Saturday, June 22, 2013

June 22, 2013 -- How I Spent My Summer Vacation

This post is non-canon.

Okay, this looks really bad. I have been away for a while, but it's not because I've forgotten about or abandoned my habit of judging anime series solely by its first impression. Truth be told, I've been working to take care of business with regards to my life. My real one. Not the one where I make penis jokes as I watch cartoons about little girls who transform into well-dressed superheroes and get their heads bitten off.

I would've had someone replace me while I was away, but unfortunately I'm not popular enough to have a budget or assistants or a British man who could replace me as I disappear to god knows where over the summer.

Well I'm back now and I return with news that I have my own house (that isn't actually mine; it's a rental) and a salaried job that I start in August. Next week I'll be fulfilling my duty as best man at my bestest friend's wedding where I will underwhelm everybody with a speech that I totally wrote and after that I return to being a reclusive mole-man who shrieks at the sun and eats trash by night as he constructs an elaborate list to murder everybody who was wrong on the internet. You know, an anime fan.

Visual Approximation

So naturally I haven't watched too much anime recently, at least not any new ones. I mean, why would I, right? I've found several shows that were really good, and because they were really good I wanted to watch them all. Toradora was great, Ef - A Tale of Memories was good enough that I bought the North American Blu-ray release (the dub was exceptionally well-produced), and Amnesia was Amnesia.

Oh don't worry, I have been doing some anime-related things so I decided that's what I would talk about today. This has been a pretty active month in terms of announcements and it can be a lot to take in. Let me break it down for you and tell you all the things I learned over the past month.

Project Diva F will be released in North America. Miku's still got it.

This one took me completely by surprise. This is something I would never have imagined being localized, not in a million years. I've always had a soft spot for Miku and Vocaloid songs in general, so a rhythm game consisting entirely of those songs would be pretty nice to have.

Well a couple weeks ago Sega announced on the Playstation blog that the PS3 version of Project Diva F would be localized. More surprising was the fact that about a week later, they would be releasing a demo for the game. I tried it out for myself and was surprised to find out that it's quite a challenging game. I'm used to rhythm and music games, and I'd like to imagine I'm pretty good at them, but I had to play the demo on easy after I bombed out horrendously on normal difficulty. This game should provide an adequate challenge to even the most hardened rhythm game enthusiast.

As you play the game, note markers appear onscreen. Said markers have little clock hands on them that spin around in a circle, starting and ending at twelve o'clock. As the hands spin, the notes fly in from off-screen towards the note markers. You have to hit the appropriate button in time with the music (as you'd expect from a rhythm game), right as the clock hand hits twelve o'clock on the note marker.

Normal difficulty usually has you working with no more than 2 or three different buttons in a song that range from the X, square, triangle, and O face buttons to the arrow buttons in conjunction with said face buttons. The notes don't seem to mix up (O,X,O) but rather come at you in a series of X notes before hitting a series of O notes. Occasionally, a section of star-shaped notes will appear. These require you to move the analogue stick in any direction to "strum" the notes in time with the music. The button notes follow the rhythm of the vocals, while the star notes generally follow along with the instrumental beat of the song.

It brings with it a very satisfying degree of challenge that I haven't seen from a rhythm game for a long time, though I can't say I'm fond of the analogue stick notes. The feedback you get from tapping the stick in time with the notes is soapy at best, which makes it really tricky to get a decent rhythm going. It doesn't have that little click like the face buttons do when you press them, so it doesn't quite "feel" rhythmic when you hit those notes.

The demo comes with three songs: Weekender Girl, Tengaku, and World's End Dance Hall. Weekender Girl is the easiest of the bunch, but it also happens to be my favorite to listen to. It has a very smooth flow that is perfectly suited to Miku's voice. World's End is probably my least favorite, not because it's a bad song but because I've just never been terribly fond of the faux-heavy pop-rock that seems to comprise a decent number of Vocaloid tracks. I'm in the minority in that regard. Though World's End isn't my favorite, the stage is probably the best at showcasing how challenging and frantic the game can be. Notes come quickly and mix up frequently, and it's very satisfying to complete.

The game is beautiful, by the way. The graphics are very good, and there's a lot of detail put into the videos that play along with each song. The only drawback to this is that sometimes there's a bit too much going on in the background, which can be a bit distracting. In the Tengaku stage, for example, there's a really really cool part when the Rin shreds on her guitar so hard that the stage she's playing on bursts into flames. She rocks the stage as it burns and it's very visually striking, but it has the unfortunate effect of making the red O button notes somewhat difficult to see. The color of the notes clashing with the background is something that concerns me. Be sure to pay close attention to the note marker in these cases, because you'll largely be at the mercy of the timer for these sections.

