Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Falcon 3RL Chronology...trying to figure out what happened

Chronology before 3RL happened on my Falcon Xbox 360 (Manufacturing Date April 2008):

1. Got Brothers in Arms: Hells Highway, played it for a few days then reached 'Operation Garden' and on one level I noticed that the grass textures were becoming all weird. I reset to the dashboard and and loaded BIA again and the problem was gone.

2. The next day I played BIA again and I noticed that the problem happened again in one level. Similarly, I restarted the 360 (went back to the dashboard and reloaded BIA). The problem was gone again.

3. The day after that, I was moving some saves and profiles to my memory card (for Anicon). After this, I restarted my Xbox 360 and then , to my surprise, my 360 3RL'ed. I called my wife who was in the other room playing Tales of Vesperia (again, preparing it for Anicon) and when she turned on the xbox 360 it didn't 3RL. It was weird; we thought it was a fluke of some sort. I was able to play the rest of the night.

4. Today I was moving profiles and saves again, and then when I restarted the 360, 3RL happened. I tried restarting the console several times, to no avail. It's dead.

Extremely demoralized by this, to be honest. I can't believe it happened to the Falcon, too. Note that I don't have airconditioning in the room where i have the Xbox 360 working. The thing died in 4 months?! That's ridiculous! But then this room is pretty big; it's the living room and there is so much open air in this place. The wind also blows here so it really isn't that hot. I don't understand how despite these conditions the console still died.

I'm just lucky that I've got a spare one thanks to Servo101 from Pinoyxbox. Realistically speaking, not all gamers will be this lucky, I'm sure. An experience like this is extremely frustrating and I can imagine the others will swear off the Xbox brand completely. It's really unfortunate because the alternatives aren't as attractive to me as a hardcore gamer compared to the 360----the 360 really has more games than the PS3, and its game lineup is more tolerable to a hardcore gamer like myself compared to the Wii.

This generation of consoles is perhaps the worst one because of the limitations people have in choosing a system:

1. PS3? No games!
2. Xbox 360? 3RL!
3. Wii? Too many casual games and too few hardcore titles! (Sorry but I really prefer a certain category of games. I know the Wii has a few good hardcore titles like Brawl or Zelda, but I think it doesn't have enough compared to the 360 at the moment).

I'm rethinking this whole Xbox thing already and thinking of going back to PC gaming or something that doesn't have these kinds of issues. I don't know. Maybe I'm just extremely pissed off right now and I'm not rational at the moment. I'll still be going to Anicon this Sunday, of course....but after that, I don't know....I'm just so very pissed off.

For Falcon owners - do what you can to protect yourself from 3RL...

NO ONE IS SAFE

Our Falcon Xbox 360 got hit with the 3 Red Lights of Death.

Our US Falcon Xbox 360 Arcade got hit by the 3 Red Lights of Death, error code 0020

Manufacturing date: April 2, 2008

It looks like no one is safe, sad to say.

Conditions:

No airconditioning because it's been affecting our electric bill, however the console is in a well ventilated area.

The console is raised with rubber stoppers.

I just moved some profiles from my memory card to my HDD and then when I restarted the console it was already 3RL. I couldn't start it anymore after that.

Oh well, so much for Falcons being 3RL free....

Note: We have a second Xbox 360 from servo101 which is a replacement Asian Xbox 360 console, manufacturing date July 19, 2008. I guess we're just lucky that we have this one....but I can imagine others won't be this lucky. 3RL is extremely frustrating. I hate it and this pisses me off!

Friday, September 26, 2008

Now Playing: Brothers in Arms - Hell's Highway


The game I'm currently playing is Brothers in Arms: Hell's Highway. I haven't tackled an FPS in a very, very long while, and my expectations for this game were quite low. It's set in World War II again (and there sure are a lot of games out there with that setting) so I wasn't expecting to be so impressed.

A few missions in, a lot of things struck me about the single-player mode:

- The presentation is very, very cinematic. I didn't play the older BIA games at length so it was a bit difficult for me to understand sometimes what the characters were talking about [they reference the past games a LOT] ....but the storytelling style that the developers employed for the cutscenes make watching them feel very engrossing. I guess this must have been the best way for the developers to differentiate their game from the other WWII shooters out there.

- A big part of the single player game involves giving out orders to specialized squads of troops (in the first few missions I've had an Assault team and a Bazooka team to lead through the campaign). So far I thought that this was the most unique and enjoyable aspect of the game. The A.I. is very smart and for the most part they behave very convincingly and realistically. You really have to develop a good strategy so that your men don't get killed....I never found out if there's a consequence to having teams die on me because most of the time I'd restart from a checkpoint if at least one soldier died. That said, this is another thing that makes Brothers in Arms: Hell's Highway quite a unique World War II shooter. In a way, it slows down the pacing of the game and makes it a bit more cerebral than other WWII games. But I didn't see the slower pace as a bad thing; not only do you have to have good shooting reflexes, you also have to think fast and use all the available resources you have in the right way.

- After a few missions, I checked out the 'chapter select' in the game and looked at how many levels there are...it seems there's quite a lot, and each mission is very lengthy with unique objectives and many ways to go about completing them.

- One other cool thing about the game is the 'Action Camera', which zooms in on the action when you execute a good strategy or a good kill. I got a load of achievements thanks to this feature, and it's really nice when the action camera suddenly just slows down the action. It makes it feel all the more satisfying to play the game the 'right' way (the wrong way would probably be to rush in, Rambo-style, and kill everything yourself. Maybe it's possible to play like that but it would ruin the authenticity of the whole experience).

Brothers In Arms: Hell's Highway seems like a game that could get underappreciated because it's being released during a time when a lot of other high profile releases are about to come out in the market. It's a game that got delayed a lot of times and got a lot of flak for it from the gaming press. I can see why the game was delayed so much....there's a lot of good A.I. scripting in there. It goes a long way towards providing a seamless experience in the game. The fact that I'm not struggling to give orders to my troops in the game is probably the best benefit of the game's extended development time.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Infinite Undiscovery - Finished!

I've finally finished Infinite Undiscovery. Here are my final thoughts on the game:

- I like the combat system implemented in the game. I encountered no problems with my A.I. controlled party members, although half the time I'm wishing I could switch between characters or sub-parties.

- The environments are very wide and don't feel like they have set paths, however, as a whole, the game's world feels much smaller compared to other JRPG worlds. Some scenarios require that you backtrack to previous towns.

- There's no shortage of in-game real-time cutscenes. They do a good job of telling the story; I can imagine some players finding too many cliches' in the plot, however. I enjoyed it for what it was and I liked the overall execution of the story. The only thing I didn't like was the ending---I mean, the ending itself is good and lengthy and it has a lot of scenes with the other characters (which I liked), but I did not like the scene that appears right after the credits. I wish that the writer of the story didn't put that scene in there because, in a way, it cheapened the value of the game's story.

Story-wise, Lost Odyssey has a better story, implementation and conclusion compared to Infinite Undiscovery. My wife tells me that Tales of Vesperia also has a good story and compared to IU, ToV is the superior game.

So if you had to pick just one JRPG, IU probably isn't a good choice because there are many other JRPGs on the 360 worth your time. But if you're willing to play through several JRPGs, IU isn't so bad as a game to add to your lineup of titles. I did enjoy Infinite Undiscovery more than Too Human, that's for sure. Start with IU, then follow it up with either ToV or Lost Odyssey. Don't play IU last because the game does dwarf in comparison to those two other games.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Finally finished Tales of Vesperia!

Whew...that was an AWESOME game!

