Before I say anything else, I didn’t like the first hour of Okami. It’s one of the few games I went back to play the first hour of because I thought it would illustrate well what a bad first hour looked like, and I was right. But it’s also a good example of where this site can go wrong. Some games like Okami just take a long time to get going, but this can also cause gamers to quit prematurely, like my friend and fellow writer Steve did.
Enter Okamiden, the chibi-ized version of Okami for the Nintendo DS. Okamiden will likely go down as one of the last good DS games before the 3DS is released in a few weeks (hopefully time remembers Radiant Historia, as well). Because I enjoyed Okami but didn’t like its first hour, Okamiden seems like the perfect game to try out for a bit. Will Capcom repeat the same mistakes they made with Okami? Will the game be too targeted for children? How will the gameplay and stylized graphics translate to the small screen?
Released yesterday, here is Okamiden’s first hour.
Mass Effect 3 is coming out this year, that just feels weird to write. This means not only will I get to play the finale to one of my favorite game series of all time in about eight months, but that Mass Effect 2 related reviews and articles will just feel terribly stale. Okay, to mostly everyone they already feel totally outdated, and I understand; who wants to read about year old downloadable content? Who knows, but I like writing about it.
Normandy Crash Site was a zero day DLC available for Mass Effect 2, and is free for everyone who is a member of the Cerberus Network (which is required if you want to buy any downloadable content). It's mostly fan service for fans of the first Mass Effect, but it also serves up a surprising amount of emotion for its small package, especially to someone like me who put over 100 hours into the original.
I hope to cover the rest of Mass Effect 2's major downloadable content over the coming months, including Overlord and Lair of the Shadow Broker. I won't be reviewing (or buying, for that matter) the weapon or armor packs. I'm sorry, those are just lame. I also plan to re-read the first Mass Effect book for a review and read the third novel for the first time. My review of Mass Effect: Ascension has been available for a while. I have also covered Mass Effect 2's first paid for DLC, Kasumi's Stolen Memory.
The First Hour is all about first impressions. But it’s very hard to go into a game without any preconceptions, probably best illustrated by my recent foray into Fable III, a sequel to a game I didn’t like very much. But sometimes games are just so far off your radar, that they fall into your lap as a mysterious disc, ready to be explored and uncovered.
Enslaved: Odyssey to the West is one of those games. The only thing I know about it is what I can glean from its name and cover art. Let us see... the title alone seems to suggest something related to slavery and An American Tale, while the cover might make you wonder why the slaves are running from a Colossus. And then you might question the colorfulness of such a dire situation, and why that girl from Heavenly Sword is hanging around?
Yes, I am in the great situation of playing the first hour of a game I know nothing about. My first impressions can truly be formed by just the game itself and none of the surrounding hype. But first, a real quick primer. Enslaved: Odyssey to the West was released in 2010 for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, developed by Ninja Theory (creators of Heavenly Sword, so that explains the girl). Scores were good, sales were lackluster, and Andy Serkis of Gollum fame did motion capture.
Okay, let’s get into this, here’s the first hour of Enslaved: Odyssey to the West.
Here we go with another video game adaptation, this time with Disney’s Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. Released last year, it is based on the Xbox, PlayStation 2, GameCube, Windows game of the same name from way back in 2003. Creator of the series, Jordan Mechner, actually wrote the film, so we at least have a bit of pedigree here.
I don’t really ever feel the need to watch movies based on video games, so I’m usually seeking them out on purpose to rip on them. The Sands of Time is no exception, and while I fully expected the movie to suck, I was surprised to find that it was actually not terrible, but still not a very good “adaptation” of a series I’m very familiar with.
The movie stars Jake Gyllenhaal in all his shirtless manliness, plus Gemma Arterton as the damsel and Ben Kingsley in yet another video game movie after Bloodrayne. I’m not a big film nerd, but even I recognize that Kingsley is a pretty good actor that takes a ton of bad roles. I question his sanity.
Here’s my thoughts on Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time.
During the Super Nintendo era, Squaresoft was peaking with Secret of Mana, Final Fantasy VI, and Chrono Trigger. The developer defined the Japanese RPG genre with those titles and also completely owned the marketplace for years to come. It’s easily arguable that Square has since lost the JRPG title to other developers such as Atlus (with its recent bit of awesomeness titled Radiant Historia in particular), but they’ll never have their triumphant 16-bit period taken away from them.
Black Sigil: Blade of the Exiled is a love letter to that era. With sprites and animations seemingly ripped straight out of Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy VI, and a story that sounds by-the-formula familiar to fans of the genre, this 2009 Nintendo DS release appears to be just another Japanese RPG title. But surprisingly, Black Sigil was developed in Montreal, so yes, this is one of those rare Canadian Japanese RPGs.
Developed by Studio Archcraft and published by Graffiti Entertainment, Black Sigil is also a bit of an indie title. The credits listed the same eight names over and over while the title was so long in development that it was originally targeted for the Game Boy Advance.
