Starcraft 2: Saving the world… IN SPACE

This is a story post so spoilers bla bla bla.

So I’m about halfway through the campaign of Starcraft 2: Wings of Liberty. For the most part, the story was pretty okay. I mean, the characters on the Hyperion are your typical sci-fi motley crew of guys and you’re going around freedom fighting against the Dominion. The missions themselves are pretty neat. But then Zeratul shows up and I’m all awesome, I can play as Zeratul and the Protoss, wooooo.

As I’m going through the Zeratul missions, I’m constantly reminded of that Idle Thumbs episode where they talk about Mass Effect. Basically, the complaint was that all video game plots eventually ended up being about saving the universe and it turns out there’s a prophecy and a chosen one. It’s never about being a space cop or something, it always has to be something overwrought and grandiose. And that’s exactly where Starcraft 2’s story is going.

The first Starcraft was about three races. The Terran campaign was about overthrowing the oppressive rule of the Confederacy and trying to stave off the Zerg invasion. The Zerg campaign was about the Zerg trying to assimilate the Terrans so they could eventually take on and assimilate the Protoss to become the perfect beings. The Protoss campaign was about fighting the Zerg off. After that, the Protoss had to find a new homeworld, Terrans from earth wanted to pacify the Koprulu Sector, and Kerrigan wanted to ruin everyone’s plans. There was nothing about saving the world in any of Starcraft; each player in the story had their own motivations.

Now I play Starcraft 2 and what am I getting? The Zerg aren’t so bad, you guys, the Overmind was forced to try and assimilate the Protoss! You thought Kerrigan was the villain, but she’s actually the chosen one and she’s going to save the universe!

I can already see where this is going. Starcraft 2: Heart of the Swarm is undoubtedly going to be about the Zerg’s fight for freedom as they seek to overcome their bloodthirsty nature and tap in to their former noble animal spirits. Finally, in Starcraft 2: Protoss Boogaloo, all three races come together to face down the Xel’Naga who are going to burn the universe down.

What the hell happened to Blizzard that the only storyline they can write now is Warcraft III’s?

Game of the Year, 2008 Edition

I’m going to get a start at these year-end retrospective posts. This one is pretty easy for me because I’m limited by the hardware that I own. If I had one of a Wii, 360, PS3, or computer with a video card, this will likely have been very different. After all, 2008 saw the arrival of Spore, Fallout 3, LittleBigPlanet, GTA4, MGS4, SSB: Brawl, Left 4 Dead, Fable 2, Rock Band 2, and a long list of other solid games.

But the game that I chose is one that I’ve been playing since I got it at the end of April, after finishing up my last WoW raid. The 2D, handheld action-JRPG, released Stateside as The World Ends With You (?????????? in nihongonese, Subarashiki Kono Sekai in weeaboo) has dominated my time like no other game has except WoW. That’s right, I’ve spent more time in Square Enix’s funny little handheld project than in a Final Fantasy.

This game came out of nowhere for me. I found out about it looking at Wikipedia’s list of DS games shortly after getting a DS. I noticed it among Square Enix’s army of Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest remakes. The concept sounded fresh and the battle system looked interesting, so I decided to give it a chance. The very first intro cinematic was kind of lol. It featured the young protagonist being an annoying antisocial whiner, but once the second intro cinematic rolls along, the style of the game will grab you.

The style is amazing. The game is set in Tokyo’s centre of pop culture and fashion, Shibuya district. The style needs to fit and it does so perfectly. This game proves just how good 2D can look. The attention to detail in the game is ridiculous. The game features 304 different pins, each of which have really neat designs, many of which form sets and share thematic elements and motifs. The backgrounds are stylized and match locations in real-world Shibuya. The sprites and animation are fantastic.

The combat system is one of the most innovative, making full use of both screens. Because of this, it has a slight learning curve to overcome, but once you understand it, it makes battles incredibly fun. The immense amount of pins and accompanying gestures takes the monotony out of battles and gives you incentive to try different attacks. There are certain monsters that require taking advantage of both screens to beat.

The other game mechanics are really interesting too. Being able to adjust the difficulty on the fly is great for everyone. The leveling and stats system is interesting and well thought out: levels only increase your maximum HP pool, while stats are gained through eating food, which requires time to digest and is measured in the number of battles you fight in. The equipment system is just as interesting: equipment comes in the form of clothing, which comes in different brands. Different brands are more popular in different sections of the city and the more popular a brand is, the more bonuses you get.

