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Post-Mortem: Skyward Sword

Hey look, one of those blog posts I said I was gonna do eventually. Anyways, I just finished the main story to The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword a few hours ago, and I have quite a few things to say. Since I could be suffering from "Post-game rush" when making these, anything I say could be subject to change, but here they are all the same. Warning: Contains some spoilers:

  • To my pleasant surprise, I ended up digging the presentation a lot more than I thought I would. When I first saw the game at E3 2010, I thought it was pretty bland and forgettable. That said, it looks much better actually playing the game for myself. The impressionist art style makes the whole game look like a living portrait of sorts, and also does a good job of hiding the Wii's technical limitations. The rampant jaggies got annoying, though. I'm no graphics whore, but after playing this, I fully sympathize with PC snobs on the anti-aliasing front.
  • I'm quite glad that Nintendo finally incorporated live orchestral arrangements into the soundtrack. You can really tell the difference in songs like Fairy's Fountain. I don't think the compositions are as catchy as earlier games, though. Koji Kondo allegedly only composed one song in the entire soundtrack (The opening cinematic piece, which is great. Sounds like something out of The Lord of the Rings), and it kinda shows. There are still a few good songs that stand up to the rest of the series' works, though. On the other hand, the bonus orchestrated CD that came with my copy is 100% awesome, no complaints there.
  • A big one: The controls. They have some awkward moments, but for the most part, I honestly can't imagine playing without them. You actually have to pay attention to combat now, and aiming with the gyroscope instead of fumbling with analog sticks make using items much more fun. They do get off from time to time, but it's not enough to mess with the flow of the game, and it's usually corrected with the push of a button.
  • As for the rest of the game, this is where things get murky. I suppose I could pit it side-by-side with Twilight Princess, which is sort of like a surrogate to Skyward Sword. In terms of dungeon design, TP pulls ahead. Compared to TP, SS's dungeons are pretty straightforward and simplistic. Even the Water Temple doesn't require much head-scratching to navigate. However, SS dominates when outside the dungeons. The environments may be segmented and small, but the game milks them for all they're worth, and they end up being used for a lot of cool things unlike the veritable desert that is TP's overworld. Bosses also go to SS. They're much more engaging (especially the one-on-one duels against Ghirahim), and feel like actual battles instead of oversized puzzles. One thing TP will always hold the advantage over, though: Midna. She destroys Fi as a meaningful companion character.
  • One last thing: While I do believe that this is a highly-polished game that outclasses many other games on the market (and subsequently my 2011 game of the year, though there wasn't much competition for that), I think I'm finally recognizing the need for the series to start undergoing some kind of retooling. Even if it's a worthy addition that brings more good to the series than bad, I have to wonder where this franchise can go next. Nintendo can't and shouldn't keep this formula up forever, as evidenced by the gradual decline of sales and general excitement for the franchise. Heck, I'm not even sure if I'll even be excited for the next console Zelda when it comes, barring some kind of Majora's Mask makeover. Hey, I've lost interest in the Pokemon series this year, so anything is possible.

Perhaps I should get to work on a review at some point and justify my shiny "Top 500 Reviewers" badge. The last time I bothered with one of those was before I got the badge back during summer vacation. I blame ponies.


Um, hi there. You mayor may not have noticed that my activity on my GameSpot blog (and my Tumblr, for that matter) has slowed to a crawl these last few months. The reason for that is simple: I seemed to have lost my drive to write extensive articles and reviews on games. The reason for that reason, however, is a bit more complicated than that.

I'm not sure if I can fully explain my decline of interest, but so far I have it pegged down to three separate reasons. The first is a simple one: School. I'm a full-time college student in the middle of a semester, long after thepoint where the classes stop diddling around and actually throw lots of work at you. Even if I don't have that much homework, my free time has still taken a considerable hit due to classes, extracurricular activities, and all the boring stuff that comes with living in your own dorm. Less free time means less game time, which also equates to less time and reason for me to devote to blogging about games.

The second reason is a bit more personal. You see, I haven't really felt any motivation to write about most of the recent games I've played. I blame part of this on 2011 being weak in terms of its gaming lineup compared to last year, especially considering the only current-gen console I own is still the Wii. The last game I played from this year that I was truly impressed with was Portal 2, and that was all the way back in May. To be fair, I have played a bunch of old games for the first time that left a good impression on me (Final Fantasy VI, Metal Gear Solid 2, both DS Advance Wars games, etc.), but even so, I still can't seem to bring myself to extensively write about them.