I finally finished Tales of Vesperia, clocking in at 51 + hours with my main characters being at Level 65. Let me say this...if you are a JRPG fan you absolutely cannot miss Tales of Veseperia. I've been a long time fan of the 'Tales' series and personally I have a strong preference to this franchise compared to the recent string of Final Fantasy games. I have played Tales of Phantasia, Tales of Destiny and Tales of Eternia...all of which were great games that I had lots of nice memories of. I wasn't able to play the newer 3D Tales titles. But based on my previous experience with other Tales games, Tales of Vesperia is the BEST TALES GAME TODAY!

On the forums, I've seen people gripe about the art direction of tales. If you hate Anime styled art then there is nothing in this game for you. But if you think that is game is another overblown JRPG cliche then you've got another thing coming! There are also those who complain that the game starts out slow...well patience is a virtue my friends. And those who stuck with games from beginning to the end will be greatly rewarded.

I'm hoping that there would be a sequel to this game much like what Namco has done with Tales of Destiny and Tales of Symphonia. It seems like ToV has gotten a pretty good Japanese following as well so hopefully Namco considers a sequel.

Now that I have finished the game, I will post my detailed impressions soon. But for now, I'm going to bask in the happy glow of actually finishing this game! I'm also thinking of taking a video of some of the cutscenes in the game for those who want to watch them...also for me to look back on.

TWO THUMBS UP NAMCO! TWO THUMBS UP!




Thursday, September 18, 2008

Infinite Undiscovery - Challenging, or Frustrating, Depending on You.

Just got past the Cobasna Timberlands in Infinite Undiscovery.

For the first time, in a very, very long time, a video game has forced me to play with a pen and paper by my side, to draw out the map of the explorable terrain.

The Cobasna Timberlands have these magical barriers that teleport you around the map. If you're thinking of just running from point A to point B in this area, you'll be either surprised or sorely disappointed. The way the barriers teleport you can feel very 'random' and I think most people will find themselves totally lost in this area.

Tonight I found myself near the point of frustration. I never thought I'd have to get a pen and paper and map out the teleporters in the map to figure out how exactly I would get to my destination.

Maybe I was just feeling lazy. Why should I even bother using a pen and paper and why should I map this out separately? Shouldn't the game tell me where to go by this point? I had already finished the main quest in this area and I thought I deserved to get to the next spot instantly.

I suppose this level of challenge, then, is by design. Challenging, or frustrating, depending on your perspective.

Another dungeon and several cutscenes later, I save my game and now, here I am, relaying my feelings on that particular segment of the game. Getting through it eventually did give me a bit of relief, and some sense of satisfaction.

I ask myself, how are Xbox gamers perceived in Japan? I recall Lost Odyssey and the first major boss battle where so many players could not win without guidance from the Internet or from strategy guides. Then I also occasionally watch my wife play Tales of Vesperia and that game seems like it's no cakewalk either.

And then, there's this game. I have a feeling that Xbox gamers are probably percieved by these Japanese developers as a 'cut above the rest'. I remember a quote from Itagaki which goes something along these lines "Gamers who buy an Xbox in Japan don't buy one by accident"---which seems to imply that there's really this notion that Xbox gamers are largely very experienced players, who've seen every possible trick or dungeon or boss or situation that has ever been imagined in the history of video games.

Is it a mistake to design games this way? Sometimes I ask myself that. There are games which are just so easy that you'll beat them in a day...imagine your $60 / PHP 2,500++ peso purchase just lose its value in a matter of minutes. Actually, I really, really hate it when that happens. So I suppose you could call me the hardcore gamer who's seen everything.

So should I be proud of Infinite Undiscovery, that it literally had me on my last ounce of patience?

...

Actually, before I was on the brink of giving up, and posting 'THIS GAME SUCKS' here on my blog, my wife was already searching the 'net for the solution to my problem. She was at GameFAQs and had the answer at the ready.

I refused to read it. I couldn't take it nor accept it that this JRPG had me beaten. As I wrote earlier, eventually I did beat the system....all it took was a little bit more mental effort and a pen and paper by my side.

So again, I ask myself, am I disappointed now with Infinite Undiscovery?

....

Well, I did enjoy that last cutscene. And I want to see more. The game continues.

***

One other little tidbit; before I got lost, I tried using the other characters while exploring town and, lo and behold, I found out that each character has these unique abilities that you can only access when you're 'connected' with them. For instance, Eugene can forge weapons while Vic can pick locks!

A pleasant surprise. Why didn't the game tell me this earlier??

Granted it's a brilliant feature that adds a lot to the game; consider the number of characters and all those items that you can mix and brew together.

But the game doesn't have anything that really teaches you about these things at the outset. I only found this by messing around with the menus.

So how do Japanese developers perceive the Xbox crowd? I think it's clear: they see players who have an Xbox as the hardcore--the ones who've seen everything and are really hard to please in terms of challenge and gameplay. There must be so much pressure for game devs working on Xbox game projects....

At the same time, I can imagine these same game developers pressured to make such great games for the Xbox are themselves hardcore players who have seen everything, and put a lot of expectations on themselves when making a game for the Xbox 360.

The Latest Challenge for Xbox Japan: Fulfilling Demand

When Tales of Vesperia got released in Japan a few weeks ago, the Xbox 360 saw a huge sales spike which overwhelmed the local Xbox office in Japan so much that they had to issue an apology to their buyers.

For this week, MS Japan managed to fulfill the increasing demand for the Xbox 360 in Japan; and as posted earlier, their efforts helped them beat the Nintendo Wii and sell Square-Enix's latest offering in the JRPG genre.

I got a message from my friend in Japan, Yusuke Caiman, and he gives some account of what's going on over there:

My message:

"I just hope Xbox Japan continues to fare well; their continued success also spells success for gamers, since it will inevitably attract more Japanese developers to make games for the Xbox 360."

To which Yusuke responds:

"I hope so too & 360 console supply must continue for that. I checked 5 my neighbor game shop & big electric store. In week of ToV, all of them sold out regular 360, but had a few Arcade & Elite 360 in stock. In this week, (Microsoft Japan is DO DO DOing Infinite Undiscovery Faceplate Campaign) all of them sold out all of 3 models of 360. I'm hoping next 360 supply will come to shop shelf today. 360 was sold out all major net shop in Japan also. So, wicked net shops (not personal auction but pro shop) are selling 360 with IU faceplate for extreme price. Sensui, supply 360 & kick their ass. "



Here's a picture of the faceplate that they're offering as a promotion in Japan for the Xbox 360 and Infinite Undiscovery.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

THE PRICE IS RIGHT: Xbox 360 OUTSELLS Nintendo Wii in JAPAN!

Rico and Rucha from Infinite Undiscovery celebrate the Xbox 360's victory over the Nintendo Wii!

BREAKING NEWS:

Famitsu.com is reporting that, for the very first time in the history of this generation of consoles in Japan, the Xbox 360 has outsold the NINTENDO WII in Japan for the week of September 8-14!

Link to Article : (Note, it is in Japanese)

http://www.famitsu.com/game/news/1218109_1124.html

Translation provided by user 'Predator JP' from Teamxbox forums:

http://forum.teamxbox.com/showpost.php?p=11398769&postcount=117

"Infinite Undiscovery sold 86,708 first week In Japan.

360 got price drop on the same day and hardware outsold Wii

360 - 28,681
Wii - 27,057
PS3 - 8,050
(sep 8th ~ 14th)"


NEOGAF FORUMS: http://www.neogaf.com/forum/showthread.php?t=335464

http://www.andriasang.com/e/articles/2008/09/17/xbox360_tops_wii/

"Xbox 360 Tops Wii in Hardware Sales -- Enterbrain
Price drop leads to sales surge.

