Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Berserk: The Golden Age Arc Film 2: Battle for Doldrey

Arby's Archive Berserk Arc film 2

After a quick set of flashbacks to remind you of the events from the first film, The Battle of Doldrey wastes no time in getting straight back into the action. Flying heads are everywhere as you'd expect(i lost count this time after about 12), battles are all extremely well set up and choreographed to boot, but while the film stands out in many areas, it starts to fall short in others.

In terms of it's character development, The Battle for Doldrey is somewhat lacking in comparison to that of the first film. Saying that, it covers what i feel is the most important parts well. You're given a glimpse into Cascas past and how she was introduced to Griffith, well placed within what i feel is one of the best moments of the film between Guts and Casca. Not only does this show the dedication that Casca has to Griffith, it shows just how lost Guts is as well, trying to find a purpose amongst the bloodshed. The other particular moment comes into play at the latter half of the film, which shows a fall to madness of a character, though the execution may come across as a little humorous at one point despite the fact it's meant to be pretty serious. Outwith that,  it's rather limited in what else it shows, something that shouldn't surprise me considering there is only so much they can pack into three films.

Saying that, the main focus this time round seems more aimed at covering the major battles than just the characters themselves, so we're greeted with some more bloodshed from the fights incoming. I'm fine with this in many ways though, as the battles are so well done that they keep you hooked. Its definitely feeling more like the films are aimed at covering the action from the series than it is anything else, but my only issue is that, whether its because they want to tackle the battles mostly or not, something feels...off. While it still feels like anyone can enjoy this, there is that feeling inside me which thinks, this really is aimed more at appealing to the fans of Berserk already and less at the newcomers. Missing scenes here and there feel like they've neglected some pivotal plot points all round(especially one particular scene that is missing from the end of the film), but at the same time, it doesn't entirely hurt the story around the band of the hawk, instead removes some of the depth for the story.

For the most part, the films hybrid style of animation looks and feels great, but it does still go a little too CG at points, some parts being way to evident and a little distracting. It's definitely a pretty film to watch though, and they really do catch the feel of medieval europe in the designs of the castles, landscapes and dress sense. Sagisu Shiros soundtrack for the film again stands as very powerful in it's execution, from helping to bring out the adrenaline from battles to the tension between characters. It really captures the feel of Berserk.

For those interested in extras of any kind, i'm afraid to say that, like the first film there isn't any to be had. You get your options for audio, chapter select and that's all there is. The dub itself is fairly passable as well for those that prefer a english cast to the japanese. While i would still recommend the subtitles and japanese voice track, i think you'd be ok for going with either.

Overall, the film is still extremely enjoyable for the most part, but it doesn't feel aimed so much at the new audience the first film would have brought in, but more at those that have read the manga previously. There are moments which are covered too swiftly, and moments where are just not covered at all, and that's a shame. But for all the flaws in that respect, it still does a damned good job at covering the atmosphere of the series, and all that bloody combat we've come to love from the series.

It's just a shame it'll never get shown to dolphins

Saturday, 3 August 2013

Breath of Fire 6 & a little rant about the increasing popularity of mobile games with developers

Ahhh capcom, just when i feel i can't find something to write about, you come up with some stupidly idiotic idea worth ranting about. What would i do without you?

So back on thursday, Capcom announced a collection of new titles on the way, of which one was a title that should by all means generate a lot of hype, Breath of Fire 6. So wait, "should" you say? Yeah well basically Capcom has gone out and decided that the next main numbered title in the BoF series is to be a browser/tablet/mobile game. Fans have been waiting for around about 11 years for a continuation of the breath of fire universe, and what we get instead, is a kick in the teeth. Or at least what looks to be a kick in the teeth. Admittedly, this may come across as too hasty a complaint to make, but considering that it has been so long since the last installment, i feel it's a little justified.

