NOTE: This was originally written in 2008, thus the dated references. There is more information below as to why I am re-posting it.
It has been known for a long time that gamers are a fickle bunch. We are sometimes so fickle that we will cuss and moan about something until blue in the face, then gobble up something else for the exact same reason. All of us are prone to this many times; for example, even I can’t stand sandbox games, but love a Wii game called “No More Heroes” and will defend it at the drop of a hat. Flash back to the launch of the PS2 and a little game called Ring of Red by Konami. RoR is one of those games that not only crossed genres well, but to some became a classic, and a diamond in the rough among games that came out early in the PS2 lifecycle.
Ring of Red was one such game that, as the title of this article suggests, fell through the cracks for many gamers. It wasn’t particularly hated, but generally overlooked by many gamers. One reason this happened was the way reviewers handled realistic wartime graphics at the time seems at odds with our tastes today. Now if you look at many war games, the games are praised for the stylistic choice. A choice where it looks like your soldiers are mud wrestling on concrete through a sepia toned camera lense.
I purchased the game because I am a history buff, and anything that tries to present an intelligent alternate history scenario is pretty intriguing to me. I instantly fell in love with the game, and began to seek out the views of others. Upon inspection, I was shocked to see the bad reviews it was getting. Most of the time people were mad that it was not some kind of action game, while others bashed the game based on the graphics. I remember a pretty harsh review in PSM magazine at the time. Said review criticized the game’s mechanics heavily, and gave it a 6 out of 10 based on the fact that it was a fairly realistic drab game with hardly any colors other than brown and gray, and that the mechs moved painfully slow.
This could be a fair assessment, given that many were so used to fast paced mech games like Omega Boost for the PS1, which handled like an episode of Macross with endless missiles and quick Star Fox-like gameplay. In Ring of Red, however, you are placed in diesel powered walking tanks, that are much less Gundam-like, and more of—well a walking talk. In this context Zone of the Enders style mecha would have been out of place and anachronistic. In the 1960’s you would not be piloting graceful ballerina mechs that move that they are covered in butter, and sliding on ice.
In the game, you are equipped with slow machines with arcane shooting systems that are hard to use and occasionally break down. In order to build tension, the programmers added in a limited operation time before the mecha overheats, making you have to savor the little time you have in each round, to really make that round count. All of these factors provide an almost realistic application for a walking take in the 1960’s. To me, this was a refreshing mech game, that was not so based on anime, as it was real life. These reviews, all slamming the “ugly brown and grey graphics”, were harsh on the game, and kept many from even looking at it.
The story grabs you right from the beginning with the following chilling cinematic that melds stock footage of WWII era warfare with a cgi mecha walking in the background. It is at this point that you feel very concerned at what the world could have been like had one solitary event happened differently than it did in our history.
Next we gradually learn of the immense back-story that involves a war set in the 1960s in the aftermath of World War II. According to the alternate timeline, Japan did not surrender in 1945, and the United States of America did not deploy the atomic bomb to end the war in the pacific front. Japan was captured instead by an allied invasion by land. Because of post-war hostilities between Russia and the US and Europe, the north part of Japan was fenced off into communist North Japan and democratic South Japan. During the war Hitler unleashed a series of walking tanks called AFWs into service that have remained a terrifying war machine from then on.
From then on you are graced with a strategy RPG in a similar vane to Front Mission, except the battles are far more interactive. Players begin with their AFW standing in opposition to the enemy AFW in a standoff. The objective of combat is to destroy the enemy AFW. The Battles consist of players moving and operating their AFW and issuing orders to accompanying infantry. These infantrymen have to be commanded to move from the front guard to the rearguard at strategic times in order to do their trained tasks, whether it be minelaying, grenaidiering, or sabotaging. This adds a lot of extra strategy to the game, as you really had top keep up with what you had, and the strengths and weaknesses of your units.
AFWs must wait until their main weapon is loaded before they can attack, either against the enemy AFW itself or its infantry support. When aiming, players are given a first-person view from the AFW along with a hit probability percentage. The more time spent aiming, the better it will turn out. If you wait too long; however, and you will probably get shelled by your enemy.
Without actually reviewing the game, I would like to bring attention to it, and hopefully inform a gamer of a game they may never have played. I understand that one reason that many strategy games have failed is because they are a niche genre that only enthusiasts of the genre tend to like, but many of said enthusiasts also seem to have never heard of this game for whatever reason.
BOTTOM LINE: if you are a fan of games like Front Mission, please check this out, you won’t be sad.
Availibility: RoR can be purchased for as little as 10 USD on Amazon or Ebay.
NOTE: Close to a decade ago, I worked for a gaming website called Gamrfeed, sadly the site folded and was absorbed back into it’s parent website VGchartz a long time ago. When I started working at my current job in 2011, I sadly did not have time to continue producing articles on the schedule that was required, so I had to drop it. I was really proud of some of the work I did on there, and do not want it to disappear into the ether as most websites do after a while.
NOTE: I received a free preliminary, and likely unedited copy of this book from Netgalley for the purposes of providing an honest, unbiased review of the material. Thank you to all involved.
Going into this book, I was honestly skeptical that a 200 page book was sufficient enough to cover a topic as dense as “The History of Video Games” without glossing over large swaths of time, or focusing on things that weren’t as important as stated. The recent Netflix show “High Score” comes to mind with what it focused on – while important, not everything presented was actually warranting a full episode to cover, and LOTS of stuff was left out. That isn’t an issue with The History of Videogames by Charlie Fish, the book is jam-packed with plenty of information, and does a fine job as any other history book at presenting a general topic.
I quite enjoyed that the book didn’t just focus on the tried-and-true pop-culture history of games, it successfully goes over the full origin of games, going back to huge machines that played simple games such as tic-tac-toe using lightbulbs as a graphic interface dating all the way back to post-war America. This part of the lineage is almost NEVER discussed, usually people start with 1959s Spacewar! as “the first videogame” which is not correct in many ways. I appreciate the research that Fish put into this, and enjoyed his unique experience as a gamer based in the UK, as that scene never really gets elaborated on, seeing that its fairly divergent than either the Japanese or American scenes.
Perhaps my main quibble with the book was the formatting – about one-quarter of the book is the “history of videogames” all in one section, then it goes to a section on profiles of important people in the field, then a section on companies, social issues, a section on top ten lists (such as bestselling games) and more. I think the book could benefit form being reshuffled to being broken up a bit more and having those latter sections intertwined into the main section, as it feels a tad like a series of blog posts that have been collected as-is. What is here works well nonetheless, and this isn’t a huge deal-breaker. the book is still organized well, and contains pictures and screenshots to help illustrate certain points.
I would definitely recommend this book to anyone looking for a fairly concise history of videogames, I’ve read a lot of similar books in the past (especially when I briefly worked for a gaming website), but honestly this is probably one of the best I’ve come across.
The continent of Europa is engulfed in the flames of the Second Europan War between the Atlantic Federation and the Autocratic Eastern Imperial Alliance. Although the Federation struggles valiantly against the Empire’s forces, the relentless imperial military machine threatens to consume them. With victory slipping away, the Federation executes Operation Northern Cross: a last-ditch attempt to capture the imperial capital and end the war.