Normally, whenever I write something about video games, be it a review, article, or just a lengthy forum post, there's this drive in me that keeps pushing me to write. It's this drive that makes me feel good to write about the hobby I've been heavily invested into since childhood, that I truly feel at home in this universe. For some reason, unfortunately, this drive started to fade over the summer, and I'm still not sure if I can fully explain why. Maybe I lost sight of writing something that only a few internet-goers will ever seeand even fewer will appreciate. Maybe I've just gotten incredibly lazy, who knows?

The third reason for my slow activity? Ponies. Lots and lots of ponies. It's surprising how much of my free time is now spent on discussing and digging up stuff about a show made primarilyfor young girls. It's almost like there's some kind of narcotic involved with this series. Why are these ponies so damned cute?

Anyways, I'd still like to apologize for my lack of activity. I'm going to at least try and post more gaming-related goodness here when I get the time. I make no guarantees as to how successful I'll be, but we'll see how things go.

Wow, what a way to celebrate 50 blog posts, eh?

Top 5 Games that Scared the Crap out of Me as a Kid

I have a bit of a confession to make with this post: You see, I already made this list and uploaded it onto my Tumblr account about a couple months ago. That said, I don't have much else to comment on in the gaming world at the moment, as I have just moved back into college and won't have as much time to dedicate to my favorite pasttime once cIasses start. In the meantime, enjoy this self-indulgent list of mine.

I've been playing video games for about as long as I can hold a controller with my own two hands, and there was almost no game that I didn't play. Given that I was pretty young when I started out, this led to a lot of games legitimately terrifying me to the point where I needed to have someone else play the game for me so I could see more of what it had to offer. The sad thing is most of the games that scared me back in the day weren't even trying to do so; rather, it was my own imagination that kept me paralyzed in fear for several years. On the other hand, I really haven't been scared by a video game in ages, and I've played quite a few so-called "horror" games in that time. Even if a modern game manages to unnerve me, however, I doubt they could ever freak me out as much as these 5 games did.

#5 - Resident Evil 2

The lowest-ranked game on my list is ironically the only one that could be ****fied as a horror game. Resident Evil 2 was a game my dad rented for me one day, and the first time I played it was an event I'll never forget. Right from the start, you're immediately attacked on all sides by zombies, and in my inexperienced youth, I had absolutely no idea how to deal with them. I kept fumbling with the controls, but all it led to was me walking into the zombies and getting munched on. Eventually, I saw the game over screen, which showed the character getting painfully eaten alive by a group of zombies. I was so scared, I literally backed out of the room, too afraid to take my eyes off the screen.

The last time I played Resident Evil 2 was well over a decade ago, but by that point, any fear I had while first playing the game was completely gone. Through multiple rentals, I had seen enough of the game to know what to expect as well as learned how to actually defend myself against the monsters. In fact, none of the other Resident Evil games were able to scare me anymore, whether they had the same gameplay styIe as 2 or played completely differently like Resident Evil 4.

#4 - F-Zero

What could be so scary about F-Zero? I mean, it's a futuristic racer with bright graphics and an emphasis on speed. Well, truth be told, there was only one thing that freaked me out about this game, but it was terrifying to me. Whenever your vehicle ran out of power or fell off the course after hitting a jump ramp, it would explode with a large "BOOM!" sound effect. The camera would then move forward a few yards, and then turn around showing the smoldering remains of your car. It may not seem like much, but as a kid, that was downright terrifying to see yourself screw up so horrifically. I couldn't tackle even the first race because I was too scared of flying off-course from hitting the first jump ramp.

Again, this is something I'm largely over. I downloaded F-Zero from the Virtual Console a few years back and was able to smoothly race through all the tracks without much trouble. That said, I've always averted my gaze whenever a crash occured.