It's becoming more and more common these days for companies such as Capcom, and maybe more predominantly, Square-Enix to come out with a bunch of Mobile games or browser based games as a means of cheap title to bolster profits, and that's not a bad thing at all. What is a bad thing however, is bringing in huge IPs such as Final Fantasy, or again, Breath of Fire, and instead of putting together another big game, putting in smaller ones. For some this may come across as a decent enough idea, they don't have the time or money to invest in a full title so they get something more for on the go. For the fans of said franchises though, this more often than not enrages them, tests their patience or even removes some of the confidence they had for a company. Takes for example The World Ends With You, a critically acclaimed title from S-E for DS. They released a teaser site hinting at something new for the series back in August last year which ended up being an iOS port. A lot of people had hoped this may have been a sequel after so long and after high demand, but it never came to be. While the game does hint at a sequel, the case still remains that they put the effort into making the iOS port, and then a social game for the title afterwards. It takes away consumer confidence in my eyes and while i can understand the merits of making the game accessible again via other means, it brings up the question, are we forced to expect sequels on mobiles now instead?

Mobile gaming has become a lot more of a widely accepted field but it still doesn't mean you should place more hit titles on the platform, or even make them social for that matter. We get that production costs are steadily increasing year in, year out, but there is still other options companies can take in getting the games out there, and as full titles. Breath of Fire is a title which i could see everyone accepting as a 3DS or Vita title without any issue, in fact i could even see it bringing in Vita sales considering the popularity of the title as a whole. Not only that, but handheld consoles in general have a lower cost of production as a whole, and the market for them(at least for the 3DS at present) is pretty strong, so there would be guaranteed sales. Considering also that 2D and 2.5D are still pretty popular as well, it wouldn't be too hard to make a game in the same wake as BoFIII or IV just with newer, fresher textures. The need for a physical copy isn't there either, so you would avoid the production costs of cartridges too.

Developers please, stop it. You're making me cry in anger

While i can't honestly come up with numbers and graphs(cause everything looks better with graphs) to back up my idea that mobile games are hurting more than helping major IPs, i do feel that at least on a consumer level, you can see the frustrations caused by it pretty easily. While it may come across as a good idea to make Final Fantasy: All The Bravest SquEnix, it's also one of the worst titles to have dawned the Final Fantasy name. Tarnishing a franchise more that has been struggling for the past few years due to XIV(granted it might be sorted now) and a fairly average XIII isn't what you want to do. You would think that Capcom would realise this as well and focus more of their efforts elsewhere. Though even then, their unhealthy obsession with Call of Duty and attracting that market to every other game they make does show me at least a certain level of obliviousness to what gamers want, so it makes sense why they'd move to social games. It just doesn't sit right with me, and i don't honestly think it should with anyone.

 There is plenty of alternative methods to get a game out there without resulting in the creation of a free to play, microtransaction social game which enrages many fans of a series. Sure, keep making mobile games, social games, browser based games, there is a market there for it, but try to avoid making ones for major IPs, and avoid calling them the next in the main series as well. Try to imagine Ubisoft saying "Assassin's Creed V - For android/iOS only" or Activision making Call of Duty a touch-based tablet game with no chance of console or PC release. It just wouldn't work, it would throw away a good chunk of the fanbase that franchise has created, and god knows what else. Just leave major ips as they are.

Friday, 8 March 2013

SimCity: The Debacle

SimCity is one of the most renowned series EA has ever had, and is to this day a favourite to many. The SNES version of the original is even regarded to several as the best game of all time, so you wouldn't be surprised to hear how huge the hype was for the new entry into the series released this week. Unfortunately, that hype has turned to despair as everything that could have gone wrong has, and worse.

Reviewers praised the game across the board from their experiences with the beta/review copies. Cities where fun to build alongside friends who built theirs next door, and the new elements added made for a fantastic experience with every new city. As soon as it hit launch though, things went pear shaped. Here's where problem number one arises. SimCity requires you to connect to a server to play. What this means is, it kind of works like an MMO, where each server can handle so many players at one time before you get caught up in a queue. EA had originally set the release dates spread out to ensure overloading never happened, and everyone could get on at once, but they had obviously forgotten just how big the demand was for the game, and no server was ever empty. This left many gamers waiting in queues for over 2-3 hours just to get into the game. What's more, the servers where unstable, and many would get disconnected from the servers mid-game and lose all of their saved data.

