Progress Report: Nier (PS3)

It’s been pretty slow-going with Nier. I’ve been on a platforming and oldschool tear lately with Shovel Knight, Electronic Super Joy, DuckTales, and the NES Remix games all occupying most of my time. Despite all that, I find myself thinking about this game a lot, and have become quite addicted to it as I’ve gotten back into it this week.


It’s not a looker, though. Full of weird visual glitches like the one above, the overall image quality looks like an up-resolutioned PlayStation 2 game.

The world of Nier is designed well, however, with large, sprawling towns that feel alive. NPCs have interesting things to say more often than not. I like that quest givers are clearly highlighted throughout each area, which makes them easy to find when you’re focusing on that aspect of the game. What I don’t like is that once you’ve taken on a quest, finding that NPC again can be more difficult than it needs to be since they’re no longer marked. You have to refer back to your quest log for hints on who assigned them. For me, at least, they’re easy to forget.


I really like the loading screens. They’re simplistic, but are full of character, and I look forward to seeing all the different ones that Cavia put in the game, including the journal entries from Yonah.


While I haven’t discovered any methods of fast travel yet — I’m still early, heading to the Junk Heap — I like that I can roll around Nier‘s overworld like Link in the Zelda games, making the long back-and-forth journeys less boring.

These outdoor areas between towns can be huge, and the draw distance is impressive. Again, they might not be the most detailed, but they are still pretty good and support the somber tone of the narrative. They also give you lots of space to plan out and execute attacks on individuals and mobs.

I don’t like that digging up items and harvesting materials from fallen creatures require a slow animation cycle to play every time, though. Maybe this is a given in titles like this, and I know it’s more realistic, but it gets a little old when there are so many things in the world to gather. Ladders and pushing/pulling blocks also have an overly slow feel to them.


You can (and have to at least once) fish in Nier, and while the mechanics are almost insultingly simple, it’s not implemented very well. It’s annoyingly easy to lose bait and fish even when you think you’re doing everything correctly. Most recently, I enjoyed the fishing mini-game in Persona 4 Golden. It had a good visual feedback system, but Nier‘s is vague. As a result, I’ve lost a good number of lures on what should have been simple catches, and above all else, it comes across as wasted time.

One area of Nier that I can’t fault at all is its audio. It contains some very good voice acting, and the soundtrack in particular is of the highest quality. One listen to “Song of the Ancients (Devola)” is enough to seal the deal. Nier‘s compositions get mentioned quite often when Favorite Soundtrack lists are discussed, and for good reason. It’s one of the most beautifully consistent, stirring, and memorable ones I’ve heard in quite some time.


I’m also digging the gameplay. At first I wasn’t really sure what to make of it. Combat felt repetitive and not very clear, but I’ve gotten comfortable with it, and I’m also gaining a sixth sense on what to avoid this early on in my adventure. Those one-hit deaths will make you a fast learner!

I haven’t really gone too deep with some of the customization systems, like the word-related one. I just do the auto-equip for now, but I’m sure later as I amass a good collection of them, I’ll be scouring the internet to find the best and most effective combos. The metagame was one of my favorite aspects of 2010’s Dragon Quest IX on the Nintendo DS, and I get the feeling I’ll be enjoying those same qualities in Nier as well.

So despite the various nags and quibbles I have with this game, it’s one where I feel the whole is going to be greater than the sum of its parts. I’m very much enjoying Nier so far, and I’m glad my friend encouraged me to start playing it.


A Second Chance: NES Remix (Wii U)


Back in January, I played NES Remix and gave it an unenthusiastic B-, citing its good ideas but ultimately lackluster selection of titles. I played through a good chunk of it, but gave up before going through the entire thing.

A few of my friends later told me that they had similar experiences with it initially, but that something clicked with them, and they ended up really enjoying it. I’d been through this before with the Dragon Quest series, which I had absolutely couldn’t stand for most of my life until I fell in love with it two decades later on the Nintendo DS. It’s for similar reasons that I haven’t parted ways with Final Fantasy XIII, Metal Gear Solid 4, Demon’s Souls, and many others. They’re all games that failed to click with me initially, but might later in life.


Also, with NES Remix 2 now available with bonuses, a seemingly better selection of games, and more robust features, I thought now would be a good time to give the original another go to see if I was simply too quick to judge.

After having played through a couple more hours of it, several things are standing out for me:

20140606_wiiu_nes_remix_gpFirst, playing it on the Game Pad is great. NES Remix feels like a game that is more at home on a handheld instead of a TV, since the bite-sized gameplay is just better on the small screen. It’s also nice to step away from the TV, lay down in bed to relax, and play through a few stages at a time.