Commander Claude Wallace and his loyal childhood friends in Squad E are sent to fight for the desperate operation’s success, but they will have to endure harsh bone-chilling elements, waves of imperial soldiers, and the terrifying Valkyria… and unravel a grave truth that will shake them to the core.
One of the very first PS3 game I ever bought was Valkyria Chronicles, and I immediately fell in love with it. I absolutely adore tactical RPGs and it had been a while since I played one that tipped the “instant classic” box that games from Quest Corporation or Square Enix used to make. But here came Sega with something truly special – only to sit on the franchise basically for over a decade. Yeah, there were sequels, but they jumped to the PSP and were ignored totally in the west (VC was never released here!) since the games basically were being used to promote a TV anime in Japan. There was an ill-received spin-off recently, but Valkyria Chronicles 4 is the first true return to form for a Loooong time.
To celebrate this, Sega has decided to drum up interest in the game by releasing a demo showcasing the beginning of the full game. I don’t normally review things like demos, but I was pretty excited about this and only just found out about it when I was checking on my pre-order for the full game. When it’s all said and done, think of this as the first part of my review for when I eventually do the full game, and it’ll all come together.
This demo isn’t a meager one level affair like so many others, it contains three full chapters of the game (a prologue plus 2 main chapters) plus the ability to transfer any progress from the demo to the actual game upon release. It also has two skirmish maps, a bonus map that is ONLY available in the demo, and some unlockable things that can be done, giving this demo a surprisingly large amount of replay time if you like grinding. Each chapter is divided into small segments arranged in a scrapbook-like grid with pages that are turned to access the next segment. usually, each page contains 5-6 story segments and a battle – for fans of the original Valkyria Chronicles, this is exactly the same set-up as the first PS3 game from ten years ago (which was released later on PS4).
One of the things that I enjoy most about this series is that it has a humanity to it that most war media is completely devoid of. Instead of a “kill them all, America F Yeah! – Hoo-rah” vibe one gets from 99% of military shooters like your Call of Duties, or Battlefields, we have a story of regular people being thrown into a war to save their homeland from an encroaching enemy. An example of this is a powerful scene where Claude remarks that the field they are standing in is now completely empty of the beautiful flowers that were just there before Imperial shelling began in the area.
Keep in mind that one of the more lauded aspects of the first game in the series, was it actually had the cajones to actually address the Holocaust in an interesting way in that it introduced an ethnic minority of characters (Darksens) that were blamed for the misfortunes brought on by a previous war and were rounded up and put in camps and persecuted. One of the main protagonists HATES Darksens at the beginning of the game, so much that she comes across as fairly unlikable once her racism shows through. Yeah – that was in this game, heavy stuff for a fantasy game with water color art.
In a lot of ways, this game is a step back from some of the stuff aadded into the series on the handheld games, it does not include the branching classes or “school simulator” aspects from Valkyria Chronicles 2, or the fantastical characters found in Valkyria Chronicles 3, but that isn’t to say there isn’t any innovation at all. In fact, this is perhaps the most well-balanced game of the three I’ve played – some character classes have been tweaked such as allowing more movement for snipers, or less CP usage for tanks. There is also an entirely new character class this time around known as the Grenadier, who can fire mortar rounds at enemies. They can sort of stay behind the scenes and lob mortars at far away enemies if any team member can see somebody on the map – it’s a cool character class so far despite the small amount of time I’ve been messing with this demo.
Another addition to the game is something called “The Brave system”. When an allied soldier is downed and is nearly dead, players can consume 1 CP and increase the stats of allied units with the “Entrust” skill or can restore 1 AP with the ability to move and attack while being invulnerable for one action with the “Stand Up” skill. Considering how many times I had to restart battles in the previous games due to my unwillingness to accept perma-death of characters, this sounds like a godsend. I have not messed around with this too much, because I have been playing on “Easy” in order to leisurely take in the demo, but when I do my main play-through I will definitely be excited for the opportunity to save my soldiers necks if need arises.
For some reason, I have played this demo for like 10 hours, mostly because I decided to try to get all of my characters up the the rank of Corporal for no other reason than to be a total over-powered bad-ass once I start playing the full game, but it came be played in like an hour most-likely. All-in-all this is really fun and looks like I will have plenty of fun this fall returning to the country of Gallia. Here’s hoping this game finds success now that it’s out on multi-platform and we get things like a Valkyria Chronicles 5 and even a Valkyria Chronicles 2-3 HD remaster!
Valkyria Chronicles 4 is a tactical role-playing game developed and published by Sega. It was released in Japan for the PlayStation 4 in March 2018, and is scheduled to be released worldwide in September 2018, in addition for the Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and Microsoft Windows.
Jump onto everything but the PC, and grab that demo, and let me know what you think in the comments!
We all had to deal with schoolyard rumors and gossip as adolescents; whether directed at us or friends, it was usually never a good thing. Imagine, if you will, a world where these hurtful rumors are coming true, from the mundane to the utterly ridiculous. This is the world of Shin Megami Tensei Persona 2: Innocent Sin. Originally released way back in 1999, this particular entry of the Persona franchise actually never left Japan back then, while the second part of this two part series, Eternal Punishment, did. Many reasons have been cited for why this exclusion originally occurred, most notably a homosexual relationship within the game and the inclusion of Adolf Hitler as a major villain. Thankfully for all “Megaten” fans with a PSP, there is now finally a legal way to play this game.
Fans of Revelations: Persona, and its later PSP port, will find that the game is vaguely similar in many ways, except for a huge facelift. First and foremost, gone are the first person dungeons, replaced by a familiar isometric over-the-head view made standard by many a Japanese RPG. This sounds like a minor change, but it makes the dungeons slightly less monotonous and confusing, especially in areas like a school building where all walls look the same. Other improvements include the ability to select between three difficulty levels, the ability to save almost anywhere, and a far more streamlined battle system.
The battle system is of the tried and true “random encounter” variety from yesteryear. Everything is turn-based, except the player is given almost complete control over character positioning, turn order, and other commands, including auto-battle. This comes in handy in two major ways. Firstly, when one is trying to obtain new “fusion attacks”, one needs to be able to re-order various spells as they need to be performed in a very specific order. The second example is when you see that the turn order is going to lead to a character dying (e.g. they are poisoned), all you have to do is open a menu and switch them around. I really enjoyed this, as the completely random nature of newer Persona games drives me up the wall even though I love the series.
All of the main characters are equipped with an initial Persona, a sort of multi-dimensional being that gives its user the ability to use magic. Aside from leveling up the actual characters in the game, one can also level up these Personae (Personas?) to learn new spells and abilities. If you tire of the “factory” models, you can always hunt for more. Of course, the legendary “contact system” is here in full force for franchise veterans.
For those new to the series, this system allows for players to communicate with the demons they are fighting. When on the “contact” screen a player has to negotiate with the target demon. One can ask for money, healing, items, or even a “pact” that allows for the player to summon that demon as their new Persona. Think of something similar to Pokémon (SMT did this first though), except on more of an intellectual field. The player has to figure out which character would be the best to speak to the demon, and what they need to say; say the wrong thing and you can provoke an extra attack from the monster rather than a shower of goodies.