The wireless features are also interesting. You can use wireless to level your pins. You can also visit other players’ shops so you can pick up pins or items you’re missing. But the most interesting features is multiplayer Tin Pin Slammer, a minigame that puts your pins to use in an entirely different context. Tin Pin Slammer might seem retarded when you encounter it in the single player game, but it is hilariously fun with three other people.

Finally, the story is excellent. TWEWY’s story takes up about 12 hours. Compared to a Final Fantasy, it’s really short. But, it’s also really tight and it’s not long before you’re learning about what’s going on. The twists come and don’t really let up throughout the entire game. Even after you finish the game, going to collect secret reports gives you more detail into the world that the writers have created and delivers a few more twists.

If you don’t have a DS but enjoy JRPGs, you should consider picking this up along with a DS. Besides TWEWY, there are some really good JRPGs on the system. If you do have a DS and you don’t abhor JRPGs, there should be no reason at all for you not to pick this up. Basically, if you don’t like TWEWY, you are a bad person and why in the hell am I still talking to you?

PAX 08

So I managed to pull off something that I’d never ever get to do: fly across the country to Seattle and go to the Penny Arcade Expo. The west coast is a really nice place. I enjoyed the weather there and the cities themselves are pretty cool. Hanging around downtown Vancouver and Seattle, however short it was, was fun.

So what exactly transpired there? The first thing that you notice as you head toward the convention centre is the increasing number of people sporting gaming and nerd t-shirts. You’ll overhear things like, ‘oh look, an xkcd shirt’, or conversations about Star Wars canon, or discussions about raiding in World of Warcraft, or shooting PA jokes at each other. The next thing you notice are the immense lines that form to get to the main events and the people lounging around in the lines, doodling in Pictochat, challenging others with DSes, or keeping balloons up in the air.

On the expo floor, I had a few exciting moments as I watched people play Starcraft II. That game looks absolutely gorgeous and I can’t wait to be sending the little mans back and forth. I saw Animal Crossing: City Folk for the first time there and it expands on Animal Crossing to include a city sort of zone, which was very Sims-esque to me. I also managed to miss all the Dragon Age demos in the expo hall and had to settle for the toolset demon in the main theatre on Sunday. Other than that, I managed to pick up a Penny Arcade zip-up hoodie, a PAX 08 tee, and one of those awesome Katamari Damacy t-shirts that Panic makes.

I also attended the Fallout 3 and Spore demos. Those are two games that I really, really want to pick up. I’d only heard about the Fallout series before, but the demo of Fallout 3 really sold me on the concept and really drew me into the world and of course, the game looks stunning. I am now in the process of figuring out getting Fallout 1 and 2 working on my computer. There wasn’t much new that was demoed in Spore, since they just played through the cell and tribal phases. I was really looking forward to the civ and space phases, but I guess I’ll just have to wait for that.

But the best parts of the expo were definitely gaming culture and PA related. Ken Levine’s keynote is inevitably going to get compared to Wil Wheaton’s awesome keynote from last year. Unfortunately, I don’t think he did as well. He had a great autobiography of his own nerdery, but the end felt sort of rushed and I felt that he didn’t expand on what we were supposed to do as well as Wil did. There was no connection between his journey and our current state of nerd culture.

Following that and for the next two days, there were various Penny Arcade panels. Let’s just say that Gabe and Tycho are as entertaining and funny as they are over the Internet. The other thing that they are is that they are just as brutally honest. But these panels aren’t just for them to shine, it’s also lets the community do some really awesome things, like talk about the PAX Cookie Brigade or the Button Swap and bring up ideas and donations for Child’s Play.

Then there was the final round of the Omegathon. It wasn’t a spectacle like it was with the Minibosses doing Halo last year, but I felt that VS. Excitebike delivered the excitement of competition between the two Omeganauts. The most hilarious part of the final round happened before it started though, while everyone was waiting in the theatre and some music was playing. A bunch of people who managed to snag a Fallout puppet coordinated and had their puppets dance in a crowd together, and so for a good few minutes, the crowd was fixed on this troupe of Vault-Boys.

