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Month: June 2011

Why “Episode Of Bardock” Makes So Much Sense

You heard the hesitancy as we started discussing it on Episode #0262 of our podcast over at Daizenshuu EX — there is yet another transformation on the horizon for a character that never received it during the course of the series.

Say it with me: “Who the mother eff-in’ eff cares…?!

As more and more news trickled out though, and especially up through this week with reading about the first “Episode of Bardock” chapter, I have really come around on this.

Think to a couple years back when this “new transformation” revival all began (acknowledging that we had a few prior examples such as Yamhan in DragonBall Z / Budokai 2):

We were introduced to Super Saiyan 3 Broli via Dragon Battlers and Raging Blast. Even in the home console game, he had absolutely no story — you spent the twenty stars to unlock a new stage to fight the character, and that was that. There was nothing special about it at all. The form simply existed, as-is, with no context. He was hyped up in promotional videos for the game, so that’s something… I guess?

The same thing happened the same year with Super Saiyan 3 Vegeta — we got an introduction via Dragon Battlers, followed by inclusion in Raging Blast with no contextual story to even frame the darn thing, once again obtaining the character by purchasing a stage with twenty stars (and completing said stage). SSJ3 Vegeta was just another slot on the character select screen. I mean, the stage essentially starts with Vegeta saying, “OK, here I am with Super Saiyan 3! Let’s fight!” and ends with the narrator saying, “Yep, all the Super Saiyan 3 characters just fought, and people like to get stronger!” Could there possibly be any less to it…?

Even if you did care about another couple characters getting such a powerful transformation (one whose point was, arguably, the fact that not everyone could do it), I can’t fathom how anyone could possibly get “Super Excited” about it without that key word there: context. Why did they transform? How did it happen? Was it an accident, or did they work toward it? When in the time line would this transformation happen? Is it just assumed that their target was Goku?

Toss this year’s Super Saiyan 3 (Future) Trunks from DragonBall Heroes into the mix, and you have one giant, steaming, smelly pile of apathy coming from this jaded, old fan.

Like I said earlier though, things are a little different with Super Saiyan Bardock. While he was first revealed as a new card and character for DragonBall Heroes in Japanese arcades (something so far removed that most English-speaking fans will never have the opportunity to experience it), it kept building from there. Next up was word that there would be a special manga presentation in V-Jump. Then Naho Ooishi (of DragonBall SD and the Jump Super Anime Tour manga adaptation) was going to be involved with it. Then it was going to be a three-part short story involving Bardock that ties in the new form from the arcade game. Then the Bardock TV special, along with the Trunks TV special, from DragonBall Z were finally going to be released as individual DVDs in Japan, previously only ever being available as extras within the two DBZ Dragon Box sets released back in 2003.

It was suddenly all Bardock all the time. He had his opportunities to shine here and there (for example, as one of the extra unlockable characters in Burst Limit alongside Broli), but it was never in a leading role like this.

This was an all-out assault crossing over to different media, providing opportunities for different types of fans to finally get engaged on a deeper level. Card collectors could pick up the card. Arcade dwellers could add him to their arsenal. Manga fans had a new story to read. Re-releasing the TV special lets the anime fans get caught up with the back-history (or in the case of younger fans, see it for the first time!).

This is a fantastic step toward extending the franchise and getting fans excited again. Up until now, everything has been developed and sectioned off into its own little silo with little-to-no cross over. Plan to Eradicate the Super Saiyans was included in Raging Blast 2, sure, but its assets were all still just within the one game (such as including Hatchihyack as a playable character). All of the new story bits have been introduced in DragonBall Online, sure, but they are again all within the one game. The closest may have been the Jump Super Anime Tour special, which was legally streamed (in various subtitle languages!) online, received a two-part manga adaptation (albeit released only just the one time, so if you missed it you lost your one and only chance), and had Tarble included as a playable character two years later in Raging Blast 2. Maybe the closest example of true merchandise extension so far were the two SSJ3 figures released under the DragonBall Kai Banpresto HSCF label:

(images courtesy our buddy Raithos)

Those examples have all felt like afterthoughts, though. The fact that “Episode of Bardock” is being treated as a “sequel” to the original anime story and has elements being spat out to so many other areas is a great sign. There is a clear amount of effort being put into this: new characters, new names (complete with puns!), research on proper locations that these events might take place in, etc. It is all being done right from the start, too, as opposed to tossing something out (such as a figure) later on down the road. Assuming they start off this way and continue with new items to enhance this story (a scenario in Game Project Age 2011 perhaps? a SSJ Bardock figure, of course? a re-release of all Ooishi-drawn manga in compilation form a year from now, maybe?), then we know they are on to something!