The story of Shin Megami Tensei Persona 2: Innocent Sin is initially fairly confusing, but rewards people for “hanging in there”. The game opens with the silent protagonist, Tatsuya, getting into trouble at Seven Sisters High School with the new principal. One can see that something is definitely wrong immediately as the comically evil-looking principal (complete with a scar over his eye) has apparently mysteriously won over the student body to the point where he gets cheered by passers-by and has had a statue built in his own honor. This coupled with a sudden rash of disfigured students has led to rumors of curses, demons, possessions, and other occult happenings. Tatsuya and his rag-tag group of friends (including his female companion Lisa, and visual-kei musician and overall comic relief character, Michael) assume that the urban legend of a person called “The Joker” who grants wishes must be true. It is said that if one calls their own number on their cellphone, they can summon him and get their greatest wish.
Without spoiling too much, it is revealed that these rumors are in fact coming true, and this plays a very significant role in the actual game. In most games, talking with non-player characters (NPCs) doesn’t get you very far. In this game, one can actually come across rumors in dialog, which, with the help of a certain detective agency and a nominal fee, can ultimately come true. Early on in the game one such rumor pops up in which a local Ramen shop is said to be a front for a black-market munitions shop. This is obviously nonsense… until you pay off the detectives to help spread the rumor. Once it hits critical mass you have access to your very first weapons shop. Players that explore every nook and cranny for rumor-mongers, gossip-peddlers, and other nosey people could end up with optional quests, optional weapons, and altered maps.
When looking at the graphics and audio in this game it is important to realize that it’s over a decade old, and originally ran on a console far less powerful than the PSP itself. Because of this, it’s hard to see this as much more than a nostalgia title – a “lost game” in a widely popular series. That doesn’t ruin this game at all, but when comparing the presentation to other PSP RPGs, like Valkyria Chronicles 2, for example, you can really see the age. There are cleaned-up “modernized” menus and an option to use the remixed music. Fans that like to keep things retro can toggle the music option off – a huge bonus for those that hated the musical revisions in Persona PSP. Keeping the above in mind, Persona 2 does have good graphics for its time, and with a few pre-rendered cut scenes here and there, it never feels too antiquated.
I mentioned earlier that one of the major stumbling blocks of this game’s release in the West was some of the content held within. There is good news and bad news, as almost all of the game is intact, including an implied homosexual relationship (assuming the player chooses that path), and the inclusion of Hitler as a boss character. The bad news is that Hitler is simply referred to as “Fuhrer” and is seen wearing a hilarious pair of sunglasses – just as he was in the Japanese version. This has caused many to jokingly call the character “cool Hitler”.
Assigning a value to this game can be hard as it will be loved by one generation of RPG fans, and possibly hated by the other. On one hand, the sheer length and content held within is staggering, especially compared to Persona PSP. While you could breeze through that game in no time at all, Innocent Sin could easily take 40-50 hours if you are a “completionist.” It took me a total of around 55, but bear in mind that I power leveled, talked to all NPCs and tried to do as many side quests as I could. People with less time on their hands might be able to finish it in around 25 or so, just breezing through the storyline. This is great for a handheld RPG, and makes it feel more like the real deal than other, sparser handheld RPGs out there.
All in all, Persona 2: Innocent Sin is a strong choice for any PSP RPG fan, and with PSP entering its twilight moments, this could very well be one of the system’s last hurrahs. The game shows its age with dated conventions such as mindless grinding, random encounters, and muddy graphics, but makes up for it in spades in both the storyline and gameplay departments. Fans of the newer Persona games will want to play it, as it is definitely the “missing link” between the old school mentality of Perosna PSP and the newer Personas (3 and 4 especially). So was the long wait worth it? Yes, and I loved every minute of it.
As we all know by now, Konami sucks and has cemented itself as one of, if not THE most hated game company on the planet. Formerly the home of a myriad of popular gaming franchises, the company now seems hellbent on ruining the careers of it’s once most valued creators and cranking out mobile games and pachinko machines for the Japanese market. This has led a wave of aforementioned creators to bail on the company including the likes of Hideo Kojima and Koji Igarashi (IGA), the man that is the topic of today’s review. IGA left Konami a number of years ago to help found a new company called Artplay and helmed a successful Kickstarter for their first game entitled Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night – a 2.5D modern “spiritual successor” to his popular Castlevania series.
It’s been a few years since IGA did his Kickstarter, and we’re finally seeing some of the fruits of the labor that he and his team have been putting into the title. Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon is actually the result of a stretch goal from the main title that was expanded into a full-fledged game. This isn’t really something new for crowdfunded games, and honestly games in general nowadays, as a lot of production companies have been churning out small, usually cellphone related, games as a marketing tool for their releases. The difference between this and a lot of those promotional games is that this is a FULL-ON 8 bit game that was crafted to help build the world around the Bloodstained franchise and set the scene for the main game.
On the night of the full moon, demons called forth by evil alchemists emerge from a land beyond ours and ravage the earth, becoming a threat that spells the end of mankind as we know it. On this night, one man, a warrior from the east, arrives to exterminate the demon threat for the sake of both his friends and the survival of the human race. However, to destroy the demons once and for all, he must find solace and support in unusual allies…
COTM is, in a lot of ways, similar to the NES classic Castlevania 3 (which also has a solid Netflix show based on it) in that it is level-based instead of the sprawling castle that we are used to in more modern “Metroidvania games” and has switchable characters. Each character has strengths and weaknesses and learning how to properly employ them in battle is the key to getting through this game easily. Granted, there is an easy mode if that doesn’t help.
First up we have Zangetsu, a warrior from the East who wields the legendary sword Zangetsuto, in his battle to remove all deminds from the earth. He is eventually aided by Miriam, a character that was introduced to us as the main protagonist of the upcoming Ritual of the Night. Miriam suffers from a curse that is slowly turning her into a stained glass window. Miriam wields a whip in classic ‘Vania fashion and can jump higher than Zangetsu and slide under walls in some cases.
The next character obtained is named Alfred. He is an Alchemist said to be searching for an ancient tome called the Liber Logaeth. Since alchemists have been touted as the chief evil of this world, it will be interesting to see how his story pans out in the larger game. Alfred is very weak but can wield powerful magic including this awesome electricity spell that will lay waste to any boss if you mange to keep it on you to that point.
Finally, Zangetsu meets a man named Gebel who is allegedly the progenitor of the crystallizing curse who harbors deep hatred for both humans and alchemists. he can shoot stuff out of his hands and turn into a bat to help avoid annoying platforming sections. At least that’s what I did! According to all the press stuff, Gebel appears to be the main villain of the follow-up game, so seeing him here as a “hero” is interesting.
Like I stated earlier, this isn’t some quick cash-in cellphone game. This is a full featured game with multiple difficulties and multiple endings that open up after you clear the game forcing you to play again to see the true ending. There are eight full levels, with the final three being pretty long, and a boss for each and every level. I currently have only finished the game once, so I cannot comment on additional modes past that. The graphics and music are also very good and really help this game stand out.
All in all this is a GREAT retro game – it’s not gratuitously hard like the recent Mega Man sequels or super short like I assumed it would be. This is a full fledged game that seems like I could have been playing it on the NES 30 years ago. If this is the quality to expect from this series, I am very excited to see the follow-up and hope there will be a new franchise coming from this.