This makes the game so much easier to pick up and play whenever you want, and with Nintendo’s latest June 2014 Wii U update, the new Quick Start menu makes getting into it — and all other Wii U games — a lot faster.

When it’s a big part of a game’s design, I can be rather compulsive about collecting everything, or getting the highest rating possible. In NES Remix, the best rating you can get in each of its mini-games is 3 stars with a rainbow outline.


This urge to achieve the best results can be — and has oftentimes been — my undoing. It’s one of the main reasons why I don’t finish most mobile games based on this scoring system, such as Cut The Rope, Angry Birds, and others. I’ve always said that if a game ceases to be fun, then you should just stop. However, sometimes I need to realize that it might not be the game that isn’t fun, and instead my own stubborn tendencies turning what should be a fun experience into a chore.

In NES Remix‘s case, I started playing the game earlier this year with the intent on rainbow 3-starring every stage, but that quickly became an exercise is frustration that pushed my patience to the limit, fueling my negative impressions of it. So this time, my goal is to simply 3-star the rest of the levels, and you know what? I’m OK with that. Life will still go on, with or without those rainbows.

20140606_nes_remix2I’m also not feeling so strongly anymore than the game selection isn’t good. True, seeing the first Super Mario Bros. here yet again feels like a retread in the worst possible way, but the manner in which you have to actually play it makes it feel like something completely new.

In many cases, you’re asked to do things you never thought about doing, sparking ideas about untapped gameplay potential in each of Nintendo’s franchises. It’s really cool when you stop and think about what the developer Indieszero crafted here.

It’s kind of fun playing games that I never grew up with too, such as Balloon Fight. It’s Nintendo’s take on Joust, and while the controls are strange, the challenge requirements force you to get used to them quickly. The variety also gives otherwise very average games like this one a modern achievement-focused approach, which is cool.

So here I am, now enjoying a game that I initially thought was quite mediocre. It might not be the instant classic that WarioWare, Inc. was on the Game Boy Advance over a decade ago, but it definitely shows how small design and goal tweaks can energize games of a bygone era.


Phoenix Wright makes me feel dumb

20140605_phoenix_wright_logo“Am I not an intelligent human being?”

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve already asked myself that while playing Justice For All, the second Phoenix Wright game on the Nintendo DS. At only about its halfway point, I’ve had to reference a FAQ at least three times to prevent myself from receiving a dreaded Guilty verdict from the game’s ceaselessly clueless judge. I’m starting to regret not watching enough Law & Order back in the ’90s.

It’s so frustrating, because for the most part, I really like this series. It has great art, catchy music, and mostly well-written cases that are fun to investigate and peel back their various layers. It has a very strong cast of memorable and likable characters, as well as villains and prosecuting attorneys that can really get under your skin! It’s a solid visual novel design that is packaged and presented nicely.


Where the game gets a bit too rigid, however, is in its trial execution. Maybe this changes in future installments, but there only ever seems to be one solution to each problem, and that solution can sometimes make so little sense as to seem like its choice was arbitrary. The best courtroom moments are the ones where you’re left shocked, realizing something you had previously overlooked, but that which makes perfect sense once it’s explained. It’s not a reach, and it never should be. It’s great to have some slight of hand and distraction involved, but in the end, it should be smart and logical. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case here.

Do I feel ashamed for having to resort to using a guide? Yeah, but I also can’t stand having to do things over in games, so if this expedites my journey and ensures that I see the series through all of its cases, characters, and locales, then so be it. Plus, Dual Destinies on the 3DS looks fantastic! It’s my main motivator to get through the DS games, and yes, I need to play through the rest of the series — in order — before I play this one. Call it a thing.

Anyway, despite my one rather big complaint, I’m enjoying my time with Justice For All so far. The new Psyche-Lock feature adds a taste of trial crossover to the investigative portions, injecting new complexities into those sequences. I’ve become a fan of the visual novel genre after thoroughly enjoying Atlus’ excellent games 999 and Virtue’s Last Reward, so I’ll hopefully get a better hang of things here so that I don’t have to give in to the temptations of GameFAQs.

Or at least, not as often.


What I’m playing right now: Swords, Courts, and Karts

My father-in-law’s now recuperating in the comfort of his own home and bed, which is great, but my wife came down with a pretty bad case of food poisoning last night. Long story short, we were up until dawn, and didn’t get to sleep until about 6 this morning. As they say, when it rains, it pours. Yin and yang, or something like that.

