That’s right… I am! Okay, that wasn’t much of a surprise, considering I’m the one and only writer here at this blog, but still! I’ve never played a Phantasy Star game in my life, and certainly not Phantasy Star Online, mainly because I only got a Dreamcast after SEGA had already disowned the system and left it to die, so I never really played many titles for it. Even if I had, I probably wouldn’t have gotten into Phantasy Star Online anyway, due to the fact that it was, well, online.
The only other online game I’ve had real experience with is Final Fantasy XI. Due to the fact that I was a massive Final Fantasy nut at the time (I pretty much thought Final Fantasy games were the only RPGs worth playing), I actually picked up a copy of the game when it launched. Needless to say, after spending hours installing the four or five discs onto my parents computer, I didn’t exactly get the Final Fantasy experience I so craved. After crafting some makeshift character, I jumped eagerly into the online world… Only to find that all of the other players completely ignored me when I wanted to quest with them and basically gave me the cold shoulder because I clearly didn’t exude the skill the required in a multiplayer comrade. Well, at least that’s the vibe I got. My memories are hazy, but I can tell you I booted up that game once, and only once, and never looked back after that.
So, my impression of online gaming has always been one of a distant observer. But what makes Phantasy Star Online 2 any different? Well, to tell the sad truth…
1. It’s Japanese (Like, literally in Japanese. There is no English version at the moment)
2. It’s pretty
3. I know people who are playing it
And, in an odd coincidence, my NeoGAF account happened to be approved right around when the beta started, so I was prompted to do some significant lurking in the Phantasy Star Online 2 Open Beta thread, and I liked what people were saying about it. So, after days and days of downloading the massive client and installing the even more massive batch of patches, I settled down with my 2008 MacBook (running Windows on Boot Camp, of course!) and created my very first character:
Funnily enough, I usually prefer to make male characters, but that’s a story for another post. This is Riot, a human ranger. The ranger class is just like it sounds – a ranged fighter that utilizes guns to maintain distance from the enemy while still dealing significant damage. An interesting inclusion in Phantasy Star Online 2 is that you can actually switch from a more traditional top-down viewpoint to an over-the-shoulder view as a ranger, giving the game a much more third-person shooter-type feel. I found the over-the-shoulder view made it a lot easier to aim, so I kept it that way the majority of the time.
As I’m not very well-versed in online games or Phantasy Star, I can’t really say how Phantasy Star Online 2 stacks up, but I will say this: it was a hell of a lot of fun. Not often do I find myself struggling to get to sleep because I’m busy thinking what type of character I’ll make next (technically you can only have one character per account, but I’ve made another so I can join a server a few friends are in). Though you’re of course limited to the character design you choose from the beginning, I found it interesting that you can actually change classes at pretty much any point in the game. I haven’t tested out the hunter (usual warrior-like class) or force (magic users) yet, though, as I quite enjoyed my time as a ranger.
You’ll of course use the usual WASD to move and the mouse to aim. Clicking the left mouse button results in your weapon’s normal attack, while the right button is a powered up attack (I believe it’s called “photon arts”) that will take a few seconds to recharge once you’ve used it up. Finally, you can press the shift key and the left mouse button to do an even more powered up attack (called “extra action,” I believe), which consumes PP (also recharges, I think it takes longer than for the photon arts).
A view of Riot in the lobby. Click to enlarge
Players can team up in groups of up to four to go complete missions (the game’s version of quests), and there are even some mission areas that are open to multiple teams at a time, meaning you’ll run into other groups of players trying to kill the same things you are! A neat addition that reminds me of Dragon’s Dogma is the ability to summon your friends’ characters to help you as NPCs even when they’re not online. Of course, there’s all sorts of customization to be had and loot to be found, but I don’t know enough about either of those things to give any further details, really. Admittedly, I haven’t really gotten the hang of equipping new abilities yet…
Now, I’ve only played through the tutorial and two missions with a friend (thanks for the help, Mog!), so I’m still very much learning the ropes, but I have definitely enjoyed what I’ve played so far. Action is fluid and exciting, and the forest level, the first area you start in, is quite nice, though I don’t think anyone would say it’s pushing the graphical limits of modern PCs. Keep in mind this is a 100% free game that you will never have to put any money into if you don’t want to, and I’m running it on a MacBook from 2008! That’s a major plus in my book.
