I find myself very much the console gamer, with a deep love of Japan, Japanese Culture and Japanese Games. Like many of my clan, I’ve found, in adulthood, there is much less time to play. And so, I find myself awkwardly divided between PS4 and Switch. While both consoles have their allures, I often find myself clinging to the latter and I can’t help but think about how much times have changed. Fortunately, in my youth, I never had to worry about the device I would use to drown my time, ‘PlayStation at Home, Gameboy on the Go’, it was really very simple.
Suddenly, something extremely strange happened. My friends joined late-night queues patiently anticipating clawing at the packaging of their PS3. However, I waited with bated breath. Over the years I had grown bored of Sony’s flagships, yet somehow, my devotion to Nintendo remained unscathed and was duly growing. I looked upon the ‘OG’ PS3 with disgust, all the while, sneaking glances at Nintendo’s: slim, slender and slick Wii, filled with anticipation and excitement about the introduction of motion and this new way to play.
It was during that strange season, Winter 2006, that I discovered I had turned into a Nintendo Fanboy.
For over 100 million people, PlayStation 2, is a console that defined a generation (and with over 150 million units sold, it’s the best selling console of all time). I can easily recount many ground-breaking moments; cycling through the streets of San Andreas, clamouring up colossi and my epic journey to rid ‘Spira’ of ‘Sin’ with Tidus, Yuna and a ‘rag-tag’ band of guardians. Unfortunately, the success of the PS2 didn’t naturally pass-over to PS3. In the early days of the console, sales were lacklustre; Sony lost out, month after month, thrashed by both: Microsoft and Nintendo.
However, unfair it is to compare PS3, 360 and Wii; Nintendo didn’t just win that generation, they destroyed it. During the era of Wii and DS, Nintendo dominated the market space – I remember Beyonce promoting ‘Rhythm Paradise’ (UK) and Ian Wright advertising ‘Mario Strikers Charged’. Yes, I know celebrities advertising products isn’t some mind-altering phenomena; nevertheless, seeing cultural icons playing the types of games I enjoyed, resonated with me as a young man. Nintendo during the 7th Gen taught we a valuable lesson… you’re never too old to play!
Fortunately, the lifespan of the 7th generation lasted nearly a decade – so turning up late to the party wasn’t necessarily a problem. After spending a year flat-sharing with some of the most hardcore gamers in the British Isles, I purchased my very own PlayStation 3 (Christmas 2010). And I found myself once again, donning the phrase: ‘Nintendo in the Streets, PlayStation in the Sheets’. Unusually, the game that ultimately drew me to the console wasn’t some grand JRPG – although I couldn’t wait to quest with Lightning and company, instead, the FPSRPG ‘Borderlands’ was the game that sunk its talons in. Almost immediately, I realised the error I made: Assassin’s Creed, Uncharted 1 & 2, Metal Gear Solid 4, Red Dead Redemption and Enslaved, are all among some of the greatest gaming experiences I’ve ever had the pleasure of enjoying. To think at one point in time I would’ve argued that the Uncharted series was a joint second for my favourite game, but then PS4 introduced me to the Witcher (sorry! Naughty Dog, you’re a very close third).
So now as I glance over at my desk, peering at the two consoles I brought in the space of a few months of each other (late again of PS4 and day-one on Switch). I find myself in a strange predicament. October 27th was a good day to be a geek: Mario Odyssey, AC: Origins and Wolfenstein 2; many would argue the choice was easy… Of course Mario! And yet, on the day I almost faltered. I have no love for first-person shooters, however, I do adore the historical fiction of the Assassin’s Creed franchise. When push came to shove, Mario won out; mostly down to the glowing review from Edge magazine. Where I find myself now as a gamer, is somewhat problematic; with the monetary resources, I’m able me to indulge my favourite pastime. Yet, the share amount of games that peak my interest and the number of new adventures I can devote time too – are challenged by the realities of adulthood.