I got the game for free as I donated to the Kickstarter, but it appears to sell for $9.99 which is a good price for such a quality game. Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon is available on just about everything, so if your looking for a new Castlevania styled game, look no further.
Note: Close to a decade ago, I worked for a gaming website called Gamrfeed, sadly the site folded and was absorbed back into it’s parent website VGchartz a long time ago. When I started working at my current job in 2011, I sadly did not have time to continue producing articles on the schedule that was required, so I had to drop it. I was really proud of some of the work I did on there, and do not want it to disappear into the ether as most websites do after a while. I’ve been posting a few of these “rescued articles” recently, especially ones I think still matter or that I’m proud of. Since this article is from early 2011, the references are incredibly out of date, but that should not stand in the way of the information presented.
I wrote this as a commentary on the trend of publishers not releasing what could be considered “niche games” in the US market for a myriad of reasons and basically blaming the fans when asked about it. I was really hot about this issue at the time, as companies like Namco, Konami, Capcom, and pretty much any other Japanese gaming company started this really ugly trend of cancelling games then blaming fans for not doing free PR work or “not being excited enough”. Honestly this seems to have gotten somewhat worse as time has gone by as most “AAA games” have shifted from being “games” and are now almost all open-world monstrosities that are designed to pump money from you. Case and point, this slide from an Ubisoft press conference:
The “Games as a Service” dilemma might be a solid topic for a future article, but without further ado, lets step back into 2011 and see what made me rage out then.
We have been told for years and years now that niche games (which usually mean games from Japan) do not sell in this current market. This has been, on countless occasions, the primary reason for the endless sequels, spin-offs, and clones that we see in place of refreshing new IPs. I have always held the opinion that, if given a fair shot, many of these games could sell very well if marketed well, courted to the press, and handled better than many games are handled. The age old argument seems to be that “weird Japanese games” should never be released over here, as they will fail miserably. Some seem to forget occasions where this was proven to be total bunk, like with the EXTREMELY weird game Katamari Damacy and now an equally bizarre game – Catherine.
If one had to actually explain the premise of Catherine to a non-gamer or the dreaded “casual gamer” I would imagine that the person in question would resemble either a total loon, or somebody on a prohibited substance. In a recent VGchartz review, the plot was laid as as such: “Every night after Vincent leaves the bar he grows horns and enters a nightmare world in which he and some sheep constantly climb a tower of blocks in an attempt to reach the top before the bottom falls out from under them.” For the layman, a premise like this seems destined for the bargain bin amongst copies of Wet and Brink; but that’s the funny thing about Catherine – it’s actually doing well.
After just one week out in the Americas, the game has racked up a total sales of nearly 300,000 units worldwide, and with a reported 200,000 copies released to stores (the largest release Atlus USA has ever enjoyed) I think we can safely see that a game like an erotic action/puzzle game can sell well if handled correctly.
News reports later backed this revelation Catherine had shipped 200k copies”:
“Yesterday, Atlus told IGN that Catherine has been the company’s biggest launch title ever. “[It] has exceeded our highest expectations,” said Tim Pivnicny, VP of Sales and Marketing at Atlus. “It released last week to tremendous critical acclaim and fan response, bolstered by the release of a demo a couple weeks prior, and continues to generate discussion among fans for its mature themes, engrossing subject matter, and frantic, challenging gameplay.”
So how did this happen? How did a game where a man is slowly being turned into a sheep and has to climb a tower do so well? Quick answer – it was marketed correctly.
Let’s face it, Atlus games have a very loyal built in fanbase all over the world, and while some games sort of fizzled out like, Growlanser V, they have had a number of modest hits including the Persona series. The reason that their games do well is a hard question to answer, but I feel that it can be broken down into a quick little formula that they have obviously mastered. First and foremost Atlus USA seems to be one of the only companies in America that sets realistic goals for games. Rather than expecting everything to be a million seller, then getting mad when they have extra stock and nobody buying them, Atlus makes small runs of every game based on predictions from pre-orders. This usually means that their games almost always sell out.
Another thing that Atlus always does well is that they treat any release like an event, like it is something special. Rather than throwing the game to the wolves in such a way that indicates that the parent company really could care less for a quirky foreign game, Atlus does it right. They set realistic goals, run pre-orders, and use viral marketing to build hype. Atlus USA have a good relationship with their fans, and utilize them to help hype games, but not in a way that totally burdens them with it, as a lot of the bigger companies do.
When fans spoke out about Catherine originally not getting released in the U.S., the fans spoke up and it worked. Nobody ever said “you better hype this or we won’t release anything else”, they said “okay here it is”. Now that the fans were happy and willing to help out, it was time to win over the press. Remember all the E3 press the game got, even if the game itself wasn’t being talked about, all patrons of the convention had “Catherine” branded on their lanyards, leaving many to look into the game if they hadn’t done so. Magazines started talking about it, game websites, everybody.
It really shouldn’t be a huge surprise that Catherine is doing well, but many are treating it as such. This is most likely because we live in an era when any game that does not sell millions of units is considered a huge flop. If anything, it is the small publishing houses that get it right in these situations: they don’t try to act like they are as big as EA or Activision, but cater to their more intimate audience. Through Pre-sell bonuses, viral marketing, word-of-mouth, and pure old fasioned sexual innuendo, Atlus seem to have struck gold here. Let’s hope it keeps happening.
End Note: It’s funny to look back on this and see me talk about the “modest hit Persona” considering how huge Persona 5 was last year – despite that Atlus (now owned by Sega) is still great at what they do, and many other Japanese publishers have not changed course – especially Konami because F%$# Konami.
NOTE: A version of this article was originally posted on a now-defunct gaming website that I previously worked for. Some of the references might be a bit dated. Rather than have something I worked hard on disappear from the internet, I have decided to post it on here.
Remember the HUGE controversy that Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas spawned a few years ago? Despite the “Hot Coffee Mod” being only unlockable by way of a cheating device, many an anti-videogame lobbyist threw up an amazing fuss over the game citing it as the downfall of our civilization amongst other things. Let’s face it, was all the fuss really worth it? Only a few folks could even access the section, so was it really that bad? What about all of the controversy that has recently started up for the new iteration of the Medal of Honor franchise? Being able to play as the Taliban has opened a can of worms that many folks are drawing battle fines for. It’s okay to fight against Nazis and Viet Kong though, as they are old news.
Both examples make me chuckle, as there are tons of games out there with far more objectionable content that would make these people freak out like crazy if they only knew about them. Hell, if you look at a game like Pokémon just right, one could argue that it is simply an animal fighting simulator, and in this post-Michael Vick world, that’s the last thing kid’s need (sarcasm). Another example is the growing H-games category, including awful games that depict things such as rape of digital characters. These are even sold in the U.S. generally by digital distribution, and nobody bats an eyelash.