I’ll definitely be spending some more time with Phantasy Star Online – as I mentioned, I’ve already decided to create another account so I can play with some friends in another ship (the game’s equivalent of servers). All data from the open beta will transfer over to the official release, so if you’re interested in giving it a go, now’s the time! The beta will run through the end of the month, with an official release coming later in the year. It’s also going to be released on the PS Vita sometime in early 2013, and SEGA is planning on having your saves be transferable between the Vita and PC version… all for free! Of course, the only detractor right now is that it’s entirely in Japanese, but don’t worry, there are plenty of guides for English speakers (starting here) to help you out if you want to make the jump.
Feel free to ask questions or let me know if you want to play together in the comments!
Spirit Camera: The Cursed Memoir is an ambitious title for the 3DS – one that seeks to utilize the system’s augment reality (AR) technology in unprecedented ways by bringing the world inside the game to your actual physical surroundings. When I first heard about it, it sounded quite ambitious, and its connections to the Fatal Frame series (the actual story mode in the game is called “Fatal Frame: Diary of Faces”) made it all the more appealing. Unfortunately, a slew of mediocre to poor reviews lamenting the limitations of the AR technology and subpar gameplay meant that Spirit Camera didn’t really live up to expectations.
Luckily for me, a friend purchased the game and kindly let me borrow it so that I could give it a spin and formulate my own opinion of the title. Before booting it up, all I’d really heard was that the story mode was painfully short and the 3DS’s camera could only pick up the AR book that came bundled with the game under the brightest of lighting conditions. In the hour or so I played of the title, I was surprised to find one of those statements to be not entirely accurate.
Though it’s true Spirit Camera must be played with some kind of light source, the majority of reviews have made it sound like you need bright daylight for the 3DS’s camera to properly read the AR book. I, however, played in my relatively dimly-lit living room in the middle of night, and had no problems whatsoever. What I did have problems with, though, was sitting on my couch to play the game.
Using the 3DS’s camera to view the AR book bundled with the game is definitely Spirit Camera‘s most interesting feature.
See, Spirit Camera is divided into a couple different segments. First, there are times where you’ll find yourself inside a dilapidated mansion in-game and be guided through the area on rails, much like a rail shooter. You must use the 3DS’s gyroscope to look around the mansion and progress the story, and though it’s interesting in theory, I found it moved far too slow to actually create any effective tense moments. More commonly, you’ll find yourself viewing your actual surroundings through the 3DS, as it acts as a mystical camera that can actually see ghosts. At times you’ll speak to the ghost of a girl named Maya, who will appear “next” to you, while at other times you’ll need to view the AR book using the 3DS camera in order to search out the various apparitions trapped in its pages.
When you actually find and release these spirits, you’ll then need to fight them using your camera to take pictures of them, much like the traditional Fatal Frame titles. During these confrontations, you’ll need to turn a complete 360 degrees in order to find them, and this is neigh impossible to do while sitting down. Be warned, Spirit Camera is definitely not a title you’ll be able to play comfortably anywhere but your living room.
Fighting ghosts in your living room ought to be more fun.
Admittedly, though all of this sounds interesting in theory, the only part I found particularly groundbreaking was the actual implementation of the AR book. Not only will you have to point the camera at the book to see certain events unfold, but a number of puzzles actually require you to interact with the book in some surprisingly ways.
I have to admit that the lack of intriguing story and any real scare factor to the game seriously diminished any interest I had in playing Spirit Camera. If it had a really enthralling story, I might be compelled to see it though to the end, but after exhausting all of the new gameplay gimmicks, I felt I’d had more than enough. It’s worth noting that you can replay the ghost battles or use the 3DS camera to take a variety of weird and silly photos. It’s not really enough to make the game worth the price of admission, but it’s a nice touch.
Anyone interested in seeing this unique exercise in the capabilities of the 3DS’s AR technology might want to check this out once it’s significantly reduced in price, but after an hour of play, I’d found I’d had more than enough of Spirit Camera.
