D&D Beyond Announced

One thing I have really shifted to these past few years, are computer aids for running and playing role playing games, especially ones for Dungeons and Dragons. Funny thing is, that for the last decade or so, Wizards of the coast has been fairly lazy about getting something like a Dungeon Master organization program out there, so amateur developers had to step in. I used to use a program called “Master Plan” to run third edition games, but it sadly died – most likely via cease and desist letter. That’s why I saw the news of an OFFICIAL product like this called D&D Beyond and got excited:

We are excited to announce development of D&D Beyond, an official digital toolset for use with the Dungeons & Dragons fifth edition rules. We have partnered with Curse to take D&D players beyond pen and paper, providing a rules compendium, character builder, digital character sheets, and more—all populated with official D&D content. D&D Beyond aims to make game management easier for both players and Dungeon Masters by providing high-quality tools available on any device, empowering beginners and veterans alike!

“D&D Beyond speaks to the way gamers are able to blend digital tools with the fun of storytelling around the table with your friends,” said Nathan Stewart, Senior Director of Dungeons & Dragons. “These tools represent a way forward for D&D, and we’re excited to get them into the hands of players soon!”

Visit dndbeyond.com to sign up for the beta now. Further details about the beta and launch are coming soon!


 

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Megaten Games Should Be More Controversial Than They Are

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.


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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.

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“We don’t have to listen to you adults!”

 

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.


 

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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.

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This game where I actually kill people is awesome!

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:

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and…no comment on the next one:

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Good to see he can still fight like that!

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.

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Didn’t know Jesus was packing

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!


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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.

 


 

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Hitler’s short-lived “cool” phase

Other Issues

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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Two new Final Fantasy VII Remake images Revealed at Monaco Anime Game International Conference!

THIS IS NOT A DRILL!

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.

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Kingdom Hearts 3 was also showing off some new screens

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Is the Valkyria Chronicles Franchise Dead in the West?

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.

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The art style alone is worth the purchase

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.

Racism is somewhat unsettling in the game. Darcsens are seen as unholy inferir people to many people in the game, even protagonist characters.
Racism is somewhat unsettling in the game. Darcsens are seen as unholy inferior people to many in the game, even protagonist characters. In my experience, race politics are rarely seen in JRPGs.

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.

valkyria chronicles

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:

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Please note the scaling difference between the two graphs.

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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:

Keiji Inafune
Keiji Inafune

“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.

A somewhat new game in the series.
A somewhat new game in the series.

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.

Valkyria Revolution looks promising!
Valkyria Revolution looks promising!

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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