These companies (specifically Toei / Shueisha / Namco-Bandai) are finally realizing that their tactics need to change. With merchandise sales for the franchise decreasing year-over-year since 2007 (7.9 billion yen in fiscal 2007 to 2.7 billion yen in fiscal 2011), something had to give.

They are on the right track — Bardock and some back-history is a great place to start. Keep in mind that this is not about using something as minor as “Episode of Bardock” (and its associated releases) to bring the franchise back to the sales levels of 2007 (never mind the 90s), but rather about keeping it alive at all instead of fading into complete obscurity again until a third wave comes along a few years from now. It will be fun to see if they have a plan to sustain the franchise, or just got lucky with this one.

Mike’s Spring/Summer 2011 Gaming

People seem to want to hear my thoughts on video games, or at least my experiences with what I have been playing… so hey, let’s just dive right in and pretend it has not been a little over three months since my last contribution.

I think what I will cover here actually brings you completely up to speed with my gaming experiences over those last three months since finishing Suikoden — anyone who knows me even the slightest bit knows how slowly I plow through games, so if you expected more, you are out of luck!

As per the norm when covering such a huge amount of stuff, do not expect “reviews” or “well-written commentary” here — it’s all just a string of consciousness. Blame yourselves for asking for it! ^_~

DragonBall Kai: Ultimate Butôden

I plan on finally writing a full review for this game over at Daizenshuu EX, so between what you have already heard on the podcast over there and what I will be writing in the future, you have plenty to dive into. Suffice it to say that this game surprised the heck out of me, and it is a gigantic shame that it will likely never see release outside of Japan.

Besides, this was way back in February, so as The Internet likes to say: “old!”

Pokemon: Black Version

After wrapping things up on the PSP with Suikoden, I was just in time to jump into the new Pokemon. It had been about a year since playing through SoulSilver, a game that I finished but never truly “got into” the same way that I went all out in FireRed and Pearl — but that is a subject for another time. I am just crossing the 100 hour mark in the new game, having defeated “N” and participated in a good amount of end-game content (gathering up the sages, catching all currently-available legendaries, etc.). I have not yet taken on the Elite 4 (and Adler, the actual champion) again because — *gasp* — I have sunken to the depths of specific egg move breeding.

This is something that I have always been vaguely aware of, specifically with the promotion of Pikachu and the move Volt Tackle, but have never bothered to get into on my own. I have sadly gone down the rabbit hole, and I do not know if I will ever return. I have the aforementioned Volt Tackle along with Thunder Punch on a Raichu, a Lucario with Blaze Kick, a Milotic with DragonBreath, and (probably my favorite of all) a Ferrothorn with Rock Smash and Leech Seed. I have no idea what my “team” will be, but I am having a pretty good time toying around with selective breeding for the first time ever. It is a fun compromise between “enjoyment” and “insanity” before dipping even further down into I.V. Training. It fascinates me how much mathematical depth is down a few layers deep, but is always held back in any obvious way from the players. I will concede that having two DSes out (and thinking a third would be helpful) does indeed border on insanity.

None of this is too much of a surprise. Like most of the players who get through the “main campaign” of the game, I find that I enjoy the end-game content far more than anything else. It is as if the game is just stringing you along for a couple dozen hours until the entire world is open and available for you to do whatever you want. That’s a pretty “duh” statement and reflection to all of you, though, isn’t it?

