I’ve had my PlayStation 3 over a year now, and during that time I’ve enjoyed Heavy Rain, Infamous, and Uncharted, but the game that I’ve had the best time with is Valkyria Chronicles. I hadn’t even heard of the game until a friend shoved it in my hands, and it ended up being my First Hour of the Year and now my favorite game on the platform.
Valkyria Chronicles is nearly a perfect execution of all aspects of a video game. The gameplay is a fun and addicting mix of strategy and action, the graphics have a lovely anime-style to them, the presentation is flawless, the story is an interesting riff on World War I, the voice acting is actually great most of the time, and the soundtrack has a grand bluster to it that makes everything else better. And to top it all off, Valkyria Chronicles was developed by Sega. Sega!
I will admit, the game took me quite a long time to beat, over six months with about 40 hours of actual gaming (I’ve put more time than that into Xenoblade Chronicles in the last month). It wasn’t because I didn’t enjoy the game, but because Valkyria Chronicles seemed to require a certain amount of minimum playtime to really get into it. Even one hour free didn’t feel like enough for one sitting. Weird how that is for some types of games.
I loved Borderlands 1, but was always little cool on its downloadable content. The Zombie Island of Dr. Ned was a tedious addition with boring enemies, and Mad Moxxi’s Underdome Riot was just an endless barrage of arena battles, better tuned for testing weapons out than actually having fun. So while I also loved Borderlands 2, I was very leery about its additional content available for purchase.
But Nate treated me to the season pass, and a few weekends ago Steve and I took down the first DLC released, Captain Scarlett and Her Pirate’s Booty (there’s a pun in there somewhere). Turns out this release is a much more traditional release featuring a half dozen new zones, a bunch of new enemies, over 20 new missions, a new vehicle, and at least one raid boss (okay, there’s two, but we couldn’t beat the first one).
There’s honestly a ton of content here for a DLC, it probably took us about five hours to reach the first raid boss and lose to him a couple of times, so you’ll certainly feel like you got your money’s worth. But at the same time, it’s kind of a slog. All the new missions are self contained in the new Oasis zones so there’s a ton of backtracking and retreading ground. The central hub is also kind of out in the middle of nowhere, and if it wasn’t for the new skiff, would be exceedingly obnoxious to get to. This is one of those cases where there just might be too much.
When I first heard that Level-5 and Studio Ghibli were teaming up to make a JRPG in all sense of the acronym, I thought the following: wow, so awesome, but never gonna reach the States. But here I am, covering the first hour of Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch. Call me surprised, call me ecstatic.
To start, I am a huge fan of what both companies produce, ever since seeing Studio Ghibli’s Kiki’s Delivery Service, Howl’s Moving Castle, and Spirited Away (still haven’t seen Ponyo or Arrietty yet, wah) and losing myself in the wonder that is Miyazaki’s limitless imagination. On the flipside, Level-5 has been in my life for many years now, giving me fantastic timesinks like Dark Cloud 2, Dragon Quest VIII, Rogue Galaxy (yes, I enjoyed Rogue Galaxy, so back off), and more recently the Professor Layton puzzle games. Level-5 is great at stuffing games with things to do, and Studio Ghibli’s strength is in telling a story where rules do not apply, and together it seems like they could create something powerfully wonderful. Maybe even take over the world. I love what these companies do so much that I purposely went out and bought a PlayStation 3 to play Ni no Kuni.
With that heavy bias out of the way now, let’s see what I think of their joint concoction.
So many video game movies are such serious affairs. Not so much serious as in humorless conversions (though those certainly exist), but serious as in serious business: the producer stands by checking off things that will make a successful video game a successful video game movie. Hitman, Prince of Persia, Tomb Raider, Doom, the list goes on. And generally these fall flat, they don’t ring true to the built-in gamer audience and they certainly don’t draw in regular movie-goers.
I recently rewatched Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, which isn’t really a video game movie, but thanks to a snappy script filled with gaming references and action scenes that pay homage to the 8-bit classics of our youth, it bucks the system. Instead of a video game based in reality, Scott Pilgrim is reality based in a video game. This idea inspired me to find at least one other entry in this genre, and I discovered Video Game High School.
You get what you expect in Video Game High School: a high school about video games. Set in a world where e-sports make headline news and its players are superstars and celebrities, VGHS imagines a Hogwarts-like school where potential prodigies are invited to learn about music games and try out for FPS Varsity. While not as sharply written or acted as Scott Pilgrim, it still manages to be a really fun two hours.
In 2012, I finally tried every single game in my backlog. All the dregs from Steam sales and Humble Bundles, all those free 3DS Virtual Console "ambassador" games, even all the junk in Sonic's Ultimate Genesis Collection. Then I built my first gaming PC and bought even more. As you can imagine, I played a lot of games in 2012. Just as I did in 2011 and 2010.
Because we all love lists, here's mine: all the games I played in 2012.
My writing pace has slowed to a halt the last month. I might have burned myself out a bit at the end of 2012, and the new year has allowed me to erase any kind of guidelines or deadlines I was imposing on myself. With Nate and the other writers’ help, I always tried to publish three times a week, but I’ll be honest and say it’s just not in me like it used to be. Maybe it’s temporary, it probably is, but for now, I don’t mind taking it a bit easier. This is my hobby after all.
And most of that time not spent writing has gone into video games! Yeah, those! (Also reading, a lot of reading.) Maybe I’ll declare 2013 the year of the catch up, even though 80% of the games I beat last year weren’t released last year as it is. But my backlog is huge and the only game I’m really interested in on the near horizon is Bioshock Infinite, so now’s as good as time as any.
As for Deus Ex: Human Revolution? It was a good game, problematic at times, but an experience worth putting at least a few hours into, and at about 24 hours long, probably worth finishing. I’m not sure how much I have to say about it that hasn’t already been said by our own Paul Abbamondi, let alone everyone else, so I’ll keep this short and to the point... starting now.
I guess 2012 was the year of catching up. I only beat six games released last year, but nearly 20 from an earlier time. Here's my rankings for all the games I beat last year, the good news is that I at least liked almost every single one.
You can also check out last's year list.
Predictions are back! After this exhausting 2012 Game of the Year week, let's settle into something a little more fun. 2013 could be a huge year for the gaming industry: a new PlayStation and Xbox are likely, the Wii U is just getting off the ground, and the fabled Steam Box could become a reality. Bask in our probably terrible predictions on release dates, exclusive games, and even price of new systems!
There's no science to any of this, and if you have your own predictions feel free to post them in the comments. Depending on how right or wrong we are we may revisit our foresights at the end of 2013, it could be entertaining.
Announcing the 2012 Game of the Year Awards from First Hour!
Day Four features Game of the Year and Most Anticipated for 2013 Awards! Plus shoutouts!
Announcing the 2012 Game of the Year Awards from First Hour!
Day Three features Game of the (Other) Year, PC Game, Console Game, and Portable/Mobile Game of the Year Awards!