The main subject of this article is another game series; one that would outrage many folks if it weren’t for that fact that these people that get on anti gaming bandwagons do no research and only get mad about what is popular. Part of me sort of hopes at least one stuffy suit in an offiece finds out about the series so it gets more popular. Called “Megaten” for short by many of its fans, the Shin Megami Tensei games have been alive and kicking since the Famicom (NES) days way back in the late eighties. Many do not know this, as the series was completely unheard of in the west until Persona, a spin-off game for the PlayStation rolled stateside with heavy edits in place. But why was this the case? Why was this game series seen as “un-releasbale” for so long? and why is the game more controversial than most other games out there? I have listed a few, but not all, reasons that I feel truly illustrate this point.
Way to go guys….
Anti-Government / Anti-Authority Overtones
One of the first factors that I would like to bring up, as to why this series used to be quite sensitive and still would anger pundits and folks like Tipper Gore, is it’s general consistency in the “authority is bad” department. Games and movies alike have been lumped together in the assumption that all they do is create juvenile delinquents. The cornerstone of this belief, especially games like GTA, is that they promote a lack of family values, starting with a lack of respect for elders. This scenario pops up in just about all Megaten games.
Let’s face it, if a demon invasion were to happen in your town, the local government would probably come across as jerks trying to handle it. Martial law, food rations, curfews and other inconveniences would surely occur. Problem is that in most games where this happens there is an ulterior motive for this, one that does not involve the well being of the people.
This exact scenario happens in the Nintendo DS game Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor. An outbreak of demons causes the Japanese Self Defense Force to seal in Tokyo keeping anything from entering or leaving the city. The main characters find out by way of a computer program acting as a “Death Clock” that everyone there is to die in exactly one week. The assumption is that the SDF is going to nuke Tokyo wiping the infestation off the map. The main characters fear the worst, as SDF soldiers are realized as anonymous inhuman soldiers within the game. This sentiment is made worse by the fact that many times within the game, soldiers and government officials stand by while all manner of atrocity occurs, letting religious cults seem the ones to trust in the situation.
Many games in the main series revolve around a post-apocalyptic backdrop for all the demon wrangling. This is usually caused by a total mismanagement of a small situation by a few world powers, and BOOM, end of the world. If the government wasn’t the cause of the calamity, they usually stand benign and allow all kinds of bad stuff to happen.
Another spinoff of the series, Persona, shows how corrupt and untrustworthy the governments can be in these games. For Example, one of the main antagonists of the game is a huge multi-national company called SEBEC. These guys specialize in looking like any other electrical company from the outside, but actually exist as some kind of militarized pseudo government that rises up to control the world once all hell breaks loose. Pretty soon you are fighting SEBEC agents and soldiers along with the popular demon characters.
Don’t you hate when you forget to wear pants?
Gore and Sexual Imagery, Especially in Spinoff Material
Most anime and Manga fans are pretty lucky to have adaptations of or spinoff material from their favorite videogames, as these items can be a huge marketing push for the company producing the game. This success has been seen with Final Fantasy VII and its spinoff materials including the widely popular Advent Children movie. The Megaten series is no stranger to this as there have been a number of anime and manga publications out there for years. Problem is that most of these go overboard with the “adult” tone. While a lot of the Megaten games are full of dark imagery, they never really cross the line into the pornographic side of gore, nudity, cursing, and other hallmarks of mature media. This hasn’t stopped the writers of these movies and books from making their stuff basically all pornographic.
One example of this that immediately comes to my mind is the near ancient OVA (Original Video Animation or Direct to Video) movie Digital Devil Saga: Megami Tensei. The movie came out right as the game series began to be somewhat popular, but is actually based on the original novel that the game originated from. What follows is 45 minutes of gratuitous nudity, tentacle …..uh….situations, and gore. By the end of the movie you end up pretty desensitized to what is happening and you very well could fall asleep, that’s what I did at least. There are a lot of goofy situations like the main character creating a virtual reality version of his teacher in order for a demon named Loki to have sex with in the virtual realm. As you can see, pretty off-base stuff.
A lot of the manga is equally off-base including the sole Western released manga (as far as I know) Kahn, which takes place storyline-wise after an obscure spin-off game made many years ago. Much like the later Persona games, the action takes place entirely in a school that gets infested with demons. On any given page the reader is blessed with beheaded students, blood sprays and even a lesbian girl-on-demon girl sex scene. I totally remember that in the games! (oh wait…) All joking aside it seems that anyone who wants to shell out some extra cash on some Megaten side stories will have to watch out, as your basically buying porn. Bloody weird porn with demon sex in it.
The games themselves are still fairly violent and risqué, but are a lot more subtle about it. One of the more “out in the open” things found in some of the games are the designs for some of the demons themselves. Had this series been released in any other decade there would be many a digital bikini getting drawn onto pixilated characters as there are some pretty scandalous things in the game, such as:
and…no comment on the next one:
Skewed Religious Overtones
Much like how western folks get random kanji tattooed on themselves that are supposed to mean “strength” but actually says “Kitchen”, the Japanese have always been fascinated with western religious imagery and mythology, especially for works of fiction, and slightly mis-used them. If you are an anime fan and have seen a show called Neon Genesis Evangelion, you know exactly what I’m talking about in this regard.
This topic is actually one of the more controversial aspects of this series, and help lead to the games being dubbed “un-releasable” back in the good old days due to heavy censorship. On the surface the Megaten games take the age old RPG cliché of “the bad guy is an evil religion / deity / priest etc.” motif and attaches actual religions to it. Instead of a fictitious god with a generic name like “the nature spirit” we have YHVH. “YHVH?” “What does that mean?” YHVH, which is also called the tetragrammaton, is the actual perceived “name” for what many of us call God. This acronym can also have syllables added to it to read as Yahweh or Jehovah depending on what religion you come from.
In the game Shin Megami Tensei II YHVH is the main bad guy, a point that would utterly anger most religious types. His motivations in the game are that the world has become so unreasonably bad that he has decided to destroy it and begin anew. This leads to a difficult choice for the gamer: does one listen to their God who wants to destroy the earth, fight against him and join with Satan, or decide that their all idiots and do your own thing. Not only does this fly in the face in just about every Christian concept there is, but it promotes anti-authoritarian values to the highest degree. Did I mention that the main character in Shin Megami Tensei II is the Messiah? Yeah talk about daddy issues!
The “real ending” of this game is one where you chose to kill God himself, to which he gives a speech along the lines of “As long as humanity is too weak to look for their own answers, their weakness will create a belief in me that brings me back to life again and again and again! MWAHAHAAHAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!”. You walk outside and Satan himself is there acting all cool like the Fonze saying “hey man, good job!”
Don’t take my word for it: Here is a bit of one of the endings of Shin Megami Tensei II for reference –
The religious imagery does not end there, as you fight enemies such as a crucified man who looks to be of the Jesus persuasion, bondage clad sado-masochistic angels, demons named after archangels and saints and so on. It would be a safe bet that if the wrong person witnessed various parts of these games, there would be a crap-storm. The Jesus thing is a big problem as labeling a fictitious character as the “messiah” or a reincarnation of Jesus pretty much makes everyone angry. This is especially true when you have a character in a game that looks exactly like the Western depiction of Jesus that is evil and is a false messiah like Takaya in Persona 3.