Anyway, after such a stressful week, I’m looking forward to some quality game time this weekend. Here’s what I’ll be playing:



A couple weeks ago, I started Fire Emblem: Awakening on the 3DS, even though I’m not a big fan of strategy games. I just finished The Exalt and the King (Chapter 5), so I have a long, long way to go, but I’m enjoying it so far. I’m playing it on Casual, even though I’m sure this irks Fire Emblem purists to no end. The game is still pretty tough, however, and vital units can get wiped out in a single turn if you’re not careful.

The amount of content in Awakening is impressive. In addition to the main quest, there are a number of sidequests to complete as well, so this game will be keeping me busy for quite some time. I’m extremely impressed by the game’s production value. The animated cutscenes by Madhouse are gorgeous, and put a lot of regular console games to shame. The soundtrack is equally impressive, providing great drama and tension to story and battle scenes alike.

About the only thing I don’t care for is the sporadic voice-over. It’s distracting, and tarnishes the shine of what is an otherwise superlative game. I’m also feeling slightly overwhelmed by the already high number of units I have at my disposal, but I’d rather have more to deal with than too little.



I played and finished the first Phoenix Wright game back in 2012. While I really liked it initially, it became tediously long and definitely wore out its welcome by the time it was over. This could be due to the DS version’s extra content, but whatever the case, I was relieved when it ended, only giving it a C+.

Now that a couple years have passed, I felt ready to jump back into the series. It’s very familiar so far, and I’m liking that. The mildly remixed music is nostalgic, and it’s great to see old friends and colleagues return. I’m enjoying the story so far, and the new cast has been quite eccentric. I wouldn’t expect anything less after the crew from first game.

I’ve only completed the first case, and that trial had a good flow with testimony and cross-examination that made sense. Some of them were so vaguely indeterminate to me in the first game that I had to resort to using a guide on more than one occasion. I’m hopeful that I won’t have to do the same here. So far, though, I’m digging this.



Finally, my copy of Mario Kart 8 should be arriving at some point today, and I’m very excited to start playing it! I’m not really the target Mario Kart player, though, since I like to play solo most of the time. I suppose that’s why most games in the series haven’t really done much for me. I’d rather have a goal/adventure-based format like Diddy Kong Racing instead of straight classes and groups of tracks. Seriously, why haven’t they made more games like that Rare classic?

In any case, I’m hopeful that MK8 rekindles my love for the series. I was addicted to Super Mario Kart on the SNES, and I haven’t liked any of the subsequent entries nearly as much. Maybe this will be the one that breaks that cycle. By all accounts and reviews, it looks like an undeniable gem of a racer. As a Wii U owner, that’s very, very good news.

Have a great weekend, and thanks for your continued support and readership here at GHG.


Rediscovering LittleBigPlanet

My apologies in advance; today’s update is a short one since I’ll be out of town most of the day.


So, Media Molecule’s LittleBigPlanet (LBP). Yes, the first one from 2008. After finishing Tearaway last week, I thought back on LBP, and how it never did click with me. I distinctly remember calling the controls imprecise garbage. At the time, I had most recently finished Super Mario Galaxy, which along with its 2010 sequel, were among my top games of that generation, and without question my favorites on the Wii. Going from Nintendo-quality platforming to LBP was a shock in the worst possible way.

I shelved LBP without giving it much of a chance, but it must have affected me on some subconscious level. I ended up buying the 2011 sequel — in Collector’s Edition form, even — and have yet to play that one. I grabbed the PSP version after 2011’s infamous PlayStation Network outage, and so there I was with 3 installments of the series, virtually unplayed.

Which leads me to this week. Absence may very well make the heart grow fonder, because even though the controls feel just as loose and the physics model seems to have a mind of its own sometimes, I’m really enjoying it. Time away from it has given me a new appreciation for what Media Molecule was able to do on the PS3 8 years ago. 8! For its age, it still looks fantastic, the soundtrack is infectiously catchy, and the whimsical, slightly off-kilter atmosphere of its world is refreshing.

Media Molecule might as well be called Material Masters. The look and feel of the game is so pleasant and convincing. I can’t wait to see what lies ahead!


Tearaway (PS Vita): Realizing a system’s potential

From the moment I first saw Tearaway, I knew I had to play it. From the makers of the LittleBigPlanet series, it looks like one of those Sherwin-Williams commercials, which are among the most creative and beautiful ads on TV:

I just started it this week, and at about 25%, I’m loving it so far. It’s a really neat game that playfully breaks down the “fourth wall” between player and game.  It takes advantage of the Vita’s unique features, most notably the rear touch pad, and within minutes makes you wonder how you went so long without that functionality. Unlike Uncharted: Golden Abyss, the implementation feels 100% natural instead of coming across as a tacked-on gimmick.

