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February Gaming Cookies

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Love is in the air, and the month of February promises to be a cavalcade of surprises, including the anticipated unveiling of the PlayStation 4.   In the meantime, I got a couple of new games to kick off the month.  To get one of the games, however, I decided to let Assassin's Creed 3 go and use it as a trade-in.  I messed up badly leapfrogging that series, and I'm paying the price.  It's doubtful I'll get back into the franchise after it held so much promise for me, but life goes on.  I'll live.  In the meantime.....

Ni No Kuni. It was only mere days ago when I got this game and began playing it when I received a hearty congratulatory message from my good friend matastig.  That was when it all sank in -- Ni no Kuni was something special, and there was a reason why it's got everyone talking.   It's not merely a great game -- it's a prodigal son.  You know, when a specific brand of role-playing game goes away for a lengthy period of time only to come back feeling better than it's ever been.  The whole thing screams "old-school traditional style" right down to the Rogue Galaxy-esque combat, the familiars and the all-around classic vibe.  It may not break a lot of ground, but it does what it does extremely well.  Drippy has officially become my new favorite sidekick character.  Not so much because he speaks in a heavy Scottish accent, but he's as lovingly annoying as a hyperbolic Ricky Gervais.....with a Scottish accent.  Anyhow, the game is a nice throwback to old-school traditions; even if it does feel as if the game relies too heavily on them at times, I suppose that's what gives it so much charm.

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Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time.  For a while, I had my reservations about the fourth Sly Cooper game going into a next-gen platform for the first time and being handled by people other than Sucker Punch, but with Thieves in Time, Sanzaru Games have proven how much they actually love the source material. Thieves in Time draws heavily from Sly 2 and retains all the memorable platforming gameplay of the series.  Bottle collecting is back, the time-travel element works with the story and the ability to play different characters from the Cooper family is a big hoot.   It's safe to say that the franchise is in good hands, even though the transitioning of development teams was tough to swallow.  Although I do hold some hope that Sucker Punch will pick up the reins again, Sanzaru seems competent enough to carry the Sly Cooper legacy well into the future and, perhaps, through the graces of the rumored PS4.  As Sly himself says in the game, "it feels good to be back in action."

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Legend of the Mystical Ninja.  On my quest to build a Super NES collection of games (complete with their boxes and manuals---watch yourselves, digi-demon and widdowson91!) I chose this game as my pick of the month; found it on EBay complete with box and manual.  Such a thing is fairly rare with a game that had a limited print run back in the day, so this is something of an extraordinary find.  I remember the good old days when me and my friend played it together on my Super NES, seduced by the authentic Japanese soundtrack and perplexed by the many different gameplay variants -- like the mini-games, the side-scrolling platformers and some mild RPG elements.  Granted, this wasn't exactly Konami's killer app at the time when compared to juggernauts like Gradius, Contra and Castlevania, but it managed a cult following of sorts.  Heck, I actually wanted it for Christmas one time before I had completely forgotten about it mere months later when I got Contra III for my birthday.  Legend of the Mystical Ninja can currently be found on the Virtual Console for 800 points.

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On the fence, I'm considering Metal Gear Rising, but since it is technically a part of the Metal Gear Solid series, I don't want to find myself leapfrogging again until I play the previous games.  I also still have Far Cry 3 on the brain, too.  Not sure yet.  I'll keep you posted.

What about Darksiders?

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For the video game industry, 2013 hasn't been off to a particularly great start thus far. The issue of video game violence is once again being examined and scrutinized after the horrendous events of Sandy Hook last year, and a recognizable name in the industry, THQ (Toy Head Quarters for anyone who wondered what it stood for) has been dissolved. Nearly all of its intellectual properties have been sold off to other third-party publishers in an effort to help consolidate THQ's bankruptcy. Whatever your opinions may be of THQ, it is generally agreed that they did possess a number of promising franchises. Among them Saint's Row, the WWE games, Metro and Homefront. As of this writing, many of THQ's backlog have established new homes within the likes of Electronic Arts, Sega, Ubisoft, and Take-Two (to name a few). Yet, as of now, only one franchise failed to find a home. And it's one that I have a deep fondness of; a little known apocalyptic adventure known as Darksiders.