#3 - Banjo-Kazooie

I already elaborated on this before, but even games as kid-friendly as Banjo-Kazooie could have the potential to freak me out. What got to me in this case was the fear of the unknown. Gruntilda's Lair, the major hub of Banjo-Kazooie, was filled with lots of secret tunnels and corridors, and about 99% of the time those areas led to something that would help you out. Unfortunately, I didn't know that, so I assumed that there would be some kind of super-freaky thing ready to jump out and make me jump through the roof on the other side. Not to mention there were places where the camera would be zoomed right in on Banjo and the entrance as he entered, and I was simply too freaked out to even move the camera for the same reasons. Then there was Mad Monster Mansion, a level taking place in a haunted manor filled with traps and nearly-invincible creepy-crawlies.

Once I finally discovered what was behind all the corridors and rooms in BK, however, I immediately got over any crippling fear I had. Just recently, I went and played through the game again, and even got all the Notes and Jigsaw Pieces in every level, which means that my fears for this game are well and truly in the past now.

#2 - The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time

There's so much freaky material in Ocarina of Time that I won't be able to describe it all in one post without rambling, so I'll go with the scariest parts: Back when I first discovered the Tomb of the Royal Family inside the graveyard, I had no idea of what awaited me inside. In the second room is the first time you meet the redeads, quite possibly the scariest monsters in gaming ever. They don't look like much, but get too close to them and they give a loud shriek that paralyzes you. They then proceed to slowly walk towards you and then strangle the life out of Link. That stuff was grade-A nightmare fuel back in the day, and that's not the only place they appear, either. They're everywhere when you go to the Hyrule Market as an adult, and they also make frequent appearances inside the Bottom of the Well and the Shadow Temple, two places made solely for the purpose of freaking out the player.

But again, the fear of the unknown also got to me here as well. Hyrule was littered with holes that led into caverns, some helpful and others…less helpful. What freaked me out about these were two things: 1.) The eerie hollow music from Inside the Deku Tree, and 2.) the fact that they were empty save for you and a chest about 95% of the time. Again, it's a case of my imagination scaring me more than the actual game. I've since grown out of my fear for this game as well, although I still whip out the Ocarina whenever I hear the moaning of a redead.

#1 - Super Mario World

Closing out this list is the game that by all accounts should not be scary, but absolutely was to me. Super Mario World was one of the first video games I ever played. It was back at that age where even something moving too fast could be enough to make someone jump, and believe me, there was a metric ton of things in this game that gave me nightmares. Most of it was just little stuff that nobody would likely bat an eye at: Things like Mario hanging in pitch-black mid-air after he wins against a boss and the music stops, to the unsettling music when in the Forest of Illusion. The little thing that freaked me out the most was the keyholes. Certain levels had a key and a keyhole you could take it to to find a secret exit to the level. When you bring the key to the hole, the keyhole suddenly grows huge and then swallows Mario whole. As a kid, witnessing such an event without having any prior knowledge about it was borderline traumatizing. The only thing that freaked me out in Super Mario World that was meant to be scary in any way was the Bowser boss fight. He rides atop a gigantic floating device with a creepy clown face on it that gets mad when you hit him enough times. To this day, it remains the only clown face that I've ever found scary.

The reason this game is number one is because even now, I'm still not 100% over this. Even though I can go through the game with little trouble now, I still can't watch when I take the key to the keyhole, and sometimes in the middle of the night when I'm not thinking right, haunting images and songs from the game will invade my mind and get my heartrate going. Not exactly the most pleasant images to think of when you're trying to get back to sleep. I guess you can never fully get over some traumatic experiences from your childhood. Oh well, I'd rather have it be of something as isolated as one video game if it's going to be something that haunts me for the rest of my days.

Gaming Impressions Catch-Up

I seem to be shirking off on my duties of posting my gaming impressions. Part of that is from being somewhat busy these last few days, but it also stems from my general laziness and pursuing other projects. Therefore, I am going to take this time to give a quick rundown of all the games I've played and finished during this period.

Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem - As I've mentioned before, I haven't really been scared by a video game in ages, and after playing Eternal Darkness, I've become convinced I will never be frightened again. That said, this game successfully made me uncomfortable in more than a few spots. The atmosphere is spot-on everywhere, and the weird mindscrews the game employs when the sanity meter gets low enough are pretty interesting, although they lose their fear aspect once you figure out their secret. Gameplay is competent yet basic, and I think it's aged well enough to be worth the dirt-cheap prices you can pick it up for.

Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty - I've never considered myself a fan of the MGS series, although I do think they are decent games. At first, MGS2 isn't that great - the controls take getting used to, and the gameplay-to-cutscene ratio is skewed pretty badly. Slowly but surely, however, I began to see the quality in the title. Stealth gameplay is pretty exhilirating when done right, and MGS2 has its bases covered on what makes running away from enemies instead of fighting them fun. One other thing: I don't get the hate for Raiden. Yeah, he's not Snake, but he's voiced by Quinton Flynn. What's not to like?

Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands (Wii) - I haven't been this bored with a game in quite some time, and I played through all of Lost in Shadow just a month ago. The only good thing I have to say about this game is that the presentation is decent. Otherwise, I found little entertainment here. The combat is dull and clunky, and the Prince's movements when platforming are stiff and loose, especially once you throw in the powers that use the IR pointer. It took a lot of willpower just to get to the end of the game. In fact, I almost forgot I had even played this game less than a day after beating it.

Kingdom Hearts Re: Coded - Last year I went on a Kingdom Hearts binge over the summer, beating all four of the then-currently available games right before summer vacation ended. By coincidence, I finished up Re: Coded in roughly the same time frame. Despite going through five of these games now, I have still yet to tire of the gameplay. There's just something inherently right to the feeling of bashing dark creatures around with an oversized key. That said, the story in this game adds little to the KH universe outside of some foreshadowing for Kingdom Hearts 3, which we won't be seeing for at least another three years. Also, can we please play through some different worlds? I, for one, wouldn't mind a bit if I never played through Wonderland or Olympus Coliseum ever again.

Top 500 Community Reviewers!

Well, this certainly came out of nowhere: I came onto Gamespot today and noticed I had 4 new messages in my inbox. The first three were notifications of new people tracking my contributions. The 4th? A notice from Gamespot saying that I had been given a mention in the Community Blog. Hurrah! It turns out I only get a brief mention at the bottom of the page for making the top 500 community reviewers and getting this nice achievement. I still think it's pretty cool, though. I keep thinking that nobody really reads my reviews, but it looks like this emblem says otherwise.

Thanks for reading, everyone! It really means a lot that some random people think my personal perspective on a game is more worthwhile than the standard forum idiot. :P

Post-Mortem: Lost in Shadow

Remember how I was gushing over Final Fantasy VI impressing me a whole bunch a couple days ago? I really can't say the same for Lost in Shadow. It started off cool enough with an interesting concept and an eerie but alluring art style. A puzzle platformer where you're a shadow and have to manipulate the real world to open up paths in the shadows? Great! Sadly, the game gets dragged down by some really dumb design choices. First off, the puzzles in the game are straightforward and don't require much thought past "flip this lever" or "manipulate this item". They also stop introducing new elements before the halfway point, which only adds to the slowly-growing tedium. Worst of all is the extreme cases of artificial lengthening the game employs later on. Once you climb the tower, the game makes you go through it again just to grab some items, and then at the very end makes you go back and collect every. single. memory. in. the. game. just to open up the path to the final boss. By the time I was halfway up the tower for the second time, the fun had completely stopped. I had to eventually force myself to keep playing the game, which is never a good thing. It's especially disappointing considering how cool the idea was at first and how well-realized the art style is. This could've easily been another breathtaking gaming experience like Shadow of the Colossus, but as it is, I can't recommend this game for a full-price purchase.

First Impressions: Eternal Darkn-OH GOD WHAT WAS THAT SOUND AW S#$*!!!!!

Here's a game I picked up over a week ago at a yard sale for $2, but I only just started playing a couple nights ago because I still had other games to finish up first.