An example of the queue time, some go as high as 3 hour waits.

Due to the server issues, patch after patch was sent out in an attempt to sort the game, so if you weren't waiting in a queue, you where waiting for an update. Which never worked most of the time, so the issues continued. EA even removed a lot of the major features, cheetah mode(fast speed) and leaderboards are gone, two key features which made the game even more fun. This has caused a lot of people to abandon the game either entirely, or until it's stabalised, and even now major gaming websites and personalities, like Destructoid are warning to avoid the game until the issues are dealt with. Overall, the fact that they need to put you on servers for what is, for the most part, a single player experience is outright stupid. Sure, it has multiplayer in which you and friends play in different cities in the same zone, but that can be done outside of servers. You can't even play the same city in a different server, it's an atrocious move in every respect.

Another major issue, though this could easily fit in above, is Always-Online-DRM. It's fits in with the servers, and is just another thorn in gamers' sides. Do we really need it still? Ubisoft and many other publishers have learnt that it doesn't help matters, but only dampens them. EA are still one of the few who have yet to grasp just how damaging it can be. It removes the idea of you actually owning the rights to the copy you now own of a game, and instead all you have is a contract, or a pass to play it. Which leads to the last issue that has plagued this.

Servers are 95% of the time full, so you can't get in
A consumer recently approached EA about claiming a refund for the game due it being unreliable, unstable and basically unplayable. Whilst in a chat with an EA customer service representative he was denied a refund, and then told that if he continues with disputing his right to a refund, he'd get banned. The full conversation is linked below.

Also worth mentioning that TotalBiscuit put out a warning to all UK consumers that they should check the Sales of Good act if they are refused a refund from EA, so please do so if you already own the game and wish to claim a refund on it

Now i won't lie, i want SimCity. It looks fantastic when you get into the game, but that is only IF you can get into it. With server issues, game patches to hide behind every issue the game has, be it instability or whatever, and it being always online DRM'd whilst being a single player title for the most part leave me wondering if i'll ever get to play it. If i was to even consider purchasing this down the line, then they would need to remove the always online part part of the DRM and make it more in line with what other platforms do, register your product online then you can do what you will with it after. And then there is the server issue. If they are so hell-bent on keeping this idea here, then they need to quadruple the size of the servers at least. The demand for the game is high, very high in fact. We aren't buying this game to sit in a queue for 3 hours at a time, we're buying it to play it when we want to play it. Learn from this EA, and every other developer/publisher for that matter. This is not how you release a game, this is how you destroy it.

Thursday, 31 January 2013

DmC:Devil May Cry - Dante returns...wait, his hair is black?

Devil May Cry has been a fairly iconic series for Capcom since it's original release back on the Playstation 2 in 2001, so when Ninja Theory showed up with a retake on the title, and some kid essentially posing as Dante, we all raged. And we did, and we expected to just bash it to hell because it wasn't THE Dante we all wanted. But fortunately, things took a different turn as more was revealed. Now the question is, Does DmC match up? And how does it stand as a new title in itself?

DmC starts off by showing off the new dante in a strip club, with an all new attitude, and a thing for the ladies. Following the intro cinematic and the introduction of Kat straight at the beginning of the game with a rather under-dressed dante, you get flung into where you spend 95% of the game, Limbo, and learn soon after someone is targetting Dante, and he gets pulled into Limbo whenever they find him. It's quite the interesting idea, one that is eerie yet strangely gorgeous to gaze your eyes upon. The whole world is basically pulled into the demon realm. Asides from an area or two, it's has a great aesthetic to it, never being truly bland. Dante can only use his sword in limbo, as it's a demon weapon, so anytime you may spend outside of it, you don't do combat. It's basically story based segments leading up to limbo. Perhaps a missed opportunity, but a minor complaint all the same. while the story doesn't focus on limbo, you get a basic jist of what it is from explained, and from the world itself. It's well executed, and the characters do help to carry it forward as well. What's more, you can easily tell that one of the main choices in this re-take was to essentially add the modern world to DmC, something that becomes more evident and maybe more relavent in the later half of the game.