The last thing I need to talk about is the concerts. I was only able to make the Friday night concerts because we wanted to get up early for Sunday to make the line for the panels. This means that I saw The OneUps, Freezepop, and Jonathan Coulton, but missed Anamanaguchi, The Darkest of the Hillside Thickets, MC Frontalot, and the Minibosses. I’ll begin by saying that Freezepop is not for me, but they were alright, and they really made my respect for them rise by ending off with an epic rendition of The Final Countdown.

The OneUps, however, were just as awesome as I expected them to be. They had a set that included classics, which are very nice for the nostalgia, and some more obscure music from obscure games, which I enjoy for the variety. The nostalgia hit very hard for Metroid, FF6, Link to the Past, Chrono Trigger, Street Fighter II, and Diablo. I did find it perplexing that one of my friends managed to not play any games that were featured and so, did not enjoy The OneUps at all.

Finally, we have Jonathan Coulton. Before, I thought Jonathan Coulton was a cool guy and really smart and funny. The concert changed that to be brilliant and a master performer. The way he worked the crowd was simply awesome. He had some really cool interaction with the audience, beyond just shouting stuff at us. He managed to rickroll the entire place not once, but twice. He delivered surprises to us while we cheered, like getting Felicia Day of The Guild and Dr. Horrible to do the vocals for Still Alive. Jonathan Coulton is a smart, smart, and awesomely hilarious man.

Basically, I pretty much blew one grand to fly over to Seattle for five days for this nerd party. The experience and realization that you’re but one person in this sea of the Internet community incarnate, united by its love of gaming and Penny Arcade fandom, was worth every dollar I spent. This thought was especially reinforced after it was all over, when we ran into other PAX-goers in airports and back on the forums where it all started.

The World Ends With You

I can’t remember the last time I’ve been this excited about a game. It’s funny because I hadn’t heard about it until a few days before its North American release. But, it’s become my favourite game as of late, and is definitely one of the stars in the DS library. It’s made me drop Phoenix Wright: Trials and Tribulations in order to get through the story.

TWEWY is an action RPG by Square. If it looks really familiar, then it’s because the character design was done by Tetsuya Nomura, of FF7 and Kingdom Hearts fame. Unlike many RPGs before it, the game is set in an alternate dimension modern-day Shibuya, a district in Tokyo that happens to be the hippest place ever.

TWEWY is one of those games that does things right and blends it into something awesome. The concept is unique. The art is stunning and very stylized, and matches the atmosphere perfectly. The soundtrack, made up of J-pop, electronica, and hip-hop, is a departure from other RPGs. The plot is paced really well and the characters are developed really well in a fairly short period of time.

But even more innovations abound! The combat system is something very DS-centric. Battles take place simultaneously on the two screens, and you have to control one character on each screen. On the bottom, you’re using Neku with the stylus, and on the top, you’re controlling your partner with the d-pad. Neku uses a variety of attacks with stylus gestures while the d-pad follows a series of panels, a lot like DDR. To mix things up even more, there’s a light that gets passed around when the character that has it completes a combo which gives a damage bonus.

The types of attacks that Neku can use are determined by the pins he’s wearing. Different pins have different gestures; you could be dragging Neku around, slashing on enemies up or down, pressing empty space and firing lightning at them, or dragging obstacles and whacking baddies. The top character has a different minigame, where you’re matching things, and when you do, you can use combined attacks. As you can tell, the combat is involved, but damn, it is fun.

The pins, and other gear that the characters wear, are branded. There are several different brands and each part of Shibuya has brands that are cooler than others. Brands that are cooler receive bonuses, while brands that aren’t get penalized. But, you can influence which brands are hip and happening by fighting with pins of those brands.

Food is something that I found very well done as well. Your character eats food that gives the a buff while they’re eating it. They digest food in x number of battles, after which they receive a permanent buff. But, they can only digest 24 battles worth of food per real day. Each character also has foods they like or dislike, which affects how much the buff actually helps them.

Finally, the game has a ridiculous amount of replay value, where after the main plot is finished, there are so many things to collect to 100% it. You can adjust your difficulty and handicap yourself by lowering your level to fight things, which yields larger and better drops.

Just about the only reason not to get this game is if you can’t get the combat system. Otherwise, it’s brilliant, has really unique and hot art and graphics, has a compelling story, and is really, really innovative. Super fun, amg go get it nows. And I will go back to slashing my DS touchscreen franticly now.