realization that most, if not all, modern developers are missing. Let´s hope that everything comes well together…and please no circle shadows, Mr. Takahashi.

Ratio: Mass Effect 2

February 15, 2010

The first Mass Effect-game was a milestone in terms of cinematic video gaming. Unlike other so-called cinematic games, Mass Effect actually managed to turn the cinematic part into gameplay. No passive cutscenes, no flashy over-the-top action only to return to ingame-gameplay that is a lot more toned down. Mass Effect throws you into an original world (actually, universe, haha) and leaves any further decision to you, the player. Of course, the realm of choices isn´t as open as some fans sometimes make it sound, but that´s maybe why Mass Effect works that well: You´re given a linear path that you have to follow. But what you experience on that way is totally up to yourself.

Mass Effect 2 took that concept and improved upon it. The moment you start Mass Effect 2 is like beginning to watch some epic scifi-movie. Only seconds later, you´re given control over your character. The whole entrance scene, which I am not going to spoil, is brilliant. The mood, the visuals, the sound, the plot contents of  just the very first minutes grab your brain and won´t let you go for hours. It´s one masterful cinematic game experience. You never feel as if control is taken away from you. Yet, every single moment could be from a movie. Where Mass Effect 1 was a great start of a new franchise, Mass Effect 2 simply feels so much more massive, polished. The way your character moves, the way you fire your weapon, the way you talk to people. The basic mechanics are all there, but they´ve been improved upon tenfolds.

Mass Effect 2 is the second act of a trilogy. That means that the game functions as a preparation for the grand finale that will be Mass Effect 3. While Mass Effect 2 is very well capable of existing by itself, the man plot is this game´s weak point. Mass Effect 1 gave you a clear enemy, Saren. Each and every mission in that game built up to a final confrontation with the corrupted Turian. Such an arc nemesis is missing in Mass Effect 2. There is a main plot, but it isn´t until the end part of the game that you get a feeling for that story. But Mass Effect 2´s strength is somewhere else.

The first game within the franchise introduced some characters to the player, but neither of them was worth more than an optional sidequest that didn´t feature much story in itself. In Mass Effect 2, your crew is the star of the game. Instead of the five long main missions in ME1, now you have a vast variety of shorter missions awaiting you. Each of these new missions won´t take you much longer than thirty minutes each. That comes with both positives and negatives. On the one hand, many missions lack the variety of decisions that you had in ME1. Just think of all the different possible outcomes on Noveria. Everyone that finished ME1 several times will know about that. Mass Effect 2 still features important story within these missions, but they´re more to the point. You´re fighting your way through enemy-contaminated areas, then you reach a check point where a cutscene (again, “cutscene” within the ME-franchise means that some talk is going on) starts and where you might be presented with making one of several decisions. That´s due to the linear structure of these missions. Mass Effect 2 is less about exploration than ME1, and more about decision-making. The whole way the game is made really invites you to replay it many more times. You still have your Paragon- and Renegade-options, your “gray“-options, and sometimes a newly introduced action-option, where Shepard will do something, like pushing an enemy through a windows as one early trailer-video showed.

What greatly helps to make the more linear missions fun is the completely new combat-system. It is also where Mass Effect 2 decided to become a real role-playing game. Instead of relying on skill points, combat now feels more like that of a real shooter-title. You´re aiming by yourself, no skill points for higher accuracy. Duck and cover-mechanics have changed. It´s a bit disappointing that you cannot crouch at will anymore, but the new cover-system couldn´t be that much better. Hiding behind objects to avoid enemy fire works very well, as does jumping over these objects by double-clicking the A-button. The quick-button inclusion for biotic-attacks also comes in handy. Using “Burn” on an enemy feels great, especially if you have it leveled up that much that it one-hit-ko´s him. What really makes the difference, though, are the weapons. Instead of four weapons that only differ in terms of dealt damage, Mass Effect 2 features a relatively enormous arsenal of guns, rifles and other awesome stuff. My favorite item is the fast-firing sniper rifle. To give an example of how full of love for detail the game is, if developing it far enough, you gain the passive ability of getting a short slowmo while aiming with the sniper rifle. And not only is the slowmo-effect nice visually, it also takes effect on sound effects. Which at times is annoying if you wanted to listen to your crew members.But it really emphasizes the feeling of being a badass sniper that enters his own world where there´s nothing but himself and his target.

Mass Effect 2 let´s you visit the home planets of some of the alien races. Where the game still fails is to finally show us how female Krogans, Turians and Volus look like. And that´s not the biggest tease, without giving any more hints. Yes, Mass Effect 2 feels a bit too humanoid just about everywhere. The crazy alien worlds are missing. Still, the locations you get to visit are built with a high level for detail. Omega alone is such a varied place, stuff going on at every corner. Then you have the old citadel, that is a lot smaller than the original citadel, but still features nice scenes. And then there are more planets. A lot more. There are no more open planets like the ones in ME1. This doesn´t give monotony a chance, but surely it takes away from the fascination of space and the unknown. To find new, optional planets to land on, you have to use the new scanning-feature. Using it, you can mine different minerals that you´ll need for upgrading your equipments. Mass Effect 2 doesn´t have loot in the sense of its predecessor. You don´t pick up new weapons and suits all the time. Instead, you collect minerals and money and buy add-ons later on. These add-ons have to be attached manually. Again, stuff like that is what makes Mass Effect 2 feel more massive. you´re really adding this new stuff by yourself. And you can see the differences.

The best way to describe Mass Effect 2 is in saying that it is what it is: The dark, second act. Unlike Mass Effect 1, where you had to explore space in search of evidence for the danger that the Reapers are, you already know about that danger in Mass Effect 2. It´s all about preparing for facing off this known danger. By doing that, the game will introduce one of the greatest casts of characters and propose you to some of the most spine-chilling decisions you ever made in a video game. And so much more than the first game, or any video game at all, Mass Effect 2 makes you permanently think:

What if…?

And that is probably what makes Mass Effect 2 the greatest of modern gaming: With all its cinematic presentation, it induces the player´s curiosity to play over and over again. Where all the usual big, hyped “blockbuster games” are lacking in the end, Mass Effect 2 proves that lacking in content and interactivity is not the medium´s fault. And to think that a thirty-hour game features such a level of replayability is remarkable – and embarrassing for most other developers.

And that´s just the start. A new crew-member is announced for the near future, as well as the so-called Hammerhead-DLC, the successor of ME1´s Mako, including a set of missions designed for this vehicle. And besides all the new content upcoming, don´t forget about the sheer variety the game features as is. Not only can you decide within cinematic talks, the game also heavily changes depending on what class you chose. Each class has special abilities. My favorite, the Infiltrator, can turn himself invisible for a short period of time. And that´s really just one class you can choose.

To conclude: Even if the main plot is weaker than its predecessor´s, Mass Effect 2 is the single popular video game that puts emphasis on the medium´s strength: Interactivity. A piece of advise: Do never reload a previous save just because of a seemingly wrong decision. When the credits start rolling, it´ll have been your own adventure. With all the personal decisions you made. In that respect, Mass Effect 2 has become a real role-playing game.