Also, this game is really meant to be played on a much smaller screen. This isn't surprising as it was originally a PS Vita game. In fact, the original Project Diva games were for PSP. Fortunately, the game gives you the option of shrinking down the screen to a percentage of its original size. If you're playing on a 40" TV like I was, you might consider shrinking it down. I also played the game on a 32" and found it a bit more manageable at that size.

Despite a few issues that make the game more difficult than it really needs to be (most of which can be adjusted with user input), this game is shaping up to be very good. The full version will include a wide variety of character customization options and a mode that lets you edit your own Vocaloid videos, evidently. It seems like making this game into your own Vocaloid experience is every bit as much of a key feature of this game as are the songs and stages. The full version should also feature online leaderboards for those of you who have self-esteem issues and need some sort of bragging rights to give your life meaning.

Project Diva F will be available for PS3 in stores and via PSN some time in August. The demo is available on PSN now. Give it a try. You'll be glad you did.

Let's Plays are really time-consuming. Tales of Vesperia is still extremely overrated.

For those of you who don't know (which, statistically speaking, is absolutely everyone), I'm attempting a mini-LP of Tales of Vesperia. For those that don't know, Tales of Vesperia is a main entry in the Tales of... franchise that contain many great games. Tales of the Abyss is my favorite in the series, with Symphonia and Graces in competition for second place. Symphonia has a great story, but the combat engine hasn't aged terribly well. Tales of Graces has a really amazing combat system, but its story is mediocre at-best.

Check out the first episode of the LP here, then keep watching them until you're done. Episode 7 is in production, and I think it's going to be very pleasantly surprising.

Back to my original point, Tales of Vesperia is widely regarded to be the best in the series. It's one that many have cited as a JRPG classic, and I can't for the life of me figure out why. Tales of Vesperia is so disappointing on so many levels that it really marred the entire experience that this game should have delivered to Tales fans.

By itself, Vesperia is a good game. As a Tales game, however, it's down there with Legendia in terms of quality. Say what you will about Tales of Legendia, at least that game had a story and character development. In Vesperia, what little story there is relies mostly on coincidence and deus ex machina to get Yuri and the gang out of a jam. Here's the story of Tales of Vesperia: Someone steals a magic water rock from a fountain which causes it to explode. Yuri goes off to catch the thief and restore clean water to the lower quarter of the capital, but before he can do that, he gets arrested and thrown in the castle dungeon. He escapes the dungeon, and meets Estelle along the way. Estelle is the princess of the kingdom and despite being very well read, she's as dumb as a post. They meet other characters along the way, like Rita (a mage), Raven (an old pervert), Judith (a sexy), and Karol (a dumb).

Eventually, they get the water rock but then a bird calls Estelle a mean name so they have to go chase the bird and ask it why it called Estelle a mean name. Then Estelle gets kidnapped and you have to spend like three hours of game time without a healer (and no, Karol doesn't count). Then you defeat the bad guy who kidnapped Estelle, but then Duke shows up and decides that he's going to be the final boss. So Yuri finds him, the party beats him up and then the game ends. There is no arc, no identifiable act structure, and with the exception of Karol there is just about no character development to be found. Every single character (again, with the possible exception of Karol) is the exact same person at the beginning of the game as they are at the end.

There is no catharsis or climactic battle to be had in Vesperia, no rivals for characters to overcome. Any main rivalries are dealt with either through cutscenes or otherwise outside of battle. There is no Kratos Aurion equivalent in this game (though Kratos does appear as a bonus boss), no Asch the Bloody, nor any singular character that represents an personal hurdle for the character to overcome. The fight between Yuri and Flynn is close, but that was hardly a climactic battle between rivals. That was a glorified sparring match that was teased at for forty-some hours. It had some of the best dialogue of the game, but it had next to no dramatic impact.

I will give the game some credit, the combat system is very well done. There's a wide variety of skills and altered artes to allow you to customize how you fight in a way you're comfortable with, finish strikes are a cool addition to the system, and the partner AI doesn't try to actively sabotage you by attacking enemies with elemental attacks that they're resistant to (as often happens in Legendia). Fighting is the fun part of this game.

Except for over limit. Over limit has been made stupid in this game, as it favors your opponents over you. Opponents will always have higher defense and cannot be stunned during their over limit, whereas you start out with a woefully underpowered over limit that lets you chain attacks ad infinitum, but enemies can still wreck your shit while you do it. You are completely vulnerable to stunlock while in over limit levels one through three. You can earn the privilege of not getting stunned if you have level 4 over limit, but it takes quite a while to get there, and the whole purpose of over limit is that it's supposed to be the great equalizer. It's there so that if you're in a pinch, you can burst out of an enemy combo and bring the pain without fear of getting your combo interrupted before busting out a mystic arte and giving your foes a round-trip ticket on the pain train.