When I first bought Darksiders on my 360, I was drawn to how it indirectly references the Zelda games. Such a claim has been stated on numerous occasions and, when you play the game for yourself, you'll come to understand why. Puzzle solving, exploration, complex dungeons that require specific tools and items to navigate and intense combat round out the package. I wouldn't go so far as call it a Zelda-clone because while it shares many similarities, it possesses a identity all its own in a blood-soaked, apocalyptic, extraordinarily-violent atmosphere. Following up on Darksiders, Darksiders 2 expanded on the original with a bigger world, a protagonist that swelled of pure awesomeness on every level, an addictive loot system, side questing and more depth. It also took an interesting story approach by taking place during the original game when War was going through his struggles -- through the perspective of Death and how he fought to clear his brother's name. Yes, the story was quite outlandish, but damned if it doesn't make for a good excuse to kick some serious ass.

Darksiders was one of those games that did things a little differently with a formula that has already been done (more or less), and showed a great deal of promise in becoming its own successful franchise for THQ. Unfortunately, as THQ teetered on the brink of collapse, the future of Vigil Games and the Darksiders series fell into uncertainty. When THQ was finally dissolved earlier this month, no other third-party publisher expressed enough interest in giving it a new home, snapping up Saint's Row and the WWE franchise as they were proven money makers. Darksiders enjoyed moderate success, but it ultimately did not convince potential takers. As a result, Vigil Games was disbanded---many of its team going on to other development houses (like Crytek). This is truly a shame, because the Vigil team possessed more than enough potential to be a valuable asset for any company outside of THQ, and it wouldn't have mattered if they made a Darksiders game or not.

Interestingly enough, there is some hope on the horizon for Darksiders, and it's from a surprising source. Platinum Games, developers of Bayonetta, Metal Gear Rising and the upcoming Wonderful 101, has gone on record inquiring about obtaining the IP and using their own development team to possibly craft a third project. Whether or not Darksiders under a Japanese development team would be as good as its Vigil-produced forebearers would depend solely on how much they really care about and respect the source material to please long-time fans and possibly draw in newcomers. Of course, God forbid if they consider rebooting it.

Although nothing's been confirmed yet, at least there may be a second chance----a second coming if you will---of a franchise that, for the time being and like the dilemma War faced with Earth in the original Darksiders, has died way before its time.

Ni No Kuni

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Oh, man. I've been hearing some GOOD things about this game. My friend texted me yesterday and told me he had picked it up, and he hasn't touched his PS3 in over four years. If I weren't so buried up to my gills in unfinished games, I would be half-inclined to impulsively pick this up and add yet another game to my laundry list.

In retrospect, I haven't seen this kind of RPG in ages. I haven't really seen anything RPG-related from Level 5 (apart from the Layton games) in what seems like an eternity.

So, before I burn a hole in my wallet, is this worth getting? Or can it wait?

Changing my tune on Kratos.....somewhat

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Playing games with anti-heroes is nothing new to me, especially ones who are morally ambiguous. Yet, I don't know of any character that had ever made me more uncomfortable than a guy named Kratos. The God of War series, in a gameplay sense, are the stuff that should have driven someone like me to play them -- somebody who loves platforming, action-combat, button-mashing mayhem and exemplary production values. But the reason why I was hesitant in investing in this series was because Kratos is, in my opinion, the most apathetic jerk on the face of the video gaming planet. (Former GS reviewer Alex Navarro labeled him the same, and he used stronger language.)

Maybe it's because I haven't even played the games themselves to REALLY understand Kratos. However, I'm not in the business of psychologizing---I just want to play a fun game that has a good story with good characters. God of War, I think, may just deliver on that. And who am I to judge a game entirely on the merits of a single character? Yes, Kratos is immoral. Yes, he does things that make me cringe. But he's also a tormented soul who was once a family man. So it can be argued that Kratos, in a morbid sort of way, is a solid character with a lot of depth and believability.

Even though I question Kratos' violent character and apathy, I also ask myself this: was Gabriel Belmont so different? Was Rick Taylor of Splatterhouse any different either? What about War and Death from the Darksiders franchise? What makes them any better or holier than Kratos? All of these characters have one sad thing in common. They exist within the idealism that violence is the answer to their problems.

Although I'm well into my thirties, my gaming tastes continue to change and evolve. I guess such is the pathos of life---trying new things, taking the plunge, taking risks. My friend once told me---life without risk is a life not worth living. With risk comes reward, with accomplishment comes fulfillment. Giving things a chance and being pleasantly surprised by the result---it's what makes life worth living. Not just in video games, but in the outdoor hustle and bustly of life in general.

So, that said, I've asked my friend if I can borrow the first God of War on the PS2. Kratos may not exactly be someone I want to have lunch with on a sunny day in Long Beach, but he does deserve a chance. I'm going to be careful here as to not leapfrog through the trilogy as I did rather foolishly with Assassin's Creed---opting to play the games in order. I cannot indulge in any long-term promises that I'll become an immediate fan of God of War, but I'm willing to take the plunge in an effort to further expand my gaming perspectives.