Before I start, I need to explain something: I really have not been scared by a video game in a very long time. Back when I was a kid, I used to be freaked out by the silliest things in a game, but nowadays not even most so-called horror games do anything for me. This is one of the reasons that I'm curious to play Eternal Darkness, a Gamecube game made by Silicon Knights during their brief period as a Nintendo-owned company. Supposedly it's one of the scariest horror games ever made, meaning that if this game doesn't get into my head, then nothing likely will. I've been giving this game the best chance to frighten me as I can: I'm only playing at night right before I go to sleep so it stays fresh in my head as I try to get back into my world of dreams. The actual game plays like a standard Resident Evil type of horror game, with long constricting hallways, puzzles to solve, and lots of creeps and freaky scenery to go through. Much of it is stuff I'm used to in a horror game (monster closets, cheap "BOO!" scares, lots of gore, etc.), but to my surprise, I've actually come across a moment where I was genuinely unnerved. I'm not going to go into what happened, as that can dilute the experience for anyone who hasn't played the game, but it did make me nervous as I explored the game's central mansion. Hopefully the game is able to build on this, as for once in my life I'm actually looking forward to being scared further.

Who knows, it may turn out that I bought this game from an angry gypsy who put a curse on it. You can never be too sure with these yard sale folk….

Post-Mortem: Final Fantasy VI Advance

Just wrapped this game up about an hour ago, and I'm still a bit hopped up on a post-game adrenaline rush as well as a lot of tea, so bear with me on this.

Normally I don't consider RPGs to be my preferred gaming genre, but I must say that Final Fantasy VI has impressed me a considerable amount. It may use elements that several games made before and after it share, but the way it uses those elements is what makes this game brilliant. The pacing for both the story and gameplay are both spot on, always throwing something new into the mix just when you think you've got it figured out. I almost never came across a moment that felt slow or forced, which I can't say the same for a lot of games. Of course, the music is one of the best parts of the game, and I've gained a new-found respect for the amount of effort that Nobuo Uematsu puts into his work. If I had to think of any downsides, it'd be that the plot development for the second half of the game just doesn't compare to that of the first half, and the Ultima spell turns the final boss into a cakewalk, albeit a fun one. Other than that, the entire game has been one pleasant surprise after the next, and I'm quite glad to have finally played it after all these years.

My only regret is playing it on a regular Game Boy Advance. I had to be sitting in front of a window all the time just to be able to see where I was going. I'm not saying it wasn't worth it, though…

Retro Review: Illusion of Gaia

It's been a little while since my last review, so I decided to put up another one. This review is for a game that I've owned since childhood, meaning I have quite a bit of nostalgia for it. That said, I still had to be objective when typing out my review, as simply sugarcoating everything with nostalgic charm does no one any good, especially if they've never played the game before. In that aspect, I think I did pretty well, but I'll let you decide that for yourself.

Back in the days of the Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis, there existed a developing team by the name of Quintet. This team excelled at making action-RPG hybrids with stories that often explored themes other games wouldn't dare to touch. One such game was Illusion of Gaia, a simple hack-and-slash loosely set during the Age of Exploration in the real world. Over fifteen years have passed since this game was on store shelves, but has still yet to resurface on any other system. Depending on your proclivities, however, this may be a game still worth tracking down.

As mentioned, Illusion of Gaia is set in a fantasy version of the real world during the time when explorers were discovering the unknown world and its many secrets. Players take control of Will, a regular teenager who survived a dangerous trip to the Tower of Babel a year prior but lost his father in the process. Will is soon called upon by Gaia, the spirit of all living things, to harness her Dark Powers and embark on a journey back to the tower and stop a comet from bringing untold destruction to the planet. Along the way, Will must also explore several ruins and collect the treasures within them as well as contend with other matters such as a slave trade, his travelling companions getting into trouble, and a ruthless assassin hot on his trail.

For its time, the themes present in Illusion of Gaia's storytelling were few and far inbetween in video games. However, its impact has been dampened with time due to several other developers constantly pushing the boundaries of what can and can't been shown and discussed in a game. Despite this, the story and the way it is told still carries a hint of uniqueness. Issues such as the slave trade and the pros and cons of evolution are still not that commonly found in the gaming world. The way the story is told has its rough spots as well, but is mostly solid. The translation job sometimes borders on sketchy, with a few oddly-worded statements and the occasional grammatical error, but still allows for some decent character development and engaging interactions. It also helps that the plot makes a few unexpected twists every now and then to keep the story moving at a good pace.