2014-05-03-202142The game itself is a joy to behold. Media Molecule has created a convincing world made up entirely of construction paper, with those satisfyingly familiar colors, textures, and sounds that will immediately take you back to elementary school. The only thing missing is some Elmer’s glue. I find that I’m stopping pretty often throughout each level to look around in first-person camera mode, appreciating the environments and animation.

Customization plays a significant part in Tearaway, not just in the way things look, but how they are used to solve puzzles as well. The main collectible and form of currency in the game is paper confetti, which can be used to buy all sorts of different Decorations. It’s fun, and there are a ton of them. You can also create your own items, which can be as detailed or as crude as you want them to be. Real papercraft models found in-game can be printed out and put together in real life, further blurring the line between pixels and reality.

2014-05-03-172822Anyway, I’m really digging this game, and I can’t wait to get further into it. It keeps throwing new things at you, and it has this wonderful balance of exploration and item collecting. Its cheeky sense of humor is great, and perhaps most importantly for the Vita itself, Tearaway is a very high-quality exclusive that can’t be played anywhere else.


Progress Report: Persona 4 Golden and Social Links

Ever since starting over on Very Easy, I’ve been flying through this game. I’m about 45 hours in, and it feels like I’m already heading into its final act. The funny thing is, I really do prefer playing it this way, even though it doesn’t provide much of a challenge. You get more money than you can spend, and most of your characters will be hitting level 99 by November. Additionally, if your party gets wiped out in battle, you can just continue from where you left off with full health and magic, making almost all recovery skills and items unnecessary.

So, why do I think this is fun? It’s because P4G is at its best when you’re not in dungeons. I mean, the dungeons here are good, and they’re more varied than Tartarus in Persona 3, but I still find them repetitive, especially if you go back for the harder bosses and the numerous fetch quests.

I’m definitely more in my element with the Social Link system, which fleshes out the stories between the main protagonist, his friends, and his family. I remember falling in love with this aspect of Japanese simulation games on the Sega Saturn when I played Sakura Taisen back in 1996. Its grid-based strategy parts were fun, but the interactions with the other characters was what made it a classic for me. And what an intro, right?

The Social Links in Persona 3 were excellent, and they’re great here as well. I sometimes feel overwhelmed by the sheer number of characters that you can build Social Links with, and even at this late point in the game, I’m gaining and working on new ones. This keeps things pretty fresh and your options open, especially if you’re like me and clear out dungeons right away, giving yourself weeks of free time in the game.

The scenario writers have done a really nice job not only making the main character story arcs interesting and meaningful, but giving the supporting cast three dimensions as well. There are times where I will find myself skipping over opportunities to advance my party member links in order to see where the story will go for people out on the fringes. Their struggles and personalities are warm, honest, and emotionally rewarding.

As I head towards P4G‘s finale, I’m already thinking about the links I will not have maxed out, the quests left undone, and trophies uncollected. Yes, there’s always New Game+, but a part of me wishes I could see everything in one shot.


Enjoying Japan in Persona 4 Golden

While dungeon crawling is an essential part of P4G, the things I’ve liked the most have been the events and activities that happen outside the TV World in its small, fictional town of Inaba.

My ancestors are from Japan, but the last generation of my family who lived there was that of my great-grandparents. Both my grandparents and parents were born and raised in Hawaii, and me in California. Culturally, traditional Japanese wasn’t a big part of my upbringing, and what remained was filtered through the blended lens of Hawaiian culture. I can make you a mean spam musubi, but I couldn’t tell you the first thing about cooking a chawanmushi!

2014-04-24-161250Back in high school, two things happened: First, while taking an art history class, we learned about Milan Cathedral in Italy. I remember getting goosebumps because of its striking beauty, and my emotions were stirred imagining the generations it took to complete. It gave me a new appreciation for history itself, and architecture in particular.

Second, I got into manga and anime, with Akira being one of the first major influences on me. I love the manga, and to this day, it remains one of the best, with artistic detail that boggles the mind. However, when I finally saw the movie, even though it was a poor VHS copy and I barely understood a thing, it changed my life. It made me not only want to learn more about Japan and its history, but it influenced my art, interests, and my desire to go there someday.

2014-04-24-150354I was fortunate enough to visit Japan several times later in life, which were all amazing experiences. As a result, I found myself drawn to games that treat Japan and its everyday life as essential components to their stories. They take me back to those trips, rekindling old memories.

In that sense, P4G is one of the best.