I'll update you on my impressions in a future blog. Keep calm and game on.

DmC demo impressions

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The new DmC reboot is set to be released in mere hours. Of course, some of you recall my initial reaction to Dante's new character design, made to look like Robert Pattinson with a cigarette in his mouth. Not favorable. In fact, I hated it for a time. Still, despite the obvious, I put my trust in both Capcom and Ninja Theory hoping they wouldn't, at the very least, screw up the gameplay. A few years later, I was presented the opportunity to taste a snippet of their endeavors in the form of a demo I downloaded last night from the PlayStation Network.

Well, the first few minutes in .... were quite impressive.

For a while, I ignored the fact that Dante no longer had silver hair, and he began the game naked for some reason. I don't know -- there's something about this Dante in particular that is a far cry from the Dante I'm used to seeing. He's got a seedier attitude and seems a little more flippant and an edgy hard-ass. Is it surprising to learn that I'm drawn to these qualities when it comes to anti-heroes?

Oh, and the gameplay is actually quite fun. Soon as I wielded by Rebellion and my Ebony and Ivory, I felt right at home. And the new Angel/Devil system is a nice touch -- a stark reminder of Lords of Shadow.

Although I'm still not really loving the dark hair and the Twilight vibe, this DmC has a surprising amount of potential, and it's getting favorable reviews so far. I'm considering picking this up---convinced that Capcom's might have another surprise of a winner here. As they say, never judge a Devil by his hair color.

"A man chooses, a slave obeys....a gamer triumphs."

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Not only did I beat Bioshock for the fourth time and gotten all the Audio Diaries, earning the Rapture Historian achievement, I also pulled off another fantastical feat -- beating Bioshock 2. Yes, you heard right.

Almost immediately after finishing up Bioshock, I began work on Bioshock 2, which transpires eight years after the events of the original game. Bioshock 2 is also noticeably more difficult as well, with tougher enemies like the Big Sisters and Brute Splicers. It's also got a more interesting and compelling villain -- Sofia Lamb, an idealist who is the very opposite of Andrew Ryan, yet is every bit as sinister and diabolical as Rapture's founder. There are also a bunch of plot points that I found intriguing, including one that made my jaw drop to the floor. But I'll leave it to your imagination until you play the game yourself!

And, of course, I chose to be a good Subject Delta; saving all the Little Sisters, and leaving all the NPCs alive---even ones that deserved to die (i.e. Stanley Poole) Unlike Bioshock, Bioshock 2 gives ample opportunity to earn a little more ADAM when you're saving Little Sisters (i.e. harvesting dead ADAM rich bodies, for example), but as before, I wasn't able to buy all the Gene Tonics and Plasmids. Still, I got the best ending I could get, so I'm happy.

I only spent about a week and a half playing Bioshock 2, but I burned a whole lotta midnight oil to find the Audio Diaries and the Little Sisters, as well as doing all the camera research to earn three tough achievements in one playthrough. Also, it was nice getting to explore the previously unexplored districts and areas of Rapture. I don't think I'll be revisiting Bioshock again anytime soon---if ever. However, I plan on going back to Bioshock 2 for Minerva's Den at a later date -- before the release of Bioshock Infinite. I'll hopefully get around to writing official reviews for both games.

In the meantime, I'm movin' on to another game. Either Skyrim or Darksiders 2. Maybe both?

My New Year's Gaming Resolutions

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Like something you would say lovingly in your boyfriend/girlfriend's ear during a night out in New York, New Year's Resolutions are promises you don't intend to keep. People make them out of the spur of the moment--- a brand new year is like a gleaming blank slate, waiting for Gallagher to smash a Watermelon with a sledgehammer and letting all the juicy mess spill in a plethora of exciting colors. But soon afterward, the mess dries and flakes off. You get where I'm going with this, right? Yeah. Well, at least people try, and these empty promises become tools of motivation to at least make headway towards their non-intended goal, even if they never reach it.

Well, I've decided to make a couple of resolutions myself. And they all have something to do with video games. Whether I'll be able to fulfill all of them (much less one or two) remains to be seen, but 2013 is still young and I've got twelve months to pull it off. Here are six gaming resolutions I hope to achieve by year's end.

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Gaming Resolution #1 -- Get every single achievement in Bioshock.