The problem with this is that anytime one makes a reference to an actual deity in a game, TV show, or movie that doesn’t paint it exactly in the best regard, the followers of said church are probably going to get mad. Two examples of this that I can think of off the top of my head are the Danish Cartoon debacle and the protests over the popular Kevin Smith movie Dogma. Both situations ended up garnering death threats and angry mobs, and in the case of the cartoons, promised violence. Imagine if you will, those folks finding out about these games!
Kids handling guns
After the Columbine tragedy, depictions of school children doing any harm to each other (or themselves for that matter) are generally frowned upon in the U.S. and much of the western world. Why else would a ten year old movie such as Battle Royale never get released legitimately here despite honors, awards, and wide appeal? It’s because most folks are scared that they will get blamed when the next series of schoolyard violence opens up. Color me surprised when the trailer for Persona 3 opened up and showed what looked to be a group of kids shooting themselves in the head with small caliber pistols. “surely they’ll edit that out” I said, remembering the unnecessary edits done to previous Persona games. These were edits that went so far as to change people’s Races or remove entire chunks of storyline. It’s a different era I guess, because said guns are definitely in the game.
The following is a small list of “hot button issues” that any Megaten game tries to push the envelope on, but weren’t big enough for their own section.
Occultism – The series is full of depictions of Satanic, pagan, and other rituals including sacrifices, blood orgies, and other items that would make many frown upon the game.
Anti-Semitism – The main storyline of the first half of Persona 2 revolves around a clan of Neo-Nazis trying to resurrect Hitler to take over the world. They succeed and you have to fight Hitler. This would get the game outright banned in some countries such as Germany.
Cannibalism- In the game Digital Devil Saga the main characters are all demons, and gain powers from other demons by way of eating them. When Serph and company devour other demons, they gain magic points, but only if this attack actually kills the demon in question.
Homosexuality – Rather than dancing around the issue of homosexuality in games, (much like the character Birdo in the Mario series) The Megaten games have always presented it in an honest adult manner. Usually there is a random character in the game that turns out to be a cross-dresser or openly gay. Take for instance Kanji Tatsumi in persona 4, and his problems with his own sexuality and it’s perceived “un-manliness” (yeah that’s a word now).
So there you have it, the most controversial game series out there should be the Megaten series, yet a very small amount of folks have actually played it. I bet by reading this at least one reader has become shocked and outraged about the series, which is my intention. If we are to believe that “controversy sells”, what better way to promote a game that I enjoy than to use it to anger “stuffy” folks. All kidding aside, most themes in these games make GTA look tame by comparison due to the tone it uses. Other games revel in the immaturity of the gore, sex, and drugs they use, yet the Megaten series does it in an intelligent adult manner.
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Okay, that’s a bit over the top, but we finally have a glimpse of gameplay footage of the upcoming Final Fantasy VII remake. These were apparently revealed today at a convention called The Monaco Anime Game International Conference (MAGIC). As you can see from the images below, the initial bombing raid is in full force as members of AVALANCHE infiltrate the Sector 1 reactor of Shinra Electric Power Company. It’s hard to tell 100%, but the game appears to be running on some version of the Final Fantasy XV engine which really shouldn’t be much of a surprise. Here’s hoping E3 gives us a new trailer or something this year.
Kingdom Hearts 3 was also showing off some new screens
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LONG Before I even decided to get a PlayStation 3, I would check the various recommendation threads and other such things on a lot of gaming forums to see what games were seen as the “killer apps” that I should definitely play. I was honestly sort of cranky with Sony after the PS3 launch, pricing especially. I needed something that stood out, a game that I couldn’t get anywhere else, and one game, more than any other, was constantly touted as being not only one of the most underrated games on the PS3, but one of the best RPGs out there on any system. That game was the first Valkyria Chronicles. I finally got the system, and immediately snagged a copy of it.
I was taken aback by how mature the game was, and no I don’t mean “blood and guts and boobs” mature like the many games that misuse the term today, but an honest mature game done in such a way that most folks of the teenage persuasion, except maybe anime fans, would probably scoff at it. Yes the game deals with war, but in concentrates on the heroics and struggles with fighting rather than the bleak horrors of any battlefield.
For those that haven’t heard of the series, all of the games follow a fictitious war that somewhat closely resembles World War II if you squint really hard and drop some pixie dust on it. In this fantasy world, a small country called Gallia suddenly comes under attack from a huge land grabbing conglomerate of nations dubbed the East Europan Imperial Alliance. This is a shock because these Nazi analogues (if you equate them to our terms) are at war with another federation of countries that dub themselves the Atlantic Federation, and there is no real reason for such an invasion to occur (other than energy reserves to fuel the war). The game places you in the shoes of a rag-tag group of militia members that are suddenly forced to repel the most powerful army on earth on the verge of world conquest. This is of course the stage for a game that breathed an icy breath of fresh air into a somewhat played out genre – the strategy RPG.
The immediate thing that struck me about both games in the series that I’ve played is that they have some huge balls, and exist as a true asset to the RPG genre, especially in how they portray war. For years we have been playing hundreds of World War II games, and very few of them have actually managed to mention the holocaust or the Jewish people for fear of getting the game banned in some random countries. Here, however, we have a game that revolves around a group of people called the Darcsens that have literally been blamed for just about every bad thing in the world for hundreds of years, and are the targets of ethnic cleansing campaigns (in Valkyria Chronicles 2 most notably) and even forced to work in labor camps. The fact that any series had the cajones to even attempt to have a storyline closely mirroring this sort of world event makes SEGA go up in my books quite a bit.
Flash forward just a few years and it seems that a series with such promise, critical acclaim, big sales in Japan, and a cult following in America should be running strong; sadly this is not the case. Valkyria Chronicles may already be dead, especially in the west. A few years back news rang out about the possible release of the third Valkyria Chronicles game in America specifically. SEGA West had been pretty tight lipped about it, and its no-show at E3 that year was amongst about a dozen or so games that seemed absent from localization plans. game journalists apparently talked to some of the SEGA reps at E3 and asked if the new Valkyria Chronicles and Phantasy Star games would be heading to the west and the news wasn’t good.
Valkyria Chronicles III (or pretty much any other Japanese PSP game that year) never came to the west. This was largely because the PSP was on life support when the game released. You see, in their grand wisdom, Sega decided to make a quick buck by churning the games out far too quickly on a completely other system as before (more on that later). Valkyria Chronicles II, a direct sequel to the first PS3 game, was confusingly a now handheld title. Granted, at the time the PSP had a userbase of more than 50 million users (a lot more than the PS3 at the time), but how many outside of Japan would buy it? How many had the first game? Series Producer Shuntaro Tanaka told Famitsu that the second game was being developed for the PSP instead of the PS3, in order “to allow a broader spectrum of users to discover and enjoy what makes Valkyria special.” Tanaka added that the series could return to consoles in the future, though.
There are rumors that SEGA decided to release the games on the PSP in order to capitalize on the TV anime that was running, using it to hock a host of toys and such that were hot on the market. Moving a flagship title for any series across platforms is a tough decision, and especially ludicrous when we have to realize that Valkyria Chronicles II was, not shockingly, only the second game in the series. Usually, handheld spinoff games come well into the lifespan of a series, ala Final Fantasy and it’s numerous side-games. While it did decently well in Japan, the sales were still under that of the first game, but the real story is the American Market. VGchartz has the game listed at an estimated 80k for the American Market. That’s basically an estimated eight times less than what the first game obtained in the same region.