In Tales of Vesperia, when you try to bring out the pain train, this is far more likely to happen:

The side-quest system is completely broken, requiring you to read the mind of the programmers to know when an where you're supposed to look to find anything outside of the main quest. Doubly insulting is the fact that completing side-quests is a must if you want any sort of character backstory or explanation into their motivation. This is true for all of the characters, including the one that turns out to be the final boss. Let me repeat that:


Character development is scrapped in favor of long, pointless talky scenes where the party breaks up, usually at night after they check into the inn. You know those parts where characters can't sleep so you have to go methodically search whatever town or village you're in to find your party members and find out what's on their mind? That part of every JRPG that everybody hates? That's about 25% of the game. It really breaks what little forward momentum the story has and forces you to do the busywork of tracking down five characters scattered around town just to find out that Estelle is nervous about finding out what that bird meant when he called her that mean name.

Vesperia fans cling to this game because it's a Tales game that isn't steeped in a bunch of JRPG cliches. And they're mostly right. This game doesn't have thousands of JRPG cliches bogging it down. Instead it uses the same two or three cliches thousands of times. Like splitting up your party and talking to everyone? Great, do it ten times! Like one-on-one fights with tremendous odds to overcome? Great, do it twenty times!

I could go on at great lengths as to how disappointed Vesperia made me, but I still have something else to talk about that is far more objectionable. All I'm going to say is that Vesperia is far from the quintessential Tales experience that it claims to be. If I could be perfectly honest, I actually prefer Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World over Tales of Vesperia. Sure the combat was less engaging and the element grid/mystic arte system was never fully explained and there was no overworld or any real exploration, and the story was pretty basic, but you know what? At least that game actually had a story and characters who actually developed and learned something throughout their journey.

Also, that game had Laura Bailey, which means it's okay by me. If there's anyone out there who would like to debate the merits of Tales of Vesperia, please comment and we can talk about this. I just really don't understand why people love this game so much.

Hyperdimension Neptunia is getting an anime. I am filled with hatred for you all.

Have you thought about what you did? You can come out of the corner now so that we can talk about this.

For those of you that don't know, Hyperdimension Neptunia is a series (yes, this travesty spans three games now) that actually has a very original and clever premise. It's story takes place in a fictional realm called "Gameindustri" and it is a personified version of the console wars and stars Neptune, the anthropomorphic representation of the unreleased game console called the Sega Neptune, which was intended to be the successor/sister console of the Sega Saturn.

Every other character in the game represents some other console or game company and is designed as a satire of the game industry. Pretty cool right? Sounds like it could be really funny and clever right?

Unfortunately it was made by

You might remember them as being the geniuses behind this work of art:

They were also the criminal masterminds behind this travesty:

I will never understand how these hacks continue to make money, why they are allowed to continue and thrive in the market, and why you idiots continue to buy their games (though I suppose that last one is the answer to the second one). Their games are poorly written, artistically vacuous, and perpetuate the moe garbage that make me ashamed to admit that I watch anime. Their games are scientifically formulated to make you constantly look over your shoulder to make sure that nobody can see you playing them and discover the shame that you willingly subject yourself to.

Idea Factory is the Cinnabon of the video game industry: Sugary sweet but with no nutritional value and people who don't like it will judge you unfairly for enjoying it. Also for some reason you have really bad diarrhea after you're done with it.

"Not now, honey! I have to take a massive
Record of Agarest War right now!"
So naturally they're making an anime out of it. No longer will otaku have to advance through paragraphs of insipid dialogue to get to find a CG image to jerk off to. Now they can advance frame by frame, picking and choosing what they jerk off to as they argue about whether Compa is or is not their waifu! Truly storytelling the way Plato himself envisioned.

You are mistaken, Aristotle! Socrates was MY waifu!
Hyperdimension Neptunia is at best a great concept executed terribly and at worst a misogynistic trainwreck of a game. So naturally I'll be watching the anime when it premieres in July and tell you how trashy it is.

I feel like I should leave you with some good news, so I'll leave you with this nugget of joy.

Tales of Symphonia is getting an HD remake and it looks really pretty. I'm not sure that Ninin Sankyaku needed a remix.

Enjoy. See you next week.

1 comment:

  1. I'm doing my best to keep up with your Tales Let's Play, but I've got a lot of stuff going on right now.

    Also, I'll make a note of avoiding Hyperdimension Neptunia like the plague.