Pop’n Music is hands down my favorite arcade game. Ever. Why it hasn’t expanded to arcades outside of Japan is beyond me, as it’s the perfect example of what makes an arcade experience great: catchy loud music, lots of colors, wacky cuteness, and unique gameplay that can’t be replicated at home.
For those familiar with Dance Dance Revolution, the idea behind Pop’n Music should sound familiar. The aim of the game is to hit nine colored buttons in time with the music, following corresponding colored markers that make their way across the screen. It’s easy to learn but difficult as all get out to master, let me tell you!
To get an idea of what it looks like in action, check out this video:
(Now, I’ll have you know that I can play with all nine buttons, but I’m still much closer to the “unskilled foreigner” in the video ability-wise)
Because of my affinity for the arcade version of Pop’n Music, I felt it was my duty to pick up a copy of Pop’n Rhythm (aka Pop’n Music in the US) when I saw it used on the shelf of my local EB Games. First of all, the box art is adorable!
But unfortunately, when it comes to gameplay, it just doesn’t hold a candle to its arcade brethren.That’s largely due to the fact that Pop’n Rhythm has players using the nunchuck and Wiimote in lieu of actual buttons. The nine buttons you need to hit only appear on screen, requiring you to jerk the nunchuck and Wiimote left and right until your avatar’s hands line up with the buttons, after which you then jerk your hands downward to “hit” the button, much like a game of Whack-a-Mole. It’s horribly inaccurate and gets uncomfortable to do very quickly, especially on some of the harder songs.
Weird, inadequate gameplay aside, Pop’n Rhythm also commits one of the most cardinal music game sins: it has absolutely no unlockable music. What’s the point of playing through all the songs and trying to better your score if there aren’t any additional songs to unlock?! Some of my fondest memories of DDR were of unknowingly unlocking new tracks to groove to.
It may not be the complete failure that Samba de Amigo was on the Wii, but Pop’n Rhythm comes nowhere close to capturing what makes Pop’n Music such an amazing series. For players who have no experience with the arcade version, however, Pop’n Rhythm probably has enough substance to garner a couple afternoons worth of fun.
The moral of the story is that though my husband and I got about a 30 minute session of arm flinging while laughing hysterically as we tried to figure out exactly how to play it properly, I was happy to take advantage of EB Game’s used game return policy and return Pop’n Rhythm from whence it came. Cute box art and animation aside, I don’t think I’d ever want to pick it up again.
I don’t post about manga nearly enough on this blog, and that needs to be rectified! What better way to do so then by writing up some thoughts on a recent title I’ve read? I’ve always been a fan of Arina Tanemura’s iconic style, but have never gone the extra step and picked up a copy of one of her titles. Lucky for me the local library had volumes one through four of her latest series, The Legend of Sakura Hime!
The Legend of Sakura Hime is an ongoing shōjo manga currently being serialized in the monthly manga anthology Ribon in Japan. The story follows Sakura, a teenage girl who’s been engaged to the prince Oura ever since she was a child. Trouble is, it turns out she’s also a descendant of the demon Princess Kaguya. It’s up to her to fulfill her role by wielding the mythical sword Chizakura and destroying all demons that threaten to harm the world she knows and loves. Upon learning her true identity, however, certain forces, including Prince Oura, would rather see her killed!
Lots of awesome action shots, including blood and even death, which is pushing the envelope for a girls’ anthology like Ribon!
If you can’t tell, I am rubbish when it comes to writing plot summaries. The Legend of Sakura Hime is pretty standard shōjo fare, but with gorgeous illustrations, more action and darker themes than usually seen in manga aimed at teenage girls, and ample romance, I definitely recommend it to anyone who has a penchant for shōjo. That said, I’m happy I didn’t purchase it – it’s great for a light-hearted read and had a number of cute scenes that reminded me of that giddy feeling I get when a kiss or embrace is drawn both beautifully and evocatively, but in the end the whole thing feels a tad shallow and run-of-the-mill plot-wise, which probably won’t do much to impress more discerning eyes.
Prince Oura’s brother? Cousin? So memorable I’ve already forgotten. He hides his true feelings for Sakura under an easy-going facade. Let it be known that I have a weakness for playboy male characters.