This year alone, I’ve dedicated hundreds if not thousands of hours to video games. Today marks my first anniversary with my PS4 and as I listen to music of Persona 5 play on a loop (currently paused while I finish off this mini-essay); I ponder over, Assassin’s Creed: Origins or Xenoblade Chronicles 2!
Yet again, two massive worlds begging to be explored and a limited amount of time until two more big releases: Ni No Kuni 2 (19/1/18) and Monster Hunter World (26/1/18)!
There is power in great storytelling. Novels, films and theatre, are built around the complex weaving of great narrative. When we think of narrative in video games, audience and critics consider ‘story’ with different perspectives. First person video games allow the player agency, they shape their own story. On the other hand, third-person video games turn the player into a guide, not unlike an unreliable narrator. One who glimpses at segments of the story; ultimately, lacking the power of complete omniscience.
The big difference between Japanese and Western RPG’s is perspective. Unlike Japanese developers, Western devs often prefer the first-person perspective; this is easily seen in franchises, such as Deux Ex, Elder Scrolls, Fallout and Grand Theft Auto. While games like Elder Scrolls and Fallout, allow the player to switch perspective between first and third; the definitive way to play is in first-person. Western RPG’s ask the player to live in their world, the protagonist on screen is an avatar, a capsule, enabling the player to live out their fantasy. Whereas Japanese devs focus on the third-person, the player like a fly on the wall watches the action unfold, giving commands from a distance. While the players in control, they’re the narrator of someone else’s story.
For many in the western audience, the pinnacle of JPRG’s is Final Fantasy VII, while the Final Fantasy franchise had found relative success in the ‘west’ prior to release on PlayStation, the debut console captivated audiences and FFVII was a gem within its canon. The importance of FFVII, cannot be understated; for a majority of fans throughout the United States and Europe, FFVII was the game that bore their love of JRPG’s. While more hardcore gamers debate whether FFVI or FFVII was the greater game. Many children across the world were and still are introduced and instantly captivated by Pokemon (myself included).
It’s unlikely that anybody suspected the popularity and cultural impact of the Pokemon franchise. The formulaic nature of Pokemon’s narrative and the deep, yet easily accessible turn-based battle system; make the Pokemon RPG’s a staple for gamers, young and old. In the winter of 2016, Pokemon Sun and Moon released, instantly selling out in many stores. However, the release of Pokemon S&M didn’t just move software, but hardware as well. Pokemon’s ease of access has made the JRPG a quintessential genre for handheld gamers around the world.
And yet, many still look at the archetypal JRPG with disdain when comparing them with western style RPGs. This has become evident with releases such as Final Fantasy XV, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Nier: Automata, blending western and Japanese game mechanics. The Japanese twist on the western style open-world, with action-based gameplay, has proven that this welding of styles, works. After close to 10 years in development, FFXV had many issues yet the common census on gameplay and the battle system was positive overall. The open world was vast, begging to be explored and the move from turn-based to an action orientated battle system; brought a new intensity to fights, making them more challenging all the while leaving the player with a sense of control.
With this new outlook for JRPGs, there’s also been an introspective outlook for many Japanese developers. The release of I Am Setsuna from new Square Enix developer Tokyo RPG Factory and more recently Atlus’s Persona 5, proves there is an audience for traditional turn-based RPGs. The Persona series has always rested securely in the niche category, blending high-school social simulator with low fantasy- slash- magical realist epic adventure. While the themes come across as obscure at best; Persona 5 has grasped the interests of many in the PlayStation die-hards.
The first half of the year was fruitful for many Japanese developers and publishers. While many analysts predicted the decline of the Japanese game development; warning that many developers would move to mobile, instead, many of the biggest and best-selling console games this year, heralded from the land of the rising sun. And with the release of the Nintendo Switch, accompanied by the critical and commercial success of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Neir Automata and Persona 5; Japanese development is back at the forefront of the industry.