Here are some graphs to speak for themselves, these are old screen-grabs I took when I first published this article but they still stand:
Please note the scaling difference between the two graphs.
I’m not going to jump on the anti-piracy bandwagon, but when you have a system that is cheap and easy to develop for, but is plagued with piracy and doesn’t perform well in all areas versus a system that does a bit better in all areas, and isn’t hit hard (until recently) by any sort of hackers, I wonder why you’d choose the former. SEGA obviously wanted a quick buck rather than letting a franchise grow a bit more naturally, and it’s hurt the series pretty bad. Since its release the third game in series had barely cracked 160k units in sales, a far cry from the previous games.
Sadly, Japanese gaming companies really hit a rut about five years ago, and honestly they are still there, they don’t take chances and seemingly have regressed back into a Japan-only mindset that pretty much guarantees failure. Putting anything on the PSP during that time, or the Vita currently, pretty much guarantees a niche game that few will play. But why is this happening? Take, for example, words by Keiji Inafune, the once prominent mind behind many Capcom classics such as Mega Man and Dead Rising:
“The mainstream industry in Japan is like a large tree that’s just begun to wilt. It’s still standing strong, it hasn’t collapsed just yet, but it’s not doing all that well,” Inafune told The Verge at BitSummit, a Kyoto indie-games festival in its second year. Inafune himself went independent in 2010, leaving giant developer Capcom to start his own studio called Comcept. He believes that indie games are the most exciting thing happening within the Japanese industry. “Indies have just sprouted above the ground. There’s still this monolithic large tree over the industry, but indies have popped up. Whether or not the big tree will fall, whether or not the indie scene will grow into a tree itself, I don’t know.”
Inafune is just one of many big name studio guys leaving “wilting trees”, perhaps the most prominent was Hideo Kojima and his epic battles with Konami leading up to the release of the last Metal Gear game. He now works for Sony and Konami is making cellphone and pachinko games.
I wish more of these big Japanese companies with American publishing arms would look at companies like Atlus (owned by SEGA now) and XSeed for how to treat localizations. XSeed, for example, has released a few games in the Record of Agarest War series digitally, that way they could obtain a cheap license and keep costs down. These smaller publishers also set realistic goals for sales of these games, instead of assuming that a niche strategy RPG will be a huge blockbuster, NIS and Atlus both learned a ton about the market, and learned how to market, publicize, and keep costs down on a ton of games like La Pucelle Tactics, Disgaea, and even Phantom Brave. They don’t always sell crazily well, but they have rabid followings that keep buying the games, and keeping them going.
So, where do we stand now? well, there might be a glimmer of hope shining through. While the third installment is still the last game in the series so far, many fans are hoping that a recent HD remaster of Valkyria Chronicles and a new spinoff game will re-ignite interest in the series. The spinoff, Valkyria Revolution, is planned to be released by SEGA in Japan on January 19, 2017, and in North America in early 2017. It is also planned to be released by Deep Silver in Europe in early 2017 as well. For the Western releases, an Xbox One version will also be available.
This shows a big change for SEGA in that they seem to be switching back to home consoles for games like this, and are trusting the west to support more niche games. Namco-Bandai recently did a similar thing and finally got the Tales series back on track over here, so who knows… As for Valkyria Chronicles III? I guess there is always hope that SEGA could do a PSP Remake edition for the PS4, but if they think the game won’t sell well, where is the incentive? Even a digital release with original dialog would be good, but I’m not holding my breath.
If Valkyria Revolution bombs, the fans are not to blame – a decade of poor and largely short-sighted business decisions are. If it does happen, only one thing comes to mind – Sorry SEGA, but you guys ruined your own franchise.
Disclaimer: A version of this article was originally produced for a now-defunct video game website that I worked for in the past. I have decided to rescue some of this stuff so it doesn’t disappear from the internet forever. If you enjoy this, let me know and I might just do more!
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Note: The following is a mirror of a video game review that I did a few years ago when I worked for VGchartz. Just in case something happens on that site, I don’t want to lose it.
My typical TV viewing routine during many a summertime Sunday night involves watching my favorite show, Doctor Who. Sadly as of last week I noticed that a void was now slammed into my life. The truth was that I had no new Doctor Whoepisodes to watch until around Christmas time because the season finale had just aired. Gladly, the BBC was there for me once again with the second of four interactive Doctor Who episodes. Doctor Who – The Adventure games. Episode 2. Blood of the Cybermen is the second adventure and begins with a man working in an arctic base fleeing from an unseen menace on a snowmobile. The man, mumbling to himself about unspeakable horrors, flashes back to what caused the problems: an excavated Cyberman arm.
The Cybermen are quite possibly the TV show’s most recognizable villains after the Daleks, who we saw in the last game about a month ago. For those who do not know, the Cybermen are a race of androids that have began to travel the stars in search of bodies that they can assimilate into their race. What began as a measure to stop the death of their kind became a true horror. Blood of the Cybermen captures the villains in all their terrifying glory, complete with all of their signature voices, sound effects, and catchphrases such as “you will be like us…”. Before any Star Trek aficionado points out the similarity to ‘the Borg’, a similar villain from the Star Trek TV show and films, the Cybermen came first – 1966 to be precise.
I’m not too sure when the game takes place in relation to the TV show, but it’s pretty safe to say that it’s an unaired adventure set sometimes before the show’s finale. It stars Matt Smith as the Doctor and Karen Gillan as Amy, his companion. Both perform all of the voices and such for their characters. The Doctor is up to all the quirky hijinx that fans of the show are used to, including a section of dialog where the Doctor claims that he taught Elvis Presley how to play the guitar, albeit very badly. The rest of the story involves the Doctor, Amy, and a few new friends as they try to stop the Cybermen from taking over the aforementioned arctic research facility.
The core gameplay is typical adventure game fare, with the player controlling the Doctor and Amy as they investigate their surroundings. You use the mouse or the direction keys to walk around, a left mouse click to investigate glowing objects, and “I” to bring up your inventory. This game has a bit more variety than the first from the get-go as some puzzles force you to work in tandem with your assistant. For instance, right at the beginning of the game you are given a rope that you must throw to Amy to tie to a snowmobile wench. When doing this the game switches viewpoints from the Doctor to Amy then back. While the first game did a bit of this, it was never to solve one puzzle together, and was more of a “tag-team” affair, as one character would go off and fetch random stuff whilst the other was busy. The system is implemented better here.
As with the first game, the Doctor doesn’t actually carry a gun or any other weapon, so fending off enemies is pretty tricky. The developers handle this well by making use of a Metal Gear-esque sneaking style that comes up any time you get near an enemy. The Doctor automatically crouches down, and you are given an indicator in the shape of a caution symbol. If the symbol is green, you are mostly fine, but the closer to red the indicator goes the closer you are to getting killed. The sneaking sections in the second game are much better than many of those found in the first; the enemy A.I. seems to both be better and harder to stump. When sneaking past the Daleks in the first game, many were planted around like un-moving sentries that you could simply run behind. The Cyberslaves, which are Cybermen that have been only partially “Cyberized”, move around like zombies, and as such move their line of site around. This, and their way of walking around corridors, makes them a much more formidable enemy.
