Guilty Gear Xrd -SIGN- First Impressions

It’s a pretty titanic moment in my “gaming career,” in my lifetime, even — although it doesn’t feel as jarring or emotional as it sounds. Having played Guilty Gear for nearly a decade, and Accent Core, which was the latest, and longest-running game in the series (approximately 2007 until 2013), it definitely was a big deal to play the next generation Xrd -SIGN- last night.

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Persona 4 Arena Ultimax Impressions

It’s been a long wait for the sequel to Persona 4 Arena, especially since there’s always plenty of Japanese footage to ogle. There’s been a surprisingly short amount of time between the JP and US disk release, so while I’ve been messing around with the overseas version leading up to Sept. 30th, I got it now, all to myself. Instead of doing a proper review, I’d rather lay out a few thoughts, informally.

If ArcSys x Atlus’s main goal was to shake things up, they dramatically succeeded. Those who hate one-hit-decisive games and thought the original Arena was like that, Ultimax is considerably amped up. Everyone seems buffed, crazier, stronger (unfortunately, some less). If full-screen supers, near-instant teleports, and often easy 4k-6k combos. Offense is still, by far, the best defense, and characters who can spam and reset easily are top-tier. This feeling goes out of the park with Shadow characters, who, once they build up the meter, can finish an opponent in one combo.

That said, the game feels even more accessible and beginner-friendly that ever. Maybe that’s just my impression, but somehow the game feels very transparent. All the special moves in the game are still just quarter circle motions, and there’s a new mechanic that does moves automatically by holding square, or A. I’d love to entice some new players, and I really enjoy teaching, but don’t think I ever stuck with a student for very long. Most of my friends just aren’t into it.

That accessibility is just a smoke shield, however. While you can easily get away with doing practical, simple combos, in order to get max damage from hits you need to sweat quite a bit. I’m speaking mainly from Yukiko’s perspective (because how could I speak for everyone’s combo learning curve). Not sure why or how, but they made her combos much harder than ever before. Whereas in the first game she had to make loops with Maragis, the ground fire, and do those while holding and letting go at the right time to release Agi explosions, this time around she has to do the same while doing insane cross-ups under the opponent and with tighter timings. Yes, to do combos with SB Agi, she needs to run under the enemy while they are popped up in the air from a Maragi and then continue the combo. It does sound hard, and the execution isn’t that insane, but the timings literally are 1-2 frames apart.

I think ArcSys is trying to layer the difficulty in Persona, and to be honest, can’t blame them. The caveat is that Yukiko can do simpler combos, but they just won’t be for that much damage. To get that highest damage or appropriate corner carry or okizeme set up really takes perfection. I suppose that’s a plus, and beginners won’t tell the difference as they do auto combos or just simpler, custom ones. The game is significantly more volatile and explosive, and some characters really amp up their damage a lot. If I can offer some critique personal to Yukiko Amagi, I think they sort of lost her character concept. Not in her combos, but her relatively weak confirms. It’s unclear what her game plan is supposed to be.

A feeling I get after playing for some time is that the matches feel really similar to one another. There’s a lot of repetition, which I’m not sure comes from a smaller number of tools or what. It’s not that the command list is small, but the game is very much about spamming and repeating what’s effective. In spite of games like Guilty Gear having characters spam things similarly, those things always felt like tools, rather than mere things to throw out. Think about Sol’s Gunflame, Baiken’s tatami, Anji’s butterfly, or Millia’s discs.

In conclusion, Persona 4 Arena Ultimax is weird, zany, explosive, and unpredictable. Anyone who’s looking for a more “sane” experience should head over to Blazblue. I didn’t play the story mode yet, just Arcade, and this time around I’m looking forward to finding out what happens in Arena. Just to see Koromaru interact with the cast. He’s so cute!

Wot I’ve Been Up To

The reason for my Rock, Paper, Shotgun-inspired title is because I applied there recently, as they’ve had an opening. In any case, thought I’d finally update this forsaken blog. And restore it from such status. Reminds of the Forsaken in WoW. I’m thinking about stopping playing WoW.

I wrote about PAX East sometime ago, specifically about the diversity side of it. In July, I happened to be in San Francisco, just in time to attend GaymerX2, the second gaming convention specifically tailored for LGBTQ folk. It was quite, quite small, as far as conventions go, taking up three relatively little rooms with narrow hallways. Somehow, I didn’t really draw in the atmosphere and the awesomeness that I’ve seen many of the attendees rave about. Maybe it’s because I didn’t go with any friends and didn’t make any friends there. That would be the main reason, I think. But in any case, I still attended some great panels and listened to a few famous speakers, as well as played a few indie games.

Those are some of my new posts at IndieGameMagazine, but there’s also our monthly digital magazine. It’s not very expensive, and it brings back at least a little bit of that joy of monthly gaming publications. And it supports IGM directly, so it’s the best thing you can do if you care about games writing and particularly the indie kind. Check it out here.

As for me, I’ve also been doing a part-time internship downtown Chicago covering the human resources industry. It sounds very boring, but it’s paid, and that’s what I need right now. The company is called Human Capital Media, and they have four different magazines, and I have articles under each one. This is valuable experience, and something I can do that’s different from gaming.