This is my fourth playthrough of Bioshock thus far. Not because it's become one of my favorite games, but because there's still a lot of unfinished business in Rapture. The first time around, I "rescued" every little Sister I could find, but failed to obtain all the Plasmids, Gene Tonics and physical upgrades. I didn't find all the Audio diaries. I didn't "research" all the Splicers in their entirety. And I didn't bother to hack all the Vending Machines. And, being the sappy good guy type that I am, I played the goody-two-shoes and ensured the Best ending I can get. My second and third time gunning through Bioshock yielded better results, but I still was never able to find EVERYTHING. By doing so, you'll earn achievements. So, I decided to make myself a defacto gaming promise--- revisit Bioshock yet again to see if I can get 100% completion -- hacking EVERY machine, getting EVERY Plasmid and Gene Tonic (even if it means NOT saving Little sisters this time) , photographing EVERY Splicer, and finding EVERY Audio Diary; not leaving Rapture or the game until I do. Even if I earned the achievement already, I'll simply do it again. It's not only a ridiculous promise, it's also a well enough excuse to hang around Rapture and take in the sorry sights. Sadly, this all comes at the expense of me starting Bioshock 2---which I have yet to fully do. But, hey, I'll likely have both that and this Bioshock finished by the time Bioshock Infinite is released.

Gaming Resolution #2 -- Don't Skip Sequels

Last year, I wrote a blog chronicling how I leapfrogged Assassin's Creed, missing out on important story developments and spoiling myself with plot threads that would have been a lot more enjoyable had I actually played the series in order. I'm not going to do this again. I took a lot of heat bragging about my time with Assassin's Creed 3 without playing earlier games in the series. It's not only foolish, but also dishonorable as a gamer.

Gaming Resolution #3 -- Finish a Final Fantasy beyond Final Fantasy VI.

Final Fantasy VI was the last Final Fantasy game I actually finished. That and Final Fantasy IV. And there are fourteen games in the series (not counting the spinoffs). That said, I've resolved to pick a Final Fantasy game I have in my library that extends beyond FFVI, devote time to it and beat it in its entirety. I'll reveal which Final Fantasy game that is in a later blog.

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Gaming Resolution #4 -- Finish Skyrim.

Insanity. Pure insanity. I got far with my Khahjit, but he never set foot in the expansions. I have resolved to at least finish the main story portion of Skyrim, regardless whether or not I have completed all 5 billion side-quests.

Gaming Resolution #5 -- Reach Level 85 in World of Warcraft.

For the numerous times I've activated and deactivated my account, as well as all the years I've played it, I've NEVER gotten to the Level Cap, and it keeps growing with every expansion. My Mage is close to the threshold -- I hope to get her there before the year is over. Fortunately, Blizzard's not releasing any new expansion packs anytime soon.

Gaming Resolution #6 -- Finish all my unfinished games of 2011 and 2012!

I don't need to complete them 100% with every item, achievement and/or side quest completed---I just want to beat it and move on to the next game. My list of unfinished games is quite huge. I've made some strides finishing a few late last year, but ... it's sort of like having term papers and homework. You know they need to get done, but they just sit there and intimidate you. Maybe even frighten you a little. Gaming is something I cannot regularly enjoy as much as I used to as a careless, spoiled kid who embarrassed his mom and dad at a Sear's store with bullhorn tantrums. So you can well imagine that when I have the time to game, I game hard. At least, until I get hungry. For motivation, I'll simply look at @pokecharm as a rival in a game footrace---to see who can finish their queues first before the year is up. The only advantage I have is that she has a bigger list of unfinished games. But I don't yet have her level of motivation. Yet!

Oh, and yeah, I DO have resolutions outside of gaming like exercise more, lose weight, join a gym.......

......meh, don't have time for that crap. :P

Happy New Year 2013!

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Happy New Year, you guys!

Well, as of this posting, it is several hours into January 1st, but dear God in heaven will 2013 whiz right by in a nanosecond. I think it was Ferris Bueller, one of society's greatest anti-heroes, who said it best. "Life moves pretty fast. You don't stop and look around for a while, you could miss it." We don't know what the new year will bring, but I'm relieved that there aren't any Doomsday predictions to speak of, no Mitt Romneys to worry about. Oh, and I look forward to the slow, agonizing death of that hideously annoying "Gangnam Style."

Last night, I was sifting through my blogosphere, reading a lot of my older blogs. I remembered how much fun I had writing them, and it certainly showed. About three years worth of writing, brainstorming and analytical thinking make up the bulk of my blogging history, numbering well over 200 and counting. Through these blogs (and my reviews) I've made nearly 300+ friends. Not bad. There are a lot of people who have a unique blogging style that draws in a crowd or two, but I've made my friends just by being myself.

