My JRPG Localization Wishlist

Blog Post

Tales of Graces CoverFor years, Japan was the dominating force in the games industry. Ever since Nintendo blasted onto the scene in the eighties, it's always been my opinion that the developers in the land of the rising sun have had the edge on everyone else. The Atari age has long since given way to names like Nintendo, Sega, Sony, Capcom, Konami, Square, and so many others. If I made a list of my hundred favorite games, I'd be willing to bet that seventy or more of them come from Japan.

These days, however, the tide has shifted. The worldwide yearning for platformers and action games and traditional RPGs has been eclipsed by the first person shooter and sports game markets, two genres that Japanese developers are woefully unfamiliar with. Only the top games in each genre outside of Halo clones and Madden wannabes can make bank anymore, and developers are starting to play it safe with what they bring to the table. One genre affected by this trend is the JRPG, which has always had a focus in Japan, but also branched out to the world stage more often than not. These days, however, it seems Japan's favorite genre seems to be transforming more and more into Japan's shyest genre, rarely coming out to say hi to the rest of us.

In a rather shocking revelation, I've actually managed to find a hearty list of JRPGs that I pine for. I've never been the genre's biggest supporter, which doesn't surprise me in retrospect considering I never owned a SNES, Playstation, or Playstation 2 during their primes. However, I hereby pledge to buy any of the following games that come to America. I said the same thing about Tatsunoko vs. Capcom, thinking it would have no chance of arriving; I made good on my promise, bought TvC: Ultimate All Stars, and loved it. So it's on you now, localization teams. Make it happen.

The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess

First Hour Review

Legend of Zelda Twilight Princess CoverIt's hard for me to go an entire year without playing some Legend of Zelda game, heck, just the first half of this year included Spirit Tracks and The Minish Cap, so why not feature the first hour of another? The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess was released in 2006 on the Nintendo Wii and GameCube. It was originally going to be for just the GameCube, but Nintendo thought it would make for a great launch title on the Wii (which it did, got me to buy the system), so then the GameCube release was delayed a month to let sales of the Wii version have free reign.

Twilight Princess went on to win game of the year awards and was generally praised around the industry for its gameplay and presentation. For the sake of full disclosure, I beat Twilight Princess within a few weeks of its release on the Wii and have mixed feelings about the game. It's been almost four years though since I've played it so here is its second chance with me in the form of the first hour review of The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess for the Wii.

Mario Strikers Charged

Full Review

Mario Strikers Charged CoverProfessional athletes who excel at multiple sports are understandably rare. The ideal body proportions of an offensive lineman and a power forward are basically inverse. The abilities and skills required by a closing pitcher and a starting goaltender are worlds apart. And who could possibly have enough time to devote their training and competitive passion to two separate sports seasons that last six months or more each year? Ask a sports buff if any athletes have made an impact on two different sports, and they'll probably answer with Bo Jackson, Deion Sanders, and possibly Michael Jordan with a sneer.

Ask a gamer, however, and the only answer will be Mario. Ever since the platforming plumber took up golf in 1991's NES Open Tournament Golf, Mario's been blazing a trail across athletic endeavors that none could possibly match, serving up scorchers with his tennis racket in one hand and palming a basketball in the other. The Italian even competes under his own personal flag in both the Summer and the Winter Olympic Games. And next year, Mario will be adding Dodgeball to his list with the launch of Mario Sports Mix, which will also feature the gaming icon's return to Volleyball, Hockey, and Basketball. Even with his talents spread so thin, critics have mostly praised Mario's spinoff sports titles for their sufficient gameplay and charming Mushroom Kingdom aesthetic.

Somebody forgot to tell Next Level Games about that Mushroom Kingdom charm, however, as the Canadian developer decided to go a drastically different route for their take on Mario playing Soccer, Mario Strikers Charged. Sure, Mario and his assortment of friends with mustaches and crowns all show up, as do the requisite mushrooms, shells, and stars, but something seems to have deeply upset the usually benevolent bunch: smiles turn to scowls, frilly dresses are traded for form-fitting battle armor, and the good-natured teasing is replaced with some outright lewd gestures. The tone may have taken a turn for the drab, but there is still plenty of fun to be had with this bizarre Mario Sports title.