When it comes to games, there really aren’t any that I’m particularly excited about. I still play Blazblue and Guilty Gear, and although Blazblue is getting a new update soon, I’m yearning a little more to upcoming Persona 4 Arena 2, which beefs up the cast as well as the soundtrack, which is intriguing to me. Other than that, I’m trying a little bit to get off games that require commitment, like Diablo 3 and WoW, and go for experiences that are actually finite. I’ve started replaying Neverwinter Nights and planning to write a post on that soon. I should finally get to Journey as well. I know right, I didn’t play it yet. I have a catching up list, and am getting on it. Till next post!

Stepping into Indie Games Territory

I write on the blog so infrequently, I want to start every post with “it’s been a while.” But actually, it’s been sometime since I gave a personal update, but this was a good thing. I’ve been busy writing and working for Indie Game Magazine, for approximately four months now.

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Diablo 3 Reaper of Souls Impressions

March 25th has been a long-awaited date because of two game releases: Blazblue Chrono Phantasma US version, and the Diablo 3 expansion, Reaper of Souls. Since I’ve been playing BBCP all the way from October, with the JP release, I’ll write some things about RoS, especially because I didn’t even buy the other game yet. 😦

For one thing, if you’re one of the “returned” (who came back to playing D3 thanks to the novelty of the 2.0 loot) and started playing recently, did you realize that you’ve actually been playing the expansion this whole time? Indeed, this was a sly, but quite clever strategy from Blizzard. All the systems were already in place for the expansion, with the expansion-exclusive content locked, of course. So Adventure mode, the Crusader class, and even level 61 skills and new passive ones were all grayed-out, but viewable in game. The loot and everything else functioned the same. This was harmless for the most part, except for a few notes: wizards like me noted that sometimes level 61 items dropped (wizard sources in particular), meaning, you couldn’t even hope to equip them. Another thing, rather just in my case, was the “Adventurer’s Journal” item, which is a legendary crafting material that dropped for me a whooping five times. The annoying thing? It’s used to craft a level 70 legendary gloves, for which you also need to find the recipe.

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5 People in the Industry I’d Like to Meet

Why not make a random list highlighting people in the games industry I find awesome? Who knows, maybe they’ll read it one day! Nah, of course, not counting on that, but I still want to showcase a few individuals whose work is extraordinary to me and whom I admire.

5. Daisuke Ishiwatari
This awesome Japanese person is the mastermind behind the Guilty Gear series, pretty much my favorite fighting games. His genius cannot be understated, as he designed some quite amazing, outlandish, and unique characters. What’s more, he’s a great composer, having created a great assortment of tracks for all games, as well as for BlazBlue.
Meeting him would be pretty surreal. I think we’d either sit in a cafe and talk about completely random things or hang around playing Guilty Gear.

4. Hideo Kojima
Does this guy really need introduction, this Metal Gear mastermind? All I can say, from what I can see on his Twitter, we’d go eat something awesome.

3. Mattie Brice
Mattie is a games critic and designer, Mainichi being probably her most known work. Moreover, she champions inclusiveness and equality of non-mainstream folks, like LGBT individuals, as well as their fair representation in our favorite medium. How awesome is that?
Additionally, she was one of the co-founders of re/Action, which is a small gaming publication. Among its goals was not only shedding light on the marginalized, but also fighting for fair compensation to the less-than-stellarly-paid video game journalists. We need more people like her!

2. Patrick Seitz
This guy pops up everywhere. He’s a voice actor in numerous video games and animes. He makes an amazing voice for Ragna the Bloodedge from the BlazBlue series. His voice is perfect for tough, somewhat younger males. For me and my brother, it’s become a game: “where is Ragna going to pop up next?” His voice is so recognizable and so prevalent that even when watching a random Japanese movie, Summer Wars, you can find Seitz in it. I think I would just make this guy do lines all day (although he’s an awful dirty mouth in the newest BlazBlue).

1. Leigh Alexander
It’s hard to describe this video game journalist extraordinaire; it’s even harder to list all the places where she pops up. Gamasutra, Kotaku, Edge, The Atlantic, Slate, Columbia Journalism Review, are just the ones from the top of my head. But more than her overflowing work capacity, I love Alexander’s writing. It’s evocative in its most delicious sense, where everything she writes perfectly captures the emotion. It would be an honor to meet her or talk to her.

Storytelling in Fighting Games

I decided to make this blog more of a scientific study of two story experiments, with two test subjects I am well versed in: the worlds of Blazblue and Soul Calibur.
Case 1: Creating a universe and weaving it into the gameplay: The Wheel of Fate

Blazblue: Calamity Trigger splashed onto the fighting stage in 2009 from the masterworks of ArcSys. Distinguished by its markedly anime style and sharply-defined characters, its story mode was hardly innovative, yet fairly robust. The narrative was driven by individual characters: each one had its own chapter, with different outcomes dependent on gameplay actions and decisions.