I feel that there is a ton more I could say about the game, but I would probably be doing it a disservice without spending hours upon hours pouring over my experiences with it to come up with an “ultimate post”. I really enjoyed all of the continued improvements, as iterative as they always are, that have been made to the game (though I am left scratching my head why the option to keep the equivalent of “running shoes” on at all times was removed since last year’s Gen II remakes — I hate holding down the “B” button, and I do not always want to be riding the bike). There are some fun daily events to return to, and the Dream World does an interesting job of extending what they started last year with the Pokewalker.

The game is not revolutionary. It is what it is. It is the type of game that lets me get my OCD jollies out so my life still feels balanced. Sometimes that is all I need.

Kirby’s Epic Yarn

The wife and I attempted to play through New Super Mario Bros. Wii together, but ended up putting it aside after one world almost entirely because we got in each other’s way, rendering the game “un-fun”. The two of us have plenty of Mario masteries under our belts (each copy of Super Mario World in our house has that little star next to the 96), so to suddenly be forced to work in tandem with someone else while simultaneous pulling off death-defying leaps of faith was something our brains could not process.

So what made Kirby’s latest adventure any different? The adorable art direction (in many ways taking cues from LittleBigPlanet, and likely in more than just the art) melted our frozen hearts of gamer disgust. It took several months after receiving the game last Christmas, but we finally got around to jumping into the game. It took only around seven or so hours to complete, but like everything else I do with video games, that was spread across a few weekends.

That word “adorable” really sums up everything about the game, especially if you toss “charming” into the mix, too. Particularly on the Wii, art direction and style really means a lot, and it was clear how much the developers took this to heart. The world is colorful, brimming with personality (even the generic “ice stage” has its own distinctive feel), and the right amount of cameos to make it feel fresh while still harkening back to what makes Kirby games what they are. Solid mechanics are a must for Kirby, and they work as expected (that is, perfectly) — a little bit loose and floaty, but tight and responsive at the same time.

While plenty have derided the game for its “you can’t ever actually die” kid-friendly difficulty tone-down, this really was the best choice for the style of game they produced. Even though the majority of levels are on the short side, there were very few that I would have wanted to play even a second time through — a “wash, rinse, repeat” cycle of dying and re-playing would not have worked for them. On the flip-side, that also gave me little reason to want to go back and collect any of the trophies we may have missed (three in each level, similar to the golden coins in recent Mario games) or shoot for a gold medal based on the number of gems collected. We saw it all on one pass through, and simply getting a better grade for the sake of it just was not compelling enough of a reason to return.

Yeah, yeah… all that “art” and “game play” stuff is important, but let’s be honest: the amazing narration work by Dave White is what really makes the game so great.

Portal 2

I got slightly burned on this game, and not in the way you might expect. Amazon was offering it for $5 off plus a $20 credit for pre-ordering the console version of the game, and even though I had no interest in playing the game on anything other than my PC, the PS3 version came with the PC version for free. I decided to go that route and put the free $20 toward the next Dragon Box set. Of course, when the game came in, PlayStation Network was down… meaning I could not redeem the code by linking my account on Steam via the PS3 to get the PC version. It took me a while to get around to playing the game (missing out a bit on the “being an active part of the discussion upon launch” diddly-doo), but it all worked out in the end.

There is really nothing I can contribute to the discussion about this game. What can I say? It was super fun. I was genuinely surprised by the story at certain points, loved all the characters, and even though (yeah, I’m going there) the controls felt a little “console-ified” on the PC, it played like butter. I thought the third section of the main story (post-goo) was a little much and hurt the pacing, but not enough to drag down the whole package. I still have to go back and play co-op, something I can’t wait to do — just gotta find the time and a partner!

It’s more Portal. It’s done well. C’mon, now.

Mortal Kombat

I have written a bit about how I got into Street Fighter, and while I touched upon Mortal Kombat a little bit, I do not think I gave the gory game series of greatness enough credit. As wonky as the fighting engine has always been, it has been a source of hilarity and unironic enjoyment for me. Like most people (I presume), the series faded into obscurity for me after MK3/Ultimate/Trilogy. I no longer cared about the increasingly-convoluted story (yes, I genuinely thought the story was moderately interesting — sue me), the early generation of polygonal fighting games were terrible (and would not impress me at all until Virtua Fighter 2), and I was busy exploring other genres of games, anyway. Oh yeah, and Street Fighter.