Overall 2017 has been exceptional for video games so far and by most estimates, it’s only going to get better. The end of 2017, has many big games listed: Super Mario Odyssey, Assassin’s Creed Origins and Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus, just to mention a few (all releasing on 27th October 2017). Each of these titles is a heavy hitter of varying proportions, yet they’re surrounded by other Japanese stylised (Mario is also of Japanese design) time killers: Nights of Azure 2, Xenoblade Chronicles 2, Pokemon Ultra Sun and Moon and Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana, all releasing in the coming months.
Recent years have been great for fans of lengthy story-based adventures and 2017 has been especially amazing. The resurgence of Japanese development, the current renaissance of JRPG’s and the positive mood around Nintendo Switch, means the future may be bright for 40 to 50-hour tales with spiralling plots. Beyond 2017, may herald greater games with broader scopes; Ni No Kuni 2, Lost Sphear, Project Octopath Traveler Pokemon and Shin Megami Tensei for Nintendo Switch, all may potentially take queues from many of the recent standout games or maybe they’ll push the envelope further helping to redefine the boundaries and our notions of the Japanese RPG.
There’s barely a handful of days until the release of Nintendo Switch since Iwata revealed the new concept codenamed NX: speculation, rumours and hype have been rife throughout the gaming community. Who couldn’t help but indulge in the hype and speculation? most of us, debating and retweeting hooked on every crumb. And now with the release imminent and my perspective much deliberated over, I have an inclination to share my views on both Nintendo and their upcoming Home/Portable hybrid console.
(Also I haven’t posted in a while…like 5 months to be exact.)
I would be lying if I said wasn’t hyped from the word go… As soon as the Nintendo Switch reveal trailer dropped, I felt my already empty wallet getting emptier. However, even then my feelings about the Switch were still very much open to change. The appeal of Skyrim didn’t do much for me and I’m British with a penchant for books and a preference for Rugby, Football and Badminton; so NBA2K…(honestly, just give me FIFA) doesn’t give me any warm and fuzzies. Therefore all major selling points were obviously the 1st party titles. At the time just glimpsing: Splatoon 2, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, Mario Odyssey and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, had me stunned and at one point even speechless.
During the months that followed, bystanders and less speculative journalists, watched as the internet erupted ablaze with rumours. While punches and tonnes shit were hurled on Twitter; certain individuals suffered onslaughts of abuse and criticism. Meanwhile, some friends and I, speculated in Pubs and Chinese restaurants, about whether Nintendo should even be making the Nintendo Switch. Full disclosure, I consider myself quite a big Nintendo fan. The majority of friends on the other hand, not so much. We’ve on numerous occasions gone, back and forth, arguing the advantage and disadvantages of Nintendo hardware; praising the greatness of their software, but just as often criticising the shortcomings of their hardware.
And while I knew all along that I was going to purchase the Nintendo Switch, I have often felt that maybe the future of Nintendo isn’t in the hardware business.
While I’ll support Nintendo products without much thought. I’m not the sort of person to purchase blindly; I’ll only consider parting with my hard earned cash, after critical and careful assessment. After much debating and the agonising process of weighing up the pros and cons. I had decided before the Nintendo Switch Event early this year; that no matter the circumstances I would invest in their latest console, day one. Yet somehow even now I can’t help but be contemplative wondering about the potential success of Nintendo Switch and future of the Nintendo’s hardware market.
Nobody could deny that Nintendo drives innovation, however, this comes with certain notable drawbacks and one in particular; most developers and publishers aren’t too keen on creating games for Nintendo systems. The announcement of games such as Skyrim, I Am Setsuna and FIFA, as well as the hefty list of developers and publishers who have declared their support for the system; has many hardcore Nintendo fans excited. Yet many and especially some of the most notable voices in the game industry have had more tempered responses.