LEGO Harry Potter: Years 1-4

First Hour Review

Lego Harry Potter Years 1 4 CoverI’ve played every LEGO videogame made so far. Of all my videogames on the Xbox 360, only the LEGO games have the esteemed honor of having all their Achievements unlocked. I played them to completion as fast as possible, almost as if in a fever. If they made LEGO Schindler’s List, I’d probably play it. Same goes for LEGO Requiem for a Dream. The point I’m making here is that I love these games, and I’m twenty-six, and I’m not afraid to admit that they are just my cup of OCD tea.

Conversely, I’m also a huge Harry Potter fan. I’m one of those rare folks that actually read the first three books before the first movie came out and became a worldwide sensation. I had the sixth book spoiled for me on a Lord of the Rings TCG forum. I read the last book in less than 24 hours, locked up in my parents’ basement, only coming up once to eat dinner and not talk to anyone. The movies are hit or miss in my mind, but the world and characters and magic of it all is something I can’t get enough of. Neither can my fiancée. We’re getting married this October and heading to Universal Studios on our honeymoon to check out the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

I’ve been excited about this merging of two great entities since I first read about it. I always expected the next universe to be LEGO-ized to be Spider-Man’s. My expectations are high, and after having played the demo that was recently released I have no fears that the first hour for LEGO Harry Potter: Years 1-4 will be anything but spectacular.

Memorable Ideas from Forgettable Games - The Poker Race

Gaming Nostalgia

Excitebots CoverSome games are unforgettable. After forking over our birthday money at K-Mart, we bounce all the way home in the backseat of the station wagon, wrestle the plastic wrap away from the box, gingerly place the game in the system, and steady our feverishly shaking hands with an anaconda grip on the controller. We don't let go for hours. And when the credits roll, we tear up a little, knowing we'll always cherish that first time through.

And then there are games that are largely forgotten weeks after release. Niche appeal, scathing reviews, or even just lack of hype can doom a game to obscurity and the Target bargain bin. But even these games deserve a second look...sometimes. Every once in a while, a kernel of brilliance can be found within these steaming piles of mediocrity. The purpose of this feature is to sift out some of these conceptual gems and put them under the microscope.

Today we'll deal out the Poker Races from ExciteBots: Trick Racing, and see how easy it can be to add layers of strategy to a game by simply cramming another game into it.

Super Mario Galaxy

First Hour Review

Super Mario Galaxy CoverI'll be the first to admit this review is rather ill-timed, heck, I've already published my full review of Super Mario Galaxy 1, and Nate's first hour of Super Mario Galaxy 2 is already up!  But I had this stored up for the right moment, and unfortunately that right moment came and went a few weeks ago, so the new right moment is now.  Better late than never.

I loved Super Mario Galaxy, what an awesome game.  I didn't even have a chance to really play it until this year, but it still astounded me, the only game on the Wii that has.  I already talked about why I love the game, but here's how I started loving the game.  My impressions of the game's first hour, at the time it had a lot of work to do on me.  I worshiped Super Mario 64 in my early teens but could never get into Super Mario Sunshine.  The game sat on my shelf for months until I finally returned it to my friend.  So here was another 3D Mario game that I didn't really care about playing, but of course I was going to give it a shot when the opportunity arose.

So sorry this is late, but there is always someone out there who hasn't been exposed to Super Mario Galaxy, and here is it's first hour review, just for you.

The QTE plague: What hath God of War wrought?

Blog Post

Resident Evil 4 CoverQuick Time Events. So many games have used them to some extent in the last five years that just about every gamer has an opinion on them. Mine is that they are the worst gameplay gimmick to take the industry by storm in a long time, and I wouldn't mind seeing them all packed into a burlap sack filled with leeches and thrown into the depths of a volcano. They're tacky, they're unintuitive, and their attempts to engage players in cinematic animations backfire and break the sense of immersion one has with a game. And unfortunately for me, they're just about everywhere these days.

Two behemoths let loose in early 2005 can be thanked -- or blamed -- for the salvo of games that have featured QTEs in the last five years. The first, with a January 11 release date, was Resident Evil 4. The game was extremely well-received: it won many Game of the Year awards, offered a fresh take on the aging Resident Evil formula, and gave Gamecube owners a third-party exclusive worth bragging about. The other member of the gruesome twosome that brought us into the era of QTEs is known as God of War. Released just two months after Resident Evil 4, the game received just as many accolades and turned heads back to the PS2 as quickly as they'd been lost to the Gamecube's horror hit. Is it any wonder that the industry went in the direction it did when two such monumental successes as these both prominently featured a relatively unused gameplay gimmick?