This sneak mode has been coupled with a lot more climbing and exploring, thanks to the arctic cave setting which takes up a portion of the game, and so gives it a Tomb Raider vibe. There is even a portion fairly early on where you have to make it across a melting ice flow; one wrong step and it’s an icy grave for the Doctor. This makes portions of the game much more interactive and plays like a platformer game.
The puzzles have also been overhauled. More specifically, there’s increased variety to the ones you’re given. This game only recycles one puzzle from the first game, that being one where you re-wire something that is broken. Other than that, the game contains a handful of new puzzles. They aren’t hard, but they’re challenging enough to break up the gameplay and still keep it interesting. One problem I had with the first game was a puzzle where you had to drag an icon through an electrified maze. The first time, this puzzle was fun, but after three times I was done with electrified maze puzzles. In this game, not only do you have to match the radio waves of a signal to stun an enemy, but you have to create an antivirus. Pretty cool stuff if you ask me, and far more varied.
On the graphical side of things, we are once again faced with the following dilemma: the game is free (in the U.K.), so compared to other free games such as flash based puzzles games, Blood of the Cybermen blows most of them away. On the flipside, the game is no graphical wonder – even on the highest settings the game is fairly reminiscent of an original Xbox game or possibly a low-end Wii game. On the plus side, many of the environments in the game are much larger than the first game, such as the crashed Cyber-ship, and really show off the scope of this game. The graphics are a mixed bag – some places, like the crash, look amazing, while others look on the sub-par side.
Musically the game is awesome and has the sound production values of a larger, much more expensive game. This was brought to my attention, not because the music is overpowering, but because it keeps the player energized as the game progresses. There are some intense moments in the later parts of the game when you are being pursued by an army of Cybermen, and the music escalates to show you how close to being killed you are; not bad for a free game.
As with the first game, Doctor Who – The Adventure games. Episode 2: Blood of the Cybermen is a great game for the price. The game is only a few hours long, but that helps pace the game out so that it’s like an interactive episode of the show. As of right this moment the game has still yet to be announced for the U.S., despite the official website proclaiming that they would be available in “early July”. Time will tell if that ever gets fixed, but one can assume that they will pop up later this month, after the initial run of Season five ends. All in all, you really can’t find a better Doctor Who game out there. While the graphics are a bit hit or miss, they are average at least for a game of this scope, and there are plenty of things for completionists to find.
Note: The following is a re-publish of a video game review that I did in 2010 ago when I worked for VGchartz. Just in case something happens on that site, I don’t want to lose it, and figured my blog would be an awesome place to share it.Since this time, all of the games were released in the U.S. for a small fee, if you run a Google search, you should find them pretty easily.
For those that do not know, a little sci-fi show from the UK called Doctor Who has become a media phenomenon and a popular television program in many countries. Doctor Who even holds a handful of Guinness world records including one for most successful science-fiction series, one for the longest running magazine based on a TV show, and longest running science fiction show. You would think that with a pedigree of that ilk, the show would have entered the realm of videogames more often, but aside from a recent Top Trumps game and a few PC games released in the 1980’s not much has been done with the franchise.
Recently BBC revealed that it was in talks with a few major publishers to bring a few top BBC properties to our consoles, and Doctor Who would be one of the first. The Production staff for the new show got in contact with Broken Sword creator Charles Cecil and Sheffield-based studio Sumo Digital to make Doctor Who: The Adventure Games. The series is a four part episodic adventure game, released for free in the UK, with a US release forthcoming.
The first of this four part adventure has all of the content you would expect from a doctor who episode, and in fact even has the iconic title sequence and theme song there to remind us that this is essentially a standalone episode of the show. The story revolves around the Doctor as played by Matt Smith, and his assistant Amy, as played by Karen Gillan, landing in 1963. The Doctor suggests that they go see the Beatles or another activity of the time, but finds that something is not right. It appears that the ever-so-popular adversaries for the Doctor, the Daleks, have landed there at some point and re-written time. It’s up to the Doctor and Amy to unravel the catastrophe and hopefully prevent the ramafications of human enslavement under the regime of the metallic marauders.
The core gameplay is typical adventure game fare with the player controlling the Doctor and Amy as they investigate their surroundings. You use either the mouse or the direction keys to walk around, left mouse click to investigate glowing objects, and “I” to bring up your inventory. A lot of the puzzles are pretty simple, leading me to believe that this game was mostly meant for the younger fans of the show, but any inherent “easiness” is not indicative of the game being childish or condescending as some children’s games are.
The children’s aspect of the game is re-enforced by the inclusion of “fun facts” where you click on a point of interest such as a fallen bus stop sign, and there suddenly pops up a history of red double decker busses. This is done in a way much similar to the lore found in the Metroid Prime games. While this does make the game somewhat educational, it doesn’t hammer you over the head, and these segments can be skipped if you are adverse to the idea of learning anything while you play a game.
Since the Doctor doesn’t actually carry a gun or any other weapon, fending off of enemies is pretty tricky: Doctor isn’t exactly Rambo. The developers handle this well by making use of a Metal Gear-esque sneaking style that comes up any time you get near an enemy. The Doctor automatically crouches down, and you are given an indicator in the shape of a caution symbol. If the symbol is green, you are mostly fine, but the closer to red the indicator goes, the closer you are to getting killed. Luckily if you do die, the game resumes at the last checkpoint that you made it to. The last real gameplay type you’ll have to deal with are occasional puzzles including a “drag the item through a maze without touching the walls” segment. These aren’t too challenging, and they keep you busy throughout the game.
On the graphical front I wasn’t expecting a whole lot to be honest considering the price tag, but was pleasantly surprised that the game looked somewhat like an original Xbox game, or possibly even a Wii game. The animation is sometimes inconsistent with a few places looking far better than others, giving a somewhat rushed appearance. Some of the motions are a bit jerky, but I’ve seen worse mishaps on console games with a much larger budget. The game has an almost cell shaded appearance which really helps any sort of graphical inadequacy as it gives a more cartoony look. The mannerisms and facial features of the actors involved is flawless, a feat that was achieved by the use of a new type of rotoscoping to map the real life actors’ movements onto their 3d models.
The sound direction in the game is done fairly well, and contains a lot of spoken dialog. This really helps the pacing of the game, and again reiterates the belief that this game was intended to be as much like an episode of the show as possible. In the background there is also have music that I assume was composed for the show, which adds both tension and wonder.
For the most part, Doctor Who: The Adventure Games Episode 1: City of the Daleks is a great game for the price, which for UK players is nothing (well technically you guys paid for it with the license fee). As long as the US price is reasonable upon release, let’s say maybe 5 dollars, it’ll be good as well. While not a technical achievement, it stands head and shoulders above any other free game based on a TV show that I’ve played, and is probably the best Doctor Who game ever made. The developers did a great job using what I imagine was a miniscule budget, and made something that was reasonably enjoyable. The game lasts a few hours, and will keep you busy if you decide to collect everything, and mess around. Sadly, we don’t get much of a “next time” trailer (if you will), but rumor has it that the second game will contain the iconic villians: The Cybermen.