Many of the biggest developers and publishers deserted the Wii U, leaving many Nintendo fans disappointed and feeling apprehensive about 3rd part support for Nintendo Switch. The fallout from the event in January is that 3rd parties will be there but in limited supply with many bringing ports of games from years yonder. The publishers’ representatives have hinted their all biding their time, preparing for the potential success of the Switch but not jumping on the bandwagon. While many of the offerings may seem drab there are a few that Nintendo fans are certain to be looking forward too; namely Dragon Quest Heroes 1&2, Disgaea 5 complete, a New Shin Megami Tensei, Project Octopath Traveller and let’s not forget Suda51 is cooking something up as well.
With over 80 games in development for Nintendo Switch, the relationship between Nintendo and Independent developers seems to be great than ever. The likes of Has-Been Heroes, Rime and Snipperclips all confirmed for the system proves that games aren’t in short supply. And if Nintendo is able to further harness those relationships, we should hopefully see more great Indie titles in the coming months and years.
(Personally, I’m hoping: Ikenfell, Battle Chef Brigade and Knights and Bikes, get confirmed for Nintendo Switch. These three games look stupendously awesome and would be amazing additions any Nintendo console.)
When thinking about hardware those of us with; hyperbolic imaginations and exaggerated expectations should have known from the outset that Nintendo was never going to make a super powerful console. This for years has not been their M/O and if the Nintendo Switch is a success they will continue to push for great design within the confines of limited hardware. And honestly, I feel this is Nintendo’s greatest advantage over their competitors. Why try and compete in terms of specs when you can innovate on concepts?
This is exactly what makes me such a big Nintendo fan, not only is their software typically amazing but their willingness to experiment and try to push innovation in terms of the way we play. And with that we’re at the most controversial point, the Joy-Con is the natural evolution of the Wiimote and so much more. I like motion controls and Nintendo usually makes good use of the control scheme in their games: Super Mario Galaxy and Splatoon being the principal examples.
In many ways the Nintendo Switch is pure essence of Nintendo; a combination of innovation, invention and something just a bit mad. And as many have said previously this is what the Wii U should have been. As a Nintendo fan, I’ll support my favourite hardware and software maker but as a rational individual, I can’t help but concede that this purchase mightn’t be the smartest.
Pokemon has become easily one of the quintessential gaming franchises. After gracing shop shelves for over 20 years, the world without Pokemon and Pikachu not being part of the global lexicon is a distant journey back in a TARDIS or Delorean. Yet, maybe this year will see Pokemon finally hit its peak (hopefully not!), with all the information we’ve received about the latest games; Pokemon Sun and Moon, Game Freak have gone out of their way to make the seventh generation the best instalment to date.
Throughout my gaming career Pokemon has been a mainstay, giving light to my love of JRPG’s and easily cementing my fixation with Nintendo hardware. Having the luxury of compliant parents has also been a massive benefit, thankfully they had the foresight to see Pokemon gracing my Gameboy as something I would adore. However, gaming isn’t a solitary pursuit and I am not the only gamer-shaped by the power of Pokemon.
Now trying to cover the Pokemon franchise in around 500-600 words is extremely difficult, seeing as I’ve ready wasted a third of my word count. Yet I’ll try, focusing on the aspects of the main series that helped to shape the gamer I am today.
Now you cannot talk about Pokemon without discussing the primary goal of your adventure… So you battle the gym leaders (search for shinies), defeat the evil team (search for shinies), defeat the Elite Four and then scrape a victory against the Champion, then you stand upon the imagined podium knowing full well that you are the very best and didn’t have to ‘catch ’em’ all (probably didn’t catch any shinies either). Yet all those hopes and dreams can’t be achieved without catching and training the titular Pokemon.
The creator of Pokemon Satoshi Tajiri was inspired by his childhood pastime of bug catching, and while not all Pokemon are bugs, catching is essential to the game. Pokemon maybe cute and often cuddly, but one thing is true they’re not particularly fond of being captured (once wild Pokemon reach level 10, standard Pokeballs start to feel like a waste of money). While luck plays a massive role, catching Pokemon becomes easier due to an assortment of Pokeballs: Pokeballs, Great Balls and Ultra Balls, simply set the standard of the capturing arsenal.