I’m not trying to knock the series – The Legend of Sakura Hime is chock-full of romance, intrigue, and action, and is a great way to spend an afternoon for fans of shōjo and magical girls. I wouldn’t place it on any top ten lists, and I probably won’t remember much about it in 3 years, but there’s no harm in that.
No, I’m not having relations with another man… I’m talking about a certain big-headed blue alien of recent movie fame! Why doesn’t anyone seem to care about Megamind? I’m going to say it right now, loud and clear: Megamind is the best animated film I’ve seen in a long time! Rango? Meh. Despicable Me? Saw that yesterday. Eh. Toy Story 3? Cute, made me cry… But no. How to Train Your Dragon? Good, but it just can’t hold its own when compared to Megamind. Granted, I have yet to see Tangled, which everyone is raving about, but somehow I doubt I will be able to say I enjoyed it more than I enjoyed Megamind.
So what’s so good about Megamind, you ask? First and foremost, beyond anything else, Megamind is hilarious. My husband and I went to see it in theaters for my birthday back in December and were oh-so-pleasantly surprised by what a funny film it was. Just the other day we popped a rental copy in the DVD player and found, to our glee, that it was just as funny, if not more so, than the first time we watched it.
After much thought and deliberation about what makes the humor in Megamind stand out from other similar films (Despicable Me, I’m looking at you), I’ve come to the realization that Megamind is a lot more adult, and I dare say, sophisticated, than many other recent animated films. There’s very little slapstick comedy–instead, the humor is largely dialogue-based, and the script is brilliantly written. The comedic voice actors such as Will Ferrell and Tina Fey really went wild with it, and it shows.
This brings me to my next point: Megamind has great characters. I think almost everyone who likes Megamind would agree that you don’t watch it so much for the story, you watch it for the characters. Will Ferrell is a genius as Megamind, and I don’t even like Will Ferrell. He and his minion, referred to as, well, Minion, have some great interactions that are just hilarious to watch. Brad Pit does a perfect satire of the classic superhero as Metro Man, the hero Megamind is always at odds with. And let’s not forget Titan–the true villain of the story, whose awkward, stalker-like behavior towards the Lois Lane-inspired female lead is at times both gut-wrenchingly funny and cringe worthy. His character is the first to make me feel genuinely creeped-out by an animated villain in a long, long time.
If there’s so much going for Megamind, why don’t we see more people raving about it? This is a question that plagues myself, my husband, and many other fans of the film. Granted, the film did pretty well in the box office and for its DVD release, but it still feels under-appreciated. The first reason could be chalked up to poor marketing. I, perhaps fortunately, only ever saw the teaser trailer, and not the full trailer, for the film. From what I’ve heard in cyberspace, subsequent trailers basically give away a main plot point of the film, leaving little up to the viewer’s imagination before they actually go see the movie.
Megamind seems to be plagued from start to finish with bad advertising decisions, as even with the DVD release we can see major discrepancies in the representation of the film from just the DVD cover alone. First and most notably, Megamind doesn’t have a goatee anywhere on the cover. Come to think of it, in almost all of the promotional material he appears sans goatee. In the film, he clearly has one. This may seem like a cosmetic mishap, but I think it appropriately illustrates the lack of attention that was spent on advertising the film. Not only that, the Minion on the back cover of the DVD is shown carrying a bazooka, something that also never appears in the film. What gives?
Perhaps Megamind just wasn’t released at the right time. At first glance, it appears to have many similarities with Despicable Me, which seems to have done much better in the box office. Maybe it was too smart for its own good. While advertised as a relatively average kids’ film, Megamind has a sensibility that I’m sure many adults would appreciate, but perhaps alienates some of the younger viewers.
If anything, I urge anyone who enjoys a good superhero film to rush to your video store and rent Megamind as soon as you can. It puts a great spin on the traditional superhero flick, in more ways than one. And to anyone else who enjoys a good laugh–I can’t guarantee you’ll love the sense of humor Megamind brings to the table, but if you like Will Ferrell, I see no reason why you won’t be charmed by Megamind’s character, even if he is an animated blue alien.
Have you seen Megamind? Love it? Hate it? Let me know in the comments! And if, after reading this, you’ve been inspired to check it out for yourself, please let me know what you think! Thanks for reading!