It’s No Cake Walker (Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker)

I’m not sure how I managed to convince myself that Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker was not important, that I could always save it for a rainy day. But now I’m having an uncomfortable sleep in this bed I’ve made, as I spend my days rushing to wrap PW up.

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The truth came to me suddenly. “Shit…MGSV: Ground Zeroes takes place after Peace Walker…what the hell happened in Peace Walker anyways?!” As luck would have this, this realization came just after a sale on PW, a missed opportunity to purchase it for $5.

Oh, but it’s not like I didn’t already own Peace Walker. That game was exactly why I purchased the Metal Gear Solid HD Collection in the first place. But time makes fools of us all, and I could never find enough of it to play the game.
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Back That Omasse Up (Weapon Shop de Omasse)

Weapon Shop de Omasse is just one surprise after another. There’s so many layers to its creativity that it brings to mind a less predictable onion.

Sure, I read the Japanese impressions. I wasn’t going into it blind, but its English localization really did wonders for it. In saying so, it should be made clear that the rhythm-action game you may have been sold on isn’t all Weapon Shop de Omasse has to offer.

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“These Go To Eleven.” (Inazuma Eleven)

It’s been an odd experience for a North American fan of Inazuma Eleven. Is it okay to even say I’m a fan? For some time I lacked any sort of meaningful connection to the games. Is it possible to be a fan of something you’ve never experienced?

I suppose I just could never help myself, Inazuma Eleven always seemed so promising. When first announced, it seemed its release here was eventual. The DS was home to a bevy of odd games, what was so strange about an role-playing soccer game?

But it never came to be. I came close to importing the UK version of the first DS game (itself released three years after the Japanese launch), but finding a reliable retailer became hard, despite our shared love for throwing the letter U into random words.

So guess what happened last week when Inazuma Eleven finally hit our shores? I exploded. Guts were everywhere. The hype train hit me so hard I ceased to exist.

My soul, through sheer will, rebuilt my body so I could indulge in this Level-5 treasure (albeit a weird, repackaged, and remade treasure from 6-years ago).

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What grabbed me immediately was its perfect blending of Pokémon, Mario Golf: Advance Tour, and Super Mario Strikers. Those three games are the kings of their genre, and Inazuma Eleven cherry picks the best of each. It nabs Pokémon‘s team building, expands upon Mario Golf‘s open world, and rivals the high-flying antics of Mario Strikers.

What Inazuma can claim as its own is a daring take on the game of soccer. Using the stylus, players oversee 11 characters as they battle it out against an eccentric team of enemies (ranging from horror themed hooligans to mathematical menaces). With the ball in your teams possession, players can pass it along to a teammate or take a shot at net. What you’ll find is that this match of soccer players like any RPG; when the opposition comes barreling down on a teammate, the game pauses and presents a few options. A number of factors come into player at this stage; each player has an element assigned to them (fire, wind, earth, and nature) which is strong and weak against another type, as well as the typical stats you’d expect from a game of this genre. If challenged, you can choose from feint, charge, or a special attack. Once your selection is made, the events sometimes unfold on the top screen with an in-game cinematic.

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It all seems like a bit much at first, but it didn’t take me long to wrap my head around it. I’ve always been one for adventurous control schemes, with Kid Icarus: Uprising being my favourite. These controls offer a lot of flexibility though, so it’s not just about dragging and tapping. Just before you make your decision in those battles I mentioned, you can tap on the screen where you’d like to place the ball should you win the engagement. As well, as you tap the screen to pass the ball to a teammate, tapping a second member will automatically have the ball placed to them when the first pass is complete. You can really take control of the field, and if this all seems daunting, you can pause the onscreen action with a “timeout” and plan your team’s routes at a less frantic pace.

Your on-field actions are important, but just who is out there is important as well. Inazuma‘s cast of playable characters is quite large, set apart by their attributes, special moves, and playing position. A great aspect of gathering these players is through scouting. Here you can pick and choose the players you’d like, filling in whatever holes may exist in your lineup.
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Off the field, Inazuma Eleven casts your team as the members of a beaten and bruised soccer club. Despite the protagonist’s cheerful attitude, the rest of Raimon High thinks very poorly of him and his kind. Despite an abundance of much sillier clubs, the soccer club’s poor performance means your fellow students wouldn’t piss on fire to put you out. How’s that for motivation? There’s many areas to explore, and plenty of folks to talk you (even though they hate your guts). Best of all, many of them spout nonsense!

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It’s still surprises me that I’m actually playing Inazuma Eleven. I’m interested in seeing where Level-5 takes the franchise here. The games are very story driven, so it seems unlikely that we’ll immediately jump to one of the proper 3DS sequels. But honestly, I’ll take what I can get, especially when it’s this refreshing.

Class Is In Session (Danganronpa)

Visual Novel Bros.

Visual Novel Bros.

I am really impressed with Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc.