I was interested in “MK9”, but purposefully did not actively keep up with its development. If it ended up as a surprise hit, fantastic. If it didn’t, that was perfectly fine, too. Early access to the game’s demo via PlayStation Plus piqued my interest for sure, and a price drop to $40 on Amazon shortly after release was too much to pass up.

Cruising through the story mode, I found myself enjoying the Hell out of how abysmal it was and simultaneously also loving every second of reliving story bits I knew so well from the past — a “reboot” set in the same time period that does not ignore the original version was a fantastic idea.

What is there to say? It is Mortal Kombat, but updated and relevant again. Lots of characters still play the same way as each other (defined only by their special moves), the mechanics still feel a little stiff and imprecise, but dammit, it’s a lot of fun. To reboot with the entire Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 cast is a pretty fine achievement, allowing room to flesh out a collection of go-to characters — I’m still loving Nightwolf (as lame as he is), Kabal, and Smoke… but my ol’ buddy Ermac just isn’t cutting it any more.

Like I said for Pokemon, in the case of Mortal Kombat, it is what it is. It is not going to win over fans of more refined fighting games, but it is a fun romp that has both cleaned and dirtied itself up in all the right ways. It may be getting shoved to the side a little bit in favor of the next two games a little bit, but as I am moderately excited for the upcoming DLC characters, and with “King of the Hill” being as fun as it is, this is one I will continue to pop in over and over.

Demon’s Souls

Wait, what…?

I own a lot of video games that I feel “I should own” — I’m that type of person. Persona 3? Sure, I will likely never get around to it, but I am glad knowing I have it if I am ever ready for it. Shadow of the Colossus? Well of course I should own and play that some day. Huh? What’s that you say? Better versions of each game exist now (PSP and PS3, respectively)…? Well crap.

When Demon’s Souls went on sale for ~$15 on Amazon with its soundtrack last holiday season, it was an extra that I tossed into an order with some presents for other folks. “Mike,” I said to myself, “You will likely never play this game because it is incredibly difficult. You hate hard games, you have more games than you know what to do with, and you are a fool.”

Well, fine. Sure. All of that is true. Except that I am playing it now. I really do not know what convinced me to toss it in. A free afternoon will do that to a guy.

Every experience you have heard about the game (particularly the Zero Punctuation review) is entirely accurate: you start, you die, you get a little further, you die, and eventually you beat a boss. I am feeling pretty great about myself for completing the first stage of the game (“1-1”, the first area of Boleteria) with maybe only three or four deaths — I do not know how I got through that bridge area (with the dragon spewing down fire from above) alive, but I did!

It has been a fascinating learning experience in training myself to not just run around and hit R1 to slash everything to death — attempting to do so will only lead to, well, more death of my own. Pull up that shield. Parry some attacks. Try to circle behind the enemy. Toss a firebomb down there. The game’s pace is so slow, but the way your heart will race with each new encounter will lead you feel otherwise.

I have been enjoying the online messages, which may have been a reason I decided to start playing the game sooner than later — once the servers are taken down (and they have already been extended before), that component of the game will be gone. Sure, most of the messages are garbage, but even the occasional, “No, for reals, beginners really shouldn’t go down this corridor” have been helpful.

Why do I enjoy the abuse so much? Can someone explain it to me? We will see just how far I get in the game before politely tossing it aside — I have already resigned myself to the fact that it is a game I will never complete (then again, I so rarely complete games that it will not be too much of a change for me). For now, I am enjoying that abuse and want to see a little more of the world. Maybe I just feel it is important to step outside the usual gaming box and see what else is out there. Maybe the underlying character stats are pulling me in.

Maybe I just wanna cut up some demons. Or dragons. Speaking of which…

Dragon Quest VIII

As Pokemon winds down for me, I have been looking at what my next Japanese RPG should be. I have been saying for a while how I almost cannot even comprehend playing these types of games anymore if they are not portable, since the concept of sitting around and grinding away at battles while sitting on the couch at home seems like the last thing I would ever consider a “good idea”. I pretty much assumed my next game would be one of the DS Dragon Quest remakes, since IV/V/VI are sitting right there staring back at me. I briefly thought about heading into Radiant Historia next (based on the fact that Pokemon and Dragon Quest were similar in the grindy-grindy sort of way), but if I knocked that one out first, all I would have left would be the grindy-grindy games.

