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The Last Story

Full Review

Last Story CoverThere’s a narrow alley tucked into a corner of the industrial castle town, hidden behind the bustling Arena Square. Armorsmiths and swordcrafts crowd the path, talking shop and hawking wares to passersby in a gaunt corridor of tiny workrooms. In the alley’s only empty corner, a lean brute presses an elderly shopkeep against the grimy concrete and slyly demands a cut of profit.

It’s a place foul with sweat and industry. It swelters with forge and struggle. A stroll from end to end offers a glimpse of the desperation that is life for these lower class tradesman. They fight for survival, crammed into a corner of the last thriving city on the last prospering island in a rotting world.

The locals call this slum strip Artisan’s Way. It has an effortless narrative density that's so refreshing to see in a JRPG. The Last Story could have been about this place. It’s not. The Last Story is about a vampiric meteor that shoots giant lasers.

The Last Story

First Hour Review

Last Story CoverOperation Rainfall strikes again.

The fan campaign that convinced Nintendo of America to actually publish a hardcore Wii game this year can now celebrate its second victory. Another high profile Wii game found its way to the USA last month, though leery NOA decided to pass the risk of publishing to Xseed Games this time around.

The Last Story is the latest game from director Hironobu Sakaguchi and composer Nobuo Uematsu, the duo that made Final Fantasy an institution (and vice versa). It’s hard to believe a publisher would refuse to localize a game with those two names attached, but Nintendo’s no stranger to unbelievable decisions.

I'd been waiting for this game to hit the USA for over two years. Then I had to wait even longer when my copy was put on backorder for a month after it finally launched. Here’s hoping it was worthwhile.

Tales of Graces f

Full Review

Tales of Graces f CoverIt was four minutes into Tales of Graces f that I met the amnesiac with the impossible purple pigtails. She didn't know who she was, or where she came from, or anything really. She was a deadly martial artist, but nearly walked right off a cliff. Later she asked the meaning of the word "friend." I threw up in my mouth a little and realized that Graces f would be a tale quickly forgotten. In hindsight, I guess the cover art should have served as warning.

But if the whole game boiled down to waiting for the kid in the Elvis getup to realize that the king is possessed by a demon, I wouldn't have played it for almost ninety hours. Yes, a lot of time is wasted running errands through copy-paste corridors while the characters say how they feel and explain magical jargon. But then you run into a giant spider, and the kids' anime story melts away for a few seconds of glorious battle.

I'll even say that Tales of Graces f has my favorite RPG combat, taking the crown from predecessor Tales of Symphonia. Graces f layers new abilities and limitations onto Symphonia's melee-and-magic arena skirmishes, and the end result is a more dynamic structure that makes earlier games in the series look like button mashing. It's also complicated as hell.

Shinobi

Half-Hour Handheld

Shinobi 3ds CoverNintendo takes a lot of crap for its reluctance to provide even rudimentary online features, and rightfully so. But I have to admit, I'm a big fan of the Virtual Console service on Wii and 3DS. The convenience of having Super Mario Bros 3, Super Mario World, and Super Mario 64 all in the same tiny system was too much for me to ignore: I happily bought them all even while their systems and cartridges were mere feet away from my TV.

It's more rewarding, though, to discover classics that I missed out on as a kid. One such game was Shinobi III: Return of the Ninja Master. Though I owned a Genesis as a kid, all I ever played were Sonic games. Cutting through the excellent ninja sidescroller via the Wii's emulation service, I felt as though I'd rectified a childhood oversight.

Retro revivals are all the rage, and Shinobi's getting in on the action on 3DS. The new game is a prequel, simply called "Shinobi" in accordance with the entertainment industry's efforts to confound posterity by recycling the same titles over and over again. Judging from the low poly character models, I actually suspect Shinobi 3DS actually began development on Nintendo's last generation DS and was hastily upgraded. But hey, it's not the visuals that matter to me, it's the tough-but-fair sidescrolling action. Let's see if that's still intact.

Tales of Legendia

First Hour Review

Tales of Legendia CoverAs you might expect from someone whose primary consoles went from Genesis to N64 and Gamecube, Japanese RPGs have never been my forte. Though I've played bits and pieces of many, I'm having a hard time thinking of a traditional JRPG cast in the menu-driven, Final Fantasy mold that I've started and finished all by myself. Chrono Trigger may be the only title that comes to mind.

Many of the RPGs from the land of the rising sun that I've completed are better described as Action RPGs (The World Ends With You, Mario & Luigi series). And if I had to name a favorite, it would probably be Tales of Symphonia. This Gamecube exclusive from Namco quickly enamored me with its excellent mix of real time combat and menu-based management. I don't think I'd ever had so much fun in a JRPG: the exciting dodges, blocks, and combos in brawls on the front lines were perfectly complemented by magic, item, and strategy commands for party members through the pause menu. It's the finest marriage of Action and RPG I've come across.

I've only played the two Symphonia-branded titles in the storied Tales series, so I decided it was time to pick up another. I remembered hearing about Tales of Legendia for the PS2 back when it hit shelves for the first time, so I figured I'd pick it up now that I'm in the mood for a fat, juicy adventure. Does it live up to its franchise name, or is this Tale not worth the time?

Devil May Cry 3: Dante's Awakening

First Hour Review

Devil may cry 3 CoverThe video game industry isn't as surprising as we'd like to think. Sequels rule the sales charts, and even new IPs tend to be paint jobs of proven gameplay schemes. It's easy to point the finger at developers and publishers, but let's take a look at a few of the bigger gambles that companies have taken with their properties.

Back in 2001, the first footage for the next Legend of Zelda caused some serious uproar when, rather than an updated Ocarina of Time fantasy setting, the new game went with a wholly cel-shaded, cartoony art style. Many had been won over by the charming new Link by the game's release, but I bet that just as many swore off Nintendo for good after this "kiddie" debacle. Later in 2001, those who had recently purchased Metal Gear Solid 2 were appalled to find the game had pulled a bait-and-switch, tossing the series' longtime protagonist Solid Snake aside within the first hour of the game for a never before seen pretty boy. The ensuing explosion of discontent was megaton in proportion.

Nintendo and Konami have had their share of death threats on message boards for these switcheroos, and now it seems Capcom's neck is on the chopping block. The long-rumored Devil May Cry 5 was finally made public at TGS 2010 as "DmC," and fans were shocked to see that it would reboot the series with a new, barely recognizable, adolescent punk version of cocky anti-hero protagonist Dante. Further, Capcom itself isn't even spearheading the development of the title, leaving Heavenly Sword developer Ninja Theory in charge. The response has been almost entirely negative.

Amidst all the noise on message boards and in video comments, I realized I hadn't spent any quality time with the old Dante myself, despite how much I enjoyed the modern Ninja Gaiden action games that are often compared to the Devil May Cry series. I borrowed a copy of the franchise's most acclaimed game, Devil May Cry 3 (which also happens to be the earliest in the series timeline) to serve as my official introduction to the outrageous half-demon. It's hard to empathize with the gamer rage that DMC fans feel at the moment, but will I change my tune after walking a mile in the old Dante's boots?

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