However, capturing Pokemon isn’t as easy as Pokemon Go would have you believe, often throwing a Pokeball at wild Pokemon will see them bounce out without a second thought. That’s why you’re nifty starter comes in handy, weakening your desired pray, getting that HP bar into the red before jumping into the menu to contemplate your ball of choice is the much over taught and prescribed technique to capturing your future allies. The simplicity of the mechanic is mesmerising; beat up, throw ball, capture, yet somehow the experience is constantly rewarding and never old.
In the Pokemon games catching and battling go hand in hand, yet the feature I’ve loved since its inception: Pokemon breeding, completely changes the game. While for many this means, imprisoning a Ditto in a day-care centre and breeding multiples of Pokemon to ship out via Wonder Trade or Global Trade System. Yet Pokemon breeding truly allows Players to become Pokemon trainers. To train the very best Pokemon requires patients, determination and dedication. You have to learn about EV and IV training, as well as egg moves and egg types. If catching and battling Pokemon is the simplest aspect of the franchise, breeding and this enhanced version of Pokemon training (when every battle counts) gave birth to Pokemon’s competitive scene and turned a child’s pastime into a serious hardcore e-sport.
The Pokemon games on a basic level are simple and easy to jump in and play. They also allow more hardcore Trainers to search the depths of the mechanics making a deep experience that inspired a long-lived and constantly groundbreaking e-sport.
Yet, what truly makes Pokemon special is the story and the journey all Pokemon trainers are taken on. The Pokemon universe has a deep lore, which tells a beautifully interwoven story about friendship and discovery. The Pokemon Train On shorts, put that journey at the forefront of the series and rightly so. I’m lucky enough to have younger siblings and Pokemon has given me an easy way to bond and share with them. Whether teaching them to read the dialogue and Pokedex or helping them defeat a gym they just can’t figure out. The Pokemon franchise creates a wealth of experiences both shared and individual. And those stories are what makes Pokemon one of the most important game franchises in the world.
Now, why will Pokemon Sun and Moon be the best Pokemon games so far? Simply because every generation previous has always outdone the last!
(184 words over word count…not to shabby!)
A true gentleman leaves no puzzle unsolved.
Professor Layton and Pandora’s Box
Before we look at the depth and the variety of the gameplay, the epic-ness of the soundtrack or the brilliance of the story; we must take note, that Layton is one of the most amazing characters ever conceptualised. Level 5’s founder Akihira Hino has cemented his place in the world of games, with a number of incredible creations. And personally, I believe that Layton is the greatest of them.
The Professor Layton franchise if you haven’t played it, is a puzzle game. There is a multitude of puzzle ranging from sliding pieces, riddles and mathematical problems. The gameplay has no defining feature, except the puzzle. Yet in Professor Layton it works. The puzzles are the mechanics, whether you struggle or find them a breeze; Layton hooks you. With so much variety a great depth is created. You might not be climbing cathedrals or stringing together a massive kill streak, yet Layton asks you to do something very simple… think; this is where the depth is the created. Primarily, I play Layton during does moments when I feel blank. When I need something to stimulate and get the little grey cells working again; while I’m not ashamed to admit that often I have asked for help. Never has a problem too hard, left me fatigued; it’s the opposite I feel energised with the determination not to be bested.
Professor Layton vs Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney, a cross-over between two of handled gaming’s most iconic heroes. Developed by Capcom and Level 5 published by Nintendo
Now the music of Professor Layton is incredible, and that is essentially enough said. Between the six games you won’t find anything better, each is equal to the other; in grandeur and scope. I remember hearing the opening music to ‘Curious Village’ and it was instant… I had fallen for the spell. The music composed by Tomohito Nishiura is rich and full of detail enchanting players. Each composition is unique, not only sets the mood and tone but also fits in perfectly with the overall aesthetic of each game.