The clever writing many a times plummeted into anime tropes, with conventional but spirited dialogue and fan service jutting out. ArcSys’s style, echoing its predecessor Guilty Gear, follows an interesting blueprint: make the story as confusing as possible, leave hints throughout to piece tales together, until each story is cleared and “True Ending” is unlocked, providing canonical closure for the whole game and unifying the individuals’ fates. Only then can some sense be made of the torrent of backstory and parallel narratives.

Example (simplified): Ragna, the main character, is a wanted criminal. He goes to each town to kill Murakumo units, a type of weapons develop by Librarium scientists. He eventually makes it to the Kagustuchi (town that’s the game’s setting) and, in a grueling duel, falls to a pit called “cauldron,” entwined with a robotic, psychotic enemy who vaguely represents his dead sister. We get a message that the world is destroyed. And this was the “good” ending for Ragna. It’s not until later that you learn that failing into the cauldron means the end of the world, which then is reset, and the timeline starts over again. Eventually, as conditions shift more favorably with each new timeline, in the True Ending Ragna overcomes his foe, the world is protected, and time goes on.

All that was much harder to figure out than it sounds. The story was much more well-written than GG’s, but even after watching the True Ending, I was very confused about many of the events that transpired and had to look at a guide. Continuum Shift, as in Blazblue 2, was quite similar in terms of the story blueprint but was better written and more easy to figure out – great for them. Blazblue definitely wins in terms of having a unifying narrative that provides a rich backstory for every character, giving players mere crumbs of information as they piece intricate relationships between the cast. It cast away the older fighting game convention of having Arcade Mode serving as story, and having an individual victory storyline for whomever won.

One more thing about Blazblue: a great way that the makers tie the story to the gameplay is through sound: music and voice acting. Certain matchup have a special music theme, and many pairings have specific, individualized quotes that really bring out the character relationships. Who can forget the classic Jin vs. Noel: “You’re no longer my superior, Jin Kisaragi! You’re under arrest!”?

Case 2: Lack of uniformity, staying in convention: A Tale of Souls and Swords…

The Soul series is a veteran over young Blazblue, so it’s harder to define, since story modes were fairly different from each installment. A conflict surrounding a demonic blade, set in the 16th century, the key strength of the game are the flagship, memorable characters: the fallen knight Siegfried, the demonic pirate Cervantes, sex-bomb-ninja Taki, and manic human-Twister Voldo, for example. The series having a nearly 15-year-legacy now, it’s safe to say that it’s the characters who keep veterans happy and at home with each new installment, even if the cast does change up and modes in each game vary.

I really enjoyed the Weapon Master mode in Soul Edge, even though I was very young and did not care to read much text (I also didn’t know English very well). Each character had his or her individual path, displayed on the world map, intertwined with a book with written dialogue and narration. What really stood out where the battles, with fun conditions: win with Critical Edge, Guard Impact your opponent, win with throws, under 16 seconds, and so on. Rewards were new weapons, complete with stats, and that also was a very enjoyable aspect of the game.

Soul Calibur 2’s story was mostly a disappointment. In terms of gameplay, the Weapon Master mode triumphed, but it didn’t matter which character was used and the text narration between chapters was a snooze. The 3rd installment returned to the Soul Edge’s formula, with map-based progression and choices. However, the animations and cut-scenes quickly lost their appeal as many of them repeat for multiple characters. As for Soul Calibur 4, it hardly had a story – rather just Arcade style intro and outro.

What hurts to see is that there isn’t very much story content in any of the games. The Soul series largely followed the traditional Arcade-style, this-is-what-would-happen-if-I-won endings, although by doing some reserach on Wikis one can find canon, “agreed-upon” endings and much background story to characters. It’s a shame though that a lot of that is not included in the game, but only available to those who seek outside sources.

Now, about the most recent addition. The story of the latest installment seemed really promising: picking up 17 years after the last game, with intriguing introductions of Sophitia’s children and the next generation of characters.. Conversely to other games, this time the story mode was a unified, stage-like progression in which the player assumes control of a few characters, as directed by the game. It was disappointing to see this promising advancement in the Soul universe turn out to be a shoddy, slideshow-like melodrama, with approximately 70 percent of the cast missing. It’s not that we’re asking for a Baldur’s Gate-quality plot; but at least a chance to see fan favorites and what happens to them. However, it’s the presentation of the story that hurts it the most.

Conclusion: Another case (?) and refutation

It’s worth mentioning the latest Mortal Kombat’s story mode. Unfortunately, I have not played it, merely watched a little on Youtube, but it seemed to be what Soul Calibur V should have been. It’s the same concept: a single story line, driven by characters handed to you, but told with cinematics and flair, not hand-drawn illustrations and voice-overs.

Finally, I’d like to refute a possible counterargument to this whole “good story in fighting games.” Many people do say that “it’s just a fighting game” “who cares about the story” and so on. That’s the start of a cycle, though. Gamers don’t care enough stories in fighting games, do developers end up doing a half-hearted job. And because they did a half-hearted job, gamers say that the games are only about fighting since stories are not good anyway. In the end, I definitely am happy with fighting games having the longetivity and the e-sports that surround them, but when the company ends up botching the single player content, the product as a whole looks worse and is also a disservice to loyal fans of the franchise.