--Sep 17, 2008, 17:14, Tokyo--With two weeks of hardware shortages behind it, a lower price point, a new hardware package, and a major Square Enix release, the Xbox 360 surged to the top of the console race for the week covering September 8 through September 14.

Data provided by Enterbrain, as passed along by Famitsu.com, has the 360 at 28,681 units for the week. This was a major leap over the previous week, during which the system had managed just 843 units.

The tracking period covers the September 11 release of a new 60 gigabyte 360 package. In addition to replacing the 20 gigabyte model, this new package drops the price down 5,000 yen to 29,800 yen. Microsoft simultaneously dropped the price of the Arcade and Elite systems to, respectively, 19,800 and 39,800 yen, and heavily promoted Square Enix's Infinite Undiscovery, released the same day.

Coinciding with the 360's surge, the Wii took somewhat of a downward turn, ending up with 27,057 units for the week. PS3 managed 8,050 units. All this worked to make the 360 the lead console platform for the first time since its launch.

Total domestic system sales for the 360 have crossed the 717,275 unit mark, Entebrain also reported.

The firm also reported first week sales of 86,708 units for Infinite Undiscovery. While not as high as first week sales of Tales of Vesperia, this is in the upper ranks of 360 software.
--Pertinent Links (external)--"

UPDATE: Media-Create posted their own hardware sales figures; their own numbers are slightly different from Enterbrain/Famitsu's. Considering they collect their data in different ways, the difference is understandable.

Link: http://kotaku.com/5052044/xbox-360-the-best-selling-console-in-japan-media-create-says-no

- Nintendo DS - 63,859
- PSP - 30,156
- Wii - 29,686
- Xbox 360 - 28,188
- PlayStation 3 - 8,053
- PlayStation 2 - 7,669

These new numbers also doesn't disregard the fact that it's been a good week for the Xbox 360 in general in Japan; normally it only gets about 3,000+ sales every week. With all these JRPGs coming out for the system, coupled with the lower price, the 360 is still seeing better days than it used to.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Infinite Undiscovery : End of Disc 1

I reached the End of Disc 1 of Infinite Undiscovery after 10 hours of play. Some might think that's disappointing; but actually that isn't a bad length for being halfway through a JRPG, considering Eternal Sonata took 10-12 hours to complete. (Note#2: Too Human also took exactly 10 hours to finish, though it isn't a JRPG). The description for the game on Play-Asia promises a story worth about 30 hours, so I'm guessing I might reach the end of this in 20 hours.

By the end of Disc 1, one thing really stands out for this game: the fact that it lets so many of your party mates be on the field at one time. Granted, you only really have control of one character, and you can only give orders to three other characters. The rest of the party that you didn't pick for your own party are assigned by you to sub-parties, who travel on their own and accomplish their goals. The thing is, they travel on their own by your side, so as you're fighting on the countryside, there's this other party of adventurers running alongside you killing monsters, getting loot, and generally making the playing field seem more alive and action-packed.


The high point of this design decision for me was upon reaching the final dungeon of Disc 1, where, when you encounter the last boss, all the characters engage in this epic battle against the last boss and his forces. Imagine yourself in the middle of this large fantasy battle, with swords clashing, and spells flying back and forth between combatants. IU doesn't hesitate to put in some really fancy special effects (sparks, sword slashes, lighting bolts, fireballs etc) when characters are engaged in combat, and that's apparent throughout the game. When you get to the end of Disc 1, having all those effects going off at once really gives you that feeling that you're in the middle of a very large scale battle between some powerful adversaries. Some might notice a bit of slowdown every now and then, but it never gets in the way of controlling the action.

I got killed a couple of times before getting to the final boss because there's this enemy in the last dungeon of Disc 1 which provided a bit more of a challenge. Because I wasn't doing so well, I tried out the 'Enchant' feature which lets your character increase the attributes of any other characters for a few minutes. It's essentially 'buffing up' your characters temporarily, and it's only possible if you have certain items in your inventory. I was able to pass that enemy thanks to this feature; before getting to that point of the game I didn't really think of using the 'Enchant' feature but it turns out to be quite useful, and adds yet another layer of strategy/planning to this real-time action-based Japanese RPG.

The graphics in the game continue to be quite beautiful and aesthetically pleasing; faces of other characters are rendered quite cleanly and animate pretty well during combat and during cutscenes. Everything is rendered in real-time; I haven't seen any other CG scenes other than the introduction movie. Despite this decision, the graphics are still quite stunning, and I'm glad that the framerate does not suffer during real-time cutscenes unlike in some other Western games. They make the real-time cutscenes just as appealing to watch as CG in any other game.

The environments don't exactly go for a realistic look; everything in the world reminds me of a miniature model set. But it does feel wide and expansive, and the game continues to give me the feeling of being lost, because the areas to explore are so wide, and there's no feeling that you're stuck on a set path when you're travelling.

Monster encounters are real-time so you can opt to run away from all the monsters if you don't want to get into fights. The regular monsters on the field aren't that difficult to kill; there's just that occasional one that has higher HP than usual or the one with abilities to stun or paralyze you or your party mates, but for the most part, you won't really be in much danger when you fight other monsters in the world. As I mentioned earlier, there are 'boss' fights in the game, and I recall losing not just in the final dungeon but also in this other boss encounter in the desert. I didn't lose enough times to make the game feel 'frustrating' though.

By the end of Disc 1, another thing I recall which I haven't probably mentioned is that the game has this thing called 'situations', which I think are its own version of mini-games from other RPGs. For instance, one situation has you escort some villagers back to town; another one has you escape from a boss monster to help another character. I think some achievements are associated with these 'situation' moments because I got some 'situation bonuses' from certain scenarios. What's great about this is it changes the pace every so often, for this 'hack-and-slash' action RPG.

[spoilers coming]

Now, for the storyline....maybe I haven't played as many JRPGs as my wife so I might not be as reliable when it comes to saying that any story is original. Some might say the lead character seems typical for JRPGs, and some of the scenarios (and the obvious love angle) have been done time and again. But I like what happens by the end of Disc 1. It's pretty clear that anyone could guess what would happen and which character would eventually kick the bucket.

But I enjoyed how they resolved that scenario, and how the other characters reacted to it. By the start of Disc 2 things really get interesting because some conflict is introduced within your adventuring party. It's the kind of thing that will make you keep going because you want to see how exactly it will all end.

What happens at the end of Disc 1 also manages to give each character a bit of a moment to establish who they are. Granted, there's so many of them so there really isn't enough time to spend with all of them in the cutscenes. But by the end of Disc 1 and the start of Disc 2 you really get to know everyone a little bit more.

[/spoilers end]

So, is Infinite Undiscovery worth recommending? I can only say that so far I'm enjoying this game; I really liked what happens by the end of Disc 1. If you're already playing the game but find the pace to be a bit slow at the start, just give it a chance. It really picks up towards the middle and end of the first disc.

Other than the very first 'puzzle' in IU (which I posted about way earlier), I haven't encountered anything terribly frustrating about this game as I played the first disc. Unlike Too Human where the control scheme was initially disconcerting, this one is pretty easy to learn. I haven't found any control issues with the game. Even the mechanic where the game doesn't pause when you're looking through your inventory....granted it makes things a lot tougher when you want to look through your inventory to get a healing potion, but over time I've gotten used to it. In fact, I just let the other characters do the healing for me (press 'Y' during combat to request for healing). Since the characters use up inventory items rather quickly, I buy a lot of potions before questing, and I buy all sorts of them (even the ones for conditions like paralysis, silence etc. etc..). The other characters know to resurrect any downed party members or to heal conditions. The only problem you'll have is if they can't follow your command because they're being attacked; everything is real-time, after all. So if that happens, you'll have to be the one to look through your inventory to get the item that you need. It adds a layer of challenge but it hasn't frustrated me just yet. And it does make a bit of sense in a game where everything's 'real-time'.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Japanese RPG Marathon is Underway....