Today we'll take a look at how the smart use of QTEs helped put these two games on the map, and watch a few examples of QTEs gone wrong. And trust me, there was a huge pool of resources for the latter.

Super Mario Galaxy 2

First Hour Review

Super Mario Galaxy 2 CoverFor all its talk of innovation this generation, Nintendo seems to be falling back on its old tricks like never before. Alongside its Wii Sports Resort and Wii Fit Plus, Nintendo announced two games at E3 2009 that surprised the videogame community: New Super Mario Bros Wii and Super Mario Galaxy 2.

What's that I hear you say? "Big deal! How are new Mario games a surprise?" Well, New Super Mario Bros. Wii is the first 2D Mario game to hit a console since Super Mario World, just under nineteen years ago. And Super Mario Galaxy 2 is the first direct sequel to a Mario game since Super Mario Bros. 3, just over twenty years ago. Nintendo may be feeding casual gamers with one hand, but it's got plenty of snacks for Mario lovers in the other.

New Super Mario Bros. Wii was set loose upon the world last November, and continues to sell like Wii-branded hotcakes well into this year. But Nintendo held Super Mario Galaxy 2 off until this summer, ensuring that they have a full three years to create bold new worlds for Mario to explore. Is the Galaxy worth revisiting, or was one trip to the cosmos enough?

Iron Man 2

Full Review

Iron man 2 CoverSequels. Comic franchises converted to video games. Movie tie-ins. Studios closing their doors. Needless to say, there are a lot of barriers that can narrow the odds of producing a high quality title. It would seem that Iron Man 2 was forced to hurdle all of them. As I mentioned in my recent First Hour review of Iron Man 2, its predecessor was critically panned. But did it deserve it? Or did it fall prey to the echo chamber of hate that often befalls licensed products and spin offs? The truth is, Iron Man had it’s problems. From unwieldy controls to frame rate issues, it seemed like it stumbled each time it would just get up to speed. But it had moments of fun, high intensity super hero action that carried one through to each subsequent mission. Going into a sequel, one assumes that Sega Studios San Francisco, the developer behind both titles would make an effort to improve the failings of the original while trying to maintain those things they got right the first time. The question is, did they pull it off?

After sitting in on the developer conference call for Iron Man 2, I was hopeful that things were looking good. They talked about a dedication to listening to fans, and to implementing those lessons they learned from user feedback on the first game. They talked about simplified controls, vast levels, destructible environments and deep customization. They touted a boss that is “bigger than any boss in any game ever”. And War Machine. War Machine sounded like a perfect addition to the Iron Man gaming universe. Yes, it sounded like it had really come together. And so I eagerly anticipated my review copy, thinking back to the flawed but fun experience I had with the first game.

Iron Man 2

First Hour Review

Iron man 2 CoverYou may have seen our recent article covering a conference call presented by Iron Man 2 developer: Sega San Francisco.  The First Hour was invited to take part in a small pre-release Q&A with two of the people involved with the production of the game.  I sat in on the call and submitted a few questions. It was a good conversation and lots of aspects of the game were touched on, so if you’d like some more insight into what went into making this game what it is, please check it out here. 

Ok, now that that’s out of the way, I recently sat down with a copy of Iron Man 2.  To state the obvious, Iron Man 2 is the sequel to Iron Man. Both games were released to coincide with the movies of the same name. As most people know, releasing a game on a movies timeline can be... problematic.  It often leads to rushed development schedules and lots of cut corners in the final product.  Despite this situation, the first game was commercially successful. However, it struggled to win over most critics.  With an aggregate score of 45 on Metacritic, that’s probably an understatement.  However, I was one of the people who enjoyed the first game (while recognizing it’s many flaws), which is why I was chosen/volunteered to review the sequel.  

Much like Greg’s recent review of Saboteur, this game is the final release of a studio before it gets shut down.  Sega San Fancisco, formerly Secret Level Games will close shortly after the release of Iron Man 2.  This does not bode well for the 3 other gamers besides me crossing their fingers for a Golden Axe: Beast Rider sequel.

I went into this first hour with an open mind and reasonable expectations.  Having enjoyed the first game, more of the same with increased graphical performance, control tweaks and mission diversity would be a good start.  Let’s see if they were able to squeeze any of that into the first 60 minutes of Iron Man 2.

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