Characters wise, Dante still has that attitude of his, but made to suit that new age and look to him. He's quite the ladies man, enjoys his booze, and still has that "couldn't care less" approach to everything. If it doesn't affect him, he won't care. Good to see it stick, but the development of him learning who he is, what his past is, his relationship to Vergil and who Mundas is adds a new depth to him that really hasn't been explored before. Also, for those that wonder, why his hair isn't white is dealt with too. Panic over. Vergil is not bad, though i feel he doesn't get covered as much as he could. He wants Mundas dead, and will do anything to get it done. People knowing the series prior to this will know what's in store for him later, but it's covered subtly throughout the later half of the game. Kat acts as a good grounding for Dante in this. She's there to help Vergil however she can, and eventually for Dante too, helping when she can and however she can. Being able to see Limbo plays a lot into the progression of things. Overall she's a pretty well designed character, one whom i'd love to see more of.

Get that style combo up and you'll be hitting SSS in no time

Now gameplay. Combat is extremely fluid, and feels fantastic when you get it down, i'd even go as far as to say it's the best of the series in many ways It doesn't take long to get to grips with things, and they've happily supplied you with a training mode in the menu so you can work with combos and learning how to switch between weapons. The longer you can keep your combo going without getting Hit, the more rewarding it is. The Style system ranges from D to SSS, based on your attacks/combos, and how you mix it up. Just doing the one combo all the time will stop it increasing after a while, so upgrading for more attacks is quite handy. All your attacks come from Y(triangle) and B(circle). B being a launcher, Y being your main attack. And X(square) of course, being your guns. You get demon and angel weapons not too far into the game which require you to holding down the right and left triggers respectively to activate and you can dodge with RB/LB(R1/L1). Angel weapons are generally faster and weaker while demon is slow but deadly. Trying to find the best ways to mix these up for SSS is a nice challenge, but it's not so daunting as to scare away new players. it's introduces you fairly gently, and you get the grasp of things by experimenting when you can as well. Devil Trigger allows dante to change into his old colour scheme(red clothes, white hair) and the world to turn white, in this mode throws enemies to the air and you do more damage, take less, health regens, you also get bonus style for air combos, so use it to your advantage. While there is some minor hiccups in framerate here and there, combat doesn't ever really get affected by this, so the performance is top notch as well.

The levels don't take too long to complete, i'd say you'd get about 5-7 hours of gameplay before you beat the game on your first playthrough, and then you could easily best the game afterwards in about 2 hours when you try to increase your rank and find all the secrets. It's pretty much all linear as well, though the secrets usually have you searching a bit. Keys for doors to secret missions are scattered everywhere, and Lost Souls are hidden in most levels too. Cleverly, or to some irritating, you can't get everything in the early levels straight away. You need to progress some first then go back to old ones to get what you couldn't. This helps increase the replayability. The difficulty is my main issue. Of the three you start with, Nephilim is the hardest. And the main concern i have is that it feels more like normal than anything else. Companies still have this tendency to make "hard" normal now, and it bothers me. Thankfully the 4 extra difficulties you unlock after make up for it. I'd have just liked a bit more complexity on my first playthrough. Also, for those of you that like a challenge, there is the "complete the game on Nephilim with all stages SSS'd" which, at the time of writing this, seems to be all i'm focusing on instead of the next difficulty.

Revisiting early levels with new weapons can grant you access to new secrets

And of course, lastly, the music. The game goes for that heavy to death metal style, which to those that have played DMC before will recognise as a staple for the series. It really gets you going in the early levels too, with a fairly decent soundtrack. It's not my music of choice, but with DmC, it never feels out of place.

All in all, DmC stands it's ground. The combat is easy to learn and incredibly well executed and both the story and characters are well designed, surprisingly deep and interesting for DmC, with so much more obviously set to tell. Sure this isn't the old Dante, but this one stands on his own two feet, and is just as deadly as the previous one. Give DmC a chance, don't just throw it under the rug and imagine it doesn't exist, i think it may surprise you just how good this game is.

Please note i've not touched the PC version of the game, so i can't really add anything about performance or framerate for that here.