It's a JRPG invasion over here....now that both Tales of Vesperia and Infinite Undiscovery are in the house, it's been JRPG paradise for the past few days (with the occasional Ninja Gaiden II for the sake of variety) :D

[Note: Both me and Wuffy are using my gamertag : SCYTHERAGE to play Infinite Undiscovery and Tales of Vesperia respectively, so if you want to see how far we're into both games, check my 'scytherage' gamercard.]

Wuffy's been playing ToV for over 30+ hours now and she doesn't seem to be near the end yet. Of course it's better to read her impressions. I do find myself constantly impressed by the graphics of ToV whenever I look over my shoulder [as I'm typing on this computer] to see her playing the game. The one thing which sticks out for me (as what you'd call a 'bystander'; someone who just casually sees the game, since Wuffy is the one playing it), is the sheer number of voice dialogue in Tales of Vesperia. It seems to me that there's bucketloads of voiceovers in that game. I can always here some conversation going on between the characters, and it even happens after battles where the characters seem to be humoring each other with friendly banter. It sure makes the game seem like it has loads of personality.


As for Infinite Undiscovery (IU), [currently 6 hours in] after getting through that odd 'first puzzle' (see earlier posting) the game's pacing seems to be getting better now. I can definitely see more emphasis being given on action-styled gaming in IU. There are moments where the combat reminds me of Soulcalibur IV in terms of flashiness (perhaps it's because of all the nice special effects that start flying when you're fighting enemies). The controls are pretty simple....just press the A button a certain number of times and press B afterwards to finish with a special strike. There's enough variety in the combat since you can execute some interesting combinations if you time your attacks right. For instance, pressing A once then pressing B once after that, juggles your opponent/floats them in the air for a long duration, which then lets you execute another series of attacks or combinations. It makes the fighting feel very satisfying, and the game does a good job of letting you know you're playing it right (unlike Too Human, where you couldn't even tell if you're hitting something when you swing your weapon). It isn't Ninja Gaiden II in terms of complexity, but it gets the job done in delivering a good action experience.


Also, I'm not experiencing any problems with my party members so far. They seem to be managed automatically by the game itself and they haven't done anything in my game that has made things easier or more difficult for me. In general, the AI for my party generally works well; they'll heal other party members in trouble and they'll try to do combination attacks along with you to do the most damage on enemies.

There's also some nice AI going on with your enemies....for instance, there was this one moment in the game where an AI enemy soldier set off one of the castle traps, spawning a monster next to him. Instead of the AI monster attacking my party, the AI monster attacked the AI soldier that triggered the trap! Seems to me that that sort of complexity doesn't happen that often in most Japanese RPGs.

The system in IU where you have to command your AI mates to perform certain actions has not given me any kind of issues just yet. For the most part, the AI will try to do what you ask them to, but if they've been interrupted by enemy attacks, they won't be able to act as quickly. A bit of strategy seems to come into play when commanding your party; it's best to evade enemies while you're focused on issuing commands on party members.


The graphics and artwork/overall art style so far in IU is quite well done; texture work is simplistic compared to western games but it gives everything a nice, bright, clean and colorful look. I like the way they rendered the characters' faces and their facial expressions. They weren't going for all out realism (as is to be expected with most Japanese titles) but they were going for a look that is aesthetically pleasing/easy on the eyes.

The first few areas in IU still continue to provide that feeling of being lost in a wide, expansive world. Sure, there are still 'invisible walls' like every other JRPG but the game does give some incentive for going off the beaten path. You can pick up herbs or other ingredients which you can use to create special potions or other items. You can also level your characters since enemies in the world seem to respawn in certain areas. I've encountered one or two odd side-quests in the game this early on....they aren't like the epic side-quests in western RPGs, though, and they're mostly fetch-and-deliver quests. It does add a bit of longevity to the game since you'll find yourself exploring every nook and cranny trying to get the most items to help you with your long journey.

The voice acting in IU works quite well though it doesn't seem as extensive as Tales of Vesperia. I've heard more character dialogue while Wuffy was playing ToV than when I was playing IU (but then, I've only played IU for 5 hours so it could change....). I haven't met any 'annoying' characters yet in IU. I can imagine some players might not like the two 'child' characters in the game, but so far I don't get that impression at all. They're quite useful in combat with their wide range of spells.



Also, early in the game your party grows quite extensively....I like the starting plot point where....

[spoilers to follow]

your character ends up joining another party of characters who are in the middle of their quest. It seems to me in the story that the characters you meet have already been on their mission for a while now, and your character is thrown in the middle of the conflict. I found this a nice way to start the storyline. I don't know if it's original (perhaps it isn't, I'm sure...) but it's paced well enough to have kept my attention.

The character that you play as, Capell, is portrayed largely as this wimp who doesn't want to get involved in some world-saving endeavor. He may or may not be likable, depending on your disposition. There were some nice humorous moments in the beginning of the game which give the characters some degree of personality. I guess it depends on how much of a jaded gamer you are if this will be a point against the game or not.

If you read the manual, you'll find out the main characters are mostly 17 and up, so they seem like your typical teenage Japanese RPG heroes. If you crave absolute originality in your role-playing games, then maybe IU is not the game for you. But if you can manage to suspend your disbelief a bit and enjoy the other aspects of the game, like the distinctive art-style and well implemented action/combat system, then you might appreciate what IU has to offer.

[/end spoilers]

These are just some early impressions of Infinite Undiscovery so I wouldn't call this a recommendation just yet. I will say that the game has, so far, passed the 'Fun for the First 5 Minutes' test. It has managed to engross me enough to make me lose track of time.

Tales of Vesperia: An Exercise on Character Development

In the last few weeks two JRPGs were released for the XBOX 360. Unfortunately on our end, the Asian releases of Tales of Vesperia and Infinite Undiscovery are much later than its US releases. The only time we folks from Asia get an early release for a JRPG is when Microsoft Game Studios is publishing the game. We recently got both games and are playing through them right now. But let me share my thoughts regarding Tales of Vesperia. Note, that I haven’t finished Tales of Vesperia yet...I’m only 30 hours into the game so my thoughts on this may not be complete.


WARNING: LOTS OF SPOILERS AHEAD FOR FINAL FANTASY 7: CRSIS CORE AND TALES OF VESPERIA.



Prior to playing Tales of Vesperia, I picked up a PSP to finally play Final Fantasy 7: Crisis Core. At the height of my Playstation fanboism, I remembered making a promise to myself back then that when the announced FF7 prequel comes out on the PSP, I will definitely get one on day one. Well guess what? Life got on the way and when it did come out my interest for the PSP and Crisis Core wasn’ t enough for me to shell out that much money. Anyway, I eventually got a PSP for myself and the first game that I picked was Final Fantasy 7: Crisis Core.