If you haven’t read my interview with the man responsible for it’s localization, or manged to escape the Twitter fervor, it’s a visual novel developed by Spike Chunsoft (known for the Zero Escape series, and The Starship Damrey) and brought to North America by Nippon Ichi Software America. It casts you as a young man selected by Hope’s Peak to earn an education within it’s prestigious halls. Of course, things go awry and the player is forced into a deadly game, one where murder is the only way to ‘graduate’ and leave the premises. That or deduce just who the killer was and earn the right to continue living. It’s very somber, but contrasts it with a colourful cast who manage to bring some hilarity to nearly every situation.

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What surprised me was its restraint. While later chapters throw any sense of that out the window (or would if they weren’t covered in sheets of metal), early on the game’s narrative plays out like that of a masterful horror film. While players are sold on the premise of a cutthroat game of ‘whodunnit’, the first death is a nice ways into the proceedings. This is a very telling feature, it shows how important the story was to the developers (an obvious must considering the genre). Danganronpa’s opening allows the player to better understand the characters. I got a really great impression of who I’m surrounded by, and what I’m up against. Importantly, there was no one character I could pin as a potential murderer or victim. The game believably introduced a group of students who were intending to take part in their first day of class. There’s a lot of questioning as to why the school appeared as it did, but no one immediately began freaking out or feeling they were targeted. Some even thought this may have been a normal procedure.

Of course, when death hits, it hits hard. Despite the nature of the game, the brutality is very surprising (but also stylish, which I’ll touch on later), and so is the victims of these crimes.

As with the Ace Attorney series, the investigation and evidence gathering portion of the game is my least favourite. It’s not bad, but nothing tops the reveal or the trial itself. As the portion that lies between those two, it compares well to the second film of a trilogy; it introduces many questions, but it’s the next portion that reveals the truths. Despite this, Danganronpa provides a clearer path as to where to go and who to talk to during this period, an area that I always find lacking in the Ace Attorney games.

From the jump, the trials are complete chaos. They’re very interactive, requiring players to move a reticule across the screen and “shoot” truth bullets at conflicting portions of a character’s dialogue.  Timing is equally important, as the conversations move at a natural pace (you’re not prompted to move them forward during this section of the game). This procedure evolves throughout the course of the game, adding new layers with each case. For as fresh as the game is, it’s a wonder how attempts are made to make it even “fresher”.  After several of these shoot outs, Danganronpa even tries its hand at the music rhythm genre. It’s very goofy, and adds some levity to the murders you’re discussing.

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The game’s presentation also brings some light to the situation, with a quality and creativity that brings Persona 4 Golden to mind. Blood is bold shade of pink, and in doing so, Spike Chunsoft makes its appearance all the more horrific. Seeing this neon pink mess splashed across the screen plays with your expectations, similar to seeing blood in a black and white film.

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This year looks to continue this growing trend of visual novels making their way overseas, with Danganronpa leading the charge. The timing makes sense too, as the genre comes at a time where variety in the marketplace is lacking. Danganronpa‘s success is apparent, as NISA announced its plans to bring its sequel over later this year. Hopefully other VNs like the upcoming Xblaze succeed as well, opening the doors for other games and genres thought as not appropriate for Western markets.

My Top 10 Favourite Handheld RPGs

With Bravely Default being the talk of the town, I figured it was best to share my favourite handheld RPGs. Although, doing so is a fool’s game; I can’t imagine you’ll be able to put Bravely Default down long enough to read this, let alone commit to another 20+ hours long RPG.

Since these are personal favourites, save any potential scorn for a more definitive list (TOP 10 RPGs EVER!). Your favourite not here? Perhaps I never played it. Maybe I think it’s a dud. Hell, I could even own it but am drowning in enough of an RPG backlog as it is. Fill me in on some of your favourites on Twitter (I’m @tylerohlew) or in the comment section below. Maybe you can turn me onto a game I’ve never even heard of!

Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VIISquare Enix – PSP

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It’s great that something good came out of the Final Fantasy VII Compilation. These kinds of projects tend to cash in us weak willed fans, and with games like Dirge of Cerberus kicking the festivities off, it appeared Square-Enix’s efforts were no different.

Crisis Core is more a more action oriented affair, which puts it in line with works like the Kingdom Hearts series. Even still, the RPG tropes we love make the transition. Battles aren’t about mashing an attack button, but about working your way through the enemies with the most suiting decisions. Who you attack and with what is as important as ever, with enemy weaknesses, Action Points, and status affects playing as much a role as the more traditional Final Fantasy games. Spicing things up is a slot-machine that doles out power ups and Limit Breaks as the battle wages on.

Importantly, Crisis Core doesn’t forget the hardware it’s running on. It’s story unfolds in missions, which are broken up and peppered with save points. This works wonderfully on the PSP, and allows players to accomplish a lot with little investment.

It also features some of the hottest male eyebrows you’ll ever see. Does Zack get them waxed, or threaded? A friend wants to know.

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