Unfortunately, the team had their goals so loftily set that I believe they lost sight of what made Squaresoft’s games so great: they were fun. Black Sigil is plagued by some major issues that most people will find the game unplayable beyond a few hours. I stuck it out though, and here’s my review.
Radiant Historia hasn’t been on my radar for very long, but ever since I learned about it a month ago, I have been very excited to play it. As a Japanese RPG from Atlus, the game already has the pedigree, but the story is what really grabbed me. Radiant Historia is a time traveling game where your goal is to correct the timeline and save your homeland. Yes, this sounds a bit like Chrono Trigger, and you wouldn’t be totally wrong comparing them, but Radiant Historia has its own unique twists to offer up.
The game’s timeline is presented like you’re navigating a large skill tree, with decisions made creating forks in the fabric of time. You can revisit these forks and make different decisions, and even learn skills and information in a dead-end timeline to return to the correct route and proceed. This sounded just like the game I’ve been wanting to play for a long time.
Released yesterday, Radiant Historia has been getting some great early reviews. I was able to get my hands on it to present my impressions as quick as possible. Here’s the first hour of Radiant Historia.
I wasn’t much of a fan of Fable II, so I’ll be honest to say that Fable III has a lot to prove to get me to play past the first hour. The gameplay needed a lot of improvement to start, and the overall presentation of Fable II just felt stuttering and lazy. I do have some hopes that developers can learn from their mistakes, however.
Released in October of last year, Fable III received good scores from major review outlets and had sold over two million copies by the end of the year. A respectable number, though creator Peter Molyneux says it needs to sell about five million for the series to continue. I’m not an industry analyst but this seems like a long way to go now that the holiday season is over.
While I may not like the finished product much, I will probably continue to play the first hour of Molyneux’s games though as he can just be so fiendishly over the top with his ambition and pride. Will Fable III be able to succeed where its predecessor faltered? Or will its first hour lock me in? Let’s find out.
My second son was born today, it was a scheduled delivery, so no, I’m not publishing this manually at six in the morning while my family happily celebrates. He’s the site’s fourth First Hour baby and my second; exciting and scary times lie ahead.
Video games have a long history with children and families, as games began focusing as much on story as any other element, we learned more and more about our protagonists and their situations at home. Text adventure games, computer RPGs, and Japanese RPGs provided writers much more room to flex their muscles and give gamers as much complexity in their stories as they would find in other media.
SquareSoft is an excellent example of writing that evolves over time. The first Final Fantasy was simple: four heroes known only by their character class save the world. Compare that with Final Fantasy VI (III outside Japan) which has feuding brothers teaming up and a knight who just lost his family to a deadly poison and is forced to watch them march to the afterlife. And then again, with Final Fantasy X, where the final boss is the main character’s dad. As the industry grew, writing became braver and more involved and less like a simple action movie.
I started this column over a year ago with a study on Mass Effect, and almost pathetically, this is just the second column. I’ve got about five games in mind I’d like to write a feature on their daddy (and mommy) issues, but they’re a bit more involved than the typical review. The birth of my son though has encouraged me to write this on my favorite game that is chock full of issues: Chrono Trigger.
Many video game series get their own novelizations now, they range from mindless junk to interesting filler in between games, but for the devoted fan of a series they can be a nice escape to revisit their favorite world. With the influx of manga reaching our shores, we've also received a small sampling of the popular Japanese style comic. I always like to think that the more content the better, at least that indicates that someone who makes decisions cares, or at least thinks they can make more money on the franchise.
Enter the Ace Attorney series, probably more well known as the Phoenix Wright vehicle, though he's become less and less the focus as the games tumble by. I've played all five games in the series, but North America received the great Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective last month instead of the newest Miles Edgeworth game which was released February 3rd in Japan. It may be until later this year until we see that localized.
But we do have official Phoenix Wright manga to tide us over until then! I received Official Casebook Vol. 1 for Christmas and read it over the past week or so. While thicker than most mangas, it is still a quick read. Here's my short review of The Phoenix Wright Files.
A year ago I played the first hour of Batman: Arkham Asylum. The conclusion was that I would keep playing “for a while,” and much of that decision rested on what percentage of the game would the stealth gameplay take up. I had to give the game back to who I was borrowing it from, however, and Arkham Asylum started burning a hole in my brain. I began to really want to play it again, but the opportunity never came up the rest of the year. When Christmas rolled around I said I wanted one game, and one game only: Batman.
I received the game but forced myself to beat Fable II before I moved on to something bigger and better (if I play more than one game at a time I’m bound to never play one of them again). The moment after I saved Albion again I switched over to Arkham Asylum and went to town.
Released in mid-2009, Arkham Asylum seemed to spring out of nowhere from absolute nobody Rocksteady Studios. Why and how these guys received the criminally under performing Batman license and then went out and made one of the best games of the year is a bit mind boggling, but a story for another day.
Here’s my full review of Batman: Arkham Asylum.