The gameplay, on the other hand, isn't quite as original, although in this case is not necessarily a bad thing. Illusion of Gaia plays like a more action-oriented version of The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. Much of Will's mission involves exploring ruins based on real life locations, solving basic puzzles, and fighting a veritable cornucopia of monsters. The game is very streamlined compared to Link's adventure: Exploration is kept to a minimum, the game progresses very linearly with multiple points of no return, and towns serve as little more than designated plot exposition points between dungeons. The RPG portion of the game comes in through Will gaining permanent boosts to his health, attack, and defense by defeating all the enemies in a room. The combat itself is shallow, with most fights boiling down to mashing the attack button a couple times, backing away from the enemy to avoid their attack, and occasionally using a special charge power to deal extra damage. On the plus side, the game does its best to maintain variety; enemy designs are numerous, completely changing from dungeon to dungeon, and Will can occasionally transform into other powerful beings, such as the dark knight Freedan, to switch things up a little and solve a few puzzles. There's also a certain satisfaction to be had from defeating an entire room of enemies and getting stronger because of it despite how routine it can feel at times.

It may be basic, but Illusion of Gaia is not an easy game. Will is fairly fragile at the start of most dungeons, with enemies able to deplete his life bar in just a few hits. Even after going through the trouble of defeating all the enemies in the dungeon to get all the power boosts, there is still the issue of the boss fights. These bosses create sudden spikes in the difficulty curve, as they often take place in confined areas and fill the screen with attacks that are both hard-hitting and hard to dodge. Further compounding this is the scarcity of ways to regain health; herbs are the only healing item in the game, and there are only one or two of them to find in each area. It's tough, but the level of challenge almost never gets high enough to make the game more frustrating than fun to play. Unfortunately, the game also has a couple moments where it's difficult to figure out how to progress without using a guide. For instance, an early puzzle involving a room filled with golden tiles leaves hints saying that the solution requires using a particular item, but doing so only makes one slight change, and the only clue that comes from it gives very little information. These moments are sparse but have the potential to be aggravating, especially for a game that's primarily geared towards combat.

If there is one thing that has aged gracefully in Illusion of Gaia, it's the presentation. The art styIe is vibrant and colorful, making good use of the SNES' 16-bit tech to create a solid variety of locations and setpieces. There is also a nice attention to detail, with little things like the wind blowing in Will's hair when he's standing still or the screen bobbing up and down when in an area that involves the ocean thrown in here and there. The music fares just as well, with entertainingly bombastic pieces for dungeons and slow pretty compositions for the more character-driven moments. The overall presentation is solid enough to make finding and exploring each new ruin part of the overall fun of the game.

Ultimately, Illusion of Gaia can be finished in less than ten hours and lacks much reason to keep coming back to it after seeing the end credits roll. However, what saves it from being a "pass" is its cheap price. Although it still only exists as a Super Nintendo game, used copies can easily be found around the seven dollar range online, and likely for even less at the local flea market or yard sale. For this reason, Illusion of Gaia is still worth a playthrough, whether it's for a good nostalgic romp or just to see how well stories could be told in past video games in spite of limited hardware.


First Impressions: Lost in Shadow

I found this gif funnier than any kind of witty title I could come up with for this game.

Anyways, I've just put about 52 minutes into Lost in Shadow, a strange recent title for the Wii. The concept is certainly an interesting one: You are the shadow of a boy and you must climb a ridiculously tall tower to be reunited with your real-world body. Doing this requires some platforming and manipulating objects in the foreground to open up paths in the shadows themselves. It's a bit disorienting at first since you have to pay more attention to the background than the foreground, but this had led to some pretty nifty sections like knocking a light around to shorten gaps and rotating the entire light source to make new paths. The puzzles have been pretty straightforward so far, but the potential for some wacky brain-teasers is clearly there. The art styIe is also pretty cool. It has the same general motif as Ico and Shadow of the Colossus, and wants to be another example of games as a form of art. If I have to list a problem with the game at the moment, it's that it looks like it'll be over pretty quickly. I haven't even put an hour into the game, and it's telling me that I've completed about 20% of it already. If that turns out to be the case, then I hope the saying "The light that burns brightest burns shortest" is proven true here. It worked for Shadow of the Colossus, after all.

With this said, I've noticed a pattern with all the games I'm currently playing: They all have something to do with shadows. FF6 and Illusion of Gaia have characters named Shadow, and then this one is self-explanatory. Just a silly coincidence I suppose…OR IS IT!?