Now why in the world did I bring up FF7:CC when I’m supposed to talk about Tales of Vesperia? My reason lie with the character development in the game. I always liked the Tales Series ever since I first played Tales of Phantasia for the PS1 (in pure Japanese...yeah I was nuts). After that I loved Tales of Destiny and thoroughly enjoyed Tales of Eternia. I noticed that the Tales series normally doesn’t get that much recognition from western reviewers. They end up branding the characters as stereotypical cookie-cutter JRPG personalities...as if other genres don’t offer the same kind of stereotype. While Final Fantasy does have the same amount of cookie cutter heroes and villains, it gets a free pass because of the strength of its franchise name. However, I feel that in more recent Final Fantasy titles, character development, apart from the main male and female leads, take a back seat.

And that is what I saw in FF7:CC. To be honest, I haven’t finished FF7:CC yet because I stopped playing once I got my hands on ToV but I am quite far in the game, nearing the end. While it was endearing for me to see Cloud and Tifa in Nibelheim, the real focus of this game was supposed to be Zack. And I love Zack’s character. The contrast between Zack and Cloud (after CC) is startling. I really liked the bashful, shy Cloud rather than the aloof one from Advent Children. But Zack needed more screen time...I wanted to learn more about Zack other than he’s a do-gooder on a mission. There are small snippets of memories whenever the roulette is turning but I do wish that it was integrated more into the game rather than the battle system. I love watching the CG of FF7:CC but somehow I felt that the game was relying too much fantastic looking sequences rather than have more plot for their characters. I certainly would have wanted to know why Sephiroth just snapped so easily in Nibelheim when he seems to still have his wits together after they left the Nibel Reactor. Was it the lack of sleep from all that researching that drove him mad? Was it Angeal and Genesis? Was Zack too annoying? What was it the gravity of knowing he’s a monster? I really wish Square Enix made it clear that Sephiroth didn’t just go mad.




The undying fangirl in me screams..."More Zack character development and less posing!"
Oh yeah...Zack > Cloud!

When I switched to Tales of Vesperia and I realized just how different the Final Fantasy and Tales Series are from each other. Final Fantasy relies heavily on presentation and eye candy. The game wants to WOW you and that isn’t exactly a bad thing. But when great characters are tosses aside to play some kind of love story or simply because the other guy has a cooler pose, I think Square Enix should rethink how they make Final Fantasy. Before this whole 3D and CG stuff, when FF was still a bunch of sprites, the game relied heavily on character dialogue more than some convoluted plot that spells the world’s destruction. People were drawn to those 2D sprites because the dialogue and stories of these characters make them resonate with the gamer. When I speak of dialogue, I do not mean introspective sequences but those that involve the whole party talking with each other as a group.

Tales doesn’t have a shortage of these party dialogues. I played all the PS1 Tales games and I remember that those games also had heavy character dialogue. Sometimes the characters don’t talk about the world but they talk about petty stuff and thereby revealing more and more of who they are in the process. And for me, that is the best thing going for Tales of Vesperia.

I liked the twist for Raven and Judith’s characters. I like how Karol, the kid kicked out from every guild, ended up making his own. I like how smartass Rita eventually learned to care for naive Estellise. I liked it that Repede can’t talk (even though initially I wished that the dog would!) But the true sign that Namco succeeded in developing its characters is when I started to dislike Yuri.

Yes, I disliked Yuri, the lead protagonist of Tales of Vesperia.

Yuri starts out as your cool rebel without a cause kind of guy. He was loyal, he was brave and he was too cool for you. But as the game progressed, Yuri was a character who killed other people without remorse. Granted that the ones he killed were really corrupt officials from the empire, it makes you wonder if he actually did the right thing. Yuri’s reasoning is that he needed to kill these people because they were bad to begin with and they hurt more people than they should. No one else wanted to enforce justice on these corrupt officials who could easily bribe their way through the government. So Yuri took it upon himself to enforce justice by killing these men. Yuri’s childhoold friend, Flynn, is the complete opposite. Flynn joined the empire in hopes of changing it from within. While he is not entirely successful, Flynn knew that his actions will not yield fast results but he was strong enough to keep on going because he believed that there are still some good people in the empire and he wanted to help them change it. Yuri, on the other hand, wanted nothing more but instant gratification.

Yuri and Flynn, the difference between Night and Day.


My dislike for Yuri became evident after the talk with Pharaoh. Pharaoh made it clear that Estelle’s power is causing an imbalance in the world and every time she uses that power to heal people she brings the world closer to destruction. Estelle’s naiveté was also the reason why she accidentally killed the Duce. And for a time, she went about with her own selfish mission of dragging everyone else to meet her objectives. But despite this, Yuri refused to acknowledge what Pharaoh has said. If Pharaoh simply killed Estelle, the world would be safe and the peril but Yuri refused this.

Hence, we are presented some kind of irony in the game. It’s ok for Yuri to kill corrupt officials who harm his fellow people but Yuri will not sanction murdering Estelle even if her naiveté and power can eventually bring the world to its ruin. Some people say that the difference lies in the intention of the person, which is why Yuri kills the bad guys because they fully know what they are doing while Estelle doesn’t. But on my end it certainly didn’t seem like it. Yuri was content to play the role of judge, jury and executioner all by himself but at the same time he turns a blind eye to the potential danger that his friend possesses.

In the end, I was more inclined to side more with Flynn’s point-of –views rather than Yuri. While its cool to sometimes think about going rogue and be a vigilante, in the end it means nothing because you are also propagating the violence and injustice that your enemies do. In fighting fire with fire, no wins. Flynn, in the end, was the stronger character. He never gave up on anything, even if Yuri did. Sure, he may resemble a knight in shining armor or prince charming, but his character is certain made of stronger stuff than fluff.

There are a lot of injustices in this world which we cannot change on our own. Yuri thought that he could be the one man army to do the dirty work that no one wants. And I strongly disagree with that point of view. Yes, I have felt and seen the injustice in the world, specially in my own country but I do not agree with taking matters into my own hands. The true challenge is being able to be an example of justice without bending it to your own will.

Whoa...imagine that...I actually ended up thinking of the whole theme of justice...exactly what Namco wanted. Yes the saving the world part is inevitable for any JRPG but most of the time the theme is lost in the process of saving the world. But in ToV, I still remember and everytime I see Yuri acting high and mighty, my mind was screaming ‘Hypocrite!’.

Now that’s character development at its finest. I look forward to completing the game (if I’m not too busy) and let’s see know Namco will conclude the theme of this game.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Infinite Undiscovery: Early Impressions


First impressions [I've learned my lesson from Too Human, so don't take this as a recommendation just yet...]

- The graphics are great, so far. There's this "pause" that happens when you're in combat, but it isn't really framerate stutter; it feels more like that effect in some games to emphasize the action. You know what happens when you hit something in Street Fighter II? The sprites have this odd 'pause' to put emphasis on your hits? Same thing happens in Infinite Undiscovery. I think some might construe it as framerate stutter, when it seems more like a 'special effect'.

At least that's the way I see it. The bottom line is, it didn't have any negative effects on the gameplay. So far, so good (after about 2+ hours of play)

- Great art style, well rendered environments. It has this slightly cartoony look but it's clearly a design choice (Anime-styled look overall, but not cell-shaded.)

- When I left the prison at the start of the game, there's this feeling you get of being lost in the wilderness. The paths are linear but they feel quite wide, much wider than your typical JRPG. I can see a bit of western influence in the design of the levels. It continues on up to the second area where you have to do quite a bit of exploring.

- The first puzzle (after escaping the dungeon and going to the first town)....

...is quite HARD for a player that's new to the game.

I had to consult GameFAQs to solve the first challenge. I didn't know I had to use a certain skill and use it in a certain way to solve it.

- Combat is difficult at first but I think I've figured it out a bit. Basically you're controlling only one guy (the lead guy) and barking orders at everyone else, and this all happens in real time. You CANNOT pause the action!