Of the six games which make up the main series, the prequel stories are objectively the best. However, honourable mention must go to ‘Professor Layton and the Lost Future’. Layton’s story would be just as compelling in a novel or film. You push through each challenge to find out where the journey will take you, ultimately every puzzle completed unlocks the next chapter. Often I backtrack and find myself diving into Layton’s world, when in need of a compelling and deep story. Through Professor Layton, Level 5 have created the greatest detective since Sherlock Holmes or Poirot; potentially the greatest detective of all time.
The Professor Layton series are the games that set the ideas in motion. While many people feel the franchise is overwhelming casual. I would argue that Professor Layton is a game pulls people into the hardcore. The Professor Layton games mixed the fundamentals of game design and innovated the puzzle; making Layton the bridge between casual and hardcore gaming. Hopefully, with the next instalment coming next year, Lady Layton will continue the Professor’s legacy.
For the longest time, I was completely opposed to the vice offered by online play: Fifa online… No, Call of Duty… No, online multiplayer games of any kind… No. I would avoid these games like the proverbial house on fire, fervently sticking to single player Platform, (J)RPG, Action and Puzzle games. While all my friends enjoyed the glorious online battlefields on their Xbox 360’s and PS3’s, I stuck to my guns pouring endless hours into the Wii and only submitting to the PS3 with the release of Final Fantasy XIII.
And then something strange happened, Nintendo released a shooter (which isn’t that strange) but a predominately online shooter. Yes, I’m speaking about Splatoon. Slam the breaks right here, this isn’t to say I hated shooters, I just never really enjoyed them until… Borderlands! That game definitely converted me to the ways of the shooter. If you know me and know me well. Then you would understand my obsession with Borderlands. I spent my mid and late teens absolutely resenting FPS games. And between the ages of 14 and 17, I essential stopped playing video games on a regular basis. Opting for Novels, Fashion and Hip-Hop as opposed to Controllers, Sequential Art and Journeys to find the One Piece.
The First-Person-Shooter, essential almost destroyed my love of gaming. It’s all people would talk about Call of Duty, Medal Of Honour and then Battlefield (thank you EA). My day job, working in a school, I very often hear the same conversations between this new generation of teenaged gamers. One of the biggest issues I have with the FPS genre is that typically they attract what the Bartle test would describe as ‘Killers’. I believe predominately that games are meant to be fun, immersive and preferably social experiences. So when the floodgates are opened and a million murderous trolls tsunami through, I close my wallet and keep my hard earned cash. Another issue I have with the FPS in general, where is the exploration? (with the exception of Borderlands) with another reference to the Bartle test, I would fit snuggly between the ‘social’ and ‘explorer’ category. I am the sort of person that completely delves into the world. I obsess over every little feature. analysing then discussing said features and once all my friends have moved on to the next big or little thing…. I don’t stop until I’ve truly had my fill.
Now, this is where my obsession with Splatoon has somewhat changed my approach to games. I’ve fallen for the online spell. competing with strangers all over the world has now become a favourite past time (I can’t even play Smash or MK8 without jumping into the inter-connected wilderness). The urge to compete with others is starting to dominate. And games I would have previously ignored are at the forefront of my attention: Overwatch, Battleborn and Destiny. The desire to be in the fray: digital battlefields, race tracks and rings, has taken over. So much so that when Splatoon won Best Shooter and Best Multiplayer at last years Game of the Year Awards; I found myself excited at the prospect of the community growing and more people to battle.
The multiplayer and competitive experience has transcended, what it once was. Using Splatoon as an example of evolution may be wrong; it’s not an FPS nor is killing your opponents the primary objective. Yet, this feels like a natural progression; Borderlands resonates because it broke the norm – focusing on cooperative play, enhanced social exploration and showed me that a shooter could be fun.