So as I look ahead to 2013, I'm weighing my options on how best to spend my time here at GameSpot. With an influx of new games, and new systems, around the bend, there will certainly be a lot of talk about. I may bring back a few blog series that I left in the backburner so long ago, and I might start up something new. There's an endless array of opportunities to bring something interesting to the table, and I'm always willing to experiment with any and every idea. Being an artist and writer by nature, this sort of thing comes with the territory.

Yet, I'm still as humble as I've ever been, and will never forget the wonderful people whom I proudly call close friends (i.e. zinoalex, -saigo-, digi-demon, mufujifi, Kid_Black_Star, pisceschick93, widdowson91, pokecharm, nachi lobo, exber, matastig, undergroundfrog, zillaman101, goyoshi12---the list goes on and on.) as well as new ones (khatibi22, TAMKfan, Lightning_KF, etc.....) -- all of whom have taken the time to read my stuff. It is because of this reason that I strive to make my blogs enjoyable, thought-provoking, entertaining reads.

So, in closing, let me wish each and every one of you a blessed, happy New Year 2013. Let's make it a good one.

Final Blog of 2012 -- Merry Christmas, everyone!

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Well, this is it, my final blog of 2012. Unfortunately, I couldn't think of anything significant to mark the occasion -- last year, I did my worst and best games of 2011 and the year before that. But this year, I'd like to spend some time showing my appreciation, and thanks, to every one of you who have tracked me, followed me and have become my friends.

I think we can all agree that 2012 been a crazy year. It's also been one of suffering. We've been through so much. Yet in the words of the Demon Hunter in Diablo 3 -- "it is the nature of human beings. We suffer, but we endure." And I think we've done that. We've endured. Count our blessings.Be grateful for what you have. Don't fret over what you don't have, because you probably don't even need it. Know that each and every one of you have a unique gift to share to the world.

So, on this Christmas day---a day that will soon pass us by--I close another cycle here on GameSpot; my fourth. I hope to bring more to the table next year in terms of blogs, reviews and updates on my crazy gaming life. But until then, I'm going to rest my wings, take it easy, and watch 2012 fade into history.

In a gaming sense at least, 2013 is sure to be eventful. I hope y'all are ready.

Merry Christmas, everybody, and God bless.

Failure is the pillar to success

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Well, it wasn't too long ago when I was going through a bit of a personal struggle. And it involved failure.

I thought I would use my second-to-last blog of 2012 to reflect on a moment that happened in my life recently that caused me to have these feelings of being knocked down, and how a dear friend helped me, through a minute-long YouTube video, find the strength to get right back up and the motivation to keep right on going.

Just about every single person living on Earth has experienced failure, or a feeling of failure, in their lifetime. Given my own experiences, the thought of it can truly mess with your emotional state of being. I admit to have fallen victim to this on several occasions. Not just here in GameSpot, but throughout my life in general. The feeling of failure often leads to a feeling of inadequacy and/or hopelessness and inferiority. People tell you that you're not good enough, or you don't have what it takes. You constantly fall to the floor, dropping your basket of eggs, and get lost on the way to the finish line. You compare yourself with others who have succeeded in their lives. You feel nobody is willing to give you a chance. You feel judged by your shortcomings, and allow it to cloud your perceptions in a way that you don't even want to try anymore.

If I can offer some solace, I'd like to remind each and every one of you that failure is a choice. Nothing more, nothing less. If you stumble and fall when you're running a marathon, you'll have only failed if you don't get right back up. If you bomb a math test, you'll have only really failed if you don't make any effort in analyzing what you had done wrong so you do not repeat the same mistakes again, and study harder for the next. If you invent a new product and it breaks down, you'll have only failed if you don't go back to the drawing board and analyze the problem. If you're playing an incredibly difficult video game that you believe is so impossible that it cannot be beaten, you will have only failed if you throw your controller against a wall and trade the game in for $15 store credit.

Furthermore, if you let anyone tell you that you're a failure, and you believe their lies, then you are a failure.

For me, it is a learning process. Yet, as I progress through life and look ahead to a glorious new year, I'm reminded of the fact that, in spite of my numerous setbacks, I've somehow managed to get through each and every one of them because the thought of 'failure' leaves me -- much like a paper cut or a knee scrape that heals overtime. I'm encouraged to keep going, looking ever ahead and never looking back.

One person I have to truly thank for giving me a new perspective is my friend @-saigo-. It was a little YouTube video he linked to me not too long ago that continues to be an incredible source of inspiration. If I didn't thank you properly in the past, -saigo-san-, allow me to thank you from the bottom of my heart now. If you'd like to see the video, click here. If as many people viewed this vid as they did Gangnam Style, the world might be a better place.

May it give you inspiration and confidence not just this Christmas season, but for the years beyond and for the life you were meant to live.