Heck, the game also doesn't pause if you're in your equipment/stats/items menu. So enemies can (and will) still hit you if you're perusing your items or checking your equipment/upgrades/stats etc. The only way to pause is to either press START (where you can't access your character menus or heal your guys), or to go to the game options screen (for subtitles, controls etc).

The developers of the game were clearly going after making this game a bit more challenging than your typical JRPG. The seemingly open levels (they're linear, but very wide dungeons) make it have this western influence but the art style keeps it still feeling like a Japanese RPG. The NO PAUSING gameplay mechanic, I can imagine some players will have issues with it. So far I haven't had any yet....I did notice that because of this gameplay mechanic I have not been using healing spells/potions during combat. Luckily the AI does a pretty good job of doing the healing for me, so I'm focused on the action itself.

Overall, it seems alright so far. I'll post more impressions as I go through the game.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Get ready for ANICON 2008!

Ukiya from GamEX just posted the poster for ANICON 2008 at Pinoyxbox's Events Forum.



Anicon is upon us! w00t w00t!

http://otakuzine-mag.com/

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Not this again: ROCK BAND 2 is REGION-LOCKED for US Xbox 360s.

Photobucket


Not this again.

Disclaimer: I actually own a US Xbox 360, but I also am not happy about this news. I'm not pleased to hear that ROCK BAND 2 will be Region-Locked for US Xbox 360s only.

A lot of the players in the Pinoyxbox community have Asian Xbox 360s and for good reason....they want to support what is officially the Xbox 360 for Asia, and they're benefitting from the lower-priced games. A lot of them have expressed interest in getting ROCK BAND; unfortunately, the first game was region-locked. Not everyone can afford to (EXPENSIVELY) import a second system just to play one game.

And now, I've received word that Rock Band 2 is NOT going to be region-free. I can't believe this. Rock Band on the Playstation 3 is region-free....anyone with a Playstation 3 in any part of the world can play that game. Any kind of Playstation 3 can play it (whether you bought it from Japan, the UK or the US). If you travel around the world, you don't have to deal with the hassle of knowing about region coding, let alone understanding the reasoning behind it.

So why do Xbox 360 owners around the world have to deal with this crap?

Don't give me that 'licensing for music is per-country' bullshit. If Sony can do it, why not Microsoft? Why isn't anyone attacking Sony for their region-free policy with Rock Band or every other game? How can Sony get away with it? Simply put, it doesn't make any sense that they can do it and Microsoft can't.

This region-coding thing doesn't help gamers at all. I think it isn't good for Microsoft, too. Rock Band 2 is going to be one of those games that can help win the casual gaming market for Microsoft. It's a very important game; losing an entire market of an obviously immensely profitable demographic because of some lousy region-coding issue is a horrible oversight and an absolutely incompetent business decision.

Because Rock Band 2 is region-locked on the Xbox 360: Rock Band 2 is now officially an exclusive Playstation 3 game for markets outside of the United States.

There goes another opportunity for Microsoft to gain ground in the Asian marketplace. Way to go....

Monday, September 08, 2008

Metallica: Death Magnetic coming out on Guitar Hero III / GH World Tour - THIS FRIDAY?!

Woah, talk about recognition from one of the best metal bands out there, releasing a track pack for Guitar Hero III at the same time as your album?! That's awesome!

http://biz.yahoo.com/prnews/080908/lam058.html?.v=101

Snippets of the entire press release below (including the price):

"Metallica Brings Death Magnetic to Guitar Hero(R) III: Legends of Rock This Friday to Make Music and Video Gaming History

Monday September 8, 8:30 am ET

Guitar Hero(R) to Feature Two Exclusive Versions of "Suicide and Redemption"
Downloadable Death Magnetic Album Also Forward Compatible with Upcoming Guitar Hero(R) World Tour

SANTA MONICA, Calif., Sept. 8 /PRNewswire-FirstCall/ -- In a monumental first for the gaming and music industries, Metallica's highly anticipated ninth studio album Death Magnetic will be available in its entirety as downloadable content for Activision Publishing, Inc.'s (Nasdaq: ATVI - News) Guitar Hero® III: Legends of Rock day and date with the album release this Friday, September 12. Featured on the downloadable album will be two Guitar Hero® exclusive renditions of "Suicide & Redemption" with extended solos by James Hetfield and Kirk Hammett.
Gamers looking to shred, drum and wail away to the Death Magnetic downloadable album need only purchase the content once as it is forward compatible and will integrate seamlessly with Guitar Hero® World Tour when it launches this October.

In addition to the two exclusive versions of "Suicide & Redemption," Guitar Hero fans will live out the surreal Metallica experience with: "That Was Just Your Life," "The End of the Line," "Broken, Beat & Scared," "The Day That Never Comes," "All Nightmare Long," "Cyanide," "The Unforgiven III," "The Judas Kiss" and "My Apocalypse."

"We've been working very closely with Metallica and we're extremely excited to offer Death Magnetic not only in its entirety, but also with the exclusive recordings of 'Suicide & Redemption' as downloadable content to Guitar Hero fans," said Tim Riley, Vice President of Music Affairs for Activision Blizzard. "We're proud to be setting a new precedent for our two industries, making an entire new album available in two different mediums simultaneously."

Metallica's Death Magnetic album will be available for Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock on September 12, 2008 for download on Xbox LIVE® Marketplace for Xbox 360® video game and entertainment system from Microsoft at a cost of 1440 Microsoft Points and in the PLAYSTATION®Store for the PLAYSTATION®3 computer entertainment system at a cost of $17.99. "

I've seen youtube vids of some of the songs that will be in Metallica's new album; I was quite impressed. I may not be a huge Metallica fan but they've got some great material there.

Looking forward to playing these on GH3 and GH: World Tour --- given how the press release says that the DLC is forward compatible to the upcoming GH: World Tour game!

Ninja Gaiden 2: Itagaki's Action Masterpiece


There are many, many moments where Ninja Gaiden 2 will make you wonder---"Wow, how could Itagaki possibly top that?! This....this is probably the best that this game has to offer. It's over, it's the end, it's...."

And then the game loads the next chapter and presents you with imagery that's even more mind-boggling than the last.

There's definitely some superb inspiration and creative imagination going on in Ninja Gaiden 2 (NG2). Each level leaves me constantly dazzled and impressed by the game's art style, its wickedness, and its utter brutality. It's a violent game, but at the same time there's a lot of beauty and elegance to the game's overall design. This game is an absolute masterpiece on the Xbox 360; the best representative of the action gaming genre for the current generation of consoles, and sets the bar for future action games to aspire for.

Ninja Gaiden 2 is the new standard for action gaming. Period.

On the easiest setting it offers the most manageable level of challenge for new players. Consider me a new Ninja Gaiden player; I did have Ninja Gaiden 1 (NG1) for the original Xbox, but due to an unfortunate incident (too lengthy to explain in this review) I was unable to play through that game completely. So I went into Ninja Gaiden 2 with just a one expectation:

I knew the game was going to be hard.

From the few levels I was able to play on NG1, I was constantly surprised by the intelligence of the AI. The AI had decent sets of combinations and attacks and at times felt at par with my own set of attacks.

Ninja Gaiden 2 is no different. The enemies have some great attacks and constantly present a threat to the player. They're smart on figuring out when and how to strike you, they'll even dodge and block your own attacks. You have to play against them like you would a human opponent; find openings and take advantage of patterns and weaknesses to win.