It really captures the small town/big city dichotomy well, with characters oftentimes wanting to evolve, but worried about losing their historical identity and the simplicity of rural life. The distinctive locations reflect this, and the date-specific events that break up the normal day-to-day exploration and Social Link building are fun, giving great insight into Japanese culture.

I’m at my happiest in P4G just walking around town, looking at the small details of the old buildings, their interiors, traditional clothing designs, or taking a moment to appreciate the satisfying sound of a sliding wood door closing.

These elements truly make the outside world of P4G a convincing and comfortable one. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want to live there and give the Mega Beef Bowl Challenge a shot!


I’m loving South Park: The Stick of Truth

It was 1997 when I first saw the original Spirit of Christmas video clip circulating around the office at Interplay. I, like so many of my coworkers, sat there laughing hysterically at these cute little foul-mouthed kids. South Park was gaining some considerable buzz as the TV show was getting ready to premiere later that same year. The rest, as they say, is history.

Throughout its ongoing 17-year run, it has remained popular, and still provides some great laughs and its trademark biting social commentary on world events, celebrities, movies, race, videogames, sports, disabilities, you name it. They are equal opportunity offenders — offending everyone equally — but I usually find myself agreeing with the underlying message of each episode. That’s been a key quality of the show: They know what we’re all thinking, but they’re bold enough to say it. Loudly.

My interest was through the roof in 1999 when Bigger, Longer & Uncut was released, which I just loved (it was a great year for movies in general). The episode Chinpokomon also first aired that year, which is still one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen. I haven’t been able to look at anything Pokemon-related in quite the same way ever since!

I started playing The Stick of Truth last week, and it’s been a fantastic game so far. Even though there are characters I’m unfamiliar with and surely references that are going over my head, the core components of what make South Park great are all here. The important qualities that make a successful RPG are also here, courtesy of Obsidian, a developer who knows a thing or two about the genre.

I’m very impressed by the look of the game, which is so convincing that you could swear you’re watching an episode of the show. Controls are crisp, objects you can interact with are clear, and there is a nice variety of activities and quests to complete. Combat requires attention and very good timing, which is similar to the excellent Paper Mario series.

Although I’ll be 40 in less than 4 weeks, this game’s reaffirming the fact that I still love lowbrow, childish humor, and probably always will. It also makes me want to go back and watch the show again, but for now, it’s time to continue my quest as Douchebag.


Persona 4 Golden on Very Easy

I have a general rule that I will always play a game on its default difficulty first (if a choice is offered). It’s been my experience that when games are designed and tested, Normal is the one that’s been tweaked, balanced, and played the most.

In today’s terms, Normal usually skews a little easier, which is fine, because if I really enjoy a game, I’ll go back and give the harder difficulties a whirl. If there are additional trophies or achievements to be acquired, that adds a nice incentive. The Last of Us is a great example of a game I was happy to play through multiple times.

Last week, however, after having been destroyed by one of P4G’s bosses 5 times in a row (you can read about that here), I ultimately decided to throw in the towel and start over. I was no longer having fun. That was 40 hours down the drain, which stung a little, but I’m finding that it’s been a lot more fun and eye-opening on the Very Easy setting.

One thing I hate is missing out on things in games, and I knew that I’d missed a lot on my Normal playthrough. I decided to use a guide this time to track Social Links, Quests, date-specific events, and other activities, and at only around mid-May, it’s shocking how much I’ve overlooked. I know that the game is designed so that it’s impossible to see everything on a single playthrough, but even then, this approach has been valuable in making me rethink how I spend each day in Inaba.

Something else I tried for the first time is P4G’s SOS system, which is an online component allowing you to send out requests for help in dungeons and provide aid to others in need. I’m not sure why I never tried this until now, but I’m finding it to be a fun way to interact with other players.

I don’t like that sending out an SOS request takes as long as it does, but other than that, getting the minor HP/SP bump in battle from other players makes me smile. Even though the game has been out since November of 2012, I’ve been encouraged to see almost all of my requests fulfilled. Other players in the TV World have proven to be a generous group, so if you are out there right now, then thank you for your help!

Effort-reward balance on Very Easy has been the best part. It doesn’t necessarily mean less effort, since the game still takes a lot of time, smart decision-making, good planning, and organization to get the most out of it. What it does mean, though, is you’ll get to see your characters and Personas grow and evolve quickly.

It’s not uncommon to see one or more level advancements after a battle or two, and taking out Wealth Hands (which are the equivalent of Dragon Quest’s Metal Slime family) require less time and provide amazing returns. This new pace provides a steady stream of positive feedback to the player, which I just love.

It might not be my proudest moment as a gamer, but at this point in my life, I’m perfectly OK with that.