Imagine my surprise when I decided I would do the unthinkable: play a Japanese RPG on a console again. Pokemon is still not quite over for me, and I was looking at playing something alongside Demon’s Souls on nights that I did not feel like playing the DS, but also did not want to concentrate super hard on reflexes and real-time battles.

I knew it had a 16:9 mode to toy around with, I knew it had great voice acting, I had such a great time with IX… hey, why not dive into Dragon Quest VIII…?

At about four hours in (which includes the requisite “stay close to town and grind for a while” opening tactics), I do not have a whole lot to say about the game just yet. It pains me to say it in light of his historical revisionist alignments, but Koichi Sugiyama‘s musical score fits the game like a glove, and has gotten quite a few approvals from the peanut gallery during play sessions. The cel-shading engine brings Akira Toriyama‘s character designs to life, and upscales quite nicely (though the lack of a progressive mode knocks it down a peg). The little story vignettes that I loved from IX (and from what I gather are a staple of the series) are already in full effect, and I cannot wait to learn more about the world.

I also just got a boomerang for my hero (who’s named “Vegetto”, of course), and that just plain ol’ rocks.

That being said, even though it is early in the game, I can definitely appreciate the difference between this and IX. Playing them in “backward” order has been a fun way to see how the main series evolved/devolved, and not even necessarily for “better” or “worse”. One of the things I loved so much about Chrono Trigger (a game that came out 14 years earlier than Dragon Quest IX) was the lack of random battles. It has actually been easier than I thought to go back to a console RPG with random battles — I think the wild-critter-every-step nonsense in Pokemon makes everything else seem like cake. The jump from the later game’s non-defined characters (my team consisting of Vegetto, Snow, Trunks, and Uub) back to a non-verbal hero supported by a cast of well-defined, vocal characters is a fun one. Again, none of this is qualified, but just “different” and fun for being that way. I suppose that is just a “statement of fact” that really does not add anything to the discussion, but hey… I am only four hours in.

Minecraft

Have I talked about this with any of you before? Since we have not done a “vgconvos” podcast episode in over a year (and no search results turn up for it), I doubt it!

I got in right before the alpha period ended, figuring a couple bucks for guaranteed updates to a game that a million or so people were enjoying didn’t sound like a bad idea. I wish I could say more about it, but it has actually been a little bit since I last played. I am not enjoying the level of pain that I have started getting in my mouse hand (started using a tablet at work, scaled back on content creation over at Daizenshuu EX… yeah, sucks getting older), so other than the quick plow through Portal 2, I have scaled back on (what little) PC gaming I was bothering to keep up with.

After learning my way around (and I mean that — after dying the first time it took me days to figure out which direction I had originally headed in to build my first base, after which I promptly built a giant, torch-lit wall so I could see it from a relative distance), I started digging and digging and digging. I have built two base camps connected by a stone bridge in one direction, and recently an air rail in the other direction (crossing across different masses of water and circling back around, if that makes any sense). I have started building more bridges out into the distance so I can find my way back — even with a compass, I feel that I will just end up aimlessly wandering without a distinct path to follow to and fro. I have visited The Nether, I have some diamond weapons, and I have endless series of tunnels that I promise myself I will one day connect to each other.

I find that I enjoy hearing about other folks’ adventures in Minecraft, so if there is any kind of “demand”, I would be happy to take pictures of my building monstrosities. They are pretty terrible, but I had fun making everything.

When I have a couple minutes here and there, I boot up the game and continue digging along in one of my underground tunnels. It is cheap, fun times.

So What’s Next…?

Well, that is a fantastic question — I wish I knew the answer! I have plenty of other console games waiting in the queue. In light of the apparent shut down of developer Game Republic, I feel like I should probably tackle Majin & the Forsaken Kingdom at some point soon. The DS has plenty of RPGs waiting for me, so I could really just grab a game at random off the shelf and go for it.

What about you all? What have you been playing recently, and what gems have I still not gotten around to playing?

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