When you're being assaulted from all sides by several types of enemies, the challenge increases ten fold. Enemies will attack you at the same time (as much as possible) and in some ways they seem to be working together to take you down.

This AI behavior is apparent even on the EASIEST setting.

For me, I never found the difficulty of the AI (on the easiest setting) frustrating at all; in fact, it made the game feel like a fresh experience, completely different from the most recent action (third person melee /weapon fighting) game I've played on the Xbox 360: Devil May Cry 4. The constant challenge presented by the AI introduced a sense of danger that you rarely get these days with most games. It also makes most fights very exciting; even regular battles with henchmen or lower-ranked monsters feel like they could be your last.

Or, at the very least, you want to make it through each encounter so that you don't have to go through it again.
The game also has other features like leaderboards to make you aspire to become a better ninja warrior. One look at the friends list is all it takes to make you go at it again. Of course you want to be the best ninja there is [among your friends, at least :) ]

I also love that feeling the game gave me on my first run-through....that feeling that the scale of the game just keeps on building, and building and building....just when you think you've fought the hardest, most epic battle in the history of action gaming, the game presents you with yet another setting and situation which will put you at the edge of your seat.

The boss fights in the game are superb; they're incredible challenges that will really test your skills. At the same time, you'll feel your ability to play NG2 improve after each difficult boss encounter. I've read a complaint in other reviews that some boss fights repeat in NG2. I beg to differ in considering this a point against the game; unlike Devil May Cry 4 where the second, third, fourth....encounter with the same boss is exactly the same experience, in NG2 the game usually adds a new element to a reintroduced boss that makes it an altogether new challenge. So, there's never that sense that the game simply recycles boss characters. And there's enough variety in the styles of fighting of the boss characters to make each final fight memorable in their own right.

The game's length is just perfect, by the way. Not too long, and not too short. Individual levels are also paced right and they never get repetitive or boring.

I wonder what inspired Tomonobu Itagaki to come up with the imagery and design throughout Ninja Gaiden 2? The man is clearly a gaming prodigy, and Ninja Gaiden 2 clearly qualifies as his best masterpiece amongst all of his other games. Sadly, though, it may also be his swan song....with the recent news of the internal problems of Tecmo, and Itagaki's resignation.

:(

Towards the end of the game, I kept on thinking....what a waste for Tecmo to lose their talent at a time like this. Their best internal development team (Team Ninja) starts falling apart the moment they deliver one of the best action games ever made. It's unbelievable, honestly.

But maybe that's the way it's meant to be...A game like Ninja Gaiden 2 will never be made again. Perhaps that just makes the experience I've had with the game much more memorable.

I don't believe in scoring games because associating a number with a review just introduces unfair standards and unfair comparisons.

For Ninja Gaiden 2, I'll make an exception.

This game is a 10/10. For this generation of consoles, no other action game comes close.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Article: A Game Publisher's Perspective on the Gaming Press

I read this article today, very well written and provides a unique perspective on things. Here's a snippet:

"From The Perspective of a Game Publisher

By Anonymous Guy from Big Publisher

As someone who has worked on the marketing and PR for game publishers for many years, it’s fascinating to read Shoe and Crispin’s perspective on PR for games, and how publishers try to manipulate them to get big previews and good reviews. I have been one of those people, doing everything I can to get try game journalists to place my games on the cover of their magazines, extended previews, assets posted online and the scores as high as possible. I have pulled ad buys in protest of what I felt were unfair review scores. I have spoken to the “boss” of publications before, and complained about certain journalists. I have “banned” certain media outlets from getting pre-release access to games, because of previous unfavorable coverage.

OK, I can already hear the people posting in comments below. “Typical publisher scumbag! How dare you try to interfere with truth!”, they will cry. And they have a point. But the strategy behind a publisher’s efforts to pressure publications in the interest of a game does make sense in certain instances. Sometimes the efforts to control the message of a game comes from the most hardcore of gamers – the developers."


Click here to read the entire article.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Too Human: Too Soon

I finished Too Human a few days ago. I've been very busy lately (see previous posts....) so I haven't gotten around to posting my final thoughts on the game. Yesterday, we finally picked up Tales of Vesperia (ToV); it looks like I won't see that much action on the Xbox 360 anytime soon, because Wuffy has taken over and it doesn't look like she's letting go of that controller ....

I am looking over my shoulder and admiring the graphics on ToV....wow, we've reached the age where our games practically look and feel like 'controllable' anime. The game sure looks and sounds gorgeous! Presentation-wise, the game seems very cleanly done.

But enough first impressions about ToV....it's best to comment on it once it has been played extensively, and that is for a future blog post (from Wuffy, of course).

On to Too Human then...

Perhaps I was too hasty early on. But that's how I am with games....I'm an optimist. I try not to see what's wrong with a game; usually if there's something wrong I think on why there might be something wrong with it, or if I'm not playing the game as its designer intended. You could call me an apologist but that's how I see things. I'd rather make the most of something I got rather than complain about it, which is the approach of most game reviews/forum posts out there.

I will say that reaching the end of Too Human gave me some mixed feelings. The story is great, but the end arrives abruptly. Yes, it's been said time and again that this will be a trilogy, so a complete ending shouldn't be expected. But the game arrives to its own conclusion too soon, and it leaves behind too many story bits unexplained to leave behind a satisfying overall gaming experience.

Even with the game's seemingly abrupt end, Too Human does deserve praise for the way it tells its story and its loot system. The cutscenes in the game are truly high quality. Gamers who play games for the story will find a lot of this in Too Human. I can't stress enough how great the voice acting is in the game. It completely carries the game and made me forget about the game's flaws for the duration that I was playing it. The cutscenes have some stutter and some animation that doesn't seem smooth enough, but the voice-acting in Too Human just immerses you so well that you end up ignoring those little problems.

The system for loot that they've implemented in the game was clearly meant to have some kind of addictive quality. I like the various properties that your items can get, and like Diablo 2 the game randomizes and mixes and matches things so you don't get the same stuff twice. The game also helps you manage your inventory through an auto-salvage feature, to prevent you from being overwhelmed with all the loot that you get from each monster encounter.

After having played through the game, I've come to the conclusion that the gameplay in Too Human is just not revolutionary, despite its untraditional approach. Using sticks for fighting enemies makes the whole process easier but it also seems to disconnect you from your in-game character's actions. Part of the appeal of 'button-mashing' lies in the idea that hammering away with your thumbs on those buttons feels like you are actively participating in what your character is doing. In Too Human, you simply point your character at the monsters and watch your character attack, with your stats and equipment determining how fast you'll take down the enemies. You can put in some variety because of the various techniques you could do with the sticks; however, in the long run it provides less options to choose from for taking down your enemies.

Another issue I have with the game is the user interface and presentation. I think it can be made smoother and more friendly to new players. As it is, a hardcore player probably won't have problems navigating through the menus but they'll find it slightly awkward and frustrating since there's some kind of delay every time you move through each screen in the menus. This being an RPG, players spend most of their time looking through menus, so having a smoother user interface is crucial. Also, the game seriously needs to hold your hand a lot more, at least in the beginning of the game. It seems to be the type of game that new players might give up on easily, particularly given that its control interface is unintuitive to begin with.

Despite these problems, I want the Too Human series to continue. The story that the first game establishes is just too good to be left hanging. I like the characters. I want to know where Dyack was planning to take them. I love the Norse Mythology universe of the game, and I love the way it's intermixed with the sci-fi concepts of artificial intelligence and cybernetics. There's just so much material in Too Human that the developers can build on for the inevitable sequel....if it even gets made.

The future of the game feels doubtful; the reviews for the game were extremely negative, and having played the game myself completely, I can see why that is so. All signs point to sub-par sales for the game at retail in the United States and other countries. If it took me several tries to figure out the control scheme, I wonder how many more tries it took for gamers of varying skill levels...

In the hopes that the Too Human series will continue, here's a short list of constructive criticism for Silicon Knights / Denis Dyack for the next version of Too Human....

1. The game seriously needs a friendlier graphical user interface and feedback system
- I dislike the way the game transitions from gameplay to pause mode (where you can edit your equipment, skills etc). As it is now, the game just stops when you want to make some changes or upgrades to your character. It would be better if the transition was smoother and if there were more cues for the player when you choose certain options. Since the player spends a lot of time in the menus, the experience of upgrading your character or fixing your equipment needs to be more streamlined.

2. The game needs smoother motion-captured animation - For some reason your characters' movements don't feel very smooth. In a game where melee / weapon-based fighting plays an important role, smooth animation is needed to convey a better sense of action for the player. The problem is most apparent when you try to do a jumping attack. For some reason, the frame of animation that your character uses is the same as the standing attack animation. This makes attacking from jump feel very awkward when you execute it.

I've read about Silicon Knight's problems with Unreal Engine 3; I wonder if the problems with the animation might stem from this. I think they should just go with a completely new game engine that isn't based on UE3 so that they can overcome whatever limitations the engine is giving them.

3. Better pacing between levels - the second level of the game seems to be the longest single level in the entire game. The others are of odd length (definitely shorter than level 2) and don't really give you any breaks or changes in the action. Some could find this to feel repetitive...I will say that the second level left me extremely exhausted.

4. The game needs to hold the players' hand - Hardcore gamers usually complain about how many other games out there treat you like you're playing a certain game for the first time. Well, the truth of the matter is, if your game is not a sequel to a previous title with an established and accepted control scheme, then the player really will be playing your game for the first time. Too Human needs to give more guidance for the player; particularly given the relatively 'new' action control scheme. There are moments in the game where you don't really know what to do or where to go. Hardcore gamers might easily find their way; but it's much better to build a fanbase from new players rather than older, seasoned ones, and that won't happen if you create a game world where it seems that new players are unwelcome.

My rating for Too Human :

For the gamers on a budget - Rent it or buy it used.
For the historians - Buy it, it's a piece of history and I have a feeling the second game could make up for it, if Dyack learns to listen to criticism and feedback....and avoids posting on Neogaf entirely.

Pictures from Yesterday's ABS-CBN 'Umagang Kay Ganda' Episode

Testing the guitars before the show....

They're up next!
Here we go...



See? That wasn't so hard!

Show's still ongoing....PXB goes around for some more pictures....
The hosts want to duel it out in Guitar Hero 2's 'Sweet Child O' Mine'. Bernadette finds the game surprisingly familiar (later on she tells us she's played Rock Band already...)

Mibulan and me teaching Donita Rose how to play Guitar Hero III....
Pro-Face Off Time!

Episode ends, time for some more pics!


Next week....ROCK BAND! :D

Thursday, September 04, 2008

PINOYXBOX Guitar Hero III Finalists featured on "Umagang Kay Ganda"




Video courtesy of Angelscircle from http://www.pinoyxbox.com/

Thanks to ABS-CBN Channel 2 for inviting us over to their morning show "Umagang Kay Ganda" to talk about Guitar Hero III, the World Cyber Games 2008, and the Pinoyxbox Community. Thanks also to Manolet, Luis, Ralph, and Marlowe for coming over (yes it was extreme hassle to wake up at 3AM for this segment, but in the end it was really worth it!). We all had a great time and we're glad to have participated in the show to tell more people about the Xbox 360, Guitar Hero and the WCG.

Now this is even better news....ABS-CBN invited us again for next week's Tuesday episode of Umagang Kay Ganda. This time we were asked to feature Rockband! (With the entire set of drums, guitars and vocals). I can imagine this will be even more fun for everyone at the show! Until next week! :D

UPDATE: Holocause from Pinoyxbox also recorded the ABS-CBN episode of Umagang Kay Ganda; this time he recorded almost every single instance that GH3 or the Xbox 360 was shown throughout the course of the episode:



Thanks to Holocause from Pinoyxbox for taking the time to record and upload the video! :D

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

PINOYXBOX Guitar Hero III Finalists Featured in ABS-CBN Channel 2 Morning Show Tomorrow!



The PINOYXBOX Community and its Guitar Hero III finalists will be featured tomorrow on ABS-CBN Channel 2's Morning Show "Umagang Kay Ganda". The show airs starting at 5:30AM and ends at around 8:30AM. We don't know when exactly they'll start interviewing us but we do know the segment will be aired live tomorrow.


That means I have to get around to sleeping early...I have to wake up early at 3AM for this one :D

I think some in the PXB community will be recording the segment; hopefully they'll have it up on Youtube....

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Xbox 360 Price Drop in Japan! O_O

I was reading more about the Xbox 360 price drop in Japan...I tried converting the new prices for Xbox 360s in Japan (including for some of the 'platinum hits') to our local Philippine currency, and this is what I got:

JPY - Japanese Yen
USD - US Dollar
PHP - Philippine Peso

Prices converted as of Sept 2, 2008 at http://www.xe.com/

Xbox 360 Arcade
19,800.00 JPY = 182.860 USD = 8,475.56 PHP

Xbox 360 Premium with 60GB HDD
29,800.00 JPY = 275.1233 USD = 12,749.61 PHP

Xbox 360 Elite
39,800.00 JPY = 367.3247 USD = 17,022.81 PHP

Xbox 360 Games - 'Platinum Hits'

"Some of the system's biggest hits are also going down in price as they join the 360's growing Platinum Collection budget lineup. Gundam Musou International (Dynasty Warriors Gundam), Ace Combat 6, Beautiful Katamari Damacy, Lost Odyssey, Project Gotham Racing 4, and Assassin's Creed will join the lineup between October 23 and November 5, selling for between 2,940 yen and 3,800 yen. "

2,940.00 JPY = 27.1561 USD = 1,258.55 PHP
3,800.00 JPY = 35.1031 USD = 1,626.99 PHP

Conversion factors from xe.com as of Sept 2, 2008

Japan Yen United States Dollars
1 JPY = 0.00922926 USD = 108.351 JPY

United States Dollars Philippines Pesos
1 USD = 46.3420 PHP = 0.0215787 USD

My comment:

OMG!!!

Those are ridiculously good prices for Xbox 360 consoles and platinum hits games! For example, the Xbox 360 Elite in Japan is actually CHEAPER than the Xbox 360 20GB Falcons that are currently available locally in Greenhills! And those game prices are extremely affordable already, they're nearly at par with PC game prices here in the Philippines!

I hope that the local retailers here in the Philippines who do parallel imports/grey imports will consider reselling Xbox 360s and games imported from Japan. Consider that:

1. Asian Xbox 360 games are compatible with the Japanese Xbox 360
2. Most Japanese Xbox 360 games are compatible with the Asian Xbox 360
3. Most Japanese Xbox 360 games come with English voice/menu/text if your console is set to English

The only problem with Japanese Xbox 360s are that they're 110V, so you'd need a transformer to use them here locally. But then, it's still an inexpensive way to jump in to Xbox 360 gaming, so why not?

As it stands, these prices for consoles and games are extremely attractive to people thinking about getting a next-generation system. With the 3RL / RROD issues already being resolved with the newer Falcon hardware, and the literal flood of new games coming in the next few months, it's a great time to invest in an Xbox 360.